Sunday, February 8, 2009

Book series for teenagers and adults

I enjoyed writing my earlier posts about books so much that I've decided to make these posts a recurring one. My book recommendations are not meant to be comprehensive guides because I will only recommend books I've read myself. But if you're shopping around for ideas, I hope you will find my posts useful.

This entry is also about book series but since none of these books are actually considered children's fiction, they are more suitable for teenagers and adults. But I guess you can introduce them earlier or later depending on the reading level of your kids.

1) The Adrian Mole series by Sue Townsend

This series is a collection of diaries of a boy starting from when he's almost 14. It's a wonderful, thigh-slappingly comic satire of life in the UK from the 1980s. Adrian Mole is an unlikely hero - he's your typical teenager who agonises over his looks, girl trouble, parents who don't understand him and an uncaring world in general. When you read the diaries, you can actually picture the protagonist in your mind. The writing is so deadpan that it's effortlessly funny. I first read this when I was 13 and it has been a favourite on my bookshelf ever since, especially when I'm looking for a light read that'll make me laugh.

Sue Townsend started off with two books but later continued the series due to its popularity. There are six books in the series (the first book in my picture is a compilation of the first three volumes). By the sixth book, Adrian Mole is an adult, still luckless and grappling with the controversy of Iraq.

2) The Frank McCourt series

If you're like me, with a melancholic streak, you'll love Angela's Ashes. McCourt's memoirs of his own life growing up in a devastating poor, Irish family with an alcoholic father will tug at your heartstrings and release the tears. In his opening statement, he writes: "When I look back on my childhood I wonder how I survived at all. It was, of course, a miserable childhood: the happy childhood is hardly worth your while. Worse than the ordinary miserable childhood is the miserable Irish childhood, and worse yet is the miserable Irish Catholic childhood."

Angela's Ashes is a worthy winner of the Pulitzer Prize. The writing is simple, crisp and heart-breaking. McCourt went on to write two succeeding volumes of his life, into adulthood - 'Tis and Teacher Man. Both great reads but neither can match the mastery of the original book.

3) The Empress Tzu Hsi series by Anchee Min

I'm not sure if two books can be considered to constitute a series, but I wanted to introduce books set in the Asian culture. I was just commenting to a friend that too often, our kids read books about Western characters, study Western music and are exposed to Western art. It's important to keep in touch with our Asian roots.

These two books trace Empress Tzu Hsi's (widely regarded as China's most ambitious and infamous Empress Dowager) rise to power. In an age and country where women have zero status and are completely subservient to men, it is facinating to read how Tzu Hsi clawed and manipulated her way to the top.

4) The Lord of the Rings trilogy by JRR Tolkien

The ultimate fantasy series. Tolkien created an entire world named Middle Earth, with its own detailed history, characters and chronology of events. The book series is an enchanting read though long in parts. But I think the movie series has revived interest in the books and enabled readers to better visualise the characters and scenes. If you can, also read The Hobbit, which is a book on its own (and easier reading for younger readers) but gives a good preview to the events in Lord of the Rings.

My first book is a different edition from the other two because a friend borrowed my original one and never returned it, which annoys me tremendously. It's such a discourteous habit.

5) The No.1 Ladies Detective Agency series by Alexander McCall Smith
This is the only book series here that I don't own, but it's worth recommending because it's such a fun read. Set in a laid-back community in Botswana, the series revolves around a "traditionally-built" lady, Precious Ramotswe, who is also Botswana's only lady detective. Mme Ramotswe uses her wisdom to help solve her clients' problems and bring happiness to those around her. Unlike other detective stories, these have no gore, violence or sensational crimes, yet the stories are far from boring. The characters are delightful and their personalities intricately revealed one layer at a time, so readers are kept glued to every word.

There are currently 9 books to the series (starting with The No.1 Ladies Detective Agency) but Smith is still adding to the collection.


Lilian said...

Have come across all these books save for the last series. Brian read a couple of Adrian Mole books when we were in UK, I didn't know there were that many. Frank McCourt's books aren't that easy to read and I remember reading just one or two.

I was pruning my books last week, and gave away books including The Kite Runner, We've gotta talk about Kevin, Shopaholic series, even Bonesetter's daughter BUT surviving the pruning was Empress Orchid, a fascinating read indeed. I love stories about the Empress Dowager, there was one which was non-fictional, there were photos of her in the book. Loved it, but can't remember the title.

And LOTR, I found a great deal at an MPH warehouse sale, and got hard-covered boxed set for a pretty low price. I can't read it though and don't even get the show. Brian watches the show but the book is too tough a read for him.

Lilian said...

Oh I wanted to add that because I can't read Chinese, I savour English books on life in the Forbidden City. The Empress Dowager's life in particular makes for fascinating reading.

monlim said...

I love The Kite Runner! Will probably talk about some of the great books sometime. LOTR I read when I was in my late teens, I loved it. But I guess it also depends on how fanatical you are about it. Lesley-Anne can't stomach the show but her friend Ryan read them over and over when he was only 9. And my kids LOVE the movie trilogy!

monlim said...

I meant L-A can't stomach the books, not the show :P

Lilian said...

The Kite Runner was excellent, but not something I would read again. I couldn't stomach watching the movie, maybe my imagination went too wild when reading about the brutal parts, so didn't dare to watch it.

monlim said...

Yah, it was so sad. I wouldn't watch the movie either. Somehow, with books that I really enjoyed, the movie always fell short, like Memoirs of a Geisha.

Alcovelet said...

Kite Runner - so very sad. It never occurred to me to even watch the movie - maybe cos I don't watch movies these days, but yah, the book is always better. There was one exception though - Name of the Rose. Super both ways! These days, I only seem to read mainly non-fiction, but I'm about to dive into Benjamin Button. Did you guys read Time's Arrow by Martin Amis? I think he must have copied the concept from Benjamin Button. I'm thinking now. Still, the book was remarkable and has left quite an impression on me.

Alcovelet said...

BTW, have you guys read Jonathan Spence and his books regarding China? They're really interesting and detailed accounts of various figures in historical China. I find his books spellbinding!

monlim said...

Ad: Name of the Rose was really good, but I guess they had their secret weapon - Sean Connery! I'm not much into non-fiction, so haven't read Spence. The only guy whose non-fiction (travel) I like is Paul Theroux.

Alcovelet said...

Tell me about Paul Theroux and his nemesis, VS Naipaul. I prefer Paul Theroux though. To think he was a lowly paid teacher living in Singapore - he's so bitter about his experiences here though. We actually did the train journey from Hue to Danang like he recommended - awesome!

monlim said...

That's the only thing that tarnished his shining light a little for me - his pettiness over his SG experience. Otherwise, his writing is just superb.

Anonymous said...

Tks for the list, Mon. My elder gal only read the LOTR from the above listed. I can't even stomach one page of it. ;P


Anonymous said...

Hi Monica

I am delighted to find The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series on your list! I have only read the first one but found his writing very captivating and the plot very unusual. I intend to read the rest of the series. I also enjoy Smith's The Sunday Philosophy Club series. I love how he captured the rich atmosphere of Edinburgh, and of course, the story is very charming. Smith is a great story-teller.

Anyone read Never let me go by Kazuo Ishiguro? Extremely sad, but beautiful.


monlim said...

LL: McCall Smith is wonderful! Even his kids books are fun. Have you tried the 44 Scotland Street series? Very very good too!

Anonymous said...

No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series is wonderful! I've read everything in that series. Made me develop an interest in Rooibos tea (African red tea);-) They're even coming up with a movie. However I don't like his Isabel Dalhousie series as much--plots are a bit too implausible.. he also seems to be rather uncomfortable with handling the passion in man-woman romantic relationships.

I read LOTR when I was in my 20's. In contrast, my stepdaughter read the whole trilogy when she was 11.

I like KiteRunner too, both the book & the movie. One of the best books I read last year.


Lilian said...

LL, I have that Kazuo Ishiguro book on my shelf, maybe I'll finally read it now :)

tjmummy said...

I have all the Adrian Mole books too. I love those so much. They never fail to make me laugh so hard.

Elan said...

I enjoyed the few Adrian Mole books I read but I haven't managed to find all of them yet. I recently read a another rather funny book by Sue Townsend, "The Queen and I" about how Britain suddenly wakes up after an election with a Republican government and the Royal Family is kicked out of Buckingham Palace to go and live in the suburbs.

Another series that I personally enjoy very much are the medical thrillers by Robin Cook, he makes you never want to step into a hospital again! However, that could be my personal bias as a doctor!

My favourite author is Amy Tan but I guess her books don't really qualify as a series.


monlim said...

Elan: I have The Queen and I too! It's so funny and Sue Townsend's disdain for Prince Philip is so obvious :)

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