Off the Shelf Editors here! Every year, we recommend the best books to give over the holidays, but for today, we decided to switch it up a bit and get some recs from a fabulous author duo! Christina Lauren’s In a Holidaze is such a great, cozy read for the winter break, filled with romance, cheerful traditions, and a magical twist, that we knew they’d be the perfect authors to recommend their favorite books to gift around the holidays. So, as you’re doing your last-minute shopping, pop into your local bookstore (virtual or otherwise) and pick up these fabulous reads.
For the nonfiction lover
In this nonfiction book that reads like a thriller, Johnson starts with a 2009 museum heist and the theft of 299 rare bird skins. From there we are transported back through history, to the jungles of Malaysia, and the “feather fever” of the Victorian era, where every woman wanted a spectacular feather in her hat. The perfect nonfiction read is one that tells you a story you didn’t know you needed to hear, and this book is gripping, wild, and unlike anything else you’ve read.
For the romance lover
City-lover Calla Fletcher returns to Alaska to see her estranged father, and ends up being torn between her desire to return to Toronto and the spark of feels she has with a rugged, burly pilot who has no patience for her pampered tendencies but feels some heat of his own.
City girl Calla Fletcher attempts to reconnect with her estranged father, and unwittingly finds herself torn between her desire to return to the bustle of Toronto and a budding relationship with a rugged Alaskan pilot in this masterful new romance from acclaimed author K.A. Tucker.
Calla Fletcher was two when her mother took her and fled the Alaskan wild, unable to handle the isolation of the extreme, rural lifestyle, leaving behind Calla’s father, Wren Fletcher, in the process. Calla never looked back, and at twenty-six, a busy life in Toronto is all she knows. But when her father reaches out to inform her that his days are numbered, Calla knows that it’s time to make the long trip back to the remote frontier town where she was born.
She braves the roaming wildlife, the odd daylight hours, the exorbitant prices, and even the occasional—dear God—outhouse, all for the chance to connect with her father: a man who, despite his many faults, she can’t help but care for. While she struggles to adjust to this new subarctic environment, Jonah—the quiet, brooding, and proud Alaskan pilot who keeps her father’s charter plane company operational—can’t imagine calling anywhere else home. And he’s clearly waiting with one hand on the throttle to fly this city girl back to where she belongs, convinced that she’s too pampered to handle the wild.
Jonah is probably right, but Calla is determined to prove him wrong. As time passes, she unexpectedly finds herself forming a bond with the burly pilot. As his undercurrent of disapproval dwindles, it’s replaced by friendship—or perhaps something deeper? But Calla is not in Alaska to stay and Jonah will never leave. It would be foolish of her to kindle a romance, to take the same path her parents tried—and failed at—years ago.
It’s a simple truth that turns out to be not so simple after all.
For the pop science reader
This spectacular book is about David Starr Jordan, a prolific taxonomist whose enormous collection of specimens was destroyed by fire and the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. But rather than wallowing in the loss, Jordan took stock of what remained, and began carefully re-identifying every sample he could find. Miller takes Jordan’s story and weaves in her own frank memoir, delivering a wonderful, hopeful, and inspiring book about perseveration, curiosity, and grit.
A Best Book of 2020: The Washington Post * NPR * Chicago Tribune * Smithsonian
A “remarkable” (Los Angeles Times), “seductive” (The Wall Street Journal) debut from the new cohost of Radiolab, Why Fish Don’t Exist is a dark and astonishing tale of love, chaos, scientific obsession, and—possibly—even murder.
“At one point, Miller dives into the ocean into a school of fish…comes up for air, and realizes she’s in love. That’s how I felt: Her book took me to strange depths I never imagined, and I was smitten.” —The New York Times Book Review
David Starr Jordan was a taxonomist, a man possessed with bringing order to the natural world. In time, he would be credited with discovering nearly a fifth of the fish known to humans in his day. But the more of the hidden blueprint of life he uncovered, the harder the universe seemed to try to thwart him. His specimen collections were demolished by lightning, by fire, and eventually by the 1906 San Francisco earthquake—which sent more than a thousand discoveries, housed in fragile glass jars, plummeting to the floor. In an instant, his life’s work was shattered.
Many might have given up, given in to despair. But Jordan? He surveyed the wreckage at his feet, found the first fish that he recognized, and confidently began to rebuild his collection. And this time, he introduced one clever innovation that he believed would at last protect his work against the chaos of the world.
When NPR reporter Lulu Miller first heard this anecdote in passing, she took Jordan for a fool—a cautionary tale in hubris, or denial. But as her own life slowly unraveled, she began to wonder about him. Perhaps instead he was a model for how to go on when all seemed lost. What she would unearth about his life would transform her understanding of history, morality, and the world beneath her feet.
Part biography, part memoir, part scientific adventure, Why Fish Don’t Exist is a wondrous fable about how to persevere in a world where chaos will always prevail.
For the thriller reader
It takes a lot to shock a thriller reader these days, but Downing does it—and then some—with this gripping domestic hair-raiser. You don’t have to like anyone in this husband-and-wife-as-killers story to feel propelled forward in this book, which starts with a bang and leads readers to a shocking ending they won’t want spoiled here.
For the YA reader
It’s rare to find a book that works for my son, my daughter, AND ME, but this one here fits the bill perfectly. Raw, relatable, and honest, EMERGENCY CONTACT is about two people who feel stuck and lost in their journey to become fully fledged adults. It handles growing up and awkwardness and anxiety so carefully, and will make you feel all the feelings!
I recently finished THE CODE BREAKER by Walter Isaacson (also highly recommendable for the nonfiction or pop science reader on your list!) and in one section Isaacson discussed the moral and ethical implications of gene editing in human disease. One cautionary example he gave was autism, and how most people might immediately assume that if we could cure autism, we should—but he argued that we must consider that simply because the world is hard to navigate for people with certain neurodiverse conditions, it doesn’t mean people with those conditions would necessarily choose to live what we consider neuro-normative lives. Much of what challenges individuals with autism is the social constructs we have erected that are confining and don’t allow for much diversity in thought and behavior. And when I read that part, I immediately thought of DIARY OF A YOUNG NATURALIST, written by Northern Irish McAnulty, who was diagnosed with autism when he was five. The now fifteen-year-old writes about his connection to nature and biodiversity in the most fluent, evocative prose, bringing us not only outside into nature with him but also into the mind of a brilliant, loving, and compassionate autistic teen. I would put this book in everyone’s hands if I were able!
Photo credit: iStock / Evgenia Glinskaia