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The BNH Book Review: Gift Guide 2021

Published Friday Nov 12, 2021

Author Terri Schlichenmeyer of The Bookworm Sez

The BNH Book Review: Gift Guide 2021

You knew this was coming.

You knew that you were going to have to finish your holiday shopping soon but it snuck up on you, didn't it?  And even if you're close to being done, there are always those three or five people who are impossible to buy for, right?  Remember this, though: books are easy to wrap and easy to give, and they last awhile, too. So why not head to the bookstore with your Christmas List and look for these gifts...


For the businessperson who wants to spend this winter making that business grow, wrap up “The Power of Trust: How Companies Build It, Lose It, Regain It” by Sandra J. Sucher & Shalene Gupta. Highly researched, this book explains why trust may be the most important advantage you have in your business, what you need to do to maintain your clients' trust, and what to do if you lose it.

If you've got someone on your gift list who struggles at work for whatever reason, then “Anxiety at Work” by Adrian Gostick & Chester Elton with Anthony Gostick will show you care about what they're going through. This book offers eight strategies to overcome the Sunday Night Dreads, the lack of self-confidence, and the building of new relationships at work. Pair it with “The Rejection That Changed My Life” by Jessica Bacal, a book of essays from powerful, sometimes famous people about the “no” that led them to a career's worth of “yesses.”

No doubt, there's a budding leader on your gift list, so wrap up “Make It, Don't Fake It” by Sabrina Horn. It's a book that will help your entrepreneur to strive for authenticity in business and, by extension, in life. Then let that authenticity lead to impact by giving “Impact Players: How to Take the Lead, Play Bigger, and Multiply Your Impact” by Liz Wiseman.

Business is a hard game these days but “Rogue Waves” by Jonathan Brill will help ensure that the storm doesn't last forever. This is a book that looks at the future, helping businesspeople to get there intact, make money, and survive. Wrap it up with “Flux: 8 Superpowers for Thriving in Constant Change” by April Rinne, a book that'll help your business person to stay resilient. Pair it with “Reset: A Leader's Guide to Work in an Age of Upheaval” by Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., a book on leading in times like ours.


Is there a better book to give your BFF than “How to Kill Your Best Friend” by Lexie Elliott? I think not. This is a book about three friends who've been inseparable since college. Sadly, one of them, a strong swimmer, drowns under mysterious circumstances. Is there a murderer in their rapidly-shrinking friends circle?

Fans of thrillers will absolutely want to unwrap “Bullet Train” by Kotaro Isaka, the story of five assassins who find out that their respective assignments have a little too much in common for comfort. Give this book for a gift, along with two movie tickets, since it's about to become a motion picture.

The person on your gift list who loves mythology will be very excited to see “Daughters of Sparta” by Claire Heywood beneath the tree. This is a story of two princesses of Sparta, of which little is expected but birthing an heir and looking beautiful. But when patriarchal society becomes too overbearing, the princesses must decide what to do. Far from your normal “princess” tale, this one has shades of feminism in ancient times.

The giftee who loves romantic happily-ever-after may enjoy an anti-HEA with “Rock Paper Scissors” by Alice Feeney, the story of a couple that's struggling with their marriage. It's nobody's fault: he has an affliction and can't recognize faces; she's tired of being ignored. When they win a vacation, it's a chance to make things better. Or not.

The Poe fan on your gift list will love unwrapping “Poe for Your Problems” by Catherine Baab-Miguira. Edgar Allen Poe as therapist? Who knew? Add “The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows” by John Koenig to the gift box. It's a book about words and feelings and how obscure language might help make things a little clearer.

Readers who particularly like stories with sugar will love “All the Lonely People” by Mike Gayle. It's a tale of a lonely man who lives far from his family – far enough away that he feels confident in embellishing his life to his daughter. That's fine, until she says she's coming to visit and he must make fantasy match reality. Wrap it up with “The Phone Booth at the Edge of the World” by Laura Imai Messina. It's a beautiful story of loss, hope, and how we keep memories alive when someone's gone.

Readers who love underdog tales will be so happy to unwrap “Everyone in This Room Will Someday Be Dead” by Emily Austin. It's the story of Gilda, an atheist lesbian who lands a job as the receptionist at a Catholic church by mistake. When a friend of the former receptionist tries to contact the deceased former secretary, Gilda impersonates the woman. Problem is, the woman's dead and Gilda's acting suspicious... Pair it up with “The Mad Woman's Ball” by Victoria Mars, a novel set in France in 1885. The Salpêtriére asylum is full of "insane" women who may or may not really be insane. But then one patient, hospitalized because she claims to speak to the dead, hatches a plan to escape.

Historical novel fans will want to see “Island Queen” by Vanessa Riley beneath the tree this year, for sure. Based on a true story, it's about Dorothy Kirwan Thomas, who had been a slave. Once freed, she ultimately became one of the most powerful, most wealthy, and most influential women in the West Indies in the early 1800s.

The folk music lover who just happens to also enjoy novels will love “The Ballad of Laurel Springs” by Janet Beard. It's the story starts with ten-year-old Grace, who learns something shocking about her family's past and the event became a song. She's not the only one, though: songs and lyrics tell the rest of the tale, through generations of Tennessee folk music. Wrap it up with a promise of summer music festivals to come.


The whodunit fan on your list will be happy to see “A Slow Fire Burning” by Paula Hawkins beneath the tree. It's the tale of a nasty murder on a London houseboat, and the three women who had big, big reasons to want to see the victim dead.

For the reader who genuinely loves time-period mysteries, look for “Dead Dead Girls: A Harlem Renaisance Mystery” by Nekesa Afia. It's Harlem, 1926 and young Black women are showing up dead all over the area. This is too close for comfort for Louise Lloyd, and so when she's given an ultimatum – go to jail for a past transgression or help solve these murders – well, the choice is clear, isn't it?  This is the first book in a planned series, and your giftee will be looking for the rest after New Years' Eve. Or make it an even better gift by adding “Public Enemy #1” by Kiki Swinson, a novel about a new detective and a police department filled with corruption.

If you've got someone on your list who likes westerns and mysteries, why not marry the two by wrapping up “Dark Sky” by C.J. Box. It's another in the Joe Pickett series (but it can be read alone), and it's the story of a wealthy man, poaching, and murder, and it could send your giftee scrambling for the rest of the Pickett books.

And why does your giftee love mysteries?  The answer lies inside “Mystery: A Seduction, A Strategy, A Solution” by Jonah Lehrer. This book ties advertising with assassination, major league football to murder, Shakespeare with slayings, to show how our curiosity and the urge to solve is tickled by a mystery.

General Nonfiction

No doubt, there's someone on your gift list who's concerned about climate change. And so the book to wrap up is “Hurricane Lizards and Plastic Squid” by Thor Hanson, a natural historian. Here, Hanson reveals how climate change is driving evolution. And what will happen to us?  Pair it with “A (Very) Short History of Life on Earth” by Henry Gee, a small book that looks at the Big Picture, where we came from and where we might go...

For the reader who's new to America, or for someone welcoming a new immigrant to these shores, look for “A Beginner's Guide to America” by Roya Hakakian. Nearly forty years ago, Hakakian came to live in America from Iran, and she noticed a few differences that she writes about. This book is a bit humorous, a bit tongue-in-cheek, and a lot helpful for new Americans and for Americans who were born here, so that we might see ourselves as others do. Wrap it up with “How Iceland Changed the World” by Egill Bjarnason, a small island with a big world footprint.

The singer or orator on your list will devour “This is the Voice” by John Colapinto. It's a scientific look at the human voice, how it differs, and how our ability to speak and verbally communicate as complex as we can has made us the dominant creatures we are. Wrap it up with “The Invention of Miracles” by Katie Booth, the true story of Alexander Graham Bell's work with deaf individuals (including his wife).

If there's a new cook on your list (or someone's about to strike out on their own), “Burnt Toast and Other Disasters” by Cal Peternell will be the perfect thing to wrap up this holiday. It's filled with recipes that are relatively easy with lots of chance to impress, and hacks to take care of those inevitable kitchen uh-ohs. And speaking of disasters, if your giftee is also concerned about health matters and the environment, wrap up “Toxin Nation” by Marie D. Jones, a book about manmade disasters and how it affects our food, air, water, and health.

Got an adventurer on your gift list? Then you can't go wrong with “True Raiders” by Brad Ricca. It's the story of the 1909 expedition to find the Arc of the Covenant, a story that few know and that's largely undiscussed. Your giftee will be overjoyed to see “Latitude” by Nicholas Crane in the same gift box. It's the true story of a ten-year expedition that started in 1735, in which a dozen men journey to determine the shape of the planet.

If you've got someone on your gift list who's very interested in current and world events, then “The Raging 2020s” by Alec Ross might be the perfect gift. It's a book that peers into our (possible) future in business, geographical issues, politics, and more. Pair it up with “Broke in America: Seeing, Understanding, and Ending U.S. Poverty” by Joanne Samuel Goldblum and Colleen Shaddox. It's a book that looks into the future and offers ideas for hope.

The person who's concerned with racial justice will be glad you gave “State of Emergency: How We Win in the Country We Built” by Tamika D. Mallory. It's an overall look at continuing racism in America, including what's happened in the past year or so; it's a demand to think and a call to action for everyone. Pair it with “Better, Not Bitter” by Yusef Salaam, a memoir as well as an urge for racial justice.

For the giftee who worries about gun violence in America today, “The Second: Race and Guns in a Fatally Unequal America” by Carol Anderson might be a good gift. It's about what she says is the real reason gun violence exists and beware: it's very controversial.

If it seems like the last two years have fractured families, you're right. That's why “Brothers, Sisters, Strangers: Sibling Estrangement and the Road to Reconciliation” by Fern Schumer Chapman might be a great gift. Wrap it up for someone or for yourself.

TV fans of that iconic Sunday night show will love getting “Ticking Clock: Behind the Scenes at 60 Minutes” by Ira Rosen, producer of the show. Fans and followers will love the behind-the-scenes peeks.

The person who hopes to conquer fear in the new year will appreciate a gift of “Professional Troublemaker: The Fear-Fighter Manual” by Luvvie Ajayi Jones. Jones is a blogger and public speaker and she knows how to take fear out of the equation. Your giftee will see how three words can make all the difference, and how to make good trouble.

The reader who loves a good scare will enjoy “The Vampire Almanac: The Complete History” by J. Gordon Melton, PhD. Pretty much everything you'd ever want to know about the undead is in here. Dare to wrap it up with “A Very Nervous Person's Guide to Horror Movies” by Mathias Clasen, a book that picks apart those scary flicks and why we should (or shouldn't) watch them.

For the reader who dreams of life in the past or wishes to know the future, “Time Travel: The Science and Science Fiction” by Nick Redfern is a book to give this year. Filled with short entries and packed with information, ideas, and possibilities from literature, philosophical thought, eyewitness accounts, and science, this book may make your giftee wish they had a ticket now...

Much has been said about Black women and their hair, but your giftee will love “My Beautiful Black Hair” by St. Clair Detrick-Jules. This book is full of pictures of Black women and the styles they're rocking, accompanied by those womens' stories. It's a great gift for stylists, Black women who love their hair, and for their daughters who must learn to.

If you've got someone on your list who wants to make the world a better place, then look for “An Abolitionist's Handbook: 12 Steps to Changing Yourself and the World” by Patrisse Cullors. Part memoir, part instruction, this book will help show how good can be done, not just in big ways but in everyday life. Wrap it up with “Say Their Names: How Black Live Came to Matter in America” by Curtis Bunn, Michael H. Cottman, Patrice Gaines, Nick Charles, and Keith Harriston.


The reader who can't have enough World War II history will relish reading “Into the Forest” by Rebecca Frankel. It's the true story of a family that escaped the Nazis by hiding in a nearby wooded area and they were able to stay safe for two years. Decades later, long after their liberation in 1944, another miracle happened and so did love. Wrap it up with a tissue. It's that kind of book.

For the person who races through books faster than fast, wrap up “The Matter of Black Lives: Writing from The New Yorker,” edited by Jelani Cobb and David Remnick. It's a thick anthology filled with essays from decades ago but are still relevant, thoughts that need reconsideration, and historical tales that modern eyes need to see. Wrap it up with “Black Nerd Problems” by William Evans & Omar Holmon, a book that's perfect for geeks, nerds, Con-lovers, and gamers of any race.

History lovers will love unwrapping “Travels with George” by Nathaniel Philbrick, a book that chronicles the author's trip across America to see how our country has change, including the way we see George though modern eyes.

Memoir and Biography

For the fan of police procedurals and courtroom drama, “Redeeming Justice” by Jarrett Adams is a no-brainer gift. When he was just a teenager, an all-white jury convicted Adams of a crime he didn't commit and they sent him to prison. Ten long years later, he was exonerated and released but not without help and a long fight to prove his innocence. He's now an attorney and this is a must-read tale. Wrap it up with “The Prison Guard's Daughter: My Journey Through the Ashes of Attica” by Deanne Quinn Miller, whose father was murdered in the 1971 Attica Prison uprising.

The reader who's also a fan of World War II stories will want to unwrap “Eva and Eve” by Julie Metz. It's the story of Metz's cosmopolitan, ultra-urbane mother and the side that Metz didn't know about: when Eve was a child, she lived in Nazi-occupied Vienna. Wrap it up with a bookmark, though your giftee won't need it.

Hollywood biography lovers will truly enjoy unwrapping “Elizabeth and Monty: The Untold Story of Their Intimate Friendship” by Charles Casillo. It's the story of a deep friendship, but that's not all; it's also a dual-biography of two of H-wood's most beloved stars.

The teacher in your life will love reading “Matchsticks” by Fred Engh. In 1961, Engh was a husband and father living in Maryland when he was inspired by an interview he saw that made him want to become a Physical Education teacher. And so Engh, a white man, enrolled in Maryland State College, which was then an all-black, segregated school. Bonus: this book is also a great read for the sports fan on your list.

For the skater on your list, wrap up “The Most Fun Thing” by Kyle Beachy. The author is a skateboarder and he writes about how he first learned the sport, what it's like to be a middle-aged sk8r, and he addresses other "fun things" about life and skateboarding. It's like a biography on wheels.

If you know a family that loves to travel, wrap up “We Came, We Saw, We Left” by Charles Wheelan. Long before Covid-19, the Wheelan family decided to take a long extended trip to "recharge and reflect" and see the world. Picture it: nine months and six continents with three teenagers. Wrap it with an atlas because you know what could be next...

Fans of the late Anthony Bourdain will absolutely love unwrapping “Bourdain: The Definitive Oral Biography” by Laurie Woolever, who was Bourdain's co-author on many books. This is a collection of memories from those who loved Bourdain, like a love letter to those who followed him fiercely.

For the woman who finds herself alone this holiday, “But You Seemed So Happy: A Marriage, in Pieces and Bits” by Kimberly Harrington is a book about the end of a marriage, but also about the beginning of a marriage, things between those two points, and how it's possible to find something good again..

Readers who love historical biographies will devour “Cleopatra: The Queen Who Challenged Rome and Conquered Eternity” by Alberto Angela. It's a sweeping story and your giftee will love getting it, no de Nile.

What do you give to the person who longs for a time gone by?  How about “The Farm on Badger Creek: Memories of a Midwest Girlhood” by Peggy Prilaman Marxen?  Set in Wisconsin in the middle of the last century, your reader will find tales of life on the farm, of one-room schoolhouses,chickens in the coop, and Grandma in the kitchen. It's got warmth, and it's perfect for the nostalgic one on your list.


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