Christmas shopping is in full swing, so I asked my family and a few friends to recommend books in various genres for consideration as Christmas gifts. All of these suggestions are newly released, and all have hit the bestseller lists.
For the history buff: A Very Short History of Life on Earth: 4.6 Billion Years in 12 Pithy Chapters by paleontologist and editor of Nature, by Henry Gee which gives us an “eloquent account of how life evolved on earth,” according to Publisher’s Weekly. A Harvard professor writes, “Don’t miss this delightful, concise, sweeping masterpiece . . . a charming, zippy and scientifically accurate yarn.” The way this author packs billions of years into so few chapters is amazing indeed.
Another new book for lovers of history – albeit more recent history – is The American Story: Conversations with Master Historians, by the patriotic philanthropist and TV interviewer, David Rubenstein who has compiled a collection of well-known author’s views of famous Americans: David McCullough on John Adams, Jon Meacham on Thomas Jefferson, Ron Chernow on Alexander Hamilton, Walter Isaacson on Benjamin Franklin, Doris Kearns Goodwin on Abraha Lincoln and many others including a special conversation with Chief Justice John Roberts. This book is illustrated with archival images from the Library Congress and described as “destined to become a classic for serious readers of American History.”
On a lighter note, but still in keeping with an historical theme, we have The Personal Librarian by Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray. I’m reading this New York Times bestseller now and find it to be a remarkable novel about J.P. Morgan’s personal librarian, Belle da Costa Greene. Hired in her twenties to curate a collection of rare manuscripts, books and artwork for his newly built Pierpont Morgan Library, Belle becomes a fixture in New York City society while endeavoring to hide her true identity – a secret she feels she must protect at all costs. Fans of Marine Benedict will recall a few of her other terrific historical novels including The Only Woman in the Room, about beautiful actress Hedy Lamarr and her incredible inventions along with The Mystery of Mrs. Christie, which speculates on what actually happened during the twelve days that the famous author, Agatha Christie, did disappear from public life.
For the thriller fan on your Christmas list, an author who consistently shows up on the bestseller list whenever one of his new novels is released is British author, Jeffrey Archer. He served in the House of Lords, suffered a financial scandal that left him bankrupt but revived his fortunes as a novelist selling 350 million (!) copies of his riveting stories worldwide. The latest one is Over My Dead Body where “The clock is ticking in this rollercoaster ride of a thriller,” with scenes in London, Geneva, and on board a luxury liner en route to New York where the battle for power within a wealthy dynasty plays out. The heroes in this saga are a Detective Chief Inspector and an ex-undercover agent brought in from the cold – a story designed to keep you up at night rooting for the pair in their high-stakes endeavor.
If you have a lover of romance and intrigue on your list, you might check out The Christmas Bookshop by Scottish author, Jenny Colgan. This charming tale was an instant New York Times bestseller when it was released just a few weeks ago. It is about a young woman with perilously little cash and few options who is forced to take a job in an ancient bookshop in the center of Edinburgh filled with dusty volumes who meets a famous but difficult author just weeks before Christmas. It turns out the writer of this charming story certainly describes the settings beautifully since she and her family live in a genuine castle in Scotland.
Finally, the title of this article promises “Books and a Treat for Christmas” – here’s the treat. I discovered this recipe years ago and have served it at many holiday dinners where I have also challenged our guests to figure out the “secret ingredient” in this Christmas Pudding Cake. No one, as yet, has ever guessed that the answer is persimmons. Here’s how you make it:
Buy six persimmons that are ripe (or could be ripe by Christmas – they must be very soft in order to use them).
In a large bowl, spoon out the pulp of the persimmons and beat in:
1 cup sugar
1 ½ cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon soda
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup melted butter
2 cups whole milk
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
Pour into a greased 9 x 13 baking dish and bake at 325 degrees until firm (about an hour).
Cut into squares and top with a spoonful of hard sauce (that you can buy at the store) or vanilla ice cream if you’d prefer.
Then – see if those around your Christmas table can guess your secret ingredient.
What books or special recipes would you recommend to our readers for their Christmas shopping pleasure? Leave your suggestions as a comment below. And a very MERRY CHRISTMAS to you all!