Molly MacRae’s short stories and novels are set in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, about as far north and east as you can get in Tennessee without being in either Virginia or North Carolina, where she lived for twenty years. Now she lives in central Illinois, a much flatter place, where she works at the public library connecting children with books.
“What’s good?” I get that question a lot at the library. Sometimes I feel like a barmaid. A patron will walk up to lean against the counter. I smile, say hello, ask how I can help. The answer is often a variation of “What’s good?”
“I’m looking for a good book.”
“I liked the last book you recommended. What else have you got?”
“So, what’ve you been reading lately?”
I smile and serve up the latest and the best.
I love the question, “what’s good?” Sometimes my mind goes blank and I have to give myself a shake to get it going again. It usually does get going again, though, and then I rub my hands together, practically smacking my lips with satisfaction, because I’ve got a reader on the hook; I’ve caught another one.
But what does “what’s good?” have to do with writing? Everything. If you don’t read, read, read, how can you write? If you don’t ask “what’s good?” and then hunt that down and read it, then what are you doing?
So, librarian hat on, I’m going to offer you Molly’s Quick & Dirty Thirty – thirty titles that fit my definition of “what’s good.” I was going to limit the list to adult mysteries, but there are so many great kids’ books out there these days, including delightful picture books that I’m going to throw in some of them, too. Read a few. They’ll open your eyes. Here we go, in no particular order:
1. A Small Death in the Great Glen by A.D. Scott –atmospheric mystery set in a small town in the Scottish Highlands in the 1950s.
2. Grandeville by Bryan Talbot – steampunk graphic novel mystery
3. A Bad Day for Sorry by Sophie Littlefield – unlikely and completely enjoyable heroine who’s handy with a frying pan
4. Britten and Brulightly by Hannah Berry – graphic novel with a depressed detective and his partner who is a teabag
5. Veil of Lies by Jeri Westerson – medieval noir
6. Cool Cat by Nonny Hogrogian – Cool Cat turns the drab world around him into a Rousseau masterpiece
7. Library Lion by Michelle Knudson – sometimes rules need to be broken
8. When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead – winner of the 2010 Newbery Award
9. Some Buried Caesar by Rex Stout – quintessential Nero Wolf and Archie Goodwin
10. The Case of the Missing Marquess by Nancy Springer – featuring Enola, Sherlock’s much younger sister
11. Still Life by Louise Penny – Canadian small town crime
12. Death of a Cozy Writer by G.M. Malliet – good cozy from a fresh new talent
13. The Ghost and Mrs. McClure by Alice Kimberly – fun mystery with a Sam Spadish ghost
14. A Dog About Town by Jonathan Englert – funny cozy told from dog’s point of view
15. Ella Minnow Pea: a progressively lipogrammatic epistolary fable by Mark Dunn
16. Knots and Crosses by Ian Rankin – dark police procedural in Edinburgh, Scotland
17. Killer Stuff by Sharon Fiffer – flea markets, estate sales and murder
18. The Wood Beyond by Reginald Hill – part of a long-running British police procedural series
19. Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear – Post WWI Britain
20. Diary of a Wombat by Jacquie French – what do wombats do all day?
21. The Tale of Hilltop Farm by Susan Wittig Albert – Beatrix Potter as a sleuth
22. The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde – Thursday Next is a Special Ops Literary Detective
23. The Prairie Grass Murders by Patricia Stoltey – central Illinois!
24. Down the Rabbit Hole by Peter Abrahams – strong girl protagonist, great storytelling
25. Holmes on the Range by Steve Hockensmith – Two cowboys emulating Sherlock Holmes
26. The Hydrogen Murders by Camille Minichino – satisfying cozy
27. The Gun Seller by Hugh Laurie – yes, that Hugh Laurie.
28. Zorro by Isabel Allende – wonderful retelling of the legend
29. Monkey with a Tool Belt by Chris Monroe – Chico Bonbon is a monkey with a tool belt
30. A Long Way from Chicago by Richard Peck – as good as Mark Twain
There you go. Thirty books I’ve read over the past few years I’m happy recommending to readers and writers. Help yourself! And if you have books you’d like to recommend, stop by my website, www.mollymacrae.com or find me on Facebook and drop me a line. I love hearing other people’s ideas of “what’s good.”