Saturday, January 16, 2010

I'm looking for recommendations of good books. I decided the best way to do that is to make some recommendations of my own. It will help readers understand what constitutes a good book from my perspective, and maybe it will give someone else the pleasure of finding a new author he or she really enjoys.

I was a voracious reader as a kid and even young adult, but in the middle of my life I got distracted with the everyday busy-ness of life and stopped reading for pleasure for a decade or two. Now I've rediscovered this source of joy and am always on the prowl for new authors.

My personal "comfort food" genre of books is the mystery series. I love authors who write a series of mysteries where each is a free-standing story with a mystery to be solved, but over the course of the series the characters are well developed into living, breathing people with whole lives that I care about. Here are a few of my favorites in that genre, with a few words about each:

Elizabeth George - She writes the Inspector Lynley series. If you've seen the PBS Mystery film version of any of them, you don't know Elizabeth George. While I usually like the PBS adaptations, they didn't capture the backstories of the key characters in this one. The sergeant, Barbara Havers, is a wonderfully flawed, tragic, lovable character. In the PBS version she's just mildly quirky.

Deborah Crombie -- Hers are the Duncan Kincaid/Gemma Jones mysteries. In this one they begin as a boss/subordinate team and over many novels become lovers and colleagues who do NOT work directly together.

Ann Granger -- Yet another British series. In this one he's a small-town cop and she works for the foreign service.

Margaret Maron -- Possibly my favorite of them all, her series featuring Judge Deborah Knott gradually sucked me into her whole extended Southern family. I really care about the characters Maron has created!

Ann George -- Her Southern Sisters books are great if you like a little humor mixed with your mystery. The protagonists are sisters in their 60's and their interactions are a hoot!

Andrew Greeley -- He's a practicing Roman Catholic priest and his longtime protagonist is, too. (He has other series out now, too, but his Blackie Ryan series is my favorite.) His writing is good but not great, but he weaves in a lot of theology that happens to mesh very nicely with my personal beliefs (God as a passionate lover, not a punisher, for instance) so I always enjoy his digressions and mini-sermons. If you aren't Catholic, or if you are and really think the whole church hierarchy is doing a good job, then these probably wouldn't appeal to you.

I am less excited about the "thriller" genre, though I occasionally enjoy one. Tami Hoag has written a few that I think are called thrillers that still have great characters. Shoot the Messenger and Dark Horse are really marvels of character development! There's another thriller-type author named Randy Wayne White whom I inexplicably like -- his protagonist is a marine biologist/secret ops killing machine, but he is mostly "retired" from the special ops work and his best friend is a new age hippie, which makes for some great interaction and gives the author an opportunity to argue two sides of moral questions. These books are a little testosterone-intensive, but I still enjoyed them. The two best to sample would probably be Shark River or Mangrove Coast. And yeah, like everyone else, I did enjoy all Dan Brown's stuff. Wouldn't like a steady diet of it, but it was fun.

Another author I have really enjoyed who I don't know how to categorize is Alice Hoffman. She writes these novels set in contemporary time but there's always some touch of magic in them. But somehow, she makes it seem believable and I can accept it. They also have a lovely life-affirming feel to them, over all. They are probably the most mainstream-novel-like of any books I can think of that I have liked lately. I find many mainstream novels kind of depressing, or I just don't like the characters, or I feel at the end that I didn't gain anything from reading them.

I have dabbled in science fantasy/dragons and swords type stuff and have liked some of it. I just hate to try new ones without a recommendation because I feel there's a lot of bad writing in the genre. I would strongly recommend the works of Stephen R. Donaldson if this kind of thing holds any allure to you. He has several multi-book works out -- the Thomas Covenant trilogies and the Through The Glass series are both very good.

So, does anyone out there have any inspirations of books you think I'd like? I'm always on the prowl for good reading material!


RevDebRN said...

Susan, Have you read Khaled Housseini's The Kite Runner and/or A Thousand Splendid Suns? I'm not that much into fiction, but I found both of those to be gripping and at the same time deeply moving.

Anonymous said...

I love a good mystery too. Especially a series w/ well developed characters. One of my favorites is the Maisie Dobbs series by Jacqueline Winspear. Check it out on Amazon. I was pleased to note that the first book in the series was placed on a summer reading list by one of the English teachers @ Blaire's high school. Janet Beasley

Susan said...

Thanks! Those sound really good. I fear the Housseini books may take more emotional commitment than I'm usually willing to make in a book, but I did look up the Maisie Dobbs books and they look right up my alley. I think I'll try them!

Anonymous said...

Oh, Suz--you must try Housseini. Worth the emotional commitment. Here is some "mystery lite", esp if you like the medievel perios--the Brother Cadfael by Ellis Peters. This led me to an interest in the civil war btwn King Steven & the Empress Maude. I moved on to When Christ & His Saints Slept by Sharon Kay Penman. The book takes you to Maude's son, King Henry, his marriage to Eleanor of Aquitaine and then the rivalry between his sons. I found it fascinating (although I think she modernized the thinking more than was legitimate--always a danger in historical fiction.) So glad you are blogging again! Paula V