Monday, October 22, 2012


DEBORAH CROMBIE:  I've been thinking a good bit lately about the joys of browsing. We tend to get stuck in book ruts. (Come on, now, admit it.) If we read, or write, a particular genre, we naturally gravitate towards books in that genre. We see reviews, we get newsletters from our favorite indie bookstores (if you like mysteries, you probably want to read nearly every book in The Poisoned Pen monthly newsletter.) Our online retailers push us towards more books that are like books we've already bought, or that people who bought books we've bought have also bought.  All good... except that it begins to close down our reading world.

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 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?  


  1. So many new books to try!

    I picked up Delia Ephron's The Lion Is In at the library this summer and absolutely loved it. Three women (one wearing a wedding dress) on the run and a lion - sounds crazy, right? She totally makes it work. So glad I found it.

  2. Oh - I loved The Lion is In !!!! Thanks for all those book titles to put on my t-r-r list!! oh yes, and another book newsletter! Dee

  3. I'm kicking myself now. I was out running over the weekend and passed by a garage sale with tons of books on display. Many of them looked old and many were suspense or mysteries. I didn't go back, and now I've got a healthy dose of shame on me. This post reminded me of why I should have made the effort - there are so many reading treasures out there!

  4. After bringing two bags of books to the local library I stopped at a church rummage sale and came home with more including some great old gardening books, Paul Theroux's sequel to The Great Railway Bazaar (who knew there was one?) and Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried, which I remembered loving when it first came out. Also got some funky old lystery pbs with great titles like The Deadly Pick-Up, complete with bombshell blond on the cover.

  5. It's been over a year, but because of a Facebook friendship, I bought and read the book "Diamond Ruby" by the very talented Joseph Wallace. It's about a very strong young woman in the 1920s with a gift of strength that doesn't usually benefit women (not at that time in the sports world). I loved it and I urge everyone to give it a read.

    --Marjorie of Connecticut

  6. The wonderful aspect of Major Pettigrew's Last Stand is how adult it is, and the realistic way it portrays the older characters, with dignity and great affection. It has that in common with the movie The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. So refreshing, that the authors chose to avoid the stereotypical way mature people are so often portrayed.

    A charming read I picked up on a whim was The Secret Lives of Dresses, by Erin McKean.

  7. Like most of you, my reading spans a whole lots of genres and finding a new book or new author is a thrill.

    I loved Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, Debs - it was one of those finds that made me enormously happy.

    Discovering Kate Morton was another and I've just finished reading an ARC of her latest, THE SECRET KEEPER. I can't recommend it highly enough!

    Other favorite "Serendipitous Book" finds were THE GUERNSEY LITERARY AND POTATO PEEL PIE SOCIETY by Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows, SAVING CEECEE HONEYCUTT by Beth Hoffman and THE SECRET LIFE OF BEES by Sue Monk Kidd. And MOMENTS WITH EUGENE edited by Rebecca Barrett & Carolyn Haines (yes, mystery's own Carolyn Haines.

    okay - that's all - I'm off to vote!

  8. I tend to avoid literary novels anymore, after reviewing and teaching them for years--and growing ever more disaffected with many of them. But I ended up reading a slim lit novel that's outstanding.

    Janet McAdams, a friend and award-winning poet, published a novel earlier this year with University of Arizona Press. RED WEATHER is a lyrical portrayal of a woman’s search for herself in the guise of her search for long-missing parents, who had fled imminent arrest for their involvement in a 1970s nonviolent Native American protest action. Her protagonist, Neva, has lived in the South all her life, passing as white in fear of what might happen to her if those around her realize she’s part-Creek. Even her controlling, abusive husband never knew until the one person in whom she confided told him, allowing him to use that against her. Now, she seeks traces of her parents in the tiny, war-torn country of Coatepeque in Central America. She'll find love, heartbreak, and children and friends for whom she'll risk her life instead.

    Debs, you're right. It's a disease!

  9. Kaye, we have very similar reading tastes. I also recently discovered Kate Morton, with her The House at Riverton. (Oh, Rhys!)

    Another wonderful book I found via the Nook library was The Postmistress, by Sarah Blake. And if you have not yet read The Paris Wife by my fellow Ohioan Paula McClain, I highly recommend it. Serendipitously, I watched the movie Midnight in Paris shortly after I'd read the book on Hemingway's first wife. Lots of the same characters, the magical part of the movie set in the same time period as the book.

  10. Yes, it IS a sickness! But a good one.

    On the pane last night i rad Princess Elizabeth's Spy (is that he title?) and inside the cover were blurbs from Rhys, and Cara Black! SO I knew it would be good..and I'm loving it .It's not what I usually read..but my brain was so full.


  11. Oh, and I'm really looking forward to the new Tom Wolfe. I am a HUGE fa.

  12. Ho could I forget the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, Kaya? That turned out to be one of my favorite books ever! So clever. Starting so light and sperficial and ending up so deep and multi-layered!

    And Hank, if you pick up a historical novel, you'll probably find a blurb from me on it. The publishers now seem to think "HIstorical... call Rhys Bowen." Lovely but a lot of extra work.

  13. Ho could I forget the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, Kaya? That turned out to be one of my favorite books ever! So clever. Starting so light and sperficial and ending up so deep and multi-layered!

    And Hank, if you pick up a historical novel, you'll probably find a blurb from me on it. The publishers now seem to think "HIstorical... call Rhys Bowen." Lovely but a lot of extra work.

  14. Oh, the sickness! I agree with you as I sit here staring at the pile of books on my nightstand, beside my nightstand, next to the bed...:-)

    For the most part, I stick to our genre--there are just too many great books! It's another sort of sickness: how to keep up?!?!? :-)(That said, Hank, I finished THE OTHER WOMAN a few weeks ago--brava!)

    However, I recommend THE LACE MAKERS OF GLENMARA by Heather Barbieri. Its a lovely story of a woman who returns to her ancestral homeland in Ireland.

    I'll be reading THE ART FORGER soon.

  15. Karen, now I will look for The Paris Wife. I loved Midnight in Paris, so much so that I blogged here on JR about it. I had read Hemingway's A Moveable Feast a couple of years ago, his memoir of is time in Paris. Highly recommended if you haven't read it.

  16. Like Ro I do love to browse my library's book sale (where I volunteer, too). I seem to end up with cookbooks (big surprise) which I love to browse but rarely cook from.

    And I've got Miss Peregrine right here on my shelf! Haven't read it yet but I will.LOVED The Art Forger which got a great review in today's Boston Globe!

  17. I rarely read non mysteries anymore. Some of you have mentioned some that I HAVE read and loved, including Major Pettigrew. One not mentioned so far is The Weird Sisters; I think the author is Eleanor Brown. I could not put it down! I loved The Lacemakers of Glenmara so much that when I got to the end,I immediately went back to Page 1 and reread the entire book!

  18. Two surprises this year: The School of Essential Ingredients, by Erica Bauermeister, and The Rules of Civility, by Amor Towles. School is contemporary, light, and a lot of fun -- the intersecting lives of 8 people in a cooking class. Civility is set in the late 30s in NYC, and is a great example of voice in a novel -- the narrator is a struggling working class gal who gets in with the rich crowd. Sort of. Gatsby territory, but with a happy ending. :)

  19. Oh yes, THE WEIRD SISTERS! I'd forgotten about that one--that was definitely a worthy read.

  20. Deeper by Megan Hart was a gift from a friend. She called it literary erotica and I think that was a very good description. There are some very explicit sex scenes, but the sex is integral to the plot and I love the storyline. No to mention Hart's talent for description.

  21. Deb, I've read A Moveable Feast twice, but not in many years. Thanks for the memory jog; I'll have to go back and read it again, but this time with the framework of The Paris Wife firmly in place.

    Also loved The School of Essential Ingredients. Wonderful story.

  22. Leslie, Karen, I loved The School of Essential Ingredients, too. I think I picked up the trade paperback at Costco because I liked the cover.

  23. Favorite non-mysteries? The list is endless . . . I need no encouragement to browse for days --- so many books . . . so little time . . . . “Stars of Jazz” by Ray Avery: a pictorial history of the show [absolutely amazing photographs of many of the icons of jazz] showcasing Avery’s innovative camera work . . . . “When We Were Friends” by Elizabeth Joy Arnold: a story of motherhood and family, the meaning of friendship, and overcoming the past . . . . “The Time Traveler’s Wife” by Audrey Niffenegger: a story of the victory of love over time . . . . any of the “Joshua” books by Joseph F. Girzone: stories of a quiet and simple man --- magical modern-day parables all.

  24. Because of Nook's Freebie Fridays I've read a lot of books I'd never read otherwise. The most recent was as delicious as its name: Peaches, by Jodi Lynn Anderson. I didn't want it to end.

  25. I think it's odd about myself, that I do not like most literary novels. I don't know why I find most boring, but I do. I think I should find them fascinating and intellectually stimulating, but mostly I cannot get past the first page.

    If I go back to my childhood... well that was different... Dickens, and a few others excited me, grabbed me. Now most make me snore. I only read those I had to, to get through school. It was work. Boring. Work. Study.

    When I finally graduated I didn't read for fun. I had forgotten how. I was old and uninterested in books, unless I could use the information I might glean from them. Pathetic.

    Then I discovered Robert B. Parker on NPR. That was that. I'm not ready to stray from the crime genre, yet. But I am considering the book that Linda mentioned above, RED WEATHER by Janet McAdams. It has a ring of something true that would engage me.

    In a similar way I am attracted to books about Salem, Massachusetts, the town where I was born, and where a small segment of my ancestors settled in the early 17th century. I am interested in that period of cultural explosion and the witch-trial era. I recently made a serendipitous find for that time period-- THE SALEM WITCH TRIALS: A DAY-BY-DAY CHRONICLE OF A COMMUNITY UNDER SIEGE by Marilynne K. Roach. Those events are a great mystery of human nature.

  26. oh, Rhys, I love hearing you say Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is one of your favorite books ever! me too. Did you walk around with it wanting to read specific passages aloud to your husband (and anyone else you might run into)?! It was a surprise to me. I resisted it for a long time because of the title, I'm afraid. Now I'm just happy I discovered it. Its one that I will take to the old folks home with me (that's highest praise I can give a book).

  27. I am a diehard British Mystery Fan, I can't read "true" thrillers/suspense = nightmares galore for me ....ewwwwww

    I do on occassion read mysteries that take place in non "british settings" (usually new england where I grew up), but since I lived in an English Village in another life, I'm drawn to British Mysteries

    Once in a while I do pick up something outside my "reading box"

    "Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson" sounds really good (still british) and I shall be looking for it and adding it to my TRB stacks

    Several have mentioned Kate Morton on here, so I now have more added to my wish list

    I also saw reviews on Princess Elizabeth's Spy: A Maggie Hope Mystery which looks very interesting

    Rhys, I'm getting behind on your books, need to catch up

    I always enjoy seeing what authors read, love coming here and reading your opinions on other books



  28. MEMOIRS OF AN IMAGINARY FRIEND, by Matthew Dicks. Extraordinary.