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Behold! Shopping for gift books just got easier! In addition to the books I’ve reviewed recently, I’m suggesting a bunch more in these mini-reviews. Have fun!

Smart Fiction

Everyone has different tastes, but I’ve chosen books that are good reads and pretty sure to be enjoyed by most readers.

The Children Act, by Ian McEwan This is McEwan’s latest, about a childless London High Court judge in Family Court, with a case that lands her in the emotional intersection of religious belief and health care.  To add to the drama, her husband isn’t happy. I could not put it down. If you have a serious reader who loves beautiful writing on your list, McEwan is an excellent choice.

Us, by David Nicholls I loved this book. Its narrator is Douglas Peterson, a mild-mannered English chemist married to his polar opposite. Their marriage is in serious trouble, his son hates him, and Douglas thinks the answer to everyone’s problems is to take a trip to Europe together. Some critics thought he was rigid and critical. I thought he was human and realistic.

The Rest of Us: A Novel, Jessica Lott This is a coming-of-age tale of a woman who should have come of age years ago. One of those books that examines what happens when you get what you think you want. Good choice.

My Latest Grievance, by Elinor Lipman I’m a sucker for novels set in academia, and this one is hilarious. Its narrator is the wise and smart-aleck daughter of a couple of crazy academics who live on campus in the midst of way too much drama. Loved it. (If this one does not appeal, check out other Lipman titles. She’s great.)

One Plus One, by Jojo Moyes Is Moyes the best writer around? No. But she’s good, and she’s perfect when I want something light and entertaining. But fair warning: Not for the chick lit snob!

The Goldfinch and All the Light We Cannot See were huge hits this year and I gave them both rave reviews. They would be at the top of my list for anyone who has not read them.

Smart Fiction for the Occasional Reader

These are good bets for people who read one or two books a year. They would also work for the constant reader who doesn’t snub best sellers.

Bone Dust White, by Karin Salvalaggio A classic mystery packed with secrets, deceit and things that go bump in the night. It’s a bit raw and dark, but anyone who loves a mystery and likes to spend some time on the edge of his/her seat is going to think you’re a genius for finding it.

By its Cover, by Donna This is #23 in Leon’s series about a police detective in Venice. Perfect for the reader who loves a good mystery with a touch of the travelogue. She has a gift for drawing fully realized characters. Every time I read one of her books, I want to jump on a plane to Venice.

Sycamore Row, by John Grisham Grisham is pretty much a sure thing for the occasional reader. I hadn’t read him for several years and this reminded me why he is so popular. His characters are compelling, the story always hangs together, and you cannot put it down. (His latest is Gray Mountain, which I also liked – though I liked Sycamore Row more.)

Robert B. Parker’s Cheap Shot, by Ace Atkins When Parker died suddenly, fans like me feared that was the end of his Spenser series. Not so! Ace Atkins is a very credible stand-in for the masterful RBP, and the franchise has continued.  Good clean fun, with snappy repartee spoken by all your favorite characters. (Alas, RBP’s Jesse Stone series is not in such capable hands, and you should stay away from it.)

Inferno, by Dan Brown Just in case your occasional reader missed this, it’s great. But it should come with a warning that you will be out of circulation until you finish it. Classic Dan Brown: unputdownable.

Non Fiction

Most of the non-fiction I’ve read this year centered around WWII history in preparation for a trip – a bit heavy for holiday giving. Hence the abbreviated choices.

The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, by Daniel James Brown I missed this book when it first came out, but devoured it recently. The title says it all, and it’s really a must-read. Rumor has it that a movie is in the offing. Let’s hope so.

Victoria: A Life, by A.N. Wilson I have not read this, but it’s on my Santa list. Book critics have been enthusiastic, but it’s clear from reader reviews that this is not a book for the casual reader. Wilson is a serious writer and here he has produced a book of over 600 pages, packed with detail that will appeal to anyone who loves a dense biography. I’m a Victoria fan, so I cannot wait to get my hands on it!


If you’ve perused my blogroll, you’ve noticed I’m a fashion fanatic. I have the first book listed and love it; the other two are on my Santa list.  

Rare Bird of Fashion: The Irreverent Iris Apfel, by Eric Boman This book grew out of a 2007 Metropolitan Museum exhibit of Apfel’s style. She is now 93 and continues to put clothes and accessories (LOTS of accessories) together like no one else in the world. If you have a fashion iconoclast on your list, this is definitely the book to give.

The Journey of a Dress, by Diane von Furstenburg In 1972 von Furstenburg created a simple wrap dress that made her a household name and changed the way women dressed (and undressed). This is the story of the dress and its creator, wrapped up in a beautiful coffee table volume.

If you want to inspire a fashionista to greater heights of fiscal success, give her (or him) the personal narrative of von Furstenberg’s remarkable career – which is still going strong.  The Woman I Wanted to Be is her biography.

Art on the Edge

If I’m going to give house room to a coffee table book about art, it’s got to be about challenging and even provocative art – not art I’d see on a medical office wall. These two fit the bill for me.

Bansky. You Are An Acceptable Level of Threat, by Gary Shove What can I say? I went to Berlin and kind of fell in love with graffiti. Bansky is bold, brash, anonymous, and still at work shaking up the establishment and making people scratch their heads and think. Come on – the world needs another coffee table book of Impressionist art like a hole in the head.

Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty (Metropolitan Museum of Art), by Andrew Bolton Although he was a fashion designer, I view McQueen as an artist whose medium was clothing. I saw this exhibition and it rocked my world. In the hands of the right reader, this book will do the same.  It’s not a volume of pretty dresses you will want to own. It’s a book about an extraordinary and troubled artist, with a rare gift for detail.     


There are zillions of cookbooks out there at this time of year, but these are the ones I would give.

Breakfast, Lunch, Tea: Rose Bakery, by Rose Carrarini This is the cookbook no one has ever heard of, but everyone will love. It has scrumptious recipes for pastries, soups, salads, pizzette, tarts, entrees, and on and on. Your recipient (or you) will have a tough time deciding whether to cook or pack up and head to Paris.

How to Cook Anything Fast, by Mark Bittman His “How to Cook Everything” is my current go-to book for basics, and this one looks like it will fill a niche when time is of the essence. He is clear, concise and creative. Don’t be put off by the “how-to” aspect; Bittman’s the real deal for real cooks.

My French Kitchen, by David Lebowitz I reviewed this a few months ago on the blog. My enthusiasm has not flagged. It’s a wonderful gift for any cook.

And remember the #1 Rule of Holiday Shopping: one for them, one for you.