When we last journeyed down the rabbit hole I told you about abandoning my short “career” as an Amazon reviewer.
My experience as an Amazon reviewer was a big bust, but my love for sharing what I was reading and my newfound crush on contemporary mystery novels was not. I said before that my taste when it came to mystery novels became more sophisticated, but that was poor word choice. The word sophisticated plays into the destructive and dichotomous idea of highbrow versus lowbrow. Really there are just the books you want to read and the books you don’t want to read. There are the books you like and the books that you put on the bottom shelf behind your prized Norton Anthology collection to keep the overloaded bookshelf from collapsing. My tastes simply evolved.
I started to veer toward historical mysteries and those modern mysteries that possessed just a bit more bite and grit than “bored stay-at-home mom has to risk her life in order to clear her best friend of murder all while making brownies for the PTSA bake sale.” However, without those oh so cozy mysteries I never would have found my way to P.B. Ryan, Miriam Grace Monfredo, Victoria Thompson, David Handler, Rhys Bowen, Mary Anna Evans, C.S. Harris, Julia Pomeroy, Dianne Day, Vicki Lane, Julia Spencer Fleming, Ashley Gardner, Tim Cockey, Michael Kilian, Laura Lippman, Sarah Stewart Taylor, Cynthia Peale and the list goes on – I want to go on! If you’re looking to dive into mystery novels, I would suggest any and all of these authors. If you aren’t looking to dive into mystery novels, I would suggest any and all of these authors.
These contemporary writers kept me company after preschool drop off, during nap time, or in those few minutes in the Montessori parking lot while I waited for dismissal – and maybe that one time where I never left after drop-off because I knew that a snowstorm was coming and an early dismissal was inevitable. Rather than sit at home worrying about the time it would take me to drive back to school in one of those zero to end of the world Maryland snowstorms, I sat in my coat, hat, and mittens drinking green tea and occasionally turning the car on for an injection of heat while reading about a police officer and a midwife in turn of the 19th century New York. It wasn’t one time. It was three times, and you should feel free to judge me for being that mom. In my defense, the waiting wasn’t a chore and reading made the time fly. If you were wondering, I was right. School closed early and the storm went from “so pretty” to “I can’t see the road! These people can’t drive! We’re going to die!” in mere minutes. I gripped the wheel all the way home, and needed a hot shower and a good book to restore my chi.
Don’t get me wrong I still read “spunky heroine leaves cheating boyfriend, big city, and ridiculously high paying job to return to her small town home nestled in the Hudson River Valley to open an artisanal sock store,” but I’m a little resentful that Mrs. Murphy, the cat, has been the star of 25 books while the characters from Cynthia Peale and Julia Pomeroy’s series are left in a state of forever limbo. I imagine some of the edgier mysteries didn’t find traction because they just weren’t escapist enough for the early years of the 21st century, or maybe the average mystery reader just prefers that Little House meets Hallmark Movie feel. I certainly would never pick a cat with her dog best friend solves a murder over thirty-year-old widow returns home after husband’s suicide and discovers the darker side of a small resort town, but there was also a time when I would wake my sister up at 6 am on Saturday mornings to watch Little House on the Prairie. She’s still holding that against me. It’s one of the things she’s holding against me..
Now we know that reading cozy mysteries led me to other mysteries, but they also helped reinvigorate my interest in Trixie Belden and Nancy Drew. My rediscovered interest in childhood favorites combined with motherhood also led to me to search for contemporary mysteries written for children. My favorite little people were moving away from Junie, the Magic Tree House, Cam Jansen, and Geronimo Stilton to books with more exposition, longer rising action, complicated falling action, unsettled resolutions, and a slow burning climax. As a family we found exactly what we needed in the Sammy Keyes series by Wendelin Van Draanen. They were the perfect chapter books and wonderful mysteries – great for reading together or secretly reading alone because you promised you’d wait until they got home. Sometimes you just can’t wait.
The final Sammy Keyes book was published in 2014. It was a bittersweet day at my house. We’d preordered a copy and took a collective family sigh when the book finally arrived. It was the end of an era for us – we’d read them all and looked forward to each new release. It was the first time any of us had ever truly and fully processed the end of a series. I’m still processing the end of My So-Called Life and Wonderfalls. The Sammy Keyes series marks the passage of time for me. It was symbolic over how quickly time passes from 7lbs to 70lbs. From inches to feet. From your shadow to your selective independence. That’s the bitter. As a family we read all 18 books. We were excited for all 18 books. We read them on long summer night. We read them under blankets in front of the fireplace while football games played in the background. We read them in waiting room. We read them in cars. I’ll never forget the way we debated over whether the original or updated covers are better. Original covers for the win. That’s the sweet.
Reading is so many things. It’s one of my great joys. It touches on every aspect of my life. It stirs memory. It comes with stories. It creates moments. Sharing reading and hearing about what others are reading is just delicious. I would love to just spend my days showing and telling about these books and these authors then having someone return the favor – then we could do it all again the next day with middle grade or young adult or fantasy or . . .
I’m about to be random, so feel free to stop reading at the end
of this sentence. The title of this post is not an allusion to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, but to a YA mystery novel by Peter Abrahams. Although, the title of his novel is an allusion to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, so maybe my title is as well. How does that work? The series currently consists of three books, but I’m still waiting for the fourth. I recommend it.