10 Good Books To Curl Up With

Winter is upon us. Depending on where you live, the cold is coming or is already there. For the next few months, you may be stuck inside quite a bit.

It’s time to snuggle into your favorite overstuffed chair with a mug of hot chocolate and a good book. I can’t provide the soft spot or the hot beverage, but I can recommend some good reads. Most of these books are selected from books I read during 2012, though a couple are throwbacks and I’ll explain later why they were included in the list. It’s an eclectic mix and you should be able to find something here you haven’t read to kill the chill.

My Cross To Bear– Gregg Allman with Alan Light

519iQjM92SL__SL300If you’d like to take a look inside the southern fried rock and roll heart of the legendary wailers that were, and still are, The Allman Brothers Band, open this book. It has everything you’d expect from a sweeping chronicle of a life playing rock music, sex, drugs, death, famous musicians, triumph and tragedy. Gregg Allman gives an unflinching view of his life and the long strange journey of his bandmates. For more information, read my previous review.

The Man Who Loved Books Too Much– Allison Hoover Bartlett

book_shadowThis is a story that could have been a great novel, but it’s not. It’s the non-fiction tale of John Charles Gilkey, a man obsessed with rare books who managed to steal hundreds of thousands of dollars of them, not for financial gain, but because he lusted to own them. Sometimes truth really is stranger than fiction. In telling this story, journalist Bartlett takes the reader into the subterranean world of book junkies, a fascinating subculture of collectors and dealers.

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter- Tom Franklin

crooked-letter-crooked-letter-book-cover-tom-franklinA dark, gothic southern crime novel, Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter is a finely written page turner that will leave you sweaty from the heat and humidity of Mississippi. It’s a story about a man living a shunned life in a small town as a result of one damning night when he was in high school. It’s also the story of his childhood friend, now a police officer, who suspects his former playmate is responsible for a wave of killings he must solve. Can’t put it down reading charged with atmosphere and secrets. For more information, read my previous review.

Provinces Of Night– William Gay

provinces-night-william-gay-hardcover-cover-artThe world lost a great writer this year when William Gay died. I’m including this book in the list as a homage to one of my favorite writers and if you haven’t read it, you should run, not walk, and seek it out. Few authors can match the beauty of Gay’s prose. A disciple of Cormac McCarthy, Gay may have eclipsed his idol as a southern literary stylist. He also was a compelling storyteller, and in this, his best novel, he tells the tale of a banjo player who abandons his family to become a traveling minstrel and returns decades later when he is dying. Gay has this astounding ability to mix humor and tragedy while laying out the arc of a life. More about Gay is in my tribute to him earlier this year.

The Architecture Of The Arkansas Ozarks– Donald Harington

architecture-arkansas-ozarks-donald-harington-paperback-cover-artDonald Harrington died not long ago, and I’m including my favorite book of his, not because it’s new, but because he’s a fine writer who isn’t well known and deserves a bigger literary following. Though, the title of the book would make you think it’s non-fiction, it’s a sweeping novel. The Ingledew brothers found a town in the Arkansas wilderness in the early 1800s and Harington traces the progress, or lack of it, over generations into the late twentieth century. A rollicking write, the book has rare moments of absurd humor that may remind you of Twain, high praise indeed for a writer who is fairly obscure.

In A Shallow Grave– James Purdy

shallowgraveStrangely moody, this short novel by Purdy is a darkly melancholy journey uniquely wrought in a quirky writing style. It revolves around a returning veteran who has been so seriously maimed in war that people are repulsed by his appearance. Hiding out and nursing his pain, the novel gets heart-rending when he attempts to gain the love of a nearby widow. Purdy is a force unto himself in his choice of material and writing methods.

The World Made Straight– Ron Rash

imagesCAZ121KTSometimes you come across a writer that grabs you so forcefully your reaction is, God, I wish I could write like that. Rash is one of those writers and this is my favorite novel he has penned so far. You won’t find many writers that are more masterful storytellers. This book is typical. When a teenager finds a patch of marijuana and proceeds to steal it, he is plunged into a dangerous world that culminates in a heart-racing conclusion that is guaranteed to raise your blood pressure to unsafe levels.

That Old Cape Magic- Richard Russo

that-old-cape-magic-203x300Russo is one of those rare writers who can bridge the gap between commercial and literary fiction. In his latest novel, he has created a charming, funny and touching story about a man in mid-life crisis trying to figure out which way to turn. Raised by two combative college professors, Jack Griffin feels lost, his marriage in trouble, his career choice in question. He can’t even decide where to spread the ashes of his dead parents, so he hauls their remains around in his trunk on a return journey to Cape Cod, his parents’ favorite place. It’s a trip you’ll enjoy sharing with a satisfying destination.

Life– Keith Richards with James Fox

book-articleInlineIf you’ve ever fantasized about being a rock star, this is the right read for you. The Rolling Stones are legends, icons of their genre, and still rocking as Richards approaches 70 years of age. For more than 500 pages, the Stones’ original guitar player tells how they rose from lower class obscurity to become one of the most famous bands of all time. Richards observations are as much about his musical journey as they are about the band’s misadventures and rowdy reputation. There’s rock history in the book you won’t find anywhere else.

Red Means Run– Brad Smith

red-means-run-novel-brad-smith-paperback-cover-artCanadian born Smith has been producing good suspenseful fiction for years, and this is his latest offering. This book is a slight departure for him, in that it is pretty much a straight up who-done-it mystery. Though it’s not his best book, probably previous novels like Crow’s Landing and All Hat are better reads, it’s well worth spending some time with for the ensemble cast of interesting characters he always creates. His continuing protagonist Virgil Cain is back and on the run from the law for being falsely accused of a series of murders. Smith’s writing is always a pleasure to read.

Book Review: Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter

Rarely do I come across a novel I savor so strongly that I force myself to put it down often so that I can extend for as long as I can my reading pleasure. But Tom Franklin’s Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter is such a rich experience, you won’t want it to be over.

This is a book that has it all. Descriptive detail so vibrant you’ll feel like the mud of rural Mississippi is clinging to your soles, and your soul. Characters that walk right off the page. A story that grabs you and never lets go. Atmosphere so thick you’ll be sweating from the heat and humidity of the deep south. Dialog authentic enough to make you feel like you’re eavesdropping. Small town intrigue, a chronology that arches over ordinary lives, and a twist that makes you whack yourself in the forehead and say, why didn’t I see that coming?

Franklin’s words are so well chosen, it’s like sipping cream that has risen to the top of a bucket of warm raw milk. The author struggled with his story for years, he admits, revising and ripping it apart and putting it together again over and over until the pieces fit together seamlessly. It was well worth the wait.

Franklin, a writing teacher at the University of Mississippi, has crafted a masterful novel that perfectly captures the dark spirit of a land haunted by the past. This novel stands as tall and impressive as the work of any of the great southern writers, bar none.

Tom Franklin

The story is classic southern bucolic gothic, a tale of a man, Larry Ott, shunned by his neighbors for an assumed outrage, a missing girl, never found, with whom he had the last contact. Though never accused directly, the locals have convicted him in their minds for the past twenty years.

It’s also the story of Silas, the town constable, his childhood friend, long since alienated from the man they call Scary Larry. Conflicted by their past, Silas must unravel a series of violent crimes, a sinuous journey that leads to a revelation about his personal history.

The minor characters are equally fascinating, peopling the book with a cast that makes you feel like you are living the story, not just interpreting symbols on paper. The book transcends the writing process, the same way great music moves you emotionally and becomes much more than just sound.

Franklin is the author of two previous novels, Hell At The Breech and Smonk and a collection of short fiction, Poachers, but critics agree this is his best work to date. The novel won the CWA Gold Daggar and was nominated for the 2011 Edgar prize for best novel.