There is nothing like browsing in a bookstore or a library and picking up something completely unfamiliar, just because you like the cover or the title or the book calls out to you in some indefinable way. And there--a new author, new characters, a new world.
I thought I'd share two of my serendipitous recent finds. One was a gift from a friend, who discovered the book while browsing at our local B&N and loved it so much that she bought me a copy: Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson. This was a first novel, a gem about a retired and recently widowed British major who strikes up an unexpected friendship with the widowed Pakistani shop owner in his small English village--a friendship that will cause him to challenge everything he believed about himself. The book is delightful, moving, and often laugh-out-loud funny--a book you want to give to all your reading friends.
Find # 2 was at the library, on the featured fiction display. I walked over and picked it up, intrigued by the title--A Lady Cyclist's Guide to Kashgar--and the cover. This is also a debut novel by author Suzanne Joinson; two interwoven stories, one a journal of a lady cyclist accompanying female missionaries in 1920s Turkestan, the other a modern-day woman in London who has inherited the contents of a stranger's flat. It is lyrical, intriguing, and drew me into worlds outside my experience.
So, my challenge, Reds, is to give us a book you've read in the last year, a book not in the genre you usually read, a serendipitous book that has given you that jolt of unexpected delight.
RHYS BOWEN: I adored Major Pettigrew, Debs. I often read outside the crime genre and this is exactly the kind of book I adore. The second one also sounds like my cup of tea. And I have Amazon credits waiting for my Kindle. It's so easy to buy with one click. Of course if one isn't careful it can be a disaster. I found I had clicked on one of my own books the other day when I was checking my Amazon stats! But two books I've read recently that I can recommend: The House at Riverton, by Kate Moreton, and The House at Tyneford by Natasha Solomons. Obviously I'm in my "HOUSE AT" period. They have a certain amount in common--the narrator of each is a servant girl at a big house in England during the earlier years of the Twentieth Century.
ROSEMARY HARRIS: I picked up my latest serendipitous find at the airport of all places. Every once in a while - in the brief blink of an eye when there is no new James Patterson to be enshrined - I find something at the airport I'd never have picked up or even known about. This year it was Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs. It has a fabulous, arresting cover reminiscient of an old photo by Diane Arbus (it's not.) Very difficult to decribe - photos and fiction combine to tell the fantastic story of a remote island and some very unusual children. I loved it.
JAN BROGAN: Okay, that's decided, I am definitely picking up Major Pettigrew. I read a lot outside the mystery genre, a lot of non fiction, real history and historical novels. My most recent favorites were The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom and Rules of Civility by Amor Towles, but I think a lot people know about those books. A really terrific book I didn't expect was Mother, Father, God by Lucia Greenhouse. I read this because I interviewed her for a non-fiction story, and I thought I should read her book. It's a memoir and absolutely riveting. It's about growing up as a daughter in a devote Christian Scientist family and how the family gets torn apart when it has to confront an illness - her mother's cancer - that needs real life, modern medicine. It's all about family, values, and how our belief systems can bind us together and tear us apart. She is an absolutely TERRIFIC writer and I could not put this book down.
HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Ah, you know I'm on book tour and working at the same time and trying to edit the new book and it's all wonderful but it doesn't leave much time for exploration. Or even knowing exactly where I am. But if I may bend the rule a bit..I did love Linwood Barclay's Trust Your Eyes--it's such fun when a great thriller just presents itself...you know it instantly, right? Highly recommended. I just started Julia Keller's A Killing in the Hills, and that seems like it's going to be really good. And I blurbed a fabulous new book called Rage Against the Dying. You saw it here first--just saying--AND I've asked the author to come blog. And I also read a YA called Girl, Lost, about a girl who is kidnapped for ransom, but the bad guys don't know she's blind. I want to read The Art Forger! And the Lighthouse book.
DEBS: Jan, you will love Major Pettigrew. Simonson has been compared to Jane Austen in the reviews for her witty and often cutting social commentary, but I hadn't read a review when I picked up the book--I just thought it was wonderful.
Rhys, I think I have The House at Moreton somewhere in my to-read shelves. Must look. And so many of these I think I would love... I see what I've done here--added books to all our TBR piles.
Hank, I HAVE read The Art Forger, and it's fab!
Ro, my own airport find when on book tour last year, when nothing I had with me seemed just right--a book called A Little Night Magic by Lucy March. I adored it, and am keeping an eye out for a sequel.
What am I reading now (found browsing when I was doing an event at B&N last weekend)? Pete Townshend's memoir, Who I Am. It's brilliant.
So how about you, readers? Do you succumb to the lure of browsing? Will you share your serendipitous finds with us?