The gift book guide for 2021

Cover of the book "Queer Stepfamilies"
Cover of the book "Queer Stepfamilies"

You knew this time was coming

You knew that you were going to have to finish your holiday shopping soon but it snuck up on you, didn’t it? And even if you’re close to being done, there are always those people who are impossible to buy for, right? Remember this, though: books are easy to wrap and easy to give, and they last awhile, too. So why not head to the bookstore with your Christmas List and look for these gifts…

LGBTQ interest – nonfiction

If there’s about to be a new addition to your family, wrapping up “Queer Stepfamilies: The path to Social and Legal Recognition” by Katie L. Acosta would be a good thing. In this book, the author followed 40 LGBTQ families to understand the joys, pitfalls, and legalities of forming a new union together. It can’t replace a lawyer, but it’s a good overview.

For the parent who wants to ensure that their child grows up with a lack of bias, “Raising LGBTQ Allies” by Chris Tompkins is a great book to give. It’s filled with methods to stop bullying in its tracks, to be proactive in having That Conversation, and how to be sure that the next generation you’re responsible for becomes responsible in turn.

Wrap it up with “The Healing Otherness Handbook” by Stacee L. Reicherzer, PhD, a book that helps readers to deal with bullying by finding confidence and empowerment.

If there’s someone on your gift list who’s determined to get “fit” in the coming year, then give “The Secret to Superhuman Strength” by Alison Bechdel this holiday. Told in graphic-novel format (comics, basically), it’s the story of searching for self-improvement and finding it in a suprising place.

So why not give a little nostalgia this year by wrapping up “A Night at the Sweet Gum Head” by Martin Padgett? It’s the tale of disco, drag, and drugs in the 1970s (of course!) in Atlanta, with appearances by activists, politics, and people who were there at that fabulous time.

Wrap it up with “After Francesco” by Brian Malloy, a novel set a little later—in the mid-1980s in New York City and Minneapolis at the beginning of the AIDS crisis.

The LGBTQ activist on your gift list will want to read “The Case for Gay Reparations” by Omar G. Encarnacion. It’s a book about acknowledgment, obligation on the part of cis citizens, and fixing the pain that homophobia and violence has caused. Wrap it up with “Trans Medicine: The Emergence and Practice of Treating Gender” by Stef M. Shuster, a look at trans history that may also make your giftee growl.

LGBTQ interest – fiction

Young readers who have recently transitioned with enjoy reading “Both Sides Now” by Peyton Thomas. It’s a novel about a high school boy with gigantic dreams and the means to accomplish them all. Can he overcome the barriers that life gives him?

It’s debatable… Pair it with “Can’t Take That Away” by Steven Salvatore, a book about two nonbinary students and the troubles they face as they fall in love.

The thriller fan on your list will be overjoyed to unwrap “Yes, Daddy” by Jonathan Parks-Ramage. It’s the story of a young man with dying dreams of fame and fortune, who schemes to meet an older, more accomplished man with the hopes of sparking his failing career. But the older man isn’t who the younger thinks he is, and that’s not good.

Wrap it up with “Lies with Man” by Michael Nava, a book about a lawyer who agrees to be counsel for a group of activists. Good so far, right? Until one of them is accused of being involved in a deadly bombing….

For the fan of Southern fiction, you can’t go wrong when you wrap up “The Tender Grave” by Sheri Reynolds. It’s the tale of two sisters, one homophobic, the other lesbian, and how they learn to forgive and re-connect.

General Fiction

Is there a better book to give your BFF than “How to Kill Your Best Friend” by Lexie Elliott? I think not. This is a book about three friends who’ve been inseparable since college. Sadly, one of them, a strong swimmer, drowns under mysterious circumstances. Is there a murderer in their rapidly-shrinking friends circle?

Fans of thrillers will absolutely want to unwrap “Bullet Train” by Kotaro Isaka, the story of five assassins who find out that their respective assignments have a little too much in common for comfort. Give this book for a gift, along with two movie tickets, since it’s about to become a motion picture.

The person on your gift list who loves mythology will be very excited to see “Daughters of Sparta” by Claire Heywood beneath the tree. This is a story of two princesses of Sparta, of which little is expected but birthing an heir and looking beautiful. But when patriarchal society becomes too overbearing, the princesses must decide what to do. Far from your normal “princess” tale, this one has shades of feminism in ancient times.

The giftee who loves romantic happily-ever-after may enjoy an anti-HEA with “Rock Paper Scissors” by Alice Feeney, the story of a couple that’s struggling with their marriage. It’s nobody’s fault: he has an affliction and can’t recognize faces; she’s tired of being ignored. When they win a vacation, it’s a chance to make things better. Or not.

The Poe fan on your gift list will love unwrapping “Poe for Your Problems” by Catherine Baab-Miguira. Edgar Allen Poe as therapist? Who knew?

Add “The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows” by John Koenig to the gift box. It’s a book about words and feelings and how obscure language might help make things a little clearer.

Readers who particularly like storys with sugar will love “All the Lonely People” by Mike Gayle. It’s a tale of a lonely man who lives far from his family—far enough away that he feels confident in embellishing his life to his daughter. That’s fine, until she says she’s coming to visit and he must make fantasy match reality.

Wrap it up with “The Phone Booth at the Edge of the World” by Laura Imai Messina. It’s a beautiful story of loss, hope, and how we keep memories alive when someone’s gone.

Readers who love underdog tales will be so happy to unwrap “Everyone in This Room Will Someday Be Dead” by Emily Austin. It’s the story of Gilda, an atheist lesbian who lands a job as the receptionist at a Catholic church by mistake. When a friend of the former receptionist tries to contact the deceased former secretary, Gilda impersonates the woman. Problem is, the woman’s dead and Gilda’s acting suspicious…

Pair it up with “The Mad Woman’s Ball” by Victoria Mars, a novel set in France in 1885. The Salpêtriére asylum is full of “insane” women who may or may not really be insane. But then one patient, hospitalized because she claims to speak to the dead, hatches a plan to escape..

Historical novel fans will want to see “Island Queen” by Vanessa Riley beneath the tree this year, for sure. Based on a true story, it’s about Dorothy Kirwan Thomas, who had been a slave. Once freed, she ultimately became one of the most powerful, most wealthy, and most influential women in the West Indies in the early 1800s.

The folk music lover who just happens to also enjoy novels will love “The Ballad of Laurel Springs” by Janet Beard. It’s the story starts with ten-year-old Grace, who learns something shocking about her family’s past and the event became a song. She’s not the only one, though: songs and lyrics tell the rest of the tale, through generations of Tennessee folk music. Wrap it up with a promise of summer music festivals to come.


The whodunit fan on your list will be happy to see “A Slow Fire Burning” by Paula Hawkins beneath the tree. It’s the tale of a nasty murder on a London houseboat, and the three women who had big, big reasons to want to see the victim dead.

For the reader who genuinely loves time-period mysteries, look for “Dead Dead Girls: A Harlem Renaisance Mystery” by Nekesa Afia. It’s Harlem, 1926 and young Black women are showing up dead all over the area. This is too close for comfort for Louise Lloyd, and so when she’s given an ultimatum—go to jail for a past transgression or help solve these murders—well, the choice is clear, isn’t it?  This is the first book in a planned series, and your giftee will be looking for the rest after New Years’ Eve.

Or make it an even better gift by adding “Public Enemy #1” by Kiki Swinson, a novel about a new detective and a police department filled with corruption.

If you’ve got someone on your list who likes westerns and mysteries, why not marry the two by wrapping up “Dark Sky” by C.J. Box. It’s another in the Joe Pickett series (but it can be read alone), and it’s the story of a wealthy man, poaching, and murder, and it could send your giftee scrambling for the rest of the Pickett books.

And why does your giftee love mysteries?  The answer lies inside “Mystery: A Seduction, A Strategy, A Solution” by Jonah Lehrer. This book ties advertising with assassination, major league football to murder, Shakespeare with slayings, to show how our curiosity and the urge to solve is tickled by a mystery.

General nonfiction

No doubt, there’s someone on your gift list who’s concerned about climate change. And so the book to wrap up is “Hurricane Lizards and Plastic Squid” by Thor Hanson, a natural historian. Here, Hanson reveals how climate change is driving evolution. And what will happen to us?

Pair it with “A (Very) Short History of Life on Earth” by Henry Gee, a small book that looks at the Big Picture, where we came from and where we might go…

For the reader who’s new to America, or for someone welcoming a new immigrant to these shores, look for “A Beginner’s Guide to America” by Roya Hakakian. Nearly forty years ago, Hakakian came to live in America from Iran, and she noticed a few (ha!) differences that she writes about. This book is a bit humorous, a bit tongue-in-cheek, and a lot helpful for new Americans and for Americans who were born here, so that we might see ourselves as others do.

Wrap it up with “How Iceland Changed the World” by Egill Bjarnason, a small island with a big world footprint.

“State of Emergency: How We Win in the Country We Built” by Tamika D. Mallory. It’s an overall look at continuing racism in America, including what’s happened in the past year or so; it’s a demand to think and a call to action for everyone. Pair it with “Better, Not Bitter” by Yusef Salaam, a memoir as well as an urge for racial justice.

For the giftee who worries about gun violence in America today, “The Second: Race and Guns in a Fatally Unequal America” by Carol Anderson might be a good gift. It’s about what she says is the real reason gun violence exists and beware: it’s very controversial.

If it seems like the last two years have fractured families, you’re right. That’s why “Brothers, Sisters, Strangers: Sibling Estrangement and the Road to Reconciliation” by Fern Schumer Chapman might be a great gift. Wrap it up for someone or for yourself.

TV fans of that iconic Sunday night show will love getting “Ticking Clock: Behind the Scenes at 60 Minutes” by Ira Rosen, producer of the show. Fans and followers will love the behind-the-scenes peeks.

The person who hopes to conquer fear in the new year will appreciate a gift of “Professional Troublemaker: The Fear-Fighter Manual” by Luvvie Ajayi Jones. Jones is a blogger and public speaker and she knows how to take fear out of the equation. Your giftee will see how three words can make all the difference, and how to make good trouble.

The reader who loves a good scare will enjoy “The Vampire Almanac: The Complete History” by J. Gordon Melton, PhD. Pretty much everything you’d ever want to know about the undead is in here.

Dare to wrap it up with “A Very Nervous Person’s Guide to Horror Movies” by Mathias Clasen, a book that picks apart those scary flicks and why we should (or shouldn’t) watch them.

For the reader who dreams of life in the past or wishes to know the future, “Time Travel: The Science and Science Fiction” by Nick Redfern is a book to give this year. Filled with short entries and packed with information, ideas, and possibilities from literature, philosophical thought, eyewitness accounts, and science, this book may make your giftee wish they had a ticket now…

Much has been said about Black women and their hair, but your giftee will love “My Beautiful Black Hair” by St. Clair Detrick-Jules. This book is full of pictures of Black women and the styles they’re rocking, accompanied by those womens’ stories. It’s a great gift for stylists, Black women who love their hair, and for their daughters who must learn to.

If you’ve got someone on your list who wants to make the world a better place, then look for “An Abolitionist’s Handbook: 12 Steps to Changing Yourself and the World” by Patrisse Cullors. Part memoir, part instruction, this book will help show how good can be done, not just in big ways but in everyday life.

Wrap it up with “Say Their Names: How Black Live Came to Matter in America” by Curtis Bunn, Michael H. Cottman, Patrice Gaines, Nick Charles, and Keith Harriston.


The reader who can’t have enough World War II history will relish reading “Into the Forest” by Rebecca Frankel. It’s the true story of a family that escaped the Nazis by hiding in a nearby wooded area and they were able to stay safe for two years. Decades later, long after their liberation in 1944, another miracle happened and so did love. Wrap it up with a tissue. It’s that kind of book.

For the person who races through books faster than fast, wrap up “The Matter of Black Lives: Writing from The New Yorker,” edited by Jelani Cobb and David Remnick. It’s a thick anthology filled with essays from decades ago but are still relevant, thoughts that need reconsideration, and historical tales that modern eyes need to see.

Wrap it up with “Black Nerd Problems” by William Evans & Omar Holmon, a book that’s perfect for geeks, nerds, Con-lovers, and gamers of any race.

History lovers will love unwrapping “Travels with George” by Nathaniel Philbrick, a book that chronicles the author’s trip across America to see how our country has change, including the way we see George though modern eyes.

Health and wellness

Here’s a book that any reader can identify with: “Until Proven Safe: The History and Future of Quarantine” by Geoff Manaugh and Nicola Twilley. Learn what quarantine meant almost 400 years ago during The Black Death, what it means in a world with COVID-19, what we can expect during the next pandemic, and how this all meshes with the entire idea of freedom.

What to give to the person who loves the world of scent? Easy: “Revelations in Air: A Guidebook to Smell.” by Jude Stewart. Yes, it’s about things that smell good (and bad) but it’s also informative, with lessons on how to practice to gain a discerning nose. Wrap it up with a scented candle or a bottle of perfume, of course.

And now for the housekeeping:

Keep in mind that, with the supply chain issues and all, publication dates may change and move. Books get canceled or they might be short-stocked, so be patient. If you have any questions, if you’re desperate for ideas, or if you need a good substitute, ask your favorite bookseller. Seriously, booksellers have special powers and they’ll know exactly what you need

Trust the pros. Season’s Readings!