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jenn

Murder by Death

I read cozy and historical mysteries, a bit of Paranormal/UF, and to mix it up, I read science and gardening books on occasion.

MbD's Essential(ish) Books; could be the first, or the final, draft

I've been sitting on this list for three days, and I can't think of anyone I've left off; that won't happen until I actually publish the list. These are the books on my shelves that I'd recommend to just about anybody with the thought that they're the most likely to appeal on one level or another.  

 

I've left off most of the mysteries - in case I do that second list. More than half are not dead white guys, though that wasn't by design.  I also spanned all age groups, and tried hard to leave off mainstream authors (that means Christie, though her place in any list is firmly cemented).  Almost all of them are older (far older) than I am.

 

Arthur Conan Doyle - There is nobody I'd recommend before I'd recommend Doyle.  His writing remains to this day, wry, entertaining and easy to read; his settings are vivid, his characters written so well as to be almost holographic, and the plotting tight, intricate and the pinnacle of both inductive and deductive reasoning.  Add to all of that the fact that the only person on Earth who bested Sherlock Holmes was a woman, and you have perfection.

 

Dorothy L. Sayers - All her work is worth reading; she was a genius with prose and plotting and while it might be almost blasphemous to say, might be Christie's superior when looking at the consistent excellence of her overall body of work.

 

 

Judy Blume - I could just say this woman raised me via her writing and leave it at that, but more importantly, Judy Blume wrote adolescent characters with agency and the ability to reason.  The result was at least one generation whose women are stronger and more independent because of her.

 

Fox in Socks - To this day, there is no book I've read more than this one.  I learned to read at the tender age of 3 reading this book; I'm not sure it gets more essential than that.

 

Encyclopedia Brown, Boy Detective - Books that entertain while they're teaching critical thinking skills ... the gateway drug to Sherlock Holmes.

 

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler - Where to begin?  Kids run away and sleep in a museum; they survive by budgeting they money; they learn to appreciate art, and solve a mystery in the process.  It's damn inspirational, if you set aside the running away part.

 

Window on the Square - Pure gothic romance, with a gripping mystery.  When I read it as a twenty-something, it's premise felt shocking, and just the right amount of horrifying for a chicken like myself.  After several re-reads, I still find the whole story shocking and a little bit twisted.

 

File on Fenton & Farr - For mystery lovers, this is the natural extension, and apex, of the fair play mystery. Truly just a bound collection of witness statements, police reports and evidence; everything the reader needs to solve the mystery with no extraneous prose, and the solution at the back.  

 

The Circular Study - I could have chosen several Anna Katherine Green novels that could qualified for this list; at least one of which is arguably a better story than this one, but I went with The Circular Study because it's ahead of its time in terms of plot devices. Published in 1900 by one of the first female mystery authors, the story used devices that are common in many mystery stories today, but were technologically non-existent in Green's time, lending the narrative an almost sci-fi feel at times.

 

The Circular Staircase - This story pioneered the 'had I but known' style of mystery writing.  Rinehart is another female frontrunner of the mystery genre, preceding Christie and Sayers by at about 2 decades, and her writing remains gripping, action packed, and humorous today.

 

Old Herbaceous: A Novel of the Garden - Published originally in 1950, this is just a cozy, kind, feel good narrative of a life of hard, honest work by a man who loved his job and his place in this world.  It's a wonderful story that left me feeling good when I finished it.

 

Elizabeth and Her German Garden - First published in 1898, this is a fictionalised account of Eliabeth Von Arnim's first summer in her country house, learning to garden.  It's wry, dry, and witty; Von Arnim barely tolerates her own family, never mind the guests, and she has a terrible time keeping gardeners.  

 

84 Charing Cross Road - This is probably on a 1001 list somewhere, but I'm including it because it's brilliant, and it's perfect.  Another feel good read.

 

Last Days of Summer - On the outside, this looks like an epistolatory comedy for baseball fans, but that's not all it is.  This story is about the family you choose, and it packs a wallop.

 

The Chosen - A friend tricked me into reading this by telling me it was about baseball; it isn't.  But it's a moving, thought-provoking story about the mysteries of faith and family and how friendship can often trump both.

 

Dear Committee Members - One of the few contemporary titles on my list, but I feel like it can stand the test of time as well, or better, than most.  Another epistolatory novel, this time it's pure satire of the American university system; it too packs a punch.

 

Wild Strawberries - Pure entertainment in the form of eccentric family chaos.  Thirkell was a woman who seemed to live on her own terms, divorced twice and writing for a living, rather than a hobby or an art.  She didn't hold her own work in very high regard, but it stands up beautifully as quality satire.

 

Please Mr. Einstein - One of the few books I've ever read that spoke to my soul, if I may be so melodramatic.  I love this book; I might ask to be buried with it when I shuffle off.  It's perfect.

 

The Eyre Affair - Is it perfect? No. But it's genius and it's fun and it's a love story for book lovers.

 

Casey at the Bat: A Ballad of the Republic Sung in the Year 1888 - The only poem / ballad on my list.  Casey at Bat feels, to me, like everything that is good about America.

 

The Semi-Attached Couple - Originally published in 1860, an almost forgotten story in the vein of Austen, about what happens after the wedding between a husband and wife who marry as strangers.

 

The Grand Sophy - Heyer was hit and miss, but when she had a hit, it was a big one.  The Grand Sophy isn't deep, but it's entertaining and at its center is a woman who never lets a man - or anything else - stand in her way.