There’s still a lot of winter left.
That’s the fact staring you in the face. Once the holiday decorations are down, the toys are all put away and you’ve rediscovered your gift certificates … what do you do with them?
You buy books, of course. And to get you started, here are a few sure-fire picks for the Best of 2021:
What would you do if life throws you a curveball? In “The Guncle” by Steven Rowley (Putnam, $27), gay man, former TV star, Palm Springs fixture, no-responsibilities Patrick is asked to take care of his niece and nephew for the long term. He never wanted kids at all. He never wanted to fall in love with them, either. Cute, sweet, funny, heartfelt — what more could you want?
You don’t have to have read any of the other Cork O’Conner novels to want “Lightning Strike” by William Kent Krueger (Atria, $27), which takes readers back to 1963, and a murder in small-town Minnesota. Cork O’Conner is a young teen then, the son of the local sheriff, and he knows that Big John Manydeeds couldn’t have possibly hung himself. But how does a boy go about proving something like that? For fans, that’s a can’t-miss question. For new fans, it’ll send you racing toward the rest of the Cork O’Conner series.
Watchers of “The Handmaiden’s Tale” will absolutely devour “Outlawed” by Anna North (Bloomsbury, $26). In a small corner of Texas, at an unstated time, 17-year-old Ada is struggling to give her husband children, which embarrasses him, and that’s something only witches do. And so Ada is cast out of the community and heads north, to safety, where barren women are outlaws. This dystopian, feminist Western is dangerous and delicious.
“Raft of Stars” by Andrew J. Graff (Ecco, $26.99) is a coming-of-age story of two boys who are best friends, and one of them is abused by his father. Tired of seeing his friend hurt, the other boy shoots the man and both boys run away to escape what surely will be legal trouble and maybe even jail time. They’re running toward a lie, though, and they’re heading for a waterfall they don’t know is there. This is one of those books with heartbreakingly beautiful prose in a story that’ll leave you with sweaty palms.
And finally, have you ever wondered what your life would be like if you’d taken a different path? In “The Nine Lives of Rose Napolitano” by Donna Freitas (Pamela Dorman Books, $26), one woman has many options in her life, each one ending in a way she never thought possible. It’s like “Groundhog Day” with a twist that’ll roll around in your mind for days…
For every kid who grew up with a pile of comic books next to the bed, in a drawer, or in the closet, “American Comics: A History” by Jeremy Dauber (W.W. Norton, $35) is a must-have. Here, Dauber follows comics from their political roots to today’s activist cartoons, and how we went from Katzenjammer Kids to MAD Magazine to comix as we know them. The bonus is that Dauber puts comics into fascinating historical perspective.
Did you buy your lottery ticket this week? If you did, it’ll make a fine bookmark for “Jackpot: How the Super-Rich Really Live — and How Their Wealth Harms Us All” by Michael Mechanic (Simon & Schuster, $28). You might think twice about the burdens of wealth after reading this book — and you might re-examine your thoughts on what one person’s wealth does to everyone else…
Readers who love memoirs will enjoy “Punch Me Up to the Gods” by Brian Broome (HMH, $26), who writes about growing up, being in love with the boy who abused him, and the father who did, too. It’s a coming-out tale that’s sometimes funny and always graceful, one that will sometimes make you gasp, and that you’ll be glad you read.
You know that feeling you get when you come across a stack of old magazines in the attic? That gentle, hometown, old-time feeling is extra-rich inside “The Ride of Her Life” by Elizabeth Letts (Ballantine, $28). This is the story of Annie Wilkins, aging, ailing, and alone, and the audacious cross-country ride she decides to take on a horse she’d just purchased. This feel-good story is set in the 1950s, and its neighborliness might make it be the perfect antidote for today’s world.
Lastly, “The Redemption of Bobby Love” by Bobby and Cheryl Love with Lori L. Tharps (Mariner Books/HMH Books, $28) might be the most unusual memoir you read this winter. As a young man, Walter Miller ran away from a prison bus and to New York, where he renamed himself Bobby Love and went into hiding in plain sight. Love kept to the straight-and-narrow, fell in love, got married and raised a family, but 40-some years later, the law caught up with him. This astounding, impossible story, told alternately between both Loves, is one you’ll … um, love.
Based on a real event (the Mexican Revolution), “The Barefoot Dreams of Petra Luna” by Alda P. Dobbs (Sourcebooks, $17.99) is the story of a young girl who becomes responsible for her Abuelita and her little sister when the Federales destroy their village and their home. This causes the trio to run north, one step ahead of those who wish to kill them, on a race to reach the border and make it to America. It’s an exciting read for 8-to-14-year-olds.
Kids who love silly stories will enjoy “Egg Marks the Spot: A Skunk and Badger Story” by Amy Timberlake, the second in what appears to be a series. A whirlwind named Skunk and his very staid, very reticent friend, Badger, are at odds again — this time, over a missing rock from Badger’s collection. There are chickens involved, a bit of a mystery, dinosaurs and a lot of fun for your 7-to-10-year-old. Hint: Find the first Skunk and Badger book; your child will want that one, too.
For teens who enjoy unique memoirs, “Violet and Daisy: The Story of Vaudeville’s Famous Conjoined Twins” by Sarah Miller (Schwartz & Wade, $17.99) is the story of the Hilton sisters and their careers and lives. Born conjoined at the bottom of the spine, Violet & Daisy were “adopted” by a woman who ruled their lives.
When she died, the girls were passed on to that woman’s heirs, who mishandled their careers and left them nearly penniless. This is a thrilling tale of legalities, Vaudeville and two women determined to make their own ways, despite that they were conjoined forever. It’s the perfect read for any 14-and-older reader, including adults who love memoirs.
So now, get to the bookstore. Hunt at the library. Don’t miss these excellent books for adults and kids — and Season’s Readings!