Do you have some books that you want to tell absolutely everybody about, and yet no one has ever seemed to have heard of them? Like you’re screaming into the wind about this book that changed your soul, and you’re met with a shrug? We all have them … here are a few of mine. You might have seen some of these before, and that’s not by accident. I will never stop recommending these books!
Trickster’s Choice, by Tamora Pierce
Alianne is the teenage daughter of the famed Alanna, the Lioness of Tortall. Along with it’s companion book, Trickster’s Queen, this duology belongs in Tamora Pierce’s Tortall world. These are the best middle-grade books out there. In fact, I feel like Pierce single-handedly created the blueprint for middle-grade fantasy, and they could not come more highly rated.
The Trickster’s duology follows Alanna’s teenage daughter, who accidentally becomes enslaved and must find her way through the tumultuous political landscape of the Copper Isles. She is brave, clever, and has learnt well at her spymaster father’s knee, as she swiftly becomes a spymaster herself on the islands. While receiving the help, if you can call it that, from the Trickster god Kyprioth.
Trickster is slightly more mature than some of the other books in the series, I think I’d place them solidly in the YA category. They are all about international espionage and war strategizing with a healthy dose of romance in there as well. And somehow one of my book boyfriends is a crow, so it has that going for it! I love the Aly character, she is so badass and smart and reading these books makes me feel a little badass and smart. Funny story, before I have an event where I have to be super confident, I often read these books. Still. Because I always end up feeling smart and badass like Aly.
If you have kids, I totally recommend ANYTHING by Pierce, she is really talented. Start at the very beginning, with Alanna: The First Adventure. I love to share all of what she does.
The Rook, by Daniel O’Malley
This book is just so cool. A young woman wakes up surrounded by dead bodies, zero memories and an envelope address “To You” in her pocket. She discovers the woman who formerly inhabited the body she’s in, Myfanwy Thomas, is a high-level operative in a secret government organization, and she has super powers. The woman begins to identify herself as Myfanwy (rhymes with Tiffany) as she slips into her life and investigates who tried to kill her before. Myfanwy is endearingly inept at some things, but it’s fun to watch as she learns about her own powers and far surpasses the strength of her former self.
Every about this premise is mind-blowingly fun, high end science fiction with intense world building. It is also at times laugh out loud funny. I would recommend this for anyone who enjoys science fiction or contemporary fantasy, and likes things a little bit weird.
The Darkangel, by Meredith Ann Pierce
This is one of my favourite young adult novels of all time, and I think that it is criminally overlooked. It is beautifully written, a high fantasy coming-of-age tale, that every young girl should get lost in.
The Darkangel is a glorious adventure book. Aeriel has known nothing but her life as a slave, when her mistress Eoduin is carried off by one of the icari – twelve-winged vampyres, who drink the blood of maidens and steal their souls. Aeriel seeks to avenge her mistress, the only friend she has ever known. In doing so she is captured and forced to serve as handmaiden to the icarus’ thirteen wives, now bloodless, soulless wraiths. For the love of Eoduin, and for the enchantment of the darkangel’s beauty, Aeriel stays and does what she can to help the wraiths.
She finds help within the lifeless castle, and a quest as well, to bring down the icari and their evil mother, the waterwitch. She travels through the world, facing dangers and growing into the young woman she will become, learning her own strength and courage.
The characters, too, are both complex and understandable. Even the monstrously beautiful darkangel has a heartrending story. When you realize where it is that he made his nest after being released into the world by the witch, you will feel such tremendous pity and start to love him as well.
The setting is one of the strongest elements of The Darkangel – dreamy and moody and atmospheric. It is set on the Moon, which took me an embarrassingly long time to figure out – but the moon after it had been made hospitable for life by the “Nameless Old Ones.” Oceanus (Earth) hangs overhead like a blue jewel, creating a shadowy half-light during the weeks when the Solstar is hidden. There is something about the barrenness, the cold empty black skies and constant presence of the stars that has always been so evocative to me. It’s as though this book has reminded me of a dream I’ve only just forgotten …
I have reread it many times over the years, as well as the full trilogy which was released much later than the original book, and there is always something new for me to take away from it. I first read this when I was eight, and I’ll admit that much of the book went right over my head. Like it being set on the moon. And the Nameless Old Ones are actually humans, from Earth, who went around and made a mess of things, which we have a tendency to do. If you do read this as an eight year old, do not bring the original hardcover copy with the picture of a bare-chested man on the cover to school, or your parents will also be called in to discuss your disturbing reading behaviour. True story.
Exit West, by Mohsin Hamid
Exit West is simply a beautiful book, a novella, really, and I reeled under the weight of the words. First off, I believe homage must be paid to the incredible language of the book. Hamid’s passages of run-on sentences are haunting and evocative and so perfect, they read like poetry.
It follows the love affair of two desperate young people, Saeed and Nadia, in a city that is falling apart around them. It never mentions where they are from by name, but throughout the book I assumed they were in Syria. However, Hamid is from Pakistan, so I’m not sure where their city was intended to be. Where Saeed and Nadia come from doesn’t really matter – I believe the point is that their story is very common in today’s world.
As everyday life devolves into shootings, car bombings, media takeovers, curfews, and then full-on war, the two lovers feel mounting panic as the routes to escape their country become fewer and fewer. But there are rumours of doors that are opening, around the world, leading to somewhere else … just step through and find a way out. I love the concept of these doors, as they pop up everywhere with more and more frequency. Almost as if willed into being by the sheer desperation of people facing extinction.
Saeed and Nadia pay a substantial amount of money to be given access to one of these doors. And although the actual journey is unorthodox, their experiences as refugees in countries that would rather not have them about is universal. Not just in the shame felt at being the “other,” but also all that we grieve in what is now behind us.
The book gradually builds in tension until your teeth are fairly grinding together. Saeed and Nadia make a few jumps before arriving in London, where things are getting real and the “natives” are calling for blood. The possibility of massacre stands out in its gruesomeness, as well as the sheer fact that this could very well happen. All of humanity stands at the brink of where it might go.
I won’t spoil this for you, but I will tell you I am immensely grateful to Hamid for having written it.
I feel as though reading this book has made me a more complicated person, and a better one. I think this should be required reading for … everyone. This is our reality and will continue to be our reality, and we may not have magical doors but we do have an extreme situation of mass migration spreading throughout the world and so we must all learn to be compassionate and see all sides of the story. Please read this book.
Jellicoe Road, by Melina Marchetta
Jellicoe Road is one of my top three books of all time. This is a huge deal, because obviously: all the other books. And yet it is so beautiful, lyrical and haunting.
Twenty years ago, lives collided in a horrific car accident that left two families shattered. From this explosion a group of misfits find each other – those who have been forgotten, don’t fit in or have been left behind – those looking to belong (longing to be). Parts are written like modern-day fairy tales. The ripple effect of this group, the romance and the tragedy, continues on for decades. And all the questions come to a head when Taylor Markham reaches her senior year at the Jellicoe Road state-run boarding school and is made leader of the school’s underground. What Taylor knows about her family is tragic: her mother abandoned her at a 7-11 when she was eleven, and the Hermit who lived in the woods near the school whispered something in her ear and then shot himself in the head. Not surprisingly, Taylor doesn’t remember much about her childhood.
The book is not all heavy. There is depth and soul, but it’s juxtaposed with the carefree and downright fun. Taylor Markham is tough and complicated, with some serious accumulated baggage after a short 17 years, but she finds joy while fighting the territory wars that her school has been engaging in for the past twenty years, against the Townies and the Cadets who come to camp in the bush for six weeks of the year. And the war is adorable. Sure, sometimes it involves riots and trips to the police station, but for the most part, it’s about harmless hostage-taking and booby-trap setting shenanigans you like to see your teenager getting into. And it allows Taylor to get closer to her best friends and enemies: Raffi, who knows too much about her; Santangelo, the sheriff’s son who has too much information about her; and Jonah Griggs, who holds too much of her soul.
Taylor is a force to be reckoned with and has a strong narrative voice throughout the book. She doesn’t realize her own vulnerability, though, even as everyone around her tries to protect her, from her past and even herself. The reader, too, can’t help but feel immensely protective of her, especially when she breaks our hearts with her precious few memories of being loved.
Of lying between two people who read me stories of wild things and journeys with dragons, the soft hum of their voices speaking of love and serenity. See, I remember love. That’s what people don’t understand.
I remember this passage even years later, and I think of it often when I am cuddling my children in to sleep – the importance that they remember they were loved, no matter how the world tries to bring them down.
And then! And then, there’s the postman from Yass. Chills chills chills. There is so much going on in this book, it deserves a read. Then a second and a third. Could not possibly be more highly recommended!
What are your favourite novels nobody’s ever read? I want to put them on my TBR list, so let me know in the comments! If you’re looking for more book recommendations, check out my list for Books to Soothe the Soul! And if you’re in the mood for something spooky, you can always hit up Book Reviews But Make it Witchy. Have a wonderful week and happy reading!