The best books to take you into another world

Why am I passionate about this?

I have always tuned into the atmosphere of places. Sometimes this is a joy and sometimes it’s a very different experience, but either way, it’s a fundamental part of me. It spills over into my work, too, because each of the thirty-odd non-fiction books I’ve written has its own strong atmosphere. I was particularly aware of this while writing Red Sky at Night, as I wanted to evoke a sense of the past informing the present, whether that means planting a shrub to keep witches away from your front door or baking what I still think is one of the best fruit cakes ever.


I wrote...

Red Sky at Night: The Book of Lost Countryside Wisdom

By Jane Struthers,

Book cover of Red Sky at Night: The Book of Lost Countryside Wisdom

What is my book about?

Have you ever enjoyed a picnic in a field or lazed quietly in a garden or park while watching the clouds scudding above your head, bees nosediving into flowers and birds coasting along on thermals? Have you ever gazed up at the stars at night, marvelling at what you see, or drawn your chair up closer to a log fire while knowing that humans have been doing this for millennia?

Then this is a book for you. It evokes that sense of having a fundamental connection with nature and your surroundings, whether you’re in a town, city, or the countryside. Red Sky at Night also describes many of our country's customs and traditions that have all but vanished but deserve to be remembered.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Morville Hours

Jane Struthers Why did I love this book?

This is extraordinary, meditative, and beautiful. For me, it fulfils the most important element of any book – that magical sense of stepping into another world. In this case, it is the world of Katherine Swift as she describes the creation of her garden in Shropshire. Yet it is so much more than that. The book is built around the daily structure of monastic prayer, as in a medieval Book of Hours, and this contemplative mood flows through every page, taking us on a discursive journey involving horticulture, history, and the stories of some of the people who previously lived at Morville. Whenever I read it, I get that all-important sense of connection with nature and the rhythm of life.

By Katherine Swift,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Morville Hours as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This is a book about time and the garden: all gardens, but also a particular one: that of the Dower House at Morville, where the author arrived in 1988 to make a new garden of her own. Katherine Swift takes the reader on a journey through time, back to the forces which shaped the garden, linking the history of those who lived in the same Shropshire house and tended the same red soil with the stories of those who live and work there today. It is an account which spans thousands of years. But is also the story of one…


Book cover of The Ivington Diaries

Jane Struthers Why did I love this book?

I love books that chronicle the passing of time, going from dark and gloomy January, through the quixotic summer months and right into late December which I always think of as the fag-end of the year. The Ivington Diaries is a collection of Monty Don’s diary entries about his home and garden over several years. With charming honesty, he describes his gardening failures as well as his successes, the people he knows, and the vagaries of the changing seasons. Whenever I read this book it casts a spell over me and I feel as though I’m living in a secret corner of the garden at Ivington, watching all its comings and goings.

By Monty Don,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Ivington Diaries as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Monty Don and his wife Sarah moved into their semi-derelict farmhouse at Ivington in 1991, and their garden is the most tangible symbol of the spectacular way in which they have since thrived. Springing with amazing vigour from the soil behind the house, this space has been central to Monty's life; ever since he dug the very first border, he has obsessively written about it. The Ivington Diaries is a personal collection of Monty's jottings from the past fifteen years. Generously illustrated with his very own photographs, and beautifully packaged, this book promises to be one of the most delightful…


Book cover of Hatfield's Herbal: The Curious Stories of Britain's Wild Plants

Jane Struthers Why did I love this book?

Plants are our companions through life. We grow, pick and eat some of them, but how much do we really value them? Our ancestors had an intimate knowledge and understanding of the power of plants and were aware of which were helpful and which caused harm. They wrapped comfrey leaves around the damaged legs of animals, believed that fairies sheltered from the rain beneath ragwort plants, cured childhood hernias with the aid of ash saplings, and recognized the benefits of rosehips long before science could analyse their nutrients.

Hatfield’s Herbal follows the tradition of so many other excellent herbals, weaving botany, plant magic, medicine, and folklore into an engrossing mixture that always keeps me reading long after I found what I was originally looking for. Read a good herbal and you’ll never look at a so-called weed in the same way again.

By Gabrielle Hatfield,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Hatfield's Herbal as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Hatfield's Herbal is the story of how people all over Britain have used its wild plants throughout history, for reasons magical, mystical and medicinal. Gabrielle Hatfield has drawn on a lifetime's knowledge to describe the properties of over 150 native plants, and the customs that surround them: from predicting the weather with seaweed to using deadly nightshade to make ladies' pupils dilate appealingly, and from ensuring a husband's faithfulness with butterbur to warding off witches by planting a rowan tree. Filled with stories, folklore and remedies both strange and practical, this is a memorable and eye-opening guide to the richness…


Book cover of The Owl Service

Jane Struthers Why did I love this book?

The haunting themes and mood of The Owl Service lodged themselves in my imagination when I first read it as a teenager and there they stay, decades later. I’ve returned to its mysterious and beguiling world several times since then, and on each occasion, the book has immediately woven its old spell around me. It is rich in Welsh magic as the past is played out against the backdrop of the present, and a hidden collection of plates decorated with what might be a pattern of owls becomes something far more potent and sinister. This is one of the books that first introduced me to the mysteries of landscape, the power of the past, and the enduring life of myths.

By Alan Garner,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Owl Service as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 9, 10, and 11.

What is this book about?

A 50th Anniversary Edition featuring a new introduction by Philip Pullman, THE OWL SERVICE is an all-time classic, combining mystery, adventure, history and a complex set of human relationships.

It all begins with the scratching in the ceiling. From the moment Alison discovers the dinner service in the attic, with its curious pattern of floral owls, a chain of events is set in progress that is to effect everybody's lives.

Relentlessly, Alison, her step-brother Roger and Welsh boy Gwyn are drawn into the replay of a tragic Welsh legend - a modern drama played out against a background of ancient…


Book cover of Rebecca

Jane Struthers Why did I love this book?

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve read Rebecca. Actually, I barely need to read it now because I know so much of it by heart. It is a compulsively readable reworking of the classic tale of the outsider, with an unsettling and eerie atmosphere that always reaches out and grabs me from its famous opening sentence. Its Cornish setting is so immersive that it can be an effort to wrench myself away. Manderley, the ancient house in which most of the action takes place, is a character in its own right, full of secrets and intrigues that fester behind ‘the perfect symmetry’ of its walls. The unnamed narrator can’t break free from Manderley’s spell, and neither can this reader.

By Daphne du Maurier,

Why should I read it?

40 authors picked Rebecca as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

* 'The greatest psychological thriller of all time' ERIN KELLY
* 'One of the most influential novels of the twentieth century' SARAH WATERS
* 'It's the book every writer wishes they'd written' CLARE MACKINTOSH

'Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again . . .'

Working as a lady's companion, our heroine's outlook is bleak until, on a trip to the south of France, she meets a handsome widower whose proposal takes her by surprise. She accepts but, whisked from glamorous Monte Carlo to brooding Manderley, the new Mrs de Winter finds Max a changed man. And the memory…


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Alpha Max

By Mark A. Rayner,

Book cover of Alpha Max

Mark A. Rayner Author Of Alpha Max

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Human shaped Pirate hearted Storytelling addict Creatively inclined

Mark's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

Maximilian Tundra is about to have an existential crisis of cosmic proportions.

When a physical duplicate of him appears in his living room, wearing a tight-fitting silver lamé unitard and speaking with an English accent, Max knows something bad is about to happen. Bad doesn’t cover it. Max discovers he’s the only human being who can prevent the end of the world, and not just on his planet! In the multiverse, infinite Earths will be destroyed.

Alpha Max

By Mark A. Rayner,

What is this book about?

★★★★★ "Funny, yet deep, this is definitely worth venturing into the multiverse for."

Amazing Stories says: "Snarky as Pratchet, insightful as Stephenson, as full of scathing social commentary as Swift or Voltaire, and weirdly reminiscent of LeGuin, Alpha Max is the only multiverse novel you need this month, or maybe ever."

Maximilian Tundra is about to have an existential crisis of cosmic proportions.

When a physical duplicate of him appears in his living room, wearing a tight-fitting silver lamé unitard and speaking with an English accent, Max knows something bad is about to happen. Bad doesn’t cover it. Max discovers…


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