The holiday season is here, which for many people is a time of giving gifts, and I wanted to take a moment to mention the importance of making sure some of those gifts are books.
My parents always gave us books for Christmas. It was something I could count on and always looked forward to, and the books always meant something special to me. In fact, it was the books my parents gave me one year in particular that made me want to be a writer (I do believe I may blog about that more specifically in the future). When you give someone a book, especially a young person, you are giving them something that will quite literally become a part of who they are. You are touching their mind, and possibly changing the way they see the world.
So I thought I might mention just a few books that I have enjoyed recently from several wonderful writers and friends. When shopping for others (or for yourself!) consider these…
This story follows Johanna, maidservant to Dame Margery Kemp, as they embark on a pilgrimage to Rome. Dame Margery was a real historical figure (credited with writing the first autobiography) and Rebecca Barnhouse has done a wonderful job rendering her as the eccentric, delightfully nutty woman that I think she was.
If you enjoy historical fiction (and I love me some historical fiction) this book will be right up your alley. The prose is beautiful, and brims with the type of authentic details that bring another time and place to life, while simultaneously making a foreign world seem familiar. And even though Dame Margery is such a colorful, larger-than-life character, she never overshadows Johanna, the lovable protagonist and narrator.
The Maze Runner by James Dashner
For the teenager who enjoys post-apocalyptic fiction, James Dashner’s new story will not disappoint. The protagonist, Thomas, wakes up in a lift without any memories except his first name. He soon finds himself in the Glade, an open expanse surrounded by an impenetrable maze, where he joins up with a group of boys. From them, Thomas learns that the doors to the maze open every morning, and close every night. And you don’t want to be trapped in the maze at night.
It’s hard to talk about the book without spoilers, so I’ll just say this story is part mystery and part horror, with a lot of action and adventure, that should appeal to a broad audience. If you’d like, you can watch the truly frightening book trailer, or play a cool Maze Runner online game.
The term paranormal romance has come to represent a genre of fiction that is extremely popular right now. In the interest of full disclosure, I have to confess that I am not a fan of this genre. To me, it is often too formulaic and too shallow to really draw me in.
But that is not true of Bree Despain’s debut. Her characters are complex, their struggles are real, and the story is rich. Modeled on the parable of the Prodigal Son, the book follows Grace Divine, daughter of a local pastor, as she deals with the return of a lost childhood friend. But he has come back a changed person, and his presence upsets the delicate balance of truth and promises kept in Grace’s family.
I would recommend this book not just to those who enjoy paranormal romances, but to those who enjoy good stories.
I blogged about this book after I attended its launch at The King’s English Bookshop, one of Salt Lake City’s beloved independent booksellers. Sara Zarr is a National Book Award nominee for Story of a Girl, and a wonderful writer.
On the surface, this story is about Sam, a pastor’s daughter, as she deals with an emotionally absent father, an alcoholic mother, and the kidnapping of a girl from her congregation. But on a deeper level, this story is about loss. The loss of security, the loss of trust, the loss of faith. It is about how we hold on to hope in the face of doubt.
The writing is beautiful, and the themes resonated with my own feelings and experiences not only as an adolescent, but as an adult.
Though Lisa Sandell’s previous novels, Song of the Sparrow and The Weight of the Sky, were written in verse, her prose novel, A Map of the Known World, is every bit as lyrical, telling a story of grief and healing with beauty and sensitivity.
Cora’s parents react to the death of her older brother with denial and withdrawal, leaving Cora alone to find her own way through her loss. She does so with her art, and the help of Damian, the boy who was in the car with her brother on the night of the accident that took his life. This is a novel about truly seeing and knowing the people around us, about the events and places that make up our inner landscapes, and about the bravery it takes to heal and forgive.
You can watch a book trailer here.
Are there any books you would recommend this holiday season?