Slightly racy ones are marked [A]. Difficulty is from (4) upwards.

GENRES: 1. Science; 2. Sport/Survival; 3. Historical Fiction; 4. History; 5. Fantasy; 6. Science Fiction; 7. Dystopic Fiction; 8. Thriller and Spy; 9. Horror; 10. Mystery and Crime. 

N.B. Lord of the Flies, To Kill a Mockingbird, and Of Mice and Men are very commonly used as GCSE set texts. It won’t hurt to read them in advance.

SCIENCE (fiction and non-fiction)

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time, (2003) (4) is a very thoughtful, gripping mystery/character based novel by Mark Haddon, whose main character is an autistic boy. The F-word appears and some slight [A] themes. See also Flowers for Algernon, below.

Longitude, (1996) (5) Dava Sobel, the true story of a lone genius who solved the greatest scientific problem of his time.

Fermat’s Last Theorem, (1997) (5) Simon Singh, another true story of a maths genius who solved an unsolvable problem. Complex ideas.

A Short History of Nearly Everything (5-6) (2003), Bill Bryson, very funny history of science, with some tricky language and complex ideas, but generally accessible and hugely interesting.

Try also:
WIRED magazine (5) (complex vocab and ideas, up to the minute technology: science, medicine, robotics, computing)
New Scientist (5) (weekly science magazine with latest discoveries/issues)

SPORT/SURVIVAL (fiction and non-fiction): some of these are on the reading list for those who want to join the Armed Forces as an officer

The Fight, (1975) (5) Norman Mailer classic short true story about Muhammed Ali, a hero of boxing

Touching the Void (1988) (4), Joe Simpson, true near-death mountaineering adventure .

Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage to the Antarctic, (5) (2001) Alfred Lansing. An incredible tale of heroism and leadership in a quest to reach the north pole.

Sole Survivor: A Story of Record Endurance at Sea (5) (1985) Ruthanne Lum McCunn. Another incredible true tale of human endurance.

The Caine Mutiny: (5) (1952) Herman Wouk, Pulizer prize winning fiction based on the author’s experiences on a destroyer/mine sweeper in WWII.

The Old Man and the Sea, (5) (1952) Ernest Hemingway, classic short fiction novel of fishing(!) endurance. N.B. this is for true lovers of literature – or fishing. A lot of boys will find this very boring.

Sports pages (or web version) of quality newspapers: Times, Guardian, Telegraph, Independent, etc


Caesar and Augustus, (4) both by Allan Massie, are excellent, very accessible historical accounts of two of the greatest Romans, mild [A]

The Sharpe series (4) of novels by Bernard Cornwell, are set around the Napoleonic War, mild [A].

The Flashman series (5) of novels are fast-paced, funny and action filled historical romps with some [A] content (as you can probably tell from the cover art). Flashman is a fab anti-hero who seems to fight in most of the skirmishes of the British Empire, including Afghanistan, in Flashman (1969).

Memoirs of Hadrian, (1951) (5) Margueritte Yourcenar is a major classic of historical fiction. Roman period. May be [A]

Pure HISTORY (14+)

Niall Ferguson’s books (6) The Ascent of Money, Civilization and Empire make fascinating reading.

Timothy Taylor’s books (6) The Buried Soul: How Humans Invented Death is an interesting survey of death customs and religion, for all grown-up lovers of Horrible Histories. This is not racy, but certainly adult. It deals with cannibalism.

BBC History Magazine (4) may also be of interest. Or you might prefer to check on Amazon for historical works on topics of interest e.g. fall of the roman empire, napoleon, etc and check the reader reviews for comments on accessibility and quality. Some histories are more popular, and therefore accessible, than others.


Lord of the Rings, (5) (1937-1949) JRR Tolkien: epic, huge novels, fantasy, wizards, elves and more

A Wizard of Earthsea, (5) (1968) Ursula K LeGuin: a great coming of age tale, fantasy novel, wizards

Terry Pratchett Discworld Series (5) (1983 to present): a very clever, fast-paced comic/fantasy series, some of the best are: The Colour of Magic, Small Gods, Guards! Guards!, Mort, Reaper Man, and Weird Sisters.

Some highly regarded Fantasy novels (6) are: The Lies of Locke Lamora, The Name of the Wind, The Book of the New Sun, The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant and the excellent sci-fi novel Hyperion has an almost fantasy/epic feel. These may have [A] themes.

For further reading, search ‘top 100 fantasy books’ or similar. Please note: most are novels written for adults so may have [A] themes.


Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series (comic), (5) is also a masterpiece of comedy writing.

The War of the Worlds, (5) (1898), The Time Machine, (5) (1895), The Invisible Man, (5) (1897), H.G. Wells, early sci-fi classics, fast, simple(ish)

Robert Henlein, Arthur C Clarke and Isaac Asimov are hugely important sci fi authors (of huge novels) levels (5)-(6). You might like to try Best Of Isaac Asimov first, a collection of his short stories. Then try Asimov’s Foundation series and the Robot series.

Ender’s Game, (1985) (4) Orson Scott Card sci-fi action/thriller classic with a teenaged hero.

Slaughterhouse 5, (1969) (5) Kurt Vonnegut, a very highly regarded time-travelling WWII novel.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (5) (1968) Philip K. Dick, the book on which Bladerunner is based. A thriller/mystery which questions what it means to be human. Mild drug use (as part of the society), nothing graphic.

Flowers for Algernon (6) (1966) Daniel Keyes is a deeply moving book, similar in some ways to A Curious Incident… (above). A tragic character-based novel that asks some interesting questions. The writing style at the start is difficult and the themes mean this would be best for more thoughtful, older readers.

For further reading, search ‘top 100 Sci Fi books’ or similar. Also look for ‘Hugo Award’ winners. Again, check themes as these are adult novels. I haven’t recommended A Clockwork Orange though it is a classic because it is a deeply troubling and difficult novel.

POST APOCALYPTIC/DYSTOPIC SCIENCE FICTION (i.e. end of the world/world-gone-wrong type stuff)

The Day of the Triffids, (5) (1951) The Chrysalids, (5) (1955) John Wyndham, sci-fi classic author, page-turner, fairly simple post-apocalyptic sci-fi classics.

Z for Zachariah, (5) (1974), Robert C O’Brien post-apocalyptic/dystopic fantasy novel

Brave New World, (5) Aldous Huxley, a major classic, fairly simple, dark ideas (drug use), dystopic sci fi.

1984, (6) Animal Farm (5) (the latter is very often read as a school text) George Orwell

The Death of Grass, (1956) (5) John Christopher, a post-apocalyptic/dystopic sci-fi classic.

EDGY THRILLER/SCI FI (aka ‘the new weird)

Highly regarded writers in this genre include Neil Gaiman and China Mieville.

THRILLER: including action, adventure, spy

The Man Who Was Thursday, (5) G.K. Chesterton (1908) is a thriller where a man is chased for most of the book. Gripping stuff! If this goes down well, you could try Franz Kafka The Trial (5-6) or The Castle (5-6).

Ian Fleming James Bond (5) novels are all excellent with some mild [A] content. Sidney Sheldon (5) [A] is a writer in a similar mould, whose novels include: Nothing Lasts Forever, The Doomsday Conspiracy, Memories of Midnight, and a lot more. You might also like John Le Carre’s George Smiley novels (among others), or Len Deighton’s or Tom Clanchy’s books.


Stephen King (5) is a prolific, very well regarded writer whose greatest books incude The Shining, Carrie, Misery, The Long Walk, The Stand and IT.

Dracula, (5-6) Bram Stoker 19th Century classic Vampire Novel. The first. Arguably the best.

Tales of Unease, (5) Arthur Conan Doyle 19th Century classic writer more famous for his Sherlock Holmes Novels.

Edgar Allan Poe (6) Short Stories are well worth a look, a 19th Century Classic of American Literature.

The Turn of the Screw (6) by Henry James is another short 19th century classic.

M.R. James’ (6) short ghost stories are terrifying classics of the genre.

The Woman in Black (6) (1998) by Susan Hill builds a creeping sense of unease. It is also a GCSE set text at some schools.


For boys who like Harlan Coben (4) but want to move on to something a bit more sophisticated.

Sherlock Holmes, (5-6) by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. 19th century short stories, so these are literary but also accessible.

Agatha Christie (5) is the bestselling queen of crime with super clever plots and hardly any gore.

Raymond Chandler (5) is the king of noir crime fiction – fabulous use of language in places.

Ira Levin (5) is the master of suspense. Try The Stepford Wives, A Kiss Before Dying or The Boys from Brazil.

Search ‘top 100 crime novels of all time’ or similar for a good list. This genre is very addictive! It may also include books with [A] themes.