What makes me drop everything and read? Fine writing. Clever plotting. Compelling characters. Intriguing settings. And, most of all, original combinations of all of the above.
The following is a list of some of my favorites. If I tried to create a similar list tomorrow, different books might be on it. But in creating the list I discovered something that had previously escaped me: I like books with a hopeful perspective and diverse characters.
So it should be no surprise that in my own books, I’ve recreated elements of the stories I love best—those with intelligent but flawed characters who value truth and justice. My story people aim to treat other people well, but sometimes fall short. They find their own strength when they remember they can’t do it all and they succeed only when they relinquish control and remember to value the contributions of others.
Understood Betsy, Dorothy Canfield Fisher
Its plot has become a cliché, but when I first read it, it was new to me and novel. Like Anne of Green Gables, Betsy is an odd child who comes to understand and treasure herself at the same time she’s struggling to be appreciated by those around her. It’s a story retold in everything from fairy tales to Harry Potter. I’ve loaned my copy to adolescents for years, but it’s one book I always insist they return.
Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang, Ian Fleming
Reading this book pops me right back onto the carpet in front of the fire in my childhood living room, listening to my father draw out the cliffhangers in delightfully painful fashion. It’s an episodic thriller, but it’s also the story of a family working together to solve problems, respecting the contributions of each family member. The movie was a mess, but the book is a treasure.
A Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L’Engle
I fell in love with the Murry family, their kitchen, and Mrs. Murry’s laboratory and immediately searched for additional installments in the series. Each story person is complex and layered with positive and negative qualities. There are no easy answers to the struggles of the young people, but surrendering to the scary power of honesty and love moves them closer to their goals.
Considered first detective novel, this Victorian romp is multi-layered with subtle humor and a sleuthdetermined to bring the guilty to justice. The story gives voice to those who weren’t always heard within the strict confines of 19th century class strucure. The mystery is revealed by eleven narrators, each with a unique voice and viewpoint.
The Black Echo, Michael Connelly
Vietnam Veteran, Tunnel Rat, and Los Angeles Detective Harry Bosch is a flawed man who breaks the rules and defies authority in pursuit of the truth, determined to uphold his code: “Everyone counts or no one counts.”
Still Life, Louise Penny
Like Bosch, Chief Inspector Armand Gamache is a man with a code, determined to teach his subordinates to wield four sentences taught to him by his own mentor: I was wrong, I'm sorry, I don't know, and I need help. Though Gamache himself sometimes struggles with those concepts, the detective and the books are hopeful, holding white-knuckled to the belief that love always wins in the end.
The Cold Moon, Jeffrey Deaver
Lincoln Rhyme is abrasive, impatient, and intolerant. He resolves every case with cold hard evidence. To solve one of his most difficult cases, Lincoln, who mistrusts all witness testimony, must join forces with Kathryn Dance of the California Bureau of Investigation who eschews easily tainted forensic details and relies on witness micro-expressions to solve crimes. Kathryn and Lincoln are two sides of the same demanding coin, but that makes it difficult for either one to appreciate the other’s perspective. But unless they join forces, they’ll never bring down the Watchmaker.
What books, movies, or television shows do you turn to again and again, like renewing an old friendship or indulging in comfort food?
Mary Feliz writes the Maggie McDonald Mysteries featuring a Silicon Valley professional organizer and her sidekick golden retriever. She's worked for Fortune 500 firms and mom and pop enterprises, competed in whale boat races and done synchronized swimming. She attends organizing conferences in her character's stead, but Maggie's skills leave her in the dust. Address to Die For, the first book in the series, was named a Best Book of 2017 by Kirkus Reviews. All of her books have spent time on the Amazon best seller list. The fourth book, Disorderly Conduct, releases July 10, 2018. http://a.co/2T1QjVV