Sunday, January 30, 2011

A Winter Reading List

Most of the United States continues to be rocked by harsh winter weather, which makes it the perfect time to stay inside with a good book. Here are a few suggestions to carry you through the spring thaw, and up to the annual Summer Reading List post. I have left off current best-sellers for the simple reason that those are not yet out in paperback (for those of us on limited budgets who are still resisting the e-book revolution). In addition, most are more suited to cold winter nights than sunny days at the beach.
1. The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. If I continue these lists for the next 50 years, this book will still be first out of the gate. It has moved into a tie with The Razor's Edge as my all time favorite. It touches on such diverse topics as forbidden love, the Spanish Civil War, and the innate need we have for books. It layers all of these things on the mystery of why a disfigured man is burning all of the copies of books by Julian Carax, an obscure author whose novel, The Shadow of the Wind, was discovered by main character Daniel Sempere when he was 10. But be sure you have a lot of free time when you start this one; I stayed up all night reading the last 250 pages.

2. The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield. This is one of those novels that literally has everything you could want jammed into its 416 pages, and yet it all works. There is mystery and history and ghosts and danger and romance and books and feral twins and even two heroines, and all of it weaves together perfectly. Maybe best of all, you won't guess the ending midway through (I thought I had...wrong). And yes, in that list of things a few sentences ago I included "feral twins." This is the kind of book that deserves to be read in front of a crackling fireplace in a comfy chair over a long weekend; but make sure there are no pressing items on your calendar, because you won't get to them once you start this book. It is a literary escape of the very best kind.

3. Booked to Die by John Dunning. The first novel in Dunning's "Bookman" series is a minor classic, especially if you're a fan of the biblio-mystery genre or a book collector. It's the story of a Denver cop-turned-rare book dealer Cliff Janeway, and it will teach you a lot about the book trade while taking you on a mystery thrill-ride at the same time. Best of all, it has one of the best surprise endings of any mystery I've ever read.
4. The Poe Shadow by Matthew Pearl. The story of young Baltimore attorney who makes it his personal cause to defend the recently-deceased Poe's reputation from the rumors that he drank himself to death. Pearl weaves a gripping fictional story around historical fact, much of it newly discovered as he was researching this book. Anything to do with Poe is perfect for a stormy winter night.
5. The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas. Forget all of the movies you've seen; if this is your first time reading the novel, you are in for a treat. The mix of fiction with French history takes you back to another place and time, and D'Artagnan, Porthos, Athos, and Aramis provide more rollicking adventure than Clive Cussler and Tom Clancy combined.
6. The Cabinet of Curiosities by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child. There really aren't any sub-par Lincoln/Child books, especially ones that feature FBI Special Agent Pendergast, but for whatever reason I liked this one the best. This is a great novel on its own, and a crucial introduction before starting the Brimstone trilogy.
7. Ex-Libris by Ross King. In seventeenth-century London an antiquarian bookseller named Isaac Inchbold is called upon to restore a private library destroyed during the English Civil War. This seemingly simple task pulls Inchbold into a deadly search for a lost manuscript amid the political and religious upheaval of 1600s Europe. 
8. The Angel's Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. Zafon's semi-prequel to The Shadow of the Wind. The Angel's Game is the story of David Martín, a young Barcelona author with a troubled past who writes crime novels under a pseudonym. As he struggles with his love for a woman he cannot have, he also realizes that his talent has been sold to the highest (in fact only) bidder, and despair overtakes him. Then he receives a surprising and lucrative offer from a mysterious French publisher to write a book that will change people's lives forever. He accepts the offer, only to learn that his new situation is far more deadly than the first. This novel is the perfect way to end a winter of great reading.

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