Ask Agatha: reluctant readers, David Gemmell and books set in Texas

Welcome to our new book advice column where you can ask our wise bookseller Agatha all your tricky (book-related) questions.

I’ve read all of David Gemmell’s books and don’t know what to read next. Who’s an author like him?

This is a tricky question because really, there is no single author that matches Gemmell’s style to perfection. Luckily, his influence is strongly evident in a number of fantasy and historical fiction novels and depending what aspect of his books you like best – be it his ability to make history so thrilling or his particular vision of the hero – there’s a few different authors you could try before falling into misery.

For a great action read with courageous heroes try Joe Abercrombie’s The First Law trilogy, or for heroic fantasy with a military vent try Paul Kearney. Richard Morgan’s The Steel Remains is another good fit for most Gemmell fans and many of them also cross-over in reading Raymond E. Feist. If you’re a historical fiction reader (as well as fantasy) Ben Kane might work for you. Hannibal: Clouds of War is his most recent book.

(And given how extremely un-Gemmellesque George R. R. Martin’s approach to heroes is, it’s surprising how many Gemmell readers also enjoy Game of Thrones.)

My friend is moving to Houston, Texas, and for a going away gift, I would like to buy him a novel set there. Any suggestions?

If your friend enjoys being blown away by beautifully-crafted prose, you might consider giving him a Cormac McCarthy novel. Both No Country for Old Men and All the Pretty Horses are set in Texas. The former is a Western thriller and follows a chain of events set off by a drug deal gone bad on the Mexican–American border, and a chance encounter. The latter is the story of 16-year-old cowboy, John Grady Cole, and is written in a more lyrical, abstract style.

If neither of these options appeal, you might like to consider the newly released Parallel Apartments from Bill Cotter who is described as a ‘Texan Gabriel Garcia Marquez who writes tragicomic twists reminiscent of John Kennedy Toole’. I’m certainly intrigued!

Any suggestions for my (nearly) eight-year-old son who’s a ‘reluctant reader’?

The children’s publishing industry has been working its socks off these last few years to produce books for reluctant readers, but the term is used so often now that it could mean anything from ‘spontaneously vomits at the sight of a book’ to ‘doesn’t really want to read Charlotte’s Web even though his mum says it was her favourite book when she was a child’. All this aside, the simple formula of ability + interest level covers all bases. While typecasting children is dodgy ground, I hope the following suggestions will help.

Type 1: Really hates reading / loves the funnies.
The Elephant and Piggie series by Mo Willems use a proper story arc and strong characterisation but impressively few words. Everything is in a speech bubble. These books should ease in even the spontaneously vomiting child.

Type 2: Finds school readers boring / likes real-life stories.
Sally Rippin developed her Hey Jack! and Billie B. Brown series for her own son who was a struggling reader. The font is large and friendly (sometimes when they’re struggling even words in italics can put them off) and the chapters are short with no words wasted.

Type 3: Has mastered sounding out and knows lots of sight words / hates too much text and no pictures.
The new Weirdo series by Anh Do is perfect because the content level is high but the ability required is fairly low. It’s a Wimpy Kid-style format with fewer words per page and lots of illustrations. It’s Australian and contains poo jokes. You could also try Tom Gates.

Type 4: Can read but wants short sentences and high action.
I recommend the Saurus Street series or Billy the Dragon. It’s non-stop action, slapstick, imaginative and high-interest level with either dinosaurs or dragons to choose from.

Type 5: Wants a big fat book so he looks cool like his mates.
Arriving any day now is a nice fat collection of Old Tom stories. Hilarious illustrations and not too much text, and an extremely bad-tempered cat who has lots of adventures.


Type 6: Loves computer games.
If he’s quite a good reader but would rather be on the X-box, try Star League. These are slim books, so nothing too threatening, but they’re for fluent readers. The illustrations will be familiar to gaming fans and the action is non-stop. If he’s not reading fluently yet try Zac Power (the Test Drive series is the easiest).

Type 7: Has a quirky sense of humour.
The Claude series is perfect for fans of the daft and bonkers. Claude is a dog and his best friend is a sock. The illustrations are in colour, and there is only a short paragraph or so per page. If he’s into science try Cosmic Colin, which again has loads of illustrations and not too much text.

Type 8: Likes blood'n'guts.
One of the books in our Readings Children’s Book Prize shortlist would be ideal: The Bloodhound Boys. This is a graphic novel, so it’s perfect for those readers who really love interacting with visual elements but are put off by too much text. The characters are zombies, werewolves and vampires but they are also kids who go to school and readers will recognise their lives even though the story is a bloodthirsty fantasy!

If you have a question for Agatha please email We’ll be publishing her next column on Monday 9 June. All questions answered on our blog will be kept anonymous and questions will be chosen at Agatha’s discretion.

No Country for Old Men

No Country for Old Men

Cormac McCarthy

$19.99Buy now

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