Books For Gift Giving 2013 Holiday Edition II

Following up on last month’s nonfiction selections, and just in time for you to wrap up your last minute holiday shopping,  here is a selection of books  in fiction, cooking and holiday foods perfect for just about everyone on your list. The list includes a range of titles to please different preferences and inclinations – a flavor for every taste….


The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert
Elizabeth Gilbert’s new book is centered on the life of Alma Whittaker, botanist and scholar born in the 1800s.  She inherited a deep love for plants and nature from her father and spent her lifetime studying evolution through research on moss.  Gilbert weaves a compelling and fascinating narrative  that covers the travails of its heroine, Alma, her  personal triumphs in her scientific and intellectual pursuits at a time when women in science were rare, her travels to distant lands  as well as the  romantic disappointments and heartache which intersperse her life. Based on in-depth historical research, Gilbert’s new novel takes readers back to the nineteenth century, a time of exploration, discoveries, voyages and the birth of new ideas.

The Circle by Dave Eggers
In a fascinating dystopian novel, the author Dave Eggers sends a strong message of guarding against a chilling and disturbing future where technology, digital devices and social media take over all aspects of life.  The questions of privacy, transparency and democracy underlie the gripping story of Mae West, a young woman in her twenties who is exhilarated at finding a job at the world’s most admired company – The Circle, an amalgamation of familiar predominant tech and social media companies. Eggers tracks Mae’s transformation and rapid accession to the top ranks of the Circle as she spends all her time posting continuously on hundreds of forums, while a small camera affixed on her person provides a steady stream of video feeds about her activities so her life becomes totally transparent.

The Eternal Wonder by Pearl S. Buck
Forty years after her death, an unpublished manuscript written by Pearl Buck was discovered in a storage unit in Texas creating a stir both in the literary world and among the generations of readers who have admired her work.  Pearl Buck, the first American author to have won the Nobel Prize, penned this last novel shortly before her death in 1973.  The novel is an exploration of the human search for one’s identity and the meaning of life seen through the life of the gifted and brilliant Randolph Colfax, who broadens his views and learning in the course of his travels  to different places – New York, Paris, Korea - interacting with different people and different languages. The other central character of the book is the beautiful and equally gifted Stephanie Kung who was separated from her American mother when she was six and now lives in Paris with her father and is forced to  struggle with her Chinese - American roots even as she is immersed in French traditions.

The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri
The book is about two brothers, Subhash and Udayan, who grow up together in the Indian city of Calcutta but follow very different paths. The younger brother, Udayan, is drawn into the revolutionary Naxalite movement in Calcutta while the elder brother, Subhash, sets out to pursue graduate studies in Rhode Island. Tragedy strikes the family when Udayan is killed and the plot shifts to focus on how the characters react and evolve when faced with this agonizing new reality. Conveying broad emotions with her rich prose, the author presents a brilliant exploration of the complex human reaction to grief and sorrow showcasing the intricacies of human nature against an exotic backdrop that blends the familiar and the traditional.

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
Donna Tartt’s new novel spans over seven hundred pages and is a modern literary tale with a distinctly nineteenth century flair. Its vast canvas is filled with memorable characters described in vivid detail. The story explores the many faces of life – grief, loss, guilt and the beauty and inspiration of art through the life of Theo, the central character of the novel. Orphaned at the young age of thirteen by a bomb explosion at the Met that killed his mother, Theo walks away from the scene of destruction with a dying old man who entrusts the young Theo with a heavy ring and a famous painting that was lying in the rubble. This sets off a train of events that will keep the readers anxiously turning the pages.

Cooking and Entertaining 

Giada’s Feel Good Food: My Healthy Recipes and Secrets by Giada De Laurentiis
Author of six previous New York Times best selling books and host of several popular shows on the Food Network, Giada de Laurentiis shares 120 delicious recipes that are fun to prepare and designed to keep one fit and active. Almond butter strawberry toast, curried chicken and apple wraps, and sole with lemon basil pesto are just some of the delectable offerings.   Putting meals on the table becomes a snap with the handy month long meal plan that the author has put together. The recipes themselves are conveniently arranged in separate sections: breakfast, juices and smoothies, lunch, snacks, dinner and dessert. The author provides nutritional information after each recipe and shares her personal tips for a healthy and balanced diet and lifestyle.

Pati's Mexican Table : the Secrets of Real Mexican Home Cooking by Pati Jinich
The author,  host of the popular PBS Show introduces readers to the flavors and techniques of authentic home-cooked Mexican dishes in a beautifully put-together volume. The book is organized by food groups covering tantalizing Salsas and salads, vegetarian, poultry and seafood offerings, sides, desserts and drinks. Pati has a deep understanding of Mexican culture, its history and its foods which is reflected throughout in the book. The recipes are fresh, light and simple to prepare with ingredients readily available in most grocery stores. In addition to the wealth of recipes offered,  the author also shares handy cook’s tips and tricks for each recipe that were passed on to her by her grandmother and mother.  Also interspersed  among the recipes  is valuable information about the different Mexican cooking ingredients and techniques for using them.  

Ottolenghi : the Cookbook by Yotam  Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi
Yotam Ottolenghi, British chef and author also runs the Ottolenghi restaurants,  a popular part of London’s culinary scene that offers  a one-stop restaurant, bakery, patisserie and deli. The book includes some fascinating and unique offerings. By using simple methods of preparation, the authors preserve the freshness of the food while the unique blend of spices fills the dishes with flavor and aroma. Many of the recipes combine elements from both Middle Eastern and Indian cooking. Delectable dishes as cucumber and poppy seed salad, grilled broccoli with chili and garlic, and roast chicken with saffron, hazel nuts and honey ensure an impressive table spread.

The Pioneer Woman Cooks: A Year of Holidays: 140 Step-by-Step Recipes for Simple, Scrumptious Celebrations by Ree Drummond
A gorgeous and beautifully illustrated book designed around twelve different Holidays for effortless cooking and entertaining. The recipes have cross references, making it easy to mix and match between the menus for a more unique and customized spread. From delicious green smoothies on New Year’s  Day to salmon scrambled eggs and berry parfait for Mom on Mother’s day to delicious sides of broccoli-wild rice casserole, green beans and tomatoes for the Thanksgiving feast, the book abounds in sumptuous dishes that are easy to make and take the stress out of Holiday meal planning and cooking.

Vegetable Literacy : cooking and gardening with twelve families from the edible plant kingdom, with over 300 deliciously simple recipes by Deborah  Madison
A gardener, chef and a former farmer market manager, the author has been at the forefront of the vegetarian cooking movement over the last three decades and has an in-depth knowledge of different plants, herbs and vegetables. This newest book in her collection of writings is unique in its approach of organizing recipes by different plant family groupings. The basic premise of the book is that substituting related vegetables and herbs from the same plant group will result in new and delectable combinations and recipes: Tomato and Cilantro Soup with Black Quinoa from the Nightshade family, Kale Pesto with Dried Mushrooms and Rosemary from the Cabbage family, and Carrot Almond cake with Ricotta Cream from the Carrot Family.

- Nita Mathur
Photos courtesy of Anna Langova, and Petr Kratochvil.


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