It’s the winter weekend getaway of my dreams: Lake Quinault in the rainy season. Quiet, atmospheric and moody. Step outside and you can almost feel the moss growing. It’s the perfect setting to curl up with a good book. I asked some of our local independent booksellers what they would recommend I tuck into my overnight bag for just such an occasion — something both well written and engaging — to while away the hours in front of a warm and cozy fireplace.
At Santoro’s Books in the Phinney Ridge neighborhood, Gretchen recommends In the Woods by Tana French, which she describes as “a compelling psychological mystery with a touch of film noir and a large dose of intimate first-person revelations.” Reminiscent of the best of Barbara Vine, it’s a deftly written debut novel with a complex story line that reaches into the past but doesn’t supply easy answers to the present. “I couldn’t put it down.”
The owner, Carol Santoro, recently enjoyed Brief Encounters with Che Guevara, a collection of stories by Ben Fountain. The author has set his tales in some of the world’s most impoverished and crime-ridden countries: Haiti, Sierra Leone, Colombia and Myanmar, where his protagonists face various moral challenges — sometimes meeting with disastrous, but often humorous results. For example, in “Near-Extinct Birds of the Central Cordillera,” a graduate student studying birds in Colombia is taken hostage by revolutionaries. He is sympathetic to their cause, but when their goals are corrupted by big business, his objections lead to an ironic and darkly amusing conclusion. As Carol puts it, “the stories are so substantial and satisfying, they often seem more like novellas.”
The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield was another Santoro’s staff recommendation (from Marla V.). It tells the story of a recluse who has spent the past six decades penning a series of alternate lives for herself. Now old and ailing, Vida is ready to reveal the truth about her extraordinary existence and the violent and tragic past she has kept secret for so long. Calling on Margaret Lea, a young biographer troubled by her own painful history, Vida disinters the life she meant to bury for good. Margaret is mesmerized by the author’s tale of gothic strangeness featuring family madness, wild twin sisters, faithful servants, ghosts, murder and a devastating fire. Together, Margaret and Vida confront the ghosts that have haunted them while becoming, finally, transformed by the truth themselves. “It is a great read for a dark and stormy winter’s night.”
When talking with Casey from Elliott Bay Book Company, the book that came to his mind was The Well and the Mine by Gin Phillips. Although published by Hawthorne Press, a small independent press located in Portland, its author is southern and the story takes place in Alabama in the 1930s. It starts out in a small coal-mining town where nine-year-old Tess Moore watches a woman push the cover off the family well and toss in a baby without a word. For the Moore family, focused on helping anyone in need during the Great Depression, this apparent murder forces them to face the darker side of their community and question the motivations of family and friends. For parents in that day and age, it was a time when a better life for their children meant sacrificing health and time and saving every penny they could. For a miner, returning home after work was a possibility, not a certainty. However, next to daily thoughts of death, exhausting work and race were “the lingering pleasures of sweet tea, feather beds and lightning bugs yet to be caught.”
University Bookstore on The Ave and in six other Puget Sound locations is sizable enough to forget it’s an independent, and with its size comes a tremendous selection in all categories of books. It’s also where Stesha recommends The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. “You must, absolutely must, read this charming book!” The novel starts out at the beginning of 1946, when London is beginning to recover from the war, and reporter Juliet Ashton receives an unexpected letter from a farmer on Guernsey (an island located between France and England). The title of the novel comes from the name of a book club created by some of the islanders to give them an excuse to be out after curfew during the island’s wartime occupation by Germany. She soon begins a correspondence with members of the book club and hears tales of both their misery and bravery. “You will laugh out loud at the foibles of London-based reporter Juliet Ashton, but be moved by the stories of the German occupation of Guernsey, and its impact on the residents there. I loved this book so much that I stayed up all night to finish reading it, and felt that I had made a new group of friends in the characters.”
Although it’s a little hard to summarize, Meg found Hunting and Gathering to be “unputdownable.” It’s the second novel from best-selling French author Anna Gavalda, whose interesting, quirky characters and Parisian setting make for an absorbing read.
Queen Anne Books, with its attached café, doubles in the evening as a great place to meet up with book-reading friends for a glass of wine. It is located at the top of the hill on Queen Anne Avenue. There, owner Patti recommends A Country Called Home by Kim Barnes. The novel is set in Fife, Idaho during the 1960s, where Thomas Deracotte, a physician, has brought his young pregnant wife to begin a new and unfettered life. He purchases a farm, sight unseen, and is surprised at how decrepit the place is, but is happy to move into a tent by the river until a new house can be built. His wife, Helen, is content to go along. Raised in a wealthy, privileged household, she has always sought something different although she’s never been quite sure what that is. The third character we come to know is Manny, who has lived his life in Fife; he knows the people and the ways of farm life and Thomas hires him to help with whatever needs to be done. Manny soon becomes invaluable and the stage is set for something big to happen. “I love it when poets decide to write novels. Their ability to manipulate language only enhances the reader’s experience. Highly recommended!”
At Fremont Place Books (in Fremont!), Henry suggests Edward Trencom’s Nose by Giles Milton. Edward comes from a long line of cheese sellers with very sensitive noses for cheese, a trait that seems to have led previous generations into trouble. Edward and his nose must now find a way out of trouble. “This is a fun, delightful book that combines family drama, intrigue, eccentric characters and cheese.”
Alma, at the Secret Garden Bookstore in Ballard, found The Hummingbird’s Daughter by Luis Alberto Urrea to be “Breathtaking. Beautiful. Transporting. The kind of story that gets under your fingernails, in between your teeth and into your blood.” The novel is based on Urrea’s real-life great aunt Teresita, who was said to have healing powers and was acclaimed as a saint. He grew up hearing family stories of her magical powers, and he weaves those tales of miracles and passion, along with a carefully researched account of guerrilla resistance during the revolutionary-era Mexico in the late 19th century, into an epic that is both “deep and absorbing.”
And finally, it would be hard to ignore the current media sensation of the Twilight series by author Stephenie Meyer. Kristen, owner of South Lake Union’s first bookstore, Inner Chapters Bookstore and Café, can’t help recommending them. She has found that the books, ostensibly written for young adults, have many fans who are decades older than their intended audience. The series is set in Forks, Wash., so the massive fireplace in nearby Lake Quinault’s main lodge seems a natural place to settle in with a dark and brooding romance.
So many books, so little time, so many choices! What’s a reader to do? Thoughtful staff recommendations like these are just one reason to shop local indie bookstores. When you shop at an independently owned business, our entire community benefits: Spend $100 at a local and $68 of that stays in our community. Spend the same at a national chain and our community only sees $43. More independents means more choice, more diversity and a truly unique community.
Nothing beats a quick conversation with a local independent bookseller; they’re guaranteed to be passionate about helping you find a book you’ll love. All you need then is an overstuffed armchair to settle into so you can read away the hours as a steady rain falls outside. ?
SOME FAVORITE SEATTLE INDIE BOOKSTORES
The Elliott Bay Book Company
Fremont Place Book Co.
Inner Chapters Bookstore & Café
Queen Anne Books
Secret Garden Books
University Book Store
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