Five Books I’d like to read again for the first time

By Mary Jo

I’m a great re-reader and there are many books I’ve read over and over. But there are certain books I’d love to be able to read again for the first time so I could have that wonderful sense of discovery for a second time. This is a listing not of my favorite books, though they mostly are, but books that took me to fascinating new places.

1) The Ivy Tree by Mary Stewart.

Mary Stewart was an inspiration for many romance authors, and this is the first of her books I ever read, though far from the last.

Technically I didn’t even read the book, but rather a condensation published in one of my mother’s Lady’s Home Journal magazines. I was enthralled by the location in Northumberland by the Roman wall and by the characters, the story, the romance, the lyrical prose, the suspense. And there was a twist at the end that I probably would have seen coming if I were an older and a more experienced reader. But it stunned me then, and it’s still a great story.

2) The Game of Kings by Dorothy Dunnett.

As a teenager, I found this book in my local library, and I was enthralled. Scotland, the brilliant and enigmatic hero, Francis Crawford of Lymond, high drama and danger, and a richly, dazzlingly intelligent writing style that often made me feel like an idiot, but I didn’t care. It was the first book of six book Lymond Chronicles series, which is a vast sweeping saga that crosses Europe, years, and multiple nations. and brings the 16th century brilliantly alive. It took years for the series to be completed and bring our tortured hero to the happy ending he deserves, and it was worth the wait. Dunnett is another author that had a huge influence on historical writers.



3) Sylvester; or The Wicked Uncle by Georgette Heyer

When Regency writers gather, a discussion of “My First Heyer” often follows with each of us talking about the book that was the gateway drug into Regency Romance. As a college student in Syracuse, I was downtown and browsing in the basement of the Economy Bookstore. There were long tables of paperbacks with their covers ripped off selling for 5 cents each. I didn’t know selling stripped books was illegal but I was a poor student and loved book bargains.

So I read warily decided to risk a nickel on this Heyer person. I discovered Sylvester and Phoebe and was enchanted by the world Heyer created with wit, wonderful word play, and delicious characters. Sylvester led me back to the bookstore basement for more cheap, illegal books, and then to the library, and over time, purchase of new copies and I moved into a wonderful, unexpected new career. Books have power!

4) Archangel by Sharon Shinn

A couple of friends suggested this book since they knew I liked fantasy, but it took me a while to buy the book because I hated the cover. (I still do.)

But Shinn is a masterful world builder and I was fascinated by Samaria, a world with angels–humans with powerful wings who can fly and rise up into the sky to mediate between humans and the Samarian god, Jovah. Shinn’s descriptions of the singing are mesmerizing and the story is wonderful.

It’s also very much a romance as Gabriel, the angel who is slated to become the next Archangel and leader of all the hosts, must find the woman chosen by the god to be his Angelica–but she has vanished. Rachel was captured and enslaved as a child and even when Gabriel finds her and frees her to become his ordained mate, she is so angry with a world where people have always controlled her that she refuses to do anything she is told. Fireworks follow. But its wonderfully imaginative with memorable characters and ultimately a happy ending.

5) The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold

Bujold is always a wonderful writer, but this fantasy novel, first in her World of the Five Gods series, was very different from her very fine science fiction, and I fell totally in love with it. I’ve read that Chalion was inspired by a course on Spanish medieval history that Bujold took for fun. The feel of her world is very Spanish and there’s a version of the Ferdinand and Isabella story woven into the overall plot.

But the heart and soul of the story is Cazaril, an exhausted soldier who is broken in mind and body and seeking refuge in the castle where he served as page in his youth. Welcomed into the household, he is fed, clothed, and soon finds himself the tutor to the young princess Iselle, sister of the boy who is heir to the kingdom.

The king, who is in bad health, summons the prince and princess to the royal household in the capital city. There Cazaril must use all his hard won wisdom and fighting skill to protect the princess and her companions from politics, deadly danger, and a curse that seems to come from the gods themselves. It’s hard to explain the sweep and power of the story, but it’s wonderfully satisfying and Cazaril is one of the best all time heroes. I’d love to read it again for the first time!

What about you? Are there books you’d love to read again for the first time? If so, what are they?

Mary Jo


34 thoughts on “Five Books I’d like to read again for the first time”

  1. Amazingly, I not only have read these but I also own all five AND the complete series that they each represent! Stewart, Bujold and Heyer have had many rereads. The Dunnet series in presently waiting for a reread now that I’ve repurchased them in Kindle form (for larger type!) Guess it is time to dig out Shinn as well! You are correct…they are all worthy re-reads!

  2. Most of all I would love to read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings again for the first time. I was working my first job when the Ace editions came out in the US (ahead of the Ballantine versions which were still being negotiated). I remember sitting in Stat’s Restaurant on my lunch break from my first real post college job when I read the part where Gandalf fell into the abyss. I was so shocked that I let out a squeal and the other people in the restaurant stared at me. I held up my book and some of them looked at me and shook their heads; making such a fuss over a funny looking paperback book!

    I had already read all the Georgette Heyers I could get at that time, and having been an English major, I had been fascinated to find a current author who was writing at the same level as Jane Austen. I don’t remember which one was the first; I glommed all the Ace editions as I could get them. I think it may have been Venetia.

    The first of the modern regency authors I remember picking up was an early Mary Balogh. I remember being surprised at the emotional intensity of her style; she really knew how to get a grip on the reader. I think the first one I read was Red Rose.

    All of these have been read to death. I have some in hardbacks, paperbacks and kindle form. Someday I am sure books will come just as crystal cubes that we hold in our hands so as to absorb all the nuances of the story and live the events with the characters, and if I’m able to I’ll have them in that form as well 🙂

  3. My first Heyer was The Spanish Bride. Yes, really. This always amazes other Heyer fans when I mention it, mainly because they can’t believe I persisted after that. I’d be quite happy to unread it, really.

    I’d like to read Little Women for the first time again. It blew me away on first reading because I was quite young (8? 9?), and it really drew me into a world so different from mine.

    • My mother was a huge fan of Heyer, and The Spanish Bride was one of her favourites. She loved Harry Smith, and as an engagement gift for her, my father scoured the UK for a copy of his autobiography – which I eventually inherited. I have a small collection of my favourite Heyers, and The Spanish Bride is one of them (I first read it in my early teens).

  4. I certainly agree about the first three and need to read the last two. People have told me I would like Lois Bujold if I love Heyer and I read the first book but didn’t feel compelled to continue, but maybe it is time to revisit her work. Devil’s Cub and The Grand Sophy are my favorite Heyers but Sylvester is high on my list.

    I think some I would like to read again for the first time are Katherine by Anya Seton (surely her masterpiece; most others are really dark and depressing), Wintercombe by Pamela Belle (which I often turn to as comfort reading), Tam Lin by Pamela Dean, Celia Garth by Gwen Bristow, and I can’t make a list without my favorite author, Elswyth Thane, so I will add Yankee Stranger (although I prefer the English Civil War to the American Civil War). Several of these I read for the first time in junior high so I have had the opportunity to reread them many times!

    I hope you are well, Mary Jo!

      • An Elswyth Thane fan! You have made me recall that way back in the day I scoured use bookstores in LA for Elswyth Thane titles (I’d never heard of her) which I traded with a pen pal in England who would send me new Beatles LPs as they were released. Those were the days 🙂

    • Constance–I’m fine and will be better when I finish the second book in this series! With Bujold, it might be a matter of which book you tried. One of the later books in her Vorkosigan series is VERY Heyerish, but make most sense if one has read the earlier books. She has a novella series which is a lot of fun and starts with PENRIC’S DEMON. It begins when a nice young man on his way to get married meets a dying temple divine and receives her demon when the divine dies. The demon is made up of spirits and talents of about a dozen earlier divines, ALL of them female. He and the demon come to terms and make a formidable, and often very funny team.

      I hope you’re doing well?

  5. I would add Emma Bull’s War for the Oaks, and Charles deLint’s Moonheart. The latter changed my understanding of fiction. The urban fantasy genre is fascinating to me.

  6. I do a lot of re-reading. I think of them as comfort reads. I know that there are more than two that stood out when I first read them, but the two that come to mind are the two that introduced (and then reintroduced) me to romance – a genre I have come to love.

    I first read CELIA GARTH by Gwen Bristow as a young teenager. Later in my thirties while on jury duty I plucked up THE WOLF AND THE DOVE by Kathleen Woodiwiss from a rack of reading material and fell in love with romance all over again.

  7. I’m a devoted rereader. And nowadays if I let enough time pass between reading again it’s almost like reading for the first time. I’m also convinced now that books I tried to read earlier and didn’t succeed were books I just wasn’t ready for. It wasn’t the right time for me. So I need to try Dunnett’s books again.

    There’s a few Heyer books I wish I could read again for the first time. Obviously those are favorites so I keep rereading them.

    I can only think of two books right now that when recommend them to others I wish I could be there with them and read them again for the first time. Outlander by Diana Gabaldon is one. The other one most people here on this blog won’t read or appreciate but it’s by L.L. Diamond-Rain and Retribution. It’s decidedly fan fiction. I have read it so many times I’ve forgotten how many. Most of my rereads fall into either that genre or Historical Romance.

    Sometimes I think about rereading a a favorite historical mystery series I love but probably won’t until she finishes it. Too much has progressed in the story arc.

    • Michelle H, it’s so true that with some books, it just isn’t the right time. (And some books will never be the right time!) I’m not familiar with Rain and Retribution so maybe I should check it out.

  8. A fascinating blog.
    I am well in touch with 1-3: but have just ordered the first Sharon Shinn on Kindle, a treat for later in the day (7.30am here in NSW). I have read and reread Dorothy Dunnett since student days in Edinburgh, and while on a visit to UK recently a very good friend and also D Dunnett fan (Niccolo series rather than the Lymond) recommended Pat McIntosh’s books and I have so enjoyed them, set in late15th century Glasgow and west of Scotland, the hero is a lawyer and possible priest called on to investigate unexpected deaths. PM wrote 11 books in her series 10 years or so ago and then no more (?). The first is called The Harper’s Quine and the first ten books are also available on Audible

  9. I’m a big rereader! I find it helps to reread a favourite when life is tough. Without a shadow of a doubt Georgette Heyer is my go to reread. The first of hers I ever read was The Black Moth. I got it in a small second hand shop a week after I’d read about her in my weekly magazine The People’s Friend. I had never heard of her until then. I adore her books.
    A book I wish I could read again for the first time is a collection of short stories by Jack Finney, which contains a story, Where The Cluetts Are. It’s a story that has stayed with me over the years. I return to it time and time again. (No pun intended)

  10. What a great post, Mary Jo, and what a great collection of comments.

    I’m yet another avid re-reader. From those on your list, The Curse of Chalion is one I’ve read a number of times. I’m trying to think if there are books I’d wish to read now for the first time, but I just keep thinking of old and new favorites which I’m perfectly content to read for the nth time!

  11. Wow …. This set me thinking.

    There are many books that have kept me awake reading late into the night but I think Mary Stuart’s Arthurian trilogy told from Merlin’s view point tops them. There is now a very good audio version available and I couldn’t resist downloading Book 1, The Crystal Cave. If it matches the impact that reading the paper book had, many years ago, then you may not see much of me for a while!

    Great post and comments.

  12. What an interesting post and discussion. A book that I have only read once but really changed my point of view was We need to Talk about Kevin by Lionel Shriver. It is not really a book that fits the vibe of this group but it was incredibly thought provoking. Another book I could mention is The Marigold Chain by Stella Riley, which I first read as a teenager and made me realise there was better written romance than Barbara Cartland and Mills and Boon. Having read and re-read all of Heyer, I was wondering where to go for a similar hit. And I then picked up Devil Cub by Stephanie Laurens and Mary Jo’s Thunder & Roses from a station newsagent about 15 years ago and that opened a whole new area of publishing to plunder. That was a good moment that it would be good to experience again

  13. Wow – I would definitely like to read the Ivy Tree for the first time but Quantum said it before me – Mary Stewart’s Arthurian retelling – The Crystal Cave for the first time? Oh yes!

  14. I recommend to you Kate Elliott! Her fantasy is well constructed and her characters are believable. Her ability to build worlds is impressive. My current favorite re-read of hers is her recent “Keeper’s Six”–short, but rich in everything I value in a good book. Romance, the promise of romance, dragons(!!), sci-fi and a satisfying villain. What’s not to love?
    I treasure the work of Bujold. Her characters and their lives stay with me, as if they are actual people I have known. I think I own most of her books.
    My “comfort reads” for some years have been the works of a former Wench, Joanna Bourne. I have reread her books so many times during particularly dark periods of my life that I would be embarrassed to admit how many (I have been known to buy new copies to replace old ones).


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