Wednesday, November 28, 2012

'Tis the season to read something relaxing

Renoir, La lectrice, 1874
Thanksgiving down, Christmas coming. Parties to attend. Christmas greetings to send. Gifts to buy. Travel arrangements to make. Groceries to buy. Meals to cook. Guest rooms to get ready. Decorations to display. Checks to write.

Nerves to calm.

I dedicate this blog post to my friend Karen, and to everyone else who needs to pour a comforting drink, sit down, elevate feet, and read a diverting novel--one that engrosses you, makes you smile, lets you relax, does not leave you with the taste of ashes.

Actually, you may need more than one such novel. So despite my inordinate fondness for one-offs like Sarah Dunn's Secrets to Happiness and Helen Simonson's Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, I'm going to give you a list of novels any one of which can lead you to four or a hundred similar delectable books.
My rules for series fiction:
1. Start with whatever book grabs your attention. It doesn't have to be the first in the series.
2. If you don't like it, don't bother with the rest of the series unless at least three of your friends have recommended it--in which case, try a second book.
3. If you like either the first or second book reasonably well, read two more books in the same series. By then, you'll either be in love with the series or you'll be ready to try something else.
Here are ten of my favorite authors of series fiction. The links will take you to reviews I've written either on this blog or in magazines.
  • Michael ConnellyThe Reversal (and others). Detective Harry Bosch is the best in the business. Connelly has written 25 books, 18 about Harry. Newest, The Black Box, came out two days ago. Not a bad place to start. But if you'd rather start with a legal thriller, go for The Lincoln Lawyer.
  • Margaret FrazerThe Apostate's Tale. The indomitable nun Dame Frevisse gets involved with a lot of 15th-century mayhem. I like Ellis Peters's Brother Cadfael books, but I got even more attached to Dame Frevisse.
  • Sue GraftonV Is for Vengeance. Start with A Is for Alibi. If the fourth sentence doesn't grab you, nothing will: "The day before yesterday I killed someone and the fact weighs heavily on my mind." W-Z are still to come, but you have 22 books to read before you run out.
  • P.D. JamesTalking About Detective Fiction. First, read P.D. James's mysteries. They're all good, and you don't have to read them in order. Or just watch the TV adaptations starring Roy Marsden. Talking About Detective Fiction is Dame James's discussion of great mystery writers--dozens of them. Follow her leads and you'll have enough to read until you retire.
  • Donna Leon, Death and Judgment. Oh, just start with Death at La Fenice and read all of Leon's Venetian mysteries featuring Commissario Guido Brunetti. He's a lovable cop, and the Italian ambiance is a treat.
  • Peter Lovesey, Cop to Corpse. Detective Superintendent Peter Diamond presides grumpily over the Avon and Somerset murder squad. You may not care for him at first--his coworkers certainly don't--but he grows on you.
  • Alexander McCall Smith, The Forgotten Affairs of Youth. I find Scottish author McCall Smith more relaxing than a wee dram of single malt. His characters are quirky, funny, and fundamentally good. My review mentions several of his series; fortunately for his fans, he tends to write three books a year.
  • Spencer Quinn, To Fetch a Thief. Chet the dog narrates, but these stories are rarely cutesie. They can be pretty darn funny, though--especially to those of us who live with dogs. And there's always an interesting plot.
  • C.J. Sansom, Dissolution. Sansom is writing a series of fantastic 16th-century (think Henry VIII) mysteries. These are large books, a bit more serious than some on this list, but utterly engrossing. You can have Wolf Hall and its sequel: I'll take Sansom any day.
  • Jennifer Weiner, Good in Bed / Certain Girls. Bright and sassy chick lit. Weiner is a Princeton grad with a rowdy sense of humor. Not to be sexist or anything, but I'm guessing these aren't for guys.
And there are others ... so many others. Laurie R. King is a delight. She's been turning out a lot of books in the Mary Russell (Mrs. Sherlock Holmes) series as well as several stand-alone volumes, but my favorites are her Kate Martinelli books. Jane Langton, who is about to turn 90, wrote a lot of gently humorous New England-based books about ex-cop/current Harvard professor Homer Kelly and his brilliant wife, Mary.

And if you're feeling really, really tired--as I was after open-heart surgery last year--M.C. Beaton's Agatha Raisin and Hamish Macbeth series are silly fun. I read 30 of them while convalescing, and I'm feeling fine, thanks!

Please, readers, add comments (here, and not just on Facebook) about series fiction you've enjoyed...


Unknown said...

I highly recommend Alan Furst, whose WWII-era espionage fiction is both historically accurate and extremely readable. Furst's eye for the details of life, love and architecture in both pre-war and wartime Europe make the reading experience simultaneously cinematic and literary, but above all spellbinding. I especially recommend 'Night Soldiers.'

poetreehugger said...

The Maisie Dobbs series, by Jacqueline Winspear! And the Cadfael series by Ellis Peters is always worth another read.
Thank you for the recommendations! I will be checking out every one you suggested! I am slightly behind in my project to read 150 books in 2012, so this will make it easier.

Beth said...

Last year I read Now You See Me by S.J. Bolton. This is the first in the DC Lacey Flint series. You said relaxing and I find edge-of-your-seat suspense relaxing. From the first dead body Flint accidently (or was it?!) comes across to the final chase through the deserted tunnels under London, I had a great 3-night read!

Penny said...

Two more detective nuns: Peter Tremayne's Sister Fidelma, a 7th century Irish nun AND advocate of the Irish courts, solves crimes of passion and politics (both Celtic and early Christian). Sharan Newman's heroine is Catherine LeVendeur, a former nun, who sleuths in 12th century France (and England and Spain), with a supporting cast that includes Abelard, Heloise, and Abbot Suger.