Let’s see if this logic works: Father’s Day is June 15. Dad is a manly guy who has been known to crack the cover of a book or two. This column is all about books. Ergo: Any of the Western- and military-centric titles on this list of manly books would make a thoughtful Father’s Day gift. If not, let him read the Sunday funnies.
“The Last Kind Words Saloon” by Larry McMurtry (Liveright, $25, 224 pages): Ride with the legendary Wyatt Earp and Doc Holiday, from Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show to the famous gunfight at the O.K. Corral.
“D-Day: June 6, 1944: The Climactic Battle of World War II” by Stephen E. Ambrose (Simon & Schuster, $40, 768 pages): As part of his research for this newly illustrated 1994 book, Ambrose (1936-2002) consulted 1,400 interviews with veterans of five nationalities, soldiers who were part of “World War II’s most pivotal battle.” The clearly written, riveting text takes readers into the heroics and horrors of that day, which marks its 70 anniversary Friday, and explains why and how the original invasion plans were scrapped and replaced with more spontaneous actions. With 125 dramatic photos. Ambrose is the author of “Band of Brothers” and “Citizen Soldiers.”
“Backlands” (Dutton, $29, 512 pages) and “Hard Country” (NAL, $16, 640 pages) by Michael McGarrity: The first two titles in the trilogy of the Kerney family move from the world of gunslingers, cattle rustlers and warring Apaches in New Mexico territory between 1875 and 1918, to the New Mexico back country from the 1920s into the 1940s.
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“Glorius” by Jeff Guinn (Putnam, $27, 416 pages): With debt collectors on his trail, city-slicker Cash McLendon leaves St. Louis for a remote mining town in Arizona Territory, hoping to reconnect with his former girlfriend. Trouble catches up. Set in 1872.
“Another Great Day at Sea” by Geoff Dyer (Pantheon, $25, 208 pages): The social chronicler reports on life aboard the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush and the goings-on inside the “carrier-world.”
“The Smoke at Dawn” by Jeff Shaara (Ballantine, $28, 528 pages): The Civil War specialist continues his series, this time re-imagining the deciding months of the battles in the West, involving Gen. Braxton Bragg of the Confederacy and Gen. George Thomas of the Union. Shaara has appeared for the Bee Book Club.
“The Untold” by Courtney Collins (Amy Einhorn, $27, 288 pages): This exciting literary adventure is inspired by the life and times of Elizabeth Jessie Hickman, an Australian convict. In Collins’ take, young Jessie is on the run from a murderous posse after killing her abusive husband. She’s a former circus acrobat and livestock rustler desperate for her freedom; happily, she earns it.
“Wynne’s War” by Aaron Gwyn (Eamon Dolan, $25, 256 pages): When an Army Ranger displays extraordinary horsemanship during a battle in Iraq, he’s charged with teaching a Special Forces unit to become horsemen for a secret mission into Afghanistan. The promotional material says the story “fuses the war novel and the Western.”
“Midnight in Europe” by Alan Furst (Random House, $27, 272 pages): The best-selling author sets his 14 novels in a brief period in Europe shortly before and during World War II, a window of unprecedented drama and the focus of the world’s attention. “In the 1930s during the ascent of Hitler, you had six intelligence services fighting each other in 12 countries, so if you’re going to write a spy novel, that would be the time,” Furst once told me. His latest tale finds Spanish emigre to Paris Christian Ferrar involved in an arms-smuggling scheme to help the Spanish Republican Army. Intrigue, romance, danger – it’s all there.
“The Iron Road” by Christian Wolmar (DK, $30, 400 pages): Railroads changed the cultures of the world, as Wolmar demonstrates in this global history of the iron horse. It includes California’s railroads, with something of a surprise – the Sacramento Valley Railroad was the first incorporated in the state. Supplemented with black-and-white photos.
“National Cowboy Poetry Gathering: The Anthology,” edited by the staff of the Western Folklife Cemter (Lyons, $17, 264 pages): Cowboys and poetry? You bet. This “commemorative volume” contains more than 100 poems written by wranglers during the Gathering’s three decades as “a pioneer in the preservation and revitalization of this important American tradition.”
Beyond Father’s Day
OK, let’s not devote the entire column to Father’s Day. Here are a few other titles worth noting:
“China Dolls” by Lisa See (Random House, $27, 400 pages): The New York Times best-selling novelist sets her intriguing read in 1938 San Francisco. There, three women from starkly different backgrounds meet by chance at the titillatingly named Forbidden City nightclub, and intertwine their fates by becoming friends. See is the author of “Snow Flower and the Secret Fan,” “Peony in Love” and “Shanghai Girls,” and has appeared for the Bee Book Club.
“Sally Ride” by Lynn Sherr (Simon & Schuster, $28, 400 pages): On June 18, 1983, the 32-year-old became the first woman in space, joining the formerly men-only fraternity of astronauts. This unsparing biography delves into Ride’s “zone of secrecy” to unveil the complex Stanford-educated physicist who became one of NASA’s most effective critics. She died of cancer in 2012.
“The Vacationers” by Emma Straub (Riverhead, $27, 304 pages): What begins as a 35th wedding anniversary celebration framed as a two-week Mediterranean vacation (with extended families in tow) turns into a very funny jumble of good-natured dysfunction. As in the best stories, they all lived happily ever after.