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Book Review - Holiday gift guide

Doesn’t it seem like your gift list grows each year?

One new member of the family by birth, three more by marriage. Two “adopted” kids who call you Mom or Dad just because. Friends who have become dear. A new Secret Santa program. It adds up, as it subtracts from your holiday budget.

But here’s a great suggestion: books! Books are cost-effective. They’re like taking a trip without going anywhere. They give and give again, and they’re share-able. What more could you want to give?

So. Without further ado, here are some great books you can give to the people on your give list this holiday season.

Perfect for historians who love a good novel, “The House of Special Purpose” by John Boyne takes a fictionalized trip back to czarist Russia with an elderly man who must lay secrets to rest before he dies. Give this book as a gift — and borrow it back!

Does your giftee like the kind of novel that’ll keep her guessing? Then “The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards” by Kristopher Jansma will be exactly what you want to wrap up. At first, it seems like this is a book about rivalry between two writers, but there’s so much more to this story. Suffice it to say that unwrapping this book isn’t going to be the only surprise your giftee gets — particularly when you pair that book with “This is How You Die,” an anthology with the premise that every character knows the end is near — they know how, but they don’t know how.

So how well do you know that new family member? In “The Darkling” by R. B. Chesterton, a family takes in a teenager who’s been orphaned and they hire a tutor to get the girl up to speed. But there’s something about the girl that just doesn’t seem right — something that will scare the daylights out of your giftee. Wrap it up with “Seduction” by M.J. Rose, which is a literary-based novel of suspense and chills.

For the person who likes a little terror with their holiday, “The Demonologist” by Andrew Pyper will give them that, abundantly. This is the story of a professor who accepts a dark offer that’s too good to be true. Problem is, it’s not to good to be horrifying. Wrap this one up with “Domino Falls” by Steven Barnes and Tananarive Due for a perfectly frightful night-ful.

If your giftee loves a novel that sprang from real events, then wrap up “My Mother’s Secret” by J.L. Witterick, a fictionalized tale of two women who sheltered a Jewish family in their Sokal, Germany, home during World War II. It’s a bit of a thriller, made even better because it’s based on a true story.

Fans of suspense won’t be able to resist opening the covers of “Storm Front” by John Sanford. In this thriller, an ancient stone has been stolen, which sparks an international manhunt that settles in Minnesota. Yes, it seems like a movie plot, but for fans of this genre, this book is far from mere drama. Team it up with “Dead Insider” by Victoria Houston for the most thrilling gift you can possibly give.

If a danger-filled novel is what that certain someone on your list would love, look for “The Return” by Michael Gruber, a book about a man who isn’t who he seems. Yes, he looks like an easy going guy, but revenge is really what’s on his mind, and he’s not going to stop until he finds it. Wrap it up with “Island of the White Rose” by R. Ira Harris, a historical novel of revolution (in Cuba) and intrigue, love and danger.

For the reader who loves a good murder novel, “Love Gone Mad” by Mark Rubinstein might be what you want to wrap. When a famous heart surgeon and a nurse meet at work, it seems like romance is in the air. But no, it’s danger they sense, and a fight for their very lives. Wrap it up with “The Russian Endgame” by Allan Topol, an international thriller with political undertones, and watch your giftee smile.

The person on your list who loves a good romance will enjoy “Love Rehab: A Novel in Twelve Steps” by Jo Piazza. It’s a story filled with all those things you don’t want to do when lookin’ for love. And for something different, wrap it up with “Dying for Dinner Rolls” by Lois Lavrisa, the first in the Chubby Chicks Club mystery series. Food and murder — what more could you want?

General Non-Fiction

If there’s a poker player on your gift list this year, then you’ve got to wrap up “Straight Flush” by Ben Mezrich. This is the story of a bunch of college buddies who start an online poker site and rake in the cash, but the U.S. Department of Justice wants them to fold. For sure, your giftee loving this book? Yeah, it’s in the cards!

Why did you pick the gift you picked? Was it just because you knew your friend well, or was there another reason? In “You Are Now Less Dumb” by David McRaney, your giftee will learn a little bit more about what makes you tick, why they didn’t get lots of money as gifts, and why that’s a very good thing.

For the biography lover on your list, “More Scenes from the Rural Life” by Verlyn Klinkenborg might make an excellent gift. This book takes a look at the beauty, the grace, the elegance and the troubles of living on a farm. It’s a nice companion to the first volume by this author, published 10 years ago.

Surely, there’s someone on your gift list who fears growing older — or someone who’s embraced it wholeheartedly. For that person, wrap up “I’ll Seize the Day Tomorrow” by Jonathan Goldstein, who recounts his last year before he turns the “dreaded 4-0.” Give it to the 30-something on your list, as well as to the something-something who only barely remembers his 40s. Pair it up with “It’s Never Too Late” by Dallas Clayton, a “kid’s book for adults” that will make your giftee think about life, love and where both are taking her.

The science fan on your list will love unwrapping “My Beloved Brontosaurus” by Brian Switek. What do we know about dinos — and what do we only think we know? The author’s passion for the giant critters comes shining through here as he writes about new theories, old myths and big truths. Yes, this is a book about dinosaurs, but it’s for big kids only. Wrap it up with “Last Ape Standing” by Chip Walter, a book about our distant ancestors: who they were and how we out-survived them. Or try “The Girl With No Name” by Marina Chapman, which is a true story about a girl who claims to have been raised by monkeys.

For the movie buff, “Sleepless in Hollywood” by Lynda Obst is a good bet for a great gift. In this book, your giftee will read about the movie industry, how it’s changed over the last 10 years or so, and why it costs so much money to make fewer movies. Wrap it up with a pair of tickets and “The Horror Show Guide: The Ultimate Frightfest of Movies” by Mike Mayo. If it’s a scary movie, it’s likely to be listed in this book, making it a reference guide that movie buffs simply should not be without.

If your giftee loves old reruns and can’t get enough of the girl who “turns the world on with her smile,” then you need to wrap up “Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted” by Jennifer Keishin Armstrong. This is a book about the people who created and brought you “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and made it a beloved favorite on oldies channels and TV-on-demand. Wrap it up with “The Joker” by Andrew Hudgins, which is part biography, part look at jokes and things that make us laugh.

The trivia buff on your list will love “Life Skills: How to Do Almost Anything” by the folks at the Chicago Tribune. He’ll learn how to trim hair and unclog a sink, how to pack for a long road trip, how to bowl and scads of other useful talents. Wrap up that book with “How to Win at Everything” by Daniel Kibblesmith and Sam Weiner, which will further those valuable skills, and “Stats & Curiosities” from the Harvard Business Review folks, for even more knowledge.

Sometimes, it’s just fun to read about normal, everyday people and if there’s someone on your list who might enjoy that kind of change of pace, then wrap up “American Story” by Bob Dotson. In this book, Dotson takes a look at your neighbors, your friends, your distant relatives and comes up with some sweetly amazing stories. For another kind of American story, give “Humboldt: Life on America ’s Marijuana Frontier” by Emily Brady, a book about a northern California community and legalization of their main product. For the right person, it’ll be the perfect gift.

For that person on your list with the unique sense of humor, “That’s Not Funny, That’s Sick” by Ellin Stein may make your gift-giving easier. This book takes a look at The National Lampoon magazine and its founders, writers, humor and more. Think: John Belushi. Think: Second City Comedy. Think: perfect gift. And you can’t go wrong if you wrap it up with “Inside MAD” by the “Usual Gang of Idiots” at MAD magazine. This is a look at many beloved, classic spreads from the magazine, and it features essays from 17 celebs who loved the mag as much as you did.

The giftee who loves to study ancient history, particularly that of Egypt, will love reading “The Shadow King” by Jo Marchant. It’s a book about King Tut’s mummy: where it’s been, what we’ve learned about it and why we’re still so fascinated with it.

Students of culture and politics will smile when they unwrap “Clash! 8 Cultural Conflicts That Make Us Who We Are” by Hazel Rose Markus, Ph.D. and Alana Conner, Ph.D. This book looks at eight common them-vs.-us themes — east vs. west, men vs. women and more — and how it affects us as individuals and the world at large.

For the person who has it all, how about a very unusual book? “Roy G. Biv” by Jude Stewart is a book about color: myths about it, history of reds and oranges, purples and blues, what the colors mean in culture and what they do to us. Be sure to wrap it up with “The Handy Art History Answer Book” by Madelynn Dickerson for a truly colorful gift.

It seems like everybody’s got somebody on their list who’s single, doesn’t it? And the person on your list will love reading “Modern Dating: A Field Guide” by Chiara Atik. This humorous book isn’t just funny — it also offers real advice and tips on loving one’s singlehood, dating etiquette, make-up-or-break-up tips, and more. It might not put a ring on someone’s finger, but it’ll make them smile. Be sure to wrap it up with “Data, A Love Story” by Amy Webb, which is the story of Webb’s experiences with finding love by online dating.

Is your giftee happy as a clam this time of year? He’s cool as a cucumber opening gifts but excited as a pig in tall corn underneath? Then wrap up “Similes Dictionary” by Elyse Sommer and you know you’ll get a smile as big as the world. Wrap up “Hard Times Require Furious Dancing” by Alice Walker, a book of verse to inspire, sooth and provoke thoughts, or “A Slap in the Face” by William B. Irvine, which is a book about insults — subtle and not-so-subtle — where they come from and why they’re so darn barbed.

The newlywed, newly single or new college student on your list will love “Don’t Screw It Up!” by Laura Lee. This is a book offers household tips that will make life run more smoothly, whether it’s with finances, home maintenance, cooking or another of life’s sticky situations. And then — just because screw-ups are unavoidable, show your giftee that it’s OK by pairing that book with “Always Look on the Bright Side: Celebrating Each Day to the Fullest” by Allen Klein. The title says it all.

For the person who loves historical photographs, look for “The Big Picture” by Josh Sapau. This book is filled with panoramic photographs from the days when film only came in black and white and people dressed up to look good for posterity on picture day. Even the size and shape of this book says “fun!” Make it an awesome gift by adding “The Heart of Everything That Is: The Untold Story of Red Cloud, An American Legend” by Bob Drury and Tom Clavin.

For the wanderer on your gift list, wrap up “The Turk Who Loved Apples” by Matt Gross. This is a book of unexpected travels and surprising journeys around the world in unusual places. Wrap it up with “Hidden Cities” by Moses Gates, in which the author travels to unusual sites within larger metropolises.

First, the housekeeping: some of these books may be challenging to find. Release dates are approximate. Titles may be slightly different. Still, there you have it: gift ideas for everybody you love. And if you don’t see the perfect book on this list, throw yourself at the mercy of the friendly bookseller in your hometown. She knows books and making someone smile makes her smile, too.

Season’s Readings!

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