Best Books for Holiday Gifts 2014

Best Books for Holiday Gifts 2014

A specially selected book (or a Kindle with a few books on it!) can be such a thoughtful and personal gift. Two years ago, we gave my father-in-law a Kindle with a few books chosen specifically for him already loaded onto it – he loved it and talked about it for months afterwards!  And, you CAN give a specific book as a gift to someone with a Kindle (see Amazon’s Guide to Giving / Receiving Books on a Kindle).

Click here for last year’s Holiday Gift Ideas / Best Books of 2013 List

Books for Girls

Bittersweet by Miranda Beverly-WhittemoreBittersweet, Miranda Beverly-Whittemore, fiction
Fiction (Released May, 2014)
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Summary: 
When the beautiful and wealthy Genevra (Ev) Winslow invites her very average roommate, Mabel Dagmar, to spend the summer at her family’s summer retreat, Mabel enters a world of secrets, lies, threats, and betrayal.
My Thoughts: 
Bittersweet was my favorite book of the summer book! It joins We Were Liars in the category of summer books about “extremely wealthy families behaving badly in private vacation compounds” (yes, that seems to be a budding category these days…and an exciting one!). Continue Reading…

Dollbaby by Laura Lane McNealDollbaby, Laura Lane McNeal, New Orleans, fiction, southern fiction, Civil Rights era
Southern Fiction (Released July, 2014)
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Summary: 
After the unexpected death of Ibby Bell’s father in 1964, her mother leaves her with her eccentric paternal grandmother (Fannie) and her household staff (Dollbaby and Queenie) in New Orleans.

My Thoughts: As soon as I saw that Dollbaby promised to be “a novel of Southern eccentricity and secrets”, I knew I wanted to read it! This is McNeal’s debut novel and, though it has some problems, it’s a solid first effort and I will absolutely read her next book. Continue Reading…

My Salinger Year by Joanna RakoffMy Salinger Year, Joanna Rakoff, memoirs, J.D. Salinger
Nonfiction – Memoir (Released June, 2014)
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Summary: 
The story of Rakoff’s experience as a young woman in the 90’s living in NYC and working at the literary agency representing reclusive legend, J.D. Salinger. 
My Thoughts: 
Though the title mentions Salinger, he is not the main focus of My Salinger Year. Sure, he makes appearances, but this is more of a coming of age story about a young girl trying to make it in NYC and a company trying to adjust to the modern world. You do not have to be a Salinger fan to enjoy this book. Continue Reading…

Reunion by Hannah PittardReunion, Hannah Pittard, fiction
Fiction (Released October, 2014)
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Summary: 
As Kate faces turmoil in her own life, she is summoned to Altanta to join her somewhat estranged, extended (I don’t mean cousins and aunts…I mean ex-wives and half siblings!) family for her father’s (Stan) funeral.
My Thoughts: 
As soon as I saw the blurb for Hannah Pittard’s Reunion, I thought it could potentially be the next This is Where I Leave You (which I loved!). Thankfully, Reunion did feel very similar to This is Where I Leave You, but was absolutely its own book with its own style. It’s no copycat. I loved it just as much as I loved This is Where I Leave You and it is one of my favorite books of this year. Continue Reading…

The Fever, Megan Abbott, FictionThe Fever by Megan Abbott
Fiction (Released June, 2014)
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Summary: 
When Deenie’s best friend, Lise, is struck by an unexplained fainting spell/seizure in the middle of class, Deenie’s family and entire high school community are thrown into the middle of the fear and hysteria associated with a strange and quickly spreading epidemic.
My Thoughts: The Fever was the only novel that I chose to read off the New York Times Summer Reading List and was also an Amazon Best Book of the Month for June. Stacey from The Novel Life best described it as “unputdownable” and I can’t come up with a better one word description. This was a book that kept me up late at night…I plowed through 3/4 of the book without taking a single note! Continue Reading…

Secret Life of Violet Grant, Beatriz WilliamsThe Secret Life of Violent Grant by Beatriz Williams
Fiction (Released May, 2014)
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Summary: 
In 1964, Vivian Schuyler receives her great aunt’s (Violet Schuyler Grant) suitcase from 1914 in the mail, sending her on an investigative mission to uncover the details behind Violet’s mysterious disappearance.
My Thoughts: The Secret Life of Violet Grant was on my list of summer books I was excited about reading…mostly because I think Williams’ last book, A Hundred Summers, is the most perfect beach book I’ve ever read (yes, really!). While I didn’t love Violet Grant quite as much as I loved A Hundred Summers (that’s a tall order!), I liked it about as much as one can like something without using the word “love”. Continue Reading…

Storied Life of AJ Fikry, Gabrielle Zevins, fictionThe Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin
Fiction (Released April, 2014)
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Summary: 
A.J. Fikry, the recently widowed and irritable owner of Island Books, is given the chance to turn his life around.
My Thoughts: The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry was a common presence on book blogs a few months ago and I finally got around to reading it! And, in this case, definitely better late than never because I am unabashedly hopping on the A.J. Fikry bandwagon…I absolutely adored this book! I’m not even sure what type of book to say this is…it has great characters, gorgeous writing, and a twisty story…it has it all! Continue Reading…

The Wife, The Maid, and The Mistress by Ariel LawhonThe Wife, The Maid, and The Mistress, Ariel Lawhon, Tammany Hall, Joseph Crater disappearance
Historical Fiction (Released January, 2014)
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Summary: 
Based on the actual 1930 disappearance of New York State Supreme Court Justice Joseph Crater, this novel tells the story of what could have happened to him from the perspectives of his wife, his mistress, and his maid.

My Thoughts: The Wife, The Maid, and The Mistress might be my favorite book of the year. The “true crime” angle reminded me of Sutton by J.R. Moehringer, while the setting of 1930 NYC is reminiscent of Rules of Civility by Amor Towles. Both books that I loved! Continue Reading…

We Were Liars, E. Lockhart, young adult fictionWe Were Liars by E. Lockhart
Young Adult Fiction (Released May, 2014)
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Summary: 
A beautiful and distinguished family. A private island. A brilliant, damaged girl; a passionate, political boy. A group of four friends – the Liars – whose friendship turns destructive. A revolution. An Accident. A secret. Lies upon lies. True love. The Truth.
– Amazon Book Description
My Thoughts: We Were Liars was the most talked about book of the summer. And, my review was short on details because it’s a book best enjoyed by going in blind. I was on the edge of my seat the entire time wondering what in the world was going on…I couldn’t wait to turn the page to find out what secret would be revealed next. Continue Reading…

Books for Guys

Flash Boys by Michael LewisFlash Boys, Michael Lewis, high frequency trading, wall street, stock market
Nonfiction – Business (Released March, 2014)
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Summary:
 The story of a group of people, led by Brad Katsuyama (a Royal Bank of Canada trader), who uncovered the recent rigging* of the U.S. stock market by high-frequency traders.

My Thoughts: I should say up front that I absolutely love Michael Lewis’ writing and am a huge fan of his previous books, particularly The Big Short. He’s a master at simplifying complex financial topics and spinning these potentially boring concepts into entertaining stories. He stays true to form with Flash Boys. I was hooked by the first paragraph of the introduction, which reads more like a thriller than a book about telecommunications cables and time periods that are out of reach for humans (i.e. microseconds). Continue Reading…

Striking Gridiron, Greg Nichols, nonfiction, sports, football, 1959 steel strikeStriking Gridiron by Greg Nichols
Nonfiction – Sports (Released September, 2014)
Affiliate Link:Buy from Amazon
Summary: 
The story of a Pennsylvania steel town’s (Braddock) high school football team’s amazing 1959 season during the longest labor strike in U.S. history.
My Thoughts: My husband and I are big football fans and harbor soft spots for goose bump-inducing high school football stories. So, Striking Gridiron was right up my alley. The big question was if Nichols would be able to give me goose bumps in a situation where I already knew the ending…but, he succeeded! That being said, this is a book for football fans. Continue Reading…

Martian, Andy Weir, Mars, fictionThe Martian by Andy Weir
Science Fiction (Released February, 2014)
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Summary: 
When astronaut Mark Watney is left behind on Mars during a massive dust storm (without any means of communication with Earth), he must figure out how to beat the odds against his survival.
My Thoughts: The Martian is not a book I would normally pick up, as I’m decidedly not interested in science fiction. I actually think this is the first science fiction book I’ve ever read. But, the number of glowing reviews that mentioned that the book appeals to people other than science nerds and is actually funny convinced me to give it a shot. I loved The Martian and it’s going on my Best Books of 2014 List (coming out December 16). Continue Reading…

Books with Universal Appeal

Back Channel, Stephen L. Carter, historical fiction, political thriller, cold war, cuban missile crisisBack Channel by Stephen L. Carter
Historical Fiction (Released July, 2014)
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Summary: 
Margo Jensen, a nineteen year old black Cornell student, is recruited into the world of espionage as the U.S. and the Soviet Union face off in the Cuban Missile Crisis.
My Thoughts: Back Channel is a bit of a departure from Carter’s previous novels (including The Emperor of Ocean Park and Palace Council), but I absolutely loved the change of pace. Fans of historical fiction, the Cold War, and espionage will love it and it turned out to be the female espionage novel that I was hoping Ian McEwan’s Sweet Tooth would be. Continue Reading…

Black Chalk, Christopher J. Yates, thriller, fiction, Oxford UniversityBlack Chalk by Christopher J. Yates
Fiction (Released April, 2014)
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Summary: 
Six best friends at Oxford University decide to play “a game of consequences, silly forfeits, and childish dares” (quote from Amazon), which devolves into humiliation and tragedy.
My Thoughts: 
Black Chalk joins The Wife, The Maid, and The Mistress as one of my favorite books I’ve read this year. Hmm – how to best describe this book (other than AWESOME!)? Think The Hunger Games meets The Secret History meets The InterestingsContinue Reading… 

Edge of Eternity, Ken Follett, Century Trilogy, Cold WarEdge of Eternity by Ken Follett
Historical Fiction (Released September, 2014)
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Summary: 
In the final installment of Ken Follett’s Century Trilogy, five families of different nationalities (American, Russian, German, Welsh, and British) experience the rise of Communism and the Berlin Wall, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the U.S. Civil Rights Movement, Vietnam, and the rock n roll and hippie movements.
My Thoughts: As an avid fan of the first two installments of this trilogy (Fall of Giants covering WWI and Winter of the World covering WWII), I was anxiously awaiting publication of Edge of Eternity. This was actually the installment I thought I would like the most, as I’ve always been fascinated with the Cold War and lived through some of the other events Follett covers. And, I did love a lot of Edge of Eternity, but it ended up being my least favorite of the three books. Continue Reading…

Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy by Karen AbbottLiar Temptress Soldier Spy, Four Women Undercover in the Civil War, nonfiction, Karen Abbott
Nonfiction – War (Released September, 2014)
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Summary: 
The true story of four women who spied during the Civil War: a Martinsburg, Virginia socialite (Belle Boyd), a Richmond, Virginia abolitionist (Elizabeth Van Lew), a widowed Washington, DC secessionist (Rose Greenhow), and Midwestern farmer’s daughter who pretended to be a man to fight for the Union (Emma Edmondson / Frank Thompson).

My Thoughts: I’m a huge fan of readable books that teach me about history in an entertaining way…and Karen Abbott absolutely delivered for me with Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy. Though this book is about the Civil War, it’s not an X’s and O’s type war book. Thankfully (for me at least!), it’s much more of an espionage and intrigue book. The military aspect of the Civil War merely serves as a backdrop for these women’s exploits. Continue Reading…

Natchez Burning by Greg IlesNatchez Burning, Greg Iles, fiction, southern fiction
Historical Fiction (Released April, 2014)
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Summary: 
Penn Cage, former prosecutor and current Mayor of Natchez, teams up with a local reporter to fight the accusation that his Doctor father murdered his former nurse, and in the process, find themselves in the middle of a battle over decades old Civil Rights murders.

My Thoughts: Natchez Burning is a sweeping epic of Civil Rights in Natchez, Mississippi, from the 1960s to present day and is the first of three books in a series. Don’t be afraid of the length – Natchez Burning is absolutely gripping and reads like a John Grisham thriller…making you forget it’s 800 pages long! Continue Reading…

The Accident by Chris PavoneThe Accident, Chris Pavone, publishing
Fiction – Mystery/Thriller (Released March, 2014)
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Summary: 
When the manuscript of an unauthorized biography about a famous media mogul (titled The Accident), lands on literary agent Isabel Reed’s desk, it kicks off a frantic day of battles between those trying to get it published and those trying to bury it, putting everyone’s lives in danger.

My Thoughts: The Accident is, quite literally, a literary page turner (I’m not actually sure if this is a legit “genre”, but I like the sound of it!). A thriller about the book publishing business? I wasn’t sure something like this could keep me on the edge of my seat, but The Accident absolutely did. Continue Reading…

Without You There is No Us, Suki Kim, North KoreaWithout You, There Is No Us by Suki Kim
Nonfiction – Memoir (Released October, 2014)
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Summary: 
A memoir of Suki Kim’s time teaching English in a Christian missionary sponsored school (Pyongyang University of Science and Technology, aka PUST) for elite North Korean college age men outside of Pyongyang, North Korea.
My Thoughts: Without You, There Is No Us shares a fascinating and horrifying glimpse into the black box that is North Korea, an “unknown and unknowable” world as Kim describes it. I’ve been fascinated with life in North Korea ever since I read the novel, The Orphan Master’s Son (which I didn’t like overall, but it did whet my appetite for more information about North Korea). Continue Reading…

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