The calendar marches on and winter is a-coming in. So it’s time to settle down with a good book — or two — as the snow flies and the winds howl.

Here are some recommendations for winter reads from independent booksellers along Lake Michigan’s coast.

Forever Books

St. Joseph

Forever Books, known for its customer service and knowledgeable staff, opened in 1999. Owner Robin Allen is a former history teacher turned entrepreneur. She says the store’s motto is “We sell books the old-fashioned way … we read them!” When it opened (on April Fool’s Day), Forever Books was a children’s bookstore. Now, it carries 60% adult books and 40% children’s books.

For children ages 9 to 12, Allen recommends J.K. Rowling’s The Ickabog, a book that originated years ago with Rowling’s bedtime stories for her children. “The book is about a hapless king being controlled by power-hungry underlings,” Allen said. “There’s the Ickabog, a fire-breathing monster some believe is a myth, the king, two kids and a series of mishaps, lies and deceits. It’s like a folk tale, really well done and kids from the U.S. and Canada submitted drawings that were used to illustrate the book.”

Allen recommends Premedicated Myrtle by Elizabeth C. Bunce for 10- to 13-year-olds. “This is the first in a smart mystery series about Myrtle, the daughter of a lawyer, who is an amateur detective,” Allen said. “It has a very sophisticated vocabulary.”

One of Allen’s recommendations for adults is The Cold Millions, a novel by Jess Walter set in Washington state in the early 20th century. “The book is about two brothers and union battles,” Allen said. “There’s espionage, and I love the way he develops the characters.”

Agent Sonya: Moscow’s Most Daring Wartime Spy by Ben Macintyre is about a housewife and mother living in Great Britain who was a Russian spy during World War II and the Cold War. “No one had any idea she was a spy,” Allen said. “She was the woman responsible for getting the plans for the atomic bomb to the Russians. It’s a fascinating story and well written.”

Staff members at Forever Books recommend The Devil and the Dark Water by Stuart Turton. This mystery is set in 1600s aboard a ship on long voyage from Batavia to Amsterdam. There’s a demon, a murder and some humor. A Wild Winter Swan, a novel by Gregory Maguire, author of Wicked, is another staff favorite. Maguire transforms Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Wild Swan” into an Italian-American girl’s coming-of-age story, set at Christmas in 1960s New York.

The Book Nook & Java Shop

Montague

The Book Nook & Java Shop has served as a gathering place for friends since 2002.

Andrew H. Kuharevicz from The Book Nook & Java Shop recommends three non-fiction books.

The first is Why Fish Don’t Exist by Lulu Miller. “This is my personal favorite book of 2020,” Kuhareviczsaid. “Why Fish Don’t Exist is part biography and exploration of science. Going back and forth in time, eras, personal histories and societal changes, Lulu Miller writes with clarity and honesty, switching between her life and her investigation into the life of David Star Jordan, a young ichthyologist (the study of fish) who later on becomes the president of Stanford University. Why Fish Don’t Exist is a rabbit’s hole of a book, but one worth your time, more than any other book I can think of this year, it’s fun to read.”

Kuharevicz also recommends Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art by James Nestor. “Basically, a book about breathing.” Kuharevicz said. “Something most of us take for granted. It’s a very accessible book that has an addicting narrative behind it. So, after having some health problems, such as high blood pressure, the author dives into what it means to breathe properly, and how over the years we’ve fallen away from the most instinctual of human traits, breathing through our nose and not with our mouths. Nestor takes part in many scientific experiments to show how breathing correctly can change our lives more than you’d think. That’s what this book can do for those who choose to read it. Which isn’t common but it’s true, this book will change your life.”

Credit: The Book Nook & Java Shop

The King of Confidence by Miles Harvey is Andrew’s final recommendation. “It’s a story that ends up in Michigan at a place called Beaver Island. During the wild American post-Civil War era, a young man who is failing at just about all aspects of adult life, uses his charm and natural ability of manipulation, to get people to go along with him. His name is James Strang, a man who ends up becoming a king controlling a fourth of the state of Michigan. It’s a far-out story that reads like something Mark Twain would have created, but it’s our history. Which is stranger than fiction.”

McLean & Eakin

Petoskey

Credit: McLean & Eakin

McLean & Eakin is a two-story store set in Petoskey’s Historic Gaslight District. In addition to books for adults and kids, the store sells games, cards and calendars.

Matt from McLean & Eakin also recommended The King of Confidence by Miles Harvey:

“Delusional thoughts abound, racial tension is tearing the country apart, liars and cheats are everywhere you look,” Matt said. “No; I am not talking about our current American landscape, I’m talking about America in the 1840s. Much like today, the mid-1800s in America was fertile ground for the ‘confidence man’ or the ‘con man,’ and James Strang was an excellent example. He started his ‘career’ in New York, and after burning many bridges through bad business dealings he found himself heading westward, into the embrace of Joseph Smith and his Mormon followers in Nauvoo, Illinois. When Smith is murdered and his followers run out of town, Strang chooses not to follow Brigham Young in moving the Mormon flock westward, eventually to Utah. Instead, Strang chose to lead a group north, ultimately to Beaver Island, Michigan, and that’s where things got really weird. The following years found James Strang joining the Michigan Senate, becoming a pirate, and declaring himself a king. 

“Like every good con, Strang too was inspiring, and he had redeeming elements. He was progressive, allowing women to hold priesthood offices, and not only welcoming African Americans into his church, but also ordaining at least two to the eldership. 

“The story of Strang and his followers on Beaver Island is a fascinating tale that has been wonderfully re-examined by Miles Harvey. Harvey gives us both a wider view of the world that gave rise to a man like Strang while also diving deeper and shining light onto parts of this story that had been long overlooked. Read this NOW!”

Zach recommends The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue, a book of fiction by V.E. Schwab:

“Addie LaRue is a farmer from a poor family in 1714 France,” Zach said. “All she wants to do is get out of the only small town she has ever known. She goes to sleep at night thinking about what the world might look like beyond the farm. When her father arranges a marriage with the son of a local wealthy family, she knows that she is destined to be stuck forever. She prays and prays that something will happen to free her from the clutches of normal life, and one night, the devil answers her prayers. The cost of being free is immortality, but she can never leave a mark on the world, and people only remember her for as long as they can see her. The story takes place in 1714 France where Addie must learn how to navigate a world where no one remembers her, and 2018 New York, where she has finally found a way to free herself from the devil’s grasp. But at what cost?

“I am telling you about this book now, so you can prepare yourself for one of the most amazing reads of the year. Pre-order it, save it in your phone, put a sticky note on the fridge, whatever it takes to remember. This is a book I will be talking about for a very, very long time. Addie LaRue deserves to be remembered.”

Jessilynn recommends a children’s middle reader, The Wild Path by Sarah Baughman, a northern Michigan author:

“Love, love, love, love, love,” she said. “This is the perfect ‘serious girl book’ for ages 9 and up. Give this to anyone who loved Song for A Whale or Solving for M. Claire is 12 years old, she loves her horses only second to her family, and she’s struggling to understand her older brother’s recent admission to a drug treatment facility. Her day-to-day interactions weave between reality, dreams and even historical information about where she lives. Be prepared: the child you give this to will disappear and you will not see him or her again until it’s over. Perfect for a snowy afternoon read.”

Jessilynn also recommends a children’s picture book, Kamala and Maya’s Big Idea by Meena Harris.

“A beautiful, empowering picture book about two sisters who work with their community to effect change, inspired by a true story from the childhood of the author’s aunt, Kamala Harris, and mother, lawyer and policy expert, Maya Harris,” Jessilynn said. “This comes from Balzer and Bray publishing.”

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