Great books to give as gifts this season

Great books to give as gifts this season

A few holiday gift choices:

— We can often learn a great deal by reading a historical fiction novel. Usually it's about a particular place or time, but in "Life After Life" by Kate Atkinson, the world is full of "what ifs."

The author explores that concept in this novel about Ursula Todd, a woman who was born in 1910 but repeatedly dies at different times in the story. Through illness, accidents and violence, Ursula dies, only to be brought back again to follow a path not taken. Each time, the reader is brought back to a situation with a different set of parameters and history. So in each parallel revision, we read an alternate version of Ursula's life.

The plot development and characterizations are riveting and keep the reader thinking long past the last page. This one has received lots of media attention and appears on several "best of" lists this year.

Since it delves deeper than the basic historical fiction mode, this one would also make a great gift for the reader of literate fiction who likes to think about interesting concepts in books with compelling characters and hidden messages.

— For friends and family who enjoy nonfiction, try "Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in A Storm-Ravaged Hospital" by Sheri Fink.

It's hard to believe that the chaos of Hurricane Katrina was eight years ago. As New Orleans continues to deal with the rebuilding (both physically and emotionally) today, there are still questions to be asked, policies to be reviewed and steps to be taken for prevention of similar catastrophes in the future. Fink takes a look at one part of Katrina: the effects it had on one hospital in the middle of the storm.

Memorial Hospital sustained structural damage, rising water levels and an influx of family members and pets left there for safe keeping. Some patients were moved to safer locations, and some, in the care of Dr. Anna Pou, were left in deteriorating conditions.

Amid the chaos, Pou felt that it would be better for some to be spared the horrible surroundings by assisting their death with morphine and sedatives. For those of us who only heard the basic details on the news about the devastation in Louisiana and the other Southern states affected, this is an eye-opening look at the lack of basic needs experienced in the place that is supposed to save lives and help people get well.

This was a stunning and heartbreaking look at just one story of the Hurricane Katrina encyclopedia of tragedy.

— For the business-minded people on your shopping list, "The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon" by Brad Stone might be a nice selection.

What was once a small online bookseller, Amazon has grown to become a store for everything (or almost) a person could be shopping for. The author looks at how this modest Seattle-based site grew exponentially into the go-to place for everything from books to rope connectors for waterskiing, to fresh flowers.

Not only is it a top retailer worldwide, but also serves as an important third-party seller for anyone wanting to make a few dollars online. Although the book doesn't really delve into the impact that Amazon has had on smaller retailers, it does discuss the change it's had on pop culture and the worldwide marketplace. This would be a great title for the entrepreneur or manager in your life.

— Your favorite chef may enjoy a copy of "The Gramercy Tavern Cookbook" by Michael Anthony and Danny Meyer.

Practically an institution in New York City, the Gramercy Tavern is known not only for its exquisite recipes but also for beautiful dcor and the genuine appreciation for the visitors that take the trek to visit. The recipes can be a bit extravagant, but the chef (and author) encourages the reader to make the recipes their own by exchanging more readily available ingredients for the ones listed.

— Lastly, I'd like to recommend two books by local author Molly MacRae for the cozy mystery fan in your life. If they enjoy working with textiles at all, that's an added bonus for potential readers for "Last Wool and Testament" and "Dyeing Wishes."

Both books feature the employees at a yarn shop in the small town of Blue Plum, Tenn. And their various textile projects. And the cat who roams the shop and knows more than anyone else about the happenings. And maybe a ghost who is pretty annoying. And a cute law enforcement officer.

Books are definitely the gifts that keep on giving. Surprise someone today with a book they can love. And check out the Champaign Public Library's Friendshop in the lower level for previously owned titles on many subjects. They are a great deal!

Kelly Strom is the collection manager at the Champaign Public Library. She orders books, magazines, newspapers, audiobooks and CDs.

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