Sunday, December 07, 2008

Best-Ever Suggestions for Books as Gifts

Forget doom and gloom! Embrace proactivity! Help me make the perfect gift book list!

So we're all already saving the world by buying a book. A lot of us have committed to only (or mostly) buying books for gifts this year. But what do you buy for that annoying aunt who thinks she doesn't like to read? Or what do you buy for a thriller writer if you've never read a thriller in your life? (These are two real-life problems that people... ahem, I... have.)

I've put together a list of my favorite gift choices for the various kinds of people in my life. But you'll notice some people always stump me, because they prefer genres I don't read. So consider this an interactive gift list! Please submit your suggestions, in any or all of the categories below, and also your suggestions for new categories! We'll compile them into one holiday book-buying guide that's more meaningful and helpful than any other dumb list people are putting out right now. (I've seriously found ALL the lists I've seen this far to be dumb, or with agenda. We have no agenda but saving the world.) We'll keep updating all the time so people can do weekend shopping!

For the sake of our budgets, I'm sticking mostly to paperback. It goes without saying that published Mischief authors are lots of fun to support. (Published authors, drop me a reminder of your title and I'll make a holiday sidebar with Amazon links for easy-access among us friends.)

The categories:

My top 5 books-as-gifts of all time, that I find excuses to buy for everyone in the world (and why I can find excuses for almost everyone!):

The Time Traveler's Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger. A love story, told in counterpoint, about a normal woman and her husband, who inadvertently time travels, and how they make their relationship work. This is just such a crowd-pleaser. I would have described it as "women's fiction" except that a couple of months ago on the subway I heard two pretty burly men hashing it over; one had had it recommended to him by his brother-in-law, and was giving his used copy to the other. So I do think there's something there for everyone (now!). Who I've bought it for: my mom; my Irish friend, who read it in one sitting; my sister; at least 15 other people.

The Spanish Bow, by Andromeda Romano-Lax. A poor boy from a Catalan village becomes a virtuoso cellist in early 20th century Spain. It's a story of love, friendship, and music, set against the backdrop of one of the most volitile moments in Spanish history. Why: the themes are just so universal and lovely. Who I've bought it for: my mom; all my friends interested in Spain (I have a lot); all my friends who are or have been musicians (a lot of those too).

Autobiography of Red, by Anne Carson. This is called a novel in verse, but don't let that put you off--it's one of the most extraordinary books I've read in a long time. It's a beautiful modern retelling of a Hercules myth, starring a little red monster named Geryon. It's also one of those rare pieces of poetry that people who aren't into poetry won't find totally alienating. Who I've bought it for: poet writer friends; poet friends; my publicist, who loved it; a friend who is a teacher and doesn't have much time to read but had time to read this because it's so skinny.

The Yiddish Policemen's Union, by Michael Chabon. A speculative potboiler set in a fictitious all-Jewish community in Sitka, Alaska. Obviously, I have a special place in my heart for my secret boyfriend's work, because he's just such a fantastic writer. But this book is a really obvious gift choice because it appeals to avowed readers of a bunch of different genres--literary fiction, sci fi, historical fiction, detective fiction, "Jewish" fiction. Who I've bought this for: my dad, who bought it for my mom. who went crazy for it; an old friend who refuses to read anything but hard-core science fiction (not fantasy!); my publicist (again), who then went and bought the rest of Chabon's stuff; almost everybody else in the world last year for Christmas (erm, Chanukah?). Yeah. He's gotten some royalties from me.

Unaccustomed Earth, by Jhumpa Lahiri (although Interpreter of Maladies works equally well if you want a paperback). Yes, it smells like a collection of short stories, but in this case this book is as precious and moving as five separate novels. Talk about getting your money's worth. Who I've bought it for: my mom; my sister; a bunch of other people who might read this blog so I'm not going to list them so they'll still be surprised when I give it to them.

Now some categories with further choices!

Alas, I read a lot of girly books; I'd especially enjoy some chiming in from people who read more across the board. Or just chime in in general!!!

Your friend who doesn't read much, and needs a really compelling story to hold his/her attention:
Again, The Time Traveler's Wife is pretty fail-proof. But also:
My Sister's Keeper, by Jodi Piccoult. When young parents learn their baby daughter has an aggressive form of cancer, they create a younger sister for her who is a perfect genetic match so the sick sister will have spare organs/tissue available if hers fail. Ten years later, the well sister is tired of operations. I gotta be honest, I couldn't put this book down, no matter what editorial critiques I might have had. And I still think about it years later.

The Girls, by Lori Hensen. The very nicely written counterpoint of two sisters who happen to be conjoined at the head. A really nice, accessible read.

The Kitchen God's Wife, by Amy Tan. Everyone's read The Joy Luck Club, but this, I believe, is a better book. It's the story of a woman struggling to survive the horrors of World War II and a very, very bad marriage. Classic mother-daughter themes, plus a great story to back it up.

Your friend who reads a ton, and needs something slightly off the beaten path:
Oh goody, my favorite.
The Teahouse Fire, by Ellis Avery. A nine-year-old French orphan girl becomes stranded in Japan in the 1860s. Over the next twenty years, she is an invisible servant in the highly aesthetic and xenophobic world of a classical tea house. A really absorbing read, and a step up for anyone who liked Memoirs of a Geisha.

Kiss of the Spider Woman, by Manuel Puig. Yes, it's the same story as the movie, but the book is so rich and colorful and fabulous and wonderful to read. There are millions of vignettes, not just the one featured in the movie.

The Translator, by Leila Aboulela. A young Sudanese widow is left alone and heartbroken in Scotland, where she works as an Arabic translator. Really finely polished and interesting to read.

Nine Stories, by J.D. Salinger. Everyone had to read The Catcher in the Rye in school, and as a result might be stupid like I was and think they hate J.D. Salinger. These stories are almost all about the precocious Glass children (same as in Franny & Zooey) and they're heartbreakingly wonderful.

Your friend who only reads off the beaten path and normally turns up his/her nose at everything except incredibly erudite things you personally find insufferable or uninteresting:

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, by Susannah Clarke. Even my aunt who only reads literature in translation couldn't put this one down. My dad, diehard fantasy/scifi reader, loved it, too, and bought it for all his relatives this year.

Parallel Lives: Five Victorian Marriages, by Phillis Rose. For the terribly literary, this is a real-life marriage breakdown of some of their favorite nineteenth century characters.

Your mom or other relative who likes to read but pretty much sticks to mysteries:
I brought Momrat in as consultant on this. She recommends the following:
The Various Haunts of Men, by Susan Hill. The first book in a detective series that takes place in a small British town. Momrat warns you that it's a real psychological thriller and a little bit "dark."

The Blind Assassin, by Margaret Atwood. The mysterious suicide of her sister leads Iris Chase to unpack family secrets decades old. Momrat recommends the book, even though she figured out the mystery 2/3 of the way through (I, um, didn't).

Your dad or other relative who likes to read but pretty much sticks to sci fi and fantasy:
I brought Dadrat in as consultant on this. I've already mentioned Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, as well as The Yiddish Policemen's Union, but Dadrat cited both of these as favorites of his. Dadrat would like to specifically recommend, though:
Tigana, by Guy Gavriel Kay. It's "fantasy" by label, but the world Kay creates is so rich you think it's historical fiction.

For your mom, or someone else's mom:
Unless, by Carol Shields. A mother struggles to see into the mind of her teenage daughter, who has suddenly run away to be homeless on the other side of town. This was recommended to me by someone else's mom, and I've bought it for several moms since.

Your "serious" reader relative who only likes interesting nonfiction:
The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, by Anne Fadiman. The story of one epileptic baby in California and the good and bad facets of the American medical establishment that tries to help her--but actually the story of her Hmong family, the Hmong genocide in Laos that has forced thousands of Hmong refugees to come to the States, and the ups and downs of culture gaps in forced cohabitation. This book reads like a novel, and is jam-packed with interesting and important information.

Strapless: John Singer Sargent and the Fall of Madam X, by Deborah Davis. Another one that reads like a novel--the story of Sargent in Paris, the circles he moved in, and the painting that nearly brought down his career.

Empires of the Word: A Language History of the World, by Nicholas Ostler. The subtitle just about says it all. This one is Dadrat-approved.

Your friend who prefers hip chick lit, like Nannie Diaries or Shopaholic:
Branch out, and get her (or him) a memoir that will appeal. There are some awesome faux chicklit memoirs these days.
The Year of Yes, by Maria Devahna-Headley. A Twenty-year-old woman realizes she has really, really bad taste in men, so she can't trust herself anymore. Instead, she makes a vow to try new things--for one year, she will say yes to a first date with anyone who asks (first date only). Hilarity ensues.

Foreign Babes in Beijing, by Rachel DeWoskin. The author recounts her adventures about the five years she spent in China, when she was accidentally cast as the star of a Chinese soap opera. Hilarity ensues.

I Am Not Myself These Days, by Josh Kilmer-Purcell. The author recounts his years working as a drag queen named Aqua, whose schtick is water balloon breasts with live goldfish in them. Hilarity ensues.

For your white friend: Buy a book by a black author! God, the marginalization in book publishing and marketing ticks me off. How are we still doing "separate but equal" for black writers? No one else has their own separate-but-equal section (except gay writers in some stores). But anyway, Carleen Brice put together this great list to help you get some ideas beyond Toni Morrison and Alice Walker.
In case you can't tell from the shamefully white (and maybe slightly Asian) character of this list otherwise, I'm one of the regrettable and regretful victims of this curse and am sorely under-read in non-Morrison/Walker/Hurston black authors. But so far, this year for the holidays I've bought
Orange Mint and Honey and

Song Yet Sung (both of which I might give to other white folks or I might keep for myself, depending on how guilty I feel about spending money on books for ME) (Jury's back. Not that guilty.).

My sister-in-law recommends Daughter, by Asha Bandele. She just recommended it to me yesterday.

A kid who loved HARRY POTTER but has never read any other book:
Dealing with Dragons, by Patricia C. Wrede. (This one is probably more appropriate for girls.) Princess Cimorene is not interested in marrying an insipid prince. She would rather be captured by dragons. But when no dragons kidnap her, Cimorene sets out to live with them herself.

Anyone have a good recommendation for boys?

A kid who loved Twilight but has never read any other book:
Before I Die, by Jenny Downham. A sixteen-year-old girl, in the last stages of her battle with cancer, makes a list of the ten things she wants to accomplish before she dies. I know there is a whole genre of books like this, but this one is a cut above, and the romantic tension will appeal to Twilight readers a lot.

A really kid who's read everything recently published for children and YA:

Catherine, Called Birdy, by Karen Cushman. In the 13th century, Catherine, the daughter of a (very) minor lord, gets involved in many shenanigans in the effort to avoid getting married off. One of my favorite books of all time, and one my mom, a sixth grade teacher, now reads every year with her class (and then has them act out at the end).

The Westing Game, by Ellen Raskin. Sam Westing, a multimillionaire, dies, but instead of designating an heir in his will, he designates sixteen heirs. To win his entire fortune, the heirs have to figure out which among them murdered Sam Westing. Another awesome classic, and another one my mom teaches every year.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, by Betty Smith. Just the best book ever. It's in the adult section, but there's no sex or violence in it. It's about a junior high school girl growing up at the edge of poverty during World War I.

Perfect gift "host" gift (to bring to a party instead of a bottle of wine):
For when you don't know your book recipient well. One of my friends made both these suggestions, which are her constant fall-backs and seem awesome:
Everyday Food: Great Food Fast, by Martha Stewart. She says this is a great choice because the recipes are straightforward and divided up by seasons, so a perfect choice for hosts.

Creepy Cute Crochet: Zombies, Ninjas, Robots, and More! by Christen Haden. This is a quirky one, but what with the knitting craze these days it's not really THAT much of a stretch.

Some categories I could use help with: sci fi, mystery, romance (which is missing entirely!), children's, any of your ideas!


Charles Gramlich said...

Good suggestions. I like this idea and will give it some thought. I'm not sure I'd necessarily recommend all the same books you did, but I'll think on it.

moonrat said...

let me know if you do have some suggestions of your own! i believe this is one of those situations where too many cooks absolutely don't spoil the broth.

Rachel said...

Everyone on my list is getting books this year, so I loved this post, even though my shopping is, uh, already done.

My 10-year-old nephew and 12-year-old niece, both smart, both Harry Potter fanatics, are wild about the Rick Riordan series that starts w/The Lightning Thief. I thought to broaden their horizons a bit w/Ender's Game (for the boy) and Kelly Link's Pretty Monsters for the girl.

I bought an audio book for a nonreader who travels a lot: Water for Elephants. I haven't read it but imagine, given its reception, that it's a good mainstream choice for her. Btw, though she doesn't read much, she apparently loved the audiobook of Julian Barnes' Arthur and George.

Another way to go w/nonreaders is books related to their hobbies--e.g., 400 Photos (Ansel Adams) for the sister who doesn't read much but loves taking photos. Or cookbooks, or pretty books about a place where someone took or will take a holiday.

Ann Victor said...

Moon Rat! You're dangerous for my wallet! Every time I read your blog I add more books to my to-buy list!

I don't know where to slot this book in but THE BOOK THIEF by Marcus Zukas is brilliant. It's off beat (the narrator is Death) and easy to read (the author is a YW author). It's about the holocaust but although sad and proound at times leaves one with a wonderful feeling!

Cory said...

Ooh, thanks for this! I just bought the Dutch version of "The Girls" for my grandmother for Christmas. I was hoping to find "My Sister's Keeper" for my mother but it was near-impossible to find for a decent price (and she doesn't like to read in English, sadly).

Heidi C. Vlach said...

Hey, those are some good ideas. (I remember Catherine, Called Birdy from when I was a kid, even!)

I've had good results with Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential, the sassy-but-honest memoir of a professional chef. It seems to fascinate anyone who enjoys watching the Food Network and isn't scared of swear words.

writeidea said...

What a great list. I almost bought the Yiddish Policeman's Union last week, but purchased The Way of the Shadows by Brent Weeks and Perdido Street Station by China Meiville instead.

For someone who reads already but wants something off the beaten track:

Holy Fools by Joanne Harris. Part historical fiction (set in 1605 France), part mystery and part pure magic.

Waking Raphael by Leslie Forbes. When the Raphael painting that she is commissioned to work on is attacked, Charlotte Penton, a prim English divorcee and art restorer, finds herself embroiled in a plot involving deadly secrets and betrayals from the past. Very deft and complicated book.

For young readers ala Harry Potter try The Bartimaeus Trilogy by Jonathan Stroud or Inkheart by Cornelia Funke.

For your friend that liked Twilight: Kim Harrison's books.

Okay, I have a gazillion other books I could recommend, so I'll stop there.

Christy Raedeke said...

This is SO great, Moonrat! I'm printing it out to keep in my wallet. May I plump up the kid section?

For the 6-9 year old child with a sardonic sense of humor and/or the parent who is sick to death of the cloying picture book: "The Dangerous Alphabet" written by the dark and wonderful Neil Gaiman and illustrated by the dark and wonderful Gris Grimly.

For a precocious 8 year old or standard 9 to 10 year old: Humor columnist Dave Berry and crime novelist Ridley Pearson crank out some great books for kids (intended for boys but vetted by girls I know). The two series my daughter has loved most are the Starcatchers Series and the Never Land Series. Also, Kate DiCamillo's "The Tale of Despereaux" and Susan Patron's "The Higher Power of Lucky" are universally loved by girls 8-10.

For a sassy middle grade girl: "The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks" by E. Lockhart. For a middle grade boy who will not remove his iPod: "Fat Kid Rules the World" by K. L. Going.

For a "Twilight" lover whom you desperately want to introduce to a higher quality of writing: "Let It Snow: Three Holiday Stories" by John Green, Lauren Myracle, Maureen Johnson. Intertwined love stories by three of the best YA writers.

For a Young Adult drama club type: "Dramarama" by E. Lockhart. For the president of the High School GLBT Club: "The Full Spectrum" edited by David Levithan and Billy Merrell. For a high school girl who only reads Cosmo and/or Rolling Stone: "Audrey Wait" by Robin Benway.

Miriam S.Forster said...

Ahhh!! Book overload!!!

Here are some suggestions I pulled out of my murky brain.

Cozy Mystery: The Brother Cadfael series.

Razor sharp plot twist mysteries: Anything by Jeffery Deaver

For the thriller fan in your life: The Odd Thomas books by Dean Kootnz

Madison McGraw said...

Realized this isn't fiction but it truly is one of my favorite reads ever...and I'm always surprised by the number of people who haven't read "The Tipping Point" by Malcolm Gladwell. Perfect for anyone that likes psychology/sociology reads or business books. I read a little of everything and this is a book that fascinated me.
Also-don't forget to ask for gift receipts if you're buying @ a brick and mortar store. Also-Borders has a HUGE selection of Buy one get one 1/2 off...From The Alchemist to Anthony Bourdain to Eat, Pray, Love, as well as chick lit!

fairyhedgehog said...

The Time Traveller's Wife is as good as you say and I also second The Blind Assassin. I really disliked My Sister's Keeper: the twist felt more like a cop-out to me.

For sci-fi fans I would recommend Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. A friend described it as "creepy" but I found it haunting.

dawtheminstrel said...

For MG boys, Sarah Prineas's "The Magic Thief" is terrific. And while I'm on thieves, Megan Whalen Turner's "The Thief" is another MG fantasy.

Sara J. Henry said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Brian Keaney said...

A few suggestions. For your mom or someone else's mom: The Other Side Of The Bridge by Mary Lawson; for your dad or other relative who likes to read but pretty much sticks to sci-fi and fantasy: The End Of Mr Y by Scarlett Thomas (as long as he can cope with sex scenes);for your serious reader relative who only likes non-fiction: Stalin's Children by Owen Mathews; for a kid who loved Harry Potter but has never read any other book: Sabriel by Garth Nix; for your mom or other relative who likes to read but pretty much sticks to mysteries: The Vanishing Act Of Esmee Lennox by Maggie O'Farrell;for your friend who reads a ton and needs something alightly off the beaten path: The Night Watch by Sarah Waters (is that far enough off the beaten path?}

Anita said...

12-20 teenage girls and older females who love a good love story!!!!!:

18-22 mostly girls but protagonist is boy, so thoughtful boy would enjoy: AN ABUNDANCE OF KATHERINES

Adult females/love good fiction: HORACE by George Sand

Adult females/fun mysteries: # series by JANET EVANOVICH and hilarious, smart mysteries by LISA LUTZ

Adult females/cozy cat mysteries: BRAUN series

Adult females/smart mysteries on Native American reservations: series by MARGARET COEL

12-up male and female (fantasy): ERAGON series

12-up females (fantasy): MARIGOLD, FAIREST

12-up male and female (fantasy): MAXIMUM RIDE series and ALEX RIDER series

Adult Thrillers: anything by HARLAN COBEN and DAVID BALDACCI



Older Christian women: JAN KARON series

Elementary age kids boys or girls chapter books: HERMUX TANTAMOQ series

I could go on, but the kids need food.

Anita said...

OH---forgot romance! Just read: THE ACCIDENTAL DEMON SLAYER, a paranormal romance, of all things. Will be recommending it in my new book recommendation column for the Colorado Springs Gazette, which will begin running soon. Anyway, I don't usually read romance, but this one was a fun ride. VERY different, but in a good way...back to the kids, now!

acpaul said...

A book for readers who read prolifically or quickly, and run out of books far before they're ready to stop reading. (These are the people who read the whole series at one go, even if it takes several days, because a single book just doesn't satisfy.)

Anathem, Neal Stephenson.

At over 900 pages even speed readers will be a while, and the story is complex and engaging.

Anonymous said...

How about the relative who loves "science books"...particularly about the universe. He loved the book by Bill Bryson--A short history of nearly everything.


Aerin said...

Oh, I was just going to mention Bill Bryson. Anon, you might try Bryson's Life and Times of the (something) Kid. Also either of Ken Follett's huge tomes (Pillars of the Earth is one); or Devil in the White City.

moonrat said...

fairyhedgehog--it's funny, NEVER LET ME GO was on the long list of books i wanted to include and didn't end up finding a category for. i do think Ishiguro is great (especially for slightly patient readers) because he is gender-neutral in his appeal and is really wonderfully psychological. REMAINS OF THE DAY was also on the longlist.

moonrat said...

Brian--I love THE NIGHT WATCH. Another one that was on my long list.

moonrat said...

hey, anonymous 6:47--there's a lot of great narrative nonfiction that I think can apply. Bill Bryson is a really kind of laugh-out-loud funny writer, and I'm not sure I've read a lot that's similar. But I think a strong, engrossing narrative can satisfy the same itch as humor. I thought UNDER THE BANNER OF HEAVEN by John Krakauer was an amazing read (which is history instead of science, but).

You can also try Mark Kurlansky's books, which are a mix of science and history. COD and SALT are both good. There are a number of single-subject history books, many of them in the food/cooking sections (since they're on single ingredients or food/drinks). On that note, you might also look into chef memoirs, some of which are supposed to be very humorous. (Unfortunately I haven't read any myself... has anyone else?) Any other ideas?

Nancy Hightower said...

How about David Sedaris? I love giving his books as presents, since he always makes me laugh. And who couldn't use a little humor over the holidays? My favorite is still Me Talk Pretty One Day.

Susan Wilbanks said...

Some romance ideas, almost all historical:

The Rules of Gentility, by Janet Mullany. Well-written Regency romance with a chick lit feel.

Loretta Chase writes smart historical romance. Her latest, Your Scandalous Ways, is good, and a lot of her backlist has been reissued recently.

Jo Beverley is another favorite of mine with a long backlist, and unlike a lot of historical romance authors she writes more than one era. I especially like her medievals, and at least three of them, Dark Champion, Lord of Midnight, and The Shattered Rose, are currently available new on Amazon.

And on the contemporary front, any romance reader who hasn't already read Jennifer Crusie needs to start, IMHO. I recommend Anyone But You, Welcome to Temptation, and Agnes and the Hitman (which she co-wrote with Bob Mayer).

Pamala Knight said...

You've received many excellent recommendations so far. I'll only add these until I think of more:

SFF - Shadow Bridge and Lord Tophet by Gregory Frost, the Name of the Wind - Patrick Rothfuss, anything by Neil Gaiman (Stardust being a fave)

Romance - The Bride Price by Anne Mallory, Pemberley by the Sea by Abigail Reynolds

Mystery - Paranoia by Joseph Finder

Paranormal - Heart of the Wolf by Terry Spear, Son of the Morning by Linda Howard, Dead Girls are Easy by Terry Garey

The Cornelia Funke series (Inkspell, Inkheart,etc.) are great for YA readers.

Laurie said...

What a great list!! I'm in the middle of compiling one of my own, and it's so interesting to see someone else's picks. I'll be sure to point my readers this way.

So nice to see Anne Fadiman's book here--I love that book and suggest it to everyone: family, my pre-med students, my writing friends, etc.

Tony said...

Great article. I myself am an author. I would like to suggest some of my favorites. If you like a combination of mystery, intrigue and lawyer books, then try THE KINGMAKER by BRIAN HAIG. If you like westerns with a modern twist, or rodeos, try COWBOY UP by MIKE FLANNAGAN. If you have young readers who like mystery, try the HARDY BOY books, by FRNAKLIN W. DIXON (the older ones not the newer). Also try my book, KIDS ON A CASE: THE CASE OF THE TEN GRAND KIDNAPPING by TONY PETERS (at the moment my book is only available online at or If you like fantasy books try, THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA by C.S. Lewis, or THE LORD OF THE RINGS by J.R.R. TOLKIEN. I have also been told that the TWILIGHT books are good, although I have not read them myself, and so I am not sure who even writes them.

Tony Peters
Author of, Kids on a Case: The Case of the Ten Grand Kidnapping

Carleen Brice said...

I'm reading Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell right now and The Time Traveler's Wife is a big fave! Thanks for the linkage. :)

Beverley BevenFlorez said...

Great idea! I always love discovering more books to buy, and you've created quite a list!

Here are some suggestions in the YA Category:

For teens who love paranormal or fantasy:
Marked by P.C. Cast and Kristin Cast
Dead is the New Black by Marlene Perez
Shadowland by Meg Cabot
When Lightning Strikes by Meg Cabot
Anything by Gail Carson Levine (Fairest is particularly excellent)
Skin Hunger by Kathleen Duey

For teens who love contemporary:
Anything by Rachel Cohn (though Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist – also by David Levithan – recently was made into a movie)
Anything by John Green (Looking for Alaska is a good choice for the teen who can’t stop quoting Catcher and the Rye.)
Fan Boy and Goth Girl by Barry Lyga.
Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson (one of the most important teen books of our time)
Honey Blonde Chica by Michele Serros

There are so many more great books out there for YA, but that's a start!

Wendie O said...

You have no friends with children? small children? Here are some suggestions for them.

How about Busy Toes or the companion book,
Busy Fingers in board book (by C.W. Bowie) for those who still chew on books. (also comes in Spanish in paperback)

For 2 to 4s:
Ten little Fingers and Ten Little Toes by Mem Fox.
Dear Zoo by Rod Campbell

Gossie (or any of the sequels -- he has a nice Christmas book out right now) by Olivier Dunrea

For 3 to 6s
Duck in the Truck, by jez Alborough
Bats at the Beach by Brian Lies
Kitty Cat, Kitty Cat, Are you Waking Up? by Bill Martin Jr.
Any of Jane Yolen's Dinosaur stories

For K and up:
If you Give a Cat a Cupcake by Laura Numeroff -- yes, her series is still going strong.
Epossumondas by Coleen Salley
Any of Rosemary Well's Max and Ruby stories. I think Beauty Shop is the latest.

For 3rd grade and up:
To Fly, the Story of the Wright Brothers by Wendie Old

I said...

Oh, I absolutely loved Time Traveller's Wife!
Our favourites for Sci-Fi are the books written by C.J. Cherryh - she really is incredible, and you get the impression that the humans are the truly alien beings when reading her books. There's an omnibus titled "Faded Sun" that is very nice to give away, or the Chanur series if you prefer a little funnier note.
And some very, very good, interesting and off-the-beaten-path fantasy (though only suited to adult readers due to violence and very pronounced sexual tension/content) is the "Dark Jewels" series by Anne Bishop. It's no porn, but it might whet an ... appetite.

Chris Eldin said...

These are awesome! I love "Tree Grows in Brooklyn," and think teenage girls would enjoy it as well, but not sure about boys.

Thanks for this list!

Precie said...


For nonfiction, I'd also recommend The Professor and the Madman (about the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary).

Water for Elephants is great for readers into historicals.

I suppose I need to give Jonathan Strange another chance. I just couldn't get into it the first time.

And darnit darnit darnit, my Amazon wish list is taking a big hit today because of this post.

fairyhedgehog said...

I don't know about giving Jonathan Strange a chance. I read it all the way through and I'm not convinced it was worth the effort.

JES said...

I just read a dazzling review of an apparently hard-to-find (published in October, already sold out most places) children's book, called Wabi Sabi.

(If you're looking for books for kids -- especially beautifully illustrated ones -- you could do a LOT worse than to browse the Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast blog, where I found that review.)

Jo said...

Ok, I have a few including my own book, The Curious Misadventures of Feltus Ovalton, a middle-grade fantasy that appeals specifically to boys (but girls 10 and up like it too!). Also in the same genre and age group I recommend the Bartimaeus trilogy by Jonathan Stroud, The Chronicles of Ancient Darkness series by Michelle Paver which is so great I can't hype it enough, and for slightly older kids, William Nicholson's Wind on Fire trilogy and his newer Noble Warriors trilogy, and George R.R, Martin's epic series A Song of Fire and Ice. The first one in the series is A Game of Thrones and he's four books in I think. Sort of in the Lord of the Rings vein, lots of characters and interweaving stories and tragedy. In fiction for literary readers I'd definitely recommend, Like Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen, and J.M. Coetzee's Disgrace.
Bill Buford's Heat is one of the funniest books about cooking and restaurants I have ever read. And also in non-fiction/memoir there is Abigail Thomas's poignant books Safe-keeping, and A Three-Dog Life.
And for some fun and suspense, Alison Gaylin's Trashed, and Heartless are smart and darkly humorous.

writtenwyrdd said...

Great book lists, Moonie. I have to say, though, I was bored silly by Time Traveller's Wife and never finished it.

I think that a gift certificate to Amazon or your local brick-and-mortar store is a nice gift for someone who lives away from you, too. But it's always better to shop for someone else.

However, that said, I have to admit I hate being given books because I almost never like the ones people buy me. I can't help it, they don't know what I like because no one I know reads what I read. (A bit hypocritical of me, isn't it?)

Anonymous said...

Two gorgeous books for kids:
The Mystery of the Fool and the Vanisher & The Invention of Hugo Cabret. They both tweak the format of children's books and are perfect for the "old enough for complex stories but still love pictures" crowd. I read both to my 8 year old who also loved The Hobbit and is currently enjoying The Sword and the Stone.

Rachel Hoff said...

More little kids books--(of the kind that my kids and I both adore--not the lift the flap things that they'll read all day and I want to scream after the first perusal)

For the very little: Goodnight Moon--Margaret Wise Brown; Have you seen my cat? -- Eric Carle; Dinosaur Roar--Paul and Henrietta Stickland

For kids ready for actual stories (a lot of these are old-time classics, but that's the great thing about children's books--if you loved them when you were little, you can love them again with your kids): We're Going on a Bear Hunt--Michael Rosen; Bear Snores On--Karma Wilson; the various Pooh books--A.A. Milne (amazing how many kids don't have the real things); anything by Beatrix Potter (I particularly like Mrs. Tiggywinkle--but a lot of kids don't have a real Peter Rabbit either); Corduroy--Don Freeman; Blueberries for Sal--Robert McCloskey; So Many Cats--Beatrice Schenk De Regniers; Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day--Judith Viorst; Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel--Virginia Lee Burton; Harold and the Purple Crayon--Crocket Johnson

Poetry for the young: A Family of Poems--Caroline Kennedy (I'm not much of a poetry reader myself, but the kids love these--and she does a good job of making poetry feel accessible)

Ok, that's it for now.

Heidi said...

What a great list!

I'll add some of my 10-year-old son's favorites:


THE NAME OF THIS BOOK IS SECRET and it's sequel (Pseudonymous Bosch)

THE MYSTERIOUS BENEDICT SOCIETY and it's sequel (Trenton Lee Stewart)

(I think you could tell my son's personality by this list!)

and my 8-year-old daughter's:

The IVY AND BEAN series (Annie Barrows) She's read them so many times they are falling apart!

Julie Weathers said...

Moonie, regional cookbooks are always a favorite of mine along with more traditional ones.

For any writing friends, I highly recommend Donald Maass' WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL book and workbook. THE DELUXE TRANSITIVE VAMPIRE--THE ULTIMATE HANDBOOK OF GRAMMAR FOR THE INNOCENT, THE EAGER, AND THE DOOMED is a fun read for those who want a grammar reference.

THE SPYMASTER'S LADY by Jo Bourne is very good if you like romance. Anything by Jo is great. Carol Spradling is another if you like historical romance.

Vicki Pettersson for urban fantasy.

Last, but not least, if you are looking for a good cause, Books For Soldiers still needs help. They send requested books to soldiers. You can either donate to them or send the books yourself once you become a member. It's a great cause that keeps on giving as the soldiers pass these books around forever. Plus, you create new fans for authors they might not normally read and these new fans will be buying more books when they get home.

Julie Weathers said...

Ah, now I am going to be thinking of books all day.

For those of you who love horses, THE LEGENDS books put out by Western Horseman are wonderful. Diane Ciarloni wrote the first one and contributed to the others. They are filled with wonderful stories about foundation Quarter Horses. The behind the scenes glimpses are awesome and often times heart warming.

Julie Weathers said...

Sigh, can you tell I just woke up?

I need a new toolbox and some kind of photo scanner badly, but I am requesting books for Christmas this year. I may even make a Save The Books tee shirt.

Diane T said...

Great list, everyone. I wanted to add, in the category of "books for teenaged boys who would rather be playing video games": World War Z by Max Brooks. The subtitle explains all: An Oral History of the Zombie War. It's not a YA, but my almost-15-year-old keeps rereading it.

For those who appreciate family drama or nonfiction, I would add Galileo's Daughter by Dava Sobel. It's a wonderfully moving joint biography with a conclusion that brought tears to my eyes.

Jess said...

I normally lurk but *ahem* as you need some help with what are my comfort-zone genres...

(I absolutely recommend The Girl Who Stopped Swimming by Joshilyn Jackson to pretty much everyone on the planet, though it would appeal more so to women, mothers, and mainstream fans. Unfortunately it's not available in PB yet, so go with Between Georgia by Jackson, which is. Also a fantastic book but in a different way.)

I can cover romance and fantasy AND romantic fantasy combos. Heh.

Romance, contemporary: Agnes and the Hitman by Jenny Crusie and Bob Mayer. So funny. Involves food and the mob and flamingos, and the character development is a compelling, steady arc.

Also: Unpredictable by Eileen Cook. A zany romance with a chick-lit feel, a woman pretends to be psychic to win back her boyfriend.

Romance, fantasy: Poison Study by Maria Snyder. Amazing world-building and a couple that really shouldn't like each other; couldn't put it down.

Romance, paranormal: Wicked Game by Jeri Smith-Ready. If you think vampires are over done, give this book a shot. Fresh and quirky, written in first person, about a con artist trying to stay straight and a group of vampire DJ's. Yes, you read that right.

Fantasy, epic: The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. It's finally available in PB. Don't let the size scare you - the pacing is so incredible, you don't realize you've devoured that many pages. First in a trilogy.

Fantasy, urban: Heart of Stone by C. E. Murphy. Has romantic elements but it's one of the most unique urban fantasies I've read, featuring gargoyles, selkies, djinn, and dragons in New York City, and a human lawyer caught between them all.

Fantasy, young adult: Tithe by Holly Black. Contemporary, dark, involving warring fairies and a romance, recommended for anybody who liked Twilight, young or old. The writing is rich and gorgeous.

Fantasy, middle grade: The Ruby Key by Holly Lisle. It's in hardback but since it's a juvy it's only a little more than a trade PB so I'm including it. It's a traditional-style fantasy with Lisle's trademark worldbuilding (this is her first foray into YA/children's), a girl and her brother must travel the dangerous moonroads to save their family.

Mystery: Interred with their Bones by Jennifer Lee Cannell. This is the only book in recent memory I read in one sitting. A scholar unravels clues to a Shakespeare puzzle with a killer hot on her trail. I had to include it. :)

Your list is going to mean a trip to the library to keep me stocked well into 2009 for myself! :D

peggy said...

Heavens thats quite a list there!

Chris Redding said...

For boys who like Harry Potter Eragon by Christopher Paolini
My son ate it up.

Chris Redding said...

Oh and for those who like mystery/suspense may I suggest my own Corpse Whisperer about a woman who talks to murder victims.

Stephanie said...

For Harry Potter fans, I'd suggest the Uglies, Pretties and Specials trilogy by Scott Westerfeld. Or his teen vampire book Peeps, which is a fresh take involving parasitology.

I've been reading some outstanding mysteries lately, mostly in the dark and literary vein: In the Woods and The Likeness, both by Tana French; any of Val McDermid's stand-alones; Denise Mina's Garnethill trilogy; Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn. Kate Atkinson's new one, When Where There Be Good News?, was fantastic too, right up there with Case Histories.

Stephanie said...

Also, historical fiction: The Whiskey Rebels by David Liss. I think it would even win over people who typically just read nonfic. (We'll find out -- my dad will be getting a copy.)

Best nonfiction title I read this year, hands down: Agent Zigzag by Ben Mcintyre.
Close runner-up: The Wild Trees by Richard Preston

LovedayBrooke said...

For girls who liked Harry Potter but are a bit older now (perhaps boys too), the Song of the Lioness series by Tamora Pierce. Strong female heroine but, in later books, hints at sex.

I always find myself giving Bel Canto. Or Slaughterhouse 5. But then, most of my friends are in their early 20s.

For off the beaten track? Your Face Tomorrow by Javier Marias. An almost Proustian spy novel which entirely enveloped me for three days, causing me to miss social appointments and meals.

Jo said...

I second Scott Westerfeld's books for YA readers and they should appeal to boys being hip and cool and urban plus they're always suspenseful and scary too.
And Val McDermid for mystery fans out there who don't mind being so terrified they can't go to sleep. Definitely not a cozy writer.
And pretty much everything by Bill Bryson for information, a unique perspective and plenty of laugh-out-loud moments.
And another non-fiction- Bury Me Standing by Isabel Fonseca, a fascinating history about the Romani People (Gypsies).

Kronski said...

Lord of the Rings. This is a book that everyone should read.

ggwritespoetry said...

For Middle Grades I recommend my favorite, Lois Lowry's THE GIVER... even the boys in my class love it.

Caitlin said...

Well, I have a suggestion for Twilight fans: anything by L.J. Smith. I adored her books when I was younger, and they are re-releasing her Vampire Diaries books in new format now. Also good by her: The Secret Circle Trilogy and The Forbidden Game Trilogy. Also, her Night World series. My only hesitation on that is that she still hasn't finished it, and it will leave you wanting more. For the only child about to have a baby brother or sister: Love the Baby by Steven Layne, illustrated by Ard Hoyt. For the romance or historical fiction fan: Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. It also involves time travel, so it really crosses many genres. Harry Potter fans or Series of Unfortunate Events fans might like the Artemis Fowl series. Fun and smart, with a likeable but not good main character.

Margaret Yang said...

For boys who have read Harry Potter and haven't read a book since:

Goblin Quest by Jim C. Hines (and its two sequels). This is a "dungeon and dragons" type book, but the hero is a goblin! He accidentally gets caught up in a quest with the stereotypical heroes--prince, swordsman, elf, dwarf. Hilarity ensues. This is a YA that crosses over to adults (just like Harry Potter did).

angelle said...

best list ever. thanks!

ender's game is always a good sci fi for the non sci-fi person.

Julie Weathers said...

Zombies, good grief.

I forgot PLAGUE OF THE DEAD by Zach Recht. He is a fantastic new author and I don't even like horror.

Crimogenic said...

For the reader that wants a book that is part-literary and part-commercial (and some would say part- science fiction), I suggest The Road by Cormac McCarthy.

All great suggestions above, you guys put some new books on my radar.

Amanda said...

I just finished reading Joey Pigza Swallowed the Keys with my students and they loved it.

Cakespy said...

You so rule, Moonie! I love all of the books I HAVE read on this list, so it bodes well for the rest of them. Awesome suggestions!

Anonymous said...

Here are some oldies, but goodies.

Books I always give, though you need to know a little about the recipient:
·THE SPARROW by Mary Doria Russell (and don’t tell the recipient that there’s a second book!)

Once I know you even more:
·BEE SEASON by Myla Goldberg
·A SOLDIER OF THE GREAT WAR by Mark Helprin(a female high school friend loved this our senior year, so I gave it to my dad and he rereads it every year)
·POSSESSION by A. S. Byatt (a literary but also funny love story through the ages)
·SMILLA’S SENSE OF SNOW by Peter Hoeg (the writing style might throw one off just a bit in the beginning, but stick with it—this story is really compelling!)
·ORLANDO by Virginia Woolf (One of Woolf’s more approachable titles)
·THE MAGUS by John Fowles (It’s a fatty—don’t be scared.)

Books that feature minor or undeveloped characters from other texts:
·AHAB’S WIFE by Sena Jeter Naslund (love the historical connections and the exploration of insanity)
·THE RED TENT by Anita Diamant (great book for women, especially)

Excellent on their own, but yes, Virginia, these books are by black authors:
·BLACK NO MORE by George Schuyler (fabulous satire from 1931)
·MAMA DAY by Gloria Naylor (pair with THEIR EYES WERE WATCHING GOD)

Tween boys:
·The Redwall series by Brian Jacques
·Caldecott winners are always good

Teen boys:
·I, ROBOT by Isaac Asimov
·Christopher Moore or John Irving (see earlier suggestions)

Teen girls:
·The Traveling Pants series by Ann Brashares (well-written, moving, and hilarious)
·ANGUS, THONGS, AND FULL-FRONTAL SNOGGING by Louise Rennison (hilarious!)
·The Princess Diaries books by Meg Cabot (anything by Meg Cabot is great)

Board books (toddlers):
·SHEEP IN A JEEP by Nancy Shaw (also in PB picture book)
·Cheerios counting books (many titles!)

Picture books:
·The Toot and Puddle series by Holly Hobbie
·The Olivia books by Ian Falconer (also available in board books!)
·TROUT, TROUT, TROUT : A FISH CHANT by April Pulley Sayre (awesome illustrations and catchy chanting)
·THE GIANT JAM SANDWICH by John Vernon Lord/Janet Burroway
·DOGZILLA and KAT KONG by Dav Pilkey (love the play on words and psycho pets)
·THE MYSTERIES OF HARRIS BURDICK by Chris van Allsburg (this one is great for kids and adults—you can use it for prompting the imagination)
·The Scaredy Squirrel series by Melanie Watt (I give the first book as graduation, wedding, new-life-phase gifts)
·CLICK, CLACK, MOO: COWS THAT TYPE by Doreen Cronin (story is great, with a little something for the parents)
·HARRY THE DIRTY DOG by Gene Zion (classic!)

Art books you might not know about:

Books on books:
·USED AND RARE and SLIGHTLY CHIPPED by Lawrence and Nancy Goldstone (Bibliophiles unite! These are funny, highly readable, and so darn interesting.)

Other picks:
·Griffin & Sabine trilogy by Nick Bantock (beautiful books with a surreal love story)
·I THOUGHT MY FATHER WAS GOD by Paul Auster and NPR’s National Story Project (awesome project that should have received more attention)
·PHANTOM OF THE OPERA by Gaston Leroux (No, I’ve never seen the production, but the original book is freaking amazing!!!)

Kim Sagebiel said...

check out:

for the teacher, teenager, librarian in your life :-)

Absolute Vanilla (and Atyllah) said...

Sci-Fi -
anything by William Gibson, but particularly Virtual Light

Off the beaten path stuff - The End of Mr Y by Scarlett Thomas.

Books for Boys-
any of Anthony Horowitz's Alex Rider books, though it probably helps to start with the first in the series - Stormbreaker.
Alternately, any of Charlie Higson's books about junior James Bond.
Or, any of Eoin Colfer's Artemis Fowl books.

Twilight Fans -
Melissa Marr's Wicked Lovely and Ink Exchange
or Holly Black's Valiant
or John Green's Looking for Alaska
Trudi Cavanan's The Novice
Philip Pullmans' His Dark Materials trilogy

The kid who's read all recent YA -
John Green's PaperTowns
Jerry Spinelli's Stargirl,
Kevin Brooks' Lucas
Siobahn Dowd's A Pure Swift Cry
Sarah Dessen's The Truth About Forever
Catherine Fisher's The SnowWalker
Garth Nix's Sabriel
Meg Rosoff's How I Live Now

Host Gift -
Gordon Ramsay's Fast Food
Claudia Roden's Mediterranean Cookery

TheIcePixy said...

I have to add my own favortie here . . . For Fantasy reading Christians the ultimate book is The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope.

This is actually not your typical fantasy, it's more like a historically based fiction/fantasy/mystery with the tiniest touch of romance. I've read it more than any other book ever! In fact, I lost count around the 16th or 17th time that I read it. (And that was over 3 years ago, I read it almost anually.)

It's a good book for people who only read histroy and historical fiction,(like my Mom) to introduce them to fantasy, and it's also good for the fantasy reader to get them more into historically based fiction. Also, any Christian, even one's who usually only reads regular religious books will appreciate this story.

Mystery lovers will enjoy it too!

mapaulso said...

Check out The Swedish Gypsy, a historical novel set in Stockholm at the start of the 20th century. It's a story of romance, trial, political turmoil and death. Fredrik, businessman, hires a Gypsy girl to work at his cafe. Fascinated by her culture and attractiveness, he jeopardizes his family and his life. Extensively
researched, the book portrays an engrossing picture of Gypsy culture.

Maree A. said...

Romance....if you're unsure of the genre she (or he!) prefers, then can't go past Janet Evanovich and her Stephanie Plum novels. Not graphic so you could give them to mom without blushing (if you catch my meaning), laugh-out-loud funny in places and best of all, you can buy Three Plums In One (the first three in the series) in hardcover for a really good pressie!

Most awesome cookbook: The French Cafe Cookbook, just beautiful with huuuuge almost edible photos...mmmmm!

Maree A. said...

SciFi...Try the Stardoc series by S.L. Viehl, beginning with (what else) Stardoc! Gals with love this one and because it truly IS Sci-Fi, it'll be a hit with the guys as well.

And for really hard-hitting, phewee! SciFi, try The Gap series by Stephen Donaldson. Leaves you breathless!

As for YA, my very precocious daughter loves the Morganville Vampire series by Rachel Caine, beginning with Glass Houses. Very suitable for young adult readers.

Tricia Grissom said...

I second these recommendations:

"ANGUS, THONGS, AND FULL-FRONTAL SNOGGING by Louise Rennison (hilarious!)" My daughter and her friends love this whole series.

And my twelve-year-old son, who reads practically nothing, devours Rick Riordan's Lightening Thief Series.

He's also recently dicovered the Vladimir Tod series (vampires for middle schoolers) by Heather Brewer. It starts with EIGHT GRADE BITES. I have to say the cover for it is really cool. Not that I would, ahem, read a book based on the cover :)

For paranormal, I love Kim Harrison, Charlaine Harris, and Kelley Armstrong.

Nora Roberts also writes a great mystery set in the future under the name J.D. Robb.

RAK said...

Wow, what a great list. I haven't read all 68 comments so I hope that I'm not being repetitive in saying... a less gender-specific Harry Potter-esque book is another by Michael Chabon: Summerland.

I agree with your observation about racial and cultural "segregation" of books. I've been making a particular effort to read more "non-white/non-Western" books. I really enjoyed recently Peony in Love and Gardens of Water (the review of GoW on calls it "overwrought," but was good to listen to while walking to and from work).

Deb said...

Romance! Ya need more Romance!

Contemporary: Susan Elizabeth Phillips. You can get NATURAL BORN CHARMER now in PB, but alas her newest one won't be out 'til after the holidays.

Historical: Judith Merkle Riley's "Margaret of Ashbury" series: A VISION OF LIGHT, IN PURSUIT OF THE GREEN LION, and THE WATER DEVIL. Superlative writing of a great story.

Christian: Maureen Lang's MY SISTER DILLY and anything by Allie Pleiter.

If you buy these & don't like 'em, send 'em to me...I can use the extra copies 'cause I keep loaning them out & not getting them back.

Alyssa said...

For sci fi, China Meiville is really great and should appeal to readers of both sci fi and fantasy because of the awesome world building. Readers of HARD sf will like Greg Egan's Incandescence, which is new this year and has mind uploading and long distance space travel and SO MUCH MATH (I almost couldn't get through it, but a more math/science-y person would love it I think).

For fantasy readers, Naomi Novik's Temeraire series, starting with His Majesty's Dragon, is about the British Navy if it had dragons, and is awesome.

I think Yann Martel's Life of Pi is a good all-rounder. Can't think of any gender or age limitations, and it's such a charming book maybe non-readers would like it, too.

For book people, Thomas Wharton's Salamander (or the Logogryph, maybe?) both of which are full of imaginary and often impossible books.

A good academic mystery (reminded me of Possession) is The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova, about chasing Dracula.

You mentioned friends who like Spain--Shadow of the Winds by Carlos Ruiz Zafon is another great mystery with lots of books in it, set in Barcelona.

And I second Dadrat's recommendation of Tigana. It's one of my favourites ever, as is The Time Traveller's Wife! Goodness, I only meant to mention one or two books, but I seem to have written a novel!

Employee Rewards said...

The Time Traveler's Wife was incredible! I'm going to have to check out some of the others on your list :)

I just did a blog about giving books as gifts, now I have more ideas!

Amalia T. said...

I'm not sure where in your categories this book would fall--maybe the reader who usually just reads sci fi and fantasy-- but I loved Norse Code by Greg van Eekhout. He did a great job playing with the Norse Myths.