Miranda’s Holiday Reading Guide

Well, according to our Corporate Overlords, now that Thanksgiving is over it’s time to begin the Annual Holiday Buying of Things We Can’t Afford.  Perhaps a better approach is to buy things we can afford – such as books!  In support of the myriad joys of the written word, I’ve put together my must-have, must-read list.  Whether given as a gift or devoured yourself during whatever leisure time your holidays provide, here are 9 fabulous books that will (hopefully) keep your holidays merry.

In no particular order, consider:

Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel KayUnder Heaven is lyrical, epic fantasy at its best.  Though, really, Under Heaven is best described not as fantasy, but as historical fiction about a world that just happens to be invented.  Guy Gavriel Kay masterfully tells a sweeping, historical tale through the eyes of the individuals caught up in it’s unfolding.  There’s very little magic and no mythical creatures, just beautiful writing, an intricate plot, and fascinating characters that benefit greatly from the author’s detailed research on the Tang Dynasty.

Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare BlakeAnna Dressed in Blood is that most delightful of combinations:  a horror/love story.  By turns a thrilling, twisty page turner and a chilling Gothic consideration of what it is to become enamored with death, Anna Dressed in Blood pits Cas, a young man who hunts vengeful spirits, against Anna, a murdered girl turned murderous ghost.  But as the plot unfolds, it becomes increasingly clear that Anna isn’t the ghost Cas should really be afraid of.  Set against the backdrop of a Canadian winter, this story of love against all odds is both scary and endearing.

Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtryLonesome Dove is a classic tale of the American West and hands-down my favorite book of all time.  If you’ve read it, isn’t it time for a re-read?  And if you haven’t…well, do yourself a favor and rectify that.  Sad, beautiful, and funny, Lonesome Dove also boasts one of the best characters of all time:  the life-loving, philosophical cowboy, Augustus McCrae.

His Good Opinion by Nancy KelleyHis Good Opinion is definitely one for the Jane Austen fans out there.  It tells the story of Pride and Prejudice from Mr. Darcy’s point of view.  Kelley does a great job of staying true to the mood of the Recency period and hews close to the original story.  It’s quite fun to see the tale turned on its head and follow the many misunderstandings between Elizabeth and Darcy from the latter’s point of view.

The Downside Series by Stacia Kane.  Consisting of 3 books (with a 4th out in March 2012), Unholy Ghosts, Unholy Magic, and City of Ghosts, offer the reader a flawed but loyal heroine, Chess Putman.  An agent of the Church of Real Truth, Chess uses her skills as a ghost hunter to try and make the urban underbelly in which she lives a safer (or at least a less haunted) place.  Complications include her struggle with drug addiction, a love triangle with a gang leader and his rival’s enforcer (rather awesomely named Terrible), and Chess’s attempts to reconcile her calling in the Church of Real Truth with her seedy life in Downside.  This series is well-written and different from most Urban Fantasy fare.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom RiggsMiss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is probably the most inventive, compelling book I’ve read this year.  My only complaint would be the current lack of a published sequel.  Coming of age.  Monsters.  Heroism.  Difficult choices.  A moody setting.  Great writing – and all inspired by the creepiest, coolest set of old-fashioned photographs I’ve ever seen.

The Breakout Novelist by Donald Maass.  Of all the “craft of writing” books I’ve read and used, The Breakout Novelist is my favorite.  Maass gives you both the big picture and the small, providing overarching commentary on what makes plot, structure, and characters work while also offering exercises you can apply to your own works in progress.  Practical and useful.

So, those are my suggestions…but what about you?  What books would you recommend for holiday readers and shoppers?  What are your favorites from 2011?  What are your favorites of all time?  Share the love, folks!

Lessons from Lonesome Dove

Lonesome Dove, by Larry McMurtry, is probably one of my favorite books of all time.  When I was in high school and college I had an old battered copy that I must have read hundreds of times.  Knowing what was going to happen didn’t lessen the impact, diminish my love for the characters, or stop me from crying every time I read it.

Recently, I decided to re-read it and see if it was really as good as I remembered.  Oh boy.  I had forgotten just enough of the plot to feel the sorrow of every death, to suffer along with the characters as they encountered hardship, and experience and share all of their small joys.  Lonesome Dove isn’t as good as I remembered, it’s better.

Re-reading the book as I struggle towards becoming a writer has also cast its genius in a new light.  Lonesome Dove works not (just) because of the story (rather simply boiled down to: a man leads his friends on an ill-fated cattle drive from Texas to Wyoming), but because of the incredible characters McMurtry creates and because of his unflinching ability to put those characters through hell.

It was a good reminder of an oft-repeated adage in writing:  don’t be afraid to have hard things happen to good people.  That’s real life, after all.  People die who shouldn’t.  Bad apples don’t always get their just rewards.  Accidents befall even the bravest and most competent among us.  Violence, loss, and good fortune call all strike in the blink of an eye.  Watching characters you love deal with these things, rooting for them as they struggle against giving up, as they celebrate, and as they find a way to go on…that’s what makes a book unforgettable.

Re-reading Lonesome Dove makes me realize how much I have to learn as an author, and it inspires me to push myself (and my characters) harder.

So, thanks, Larry.