Today we welcome Alice James to choose three – yes, three, the number is important – books that influenced her and which don’t get enough attention. Alice is a financial reporter turned novelist: that’s all she wrote to me, though the bio on her website, www.alicejames.co.uk, contains details of her proficiency in Cobol and spiral staircase habit. Her debut urban fantasy whodunit, Grave Secrets, was published by Rebellion in September, and has been described as Stephanie Plum meets True Blood. It stars an estate agent, Toni, who is secretly a necromancer and raises the murdered dead at night to find out who killed them. More on that later, but let’s get straight to her choices:
I love being asked what books I enjoy, and have a tendency to make lists of my favourites. But I tend to make lists out of very filtered universes – favourite vintage SF by female authors, for example, or favourite urban fantasy whodunits with no werewolves. That’s because there are so many great books out there and people keep wilfully writing more. So, whittling this down to just three was always tough. In the end I decided to take three books that had hugely influenced me at different parts of my life. After I had chosen them, I realised that they still reflect the kind of stories that I read today and the ones that I write – total genre mashups – so it was an interesting journey.
The first is Lyrico by Elizabeth Vincent Foster. It’s a fabulous children’s adventure, a glorious genre mix of urban fantasy – think a little girl who has a winged horse living on the roof of her NY skyscraper – that shifts to wilderness beauty and a cowboy rodeo romance. I read it as a little girl and I still sometime reread it for its lush perfection. For children who love magic or horses or both, it’s a must. It was also a book that both my sister and I could read. I loved fantasy while she loved horses, so it might have been tailor-made for the pair of us. There are still any books that we both adore, but I do think this might mark the very first.
The second is The Shadow Guests by Joan Aiken. I adore her books, but this one stands out. It’s a coming of age story with ghosts and curses, but one that also manages to cram duelling roman soldiers, druids and knights into a slim volume. It’s very funny, in between the poignancy of bereavement and growing up, and it’s a book to treasure forever. There is a powerful them about friendship and loyalty running through it too. Oh dear, it’s happening again. I cannot stop raving about this book once I start. It also stars a protagonist called Cosmo and one of my cats is called Cosmo.
The third and final one is What’s a Girl Gotta Do? by Sparkle Hayter, the first of her Robin Hudson mysteries. They are more modern-day whodunits but almost in the style of Dashiell Hammett or Raymond Chandler. Robin is a reporter but she is also an amateur sleuth who drinks too much, eternally runs out of money and has disastrous taste in men. They called the genre Tarte Noir, and I think my own books are a little in that vein. I also have to confess: I reached out to Sparkle when I was finishing off Grave Secrets and she is just as adorably and lovely as I expected.
So that’s it. Genre mashups, whodunits, fantasy…I can’t believe there isn’t a single dragon or spaceship in there, but you did insist on only three books, you monster!
Monster indeed. There’s just time to remind you that Grave Secrets, Alice’s debut novel, has just come out to rave reviews. It’s about Toni, the estate agent stroke necromancer, remember? Get it from the Cafethinking bookshop.