Gifts wrapped for the holidays

Readers’ Choice: The 10 Books You Hope to Unwrap This Holiday Season

December 8 2020
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You may have already seen our list of life-changing books we love to give, but if you thought that was the end of our gift-giving recommendations, think again! As we all know, there are always more books to be considered when putting together your holiday list, so we took to social media to ask you—our readers—what books you’re hoping to unwrap this holiday season. If you haven’t finished rounding up your gift wish lists for the holidays yet, hopefully this list helps you narrow it down (or, let’s be honest, expand it)!

Group
by Christie Tate

In this incredible, no-holds-barred memoir, 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 addicting and unexpected and may spark some reflections on what decisions, habits, and lessons you can adapt and apply to your own life.

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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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Shuggie Bain
by Douglas Stuart

Racking up the awards and topping plenty of “best-of” lists this season is Douglas Stuart’s debut novel, SHUGGIE BAIN. With a backdrop of social turmoil igniting over Margaret Thatcher’s controversial policies in 1980s Glasgow, this book narrates the life of Shuggie Bain growing up in public housing with his alcoholic mother and disconnected siblings. This tale of a working-class family and a sweet boy struggling to understand himself and the world around him intimately and honestly explores themes of addiction, sexuality, poverty, and more.

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Shuggie Bain
Douglas Stuart

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MENTIONED IN:

Readers’ Choice: The 10 Books You Hope to Unwrap This Holiday Season

By Off the Shelf Staff | December 8, 2020

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The Midnight Library
by Matt Haig

Imagine a world where all of your potential realities, all the infinite twists and turns that your life could’ve taken, are held in a library. In THE MIDNIGHT LIBRARY, Nora Seed is suffering from depression when she gets a magical opportunity to enter that very library. She can now peruse the books containing the infinitely branching stories of her different lives. But which decision and turn should she take to ultimately live the most fulfilling life? Weaving philosophy, fantasy, mental health, and more, this heartbreaking read covers some deep emotional ground and raises life-altering questions.

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The Midnight Library
Matt Haig

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Tidelands
by Philippa Gregory

The first in Philippa Gregory’s new Fairmile series, TIDELANDS is a multigenerational saga set against the backdrop of the English Civil War in the 1600s. While Alinor waits in a graveyard during the Midsummer’s Eve of 1648 for a ghost to free her from an abusive husband, she instead meets James, a young man on the run who will dramatically change the course of their lives for many years to come. Gregory’s usual meticulous attention to detail will have readers eagerly anticipating the next book in the series.

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Tidelands
Philippa Gregory

This New York Times bestseller from “one of the great storytellers of our time” (San Francisco Book Review) turns from the glamour of the royal courts to tell the story of an ordinary woman, Alinor, living in a dangerous time for a woman to be different.

On Midsummer’s Eve, Alinor waits in the church graveyard, hoping to encounter the ghost of her missing husband and thus confirm his death. Until she can, she is neither maiden nor wife nor widow, living in a perilous limbo. Instead she meets James, a young man on the run. She shows him the secret ways across the treacherous marshy landscape of the Tidelands, not knowing she is leading a spy and an enemy into her life.

England is in the grip of a bloody civil war that reaches into the most remote parts of the kingdom. Alinor’s suspicious neighbors are watching each other for any sign that someone might be disloyal to the new parliament, and Alinor’s ambition and determination mark her as a woman who doesn’t follow the rules. They have always whispered about the sinister power of Alinor’s beauty, but the secrets they don’t know about her and James are far more damning. This is the time of witch-mania, and if the villagers discover the truth, they could take matters into their own hands.

“This is Gregory par excellence” (Kirkus Reviews). “Fans of Gregory’s works and of historicals in general will delight in this page-turning tale” (Library Journal, starred review) that is “superb… A searing portrait of a woman that resonates across the ages” (People).

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Red Comet
by Heather Clark

Many people know the poetry of Sylvia Plath and the details of her tragic death, but RED COMET illuminates the woman behind the words. With new material, this biography not only covers the personal details of her upbringing, marriage, and motherhood but also details the cultural context that contributed to her values and artistic pursuits. This is an empathetic, well-research look into the iconic poet.

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Red Comet
Heather Clark

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Sing, Unburied, Sing
by Jesmyn Ward

Living in poverty along the coast of Mississippi, thirteen-year-old Jojo serves as the caretaker to his toddler sister, Kayla. His absent white father has been in jail and his Black mother, Leonie, has a history with drugs. The only father figure Jojo can rely on is his grandfather, Pop, who teaches Jojo the importance of love, compassion, and survival. When Jojo's father is released from prison, Leonie packs the kids up and makes way across the state as danger, destruction, and the truth about Leonie’s family unfolds.

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Sing, Unburied, Sing
Jesmyn Ward

WINNER of the NATIONAL BOOK AWARD and A NEW YORK TIMES TOP 10 BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR

A finalist for the Kirkus Prize, Andrew Carnegie Medal, Aspen Words Literary Prize, and a New York Times bestseller, this majestic, stirring, and widely praised novel from two-time National Book Award winner Jesmyn Ward, the story of a family on a journey through rural Mississippi, is a “tour de force” (O, The Oprah Magazine) and a timeless work of fiction that is destined to become a classic.

Jesmyn Ward’s historic second National Book Award–winner is “perfectly poised for the moment” (The New York Times), an intimate portrait of three generations of a family and an epic tale of hope and struggle. “Ward’s writing throbs with life, grief, and love… this book is the kind that makes you ache to return to it” (Buzzfeed).

Jojo is thirteen years old and trying to understand what it means to be a man. He doesn’t lack in fathers to study, chief among them his Black grandfather, Pop. But there are other men who complicate his understanding: his absent White father, Michael, who is being released from prison; his absent White grandfather, Big Joseph, who won’t acknowledge his existence; and the memories of his dead uncle, Given, who died as a teenager.

His mother, Leonie, is an inconsistent presence in his and his toddler sister’s lives. She is an imperfect mother in constant conflict with herself and those around her. She is Black and her children’s father is White. She wants to be a better mother but can’t put her children above her own needs, especially her drug use. Simultaneously tormented and comforted by visions of her dead brother, which only come to her when she’s high, Leonie is embattled in ways that reflect the brutal reality of her circumstances.

When the children’s father is released from prison, Leonie packs her kids and a friend into her car and drives north to the heart of Mississippi and Parchman Farm, the State Penitentiary. At Parchman, there is another thirteen-year-old boy, the ghost of a dead inmate who carries all of the ugly history of the South with him in his wandering. He too has something to teach Jojo about fathers and sons, about legacies, about violence, about love.

Rich with Ward’s distinctive, lyrical language, Sing, Unburied, Sing is a majestic and unforgettable family story and “an odyssey through rural Mississippi’s past and present” (The Philadelphia Inquirer).

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Anxious People
by Fredrik Backman

In Fredrik Backman’s 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 taker 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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A Promised Land
by Barack Obama

Barack Obama’s memoir about his time in the White House is a definite must for 2020 holiday wish lists. In this first book, part one of a hefty two-book memoir, he shares enlightening stories of the Oval Office and high-level political decisions, insights into the American social and political landscape, and intimate details of his personal life and memories. After the year of chaos and division, it’s incredibly refreshing to get a little hope, honesty, and perspective from the former president. Plus, Obama narrates the audiobook himself so consider adding that format to your holiday lists this year!

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A Promised Land
Barack Obama

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MENTIONED IN:

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Dear Mrs. Bird
by AJ Pearce

DEAR MRS. BIRD has all the elements of a perfect historical-fiction novel capturing the true plucky British spirit. The ever-charming Emmeline Lake dreams of being a lady war correspondent in WWII, and she thinks it’s within her grasp when she takes a job at a local newspaper, but there’s been a misunderstanding. Instead of writing about the war, Emmeline finds herself in charge of monotonously typing up letters on behalf of Mrs. Bird, a renowned advice columnist. But when Mrs. Bird refuses to answer letters that contain unpleasantries, Emmy decides to write back to the desperate women who write them.

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Dear Mrs. Bird
AJ Pearce

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Ordinary Grace
by William Kent Krueger

Living in New Bremen, Minnesota, thirteen-year-old Frank’s average teen years turn tragic after his family experiences tragedy after tragedy through the summer of 1961, forcing him to grow up all too quickly. Forty-one years later, he begins the long journey of coming to terms with his past as he attempts to understand a world that seems to be falling apart around him. A brilliantly moving account of a boy standing at the door of his young manhood, ORDINARY GRACE explores the terrible price of wisdom and the enduring goodness of grace.

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Ordinary Grace
William Kent Krueger

When tragedy unexpectedly comes to call on his family, thirteen-year-old Frank Drum finds himself thrust into a world of secrets, adultery, and betrayal. Set in 1961, Ordinary Grace is the story of what a shocking murder does to a boy standing at the door of adulthood and the fabric of a small Minnesota town.

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MENTIONED IN:

6 Immersive Memoirs with a Strong Sense of Place

By Anum Shafqat | September 24, 2021

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photo credit: istock / photoguns

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