NCPR’s winter reading and holiday giving book list









This week we’re putting together our annual “get ready for winter” reading list (also handy for holiday gift-giving). Please share your recommendations as a comment on this post or email to [email protected].

We were on the air from 10-noon on Tuesday, November 28, taking your suggestions live, but you can send suggestions through the week.

Listen to the Call-in

As always, John Ernst and Chris Robinson led the way with their wide-ranging title selections. Jump in with your titles–all genres welcome, from classics to current pulp. If you liked it, we want to know.

My librarian friends have reminded me to remind you that all of the titles you’ll find here are available at your local public library or through the North Country Library System and other regional library book-sharing systems. Also, Karla from Cadyville reminds all of us that we are eligible for a NY Public Library online card (residents of NYS)–which provides access to the holdings of the NYC library system. Wow!

Ellen Rocco, NCPR station manager

ontyrannyOn Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century, Timothy Snyder. I’ve bought about 20 copies of this book and given them to young people in my family, to community organizations, and to friends. Regardless of your political affiliation, if you are concerned about the civil climate in our country, this succinct and highly readable little book brings understanding, simple but important action ideas, and hope.

Moonglow, Michael Chabon. A fictionalized family memoir featuring a grandfather who was an aeronautical and mechanical genius. Rich with history, family drama centering around a grandmother with mental disorders, and lots more.


The Return, Hisham Metar. A story about a Libyan exile living in England and trying to confirm the fate of his imprisoned father. Subtle and moving.

News of the World, Paulette Jiles. It’s Texas, late 1800s, and a man who earns his living by reading newspapers to paying audiences takes on the job of traveling the length of the state to return a young white girl to her family after years of being a Kiowa captive. You will love this one.

Commonwealth, Ann Patchett.  Two contemporary American families inextricably enmeshed. Solid writing.

Pachinko, Min Jin Lee. Just started this one but I’m hooked. A family saga set in Korea and Japan.

Three titles from writers with a regional connection:

fastingandfeastingFasting and Feasting, The Life of Visionary Food Writer Patience Gray, Adam Federman. This one has a loose connection to the Adirondacks–the author grew up in Saranac Lake. I haven’t read it yet but it’s on the NY Times 100 Most Notable Books of 2017 list, the Guardian’s list of best books of the year, and was very favorably reviewed in the NY Times and elsewhere. Adam was interviewed on The Splendid Table and the BBC. The book is now linked to Patience Gray’s 1987 book, Honey From a Weed, which is part memoir, travelogue, recipes and philosophy. Adam’s book is a perfect read for book clubs.

Final Season, Richard Frost. The author has lived in the Plattsburgh area for decades. He’s a teacher and now a novelist–with a protagonist facing terminal cancer and a desire to see an entire season Baltimore Orioles games before he dies.

Blacks in the Adirondacks: A History, Sally Svenson. Just published. I haven’t had a chance to read yet, but Sally has explored an important and often overlooked piece of regional history.

John Ernst, Elk Lake

SHATTERED: Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign – Jonathan Allen & Annie Parnes (2017)

Also: HRC

The question that has bedeviled and intrigued many who followed the 2016 election (and who could avoid it?) was how Hillary Clinton, former first lady, U.S. senator, and secretary of state managed to lose to a golf-club developer and game show host with no government experience. In this book, two experienced political reporters who have written a previous book about Clinton, have covered the territory with a magnifying glass. For political junkies like me, this is catnip.

Of course there is no single answer to the question of why. There are the big picture answers, such as the electorates’ desire for change and disruption, or Russian interference. This book deals with the thousand details that made a difference. There were circumstances like the Florida nightclub shooting that blocked President Obama’s endorsement of Clinton in Wisconsin, a state she never visited in the campaign. There were the drip…drip Wiki-leaks of John Podesta’s emails. And of course there was James Comey’s bombshell announcement that he was re-opening his investigation of Hillary’s private server.

On an even more granular level there was campaign manager Robby Mook’s insistence on relying on analytics rather than spending funds on polling and his refusal to build grass-roots state political organizations, also to save money. On the conceptual level, Hillary was never able to articulate why she was running. On a personal level, her insularity and passion for privacy kept her in a bubble, blinding her to reality on the ground. It’s a great story. As to the reasons: take your pick.

HERO OF THE EMPIRE: The Boer War, A Daring Escape, and the Making of Winston Churchill Candice Millard (2016)

Also: River of Doubt; Destiny of the Republic

Candice Millard has a special knack for zeroing in on a critical and dramatic portion of a larger than life late 19th century historical figure and combing extensive research with a rare narrative skill. She has previously done it to great effect with Theodore Roosevelt in his explorer mode and with President James Garfield. Here she captures the incredible exploits of a young, ambitious Winston Churchill, so desperate for honor and glory that he would do anything to achieve them.

Refused a military commission in the Boer War raging in South Africa in 1899, Churchill enlists as a correspondent. Accompanied by a valet and many cases of good wine, he participates in an engagement in which a train is de-railed and attacked by Boer regulars. Churchill is captured and imprisoned, then against all odds, escapes, crossing hundreds of miles of enemy territory to reach a Portuguese colony and freedom. He returns to Cape town as a hero, rejoins his comrades on the front, and several months later, frees his fellow prisoners from the Pretoria prison in which he had been incarcerated.

In the words of an old flame, Pamela Plowden, who married someone else but remained a life-long Churchill friend: “The first time you meet Winston you see all his faults, and the rest of your life you spend discovering his virtues.” Here is young Churchill — raw, self-centered, arrogant, and bound for glory. In the supporting cast are; Mohandas Gandhi, Louis Botha, Churchill’s remarkable American mother, Jennie, and a cast of thousands. Good reading.

KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the F.B.I.David Grann (2017)

Also: Lost City of Z

killersofflowerIn 1917, Frank Phillips, a wildcatter who had previously sold a tonic for baldness, struck oil on Osage tribal land in Oklahoma. Soon afterward, tribal members became among the richest people per capita in the world. They built large houses, bought fancy cars, and sent their children to private schools. Then they began to die.

David Grann has researched a forgotten and shameful piece of American history – a wide-ranging conspiracy in Osage County to murder tribal members for their ”headrights,” their share of tribal oil revenue. Doctors, judges, police and state officials were complicit in the killings, which involved hundreds of people. Grann focuses principally on one family, the Burkharts, in which the mother and three out of four daughters were systematically poisoned or shot.

The murders coincided with the beginnings of the FBI under newly-appointed Director J. Edgar Hoover. Hoover chose an experienced Texas lawman, Tom White, to lead the investigation, and White’s work ultimately led to the conviction of several of the killers. But as the author discovers, many other murderers were not pursued, and the Osage case was considered solved far too soon to allow for real justice. Grann himself, at the request of family members of a victim, has tracked down at least one other likely killer.

This is a harrowing story – told with a kind of wild west slam-bang style that suits it.

A GENTLEMAN IN MOSCOW – Amor Towles (2016)

Also: Rules of Civility

gentlemanAmor Towles’ first novel, Rules of Civility, was a bright, clever pastiche of the 1920s. With A Gentleman in Moscow he has taken a giant step forward. This is a tour de force, a tightrope walk of fiction in which Towles does not make a single misstep. Told with wit, depth of feeling, and real humor, it is a story as improbable as it is entirely convincing.

The premise is this: Count Alexander Rostov is confined to quarters in the luxurious Hotel Metropol by a Revolutionary Committee in June of 1922, as punishment for being an unrepentant aristocrat. Rostov spends the next 70 years there, occupying a room that is 100 feet square. Over the course of that period he adopts and raises a daughter, has a long affair with a beautiful film actress and performs flawlessly as a headwaiter in the hotel’s elegant restaurant.

From within the hotel, the count misses nothing of what happens in the world outside of Moscow, Russia and beyond. He lives his life with dignity, good cheer, and deep enjoyment. He is a marvel and his daughter, Sofia, is at least his equal.

This is a story whose details gleam like embedded jewels. It is told with infinite finesse. It is a thorough and complete delight.

Bias warning: I met Towles years ago when he was a young money manager for a New York firm, a role he filled for a number of years. The firm at which he was a partner was and is excellent, but Towles was certainly right to chose fiction over finance.

DARK MONEY: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right – Jane Mayer (2016)

Also: The Dark Side; Strange Justice; Landslide

New Yorker writer Jane Mayer has produced a comprehensive and, to some, frightening, history of how a few billionaires have quietly built a multi-dimensional system that has had enormous impact on American politics and American life.

Right wing libertarians like the Koch brothers, John Olin and the Scaife family had struggled to promote their views in the mainstream until the Supreme Court handed down their decision in the Citizens United case. This decision unplugged a firehose spray of money into non-profit institutes and a multitude of dark money groups that shielded the names of donors. Using unthreatening monikers, such as Americans for Prosperity and Center to Protect Patient Rights, these groups infiltrated universities, setting up programs that allowed them to claim tax deductions as they poured money into television ads for national and local political campaigns down to the level of county judges.

What they have accomplished is not only to take over state legislatures,  governorships, and congressional seats, but also to effectively gerrymander a number of states, such as North Carolina, to insure their candidates remain in power. They and their disciples have stripped the EPA– undoing controls on the worst polluters; attacked minimum wages; promoted lower taxes for the wealthy; and waged unrelenting war on the Affordable Care Act. Jane Mayer documents this power grab in alarming detail. Whatever your politics, you should be aware of this story and its implications for America.

GENGHIS KHAN AND THE QUEST FOR GOD – Jack Weatherford (2016)

Also: Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World; Indian Givers

Jack Weatherford wrote a ground-breaking earlier book about Genghis Khan, rescuing his reputation from the image of a blood-thirsty barbarian and establishing him as a founder of the modern political world. In this work, Weatherford makes a persuasive case that the unprecedented religious tolerance in Genghis’ Mongol empire was a direct antecedent of Thomas Jefferson’s statutes on freedom of worship written for the state of Virginia 600 years later.

Genghis Khan’s story is remarkable by any standard. Born in 1162 under the name Temujin of an obscure clan living near the Onon River, he was abandoned as a child when his family moved camp and later was cast out of his own tribe. He rose to conquer and rule the greatest empire the world had seen, ultimately extending from Russia to China and including all territory between Korea and modern Turkey. While he was merciless against resistance and disloyalty, Genghis promoted trade, which bound his kingdom together, and allowed religious freedom at a time when Christianity, Taoism, Buddhism and Islam were clashing bloodily. None of the major religions claimed his allegiance. He was probably a deist, worshipping an ineffable sacred presence. But he sought knowledge from all the organized faiths.

Unfortunately, Genghis’ tenants of good government and tolerance did not survive him—all the more reason the modern world should respect  and honor his example.

SONG OF THE LION – Anne Hillerman (2017)

songoflionAlso: Spider Woman’s Daughter; Rock with Wings

This is the third novel in which Tony Hillerman’s daughter has picked up the chronicles of the legendary lieutenant of the Navajo Tribal Police, Joe Leaphorn, and his successors, Jim Chee and Bernadette Manuelito. Anne Hillerman has a pitch perfect feel for the Navajo characters her father created, for the stunningly raw and beautiful landscape in which they live, and for the special spiritual life of the dine people.

This story is centered in and around Tuba City, near the Grand Canyon. It involves conflict over a projected luxury resort on tribal land at the confluence of the Little Colorado and Colorado Rivers, an area of historic importance to several tribes. Manuelito calls the semi-retired Leaphorn, who is working as a consultant, to help solve a bombing in a parking lot during a local basketball game and the trail leads far back in time to a simmering personal grudge.

The plot clicks along at a satisfactorily leisurely rate, with plenty of time for side trips – like visits to Manuelito’s weaver mother and descriptions of gorgeous sun rises. The point in the Hillerman novels, both father and daughter, is not where you are going, but the look and feel and sound and smell of the journey. If you are in a hurry, you will miss something important.

For all Hillerman fans, and they are legion, this is manna from heaven. Count me in.

IN THE GARDEN OF THE BEASTS: Love, Terror and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin Erik Larsen (2011)

Also: The Devil in the White City; Dead Wake

For narrative history that provides a gritty, first-hand feel for place, people and time, Erik Larsen has few equals. Here he provides a fascinating and grim look at Nazi Germany in 1933, just after the accession of Adolf Hitler. The focus is on the new American Ambassador to Germany, William E. Dodd, a professor at the University of Chicago, and his wife, son, and daughter, Martha.

Warmed by memories of his university stay in Leipzig, Dodd and his family were at first entranced with the new energy and dynamism they found. But ultimately, cases of persecution of Jews and attacks on American citizens could not be ignored and the truth gradually dawned. One year after their arrival, with the Night of the Long Knives, the ugly new state was revealed.

Woven into the political events are the exploits of Dodd’s daughter, Martha, romantically involved simultaneously with a French Counsel, the head of the Gestapo, and an NKVD operative embedded in the Russian embassy. She was a one-woman diplomatic disaster.

With close-up views of Hitler, Goebbels, Goring and such over-the-top  characters as the Harvard-educated Putzi Von Hanfstangl, Larsen shows vividly the shadows crossing Berlin and Dodd’s valiant but ultimately unsuccessful efforts to fight off opposition from the old-boy network in the state department to warn them of the dangers that were looming.

Carefully researched and written with great style and narrative flow, this is a book that has well earned its critical and commercial success.

HIGH FIDELITY — Nick Hornby (1995)

Also: About a Boy; Slam; How to be Good

This is perhaps the quintessential novel of extended male adolescence. Rob Fleming is 35 years old, has just broken up with his umpteenth girlfriend, and runs a failing record shop (Champion Vinyl) on an unfashionable London street in a district called Crouch End. He has strict tastes in music by which he tends to judge the worth of other people. He spends much of his time with his shop assistants making lists of favorite TV shows and films.

The novel begins with Rob’s list of his 5 most memorable break-ups, beginning in high school. Not included in the list is the serious, affectionate attorney who has recently tired of his emotional shallowness and left him for a random male from an apartment upstairs. In an effort to find meaning in his unsatisfactory life and close wounds from the past, Rob attempts to contact all five women on his breakup list. He also has a brief affair with a talented singer who happens by the shop. He even tries to spend a weekend afternoon with his parents.

In the end, before he fades into oblivion, Rob (who sometimes introduces himself over the phone as Robert Zimmerman AKA Bob Dylan) is forced to grow up and to consider making a commitment to another human. Not a moment too soon.

This is a funny and painful account of, male egotism, insecurity and juvenility. Hornby nails it. There is something here for all of us to recognize and wish we hadn’t.

Chris Robinson, Clarkson University

I have been experiencing quite a bit of loss of late. My father passed away just over a year ago, and in recent months two dear friends and colleagues died. Mourning is something of a dictator. It tells you when it needs to happen, and how; you do not get to pick your spots. What you struggle to perform in mourning is some sort of reconciliation with loss. The fabric of your life has been torn, and you have to work to mend it as best as possible. I’m at the stage now where I respond to the process less with dread and more with sincere gratitude. My interior life is enriched by uncontrollable and deep reflections on these wonderful people. Moreover, the vast network of dependencies and friendships that bring me so much happiness and comfort are illuminated. The act of reading in times of loss makes you all the more available and attuned for reflection. Sentences and ideas spark insight, to be sure, but it is the quietness and solitude of the activity that creates openings for reflection. In these spaces there is room to explore memories, painful and joyful alike, and respond with love.


  • Han Kang, Human Acts. Kang is known best for her International Booker Prize winning novel, The Vegetarian. She is a writer of important and difficult subjects. You get the sense that you will be reading about her Nobel Prize in Literature in another decade or two. In Human Acts, Kang examines the massacre of civilians by South Korean military forces in the city of Gwangju in May of 1980. The novel is composed of explorations of various victims of the massacre, the mass arrests and torture, and those who experienced loss of family members. It is a poetic rendering of horror, courage and resignation.
  • herreraYuri Herrera, The Transmigration of Bodies and Signs Preceding the End of the World. Many thanks to my colleague Martin Heintzelman for putting me on to Herrera’s work. He is described as Mexico’s most important living writer. He has an amazing ability to evince a dry, warm and dangerous atmosphere in his works. His themes are immigration, the borderlands and violence. His is incapable of a trite thought or a dull character on any of these topics.
  • Christopher Brown, Tropic of Kansas. This is an exciting piece of dystopian fiction. Following a military coup, the United States comes apart, divided between those loyal to the ruling regime and groups of revolutionaries who congregate on the northern border and in occupied New Orleans. In between is an unmarked DMZ called the “tropic of Kansas.” The feral protagonist is a man named “Sig.” He has fine skills for fighting and avoiding detection. He also has a resourceful sister who watches out for him.
  • Chimamanda Ngozi Adichi, Americanah. A student recommended this book to me and I could sense from her enthusiasm that I needed to give it a look. I’m so glad I did. What a fascinating examination of a Nigerian woman’s experience in America, the difference between African Americans and Africans from places like Nigeria, and the importance of home and depth of romantic love. Adichi is one of the finest storytellers working today.
  • Roberto Bolano, The Third Reich and The Secret Police. Bolano died in 2003 at the age of fifty. It is the mark of a truly great author that death does not interfere with their productivity. Or so it seems with Bolano. He is known best for his novels, The Savage Detectives and 2666, which draw on his experience as a political émigré (from Chile) and a member of the literati in Mexico City for themes. The Third Reich is an apparently complete novel that was found among his papers after he died. It is not as good as his best novels, but the story is compelling as a character sketch of a toxically masculine man who loves role-playing games. The Secret Police is a short story collection that includes some brilliant works and fragments that leave you wondering what might have been had Bolano lived long enough to get a liver transplant.
  • T. Anderson, Landscape with Invisible Hand. This is a work of science fiction as political satire. The vuvvs come to Earth and offer technology that could eliminate work and poverty if it had not been monopolized by those in power. Moreover, clean water and medicine have been completely privatized. The rest of humanity is left to fend for themselves. Adam and Chloe, a young couple, appeal to the vuvv’s love of “classic” human culture by performing 1950s style dates on a pay-per-view channel. Their romance is thus corrupted by the vuvv market.
  • Paul Beatty, The Sellout. I’m a big fan of Beatty’s earlier novels, White Boy Shuffle and His new novel is an ambitious project narrated by a man raised by a single father who used his son to recreate the history of psychological experiments in a rural enclave of Los Angeles called Dickens. The novel opens with the narrator on trial for violating the 13th Amendment prohibition against the enslavement of human beings. After this scene, the novel takes a turn to the strange and comedic. It is Beatty at his satiric best.

Non Fiction

  • Geordie Greig, Breakfast with Lucian: The astounding Life and Outrageous Times of Britain’s Great Modern Painter. I selected this book for this program thinking that I might recommend a holiday present for readers who love the art of Lucian Freud. I mean, I love the art of Lucian Freud. And this book is really a beautiful production with some nice reproductions of his paintings selected from the course of his career. But you learn that Freud was a horrible person, and the author sort of excuses and celebrates his horribleness. I do wrestle with the issue of personality and creativity in my own writing. Think of how the most important philosopher of the 20th Century, Martin Heidegger, was a Nazi; or consider the anti-Semitism of T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound. The arts and humanities do not make you a better person. But this has to be confronted rather than wished away.
  • dickEmmanuel Carrere, The Kingdom; I Am Alive and You Are Dead: A Journey into the Mind of Philip K. Dick; and Lives Other Than My Own. Carrere is an amazing reader and writer. He is able to display his considerable intellectual gifts on the page like very few other writers. Each of his books has a hybrid quality to them where he examines a subject but also discusses his process of examination. The Kingdom is a study of Christianity first as autobiography – Carrere talks about his conversion, which lasted about three years, and his eventually turning from the faith – and then as scriptural exegesis. In particular, he looks at what we know about Jesus Christ from the teachings and letters of Paul. A compelling case is made that Christianity as we know it is an invention of an apostle who never met Christ. Lives Other Than My Own is a powerful reflection on mortality triggered by the Indian Ocean tsunami that hit while Carrere was vacationing in Sri Lanka, and by the death of his sister-in-law. I Am Alive and You Are Dead is a personal and textual study of Philip K. Dick’s Science Fiction and, yes, his extraordinary weirdness.
  • Hope Jahren, Lab Girl. I was inspired to read this by John Ernst. It is a moving and memorable examination of how hard it is to do basic science in America today. It helps to be hopelessly eccentric and willing to sacrifice everything.
  • Jonathan Safron Foer, Eating Animals. I read this book for Clarkson’s summer reading event held at convocation. I am already a vegetarian, but I do have fish every so often. Now I see that eating fish involves more pain to animals than I cared to admit and I’m working on eliminating this from my diet. The book makes a compelling case to stop eating meat, or, at the very least, to resist participation in the industrial food supply chain.
  • D. Vance, Hillbilly Elegy. This book was featured on everyone’s top ten list last year. My review is decidedly mixed. On the one hand, Vance is a good writer who illuminates the cultural dimensions of poverty and impoverishment in Kentucky. His portrait of his grandparents is moving, loving and occasionally hilarious. On the other hand, Vance has room in his analysis for only one kind of hardship – the poverty experienced by people like him (i.e., white and male) – and no room for the effects of racism and sexism of women and people of color. He celebrates his own history of pulling himself out of poverty by joining the Marines and then going to college and Yale Law School. He assumes that everyone can do this.
  • Christopher LeBron, The Making of Black Lives Matter. This is a remarkable and short book that manages to place BLM in a rich historical context. This context is composed of Frederick Douglass and Ida B. Wells on the relation between shame and freedom, the incitement of imagination by Zora Neale Hurston and Langston Hughes, the emancipation of sex and sexuality in Anna Julia Cooper and Audre Lorde, and the radical love of James Baldwin and Martin Luther King, Jr. This is a brilliant exposition of the ideas that gave rise to and explain the movement against police surveillance of and violence toward people of color.
  • Timothy Snyder, On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons From the Twentieth Century. Snyder is a historian who draws from the experiences of totalitarianism in the last century lessons on how to respond to the dangers of the contemporary era. “Do not obey in advance.” “Believe in truth.” “Listen for dangerous words.” “Be as courageous as you can.” Democracies and republics, Snyder notes, usually fail. We can’t simply believe that America is exceptional. We must be alert to the dangers of tyranny and combat it at every turn.
  • Kiese Laymon, How to Kill Yourself and Others in America. Haunting these essays is the all-too early deaths of three friends and the violence faced by young black men as part of everyday life in America. I felt challenged by Laymon on a number of fronts. He is younger than me and our cultural touchstones are not the same. His writing illuminates the privileges I enjoy and have no need to be aware of because they are as “normal” to my world as the air I breathe. Yet we do share some literary heroes, and chief among these is James Baldwin who observed, “Morally, there has been no change at all, and moral change is the only real one.”

Jessica Lawrence, NCPR development assistant

The Girls, Emma Cline. An impressive first novel exploring the social psychology of young women under the thrall of a Manson-like commune leader.

So Sad Today, Melissa Broder. A dark, funny and honest collection of essays.

Linda Cohen, Old Forge

lostcity2Lost City of the Monkey God, Duncan Preston. A fascinating recent story of an archeological expedition/dig in Honduras.  Preston writes detective stories so this non-fiction story of a trip into the most ghastly environment filled with diseases and snakes reads like a thriller.  It has frequent references to Jared Diamond’s Collapse which drove me to retread parts of it.  15 years later Diamond’ s observations are as on point as they were prescient when it first came out.

Seeing the Forest, Phil Terrie. A great compilation of this Adirondack observer’s writing from the past 25 years or so. A must read, must have for any Adirondack library.

Not brand new but also excellent, Andrea Wulf’s Invention of Nature about Alexander Von Humbolt, one of the planet’s true polymaths and earliest environmentalists.  Good read.

Rebecca Donnelly, Potsdam Public Library

These are some of my favorite middle grade books of the year.

The Exact Location of Home, Kate Messner (Bloomsbury, 2017)

Kate is one of the stars of the kidlit world and the North Country. Her newest middle grade book, The Exact Location of Home, is set near Lake Champlain. Seventh grader Zig is obsessed with two things: electronics and his absent father. As Zig uses a GPS to find geocaches that might be clues from his dad, Messner explores themes of family, friendship, and the very real plight of homelessness in working families.

vanderbeekThe Vanderbeekers of 141st St, Karina Yan Glaser (HMH Books for Young Readers, 2017)

The four Vanderbeeker children and their parents live on the first two floors of a brownstone on 141st St, but when their landlord decides not to renew the lease, they hatch a plan (or several) to get him to change his mind. The NYC setting is wonderful, and the Vanderbeeker family is a modern, biracial version of families in classic stories like The Saturdays or All-of-a-Kind Family. A great read-aloud for long, cold evenings at home.

All’s Faire in Middle School, Victoria Jamieson (Dial Books, 2017)

I can’t think of another children’s book set at a Renaissance Faire. This is a graphic novel, and the pictures really bring the setting to life. Isobel’s family works the faire, and she’s been training to be a squire. But the biggest challenge lies ahead:middle school. How does a formerly homeschooled kid who wears authentic renaissance boots make it in the tough world of sixth grade? This book is an absolute delight for kids and parents alike.

Also, in case your listeners are interested, North Country Library System member libraries (St Lawrence, Jefferson, Lewis, & Oswego counties) are participating in the OverDrive Digital Dash. OverDrive, the company that lends ebooks & digital audiobooks to libraries, is challenging us to reach a checkout goal of 59, 670 for 2017. If we reach that goal, we’ll be entered to win more books for our digital library. Library users can go to to browse the digital collection.

Elaine Dunne, Massena Public Library

I’ve listed a few books that I thoroughly enjoyed these last few months:

Magpie Murders, Anthony Horowitz

Exit West, Mohsin Hamid

The World Broke in Two: Virginia Woolf, T.S. Eliot, D.H. Lawrence, E.M. Forster and the Year That Changed Literature, Bill Goldstein

A Gentleman in Moscow, Amor Towles

Chris Shaw, Bristol VT

An Odyssey, Daniel Mendelsohn. Got the funny old father, got the Homeric scholarship, got the coming of age. The whole package. Also great on teaching.

Mel Eisinger, Adirondack Foundation/Lake Placid

Hardships and Magic, Renate Doost-Schneider. A personal story of growing up (a non-Jew) in Germany between 1939 and 1955.  I rarely make it through a memoir, but this is infinitely readable and surprisingly delightful, written with the open perspective of childhood and in the absence of self-promotion.  Starving and assigned to subhuman living situations, she discovers the first wildflowers of spring, great literature, and a talent for story telling. Juxtaposed with our current political situation, the book gives me hope for our future.  It also reflects on the support Germans in distress received from America after the war and how important it was to their survival.

A Canticle for Leibowitz, Walter Miller. Published in 1966, I just found and recently read. No hope for mankind. We will continue to repeat our mistakes.

Sarah Wakefield, East Middlebury VT

newsofworldNews of the World, Paulette Jiles. At the top of my list for fiction this year. It’s a little gem. Actually, I took it out of our wonderful Ilsley Library in Middlebury VT twice. It’s still on a wait list after all this time. I’ve read two of her other books that I’d also recommend, Civil War Women and Stormy Weather. Here are a couple of nonfiction books I’d like to recommend:

Dinner with Edward, Isabel Vincent

Temporary Bride, Jennifer Kline.

Bill Betts, Plattsburgh

groundStill Foolin’ ‘Em, Billy Crystal. It’s not brand new but is still a great read.

The Leavers, Lisa Ko.

Ground: A Reprise of Photographs from the Farm Security Administration, Bill McDowell. The author has painstakingly reclaimed photos discarded by the FSA.

Elizabeth Folwell, Blue Mountain Lake

A Gentleman in Moscow, Amor Towels. Amazing. Such a great story with wonderful characters.

Paris in the Present Tense, Mark Halpern. Another story of an elderly man, but a mystery too and a story of redemption.

Merle’s Door: Lessons From a Freethinking Dog, Ted Kerasote. About a stray dog and what he teaches his owner in Wyoming…great.

The Age of Empathy: Nature’s Lessons for a Kinder Society, Frans de Waal. About the kindnesses other animals show to each other–so insightful and beautifully written, something everyone should read.

Ellen Beberman, Somewhere between Tupper Lake and Saranac Lake

How Everything Became War and the Military Became Everything, Rosa Brooks. Written before the 2016 election, this book traces a tendency through recent administrations and Congresses to move funding away from every international agency towards the military, with the result that the military is now charged with duties well beyond fighting wars. (Side note: Brooks also shines as a regular panelist on the Deep State Radio podcast.)

Draft No. 4, John McPhee. Charming and instructive – how could it be anything else?

threebodyThe Three Body Problem, Cixin Liu, translated by Ken Liu. Not a new book, but worth getting back into. An intriguing scientific question forms the outline for this work of speculative fiction, which also includes an unsparing take on the damage of the Cultural Revolution years in China. Naivete has no place in this world. Started me off on a quest for more Chinese sci-fi in translation.


Mike Parwana, Chicken Coop Forge

New York Station, Lawrence Dudley. (January 23, 2018 publication date.) The author is a Glens Falls resident. This spy thriller based on the true story of the Nazi attempt to influence the 1940 election unfortunately won’t be released until January, so a miss for the holiday gift season. Still something to keep in mind for a long winter’s night. Here’s the link to the publisher’s page.

Peter John Robertson, Morrisburg, Ontario

Both of these titles would go well with NCPR’s Bird Note and Natural Selections programs:

mobydickThe Genius of Birds, Jennifer Ackerman

The Hidden Life of Trees, Peter Wohlleben

And for a good long winter read, a cautionary tale about obsession and humankind’s greed with awe-inspiring evocations of life in and on our planet’s oceans, Herman Melville’s astonishing masterpiece Moby-Dick, more than ever relevant today, because we are all aboard The Pequod. Bonus: Melville was of course a New Yorker.



Colleen Eifler

Hardships and Magic, Renate Doost Schneider. The author lives in Wilmington. It’s a wonderful story written from her life in Germany during the second world war. Please give a look you won’t be disappointed!

Phil Newton, Harrietstown

Voices from the Civil War, George Bryjak. By a Vermontville-based author and playwright, this is a gripping, well-researched series of twenty-six short , fictional, first-person accounts by people coping with the reality of the Civil War.  Each of the twenty-six stories of ordinary soldiers, sweethearts, slaves, merchants, and others contains an introduction by the author that provides perspective and background that deepened my understanding about the totality of the War’s impact.   If Studs Terkel, author of The Good War  (about  the lives of World War II-era Americans) , could have traveled back to the 1860’s,  he might have produced something like this book.

emperorschildGinger Dunlap-Dietz…from somewhere in the southern California desert…via email

The Emperor’s Children, Claire Messud, 2006. Engaging and smart look at family and friends and lives of those involved with Murray Thwaite–well-known, respected New York journalist. The disintegration of his centrality in their lives culminating with 9/11. Watertown, NY features as a not flattering character in the background and current life of Thwaite and his young nephew, who for a time thought of Thwaite as a hero. Eager to read more of Messud’s recent work. So happy to find you here in the southern California desert.

Christine Mace via email

Children of Christmas: Stories for the Season, Cynthia Rylant. I was listening to the book call in and heard many titles I’d like to read. I heard nothing on the Christmas theme, so…This little book is a collection of six short stories, and my favorite is “The Silver Packages.” Every year I reread this book and find I like ALL the stories now. Just touching stories, each in a different vein.

Patty Coppola via email

Breaking Bread, Martin Phillip. Martin is a master baker who writes about his road to becoming a baker (spoiler–opera singer was on his resume). The book is poetic and full of touching stories, wonderful photographs and ample recipes for the baker and non-baker. A great gift for oneself and then to share with a kindred spirit.

Jan VanStralen…somewhere in Ontario

In America: Travels with John Steinbeck, Geert Max. This is the English version. I am reading it in Dutch. Written by a well-known Dutch author who is very meticulous in his research of the topics he writes about as he travels along the same route John Steinbeck took in 1960…50 years later in 2010. He uses the book to comment on both present and historical aspects of the phenomenon “America.” Geert Mak has been visiting the USA for many years, has many friends here, and his insights from a European perspective are illuminating.

Mare MacDougall, SLU assistant women’s hockey coach

The Hate U Give, Angie Thomas. This is a stunning, heartbreaking and necessary read that I could not put down.  Thomas’ writing style is unique and I so appreciate how timely this beautiful and difficult story is.  The book is listed for young readers but was my favorite fiction read of the year so far.

Jackie Schwartz via email

Suzanne’s Children, Anne Nelson. A true account from the Holocaust–of a Christian woman in Paris who saved many Jewish children, and obviously risked her own life. She is now one of the Righteous Among the Nations for what she did.

Magpie Murders, Anthony Horowitz.  It’s a very clever murder mystery within a murder mystery. A real nail biter.

Nancy Grosselfiner via email

aluckychildA Lucky Child, Thomas Buergenthal. An easy read (8th grade level) by a retired international judge of the International Court of Justice and Inter-American Court of Human Rights recalling, to the best of his memory, why and how he survived the Holocaust as a Jewish boy. Judge Buergenthal and I shared a professor in the course of our respective (separate) professional preparations and eventually he became one of my human rights professors in Costa Rica 1986. It was very interesting to read his interpretation of his personal history and how it mobilized him professionally without making his life into an obsessive campaign but merely a life of mindful work.


Nancy Pribble via email

Seasoned Timber, Dorothy Canfield Fisher.  I have recently read this book (set in Vermont, 1939) and loved it. Eleanor Roosevelt cited Fisher as one of the most influential women of her time. She helped developed the Book of the Month Club introduced and introduced Pearl Buck and Isak Dinesen to Americans. She also introduced Maria Montessor’s work to this country  in her book A Montessori Mother after her trip to Italy. Her book The Brimming Cup was the first modern bestseller to criticize racial prejudice against African Americans. It finished the year second in sales just behind Sinclair Lewis’s Main Street which it was written in response to. I have discovered that her books are out of print.  I feel this is wrong and hope it can be corrected.

Called in during the broadcast…

Bill, in Winthrop

Ordinary Grace, William Kent Kreuger

David Duff, in Macomb

The Farfarers: A New History of North America, Farley Mowat

Joy, in Glens Falls

Young Jane Young, Gabrielle Zevin

Beth, in Potsdam

Before We Were Yours, Lisa Wing

We Were the Lucky Ones, Georgia Hunter

Undaunted Courage, Stephen Ambrose

Elizabeth, in Malone

The Reckless Way of Love: Notes on Following Jesus, Dorothy Day

Radical Spirit, Joan Chittister

Plus, anything written by Richard Wright, Chris Hedges, Dan Berrigan, Judy Juanita, Belle Hooks or Claudia Black.



From Facebook comments…

Claudia MacDonald: Just finished reading Louise Erdrich’s latest. Most excellent. More readable than Atwood’s ‘Handmaid’s Tale’. Her prose is exceptional…the story is compelling. She is absolutely brilliant!l Then there is Sherman Alexie’s autobiography. Wow!

Edward Low: Our Revolution, Bernie Sanders… long long book, car rides and an audio book would be best–it is a great way to get upset with politics (all politics, but mostly how anti-people the RNC people are). It is a litany of policy-making that does nothing but make the rich richer, and shrink the middle class.

Pat Angerame: Grit, Angela Duckworth. A great book about passion and persistence.

Justin Schultz: About to return this to the library… A little dated.. But, an informative and easy read!

Image may contain: ocean, outdoor and water
Andrew McAdoo: Also dated but I really liked the Ascent of Humanity. More recent, Sapiens is very good.


4 Comments on “NCPR’s winter reading and holiday giving book list”

  1. Joy Muller-McCoola says:

    Sourdough, by Robin Sloane.
    I lighter read with a touch of magical realism to escape the news. This touches on the balance between locally grown food and technological advances to feed all through a sweet story about a young woman working silicon valley.



    Engaging and smart look at family and friends and lives of those involved with Murray Thwaite, well known, respected New York journalist. The disintegration of his centrality in their livesculminating with 9/11.

    Watertown NY features as a not flattering character in the background and current life of Thwaite and his young nephew who for a time thought of him as a hero.

    Eager to read more of Messud’s recent work.

    So happy to find you here in the So Cal desert.

  3. Claudia MacDonald says:

    Currently reading Exit West by Mohsin Hamid. Amazing writing. Captivating subject. How he can be so judicious with his words yet paint such a vivid portrait is beyond anything I’ve read since Hemnigway (who was not as poetic). I watched a book review on PBS and this one was recommended. If their other recommends are equally excellent…well…I’ll be in book readers heaven!

  4. Sally Lynch says:

    Code Girls the Untold Story of American Women Code Breakers of World War II by Liza Mundy.
    This is nonfiction, well researched, and compelling. My late mother was a WAC codebreaker.

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