If you’re hard pressed to find the perfect gift for a loved one this holiday season, you might take solace in knowing that books are easier to wrap than a bottle of wine, a blender, a pony, or a brand-new car. Our editorial board is surrounded by books all year round, so when December comes around, our lists are already made and the shopping halfway done. Here are just a few of the books our friends and families will find among their gifts.
I could rattle on and on about this book, and I have already to many, many people—but that won’t stop me from also gifting it to all of my friends (to whom, if they are reading this, I say: surprise!). It’s one of the funniest, most genuine, and utterly charming memoirs I have picked up. I felt completely seen; Mary Laura Philpott is an entertaining, honest writer, and even though I’m in a different situation in my life, her stories are completely relatable. If you have friends or family who have ever felt stuck, are type A, and/or have accomplished what they set out to do but still feel a little lost, this is an excellent gift for them.
The holiday season for my friends and family back home in the Midwest means a lot of time spent in the car traveling to and from reunions and parties. To make those road trips feel like part of the celebration, I’m gifting Sir Patrick Stewart’s Grammy-nominated audio adaptation of Charles Dickens’ A CHRISTMAS CAROL, based on Stewart’s critically acclaimed one-man show. Known for his classic roles in the Royal Shakespeare Company and X-Men, the beloved British actor delightfully captures the spirit of each iconic scene, character, and line of this perennial holiday favorite. His performance is sure to turn any road trip Scrooge into, well, Scrooge at the end of the novella, and is worth listening to each December.
To say this classic is a tour de force by Mr. Stewart is an understatement. He played Scrooge on stage and on TV. And thank heaven he's recorded an audiobook as well. This one feels like an old radio play from the early 20th century. Though you know the story already, hearing this man's captivating voice play all the characters is the real joy of the holiday spirit.
Narrated by Patrick Stewart
This is one of my favorite memoirs from last year—there’s something beautiful about Sarah Smarsh’s story, but also something so important. She comes from a family that has had 4 straight generations of teenage mothers, and 6 straight generations of rural farmers, and while her intention from the start (and what she ultimately succeeds in) is to break both cycles, she is upfront and honest about what it really means to “rise up” from her childhood. She acknowledges the problems with poverty, but also lays out the issues with how we see poverty. Something I will never forget is the argument that we use “poor” to mean “bad,” as in “in poor health” or “she did poorly,” which connects the idea of being impoverished with being bad. A fantastic conversation starter, an essential book to read as we go into the 2020 elections, and also just a fantastic memoir, this is the book I would most like to give to, well, just about everyone. But especially my friends and family who want a well-rounded look at the issues of income inequality, and those looking for a raw and powerful memoir from an unparalleled mind.
I love giving Samin Nosrat’s gorgeous celebration of food and instinctive cooking to friends and family It makes the perfect host thank-you or housewarming gift because it’s visually stunning (the illustrations on each page could truly be framed and hung on the wall!) and lovely to have out on a shelf, but also has wonderful writing about the elements of how to cook everything. I have a few friends who got married this year and I know this will make the perfect gift for them as they start to build kitchen lives together.
After a young girl disappears on a trip with her family, her desperate mother reaches out to a detective with close ties to the locally renowned psychic, Eloise Montgomery, in the mysterious town of The Hollows, New York. Meanwhile Eloise’s granddaughter, Finley, begins to have strange dreams that she can’t control and finds herself dropped squarely in the middle of the darkness surrounding the disappearance. A fantastic supernatural thriller, INK AND BONE is an atmospheric and suspenseful page-turner that really serves as a master class in the genre. A compelling mystery, a cast of characters that are as layered as they are intriguing, and the chilly, remote setting create the perfect space to craft an exceptional thriller. This is the perfect gift for anyone who needs to get out of their reading rut, because once you start this novel you won’t be able to put it down.
New York Times bestselling author Lisa Unger “builds a sense of place for The Hollows that rivals Stephen King’s Castle Rock for continuity and creepiness.” —The News & Observer (Raleigh, NC)
“For fans of dark and twisty psychological suspense, Ink and Bone is not to be missed.” —Lisa Scottoline, New York Times bestselling author of Most Wanted
A young woman’s mysterious gift forces her into the middle of a dangerous investigation of a little girl's disappearance.
Twenty-year-old Finley Montgomery is rarely alone. Visited by people whom others can’t see and haunted by prophetic dreams she has never been able to control or understand, Finley is terrified by the things that happen to her. When Finley’s abilities start to become too strong for her to handle—and even the roar of her motorcycle or another dazzling tattoo can’t drown out the voices—she turns to the only person she knows who can help her: her grandmother Eloise Montgomery, a renowned psychic living in The Hollows, New York.
Merri Gleason is a woman at the end of her tether after a ten-month-long search for her missing daughter, Abbey. With almost every hope exhausted, she resorts to hiring Jones Cooper, a detective who sometimes works with psychic Eloise Montgomery. Merri’s not a believer, but she’s just desperate enough to go down that road, praying that she’s not too late. Time, she knows, is running out.
As a harsh white winter moves into The Hollows, Finley and Eloise are drawn into the investigation, which proves to have much more at stake than even the fate of a missing girl. As Finley digs deeper into the town and its endless layers, she is forced to examine the past, even as she tries to look into the future. Only one thing is clear: The Hollows gets what it wants, no matter what.
My best friend and I both love period dramas and spend long nights knitting, drinking tea, and losing ourselves in many a BBC miniseries. So I know she’d love FEVER, a historical drama centering on Mary Mallon, aka the infamous Typhoid Mary. Mary Beth Keane breathes vivid life into turn-of-the-century New York City and offers a nuanced, humanizing portrait of the Irish maid who was an “asymptomatic carrier” of typhoid fever and infected numerous people before being quarantined on a remote island.
My family has enjoyed Mo Rocca’s work as a CBS News correspondent and humorist for years, so when my mom found out he was crafting a collection of life stories of compelling people throughout time, she immediately requested it as a gift. From the secret life of a silver screen icon to disorderly presidential siblings, Rocca weaves remarkable true stories from a variety of people that will surprise, move, and thoroughly entertain you.
My father loves reading about history, particularly the Civil War and World War II, but he’s read every book I can think of on either subject. I wasn’t sure what to buy him until I remembered Doris Kearns Goodwin’s bestselling LEADERSHIP. This book, by one of our nation’s best presidential historians, looks at four of the presidents she’s studied most closely—Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Lyndon B. Johnson—examining the leadership qualities they had within them and how they were viewed as leaders by others. It’s a unique look at four figures who are often the subjects of history books, and I think my father will definitely enjoy it!
I’ve lent this out to so many friends that I’ve lost track of my copy; many of them have since gotten copies for themselves. In my book club circles, enthusiasm spread so quickly that the book became an unofficial second discussion piece at a recent meetup. I had the lucky opportunity to meet the author, Lisa Taddeo, at an event, learning more about her writing process and her connection to these women. I could have listened to her speak for hours. All that to say I suspect this #1 New York Times bestseller will be a welcomed gift for readers and nonreaders alike. Lisa spent years with the three women featured in her debut nonfiction: Lina, a wife and mother looking for connection in an affair with an old boyfriend; Maggie, a high school student in an alleged relationship with her English teacher; and Sloane, a restaurant co-owner whose husband enjoys seeing her have sex with other partners. Their experiences and the emotional, analytical, and surprising reflections that unfold will have you rereading passages and immediately discussing with others.
“Extraordinary…A nonfiction literary masterpiece…I can’t remember the last time a book affected me as profoundly as Three Women.” —Elizabeth Gilbert
“This is one of the most riveting, assured, and scorchingly original debuts I’ve ever read.” —Dave Eggers
“[An] instant feminist classic...Utterly engrossing...Game-changing.” —O, The Oprah Magazine
Desire as we’ve never seen it before: a riveting true story about the sex lives of three real American women, based on nearly a decade of reporting.
It thrills us and torments us. It controls our thoughts, destroys our lives, and it’s all we live for. Yet we almost never speak of it. And as a buried force in our lives, desire remains largely unexplored—until now. Over the past eight years, journalist Lisa Taddeo has driven across the country six times to embed herself with ordinary women from different regions and backgrounds. The result, Three Women, is the deepest nonfiction portrait of desire ever written and one of the most anticipated books of the year.
We begin in suburban Indiana with Lina, a homemaker and mother of two whose marriage, after a decade, has lost its passion. She passes her days cooking and cleaning for a man who refuses to kiss her on the mouth, protesting that “the sensation offends” him. To Lina’s horror, even her marriage counselor says her husband’s position is valid. Starved for affection, Lina battles daily panic attacks. When she reconnects with an old flame through social media, she embarks on an affair that quickly becomes all-consuming.
In North Dakota we meet Maggie, a seventeen-year-old high school student who finds a confidant in her handsome, married English teacher. By Maggie’s account, supportive nightly texts and phone calls evolve into a clandestine physical relationship, with plans to skip school on her eighteenth birthday and make love all day; instead, he breaks up with her on the morning he turns thirty. A few years later, Maggie has no degree, no career, and no dreams to live for. When she learns that this man has been named North Dakota’s Teacher of the Year, she steps forward with her story—and is met with disbelief by former schoolmates and the jury that hears her case. The trial will turn their quiet community upside down.
Finally, in an exclusive enclave of the Northeast, we meet Sloane—a gorgeous, successful, and refined restaurant owner—who is happily married to a man who likes to watch her have sex with other men and women. He picks out partners for her alone or for a threesome, and she ensures that everyone’s needs are satisfied. For years, Sloane has been asking herself where her husband’s desire ends and hers begins. One day, they invite a new man into their bed—but he brings a secret with him that will finally force Sloane to confront the uneven power dynamics that fuel their lifestyle.
Based on years of immersive reporting, and told with astonishing frankness and immediacy, Three Women is a groundbreaking portrait of erotic longing in today’s America, exposing the fragility, complexity, and inequality of female desire with unprecedented depth and emotional power. It is both a feat of journalism and a triumph of storytelling, brimming with nuance and empathy, that introduces us to three unforgettable women—and one remarkable writer—whose experiences remind us that we are not alone.
Suspense, ghosts, romance, history…this book has it all, so Kate Morton’s most recent is a great gift for multiple people on my list. A heartfelt and masterful dual-timeline mystery, it’s perfect for historical fiction fanatics, romance lovers, or gothic novel junkies. In 1862, a young woman follows a group of artists, led by a man she loves, to a house on the upper Thames. Before the summer is over, one woman is dead, and another missing. In the present day, Elodie, a young archivist, comes across a drawing of a house that stirs up something in her, so she sets off to discover more about it. It’s a truly riveting, atmospheric tale that no one will want to put down.