Nine fine books for holiday giving

by | Dec 10, 2019 | Book review, Just in Case | 2 comments

It’s not too late to order books as Christmas or holiday gifts, and I have nine fine books in mind to recommend. Some are New York Times bestsellers; others are by independent authors who are relatively unknown.


Books aren’t listed in a particular order:

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

This book about an abandoned girl who raises herself while shunned by her community is rendered so beautifully I was enraptured as I read. Owens has a poetic sense, as well as intimate knowledge of the geography, plants and animals of the North Carolina coast. As the protagonist, Kya, known as the Marsh Girl, survives and matures, she longs for connection and piques the interest of two very different young men. Her life grows more complex and her very existence becomes threatened. People who enjoy Barbara Kingsolver’s books will surely go for this one.

The Butterfly Girl by Rene Denfeld

This is a sequel to Denfeld’s The Child Finder. You don’t have to read The Child Finder first to enjoy The Butterfly Girl, but doing so would provide an absorbing reading experience. Naomii, the protagonist, who was herself abducted at a young age, is now a private detective who helps families find their own missing children. In The Butterfly Girl, Naomi looks for her own lost sister. Denfeld goes to dark places with such skill, you know you’re in good hands. She’ll get you through to the end intact and empowered, as well as get you thinking about disadvantaged children without getting heavy handed, which is not easy to do.

The Overstory by Richard Powers

This is an ideal book for these times, when our gorgeous earth and so many living things are threatened by climate change, as well as other assaults to the environment. Trees are the true stars of this novel, and you’ll likely come away from this book in awe of them. This book has a message, but like Denfeld, Powers is not heavy handed. The characters brought to life to create this book are seamlessly and beautifully told.

Set Up: Secrets and Lies in Zihuatanejo by Ana Manwaring

If someone on your list likes thrillers, this just might be the book for them. Private investigator JadeAnne Stone and her German shepherd, Pepper, are kidnapped off a lonely highway in Mexico en route to locate a banker’s missing wife. She unwittingly enters a world of high-stakes oil politics, money laundering, and El Narco’s grab for power. So the plot pulls the reader in, for sure, but another arresting aspect of the book is Manwaring’s gift for description. The authentic details she uses to create each setting as the story unfolds are a marvel.

Just in Case by Laura McHale Holland

Yes, that’s my latest book of teeny, tiny stories. If you’re looking for a stocking stuffer that won’t break the bank, this 4” x 6” book is it. Imagine a world where shadows of enchantment instantly render ordinary experiences eerie, terrifying or sublime, and where the unexpected becomes the norm. The twenty-one micro stories in this bookcomprise a universe where a wife betrayed relishes her revenge; a couple chugging toward retirement takes a surprising U-turn; a cozy family scene chills the blood; a curious relative cannot leave a half-human baby alone. This collection contains layers of meaning hidden in metaphor and arresting in sudden intimacy.


At the Narrow Waist of the World, a memoir by Marlena Maduro Baraf

Marlena Maduro Baraf draws the reader gently into her childhood world, where the detrimental impact of her mother’s unstable mental condition is assuaged by her effervescent extended family. She comes from a tight-knit group of Spanish Jews whose ancestors settled in Catholic Panama, where they embraced a new culture while maintaining their traditions and connections with relatives in other parts of the world. Sorrow comes into young Marlena’s life, but she is not embittered by it. She moves through all of her experiences with a unique grace forged in part by an intoxicating mix of language, cultures and climes. This is a book to read in smaller bites, savoring the rhythm of the language and the infectious charm of the writer as she shares her journey through childhood into adulthood.

Coming to Terms by Mary Ellen Gambutti

This is a sequel to Gambutti’s Stroke Story: My Journey There and Back, the memory of a life-altering brain hemorrhage in 2008. Eleven years later, the author settles with the many challenges and struggles she has faced. For readers who suffer effects of brain trauma, such as chronic speech and motor impairment, hope feels elusive. With this book, Gambutti offers encouragement that many gains do come through perseverance. One thing I particularly like about this book is the way Gambutti uses haiku to punctuate the scenes in this work. This is a literary form called haibun, which began in Japan. I find it adds a dimension that deepens the reading experience

Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed

Some of you may know that before she had a huge, international hit with her memoir, Wild, which was subsequently made into a move, Cheryl had a following as an advice columnist for The Rumpus. Her responses to people who wrote to her turned the genre on its head. She didn’t just dispense bromides; she shared from her heart, spoke from her soul. The columns included in this book form a stunning, moving whole that is thoroughly original and a balm for many a reader’s sore spots.

The Monk of Mokha by Dave Eggers

This book was on sale for some ridiculously low price at Copperfield’s one Saturday, and I snapped it up. I’d read and enjoyed Eggers’ memoir A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius long ago and read features about him in local papers over the years, but I hadn’t read any of his other books. This book is the story of Mokhtar Alkhanshali, a Yemeni American working as a doorman in his hometown of San Francisco who had this wild dream of resurrecting the ancient art of cultivating and brewing Yemeni coffee. He faced huge obstacles, including getting caught in a civil war, that almost put an end to this mission, but Alkhanshali persevered and inspired — and founded Port of Mokha coffee, now one of the highest rated coffees in the world . And Eggers did an astounding job of bringing this true story to life for readers. I could see this becoming a movie down the road.

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  1. Barbara Toboni

    Thanks for the recommendations Laura. I agree with you about Where the Crawdads Sing. Beautifully written and Kya the Marsh Girl is a brave example of surviving the bullies of her youth and finding a way to fit in on her hown terms.

  2. Laura

    I agree of your assessment of Kia, Barbara. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I hope you’re thriving as the year-end holiday season gets into full swing.

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