Hope you’re enjoying the season and not getting stressed out by all the things you have to do to be ready for the holidays. I live in denial and then do everything the night before people visit, and by “everything” I mean hide all my clutter in the hall closet and string DO NOT CROSS crime-scene tape across the door.
One thing I like doing at the end of the year is to reflect on my top reads. My personal list will go up later; this one consists of favorites from my contributors to the Nerdy Special List.
This month, I’d like to welcome a new blogger to the NSL, Lauren from Malcolm Avenue Review. Lauren is a discerning, insightful, witty reviewer—visit her site to see for yourself. I am lucky to have her on board.
I asked each blogger to recommend an outstanding book from this year. Here’s what they said.
Jen from Jen’s Book Thoughts:
Wait for Signs by Craig Johnson
Each year at the holidays, Craig Johnson has sent out a short story to his mailing list as a gift. In addition, a couple others have been released as e-books between his yearly novel publications. This year, all of those short stories plus one brand new story—twelve tales in total—were brought together in the collection Wait for Signs.
For longtime fans of the series, or someone who has *gulp* never read Craig Johnson’s work, this is a prize little collection. All the humor, incredible characters, and sense of place are present in little snippets of Absaroka life. Fans of the series will learn more about Walt’s life to complement what you know about the beloved sheriff from the novels. Those who know nothing about the Walt Longmire books will get a taste for Johnson’s style and the world he’s created in his mega-popular series.
While this is a great book to read in short bursts, if you’re like me, you’ll sit down to read one or two and end up reading the whole thing. But that’s OK, because these stories are keepers and worth reading over and over. I think it’s going to become a holiday tradition with me. As a side note, there is also a wonderful audiobook version of this collection from Recorded Books, read by the series narrator, George Guidall.
Erin from In Real Life:
The Wolf in Winter by John Connolly
John Connolly peels back the idyllic veneer of fictional town Prosperous, Maine, to reveal a darkness forged in history and cultivated through the evil that dwells in the human heart. The death of a homeless man and his daughter’s disappearance leads private investigator Charlie Parker (and his motley band of helpers) to Prosperous, where the town’s leaders—those who guard its secrets—will go to any length to protect what they treasure.
While Charlie Parker is as flawed a hero as has ever been committed to the page and is beset with enough tragedy to make a weaker man crumble, he continues to persevere, driven by forces of this world and beyond it. In The Wolf in Winter, Connolly also addresses numerous modern American social issues, presenting the results of pervasive attitudes and common actions in the most dramatic light possible. The result is a story that will stay with you long after you’ve turned the last page.
Lauren from Malcolm Avenue Review:
Smoke Gets In Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory by Caitlin Doughty
The author became preoccupied with death at the age of 8 after witnessing a horrific accident. Years later, a young and somewhat aimless Doughty took a job running the cremation machines (“retorts”) at a Northern California funeral home. Smoke Gets In Your Eyes is Doughty’s detailed account of that job and how it impacted her views on and relationship with death and dying. Ultimately, Doughty continued her education in mortuary science, not to take it on as her profession per se, but in an attempt to understand and bring change to the way Americans have come to deal with (i.e., shield ourselves from) death and death practices. Whip-smart, wickedly funny, and a natural storyteller, Doughty turns what could be a dry and morbid tale into a fascinating and enlightening must-read.
Note: To those who think the subject matter may be too gruesome, this book is for you. Why we’ve come to see the process of dying as something grotesque and to be avoided at all costs, all while getting further astray from “natural” death with our practices of embalming and makeup and yes, even cremation, is at the heart of this story. Also, never fear—although the book gets specific about body preparation and cremation, there was only one total grossout scene.
A stage actor drops dead during a production of King Lear. Hours after that, the world begins to end. A virus called the Georgia Flu, which makes Ebola look like a 24-hour bug, spreads quickly and wipes out most of Earth’s population within days. The story jumps back and forth in time, including to fifteen years after this event, to show how the fates of five central characters are intertwined.
Emily St. John Mandel’s National Book Award finalist is a moving meditation on love, life, and the value of art in a world where everything is in ruins. How hard do you fight for art when it’s a struggle to find food and drinking water? The subtlety in the writing is what makes this novel so heart-aching; Mandel doesn’t overexplain or manipulate, allowing readers to fill in the horror and grief the characters experience. Don’t be put off by the dystopian or sci-fi label if you’re not a fan of either genre. Read this if you just like beautiful language that soars and a story that haunts you.
This year, Penguin Random House will donate a book to Save the Children for every book you give (up to 25,000). All you have to do is post on Facebook or Twitter what book(s) you’ll be giving, accompanied by the #giveabook hashtag. I’d too like to hear which titles you plan on gifting so let me know in the comments. I’m always looking for good book suggestions!