Books To Get You Thinking Holiday Edition II

With the festiveness of the holiday season all around, there are just a few short weeks left for finding the perfect gift for all the special people on your list!   I can think of nothing better than books for gift giving for, as Stephen King observes in his book On Writing, “Books are a uniquely portable magic.”  The bookstore shelves are crammed with enticing titles and one could spend the entire day browsing. The last edition of Books to get You Thinking featured picks from nonfiction, biography and memoirs - for the friends and family on your list who enjoy fiction or cooking and entertainment, here are some more selections to help you find the perfect books for gifting! All titles can also be found at the Mercer County Library for your reading pleasure.

Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan

A rich and detailed work of historical fiction set in New York during the Depression and World War II. Readers follow the trials and tribulations of Anna Kerrigan, beginning when she was a twelve-year-old living in Brooklyn with her beloved father Eddie, her mother, and beautiful but disabled sister Lydia. Anna grows up to become the first female diver working in the Naval Backyard during World War II, repairing damaged warships and looking for lost objects in the deep seas. A tangle of interconnected relationships and motivations set against the vivid picture of the Brooklyn waterside in the 1940s will stay with the reader long after putting the book down.

Anything is Possible by Elizabeth Strout                                                                                                      
Elizabeth Strout follows her Pulitzer winning novel Olive Kitteridge and her collection of stories My Name is Lucy Barton with another new collection of linked tales that feature many of Lucy Barton’s characters.  Underlying the stories is the theme of the complexity of human nature, that one can never fully understand a person, and anything is possible. The book delves deeper into the lives of Lucy Barton, her deep love for her mother, and her escape from the poverty, isolation and loneliness of her childhood. The connected stories about some of the pivotal characters from the earlier book and the mishaps and misfortunes that afflict them bring the ultimate power of remorse and redemption to the fore.

The Stars Are Fire by Anita Shreve                                                                                                           
This riveting novel is penned against the backdrop of the 1947 fire that raged for ten days in Maine, engulfing and destroying thousands of acres along with entire towns. It is the story of Grace Holland, a twenty-four-year-old who is pregnant and a mother of two young children, left homeless and penniless after her house burns down.  Her husband Gene, who leaves to help fight the fire, goes missing. Much of the story revolves around the grit and determination of this young mother to chart a new course in life – she finds a job, learns to drive and forms new friendships. In the process of tracing a new path for herself and her children, Grace discovers her own strength and the meaning of true relationships – something that had been missing from her married life with Gene. 

Before We Were Yours: A Novel by Lisa Wingate                                                                                    
A compelling and poignant novel set in 1939 where the author draws on recent history and actual incidents that occurred in Memphis, Tennessee involving the kidnapping of young children and their subsequent adoption aided by the Tennessee Children’s Home Society and the corrupt Memphis court system.  Lisa Wingate skillfully interweaves two stories – the first involving twelve-year-old Rill Foss and the terror and heartache she suffers as she watches her young siblings taken away. The second tale that unfolds is that of Avery Stafford, daughter of a politician in South Carolina. Digging into her past, she unearths shocking truths about orphans and their adoption. 

Uncommon Type: Some Stories by Tom Hanks                                                                                        
Tom Hanks, winner of multiple Oscar awards and a familiar name in the world of movies, pens his debut collection of short stories. The seventeen different stories in the book have the theme of exploring the imperfections and complexities of human behavior.  Tom Hanks’ sensitivity and empathy - evident in many of his movies - are present in many of the stories in this collection. Interestingly, the old reliable typewriter which he used to write this book finds its way into all the stories.  Each of the stories is set in different time periods and locations with engaging characters reflecting humor, sensitivity and pathos.

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders                                                                                               
George Saunders won the coveted Man Booker Prize in 2017 for this book.  The Chair of the Man Booker Prize, announcing the award of the Prize at a ceremony in London, remarked “The form and style of this utterly original novel reveals a witty, intelligent, and deeply moving narrative.” The book is set in 1862, when America was in the throes of the Civil War. The novel centers on the death of eleven-year-old Willie Lincoln and the tragic loss suffered by Abraham Lincoln and his wife. The author builds up a unique tapestry of grief in its different manifestations, featuring an array of voices of those alive and of those departed, the historical and the imagined all colliding to form an engaging narrative.

Cooking and Entertainment 

Live to Eat: Cooking the Mediterranean Way by Michael Psilakis                                                                     
Author and renowned chef Michael Psilakis owns several restaurants and has won many culinary honors, notably the Chef of the Year Award from Bon Appétit and Esquire.  The book makes it possible for both novices and more experienced cooks to prepare delicious, healthy Mediterranean dishes right in their own kitchens.  Beautifully illustrated, the book is uniquely arranged with a recipe index at the very beginning of the book that broken into the categories of appetizers, salads, soups, fish, poultry, vegetables and fruits. However, the recipes in the book themselves are grouped by seven different key ingredients that include garlic confit and roasted cherry tomatoes. The key ingredients can be prepared in advance, refrigerated, and then used over the course of a week to whip up a variety of exquisite Mediterranean meals including Chicken Souvlaki and Pan Seared Tuna with Sweet and Sour Salsa.  

The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Come and Get It!: Simple, Scrumptious Recipes for Crazy Busy Lives by Ree Drummond                                                                                                                                    

Notable food writer, blogger and the host of the hit television show The Pioneer Woman, Ree Drummond calls her fifth book “a love letter to everyone who finds themselves swept up in the crazy fun whirlwind of life, but who still wants to get home-cooked food on the table on a regular basis.”  The book has recipes organized under separate sections that range from Breakfasts, Snacks, and Lunches on the Go, to meals that can be readied under forty minutes and others under 20 minutes. Featured are an array of delicious, unique Sides, Sheet Pan Suppers, Meatless Marvels and Glorious Sweets.  The author includes a handy list of staples to store in the fridge, freezer and pantry that are indispensable for any kitchen.  All Ree Drummond cookbooks are lavishly illustrated with photos accompanying each step of the recipe for foolproof results every time.

Alice Hart, a prominent food writer and chef whose writing appears frequently in the New York Times, has written two previous cookbooks that explore flavors from around the world and the use of zesty fresh produce, herbs and spices in the recipes.  Hart also uses whole grains, nuts and a wide range of colorful natural ingredients, resulting in balanced flavorful recipes to add interest and enhance flavors.  The book is divided into nine separate sections that include recipes for different times of the day and different types of meals: Mornings that includes Winter Baked Chia and Berry Oatmeal and Cashew and Coconut Bites; Grazing that includes snacks good for any time of the day; Quick with recipes that can be whipped up in under thirty minutes; Gatherings that includes snacks and food with bold flavors and textures; and Afters with unique, delectable deserts as Roasted Pineapple, Coconut and Kaffir Lime Sorbet and Macaroon and Passion Fruit Curd Tart. 

The Perfect Cookie: Your Ultimate Guide to Foolproof Cookies, Brownies and Bars by the Editors of America’s Test Kitchen.                                                                                                                            
One of the most popular cooking shows to be aired on television, America’s Test Kitchen is entering its eighteenth season on public television. Right in time for the holidays comes this richly detailed book that contains all the elements for turning out the perfect cookie for every occasion.  From selecting the right equipment and tools to tips, tricks, and troubleshooting, both amateur and seasoned cooks can find all the building blocks for a sumptuous batch of cookies. Included are techniques for manipulating ingredients to achieve the desired texture of the cookie from chewy to crispy to moist. There is a separate section on Christmas cookies filled with festive, decorated holiday favorites including Soft and Chewy Gingerbread People, Cranberry Swirl Shortbread and Almond- Spice Christmas Wreaths. If you thought making candy was only for professionals, think again! – included in the book is a section on turning out luscious treats - Chocolate Truffles and Chocolate Walnut Fudge right in your own kitchen! 

From all of us at the Mercer County Library System, we wish you a joyous holiday season and a very happy 2018! 

- Nita Mathur, West Windsor Branch

Image 1: m01229 from USA (Wrapped gifts in a bag) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
Image 2Wolfgang H. Wögerer, Wien, Austria. [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons


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