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Sunday, March 3, 2024

Holiday book gift guide

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One thin line.

There you are, you’ve just crossed off your last person, thereby finishing your Holiday Gift List for the year. But oops, you forgot that one hard-to-buy-for aunt, and you haven’t gotten anything for your babysitter. And, and, and… you’re out of ideas. So how about something to read? See if these great books don’t give you some guidance…

FICTION

The novel lover who’s always doing good things for other people may enjoy unwrapping “Just Do This One Thing for Me” by Laura Zimmermann (Dutton). It’s the story of a daughter who always does what her free-spirited mother asks of her – even if it gets her in trouble. Wrap it up with “Time’s Undoing” by Cheryl A. Head (Dutton), a novel about a woman who’s determined to learn how her great-grandfather died, and how what it means to her safety. Bonus: this book was based on the author’s own family history.

The reader who loves twisty tales of sister love and rivalry will want to unwrap “How to Care for a Human Girl” by Ashley Wurzbacher (Atria), the story of two sisters, two pregnancies, and a whole pile of resentments. Pair it up with “Before You Found Me” by Brooke Beyfuss (Sourcebooks). It’s a tale of choosing your family and sticking together.

Is there a horse lover on your gift list? Aha, then look for “Girls and Their Horses” by Eliza Jane Brazier (Berkley), a novel set in the world of competitive show-jumping, where one mother’s wish to give her daughters an opportunity she always wanted could lead to death.  Wrap it up with another mean-girl novel, “Under the Influence” by Noelle Crooks (Gallery Books), a novel about a woman who gets a job with an influencer. Does she live to tell? Wait a few days, then ask your giftee…

Here’s a nicely complex novel your giftee will love: “The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store” by James McBride (Riverhead Books). When a new housing development is being constructed in Pottstown, Pennsylvania, builders found a human skeleton. The people in the neighborhood know who the bones belonged to, but they’re not talking. This book about racism, community, and survival will make a great gift.

Mystery lovers will rejoice when they unwrap “Mrs. Plansky’s Revenge” by Spencer Quinn (Forge), the story of a seventy-something widow who’s scammed out of all her money. Law enforcement says the crime is impossible to solve, but your giftee will know better… Wrap it up with “The McMasters Guide to Homicide 1: Murder Your Employer” by Rupert Holmes (Simon & Schuster), a book about an unusual school where murder is the main focus.

If you’ve got someone on your list who loves books of magic and spells, then look for “Black Candle Women” by Diane Marie Brown (Graydon House). It’s a tale of three generations of Montrose women who live in the same house, stick to home, and keep their own company. Everything’s fine until one of them brings home a boy whose presence opens up an old family secret that will change everything. Wrap it up with “Wade in the Water” by Nyani Knrumah (Amistad), a novel of a white woman who befriends an eleven-year-old Black girl, and the relationship between the two in a racially-divided southern city.

Does your giftee have keen memories of high school? Then “Speech Team” by Tim Murphy (Viking) may be the thing to wrap. It’s the story of a suicide, a teacher who may have been the root of it years ago, and the middle-age search to close old wounds.

Of course, the vampire fan on your gift list is going to want “Vampire Weekend” by Mike Chen (Mira), the story of Louise Chao, who finds out that the life of a vampire is actually pretty boring – although she does have punk rock shows to look forward to. And then a teenage relative arrives at her doorstep and everything changes… Give it with “Rook” by William Ritter (Algonquin Young Readers), a book about a girl who could see other realms and creatures, and she knows her gift can be used for good. But there’s chaos on both sides of the curtain, and her parents want her home. Can she save both worlds, and her own life?

For the future homeowner on your gift list, wrap up “Perfectly Nice Neighbors” by Kia Abdullah (Putnam), a thriller filled with revenge and regret. When your dream home is perfect but the folks next door aren’t, what do you do?  Wrap it up with “Our Hideous Progeny” by C.E. McGill (Harper), a book about old family homes and ancient family secrets.

You’ve got a reader on your list that would love a seafaring tale of pirates and ships, don’t you? That’s why you want to wrap up “A True Account: Hannah Masury’s Sojourn Amongst the Pyrates, Written by Herself” by Katherine Howe, a novel about a professor who finds and reads the journals supposedly written by a woman who snuck onto a pirate ship to find treasure hundreds of years ago. But the journal is missing some crucial information. Was that on purpose?

If your giftee loves to immerse themselves in series-mystery books, “To Catch a Storm” by Mindy Dejia (Atlantic Monthly) will be the gift they’ll love. It’s a new series featuring a physicist and a psychic; this first book is set in Iowa during inclement weather. You can’t go wrong, eh?  Wrap it up with “The Killer Speech” by Kevin Kluesner (Level Best), a thriller set in Wisconsin, featuring a politician and an FBI agent.

GENERAL NON-FICTION

Your giftee follows politics, rabidly. So why not give them “The Handy Supreme Court Answer Book, second edition” by David L. Hudson, Jr, J.D. (Visible Ink Press). This easy-to-understand book is filled with Q&A information on how the SCOTUS works, why it’s important, and some insight to the nine people who sit on what may be the most controversial court ever. Pair it with “Grifters, Frauds, and Crooks” by Richard Estep (Visible Ink Press), for a great look at law, order, and the lack thereof.

The horror-movie-lover on your gift list will absolutely want “The Exorcist Legacy: 50 Years of Fear” by Nat Segaloff (Citadel Press). It’s the story of the movie, its making and the outrage and controversy it led to… but it’s also about the crowds, creators, and fans who made it a classic. Wrap it up with “Say Hello to My Little Friend: A Century of Scarface,” also by Nat Segaloff, also from Citadel Press.

The connoisseur of fine liquor will want to unwrap “Last Call at Coogan’s: The Life and Death of a Neighborhood Bar” by Jon Michaud (St. Martin’s Press). It’s a biography of a drinking spot, but also of the people who loved it and could be found inside it. Wrap up “A Good Mom’s Guide to Making Bad Choices” by Jamilah Mapp and Erica Dickerson (Harper One) with it. It’s sharp, hilarious, and a good reminder that you can make mistakes and the kids will probably be just fine.

For the giftee who likes to think big, “Age of the City: Why Our Future Will be Won or Lost Together” by Ian Goldin and Tom Lee-Devlin (Bloomsbury) may be the perfect gift. It takes a deep dive into how cities have shaped the world in the past, and how they may be the answer to a lot of the problems that citizens in the future will face. Wrap it up with “Bold Ventures: Thirteen Tales of Architectural Tragedy” by Charlotte Van den Broeck (Other Press), a book about builders and buildings they didn’t live to regret.

If you’ve got a pop culture fan on your list, or a Millennial, wrap up “Wannabe: Reckonings with the Pop Culture That Shapes Me” by Aisha Harris (Harper One). Harris, of NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour, takes a look at growing up in the 1990s and all the fun, irritating things that came with it. Pair it with “The Perennials: The Megatrends Creating a Postgenerational Society” by Mauro F. Guillen (St. Martin’s Press). Imagine a world with no more Boomers, GenXers, or Millennials. It’s a world where we’re not categorized, and your giftee may love reading about that.

The person on your gift list who loves love will be thrilled to unwrap “Love Stories” by Trent Dalton (Fourth Estate), a collection of quick, super-short man-on-the-street stories of finding, having, and losing love. Swoon. Pair it with “Your Difference is Your Strength” by Kris Ferraro (St. Martin’s Essentials), a book about knowing, loving, and accepting yourself. Or try “The Joy Strategist” by Grace Harry (Andscape Books) and wrap it up for someone you love who also loves books.

For the person on your gift list who wants to but more communication in their relationship, wrap up “The Power of Language” by Viorica Marian (Dutton). This intriguing book looks at the way we speak and how we can tap into unique abilities of our minds. Wrap it up with “Mother Tongue” by Jenni Nuttall (Viking), a book of language, vocabulary, and the meanings of words that women have created, hated, and embraced.

Your giftee who devours books on social issues will want to unwrap No Human Contact” by Pete Earley (Citadel Press). Ripped from today’s headlines, this book takes a look at solitary confinement in prison, and what a pair of inmates did to change how prisons work. Wrap it up with “The Serial Killer Next Door: The Double Lives of Notorious Murders” by Richard Estep (Visible Ink Press), for a full look at some of the people inside those prisons.

If there’s a sneaker lover or a collector on your gift list, don’t give another pair of shoes or fancy laces as a gift. Instead, wrap up “A History of Basketball in Fifteen Sneakers” by Russ Bengtson (Workman). Full of pictures, history, side-bars, and more, this book will make a buckets fan smile, too. Readers who can’t get enough of sports, period, will want to read “Banana Ball: The Unbelievably True Story of the Savannah Bananas” by Jesse Cole with Don Yaeger (Dutton), the story of baseball, but not quite.

There’s a lover of the paranormal on your gift list, isn’t there? Then you want to wrap up “Encounters: Experiences with Nonhuman Intelligences” by D.W. Pasulka (St. Martin’s Essentials). Has your giftee seen a UFO or had an angel encounter? Have they been to other dimensions and want to explore more? Yep, this is the right gift – and it’ll be even better if you wrap it up with “The Afterlife Book” by Marie D. Jones and Larry Flaxman (Visible Ink Press), a book on Heaven, Hell, this side of life, and that side.

Who doesn’t get their dog a gift? You do, of course, so wrap up “Fifty Places to Travel with Your Dog Before You Die” by Chris Santella and DC Helmuth (Abrams Press). Hiking, swimming, romping here and abroad, this is a book your pup can really sink his teeth into, and it’s a good bet he’ll let you borrow it. And if you have a (human) giftee who craves similar adventure, wrap up “Reading the Glass: A Captain’s View of Weather, Water, and Life on Ships” by Elliot Rappaport (Dutton), a book that’s meant for the anyone who dreams of giving up the landlubber’s life.

For the person who cares for animals that don’t get a lot of press, you won’t go wrong if you wrap up “Of Time and Turtles” by Sy Montgomery (Mariner), a book about a turtle rescue and the volunteers who work hard to save shells and lives. Pair it up with “Kings of Their Own Ocean: Tuna, Obsession, and the Future of Our Seas” by Karen Pinchin (Dutton), the story of more than just a fish.

And here’s a book that will make someone smile this holiday: “Family, Friends, and Neighbors: Stories of Murder and Betrayal” by Richard Estep (Visible Ink Press). Your true crime fanatic will love it.

RACISM and RACIAL ISSUES

What has racism looked like throughout history?  Your social-justice-minded giftee will get a peek in “The Stories Whiteness Tells Itself” by David Mura (University of Minnesota Press).Meant for both Black and white readers, this is a conversation-starter. Wrap it up with “The Hidden Roots of White Supremacy and the Path to a Shared American Future” by Robert P. Jones (Simon & Schuster) for a perfectly thought-provoking gift.

No doubt, your giftee knows how life has been like since Black Lives Matter stepped into the news. “In Our Shoes: On Being a Young Black Woman in Not-So “Post-Racial” America” by Brianna Holt (Plume) is a book that examines the feeling further, in ways that relate to both culture and pop culture. Wrap it up with “Real Friends Talk About Race” by Yseult P. Mukantabana and Hannah Summerhill (Park Row Books), for a gift that takes this sometimes-squirmy subject and makes it possible to discuss.

The activist on your list wants to do best, so look for “We Need to Talk About Antisemitism” by Rabbi Diana Fersko (Seal Press). We discuss racism against Black people? Why not this, says the author. How else can we fight it? Pair this book with “The Cost of Free Land” by Rebecca Clarren (Viking), a book about a Jewish immigrant success story and what it meant to the Native Americans in their territory.

“Gangbuster: One Man’s Battle Against Crime, Corruption, and the Klan” by Alan Prendergast (Citadel Press) tells the story of a Denver district attorney and his efforts a century ago to eliminate the KKK and corruption. True crime fans with a social justice streak will love this book. Pair it with “The Place We Make: Breaking the Legacy of Legalized Hate” by Sarah L. Sanderson (Waterbook Press), the story of a woman who discovers a terrible wrong in 1851 Oregon… and then she’s related to the two men who helped the grievance happen.

BIOGRAPHY / MEMOIR

For your music lover, “To Anyone Who Ever Asks: The Life, Music, and Mystery of Connie Converse” by Howard Fishman (Dutton) will be a welcome gift this holiday. It’s the story of a singer / songwriter who never quite made the Big Time, although her music haunted the author and spurred him to try to understand why she disappeared one day. Wrap it up with a bookmark; it’s a big book. Wrap it up with “Too Late to Stop Now: More Rock ‘n’ Roll War Stories” by Allan Jones (Bloomsbury). It’s a collection of tales about a genre, from someone who was there.

Is there a Sherlockian fan on your list? Then imagine the excitement when “Doyle’s World Lost & Found: The Unknown Histories of Sherlock Holmes and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle” by Daniel Friedman, MD and Eugene Griedman, MD (Square One Publishers) is beneath the tree. This book fills in a lot of the cracks between the Holmes mysteries with info from the tales’ author’s life. Fans of literature will want this book, and so will Holmes readers. Wrap it up with “A Mystery of Mysteries: The Death and Life of Edgar Allan Poe” by Mark Dawidziak (St. Martin’s Press), the story of the great author and the how he may have met his end.

The runner on your gift list will love to unwrap “Choosing to Run” by Des Linden (Dutton). Linden was a Boston Marathon Champion and this is her story. If your athlete needs inspiration and a reason to lace up those shoes each morning, this book is it.

For the farmer or rancher on your list, “A Bold Return to Giving a Damn” by Will Harris (Viking) is a book about a farm, but also about the way things were and how they should be, the love of land, and the problems ahead with climate, raising food, and making a living.

Struggling to find the right biography for the history fan?  Try “King of Diamonds: Harry Winston” by Ronald Winston & William Stadiem (Skyhorse Publishing, Inc). It’s the Gilded Age story of a rags-to-riches man whose name meant “diamonds” to generations of fine jewelry-wearers, and the times in which he lived.

Here’s the book to wrap up for the feminist on your list: “Young and Restless” by Mattie Kahn (Viking). Here, your giftee will learn about the teenage girls who made change happen in this country: suffragettes, activists, and unsung young women who stood up for what they thought was right. Make it an even better gift by adding “Women We Buried, Women We Burned” by Rachel Louise Snyder (Bloomsbury). It’s a story of survival, triumph, and a deep perspective on both.

The reader who loves a good reinvention story will truly love “The Many Lives of Mama Love” by Lara Love Hardin (Simon & Schuster). Years ago, the author was a thief and a heroin addict and then she went to jail. Once released, she takes what she learned from the cell and uses it to do good things for herself and others. Readers who love second chances will read this gift first.

HISTORY

If your giftee loves reading about Black History, then you can’t go wrong when you wrap up “The First Migrants: How Black Homesteaders’ Quest for Land and Freedom Heralded America’s Great Migration” by Richard Edwards and Jacob K. Friefeld (Bison Books). It’s the story of the people who headed to the plains decades before the Great Migration, and how their mve changed the country.

For the person who devours history, look for “African American Almanac: 400 Years of Black Excellence” by Lean’tin Bracks, PhD (Visible Ink Press). This second edition is full of history, mini-biographies, things your giftee might not know, and best of all: it’s completely updated. Also look for “Before the Movement: The Hidden History of Black Civil Rights” by Dylan C. Penningroth (Liveright). More history. More stories.

The person on your list who enjoys real-life mysteries and history will want “Unearthed: A Lost Actress, A Forbidden Book, and a Search for Life in the Shadow of the Holocaust” by Meryl Frank (Hachette Books). For much of her childhood, Frank’s aunt Mollie strove to ensure that the kids in the family never forgot what had happened during World War II to the Jews. When Frank inherited a book filled with secrets, she went in search of a missing link to that story. Wrap it up with “The Ghost Tattoo: Discovering the Hidden Truth of My Father’s Holocaust” by Tony Bernard (Citadel Press), the story of a son who learns the secrets of a concentration camp that his father finally told.

That same World War II buff may want to read “Fragile Cargo: The World War II Race to Save the Treasures of China’s Forbidden City” by Adam Brookes (Atria). This story starts nearly two decades before the war, bringing readers a story that’s exciting, chaotic, and brave.

Another book for your historian is “Getting Out of Saigon” by Ralph White (Simon & Schuster), a book by a man who tried desperately to get his entire staff of a bank out of harm’s way and the Vietnam War’s path. Staff and their families, that is, 113 people, and it’s a harrowing tale.

For the giftee who loves to read about unusual connections, here’s what to give: “Wingmen: The Unlikely, Unusual, Unbreakable Friendship Between John Glenn and Ted Williams” by Adam Lazarus (Kensington). How did an astronaut and a baseball player become the best of chums?  Give the book as a gift this year, and then ask…

BUSINESS

Here’s an unusual business book for the unusual business reader: “Blood Money” by Kathleen McLaughlin (One Signal / Atria). Donating blood saves lives. Donating blood plasma is a big business, and it’s banned in all but five countries in the world. This book will make a great gift for a business reader or for your favorite health care professional.

For the future mom or the mother-to-be who’s still trying to figure out her work situation, “Carry Strong: An Empowered Approach to Navigating Pregnancy and Work” by Stephanie Kramer (Penguin Life) may be the best gift ever. Bonus: case studies and real stories so the new mother can read about real life.

The future business leader on your gift list will want to own “Power to the Middle: Why Managers Hold the Keys to the Future of Work” by Bill Schaninger, Bryan Hancock, and Emily Field (Harvard Business Review Press).  Middle managers, as the authors argue, is no longer a throwaway position that takes pressure from above and below. Today’s middle manager is as important as everyone else in an organization, if not more so. Give this book and see what kind of a difference it makes. Wrap it up with “The Unlocked Leader” by Hortense Le Gentil with Caroline Lambert (Wiley), a book on being the kind of leader that people ask to work with.

If there’s someone on your gift list who’s heading for a leadership role, wrap up “To the Top: How Women in Corporate Leadership are Rewriting the Rules for Success” by Jenna C. Fisher (Wiley). Gone are so-called old-boys’ networks. Today’s corporations run differently. Support it by giving this book. Here’s another unusual look at the top: “Disneyland on the Mountain: Walt, the Environmentalists, and the Ski Resort that Never Was” by Greg Glasgow and Kathryn Mayer (Rowman & Littlefield). It’s the story of a proposed feature at Disneyland and the fight that kept it from being made. How it left an impact on business and leisure is a great story for your giftee.

Any business-minded person on your list is going to be happy you gave “Know What Matters: Lessons from a Lifetime of Transformations” by Ron Shaich (Harvard Business Review Press). Schaich is the founder of Panera Bread and this book is about his life, his achievements, and what he has to share with entrepreneurs who won’t stop until they reach success.

LGBTQ INTERESTS

Fiction

For the person on your gift list who’d love a boy-meets-boy story, wrap up “Bellies: A Novel” by Nicola Dinan (Hanover Square Press), the tale of a playwright and the man who loves him wholly, until a transition threatens to change everything.

If there’s a romantic on your list, then you’re in luck: finding a gift is easy when you wrap up “10 Things That never Happened” by Alexis Hall (Sourcebooks), the story of Sam, whose job is okay, and his boss, Jonathan, who should have never hired Sam. Too late now, except for the romance. Wrap it up with “Time Out” by Sean Hayes and Todd Milliner with Carlyn Greenwald (Simon & Schuster), the story of a basketball player who’s newly out of the closet, and a politically-minded boy who could easily get his vote…

Nonfiction

For the person on your list who likes to read quick, short articles, wrap up “Inverse Cowgirl: A Memoir” by Alicia Roth Weigel (HarperOne). It’s a collection of essays on life as an intersex person, and the necessity for advocating for others who are, too.

HEALTH-RELATED BOOKS

For the giftee who loves reading true medical mysteries, “Girls and Their Monsters” by Audrey Clare Farley (Grand Central) will make a great gift. When researchers studying schizophrenia heard of quadruplet sisters who’d been recently diagnosed, they hoped that the women could unlock secrets. Instead, they found secrets that resonate even today. Wrap it up with “Scarcity Brain: Fix Your Craving Mindset & Rewire Your Habits to Thrive with Enough” by Michael Easter (Rodale Books), for a better look at how our minds work and how we can enhance them.

If there’s a giftee on your list who seems to be on an internal struggle, “What Women Want: A Therapist, Her Patients, and Their True Stories of Desire, Power and Love” by Maxine Mei-Fung Chung (Grand Central) may be the right gift. In a series of case-studies, Chung shows that women aren’t as complicated as some say. It’s a story of healing and finding one’s best self. Wrap it up with “What About Men?” by Caitlin Moran (Harper),, a witty (but serious) look at the other side, making a nicely rounded, double-ended gift.

For the person who remembers the pandemic all too well and wants to know what the heck just happened there, wrap up “Foreign Bodies: Pandemics, Vaccines, and the Health of Nations” by Simon Schama (Ecco). More than a health book, this is also a history of how pandemics have been perceived and investigated through the centuries, what people in the past did about them, and what we can anticipate in the future.

Your giftee professes to want to live forever, so wrap up “The Well-Lived Life: A 102-Year-Old Doctor’s Six Secrets to Health and Happiness at Every Age” by Gladys McGarey, MD (Atria). McGarey is considered to be “The Mother of Holistic Medicine” and this book explains how she’s stayed healthy and active for more than a century. Readers will love the advice here, but they’ll also love the biography inside. Wrap it up with “Fit Citizens: A History of Black Women’s Exercise from Post-Reconstruction to Postwar America” by Ava Purkiss (The University of North Carolina Press), a book about what experts told Black women about exercise and how that factored into the fight for equality.

If someone on your list is hurting from a loss this year or recently, carefully look for “The Urgent Life: My Story of Love, Loss, and Survival” by Bozoma Saint John (Viking). It’s a book about the death of a spouse, yes, but also about taking tragedy and making things as best as they can be.

SCIENCE

If there’s a person on your list who loves animals, then “Beastly: The 40,000-Year Story of Animals and Us” by Keggie Carew (Abrams Press) may be just what they’ll love. It’s a long, deep look at creatures, including us, and it includes tales and true anecdotes your giftee will enjoy.

The environmentalist and the gardener on your list will both love “How to Read a Tree: Clues and Patterns from Bark to Leaves” by Tristan Gooley (The Experiment). It’s the story of trees, of course, but it’s also a volume of information and all the things we can learn by looking at or living near a tree. Give it to your homeowner, too, for a great holiday.

KIDS AGES 1-6

The littlest kid on your gift list will love reading “Mister Kitty is Lost!” by Greg Pizzoli (Little, Brown for Young Readers). A little girl’s kitty has gone missing. Young readers will be delighted with the hunt and surprised at the solution.

KIDS AGES 9-12

The kid who loves a bit of history with a great adventure story will want to read “White House Clubhouse” by Sean O’Brien (Norton Young Readers). It’s the story of two kids whose Mom is the new President of the United States. That’s cool and all, but it’s even cooler when they find a secret tunnel inside the White House…

Your giftee who loves the Baby-Sitter’s Club books will truly want to unwrap “Curlfriends: New In Town” by Sharee Miller (Little, Brown Young Readers).It’s the story of Charlie, who’s starting at another new school and struggles again with making friends. Can the Curlfriends, a group of Black girls who hang out together, make her year better? Middle-schoolers who wrestle with the preteen years will love this graphic novel.

TEENS AND YOUNG ADULTS

For the romantic on your gift list, try “Chaos Theory” by Nic Stone (Crown). It’s the story of two teens who are outcasts in their new school. They gravitate toward one another as friends with something in common. Could it be more than just that, though?

For the teen who needs to read the story of bravery and history, wrap up “The Girl Who Survived Auschwitz” by Sara Leibovits & Eti Elboim (Harper Collins / One More Chapter). It’s the tale of Leibovits’ family’s journey to a concentration camp, and it’s not for the faint of heart or the weak of mind.

And now for the housekeeping: books change, publishing dates change, and if you can’t find these books or something like them, be sure to ask the elves at the bookstore for the exact thing you need. They know books and they’ll help you find the best gift for that hard-to-find person and they might even wrap it for you.

Hint: you’re almost done with your shopping. Buy yourself a book.

Season’s Readings!

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