Creating a buzz around the VCReporter office is Impatient with Desire, by Gabrielle Burton, a reimagining of the Donner Party’s dramatic trek west in 1846. When you think about the Donner Party, you think pioneers, snow and cannibalism.  Impatient with Desire is the fictional diary of Tamsen Donner, George’s wife and matriarch of the ill-fated travel group. Author Gabrielle Burton, who has studied the Donners for nearly four decades, uses excerpts from Tamsen’s existing letters to craft the thoughts of a woman watching her family perish and retelling her life history.  So committed was Burton that she retraced their steps all the way into the mountain range.  It’s a fascinating look into how the family and a group of 80 other people made the decision to leave perfectly good lives in Illinois in search of paradise 2,500 miles away.  Alas, Doppler radar had not yet been invented, leading the wagon train right into the mouth of the early winter beast.  Think The Perfect Storm in the High Sierra — without food. Not advised for the squeamish.

— David Comden

pThe Passage, by Justin Cronin (2010, Ballantine Books)
Keeping it short, it’s a real page-turner with evocative and beautiful writing to boot. I’m not big on apocalyptic books or creatures either (in this case, something resembling vampires, but much more wicked), but once you pick up his book, Cronin doesn’t let you go. And that’s the joy of reading.

— Ken McAlpine, author, Ventura



One Day, by David Nicholls (2010, Vintage)
I found the premise fun and engaging. Two college friends have a romantic interlude on graduation night, and the novel tells the story of their parallel lives documenting events occurring on July 15 every year from 1988 to 2008. If you enjoy Nick Hornby’s funny and poignant approach to writing about relationships (including popular British music references), you’ll love this book by Nicholls.

— Denise Sindelar, interim community partnerships manager, Ventura


hThe Help, by Kathryn Stockett (2009, Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam)
Wonderful story told from the point of view of maids in Mississippi during the ’60s. Beautifully written by a white Southern woman, she captures the history of a tumultuous time in a very personal and moving manner.  Filled with drama, intrigue and insights about racial attitudes, this book was totally captivating.

— Brian Bemel, event promoter, Ojai



Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch, by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett (2006, Harper)
So far, this comedy about the apocalypse, angels and devils is light and funny, but with a degree of truth that makes it hard to put down. English humor abounds. This is a great book for after work, getting over a crappy day, and just relaxing. Everyone I’ve recommended it to really likes it.

— Tim Gibson, luthier/musician, Camarillo


lLamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal, by Christopher Moore (2002, Harper)
If Tom Robbins and Joss Whedon made a demented little writer baby, it would turn out something like Christopher Moore. You cannot keep from laughing out loud when reading this guy’s zippy, intelligent yet goofy, roller-coaster-ride books.  Biff is Jesus’ childhood best friend and the disciple you’ve never heard of because he was such an “a-hole.” 

He is brought back to life in the modern day to pen a new gospel that will fill in some stories the Bible left out. 

Among these are Jesus’ hysterical affinity for coffee, his exposure to Eastern religions, and even a run-in with a Himalayan sasquatch,  the latter being the only place the book may “jump the shark” a bit. Moore manages to mix the sacred and the profane with a wacky sweetness that makes up for his irreverence.  

— Loni Kate English, musician / business owner, Santa Paula