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Season's Readings 

Local authors offer great last-minute gift buys.

So you're still scrambling to polish off that gift-buying list? Well, get down to Reader's Oasis already and support your local authors, who have presented us with a grab-bag of good books this year.

Charles Bowden, king of local authors, gave us two books in 2002. Blues for Cannibals, released last spring (and excerpted in TW in July), tackled sex crimes, the death penalty, suicide and the ghosts of the Native Americans who settled this land long ago. The New York Times Book Review calls Bowden "a thrillingly good writer whose grandness of vision is only heightened by the bleak originality of his voice." Blues for Cannibals is now available in paperback.

Just last month, Bowden's Down by the River hit bookstores. Subtitled Drugs, Money, Murder and Family, the book examines the multi-billion-dollar illegal drug industry and how it tears at the relationship between the U.S. and Mexico on the global level and individual families on the personal level.

Best-selling author Barbara Kingsolver released a new book of essays, Small Wonder, that Publishers Weekly called "a visit from a cherished old friend. Conversation ranges from what Kingsolver ate on a trip to Japan to wonder over a news story about a she-bear who suckled a lost child to how it feels to be an American idealist living in a post-September 11 world."

It's not cheery Christmas reading, but Nancy Mairs brings her deep insights to the dark subject of mortality in A Troubled Guest: Life and Death Stories. "In clear, unaffected prose that quickly establishes--along with her candor--an intimacy with the reader, Mairs begins by explaining her feelings toward her own impending death," said Kirkus Reviews. "Not self-help by any stretch, but it will be of interest to anyone recently touched by death."

Novelist Lydia Millet wrote My Happy Life, the strange tale of a woman locked away in an insane asylum who looks back on a twisted life that began with her abandonment at birth. "Millet's shocking yet poetic tale of survival in a cruel world, enlightenment, and transcendence will rock readers to their very core," says Booklist.

Mark Jude Poirier delivered a new collection of short tales, Unsung Heroes of American Industry: Stories, which center on people in odd lines of work such as worm farming. "Like David Sedaris, Poirier is a sharp, funny writer who has plenty to say about the lurid, tabloid side of modern American life, and while most of his characters are rather limited he never lets his curious story lines drift into excess or affectation," says Publishers Weekly. "Readers who like to explore the stranger aspects of human behavior will find plenty of material here."

There's plenty for the mystery lover on your list as well. J.A. Jance brings her two crime franchises together with Partner in Crime, which has sparks flying when Seattle detective J.P. Beaumont travels to Bisbee to team up with Cochise County Sheriff Joanna Brady to solve a murder. Fans of either series are in for a treat.

Former Tucsonan Pete Hautman has set his latest comic crime caper right here in the Old Pueblo. Doohickey (excerpted in TW last month) is the story of Nick Fashon, who sees his apparel store go up in flames just after his grandpa dies, leaving him with the patent for a kitchen tool that a lot of strange characters want to get their hands on. Hautman's gift for characterization and screwball plot twists makes for delightful reading.

Sinclair Browning continued her mystery series starring part-time P.I. Trade Ellis with Crack Shot. This time, Trade has to track down a runaway teen who has escaped from juvenile detention before some sinister types catch up with him. The Weekly's former automatic-weapons editor, Emil Franzi, declares that "Browning keeps getting better at inventing great situations characters to surround part-Apache, dirty-shirt cowgirl rancher Ellis."

Browning has also written Feathers Touch My Heart: True Stories of Mothers Touching Their Daughters' Lives After Death, a non-fiction collection of accounts from women who believe their mothers have reached out to them from beyond the grave.

Demetria Martinez collects 53 of her poems in The Devil's Workshop, exploring love, politics and other poetic notions.

If you're looking for some local history, check out John Bret-Harte's Tucson: Portrait of a Desert Pueblo, which tracks Tucson's past from the building of the Spanish missions to the current challenges faced by our rapidly expanding metropolis.

More by Jim Nintzel

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