I believe each of us is on this planet for a very, very short time, and therefore there’s absolutely no time to waste on books I don’t find interesting or that depress me. Although it might take me a while to figure out why I’m feeling depressed, 99 times out of a 100 I can trace it back to the book I’m reading — that last hundredth time is because I’ve been reading the news, so I cut back on that, too.
I have to have the right chemistry with the book, and if I don’t, I will just stop reading it. For example, I started reading a book called The Wolf and the Watchman by Niklas Natt Och Dag. There was nothing wrong with this book, as a matter of fact, it was well-written. Yet, I found myself bored with it, for no discernable reason. Knowing I was not going to continue reading it, I skipped to the end, and moved on the next book. Sorry, Niklas.
The next book was called Lives Laid Away by Stephen Mack Jones. This is the second book in the series, it takes place in Detroit, and I loved the first one, called August Snow. I read the first two chapters and felt a tingle down my spine, one akin to what you get when you bite into terrific chocolate. I immediately knew I was going to enjoy this book. I took in a deep breath, and felt my shoulders relaxed as I turned the next page. Because of instant chemistry factor, I tend to check out 10 books at a time, knowing that I am going to go through the weeding process. In the end, I might end up finishing one or two of them. If I am lucky, as I was the last time, I would see a familiar writer or a book in a series I’m in love with. Those books I love, I deeply love, so I’ve decided to share some of my favorite books. I am not going to go with the classics — they don’t need my help or my recommendation. I’m just going to share recent personal favorites. Hopefully, I can introduce a few of my beloved authors to new readers. Just keep in mind most of these are mysteries, because that is what I prefer to read.
Jim Gaffigan has a joke: “Have you ever read a book that changed your life? Yeah, me neither.” I’m not sure I have ever had my life changed by a fiction book, but I have read several that have stayed with me forever after I’ve finished them.
One of the first books I’ve read that I thought was magical, a cautionary fairy tale that broke rules and contained images so evocative I will carry them for the rest of my life, wasn’t a mystery. It was Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie. Maybe it didn’t completely change my life, but it definitely left me a different person afterwards.
Another book whose images blew me away was a heavy book — both literally (more than 600 pages) and figuratively. It was called By Gaslight, written by Steven Price. Its language had heft and weight and taste and color and smell. A great deal of it took place during the Civil War era. I could not read it all the way through in one solid block. Instead, I would read a few chapters, then read something “lighter,” only to come back and feel as if I had never stopped reading. After I found out the author, Steven Price, was a poet, I said to myself, “That makes sense!” in a sort of an ah-hah! moment — this book has meter, and pacing, and the beauty one usually finds in poetry.
On a different, upbeat note, there are a series of mysteries by Christopher Fowler, about the Peculiar Crimes Unit, starring Bryant and May, and they are effervescent. Not that they deal with light subjects — there is always murder involved — but they are funny, well-plotted, well-written and I always learn something new about London. I am fairly certain that Bryant is modeled after Sherlock Holmes, although May seems to me smarter than Dr. Watson. As I have always loved “The Great Detective,” I love these stories.
Another series I enjoy gobbling up as soon the next installment is out is the Ladies №1 Detective Agency books by Alexander McCall Smith. They take place in Botswana. With the detective agency led by Precious Ramotswe, the books are the best combination of child-like wonder, ancient wisdom, and gentleness. Every time I finish the latest one, I tear up, and my heart grows at least another size.
A book that I enjoyed, not in a series, but a stand alone, was The Ice Queen by Nele Neuhaus. There was a lot of death in it, but also a great deal of plot twists, and I relish those. Here is a quote that I particularly liked:
“It was impossible for Bodenstein to refuse this tempting offer. When it came to food, he suffered from regularly recurring attacks of a shocking lack of discipline.”
The Greek Detective series by Anne Zouroudi are fantastic. It’s like a vacation in Greece, but with the added benefit of a happy ending. Not THAT kind of happy ending — get your mind out of the gutter — this is a matter of justice.
David Housewright has written several series, including the Holland Taylor mysteries and Mac McKenzie mysteries. I absolutely adore his hard-boiled noir style. McKenzie rocks my world, I am a complete sucker for tough guys with honor and a sense of humor. (Guys like Spenser, whom I love right there, just a step below Sherlock Holmes, but writing about Robert B. Parker mysteries can and should be its own blog.)
Because I read so many mysteries, once in a while I have to take a break — cleanse my palate, so to speak.
Books by Daniel Jose Older belong to the urban fantasy genre. He has several different series, but the one that swept me off my feet is the Bone Street Rumba novels. They are so easy to read, it makes me salivate with equal parts desire and envy — I want to write like this, but I don’t want to stop reading long enough to do so.
These are a few of my favorite writers and their works that enrich my life. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do!