Reviews

Literary Gift Guide

Every year or so, or whenever I can manage, quite honestly, I like to put together a usable gift guide for the people in your life who need books (meaning everyone). I’ve seriously considered publishing this list in October, so that I don’t get lost in the very big crowd, but I think we all know I am not that on top of things. Does that stop me from making it?

Not at all.With that in mind, I’m hoping to include a few selections beyond the obvious Becoming by Michelle Obama (go read it, but you’ve probably had ten lists tell you that already) or An American Marriage (also a must read). Perhaps you love national parks? I’ve got a book for that. The ’80s? I have two for that decade! What about a quintessential, small town diner? I have one for that too. Here are a few suggestions:

What to give someone who wants to read about the (fictional, but all too real) way the oil and gas industry has changed rural America (excellent debut, too): Kickdown // Rebecca Clarren

What to give someone who wants to learn about wildfire from a personal perspective: A Song for the River // Philip Connors

What to give someone who loves the show American Gods, but has already read Gaiman’s American Gods: The Library at Mount Char // Scott Hawkins

What to give someone who loves national parks: The Wild Inside // Christine Carbo (fiction) or The Hour of Land // Terry Tempest Williams (nonfiction)

What to give someone who loves a good, old fashioned diner and karmic retribution: Everybody’s Fool // Richard Russo

What to give someone who loves fairy tales with feminist underpinnings: Spinning Silver // Naomi Novik

What to give someone who is still mourning the loss of Firefly: A Big Ship at the Edge of the Universe // Alex White

What to gives someone who (still) loves the ’80s: The Optimistic Decade // Heather Abel (fiction) or Life Moves Pretty Fast: The Lessons We Learned from Eighties Movies (and Why We Don’t Learn Them from Movies Anymore) // Hadley Freeman

If you’re unsure about buying a book, a gift card to a bookstore is always appreciated, and there are always cute items available on Etsy and from Out of Print.

What are you gifting the people in your life this year?

Miscellanea

A Christmas Carol // Six Degrees of Separation

The idea behind this exercise is to connect books in any way that’s meaningful to you, from the profound to the inane. Although Kevin Bacon is typically behind the six degrees game, books are just a bit more fun. December’s pick is A Christmas Carol.

I never thought I would begin a post with muppets…

But now that I have, I can tell you it’s wholly satisfying in an unexpected, lovely way. It’s like a post wrapped up in the nostalgia of childhood, because I LOVED Muppets’ A Christmas Carol, based on Charles Dickens’ work of the same name, when I was younger. You know what else I loved? Kermit and Tim Curry fighting in the Muppet interpretation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island. Simply irresistible.

Nancy Horan takes on the life and love of Robert Louis Stevenson and his wife Fanny in her novel Under the Wide and Starry Sky. The particular wording and format of that title reminds me of The Map of Salt and Stars by Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar (though the similarities end there), a novel “of voyage and exile that moves between contemporary war-torn Syria and the caravansaries and khans of its lost past. Maps are mentioned on almost every page: not just making them but the decisions that making them involves, what lands they cover and what lands they leave out.”

Speaking of maps, the beautifully weird and beautifully designed Bats of the Republic by Zachary Thomas Dodson features detailed maps and other ephermera (and bats, and an apocalypse). Tying in to the word republic is Carol Shields’ The Republic of Love, which details the lives of a folklore researcher (she focuses on mermaids!) and a radio show host/disc jockey as they fall in love.

Love, lists, and music feature heavily in High Fidelity by Nick Hornby, which chronicles record store owner Rob’s most recent romantic failure. As Rob works through his issues, he and Laura get back together, with him agreeing to move past his career as solely a record store owner and reestablish himself as… wait for it… a disc jockey.

I made it all the way from A Christmas Carol to High Fidelity, by way of pirates, Syria, bats, muppets, mermaids, and DJs. Care to join in? Please do!

Miscellanea

Bookstagram

Partly because I’ve been neglecting this space, and partly because I love to be outdoors with a book (and it’s not winter yet!), I’ve started to dip my toes into the world of bookstagram* – only discover it’s a huge community! I don’t have a lot of extra time to dedicate to it, though I wish I had a little more, but it seems like a lot of fun. Here’s what I’ve been reading as of late.
Honorable mentions:
The Lost Queen by Signe Pike. 4.5/5.
The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman. 5/5.
The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins. 5/5.
The Outsider by Stephen King. 3.5/5.
The Witch at Willow Hall by Hester Fox. 3.5/5.
All These Beautiful Strangers by Elizabeth Klehfoth. 3.75/4.
The Clockmaker’s Daughter by Kate Morton. 3.75/4.

Are you on Instagram? Do you post about your reading habits?

*The book community of Instagram.

Lists

The American West

It’s still November, thankfully, and that means another nonfiction post is coming your way. There are three ways to join in this time.

“You can either share three or more books on a single topic that you have read and can recommend (be the expert), you can put the call out for good nonfiction on a specific topic that you have been dying to read (ask the expert), or you can create your own list of books on a topic that you’d like to read (become the expert).” This week is hosted by Julie over at JulzReads.
I am by no means an expert, but I do have more than a passing interest in the American West, particularly conservation (think Edward Abbey, John Muir, and Wallace Stegner) and water rights. With the serious and constant redistribution and reallocation of water (not to mention terribly convoluted water rights), the United States would not look remotely as it does today. Phoenix, Las Vegas, and Los Angeles would never have been able to sustain such high populations, as well as a few other sizeable cities. It’s fascinating (and sometimes devastating) to see how the United States has changed due to modern innovation. These are a few books on that topic that I enjoyed. There are so, so many out there, that if you’re interested, I encourage you to explore beyond this briefest of lists.

All the Wild That Remains // David Gessner
Beyond the Hundredth Meridian // Wallace Stegner
Desert Solitaire // Edward Abbey
Dam Nation // Stephen Grace
Where the Water Goes // David Owen
Water to the Angels // Les Standiford

What are you an expert on? Or do you want to become an expert on a specific topic?

Reviews

The Clockmaker’s Daughter // Kate Morton

I’ll make this short and sweet.

The Clockmaker’s Daughter is not a groundbreaking novel, but it is a good one. It features many of the elements that I’ve come to expect and enjoy in a Kate Morton novels – multiple timelines, intricate mysteries, and an evocative location.

The summer of 1862 is a pivotal year in the life of Birchwood Manor. A group of artists plan to use the house to explore their creativity and find inspiration, but by the end of the summer, a woman is dead, another is missing, and a priceless heirloom has been stolen. These events reverberate across time, influencing the new residents of the house in unexpected ways.

Although the novel perhaps had one time period too many, Morton did an excellent job of wrapping things up. Like all of her novels, it was an immersive, satisfying reading experience. You can’t go wrong when a novel has a ghost, an archivist, and a beautiful house on the Thames.  Have you read any Kate Morton novels? My favorite is The Forgotten Garden.

*I received a review copy of this novel in exchange for my opinion (thanks, Netgalley!).

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