The Best Holiday Gifts for Book Lovers 2021 (including book recommendations)

Best Holiday Gifts for Book Lovers 2021


Welcome to my Best Holiday Gifts for Book Lovers 2021 guide!

Every year, I compile a list of the books I came across that year that I think make perfect holiday gifts plus some fabulous book subscription services and some bookish goodies that aren’t actual books!

If you can’t find anything on this year’s list that’s the right match for your friend or loved one, check out my previous lists (2020, 2019, 2018, 201720162015).

This year’s Holiday Guide has:

  • Printable Cheatsheet – the Holiday Gift Guide in quick recommendations in PDF format for easy printing (great for taking to the bookstore or library!). Download for free below!
  • #1 Picks for Each Category – I highlighted my very favorite book in each category in the Guide (Go-To Recommendations, Edgy Literary Fiction, Introspective Books, Page Turners, Something Fun, and For the Hobbyist).

This post contains affiliate links (plus: here’s your Amazon Smile-specific affiliate link), through which I make a small commission when you make a purchase (at no cost to you!).

Go-To Recommendations

These books have broad appeal and are all-around great selections for most readers.

My #1 Pick

Malibu RisingMalibu Risingby Taylor Jenkins Reid
Fiction – Contemporary (Released June 1, 2021)
384 Pages
Buy from: Amazon | | (Audio)

Plot Summary: The four grown Riva children (their father is famous musician Mick Riva…a character from The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo) grew up with their mother amid the 1960’s Malibu surfing scene. It’s now 1983 and the Rivas are gearing up for their legendary, annual end of summer party…where tensions explode.

My Thoughts: This story set in the 1980’s Malibu surf scene perfectly balances substance with glamour and fun. I fell in love with the Riva children and desperately wanted things to work out for each of them. The story is told through dual timelines: a present-day “24-style” (the TV series) narrative focused on the day of the party and flashbacks to the Riva parents’ relationship and the kids’ childhood. The old-school Malibu surf culture comes alive, creating a sultry setting. I rated this one 5 stars and it’s one of my favorite books of the year so far!

Firekeeper’s DaughterFirekeepers Daughterby Angeline Boulley
Fiction – Young Adult (Release Date: March 16, 2021)
496 Pages
Affiliate Link: Amazon | | (Audio)

Plot Summary: Eighteen year-old female ice hockey star, Daunis Fontaine (who is Ojibwe / half white) Firekelives in hockey obsessed Sault Ste. Marie, MI, right outside of the reservation. When a new recruit to the boys’ all-star team shows up and catches Daunis’ eye, something seems off about him and a Federal investigation threatens to tear the community apart. 

My Thoughts: This YA Reese’s Book Club is a genre mash-up of a bit of romance, a bit of mystery, and some sports…all overlaid with Ojibwe (a Native American tribe) culture and customs. I loved Daunis as a female athlete protagonist (in a traditionally male sport!) and the healthy message this book shares for young girls (value yourself as you are). One of the best YA books I’ve ever read (and y’all know a YA hit is rare for me!) and a great pick for fans of Beartown and The Hate U Give.

ShinerShiner by Amy Jo Burns
Fiction – Literary (Release Date: May 5, 2020)
272 Pages
Affiliate Link: Amazon | | (Audio)

Plot Summary: A 15 year old girl (Wren) and her mother (Ruby) live in the remote West Virginia mountains with their father, who is a legendary religious healer and snake handler.

My Thoughts: I didn’t know if I’d enjoy this debut novel, but I immediately loved these characters and Burns’ gorgeous, but not flowery writing. As you peel back the layers of this story, you find that it’s about the women…Wren, Ruby, and Ivy (Ruby’s best childhood friend) being overshadowed and controlled by men, their dreams to free themselves, and how far they’ll go to make it happen. And, it all ties together beautifully in the end.

Fortunate OnesThe Fortunate Ones by Ed Tarkington
Fiction – Literary (Release Date: January 5, 2021)
320 Pages
Buy from: Amazon | | (Audio)

Plot Summary: Charlie Boykin, who’s from a working class area of Nashville, gets a scholarship to an elite private school and befriends a wealthy older student and his family.

My Thoughts: I adored Tarkington’s debut novel, Only Love Can Break Your Heart (my review) and the premise of this story reminded me of the Gossip Girl TV series…only set in Nashville. It’s a character-driven novel that’s easy to fly through and a cautionary tale about privilege run amok. Tarkington is an astute observer of human nature and social behavior, which is apparent in his spot-on commentary on race, class, and privilege. Full Review. 

The Sweet Taste of MuscadinesSweet Taste of Muscadines by Pamela Terry
Fiction – Contemporary (Release Date: March 26, 2021)
289 Pages
Affiliate Link: Amazon | | (Audio)

Plot Summary: Geneva Bruce, a prominent woman in a small town in Georgia, is found dead in her backyard muscadine arbor. Her adult children (Lila, Henry, and Abigail) come together to mourn her passing and discover their childhood was not what it seemed to be.

My Thoughts: This debut family drama is one of those books where a family gathers for a funeral, secrets come out, and everyone becomes slightly unhinged. Pamela Terry talks about the South like Pat Conroy did…evoking the beauty and allure, but also the dark side (including prejudice against homosexuals and how the pervasiveness of the church plays into this).  But, you feel for and root for these characters and there’s a feel-good element that avoids veering into saccharine. 

What Comes AfterWhat Comes After by JoAnne Tompkins
Fiction – Literary (Release Date: April 13, 2021)
432 Pages
Buy from: Amazon | | (Audio)

Plot Summary: Prior to the start of the book, the death of 2 teenage boys tore apart their Washington State community. When the book begins, a pregnant girl (Evangeline) appears from the woods and becomes involved with the 2 boys’ families.

My Thoughts: Tompkins’ background encountering trauma as a trial lawyer, judicial officer, and mediator inspired her to write this highly literary, but also propulsive debut novel exploring anger and grief, but also of growth and forgiveness. There is a suspenseful mystery, but it lies in the background of what is ultimately a character-driven story. And, reading this story felt a bit like going on a therapeutic journey without the actual therapy.

What Could Be SavedWhat Could Be Saved by Liese O’Halloran Schwarz
Literary Fiction (Release Date: January 12, 2020)
464 Pages
Buy from: Amazon | | (Audio)

Plot Summary: When a man claiming to be Laura’s brother who disappeared in Bangkok in 1972 surfaces, Laura digs into the past.

My Thoughts: What Could Be Saved is a crowd-pleasing family drama with some elements that make it stand out from the plethora of family dramas out there (Bangkok setting, a spy element). It has a bit of a mystery, though the mystery is not the forefront of the story. Despite its length, it reads quickly and easily and is the kind of book you want to fly through. Overall, it reminded me of The Most Fun We Ever Had & The Last Romantics (including lots of adult sibling dynamics). 

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!

My #1 Pick

Paper PalaceThe Paper Palace by Miranda Cowley Heller
Fiction – Literary (Release Date: July 6, 2021)
400 Pages
Buy from: Amazon | (Audio)

Plot Summary: This story set at the Paper Palace (a cluster of rustic cabins on a pond in Cape Cod where our main characters have been spending summers since childhood) begins when Elle, a married mother of 3, has sex with her childhood best friend (Jonas) during a dinner party with their spouses in attendance. She spends the next 24 hours working through the implications of this and what she wants for her future.

My Thoughts: This debut family drama is one of my favorite books of 2021 and reminded me of family dramas like The Most Fun We Ever Had, Ask Again, Yes, and Commonwealth. It’s a story about the complexities of infidelity and how a confluence of events can set your life on a course it may not have ended up on otherwise. And, the drastic impact that can have on what’s possibly “meant to be.” It’s a character-driven novel that I flew through!

Impostor SyndromeImpostor Syndromeby Kathy Wang
Fiction – Literary (Release Date: May 25, 2021)
368 Pages
Affiliate Link: Amazon | (Audio)

Plot Summary: A Russian orphan named Julia is recruited by the SPB, a Russian intelligence agency. She goes under deep cover in Silicon Valley and works her way to COO of Tangerine, a social media giant that resembles Facebook. As the SPB wants more and more from her and as she begins to like her California life more and more, the situation comes to a breaking point.

My Thoughts: This story is hard to categorize, but I loved it! It’s a mash-up of the documentary Social Dilemma and the memoir Uncanny Valley, Russian spies, and social commentary on working in Silicon Valley and women in the workplace. It’s about what happens when spies start to like and be proud of their cover lives and how things get messy. Julia comes across as hard initially, but experiences personal growth that softens her as you get farther into the book. A great pick for fans of genre mash-ups, workplace novels, and spycraft!

Olympus, TexasOlympus, Texas by Stacey Swann
Fiction – Literary (Released May 4, 2021)
336 Pages
Buy from: Amazon | (Audio)

Plot Summary: Younger brother (March Briscoe) returns to his family’s small town after a 2 year absence following an affair with his older brother’s wife, kicking off a tornado of events that will change the family forever.

My Thoughts: This debut dysfunctional family story is a character-driven novel that kept me quickly turning the pages. It’s deliciously scandalous with a plethora of dislikable characters. The story is rooted in Greek mythology, with each character corresponding to a Greek mythological figure, but the story stands on its own even without this tie-in.

Bad Muslim DiscountThe Bad Muslim Discount by Syed M. Masood
Fiction – Literary (Release Date: February 2, 2021)
368 Pages
Buy from: Amazon | (Audio)

Plot Summary: A Pakistani boy (Anvar) and his family immigrate to the U.S. amid the rise of fundamentalism in their home country…and a girl (Azza) and her father flee war in Baghdad for American.

My Thoughts: This debut novel is a deeply layered story of two families, the Muslim faith (and struggling with it), being an immigrant in the U.S., discrimination against Muslims following 9/11, and fighting for the life that will make you happy…told in an irreverently humorous voice. Masood tackled so much in this story, but it felt totally organic and not cluttered at all. The humor in this story is subtle, snarky, and made my chuckle (the way I like my humor).

Final Revival of Opal and NevThe Final Revival of Opal & Nev by Dawnie Walton
Fiction – Literary (Release Date: March 30, 2021)
368 Pages
Buy from: Amazon | (Audio)

Plot Summary: Journalist Sunny Shelton (the daughter of 1970’s drummer Jimmy Curtis) investigates the story behind an iconic photograph of the rock duo Opal & Nev (a black woman and white, British man) at a riot at a concert in the 1970’s…and tells the story of the rise & fall of this duo in the process.

My Thoughts: I love the oral history format and it was perfect for this fictional story about a provocative, iconic, 1970’s rock duo, told by the journalist daughter of Opal & Nev’s drummer. It’s a darker, grittier Daisy Jones & the Six with a serious racial message. The beginning is a bit of a slow build, but stick with it. The build really picks up and I was quickly engrossed. Opal is a singular, memorable character. She’s extremely provocative, yet also incredibly vulnerable. 

The PushThe Push by Ashley Audrain
Literary Fiction (Release Date: January 5, 2021)
320 Pages
Buy from: Amazon | (Audio)

Plot Summary: Blythe, who comes from an extremely dysfunctional childhood with a mostly absent mother, has her own daughter and finds she’s lacking a connection. She fears Violet is not like other children. After having her second child, something drastic happens with her family.

My Thoughts: This debut novel (which is one of my favorite books of the year so far!) is being marketed as a “page-turning psychological drama,”, which I interpreted to mean psychological thriller…but, it’s NOT that. It’s a dark, emotionally intense, dysfunctional family story focused on motherhood. It’s deeply unsettling and emotionally taut. It’s not a book for everyone and it will be divisive, but I loved it. 5 stars! Full Review.

Your House Will PayYour House Will Pay by Steph Cha
Fiction – Literary Crime (Release Date: October 15, 2019)
320 Pages
Affiliate Link: Amazon | (Audio)

Plot Summary: Two families (one black and one Korean) are tied together by a decades old shooting in LA soon after the Rodney King riots (and another shooting 30 years later that brings old wounds to the surface).

My Thoughts: This story is based on the 1991 real-life shooting of 15 year old Latasha Harlins was shot by a Korean store owner in an altercation over the accused shoplifting of a bottle of orange juice. It’s a heart-breaking story from all angles with many shades of gray. It explores the multi-generational impact on both families on either side of the shooting and the clash of two different marginalized communities. It’s a book that’s begging to be discussed and is one of the best literary crime novels I’ve read recently.

An Introspective Book

This books help you think about your life…

My #1 Pick

Oh WilliamOh William by Elizabeth Strout
Fiction – Literary (Release Date: October 19, 2021)
256 Pages
Affiliate Link: Amazon | (Audio)

Plot Summary: This “sequel that stands alone” to My Name is Lucy Barton covers Lucy’s relationship, marriage, and separation from her first husband, William. They remained very close for years after their marriage and, in Oh William, a 60 year-old Lucy reflects back on their kids, family secrets, and how life has turned out.

My Thoughts: My Name is Lucy Barton was a 5 star book for me. Oh William is told in Strout’s signature understated and character-driven style and ultimately asks the question “how well do you really know someone?” This one is an introspective story that drew me in.

Page Turners

These books are pretty much the opposite of the last bunch.

My #1 Pick

When the Stars Go DarkWhen the Stars Go Dark by Paula McLain
Fiction – Literary Mystery (Release Date: April 13, 2021)
384 Pages
Buy from: Amazon | (Audio)

Plot Summary: After a tragedy in her personal life, missing persons detective Anna Hart flees to her hometown of Mendocino, CA where the adopted daughter of a famous, but reclusive actress (Cameron Curtis) has gone missing. She, of course, is compelled to help in the search for her.

My Thoughts: Paula McLain is known for her historical fiction, but she tackles a literary / police procedural in her most personal book yet (like her protagonist, McLain grew up in foster care and is a sexual abuse survivor)…and, my favorite book of hers (5 stars and one of my favorite books of this year so far)! It’s incredibly atmospheric and leads with the stories of the victims. McLain goes deep into the psychological impact of childhood trauma and works real life missing persons cases (including Polly Klaas) into her narrative.

Friends Like TheseFriends Like These by Kimberly McCreight
Fiction – Mystery (Release Date: September 7, 2021)
320 Pages
Affiliate Link: Amazon | (Audio)

Plot Summary: A coed group of college friends who carry a long buried secret gather in a house in the Catskills to celebrate one of their bachelor parties…until things inevitably combust. 

My Thoughts: I flew through this in 2 days. I love that McCreight wrote about a group of coed friends (rare in fiction) and I loved that this was the kind of story where everyone arrived at the Catskills house harboring their own secrets…leaving the reader as the only person who has all the pieces. This is also a story about what friends will do for each other and how much unconditional love is too much.

Heaven My HomeHeaven, My Home by Attica Locke
Fiction – Mystery / Police Procedural (Release Date: September 12, 2019)
336 Pages
Affiliate Link: Amazon | (Audio)

Plot Summary: Attica Locke’s follow-up to Bluebird, Bluebird features Texas Ranger Darren Mathews as he tries to rebuild his life following the case from Bluebird, Bluebird. He’s called to the small town of Jefferson, Texas to investigate the disappearance of a 9 year old boy, who is the son of suspected members of the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas.

My Thoughts: Though I didn’t like this one quite as much as Bluebird, Bluebird, I loved that the missing boy was just the tip of the iceberg. It’s a bit slower paced than Bluebird, Bluebird, but goes deeper into racial history in Texas…involving a local Black and indigenous settlement and its clash with prominent white residents of Jefferson. And, Darren goes through more personal trials that put his view of himself to the test. A stellar literary police procedural!

Nowhere GirlNowhere Girl by Cheryl Diamond
Nonfiction – Memoir (Release Date: June 15, 2021)
320 Pages
Buy from: Amazon | (Audio)

Plot Summary: Cheryl shares the story of her childhood on the run (her family lived under multiple assumed names in multiple countries always using fake documents as they attempted to evade the people that were chasing them).

My Thoughts: Cheryl Diamond’s memoir will blow your mind in a “truth is stranger than fiction” Educated and The Glass Castle kind of way. Diamond shares the ups and downs of living an incredibly unpredictable and stressful childhood, the long-term impact it had on her mental health, and the confusion surrounding finding out who was chasing them and who she could trust. I loved the audiobook and hadn’t been this engrossed in an audiobook since I listened to Smacked by Eilene Zimmerman.

The DefenseThe Defense by Steve Cavanagh
Fiction – Mystery (Release Date: March 12, 2015)
320 Pages
Affiliate Link: Amazon | (Audio)

Plot Summary: Flynn is an ex-con man turned lawyer who is coerced by the head of the Russian Mafia in New York (he kidnaps Flynn’s daughter and straps a bomb to Flynn’s back) to get him off of murder charges within 48 hours.

My Thoughts: Steve Cavanagh’s Eddie Flynn courtroom thriller series is my go-to when I need an adrenaline-filled page turner that’s guaranteed to keep me hooked. I loved Thirteen (Book 4) and went back to read Book 1 (The Defense), so these do not need to be read in order. I love Cavanagh’s angle of a con man who uses those same skills to win court cases and Flynn has a fleshed out backstory that made me root for him. This story has an explosive premise, but that’s just the outer layer of the onion. Cavanagh reminds me of Nelson DeMille without the sexist humor.

Nothing ManThe Nothing Man by Catherine Ryan Howard
Fiction – Thriller (Release Date: August 4, 2020)
288 Pages
Affiliate Link: Amazon | (Audio)

Plot Summary: Eve Black, the sole survivor of serial killer The Nothing Man’s final crime (he murdered her parents and younger sister while she hid in a bathroom) publishes a book about her experience and The Nothing Man’s other crimes in an effort to finally catch him…only The Nothing Man reads the book and decides to come after her.

My Thoughts: This crime thriller reads like true crime…because there’s a book within a book that is actually a true crime story. The true crime story reads like I’ll Be Gone in the Dark (and is scary in the same way) and you get to hear The Nothing Man’s perspective as well. I loved this creative structure and how Eve reclaimed her power by writing this book and hunting him. In the book within a book, Howard plays with memory and masterfully maps out crime scene details. I also loved the serial killer psychology sprinkled throughout and the absolutely brilliant ending. I read this one in 2 days on the beach!

The PlotThe Plot by Jean Hanff Korelitz
Literary – Suspense (Release Date: May 11, 2021)
336 Pages
Buy from: Amazon | (Audio)

Plot Summary: Jacob Finch Bonner is teaching at a mediocre MFA program following his drift into literary oblivion following his successful debut novel. An arrogant student of his shares that he has a “surefire” plot that will take the literary world by storm…and, when Jacob hears it, he’s shocked to discover that his student wasn’t exaggerating. In the following years, Jacob waits in vein for the book to be published. Jacob then starts digging into what happened to his former student and his life takes a dramatic turn.

My Thoughts: This emotionally taut, slow-burn suspense about a washed up writer who encounters an MFA student who has an idea for a “surefire plot” reminded me of a mash-up between Who is Maud Dixon?We Wish You Luck, and A Ladder to the Sky (with a more sympathetic protagonist). The story goes deep into the publishing world and the writer’s life and investigates the question of who has the right to tell certain stories (and what constitutes plagiarism). Though I did guess some (but not all) of the plot twists (the ones not included in the publisher’s blurb, which reveals way too much information), I loved the way the ending came together.

The UnwillingThe Unwilling by John Hart
Historical Fiction / Crime Thriller (Release Date: February 2, 2021)
369 Pages
Buy from: Amazon | (Audio)

Plot Summary: The Story of a family with 3 sons: the oldest was killed in Vietnam, the middle son returned with PTSD which sent his life off the rails, and the youngest is in high school and about to become draft eligible. Jason, just released from prison, is trying to rebuild a relationship with his younger brother when a fun day takes a dark turn…changing the course of their lives.

My Thoughts: This story is a fast-paced mash-up of historical fiction, crime thriller, and family drama. The foreboding of the Vietnam War hangs in the background of this story that reads more and more like a thriller the farther you get. There is also a Hannibal Lecter-type character who adds to the creep factor (and who causes the story to venture into unbelievable at times, though it didn’t bother me much). The writing is excellent, especially for a crime thriller, and I flew through it in just a few days. Great Dad gift!

Too Good to Be TrueToo Good to Be True by Carola Lovering
Fiction – Thriller (Release Date: March 2, 2021)
352 Pages
Buy from: Amazon | (Audio)

Plot Summary: A woman (Skye) with severe OCD has had trouble finding a lasting relationship…until she finally finds love with an older man (Burke). However, Burke is not what he seems.

My Thoughts: I loved Lovering’s debut novel, Tell Me Lies, and Too Good to Be True is a bit different, but almost as addictive. The premise of this story isn’t new, but Lovering had me turning the pages quickly to find out how this tangled web would resolve itself! I loved that each character had shades of gray and that there was some exploration of class and privilege, cloaked in the guise of domestic suspense. 

Something Fun

These books are your brain candy. They read easy, but their stories still have great depth.

My #1 Pick

Seven Days in JuneSeven Days in June by Tia Williams
Fiction – Brain Candy / Romance (Released June 1, 2021)
336 Pages
Buy from: Amazon | (Audio)

Plot Summary: Two authors (Eva, an erotica writer and single mom, and Shane, a reclusive literary author) had a steamy week together years ago, but get a chance to rekindle things when Shane shows up to a literary event where Eva is a panelist.

My Thoughts: This smart, snappy #ownvoices romance is much more than your traditional romance (and is one of the best romances I’ve ever read…5 stars!). It has incredible depth and is not cheesy at all (but it is steamy!). Eva and Shane both go on intense personal journeys over the course of this story, resulting in an empowering romance that enables both of them to be who they truly are. The romance is almost the cherry on the top of these personal journeys, not the other way around. Plus, there’s lots of meta publishing industry commentary.

A Very Punchable FaceA Very Punchable Face by Colin Jost
Memoir, Released July 14, 2020
336 Pages
Buy from: Amazon | (Audio)

Plot Summary: Jost’s story of growing up on Staten Island, NY and rising to fame as a writer and Weekend Update co-host on Saturday Night Live.

My Thoughts: I don’t watch SNL and don’t particularly like memoirs by comedians. But, Jost is likable, self-deprecating, and doesn’t try too hard with his humor (this is the reason comedian memoirs don’t generally work for me). He speaks with humor about his upbringing on Staten Island and my friend who grew up there said his portrayal is accurate. But, the star of this book is actually Jost’s mother, who was Chief Medical Officer for the FDNY during 9/11. The section about her experience on 9/11 made me cry (the only book that’s made me cry this year). Full Review.

Dial A for AuntiesDial A for Auntiesby Jesse Q. Sutanto
Fiction – Brain Candy (Released April 27, 2021)
320 Pages
Buy from: Amazon | (Audio)

Plot Summary: When Meddelin Chan accidentally kills her blind date, she calls in her mother and “Aunties” to help get rid of the body…which kicks off a crazy journey involving a glitzy wedding and an ex-boyfriend.

My Thoughts: This debut Indonesian – Chinese, #ownvoices novel is part romance, part murder caper, part large family story…all set amid a glitzy wedding where Murphy’s Law reigns. It’s light, snarky, and completely over-the-top in a fun, cinematic way (a bit like the movie The Hangover). I’m normally sensitive to over-the-top plots, but I just rolled with this one (except for one part of the ending that jumped the shark for me). Sutanto’s sarcastic humor about her family and their customs reminded me of a much lighter The Bad Muslim Discount in that there was love along with the snark.

Good AppleGood Appleby Elizabeth Passarella
Nonfiction – Memoir (Released January 19, 2021)
256 Pages
Buy from: Amazon | (Audio)

Plot Summary: Elizabeth Passarella grew up in a conservative, Christian family in Memphis, TN before marrying a New Yorker and settling down in Manhattan. In Good Apple, she shares her experience being a devout Christian and Southerner in NYC, what it’s like to raise a family there…all while fielding constant questions from friends and family “back home” who are astounded at her life decisions.

My Thoughts: This is a book about vacillating between two “identities”, how to reconcile those, and the freedom to make life choices that work for you without constant judgment and criticism from others. She views much of this through a religious lens, but I’m not a super religious person and it didn’t bother me. I was also a Southerner living in NYC for a time and her commentary on this experience rang deeply true. Finally, I loved her take on politics, shifting beliefs, and the need for people to spend time among those in the “opposing” party…it was quite refreshing.

Red, White, & Royal BlueRed White and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston
Fiction – Rom-Com, Released May 14, 2019
425 Pages
Buy from: Amazon | (Audio)

Plot Summary: When “First Son” of the U.S. (Alex Claremont – Diaz) and Prince Henry of England (the “spare”) are forced to stage a fake friendship for media, their relationship evolves beyond friendship.

My Thoughts: It’s rare that I call books “delightful”, but this one truly was. It’s steamy, fun, and easy to fly through…and “not cheesy” (a must for romances for me!). Alex and Henry hilariously trash-talk each other for most of their relationship, which helped the banter avoid cheesy territory for me. I loved seeing the inner workings of the U.S. First Family and the British Royal Family. Ultimately, this is a heart-warming story about the right to live authentically and I was rooting hard for Alex and Henry.

View Was ExhaustingThe View Was Exhaustingby Mikaella Clements and Onjuli Datta
Fiction – Romance (Released July 6, 2021)
336 Pages
Buy from: Amazon | (Audio)

Plot Summary: Whitman (“Win”) Tagore is a famous British Indian actress whose publicist meticulously manages her image. For years, she’s had a “fake” off and on relationship with British heir Leo when her image requires some “management.” Secrets surface, threatening their arrangement and forcing them to consider what they really are to each other.

My Thoughts: It’s rare that a romance works for me, but The View Was Exhausting had the depth I love in a romance and avoided the cheesiness I usually don’t. I loved the glamorous settings and the more serious issues of the price and machinery of fame, what it’s like to be a woman of color in Hollywood, appearances vs. reality, and balancing a career with a personal life. It’s a perfect slump buster and I flew through it in 2 days!

For the Hobbyist

Books for people that are into specific things…in this case, true crime, food / restaurants, therapy, and friendship.

My #1 Pick

Empire of PainEmpire of Pain by Patrick Radden Keefe
Nonfiction – Investigative Journalism (Release Date: April 13, 2021)
512 Pages
Affiliate Link: Amazon | (Audio)

Plot Summary: The story of the wealthy, prominent, and philanthropic Sackler family, who invented and marketed Oxycontin through their company, Perdue Pharma. 

My Thoughts: This investigative journalism is maddening, heart-breaking, and super scandalous. It’s long (I do think it could’ve been a touch shorter), extremely well researched nonfiction, but it’s incredibly engrossing and keeps you turning the pages. There’s a lot to keep track of here, but I was able to do that on audio (narrated by the author). Empire of Pain would make an excellent Dad gift and would be great for fans of Catch & Kill, Bad Blood, and Dopesick

Catch and KillCatch & Kill by Ronan Farrow
Nonfiction – Investigative Journalism (Released October 15, 2019)
464 Pages
Buy from: Amazon | (Audio)

Plot Summary: The story of Farrow’s experience trying to break the Harvey Weinstein sexual harassment / assault scandal for NBC.

My Thoughts: Farrow’s story of his experience trying to break the Harvey Weinstein sexual harassment / assault scandal for NBC reads like a thriller. Farrow’s take on this story (compared to She Said by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey) focuses on NBC’s and Harvey Weinstein’s efforts to kill the story (which include cloak and dagger tactics) and illustrates just how tainted actual freedom of the press is by power, money and connections. A great pick for news junkies!

Share Your Stuff. I’ll Go First.Share Your Stuff I'll Go First by Laura Tremaine
Nonfiction – Memoir / Self-Help (Release Date: February 2, 2021)
224 Pages
Buy from: Amazon | (Audio)

Plot Summary: Laura (host of the podcast 10 Things to Tell You Podcast) helps women be open and vulnerable to achieve true depth in their relationships through 10 probing questions…starting with herself.

My Thoughts: Laura has now written a book inspired by her podcast. Her podcast episodes always cause me to reflect in some way…and often have me saying “Yes! That’s exactly what I’ve been feeling!”…and her book did more of that in an even deeper way and more concrete way. I read it and worked through the exercises soon after the new year and it was an excellent exercise in self-reflection. A great gift for your best friend…and then do a buddy read together!

The Deepest South of AllDeepest South of All by Richard Grant
Nonfiction – Travel / Investigative Journalism (Released September 1, 2020)
288 Pages
Buy from: Amazon | (Audio)

Plot Summary: This part history / part travelogue examines the complex history of Natchez, Mississippi…a city that was the center of slavery and still celebrates the “Old South” while also electing a gay, black mayor with 91% of the vote.

My Thoughts: Natchez is an eccentric, incongruous place that’s fascinating to read about. It has this incredibly dark history rooted in slavery, but present day Natchez is filled with quirky characters, dueling Garden Clubs, an amateurish play featuring the Confederate flag and hoop skirts…all set against an increasingly progressive elite population. They’re going through a bit of a racial reckoning. This would pair well with Natchez Burning by Greg Isles…Natchez’s most famous resident who has an integral role in The Deepest South of All. Another great Dad book!

Three Ring CircusThree Ring Circus by Jeff Pearlman
Nonfiction – Sports (Released September 22, 2020)
448 Pages
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon | | (Audio)

Plot Summary: The behind-the-scenes story of the Kobe / Shaq / Phil Jackson era of the Lakers.

My Thoughts: I loved Pearlman’s book about the Michael Irvin-era Dallas Cowboys, Boys Will Be Boys, and was looking forward to another gossipy, dramatic behind-the-scenes sports stories. Three Ring Circus was definitely that. Pearlman covered the famous Shaq / Kobe feud, the hiring of Phil Jackson (and Jackson’s beef with Kobe), and Kobe’s marriage & rape trial. He does NOT paint Kobe in a positive light, which was a bit jarring to read after Kobe was more or less evangelized upon his tragic death. For those not really into basketball, it’s a bit overly long and goes too deep into bball X’s and O’s at times. A great pick for basketball fans!

Book Subscriptions

Hard Copy Book Subscriptions

Book of the Month
Affiliate Link: Purchase
The gift that keeps on giving for book lovers! On the first of every month, members get to choose one of five books selected by Book of the Month’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 will mail your chosen hardcover book (along with any extras you ordered) to your house for free. 

The Storybound Society (from Fabled Bookshop, an independent bookstore in Waco, TX)
Discount Code: Use SARAHSBOOKSHELVES for 20% off your first shipment
Elizabeth Barnhill (guest on Ep. 89 of Sarah’s Bookshelves Live) is the book buyer at Fabled Bookshop and is one of my very best book recommendation sources, especially for literary mysteries and thrillers. For the The Storybound Society, your gift recipient will choose the “character” (ex: Guardian, Pioneer, Storyteller, Explorer, Sage, Everyman) that best matches their reading taste. Some “characters” are backlist focused (you’ll receive a paperback book) and some are focused on new releases (you’ll receive a hardcover book)…and, each “character” is priced accordingly. And, you get one surprise book in the mail each month!

Shelf Subscription (from The Bookshelf, an independent bookstore in Thomasville, GA)
Annie Jones, the owner of The Bookshelf, is also the co-host of From the Front Porch podcast and one of my very best book recommendation sources. For the Shelf Subscription, you choose The Bookshelf staffer whose taste best matches yours (there’s descriptions and a fun quiz on the website to help you!) and you get a surprise hardcover in the mail every month. You don’t have the choice of Book of the Month, but I love The Bookshelf staffers taste (PS – if you like my reading taste, you probably want to choose Annie Jones as your staffer)! Perfect for readers interested in supporting independent bookstores!

Audiobook Subscriptions (audiobook service benefitting independent bookstores)
Affiliate Link: Gift a 12 Month Subscription and Get 1 Extra Audiobook Free
For about $15 per month, you can get a 1, 3, 6, or 12 month subscription that includes one audiobook per month. The big difference between from Audible is, with, you select which independent bookstore you’d like to purchase from. So, you can support your favorite independent bookstore even when you’re buying audiobooks! Just like with Audible, make sure to tell your gift recipient to download the app on their smartphone.

Audible (Amazon’s audiobook service)
Affiliate Link: Buy from Amazon
For $14.95 per month, members get one audiobook and two Audible Originals each month. Members get discounts on audiobooks you purchase above the credits that come with your plan. You can also upgrade your subscription to get more than one audiobook a month. Make sure to tell your gift recipient to download the Audible app on their smartphone.

Happy Holidays!

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Best Holiday Gifts for Book Lovers 2021


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  1. Deb wrote:

    What wonderful choices! I appreciate that you separated out the ‘edgier’ books as most of the friends I buy books for are more PG readers. Also, I’ve been wanting to try a subscription service. I read about both that you mentioned and I know which one I’ll choose for ME!
    Thank you for all your hard work with your blog and podcast!

    Posted 11.17.21 Reply
    • Sarah Dickinson wrote:

      Glad you’re enjoying it!

      Posted 11.18.21 Reply
  2. M.P. wrote:

    I already subscribe to your newsletter. How do I get the printable cheat sheet? Thanks.

    Posted 11.18.21 Reply
    • Sarah Dickinson wrote:

      Enter your email again as if you did not already subscribe to the newsletter and you’ll receive an automatically generated email with a link to the PDF. And, that doesn’t mean you’ll receive multiple weekly updates moving forward, my email provider knows not to double up!

      Posted 11.18.21 Reply
      • Claire wrote:

        Hi Sarah! I have entered three different email addresses trying to get the email with the link to the PDF sent to me and I have still not received it. Would you mind possibly sending the link to me? Thank you so much!

        Posted 11.18.21 Reply

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