Throw another log on the fire, fix a hot beverage, grab a new or old book and settle in for a day of reading. It’s a great way to enjoy the holidays, and it will keep cabin fever away from your door. Oh, and don’t forget the cat! L.D. Bennett photo

Laura Dean Bennett
Staff Writer

Winter is here, and it’s the perfect time to curl up with a good book. 

Here are some recommendations for spell-binding books for holiday reading and beyond: 

Cabin fever won’t have a chance with a stack of books like these on your bedside table. 

Wolf Pack
by CJ. Box

This is number 19 in the legendary murder mystery series about Wyoming game warden Joe Pickett, which has kept fans enthralled since 2001.

Like a lot of my reading addictions, I discovered the Wyoming saga at McClintic Library when I found a few Joe Pickett novels as I was perusing the stacks. 

Pickett’s got a badge, a gun, a horse, a small state-owned house and a pickup truck, all issued to him by the Wyoming Division of Wildlife. 

His modest salary keeps him worried about how to take care of his family – a beautiful wife and three young daughters – but he loves being outdoors and the autonomy that his job allows him.

What draws me back, time and again, to this series is its setting. 

The back country in the mountains of Wyoming offers a backdrop of rural culture, rugged terrain, ever- present wildlife and sometimes challenging winter weather – a lot like Pocahontas County. 

If you like stories built around a timeless wild west ethos, characters made of old-fashioned toughness, and thrillers written with realism and grit, you will love this series. 

Whet your appetite with Wolf Pack and then go back and start with the first book in the series, Open Season.

These books will keep you absorbed straight through winter and into spring. And if you spend a lot of time in your vehicle, you’ll be glad to know that they’re all available on CD and MP3.

I’m listening to one – for the third time – in my Jeep right now.

My Antonia
by Willa Cather

Switch gears with another story set in the American west. This one takes a look back to the 19th century when wagon trains were trundling across the American plains and immigrant farmers were struggling to tame a wild, flat country. 

The title character is born and raised on the Great Plains – the stoic daughter of a struggling Bohemian family.

The story gives readers an unvarnished look at the life of these pioneers – how they were at the mercy of nature – their life and livelihoods hanging on the turn of the seasons. 

The snow arrives in early December, and the family must stay indoors for months on end, wrapped in blankets, huddled by the fire.
 
Through the hardship, the hunger, illness and loss that threatens to break their spirit, the settlers persist and farm the land.

Although this novel shows us, in no uncertain terms, that the life of our pioneer ancestors was hard and unforgiving, it also gives us evidence that life renews itself, just as hope springs eternal.

This is a book of fiction, a fascinating story of a small group of immigrants, but it might as well be historical fiction, because we know the truth of the story – it is but one of the millions of stories that our ancestors lived. 

My Antonia is a tribute to the bravery of ordinary people, the resilience of the human spirit and the indefatigable character of the people who settled America. 

The 19th Christmas
by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro

This novel was #1 on the New York Times best seller list this year – and if you haven’t already – this winter will be the perfect time to read it.

As you already know, I love mysteries, thrillers and following fascinating characters through a long series of books.

This series may be a little “lightweight” for some, but I find that when there’s a lot going on – the house is full of company – and I need to just disconnect with a little “me time,” it’s sometimes a pleasure to just drop into an easy read.

Detective Lindsay Boxer, her family and friends in the San Francisco Police Department and the Women’s Murder Club are the kind of characters who make it fun to follow the clues. 

In this one, the holidays are fast approaching, and thoughts of bad guys and murder are on the back burner.

Detective Boxer and the Murder Club prepare for a quiet Christmas, but, as you probably guessed, plans change when tragedy strikes.

A dastardly criminal mastermind makes murderous headlines and threatens everyone’s safety and peace of mind. 

By hook and by crook, Boxer and the Murder Club come to the rescue, and bring the bad guy to justice just in time to let everyone get back to basking in the Christmas spirit.

Where the Crawdads Sing
by Delia Owens

My Minnehaha CEOS (Community Education Outreach Service) club keeps track of our reading and often exchanges recommendations of our favorite books. 

Last month, Rene White brought Where the Crawdads Sing to our attention, giving it a rave review.

Set in the time period between 1952 and the 1970s, this book presents a harrowing but ultimately triumphant coming of age story.

Kya Clark is gradually totally abandoned by her family, and must find a way to survive on her own in a shack in the swamp near a small town on the coast of North Carolina.

We follow Kya’s struggle in a back and forth retelling of her life, from age six to 25.

After some demoralizing run-ins with the kids of the town and a frightening experience with a truant officer, she learns how to manage in the isolation and relative safety of her ramshackle existence in the marsh and absorbs valuable lessons by observing the natural world.

Kya learns to hunt and catch fish, which she sells to shopkeepers in the town beyond the creek.

Rumors about the wild “Marsh Girl” cause the townspeople to mistrust her, but Kya isn’t the weird, feral child some say she is. 

Loneliness and longing for companionship finally drive her back to “civilization” in her teenage years, but misunderstandings and misadventures threaten to ruin her young life.  

Kya’s sensitivity, bravery and intelligence make her a memorable character, and her plight is heartbreakingly unforgettable. 

The fact that she survives so many years alone makes Kya a rare and true heroine – someone readers aren’t likely to ever forget.

Stone Mattress: Nine Wicked Tales 
by Margaret Atwood

Born in 1939, Margaret Atwood has had an amazing literary career, turning out a huge body of award-winning work which includes fiction, non-fiction, poetry and children’s books. 

Her fans know that she still writes gripping, sometimes disturbing novels, this year publishing, The Testaments, a sequel to perhaps her most famous book, a harrowing view into a dystopian future, The Handmaid’s Tale.

But for someone unfamiliar with her work or for something particularly apropos for winter reading, I suggest Atwood’s 2014 collec- tion of nine short stories, Stone Mattress: Nine Wicked Tales. 

As in many of Atwood’s other work, these stories illustrate the power of the written word.

They give us insight into the minds of those who formulate those words, as many of the subjects of the stories are writers themselves. 

Some of Atwood’s recurring themes – gender, aging, revenge and identity – are revisited here.

These well-crafted short stories have something for everyone. But they’re not for the faint of heart. 

This is serious reading for the serious reader.

Here are nine chilling tales to read while you’re inside, surrounded by a snowy landscape, but safe, warm and cheered by a roaring fire. 

If non-fiction with a distinctly masculine bent is more to your taste, or you’re looking for the perfect gift for the hunter in your life, this book is for you.

Dawn of American Deer Hunting Volume II : A Photographic Odyssey of Whitetail Hunting History
by Duncan Dobie 

This beautiful hard-cover book is the bigger and better sequel to the best-seller, Dawn of American Deer Hunting.

It’s 240 pages contain nearly 400 vintage black and white photos and a stunning color section of whitetail paintings by some of the country’s top artists.

This look at America’s deer hunting history reveals the role that white-tailed deer hunting played in the expansion of our nation.

It provided food, clothing, income and camaraderie throughout the beginnings of the American story and still does today.

The outstanding collection of photographs and historical information from the late 1800s to the mid-1900s provides an excellent overview of hunting culture.

There is also a compendium of classic rifles, stories about how hunters traveled to remote deer camps, what kind of shelters they stayed in and a vast array of fascinating hunting history from deer hunting regions across America. This is a book all hunters will treasure. 

Also featured are profiles and photos of famous hunters like Theo-dore Roosevelt, Ernest Hemingway and Annie Oakley. 

The collection of amazing full-color paintings by some of the country’s top wildlife artists is worth the price of the book itself.

Dawn of American Deer Hunting, Volume II, is available in a signed hardbound Collector’s Edition for $40 and a deluxe leather-bound, signed-and-numbered edition for $70. 

And if you want to complete the acquisition, you’ll want to get the original Dawn of American Deer Hunting, too. 

These books would be perfect for most Pocahontas County coffee tables or any flat surface at your hunting camp. 

West Virginia Authors

The Mountain State has produced many talented writers, including Pulitzer and Nobel Prize-winning author Pearl S. Buck, whose beautiful birthplace is located in Hillsboro, right here in Pocahontas County. 

By the way, her mother’s family home is open to the public and is well worth a visit, but you’ll have to wait until next spring, because it’s closed for the winter. 

Here are three West Virginians who have made names for themselves in literary circles. You won’t go wrong in putting any of their books on your reading list.

Homer Hickam

If you like West Virginia memoirs and you haven’t yet become acquainted with Homer Hickam’s autobiographical novels, it’s high time you did.

Hickam first shot to fame in 1998 with Rocket Boys, an account of his teen years which were spent building and launching rockets in his hometown, the small coal-mining community of Coalwood. 

Hickam is one of the most famous and most interesting authors to come out of West Virginia in modern times. 

A Vietnam veteran, amateur paleontologist and NASA engineer, Hickam draws upon his personal history to weave colorful stories, exciting adventures and some just plain hilarious accounts of his and his family’s life. 

From Rocket Boys, to October Sky, Carrying Albert Home and the Coalwood Way, Hickam’s many novels are infused with the down-home wit and wisdom of a talented and tenacious son of the coalfields.

This West Virginia storyteller has more than earned his place among America’s best. 

Carlene Thompson

If you like West Virginia, suspense novels and have a soft spot for dogs and cats, you need to get acquainted with Carlene Thompson’s vast body of work.

A Parkersburg native, Thompson was raised in Point Pleasant, and is an alumna of Marshall University.

She sets most of her mysteries in West Virginia, paying fitting tribute to her mountain roots. 

Thompson began her writing career rather early. 

After seeing “101 Dalmatians” at the age of nine, she wrote a novel called The Mystery of the Golden Retriever. 

A devoted animal lover, she tries to include at least one of her pets into every book, which is her way of immortalizing them.

Her first novel, Black for Remembrance, was published in 1991. She says she got the inspiration for it  while walking with her dogs in the woods. 

Since then, she’s written 16 more mysteries – any one of which should keep a West Virginian or anyone who’d like to think of themselves as one, glued to the page.

You may want to start with one of Thompson’s earlier mysteries, Share No Secrets. 

It’s set along the banks of the Ohio River, in Point Pleasant, which is home to a widow and her 14 year old daughter. Their sense of safety is horribly shattered when a family friend is found murdered in a once-elegant, now abandoned hotel.

And that’s just the beginning of the terrible mysteries that need to be solved before life can get back to anything near normal again. 

Stephen Coonts

If you like military thrillers, you’ve probably already been reading the novels by Buckhannon, West Virginia native Stephen Coonts. 

Taxi driver, policeman, West Virginia University graduate and Navy pilot who was decorated for his service during the Vietnam War, Coonts’ real-life experience prepared him well for his writing career.
 
His first novel, Flight of the Intruder, was published in September 1986 by the Naval Institute Press. 

It spent 28 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list and became an instant classic. 

A motion picture based on this novel, with the same title, came out in January 1991.

He has spun more than 50 tense stories of political intrigue and military drama set on the international stage, many of which were written as part of several different series.

If non-fiction is more to your liking, Coonts wrote an excellent memoir The Cannibal Queen: A Flight into the Heart of America, about a cross-country flight the author and his teenage son took in a 1942 Stearman biplane.

Well, there you have it. Just a few good choices for your holiday and winter reading.

Kinda makes you wish for a blizzard that would keep you homebound, doesn’t it?

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