You’re Counting Down ‘Till You See Your Cousins
Are off to a bookstore this weekend or need to chat with the kiddos
Happy (almost) Thanksgiving! It’s one of my favorite holidays. This year, I’m spending it with my parents and some family friends — a big improvement over last year when my roommate and I sheltered in our apartment with Chinese food. I’m in charge of a pie (I’ll be making this mocha buttercrunch pie that my mom and I just refer to as “The Slate Pie”) and green bean casserole.
I said it last week, but it’s worth repeating: I’m thankful for all of you. What started as a pandemic project has turned into a real source of joy for me.
Thanks to everyone who joined Friday’s “What to Gift If” open thread! I hope I was able to help solve some gift giving troubles for you. If you missed it, feel free to comment on it now and I’ll respond, or reply to this email. If you’re interested in having open threads again in the future — whether about gift giving or another bookish topic — let me know in the comments.
And now, what to read if ….
You’re Excited to See Your Cousins at Thanksgiving Dinner
Unfortunately, I’m not having Thanksgiving dinner with my cousins this year, but I’m counting down the days until I see them all at Christmas. I’m lucky enough to consider my cousins friends, as well as family. The Inheritance of Orquídea Divina* is a mystical celebration of families — and cousins, in particular.
The book opens with members of the Montoya family, spread across the U.S., receiving invitations from the family matriarch, Orquídea Divina, for her own funeral. The notes, delivered by birds, tell her children and grandchildren to “come and collect your inheritance.” Orquídea has never left her home and always kept her past a secret. Her family arrives hoping to get answers to questions that have plagued them for generations, but instead their matriarch transforms without providing explanations. Seven years after her death, a mysterious figure begins to kill the Montoyas and three cousins, Marimar, Rey, and Tatinelly, team up to uncover their family’s roots and protect Orquídea’s bloodline.
This novel is one of my favorite books of 2021 and is perfect for fans of Alice Hoffman, Isabel Allende or the TV show “Jane The Virgin.” While all the Montoyas are fully-drawn characters, I really loved the relationship between Marimar and Rey. They’re cousins who know each other so well, they can have conversations without speaking and know how to get under each other’s skin in just a few words. This Thanksgiving, read The Inheritance of Orquídea Divina and then call, or Facetime, your cousins.
Want to receive book recommendations straight to your inbox each week? Subscribe for free here.
You’re Planning Your Small Business Saturday Book Binge
Independent bookstores nationwide are hosting special “Small Business Saturday” events and sales to kick off the holiday shopping season in earnest. Small Business Saturday, held between Black Friday and Cyber Monday, launched in 2010 as a way to remind people to support small, local businesses in addition to retail giants when shopping for gifts. Consider this my gentle holiday season nudge to support independent bookstores (see why here). And remember you can support an indie and homeless D.C. families by buying a book for New Endeavors for Women here (I’ll match donations up to $100).
Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore is equal parts love letter to bookstores and literary quest — complete with ciphers and secret codes. Set in the Great Recession, the book follows Clay Jannon, a laid-off tech worker now underemployed on the night shift at a mysterious bookstore. The few customers the store has never purchase books, instead borrowing them, as though at a library. When Clay and his friends use their tech know-how to uncover a pattern in the customers’ behavior, they unwittingly discover a 500-year-old secret.
Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore is, unsurprisingly, a lovely book for book lovers. Sloan’s passion for books, bookstores and writers shines through on every page. And amidst the literary mystery, it contains smart commentary about the role of physical books and stores in an era of e-books and online retailers.
You’re Sitting at the Kid’s Table
If there is one thing that all kids and almost all adults share a fascination with, it’s dinosaurs. Nearly every child goes through a phase when they’re fascinated with the giant, ancient reptiles. If you’re spending the holiday weekend with some kids, Paige Williams’ The Dinosaur Artist will give you all sorts of nuggets to entertain and impress them.
Williams, a National Magazine Award Winner, reports the real-life case of Eric Prokopi, a Floridian accused of smuggling dinosaur bones from Mongolia’s Gobi desert, one of the world’s most fossil-rich areas. While recounting Prokopi’s story, the author documents the history of fossil collecting, the politics of Mongolia (Dominion voting machines make a cameo) and where our fascination with dinosaurs comes from. The dinosaur and fossil worlds are filled with interesting, quirky characters who jump off the page.
The Dinosaur Artist is perfect for fans of Susan Orlean’s The Orchid Thief or Kirk Johnson’s The Feather Thief. Williams deftly weaves together contemporary and historical narratives, showing how decisions made one hundred years ago play out today. If its 450-page length scares you off, know that about a quarter of that is end notes — the sign of an impeccably reported book.
Reminder rec: If you want to read the kiddos something — or have them read something to you — some of my favorite children’s book are Ryan Higgins’s Mother Bruce and Penelope Rex, Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey and Gaia Cornwell’s Jabari Jumps.
That’s it for me! Have a great Thanksgiving! And don’t forget to purchase a book for New Endeavors For Women here!
What to Read If is a free weekly book recommendation newsletter. Need a rec? Want to gush about a book? Reply to this email, leave a comment or find me on Twitter @elizabethheld.
If you’re reading this on Substack or were forwarded this email, and you’d like to subscribe, click the button below.
Disclosure: I am an affiliate of Bookshop.org and I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.