In which there is extended conversation about a favorite thing


Funder recently posted a list of Science Fiction books (with her charming snarky commentary) on her blog, and I was pleased to see that I'd read most...but that there were some books that she loves that I haven't read yet. 

If there is anything so delightful as discovering a great new book by a favorite author, or a brand new book by a delightful author, I'm not sure what it could be.

Yes, I am horsaii.  But I am also literataii!  And, I suspect, many of my readers are both also. 

Here, then, are some of the books that Sky and I talked about while we sat at the campfire during our recent adventure.  They are pretty much in alphabetical order, but not quite.  I'm organized but not compulsively so.

Blackout and All Clear, by Connie Willis
audiobook read by Katherine Kellgren

Possibly one of the most engrossing books that I've encountered in recent years, this is the story of a group of Oxford historians living in the year 2060 who travel back in time to WWII to study varioius aspects of the war years. 

However, when their mission time is over, the historians discover that something has gone terribly wrong, and they are--for reasons unknown--unable to return to 2060.

Connie Willis originally wrote Blackout  and All Clear as a single book, nearly 2,000 pages long.  Her publisher, however, couldn't bind such a gigantic tome, and so the story was split neatly into two parts...which means that on the last page of Blackout, the bombs are falling on the main characters, and they are still falling on the first page of All Clear.  Be sure to have both books in hand when you begin reading if you aren't good at suspense.

The audiobook is brilliantly read by Katy Kellgren, who also narrated my all-time favorite audio series, the Bloody Jack nautical adventures written by L.A. Meyer.  I suspect she will pick up a bunch of awards for the Willis books at the end of this year, because every minute of it was fabulous.

Can't Wait to Get To Heaven  by Fannie Flagg
audiobook read by Cassandra Campbell
Elderly-but-not-infirm Elner Shimfissel (do you love the name??!!) falls down dead from her fig tree early one morning...and that gets all the adventuring started.  This is typical Fannie Flagg narration:  the ordinary lives of crazy quirky characters.  If you liked Fried Green Tomatoes (the book, not the movie), try this. 
Committed : a skeptic makes peace with marriage  by Elizabeth Gilbert
sequel to the bestseller Eat, Pray, Love
Sky recommended this book because it has an outstanding chapter lauding the necessity of aunties.  As an experienced auntie myself--responsible not only for spoiling my brother's daughters, but also the offspring of friends, as well as spoiling some young friends who are not yet fully-grown--I think that aunties are often undervalued.  Apparently, Elizabeth Gilbert values aunties quite a lot, and I'm looking forward to reading her book.
Garlic and Sapphires : the secret life of a critic in disguise  by Ruth Reichl
Sky recommended this also; considering that we try not to cook a lot of crazy, complicated food in camp (I personally would live on peanut butter and banana sandwiches for weeks at a time if I were camping alone), we certainly talk a lot about food and cooking.
Fall of Giants  by Ken Follett
audiobook read by John Lee
The lives of  Russian aristocrats, British nobility, Welsh miners, American diplomats and morescattered across the globe, intertwine as Europe lurches slowly towards World War I.  John Lee narrates the accents and vocabulary adriotly as the story immerses the reader in events and politics and loves and losses.  I was immersed in the story for a week as I listened to the audiobook during my daily commute; I mourned the last page because Mr Follett hasn't finished writing the sequel yet.

The Graveyard Book  by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Dave McKean
audiobook read by the author
Gaiman's imaginative re-casting of Kipling's Jungle Book stories--in this case, the child Mowgli is "Nobody Owens" who is raised, not by wolves in the jungle but by the dead in the graveyard.  Sounds creepy?  But it isn't.  It's lovely.  Neil Gaiman has such a fabulous voice that he could read me the phone book and I would listen, but it's even better that he's reading a terrific story like this.
Oh, and the illustrations
are wonderful too.  

Horse Tradin'  by Ben K. Green
Ben Green's collection of stories from the "olden days" of traveling the land and swapping horses is unparalleled fun.  Sometimes Ben gets the best part of his horse trading deals...but mostly, he learns the hard way that he doesn't know everything about horses.  Originally published in 1967, this book is still available on, and I'm going to have to buy myself a copy of it, because the stories will re-read as well as they read the first time.  Highly recommended for horse folks and for people who just like a bunch of really good stories. 
The Oregon Desert  by E.R. Jackman and R.A. Long
Natural science with cowboy humor and scholarly prose and casual meanderings.  Sky was thrilled, thrilled, THRILLED to participate in an endurance ride last month that went right through some of the landmarks described in The Oregon Desert.   She said that the ride managers hadn't mentioned that they would be riding right by the "hole in the ground"....perhaps the ride managers haven't read the book.  But I intend to read it--maybe they can borrow it from me when I'm done.
Sing Them Home  by Stephanie Kallos
I will probably meet Stephanie Kallos in a few weeks--we are both scheduled to appear at Northwest BookFest (I'm on an "author panel" at the festival, she is an AUTHOR in capital letters).  I haven't read Sing Them Home yet, but if it's as good as Broken For You then I will be happy.
Stardust  by Neil Gaiman
It's a book!  It's a graphic novel!  It's a movie!  and's an audiobook, read by the author.  I just love this story.  I also love that Neil Gaiman wrote a chapter about a flying pirate ship just so that Charles Vess (who illustrated the graphic novel) would draw one for him.   CV is one of my fave illustrators
...even when you can tell by the picture that the Unicorn is not necessarily going to win this particular fight for the crown.

The Wee Free Men  by Terry Pratchett
audiobook read by Stephen Briggs
Sky doesn't necessarily know about this one, because I started listening to the audiobook on my drive home from camp.  It is hilarious.   I can't always read Pratchett's books...I think Commander Vimes is usually pretty boring...but the audiobooks seem to bring out the best part of his crackpot humor, and The Wee Free Men is even more crackpot than usual.  If you took The Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy, crossed it with "Monty Python's Flying Circus" and let it ferment in a very large vat of Special Sheep Liniment for about three years, you would have the degree of lunacy that is The Wee Free Men.  I love it.

So, readers:  if you came to my campfire, what books would you want to tell me about?  I'm always hunting for something new and wonderful.


  1. Thanks for the great read suggestions - there are several here that I am adding to my 'must get' list. I'm an audio-book fan, too, so great to hear which ones are well read.
    I highly recommend 'Mao's Last Dancer', by Li Cunxin (the book, not the movie). I'm not big into autobiographies, but this one captured me from the very beginning and held me fast until the end. Another book to make my "OMG that was a good read!" list is 'Still Alice' by Lisa Genova - skillfully written, poignant, somewhat disturbing (at least for older adults like me, whose memory sometimes falters), sometimes funny. One of the best books I've read in the past ten years.

  2. Oooh, fun! I haven't read any of these, except the Gaimans and the other time-traveling historian books. I guess I read them in Ohio - I had no idea that she'd come out with two more.

    A recommendation: Glen Cook. Garrett PI reminds me just a bit of Dresden - starts off as a typical film-noir PI but develops some depth and characters as the series continues. And you might like The Black Company but they're definitely not as easy to read.

  3. Oooh! More books to add to my list...

    I'm almost out of reading material, so your list and Funder's comes at a good time.

    I don't have any recommendations - my reads lately have been pretty mainstream and most people have heard of them, I'm sure.

  4. If you like Ben Green (and PS, there is a sequel, "More Horse Tradin'), you'll really like this:

    I'm an audiobook person too, and this was my summer of nonfiction. So, if you get a chance, I highly recommend The Murder of the Century by Paul Collins and In the Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel Philbrick. Oh, and anything by Sarah Vowell!

  5. I am LOVING the Willis books - the audio books - based on your recommendation. The narration is absolute fabulous.

  6. Aarene - I am getting to your horse and gun post - Mel

  7. I am in AWE of the Ken Follet series. Complex, engaging, incredible detail. I finished the last book, put it down, wanted to cry, and thought "someone WROTE this!"

    Strange, I know. I'm looking forward to reading some unfamiliar titles (and thank you!).

    Although I read this, and I rarely read books twice, I have not been able to let this move off my nightstand: Anthropology of an American Girl: A Novel, by Hilary Thayer Hamann.
    In.Cred.I.Ble. Whole book is written like good poetry. Sans any kind of pretention. Amazing book.

    Love to know what you think of it, should you read it!

  8. Ken Follett - I was having trouble with his Pillars of the Earth book when someone recommended that I just ignore the overly tedious descriptions of the cathedrals (which, sadly, did not interest me at all), as they did nothing to further the plot.

    I felt a little sacrilegious doing it, but it magically turned it into one of the best books ever.

    The Deed of Paksenarrion - I think I've reread it upwards of forty times. It's quietly brilliant - kind of like her (Elizabeth Moon)'s other book - The Speed of Dark.

  9. Some of my favorites & some I've not read! I did so much "reading" using books on tapes all the years I commuted - but can't say I "miss" it! One of my favorites was Winston Churchill's 1914 Trip to Africa! Thought it would be boring, but turned out to be amazing! Funny how you'll listen to something that you might not pick up & read~


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