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Great Books to Give and Get in 2011

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Guest blogger Lisa Sharkey: At this time of year, there is no better way to say "I love you" than to give a book.For adults, reading is surely a way to expand your mind, put the grind of your daily existence on the back burner and dive into a world that can bring so many rewards. Knowledge, exploration, romance, mystery, memoir, cooking, inspiration, diet, fitness, parenting, spiritual growth .... Books contain all of these things -- and so much more.

secret daughter
More than ten percent of the population reads electronically these days. But while books may have undergone a technological metamorphosis, the concept of digesting new and fascinating words put together in a pleasing and often thrilling way remains one of life's extreme pleasures, regardless of the delivery system. However you get your book dosage, be prepared to dive in, for there's nothing quite like making a meal of an excellent read. If you read in your bedroom with the door shut, you can avoid all those extra holiday calories!

For children (whose toys increasingly blink, beep and lure their innocent faces close to electronic screens), reading a classic picture book is still a beautiful way to spend some quality time -- and the captivating storylines often contain important lessons. Despite what a writer in the New York Times said a few months back, children's picture books remain a staple of young households. People who have become jaded about the value of a book just need to spend some time with disadvantaged children who do not have their own books. Give them one, and it lights up their world.

With that said, here are my recommendations for simply spectacular books for grownups and children to discover at the start of 2011 -- and beyond.

FOR MOMS, SISTERS AND BEST FRIENDS

"Secret Daughter," by Shilpi Somaya Gowda
This excellent fictional debut has been a number-one bestseller in Canada and is selling well here in the U.S., too. It is a deep, riveting and emotionally wrenching full-circle tale of a mother in India who is forced to save her baby girl by giving her up, and how that child grows up in America and ultimately comes to grips with her heritage and her future. It's one of those kinds of reads that makes you want to hug the book tightly and say, "Thanks for a great story!"

"I'd Know You Anywhere," by Laura Lippman
This book is a haunting, chilling psychological thriller that has a surprise in every chapter. It has been an enormous e-book success, as well as a hardcover bestseller. It is reminiscent of "The Lovely Bones," but in this case, the narrator -- a woman who was kidnapped by a serial killer as a teen, but survived the encounter -- hears from her kidnapper as he awaits his death sentence. (He is hoping she will intervene to spare him.) The psychological threads in this book may cause you to unravel a bit when you read it, but I assure you: This is one you cannot put down.

"Just Kids," by Patti Smith
This winner of the National Book Award for nonfiction is now in paperback. It's a memoir that looks back at the rocker's friendship with artist Robert Mapplethorpe and the love affair they shared before Mapplethorpe came out of the closet. It's a story about passion, art, writing, music, love and bohemian possibility.

"Between a Heart and a Rock Place," by Pat Benatar
Benatar's songs "Hit Me with Your Best Shot" and "Love Is a Battlefield" became rock anthems, and this book tells us what it's really like to be a rock-and-roll heroine. Benatar's tale take us from her Polish-Catholic roots to the development of her classically trained voice to her becoming the first woman to appear in an MTV music video. The book is also a love story: Benatar has managed to stay married for decades to her musical and life partner. (Sparks flew from the moment they met!) This is a must-read for Benatar's fans, as well as those who are interested in learning about what really goes on behind the scenes in the music business.

"The Best Kind of Different," by Shonda Schilling
This touching memoir from the wife of legendary MLB pitcher Curt Schilling reveals what it is like when you have expectations for your child and he or she does not meet them -- and then you learn that the reason your offspring will not fall in line (so to speak) is because he is on the autism spectrum. In Schilling's case, her son Grant was diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome while her husband -- who has ADD -- was pitching in the World Series. If you think your life has drama, check out how Schilling handled all this plus the anorexia that affected another one of her four children. Many parents will relate to her story, and it will bring moments of comfort that will help them put their own lives in perspective.

FOR DADS, BROTHERS AND NONFICTION LOVERS

"The Perfection Point," by John Brenkus
Do you have a guy in your life who is always quoting weird sports stats? Do you live with a man who would rather watch a game than do pretty much anything else? I do. Sports geeks are awesome -- and this is the perfect book for them! Written by the creator of the super-popular TV series "Sport Science," this New York Times bestseller will change the way sports is watched -- and the way in which world records are understood. The chapters about the world's fastest man and hitting the longest home run are my favorites.

"Atlantic," by Simon Winchester
The bestselling author of "The Professor and the Madman" has crafted a monumental epic about the Atlantic Ocean which goes all the way back to its origins 370 million years ago. Winchester covers the Vikings and Columbus -- and everything in between -- with page-turning precision. This is the perfect book for the guy who likes the History Channel and who's a little bit of a nerd but loves a satisfying read. The enhanced e-book version is a great gift for the man with an e-reader.

"One Hit Wonder," by Charlie Carillo
A hilarious novel about a thirty-something guy whose claim to fame is one song that broke into the Zeitgeist and gave him a very quick shot of stardom, after which he fell to earth in a limping decline. The book is also a love story. It's a paperback original, so the price point is right. Honestly, I was roaring with laughter as I tore through these pages!

"Sh*t My Dad Says," by Justin Halpern
The title says it all. Justin Halpern's dad is so incredibly inappropriate that Halpern began tweeting his blurts. Those tweets garnered a million-plus following on Twitter, which led to a book deal -- and then a TV show. The book is laugh-out-loud funny and will be enjoyed by anyone who is a dad, has a dad or just likes wildly crass comments that contain more truth than many of us would like to admit.

"The 100 Thing Challenge," by Dave Bruno
This new memoir aims at fixing the problem of over-consumption. Bruno, a real dad with a wife and three young girls, found himself "stuck in stuff," so he created his "100 thing challenge" to see if he could live with less. The book chronicles his whittling-down period and the ensuing year during which he lived with less -- but in so many ways ended up with a whole lot more. It's a great book to give anyone who wants to turn over a new leaf in the new year. (According to Bruno's rules, your personal library counts as one "thing," so it is always OK to have another book!)

FOR EVERYONE

"Harmony," by HRH The Prince of Wales
This book comes in both adult and children's versions, and both make great gifts. In the adult version, Prince Charles argues in favor of reconnecting with the beauty, mystery and spirituality of nature and explains how some of the modern conveniences of life have thrown us off course. He also makes recommendations on how to reverse the problem we have created. The illustrations take the reader on a journey that travels back in time to Plato and Aristotle, as well as into the future. Prince Charles gives powerful examples of biomimicry and discusses how to use the genius of nature to develop forward-thinking technology. The children's picture book version asks our future generations to understand humans' place on the planet and strives to connect young people with the shapes that are found throughout nature in an intriguing and fun way. (The photographs are stunning.) In my experience, every child who has been exposed to this book is capable of understanding these concepts and emerges a bit more informed -- and certainly intrigued.

"Style," by Lauren Conrad
This is one of those books that transcends age. It's appropriate for girls in their tweens (my 11-year-old daughter has been experimenting with the hairstyles) and women in their twenties and beyond. The advice and the layout are clean, chic and user-friendly. When you hand this book to a young woman, her immediate response is usually to observe how pretty it is both inside and out -- just like its author. (FYI, Lauren's super-successful young adult series, "L.A. Candy," is also a great gift for the guilty-pleasure reader.)

"Knuffle Bunny Free," by Mo Willems
The author, a three-time Caldecott Medal winner, calls this book "an odd story"; he says it is "the least factual and yet the truest." The book took a few years to produce, and it is a love letter to his daughter. A special look at growing up and letting go, it's funny, surprising and filled with real emotions. Willem's words and illustrations are unique and brilliant. (Before becoming an author, he worked on "Sesame Street." Clearly, he knows what kids and their grownups like!) In the December 19th New York Times Book Review, author Pamela Paul wrote that "the end of 'Knuffle Bunny Free' will leave children aspiring to be like its hero or proud that they already are. It will leave parents a blubbering mess either way."

"Fancy Nancy and the Fabulous Fashion Boutique," by Jane O'Conner and Robin Preiss Glasser
If the little girl in your life has yet to hear about Fancy Nancy, it means you have done a great job of keeping her out of libraries and bookstores. This latest darling picture book takes us into the world of fashion, and it is every bit as adorable as the others.

"Big Nate Strikes Again," by Lincoln Peirce
Even though my 11-year-old daughter was a little too old for this title -- which is aimed at children aged 6 through 8 -- she enjoyed it tremendously. The main character, Nate Wright (a.k.a. Big Nate), is a sixth grader who is experiencing all that's awkward about middle school. And yes, Nate is also the star of the long-running comic strip by the same name. He moved into the world of books this year, and what a ride it has been! The chapter books contain narrative mixed with comic strips. If your child is a reluctant reader, this might just be the series that gets him or her hooked.

"I Am Number Four," by Pittacus Lore
The movie by the same name is due out in early 2011, and according to my 11-year-old nephew, Jacob, the book -- the first in a series -- was the best, most incredible book he has ever read in his entire life. (His 8-year-old brother, Charlie, agreed.) However, it may be a bit dark for some very sensitive children -- as it was for my daughter. The characters are teenaged aliens whose world has been destroyed. Here's the link to the trailer for the action-packed science-fiction film, so you can decide for yourself.


next: I Got a Sex Toy for Christmas!
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