So..we’re still in quarantine. Lucky for us, there are plenty of books to read which equals places to go, at least virtually. Read to escape, read to travel, read to experience. And, if you’re a good friend, give a book to someone you love - they might really need it.
Stephanie Damler, the author of the restaurant-based “Bittersweet,” turns her focus on herself with the memoir “Stray.” Focused and brutal, the narrative spares no one, least of all Damler, but still manages to pulse with humanity.
Kendra Atleework’s “Miracle Country” stands firmly in her childhood home of Owens Valley, in Southern California. The story reflects a turbulent time for the author and the turbulent history of an area famous for having its water stolen by Los Angeles.
Glennon Doyle’s “Untamed” is a book to read, give to friends, and read again. A sort of hybrid memoir/self help, Doyle delves into herself generously, hoping to heal and inspire.
Christie Tate’s “Group” reads like a fast paced page turner. Follow the author through very intensive group therapy over years and the growth and insight are phenomenal.
A distant cousin to the Danish concept of “hygge,” Katherine May’s “Wintering” is both a book and a philosophy. Similar to hibernation, May takes us through the season of her life, and ours, where depression, grief and sadness have space to live and then be released.
Ottessa Moshfegh’s “Death in Her Hands” is part mystery and part character study. As in the fabulous “My Year of Rest and Relaxation,” the author explores our limited relationship with female likeability.
“The Falling Woman,” by Richard Farrell takes the very real scenario of a plane crash with only one survivor and turns it on its head. The story almost reads as a thriller crossed with a meditation on privacy and personal responsibility, giving the material a fresh take.
“The Glass House,” by Beatrice Colin reads like a warm cup of tea, with maybe a bit of spike in it. Lose yourself in the shambolic world Antonia McCullouch, circa 1912.
“The Heir Affair,” and “The Royal We,” by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan, cash in on the deliciousness that is the British royal family. Cheeky yet relatable, follow a fictional love story between a young couple sharing quite a few similarities with Will and Kate.
Reminiscent of soapy books shot through with grit, like “Big Little Lies” and “Little Fires Everywhere,” Angie Kim’s “Miracle Creek” combines race, illicit romance, and domestic drama to perfection. If that doesn’t hook you, Kim also touches on health, quackery, and extreme medicine.
Sigrid Nunez writes fiction that feels so real, it’s difficult to believe that each moment didn’t happen to her directly. Whether it did or not is of no consequence, you will relate regardless.
I loved reading David Nicholls’ “One Day,” so it’s no surprise that I enjoyed his latest novel, “Sweet Sorrow.” Nicholls’ insights into relationships and the human condition make a lasting impression.
One of the “it“ books of the year, David Hopen’s “The Orchard” embraces controversy. This coming-of-age story is both a good read and an intelligent read - two great attributes that are difficult to find in one place.
“In Praise of Walking,” by Shane O’Mara, takes a pedestrian topic (pun intended) and makes it new again. You’ll look at your daily routine with a whole new appreciation, and may even get out of your car. A perfect read for life in quarantine.
Bonnie Tsui’s “Why We Swim” makes for the perfect holiday gift for all the aquatic-loving readers in your life. Informational and conversational at the same time, this little book gets to the heart of why humans are drawn to the drink.
A terrific “This American Life” radio story turned me on to Sierra Crane Murdoch’s “Yellow Bird.” The story revolves around badass amateur detective, and Native American, Lissa as she solves crimes on her reservation at an astonishing rate, her intelligence whirring like a dervish.
When you’ve waited seven years for an author’s second novel, after reading a beloved first work, the anticipation can be a killer. Luckily, Allie Brosh’s “Solutions and Other Problems” delivers on all the beauty of the first book while still pioneering new territory. Brilliant.
The incredible Tana French strays from her usual Murder Squad to bring us the “The Searcher.” This small tale, of an American cop who moves to Ireland to retire, plays out the ex-pat fantasy, only with a darker take.
A bit of charm to help you while away a quarantined evening, Richard Osman’s “The Thursday Murder Club” will distract you in the best way. Cozy and warm but shot through with intelligence, the balance works perfectly.
Nothing is more welcome in a certain-kind-of-person’s Christmas stocking than a new Michael Connelly book. Those with Coronavirus fatigue (all of us?) will relish getting caught up in the signature Mickey Haller mayhem.
Kass Morgan and Danielle Paige’s “The Ravens,” mixes horror and sorority girls to great effect. The college campus setting works perfectly for "Harry Potter” fans who’ve grown up a bit, and the witchy dark magic makes for a fun read.
A fun fact about folk singer Odetta is that she shared a manager with Bob Dylan. Ian Zack’s “Odetta” delves deeply into this iconic woman’s life.
If Space Opera is your genre, and maybe even if it isn’t, why not dive into Christopher Paolini’s “To Sleep in a Sea of Stars?” Propulsive and detailed, this tale of Kira Navarez’s fantastical brush with aliens will leave you daydreaming of a life in space.
“The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue,” by V.E. Schwab, is a particular sub-genre of female-oriented fantasy reminiscent of “The Time Traveler’s Wife.” Beginning in France in the 18th century, the story spans three centuries, as life for Adeline never ends but rather continues on until, after years of loneliness, a stranger appears.
“Fairy Tale Play,” by Julia Spiers, is a fantastic gift for imaginative children from age six to about eleven. This pop-up book creates four “stages” and comes with over a hundred characters for kids to reenact stories, like “Little Red Riding Hood,” or make up their own. Truly fabulous.
Remember the “Choose Your Own Adventure” books? “The Oregon Trail” series mines a similar vein resulting in pure gold. Jesse Wiley’s series is a great way to interest kids in history, while providing plenty of exciting adventures along the way.
Gorgeous and cool, Jona Frank’s photography collection, “Cherry Hill,” features the actress Laura Dern posed in a variety of situations, evocative of the artist’s own childhood. Could this be a new genre, the photographic memoir?
Suzanne Collins’ “The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes” may technically be a YA novel but anyone who appreciates suspense and adventure will eat it up like a chocolate ice cream cone melting in the sun. A prequel filled with loads of unanswered questions, the story will thrill fans and newcomers alike.
New York Times writer Lindy West writes with wit, heart and intelligence. Her books of essays are great gifts for friends who like culture (“Shit, Actually”) and friends who believe in feminism (“The Witches Are Coming”). Hopefully some of your friends are both.
NOT QUITE A BOOK
Of course puzzles are not quite the same as books but they make excellent gifts and are arguably more calming. Laurence King Publishing distributes some nice versions of jigsaws, like Laura Callaghan’s “The World of Frida Kahlo.” Art lovers will appreciate the sumptuous images.