This month, ‘Author’s Bookshelf’ takes a look at the books close to S. J. Bolton’s heart.
What author have you discovered and loved recently?
Lisa Gardner, the (understandably) best-selling US writer. I met her at the Theakston’s Crime Festival at Harrogate this year and enjoyed her company very much. Her books (unlike their creator) are creepy, compelling and very scary.
Is there an author who is your guilty pleasure (or any book you’d rather have a brown paper bag over while reading?)
I wouldn’t dream of being that disrespectful to any author. If a book is worthy of my time, I’m happy to let the world see me reading it. Having said that, racey, romantic fiction is probably the closest I come to a guilty pleasure because I have so little time normally to read it. I read tons of crime novels, my book club keeps me up to speed with so- called “literary fiction” but for sheer unadulterated pleasure and escapism, I’m invariably going to turn to the wonderful Jilly Cooper.
What’s the book you’d choose as your Desert Island book?
Herman Melville’s Mobey Dick. I’ve tried to read it several times, love the early chapters and somehow just can’t get through it. I even fall asleep in front of the film. On a desert island, with no other distractions, I might just do it (and, possibly, along the way, learn something about extreme fishing!)
Is there a book that you lend out and push onto all your friends?
I Capture the Castle by Dodi Smith. I can never seem to keep a copy at home because I’m constantly lending it out and, funnily enough, it never seems to come back.
Can books change lives? If so, which one changed yours?
Books can and do change lives. They cheer the lonely, educate the ignorant, give courage to the timid, set free the cell-bound prisoner but, in all honesty, I’ve always seen this as a team effort. If there’s a single book out there with the power to change lives I’ve yet to read it.
What are your top ten books?
1. Charlotte Bronte’s JANE EYRE
Atmosphere, mystery, a deeply passionate love story and the most compelling hero in literature. This book has everything for me and is, rather than Wuthering Heights, the true Bronte masterpiece.
2. Stephen King’s – INSOMNIA
This isn’t my favourite (or indeed the best) King novel but the underlying idea behind the plot –that of four great forces governing the universe – life, death, purpose and random – is one of the most imaginative I’ve ever come across – and something I find disturbingly credible. I also like the way King makes his action hero and heroine two people in their seventies – a feat very few thriller writers could pull off.
3. Elizabeth Von Armin’s – THE ENCHANTED APRIL
This is a tremendously warm and uplifting book. Four women, strangers to each other at the outset, rent a castle in Italy for the month of April. I’m in awe of a writer who can produce such an engaging and enthralling story out of so little action.
4. Thomas Harris’s – SILENCE OF THE LAMBS
Simple, compelling and totally terrifying, this is possibly the best thriller of modern times. If it didn’t invent the notion of the fascinating, strangely-engaging serial killer, it certainly gave it a new lease of life. Hannibal Lector is the perfect anti-hero – we are mesmerized and repulsed by him in equal measure and the beautiful, brave Clarice is a wonderful foil for him.
5. Philip Pullman’s – HIS DARK MATERIALS
The aspect of literature I find most inspiring, that pushes me to keep going, to produce something that bit better, is that which stretches the human imagination beyond what I’d have believed possible. I love these three books so much: polar bears and witches, parallel worlds that are reached through the aurora borealis, people whose souls take animal form, warriors that ride on dragon-flies. They’re not perfect books, but they’re works of sheer genius all the same. I know that I’ll be reading them until the day I die.
6. JRR Tolkein’s – THE LORD OF THE RINGS
Thriller, adventure story, romance, fantasy, epic – these books have pace, suspense, excitement, characters you can love, the age-old battle of good v evil and an earthy love of food, beer and all things humble. Peter Jackson’s wonderful films brought the story to millions but, as is always the case, there’s so much more to be found in the books.
7. Dan Brown’s – THE DA VINCI CODE
It’s fashionable to knock Dan Brown, but I can’t bring myself to do it. Yes, there are faults in this book, but I’d read it cover to cover three times in a row before I started seeing them. The underlying idea is brilliant, the pace breathtaking and the research behind it phenomenal.
8. Donna Tart’s – A SECRET HISTORY
An absorbing, bewitching book written from the very clever premise that we know, from the outset, who murderers and victim are. We just don’t know why.
9. Charles Dicken’s – Bleak House
A dark, absorbing tale and a fascinating study of human nature. One could probably say this about most of Dicken’s books but this one has always had the edge for me.
10. J K Rowling’s – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
I love all seven books but if I had to choose just one it would be the story that brings the series to a close so wonderfully. (Spoiler alert) I wasn’t just tearful when Harry walks, accompanied by the ghosts of his parents, to his death at the hands of Lord Voldemort, I was howling out loud. Even the dog came to see what was going on. And the simple elegance of the final resolution still takes my breath away when I think about it.
What’s your most treasured book on your bookcase?
I’m afraid it’s a first edition of my own first novel, Sacrifice, dedicated to my husband and son.
The new S. J. Bolton thriller Now You See Me is available in hardback and the highly acclaimed Blood Harvest, shortlisted for the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year, is now available in paperback.