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Books: Great holiday gifts
Special to the online edition of Windy City Times
by Terri Schlichenmeyer

This article shared 421 times since Tue Dec 6, 2016
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Books that are great

The gift list was easy this year.

For once, you knew what to get everybody. Every. Single. Giftee. Easy-peasy … except, oops, that one person who vexes you each year.

What to get? Well, books are always good gifts, and they're super-easy to wrap, too. How about one of these great selections for that One Person…


For the independent traveler on your list, Paris for One & Other Stories, by Jojo Moyes might be a great bon voyage gift. It's a collection of short stories about change, opportunity, independence, and life in general. Pair it with The Jungle Around Us: Stories, by Anne Raeff. It's a collection of tales with the jungle, its mystery, darkness and richness, as both metaphor and connecting force here.

The reader on your gift list who prefers books set in other time periods will love Cruel Beautiful World, by Caroline Leavitt. It's a 1960s-era story of a woman who chooses a man over the sister who basically raised her, and the dynamics of family. Put it together with Jazz Moon, by Joe Okonkwo, a book set in Harlem, 1925, where Paris is where it's at, baby.

The person who loves a little mid-century drama will enjoy The Jealous Kind, by James Lee Burke. It's a bit of a Romeo-and-Juliet novel set in the 1950s in Texas, at a time when the line between the haves" and the have-nots" was drawn in the sand with danger, and money talked a lot. Definitely wrap it up with another great drama-mystery, Manitou Canyon, by William Kent Krueger. Cork O'Connor is back and sleuthing. Fans, rejoice.

I'm guessing there's a mystery fan on your list. Imagine his face when he unwraps Seduced: A Hannah Smith Novel, by Randy Wayne White. In this novel, fishing guide and part time PI Hannah Smith goes in search of heirloom orange tree seeds—or maybe even rootstock—to save an industry. But what she wants…? So do others, whose intentions aren't as pure.

Historical novel lovers will devour News of the World, by Paulette Jiles, a book set in Texas in the years following the Civil War. When a down-and-out former Captain of the military is hired to deliver an orphan girl to her distant relatives, he partakes an adventure—not just through rough terrain, but through rocky child-caring, too. Wrap it up with The German Girl, by Armando Lucas Correa, a multigenerational novel about home, based on a true story.

Dog lovers will howl over Jonathan Unleashed, by Meg Rosoff. It's the story of a man who's at the end of his leash, and his brother's dogs, who begin to show him that dogs are smarter than they seem. Wrap it up with another perfect book for your dog lover: Lily and the Octopus, by Steven Rowley, the story of a man, his aging, best friend, and love.

And won't the pet lover on your list love getting A Guinea Pig Oliver Twist in that package, too? Yes, it's Dickens as you've never seen him before…

If there's someone on your list who's looking for meaning in her life, Fill the Sky, by Katherine A. Sherbrooke, might make a great gift. It's the tale of two friends, one who is dying of cancer, and their a spiritual journey together. Wrap it up with something nonfiction: Sharing My Shoes, by Tammy Gaffney—a book about forgiveness, trust and reconciling with God in the best ways possible.

For the person who loves a good romp, both in story and bedroom, look for Love Slaves of Helen Hadley Hall, by James Magruder. It's a tale of a ghost, a group of undergraduates, and the drama that ensues.

General nonfiction

For the true-crime buff, Trials of the Century, by Mark J. Phillips & Aryn Z. Phillips, is a great go-to gift. What made Sam Sheppard's case, the Lindbergh baby and Charles Manson leap onto the headlines? This book looks at those famous cases, and more…

Wrap it up with I Will Find You, by Joanna Connors, a story of a reporter who finally reveals a crime she had to hide, and the man who committed it.

The new homeowner will love opening Detroit Hustle: A Memoir of Love, Life & Home, by Amy Haimerl. It's the story of a couple who bought a fixer-upper in one of the country's most economically hard-hit areas, and how four walls can become a place to call home. Wrap it up with Detroit Resurrected, by Nathan Bomey, a book about that city, its bankruptcy and its path toward getting back on track.

Is there someone on your gift list who loves nothing more than to be scared? The one who longs for a different holiday? If so, The Monster Book, by Nick Redfern, is what you want to wrap up. Using quick chapters and scattered photos, this book informs, entertains and ( good for your giftee ) scares! Definitely wrap it up with Real Visitors, Voices from Beyond, and Parallel Dimensions, by Brad Steiger and Sherry Hansen Steiger. Ooooooh, then shiver!

The person on your gift list with the most wanderlust will love having The Handy California Answer Book, by Kevin S. Hile. It's a book filled with fun-to-know facts about California, in a Q&A format and it contains everything you need to know. If the other side of the country is where your giftee is headed, look for The Handy Boston Answer Book, by Samuel Willard Crompton.

The new mother on your gift list—or, for that matter, the experienced Mom—will love opening Navigating Live: Things I Wish My Mother Had Told Me, by Margaux Bergen. It's a meditation on things to know, and things to share. Wrap it up with Corsets & Codpieces, by Karen Bowman, a book about the things we wore ( and wish Mom had warned us about! ) throughout history.

For the woman who's just about had enough this year—of everything—you'll want to wrap up The Bitch is Back, a collection of essays edited by Cathi Hanauer. This no-nonsense sequel to The Bitch in the House is just as empowering and strong as its predecessor, and it's perfect for the strong woman on your list. Also look for Face Value, by Autumn Whitefield-Madrano, an insightful, intriguing look at how our looks shape the way we live, work, play, and mate.

Is there someone on your list who's about to retire? Then, for sure, they'll need Get What's Yours for Medicare, by Philip Moeller. It's a handy reference guide to help get the best coverage for the best price.

The science fan on your gift list will love Death on Earth, by Jules Howard. It's a straightforward book on life, life expectancy, and the deaths of creatures of all kinds, including parasites and more. Bonus: it's not just about dead things. Add to it The Point Is, by Lee Eisenberg, a book on who we are, why we're here, and how we can make the most of life until we die.

For the know-it-all on your list, Head in the Cloud, by William Poundstone might make a great gift. Why, Poundstone asks, do we know celebrities but not mathematics? When we can look things up online, why should we know things in our heads? You can't go wrong with this gift if you also wrap up A Field Guide to Lies, by Daniel J. Levitin, a book about critical thinking and believing ( or not ) everything you see online.

Your outdoorsman is going to leap when he unwraps The American Fisherman, by Willie Robertson and William Doyle. This is a look at America 's fishermen—anglers, in particular—through history, competition and the dinner table.


For any daughter with a father, Bandit: A Daughter's Memoir, by Molly Brodak, will be a great gift this year. It's the story of Brodak's relationship with her dad, a man she thought she knew. But did she? Find out here … then wrap it up with A Woman on the Edge of Time, by Jeremy Gavron, a story of a man who gets at the root of his mother's suicide.

The person on your list who loves reading memoirs will love The Clancys of Queens, by Tara Clancy. It's about the wild, need-a-spreadsheet childhood that the author endured, the family that split her time three ways, and the people who shaped her to be who she is. Wrap it up with Trying to Float, by Nicolaia Rips, who writes about growing up in a hotel in New York City. Eloise, anyone?

Could your giftee go live in the wilderness? Pete Fromm did, and in The Names of the Stars, he writes about his wilderness jobs ( yes, plural ) and how they transformed him over two-and-a-half decades. You can't go wrong, then, when you pair it with Gold Rush in the Klondike, by Josephine Knowles, the true story of a woman in Alaska and the search for riches at the very end of the 19th century.

How do you drive someone happy this holiday? You wrap up Preston Tucker and His Battle to Build the Car of Tomorrow, by Steve Lehto, with a foreword from Jay Leno. This biography of Tucker, the creator of an ahead-of-its-time vehicle, is a car-crazy reader's dream.

Fans of the latest Harper Lee novel will love receiving My Father and Atticus Finch, by Joseph Madison Beck. Pulling a page from Lee, it's the tale of a white trial lawyer in Alabama who defended a Black man charged with rape. It happened in 1938. Your giftee will love reading it in 2017.

For the mother-daughter duo on your list, The Bridge Ladies, by Betsy Lerner, may be perfect. It's the story of two generations of women, mom and daughter, who don't quite understand one another. One flees, then comes home, helping out and gaining love and understanding through an unlikely tribe of women. Or, here's one for fathers of sons: Love That Boy, by Ron Fournier, is a book about a dad and the love he has for his boy, who has Asperger's.

The lover of Christmas will also love Tree of Treasures: A Life in Ornaments, by Bonnie Mackay. It's a memoir written through the trimmings of a tree; where the author got them, why she loves them, and how they make her remember.

For the person who loves a touch of romance beneath the tree, Casanova: The World of a Seductive Genius, by Laurence Bergreen, takes readers to Europe and through history to walk through the life and times of a man whose name is synonymous with love.


Undoubtedly, there's a political animal on your gift list who didn't get enough politics this year. Fear not! Man of the World: The Further Endeavors of Bill Clinton, by Joe Conason, will let you check off another name. This book takes a look at Clinton's work in his post-presidential years.

If your giftee is still wondering what happened this political year, you can't go wrong when you wrap up The Year of Voting Dangerously, by Maureen Dowd. It's a book filled with essays by the woman who's covered elections for the past nine presidents. Nope, can't go wrong here.

Food writing

The gourmand on your list will love Super Sushi Ramen Express, by Michael Booth, an examination of Japanese food as seen through a family ( including two small children ) who travels the length of that country in search of adventure and, by the way, good food.

Pair it with this unique book for foodies: The Farm on the Roof, by Anastasia Cole Plakias, a book about a food farm that, over two rooftops in two areas of New York, grows enough food to feed several families.

What's it like to feed the people in America's largest city? Your giftee won't be able to wait to read Food and the City, by Ina Yalof, a book about the chefs, cooks, street vendors and others who serve up apples ( and more ) in the Big Apple. To make it an even tastier gift, pair it with The Book of Spice, by John O'Connell, a book about all the things that make meals zestier.


There's someone on your gift list who loves music of all kinds, and They Call Me Supermensch, by Shep Gordon, will be a welcome gift. Gordon was a manager for a number of big-name music acts, as well as an innovator in the entertainment industry. Who can resist a book like that? Nobody, especially when you wrap it up with another mensch-y book, Seinfeldia, by Jennifer Keishin Armstrong. It's a book about nothing," which surely became a great big something.

For the midnight-movie fan who can't get enough of toast or Janet, The Rocky Horror Picture Show FAQ, by Dave Thompson, is exactly what you want to give. This book is absolutely jammed with facts, stories, fun-to-know details, everything you ever wanted to know about Frank-N-Furter and more.

Want to see the biggest smile ever? For the fan of the newest Pulitzer Prize Winner for Literature, wrap up Bob Dylan: The Lyrics 1961-2012. This book is HUGE—at nearly 700 pages and weighing, well, let's just say the reindeer will complain and it's also on the spendy side, but if you've got a Dylan fan on your list, this will get you hugs through at least Independence Day. And for an even better gift, you may want to pair it with Madonnaland and Other Detours Into Fame and Fandom, by Alina Simone. It's a look at The Material Girl, music, and being a rock star.

Is there a musician on your list who longs to do something totally different? Then wrap up Angelic Music, by Corey Mead. It's the story of Benjamin Franklin's invention, a take on a little trick you already know, and the rise and fall of its popularity. Imagine—give this gift and launch a new career.


For the person who dreams of leading a company or business someday, Why Make Eagles Swim?, by Bill Munn with Libby Cortez, may be the best gift of all. It's about making the most of what's already great about you, and soaring. Wrap it up with Why Are There Snowblowers in Miami?, by Steven D. Goldstein. It's a book about how businesses can go off path, and how they can avoid dysfunction.

The person who's thinking of starting a business in the New Year will have to learn to think differently. Elite Minds, by Dr. Stan Beecham, can only help, with its charts, takeaways, ideas, and short, easy-to-read chapters. Add All About Them, by Bruce Turkel, a book about customer-focus, to make it the most helpful gift your new businessperson will ever get.

Here are two books your salesman will love: first, Pre-Suasion, by Robert Cialdini. It's about how to get someone to see your side of things, and persuade them in that direction Cialdini is the author of another book along the same lines, in case you were wondering. And when you wrap that up with Sell with a Story, by Paul Smith, you know you've got the exact perfect gift at a just-right price.

If you've got someone on your list who loves business hacks, then The Cheat Code, by Brian Wong, will be what you need to give. It's about how your giftee can learn to cut corners right, get one step ahead, and use shortcuts to make that first million.

Business memoir fans will love finding Oneida: From Free Love Utopia to the Well-Set Table—An American Story, by Ellen Wayland-Smith. It's the story of how a religious community operated, and how they ultimately came to dinner at so many American homes.

How do we choose? How, for instance, do you know what to get the businessperson on your list? You read this column, and learn that there are two possibilities: You May Also Like, by Tom Vanderbilt, is a book about why we pick what we pick; and Invisible Influence, by Jonah Berger, explains what subtle, manipulative forces make us do it.

And for the person who says ( s )he is never going to retire, wrap up The 100-Year Life, by Lynda Gratton & Andrew Scott. Part finances, part health, part education and part work, this will show your giftee that not retiring is not so bad at all.


The perpetual romantic on your list may enjoy The Golden Condom And Other Essays on Love Lost and Found, by Jeanne Safer, Ph.D. It's all about love, but also what happens after we stop loving, when we're obsessive, and when we take love to the next level. Wrap it up with Labor of Love, by Moira Weigel, a book about dating, mating and how they shape us and society.

Be aware of this book: Why Can't I Stop? Reclaiming Your Life from a Behavioral Addiction, by Jon E. Grant, JD, MD; Brian L. Odlaug, Phd MPH; and Samuel R. Chamberlain, MD, PhD. It examines why we do the things we do, how habits are formed, and how they can be treated. For the right person who acknowledges and needs this book, it may be a loving gift. Think carefully, too, about giving Daughters of Divorce, by Terry Gaspard, MSW, LISCW & Tracy Clifford. It's a look at the legacy parental strife leaves, and what a woman can do about it now.

What's it like to go to a therapist? What's it like being one? In How Does That Make You Feel?, edited by Sherry Amatenstein, your giftee will read essays by people—some famous, some not—who each have knowledge from a unique side of the couch.

Here's a way to X two names off your list: get sisters each their own copies of Marrow: A Love Story, by Elizabeth Lesser. It's the true story of a life-saving measure that fails, and the sisters whose lives change anyhow.

What next? For the person who asks that, The Next Pandemic, by Ali S. Khan, may offer answers, health-wise. This book takes a look diseases that threaten the world, and what's being done ( and not done ) to ensure our safety. Pair it with A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles, by Mary Elizabeth Williams. That's a book about a woman who signs up for a clinical trial for a new cancer treatment, and her experiences with it. Story twist: Her best friend has cancer, too, but takes a different route.


For the Cold War buff on your list, or for the person who loves a bit of a thriller, The Tunnels, by Greg Mitchell, is a great book to wrap. It's a narrative of escapes from behind the Berlin Wall, and the surprising way the U.S. reacted. Pair it with Forty Autumns, by Nina Willner, a story of the author's family, separated by a great big German wall.

U.S. history fans will want to read All the Real Indians Died Off and 20 Other Myths about Native Americans, by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz and Dina Gilio-Whitaker. It's a widespread ( but not by any means final ) look at things we may believe about Native Americans, but that are wrong.

Who loves reading about the Civil War? Your giftee, that's who—so you'll want to wrap up City of Sedition: The History of New York City During the Civil War, by John Strausbaugh. New York played a major part, behind-the-scenes, in what happened during the War Between the States. Another volume on the war is just what your giftee wants this year.

If there's a social studies fan on your list, make White Trash, by Nancy Isenberg, the gift you give. It's a look at poverty, class, American caste, and how it's been perceived for the last 240 years. Wrap it up with Evicted, by Matthew Desmond, for a full-circle look at the poorest among us.

The Downton Abbey fan on your gift list will love Lucy Lethbridge's Mind Your Manors, a book about keeping house ( or would that be mansion? ) in Great Britain in times gone by.

LGBT interest

In Saving Delaney, by Andrea and Keston Ott-Dahl, your giftee will read the story of one little girl, her life before birth, her lesbian moms and her wealthy parents, and what happened when she entered the world with Down syndrome. Wrap it up with tissues and Journey to Same-Sex Parenthood, by Eric Rosswood, a book filled with tips and tales of gay and lesbian folks who finally became parents.

If there's an art lover on your gift list, they'll love unwrapping One Man Show: The Life and Art of Bernard Perlin, by Michael Schreiber. Part gay history, part art, this book showcases the life of a man who painted portraits of gay clubs and street life, and whose works were collected by mid-century high-society collectors, some of which still hangs in museums today.

For the mom or dad who's just learned that their child is gender-questioning, The Gender Creative Child, by Diane Ehrensaft, Ph.D., might be a loving gift. It's a book that will guide them through many early questions and thoughts they may have now, and later. Wrap it up with When Your Child is Gay, by Wesley C. Davidson and Jonathal L. Tobkes, M.D., for the answers to even more questions.

What does it mean to be a man or a woman? In The Fate of Gender, by Frank Browning, your giftee will learn what science says about gender, brains, chromosomes, social pressures and how other countries see gender and the spectrum. Wrap it up with Queer Identities and Politics in Germany: A History 1880-1945, by Clayton J. Whisnant, a fascinating history book that looks at German LGBT organizations, people, publications, and the culture, especially during World War II.

African-American authors

For the person on your list who's still unsure of who they are or why, Black Lotus, by Sil Lai Abrams, may be a great gift. It's the story of a woman who learns, at age fourteen, that nearly everything she ever knew about herself and her family was wrong. Finding the truth is at the core of this book, and your giftee will love it.

The historian on your list will be amazed at what he reads in Blood at the Root, by Patrick Phillips. It's the story of racial cleansing, starting with the Cherokees in the early 1800s and spanning history up through modern times. Sobering stuff, this book, and a great gift. Wrap it up with The Black Prince of Florence, by Catherine Fletcher. It's the story of Alessandro de; Medici, the Holy Roman Emperor, and palace intrigue.

Also look for The Right Stuff Comes in Black, Too, by Dr. Thomas Mensah, scientist, inventor, and pioneer.


For the dreamers on the court, The Boys of Dunbar, by Alejandro Danois might be just the right gift. It's the tale of a group of Baltimore high school basketball players, their coach and how their undefeated season led to a three-point future.

Your sports fan won't mind being torn from the TV this holiday, if you've wrapped up A History of American Sports in 100 Objects, by Cait Murphy. This book pays homage to all kinds of sports and lots of players who've made the games better. Who could resist?

And for the biker on your list, This Road I Ride, by Juliana Buhring, will be a winner. It's the story of Buhring's life, her childhood in a religious cult and her escape from grief on two wheels.

Pets and animals

The animal lover on your list will howl with glee when she opens Wildlife Spectacles, by Vladimir Dinets. This book is all about wildlife and its behavior: migration, mating, parenting, and more. Bonus: PICTURES! Bigger bonus: Wrap it up with Coyote America, by Dan Flores, a look at a much-maligned animal and its history.

On your gift list, there's a person whose pet is a part of the family. In Dog Gone, by Pauls Toutonghi, a family loses its dog and goes to ( of course ) great lengths to find him and get him home. True story. Truly a great gift. Even better when you also give Dogs Rough & Smooth, by Lucy Dawson, a large coffee-table-type book filled with pencil drawings of dogs, pups and pooches.

Here's an adventure of an unlikely sort: Heart of a Lion, by William Stolzenburg, is the story of a mountain lion who roamed an unbelievable distance, and the man who re-traced the big cat's path. You can't go wrong, then, when you wrap Frans de Waal's Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are? with it. That's a book about animals, their abilities, and the relative intelligence they possess.

Your giftee is no dumb cluck, so, for the chicken lover, Tastes like Chicken, by Emelyn Rude, will be exactly what they'll want to open. It's the history of chickens. Give it, and you won't have egg on your face.

No dog lover worth his or her salt will turn down Free Days with George, by Colin Campbell. It's the story of a man and a dog, both very bruised by their pasts. One's a big guy, at 140 pounds; the other's a human, and how they heal is the story here. Wrap it up with the dog-bonding book Love is All You Need, by Jennifer Arnold—a new approach to teaching your pup and yourself.

You know who loves dogs? Someone on your gift list, that's who, and Sit Stay Heal, by Mel C. Miskimen, is the exact book he ( or she! ) wants this holiday. It's the story of a rascally black lab and the family he shepherds through grief. I also liked Let Me Tell You About Jasper…, by Fox New's Dana Perino, about her most famous best friend.

Season's readings!

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