The Kept bookjacketDuring these cold days of winter, what could be better than finding a book that takes you on a journey through the bleak days of a winter of 1897? The Kept is the perfect book to hunker down with while the wind howls and the threat of snow is upon us.

This is the story of Elspeth Howell, beginning on the day she returns home from her midwifery duties to her isolated farmstead in upstate New York and finds her husband and 5 of her children murdered. Only her 12-year-old son, Caleb, has survived. The book traces their journey to find the men who committed that horrific deed. As the journey progresses, so also do we slowly learn much of what has brought them to this point in their lives.

Scott has written a beautiful, bleak, extraordinary story. It's the kind of book that made me want to rush through my workday, wake up early in the morning, and stay up late to read. On the next blustery day, pick up The Kept and take a journey through the snow to Watersbridge, New York with James Scott.

I Never Met a Story I Didn't Like bookjacketI like my music to tell a story and that's exactly what Todd Snider’s songs do. His memoirish book, I Never Met a Story I Didn't Like: Mostly True Tall Tales is full of stories. I can listen to Todd's (he's such a down-to-earth kind of guy that I feel he'd want me to call him by his first name) music all day. And then his live shows are great not only because he plays his fabulous songs but also because he has hilarious stories to tell. In his book, he sets down some of those entertaining stories plus a whole bunch more. It's great to hear the (mostly true) stories behind his songs and how he ended up in the singer/songwriting world. You get to hear about some of the inner workings of the music business and the inner life of a fallible, creative guy.

“I thought about what I wanted, knowing that I’d probably fail to get it. And I decided that I wanted most to fail at being a singer in a band .  .  . That’s what I wanted to fail at in this life. And, oh brother, have I. Over and over again. Spectacularly.”

As a bonus, Todd's a local boy; he grew up in Beaverton and he has several songs that feature Portland prominently. He's got a great voice, and I'm not just talking about how he sings; you get a real sense of who he is as a person in his songs and his stories. Now instead of having to wait for his next show, I can read a chapter of this book, pop in one of his cds, and pretend I'm sitting in a club right next to the stage while Todd Snider performs.

Read All the Books imageI love lists! My favorite part of the end of the year is to peruse the tons of lists that everyone and their uncle puts out. I want to know the best and the worst movies of the year, or at least what the critics are saying. I might not be up on all of the latest music but I’ll still glance through the best albums of the year lists. And of course, the best books of the year. There are a million of them and I want to see ‘em all.

If you want to find all of the great online book lists in one place, check out Largehearted Boy. It’s a music blog and so much more. Every year, this blogger posts absolutely all of the online best of book lists on it. You could spend the entire year going through all of the lists that are posted there. But then it wouldn’t leave you any time to read ALL the books.

If you need a break from looking at the best of lists of 2014, take a gander at some of my favorite list-type books.

Us bookjacketMarriage is a journey; the best of them take a committed couple up to beautiful views and delightful romps at the sea. But sometimes planes are delayed and the food sucks and one person just wants to go back home. David Nicholls in his new book, Us, takes the reader on quite a ride in this marriage travelogue. Douglas Petersen, his wife, Connie, and their 17-year-old son, Albie, are about to embark on a month-long tour of European capitals. What could possibly go wrong? Well there's this, Connie has just woken her husband up to tell him she thinks their marriage “has run its course” and is thinking about leaving but no, let’s still go on this long trip to Europe together.

Nicholls takes us into a marriage - the beginnings, the middle, the roller coaster ride of it all. He makes it way more funny than our own marriages are. And he shows us the truth and the heartbreak and the hope we must hold on to in our families. It's totally worth taking a trip to Europe with the Petersen family on the pages of Us.

WPC 56BBC shows set in different eras can be so spot-on. They've produced some brilliant series that completely capture the milieu of a particular time period and do it whilst telling a really interesting story. I enjoy watching Downton Abbey for the beautiful frocks but the story of how the world of the upper class was changing after the turn of the century is the more important tale to observe. And yes, I love the fashions of the 40s and 50s so I’ll watch a lot of shows just for the look of those times, but give me a series that explores the changing roles of women and men, and I’ll binge-watch the entire thing in a couple of days.

WPC 56 is one of those shows. It’s set in the 1950s, in the West Midlands police force. Gina Dawson is the first female police officer to serve in her home town police station. At her first meeting with the chief inspector, he sternly says to her, “Never forget that your sole responsibility is to support the men so that they can get on with the job of real policing.” Unbelievable. But then again, so believable. In just a few episodes, we see how such tough issues as rape, mental illness, and race relations played out in a small town in 1950s England. Even though I wish I had a few of their party dresses, I’m glad I’m living in 2014. 

Here's a list of some of my other favorite British series that bring to life other times and places. 

 

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