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Discovering Unexpected Literary Gems

I’ve always been an avid reader. My taste runs more toward fantasy and science-fiction, but I have read a bit of most genres throughout my life. In having read fairly widely, I have, like most readers, found which genres I gravitate toward—and which I shy away from—and it becomes easy to fall into the trap of seldom revisiting genres where I’ve been unlucky.

Last spring, I discovered an author whose genre is one of those I tend to avoid. Rhys Bowen is billed as a mystery author, and I typically don’t care for mysteries, apart from occasional forays back into the world of the classic Sherlock Holmes stories. I especially do not enjoy modern mystery novels unless they have, for example, a supernatural bent to them (e.g. Sookie Stackhouse).

I previously wrote about my love of the Bloody Jack series, the audio book versions of which are narrated by the incredible Katherine Kellgren. It was her narration talents that nudged me into checking out, a bit dubiously, Her Royal Spyness by Bowen, the first title in a historical mystery series of the same name.

Her Royal Spyness is a lighthearted series of mysteries focusing on a fictional heir to the throne of England in the 1930s who, much to her embarrassment at times, keeps falling over corpses. The books are light, fun reads with a wealth of fascinating historical details and often feature real historical figures.

After finishing the dozen titles in that series, I turned to Bowen’s Molly Murphy Mysteries series. These feature an Irish peasant girl who, in 1901, flees from the authorities in Ireland and ends up in New York City. There, she discovers she has a talent for solving mysteries and attempts to run her own detective agency, a profession very much frowned on for women at the time. The Molly Murphy books are a bit more serious than Her Royal Spyness, but no less engaging and fun for that. I absolutely adore them.

I rarely read historical fiction, and even more rarely mysteries, but I highly recommend both of these series, and Rhys Bowen in general, if you are looking for something light, fun, and full of wit and heart.


Great Reads of 2014

I’ve always been an avid reader, and the flipping of the calendar is as good an excuse as any to take a look back at the titles I enjoyed most over the previous twelve months. This list is limited to just those books that I especially enjoyed.

I’d love to hear from you if you’ve read and/or enjoyed any of these titles, so feel free to hit me up on Twitter; discussing novels is always a ton of fun.

Links provided are for the Audible.com editions.

The Bloody Jack Series

The Bloody Jack series by L.A. Meyer begins (surprise surprise) with Bloody Jack. That link will take you to the audio book edition on Audible.com, which I highly recommend. The narrator, Katherine Kellgren, provides one of the finest audio book narration performances I have ever heard, and I’ve heard a lot of them.

The series follows the adventures of Jacky Faber, a young orphan girl living as a beggar on the streets of 19th century London. Jacky disguises herself as a boy and joins the Royal Navy as a ship’s boy. The entire series, consisting of twelve fantastic volumes, is pure fun. It ranks, personally, as one of my all time favorite literary series, which is really saying something, since my taste skews decidedly toward fantasy and science-fiction.

I truly cannot say enough good things about this entire series, nor the breathtaking performance of Katherine Kellgren. It’s fun, heartwarming, suspenseful, terrifying, hilarious, and endlessly entertaining.

Prince Lestat

It’s been a decade since Anne Rice offered up an installment in the Vampire Chronicles. Prince Lestat does not disappoint. It is refreshingly new, taking our beloved characters to new places and experiences that we have not seen hitherto. Judging by a few reviews online, some long-time fans of the series have found this chapter in the saga disappointing because it didn’t retread the old familiar ground, but I loved it precisely because it was new. Not only is it new, but it feels absolutely right. It’s a natural, authentic progression of the universe Rice created, far more so than 2004’s Blood Canticle.

Revival

It’s hard to go wrong with Stephen King, and Revival is classic King.

At its core, Revival is King’s take on the mad scientist trope from classic horror tales stretching all the way back to Mary Shelly. Its sprawling timeline, spanning from the early 1960s to present day, feels genuine, with King masterfully capturing the sense and flavor of each era he includes.

Mr. Mercedes

The first entry in a projected trilogy by Stephen King, Mr. Mercedes is a mystery/thriller that is one of the most suspenseful stories King has produced in years. It will keep you at the edge of your seat, frantically turning pages, be they of the virtual or paper varieties. The second installment should be released in 2015. Only Stephen King could release two fantastic novels with less than six months betwixed them.

The Silkworm

The Silkworm is the second installment in the Cormoran Strike series by Robert Galbraith, better known as J.K. Rowling. The series takes the very classic detective fiction genre, a class of stories most purely embodied by the indomitable Sherlock HOlmes, and places it squarely in 21st century London. Full of Rowling’s trademark wit and clever storytelling, this volume is every bit as good as the first, if not better.

The Etymologicon

The Etymologicon is a self-proclaimed “”Circular Stroll Through the Hidden Connections of the English Language”” by Mark Forsyth. Told with a light and extremely humorous and entertaining style, Mr. Forsyth explores the origins of everyday words in the English language.