2017 Book Lovers Holiday Gift Guide

2017 Book Lovers Holiday Gift Guide

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The Roanoke Girls  by Amy Engel

“With more twists than a bag of pretzels, this compelling family saga may make you question what you think you know about your own relatives.”
– Cosmopolitan 

“Roanoke girls never last long around here. In the end, we either run or we die.”

After her mother’s suicide, fifteen year-old Lane Roanoke came to live with her grandparents and fireball cousin, Allegra, on their vast estate in rural Kansas. Lane knew little of her mother’s mysterious family, but she quickly embraced life as one of the rich and beautiful Roanoke girls. But when she discovered the dark truth at the heart of the family, she ran…fast and far away.

Eleven years later, Lane is adrift in Los Angeles when her grandfather calls to tell her Allegra has gone missing. Did she run too? Or something worse? Unable to resist his pleas, Lane returns to help search, and to ease her guilt at having left Allegra behind. Her homecoming may mean a second chance with the boyfriend whose heart she broke that long ago summer. But it also means facing the devastating secret that made her flee, one she may not be strong enough to run from again.

As it weaves between Lane’s first Roanoke summer and her return, The Roanoke Girls shocks and tantalizes, twisting its way through revelation after mesmerizing revelation, exploring the secrets families keep and the fierce and terrible love that both binds them together and rips them apart.

Available here.

All The Ugly And Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood

A beautiful and provocative love story between two unlikely people and the hard-won relationship that elevates them above the Midwestern meth lab backdrop of their lives.

As the daughter of a drug dealer, Wavy knows not to trust people, not even her own parents. It’s safer to keep her mouth shut and stay out of sight. Struggling to raise her little brother, Donal, eight-year-old Wavy is the only responsible adult around. Obsessed with the constellations, she finds peace in the starry night sky above the fields behind her house, until one night her star gazing causes an accident. After witnessing his motorcycle wreck, she forms an unusual friendship with one of her father’s thugs, Kellen, a tattooed ex-con with a heart of gold.

By the time Wavy is a teenager, her relationship with Kellen is the only tender thing in a brutal world of addicts and debauchery. When tragedy rips Wavy’s family apart, a well-meaning aunt steps in, and what is beautiful to Wavy looks ugly under the scrutiny of the outside world. A powerful novel you won’t soon forget, Bryn Greenwood’s All the Ugly and Wonderful Things challenges all we know and believe about love.

Available here.


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The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo  by Taylor Jenkins Reid

While reading the book, a famous old photograph kept coming to mind. It’s a shot of Sofia Loren and Jayne Mansfield at some sort of black-tie dinner, dripping with jewels, with impeccably suited waiters in the background. Jayne is smiling at the camera, but Sofia is caught giving a side-eyed glance at Jayne’s enormous breasts that seem to be scant millimeters from spilling forth from her dress onto the table.

This could easily be Evelyn and Celia, one dark and sultry, the other light as cotton candy and sunshine. This could easily be a moment when one woman was caught looking at her lover’s body, on display in public. Jealousy and slight disapproval mixed with lust and pride.

I’d argue that you have no soul if this novel doesn’t make you ache for these two women, if it doesn’t shed some light for you on the sheer ridiculous cruelty of anti-gay rhetoric. And they are no perfect martyrs for any cause, they are complex, flawed, bitchy and sometimes grasping. But scenes like the one that illustrates their inability to even publicly hold hands without fear of exposure should make you flinch.

Another recurring thought I had was a quote from Marilyn Monroe, also famous for the men she both did and did not marry. “Hollywood is a place where they’ll pay you a thousand dollars for a kiss and fifty cents for your soul. I know, because I turned down the first offer often enough and held out for the fifty cents.”

This sums up Evelyn’s life and career, though I like to think she found some peace and illumination at the end.

Available here. Read my full review here.


Lily and the Octopus by Steven Rowley

Ted—a gay, single, struggling writer is stuck: unable to open himself up to intimacy except through the steadfast companionship of Lily, his elderly dachshund. When Lily’s health is compromised, Ted vows to save her by any means necessary. By turns hilarious and poignant, an adventure with spins into magic realism and beautifully evoked truths of loss and longing, Lily and the Octopus reminds us how it feels to love fiercely, how difficult it can be to let go, and how the fight for those we love is the greatest fight of all.

Introducing a dazzling and completely original new voice in fiction and an unforgettable hound that will break your heart—and put it back together again. Remember the last book you told someone they had to read? Lily and the Octopus is the next one. “Startlingly imaginative…this love story is sure to assert its place in the canine lit pack…Be prepared for outright laughs and searing or silly moments of canine and human recognition. And grab a tissue: “THERE! WILL! BE! EYE! RAIN!” (New York Newsday).

Available here.


The People Are Going To Rise Like The Waters Upon Your Shore  by Jared Yates Sexton

“An impressionistic and often disturbing account of the 2016 presidential race . . . Sexton grapples with the Trump campaign from the perspective of the crowds reveling in the candidate’s presence and message. It is a useful vantage point given the increasingly blatant bigotry in the months since the election . . . This book reveals the incremental nature of public displays of hatred, growing from harsh chants and bumper stickers to, say, an open and unmasked gathering of white supremacists in Charlottesville . . . [His] dispatches are bracing.” ―The Washington Post

Available here.

Year One  by Nora Roberts

A stunning new novel from the #1 New York Times bestselling author―an epic of hope and horror, chaos and magick, and a journey that will unite a desperate group of people to fight the battle of their lives…

It began on New Year’s Eve.

The sickness came on suddenly, and spread quickly. The fear spread even faster. Within weeks, everything people counted on began to fail them. The electrical grid sputtered; law and government collapsed―and more than half of the world’s population was decimated.

Where there had been order, there was now chaos. And as the power of science and technology receded, magick rose up in its place. Some of it is good, like the witchcraft worked by Lana Bingham, practicing in the loft apartment she shares with her lover, Max. Some of it is unimaginably evil, and it can lurk anywhere, around a corner, in fetid tunnels beneath the river―or in the ones you know and love the most.

Available here.

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The Fact of a Body  by Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich

Part true crime story, part wrenching autobiographic confessional, Marzano-Lesnevich has accomplished something here that I’ve never quite seen before. Her hauntingly beautiful writing elevates this far above the tabloid t.v. fodder it could have become. It’s the kind of book that’s hard to put down, though you may feel the need to wash your hands afterward. Yet it also carries a kind of hope, that by looking the complicated past directly in the eye we may be able to steal back the power it has over us and set the future free.

Available here. Read my full review here.


mothers of sparta

Mothers of Sparta by Dawn Davies

If you’re looking for a parenting book, this is not it. This is not a treatise on how to be a mother.

This is a book about a young girl who moves to a new town every couple of years; a misfit teenager who finds solace in a local music scene; an adrift twenty-something who drops out of college to pursue her dream of making cheesecake on a stick a successful business franchise (ah, the ideals of youth). Alone in a new city, she summons her inner strength as she holds the hand of a dying stranger. Davies is a woman who finds humor in difficult pregnancies and post-partum depression (after reading “Pie” you might never eat Thanksgiving dessert the same way). She is a divorcee who unexpectedly finds second love. She is a happily married suburban wife who nevertheless makes a mental list of all the men she would have slept with. And she is a parent who finds herself tested in ways she could never imagine. In stories that cut to the quick, Davies explores passion, loss, illness, pain, and joy, told from her singular, gimlet-eyed, hilarious perspective.

Mothers of Sparta is not a blow-by-blow of Davies’ life but rather an examination of the exquisite and often painful moments of a life, the moments we look back on and say, That one, that one mattered. Straddling the fence between humor and, well…not humor, Davies has written a book about what it’s like to try to carve a place for oneself in the world, no matter how unyielding the rock can be.

Available here.

The People We Hate At The Wedding  by Grant Ginder

Amid the humor and the pain, there is a lesson here. Not the pat, Hallmark-card sort of lesson, where all we need is love and a puppy to set things right. But a more realistic sort of understanding that families are complex, intertwined organisms. Sometimes they suffocate us even in their distance, but they are also capable of holding us together in a way nothing else can.

They may make you crazy, they may make you cringe, but it’s still good to have someone on your side willing to pee on anyone who messes with you.

Available here. Read my full review here.