It’s time to make the May recommendations for the 2016 Reading Challenge!
What is the reading challenge?
It’s a fun and simple way to read books this new year. Here are the basics of the challenge:
-You will read one book a month from a specific category (details below)
-You don’t have to read them in the order listed
-At the beginning of each month I will give you many ideas for fantastic books within that category that you just might enjoy
-Throughout the month I will post updates on my Facebook page (if you haven’t started following yet, this would be a great time!), sharing the books I’m reading within that category. You can chime in with what you are reading and get recommendations from other readers.
-At the end of the year we will celebrate our success and share our favorites from 2016 (plus have a pretty awesome giveaway…)!
So, are you in? If you’re not convinced yet, here are the categories:
2016 Reading Challenge
May: A Mystery
June: A Nonfiction Book on a Topic That Interests You
July: A Book By An Author You Really Enjoy
August: Something You Should Have Read in School But Didn’t
September: A Newbery Award Winner (The Best Work of Children’s Literature for that year. HERE.)
October: Something Scary
November: A Fantasy
December: A Book Set in Another Country
You can jump in any time. Just because you’ve missed the previous months’ challenge doesn’t mean you can’t join us now!
May’s Reading Challenge: A Mystery
I chose this month’s category in honor of my mother. My mother seriously loves a good mystery. So, being the contrary daughter that I am, I avoided the genre for years. When I finally decided to try to read a mystery a few years ago, I discovered that I am indeed my mother’s daughter. There is something so satisfying about a good mystery!
Here are a few recommendations to help you choose your mystery:
The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Our first recommendation should duly give homage to that father of all detectives–Sherlock Holmes. Though I just include The Hound of the Baskervilles (a short novella that you could read in a day), please know that I really mean to recommend all of the Sherlock Holmes stories. If you, like me, are a fan of the recent television series Sherlock, read the originals while waiting impatiently for the next season to come out!
Bleak House by Charles Dickens
This classic by Charles Dickens is often considered the first real detective story. Though the detective doesn’t appear until halfway through the book and is hardly the main character, he does help sort out the mystery that is plaguing the Jarndyce. Many of the characteristics that will come to define the modern mystery genre are present: a murder, clues, police inspector, detective, and more. Because it is Dickens, be prepared for an enormous cast of characters, some political satire and commentary, and a story with more twists and turns than a London back alley.
The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
Wilkie Collins, though perhaps more famous for his novel The Moonstone, wanted to be forever remembered as the author of The Woman in White–even requesting that it be engraved on his tombstone. Collins and Dickens were friends and often spoke of their respective mysteries to each other. I much prefer The Woman in White. Its pace is quicker, cast of characters is smaller, and overall mystery is deliciously haunting. Sometimes literally.
The Body in the Library by Agatha Christie
No list of mystery recommendations could be complete without an Agatha Christie gem. I enjoy most Christie novels, but I have a special fondness for her Miss Marple mysteries. Miss Marple’s knack for being in the right place at the right time, understanding human desires and motivations, and picking up on those small clues that many readers overlook make her one of the most delightful detectives around. This particular novel, The Body in the Library, begins–shockingly–with a body in a library. However, no one knows who it is or how it got there. And things only become more complicated and mysterious.
No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith
For a modern twist on the Miss Marple style mystery, you can’t beat The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency. Set in Botswana, the series features female detective Precious Ramotswe who uses her powers of observation, insights into human nature, and plain old common sense to solve various cases for clients. I love getting a glimpse into the life and culture of Botswana and have enjoyed all of the books in the series. Start with this first one, and you may find yourself hooked!
Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear
I am officially in love with the Maisie Dobbs series! This month I have read the first five books in the detective series, and I have two more on hold at the library. You see, I had a Downton Abbey shaped hole in my heart, and Maisie Dobbs filled it beautifully! Maisie Dobbs is a female detective in England during the 1920s. After serving as a nurse during The Great War, Maisie becomes a private investigator who uses psychology and intuition to solve crimes. The first novel sets the tone for the series, introducing Maisie’s character and establishing the setting–particularly the time period. I found that the actual mysteries themselves improved with each subsequent book, so if you’re still on the fence after the first book you should keep reading. I knew very little about World War I or the post-war Europe, and really enjoyed learning more about the time period through this mystery series. My librarian also recommended that I read the books in order. While the mysteries themselves do not need to be in order, many things in Maisie’s personal life make best sense when they are read from the first book on. If you are looking for a new mystery series, be sure to check out the Maisie Dobbs series!
The Blessing Way by Tony Hillerman
Tony Hillerman’s mystery novels feature two Navajo tribal police officers, Lt. Joe Leaphorn and Sgt. Jim Chee, and the crimes they solve. While the mysteries themselves are entertaining, I am particularly enthralled by the depiction of life among the Navajo people (and to a lesser extent the Zuni, Hopi, and other tribes in the Four Corners region). I lived and worked on the Zuni reservation for a few years, so each time I read a Hillerman mystery, I feel like I’ve gone back home.
A Morbid Taste for Bones by Ellis Peters
Brother Cadfael is a Benedictine monk living in 12th century England. He is a sort of Sherlock Holmes of the middle ages, who uses his powers of observation and reasoning to solve various crimes around the monastery and its surrounding lands. If you enjoy history and mystery, this series is for you!
Young Adult Mysteries
Under the Egg by Laura Marx Fitzgerald
Theodora’s beloved grandfather is very suddenly killed in an accident, leaving her with only his dying words: “Look under the egg.” Theo must discover what those words mean if she is to save her family home. Along the way she discovers a lost masterpiece, a story of a German concentration camp, and hints to her grandfather’s heroic past.
Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliett
Chasing Vermeer has it all: a stolen work of art, curious and courageous children, and just enough danger to make things interesting. The novel manages to peak children’s interest in art history, math, and science without seeming pedantic or boring. A quick, fun read!
The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin
Sunset Towers is a new apartment that is stylish, luxurious, and holding a big secret. When the mysterious Mr. Westing dies, the tenants of Sunset Towers are informed that they are all heirs to the estate–if they can play and solve a game that may prove to be dangerous. This Newbery Award Winner leads readers on a delightfully twisting mystery that few readers will solve before the end.
On My Nightstand
Skeleton Man by Tony Hillerman
In preparation and research for this month’s challenge, I discovered a Tony Hillerman novel that I hadn’t read. I’m excited to read another!
The Mapping of Love and Death by Jacqueline Winspear
The next book in the Maisie Dobbs series. I seriously love curling up with Maisie and a good cup of tea. We’ve been having many spring thunderstorms lately, and it makes for the perfect evening!
The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler
Two of the books that I have recently read about writing (including On Writing by Stephen King) have mentioned Chandler as a writer to be emulated. My husband and I watched and enjoyed the movie version with Humphrey Bogart years ago, so I am looking forward to reading this classic crime novel.
What mystery will you read this month? Let me know in the comment section! I always love to get recommendations.
(Linked to Quick Lit.)
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