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The Gift of a Good Book

Books make the best gifts. They’re easy to wrap. Travel well. Ship cheaply. And best of all for Lexingtonians, you can shop local from an amazing list of new books written by authors who live just down the street or are published by presses located here in Kentucky.

This year’s local book list is particularly fine, with several nominated for prestigious awards or recommended by NPR, O, the Oprah Magazine, Southern Living, Refinery29, Good Reads, and Town & Country.

Here’s a quick shopping list filled with local books with lots of buzz. There are many others, too. Stop by your local bookstore for more suggestions.

The Carrying by Ada Limón (Milkweed Editions)

Lexington resident Ada Limón is the author of five poetry collections, most recently The Carrying, named a best book of 2018 by NPR and Publishers Weekly. In its starred review, Publishers Weekly wrote that “Limón demonstrates her aptitude for making readers attend to the world in ways they likely never imagined. This is an emotionally versatile collection in which the struggles and joys of the body, the oddities and wonders of nature, and the pains and pleasures of the social coalesce with verve.”  Limón’s 2015 collection Bright Dead Things was named a finalist for the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award and was named one of the Top Ten Poetry Books of 2015 by The New York Times.

Southernmost by Silas House (Algonquin Books)

Silas House’s latest novel travels from the familiar territory of Appalachia to the beaches of Key West on a journey that reshapes a preacher’s beliefs in love and faith. In the aftermath of a flood that washes away much of a small Tennessee town, evangelical preacher Asher Sharp offers shelter to two gay men. In doing so, he starts to see his life anew and risks losing everything including his wife, his congregation, and his young son, Justin, caught in the middle of what becomes a bitter custody battle. The timely and powerful story portrays each character with complexity and empathy. Southernmost has been named a Best Book of 2018 by Southern Living and Garden & Gun, longlisted for the Carnegie Medal, and shortlisted for the Weatherford Award.

Whiskey & Ribbons by Leesa Cross-Smith (Hub City Press)

Set in contemporary Louisville, Leesa Cross-Smith’s mesmerizing first novel about the death of a police officer is a requiem for marriage, friendship and family. Evi—a classically-trained ballerina—was nine months pregnant when her husband Eamon was killed in the line of duty on a summer morning. Eamon’s adopted brother Dalton moves in to help her raise six-month-old Noah. Whiskey & Ribbons was named A Best Book of Summer by O Magazine. Cross-Smith lives in Louisville.

The Gift of Color: Henry Lawrence Faulkner – Paintings, Poems, and Writings by John Stephen Hockensmith (Fine Art Editions Press)

This beautiful book tells the story of Lexington’s legendary Henry Faulkner, an artist, poet, designer, animal lover and style icon who was a familiar face in the Gratz Park area. John Stephen Hockensmith has produced a coffee table-style book that is visually rich and substantial in content, sure to please the art collectors and local history buffs on your list.

Patchwork: A Bobbie Ann Mason Reader by Bobbie Ann Mason (University Press of Kentucky)

Patchwork collects outstanding examples of Mason’s award-winning work from throughout her writing career and provides a unique look at the development of one of the country’s finest writers. Patchwork contains short stories first published in The New Yorker and other magazines; chapters from Mason’s acclaimed novels, including In Country, An Atomic Romance, and The Girl in the Blue Beret; excerpts from her eclectic nonfiction; and her recent explorations in flash fiction. Mason grew up in Mayfield, Kentucky, and lives near Lexington.

Weedeater: An Illustrated Novel by Robert Gipe (Ohio University Press)

Weedeater picks up six years after the end of Robert Gipe’s award-winning first novel, Trampoline, and continues the story of the people of Canard County, Kentucky, as they live through the last hurrah of the coal industry and battle widespread opioid abuse. Gipe combines humor, honesty, and dignity in his portrayal of life in eastern Kentucky. He lives in Harlan. 

The Mentelles: Mary Todd Lincoln, Henry Clay, and the Immigrant Family Who Educated Antebellum Kentucky by Randolph Paul Runyon (University Press of Kentucky)

The cultured Parisian couple Augustus and Charlotte Mentelle may have felt displaced in their adopted hometown of Lexington, a settlement that was still a frontier town when they arrived in 1798. Through the years, they often reinvented themselves out of necessity, but their most famous venture was Mentelle’s for Young Ladies, a school that attracted students from around the region and greatly influenced its most well-known pupil, Mary Todd Lincoln.

Hope Never Dies: An Obama Biden Mystery by Andrew Shaffer (Penguin Random House)

Former President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden team up in this high-stakes thriller that’s part bromance and part escapist fantasy for those who need a break from reality. Shaffer is a New York Times-bestselling author who lives in Lexington.

Elkhorn: Evolution of a Kentucky Landscape by Richard Taylor (University Press of Kentucky)

Flowing across four counties in central Kentucky, Elkhorn Creek is the second largest tributary of the Kentucky River and has been a touchstone for Richard Taylor, a former Kentucky poet laureate and English professor at Transylvania University. A beautiful blend of creative storytelling and historical exploration of a beloved waterway, Elkhorn celebrates a gem in the heart of central Kentucky.

Visible Empire by Hannah Pittard (Houghton Mifflin)

On a humid summer day, phones in Atlanta begin to ring after a Boeing 707 bringing home more than 100 of the city’s most prominent citizens from a European jaunt crashed in Paris shortly after takeoff. Overnight, the city of Atlanta changes. Left behind are children, spouses, lovers, and friends faced with renegotiating their lives. Visible Empire is Pittard’s fourth novel and was a New York Times Book Review New & Noteworthy Selection. The author lives in Lexington where she directs the University of Kentucky MFA in Creative Writing Program.

Forty Minutes to Glory: Inside the Kentucky Wildcats’ 1978 Championship Season by Doug Brunk (University Press of Kentucky)

For the sports fan on your shopping list, give the untold story of Joe B., Goose, Robey, Macy, and the rest of the legendary 1978 NCAA championship team. You know, the ones who beat Duke.

The Leper Dreams of Snow by Sean Corbin (Finishing Line Press)

This book is a double-double with a local author and local publisher. Sean Corbin, a graduate of the first class of the new MFA in Creative Writing program at the University of Kentucky, has a new poetry chapbook, The Leper Dreams of Snow, published this year by Finishing Line Press.

Taking Shergar: Thoroughbred Racing’s Most Famous Cold Case by Milton C. Toby (University Press of Kentucky)

On a cold and foggy night in 1983, a group of armed thieves crept onto Ballymany Stud in County Kildare, Ireland, to steal Shergar, one of the thoroughbred industry’s most renowned stallions. They demanded a hefty ransom, which was never paid, and the horse was never found. This true story reads more like a mystery novel. Milton C. Toby is an award-winning author, journalist, and attorney.

In Praise of The Useless Life: A Monk’s Memoir by Paul Quenon, O.C.S.O. (Ave Maria Press)

The humble peace, routine and simplicity of monastic life, as well as its counter-cultural wisdom, come alive in stories told by Br. Paul Quenon, who has lived more than five decades as a Trappist monk at the Abbey of Gethsemani. As a novice, his teacher was Thomas Merton. His chapter about receiving word of Merton’s accidental death in Asia is particularly compelling.

Mend: Poems by Kwoya Fagin Maples (University Press of Kentucky)

J. Marion Sims is celebrated as the father of modern gynecology and a memorial at his birthplace honors “his service to suffering women, empress and slave alike.” These tributes whitewash the fact that Sims achieved his surgical breakthroughs by experimenting on eleven enslaved African American women. Lent to Sims by their owners, these women were forced to undergo operations without their consent. In Mend: Poems, Kwoya Fagin Maples gives voice to the enslaved women and challenges the lies.

The Supernormal Sleuthing Service #2: The Sphinx’s Secret by Gwenda Bond and Christopher Rowe (HarperCollins)

For middle-grade readers on your list, check out this sequel to The Lost Legacy, the first book in the Supernatural Sleuthing Service series by Lexington writing spouses Bond and Rowe. The mystery is based around the lions in front of the New York Public Library which are actually sphinxes that guard a secret treasure trove of magical objects.

Klondike, Do Not Eat Those Cupcakes! by Amanda Driscoll (Penguin Random House)

For 3-5-year-olds on your list, look for this picture book by Kentucky author and illustrator Amanda Driscoll in which a hungry seal attempts the impossible task of waiting until his sister’s party to eat a delicious birthday cupcake. Her previous books include Duncan the Story Dragon and Wally Does Not Want A Haircut.

Jayne Moore Waldrop is a Lexington writer, attorney and literary arts liaison at the Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning. Her poetry chapbook, Retracing My Steps, will be released in March 2019 from Finishing Line Press.