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20 Life-Changing Books We’re Gifting to Everyone We Love This Year

November 23 2020
Share 20 Life-Changing Books We’re Gifting to Everyone We Love This Year

I think we can all say that gift-giving will be looking a little different this year. How does one find the perfect gift for a friend or relative that’s poignant enough to spark joy and meaning at the tail end of 2020? When the gift options seem either non-existent or overwhelming, it never hurts to scroll through some book lists to see what pops. We’ve rounded up the books that have meant a lot to us this year, and that have helped light up the darkness, whether it was through an eye-opening memoir, a heart-wrenching friendship story, or a cookbook that served up a good laugh. We hope these books will help you and your loved ones close out the year with warmth and cheer.

For even more recommendations—including for the historical fiction fan and voracious young reader in your life—check out Simon & Schuster’s official Books I Love to Give holiday gift guide! Plus, check out which books Simon & Schuster’s CEO Jonathan Karp is gifting during this holiday season!

Anxious People
by Fredrik Backman

Emily's Pick #1 Fredrik Backman is basically Santa Claus to me, with all the joy his stories spread. In his latest release, your average open house turns into a terrifying scenario when a robber burst in and holds eight strangers hostage. The captives come from all walks of life: finance careers, young messy lovers, a rebellious old lady, the list goes on. Seeing the many different reactions from these characters is hilarious, heartbreaking, life-affirming, and definitely has the hostage rethinking his strategy. There’s nothing that’ll reignite your faith in (and celebration of) humanity more than a novel about fickle strangers uniting across boundaries and breaking down barriers.

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Anxious People
Fredrik Backman

From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of A Man Called Ove and “writer of astonishing depth” (The Washington Times) comes a poignant, charming novel about a crime that never took place, a would-be bank robber who disappears into thin air, and eight extremely anxious strangers who find they have more in common than they ever imagined.

Looking at real estate isn’t usually a life-or-death situation, but an apartment open house becomes just that when a failed bank robber bursts in and takes a group of strangers hostage. The captives include a recently retired couple who relentlessly hunt down fixer-uppers to avoid the painful truth that they can’t fix their own marriage. There’s a wealthy bank director who has been too busy to care about anyone else and a young couple who are about to have their first child but can’t seem to agree on anything, from where they want to live to how they met in the first place. Add to the mix an eighty-seven-year-old woman who has lived long enough not to be afraid of someone waving a gun in her face, a flustered but still-ready-to-make-a-deal real estate agent, and a mystery man who has locked himself in the apartment’s only bathroom, and you’ve got the worst group of hostages in the world.

Each of them carries a lifetime of grievances, hurts, secrets, and passions that are ready to boil over. None of them is entirely who they appear to be. And all of them—the bank robber included—desperately crave some sort of rescue. As the authorities and the media surround the premises these reluctant allies will reveal surprising truths about themselves and set in motion a chain of events so unexpected that even they can hardly explain what happens next.

Rich with Fredrik Backman’s “pitch-perfect dialogue and an unparalleled understanding of human nature” (Shelf Awareness), Anxious People is an ingeniously constructed story about the enduring power of friendship, forgiveness, and hope—the things that save us, even in the most anxious times.

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Solutions and Other Problems
by Allie Brosh

Anne’s Pick SOLUTIONS AND OTHER PROBLEMS is perfect for: the sibling you love but don't talk to enough; your best friend, who you FaceTime with at 3 a.m.; your therapist, who helped you get through 2020, or your Gen Z niece/nephew, who you desperately want to impress. Whether or not you're familiar with Allie Brosh and her beloved blog HYPERBOLE AND A HALF, which is also the title of her previous bestseller, her newest book, SOLUTIONS AND OTHER PROBLEMS, is a great book to gift this year. Allie's iconic MS-paint-style cartoons are shockingly expressive. Stories such as  "Richard" and "Poop Mystery" will make you laugh out loud, but other stories will leave you ugly-crying in the best way. SOLUTIONS AND OTHER PROBLEMS is so much about being kind to yourself, that I can't think of a better message—or book—to gift in 2020.

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Solutions and Other Problems
Allie Brosh

INSTANT #1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

For the first time in seven years, Allie Brosh—beloved author and artist of the extraordinary #1 New York Times bestseller Hyperbole and a Half—returns with a new collection of comedic, autobiographical, and illustrated essays.

Solutions and Other Problems includes humorous stories from Allie Brosh’s childhood; the adventures of her very bad animals; merciless dissection of her own character flaws; incisive essays on grief, loneliness, and powerlessness; as well as reflections on the absurdity of modern life.

This full-color, beautifully illustrated edition features all-new material with more than 1,600 pieces of art. Solutions and Other Problems marks the return of a beloved American humorist who has “the observational skills of a scientist, the creativity of an artist, and the wit of a comedian” (Bill Gates).

Praise for Allie Brosh’s Hyperbole and a Half:
“Imagine if David Sedaris could draw….Enchanting.” —People
“One of the best things I’ve ever read in my life.” Marc Maron
“Will make you laugh until you sob, even when Brosh describes her struggle with depression.” —Entertainment Weekly
“I would gladly pay to sit in a room full of people reading this book, merely to share the laughter.” —The Philadelphia Inquirer
“In a culture that encourages people to carry mental illness as a secret burden….Brosh’s bracing honesty is a gift.” —Chicago Tribune

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The Book of Lost Names
by Kristin Harmel

Holly’s Pick #1 Often I turn to books for comfort, for a spark of joy in moments of uncertainty and spells of anxiety. And more times than not, books respond with a soothing sense of hope. THE BOOK OF LOST NAMES by Kristin Harmel was exactly that for me—a sanguine story of courage and resilience that I needed and that I’m gifting to my friends and family this year. Elderly librarian Eva Traube Abrams has spent the last sixty years attempting to erase the painful memories of how she spent her early twenties painstakingly forging legal documents in the underground French Resistance during World War II. Eva sacrificed her own safety and well-being to aid in helping hundreds of Jewish children escape over the French border into neutral land. Regarding this ingenious and powerful woman as a hero would be an understatement. Eva was the guiding light to countless refugees who never even knew she existed. Now, in the present day, when historians uncover a secret wartime text that holds an indecipherable code, Eva is met with the decision to re-open her past wounds of her time in the Resistance. Give the gift of hope this year with this charming historical read.

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The Book of Lost Names
Kristin Harmel

Inspired by an astonishing true story from World War II, a young woman with a talent for forgery helps hundreds of Jewish children flee the Nazis in this unforgettable historical novel from the international bestselling author of the “epic and heart-wrenching World War II tale” (Alyson Noel, #1 New York Times bestselling author) The Winemaker’s Wife.

Eva Traube Abrams, a semi-retired librarian in Florida, is shelving books one morning when her eyes lock on a photograph in a magazine lying open nearby. She freezes; it’s an image of a book she hasn’t seen in sixty-five years—a book she recognizes as The Book of Lost Names.

The accompanying article discusses the looting of libraries by the Nazis across Europe during World War II—an experience Eva remembers well—and the search to reunite people with the texts taken from them so long ago. The book in the photograph, an eighteenth-century religious text thought to have been taken from France in the waning days of the war, is one of the most fascinating cases. Now housed in Berlin’s Zentral- und Landesbibliothek library, it appears to contain some sort of code, but researchers don’t know where it came from—or what the code means. Only Eva holds the answer—but will she have the strength to revisit old memories and help reunite those lost during the war?

As a graduate student in 1942, Eva was forced to flee Paris after the arrest of her father, a Polish Jew. Finding refuge in a small mountain town in the Free Zone, she begins forging identity documents for Jewish children fleeing to neutral Switzerland. But erasing people comes with a price, and along with a mysterious, handsome forger named Rémy, Eva decides she must find a way to preserve the real names of the children who are too young to remember who they really are. The records they keep in The Book of Lost Names will become even more vital when the resistance cell they work for is betrayed and Rémy disappears.

An engaging and evocative novel reminiscent of The Lost Girls of Paris and The Alice Network, The Book of Lost Names is a testament to the resilience of the human spirit and the power of bravery and love in the face of evil.

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My Own Words
by Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Saimah’s Pick #1 This year we lost so many cultural icons, and one of the most heart-wrenching was the Notorious RBG, a hero for many women and young girls. As a champion for women’s rights, she broke barriers and paved the way for others to follow in her footsteps. She lived such an incredible life that had a huge impact on the face of America as we know it today through the controversial decisions she made as SCOTUS. Her collection, MY OWN WORDS, will be at the top of my gift list this season because there are so many amazing facts about her life in this book that I know my friends will enjoy. As I read more about her life and her path to the seat on the Supreme Court, I became even more in awe of her. As she once said: "Reading is the key that opens doors to many good things in life. Reading shaped my dreams, and more reading helped me make my dreams come true." I hope you pick up her book and gift it too!

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My Own Words
Ruth Bader Ginsburg

The New York Times bestselling book from Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg—“a comprehensive look inside her brilliantly analytical, entertainingly wry mind, revealing the fascinating life of one of our generation's most influential voices in both law and public opinion” (Harper’s Bazaar).

My Own Words “showcases Ruth Ginsburg’s astonishing intellectual range” (The New Republic). In this collection Justice Ginsburg discusses gender equality, the workings of the Supreme Court, being Jewish, law and lawyers in opera, and the value of looking beyond US shores when interpreting the US Constitution. Throughout her life Justice Ginsburg has been (and continues to be) a prolific writer and public speaker. This book’s sampling is selected by Justice Ginsburg and her authorized biographers Mary Hartnett and Wendy W. Williams, who introduce each chapter and provide biographical context and quotes gleaned from hundreds of interviews they have conducted.

Witty, engaging, serious, and playful, My Own Words is a fascinating glimpse into the life of one of America’s most influential women and “a tonic to the current national discourse” (The Washington Post).

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Calm Christmas and a Happy New Year
by Beth Kempton

Heather’s Pick #1 You don’t need me to tell you that this year has been rough. That’s obvious. An understatement, actually. And since the pandemic is still raging, there’s no question the holidays will be challenging, with many of us opting to cancel annual gatherings to prevent further spread of this contagious disease. That’s why I can’t imagine a more fitting gift than Beth Kempton’s timely mindfulness guide to a stress-free holiday season, CALM CHRISTMAS AND A HAPPY NEW YEAR. Finding new, creative ways to celebrate and live in the moment will be more important than ever this year, and this book can help inspire us to do exactly that.

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Calm Christmas and a Happy New Year
Beth Kempton

A delightful guide to a stress-free holiday season filled with mindfulness, joy, self-care, and festive magic.

What if the month of December were soothing instead of stressful? Now you can celebrate a new kind of holiday season—one where you radiate calm and cultivate delight. Calm Christmas and a Happy New Year leads you out of the darkness of winter and back to the enchantment of an authentic and attainable Christmas season filled with merry gatherings, thoughtful gift-giving, and meaningful observations of annual traditions.

Covering the time period from late November to early January, this joyful guide embraces all the festive holiday build-up and then welcomes the new year in a holistic, nurturing way. Author Beth Kempton gently encourages you to prioritize your holiday hopes and take a slower, more mindful approach to your celebrations. Kempton also offers helpful suggestions for making the most of winter, and recommends using this quiet time to dream new dreams, set goals, and aspire toward a beautiful year ahead.

Filled with personal stories, tips, and advice for staying calm and connecting with others, Calm Christmas and a Happy New Year provides a cozy retreat from the pressure of striving for perfection. Instead of starting the New Year exhausted, in debt, and filled with regret, you will rejoice in the memories of the season feeling rested, rejuvenated, inspired, and calm.

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All the Light We Cannot See
by Anthony Doerr

Sarah’s Pick This is a book situation where I tend to get too excited for someone when I find out they haven't yet read it. I can't relive my first read, but I can watch other readers react to the experience (if they're gracious enough to text me updates!). So, it’s not surprising that this will be one of my go-to holiday book gifts again this year. Not only is the story so immersive and compelling, but it attracts readers of all genres, even those who say they don't usually embrace historical fiction or who feel that they've already read enough WWII novels. Beautifully written, set in a world of turmoil and unexpected connections, ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE follows young Marie-Laure as she flees Paris and, separately, German orphan Werner Pfennig, whose love of radios leads him to the Resistance.

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All the Light We Cannot See
Anthony Doerr

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, a New York Times Book Review Top Ten Book, National Book Award finalist, more than two and a half years on the New York Times bestseller list

From the highly acclaimed, multiple award-winning Anthony Doerr, the stunningly beautiful instant New York Times bestseller about a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in occupied France as both try to survive the devastation of World War II.

Marie-Laure lives in Paris near the Museum of Natural History, where her father works. When she is twelve, the Nazis occupy Paris and father and daughter flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure’s reclusive great uncle lives in a tall house by the sea. With them they carry what might be the museum’s most valuable and dangerous jewel.

In a mining town in Germany, Werner Pfennig, an orphan, grows up with his younger sister, enchanted by a crude radio they find that brings them news and stories from places they have never seen or imagined. Werner becomes an expert at building and fixing these crucial new instruments and is enlisted to use his talent to track down the resistance. Deftly interweaving the lives of Marie-Laure and Werner, Doerr illuminates the ways, against all odds, people try to be good to one another.

Doerr’s “stunning sense of physical detail and gorgeous metaphors” (San Francisco Chronicle) are dazzling. Ten years in the writing, a National Book Award finalist, All the Light We Cannot See is a magnificent, deeply moving novel from a writer “whose sentences never fail to thrill” (Los Angeles Times).

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Dear Emmie Blue
by Lia Louis

Courtney’s Pick #1 Catch me buying out my local indie bookstore of all their DEAR EMMIE BLUE copies this holiday season. No one who knows me will be surprised to hear it is my go-to gift this winter, as I’ve been talking about it since I read a pre-publication copy last year. The physical book itself is beautiful and constantly draws my eye from my bookshelf. The story it contains, though, is one everyone could use at the end of this endless year. This coming-of-age story follows Emmie as she comes to realize that her best friend, a guy she’s steadily fallen in love with over the last fourteen years, is marrying another woman. This unwelcome news forces Emmie to examine all the things she’s put on hold in her life as she’s patiently waited for reciprocal declarations of her best friend’s love for her. Every character in this book feels so real and by the end, Emmie feels like an old friend. This heartwarming story of self-discovery and finding love is the gift I’m most excited to give.

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Dear Emmie Blue
Lia Louis

“A delightful story about how the things we imagine to be best for us usually aren’t. The reason you will love Dear Emmie Blue is because you’ve probably *lived* Dear Emmie Blue, in some small part of your own journey to adulthood.” Jodi Picoult, #1 New York Times bestselling author

In this charming and poignant novel, teenager Emmie Blue releases a balloon with her email address and a big secret into the sky, only to fall head-over-heels for the boy who finds it; now, fourteen years later, the one thing Emmie has been counting on is gone for good, and everything she planned is up in the air.

At sixteen, Emmie Blue stood in the fields of her school and released a red balloon into the sky. Attached was her name, her email address…and a secret she desperately wanted to be free of. Weeks later, on a beach in France, Lucas Moreau discovered the balloon and immediately emailed the attached addressed, sparking an intense friendship between the two teens.

Now, fourteen years later, Emmie is hiding the fact that she’s desperately in love with Lucas. She has pinned all her hopes on him and waits patiently for him to finally admit that she’s the one for him. So dedicated to her love for Lucas, Emmie has all but neglected her life outside of this relationship—she’s given up the search for her absentee father, no longer tries to build bridges with her distant mother, and lives as a lodger to an old lady she barely knows after being laid off from her job. And when Lucas tells Emmie he has a big question to ask her, she’s convinced this is the moment he’ll reveal his feelings for her. But nothing in life ever quite goes as planned, does it?

Emmie Blue is about to learn everything she thinks she knows about life (and love) is just that: what she thinks she knows. Is there such thing as meant to be? Or is it true when they say that life is what happens when you are busy making other plans? A story filled with heart and humor, Dear Emmie Blue is perfect for fans of Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine and Evvie Drake Starts Over.

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Savage Legion
by Matt Wallace

Jordyn’s Pick This book is exactly what readers want when they’re looking for epic, hopepunk fantasy with underdog characters and rebellion galore. It’s also an excellent go-to holiday gift for anyone who is seeking Dungeons & Dragons in a book, whether they play for political intrigue and subterfuge or gritty combat. There’s incredible world-building, badass women, a secret society, and some excellently violent battles. I’ll be gifting this one to friends and family who are fans of the Game of Thrones series, Three Dark Crowns, Black Sun, or The Poppy War. The love for this book is absolutely massive.

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Savage Legion
Matt Wallace

An epic fantasy by Hugo Award–winning author Matt Wallace about a utopian city with a dark secret…and the underdogs who will expose it, or die trying.

They call them Savages. Brutal. Efficient. Expendable.

The empire relies on them. The Savages are the greatest weapon they ever developed. Culled from the streets of their cities, they take the ones no one will miss and throw them, by the thousands, at the empire’s enemies. If they live, they fight again. If they die, there are always more to take their place.

Evie is not a Savage. She’s a warrior with a mission: to find the man she once loved, the man who holds the key to exposing the secret of the Savage Legion and ending the mass conscription of the empire’s poor and wretched.

But to find him, she must become one of them, to be marked in her blood, to fight in their wars, and to find her purpose. Evie will die a Savage if she has to, but not before showing the world who she really is and what the Savage Legion can really do.

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White Ivy
by Susie Yang

Sharon’s Pick #1 I can’t think of a better book to give for the holidays than this electric debut novel! WHITE IVY is a gripping read from the get-go, thanks to its notable protagonist, the thieving Ivy Lin, who vies for the attention of Gideon Speyer, the son of a wealthy politician. The book is a captivating and cautionary tale, exploring race, class, immigration, and the lengths to which one will go to achieve success in the U.S. Anyone you give WHITE IVY to will not be able to put it down right through the shocking end!

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White Ivy
Susie Yang

***LONGLISTED FOR THE CENTER FOR FICTION’S FIRST NOVEL PRIZE***

From prizewinning Chinese American author Susie Yang, this dazzling coming-of-age novel about a young woman’s dark obsession with her privileged classmate offers sharp insights into the immigrant experience.

Ivy Lin is a thief and a liar—but you’d never know it by looking at her.

Raised outside of Boston, Ivy’s immigrant grandmother relies on Ivy’s mild appearance for cover as she teaches her granddaughter how to pilfer items from yard sales and second-hand shops. Thieving allows Ivy to accumulate the trappings of a suburban teen—and, most importantly, to attract the attention of Gideon Speyer, the golden boy of a wealthy political family. But when Ivy’s mother discovers her trespasses, punishment is swift and Ivy is sent to China, and her dream instantly evaporates.

Years later, Ivy has grown into a poised yet restless young woman, haunted by her conflicting feelings about her upbringing and her family. Back in Boston, when Ivy bumps into Sylvia Speyer, Gideon’s sister, a reconnection with Gideon seems not only inevitable—it feels like fate.

Slowly, Ivy sinks her claws into Gideon and the entire Speyer clan by attending fancy dinners, and weekend getaways to the cape. But just as Ivy is about to have everything she’s ever wanted, a ghost from her past resurfaces, threatening the nearly perfect life she’s worked so hard to build.

Filled with surprising twists and a nuanced exploration of class and race, White Ivy is a glimpse into the dark side of a woman who yearns for success at any cost.

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Cook Anime
by Diana Ault

Sharon’s Pick #2 COOK ANIME is a fantastic holiday gift for anyone looking to switch up their cooking routine and for the anime-lovers in your life. Side note, it also makes a fantastic housewarming present, which I just used it for recently! This book provides an extensive variety of recipes from well-known anime series, such as the miso chashu ramen featured in Naruto and the taiyaki (fish-shaped cakes) from My Hero Academia. It also offers up some history and tips behind the recipes. I was particularly excited to make the green tea and the fried rice with egg!

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Cook Anime
Diana Ault

Learn to recreate delicious dishes referenced in over 500 of your favorite anime series with this practical guide to anime food.

Japanese animation has beautiful designs, fleshed out characters, and engaging storylines—and it’s also overflowing with so many scrumptiously rendered meals. Do you ever watch your favorite anime series and start craving the takoyaki or the warmth of delicious ramen or the fluffy sweetness of mochi? Now, you can make your cravings a reality with Cook Anime!

Join an otaku on her tour through anime food and find out what your favorite characters are savoring and sharing and then learn to make it at home! Including:
-Miso Chashu Ramen from Naruto
-Rice Porridge from Princess Mononoke
-Onigiri from Fruits Basket
-Taiyaki from My Hero Academia
-Hanami Dango from Clannad
-Rice from Haikyuu!!
-And many more!

Along with each recipe, you will discover facts behind the food, such as history, culture, tips, and more. A perfect gift for foodies and otaku alike, Cook Anime is the all-inclusive guide to making the meals of this Japanese art form.

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So to Speak
by Shirley Kobliner

Heather’s Pick #2 As someone who visits The Phrase Thesaurus on an embarrassingly regular basis and counts several writers among her friends, I am planning to wrap up copies of SO TO SPEAK for various loved ones this holiday season. This treasure trove of everyday sayings is organized by category, meaning you can wander from Food & Cooking to Animals to Love and beyond. So take it from me: whether you’re shopping for a voracious reader with a deep appreciation for the English language (hi, Grandma); game-night hosts who gets a kick out of stumping guests with tricky trivia questions (looking at you, Ryan and Jane), or a writer who’s constantly seeking fresh turns of phrase (you’re welcome, Jenn), SO TO SPEAK is primed to provide lots of entertainment.

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So to Speak
Shirley Kobliner

Engage with everyday expressions in a completely different (and fun!) way, with this entertaining and interactive book of common phrases that can turn a humdrum gathering into a raucous game night.

We use expressions all the time. When you feel sick, you’re “under the weather.” When you feel great, you’re “on top of the world.” You may be fine with “half a loaf,” or you may insist on “the whole enchilada.” But whether you’re a “smart cookie” or a tough one, you—and almost everyone you know—have a veritable smorgasbord of expressions stored deep in your brain.

So to Speak: 11,000 Expressions That’ll Knock Your Socks Off is the largest expressions book of its kind. Thoughtfully divided into sixty-four categories—from Animals to Food & Cooking, from Love to Politics—these clever expressions (plus the dozens of game recommendations in the book) will keep you entertained for days. Authors Shirley and Harold Kobliner spent more than half a century nurturing and teaching children. So to Speak is a reflection of their deeply held belief that regardless of a person’s age, the most impactful learning happens when you’re having fun. Whether it’s grandparents teaching their favorite expressions to their grandkids, teens helping adults with the latest lingo, or millennials indulging in their love of wordplay and games, this is the perfect book to celebrate the joy of words and expressions.

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In Five Years
by Rebecca Serle

Allie’s Pick IN FIVE YEARS is one of the books I’m giving to my best friends this holiday season (and probably any other gifting occasion going forward). There’s nothing quite like the experience of reading a romantic comedy that you think is heading one way, only to find that it takes a sharp left turn that leaves you sobbing in your living room on a Tuesday evening while your dinner burns. This heartwarming story about Dannie Kohan, a hard-driving Manhattanite lawyer’s journey through friendship and fate, is so moving that, in the end, all you want to do is grab those closest to you and hold them tight.

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In Five Years
Rebecca Serle

A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

A Good Morning America, FabFitFun, and Marie Claire Book Club Pick

In Five Years is as clever as it is moving, the rare read-in-one-sitting novel you won’t forget.” —Chloe Benjamin, New York Times bestselling author of The Immortalists

Perfect for fans of Me Before You and One Day—a striking, powerful, and moving love story following an ambitious lawyer who experiences an astonishing vision that could change her life forever.

Where do you see yourself in five years?

Dannie Kohan lives her life by the numbers.

She is nothing like her lifelong best friend—the wild, whimsical, believes-in-fate Bella. Her meticulous planning seems to have paid off after she nails the most important job interview of her career and accepts her boyfriend’s marriage proposal in one fell swoop, falling asleep completely content.

But when she awakens, she’s suddenly in a different apartment, with a different ring on her finger, and beside a very different man. Dannie spends one hour exactly five years in the future before she wakes again in her own home on the brink of midnight—but it is one hour she cannot shake. In Five Years is an unforgettable love story, but it is not the one you’re expecting.

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The Encyclopedia of New York
by The Editors of New York Magazine

Courtney’s Pick #2 THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF NEW YORK is chock-full of New York stories, untold histories, and useful guides, making it a great gift for anyone who wants to hold the Big Apple in their hands, especially with travel so limited right now. I’m excited to gift this book because it’s the kind of book that sparks conversations and allows you to bond over little-known facts of history. It’s also perfect to pick up when you need a break, but don’t have the uninterrupted time to dive into a novel. It’s a gorgeous book anyone would be proud to display on their coffee table.

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The Encyclopedia of New York
The Editors of New York Magazine

The must-have guide to pop culture, history, and world-changing ideas that started in New York City, from the magazine at the center of it all.

Since its founding in 1624, New York City has been a place that creates things. What began as a trading post for beaver pelts soon transformed into a hub of technological, social, and cultural innovation—but beyond fostering literal inventions like the elevator (inside Cooper Union in 1853), Q-tips (by Polish immigrant Leo Gerstenzang in 1923), General Tso’s chicken (reimagined for American tastes in the 1970s by one of its Hunanese creators), the singles bar (1965 on the Upper East Side), and Scrabble (1931 in Jackson Heights), the city has given birth to or perfected idioms, forms, and ways of thinking that have changed the world, from Abstract Expressionism to Broadway, baseball to hip-hop, news blogs to neoconservatism to the concept of “downtown.”

Those creations and more are all collected in The Encyclopedia of New York, an A-to-Z compendium of unexpected origin stories, hidden histories, and useful guides to the greatest city in the world, compiled by the editors of New York Magazine (a city invention itself, since 1968) and featuring contributions from Rebecca Traister, Jerry Saltz, Frank Rich, Jonathan Chait, Rhonda Garelick, Kathryn VanArendonk, Christopher Bonanos, and more. Here you will find something fascinating and uniquely New York on every page: a history of the city’s skyline, accompanied by a tour guide’s list of the best things about every observation deck; the development of positive thinking and punk music; appreciations of seltzer and alternate-side-of-the-street parking; the oddest object to be found at Ripley’s Believe It or Not!; musical theater next to muckracking and mugging; and the unbelievable revelation that English muffins were created on...West Twentieth Street. Whether you are a lifelong resident, a curious newcomer, or an armchair traveler, this is the guidebook you’ll need, straight from the people who know New York best.

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In a Holidaze
by Christina Lauren

Saimah’s Pick #2 This charming novel by Christina Lauren is the perfect balm to the anxiety that this year has brought. I’ll be giving it to all my friends who love to watch holiday romance movies. Every holiday season, Maelyn Jones and her family go to a cabin in snowy Utah with close family friends and reminisce about years past. But this year, Mae feels lost—she’s living with her parents again at the age of 26, hates her dead-end job, just made a huge mistake in her love life, and discovers that this will be their last year at their beloved holiday retreat. Dismayed as she drives away from the cabin after Christmas, Mae makes a plea to the universe “Show me what will make me happy.” What comes next: the car crashes and when Mae wakes, she’s trapped in a cycle just like the movie Groundhog’s Day. Stuck reliving December 20, she must figure out how to break free of this crazy time loop and put her life back on track. This read had me laughing, swooning. I can’t wait for you all to escape into this enchanting story too.

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In a Holidaze
Christina Lauren

THE INSTANT NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

One Christmas wish, two brothers, and a lifetime of hope are on the line for hapless Maelyn Jones in In a Holidaze, the quintessential holiday romantic novel by Christina Lauren, the New York Times bestselling author of The Unhoneymooners.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year…but not for Maelyn Jones. She’s living with her parents, hates her going-nowhere job, and has just made a romantic error of epic proportions.

But perhaps worst of all, this is the last Christmas Mae will be at her favorite place in the world—the snowy Utah cabin where she and her family have spent every holiday since she was born, along with two other beloved families. Mentally melting down as she drives away from the cabin for the final time, Mae throws out what she thinks is a simple plea to the universe: Please. Show me what will make me happy.

The next thing she knows, tires screech and metal collides, everything goes black. But when Mae gasps awake…she’s on an airplane bound for Utah, where she begins the same holiday all over again. With one hilarious disaster after another sending her back to the plane, Mae must figure out how to break free of the strange time loop—and finally get her true love under the mistletoe.

Jam-packed with yuletide cheer, an unforgettable cast of characters, and Christina Lauren’s trademark “downright hilarious” (Helen Hoang, author of The Bride Test) hijinks, this swoon-worthy romantic read will make you believe in the power of wishes and the magic of the holidays.

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Group
by Christie Tate

Emily’s Pick #2 In this incredibly honest, no-holds-barred debut, Christie Tate describes her journey into group therapy, where nothing is confidential. This allows for her to share all the nitty-gritty truths and jaw-dropping scenes between herself and her therapy-session mates, who move on to become lifelong friends. Tate’s memoir is so addicting and unexpected, I couldn’t stop reading it. And at the same time, I wanted to stop, so I could sit back and reflect about everything and figure out how to apply some of her lessons to my own life. Now I’m gifting the book to my friends, so we can all talk about the events in it together. And in case you somehow didn’t hear, GROUP was selected as Reese’s Book Club pick for November!

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Group
Christie Tate

“Hilarious and engrossing.” People * “Fearless candor and vulnerability.” —Time * “Funny, emotional, and insightful.” —Good Morning America * “Honest, addictive” —HelloGiggles * “Wonderful...sparkle and intelligence.” —Booklist * “Dazzling.” —Publishers Weekly

The refreshingly original debut memoir of a guarded, over-achieving, self-lacerating young lawyer who reluctantly agrees to get psychologically and emotionally naked in a room of six complete strangers—her psychotherapy group—and in turn finds human connection, and herself.

Christie Tate had just been named the top student in her law school class and finally had her eating disorder under control. Why then was she driving through Chicago fantasizing about her own death? Why was she envisioning putting an end to the isolation and sadness that still plagued her in spite of her achievements?

Enter Dr. Rosen, a therapist who calmly assures her that if she joins one of his psychotherapy groups, he can transform her life. All she has to do is show up and be honest. About everything—her eating habits, childhood, sexual history, etc. Christie is skeptical, insisting that that she is defective, beyond cure. But Dr. Rosen issues a nine-word prescription that will change everything: “You don’t need a cure, you need a witness.”

So begins her entry into the strange, terrifying, and ultimately life-changing world of group therapy. Christie is initially put off by Dr. Rosen’s outlandish directives, but as her defenses break down and she comes to trust Dr. Rosen and to depend on the sessions and the prescribed nightly phone calls with various group members, she begins to understand what it means to connect.

Group is a deliciously addictive read, and with Christie as our guide—skeptical of her own capacity for connection and intimacy, but hopeful in spite of herself—we are given a front row seat to the daring, exhilarating, painful, and hilarious journey that is group therapy—an under-explored process that breaks you down, and then reassembles you so that all the pieces finally fit.

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Let Us Dream
by Pope Francis

Emily’s Pick #3 Pope Francis explores how a community in crisis can learn to grasp hope from upheaval—and how the choices we make after failure take courage and are important to get right. He analyzes the many elements that have led us to our current crises in COVID and in division and greed. He advises that we must grow from this experience and learn from this time as a society, finding ways to encourage unheard voices to speak out. I think we all could use this book after the year we’ve had. Not only to help us understand how we got here, but to envision a way forward.

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Let Us Dream
Pope Francis

In this uplifting and practical book, written in collaboration with his biographer, Austen Ivereigh, the preeminent spiritual leader explains why we must—and how we can—make the world safer, fairer, and healthier for all people now.

In the COVID crisis, the beloved shepherd of over one billion Catholics saw the cruelty and inequity of our society exposed more vividly than ever before. He also saw, in the resilience, generosity, and creativity of so many people, the means to rescue our society, our economy, and our planet. In direct, powerful prose, Pope Francis urges us not to let the pain be in vain.

He begins Let Us Dream by exploring what this crisis can teach us about how to handle upheaval of any kind in our own lives and the world at large. With unprecedented candor, he reveals how three crises in his own life changed him dramatically for the better. By its very nature, he shows, crisis presents us with a choice: we make a grievous error if we try to return to some pre-crisis state. But if we have the courage to change, we can emerge from the crisis better than before.

Francis then offers a brilliant, scathing critique of the systems and ideologies that conspired to produce the current crisis, from a global economy obsessed with profit and heedless of the people and environment it harms, to politicians who foment their people’s fear and use it to increase their own power at their people’s expense. He reminds us that Christians’ first duty is to serve others, especially the poor and the marginalized, just as Jesus did.

Finally, the Pope offers an inspiring and actionable blueprint for building a better world for all humanity by putting the poor and the planet at the heart of new thinking. For this plan, he draws not only on sacred sources, but on the latest findings from renowned scientists, economists, activists, and other thinkers. Yet rather than simply offer prescriptions, he shows how ordinary people acting together despite their differences can discover unforeseen possibilities.

Along the way, he offers dozens of wise and surprising observations on the value of unconventional thinking, on why we must dramatically increase women’s leadership in the Church and throughout society, on what he learned while scouring the streets of Buenos Aires with garbage-pickers, and much more.

Let Us Dream is an epiphany, a call to arms, and a pleasure to read. It is Pope Francis at his most personal, profound and passionate. With this book and with open hearts, we can change the world.

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I Would Leave Me If I Could.
by Halsey

Nicole’s Pick I’ve been a fan of the biracial, bisexual goddess known to her fans as Halsey (and to her family as Ashley) from the moment I heard her first album. Earlier this year (yes, it’s still 2020 somehow), Halsey released one of music’s most anticipated albums, her third studio release, titled Manic. From the moment it was announced, fans knew they would be treated to Halsey’s most personal and painful album yet: she described it as the first album she’s written as herself—Ashley Frangipane. Now, on the heels of a new album and the five-year anniversary of Badlands, Halsey is back with a collection of poetry titled I WOULD LEAVE ME IF I COULD. The book includes original and autobiographical poems about everything from sexuality to feminism to heartbreak, and features cover art by Halsey herself. You’re all in for a treat!

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I Would Leave Me If I Could.
Halsey

Grammy Award–nominated, platinum-selling musician Halsey is heralded as one of the most compelling voices of her generation. In I Would Leave Me If I Could, she reveals never-before-seen poetry of longing, love, and the nuances of bipolar disorder.

In this debut collection, Halsey bares her soul. Bringing the same artistry found in her lyrics, Halsey’s poems delve into the highs and lows of doomed relationships, family ties, sexuality, and mental illness. More hand grenades than confessions, these autobiographical poems explore and dismantle conventional notions of what it means to be a feminist in search of power.

Masterful as it is raw, passionate, and profound, I Would Leave Me If I Could signals the arrival of an essential voice.

Book cover painting, American Woman, by the author.

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Keep Moving
by Maggie Smith

Emily’s Pick #4 This is a book we all need after this crazy year! Author Maggie Smith used daily inspirational Twitter posts to help her through tough times—and they went viral. Now the same heartwarming sentiments that helped so many people through hardships online are collected here in quotes and essays. For fans of Anne Lamott and Cleo Wade, KEEP MOVING shows how to take loss and turn it into an opportunity for change. It also explores how to use creativity and courage to tackle life’s challenges.

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Keep Moving
Maggie Smith

USA TODAY BESTSELLER

“A meditation on kindness and hope, and how to move forward through grief.” —NPR

“A shining reminder to learn all we can from this moment, rebuilding ourselves in the darkness so that we may come out wiser, kinder, and stronger on the other side.” —The Boston Globe

“Powerful essays on loss, endurance, and renewal.”People

Cosmopolitan’s “Best Nonfiction Books of 2020”
Marie Claire’s “2020 Books You Should Pre-Order Now”
Parade’s “25 Self-Help Books To Get Your 2020 Off On The Right Foot”
The Washington Post’s “What to Read in 2020 Based on the Books You Loved in 2019”

For fans of Anne Lamott and Cleo Wade, a collection of quotes and essays on facing life’s challenges with creativity, courage, and resilience.

When Maggie Smith, the award-winning author of the viral poem “Good Bones,” started writing inspirational daily Twitter posts in the wake of her divorce, they unexpectedly caught fire. In this deeply moving book of quotes and essays, Maggie writes about new beginnings as opportunities for transformation. Like kintsugi, the Japanese art of mending broken ceramics with gold, Keep Moving celebrates the beauty and strength on the other side of loss. This is a book for anyone who has gone through a difficult time and is wondering: What comes next?

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The World That We Knew
by Alice Hoffman

Emily’s Pick #5 New in paperback and a recent winner of the Dayton Literary Peace Prize, THE WORLD THAT WE KNEW is a breathtaking novel that starts in Berlin in 1941, when an anguished mother decides to send her daughter, Lea, away to protect her from the Nazis. Joined by the rabbi's rebellious daughter and a golem, Lea escapes across Europe, while her mother and friends struggle to survive in a fragmenting world. If you haven't yet experienced the moving works of Alice Hoffman, this one is a great place to start to reinvigorate your sense of courage and strength. And if you’re already familiar with Hoffman’s work, this mesmerizing and sobering one is not to be missed.

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The World That We Knew
Alice Hoffman

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER * LONGLISTED FOR THE ANDREW CARNEGIE MEDAL

On the brink of World War II, with the Nazis tightening their grip on Berlin, a mother’s act of courage and love offers her daughter a chance of survival.

“[A] hymn to the power of resistance, perseverance, and enduring love in dark times…gravely beautiful…Hoffman the storyteller continues to dazzle.” —THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW

At the time when the world changed, Hanni Kohn knows she must send her twelve-year-old daughter away to save her from the Nazi regime. Her desperation leads her to Ettie, the daughter of a rabbi whose years spent eavesdropping on her father enables her to create a mystical Jewish creature, a rare and unusual golem, who is sworn to protect Hanni’s daughter, Lea. Once Ava is brought to life, she and Lea and Ettie become eternally entwined, their paths fated to cross, their fortunes linked.

What does it mean to lose your mother? How much can one person sacrifice for love? In a world where evil can be found at every turn, we meet remarkable characters that take us on a stunning journey of loss and resistance, the fantastical and the mortal, in a place where all roads lead past the Angel of Death and love is never-ending.

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Things in Jars
by Jess Kidd

Holly’s Pick #2 With its beautiful embellished cover swirling with promises of mystical sea creatures and magic, THINGS IN JARS by Jess Kidd reeled me in right from the get-go. Bridie Devine, female detective and no-nonsense badass, has been tasked with solving the mystery of all mysteries: Dr. Berwick’s secret daughter has been kidnapped. But why hasn’t he gone to the police? And why had no one heard of this mysterious daughter until her disappearance? These complicated questions can only be solved with one explanation—magic. The atmospheric energy emanating from the pages as Bridie and her tag team trudge through 1860s London is enough to captivate any historical fiction lover. From Bridie’s dark and sinister past to her relationship with a ghost companion (who seems all too familiar), my entire heart felt for the hardened detective. I will always recommend Jess Kidd’s writing to book-loving friends, and you can bet THINGS IN JARS is my gift of choice for this year!

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Things in Jars
Jess Kidd

In this “miraculous and thrilling” (Diane Setterfield, #1 New York Times bestselling author) mystery for fans of The Essex Serpent and The Book of Speculation, Victorian London comes to life as an intrepid female sleuth wades through a murky world of collectors and criminals to recover a remarkable child.

Bridie Devine—flame-haired, pipe-smoking detective extraordinaire—is confronted with the most baffling puzzle yet: the kidnapping of Christabel Berwick, secret daughter of Sir Edmund Athelstan Berwick, and a peculiar child whose reputed supernatural powers have captured the unwanted attention of collectors in this age of discovery.

Winding her way through the sooty streets of Victorian London, Bridie won’t rest until she finds the young girl, even if it means unearthing secrets about her past that she’d rather keep buried. Luckily, her search is aided by an enchanting cast of characters, including a seven-foot-tall housemaid; a melancholic, tattoo-covered ghost; and an avuncular apothecary. But secrets abound in this foggy underworld where nothing is quite what it seems.

Blending darkness and light, Things in Jars is a stunning, “richly woven tapestry of fantasy, folklore, and history” (Booklist, starred review) that explores what it means to be human in inhumane times.

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Photo credit: iStock / Julia Manga

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