Reviews: resources, books, museums

Top five on Friday: Authors

Sometimes on Friday* I review a book, but this week I thought I would just tell you about my five favourite (fiction) authors: the five whose books I read over, and over again, till I can quote whole passages, the five whose thoughts influence the way I think, and whose writing style is reflected in my own writing style.

I can’t tell you which of the five is my favourite (far too hard to choose!).  I depends on my mood, what I had for breakfast, and the direction of the wind.  So here they are in alphabetical order by first name.

  1. Armine von Tempski – like me, Armine is a Caucasian child born in Hawaii, and she writes of her childhood in the islands, a century before mine.  Her writings vividly evoke the Hawaii of her time; the lush grandeur of nature, the delicate politics in the years after the annexation, the amazing mix of cultures that would give Hawaii its distinct multicultural feel, and finally, the larger than life characters she was priviledged to know and hear of.  She writes of her father, the son of Gustavus von Tempsky of New Zealand fame, of King Kalakaua, of Helen of Honolulu ‘The Mary Magdalene of the Pacific’, of Jack London, of princesses, and most importantly, of her paniolo Makalii.  Her books make me laugh, and cry, and, well, cry some more, because I feel so very, very homesick reading them.  Most of her books are rare and out of print, but I own a first edition of her autobiography ‘Born in Paradise’ that I picked up at a library clear out in California.  It’s ex-military library, and I love thinking of some soldier stationed in Hawaii during WWII reading it.

    My first-edition copy of Von Tempski's autobiography - Born in Paradise

    Armine tells the story of Helen of Honolulu - with age damage from a military notice

  2.  L.M. Mongtomery – Yes.  I’m an Anne fan.  No surprise there!  In fact, I’m just a plain old anything LM fan.  I have read every single one of her published works.  More than once.  I love the writing, the descriptions, the fact that she managed to slip in a male hero who got excited about the first violets of spring and was still manly, and we believedit.  I’m just starting to build a collection of Montgomery books- I’ve held off because of moving and lack of space.  But isn’t my edition of Anne of the Islands darling?

    Look at those 1950s does 1900s fashions!

  3. Robin McKinley – Have you ever noticed how much I love to use parenthesis?  Yes.  That’s Robin McKinley’s fault.  I love her writing.  The rich detail she works into all her stories, the extraneous details that make her world real and complete.  Her imagination.  Oh, my goodness, her imagination!  How does she think of all those things!  I love them all (even Deerskin, though I never want to read it again), but Thimble’s End, her retelling of Sleeping Beauty, is probably my favourite.
  4. Stella Gibbons – My love of Stella’s works is based entirely on one novel.  Cold Comfort Farm is so brilliant that it immediately launched Stella on to the list.  I’ve only managed to read one of her other works, and it wasn’t quite as good.  But, oh, Cold Comfort Farm!  It’s so, so brilliant.  It’s a clever, witty send up of English pastoral novels (you know the ones: ancient family curses, people who can’t escape their fate, extremely dramatic, ‘loam and lovechild’ etc etc), and its heroine, Flora Poste, would be my best friend.  She fixes things.
  5. Terry Pratchett – You probably already know I love Terry Pratchett.  I’m making a dress inspired by a Terry Pratchett character.  Every time I have to fly I buy a Pratchett novel to entertain me on the flight.  It almost makes up for the ignominy of being shoved into a metal can and told to be happy.  Pratchett is brilliant, and inventive, and every one of his books make you think about the world, and how it operates.    I cried like a baby when I found out he is dying.  My world has expanded so much because of his work.

Just some of the Pratchett books I own

So those are the authors that I love most.  One man, four women.  The deceased, two living.  Two fantasy, one sometimes vaguely futuristic,  two romantically realistic.

Are any of these your favourites?  Any authors I should read based on liking these?  Have you read any of these and are now dreadfully appalled that I should have the bad taste to like them?


*And yes, it is Saturday in NZ, but I wrote this post on Friday, and it’s Friday somewhere, so I think this should qualify.**


**Also, did you notice my little nod to Pratchett here?


  1. I agree with you wholeheartedly about Terry Pratchett’s work. And the man himself is as engaging as his novels. I have met him a number of times at science fiction conventions in the U.S., and he was gracious and fascinating to listen to. I also grieve at his medical plight, and will mourn him when he’s gone.

    ** Yes, loved the asterisked footnote. And it’s Friday here as I’m typing this! 🙂

    • Oh, you lucky thing! It is one of the major regrets of my life that I haven’t met him, and I don’t think I have the chance anymore 🙁

  2. Zach says

    I actually haven’t read any of those! I’m going to have to expand my library. Right now I’m reading through all of the Brontë novels (re-reading some). They are some of my very favorites, especially Villette. Other than that, I’d have to say Gone With The Wind (what can I say–I’m from the south); it gives me hope when I feel like there is none. There’s also Sister Carrie, which I loved so very much. I feel like some of the best novels are the ones you can draw parallels with in your own life.

    • I definitely agree that the best books are the ones that resonate with your own experience. I do like the Brontë works, except Wuthering Heights, where I want to slap all the characters. The Brontë works are actually one of the things that Cold Comfort Farm makes fun of, so I wonder how you will like it! I haven’t read Gone with the Wind since I was a teenager – I didn’t get it then, and I doubt I would get it now. It’s just too removed from my life, and I’m too different from Scarlett in temperament to empathize with her.

      Amazingly, I’ve never read Sister Carrie, and have barely heard of it. I’ll have to remedy that!

      • Zach says

        I totally agree with Wuthering Heights; Catherine especially made me want to rip my hair out, as well as hateful old Heathcliff. I appreciated it’s quality, though. I read Gone With The Wind for the first time in sixth grade, but I re-read it last summer (three days!) and I found so much I had missed before. I totally understand you on being too removed from it, though. I wish I could say I had a different personality than Scarlett, but that would be a lie. I just hope my chides, whenever I have them, are little Melanies. 🙂

        • mouse says

          Villette is one of my favorites too. I’m not sure how you get such a restrained central character to get along with so many elements of a gothic romance, but it works. In the last few years I’ve seen it get more of the credit it deserves. I’m not sure where it came from, but I’m very grateful.

          • UGH. I read “Villette” because of you guys’ recommendations, and boy, how I wish I hadn’t. It was a complete and utter slog. I only finished it because I kept hoping it would get better. It didn’t.

  3. Thanks for the reading recommendations…I am crawling out from under my rock and heading to the library – lol

  4. Amy B. says

    Three of your favorites are three of mine! I love Ms. Montgomery so much I have a Marilla and a Matthew, and I hope I haven’t cursed them for life. I do hope Marilla doesn’t have a falling out with her sweetheart so she has to keep house for her brother for the rest of her days. And I do hope the brother gets married sometime. I was so sad when I found out she had an unhappy marriage. I wanted her to have a relationship like her characters get so often (although more often in her YA books than her adult books.)

    And Sir Terry! Who doesn’t love him? Polly Oliver is one of my favorite characters of his as well. Such a fantastic Pratchett with all the things that make him great: social commentary, comedy, heart, etc.

    I also love McKinley. Her retellings of the fairy tales are perfect. Just enough fleshing out but keeps the feel of the original.

    Another of my favorites is Margaret Atwood. She appeals to my cynical side. If you haven’t tried her before, The Handmaid’s Tale is her most well known work. Oryx and Crake is one of her most recent. Both are future dystopian novels with completely different projections of the future. Both are very interesting, thought provoking works.

    • Kindred spirits!

      Alas, I’m not a fan of Margaret Atwood. I’ve read the Handmaid’s Tale, and The Poisonwood Bible, and while I appreciated the thought and research, and the writing itself, the books didn’t stick with me and make me really think and consider. The Handmaid’s Tale seemed so contrived in comparison to all the history I grew up with – all those Renaissance & Baroque princesses who were married off, and the lives of women in 19th century Iran.

      • Elise says

        Funny, the Handmaid’s Tale is so relevant now, what with…certain politics going on.

        Me? Along with LMM, and Dodie Smith, I like fantasy-author Dave Duncan for his characters that act like real people (including women who are interesting). But I especially ESPECIALLY love South Riding by Holtby. I felt like I was reading a story about myself.

  5. I guess I’m with you here on Atwood, although I only read Surfacing (which is a different kind of novel) – it also somehow felt contrived to me, and did not leave me wanting to read more.

    And (just like all the others) I’m here with you on Terry Pratchett, although I have not read all of his books – far from it. I love how you wrote that Polly was your favourite character out of his books, along with some 72 others. As I have not read so many of the books, I’m not sure of my particular count, but Pratchett really has lots and lots of interesting characters – even those simply episodic ones (usually those Death picks up along the way, come to think of it…) are full of life and personality; you almost feel as if you actually met them.

  6. I had no idea you loved Terry! I knew “Polly Oliver” sounded familiar – I’m just used to calling her Ozzer. I got the audiobook of Monstrous Regiment and I used to listen to it all the time, but recently Unseen Academicals has become my favorite.

  7. I’m a big fan of Pratchett, Montgomery and McKinley too, so let me offer a couple of recommendations. Have you tried ‘The Name of the Wind’ by Patrick Rothfuss? I’m also a big fan of Tamora Pierce, Patricia Wrede and in a rather different vein, Laurie King. Specifically, her Mary Russell series. She redoes Sherlock Holmes as though he were a real person, and Connan Doyle was Watson’s literary agent. There is a fair bit of grumbling about that. Anyhow, this is the only time I’ve seen an author take another author’s character and universe and really make something excellent out of it.

    • I’ll have to look up Patrick Rothfuss and Mary Russell – the latter sounds particularly interesting, especially in light of the way the British public really did treat Holmes as a real person (going into mourning when he “died”).

      I like Patricia C. Wrede (well, some of her stuff – the Lyra series was just strange, and I feel like her recent stuff is running out of steam – a not uncommon occurrence with authors), but Tamora Pierce hits too many of my “Man I hate that fantasy cliche!” buttons.

      While two of my favourite authors are fantasy authors, I’m more likely to distrust a fantasy novel than be attracted to it – I feel like fantasy is a genre where it is particularly easy for bad writing and an abundance of cliches to be excused because of an in-built readership.

      • Maire Smith says

        The two of you both sound as though you might also like Patricia McKillip, who I love just as much as I do Robin McKinley.

        She’s a bit harder to read, because she’s very fond of not telling you all of what’s going on, so you have to figure out quite a bit for yourself, but she’s both well written and original.

        I’d recommend Winter Rose, The Book of Atrix Wolfe, or the Riddlemaster trilogy as good starting places if you haven’t read her and feel like trying her out.

        I second the recommendation for The Name of the Wind, too.

        I’m also very fond of Montgomery (my favourite is The Blue Castle, but I’ve just been rereading Rilla of Ingleside) and Pratchett (I really like Nation right now, as well as some of the earlier Guards books).

        • I liked the first two McKillip books I read… after that they all seemed like just the same story, with the same writing, over and over again. But I adored the first one! (I can’t remember its title at the moment, though.)

  8. Kate says

    I’d venture to guess you would love “I Capture the Castle”. It is funny, has details about clothing that are wonderful and has the sort of spirit that is in harmony with some of your favorites.

      • Kate says

        Oh my, we love it for many of the same reasons. So here’s another: “Papa Married a Mormon” by John D. Fitzgerald. I is dramatic and gorgeous in spirit.

  9. Lynne says

    I’ll join you in loving Pratchett, Montgomery, and Gibbons! The other two are new to me – must seek.

    I went to a fancy dress party (come as your favourite character) once as Flora Poste. The costume was based on a forties-ish suit, plus props. I was especially proud of a Ministry of Agriculture pamphlet on Wild Oats that I doctored to include sukebind! I must admit I was not the winner – that was a friend of mine in her mother’s wedding dress and veil with extra spiders – Miss Havisham, of course.

    • Lynne says

      And I have just found a whole lot of the L.M.Montgomery titles are available free on Project Gutenberg! Time to fill the gaps in the collection.

  10. Lynne says

    I had a thought about Polly Oliver – do you think the bustle could just be re-arranged socks?

  11. Oooh great post! I adore LM Montgomery too, I devoured every book she wrote when I was a kid… Like you, I’ve held off building my LM Montgomery collection because of space… Soon! I have a little girl who will need to read them…

    I think I’ll have a look at Stella Gibbons… Sounds wonderful.

    I’d have to put F.Scott Fitzgerald on my list… I’ve read his stuff so many times it feels like an old friend..

    And for a contemporary author who consistently writes engaging historical fiction that doesn’t irritate me (I hate historical fiction that is really a modern story in costumes, know what I mean?) I turn to Philippa Gregory. She just published a third novel in a series about the female personalities surrounding the war of the Roses. It’s good.

    And Anne Perry grabbed me with “The Sheen on the Silk.” It’s set in Byzantium, and it sucked me in like all books used to when I was a little kid. I rationed myself because I didn’t want it to end. Then I found out she is Juliet Hulme… So now I’m worried about letting her in my head through reading her other books.. 😉

    • I’m reading Sheen on the Silk now. It isn’t a book that I “can’t put down”. But, neither can I give up and leave it unfinished. I can’t get past thinking that instead of wasting years in Constantinople trying to figure out what happened to her brother, she should just go to Israel and ask him. If her brother could get there she could too with just as much trouble or less than she was going through in Constantinople. Hope all these thoughts will be resolved as I continue reading.

      • But the writing… She made a lovely beautiful, terrifying world I didn’t want to leave… Which is probably why I was a little weirded out when I found out who she was..

        I suppose since going to Israel was so long and hard and weird and she wasn’t sure what she’d find, that’s why she put it off? I don’t know, but your way is more sensible.

    • Zach says

      Oh, my! I didnt know she ever wrote any books! If you start thinking about killing your friend’s mother, maybe you should go to therapy and put the books down. 😉

  12. Love Maeve Binchy. I always feel like I’m sitting down to coffee with an old friend catching up on other old friends when I read her books. Love Chronicals of Narnia, Anne of Green Gables and Little House on the Prairie too. I think it is time to dig out one of those series again and re-read them.

  13. Who doesn’t love Terry? I do think I own all his books. I’m always telling my (tall) son he’s just short for his height.* The other authors I’ve never read.

    My absolute favorite book is “The Greenlanders” by Jane Smiley. It is some serious hard-core historical fiction. It is also the most gut-wrenchingly beautiful book I’ve ever read. Not for the faint of heart. I also like the mysteries by Tony Hillerman set in the Navajo Nation. The whole white-man’s crimes/culture vs. Navajo crimes/culture thing is mind boggling sometimes. That show “Navajo Cops” is exactly like the books. Amazing! Although, I’m betting you don’t get that in NZ.

    *He also has the body of a 16 year old but we don’t know where he
    keeps it. *wink*

  14. (Not to pick nits but isn’t it “Spindle’s End”? Since it’s about spinning and all… )

    I’ve never heard of von Tempski but it sounds like I should try to track down some of her books! All your other four I’ve read and loved. “Cold Comfort Farm” is (I think) the only Gibbons I’ve read but you’re right, it’s so perfect that it wouldn’t matter if she’d never written another word. I adore Terry Pratchett… the Tiffany Aching series are my favourites, although I also love Sam Vimes. (I have NOT read everything he wrote, though… had I but world enough and time!)

    Have you read anything by Elizabeth Goudge? “The Scent of Water” is one of her more famous books, but she wrote dozens and dozens. My personal favourite is “Pilgrim’s Inn”, which is sweet and charming and funny and heartbreakingly poignant all in one. She writes about England, mostly in the decade or so right after WWII but also quite a bit of historical fiction, and her love of people and of her country is just so evident.

    • Maire Smith says

      I really love Goudge, but she’s such an odd writer that I almost never recommend her.

      ‘The Scent of Water’ is wonderful, though, and possibly easier to get into than some of the others. I think it may be my favourite.

      The New Zealand parts of ‘Green Dolphin Country’ are interesting, as a not-very-well-researched and heavily romanticised view of 19th century New Zealand by someone who had obviously never been here. I like the book, though. Or possibly it’s just that I like the main character!

  15. Daniel says

    I wonder what you make of Georgette Heyer? I do love her historical (18thC and Regency) romances for their style, generally impeccable attention to detail and minuitae and her rather unique use of language.

    LOVE Ghislain de Diesbach, although like you and Gibbons, that is based on only one book – a collection of short stories called “The Toys of Princes” that are just sumptuously baroque, set throughout the 19th century (the first story seems to start in the late 18th and the last story seems to be more 1890s). Beautifully translated by Richard Howard.

    • I love Georgette Heyer too! Read too many back to back and they ahve a certain modular quality, but I have reread my favourites many, many times and never tire of them. These Old Shades, Sprig Muslin, a Convenient Marriage, Sylvester and The Corinthian are my favourites, although I have to give a nid to Pharoah’s Daughter for sheer farcical fabulosity!

    • I definitely have time for Georgette Heyer. She’s not in the top 50, but I really enjoy her books, respect her attention to history, and appreciate how real her romance is (all the ones I have read had a practical element to the romance – and that just seems so accurate!).

      I must look up Ghislain de Diesbach. I love the name already!

  16. Apart from Georgie H, my favourite historical fiction writers would be Ellis Peters, Kerry Greenwood, and Elisabeth Peters. I discovered Elisabeth Peters while looking for new Ellis Peters titles in the library. In fact I am slightly ashamed to admit that many of my discoveries start with P and J, looking for Peters and P D James! Mind you, library shelves are so overwhelming it is as good a way of homing in as any, I guess.
    Kerry Greenwood rather unusually writes about a character in late 1920’s Melbourne, which is interesting and a little close to home for me. Phryne Fisher is irritatingly perfect, but as she frequently wishes to slap other characters rather than me being the one wanting to slap her, I can live with it!
    Elisabeth Peters writes fabulously rich tales of Victorian and Edwardian archaeology in Egypt based around another redoubtable female character, Amelia Peabody.
    As for Terry Tpratchett, he is a man among men. 🙂

    • I second Ellis Peters. I only discovered her recently, thanks to one of the blogs I read. 🙂 And since her books were translated into Czech by two women I consider some of the best translators from English, I trust I’m not losing much (one of them translated The Lord of the Rings in such a way that not only I get the whole meaning, I get the whole atmosphere and “taste” of it as well – when I read the original, I do not see a difference in that. That’s brilliance.).
      But you’re not interested in translators… what I love about the Cadfael series is the amazing sense of life in the past, in a time period I knew next to nothing about previously. Matched up with good detective stories that always leave me fascinated by the way things could be proven even without fingerprints and all that jazz.

  17. mouse says

    I’ll second Patricia McKillip. The Riddlemaster series (starting with Harpist in the Wind) has a lot of the standard sword and sorcery elements, but they’re done well. Really, really well. Her language has a nice balance of poetry and precision in her early works. The imagery in any of her books is always outstanding. In the last few decades she’s created novel-length fairy tales that some might find overblown, but I can just sink into for days. My favorites are Winter Rose, In the Forests of Serre and Song for the Basilisk.

    In the vein of Prachett I’d recommend Barry Hughart’s Bridge of Birds. It’s humorous fantasy, but set in Chinese mythology. It’s gorgeous and lush and incredibly funny. In the more traditional fantasy world, John Barnes’ One for the Morning Glory is another favorite.

    As a McKinley fan, what did you think of Sunshine? Do wish she’d do another urban fantasy or were the horror elements too much?

    • mouse says

      Oh! It’s the sort of book Gibbons’ was mocking, but what about Enchanted April?

      • Oh, I love Enchanted April! I don’t think Gibbon’s was mocking its type at all – it’s about using creative means to escape your fate, and finding hope and practical solutions to your problems; not at all the doom-laden, damp, gloomy English pastoral novel with their attempts at regional accents. And of course Elizabeth was Katherine Mansfield’s cousin. 😀

    • I’ve read a couple Patricia McKillip books, but they didn’t do anything for me. They weren’t bad or annoying (well, except the cliffhangers and tendency to make heros the ‘savior of the universe’ cliche), and I’d definitely put them on the better ranks of fantasy, but they didn’t make me want to find the author’s other works. I might give her recent stuff another try now that you have spoken so highly of it.

      I’ll definitely be looking up Hughart.

      Confession here: I haven’t read Sunshine. I know. It’s dreadful. It came out right as I was writing my first thesis, planning a wedding, and immigrating, and I’ve not managed to slow down enough since then to make time for it!

      • Sunshine is one of my favourite McKinley books, which I sometimes wonder about, because I don’t tend to like vampire stories or modern “urban fantasy” or such things, and Sunshine is all of those. It’s certainly not as sweet and “pretty” as many of her other books are, but I keep coming back to it 🙂

  18. This post makes me so incredibly happy! I, too, LOVE Robin McKinley; I definitely got my parentheses from her too! Except that I didn’t know they were from her until I read your post. I am also a huge fan of Montgomery, as well as Laura Ingalls Wilder and Louisa May Alcott. Those three authoresses are my childhood staples.

    Please read Sunshine! It is my absolute favorite of her books, even though I normally don’t like urban fantasy.

  19. Oh, you like Pratchett! And Cold Comfort Farm! I love that you’re making a Polly dress, that’s amazing!

    If you liked Cold Comfort Farm, I bet you might like Dorothy Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey mystery novels, especially the later ones. They’re also from the 30s, and about a gentleman detective and his faithful manservant, and they’re totally smart and delightful. Later in the series she introduces a love interest in the form of an Oxford-educated female mystery novelist (which Sayers herself was), and the books with her in them are my favorites.

    You might also like Naomi Novik’s Temeraire books. They tell an alternate version of the Napoleonic wars in which there’s an air force of dragons, and the ways in which the presence of dragons change the world are really fantastic. I would love to see your take on an English aviator’s uniform!

    The North American Discworld Convention is going to be in my neck of the woods next summer, and I already can’t wait. I have my Watch uniform almost ready to go!

  20. Chloe says

    Robin McKinley’s blog is FILLED with nesting footnotes. She’d be proud too.
    I sadly haven’t read many of her books though, just Water, Dragonhaven, Chalice and Pegasus, which are all fantastic and amaze me with how much world building and characterisation she manages to fit into those books.
    And I’m terribly behind on catching up with recent Terry Prachett books.

    I mostly prefer science fiction and fantasy, shading into YA, and you’ve already commented you aren’t fond of Tamora Pierce (not even the Emelan series, with Sandry the ‘stitch-witch’?) but I’ll recommend Shannon Hale’s Goose Girl and her other ‘Books of Bayern’ series. It’s more fairy tales redone and reinterpreted!

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