December Staff Favorites

Winter Reading

Here they are, our last staff favorites for 2013. We can’t believe how this year has flown by—there were so many amazing books and so little time to read them all!

We want to take this opportunity to say thank you for spending 2013 with the Literary Duck blog writers. We obviously have some of the best and most discerning readers, and we wish you all Happy Holidays and Happy Reading. We’ll see you in 2014!


The Fountain of St. James Court or, Portrait of the Artist as an Old Woman
By: Sena Jeter Naslund

Fountain of St. James CourtAs the dual title suggests, those choosing to read The Fountain of St. James Court or, Portrait of the Artist as an Old Woman by Sena Jeter Naslund, bestselling author of Ahab’s Wife and Abundance, will receive two for one, a novel within a novel. It is a bargain at any price.  And an added bonus for me was the close connection I felt to Kathryn Callaghan, the main character, right down to her oatmeal with blueberries and walnuts breakfast.

The Fountain of St James Court at Kathryn’s condo in Old Louisville depicts Venus rising. So too, do the main characters rise above expectations of their day: Kathryn Callaghan, a writer of our times and Élisabeth Vigée-Le Brun, a survivor of the French Revolution hated for her sympathetic portraits of Marie Antoinette and the subject of Kathryn’s biography. Like a fine oil painting of the old masters, the aesthetic experience is rendered in rich details portraying past and present. It is a sensual read through the eyes of writer, painter, musician and actor, exploring the creative process as well as the nitty-gritty of relationships and life challenges and, yes, the aging process.  And because we see through the eyes of an experienced artist, like the taste of a fine aged wine, the read is truly rich and rewarding. Sip slowly and enjoy. – Machelle Kennedy


Madeleine Albright and the New American Diplomacy
By: Thomas Lippman

Madeleine AlbrightEveryone who is looking for a personal hero, look no further! This biography of former Secretary of State and representative for the United Nations allows the reader to fall in love with both Albright’s cunning policies and political maneuvers as well as the social, friendly and motherly woman herself. Lippman stuns readers with his ability to make a subject such as foreign policy into a captivating and richly human narrative. This book allows for the reader to learn not only where Albright’s strengths as a politician lay, but also where she was weak and how she circumnavigated these pitfalls. I found it to be an arresting and inspiring read and I recommend it to anyone who feels they have no idea how foreign policy works. –  Jacob


By: Veronica Roth

AllegieantThe third and final book in the Divergent series by Veronica Roth, Allegiant was not what I was expecting and I mean that in the best way possible. After reading the first two books, I thought I had a pretty good idea about how things would go. Thankfully, Veronica Roth took the story in a completely different and ultimately, I think, better direction. There’s not a lot I can say about the story without giving away what happens, so I’m going to stop here and simply tell you that if you liked the first two books, you’ll certainly enjoy this one. – Sally


Stay: A History of Suicide and the Philosophies Against It
By: Jennifer Michael Hecht

StayIt is often said that death defines the importance of life. Camus wrote that the most important decision in life is whether or not to end it. While the subject matter of Stay is morbid and grim, Hecht has written a fascinating history of how different historical periods defined “the meaning of life” as well as dealing with one of humanities’ darkest behaviors: suicide. In the end, Stay uses philosophy, literature and art to argue against suicide and to offer guidance through life’s difficult moments. An easy and fascinating read on a difficult subject – William


Friday’s Harbor
By: Diane Hammond

Friday's HarborThis sequel to Hannah’s Dream, is about Friday, an orca (killer whale). Friday’s Harbor takes place in Washington at a local zoo. Friday has been transported from Colombia to Washington to save his life and improve his well-being. What do the local activists say, media as well as the locals? Libertine, an animal “consultant” can sense what the animals are saying. Does this help Friday? Read to find out. If you were around in the late 1990’s you might know the story of Keiko from the Oregon Coast Aquarium in Newport, Oregon. This is a story based on Diane’s experiences as a spokesperson for the Free Willy Keiko Foundation. – Melissa


Someone Else’s Love Story:  a Novel
By: Joshilyn Jackson

Someone Else's Love StoryJoshilyn Jackson writes some of the best Women’s novels I know of, by combining a mastery of the required skills of a humorous and fluid writing style, putting original characters in believable and difficult situations with high emotional stakes, and throwing in plot twists that I never see coming and that keep me turning pages to see what will happen next.  Told in two points of view—a first person 21-year-old single mother (check out this first sentence: “I fell in love with William Ashe at gunpoint at a Circle K.”) and a third person male who has recently lost his wife and child and who has the body of a football hero and the mind of a scientist (“William Ashe stares at the detergent.”)—this novel combines suspense, romance and the ties of family and friendship, passion and faith, all into one delicious read. – Andy


This is Between Us
By: Kevin Sampsell

This is Between UsKevin Sampsell’s This is Between Us is a wart-and-all lifecycle of a love relationship, set in the complicated modern world of blended families and 24-hour sexual stimulation. Sampsell writes in the trademark flash fiction style that first brought the Portland author some notoriety with the memoir A Common Pornography. Short, sharp prose, like a camera flash, illuminates the memories, confessions and recollections of the narrator—referred to only as “me” and “I”: his partner always just “you.” We experience the first blush of love, the pain of monotony, and the creepy confessions of sexual peccadillos large and small. This is Between Us is not always a comfortable read, full of many TMI moments—but that’s true of love anyway, right? If you’ve ever tried to make a relationship work over time, I challenge you to not find something to relate to in This is Between Us. – William


The Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon:  The New No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency Novel
By: Alexander McCall Smith

Minor Adjustment Beauty SalonAs readers of this series well know, there can be no greater Christmas gift to find under one’s tree than the latest entry into the charming world of the Botswana of The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency.  In this one, Precious Ramotswe has taken on two puzzling cases to solve, one having to do with the rightful inheritance of a valuable farm, and the other concerning the discovery of the source of harmful rumors that are damaging the reputation of the newly opened Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon.  There are also personal issues, as is usual in this fictional world and as is true of our so-called “real” one, and the persuasive force of modern ideas pulls against the strength of traditional ways. All of these will be solved with a combination of common sense, close observation and an abundance of kindness and good will. Cuddling up with one of these books is not unlike steaming hot chocolate on a snowy (or in our case, perhaps, rainy?) December day.  This book will just make you feel a whole lot better about Winter. – Andy



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