Book marks 

Our reviewers rate 2010's best reads

The first half of James Lee Burke's The Glass Rainbow is more familiar with its modern noir-esque prose, its straight-talk dialogue and an array of characters who have the kind of human depravity that makes the rest of us ache. In its second half, however, a reflective tone that haunted the earlier pages takes center stage. Gripping and tautly written throughout, Burke shows himself at his zenith in the novel's magnetic and captivating conclusion: a startling tableaux where James Lee Burke, the hardboiled crime fiction writer, and James Lee Burke, the poet and sage, meet for a memorable conclusion that haunts the reader for days afterward. (AO)

Unlike Canty's previous work, Everything offers a kind of redemption, and a real hope for comfort and love. It features a panoply of voices and the rich prose of thought. It's not just the three main characters—RL, June and Layla—but everyone who passes through the story, including one memorable chapter told from the point of view of Dorris MacKintyre, a sheepherder from Ovando dying in his daughter's spare room, watching squirrels play on the wire outside his window. All of this combines to create something refreshing in comparison with the work of the literary stars of Missoula's past. (JS)

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Compiled and edited by Montana poets Melissa Kwasny and M.L. Smoker, I Go to the Ruined Place is about as heavy and heartbreaking a collection of poems as you are likely to find. There is pain and dread herein, but somewhere amid the bruised dignity of the oppressed who limp through these pages, a slightly clouded, tiny fragment of hope sputters audibly beneath every line. (MP)

In Frances McCue's The Car That Brought You Here Still Runs, the poet and founding director of the Seattle-based Richard Hugo House goes on a road trip. Part travelogue and part literary discussion, this engaging and meditative book, which takes its title from Hugo's poem "Degrees of Gray in Philipsburg," rediscovers the Northwest towns Hugo captured in poems over the course of his 30-year career. More than a reflective journey, McCue's book is also a deeply engaging discussion, a rediscovery even, of a poet whose presence looms over the American West. (AO)

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Josh Wagner's Deadwind Sea pays homage to ancient storytelling in a playful and mischievous fantasy of a poor, bumbling sheepherder who journeys to the edge of the world to find and retrieve the spirit of his true love to revive her from a coma she suddenly slipped into. Throughout the novel, Wagner nests stories within each other, akin to Arabian Nights. The narrative voice contains a kind of joyous humor, ready at any moment to boil over onto the page. And it's a playful and inventive story. (JS)

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If The Brave teaches us anything, it is that our heroes are fallible beings who deserve compassion (some more than others) or, at the very least, a more scrutinizing eye. It is in these alternating chapters where Nick Evans' storytelling shines brightest. Despite covering more than 50 years, the narrative never seems to lose track of itself, its frame never weighed down by unnecessary subplots. At the risk of overplaying a metaphor, one might compare Evans to an expert wrangler in his capacity to manage so many threads. (AO)

In Missoula, a reconnection to the food system has taken place over the past decade. Local author Jeremy N. Smith's Growing a Garden City offers poignant stories about that evolution with 15 diverse profiles of Missoula residents who have changed and been changed by the local food movement, including first graders, college students, troubled teens, single mothers and a homeless-shelter chef. While the focus is squarely on Missoula, Smith provides an apt resource for any city looking for a meaningful food model, and offers a powerful read about just how unifying community gardens can be. (EF)

You can almost read Five Decades as the story of a photographic era that's good and gone. But you would be misreading the story. Five Decades is the vicarious view of National Geographic photographer and part-time Missoula resident Bill Allard, who was lucky enough to intersect with a golden age, and who had vision enough to help define it. The hefty body of photographic work and expansive text component is especially satisfying. He weaves a compelling and apparently candid narrative about his personal and professional life among his best photos. (BT)

At age 73, and with more than 36 books under his belt, Jim Harrison ranks among our most prolific authors. The Farmer's Daughter follows the stories of three characters who appear dramatically different from one another. Adumbrated within these pages is the image of Harrison himself, or at least the Author Harrison we've come to know. Some 40 years since his first book, this one illustrates an author who's essentially the same man he's always been—except now he's a master. (AO)

Reviews by Azita Osanloo, Jay Stevens, Brad Tyer, Michael Peck and Erika Fredrickson.

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