If there was a prize for the most divine man in publishing, Tobias Madden would undoubtedly win it. I was lucky enough to meet him a year ago when we were both holidaying in Byron – and we spent a sunny morning eating peanut butter smoothie bowls at Byron General Store, while we talked all things books. Hollywood handsome and just one of the nicest guys on the planet, his debut YA novel, Anything But Fine is out now. I loved the fact that he not only chose two books by the same author (a first for my Desert Island Books series), but that he also opted for a book that he hasn’t yet read, but that he’d always wanted to (another first). Featuring fantasy with Young Adult and one of the most underrated books I’ve read, here are the eight books Tobias would take with him to the sandy shores of a desert island. You can find Tobias online here, and follow him on Instagram here.
Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
This book defies typical narrative structure – comprised of interview transcripts, spacecraft schematics, text conversations, AI data, and a whole lot more – and it managed to reel me in like possibly nothing else. We throw the term ‘unputdownable’ around a lot these days, but I honestly could not put this book down. I’m a sucker for sci-fi, and this delivers on every level. Brilliant characters. Epic action. Twists and turns. So many laughs. It’s just awesome!
Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
This book blew my mind. The structure, the story, the language, the sheer imagination and scope of it all – it’s truly superb. I rarely re-read books (so many books, so little time!), but I’m incredibly excited to read this one again soon; I feel like there are countless layers to the story just waiting to be unearthed. I’ve read almost all of Mitchell’s books since reading Cloud Atlas, and I think he’s a true genius.
Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert
I read Big Magic well before I read any of Gilbert’s fiction novels, and I’ve re-read it basically once a year since. (Yes, this is definitely the exception to my ‘rarely re-reading books’ rule.) It’s a bunch of wonderfully conversational essays about how to live a creative life, and it helped me enormously when I transitioned from my life on stage to my career in writing and publishing. The whole book feels like you’re sitting down for a coffee with a dear friend and having the world’s greatest chat. It’s equal parts wise and funny, and I recommend it to everyone, whether they’re a writer, actor, dancer, or just someone who’s looking for little extra motivation and inspiration.
The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert
I read this during our initial lockdown in March 2020 and it was the perfect escape. I don’t read a lot of literary fiction, but the book came highly recommended by my colleagues, so I thought I should give it a go. Luckily for them (and me) it had me hooked from the first sentence. Gilbert has a magical way with words – I mean, you wouldn’t think a chapter about slow-growing moss could be compelling, but it most definitely was – and I don’t know if I’ve ever become so invested in a character’s plight. The story is epic and sweeping and romantic and heartbreaking and just utterly brilliant.
All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven
This one is for when I need a good cry on the desert island because WOW. I’m known for crying at the drop of a hat in movies and TV shows (MasterChef ugly cry, anyone?) but it takes a lot for a book to make my cry, and this one did that and a whole lot more. All the Bright Places is the most gorgeously heartbreaking young adult novel. It deals with some pretty heavy themes, but everything is handled so delicately and honestly. The story is full of rich details and beautifully flawed characters who truly leap off the page. I’d happily read Jennifer Niven’s shopping list, and this is my favourite of her books, for sure.
Nevermoor by Jessica Townsend
For me, nothing beats middle grade fantasy in terms of escapism, and this glorious book has all the whimsy you could ever ask for (and I’m pretty sure desert islands are fairly low on whimsy). This was another book I honestly couldn’t put down. I was completely enthralled by the world of Nevermoor and I instantly fell in love with Morrigan Crow and her rag-tag bunch of friends and classmates. Plus, Townsend’s writing is evocative on a level I’m not sure I’ve experienced since reading this. The way the book excites the senses and sparks imagination is truly astonishing.
The Magician King by Lev Grossman
Another brilliant escapist read is The Magicians trilogy. Book two, The Magician King, is my favourite, split into two alternating points of view. It explores the concept of magic in a really gritty and realistic way, where the privileged few have access to magical history and structured lessons and formal training, and the rest have to piece together scraps of knowledge and teach themselves how to harness their innate power. The magic system in The Magicians is almost like physics – blurring the lines between science and the supernatural – which gives the book a level of believability that makes it that much more compelling. It’s a fascinating and exhilarating story, packed with brilliant characters and complex dynamics.
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
This one is from my to-be-read list, but I’m adding it because I am desperate to read it, and I want to be able to give it the time and attention it deserves, rather than squeezing in a few pages on the train to work every morning. I’m assuming I’ll have a little more spare time on the desert island, so it will be the perfect opportunity to finally read this queer classic!
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