Monday, November 30, 2009

Vicki’s Recommendations for Gift Giving

All this week we will be making recommendations for books that we have enjoyed reading and think will make great gifts. We have two ground rules: the books can not have been written by anyone we would call a friend, and they must have been published in 2008 or 2009. Here are my favourites for the year.

Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. Mentioned previously on this blog, Outliers is an examination of why people succeed. Why do some succeed and others fail? Think it’s purely because of your own efforts? Think again.

Where Memories Lie by Deborah Crombie. Crombie’s Kincaid and James series has been around for years and I’ve read them since the beginning. They are traditional police procedural books, exactly my type of thing, set mostly in London, even though Crombie is American. Over the years the books have varied in quality, Dreaming of the Bones I still remember as one of my favourites. Lately she seems to have broken away from the pack and is making a big name for herself and her series. Deservedly judging by Where Memories Lie.

Devil’s Food by Kerry Greenwood. I do not like cosies. Period. But I really liked this little gem. Part of the Corrina Chapman series, it’s so beautifully drawn and the characters so charming that the book is as irresistible as the delicacies cooked up in the Earthly Delights Bakery. A blurb on the books cover says “proves it takes a village to solve a mystery.” It’s published by Poisoned Pen Press, but it isn’t really a mystery, just a story about a bunch of people trying to solve life’s problems.

One Careless Moment by Dave Hugelschaffer. Forest fire fighting is always good for creating excitement, and Hugelschaffer knows how to make it real. Of course the entire book can’t be about escaping from the fire, but he manages to keep the tension and the mystery going. I enjoyed this book very much, although it was marred somewhat by the ending. A male version of teenage girls dressed in their underwear going outside in the dark with only a flashlight to see what’s making that strange nose in the neighbourhood where a serial killer/undead monster is lurking.

In Defence of Food by Michael Pollan. "Eat Food" That's one of the three principals behind this book. Think that's a no-brainer? It's not. If you don’t know what goes into making that pre-packaged meal you purchased at the supermarket, pick up this book and find out. Find out also how the modern North American way of eating is simply not sustainable. (Seeds that are genetically programmed to self-destruct does not make for food security.) In some modest way, I try to eat the way I believe, and it’s easier for me than most in that I live smack dab surrounded by family farms. I picked pounds of navy beans from the farm next to me (with permission) to see me through the winter. I look out over my own spread of vegetable garden – all 8 * 10 feet of it - and imagine acres of lettuces and tons of fresh tomatoes.

On the same line of thought, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver. Okay it was published in 2007 but I am still sneaking it in. Kingsolver and her family set out to raise and grow all the food they will consume for a year. Obviously not at all practical for anyone with an 8 * 10 foot garden and no intention at all of slaughtering turkeys or chickens, but she makes a good point.

The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher by Kate Summerscale. I have blogged quite a lot about this book over the past year. It’s a true story about a sensational murder in the town of Road, in England in 1860. Mr. Whicher is Jack Whicher, one of the very first detectives on the London police. One night in July of 1860, a three-year-old boy was removed from his bed, taken outside, had his throat cut, and was stuffed into an outdoor privy (aka outhouse). As the house was tightly locked that night, and there was no sign of break and enter, suspicion immediately fell on inhabitants of the house, family and servants. After an initial incompetent investigation by the local police (which refused, for matters of delicacy, to question the family) a detective from the brand-new Scotland Yard was called.
And, not incidentally, the detective novel was born. Wilkie Collins based his Sergeant Cuff on Whicher, and I read The Moonstone immediately after Suspicions as a companion piece. Great book.

Fault Line by Barry Eisler. I am not a fan of ‘tough guy’ books and don’t much care for ‘tough guy’ authors either. At Left Coast Crime in Hawaii back in March Barry Eisler was one of the guests of honour. And he was such a nice guy, charming, friendly, self-depreciating that I decided maybe his books would be good too. I bought Hard Rain, loved it, and then got Fault Line. Tough guys with a soft edge.

Chameleon’s Shadow by Minette Walters. Masterfully plotted. The protaganist is a wounded Iraq War vet. Bitter, in pain, disabled and seriously angry. Right up until the end Walters keeps us wondering, "Did he do it?"

Feel free to jump in with recommendations of books you plan to give as gifts this year.


Charles benoit said...

I was going to put Outliners on my list Friday but your blurb was better than mine would have been so I'll go with another book in a similar vein. I agree completely with the Eisler blurb - first rate stuff, both the books and the man. I did not have much luck finding a true crime book I liked this year so I will give Ms. Summerscale's book a try.

Vicki Delany said...

Further to the Local Eating theme - I am just finishing The 100 Mile Diet by Alisa Smith & J.B. MacKinnon. This couple live in a small apartment in Vancouver so it was a heck of a lot harder for them than for Kingsolver who grew, and raised, a lot of their food. Makes for a more realistic approach, I think.

Jemi Fraser said...

Oooo - great sounding/looking books. I've already spent a small fortune in my local bookstore for holiday gifts. Looks like I'm heading back again :)

Deardeedle said...

Vicki - I do love Michael Pollan. Excellent excellent writer!

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