1) The Vampire Lestat (and the Vampire Chronicles)
Vampires are a little passion of mine and the best vampires are the ones in Anne Rice's 'Vampire Chronicles'. Horror writing is sometimes looked down on as trashy, pulpy, shallow....but Anne Rice is an unbelievably good writer and her books cover themes like theology, sexuality, morality, mortality, the list goes on. She has a beautiful writing style and you find yourself falling in love with characters and getting extremely lost in their world.
The first book 'Interview With A Vampire' is narrated by vampire Louis, it is very dark, sombre and reflects the character well, however the majority of the chronicles are narrated by Lestat. 'The Vampire Lestat' is Lestat's story and it runs straight into 'Queen Of The Damned', the third book in the series. Lestat is one of my favourite fictional characters, I so wish he was real, his ego is immeasurable, his quest for knowledge leads him to into heaven and hell and he's not ashamed to tell the world what he is and what he does.
One of the reasons I like 'The Vampire Lestat' so much is that we've already met Lestat in 'Interview With A Vampire' but this story throws up contradictions. You learn a lot about a character by how they view events and Lestat definitely views things differently to Louis. It's an 'autobiography' that starts in the late 18th century and 'ends' in the 1980's, so there's a lot to pack in. I adore the character of Nicolas, Lestat's mortal lover and the first person he makes into a vampire. He is a pessimist and lives in a dark depression, when he becomes a vampire he turns slowly more insane and uncontrollable until he finally comes to a tragic end. Understanding Nicolas is important in understanding why Lestat finally makes Louis a vampire.
Most people know about Lestat from the film versions of Anne Rice's books. Tom Cruise was an amazing Lestat in 'Interview With A Vampire' but he was a tad too old for my liking and just not beautiful enough. Stuart Townsend really looked the part in 'Queen of the Damned', even though the film was pretty bad (good soundtrack though), but he was lacking Lestat's blond hair.
The chronicles are so vast and contain so much detail I can't possible talk about them in great detail here, much as I'd like to, and of course I don't want to give too much away just in case you decide to go out and read any of these books. If you like the 'Vampire Chronicles' you'll also enjoy Anne Rice's 'Lives of the Mayfair Witches' trilogy as there is a lot of character cross-over and they appear in later chronicles like 'Blackwood Farm' (another favourite) and 'Blood Canticle'.
If you're going to read these books you have to start from the beginning. They certainly get easier to read although 'Memnoch The Devil' is pretty heavy going and my least favourite of the chronicles.
2) The Picture Of Dorian Gray
For a book published in 1890 'The Picture Of Dorian Gray' feels very modern. In essence it's about a beautiful young man who leads a life full of sin and vice, he remains ageless and beautiful whilst his portrait grows more ugly, deformed and horrific with every debauched act he carries out. It says a lot about conscience and consequence.
I can't really say much more about it. I love it's cloaked references to homosexuality and Dorian's hedonism but I always find myself putting myself in his position and feeling so guilty, I don't think that even with a portrait like his I could ever be as debauched as him.....I guess that's part of the book's message though.
3) The Secret History
This is my favourite book, as soon as I've finished reading it I always want to start again. I first heard about it by chance, somebody had written to a film magazine asking when a film of it was going to be made, apparently it was stuck on the shelf at one of the major studios but had such a cult following interest in it was still high. I went out and bought it the next day and was addicted.
Although it's set in the 1980's the characters it follows seem to come from the 1920's and I'm always shocked when minor characters appear as they make it evident how different our anti-heroes really are. You find out on the first page that there has been a murder and that Richard, the narrator, and his group of friends are responsible. The rest of the book is taken up with exploring why the murder was 'necessary' and the aftermath of the event.
The friends themselves are classics students and since I studied GCSE and A-Level classics it appeals to me even more as it is essentially about fatal-flaws and fate itself. Another book 'Special Topics In Calamity Physics' reminds me a lot of 'The Secret History', well the first half of it does, but I've never found another book that captures me in quite the same way.
4) The Harry Potter Series
There's not much to say here, everybody knows about Harry Potter. The books get progressively darker and more adult as the series goes on. I've spoken to people that just think they're children's books but they really are so much more. The last book in particular has a lot of biblical themes and references and the characters deal with some very serious issues including death and self sacrifice.
Ron Weasley is my favourite character, he's funny and probably the most 'real'. I have a collection of Ron figures and toys at home. I swear I was born without a shame gene.
5) Valley Of The Dolls
This is a new addition to my favourites list. I only read it a few months back but I could not put it down. It was written in the 1960's but its views on celebrity and fame are possibly more relevant today than they were then.
The author, Jacqueline Susann, was a model and actress before she started writing and most of the characters and events are based on real people. Jennifer North, my favourite of the three characters the story revolves around, is very much like Marilyn Monroe and Neeley has echoes of Judy Garland and Francis Farmer.
The book follows three friends from their late teens into their adult lives as they slowly become more and more famous. The 'dolls' in the title are Seconals and other prescription drugs that become their only way of coping. It's not particularly well written but you get very attached to the characters and I truly wanted to know how everything would end. It's a real cult classic and an easy read so pick it up if you get a chance.
6) The Shadow Of The Wind
This is one of the most visual books I've ever read, once you've finished it you almost feel like you've been watching a film. It's about a boy who receives a book written by an unknown author, as he tries find out about the writer he uncovers a mystery that starts to mirror his own life.
This would make a great film, it would be epic. It's set in World War 2 Barcelona and there's an extremely gothic tone to this romance/thriller/murder mystery story. I don't want to say to much about it as it's very complex and I don't want to give anything away but do have a read, it's such a modern gothic fairytale.
I'm also a sucker for a Dan Brown book, 'Angels and Demons' is my favourite but I think that's because it's set in Rome (my favourite place on earth), I know he's a terrible writer but like the rest of the world I just can't put his books down. I'm reading the teenage vampire 'Twilight' series at the moment, again Stephanie Meyer is far from a good writer but I'm in love with Edward and can't wait for the new film to be released over here, I'll write about the film when I've seen it. 'Atonement' was a beautiful book, painful to read in places but I have to say I think the ending was done better in the film. I'd love to know what other books people would recommend now that they know what I like.