Welcome to my 2017 Best Holiday Gifts for Book Lovers guide!
A specially selected book…or a Kindle with a few books pre-loaded (see Amazon’s Guide to Giving / Receiving Books on a Kindle for instructions on gifting Kindle e-books) can be an incredibly thoughtful, personal holiday gift!
Every year, I compile a list of the books I came across that year that I think make perfect holiday gifts. And, this year I’m also recommending a fabulous book subscription service and some bookish goodies that aren’t actual books!
This post contains affiliate links (plus: here’s your Amazon Smile-specific affiliate link).
Book of the Month Club: The Gift That Keeps on Giving for Book Lovers
You know those book lovers that have read everything under the sun and you’re kind of scared to pick out a specific book for them? Or, the kind that enjoy finding out about new and interesting books? Or, the kind that love beautiful hardcover books? Or, the kind that read so much that a gift of just one book won’t last them past New Year’s?
A subscription to the Book of the Month Club is the perfect holiday gift for these types of readers!
How it Works
On the first of every month, members get to choose one of five books selected by Book of the Month Club’s panel of judges (including a surprise guest judge). You also have the option to purchase additional books for $9.99 each and to skip a month if you want. Book of the Month Club will mail your chosen book (along with any extras you ordered) to your house for free.
HOLIDAY GIFT PRICING
3 Months for $44.99, 6 months for $79.99, 12 months for $149.99
Buy a Book of the Month gift subscription and get a free book for yourself.
Special Black Friday Deal (valid through Sunday, 11/26):
Use code GIFTBOTM to get $10 off a 6 or 12-month gift subscription.
Special Cyber Monday Deal (valid on Monday, November 27 only):
New members can use code 2FORYOU to get 2 months for just $7.50 each and a free tote.
And, you can top off the perfect book lover gift by including a tool that will help your book lover choose the best Book of the Month Club selection for his or her personal taste every month…my easy-to-use template that helps find readers’ go-to Book of the Month Club judges (i.e. the judges whose taste most perfectly matches your book lover’s). When you know which judges to trust the most, choosing your perfect book is a breeze!
I am a Book of the Month Club Affiliate and will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on my affiliate links, but I’m also a paying customer.
Go-To Literary Fiction Recommendations
These books have broad appeal and are all-around great selections for most anyone who loves literary fiction.
Plot Summary: While small, down and out Beartown goes crazy over its youth ice hockey team’s run in the Swedish national tournament, something explosive happens to throw the town’s and team’s hopes into jeopardy.
My Thoughts: Beartown has been compared to Friday Night Lights, which is accurate in that this is a story of a town who’s hopes are declining every day and whose youth sports team is really the only thing its residents have to be proud of. It’s also a story of the privilege bestowed on star athletes, even at the youth level. Beartown is an absolutely explosive story and is one of my favorite books of 2017! Full Review
Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney
Fiction (Released January 17, 2017)
Plot Summary: While taking a walk around her beloved New York City on New Year’s Eve of 1984, eighty-five year old Lillian Boxfish, the highest paid female advertising executive in the 1930’s, reflects on her life.
My Thoughts: Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk is the unique kind of historical fiction (which appeals to me far more than the run-of-the-mill kind) and is a delightful, quintessentially New York City book. Lillian herself was the Peggy Olson (Mad Men) of 1930’s advertising. She’s both old school (i.e. in her manners, her hatred of TV) and progressive (an unapologetic career woman in a time when it was more acceptable to get married and have babies). She’s smart, playful, and whimsical…and Rooney mirrors this in her writing style. Excellent choice for mothers, mother-in-laws, and grandmothers.
Fiction (Released September 12, 2017)
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
My Thoughts: Little Fires Everywhere is an engrossing story about a family and a community that you can sink right into…and may have even broader appeal than Everything I Never Told You. Little Fires Everywhere is my go-to recommendation for book loving friends whose reading taste you’re not quite sure of…it’s a book that most everyone will love. Full Review
Plot Summary: After his life spirals out of control following the success of his first novel, Matthias returns to teach at his old boys’ boarding school, where his best friend (Fritz) vanished from campus during their senior year.
My Thoughts: Y’all know I’m a sucker for boarding school novels and Shadow of the Lions is a good one! It’s been described as a “literary thriller,” but I’d say it’s more of a literary “mystery” than a “thriller.” It’s a story about male friendship…the kind of bond that can only be developed in extremely close quarters with shared experiences (i.e. living together in dorms, in the military, etc). Bonus for fellow Virginians: the author is a Woodberry Forest grad and the story is set at a fictional version of the school. Full Review
Plot Summary: When Rupert Falkes passes away from cancer, the rest of his wealthy Manhattan family (his wife and five sons) struggles with their identity amid accusations that he fathered two children out of wedlock.
My Thoughts: Don’t make the same mistake I did by assuming The Heirs is another version of The Nest! It’s not “wealthy people behaving badly”…it is the story of one wealthy Manhattan family, their relationships with each other, and their own internal struggles. The writing about NYC society reminded me of Jay McInerney (a little pretentious with lots of needlessly big words), but the story reminded me of early Beatriz Williams (i.e. A Hundred Summers). If you read Rieger’s debut (The Divorce Papers), this one is very different. Excellent choice for mothers and mother-in-laws.
Plot Summary: World War II “annihilated over 90% of Poland’s Jews and […] all but about 300 of the 30,000 Jews from Radom,” Georgia Hunter’s ancestors’ home. Yet, her entire family survived. We Were the Lucky Ones is based on the story of how they did it.
My Thoughts: The Kurc family’s experience during World War II, beginning in Poland and stretching to Siberia, Italy, and Brazil is nothing short of a harrowing odyssey, the outcome of which defies statistics, explanation, and imagination. It feels like a “quick read” in a page-turning sense, even though it’s not a short or light book. Excellent choice for anyone who enjoyed The Nightingale or All the Light We Cannot See. And, pairing it with Nina Willner’s memoir, Forty Autumns, in a Fiction / Nonfiction Pairing would make a perfect double-whammy gift! Author Interview
Edgy Literary Fiction
These books are a bit darker, tackle more fraught issues, or have more aggressive language, etc. than my go-to literary fiction recommendations. Read the publishers’ summaries carefully before choosing one of them for your prim and proper grandmother!
Plot Summary: When Ava Antipova gets word that her wild twin sister (Zelda) is dead, she leaves her Paris graduate program to return to her family’s vineyard in upstate New York…only to find circumstances surrounding her sister’s death that are a bit off and a message from Zelda.
My Thoughts: This debut novel has absolutely everything and is one my most recommended book of the year. It has a perfectly paced plot, a dysfunctional family, a mystery, great writing, snarky humor, and depth. And, it’s one of those rare books that I can comfortably categorize as “literary” AND “brain candy.” Full Review
Plot Summary: After spending ten years in prison, Oliver Marks is ready to tell the story of the tragedy that happened to his seven best friends and fellow Shakespeare theatre students during their fourth year at Dellecher, an intense Conservatory for the arts.
My Thoughts: If We Were Villains is the dark campus novel I’ve been craving ever since loving Christopher J. Yates’s Black Chalk three years ago…and is one of my favorite books of 2017! It’s a sinister, Gothic campus novel jam-packed with emotional tension. After the 20% mark, I could not put this book down! Special Note: references to and excerpts from Shakespeare’s plays are incorporated throughout this book. But, you do not have to read them closely or understand them to love it! Excellent choice for fans of Donna Tartt’s The Secret History. Full Review
Plot Summary: In a nutshell, Quicksand is the movie Cruel Intentions (elite prep school, lots of money, partying, drugs, neglected high schoolers, and an intense love affair), if Sebastian (PS – Quicksand‘s main character is also named Sebastian…it’s almost too perfect!) had shot up his school and Annette had gone to trial for helping him.
My Thoughts: I “5 star adored” this Swedish “courtroom thriller” and am amazed it hasn’t gotten more buzz in the U.S. since its March release! This story is about far more than just a school shooting…it’s about friendship, family, a wealthy community, the complicated entanglement of young love, the law, and a slight bit of politics. I couldn’t put it down. If you like dark, twisty high school books, this is one of the best I’ve ever read! Full Review
Plot Summary: After Cyril Avery was born out of wedlock to an Irish country teenager and given up for adoption to a wealthy, Dublin couple, he wrestles with his sexuality and how he fits into an Ireland that’s run by an overreaching Catholic Church over the course of his life.
My Thoughts: The Heart’s Invisible Furies is the first big, immersive novel that’s really hit me since A Little Life and is hands-down one of my favorite books of 2017! It spans Cyril’s entire life in 7 year segments and it’s heartfelt and emotional, yet unexpectedly funny and reads like juicy gossip at times. Don’t be afraid of the length…this one is not a slog at all. Excellent choice for fans of A Prayer for Owen Meany and A Little Life (minus all the heart-wrenching violence). Full Review
These books are quiet, calm, and comforting…and might lead you to ponder your life.
Plot Summary: A combination memoir/essay collection covering marriage, girlfriends, motherhood, faith, loss, work, and much more!
My Thoughts: Listening to Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake was like seeing a therapist and falls into the same category as Cheryl Strayed’s Tiny Beautiful Things. Quindlen just has such a grounded, practical outlook on life that really puts things in perspective for me. Highly recommend for anyone craving a “life wisdom” type read! Excellent choice for Moms and grown sisters…scratch that, It’s perfect for pretty much any woman you know.
My Thoughts: Pat Conroy is one of the rare authors whose fiction and nonfiction I’ve truly enjoyed. Now that he’s gone, Ann Patchett might be taking his place (thanks to his recommendation in A Lowcountry Heart). She covers the gamut of topics in this essay collection: marriage (obviously), divorce, writing, book tours, opera (the only low point for me), friendship, how to be productive, and the story behind the opening of Parnassus Books. She lives an interesting, yet fairly normal life and I love her grounded outlook on things. Another excellent choice for Moms and grown sisters…and also writers!
These books are pretty much the opposite of the last bunch.
Plot Summary: Three years after teenage sisters Emma and Cass disappeared from their home, Cass returns home without Emma and forensic psychiatrist Dr. Abby Winters returns to help Cass find Emma.
My Thoughts: Emma in the Night‘s ending has the rare perfect balance between being surprising, yet still fitting with the story and it’s the first 5 star thriller I’ve read since Gone Girl. I could not put this book down! And, I liked it so much better than All is Not Forgotten! If I had the kind of life where I could devote a whole day to reading, I could’ve read it in one day. Full Review
Plot Summary: After a stalking campaign by Randolph Tiefenthaler’s downstairs neighbor, Randolph’s father lands in prison for shooting the neighbor.
My Thoughts: Fear is what I like to call a “why book.” It starts with the main event and the suspense lies in discovering the how and why. It was marketed as a “gripping thriller,” but I’d say it’s more of a slow burn. The overall feel is very European (logical since this is a German translation). Think Herman Koch (more Dear Mr. M than The Dinner) and Based on a True Story, with the tension simmering and crackling beneath the surface rather than exploding in a more traditional, action-packed way. Full Review
These books are your brain candy. They read easy, but their stories still have great depth.
Plot Summary: Legendary film actress Evelyn Hugo recruits young journalist, Monique, to write her life story, including the stories of her seven marriages.
My Thoughts: The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo is the best in the brain candy class I’ve read in a long time! Evelyn is an Elizabeth Taylor-type character who did whatever it took to further her career…and she finally wants the whole truth to come out. There’s an Old Hollywood vibe, yet also an undercurrent of feminism. And, you might be surprised by where this story goes. Full Review
Plot Summary: Thanks to his father’s rigorous and stifling coaching, tennis prodigy Anton Stratis has never known much outside of his sport…until he decides to take control of his life.
My Thoughts: Though this novel is set inside the grueling world of elite tennis and the professional tennis circuit, it’s really a unique spin on the coming of age story, an indictment of the world of overbearing sports parents, and a story about a fraught relationship between father and son. With the elite sports setting of You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott (my review) and the father/son dynamic of The Great Santini by Pat Conroy (my review), Trophy Son is a book you can fly through. Excellent choice for sports fans.
For the Hobbyist
Books for people that are into specific things…in this case, books and reading (duh!), the Cold War, running, personality types, and behind-the-scenes glimpses of politics.
Plot Summary: The author of The End of Your Life Book Club‘s collection of essays featuring individual books and how they impacted his life.
My Thoughts: Each chapter of this introspective collection focuses on one book and how it impacted and contributed to Schwalbe’s life. He covers classics (Stuart Little), nonfiction (The Importance Of Living), serious books (A Little Life), and lighter fare (The Girl on the Train). I certainly hadn’t read all the books he discusses, but I related to many of his points about life. Full Review
Plot Summary: Spence, a public librarian, shares her “love letters and break-up notes” to her favorite books, as well as musings and rants about various aspects of her reading life…plus, a whole section of book recommendation lists.
My Thoughts: Dear Fahrenheit 451 is the anti-My Life with Bob (which was a similar book, but got too esoteric and intellectually snobby for my taste)! You’ve probably heard of most of the books she discusses and even read a few…and there’s no intellectual snobbery here. Spence is relatable, funny, and often snarky. The chapters are short and it’s a great book to pick up when you need something light and easy. Also – it will explode your TBR list…consider yourself warned. Excellent choice for big-time bookworms.
Plot Summary: Willner, an ex-U.S. intelligence officer covering East Germany, tells the true story of her family being separated by the Berlin Wall and their experience living in Communist East Germany.
My Thoughts: Forty Autumns is a fascinating look at communism and East Germany through the lens of one family’s experience. I learned a ton about life behind the Iron Curtain and the gut-wrenching fear and oppression the East Germans faced. It’s highly readable despite it’s serious topic and touches the emotional heart-strings while giving you a history lesson. Excellent choice for mothers, mother-in-laws, and grandmothers…and, pairing it with Georgia Hunter’s novel, We Were the Lucky Ones, in a Fiction / Nonfiction Pairing would make a perfect double-whammy gift!
Plot Summary: After CNN Correspondent Tom Foreman’s daughter challenges him to train for a marathon with her, he ends up running 3 marathons, 4 half marathons, and an ultra-marathon in one year.
My Thoughts: Not only is this memoir the story of an impressive running feat (prior to Foreman’s year of races, he hadn’t run since he was much younger), but it’s a sweet story of a father and daughter connecting over a shared hobby. It would make a great gift for a father or daughter that’s getting into running…and it’s great on audio!
My Thoughts: If you’re interested in personality types and how to apply your personality types to your own life, Reading People is an approachable place to start. It doesn’t go deep into any of these types, but it’s a good overview that can help you decide where you might like to go deep. Excellent choice for anyone interested in personality types or psychology.
Plot Summary: A behind-the-scenes memoir by President Obama’s former Deputy Chief of Staff.
My Thoughts: This is technically a political memoir, but it really doesn’t include any politics. It’s more a juicy, behind-the-scenes look at working in the White House and on Obama’s campaign trail sprinkled with tips on making the most of your career…all told through the voice of someone you’d love to grab a glass of wine with! Excellent choice for women newly embarking on their careers or behind-the-scenes of politics junkies.
Uncovering the secrets behind major news stories…I find these books make great Dad gifts!
Ranger Games by Ben Blum
Nonfiction (Released September 12, 2017)
Plot Summary: Alex Blum was a gregarious, athletic, popular teenager (think Pat Tillman) until he joined the U.S. Army Rangers and, within four months, robbed a bank. Written by Alex’s cousin, Ranger Games is the story of how this happened.
My Thoughts: While Alex’s story is pretty outrageous, Ranger Games goes deeper into the Army’s training methods, specifically for the Rangers. And, how the Ranger methods and philosophy could help turn a happy-go-lucky kid into a bank robber. It’s a little overly long, but would make a perfect Dad, Husband, or Father-in-Law gift.
American Fire: Love, Arson, and Life in a Vanishing Land by Monica Hesse
Nonfiction (Released July 11, 2017)
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
Plot Summary: The true story of the hunt for a serial arsonist (to the eventual tune of 67 fires in five months) who burned down abandoned buildings in Accomack County, a small, declining town on Virginia’s Eastern Shore.
My Thoughts: The story behind the hunt for this arsonist (actually, arsonists), who they were, and why they couldn’t stop burning down abandoned buildings is ultimately about a unique community and a love affair gone very wrong. It’s a well-told and engrossing story with a broad appeal beyond the true crime genre and is a perfect “gateway book” for those interested in dipping their toes into the true crime genre for the first time. Excellent choice for Virginians. Full Review
Plot Summary: The true story of the systematic murder of many members of the Osage Indian Nation for their oil rights and the subsequent investigation into the killings.
My Thoughts: Killers of the Flower Moon is about the history of the Osage Indian Nation, oil drilling in America in the 1920’s, 1920’s law enforcement and the FBI’s first homicide case. Then, overlay all that with a murder mystery involving a stunning level of corruption that captivated the public interest at the time and you get a flawless blend of history and mystery. Excellent choice for fans of narrative nonfiction and Erik Larson’s The Devil in the White City.
Something Outside of the Box
For the reader that’s looking for something a little different.
Plot Summary: Ruth returns to her parents’ home in the L.A. area to help care for her father, who is suffering from Alzheimer’s.
My Thoughts: Goodbye, Vitamin is the type of book that could get overlooked because it’s all about the intangibles, but don’t make the mistake of overlooking this one! Though this story is about a sad and serious topic, it has a lightness to it and is amusing at times. The story is told through Ruth’s journal entries that read like little vignettes, a format that worked for me in this case because I absolutely adored Ruth’s endearing, witty, real, and relatable voice. Excellent choice for young professionals. Full Review
Plot Summary: Duckworth uses examples from the military, sports, education, and business to illustrate how perseverance (rather than talent) is the best predictor of success.
My Thoughts: The primary message seems like common sense, but Duckworth supports it with entertaining real life examples and multiple studies. It reinforced to me that you have far more control over your destiny than you think. Excellent choice for parents and anyone with a big-time goal in mind.
Plot Summary: While the staff of British estates has time off for Mothering Sunday of 1924 (a Protestant and Catholic religious holiday that was somewhat of a precursor to our current secular Mother’s Day), Jane (a maid) and Paul (an heir to the neighboring estate) meet to continue their illicit affair.
My Thoughts: Mothering Sunday is a technically a romance, but is so unconventional that I hesitate to call it a romance at all. It’s a quiet, gorgeously written story about the evolution of a woman (Jane) from her Mothering Sunday tryst with her illicit lover to late in her life. The story is unique, yet not weird and I could say the same about Swift’s writing style. Mothering Sunday reminded me a bit of Brian Morton’s Florence Gordon (my review) and would be an excellent choice for fans of Downton Abbey. Full Review
Plot Summary: The true story of Christopher Knight, the man who lived alone in the Maine forest for 27 years before finally being arrested for stealing food and essentials from nearby vacation homes.
My Thoughts: This is one strange, but completely captivating story. It’s like a mash-up between a wilderness story and a study of the introverted personality trait, coupled with a look at today’s extraversion-oriented society. Christopher Knight is one of those people who makes you want to figure out what makes him tick. This is a quick read (or listen, in my case!) that’s perfect for fans of Jon Krakauer (particularly Into the Wild) and Quiet by Susan Cain. Excellent choice for Dads, Father-in-Laws, brothers, and husbands.
Plot Summary: Prime Space (a private space exploration company) puts Helen, Sergei, and Yoshi (the meticulously selected crew for Prime’s first manned mission to Mars) through an incredibly life-like, seventeen months-long simulation (called Eidolon) of the mission.
My Thoughts: The Wanderers will appeal to fans of Andy Weir’s The Martian (my review), but manages to be its own thing entirely in a more psychological, less page-turnery way…and is the most unique book I’ve read all year. It’s first and foremost a story about getting the astronauts psychologically ready for a Mission to Mars, which takes years. Full Review
Amazon has come out with its latest and greatest Kindle upgrade. Y’all know how devoted I am to my Kindle…I’d be reading far less without it. Its convenience can’t be beat. The Oasis has a couple fancy, new features: it’s waterproof (yes, bathtub, pool float, and wine drinking readers rejoice!), you can listen to Audible audiobooks via Bluetooth directly from your Kindle, it’s battery lasts 9 weeks when paired with the leather cover it comes with, and it has a thinner and lighter sloped design that’s supposed to mimic a book’s spine.
Created by literary media company, Book Riot (I’m a big fan of their blog posts and podcasts!), Lit Chat is a game intended to get people talking about books and reading. It comes with 50 cards containing all kinds of bookish questions (such as “what book would you want with you if you were stuck on a desert island?”) designed to spark debate about books. A few rounds of Lit Chat would be a great addition to any book club gathering!
A friend gave me these amazing socks earlier this year and I burst out laughing! They pretty much perfectly reflect my state of mind about 80% of the day. Excellent stocking stuff for any bookworm not afraid of a little F bomb! But, if you’re averse to the language, the same company also makes cute “Stop Talking” and “I Heard You and I Don’t Care” versions.