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FOR THE HOPELESS ROMANTIC
This romance novel sets a new standard for book girlfriends with sexy tatted photographer Delilah Green, who reluctantly returns to the small town of Bright Falls to shoot her evil stepsister’s wedding and unwittingly falls for single mom bridesmaid Claire. Theoretically, Delilah and Claire shouldn’t make any sense (nor do they want to), but the more time they spend together, the more the sparks between them refuse to be denied. —Dahlia Adler
by Tracey Livesay
If you love your romance novels with a healthy heaping of steam, you’ll enjoy Tracey Livesay’s steamy American Royalty. The Harry/Meghan inspiration is clear in the pairing of an American rap princess who brings a sexy, reclusive prince to his knees, but Livesay gives Danielle “Duchess” Nelson and Prince Jameson off-the-charts chemistry all their own. —D.A.
Where We End & Begin
by Jane Igharo
Whether or not you think you believe in soulmates, Jane Igharo’s gorgeous and immersive novel will have you championing them with every romantic bone in your body. It follows geneticist Dunni back to her home country of Nigeria for a wedding, and without her fiancé in tow, she's even more susceptible to the shock and awe of seeing the love of her life, Obinna, and the sexy, successful man he’s become. What follows is the promise of a potentially beautiful future, until the truth about the past catches up with them. —D.A.
FOR THE MYSTERY AFICIONADO
Comics nerds, in particular, are the perfect audience for this historical noir set in 1975 and following a woman named Carmen on the verge of living the dream of writing a superhero book. When her colleague’s found dead and Carmen’s work is stolen, rising to fame under another name, Carmen’s uphill battle to success gets even steeper...and more dangerous. —D.A.
A Killing in Costumes
by Zac Bissonnette
Cozy mysteries are the perfect holiday season staple, and this novel is an utter delight from a new voice in the subgenre. Two former soap opera stars who came out as being in a sham lavender marriage at the height of their careers now run a shop devoted to Hollywood memorabilia. When their strongest competition for a massive haul is found dead, they’ll have to race to clear their names or find themselves paying the price for a murder they didn’t commit. —D.A.
Gideon Green in Black and White
by Katie Henry
Many novels get compared to Veronica Mars, but few actually capture the teen-centric witty YA noir vibe the way Katie Henry does in this book. (Which, frankly, makes a lot of sense, since having a main character realize and explore their trauma with a healthy heaping of dry wit through an unexpected narrative is the Katie Henry special.) Gideon Green dreams of being a detective, living vicariously through decades-old movies of the greats and riding high off his one great solve. But it’s a lonely prospect, until his ex–best friend shows up at his door with a case and a plea for help. Gideon can’t resist, but the deeper he digs, the clearer it becomes that they’re facing a much bigger threat than they realized, and it’s one Gideon may not survive. —D.A.
FOR THE CLASSIC FILM BUFF
An empathetic, exhaustively researched dual biography of two of the first truly global celebrities: Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh. It’s a worthy addition to film history libraries, using insight gained over decades to look at how much they were able to accomplish despite insurmountable personal issues. It’s a balanced portrait of two personalities who continue to captivate fans with their work and their lives, and a perfect gift for any cinephile. —David Vogel
The Extraordinary Life of An Ordinary Man
by Paul Newman
What started in 1986 as an attempt by Paul Newman and his friend, screenwriter Stewart Stern, to compile an oral history of Newman’s life has now been edited and turned into a fascinating memoir of an actor who captivated the world onscreen for decades. Refreshing in its straightforwardness and simple honesty, Newman’s memoir shows a side of him the public didn’t get to see. It focuses on his close personal relationships, including his marriage to Joanne Woodward, and shows us who the man behind his public persona really was. Revealing, titillating, and moving, this is one of the best celebrity memoirs I’ve read in years. —D.V.
FOR THE FANTASY LOVERS
This cozy fantasy is a perfect winter read for all the fantasy gamers on your holiday gift list. Viv the orc mercenary is tired of trading her warrior skills for money, so she hangs up her sword and decides to open a coffee shop instead. While an orc barista might be a bit of a stretch even for the cosmopolitan city of Thune, Viv has a secret weapon: a stone meant to bring good fortune to any who carry it. Indeed, good fortune seems to follow her at first. She befriends a hobgoblin carpenter, hires an incredibly efficient succubus, and has a genius ratkin baking delectable sweets. However, when Viv’s bloody past resurfaces over the stone, and a stone elf representative of a gang comes calling for dues, the sweet, quiet life she craves may come crashing down. The author narrates the audiobook, and it is delightful. —Margaret Kingsburgy
Her Majesty’s Royal Coven
by Juno Dawson
This incredibly fun and super-queer first book in an adult contemporary fantasy trilogy is perfect for readers devastated by a certain popular British fantasy author’s anti-trans statements. Established by Elizabeth I, Her Majesty’s Royal Coven, or HMRC, is a secret coven of witches in the UK who hide their identity from mundanes. Years earlier, the HMRC was divided by a bloody civil war over whether witches and warlocks should dominate mundanes or remain in hiding. The HMRC emerged victorious, and witches and warlocks continue to hide their identities, though everyone involved paid a hefty price. Helena, now the High Priestess of HMRC, lost her husband, as did Niamh, who has abandoned the HMRC for a quiet life as a vet. Much to Helena’s disgust, Leonie has started her own coven of BIPOC witches, while Elle pretends to be a mundane housewife. These four were once united as girls learning how to practice magic. Now they join again after a prophecy predicts a young warlock will wreak destruction even more violent than the civil war. However, the civil war has caused all four to change in the intervening years, and what Helena fears, Niamh learns to love. Their differences may cause the dissolution of not only their quartet but also of the HMRC itself.
FOR POETRY LOVERS
US Poet Laureate Limón divides her most recent stunning poetry collection into seasons, where in each season, the natural world instigates reflections on the personal, while the personal shapes the landscape. Despite Limón’s constant need to place meaning on the natural world, she observes that it is ultimately indifferent to this need and to the meanings she attempts to carve out of it as she grapples with her personal traumas. “I am always superimposing / a face on flowers,” she says in her poem “In the Shadows.” “It is what we do in order to care for things, make them / ourselves, our beloveds, our unborn. / But perhaps it is a lazy kind of love. Why / can’t I just love the flower for being a flower? / How many flowers have I yanked to puppet / as if it were easy for the world to make flowers.” Some poems are wistful, others filled with grief and sadness, and still more are sensual explorations of love, but each connects back to nature and Limón’s tendency to be the hurting kind, the kind of person who cries easily, who makes herself, perhaps, too vulnerable. It’s a beautiful and accessible collection that fans of Mary Oliver will enjoy. It’s also a great entry point into Limón’s poetry.— M.K.
FOR PARENTS TRYING TO RAISE POLITICALLY ENGAGED KIDS
This fantastic parenting resource provides lots of actionable ideas for raising antiracist children. It’s divided into four sections: healthy bodies, radical minds, conscious shopping, and thriving communities. In each section, Montessori educator and advocate Hawthorne examines how topics affect BIPOC communities, how to discuss key racially charged topics with children in age-appropriate ways, and how to actively support BIPOC communities as a parent. For instance, in the “Healthy Bodies” section, Hawthorne describes how food desserts disproportionally affect BIPOC communities and how to discuss food choice and inaccessibility with children. What I love most about this book is the numerous lists of questions and prompts to discuss with children divided by age categories and the list of activity ideas. Hawthorne also makes sure to be inclusive of queer and disabled families. I initially listened to this on audio, and while I enjoyed the audiobook, I’m asking for a print copy on my own Christmas list so I can easily refer back to the activity ideas and question prompts. — M.K.
MEMOIRS YOU WON’T BE ABLE TO PUT DOWN
There’s a good chance you’ve heard people raving about McCurdy’s memoir within the last month, and if you haven’t read it, I highly recommend the audio version that McCurdy narrates. In short but profound chapters, McCurdy tells her story with unflinching honesty. As a child actor who began going on auditions at the age of 6, McCurdy recalls that it was her mother’s dream for her to become a star. Craving peace and harmony within her family, she wanted to keep her mother happy, especially after her mom was diagnosed with cancer. McCurdy reveals the dark secrets she harbored on her rise to fame, including struggling with eating disorders, addiction, and unhealthy relationships. It’s an unforgettable, heartbreaking personal journey that showcases her resilience. —Farrah Penn
Read our profile of Jennette McCurdy.
Making a Scene
by Constance Wu
Wu pens a refreshingly honest, humorous, heartfelt, and emotional memoir that follows her early life and career, including her success on Fresh off the Boat and Crazy Rich Asians. Constance grew up a theater kid in a midwestern suburban town and reflects on the ways acting helped shape her as a person. She’s transparent and revealing about many topics, including privilege, insecurities and jealousy, sex and falling in love, and her relationship with her sister. She also tackles tougher, personal experiences, like the injustice of not being believed by teachers and coworkers, sexual assault, and what exactly was going through her head when she tweeted her feelings about Fresh off the Boat. She does a fantastic job reading her memoir herself via audiobook, and it’s certainly worth listening to her narrate. —F.P.
Easy Beauty: A Memoir
by Chloé Cooper Jones
I haven’t stopped thinking about this memoir since I first read a galley back in February. Jones, a freelance writer whose profile of Ramsey Orta, the man who filmed Eric Garner’s killing, made her a Pulitzer finalist, writes candidly about her experience as a disabled mother, wife, and daughter. She juxtaposes ruminations on ancient notions of beauty with the reality and cruelty she often experiences as someone who has sacral agenesis, a condition that gives her chronic hip pain, a limp, and short stature. Doctors assume she can’t get pregnant. Two men debate the ethics of being born disabled right in front of her. Jones is a very unsentimental writer; she writes candidly in a manner that doesn’t always flatter herself. But that’s why the book is so powerful. —Tomi Obaro
Lost & Found
by Kathryn Schulz
This memoir by a New Yorker staff writer is a moving story about grief and love in equal measure. In 2016, Schulz’s father, a gregarious Jewish refugee who spoke six languages and eventually became a successful lawyer, died. The first section of the book, “Lost,” charts the capricious nature of Schulz’s grief, the way it manifests as profound irritation, even boredom. It’s an expansion of a 2017 essay she wrote that’s about both her and her father’s penchant for losing things as well as a larger meditation on loss more generally.
The second section, “Found,” tells the story of how Schulz fell in love with her wife, Casey Cep, only a few months before her father would die, while the last section, “And,” acknowledges the queasy coexistence of both joy and suffering.
Throughout the book, Schulz goes on tangents, weaving bits of trivia and ephemera in the charming (or grating depending on your point of view) manner of an avid reader and a New Yorker staff writer, which both Schulz and her wife are. But it’s really the wisdom of her reflections that stay with me: “how lovely life is, and how fragile and fleeting.” —T.O.
A Heart That Works
by Rob Delaney
Delaney’s memoir, about his 2-year-old son Henry dying of brain cancer, is not an easy read. The comedian and TV writer documents his anguish and his endeavor not to let the tragedy break his spirit or his family. The subject matter is unfathomably dark, but Delaney is a singular voice and consummate storyteller, whose writing is tender, vulnerable, even unexpectedly funny. Harrowing scenes in the pediatric oncology ward are followed by him sharing his coping mechanisms; he and other bereaved parents hoot and holler and have a ball watching Midsommar. “I must confess I now find it difficult to truly and fully relax around people who haven’t had some significant tragedy and pain in their lives,” he writes. “Just another one of the many things that make me a fun hang.” —Emerson Malone
FOR THE PERSON LOOKING FOR A GREAT NEW SERIES TO START
Teo (a Jade semidiós, the trans son of Quetzal, goddess of birds) isn’t worried about the Sunbearer Trials, where 10 semidióses are selected by Sol to compete to find a winner who carries light and life to the temples of Reino del Sol. After all, Teo’s strong best friend, Niya (daughter of Tierra, god of earth), and the powerful Aurelio are much more likely choices. Alas, when the time comes, Sol chooses Xio (child of Mala Suerte, god of bad luck) and Teo, leading to five mysterious trials they have to put their all into surviving. Because losing means being sacrificed to Sol. —Rachel Strolle
This Vicious Grace
by Emily Thiede
One of the best fantasies of the year is this remarkable debut. There’s an apocalypse coming up, but the Gods have chosen Alessa to help ward it off. It isn’t wildly helpful that she’s supposed to have a magical partner to help her, and her gifts keep killing anyone she touches. Or that a powerful priest convinced her own soldiers that assassinating her would be the best option to keep everyone safe. So for her own survival, she hires outcast Dante as her personal bodyguard, and as the duo tries to keep Alessa alive, Dante’s secrets threaten to overtake them both. —R.S.
A Magic Steeped in Poison and A Venom Dark and Sweet
by Judy I. Lin
If you are a fantasy reader who doesn’t like long waits between series entries, do I have the duology for you! A Magic Steeped in Poison introduces Ning, who is heading to the imperial city to participate in a competition to find the kingdom’s greatest shennong-shi, masters of the ancient and magical art of tea-making. For Ning, more is riding on the competition than just pride, as the winner gets a favor from the princess, one that might be the only chance for her to save her sister’s life. And it’s crucial she does so, because not only did they recently lose their mother to the same poison tea making her sister sick, but it was Ning that unknowingly brewed the poison. —R.S.
FOR GRAPHIC NOVEL FANS
In a series of comics, Dunbar chronicles her journey as a mother, from the sweetness and tumult of having a newborn to the utter pandemonium of the toddler years to the constant noise two children create. It’s a charming, hilarious, and heartwarming glimpse into motherhood that doesn’t shy away from how life-changing it is. Dunbar’s simple pencil drawings perfectly capture early motherhood. One comic shows a series of four drawings with Dunbar making faces at a baby and the baby copying her expressions. Another shows the baby, now a toddler, pooping on a toy train, while another shows Dunbar applying lipstick while her two sons barrage her with “Moms.” It would be a nostalgic, lovely gift for moms. —M.K.
Everything Is OK
by Debbie Tung
This beautifully illustrated graphic novel resonated so deep within my soul that I’m not ashamed to say I cried while reading it. It’s a touching, tender, emotional journey, and I’m positive many others will relate. Everything Is OK follows one woman’s struggle with depression and anxiety, ambition and failure of fear, and feelings of hopelessness and loss. After everything we as individuals have been through in the last few years, it’s a stunning reminder that we’re not alone in our feelings. That there is a way forward. That asking for help is not a sign of weakness. At its core, it’s a stunning story of what it means to be a complex human being. —F.P.
Ducks: Two Years in the Oil Sands
by Kate Beaton
In this powerful and brilliant graphic memoir, Beaton depicts the two years she spent working in the oil sands of Alberta, Canada, to pay off her student loans. As one of the few women working in the claustrophobic, mostly male oil camps, she experienced relentless misogyny. It would be easy for Beaton and the reader to hate all the men Beaton encountered in the camps, yet Beaton does not allow the reader that too-easy reaction. She challenges the reader to see that these men could be anyone’s fathers, brothers, cousins, and friends. She shows their humanity while at the same time unflinchingly addressing the day-to-day horrors she experienced. It’s a vulnerable, moving, and empathetic glimpse into the micro-society the isolation of oil camps develops. However, it’s clear that the misogyny, though worse in the camps, does not exist only within its confines. Beaton also confronts her own culpability in the climate destruction caused by the oil camps, something she had not considered when, fresh from college, she had signed up for the camps. This is easily the best graphic work I’ve read this year. —M.K.
FOR INDIE MUSIC FANS
The potency of Fleet Foxes, the lauded indie-folk band, has always been in their lyrics, and this collection distills the music down to its emotional core. Wading covers 13 years of their catalog, accounting for 55 songs (including two unreleased tracks) from four albums and one EP. What elevates this book, though, is that singer-songwriter Pecknold annotates each song with footnotes and pens the afterword. He shares what challenges he posed to himself. (“Can we blend Motown, barbershop, and Nintendo music?” “Can we find a song on this broken pump organ from Goodwill?”) He pokes fun at his own lyrics, and cites when his songs are quoting Yeats or Updike or referencing a Goya painting. Readers learn what songs were written following the police killing of Alton Sterling, Trump’s election, or in COVID lockdown, and which track has turned into a Christmas carol sung by middle school choirs around the world. —E.M.
FOR READERS LOOKING FOR A LAUGH
It’s summer 2015 in New York City. Alice decides to start studying for the MCAT and pursue her dream of becoming a doctor; her chaotic new roommate, Roxy, is a city hall employee who never looks up from her phone; Alice’s brother Bill is a tech entrepreneur with a hit app and a newfound fascination with Buddhism. Bays, the cocreator of How I Met Your Mother, certainly has a lane (stories about dating in your 20s in New York), and his wit and charm translate seamlessly into this novel. It’s the first book I’ve read that effectively captures social media’s dominance in our love lives, and the humiliating experience of being online and yearning for attention. The Mutual Friend is gentle, warm, and the most I have laughed while reading this year. —E.M.