2013 Holiday Book Giving Guide

December 11, 2013

in Book Reviews

  • SumoMe

If you’re having trouble deciding what “stuff” to give as gifts this holiday season, consider not giving “stuff” to anyone.

After all, they probably already have too much “stuff” that they really don’t need or use stuffed in closets, drawers, and a three-car garage so overstuffed with “stuff” that they can’t even park a single vehicle in it.


Instead, give the gift that keeps on giving, both to its recipient and to anyone with home it is shared: A book.

And while the preferred way to shop for books is in a local, independent bookstore where you can pick up and browse through the books in stock, you can also order them online through the Websites of those bookstores, chain booksellers like Barnes & Nobles, and “Sorry-We-Don-‘t-Have-A-Store-But-We-Sell-Every-Book” Amazon.com.

And if you can’t decide which book to give, or settle on a literary genre, just buy a bookseller’s gift card to put under the tree of your favorite family member or friend.

Here’s are books we reviewed this year, plus recommendations from others, that should please those on your gift list. Most, if not all, are available in hardback, paperback, audiobook, and e-book versions.

Books Reviewed on Tales Told From The Road

An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth: What Going to Space Taught Me About Ingenuity, Determination, and Being Prepared for Anything (Chris Hadfield). NASA spends billions of dollars to send astronauts into space to study our blue marble planet and what lies above it.

Canadian astronaut, Col. Chris Hadfield, augmented his official duties by laying the guitar and singing David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” while floating weightlessly through the International Space Station. The YouTube video of his performance went viral, and so will An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth in which “Hadfield takes readers deep into his years of training and space exploration to show how to make the impossible possible.” (Click here to learn more about Hadfield, his book, and his recent bookstore musical duet with travel and technical writer, Pam Mandel.)

Insane City (Dave Barry). Fans of Miami Herald reporter Carl Hiaasen’s quirky crime novels set in South Florida should revel in Dave Barry’s new book set in Miami, “a big city filled with drug kingpins, big money, illegal immigrants, corrupt politicians, the elderly, and back-country hicks who really know their way around a python.”

Beside an albino python, the characters in this farcical tale include an orangutan looking for love, Haitian immigrants, and a wedding party that accidently gets stoned on marijuana-laded brownies. (Click here for The Christian Science Monitor review we republished.)

Shadow on the Crown (Patricia Bracewell). Emma of Normandy isn’t keen about being married off to the recently widowed King of England for political reasons. Nor is he keen about taking her for his bride just to quell unrest among his noblemen and protect his country against raids by the Vikings.

Bracewell’s debut novel, the first in a trilogy about Emma, is an 11th century tale of love, lust, intrigue, and treachery. Once you pick it up, you won’t be able to put it down.

Originally published in hardcover, it comes out in paperback in the U.S. on December 31st, and during the first week in January in the U.K. (Click here to read our review).

Here, There, Elsewhere: Stories from the Road (William Least Heat-Moon). William Least Heat-Moon’s Blue Highways is the classic American road trip story and his River-Horse: A Voyage Across America is a enthralling account of crossing the country’s waterways, coast-to-coast. His latest book, Here There, Elsewhere is a collection of his short stories published between 1981 and 2011. It’s available in hardcover and Kindle e-book versions. (Click here for The Christian Science Monitor review we republished.)

Lights, Camera…Travel! On-The-Road Tales from Screen Storytellers (Don George and Andrew McCarthy). In this this Lonely Planet anthology, legendary travel writer and editor, Don George, and actor (Pretty in Pink) turned travel writer, Andrew McCarthy, have assembled a series of short travel stories by a “star-studded cast” of writers, such as Alec Baldwin, Malcolm McDonald, and Brooke Shields, best known for their Hollywood movies.

Instead of making another trip to the Blue Lagoon, Brooke Shields heads to Alaska to build an igloo all by herself, and then spend a chilly night sleeping in it.

Anthony Edwards’ character, “Goose,” co-pilot to Tom Cruises’ “Maverick,” doesn’t survive a cinematic aerial catastrophe in the 1986 movie, Top Gun. But he did live to tell about a nearly fatal mid-air collision during an around-the-world trip by air with his family.

Lights, Camera…Travel! is highly entertaining, and gives a peek into an aspect of movie celebrity life that few have ever seen. (Click here to read our review).

In The City of Bikes: The Story of the Amsterdam Cyclist (Pete Jordan).  Pete Jordan (who as far as I know is not a blood-relations of mine) “went to Amsterdam for a semester to study how American cities could learn from its bicycle-friendly urban planning. He became so enamored of the Dutch capital that he spent a decade researching and experiencing its bicycle culture. He has now written a charming and quirky book that mixes memoir and history to explain the unparalleled flourishing of bicycles in Amsterdam.” (Click here for The Christian Science Monitor review we republished.)

Full Upright and Locked Position: Not-So-Comfortable Truths about Air Travel Today (Mark Gerchick). These days we have a love-hate relationship with airlines. We love to travel, we just hate doing it by air.

In Full Upright and Locked Position, former FAA chief legal counsel, Mark Gerchick, discusses why passengers keep paying more, but keep getting less comfort and service in return, when they travel by air. He argues that the 1978 deregulation of the airlines, the bursting of the “Dot Com Bubble” in 2000, and the 9/11 terrorist attacks, all contributed to the profound changes that passengers have encountered, particularly over the last decade and a half.

Full Upright and Locked Position is a “must-read” for both the frequent and not-so-frequent fliers in your life. Click here to read our review).

The Telling Room: A Tale of Love, Betrayal, Revenge and the World’s Greatest Piece of Cheese (Michael Paterniti). Paterniti’s book “tells the story of a passionate Spanish farmer named Ambrosio Molinos, a man who lives big and dreams bigger…Ambrosio had been a successful cheese-maker at one point in his life – winning international competitions, and supplying expensive artisanal Spanish cheese to the elite class. Then one day, he stopped. That is, he was forced to.”

The Telling Room “exists in the ether, somewhere between memoir, “new journalism,” slow-food manifesto, a brief history of Spain, small town mystery, and Don Quixote remix. At its heart, it is a story about idealism versus practicality, and the difficulty of building a life worth living.” (Click here for The Christian Science Monitor review we republished.)

For more of our recommendation reads, check out last December’s “10 Books for Travelers on Your Christmas Gift List,” as well as all of our book reviews.

And now for book-gifting suggestions from others.

From Left Coast Writers’ Christine Peters

Left Coast Writers® was created to support new and established writers in the production and promotion of their work in a stimulating atmosphere of creativity and community.


In addition to Shadow on the Crown, LCW member Christine Peters recommends two books to give this holiday season:

Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar (Cheryl Strayed). Great for the holidays, because the chapters are short and fit well into cooking breaks. Plus, some mind-blowing advice for the New Year!

The Husband’s Secret (Liane Moriarty). It’s about two marriages under duress, one by a decade old secret that the husband has kept, one by a husband confessing that he has fallen in love with his wife’s best friend and cousin. A third woman takes matters into her own hands after finally discovering who murdered her daughter. Irresistible in front of a fire on a winter day.

From KQED Public Radio’s “Forum”

“Forum” on San Francisco public radio station KQED-FM is hosted Michael Krasny, Professor of English and American Literature at San Francisco State University.


During the December 2, 2013 show, guests Christin Evans, owner of Booksmith in San Francisco and buyer for Kepler’s in Menlo Park, California, Sheryl Cotleur, buyer for San Francisco Bay Area bookstore Copperfield’s Books, and program listeners who called in, came up with a mind-boggling list of book recommendations.

There are far too many to mention here, but here are a few whose titles caught my eye:

Click here for the entire book list. Hit the player button to listen to the show.


(Purchases made from Amazon.com through the links on this page helps Tales Told From The Road continue to bring you a wide range of travel-related stories. Many, if not most, are also available from Tales Told From The Road affiliate, Barnes & Noble. You can give independent bookstores, such as Book Passage, located in Corte Madera and San Francisco, California, a happy holiday by purchasing print and electronic books at their stores or via their Websites.)

Barnes & Noble

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