Seeking intriguing (and odd) mysteries, well-developed characters, and a strong sense of place.

Seeking intriguing (and odd) mysteries, well-developed characters, and a strong sense of place.

The details on this ongoing project, and the factors I’m taking to heart.

Readers told me 3 books they loved, 1 book they hated, and what they’re reading right now. In turn, I’m recommending 3 books for each reader. (Or more, if I can’t help myself.)

This week we’re choosing books for Erica, whose books are:

Love: Something Red by Douglas Nicholas; White Fire by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child; The Tale of Hilltop Farm by Susan Wittig Albert.
Hate: Size 12 is Not Fat by Meg Cabot
Recently: Babylon: Mesopotamia and the Birth of Civilization by Paul Kriwaczek

Erica’s favorites are diverse, but they share common threads: they have a strong sense of place, interesting settings, and well-developed characters. (I suspect this is why she didn’t like Size 12 is Not Fat, even though she likes mysteries.)

She appreciates touches of realism (even in a fantasy novel like Something Red) and poetic writing, even though the latter isn’t required. I suspect Erica notices and appreciates the details in what she’s reading.

My picks: 

On the bestseller list: Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
Charming British classic: All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot
Mystery favorites: Watership Down by Richard Adams and A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Popular history: The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary by Simon Winchester

I’m recommending Station Eleven for its strong atmosphere, air of mystery, and poetic writing. Its band of itinerant performers also reminded me of the characters in Something RedAll Creatures Great and Small likewise reminds me of The Tale of Hilltop Farm‘s setting and strong characters.

Watership Down satisfies all of Erica’s criteria, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is a must-read for any mystery buff, especially because he made an appearance in Erica’s pick White Fire.

And finally, I chose the exceptional popular history The Professor and the Madman for its interesting setting, intriguing (and odd) mystery, and fascinating characters.

Please share YOUR recommendations for Erica in comments. Thank you!

View all the literary matchmaking posts here.

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  1. Jeannie says:

    I might be going out on a limb, but based on Erica’s nonfiction interests I’m going to recommend Hamlet’s Blackberry: Building a Good Life in the Digital Age by William Powers. This book explores issues of connectedness and disconnectedness in our digital age. That topic may seem kind of been-there-done-that at first glance, but the book goes deeper — it discusses, using examples from Socrates to Shakespeare and beyond, how people have ALWAYS wondered if a new technology (whether it be the printing press or even the basic ability to write on paper as opposed to just communicating orally) will change the way we live, learn, and interact. These historical analyses are a really interesting part of the book; they gave me a better appreciation for just how much we have in common with people of very diverse time periods.

  2. Leah says:

    Are you still accepting matchmaking candidates? It looks like the comments on the original post are closed. I just found your blog the other day, and I’d love to participate! Thanks!

  3. liz n. says:

    OF COURSE I second “Watership Down!!” I third and fourth it! 😀

    A few recommendations, all with well-developed senses of place and intriguing, well-written characters:

    “The Android’s Dream,” by John Scalzi: Literary, hilarious, sci-fi with a definite bent toward mystery writing. This isn’t “pew!-pew!-pew!” sci-fi.

    “The Uncommon Reader,” by Alan Bennett: A short read, not a typical mystery in the “who dunnit” sense, but a mystery because you’re never really certain of what’s going on in Her Majesty’s head until the very last page…

    “Curtain,” by Agatha Christie: But only if you’ve read all of the other Hercule Poirot books. This one must always, always, be saved for last.

    And my current read, which is non-fiction, and fascinating: “Why Did the Chicken Cross the World,” by Andrew Lawler. It is, literally, the history of how chicken became the #1 domesticated fowl and the most-eaten meat in homes and restaurants. If you liked anything by Mark Kurlansky (“Salt: A World History,” or “Cod: The Biography of the Fish That Changed The World,” for example), you will like this one just as much.

    • liz n. says:

      Oh, and one more, which is also non-fiction and fascinating: “Caliban’s Shore: The Wreck of The Grosvenor and the Strange Fate of Her Survivors,” by Stephen Taylor: an 18th-century shipwreck, the survival journey of those who made it ashore to the southern coast of Africa, and did everything really happen the way the survivors said it did? Hmm….

  4. Victoria says:

    As far as mysteries go:

    ANYTHING Agatha Christie or Mary Higgins Clark. I fell in love with both NYC and Cape Cod because of MHC and my visits to both were inspired by years of reading her books! 🙂

    Another great author, though a bit difficult to find, is Phoebe Atwood Taylor. I’ve only been able to get my hands on “The Cape Cod Mystery” (the first in a sleuthing series), but I’m keeping my eyes open for more!

    To Kill a Mockingbird is one I’ve come to recommend to anyone who has missed it after finally reading it for the first time last summer!

    Some pieces of great fiction are:

    The House Girl by Tara Conklin is excellent.

    Leota’s Garden by Francine Rivers

    All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (I just finished this a few weeks ago, and every book I’ve picked up since then has just not been able to compete). This is a book that will stick with you in the best of ways!

    Minding Frankie by Maeve Binchy. Binchy writes great novels that are the perfect dose of “good story” when you just need something that won’t make you think too much. PSA I do find that her novels are hit and miss though as far as being appropriate. Some I love and some I just can’t keep reading.

    Happy reading, Erica!!!

    • liz n. says:

      I’ve found that her later novels don’t quite measure up to the early ones, but Ms. Binchy really gives the reader the sense of being right there in that village, that field, that wherever, in which her story is happening.

  5. Jeni says:

    I’ll recommend The Alienist by Caleb Carr. It’s the first serial murder case in the United States, set at the turn of the 20th century in New York City…before fingerprints were admissible as evidence. Theodore Roosevelt makes a cameo as the chief of police – I read this one in high school and remember it as a page turner!

  6. Dana says:

    I second P.D.James….the Adam Dalgleish mysteries are wonderful. I am so sad there will be no more of those. She was my favorite mystery author.

    Also Stephanie Pintoff has written 3 great mysteries so far…set in New York turn of the century ( 19th/20th). Really well done. I keep my eyes out for a new one from her.

  7. Margaret says:

    I don’t have suggestions at the moment, but I just had to pop in and say that I’m so glad you recommended All Creatures Great and Small, and A Study in Scarlet! Two of my very favorites. 🙂

  8. SarahL says:

    The Professor and the Madman is excellent. It’s a intriguing mix of character and history. I mean, really, who would think that the history of a dictionary could be fascinating?!

  9. Mysteries with well developed characters and strong sense of place? – Can’t recommend Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache series enough. I am not a mystery fan but these books have totally engaged me. Every person I recommend them to loves them.

  10. Julie R says:

    I second the Flavia de Luce series! Definitely odd mysteries to solve, with great characters and a fabulous sense of place – a sprawling, dilapidated mansion in a quaint town in 1950s England. Everyone knows everyone and a murder is big news. 🙂 Love these books.

  11. Missy K says:

    Yes for PD James. Perhaps The Night Circus, for mystery and atmosphere. I really love Kate Morton’s characters and sense of place. I have devoured both the Maisie Dobbs series of mysteries and Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache series (though her writing does get dramatically stronger as you go.) And finally, All the Light We Cannot See, because I recommend that to anyone who will listen.

  12. Bethany says:

    I’d recommend any of Dorothy Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries. Strong characters, intriguing story lines, and even when you’ve figured out “whodunit” which you sometimes can, it’s very hard to figure out how. I’ve devoured nearly all of them.

  13. Janet says:

    The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie is a lot of fun, and the first Flavia book I do believe.

    Case Histories and the rest of the Kate Atkinson books about Jackson Brodie.
    Gertrude Bell, Queen of the Desert by Georgina Howell for a great biograpy about a woman who’s actions are resonating today in the Middle East, plus she just did so much STUFF!

  14. Victoria says:

    Ooh, I have the Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie but haven’t started it yet.

    Try Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons (especially if you like I Capture The Castle). And if you like Agatha Christie and Lord Peter and vintage try the Daisy Dalrymple series by Carola Dunn (I adore these) or for something a bit more racy the Phryne Fisher books by Kerry Greenwood which are set in 1920s Melbourne. The Phryne books are fantastic ‘lady detective’ books but do contain stronger themes and sexual scenes so may not be liked by all.

    The 1920s set detective novels of Georgette Heyer are also good, I’m not such a fan of her Georgian historical fiction though so be careful which titles you look at.

    • Victoria says:

      Ooh, and how about Agatha Christie’s book about her travels in Egypt with her archaeologist husband? I think it’s called Come, Tell Me How You Live and the digs she lives on are the setting for one of her Poirot mysteries.

  15. Just remembered: Another mystery series I’ve enjoyed is the Hugh de Singleton series by Melvin R. Starr. Authentic medieval plot, setting, and characters (the glossary comes in handy if you don’t know what a childwite, deodand, half-virgate, leech custard, etc are.) I’ve read and enjoyed the first 5 in the series. Also, written by a Christian author, but without any evangelical Christian-ese. All faith references seem very authentic and in character for faith expressions and church culture at the time.

  16. Kristin says:

    For a mystery series with a very strong sense of place, I recommend the Dr. Siri Paiboun series, by Colin Coterrill… “The Coroner’s Lunch” is the first. Set in The People’s Republic of Laos in 1976, it’s a fascinating glimpse of a place an era I didn’t know much about.

  17. Jean says:

    Recommend a series by Susan Hill featuring British police detective Simon Serailler and a huge cast of characters, including fellow police, family members and townspeople. Excellent character development, timely issues, and better than average mysteries. Good sense of time and place, too — a nice change from London-set tales.

  18. Julie R says:

    Laurie R King is one of my all time favorite authors, and she certainly counts as a mystery writer. Her Mary Russell and Sherlock Homles series is excellent! But if you want interesting characters then I suggest “To Play the Fool” which is part of the Kate Martinelli series. One of the main characters has dedicated his life to being a Holy Fool and he only speaks in quotations, never in his own words.

  19. Karen says:

    I love love your podcast. I am an elementary teacher and I think it would be fun to have an episode about great books to read aloud. I am always looking for a book that inspires conversation in my classroom.

  20. Alison H says:

    Some of my favorite mysteries are written by Louise Penny, Laurie King, Susan Wittig Albert(the plant mysteries), Charles Todd, M.C. Beaton(Hamish McBeth), Sharon McCrumb, Jo Dereske, and more than I could name. Other favorite authors are Kate Morton, Jodi Piccoult, Fannie Flagg, Sarah Addison Allen, Susan Kearsley,Brunonia Berry,Barbara Kingsolver, James Herriot, Gene Stratton Porter, and so many more.

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