Also known as Savidge Reads Greats Reads (and is a bit like Waterstone’s Writers Table only I’m not an author) imagine you could have a massive table in your hall where you had endless piles of your favourite books that you could just give out for free to all your guests. So if you were ever wondering what books have made it onto Savidge Read’s ‘favourites’ list then here they are…
Rebecca – Daphne Du Maurier
If you love all things gothic and dark then this is definitely a tale for you and as these are two of my favourite ingredients in a novel that’s possibly why it’s my favourite book of all time (so far). You very much live in the shoes of the narrator with no name as she falls head over heels in love with Maxim de Winter in Monte Carlo and then falls into despair once arriving at Manderley the home of his ex wife Rebecca and her obsessed housekeeper Mrs Danvers. In fact I think Mrs Danvers would have to be one of my favourite characters of all time, she is pure evil but you want to read her endlessly. A fabulous piece of romantic gothic mystery that will have you gripped from one of my very favourite authors.
The Woman in White – Wilkie Collins
This masterpiece is one of the original, if not the first, ‘sensation novels’ that came out in the late 1850’s. Filled with cunning but brilliant villains, dashing heroes and quite hardy heroines ‘The Woman in White’ falls somewhere between Detective Fiction though without a detective, thriller and ghost story with a sprinkling of mystery. It’s all fantastically over the top but has one of the most brilliant, and most complicated (though it is made easy for the reader to follow) plots that I have ever had the joy of reading.
To Kill A Mockingbird – Harper Lee
If you had asked me to do this list over a year ago this book wouldn’t have featured. In fact I would have probably said ‘oh no I wouldn’t read that’ I think it was the fact that it had sold so many and yet I had no idea what it was about that bizarrely put me off. A huge lesson to be learnt there as this book deserves to be the biggest selling book of all time if it isn’t already. A tale of family, a tale of diversity, a tale of youth, a tale of struggle. This book covers so much it’s not easy to define it with a mere paragraph other than to say that if you haven’t read it you must and if you have read it… read it again.
The Hound of the Baskervilles – Arthur Conan Doyle
I absolutely adore all of the Sherlock Holmes books and could quite easily have put every single short story down as my favourite 40+ stories of all time; however that might have made for quite an unoriginal read. This is by far the darkest (have you noticed I like a dark book) of the Sherlock stories and also one of the longest making it a pure delight for me to read again and again. There is also one scene which still scares me (and I have been reading this book for well over ten years almost every year) to this day. If you’re ever going to read a Sherlock Holmes novel make it this one.
In Cold Blood – Truman Capote
Possibly the best non fiction book of all time? A recent addition (and this list I am sure will change over time) to my favourite books ever as I only read it a few months ago and was completely blown away by it. Having read Capote’s fiction and loved it I wasn’t sure how I would get on with the tale of the true murders of a family in America and why the killers did what they did but I was gripped. Written factually yet with stunning prose you live the uncomfortable emotions of the killers and their victim which leads to a disturbing, upsetting and thought provoking read. I haven’t read anything else like it.
Lady Audley’s Secret – Mary Elisabeth Braddon
A book that was scorned in the Victorian era but became a best seller (they say all publicity is good publicity) and then lead to its author becoming one of the darlings of ‘sensation fiction’. This book is a murder mystery thriller with possibly one of the most brilliant and calculating villainesses (like with Collin’s ‘Armadale’ which I must read, the book was nearly banned as people didn’t believe women could be that wicked) I have come across in my reading to date. Sadly not as well know as it should be but a cult favourite for those who have tried it.
Half of a Yellow Sun – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Never in a book has the shocking effects of war on people been so vivid for me. Told through three very differing walks of life this is a shocking portrayal of the Biafra war in Nigeria less than 50 years ago. Moving, compelling and devastatingly real this is possibly one of the very best books to have come out within the last ten years. You can’t read this in one sitting as it’s far too disturbing but once you turn the final page you know that this book has changed you and you won’t ever be quite the same again.
The Woman in Black – Susan Hill
I love a good ghost story and it seems in the modern literary world they are pretty hard to pull off. With Susan Hill’s wonderful ‘Woman in Black’ you are surrounded by a gloriously creepy dark atmosphere and a story that truly sends shivers up and down your spine. The book is actually full of moments that literally scare you as a modern reader but in a very classic way. A perfect book for a dark winter’s night to add even more of a chill in the air.
The Time Traveler’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger
I remember reading this when the hype was at its highest and thinking about ten pages in that ‘this isn’t going to work for me’ how wrong was I? I wasn’t sure that a book which saw a love story start when a girl was six and the man was thirty years older than her was appropriate however when you realize that he is a Time Traveler and they meet time and time again in her future and his past it starts to work and before you know it you are hooked. The writing is wonderful, the characters are engaging and real the story just has a slightly sci-fi twist, though sci-fi fans reading that are probably offended. This is a future classic and no question. I will admit it made me very, very tearful.
The Mitford’s: Letters Between Six Sisters – Edited by Charlotte Mosley
This is a giant book and initially put me off somewhat however I am now, in part to this book and in part to one of the books further down, a true Mitford-a-holic and an unashamed one. What makes this book so fascinating are the characters writing it that include an author, a jail bird, a friend of Hitler and a Duchess and the fact that these intimate, witty, gossipy, shocking and moving letters take place over a period of eighty years or more. When in the future do you think that we will get books like this, unless it’s something like ‘the emails between six IT girls’ which just wouldn’t work the same way. A wonderful insight into the lives of six remarkable women and the history they have witnessed.
Brideshead Revisited – Evelyn Waugh
Just like with Harper Lee I admit that a year or more ago if you had said that Evelyn Waugh would be in my top forty books (or even that I would have read him) and I would have possibly given you a slightly withered look. Reading this before seeing the film (which I always do) changed that completely. Who knew that Waugh could be funny, be it only the one or two scenes in what is a fantastic tale of a family doomed. Looking at the upper classes and at Catholicism and how it could affect people before the great war, we find that people weren’t as carefree and frivolous as we thought and if they were they invariably ended up paying for the consequences of it.
Wicked – Gregory Maguire
If you are a massive fan of The Wizard of Oz you will either love this or completely hate this. I read this about seven years ago when one of my friends brought it back from America for me. I just loved it. Imagine if The Wicked Witch of the West wasn’t wicked just misunderstood? Reading in part like the biography of Elphaba (The Wicked Witch of the West) this brings Oz to life in a new and incredibly vivid way. Want to know why the cowardly lion is cowardly, how the scarecrow and tin man ended up who they were and where they were then this is a book you must, must read.
Perfume – Patrick Suskind
This is the wonderful tale of Jean-Baptiste Grenouille who as a child is abandoned in the filthy streets of Paris. He has a gift, an amazing sense of smell in fact and soon enough he is creating the most beautiful perfumes that Paris has ever seen… well smelt. However there is one scent that he simply cannot capture and that is the scent of a young virgin. Soon enough Jean finds he will go to any lengths in order to try and create the one and only smell that escapes him to murderous results. Gripping and incredibly original this is one of the rare books I have read more than twice.
Tales of the City – Armistead Maupin
Delightful would be the one word that would sum Maupin’s creations and characters that inhabit Barberry Lane in San Francisco. We join Mary Ann Singleton as she arrives fresh from Cleveland in 1976 and has her eyes well and truly opened by the city and those she meets and ends up neighbouring. If you could bottle up happiness in a book then I honestly think this would be it. Reading like a collection of wonderful stories of the randomness of city life this is the perfect read for when you’re down in the dumps. If that wasn’t enough there are then another six in the series for you to enjoy at your leisure.
Atonement – Ian McEwan
I am a big fan of Ian McEwan and I do think that his more recent work has been some of his finest having read quite a few. Atonement is a beautifully written tale of how mixed messages and white lies can change the events of people’s lives completely. I loved the twist in the end, which they didn’t put in the film, and the fact that in a sort of butterfly effect small things can have huge consequences that change things forever and ever. This is definitely a modern masterpiece.
The Road – Cormac McCarthy
A tale of hope against everything in possibly the grimmest of surroundings. A journey of a father and son in what appears to be a burned post apocalyptic America. Deep down a tale about humanity and what can cause it to change beyond all recognition but mainly a profound novel about hope and the bond between family and in this case the unbreakable bond between a father and son. Sparse, dark, bleak and grey might not make for everyone’s favourite read and may not even be your cup of tea. I urge you to try this book as I couldn’t stop thinking about it for weeks and months after.
The Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafon
I bought this because the ‘cemetery of lost books’ sounded just like the sort of place that I would get lost in and never want to leave and this book is one you never really want to end. Daniel is allowed into this book addict’s haven when he is 10 years old and chooses a book, a book which intrigues many people who met and try to find Daniel throughout his youth and into his adult life. One such figure reminds Daniel of the devil and is intent on burning every copy of the book Daniel owns, but why? What follows is a wonderfully plotted and well written thriller that anyone who loves books will not be able to resist.
The Pursuit of Love – Nancy Mitford
Opening this novel I never thought that it would be so comedic. The dry wit that flew through Nancy Mitford’s pen or typewriter is almost in parts too much and yet it never seems farcical. I cannot remember a time since this book, or in fact before, where I have literally burst out laughing at a scene in a book whilst reading it and then giggling for days at the memory of reading it. I certainly cannot think of a time when a book has made me do this on not just one occasion but over and over again… and in less than 300 pages. I have heard that Love in a Cold Climate is even better so I may have to swap them once I have read it.
The Observations – Jane Harris
A wonderful debut novel which is a Scottish Gothic Mystery and in some ways wouldn’t have been out of place published in the ‘Sensation Novel’ era of the 1860’s – 1880’s only the author wasn’t born then. Jane Harris takes us into the wonderful narration and world of Bessy Buckley possibly one of the best heroines that I have had the joy to read in the last few years. Witty, gutsy, saucy and incredibly nosey when she starts her new job working for the beautiful Arabella she realises something isn’t right and of course she has to find out what. This is a truly wonderful gothic and escapist romp. I cannot wait for the next Jane Harris book.
On Chesil Beach – Ian McEwan
I have heard many people say that this is an overrated book; I would have to strongly disagree. In fact I would say that it’s possibly, to my mind, McEwen’s masterpiece and I have read quite a few of his books. Small but perfectly formed would be another way of looking at it in fact. Each page is taught with tension as we witness a couple go through an earth shattering (for all the wrong reasons) time in their relationship and a book that shows one misunderstanding and misread moment can lead to unbelievable and tragic consequences. Short, sharp, shocking and saddening this is some of McEwan’s finest work. Better than Atonement (which is further down) which was a tough, tough act to follow.
The Book Thief – Markus Zusack
I remember seeing this in the book shops and being wary of it and I am not sure why. I was then bought it as a gift and ‘had to read it’ and was of course like everyone who has read it (well that I have heard from so far) completely blown away by it. Narrated by death this is the tale of his encounters with The Book Thief during the Second World War. Who is The Book Thief? You will have to read it to find out, but be warned… I will admit that it made me cry copiously and I was completely moved and involved by it. I know I will read this book again one day.
The Secret History – Donna Tartt
I don’t think there are many people who haven’t read this book and it does seem that people tend to read this in pivotal places or times in their lives. I was only having this conversation the other day. This book reminds me of the first time I ever lived fully on my own in my own flat and feeling very much like a grown up who could go home and read grown up books with a glass of wine. Anyway the book is all about classic students in America and a heinous thing that they do and how they live with the consequences. It’s also about being and belonging in some ways and how far we will go to fit in.
Mister Pip – Lloyd Jones
Sometimes you read a book that shows you just how powerful a book is and this is one of those. Any book with the lines ‘You cannot pretend to read a book. Your eyes will give you away. So will your breathing. A person entranced by a book simply forgets to breath” is a winning book with me. Though behind this stunning prose is an incredibly saddening and shocking tale which made me gasp out loud on more than one occasion. I shan’t say any more than that as with this book the blurb and the cover don’t hint at the darkness behind the story as it starts.
The Whitby Witches – Robin Jarvis
Another of my favourite childhood books, and yet again one that involves witches and magic! Hmmm do we see a theme starting at any point? This is a very modern fairytale like story of two orphaned siblings being sent to Whitby to live with the elderly Alice Boston. One of the children has visions and thinks that something is wrong with him, only soon enough he realizes he has a gift which very much fits in with Whitby and its locals. If you want an adult version then try Paul Magrs Brenda and Effie mysteries, I think the reason I love them so is due to this book (and the wonderful writing of course) they are very good reading companions.
Mudbound – Hillary Jordan
This book actually left me speechless for two reasons. One was a particular scene which is not for the faint hearted and I shall say no more about in fear of ruining the story, the other was how much Hillary Jordan could conjure up and put you through in only 300ish pages. The hardships of 1940’s rural America, poverty, war and racism are all the main topics in this astounding debut novel. Alongside that is a tale of two neighbouring families struggle and survival in very differing circumstances and an unrequited love story. Phew, that’s enough plot for anyone, and this has the prose to match!
State of Happiness – Stella Duffy
This has to be one of the saddest books I have ever read. I don’t think a book has made me cry quite so much ever, that isn’t a bad thing though. Reading through a couple and their story, who seem so real you find it hard to believe its fiction, at the effects of terminal illness on a relationship and all its complex and often uncomfortable emotions this book stunned me with its prose and honesty. I think having lived with someone through the final weeks of their illness made this book a very personal read to me; however anyone would be touch by this novel if they haven’t been touched by the effects of terminal illness. Harrowing but a well worth read.
Animal’s People – Indra Sinha
I read this for a previous book group which also brought the wonderful ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’ into my life. This is a fiction retelling of one of India’s chemical plants exploding and the devastation and effects it leaves behind. In fact our very narrator Animal is one such outcome of the explosion which deformed him in the womb and leads to his nickname. Through his funny, often rude and explicit, tales and sights we are shown a side of India that we don’t often get to hear about. In what is a very dark setting Animal is a complete ray of light and I wanted to spend another 500 pages with his company.
The Boy in the Stripped Pyjama’s – John Boyne
One of those books that ‘you shouldn’t give the ending away from’ as if you know it the reading experience just won’t be the same. Having said that I cried again the second time I read this book. I won’t give anything more away other than to say the fact that John Boyne managed to do everything he did in such a short novel is absolutely amazing. Books don’t tend to make me cry (though you will see a few in this list that have) with such a wonderful narrator and how his story unfolded how could I not? I think if you haven’t read this then please, please give it a go.
Memoirs of a Geisha – Arthur Golden
This book could be used to show any future author who to write people from another culture to perfection and also people of the opposite sex and also in a completely different time period. How Golden managed to create such intense female characters in such a male dominated and demanding setting and circumstance is beyond me. How he then managed to make women who could be judged and dismissed as bad women (one is and its absolutely fantastic reading of a wonderfully dark character) into heroine’s and women of their time is also commendable for some of those women, in the real world, undoubtedly were. This truly is a breathtaking epic masterpiece.
Human Croquet – Kate Atkinson
Not by any means one of her more famous books and yet, for me at least, one of her best. This book has a mystery (do you see a theme with my favourite books) at the heart of the Fairfax family and only Isobel, the sixteen year old daughter whose mother has vanished, wants to look in the depths of the nearby forest to find out what once happened. Oh and did I mention Isobel can travel in time? I hate the expression ‘coming of age story’ but in many ways this is though with a surreal magicalism that makes it different from anything else I have ever read.
The Reader – Bernhard Schlink
I have noticed that there seems to be some big themes in my favourite reads as if it’s not gothic mysterious and dark or magical then it is probably going to be set during the war. The Reader is a book set in Germany not long after the war when 15 year old Michael has a love affair with older woman Hanna. After the affair breaks up she comes back into his life in a shockingly unusual way. Looking at how the Second World War affected the next generation of Germans this is a brilliant book that provokes a lot of though and discussion, wonderful.
The Island – Victoria Hislop
Now I will admit that for the first chapter of this I was thinking ‘oh no this is so not me’ I admit, and I am not a snob, I thought that this was going to be a saccharin chick lit summer read. Alexis bored with London decides to find out more about her heritage and Greek routes, my mind was almost writing the love story to be in my head. Now you see you should persevere with books because what unfolds is a moving, romantic, emotion and wonderful debut novel set around Spinalonga Greece’s former leper colony and tells of the island and its surrounding mainland’s dark past.
Five on a Treasure Island – Enid Blyton
I couldn’t do my top forty without putting my very favourite author during my childhood and my favourite series. My mother has wonderful hardback versions of these from the sixties and she lent me them and I completely through myself into the world of mysteries, castles and ginger beer. I so wanted to be in the famous five and still now in my late twenties always look for an adventure whenever I am having a picnic with my friends. It hasn’t happened yet though, I am still hopeful. I am unimpressed with the revisions that they are making to these, no one would dare do it to Austen would they?
The Collector – John Fowles
Not one of the authors most well known books it is the only one of his that I have read after my Gran (who you all seem to love) recommended that I must read it. Frederick is a loner who collects butterflies and after winning the pools decides to buy a remote house and starts to collect women. Through the eyes of Miranda we watch her overcome her own contempt and prejudices, and therefore ours, for her captor in order for her to have the smallest chance of survival. A gripping read that stays with you long after the final page.
Midnight’s Children – Salman Rushdie
This is nothing short of epic and is definitely not everybody’s cup of tea. This Man Booker of Man Bookers daunted me as I turned the first pages but within an hour I was completely and utterly drawn in. This is a mixture of a magical surreal tale of India’s children born on the exact chime of midnight that India became independent. These children are born with magical gifts but will they use them for good or for bad and who can control them. This is also a tale of a changing India and that is a country, culture and part of history that I find utterly fascinating. Would I say it deserves Booker of the Booker’s? I would have to read more to know for sure.
Spies – Michael Frayn
Now this is one of my mother’s very favourite books and with a title like ‘Spies’ you may be confused into thinking that along with being set in the second world war this is all about people spying over the ‘enemy’ and it’s not at all. This wonderful book is actually the tale of two children living in a cul-de-sac that the Second World War doesn’t seem to be touching. However Keith and Stephen start to suspect that their neighbours may not be who they think they are and so they start to spy and soon discover much more than they bargained for. Wonderfully written this is a look at people and the secrets our neighbours keep under our very noses.
The Book of Lost Things – John Connelly
I would never have read this if it wasn’t for the cover and for the fact that one of my friends urged me to read it, really urged me. A clever look at the effects of grief as a young boy immerses himself in the world of fairytales that his dead mother used to read him. Only as the fairytales very much begin to creep into his real life he has to face monsters and all the dark things life and ‘the pretend’ throw in his path. Pulling on your childhood fears this is a dark book that leaves you feeling quite unsettled. If you love fairy tales like I do then give this a whirl.
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society – Mary Ann Shaffer
A newish book to the list as I only read this last year and just adored it. Another book in my top forty in 1946 this tells Guernsey’s own history during the Second World War which I knew nothing about, did you know it was occupied by Germany? No neither did I. The story is told all in letter form which starts when a man in Dawsey finds an old copy of a book once owner by author Juliet Ashton. A friendship is formed and a wonderful correspondence begins. Simple and fun this is the perfect summer read, or feel good winter read. I loved it.
The Luminous Life of Lilly Aphrodite – Beatrice Colin
Another recent favourite addition to my top forty books and one that I wasn’t expecting. This is a tale of Berlin through both the wars and shows how it affected people of all walks of life. Lilly Aphrodite is a brilliant almost Dickensian (though I am going from the TV shows as shock horror he is an author I am still to read) character who goes from orphan to showgirl, penniless maid to famous actress through a dark time in Europe’s history. Filled with wonderful characters, even if they only have a single line, it’s a debut novel that takes you on a compelling journey with tears and laughter thrown in before a very devastating yet clever twist in its tail.
The Worst Witch – Jill Murphy
I do think that the books that we read as children are part of what forms our reading as we grow older. Though full of laughter and thrills as Mildred Hubble and Tabby get everything wrong at the Academy for Witches there is a darker undertone. Characters like Miss Hardbroom could be a close relation of Mrs Danvers in a strange way and also its surreal and magical which is another component of some of the books that I now love to read as an adult. There are more of my favourite children’s books to come and I think we all like to sneakily curl up with our childhood favourites now and then.