Sunday, February 7, 2021

Indulge Your Valentines with Book-and-Tea Pairings


In this season where we can't all be together, what better gifts to show your love than a book and a cup of tea? The combination spells c-o-m-f-o-r-t to me, and, while I don't want to discourage you from also purchasing some quality dark chocolate, let's be honest--we've probably all been eating more chocolate than is good for us lately. Those COVID pounds don't gain themselves.

For some months now, my oldest daughter has been working at the Queen Mary Tea Emporium in Seattle, which is a dangerous place for me to spend time because I invariably come home with new flavors to try. The girls and I already had a yearly tradition where we would go for high tea, and, in fact, it was the last "normal" outing we had before everything shut down last year.

Seriously, we need to make this happen again

Because the tea room itself is so cozy (besides being darling and delicious), it has been closed this whole time. Opening at 25% capacity wouldn't allow enough customers to make business sense, but they hope to re-open as restrictions loosen. In order to do this, the Queen Mary Tea Room needs our help! You can donate to their GoFundMe account, or you could also just buy yourself and your loved ones some of the most tasty tea you will ever encounter. They ship all over the country! To help you help yourself, I've suggested some tea pairings with some of my latest favorite reads below!

For the Valentine who could use a mental getaway...

This is the first book in the delightful trilogy that inspired The Durrells in Corfu. Take my book snob warning, though--once you've read the books, you can never go back. Apart from the great scenery and the characters' names in the TV show, the show has little to do with the books, and the books are in every way superior. Both lyrical and laugh-out-loud funny. Having transplanted themselves from England, with its dreary (Seattle-like) weather, the Durrells escape to paradise. But no matter what adventures they are having with the Corfu natives or with Corfu fauna, they and the other British expats never fail to stop in the afternoon for tea.

In honor of little Gerry's obsession with the island animals and insects, I would pair this book with Queen Mary's Golden Monkey tea, the first Queen Mary Tea I ever tasted and still one of my very favorites, for its lovely caramel-y notes.

For the Valentine who loves London and a good mystery...

And by this I mean the whole series of mysteries not-so-secretly written by J. K. Rowling. They're great fun, and you can follow Cormoran Strike and his assistant Robin Ellacott all through the neighborhoods of London on Google Maps, if you like, because Rowling grounds them in a contemporary London as real as that of Sherlock Holmes in the 1880s. These are also fun if you like a little romantic tension in your books, because the two detectives have it in spades. Like the Durrells in Corfu, Strike and Robin are always heating up the kettle for a cup of tea, and Robin knows that Strike prefers his "like creosote"-- dark, dark, dark, with no cream or sugar.

While I suspect Strike brews his tea beyond the 3.5 minutes recommended by Queen Mary (maybe because he has inferior tea), I think he would enjoy a favorite wake-me-up tea of mine, Queen Mary's Irish Breakfast.

For the Valentine who loves Napoleonic-era adventure on the high seas...

Forget Master and Commander and the other Patrick O'Brien, wannabe Forester books. Horatio Hornblower is where it's at. If you want to read the books in chronological order, according to Hornblower's age in them, start with this one, where our favorite seaman is but 17.
"Hellish cold" said Preston. "The devil of a morning to turn out. Nelson, where's that tea?"

The mess attendant came with it as Hornblower was hauling on his trousers. It maddened Hornblower that he shivered enough in the cold for the cup to clatter in the saucer as he took it. But the tea was grateful, and Hornblower drank it eagerly.

 "Give me another cup" he said, and was proud of himself that he could think about tea at that moment.

I'm guessing the British Navy couldn't afford to furnish its men with the good stuff, but perhaps by the end of Hornblower's career he could sip a cup of Earl Grey in retirement (it was named for an 1830s Prime Minister). Let's hope it was as good as Queen Mary's Earl Grey or (my daughter's favorite) Queen Mary's Creamy Earl Grey.

And, finally, for a Valentine who just wants a love story...

If you've read any of my Regency romances, set in Somerset in 1808 (not technically the Regency, but you know what I mean...), you know the Hapgood sisters and their neighbors frequently enjoy a good cup of tea, whether they are welcoming a new eligible gentleman or simply talking over the latest goings-on.

I know without a doubt that my characters would love a pot of Queen Mary's Queen's Royal Afternoon tea because I certainly drank enough of it when creating them!

So here's wishing you and yours many more years to love, and wishing the Queen Mary many more years to reign!

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Favorite Reads of 2020

Whenever the Goodreads "Best of..." voting rolls around, I'm always predictably disappointed. I don't seem to read the same books as everyone else, or certainly not the books the industry pushes the hardest. Which means some books I loved don't even get a nomination, and others which I found meh or meh-plus are semi-finalists. What the heck? And you can only vote for the nominees or else, as in the presidential election, write in a candidate on principle, knowing you are throwing away your vote.

If you suffer from this same frustration, I recommend you start a blog, so you can at least have the satisfaction of putting your choices out there and having 5-10 members of your family read about them.

Since I haven't done this for a while, may I remind my 5-10 readers that I don't at all feel bound to choose books published in 2020 because I often enjoy reading books that have been out a while and are available from the library without six-month waitlists.

So let's get to it.

Favorite "Huh--I never thought about that" Reads:

The Address Book: What Street Addresses Reveal About Identity, Race, Wealth, and Power by Deirdre Mask. My kind of nonfiction. This super-fascinating book explores the history of assigning addresses to people, and the effects it had. Mask travels the world, looking into Empress Maria Theresa having houses numbered in and out of Vienna, to street-naming as revolutionary act in Iran, to buying vanity addresses in Manhattan. She relays eye-opening research on the fate of too many Martin Luther King Jr. Avenues and investigates the difficulties of finding a job or getting emergency medical care if you don't have an address because you're homeless or live in unnumbered slums. A very worthwhile, interesting read.

The Feather Thief by Kirk Wallace Johnson. This book fascinated me. It combines natural history, fashion history, true crime, and the weird subculture of men who tie Victorian-style salmon flies using exotic feathers of endangered or extinct birds, Johnson dives into a burglary I never heard of and makes me care about it exceedingly. Be careful about giving it to any friends who weep uncontrollably over animal fates because this will likely send them into an emotional spiral. 

Favorite Book-Soon-to-Be-a-Major-Motion-Picture:

Actually, the latest movie version was supposed to be out in a couple weeks, and I fully planned on going to the theater to watch it, as a birthday present to myself (since I couldn't get anyone else in the house to read the book). Now we must wait until October 2021, but at least I got to see the trailer on the big screen, when I went to see Tenet with fifteen other brave, adventurous souls.

The Emperor of Some-Silly-Name has given the spice-drug-laden planet of Arrakis to the House of Atreides to run, but there are competing factions in play, and violence and betrayal ensue. Duke Leto's son and his mother the witch-concubine escape. Could they be the fulfillment of prophecy?

May I just say, there are not enough mother-son adventure stories? I loved that part and found myself recommending the book to other mothers of teenage sons. (I tried to hype it up to my own teenage son, but he finally said, "You're not going to tempt me with that book." So stubborn.)

Favorite Series (and latest installment)

I come to sci-fi late in life, having exhausted many favorite genres after decades of voracious reading. Apart from discovering new favorite genre classics (see Dune above), I'm also enjoying some current authors, like Martha Wells and her wonderful Murderbot series. Network Effect is the fifth(?) installment, and the first of novel length. I love the entire series, where Murderbot, a cyborg security unit who has gone rogue and possibly has a murderous past, wrestles with existential questions, relationships with humans, lots of deadly combat, and the age-old question of which TV series to binge-watch next. Funny and exciting. I made my family Zoom book club kick off with All Systems Red, the first in the series, and everyone gave it high ratings except my 17-year-old, who dinged it with a 6 out of 10. Ouch.

Favorite Sports Book, Even for Non-Athletes

This was a walloping good read, and I'm not even a runner and hate running! But this book had me out this morning running little 5-meter barefoot sprints in the dewy front-yard grass (my quarantine equivalent of a Leadville 100) and Googling all sorts of places and people. The side trips into human running physiology and evolution and hunting and shoe-design were super interesting--maybe even my favorite part. Long live the Tarahumara, and everyone else stay out of their canyon.

Favorite True (White-Collar) Crime

I couldn't put this one down. Clearly I've been under a rock because I never heard of Theranos before picking up this book. Carreyrou, a Wall Street Journal reporter, tells the story of the meteoric rise of Elizabeth Holmes and her groundbreaking company, which promised to put quick, convenient, versatile finger-prick blood testing in every Walgreens, Safeway and army base, if not in your very own home.

I was hoping for a little nostalgic visit home, like when I read the also-wonderful The Innovators, but this turned out to be quite the thriller as well. A thriller punctuated with familiar places--the Fish Market! Page Mill Road! Wilbur Hall! Fuki Sushi!

Favorite Mindbender Thriller

My first book by this author, but it won't be my last! A mind-bending, time-bending tale of a scientist who explores the nature of memory and ends up building a Destroyer of Worlds. Quite page-turning, at times. If you like physics and philosophy, you'll find this a good read, though that makes it sound heavier than it is.

I've never been much of a thriller reader, and character development isn't Recursion's strong suit, but I love a good plot, and this book has that in spades. (This was a 4-star read for me, unlike the other 5-stars in this post.)

Two Great Social-Issue Nonfictions, One Encouraging, One Discouraging

(I'll let you read them both and guess which I thought encouraging and which discouraging!)

Dreamland. This 2015 explores the parallel tracks of Purdue Pharma (and its wildly bestselling OxyContin) and a community in Xalisco, Nayarit, Mexico (and its wildly bestselling heroin), which dovetailed to create an addiction epidemic nationwide. Well-researched and compelling, Dreamland is alarming, infuriating, heartbreaking, and ultimately hopeful. I wish it could have an updated chapter on the introduction of fentanyl to the picture.

Whether you're interested in criminal justice reform or know nothing about it, Brittany Barnett tells a compelling story. Interweaving her own family story of her mother's crack addiction and subsequent prison sentence with the plights of other families in the same situation, Barnett explains how the sentencing mandates put in place by Clinton and upheld until Obama impacted low-level dealers, users, and other non-kingpins unjustly. I remember the "three strikes" law being passed in California and not being aware at all of how such a law would play out across the socioeconomic and racial spectrum. It was a different era, for sure.

 I echo what Barnett says of herself at one point, that she wishes there were more of her, so she could both practice the corporate law she loves and also save those unjustly condemned to life imprisonment. Yes--it was a shame she eventually gave up her corporate law career because of how vitally important it is to have more women and POC in the "room where it happens," both to inspire others to achieve and to share their unrepresented perspective.

Favorite Formulaic Harlequin Author

Oh, my goodness! In addition to exploring some sci-fi and fantasy, 2020 marked my first foray into Harlequin romances. My mom recommended an old-timey author named Betty Neels, so I gave her a try and ended up reading maybe five or six Betty Neels books this year. But I can safely tell you that, once you've read one Betty Neels book, you've read them all. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing, if you're looking for a comfort read.

All Betty Neels books feature a young, capable English nurse, who is more often plain than otherwise. She falls for a tall, broad-shouldered, brusque, handsome, older Dutch doctor/surgeon, and, at some point in the story, visits the Netherlands and stays with his older female relative, worrying all the while that the hero is actually in love with some pretty Dutch girl in his social circle.

Because Betty just seemed to do Find/Replace on the characters' names as well as the Dutch town visited in each book, and to flip a weighted coin as to whether the heroine would be plain or not, I wonder if I wasn't the only reader to enjoy most the first Betty Neels I picked up, because it was all fresh, that time around. In my case, that first book was Cassandra by Chance, and I really did enjoy it. In this case the capable young nurse meets the Dutch doctor while he's on medical leave for blindness(!) on some Scottish island. A very sweet story. And how pleasant to read romances that don't have the requisite five pornographic scenes! These books can be recommended to family members without a blush. (Caveat: my 21-year-old daughter did not find it as charming as I did. Nor did she go on to read five more variations, as I did. I guess one generation's comfort read is another one's cringe-inducer?)

Favorite Book That Did Make the Goodreads List

A page-turning family story that also manages to be about race, identity, yearning, brokenness, connection, and America. I appreciated the roundness and complexity of all the characters--when one identical twin abandons her sister to pass as white, Bennett digs into what motivates each woman and what that costs. What it costs themselves and their own daughters.

 Recently I read Charles Yu's Interior Chinatown, one half-comic theme of which was that the story of race in America is mostly framed as black and white, or black versus white. All other races get the bit parts, the roles of extras in the exciting police drama. It's certainly the case in The Vanishing Half, and I even grinned when a black family moves into the white neighborhood, and the black husband earns his living playing a black cop on TV. But Bennett recognizes that feeling split down the middle, or feeling rootless, or feeling alienated from even large parts of yourself, is not limited to the black experience. Stella Vignes is not the only one going to great lengths to deny and forget who she was born as. There is also Reece, a transgendered young man who binds himself and injects himself with street steroids. Both characters are treated with sympathy by their creator, but the high price of their choices is never overlooked.

I hear HBO is adapting it, though I have no idea how they can ever cast it, and there weren't a lot of topless scenes, which is kind of HBO's bread and butter. Do yourself a favor and read the book, which is sure to be much better. The only drawback of giving it as a gift is that they're probably already sure to have read it.

 And finally...

Favorite Historical Regency Romance Series I Wrote

Cheating here, since this is actually the only Regency Romance series I've written. I'm still waiting on the official reviewers, but here are some emails readers have sent me:

"LOVED the Naturalist!!  Very well written & loved it.  Characters were great & couldn’t put it down."

"Loved the book. Didn’t grade papers for three days since I couldn’t put it down."

"Christina--I finished your book last night at 1am...I really enjoyed it."

Have a happy holiday season, 2020-style! The best thing about running out of shows to watch is that there are so, so many wonderful books to read.

Friday, October 30, 2020


 Yesterday, while on a walk with my youngest, I ran into a woman who asked if I was still writing. When I said yes, and that my book was coming out this Friday, she said, "That's great! Who's promoting it?"

Good question. Just like I discovered I can get parenting short-timer's disease (ask my youngest how much I've helped with school, college apps, or getting a hold of her counselor this year), I've also found I can get Marketing Short-Timer's Disease. Meaning, it's hard to motivate. I answered her, " one. Not even me."

Fortunately, these arrived in the mail an hour later:

Yes, paperback and Kindle versions are now available. And professional reviews will be forthcoming (late December and early spring--because I waited too long to ask!!!), but I hope you will read in the meantime. Click here (I hope) to go to the Amazon page.

We're all sick of the present, right? Come join Hugh and the other Hapgoods and my Rosemary in 1808, if you need a mental getaway.

We'll see if I whomp up more enthusiasm for an online thing, but this is my marketing burst for now.  :)

Friday, October 16, 2020

Paperback Version of SCHOOL FOR LOVE is In Process!

 So more of you are clinging to your paperback books than I thought. If you're among those paper-philes, you'll be happy to hear that my wrangling with Amazon's print-on-demand is nearly complete, and I will indeed be putting out a paper version of School for Love!

This latest book is a little longer than A Very Plain Young Man and therefore a little thicker. Check out the full cover:

(I do apologize for the image quality. I took a screenshot of a pdf, with predictable results.)

For some reason, since Amazon does not link the release of the paperback to the release of the Kindle version, the paperback may actually be available sooner! Who knows.

I'm on my final edit and thought fit to re-read the first two books in the series. Sharp readers may note that Margaret Hapgood has dark hair in an earlier book and ash blonde by School for Love. And that little Hetty Hapgood gets spelled as both "Hettie" and "Hetty" in A Very Plain Young Man. Hopeless. And then I spelled "curtsy" without the "e" in the first two books and therefore had to remove the "e" in School for Love. How can my spelling even change, in six years???

But those seem to be the biggest clangers. Readers of romances shouldn't be nitpickers, right? You're just there to get lost in a pleasant story, after all.

Still looking at a November 5, 2020, release. Austenesque Reviews has kindly agreed to review it in the spring, and I hope other reviews will be forthcoming.

Monday, October 5, 2020

School for Love now available for pre-order!

Hip hip hooray! School for Love, the third in my Regency romance series The Hapgoods of Bramleigh, is now available for pre-order on Amazon!

Had enough of 2020? Need a little escapism? Then this is the book for you. If any of you read the second book in the series A Very Plain Young Man, you'll remember that Hugh Hapgood, the widowed cousin of the squire, proposes to Elfie but (spoiler) loses out to Frederick. Not many of you readers spared any pity for the rejected Hugh (one reader even made a face when I said the third in the series would feature him), but I hope he can win you over when we get to dive deeper into his story.

I've chosen November 5 as my release date for three reasons:

  1. The draft is complete, but I need a little more time do to a final revision.

  2. In a normal year, my husband and I would do a "Literary Night" at our church the first Friday in November. COVID took care of that tradition, so instead I'm releasing a book.

  3. November 5 will be my 26th wedding anniversary, so what better day to launch a romance?

My favoritest cover designer in the whole world Kathy Campbell has come up with another winner and was able, even after the six-year hiatus, to channel that Hapgoods of Bramleigh vibe she came up with the first two times around. Don't you agree?

Okay, now for a little FAQ:

Q: Do I have to have read The Naturalist and A Very Plain Young Man first?

A: Nah. This isn't Harry Potter. You can jump in at any point. Though there is plenty of overlap between books of characters and even timelines, they stand alone fine. (Or you could use the month ahead of you to read the first two in the series!)

Q: Why is it only available to pre-order on Kindle right now? 

A: Because it's easiest and cheapest, and I don't have a publishing house behind me! Kathy made me a paperback cover, and I may tackle a paperback version when I have more time, but that time is not now. And, while I'd have to charge you $11.99 for a paperback, because they're so much more expensive to produce, a Kindle version can be $5.99.

Q: What if I don't have a Kindle?

A: You can read on your phone or computer or tablet--anywhere you can download the Kindle app. OR, you could buy yourself a Kindle for like $50 or less on Amazon Prime Day (Oct 13-14 this year). I love my Kindle and keep it in my purse so I always have dozens of books to read, and, in these COVID days, it's nice to download books from the library for free with no hassle. We are a five-Kindle family, actually, so bonafide, card-carrying members of the Evil Empire. 

Q: What is a pre-order?

A: You pay now, and, on the release date, the book automatically downloads to you. 

Q: Will there be a launch party or a reading?

A: Sigh. No Regency dancing and negus for us this time around (see "2020"). But I may do an online reading or giant Zoom book club (we could all "attend" with our best Regency hairstyles, like Rosemary's on the cover), with questions submitted in the chat. And I would always be happy to Zoom in for your book club. 

Thanks for reading and sticking with me on this journey. I so appreciate it and all your encouragement. One more time: click here to pre-order!

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Back from the Dead

What can I say? Raising teenagers and going back to work took it out of me, and I didn't write for quite some time. But now, with two in "college" (that is, studying remotely) and a job that is now homebound (thanks, COVID), I found myself inspired again. Heck--if Stephenie Meyer can put out Midnight Sun fifteen years after Twilight, what's a six-year wait?

I've got two works in progress: the next installment of the Hapgoods of Bramleigh series, School for Love, and another contemporary novel, with the working title of Andrea.

I'm hoping to finish School for Love and get out a Kindle edition before the end of this benighted year 2020. This installment picks up right before where A Very Plain Young Man left off. We circle back to the squire's cousin Hugh and family and see what happens to them after Elfie chooses her own adventure. Funny thing is, I was a few chapters into writing Andrea when I decided to re-read The Naturalist and A Very Plain Young Man. Diving back into that world was such fun that I shoved Andrea to the side and went back to revisit the early chapters of School for Love that I'd drafted back in 2015.

Stay tuned. Oh--and maybe get yourself a Kindle or other e-reader. What with COVID and all, I don't think I'm up to a print edition this go-round, and I'm guessing book launch parties will be out for a while...

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Favorite Reads of 2018

The lovely thing about doing a "favorite reads of 20__" post is that you're only expected to post once per year. Though I could see this slipping to "favorite reads of the past decade," given enough time.

[Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash]

If you're going book-shopping for loved ones and don't want to give them just the latest bestseller, this list is for you because (1) I never seem to have read the latest bestsellers; and (2) you never know if your recipients have already read the latest bestsellers.

I do apologize that I don't have any YA this year. I did read some YA, but they were all ones you've heard of (or else I didn't like them). But a couple of the books would be appropriate for teenage readers, if only because you aren't assaulted by constant sex scenes. I also apologize for odd formatting and font changes in this post. Odd things happen when you cut and paste in Blogger, things that aren't worth fussing about and fixing.


Kindred by Octavia E. Butler mysteriously gets classified sometimes as sci-fi because Butler went on to write typically sci-fi sci-fi, but this is really fiction with some time travel. And, because it takes place in both the 1970s and pre-Civil-War, it's more like historical fiction. The African-American protagonist is connected mystically in time to one of her white(!), slave-owning(!) forbears and keeps getting sucked back to his time, with heavy consequences to herself.

If you or your loved one prefer dress-up historical fiction, with Colin-Firth-like gentlemen and nice costumes, this is not the book to buy. But if you like an unputdownable story with complex characters and gray situations and a heavy dose of reality, don't miss this one.

And now for something completely different. A girl's beloved uncle dies of AIDS, back when no one was certain how AIDS was contracted, and plenty of fear and stigma was attached. She deals with grief, love, sibling warfare, distant parents, and that painful transition to wisdom. I loved this book. Some readers were freaked out by the absent parents, but, being a latch-key kid myself, let's just say it was way easier to have an exciting life back when all the adults weren't helicoptering around.

Okay, I know I said I wouldn't include bestsellers, and this one was a bestseller, but it wasn't like every book club in America took this one on. Madeline Miller loves her Homer. The Song of Achilles made me attempt (unsuccessfully) to read The Iliad, and now her Circe made me at least consider for half an hour re-reading The Odyssey. A beautiful, lyrical read.


Confession: not my favorite genre. But I did really enjoy this one this year:

This meta-mystery was brilliant and fun. In the frame story, an editor gets the latest manuscript from the agency's star mystery writer and spends the weekend reading it. Along with her, we get sucked into an Agatha-Christie-esque story about a couple murders in a country village and the many suspects who all had motives. Just when you've forgotten the frame story, back it comes, and thereafter the frame and the novel-within-a-novel begin to dovetail. I was totally sucked in and enjoyed every minute.

I was sorry to discover that this same author had written spy novels for middle-grade boys because, if I suggested them now to my 17YO, he would just roll his eyes, but I bet he would have loved them years ago.


Supposing you're looking for something lighter. These were fun.

Super fun read about a childhood arranged marriage gone sideways and a Bollywood-director younger brother who dispatches himself to clean up the mess. It was half-madcap, half-somewhat-serious (some child abuse and abandonment), with a dash of immigrant loneliness and a couple sex scenes, one kinda cheesy. I really enjoyed the freshness of the opening setting in India and its contrast with Yspilanti, Michigan, of all places. And the Bollywood stuff was pure froth. The definition of a beach read.

Then there was this one from Eva Ibbotson, which sometimes gets classified as YA because, I suppose, the one sex scene isn't full of technical detail. (Am I the only one who likes the subtlety of a fade-out, rather than the author going to the thesaurus for new ways to say "his manhood" and such?) Anywho, this one is set before and during WWII, and involves a British naturalist professor rescuing an Austrian somewhat-Jewish girl through a marriage of convenience. The romance is there, but so is a host of wonderful and sometimes hilarious supporting characters. Eva Ibbotson is always good for a few snorts of laughter and plenty of smiles as you read. And I encouraged my fifteen-year-old daughter to read it, since we'd both loved Ibbotson's middle-grade Journey to the River Sea.


For those who love history of science and/or history of technology, this is a fascinating one by Simon Winchester:
I originally read it to see if my son would like it. He never got around to reading it, but I loved it. How did the perfecting of precision change the world? Winchester traces the history of precision engineering from the rise of the industrial age to the present, from the inside of a cannon to outer space. You'll want a Seiko watch and a Rolls-Royce after you read this book.

For history buffs, give this one a go:
I really enjoyed and learned from this fascinating and global and surprisingly amusing history of the physical walls we humans have built over the millenia, right up to the present time. First there were nomads and barbarians to keep out, lest they rape and pillage repeatedly, as they were wont to do. (The Mongols get a long treatment, deservedly. ) Then there were ideological walls between political systems. And now we build them worldwide to keep out folks we don't want. They may not rape and pillage anymore, but they do often drain the social services or increase threats of terrorism in some countries. I had no idea of all the walls that have gone up along borders all around the world! Clinton, the Bushes, Obama, and Trump were actually late to the wall-building party, with the American border wall, though they've ALL built and maintained it.

And then there was this well-written, page-turning read about deep-sea divers who visit shipwrecks and one day get the coordinates of a WWII German U-boat that no seems able to account for. Not only were the diving perils thrilling, but also the gradual solving of the mystery and piecing together of history. It even contains a satisfying bromance!

(If you want to avoid spoilers, don't look at the photos until the end because they give away almost every plot twist.)


Two clear winners this year:

A truly excellent book. Well-told, well-researched, comprehensive, and satisfying. I've read several books about the Indianapolis (all of them wonderful, really) and its sinking by torpedo at the end of the war, after which the survivors drifted in the ocean for four days before anyone happened upon them. But I'd forgotten or never known that the ship and crew had just finished delivering The Bombs that brought about the Japanese surrender, and I didn't know either about the nice occupatio of how the man who captained a navy sub, named for the Indianapolis, helped bring about the exoneration of Captain McVay. The ending passages, about the shipwreck's discovery, were perfect.

And, if shipwreck isn't your thing, I also loved

This was a good one for mountaineering-disaster fans. It was great to read one that talked about the ethnic groups in Nepal, Tibet, and Pakistan, and the impact of all those comparatively wealthy western climbers who feel the need to climb the world's tallest mountains.


If you love books that you worry/hope you'll never finish, and you've already read Doris Kearns Goodwin's and David McCullough's history books, Lin-Manuel Miranda wasn't the only one who loves Ron Chernow biographies. The latest, about Ulysses S. Grant, is no exception to Chernow's thorough excellence.

Through Appomattox this was hard for this Civil-War buff to put down, and even after the end of the war I learned tons about Grant's presidencies and Reconstruction, having had no idea of his battle against the KKK and the southern Democrats who murdered and terrorized blacks to keep them from the polls. Grant certainly deserves this revival of interest in him for his work toward peace and civil rights.

If your loved one prefers lighter fare and sunbonnets, how about

A well-researched must-read for LIW fans, which is just about every girl on earth. When the author covers the years also covered in the books, there isn't a lot to learn, but the books are so beloved that you hardly mind. Actually, for hardcore fans, a LOT is familiar, except for discovering Rose was even more of a hot mess than you'd ever imagined. I wish there were some illustrations, but these are quibbles. Though I've only ever visited Plum Creek, Walnut Grove, and the outside of one of Rose's places in SF, I was happy to learn LIW eventually got to see and go other places I've been. The family ends sadly, and saddest of all is how LIW didn't see Ma before she died or even at all, the decades (!) after Pa died.


Just one for ya, but it sure was thrilling, if you like biology.

A lot has changed since I took AP Biology in 1985-6! Back then it was classic Darwin and prokaryotes and eukaryotes, and the reason some bacteria were antibiotic-resistant was because they were descended from the few survivors with some random mutation that gave them resistance. ALL WRONG. ALL CHANGED.

This book was absolutely fascinating (if you like history of science) and biology and thinking about how we come to be where we are, biologically speaking. If you've never heard of molecular phylogeny or horizontal gene transfer, as I hadn't, the book provides clear and compelling explanations. I did ask my 17YO son if he'd been taught these things last year in his own AP Bio class, and I'm happy to report he was. Knowledge marches onward, though author Quammen is very clear that science is a messy, egotistical business, as are all endeavors involving human beings.

And there you have it. The best of 2018 in a nutshell. Hope you find something in this list for your own to-read pile or for someone else!