Escape Reality Through Reading
The great thing about reading is that for a couple of hours, we get to escape. At the time of writing this, I’m desperate to escape. Because, along with most of the planet, I’m in lockdown thanks to COVID-19. Right now, reality seems over-rated.
Here’s a list of 17 of my favorite reads: these are books I’ve read and re-read. The reason I love them so much is that they take me to another place and time. It’s like travel, but without the inconvenience or danger.
(I’ve put links to other blog posts here too, so if you’re not finding here an escape that’s your flavor, then scroll down – I’m sure you’ll find something you love.)
P.S. This post contains Amazon Affiliate links. I receive a small payment if you purchase after clicking on these links.
Arabella – Georgette Heyer
Arabella, the daughter of an impoverished country parson, dreams of a new life in London. But her beauty and charm will only get her so far – and when Arabella embarks on her first London season armed with nothing but a benevolent godmother and her own notoriously short temper, she quickly runs afoul of Robert Beaumaris, Regency London’s most wealthy and eligible bachelor.
Anybody Out There? – Marian Keyes
Anna Walsh needs her old life back: her home, her glamorous career and above all the love of her life, her husband Aidan. But can things ever return to the way they were?
Always a brilliant observer of humanity, this tale is one of Keyes’ best. A bittersweet tale of love and letting go, this is Romance at its finest. If you enjoy this story, I recommend the rest of the Walsh family novels for snarky, smart, sheer Irish good fun.
The Time Traveller’s Wife – by Audrey Niffenegger
Henry DeTamble, a dashing librarian inadvertently travels through time and meets Clare Abshire, an artist whose life takes a natural sequential course. Henry and Clare’s passionate affair endures across a sea of time and captures them in an impossibly romantic trap that tests the strength of fate and basks in the bonds of love.
The movie’s pretty awesome too!
Need more Romance?
Check out these blog posts here:
- True Love and Book Boyfriends: 7 Great Romance Novels
- Love Pride and Prejudice? Here are 4 Books To Read
- Books to Read if You Love Downton Abbey
Out of This World – the Best of Science Fiction
The Peripheral – William Gibson
Set in the near future, Flynne Fisher lives in a rural America where jobs are scarce unless you count illegal drug manufacture, which she’s trying to avoid.
Gibson is known for his foretelling ability, so in some ways, this novel is kind of scary. But it’s a fantastic escape.
Snow Crash – Neal Stephenson
In reality, Hiro Protagonist delivers pizza for Uncle Enzo’s CosoNostra Pizza Inc., but in the Metaverse he’s a warrior prince. Plunging headlong into the enigma of a new computer virus that’s striking down hackers everywhere, he races along the neon-lit streets on a search-and-destroy mission for the shadowy virtual villain threatening to bring about infocalypse.
This novel is cyber-punk at its absolute best. It’s also the only book of Stephenson’s that I actually recommend. They got too long and complicated after this. Snow Crash is being made into T.V. by HBO – this will be either brilliant or disappointing – we’ll just have to wait and see.
Grass – Sheri S Tepper
Generations ago, humans fled to the cosmic anomaly known as Grass. But before humanity arrived, another species had already claimed Grass for its own. It too had developed a culture. Now, a deadly plague is spreading across the stars, leaving no planet untouched, save for Grass. But the secret of the planet’s immunity hides a truth so shattering it could mean the end of life itself.
Grass was nominated for both Hugo and Locus awards and remains a definitive work of classic Sci-Fi. It’s also a bloody great read.
Hyperion – Dan Simmons
On the eve of disaster, with the entire galaxy at war, seven pilgrims set forth to the legendary Time Tombs on Hyperion, home to the Shrike, a lethal creature, part god and part killing machine, whose powers transcend the limits of time and space.
Winner of the Hugo Award, Hyperion is immersive Sci-fi at its finest. Personally, I didn’t enjoy the rest of the series, but this one novel is well worth reading.
Dune – Frank Herbert
The best sci-fi series EVER. Read it.
Chocky – by John Wyndham
It’s not terribly unusual for a boy to have an imaginary friend, but Matthew’s parents have to agree that his—nicknamed Chocky—is anything but ordinary.
Almost all of Wyndham’s books make for great escapes. I think this is his best story: it’s short but perfect.
More reality-bending sci-fi here
Excitement, Adventure, and Real-Life
About A Boy – Nick Hornby
12 year old Marcus is looking for a grown-up. But Will Lightman refuses to grow up. Together they discover what it means to be a family.
The Broker – John Grisham
In his final hours in the Oval Office, the outgoing President grants a full pardon to Joel Backman, a notorious Washington power broker who has spent the last six years in a federal prison. Smuggled out of the country in a military cargo plane, Backman is given a new identity and a new home in Italy. He thinks he’s out. But the CIA will soon leak his whereabouts to the Israelis, the Russians, the Chinese and the Saudis, and then sit back and watch. The question is not whether Backman will survive – there’s no chance of that. The question the CIA needs answered is: who will kill him?
Set in Italy, this novel is less thriller than pure gastronomy. Read it, and eat pasta. (Grisham apparently put on 10 kg while writing this :))
The Little Drummer Girl – John Le Carre
One of Le Carre’s best, this is the story of actress Charlie, dragged into a world of espionage and terrorism. Highly recommended.
The Number One Ladies’ Detective Agency – by Alexander McCall Smith
Precious Ramotswe is drawn to her profession to “help people with problems in their lives.” Immediately upon setting up shop in a small storefront in Gaborone, she is hired to track down a missing husband, uncover a con man, and follow a wayward daughter. But the case that tugs at her heart, and lands her in danger, is a missing eleven-year-old boy, who may have been snatched by witchdoctors.
The first in a fabulous series.
The Belgariad – David Eddings
This is an oldie but a goodie: the adventures of scullery-boy Garion and his mysterious Aunt Polgara. If you’re sharing lockdown with kids, try reading this series aloud.
The Rivers of London – Ben Aaronovitch
Peter Grant, probationary constable, discovers an unexpected talent for magic. The entire series is outstanding, full of black English humor.
American Gods – Neil Gaiman
Gods never disappear. They just … change.
The Witcher Series – Andrzej Sapkowski
For over a century, humans, dwarves, gnomes, and elves have lived together in relative peace. But times have changed, the uneasy peace is over, and now the races are fighting once again. The only good elf, it seems, is a dead elf.
I’m totally in love with this series. If you’re looking for a long(ish) read to take you away from reality, this is definitely a must-try.
Want More Fantasy?
- If you loved reading American Gods, here are 6 books (plus T.V.) to try
- Love Stranger Things? Here are some books you’ll love
- Book Review(s): 4 Unusually Good Fairytale Retellings
- What can I read on holiday? Here are some great books for all ages.
- 3 Intriguing Books That Made Great Holiday Reading
Reality is Over-Rated
This list is just a taster – there are heaps of other books I recommend. But each story (or series) here is a guaranteed escape.
I hope you enjoy – and stay safe.
Luck Takes Many Forms
Mabel Merriweather grew up knowing she was lucky.
“Luck of the O’Gormans,” said Ma, drawing a line on Mabel’s palm with a finger. “See that mark there?”
“It’s a freckle.”
“Maybe, maybe. But that freckle is the shape of a heart, see? That’s the sign of the Luck. We’re lucky, you and I. Aunt had it, and me Grandma too. And her ma a’fore that, and back before that.”
Mabel, aged seven-and-three-quarters, was naturally cynical. She was aware that adults can be tricky beasts, prone to teasing the innocent – but also, being a child, she was naturally curious.
“Me and mine,” said Ma, folding Mabel’s small hand into a fist, “who bear that mark are naturally lucky. ‘Tis a fact.”
Mabel thought they didn’t seem that lucky, being as Da had just died, run over by a runaway horse in the middle of the street. “But –” she began.
Ma shook her head vigorously. “But me no buts, girl. Accept it, and do right, that’s what my Ma always said, aye, and her Ma too, and that’s what you should do as well.”
Later that day, dressed all in black, the widow Merriweather and her daughter visited the lawyer. Mabel felt overwhelmed by the richness of the office: shiny leather, polished wooden chairs and stained glass windows, just like those in church. She sat on the edge of the chair nervously swinging her feet and held her laced-edged handkerchief to her face, as Ma had instructed.
The lawyer-man, a be-whiskered gentleman by name of Master Smitherson said many things to Ma in long words that Mabel did not understand. But she did as Ma bade her and spoke when spoken to and said please and thank you and ask they left Mister Smitherson pressed a bright shilling into her hand and patted her on the head.
“You’re a good girl, Mabel,” he said, “A very good girl. And I’m sorry about your Da, but at lease he had the forethought to provide for you. Most fortunate that.”
Mabel nodded, but she missed Da. He wasn’t ever coming back again. Her lip trembled.
Then Ma curtsied and the lawyer bowed and there they were, out on the street.
“Well!” said Ma. “Well!” Her face was flushed. “What did I say about luck? Who’d have thought poor Charlie would have thought of life insurance? But there you go, that was Charlie. Bless him, bless his kind soul.”
Ma seemed suddenly affectionate to Da, which seemed strange after all the shouting and name-calling and bottles being thrown. Still, it was a relief to see her smiling.
“And the first thing we’ll do,” Ma decided, “is to get you into a really good school, Mabel.”
Abruptly, Mabel’s spirits sunk. “Ma –”
But her mother wasn’t listening. “Yes my dear, you should always be grateful for your luck. Always.”
If you want to listen to this short story, just push this button here:
I’m always scribbling in notebooks. I have stacks by now: multi-coloured and full of crazy words. The other week, I started reading through them, searching for a half-finished tale about a witch-finder and a midwife.
I couldn’t find that particular story, but I did manage to discover other story snippets. Here’s one you might enjoy.
Once upon a time, Berta found a baby on the subway: a baby boy, only a few months old, with brown eyes and curly black hair.
Berta, who had been reviewing her diary on her phone while swaying gently to the train’s rhythm, at first didn’t notice the infant. Becoming aware of eyes fixed on her, she looked up.
“Where did you come from?” she breathed.
The child was perfect, but oh so tiny: no larger than a tea cup. He’d been placed in a car seat and covered neatly with a woollen blanket, embroidered with blue flowers. That’s how Berta knew he was a boy.
She and the baby were the only ones in the carriage. (It was still very early, so most people were still asleep.)
A baby shouldn’t be alone, Berta thought. Glancing down at her phone, she tried to put the child from her mind. Perhaps if she ignored it, it might go away.
The baby sneezed.
A baby sneezing is the most amazing thing. Unlike adults, a baby sneezes with its whole body: feet twitch, legs bend, tiny hands clench into fists. And Berta smiled, because the kid was so cute.
The tiny-but-perfect baby smiled back.
And Berta, who had never wanted children, who had never felt the slightest urge to even spend time with kids? She fell in love.
Berta left the train with the baby.
The car seat was no larger than a shoe box, and the child fitted inside it perfectly. It felt was like something from a fairytale; like a dream. Not at all like something you’d find on the subway.
Berta was on a career fast-track. She loved her job in commercial law; she loved her independence. She had no wish for a child. Anyway, there was the small matter of that ovarian cyst. But yet, most nights she dreamed of carrying a child and in the morning her arms felt heavy with its absence.
Three stops to go.
The platforms were nearly empty, with only the odd passerby outlined against the yellow-tiled walls. She glanced again at the tiny, perfect infant. He was dressed in a hand-knitted white matinee jacket, embroidered with small blue ribbons. Someone loves this child.
Bending she whispered into the baby’s ear: “Who are you? Where do you come from?”
The baby stirred, as though it understood the question, and Berta heard quite clearly – all her life, she believed this – a voice. It said: Take him. He is yours.
Swoosh! The train doors slid open.
And Berta, in a moment of craziness, or indecision or just mad, pure love, lifted the child’s car seat by its handle, the baby still inside, and stepped from the train onto the empty platform where the CCTV camera was turned away.
Heading for the stairs, she whispered, “What should I do with you?”
The baby opened sleepy dark eyes. “Take me home,” he said, so clearly that Berta nearly dropped the seat, baby and all.
When Berta arrived at the office, her assistant, Stefan, stared at the infant. “What?” he asked slowly, “is that?”
“A baby. I found him on the subway.”
“A baby? On the subway? And you just took him?”
“I know,” said Berta wearily, “I’m crazy.”
The child opened dark eyes and smiled at her, and she knew that if she had to do it all again: choose a child and steal him, car seat and all – she would.
“What’s his name?”
“Name?” Berta blinked. “Um …” In the car seat, the child stirred. “Daumen. Yes. His name is Daumen.”
“Thumb?” said Stefan. “What kind of a name is that?”
It’s a new year, and changes are afoot. As there is quite a bit happening in my writing calendar this year, I thought easier to share as a one-off blog post rather than little pieces on social media.
My youngest son is leaving home 😢 so I’m officially an empty nester. In theory this should leave more time for writing, but actually, no. Because not only have I had a promotion in the Day Job, I’ve also increased my hours.
Now I only have 1.5 days for writing, plus anything I can squeeze into the weekends and evenings. This means my output will probably go down this year. Weirdly, I’m okay with that. I’m lucky, in that I love my job, and unlike writing, it pays well and regularly
The other benefit to a Day Job (as opposed to writing), is that it provides validation. Writers are rarely praised, and when we are we don’t believe it. But at work I get told, on a daily basis!, that I’m doing a GREAT job. I know this makes me seem like a precious snow-flake and I should just get over this ridiculous self-doubt, but I’ve not met a writer yet who’s achieved that nirvana-like state.
Zeph the Caravan
Other news: my husband and I are renovating our retro caravan. His name is Zeph, short for ‘Zephyr’. He’s definitely NOT a light breeze, (the original meaning of the word and a less apt name I’ve yet to find, because Zeph is a pig to tow) – but he is a 1977 Zephyr 410. We’ve had him since 2001, when the kids were small. And since they’ve now left home, hubby and I have decided to convert him into a Love Shack. 😀
At the moment, Zeph is parked up in our driveway, looking more than a little worse for wear, as we’re sanding the exterior and pulling out the interior. But he’s a work in progress and one day I’m hoping he’ll be beautiful.
Ghostly Melodies is coming out in 1 March, and I am SO EXCITED. This retold fairytale marks a change from my epic fantasies, and I wasn’t sure how I would find setting a story in the present day. Would it be boring?
Ghostly Melodies is a retelling of the Twelve Dancing Princesses, and is based in Beverley Hills. I wasn’t sure how that would go, as I’ve never visited L.A. but thanks to the power of the internet, and especially thanks to Lucifer 🙂 it turned out to be surprisingly easy to set a story there.
A lot of the story is about a singer-songwriter, and I spent a lot of time watching music docos – and I also wrote my own songs for the story! (The words, not the music.) That was a lot of fun, as was the Ed Sheeren concert I attended ‘for research purposes’! (click here to see my instagram video of the concert!)
I’m working on an expanding short story collection called DreamScapes. It’s being sent to my email list only at present, with one story for each special time of the year.
The first story (All Hallow’s Eve) marked Hallowe’en. Then we had a surfer who just may have been an angel at Christmas-time (Midsummer Christmas). I’m just working on an novella-length vampire-hunter story (Millicent Metcalfe) for Valentine’s Day and Easter. This one might well stretch to Hallowe’en, too as it’s looking pretty long already. I’ve set part of MM in Holland, as my character visits the Mauritshuis ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mauritshuis) – a fabulous museum I visited a few years ago. Just goes to show, everything’s material to a writer, even a writer who struggles to anchor her stories in reality!
Pictures in Time
My other, more complex WIP is Pictures in Time. PiT is a retelling of Aladdin, and a sequel to Ghostly Melodies. Early stages, but already PiT is looking darker than the original Arabian Nights tale, because in the original story we never knew anything about Aladdin’s father, except that he was dead.
PiT is tentatively set in the UK, in one of the many antiques and collectibles markets. It won’t be ready until at least 2020, though, so I don’t want to give away too much just yet. But I can already say that there’s definitely going to be a whole lot more to Jasmine and Aladdin (whom I’ve renamed Aaron), than any Disney adventure.
Other life stuff
Hopefully mid-year will see a holiday overseas, as we have a very long, cold winter in Dunedin, and by July sunshine feels like a distant memory.
Plus, I’m also helping to organise a Children’s and Illustrator’s Hui in Dunedin later this year. Again, this is early days, so there’s a lot to work through, but it will sure keep me busy! And there’s the Romance Writer’s of NZ Conference to look forward to, and oh, so many writerly things. So even if I’m working longer hours, I’ll still be heavily engaged in the writing community.
To conclude: It looks like its going to be a busy year!
Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone.
Three Great Holiday Reads
Are you looking for a great book to read on holiday? Well, I’ve just been on holiday! Lucky me 🙂
On this holiday I’ve discovered three AMAZING reads that I’d love to share with you. Here’s some of them:
Lies Sleeping – by Ben Aaronovitch
The newest release from Doctor Who writer Ben Aaronovitch is out! Lies Sleeping is the most recent instalment in the Rivers of London series. If you’ve not yet discovered the Rivers of London, then lucky you, because you’re in for a treat. These stories, set mostly in London, follow the adventures of Peter Grant, Detective Constable and apprentice wizard. Although each story is a stand-alone, they do form a continuous adventure, so you’re best to start at the beginning and read right through if you can. More information on the Rivers of London series here: rlstedman.com/doctor-who
In Lies Sleeping, Peter is fighting the Faceless Man and his ex-copper friend, Lesley, to prevent the downfall of London. Will he be able to solve the clues and so prevent the end of the world as he knows it?
In the story we also learn more about the nature of Molly, the mysterious domestic servant at The Folly, the Wizard’s Headquarters in London (and never to be referred to as Hogwarts, because Hogwarts is fictional!). Of course, we see more of Beverley Brook, Peter’s girlfriend and part-time goddess, and discover the true story behind the nefarious Mr Punch.
I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading the Rivers of London: the characters are lively, funny and believable and each book is a gripping read. The settings are great, too – Peter always comments on the architecture or the scenery, so these books are better than a guidebook! I used to live on the Kennet Canal, which feeds into the Thames, so it’s a lot of fun to read about an area I know well.
To be honest, I didn’t find Lies Sleeping quite as good as the earlier books in the series – I do wonder if Aaronovitch is getting a little over Peter Grant. But still, it’s a great read, and full of the trademark Londonisms and snarky humor that sets this series apart. Highly recommended, especially if you’re planning a visit to London.
Find Lies Sleeping on AMAZON: https://amzn.to/2SJ
Hyperion – by Dan Simmons
Hyperion is a stunning book! If you love epic science fiction, like Dune or Asimov’s Foundation Series, Hyperion is a must-read. Here’s the blurb from Amazon:
“On the world called Hyperion, beyond the reach of galactic law, waits a creature called the Shrike. There are those who worship it. There are those who fear it. And there are those who have vowed to destroy it. In the Valley of the Time Tombs, where huge, brooding structures move backward through time, the Shrike waits for them all.”
Hyperion tells the backstory of seven pilgrims who set forth on a final voyage to Hyperion and to the Shrike. Each pilgrim has had their own encounter with the Shrike, and each relays this in their own voice.
Hyperion is beautifully written, and the characters and action are unbelievably good. Like the best stories, Hyperion deals with the nature of evil, the evidence for God, and the reason for existence, all set against a backdrop of exceptionally gifted world-building.
I have a little quibble about the role of women in the story (I felt that most of the women in this story were there for sexual interest only) but whatever, Simmons is not the first sci-fi writer to relegate women from the action, and at least the book is amazing.
Part Canterbury Tales, part Keatsian epic (‘Hyperion’ is also a poem by John Keats), this is one of those stories you have to read again and again. It’s a classic (and I can’t believe I’ve only just heard about it!). My son told me about this book, which only goes to show that it is so worth getting your kids into science fiction.
Find Hyperion on AMAZON at: https://amzn.to/2SHRqWG
The Wizards of Once – Cressida Cowell
A new book by the author of How To Train Your Dragon, this is a fabulous fantasy story.
“Once there were Wizards, who were Magic, and Warriors, who were not. And there were Witches, too, who wove evil magic: the kind of magic that kills larks and brings only darkness. But Witches were all killed by the Warriors – or so it is thought. Until Xar, son of the King of Wizards and Wish, daughter of the Warrior Queen collide in the wildwood … And magic is changed forever.”
Wizards of Once is probably aimed at competent middle grade readers around 9 – 13 years, but I totally enjoyed it, much to my nephew’s amusement! 🙂
Cowell is a fantastic author: the story rips along, and the characters are beautifully drawn (literally, as the book is illustrated by Cowell herself). Wizards of Once felt like Diana Wynne Jones crossed with Roald Dahl and flavoured with a little bit of Alan Garner. Anyone who enjoys English-based fantasy will love this story.
I’ve not listened to the Audio version, but it might be worth checking the audio edition, if only because David Tennant (aka Doctor Who) is the narrator.
Find The Wizards of Once on Amazon at: https://amzn.to/2Fi40Ir