Books that would make great gifts (for others or for yourself)

“Have you read…?”

That is surely the most common sentence opener I hear (and use) when I’m with my tribe. I’m always amazed at how excited we get about finding another brilliant book, another riveting story, another extraordinary author.

More often than not, I’m enthusing about books written by my friends and acquaintances. Isn’t it incredible that I know the person who crafted this work of genius? is the other question that comes up a lot, but only in my head. I try to be cooler than that out loud, although I doubt anyone is fooled.

Knowing the authors makes it dicey when I try to put together a list of favorite books, because I know beyond doubt that I will accidentally leave out someone I love and admire. I was mindful of that when I decided to write this post for the Wednesday Weekly Blogging Challenge. To save my own skin, then, this list of recommended reads is made up exclusively of books written by people I’ve never met.

In no particular order, here are eleven of the books that have caused me to stop reading and just sit quietly, admiring the magic spun by some beyond-talented writers.


Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield

A drowned child returns to life, and those who dwell along the river search for the one true explanation. Everyone has a story….

Setterfield mesmerizes from the first line of this story, and then keeps on weaving reality with fantasy with fairy tale with fable until reading it becomes living it.


The Shadowy Horses by Susannah Kearsley

Archeology, Scottish legends, maybe some ghosts. Like every one of Kearsley’s books, this one is good enough to be mentioned in the same breath with the best of Mary Stewart and Barbara Michaels.

Kearsley’s research combined with her on-target sense of story structure and elements charms me every time.


Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch by Neil Gaiman & Terry Pratchett

This was my introduction to the two authors, and it was this bit of summary that caused me to buy the book in the first place: In order to stop Armageddon, a demon and an angel have to kill the Antichrist (which is a shame, as he’s a really nice kid). I think there’s a movie or a tv series based on the book, but *I’m sure the book is better. It almost always is.


Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flagg

Pay attention here-you’ll never catch me saying this again. The movie based on this book is nearly as good as the original.  Rich characters and unexpected intersections account for much of the longevity of the story. Outwardly hilarious, but there’s a whole lot of Something going on beneath the surface.


A Broom of One’s Own: Words on Writing, Housekeeping, and Life by Nancy Peacock

With her debut novel on the New York Times Notable Books list, you’d expect this author to be living the glamorous Oprah-recommended life, yeah? Try again.

Peacock’s essays on all the topics mentioned in the subtitle are witty, frustrated, sometimes furious, and always enlightening.


Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

High school student Clay receives thirteen old-school cassette tapes recorded by his classmate Hannah. Hannah’s voice on the first tape explains that there were thirteen reasons she killed herself, and the tapes explain it all.

You needn’t be a teenager to feel this one right down to your bones. You do need to be brave enough for it, though.

Yes, it’s a tv series.  See * above.


It’s a Book by Lane Smith

“How do you scroll down?”

“Does it need a password?”

“How do you charge it?”

So far as I know, this has not been adapted to the screen. Any screen. Hallelujah!


The Forest Unseen: A Year’s Watch in Nature by David George Haskell

This is the ideal gift and ideal idea for nature lovers or for anyone during a pandemic year. Haskell staked out a square meter of forest near his home and kept a year-long journal of the flora and fauna in his forest mandala.  His observations are part science and part poetry, part education and part wonder.

Go ahead—try this at home.


The Book of Harold: the Illegitimate Son of God by Owen Egerton

From my review: We’ve all been to those dreadful awards dinners, where the chicken is dry and the broccoli is limp. The speakers dole out lame jokes and the award winners pretend to be humble as they accept their statuettes.

Imagine, then, how the rest of the evening would go if the least-likely award winner said simply, “Thank you for the honor, but I’m not sure if I should receive it…. I do have an unfair advantage since I am Christ, the Son of God.” Read the full review


Nella Last’s War: The Second World War Diaries of Housewife, 49

Nella participated in the Mass Observation Project by recording her everyday activities throughout the period of WWII and beyond. Nella was born to be a writer, as it happens, so her reports are especially detailed and evocative.

This is THE read for those of us who care little about politics and battles, but who are fascinated by the homefront sacrifices and survival strategy.


Dietland by Sarai Walker

Plum Kettle ghostwrites the ‘Dear Kitty’ section of Daisy Chain, a magazine for teen girls. Plum likes being in the shadows, hiding her fat self away until she can afford the surgery that will effect a miraculous weight loss. We as readers get to wake up along with Plum to the reality of our shallow obsessions. Okay, yes. The television series is darned good. Read the book first, though, because the two aren’t identical.

Where to find these books

You can get these books from your favorite independent bookshop, which helps small business. If you don’t have an indie bookstore near you, you can visit Indiebound and order online. And of course, the major booksellers like Amazon, B&N, and Kobo carry all the titles, as well.

Happy gift giving!

8 thoughts on “Books that would make great gifts (for others or for yourself)

    1. I think everyone should read this book. And then watch the tv series, because the visuals bring home a few of the scenes in a way that text just can’t.

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