Monday, December 1, 2014

Authors and readers share gift-giving suggestions



At the end of this column, there's information about the Wall St. Journal's online book club, moderated by well-known authors. It's pretty cool.
First, however, a bit of gift-giving advice.
This is easily the busiest time of year, I know. So a few Santa book suggestions wouldn't be out of order, right?
That's what I thought.

So I contacted a few writers, along with librarians and book group members, to seek suggestions for holiday gift giving.
Here they are, along with my own, which has to be Dickens' "A Christmas Carol." Timeless, beautiful (and abundantly retold on film), this book is one I try to read every Christmas. I love its reminders of mean-spiritedness, poverty, regrets, joy and generosity, as told within the well-known scenes between Scrooge and the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future. There are many beautiful editions, and I've collected them over the years—it's worth looking them up through book dealers or online services. My favorite is a Harcourt, Brace edition illustrated by Roberto Innocenti, an Italian artist. There's also a more recent book, illustrated by P.J. Lynch and published by Candlewick, that is beautifully drawn.

Mystery and police procedural author Kate Flora, whose own latest books are "Death Dealer" and "And Grant You Peace," offers Roxana Robinson's "Sparta." "It's at the top of my list," she says, "not an easy read but an engrossing one, and truly brilliant in the way she reveals the central character, Conrad, a young returned Iraq vet with PTSD. It's on my desert island short list." Flora also recommends these:
"For lovers of Boston history and memoir, both the lore and the warmth of The Family Business, by John DiNatale, written with Roland Merullo, make this story of a family PI (private investigation) business a delightful read.
"For anyone looking for a cookbook, Yottam Ottolenghi's vegetarian cookbook, 'Plenty' is a fabulous choice. The photographs are amazing and the food delicious. Even those who scorn their vegetables will be seduced by these recipes." Thanks, Kate.

Suspense writer Hallie Ephron ("There Was an Old Woman," "Night Night, Sleep Tight") recommends "In the Company of Sherlock Holmes", which she calls "great fun for anyone who loves crime fiction, a compendium of Holmes-inspired stories, edited by Laurie R. King and Leslie S. Klinger. King and Klinger are the experts on Sherlock Holmes, fresh off winning their lawsuit enabling authors to freely write stories inspired by the Holmes cannon without having to pay a fee to Doyle’s estate. In 15 stories, an array of today’s most talented and successful authors deliver modern and period tales inspired by Sherlock. In Sara Paretsky’s, a gobsmacked Holmes meets his match in a middle-aged spinster. Michael Connelly’s modern Harry Bosch encounters a Sherlockian medical examiner. Michael Sims’s tells a version of “The Silver Blaze” narrated by the horse. The collection is diverting, delightful, and best taken with a cup of hot tea."

Chris Bohjalian, whose many novels include "Skeletons at the Feast" and "The Sandcastle Girls," recently released "Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands." He is traveling like a furious wind this month—to the White House, Manhatten, and points between his Vermont residence and Russia—but took a moment to recommend two books: "My favorite new book? 'The Zone of Interest' by Martin Amis," he said. Another book that's a good gift is "Dana Walrath's powerful young adult novel in verse, 'Like Water on Stone.' It's a poignant introduction to the Armenian Genocide, published this month."

Author Anne Packer recommends "The Girls from Corona del Mar" by Rufi Thorpe.
Betsy Johnson, of the Holden book group, recommends Anthony Doerr's "All the Light You Cannot See." She calls it "a rare number one that I really like. He is a writer to follow." If you, like me, enjoy books about people and events during World War II, this is a good one. It's about a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in occupied France as they try to survive the devastation of war.

Writer Paula Castner of the Seven Bridge Writers Collaborative in Lancaster, suggests holiday book sets, including "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy, Jan Karon's Mitford series (an upbeat series about the small-town life of a minister and his artist wife) or Madeleine L'Engle's "A Wrinkle in Time" quintet, good for all ages. It's a sci-fi/fantasy series of stories about the Murry children, a classic series of books.

Castner also recommends several children's books, including: "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever," by Barbara Robinson, "a wonderful classic which is just delightful for a family read." Also, she says, try "The Christmas Troll" by Eugene Peterson, a picture book; "The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey" by Susan Wojciechowski, about a widower being drawn back to living by a little boy and a nativity scene, and "The Littlest Tree," by Charles Tazewell, "a wonderful story set during the war about orphaned children who bring the true meaning of Christmas to a toddler in the midst of a horrible time period."


Ann Young, of Heywood Library, is giving her 12-year-old grand niece (performing in Peter Pan this year) a copy of "Tiger Lily" by Jodi Lynn Anderson. It's a story about the relationship between Tiger Lily and Peter Pan. For adult readers, she recommends Sue Monk Kidd's "The Invention of Wings." "The story is about the Grimke sisters and Handful, their family slave," says Young. "The sisters were abolitionists and feminists."

Red Rock Readers member Jane Stoughton recommends Eowyn Ivy's "The Snow Girl." It's part-fairy tale magic and part-real living, a story of homesteading in Alaska during the early 20th century, but also, she says "the wonder of life and the world in which we live."

The Wall Street Journal launched a book club led by authors several months back, and it has taken off online. Each month, a guest host/author selects a book by another author and provides guidance and feedback to readers on both Twitter (#WSJbookclub) and Facebook (WSJ Book Club).
Participants can ask questions about the selected book, participate in a live chat, read excerpts or reviews, and exchange information. There are archived webcasts on Google for some books. Guest hosts have included Elizabeth Gilbert, Gillian Flynn, Neil Gaiman, Khaled Husseini, Lee Child, and Margaret Atwood.  You'll find lots of feedback, with several hundred members. They talk about the writing style, the characters and plot, the authors. Books they've discussed include "Sophie's Choice," "The Love of a Good Woman," "The 13 Clocks," "Deep Water," "Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk," and "Wolf Hall." All were featured in live chats with the author's who chose them for discussion. Last month, Atwood led a discussion of fantasy books, specifically Ursula LeGuin's "A Wizard of Earthsea."
One reader posted a quote from LeGuin's writing; another shared an article about LeGuin's essay collection, "The Wave in the Mind."  Still another shared a way of looking at the book that changed the reading experience for her. It's a very focused group, with little of the unrelated drivel one finds on so many sites these days; I find it an excellent source of information about specific authors. There's a lot of lively conversation and info about books not on the list, but liked by participants. Up next is author Carl Hiaasen, who will direct discussion of Martin Amis's "Money: A Suicide Note."
Area book group meetings:
Brenda Metterville, at Brookfield Library, says that group will discuss "Spirit of Steamboat" by Craig Johnson at 7 p.m., Jan. 6. The group will not meet in December.
Worcester area women poets will read during the 7 p.m., Dec. 8 meeting of the NOW Women's Issues Book Club at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Worcester, 90 Holden St. Worcester-area women are welcome. There's no book to read; just come to listen.
The next meeting of the Douglas Library Book Group will revolve around Lisa See’s "China Dolls" on Tuesday, Dec. 9, 6:30 p.m. It's the story of three women navigating the so-called "Chop Suey Circuit," America's all-Asian revues of the 1930s and '40s. Call the library 508-476-2695, for a copy of the book. New members welcome.
Lancaster's Off-Track Bookies will discuss "Cascade" by Maryann O'Hara.
Ann Connery Frantz writes about authors and books for the Telegram & Gazette and on her blog "Read It and Reap." She is a freelance writer and editor, writing fiction. Contact her at ann.frantz@gmail.com.

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