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Local NC Writer And Bookseller Suggest 6 Great Books

Life after Life Book Jacket

Looking for last minute gift ideas, or a really good read during the holiday break? Here are six ideas from two local "book guys": Jamie Fiocco, general manager of Chapel Hill's Flyleaf Books and Samuel Montgomery-Blinn, publisher of Bull Spec Speculative Fiction Magazine.

1. Life After Life by Jill McCorkle

From the knowing grandmother in the novel “Tending to Virginia” to the failing mother stressing out her daughter in the short story “Going Away Shoes,” elderly characters have always played their parts in Jill McCorkle’s small-town, intergenerational fiction. But the “manly voice” with “pipes and whistles in his sound,” as Shakespeare put it, reverberates in its own distinctive fashion in the retirement home setting of McCorkle’s new novel, where the yoga class finds “a whole roomful of old folks breathing deeply and chanting — one sounding like a sewing machine and another a squirrel.”

- Excerpt of New York Times Sunday Book Review. Full review here.

Title of the book

2. Local Souls by Allan Gurganus

Does the phrase ‘over the top’ mean anything to you, young man?” the protagonist of an Allan Gurganus novella is asked. “Mean anything?” he replies. “It’s my goddamn credo!” Back in the nineteen-seventies and eighties, when Ann Beattie and Raymond Carver were muting and minimalizing American literary fiction, Allan Gurganus began revving up his maximalist synthesizer, a Radio City-size instrument capable of thundering oompahs, tinkling grace notes, and a whole one-man band of effects in between. Despite his Iowa M.F.A., Gurganus writes novels and short stories that don’t follow the usual workshop rule to show instead of tell. Nor do they break it in any simple way. Rather, they show you and tell you and then show you some more and tell you again.

- Excerpt of New Yorker Review. Full review here.

book cover

3. 27 Views of (Series) featuring Chapel Hill, Raleigh, etc.

Lots of different writers contribute to each book. 27 of them, in fact. Authors include Randall Kenan, Jill McCorkle, Craig Nova, and Jaki Shelton Green, among others.

It's an interesting idea: to document a town in different genres by writers from a variety of backgrounds and perspectives.

Read the wonderful introduction by Daniel Wallace.

book jacket

4. The Returned by Jason Mott

There’s something to be said for reinventing the wheel, or so the publication of “The Returned,’’ the much-talked about first novel by North Carolina writer Jason Mott, would suggest. Without any sort of apocalyptic events to herald them, the dead begin to show up around the world and create an atmosphere that morphs from wonder to dismay and joy-tinged sorrow and sorrowful joy to amazement, causing disruption through many layers of society from political to military to religious as well as making for rifts in the fabric of family and personal relations.

- Excerpt of Boston Globe review. Full review is here.

book jacket

5. The Office of Mercy by Ariel Djanikian

It was no less than the master of dystopian fiction, George Orwell, who noted in a 1946 essay that "political language has to consist largely of euphemism. ... Defenseless villages are bombarded from the air ... the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets: this is called pacification." It's a scary thought, but he wasn't giving lessons on how to write pointed satire like his novel Nineteen Eighty-Four — he was describing the actual political climate of the day, when governments were using linguistic tricks in an attempt to explain away incidences of mass violence against innocent people.
As Orwell knew, the best dystopian fiction is close enough to reality to make it scarily believable, and that's why the rulers of Oceania, the country in Nineteen Eighty-Four, used euphemism to couch their horrible intentions. It's the same way in Ariel Djanikian's thrilling debut The Office of Mercy, where undesirables aren't "murdered" by the government, they're "swept" or, more chillingly, "granted mercy."

- Excerpt of review by NPR Books. Full review here.

book jacket

6. Witchbreaker by James Maxey

James Maxey‘s Dragon Apocalypse series has been a lot of fun so far — and yet every time I say that I feel remiss in focusing on the fun, and not enough on how creative these books are. Shapeshifters, incredible and bizarre powers, awesome relics, and of course mountain-sized primal dragons. The series started with Greatshadow in January — of 2012, just 11 months ago — and introduced our narrator, Stagger, briefly, before killing him. And then allowing him to continue to narrate the book, as well as the second book, Hush, which came out in late June, though it’s Infidel who gets the cover treatment on both. And now, before 2012 is even over, a third book in the series is here just in time for your holiday gift card pleasure.

- Excerpt of review on review here.

Need more ideas? Here's NPR's best books of 2013 app.

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Carol Jackson has been with WUNC since 2006. As Digital News Editor, she writes stories for, and helps reporters and hosts make digital versions of their radio stories. She is also responsible for sharing stories on social media. Previously, Carol spent eight years with WUNC's nationally syndicated show The Story with Dick Gordon, serving as Managing Editor and Interim Senior Producer.
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