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The books that make the best holiday gifts this year

A book for every kind of reader

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Thinking of buying yourself a little treat this Black Friday? Struggling to find a gift for a friend or family member who has already read every book? We’re here to help.

Below you’ll find a veritable bounty of book recommendations ranging from sci-fi, to fantasy, to mysteries, to cook books, and just about everything in between. Each title listed was published this year (or in 2022) — so they’re still hot off the press — and have been carefully curated so that every kind of reader, whether you like romance or robots or both, can find something to their liking. If it happens that you’ve already read the first book listed or it doesn’t appeal to you (or you want more than one), never fear! Each category has a few extra books listed, just in case.

For the wannabe detectives

Everyone in My Family Has Killed Someone by Benjamin Stevenson

Cover image for Benjamin Stevenson’s Everyone in My Family Has Killed Someone. The words lie in the middle of a noose, while other murder weapons surround it on a light blue cover. Image: Mariner Books

If you’re in the mood for a mystery that perfectly balances Golden Age camp and a thrilling who-dun-it that will keep you guessing who the killer is until its final pages, look no further than Everyone in My Family has Killed Someone by Benjamin Stevenson.

As the title suggests, everyone in Ernest Cunningham’s dysfunctional family has killed someone. Some have killed by accident, some on purpose, and some more than once. To make matters worse, Ernest finds himself trapped with them (ex-wife included) when a blizzard, in true Agatha Christie fashion, strands the Cunninghams at a remote ski resort. Unfortunately, not everyone will be lucky enough to survive their reunion. As a faceless killer begins wreaking havoc at the resort, it falls to Ernest, who also happens to make a living writing how-to books for murder mystery writers, to put the pieces together before someone else dies.

If you enjoy Ernest’s quick wit and undeniable charm, then you’ll be pleased to hear that he’ll be making a return to form in Benjamin Stevenson’s next book, Everyone On This Train Is A Suspect.

Also consider: The Bell in the Fog by Lev A.C. Rosen, West Heart Kill by Dan McDorman, The Mystery Guest by Nita Prose

For fans of Sunday comics

Brooms by Jasmine Walls and Teo Duvall

Colorful cover for Jasmine Walls and Teo DuVall’s Brooms, featuring a group of young people flying around on brooms in the night sky. Image: Levine Querido

What do you get when you set The Fast and the Furious in Mississippi during the 1930s, but replace the souped-up stock cars and Vin Diesel with powerful magic and illegal broom races? The answer, of course, is Jasmine Walls and Teo Duvall’s witchy and fiercely queer new graphic novel, Brooms.

Set in an American south where the use of magic is considered a punishable offense for people of color, Billie Mae and Loretta gather their friends — an instantly likable cast of characters from a variety of backgrounds — to participate in a series of high octane broom races in an act of brazen rebellion. The goal is to make enough money to take their team west, where they can practice their ancestral magic in peace and take part in national races without the US government threatening to send them to residential boarding schools. Through the use of gorgeous illustrations and a powerful story of found family that seamlessly blends historical fiction and fantasy, Walls and Duvall cleverly reimagine how marginalized people fought against oppression during the 1900s.

Also consider: The Mysteries by Bill Watterson and John Kascht, Earthdivers by Stephen Graham Jones and Davide Gianfelice, Roaming by Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki

For fans of fantasy like Lord of the Rings

Untethered Sky by Fonda Lee

Cover image for Fonda Lee’s Untethered Sky, with a young woman standing as a large bird soars overhead. Image: Tor

Written by the immensely talented Fonda Lee (Jade City), Untethered Sky tells the story of Ester, a stubborn and lonely young woman who is consumed by her need for vengeance, and her tenuous relationship with Zahra, the fledgling roc (a massive bird of prey that appears throughout Middle Eastern mythology) she trains to be her companion.

After witnessing a manticore brutally kill her mother and brother, Ester dedicates her life to the care and training of Zahra at the King’s Royal Mews. The birds there are raised to hunt and kill the monsters terrorizing their people’s land, but only one in five apprentices actually complete their training. Determined to prove herself to her superiors and fellow apprentices, Ester throws herself into her work, and what transpires is a poignant and deeply moving tale of perseverance, forgiveness, and respect for the natural world.

As is often the case with so many of Tor’s novellas, you’ll find yourself wishing that Untethered Sky was about 200 pages longer than it is by the time you reach the heart wrenching and deeply satisfying end.

Also consider: Last Tale of the Flower Bride by Roshani Chokshi, Godkiller by Hannah Kaner, Thornhedge by T. Kingfisher

For the younger readers in your life

The Skull by Jon Klassen

Cover image for Jon Klassen’s The Skull, a hand-drawn image featuring a young person in the snow holding a skull in front of a tree. Image: Candlewick Press

While he’s probably best known by readers of all ages for his stylish and extremely charming Hat Trilogy, The Skull is hands down Jon Klassen’s strangest (and spookiest) work yet, and truly not to be missed.

Inspired by a tale from Tyrolean folklore that he discovered in a library in Alaska and illustrated in his singularly minimalist style, Jon Klassen’s new picture book, The Skull, is about the unlikely friendship between a young girl named Otilla and a lonely skull. After escaping from danger and wandering through the woods, Otilla stumbles across a solitary and seemingly abandoned house. Inside is the Skull (who turns out to be a wonderful host), and after a day of exploring dusty rooms and abandoned balconies, it confesses to Otilla that something terrible visits at night. As the sun begins to set, cunning Otilla realizes that it’s up to her to protect them both.

While an adult might not find The Skull to be particularly scary, it’s good to keep in mind that not every young reader enjoys stories about skeletons and drafty houses (or they might be “too old” for picture books). If that’s the case, make sure to check out the other options below.

Also consider: If I Was A Horse by Sophie Blackall, The Beautiful Something Else by Ash Van Otterloo, The Davenports by Krystal Marquis

For sci-fi fans who can’t wait for Dune: Part Two

Chain-Gang All-Stars by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah

Cover image for Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah’s Chain-Gang All-Stars, featuring a scythe chopping through the words with a bright yellow background. Image: Pantheon Books

To say Chain-Gang All-Stars is brilliant would be something of an understatement. It’s a scathing, unflinching indictment of the private prison system, and is hands-down one of the best and most exciting and original works of dystopian science fiction to hit shelves in 2023.

Part Mad Max: Thunderdome and part Slaughterhouse Five, Chain-Gang All-Stars takes place in an all too plausible American future where the Criminal Action Penal Entertainment program (CAPE) pits convicted criminals against one another in violent, nationally televised gladiatorial battles. The story follows Loretta Thurwar and Hamara “Hurricane Staxxx” as they navigate their way to their final fights and their eventual freedom. Or so they hope. With CAPE breathing down their necks, and the threat of other gladiators looming, Thurwar and Hurricane Staxxx find themselves soon facing increasingly catastrophic and life-threatening challenges.

Along the way readers meet activists, reporters, avid fans, and everyone in between as Adjei-Brenyah’s groundbreaking and utterly harrowing story unfolds. There’s nothing else quite like it, and it will stick with you for a long time after you’re done reading.

Also consider: Translation State by Ann Leckie, Venomous Lumpsucker by Ned Beauman, The Endless Vessel by Charles Soule

For the hopeless romantics

One Night in Hartswood by Emma Denny

Cover image for Emma Denny’s One Night in Hartswood, featuring two people sitting on the ground in a forest. Image: Mills & Boon

If you found yourself giggling, blushing, and kicking your feet in delight while reading romance novels like Red, White and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston, The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune, and A Marvellous Light by Freya Marske, then you’ll want to pick up a copy of Emma Denny’s debut novel as soon as possible.

The year is 1360, and Raff Barden is on the hunt. After his sister’s husband-to-be disappears without a trace the night before their wedding, it falls to Raff to bring him back in one piece before the tentative union between their families is ruined. The problem, of course, is the man doesn’t want to be found. When a chance encounter in the woods brings them together, their chemistry and attraction to one another is undeniable. Raff is blissfully unaware of who his companion is, and as their relationship grows to be something more than either of them expected, William finds himself faced with a choice: turn himself in to help save Raff’s reputation, or follow his heart.

Also consider: My Roommate is a Vampire by Jenna Levine, Mortal Follies by Alexis Hall, To Have and to Heist by Sara Desai

For horror fans who can’t wait for the next Stephen King

The Centre by Ayesha Manazir Siddiqui

Cover image for Ayesha Manazir’s Siddiqi’s The Centre, which features a cluttered desk with a big bouquet of flowers, a skull, and an hourglass. Image: Gillian Flynn Books

If the mere thought of the Duolingo owl watching your every move terrifies you, then I suggest you proceed with caution when it comes to reading Ayesha Manazir Siddiqui’s gothic horror novel The Centre.

Down on her luck, uninspired, and stuck subtitling sub-par Bollywood films for a living, there’s nothing Anisa Elliah wouldn’t give to become a literary translator. When her boyfriend tells her about the Centre, a mysterious organization that promises fluency in any language in ten days, she jumps at the opportunity to join them. If her boyfriend learned to speak Urudu in the blink of an eye, then why shouldn’t be able to follow her dreams? But in order to find success with the Centre’s most elite members, Anisa must leave behind all of her material possessions and forgo contact with the outside world, for better or for worse.

The Centre is a strange and thought-provoking cautionary tale about the power of language, cultural appropriation, and then lengths that people are willing to go in order to succeed.

Also consider: How to Sell a Haunted House by Grady Hendrix, Red Rabbit by Alex Grecian, Lone Women by Victor Lavalle

For fans of historical fiction

North Woods by Daniel Mason

Cover image for Daniel Mason’s North Woods, with a big cat lounging on the cover. Image: Penguin Random House

If there’s a reader in your life who isn’t a fan of sci-fi or fantasy but is in the mood for a truly unforgettable and deeply moving work of historical fiction that plays with the passage of time and the concept of succession in interesting ways, then North Woods by Daniel Mason might be the perfect book for them.

Told in 12 distinct chapters — each of which ties loosely to a month of the year — North Woods begins 400 years in the past, when two young lovers leave a puritanical society behind and take up residence in a humble cabin located in the woods of Northern Massachusetts. Both are utterly unaware that their home will house a marvelous cast of characters as the years unfold. Among them is an English soldier reminiscent of Johnny Appleseed, a crime reporter, and a painter, all of whom play an important role in the house’s collected history. The result is a sweeping, gorgeous novel that revels in its own strangeness and the beauty of the natural world.

Also consider: Silver Nitrate by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Wellness by Nathan Hill, The Berry Pickers by Amanda Peters

For the foodie

More Is More: Get Loose in the Kitchen: A Cookbook by Molly Baz

Cover image for Molly Baz’s More Is More: Get Loose in the Kitchen: A Cookbook. A red and white cover with the author holding a plate of food in the center. Image: Clarkson Potter Publisher

All hail the cae sal! Molly Baz, former Bon Appetit darling and the resident queen of cutesy food abbreviations, is back once again with her new book, More Is More: Get Loose in the Kitchen: A Cookbook.

This time around, Baz’s recipes challenge her readers to take more risks in the kitchen and to trust their culinary intuition. Not everything has to be used precisely — measuring spoons aren’t always a necessity, and a pinch can be as large or as small as you’d like it to be. Worried about your knife skills? Never fear. More is More also sees the return of Baz’s use of QR codes and video clips. These wonderful visual tutorials help guide you through some of her trickier recipes. So, whether you’re shopping for a newbie in the kitchen or a seasoned pro, Baz’s recipes are a must-have.

Also consider: The Simple Art of Rice: Recipes from Around the World for the Heart of Your Table by JJ Johnson (with Danica Novgorodoff), Still We Rise by Erika Council, The Secret of Cooking by Bee Wilson

For the reader who loves the great outdoors

The Underworld: Journeys to the Depths of the Ocean by Susan Casey

Cover for Susan Casey’s The Underworld: Journeys to the Depths of the Ocean, featuring a submarine deep under water. Image: Doubleday Books

If you’re anything like me, you are as fascinated as you are downright terrified by the ocean. That also means there’s a good chance you’ll enjoy (or be incredibly stressed out by) Underworld: Journeys to the Depths of the Ocean.

Having already written about gargantuan rogue waves, dolphins, and America’s obsession with great white sharks, Susan Casey is something of an expert when it comes to the aquatic world and all of its strangeness. In Underworld, Casey takes her readers for a compelling and breathtaking journey across the globe as she attempts to illuminate what lies in wait for us (whether it be strange creatures or famous shipwrecks) at the bottom of the ocean. Along the way she is joined by the likes of scientists, geologists, historians, and truly fearless bathysphere pilots as they eagerly traverse the depths. Casey’s enthusiasm and love for the deep sea is apparent on every page, and she has crafted a compulsively readable work of journalism that is not only fun to read, but doubles down on how important the ocean is as we face a world threatened by climate change.

Also consider: Fen, Bog and Swamp: A Short History of Peatland Destruction and Its Role in the Climate Crisis by Annie Proulx, A Darker Wilderness: Black Nature Writing From Soil to Stars by Erin Sharkey, A Traveler’s Guide to the End of the World: Tales of Fire, Wind, and Water by David Gessner

For the history buff

The Wager: A Tale of Shipwreck, Mutiny and Murder by David Grann

A ship looks ready to capsize on rocky seas in the cover for David Grann’s The Wager. Image: Doubleday Books

Sure, Killers of the Flower Moon is all anyone has been talking about lately (and for very good reason) but did you know its award-winning author David Grann has a riveting new book out this year?

In the year 1742, 30 men barely clinging to life washed ashore along the coast of Brazil. They claimed to be the only survivors of the HMS Wager, which had left the shores of England in 1740 on a secret mission to track down an immense amount of Spanish treasure. Their ship wrecked in the process, leaving the men aboard marooned for months and starving to death until they were able to build a small craft and set sail once again. What no one expected was a second craft containing 3 castaways to wash ashore in Chile six months later. The men aboard told a very different account of what happened, and what transpired after reveals a story of mutiny, violence, and greed. Like Grann’s previous work, The Wager is a stunning achievement, and a painstakingly researched tale of piracy and survival on the high seas. Also like Grann’s previous work, Martin Scorsese is directing an adaptation starring Leonardo DiCaprio.

Also consider: The Story of Art Without Men by Katy Hessel, Poverty, by America by Matthew Desmond, Black Ball: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Spencer Haywood, and the Generation that Saved the Soul of the NBA by Theresa Runstedtler

For the pop culture enthusiast

The Woman in Me by Britney Spears

Cover image for Britney Spears’ The Woman in Me, featuring Spears against a black background. Image: Gallery Books

For the past few weeks, Britney Spears — both adored by her fans and maligned by tabloid magazines over the years — has been on everyone’s minds, as her highly anticipated tell-all memoir has finally hit shelves.

The Woman in Me is a stunning look at Britney’s struggles with fame, her family — and the utterly infuriating way they treated her — and, ultimately, what it means to actually be herself, finally free of the conservancy that silenced her for so long. Her resilience and sense of humor in the face of such a trying time is truly remarkable, and will undoubtedly resonate with readers of all ages. It’s deeply satisfying to know that she is finally able to tell her story on her own terms, making this a necessary addition to your TBR pile.

Also consider: Tupac Shakur: The Authorized Biography by Staci Robinson, Down the Drain by Julia Fox, Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin): A Memoir by Sly Stone with Ben Greenman; Foreword by Questlove

For the reader who games (or the gamer who reads)

Critical Hits: Writers Playing Video Games edited by J. Robert Lennon and Carmen Maria Machado

Cover image for Critical Hits: Writers Playing Video Games, which is styled like a video game screen. Image: Gray Wolf Press

It’s not every day an anthology comes along that features essays from immensely talented writers such as Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah, Elissa Washuta, Hanif Abdurraqib, and Alexander Chee. Critical Hits: Writers Playing Video Games (edited by Carmen Maria Machado and J. Robert Lennon) provides readers with exactly that, as the all-star cast of essayists muse on the video games that have influenced them over the years. This collection covers just about everything ranging from games we can play on our cell phones to modern consoles and everything in between. Whether you’re an avid reader, have played video games your whole life, or both, you’re pretty much guaranteed to enjoy Critical Hits from start to finish.

Also consider: A Handheld History by Lost in Cult, Slaying the Dragon: A Secret History of Dungeons & Dragons by Ben Riggs