Best Fiction Books
- Anita Heiss, Bila Yarrudhanggalangdhuray: River of Dreams. Gundagai, 1852. The powerful Murrumbidgee River surges through town leaving death and destruction in its wake. It is a stark reminder that while the river can give life, it can just as easily take it away. Wagadhaany is one of the lucky ones. She survives. But is her life now better than the fate she escaped? Forced to move away from her miyagan, she walks through each day with no trace of dance in her step, her broken heart forever calling her back home to Gundagai. When she meets Wiradyuri stockman Yindyamarra, Wagadhaany’s heart slowly begins to heal. But still, she dreams of a better life, away from the degradation of being owned. She longs to set out along the river of her ancestors, in search of lost family and country. Can she find the courage to defy the White man’s law? And if she does, will it bring hope … or heartache? Set on timeless Wiradyuri country, where the life-giving waters of the rivers can make or break dreams, and based on devastating true events, Bila Yarrudhanggalangdhuray (River of Dreams) is an epic story of love, loss and belonging.
- Connie Willis, All Clear. Time-traveling. Oxford in 2060 is a chaotic place, with scores of time-traveling historians being sent into the past. Michael Davies is prepping to go to Pearl Harbor. Merope Ward is coping with a bunch of bratty 1940 evacuees and trying to talk her thesis adviser into letting her go to VE-Day. Polly Churchill’s next assignment will be as a shopgirl in the middle of London’s Blitz. But now the time-travel lab is suddenly canceling assignments and switching around everyone’s schedules. And when Michael, Merope, and Polly finally get to World War II, things just get worse. For there they face air raids, blackouts, and dive-bombing Stukas—to say nothing of a growing feeling that not only their assignments but the war and history itself are spiraling out of control. Because suddenly the once-reliable mechanisms of time travel are showing significant glitches, and our heroes are beginning to question their most firmly held belief: that no historian can possibly change the past.
- Elizabeth Peters, Devil May Care (re-read). A classic mystery tale. Ellie is young, rich, engaged and in love. These are the carefree days before marriage and new responsibility, and anything goes – including house-sitting at eccentric Aunt Kate’s palatial estate in Burton, Virginia. Ellie feels right at home here with the nearly invisible housekeepers and the plethora of pets, but she soon realizes that there are disturbing secrets about the local aristocracy buried in a dusty old book she has carried into the mansion. And her sudden interest in the past is attracting a slew of unwelcome guests – some of them living and some, perhaps not. And the terrible vengeance that Ellie and her friends seem to have aroused – now aimed at them – surely cannot be…satanic.
- Barbara Michaels, The Master of Blacktower. (Elizabeth Peters writing as Barbara Michaels). Gothic Romance. Damaris Gordon shuddered at the thought of working for the cruel and bitter Master of Blacktower—but her father’s death left her no choice. Suddenly her fate—her life itself—was in the black silk-gloved hands of Gavin Hamilton, a man scarred and tortured by an unspoken past, whose mocking laughter echoes through his ancient Scottish estate. Damaris has heard the whispers that accuse Gavin Hamilton of his wife’s death and his young daughter’s crippling injury. But the pain and sadness barely hidden behind his blazing dark stare touch Damaris deeply—and a courageous heart is luring her to the estate’s topmost tower in search of his dangerous secrets.
- Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre (re-read). A novel of intense emotional power, heightened atmosphere and fierce intelligence, Jane Eyre dazzled and shocked readers with its passionate depiction of a woman’s search for equality and freedom on her own terms. Its heroine Jane endures loneliness and cruelty in the home of her heartless aunt and the cold charity of Lowood School. Her natural independence and spirit prove necessary when she takes a position as governess at Thornfield Hall. But when she finds love with her sardonic employer, Rochester, the discovery of a shameful secret forces her to make a terrible choice.
- Barbara Hambley, Those Who Hunt the Night. A former spy is recruited to unmask a vampire hunter in this Locus Award Winner. James Asher, a retired member of the Queen’s secret service in Edwardian England, has settled into quietude as an Oxford professor of philology with his physician wife, Lydia. But his peace is shattered when he’s confronted by a pale aristocratic Spaniard named Don Simon Ysidro, who makes an outlandish claim that someone is killing his fellow vampires of London, and he needs James’s help to ferret the culprit out. The request also comes with a threatening ultimatum: Should James fail, both he and his wife will die. With James’s talent for espionage and Lydia’s scientific acumen and keen analytical mind, the couple begins an investigation that takes them from the crypts of London to the underworld circles of the unliving to the grisly depths of a charnel house in Paris. Now James and Lydia must believe in the unbelievable—if they’re to survive another night in the shadow of Don Simon Ysidro.
- Shane Carrow, Vampire on the Orient Express. Paris, 1914. American adventurer Sam Carter boards the Orient Express, departing France in style after an impulsive decision to desert the Foreign Legion. British diplomat Lucas Avery is already nursing a drink in the smoking car, resenting his assignment to the distant Ottoman Empire. Neither man expects anything more from the next three days and three thousand miles than rich food, expensive champagne and fine cigars. But something dangerous is lurking aboard the train, hiding in plain sight among French aristocrats and German businessmen. Through fire and darkness, through blood and ice, the Orient Express is bearing an ancient evil across the continent – and not all its passengers will live to see Constantinople…
- Chuck Wendig, Wanderers. A decadent rock star. A deeply religious radio host. A disgraced scientist. And a teenage girl who may be the world’s last hope. Shana wakes up one morning to discover her little sister in the grip of a strange malady. She appears to be sleepwalking. She cannot talk and cannot be woken up. And she is heading with inexorable determination to a destination that only she knows. But Shana and her sister are not alone. Soon they are joined by a flock of sleepwalkers from across America, on the same mysterious journey. And like Shana, there are other “shepherds” who follow the flock to protect their friends and family on the long dark road ahead. For as the sleepwalking phenomenon awakens terror and violence in America, the real danger may not be the epidemic but the fear of it. With society collapsing all around them—and an ultraviolent militia threatening to exterminate them—the fate of the sleepwalkers depends on unraveling the mystery behind the epidemic. The terrifying secret will either tear the nation apart—or bring the survivors together to remake a shattered world.
- Peter Heller, The Guide. A heart-racing thriller about a young man who is hired by an elite fishing lodge in Colorado, where he uncovers a plot of shocking menace amid the natural beauty of sun-drenched streams and forests. Kingfisher Lodge, nestled in a canyon on a mile and a half of the most pristine river water on the planet, is known by locals as “Billionaire’s Mile” and is locked behind a heavy gate. Sandwiched between barbed wire and a meadow with a sign that reads “Don’t Get Shot!” the resort boasts boutique fishing at its finest. Safe from viruses that have plagued America for years, Kingfisher offers a respite for wealthy clients. Now it also promises a second chance for Jack, a return to normalcy after a young life filled with loss. When he is assigned to guide a well-known singer, his only job is to rig her line, carry her gear, and steer her to the best trout he can find. But then a human scream pierces the night, and Jack soon realizes that this idyllic fishing lodge may be merely a cover for a far more sinister operation. A novel as gripping as it is lyrical, as frightening as it is moving, The Guide is another masterpiece from Peter Heller.
- Christopher Golden, Road of Bones. An American documentarian travels a haunted highway across the frozen tundra of Siberia in Christopher Golden’s Road of Bones, a “tightly wound, atmospheric, and creepy as hell” (Stephen King) supernatural thriller. Surrounded by barren trees in a snow-covered wilderness with a dim, dusky sky forever overhead, Siberia’s Kolyma Highway is 1200 miles of gravel packed permafrost within driving distance of the Arctic Circle. A narrow path where drivers face such challenging conditions as icy surfaces, limited visibility, and an average temperature of sixty degrees below zero, fatal car accidents are common. But motorists are not the only victims of the highway. Known as the Road of Bones, it is a massive graveyard for the former Soviet Union’s gulag prisoners. Hundreds of thousands of people worked to death and left where their bodies fell, consumed by the frozen elements and plowed beneath the permafrost road.
Best Non-Fiction Books
- Pema Chödrön, How to Meditate. Pema Chödrön is treasured around the world for her unique ability to transmit teachings and practices that bring peace, understanding, and compassion into our lives. With How to Meditate, the American-born Tibetan Buddhist nun presents her first book exploring in depth what she considers the essentials for a lifelong practice. This step-by-step guide shows readers how to honestly meet and openly relate with the mind, embrace the fullness of our experience, and live in a wholehearted way. I struggled to meditate after reading a lot of other books, but this one did it for me.
- Keith Haring, Journals. Keith Haring is synonymous with the downtown New York art scene of the 1980’s. His artwork-with its simple, bold lines and dynamic figures in motion-filtered in to the world’s consciousness and is still instantly recognizable, twenty years after his death. This Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition features ninety black-and-white images of classic artwork and never-before-published Polaroid images, and is a remarkable glimpse of a man who, in his quest to become an artist, instead became an icon.
- Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones. For more than thirty years Natalie Goldberg has been challenging and cheering on writers with her books and workshops. In her groundbreaking first book, she brings together Zen meditation and writing in a new way. Writing practice, as she calls it, is no different from other forms of Zen practice—”it is backed by two thousand years of studying the mind.”
- Gabriel Rosenstock, Haiku Enlightment. Haiku Enlightenment is a delightful, often playful look at haiku as both a poetic craft and a pathway of awakening – for poets, seekers and creative rebels. Gabriel Rosenstock has given us a rich collection of insights, distilled from a lifetime dedicated to the art and practice of poetry, on stepping into inspired moments. Using a generous selection of contemporary and classical haiku, he explores ideas of creativity and perception, encouraging us to calm the restless mind, notice what is overlooked, explore the world around us, and fully encounter each glowing moment. From such moments, haiku – and enlightenment – emerge.
- N. Scott Momaday, Earth Keeper. One of the most distinguished voices in American letters, N. Scott Momaday has devoted much of his life to celebrating and preserving Native American culture, especially its oral tradition. A member of the Kiowa tribe, Momaday was born in Lawton, Oklahoma and grew up on Navajo, Apache, and Peublo reservations throughout the Southwest. It is a part of the earth he knows well and loves deeply. In Earth Keeper, he reflects on his native ground and its influence on his people. “When I think about my life and the lives of my ancestors,” he writes, “I am inevitably led to the conviction that I, and they, belong to the American land. This is a declaration of belonging. And it is an offering to the earth.” In this wise and wonderous work, Momaday shares stories and memories throughout his life, stories that have been passed down through generations, stories that reveal a profound spiritual connection to the American landscape and reverence for the natural world. He offers an homage and a warning. He shows us that the earth is a sacred place of wonder and beauty, a source of strength and healing that must be honored and protected before it’s too late. As he so eloquently and simply reminds us, we must all be keepers of the earth.
- Serhii Plokhy, Chernobyl. On the morning of April 26, 1986, Europe witnessed the worst nuclear disaster in history: the explosion of a reactor at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Soviet Ukraine. Dozens died of radiation poisoning, fallout contaminated half the continent, and thousands fell ill. In Chernobyl, Serhii Plokhy draws on new sources to tell the dramatic stories of the firefighters, scientists, and soldiers who heroically extinguished the nuclear inferno. He lays bare the flaws of the Soviet nuclear industry, tracing the disaster to the authoritarian character of the Communist party rule, the regime’s control over scientific information, and its emphasis on economic development over all else.
- Sam Keith, Richard Louis Proenneke, One Man’s Wilderness. To live in a pristine land unchanged by man…to roam a wilderness through which few other humans have passed…to choose an idyllic site, cut trees, and build a log cabin…to be a self-sufficient craftsman, making what is needed from materials available…to be not at odds with the world, but content with one’s own thoughts and company… Thousands have had such dreams, but Dick Proenneke lived them. He found a place, built a cabin, and stayed to become part of the country. One Man’s Wilderness is a simple account of the day-to-day explorations and activities he carried out alone, and the constant chain of nature’s events that kept him company. From Dick’s journals, and with firsthand knowledge of his subject and the setting, Sam Keith has woven a tribute to a man who carved his masterpiece out of the beyond.
- Anne Truitt, Daybook, Turn, Prospect: The Journey of an Artist. Anne Truitt kept a journal throughout her adult life, from her early years as one of the rare, celebrated women artists in the early 60s, through her midlife as an established artist, and into older age when she was, for a time, the director of Yaddo, the premier artists’ retreat in Saratoga. She was always a deep, astute reader, and a woman who grappled with a range of issues—moral, intellectual, sensual, emotional, and spiritual. While working intensely on her art, she watches her own daughters journey into marriage and motherhood, meditates on criticism and solitude, and struggles to find a balance in life. “Balance not stability is the source of security,” she says. Anne Truitt re-creates a life in which domestic activities and the needs of children and friends are constantly juxtaposed against the world of color and abstract geometry to which she is drawn in her art.
- Louis L’Amour, Education of a Wandering Man. From his decision to leave school at fifteen to roam the world, to his recollections of life as a hobo on the Southern Pacific Railroad, as a cattle skinner in Texas, as a merchant seaman in Singapore and the West Indies, and as an itinerant bare-knuckled prizefighter across small-town America, here is Louis L’Amour’s memoir of his lifelong love affair with learning—from books, from yondering, and from some remarkable men and women—that shaped him as a storyteller and as a man. Like classic L’Amour fiction, Education of a Wandering Man mixes authentic frontier drama–such as the author’s desperate efforts to survive a sudden two-day trek across the blazing Mojave desert–with true-life characters like Shanghai waterfront toughs, desert prospectors, and cowboys whom Louis L’Amour met while traveling the globe. At last, in his own words, this is a story of a one-of-a-kind life lived to the fullest . . . a life that inspired the books that will forever enable us to relive our glorious frontier heritage.
- Cal Newport, Digital Minimalism. In this timely book, professor Cal Newport shows us how to pair back digital distractions and live a more meaningful life with less technology.
I’ve used the publishers’ book descriptions for all the books on the list.
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