In Need Of Something New

In anticipation of an upcoming flight, I decided to load my Kindle with new books to read. After spending the past three hours scrolling, I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t know how to narrow searches.

First off, I want free, or under five dollars. If I’m going to spend more than that on an author I don’t know yet, I want a real book. I don’t understand high Kindle prices when there is so little cost to produce one. No printing, no distribution. You pay for the brand, not the content, with those higher prices. But if you type in ‘free Kindle books’ you get thousands to scroll through.

Then, on top of cheap, I want quality. But if you narrow the search to three stars and above, it still leaves thousands, including thousands that have a four-star review of one.

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And finally, I want books with strong settings. I want settings that provide conflict and depth for the characters. Settings that are so well written they become characters. I don’t necessarily mean settings like the wilderness where a character is pitted against rock falls and snow storms. It could be a city if it’s written strongly enough. Though I do prefer nature.

Books I’ve read that fit this, that come immediately to mind, are those like Ellie Griffith’s The Crossing Places. Eowyn Ivey’s The Snow Child. Mary Emerick’s The Geography of Water, which I absolutely loved. The non-fiction Coming Into the Country by John McPhee.

Then there are those series I loved that the authors seem to have walked away from as it’s been so long since anything new came out. PJ Parrish’s Louis Kincaid series. Jonathan King’s Max Freeman series. Sarah Stewart Taylor’s Sweeney series.

As a huge reader, I could spend the rest of the night listing books.

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The problem is, if I go to Kindle books, type in ‘fiction with strong settings’ I get lists of innocent Amish girls thrust into the world, or lusty lairds in highlands. Did I mention that while I have nothing against romance, I don’t personally read much in the genre? Oh, I used to. The gothics so popular in the 1970s – Victoria Holt and Mary Stewart and Barbara Michaels. But not so much now.

Maybe, looking over this post, my problem isn’t how to narrow searches. Maybe I’m too picky. Either way, it’s getting late and I have to get up early. So I’m walking away from Amazon and wandering over here. Any favorite books to share? Any favorite authors? And if you don’t mind, please share why you like those books. I’d love a long list of new reading material.

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Mary Emerick Review

You know that feeling when you open a new book and know right away you’re going to love it? And then you’re faced with the difficult decision to either sip or swallow in one long gulp? Such is The Geography of Water by Mary Emerick.

The opening lines immediately sucked me in by showing two characters with questions that I had to read further to answer. The beginning did just what a beginning should do – hook the reader and make you want to turn a page.

‘When my father left on his hunting trips, my mother and I would come out of our hiding places. We would scamper like mice through the empty lodge, throwing open the windows to erase the smell of men. We would fill up the damp air with our own voices, losing little pieces of our hearts with doomed Janis Joplin, the volume turned up past ten. We would surrender like drowning to afternoon sleep in beds that were not our own. We would eat, finally, sitting down like normal people, peaches sliding down our throats, each swallow almost too sweet to bear. We would stretch ourselves big in a world that usually forced us to be small.’

The book is set along the southern coast of Alaska in a bay called Never Summer, and the author brings the setting so alive that the rain, ocean, trees, the sense of place, become a character as vital to the story as the living beings. I’ve only found one other author, Ellie Griffiths, who so brought a place alive for me.

There’s a bit of mystery in the book, but don’t limit it by labeling it a mystery. You can read the book jacket to find out what it’s about and this isn’t a review that gives away the whole plot. Basically there is a young girl on the cusp of woman, in a wild and unforgiving land with an abusive father and a mother who weaves stories as if from the air they breathe.

What made the book hold me was the lyrical writing, the sense of place as I’ve mentioned, the water that so influences everything, from ocean to rain, from streams to mist, from fog to the moisture breathed out by trees in their ancient self-contained eco-systems.

The author also pays close attention to detail. For example, near the beginning she talks about cormorants and how the birds dive deep in the ocean then must wait to dry off before they can dive again. You read it as description and nothing more until later in the book when one sentence draws a powerful parallel to Winnie (the young girl) and where she is.

All of the characters are strongly developed, believable, and flawed. Not all questions will be answered, but life isn’t so neatly tied up either.

Mary Emerick does an amazing job putting words together, creating this song of place.

‘We looked out toward the ocean. Whitecaps marched in a solid line, rollers fighting the flood time. Out there it was what we called a confused sea, waves colliding from all four directions. I knew what that felt like because I felt it too, love and hate mixed up in a ball, rolling around loose inside my skin.’

Here she is speaking of two old men, Isaiah and Birdman, Vietnam vets who found safe harbor in Alaska, and who give her safe harbor. ‘They blended into the country in a way my father never had. For the first time I realized that I could slip inside the skin of a place without tearing it open.’

Wonderful book and now I wish I’d sipped instead of swallowing whole, in one rainy-afternoon sitting.