Bookworm Gift Guide 2021: Season’s readings!

Terri Schlichenmeyer
Books form a Christmas tree.

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 ...

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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 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.

Christmas presents with e-book reader and books in bag against white background.

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 (ha!) 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.

True crime 

The true-crime lover on your gift list will absolutely want to unwrap “Rogue’s Gallery: The Birth of Modern Policing and Organized Crime in Gilded Age New York” by John Oller. The title says it all; wrap it up with a couple mysteries for the best gift ever.

For the social activist on your list, or for anyone who wants to know more about the death penalty, look at “Let the Lord Sort Them: The Rise and Fall of the Death Penalty” by Maurice Chammah. Specifically looking at Death Row in Texas prisons, this book takes a look at penal punishment and how it affects the condemned and those who know them.

A true crime lover knows that nothing is better than a great book as a gift, so wrap up “Death on Ocean Boulevard: Inside the Coronado Mansion Case” by Caitlin Rother. Rebecca Azhau’s death was ruled a suicide. Rother shows that that might not be the case ...

Your giftee will also be very happy with “American Serial Killers: The Epidemic Years 1950-2000” by Peter Vronsky. It’s an anthology of crime that’ll chill your favorite true crime aficianado and leave them begging for more – and so wrap up “Serial Killers: The Minds, Methods, and Mayhem of History’s Most Notorious Murders” by Richard Estep, for the best gift for a true crime fan ever.

For the sports lover

The fisherman on your list will love opening “The Unreasonable Virtue of Fly Fishing” by Mark Kurlansky this year. The thing to know is that this isn’t a how-to, it’s more of a how-to-love the art of casting and catching, from coast to coast and around the world.

No doubt, there’s someone on your list who plays favorites, when it comes to sports. That’s why you’ll want to wrap up “Talking to GOATs” by Jim Gray. It’s a book full of interviews with sports’ Greatest Of All Time competitors (GOATs, get it?). Surely, there’s more argument in this book, just as there’s more to know about superstar professionals.

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Want to make a home run this holiday?  Then wrap up “42 Today: Jackie Robinson and His Legacy,” edited by Michael G. Long. It’s a collection of essays on the impact Robinson left on folks today, and memories that others have of the great man.

For the woman on your list who has a love-hate relationship with sports, wrap up “Sidelined: Sports, Culture, and Being a Woman in America” by Julie DiCaro. It’s a book that looks at pro sports’ “thorny issues”of sexism, exploitation, and the toxicity that women sometimes face when competing. Not for the faint of heart, for sure.


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.

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.


If there’s about to be a new addition to your family, wrapping up “Queer Stepfamilies: The path to Social and Legal Recognition” by Katie L. Acosta would be a good thing. In this book, the author followed forty LGBTQ families to understand the joys, pitfalls, and legalities of forming a new union together. It can’t replace a lawyer, but it’s a good overview.

For the parent who wants to ensure that their child grows up with a lack of bias, “Raising LGBTQ Allies” by Chris Tompkins is a great book to give. It’s filled with methods to stop bullying in its tracks, to be proactive in having That Conversation, and how to be sure that the next generation you’re responsible for becomes responsible in turn. Wrap it up with “The Healing Otherness Handbook” by Stacee L. Reicherzer, PhD, a book that helps readers to deal with bullying by finding confidence and empowerment.


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.

Pets and animals

If there’s someone on your list who loves animals, wildlife, and working to save them, then “The Wild World Handbook: Creatures” by Andrea Debbink, illustrated by Asia Orlando, is a great book to wrap up. This isn’t just about the animals or conservation efforts; it also includes easy-to-do projects to help creatures in the wild, mini-biographies of people who fought for conservation and preservation, and short chapters on animals and why we should care about them. This book is perfect for readers 12-to-17, but an adult who wants something light might likewise enjoy it. Pair it with “Wild Life!” by Re:wild and Syd Robinson, a book about weird and unique animals around the world, and what conservation efforts are doing to keep them there. Bonus: Pictures!

The dog lover on your list will really like “The Forever Dog” by Rodney Habib & Dr. Karen Shaw Becker with Kristin Loberg. It’s a book filled with ideas and science that’ll help that puppy parent keep their fur-kid around a whole lot longer.

Health and wellness

For the past months, it seems like we’ve heard a lot from doctors and nurses. So why not wrap up a book by a psychiatrist? In “Committed: Dispatches from a Psychiatrist in Training,” author Adam Stern, M.D. writes about what it’s like to be accepted for a prestigious program in which he and his colleagues learn to help patients on a psychiatric ward. Wrap it up with “Being You: A New Science of Consciousness” by Anil Seth, a book to help you tap into an inner self and get to know you.

Give this one carefully: “Everything I Have Is Yours: A Marriage” by Eleanor Henderson is a book about boy-meets-girl and love blossoms. It’s about two children and a Happily-Almost-Ever-After, until chronic illness steps in. It’s a hard book to absorb but for the right giftee, it may be the best gift to give. Also look for “The Problem of Alzheimer’s” by Jason Karlawish, a sort of history of the “crisis” and where science is taking its treatment.

If your giftee is determined to live life to the fullest this coming year, then “Heartwood: The Art of Living with the End in Mind” by Barbara Becker may be what you need to wrap. Yes, it’s the story of death but it’s also about the way that grief can lead to growth. Wrap it up with “Crossing the River: Seven Stories That Saved My Life” by Carol Smith, a book about loss and healing; or “Little Matches: A Memoir of Grief and Light” by Maryanne O’Hara, the story of a mother’s loss and a daughter’s gift.

Here’s a book that any reader can identify with: “Until Proven Safe: The History and Future of Quarantine” by Geoff Manaugh and Nicola Twilley. Learn what quarantine meant almost 400 years ago during The Black Death, what it means in a world with COVID-19, what we can expect during the next pandemic, and how this all meshes with the entire idea of freedom.

What to give to the person who loves the world of scent? Easy: “Revelations in Air: A Guidebook to Smell.” by Jude Stewart. Yes, it’s about things that smell good (and bad) but it’s also informative, with lessons on how to practice to gain a discerning nose. Wrap it up with a scented candle or a bottle of perfume, of course.

For young readers (kids ages 6-9)

The very young reader who shows an interest in history will love “I Am Anne Frank” by Brad Meltzer, illustrated by Christopher Eliopoulos. Based on Frank’s famous diaries, it’s a great entry to this subject and perfect for this age group.

Kids who drift more toward nonfiction books will love “Jungle Animals: A Spotter’s Guide” by Jane Wilsher. This book has the look of an encyclopedia, but it reads much easier and offers a ton of information for curious youngsters.

For the kid who loves to travel, you can’t go wrong with “Little Kid, Big City! New York” by Beth Beckman, illustrated by Holly Maher. It’s a book about all the fun things a kid can do in The Big Apple. Wrap it up with “Keeping the City Going” by Brian Floca, a book about transportation and movement in a big metropolis. Bonus: This book will be a treat for your truck-van-taxi-vehicle lover, too.

For preteen readers (kids ages 7-12)

The young jokester on your list will love unwrapping “The Boy Who Made Everyone Laugh” by Helen Rutter. It’s the story of Billy Plimpton, who wants to be a comedian someday. Great idea, except for one little problem: Billy stutters.

Kids who love history will enjoy “Your Legacy: A Bold Reclaiming of Our Enslaved History” by Schele Williams, a beaufitul, colorful book that honors Black History year ‘round.

Your young social justice activist will love seeing “Racial Justice in America: Topics for Change” by hedreich Nichols, Leigh Ann Erickson, and Kelisa Wing beneath the tree. It’s a book that explains racial issues of today, and gives kids things to think about. Wrap it up with “Marching for Change: Movements Across America” by Joyce Markovics, a book about some of the important marches that have been held in America over the past sixty years. Also look for “Across the Tracks” Alverne Ball and Stacey Robinson a graphic novel looks at the Tulsa Race Massacre in a way that’s very accessable for young readers to absorb.

And speaking of history, another book young historians will want this holiday is “The Who Was? History of the World, Deluxe Edition” by Paula K. Manzanero. It’s full of quick-to-read but highly informative chapters on all sorts of historical figures you want your kid to know.

For young adults (kids 12 and up)

Check first, to be sure your giftee hasn’t already read this one: “The Desolations of Devil’s Acre: the Sixth Novel of Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children” by Ransom Riggs. Ask, because this very popular series has many very rabid fans who may not have been able to wait to find out what happens next.

For the reader of romance with a twist, wrap up “You & Me at the End of the World” by Brianna Bourne. It’s a story of Armageddon, stuck with a boy who thinks he’s all that (or a girl who’s a bit of a nerd, depending on your point of view). Can they figure out what happened, and why they’re alone on the planet together?

Young readers who love history will want to unwrap “When I Grow Up” by Ken Krimstein. Written in graphic novel format, this book is a compilation of six stories of Yiddish teenagers and their lives on the edge of World War II.

And now for the housekeeping

Keep in mind that, with the supply chain issues and all, publication dates may change and move. Books get canceled or they might be short-stocked, so be patient. If you have any questions, if you’re desperate for ideas, or if you need a good substitute, ask your favorite bookseller. Seriously, booksellers have special powers and they’ll know exactly what you need Trust the pros.

Season’s readings!

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The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. She has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. Terri lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books. Read past columns at marconews.com.