The best literary fiction that combines nature writing with an epic story and memorable characters

Why am I passionate about this?

I'm a nature writer and poet who lives, writes, and tends his modest grapevines on a small farm in the highlands of northern Michigan. My study and my work delves into the mysterious connections between all living things. I've sailed the world's lakes and oceans and lived on the land from Alaska to California to the Caribbean. The natural world cannot just be described but must be experienced – all the writers on my list have taken this approach – as I've followed the lead of these great writers but in my own unique way. I would enjoy a day on a secluded river with each of them in search of the elusive brook trout.

I wrote...

Gentle Spirits

By Thomas Ford Conlan,

Book cover of Gentle Spirits

What is my book about?

Gentle Spirits follows Samuel and Angelique through nature in many forms while they navigate the challenges of growing into an adult world full of uncertainty.

Journey with Samuel and Angelique and experience the grace of dolphins and wild horses on Cumberland Island; birds, dogs, butterflies, brook trout, and grapevines in Northern Michigan; trout-fishing in Spearfish Canyon; dogs and sheep on a Montana ranch; breathtaking duck migrations in the Canadian Provinces - and a deeper meaning in the aura of a mountain in the Black Hills. With each step, our intrepid pair search for meaning in the great circle of life, finally understanding that as long as a soul remains in memory, a spirit never dies.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Dalva

Thomas Ford Conlan Why did I love this book?

Dalva (and the sequel The Road Home) is a literary fiction classic.

A story of generations and places with memorable characters. Poetic prose describes the landscape. Philosophy abounds. Make no mistake, Dalva and The Road Home are set in the wide open west – the plains and Sandhills of Nebraska. Harrison’s rebellious characters become one with their environment. The storylines are never lost even though Harrison often muses about the past and mixes his thoughts into the present without skipping a beat. 

By Jim Harrison,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Dalva as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From her home on the California coast, Dalva hears the broad silence of the Nebraska prairie where she was born and longs for the son she gave up for adoption years before. Beautiful, fearless, tormented, at forty-five she has lived a life of lovers and adventures. Now, Dalva begins a journey that will take her back to the bosom of her family, to the half-Sioux lover of her youth and to a pioneering great-grandfather whose journals recount the bloody annihilation of the Plains Indians. On the way, she discovers a story that stretches from East to West, from the Civil…

Book cover of In the Spirit of Crazy Horse: The Story of Leonard Peltier and the FBI's War on the American Indian Movement

Thomas Ford Conlan Why did I love this book?

A creative non-fiction work that brings the native folk hero alive in spirit while following the modern-day hero Leonard Peletier and the AIM resistance.

Again, the landscape descriptions take the reader away into the land once travelled by Native Americans. Matthiessen’s literary touch lends an almost novel-like thread by comparing the legends of Crazy Horse, perhaps the most revered of Lakota warriors, who becomes more than an historical figure in support of the fight for Native American rights and dignity in the American West of the 1970s.

By Peter Matthiessen,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked In the Spirit of Crazy Horse as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An “indescribably touching, extraordinarily intelligent" (Los Angeles Times Book Review) chronicle of a fatal gun-battle between FBI agents and American Indian Movement activists by renowned writer Peter Matthiessen (1927-2014), author of the National Book Award-winning The Snow Leopard and the novel In Paradise
On a hot June morning in 1975, a desperate shoot-out between FBI agents and Native Americans near Wounded Knee, South Dakota, left an Indian and two federal agents dead. Four members of the American Indian Movement were indicted on murder charges, and one, Leonard Peltier, was convicted and is now serving consecutive life sentences in a federal…

Book cover of The Hotel New Hampshire

Thomas Ford Conlan Why did I love this book?

Just a great novel – you will fall in love and empathize with the characters.

As always, Irving mixes in life and death making the fiction feel real. Irving has a way of surprising the reader. Each plot turn will bring out a new emotion. The reader will feel sorrow, anger, and love while identifying with the characters.

Most importantly, Irving has a real touch with making me laugh at the twists and turns of life.

By John Irving,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked The Hotel New Hampshire as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'The first of my father's illusions was that bears could survive the life lived by human beings, and the second was that human beings could survive a life led in hotels.'

So says John Berry, son of a hapless dreamer, brother to a cadre of eccentric siblings, and chronicler of the lives lived, the loves experienced, the deaths met, and the myriad strange and wonderful times encountered by the family Berry. Hoteliers, pet-bear owners, friends of Freud (the animal trainer and vaudevillian, that is), and playthings of mad fate, they 'dream on' in this funny, sad, outrageous, and moving novel.

Book cover of Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West

Thomas Ford Conlan Why did I love this book?

A classic American story following Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery from Virginia to the Pacific Coast and back again in the very early 1800s.

This book needs to be read not only by those interested in history but by all who would understand the origins of our nation. The complex personalities of Lewis, Clark, and Thomas Jefferson, who envisioned the journey come through in living color. 

By Stephen E. Ambrose,

Why should I read it?

7 authors picked Undaunted Courage as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A chronicle of the two-and-a-half year journey of Lewis and Clark covers their incredible hardships and the contributions of Sacajawea.

Book cover of My Journey Begins Where the Road Ends

Thomas Ford Conlan Why did I love this book?

Conlan’s poignant reflections upon the vital role nature plays in all our lives will resonate with readers of all ages.

His journey tells a lyrical tale of an interesting life. The author grows from tree forts and baseball through college and peace marches in the turbulent sixties. Follow his journey to fatherhood and on to Alaska where he sails the Bering Sea and visits the Arctic Circle.

Then on to Caribbean Islands adventures with memorable characters adding to the fun. He returns triumphantly to the Great Lakes, where our protagonist becomes Captain of a Coast Guard Cutter sailing through more dangerous waters, including an epic adventure, off again to the Caribbean.

Most importantly, Conlan finds his way back home to Northern Michigan, to his grapevines, his family, and the more pleasant struggle to find the elusive brook trout.

Come “back to the simple earth,” where the author tends his modest grapevines and reflects upon the bounty of nature and the good fortune that carried him home.

By Thomas Ford Conlan,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked My Journey Begins Where the Road Ends as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

“Back to the simple earth” — Tom Conlan comes by his love of the land naturally, generations after a beloved grandfather worked and saved to escape Detroit and move north. Conlan inherited that longing; he reveled in his boyhood of treeforts, baseball, and Sloppy Joes, even as it was unfolding. He revels in it still, with graceful language and long thoughts, with good dogs, good horses, and even better homemade wine. — Mardi Link, author of The Drummond Girls and Bootstrapper

MORE PRAISE FOR My Journey Begins Where the Road Ends:

“Deeply moving…told with all the tropes a good poet…

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Blood of the White Bear

By Marcia Calhoun Forecki, Gerald Schnitzer,

Book cover of Blood of the White Bear

Marcia Calhoun Forecki Author Of Blood of the White Bear

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author History hound Polyglot Bookworm Neatness averse Yoga beginner

Marcia's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

Virologist Dr. Rachel Bisette sees visions of a Kachina and remembers the plane crash that killed her parents and the Dine medicine woman who saved her life. Rachel is investigating a new and lethal hantavirus spreading through the Four Corners, and believes the Kachina is calling her to join the work against the spreading pandemic.

She finds Eva Yellow Horn, a medicine woman with the key to fighting the pandemic. When Eva demonstrates ancient healing powers beyond science, Rachel recognizes her as the medicine woman who saved her life years before. Eva reveals that Rachel’s father was investigating the 1979 nuclear disaster in Church Rock, when his plane crashed, killing her parents. Now, Rachel undertakes a new investigation, but she is not alone.

Blood of the White Bear

By Marcia Calhoun Forecki, Gerald Schnitzer,

What is this book about?

“Visions of kachinas guide doctor to spiritual healing in pandemic.”

2014 Finalist in the Willa Literary Award

This is a book that once closed and last line read, my mind wandered to explore certain character motivations and potential follow-up responses. I don’t think an author has to answer every possibility, art comes into play best when the reader’s own imagination can wander within the story.

Dr. Rachel Bisette is drawn to the Four Corners to lead the search for a vaccine against a lethal pandemic. One elusive indigenous woman, Eva Yellow Horn, carries the gift of immunity. In her search…

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Interested in Thomas Jefferson, Nebraska, and American Indians?

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