What to Read Next (No. 277): Life-Affirming Reads
Featuring a few light-hearted reads that'll have you reaching for more of life.
Happy Friday, readers!
While traveling last week, I got a good reminder about how powerful it is to read a story set in the place you’re visiting. Stephen Rowley’s The Guncle helped me appreciate the unique charms of Southern California and reinforced the notion that making an effort to find locally-set books is a great way to get to know an area on a deeper level.
I also really appreciated Rowley’s uplifting tone and message, which reminded me of another book in that vein that I hadn’t yet shared in the newsletter. Travis Baldree’s Legends & Lattes perhaps looks and sounds a little too fluffy but is actually up for a major sci-fi/fantasy award this weekend.
Let’s jump in and take a deeper look at both of these endearing, heart-warming books.
The Guncle by Stephen Rowley
When planning my travel reading a couple of weeks ago, Jane suggested The Guncle. It not only fits into the light-hearted, life-affirming territory that I like to lean into on vacation but it’s also set in Palm Springs, California — where I happened to be spending seven sunny days and nights, split between work and vacation.
In an interview with Melissa Joulwan a few months ago, we discussed the value and importance of a strong sense of place. It’s even more potent when you’re in that locale for the first time.
There’s nothing like an engaging novel to help you understand a place. As much as The Guncle is a story about an uncle learning how to recapture a bit of purpose, it’s also very much about Palm Springs. The story wouldn’t be the same in a different setting, and Rowley’s luminous descriptions brought the city alive. I felt like I was getting to know its culture, tourist traps, unique delights, and general vibe through the written word — as I was also experiencing those things in person.
That said, the story is just as enjoyable, even if you’ve never been to Palm Springs. I didn’t know anything about the plot before cracking it open, and you don’t need to either. (If you can’t help it, here’s the Goodreads link.)
Here was my experience, in a nutshell: it had more depth than I expected, I cared about the characters a lot, Crowley made me chuckle numerous times, and I loved the dual emphasis on independence and family life. Ultimately, the growth, humanity, love, and purpose found in these pages were a delight from page one.
Look for Rowley’s next book, The Celebrants, which comes out in just a few weeks.
Legends & Lattes by Travis Baldree
A middle-aged orc has had enough fighting for a lifetime. Viv is putting her sword away and opening a coffee shop in a cozy little village. As the new gal in town, not only does she have to convince folks to drink coffee (an unheard-of beverage), but she’ll also have to quickly make friends in order to fend off the local contingent of assholes and ne’er-do-wells.
You might think this type of “cozy” book isn’t necessarily a high-quality read, but there’s a reason Baldree’s debut was shortlisted for a 2023 Nebula Award — given to the best sci-fi and fantasy books — in the “Best Novel” category.
I gotta be honest: this wasn’t a book that I was very excited to start. A low-stakes story is one thing, but combining it with fantasy didn’t seem like my cup of tea. Once I got into it, though, I had a hard time putting the book down. Baldree gave just enough background and authenticity to get me invested quickly. Plus, in a genre often bloated with hundreds of pages of world-building, its sub-300 page count was a breath of fresh air.
There’s a lot of brewing, baking, community, and friendship to be found within the delightful pages of Legends & Lattes. Even if it doesn’t seem like this book is up your alley, it’s worth giving a shot if you’re into heart-warming stories featuring easy-to-root-for characters.
Book #2 in the series, Bookshops & Bonedust, comes out this November.
That’s it for me this week. Thanks so much for reading! I deeply appreciate the time and inbox space.
I have seen Legends and Lattes appearing and popping up literally everywhere, time to put it on the list! Love to see such a variety of stories, especially from men reading actual fiction! Hurrah! One silly cliche going away at a time!
I've been thinking a lot about a sense of place recently. It's led me to dig back into Wendell Berry. I like the idea of reading locally, too. I think my library has a section for local authors. Wonder if there are books set here in that section as well?
Thanks for the recommendations.