Wednesday, 18 June 2014

5 of My Favorite Books

by Julia Phillips Smith

For writers who started out as passionate readers, choosing five favorite books is almost like a cruel joke.

If I pick this one, then I have to leave out that one. Then you'll never know how much that one meant to me, how I still think of scenes from that book all these years later.

Oh, all right.

Here are five books that you can rest assured have made a lasting impression on me, pretty much shaping the writer that I am today.

1 - The Crystal Cave by Mary Stewart

This book is the single most influential book from my youth. I discovered it at the used books table at the Christmas Tea and Sale at Woodlawn United Church, where I went to Guides. It was a blustery gray November day, and I was off on my own to browse while Mom and my sister were finding their own treasures. Just the cover with its simple sword design was doing it for me. Once I began reading about Merlin's boyhood and was transported to Dark Age Briton, I never wanted to return to the present day.

2 - Nine Princes in Amber by Roger Zelazny

I found this one in Toronto, amongst my husband's giant stash of books. It's book 1 of two connected series, where we discover that our Earth is but a ripple emanating from the true center of the universe -- the kingdom of Amber. All roads lead to Amber for the various members of the feuding royal family, but who can one trust? The means of pushing through the dimensions to travel between worlds is truly fantastic. The characters are larger than life and unforgettable, especially the main hero, Corwin of Amber.

I read this one after signing up for my first-ever online reading challenge. It was a four-footed-friends reading challenge, where all the books had to have animals as one of the main characters. I hadn't read Mercedes Lackey before and became a major fan by the end of chapter one. In the first place, she dedicated the book to Russian prima ballerina Natalia Makarova, which actually brought tears to my eyes when I read it. Being a passionate ballet fan, I realized that Mercedes Lackey was a dance lover like me (The Firebird is one of the ballets whose score was written by one of my favorites, Igor Stravinsky.) The incredibly skillful way Lackey retells this folktale -- making it seem like you've never heard it before -- really impressed me. Yet it's the way she kept the unresolved action going right up to the last page before tying it all together that made the biggest impact on me. It's the bar I set for myself when I'm working on my own novels.

Man, I love that cover. This was my introduction to my favorite vampire (other than my own hero, Peredur.) The Count Saint-Germain is already an ancient vampire by the time he ends up in the uneasy peace between the two world wars in Germany. Yarbro's focus on the day-to-day problems Saint-Germain faces in rotating his residences before the locals can realize that he never ages is one of my favorite things about this series. Saint-Germain may be a badass vampire, but he does it in style wearing the best evening dress and pleasing many a lovely lady along the way.

I read this one while in university, when I should have been working on papers and film projects. The moment the main character Claire steps through a circle of stones in Scotland and travels back through time, was it reasonable to expect me to do anything else but find out what happened to her and to the man she meets in the highlands of the 18th century? Even though the book is 640 pages long? This book has a hero that cannot be set aside in any reader's memory. The phrase 'Jamie Fraser' sends women into a sighing reverie if they've read the book. Yet Gabaldon also created one of the most amazing villains ever in Captain Jack Randall. Thank heavens this series has at long last been adapted for television and will be debuting on Showcase in Canada, and on Starz in the US, at the end of August.  

Julia Phillips Smith

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  1. Now all I want to do is read them again...hmm...maybe that wouldn't be such a bad thing!

  2. I had to laugh - I haven't read ANY of those! I've read other stuff by Mary Stewart (love her romantic suspense novels) and I think I read a Mercedes Lackey short story collection a long time ago. Interesting they're all paranormal in one way or another!