Give the gift of intrigue this holiday season with a celebrity memoir that captures all the grisly details of glitz, glamour and fame.
Give the gift of intrigue this holiday season with a celebrity memoir that captures all the grisly details of glitz, glamour and fame.
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In Lauren Groff’s Matrix, 17-year-old Marie de France becomes prioress of a run-down abbey in 12th-century England. Ill-suited to a life of privation, Marie struggles in her new role, but she forms strong bonds with the women in her charge, and the abbey begins to flourish. When tensions rise between the abbey and the outside world, Marie’s work and leadership are challenged. Fans of historical fiction will savor this gripping, atmospheric novel, which poses questions related to faith and female desire that will inspire great discussion among readers.

Anthony Doerr’s ambitious, sweeping Cloud Cuckoo Land follows a group of characters across the centuries, all of whom endure transformational events and share a love for an ancient tale called “Cloud Cuckoo Land.” Doerr tells the stories of Anna and Omeir, two youngsters in Constantinople in the 1400s; Zeno, an octogenarian librarian in modern-day Idaho; and Konstance, a teenage girl traveling on a spacecraft in the 22nd century. Inventive and accomplished, Doerr’s novel is an unforgettable tribute to the power of stories and the endurance of the human spirit.

Set in the 1970s in Illinois, Jonathan Franzen’s Crossroads chronicles the lives of the Hildebrandts, a suburban family going through a period of change. Russ Hildebrandt, an associate pastor and church leader, has decided to split from his wife, Marion. Their daughter, Becky, and son Perry are dabbling in drugs and a more radical lifestyle, and Clem, the oldest son, makes a drastic choice that shocks the family. Franzen’s wonderfully detailed, emotionally intimate novel is satisfying on every level, with marriage, morality and religion among the book’s many talking points.

Ailey Pearl Garfield, a young Black woman, delves into her disturbing family history in Honorée Fanonne Jeffers’ The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois. Brought up in a family of formidable women in Georgia, Ailey takes inspiration from the great activist W.E.B. Du Bois while wrestling with her heritage and selfhood. As she learns the truth about her family tree and the impact of slavery on her forebears, Ailey draws closer to self-acceptance. Jeffers explores issues of race, history and female relationships through this luminous story of a woman coming into her own.

Tackle some of the most acclaimed blockbuster novels of recent years with your book club.
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Book jacket image for Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan

Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking

An Italian-born friend, who is a very fine cook, once texted me a recipe for Bolognese sauce. The recipe, she explained, was by Marcella Hazan, and the meal we made from it was a gorgeous triumph. You can find that recipe on page 210 of the new edition of Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, a classic tome now outfitted in cheerful bright yellow for its 30th anniversary. Hazan, who died in 2013, is often credited as the most significant teacher of northern Italian cooking in the United States, and her guidance on fresh pasta, sauces and vegetables is without match, her objective “not to astonish, but to reassure.” Hazan’s cooking is unfussy, powered by good, fresh ingredients (which she explains in loving detail) and firmly rooted in family memories. 

Book jacket image for A Dish for All Seasons by Kathryn Pauline

A Dish for All Seasons

A Dish for All Seasons: 125+ Recipe Variations for Delicious Meals All Year Round is a collection of 26 recipe templates and suggestions for how to mix them up for each season—in other words, a brilliantly useful concept. For example, quesadillas: an easy weeknight favorite, but possibly a bit boring? Not so when stuffed with steamed root veggies in winter or grilled corn kernels in summer. Or consider pesto four ways, depending on what’s in season. Kathryn Pauline, a Saveur award-winning writer, provides a meal-making approach suitable for all levels of kitchen wizardry. Beginners can develop fluency through repeating familiar go-tos with simple twists, while those with kitchen skills will jump at the opportunity to improvise within constraints. “Use what you’ve got” is advice that never grows old, and this book puts a clever, adaptable spin on it. 

For something uniquely comforting, check out these four cookbooks perfect for browsing while you’re snug as a dormouse.

Book jacket image for I Am From Here by Vishwesh Bhatt

I Am From Here

In Vishwesh Bhatt’s cooking, the flavors and foodways of Mississippi and India converge in dishes like okra chaat, saag-style collards and succotash with garam masala. Until now, one had to visit Snackbar in Oxford, Mississippi, where Bhatt is executive chef, to experience that fare. Now, I Am From Here: Stories and Recipes From a Southern Chef showcases the inventive cuisine on which the James Beard Award-winning chef has made his name. A dinner might include grown-up stir-fried rice (based on a snack from Bhatt’s childhood in Ahmedabad, India), collard-wrapped catfish and Mom’s rice pudding. Stories of Bhatt’s mother, who kindled his early interest in food, pepper these pages. The book beautifully represents an individual immigrant’s experience through food; at the same time, it is a welcome addition to the canon of elevated Southern cooking. 

Book jacket image for Chinese-ish by Rosheen Kaul

Chinese-ish

Rosheen Kaul and Joanna Hu, the two young Asian Australians behind the delightful Chinese-ish: Home Cooking Not Quite Authentic, 100% Delicious, encompass a wealth of identities and influences between them: Kashmiri, Singaporean, Filipino, Malaysian, Indonesian and, of course, Chinese. Their collaboration, born during the COVID-19 pandemic, dances merrily through all of that territory with insouciant verve and a dash of humor. There are sections called “Chinese-ish snacks that feel kinda wrong” (including Beijing hot chicken and prawn toast) and “A few desserts we don’t hate” (such as mango pudding and pumpkin cakes). Hu’s watercolor illustrations play so nicely with the vivid photography throughout, and the recipes are remarkably accessible. Get yourself a carbon steel wok (as my husband did recently; he’s loving it), hit up the supermarket’s international aisle or your local Asian market, and you’ll be dishing up variations on fried rice, Sichuan-style noodles and chiffon omelets in no time.

Book jacket image for Bread Head by Greg Wade

Bread Head

“The bread I’m going to teach you to make is a little rough around the edges, a little louder than is polite, and stupid good.” That’s Greg Wade, head baker at Chicago’s Publican Quality Bread, in Bread Head: Baking for the Road Less Traveled. Wade’s bread is “an eff-you to the factory-farmed, industrially made versions” ubiquitous in supermarkets, as he often forges standard wheat for organic heritage whole grains such as barley, buckwheat and millet. Or how about a sorghum and rosemary ciabatta, or a rye naan? Wade’s creations pull from around the globe; for example, there’s khachapuri, a fermented dough stuffed with cheese and eggs that sounds like the stuff of my wheatiest dreams. Even if you burned out on sourdough during the pandemic, this book will make you want to try again.

Kiss the cook—but maybe buy them a present too. These five gorgeous cookbooks will wow any culinary artist worth their salt.
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Bake

Though he’s best known as the “Great British Baking Show” judge with an icy blue stare fit to scare any hopeful contestant, Paul Hollywood is also an exceptional baker in his own right. With BAKE, he shares his go-to recipes for all the classics, from cakes and cookies to doughnuts, pastries and pies. There is, of course, an extensive chapter on bread in which Hollywood really shows off his expertise.

Book jacket image for Chetna’s Easy Baking by Chetna Makan

Chetna’s Easy Baking

The latest offering from beloved 2014 contestant Chetna Makan includes over 80 recipes for sweet and savory bakes. Chetna has always been known for her flavor combinations, and Chetna’s Easy Baking showcases this skill with mouthwatering offerings like pear, chocolate, star anise and hazelnut tarte Tatin and mini saffron vegan cheesecakes.

Book jacket image for Simply Vegan Baking by Freya Cox

Simply Vegan Baking

Freya Cox made a splash in 2021 as the first contestant to create all vegan bakes. Her first book, Simply Vegan Baking, takes 70 recipes for familiar treats—such as carrot cake, cinnamon rolls and jam doughnuts—and shows bakers how to make them without eggs, milk or butter, and without sacrificing that delicious, comforting flavor.

Read our review of ‘Bliss on Toast’ by “Great British Baking Show” judge Prue Leith.

Book jacket image for Baking Imperfect by Lottie Bedlow

Baking Imperfect

Lottie Bedlow felt underqualified and ill-prepared for her time as a contestant on “The Great British Baking Show” in 2020. With Baking Imperfect, she vows to tell the truth about her baking struggles and imperfections so that others might feel brave enough to give baking a go. Each recipe is rated on a scale of one to five broken eggs so that bakers of every skill level will know where to start.

Book jacket image for Showstopping Cakes by Rahul Mandal

Showstopping Cakes

Winner of the 2018 season Rahul Mandal defied expectations when he awkwardly, endearingly rose to the top. His first book, Showstopping Cakes, captures the decorative pizazz he is known and loved for by breaking down each element of an eye-popping cake—from ganache to mirror glaze to marzipan—so that bakers can construct their own masterpieces at home.

Book jacket image for Cook as You Are by Ruby Tandoh

Cook as You Are

Ruby Tandoh is one of the most published “Great British Baking Show” contestants, and Cook as You Are is her fourth release. This collection focuses on recipes that are easy, affordable and accessible to everyone, no matter what relationship you have to food or to your body. With recipes for whatever-you’ve-got fried rice and goes-with-everything groundnut soup, there’s truly something for every appetite and energy level.

Book jacket image for Bake

Bake, Make, and Learn to Cook Vegetarian

Winner of the 2019 season David Atherton thinks kids should be able to whip up their own meal, snack or treat when they’re hungry. Bake, Make, and Learn to Cook Vegetarian will teach them how, with adorable illustrations by Alice Bowsher that break down each step of the process for creating vegetarian stir fry, cheesy rabbit crackers, jam tarts and more.

Book jacket image for Giuseppe’s Italian Bakes by Giuseppe Dell’Anno

Giuseppe’s Italian Bakes

When Giuseppe Dell’Anno won the 2021 season, fans everywhere shouted “Saluti!” Now he’s packed all his favorite home bakes, inspired by his dad’s recipes and notes, into Giuseppe’s Italian Bakes. From polenta sponge cake to panna cotta and focaccia, every recipe is rustic, delicious and authentically Italian.

The contestants and judges of “The Great British Baking Show” share their signature styles, technical tips and showstopping skills.
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The Christmas Book Flood

Winter arrives in all its glory in The Christmas Book Flood. Dating back to World War II, Jólabókaflóð (which translates to “Yule book flood”) is the Icelandic tradition of giving books to loved ones on December 24.

Author Emily Kilgore’s prose is expressive and poetic. As the book opens, she describes how the “northern lights dance and curtsy across a cold, black sky.” Later, she captures the thrill of searching for the perfect book as “shoppers glide through the aisles of towering shelves.”

Though Kilgore’s text speaks in general terms, illustrator Kitty Moss’ artwork tells the story of a biracial family, focusing on the wide-eyed oldest child as she sets off on her bike to find books for her family. She explores the nooks and crannies of a bustling bookstore, and her shopping expedition becomes an enchanted adventure. Frogs jump out of a book, which transforms into an owl that flies her to a fantastical world full of castles, hot air balloons and more magical creatures.

Moss creates glowing scenes—those northern lights, a snow-covered village, a dreamy bookshop, families reading by the fire—set against dark nighttime backdrops. She incorporates scraps of paper and newsprint into her collage-style art, offering further reminders of the transportive power of reading.

Bibliophiles will revel in this stunning celebration of the written word. The Christmas Book Flood sparkles with bookish excitement on every page.

Twelve Dinging Doorbells

A girl observes the growing number of visitors who gleefully fill her home as her family celebrates the holidays in Tameka Fryer Brown and Ebony Glenn’s Twelve Dinging Doorbells, a delightfully raucous riff on “The Twelve Days of Christmas.”

Things begin calmly as the first dinging doorbell reveals a grandmotherly woman with “a sweet potato pie just for me.” Spread by spread, more friends and family arrive, and Fryer Brown’s clever variations on the cumulative rhyme will have young readers readily chiming in: “At the fifth ringing doorbell this holiday I see: BAKED MACARONI AND CHEEEEEESE! Four pounds of chitlins, three posh sibs, two selfie queens and a sweet potato pie just for me.”

Glenn’s illustrations draw readers into the festivities by playing with perspectives. Many spreads depict rooms through a bird’s-eye view as the house bursts at the seams, while other scenes allow the reader to feel as though they’re seated at the long yellow table, surrounded by plates of food. There’s so much to discover in these images, and Glenn captures plenty of action and an amusing variety of facial expressions, from sheer joy to utter annoyance.

The book follows the natural rhythm of any celebration. As the crowd of partiers begin to tire, the rhymes shift slightly; for instance, “seven brothers repping, six toddlers squealing” becomes “seven goofy men, six screeching babies.” At the 11th doorbell ding, the narrator notices with dismay that only crumbs are left on the sweet potato pie plate. Thankfully, the baker comes to her rescue in a lovely final scene. Twelve Dinging Doorbells is a stellar ode to rollicking family gatherings at any time of the year. 

Through the North Pole Snow

A white fox digging in a snowdrift falls through Santa’s roof in Through the North Pole Snow, a lovely tale whose mixed-media illustrations and quiet, wondrous tone bring to mind Eric Carle’s Dream Snow and Jan Brett’s holiday tales. Polly Faber’s text doesn’t name the white-bearded, red-sweatered man until the very end of the book, instead offering a garland of clues that start with the man’s first comment when he frees the fox from his living room ceiling: “Stuck? Now that’s a problem I understand!” 

Faber’s Santa lives a peaceful life alone in a cabin, marvelously free from all of the holiday hullabaloo. Fox watches him as the seasons change, slowly building up to Christmas Eve. The result provides children with an insider’s look at a year spent with Santa, from his long post-Christmas nap, his months of careful toy making, a flurry of wish-filled letters that fill the sky like snowflakes, the arrival of the reindeer and, at last, the loading of the sleigh. 

Richard Jones’ exquisite illustrations underscore the subdued nature of this tale, with nary a “ho ho ho” to be heard and no elves in sight. Instead, this Santa is a lone, studious worker, surrounded by nature. He even chops his own wood. And yet there’s plenty of magic in the making as his shelves fill up with handmade treasures and the reindeer are decked out in brightly colored harnesses. Families feeling overwhelmed by seasonal excess will find Through the North Pole Snow a welcome respite.

Latkes and Applesauce

“Long ago in a village far away,” the Menashe family is ready to celebrate Hanukkah, but their plans are foiled by a blizzard so big it seems “as if all heaven’s featherbeds had burst.” Latkes and Applesauce: A Hanukkah Story updates the text of a charming wintry tale originally published in 1989, replacing Robin Spowart’s illustrations with new artwork by Kris Easlier. 

Mama, Papa and little Rebecca and Ezra usually dig up potatoes from their garden to make latkes and pick apples from their trees for applesauce. This year, Mama notes, “the blizzard has swallowed our feast.” As the days pass, the family’s food supply dwindles, yet they continue to celebrate as best they can. 

Author Fran Manushkin’s evocative prose moves the narrative along, heightening the tension yet keeping the mood upbeat and reassuring. Excitement arrives in the form of two unexpected visitors, a stray cat and dog who delight the children but also mean more mouths to feed. “Where there’s life, there’s hope,” Papa repeatedly reminds his family. 

Kris Easler’s illustrations lend a contemporary vibe to this “long ago” family. Every spread is bathed in warmth, the glow emanating from the Menashes’ home contrasting with the deep blue of the falling snow. The family’s faces are expressive as their occasional worried glances interrupt their optimism. The kindness they show the stray animals leads to a solution to the family’s dilemma that’s a bit predictable but still rewarding. Cheerful and cozy, this edition of Latkes and Applesauce has the makings of a new classic. 

As long, dark winter nights set in, snuggle up with these sparkling festive tales.
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Documentary filmmaker and historian Ken Burns believes that photographs are portals “not just to a different time and space but also to dimensions and possibilities within myself.” Through photographs and illustrations, these books are guaranteed to transport you.

Apollo Remastered

Book jacket image for Apollo Remastered by Andy Saunders

Apollo Remastered: The Ultimate Photographic Record is a weighty, large-format coffee table book that beams readers right into its cosmic world. The original NASA film from the Apollo missions (which includes some 35,000 images) has been safely secured inside a frozen vault at the Johnson Space Center, but new technology has allowed digital restoration expert Andy Saunders to painstakingly remaster this treasure trove of photographs, many of which have never been published. The results are pure magic, full of clarity, sharpness and color that make readers feel like part of the team—a far cry from those grainy images that were broadcast on TV at the time. 

During their spaceflights, many astronauts were shocked by how moved they felt looking back at Earth, and readers will see why. Apollo 14 astronaut Edgar Mitchell notes, “You develop an instant global consciousness, a people orientation, an intense dissatisfaction with the state of the world, and a compulsion to do something about it.” Apollo 9’s Rusty Schweickart recommends reading this book at night, surrounded by darkness and silence, to allow the gleaming spacecraft and spacesuits to shimmer and shine.

Our America

Book jacket image for Our America by Ken Burns

In the tradition of Walker Evans’ groundbreaking 1938 book, American Photographs, Ken Burns has assembled a collection of his favorite images in Our America: A Photographic History. “I’ve needed forty-five years of telling stories in American history, of diving deep into lives and moments, places and huge events, to accrue the visual vocabulary to embark on this book,” he writes in his introduction. 

These black-and-white photographs are arranged chronologically from 1839 to 2019, with only one on each page for full visual impact. They’re labeled by date and place (at least one for each state), with fuller explanations at the back of the book, and they are mesmerizing, drawing on a multitude of personalities, emotions and events. The images depict the brutally scarred back of an enslaved man, decomposing bodies at Gettysburg, frozen Niagara Falls, a 1909 game of alley baseball in Boston, the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Elvis onstage and, finally, a stunning portrait of Congressman John Lewis from 2019.

Illustrated Black History

Book jacket image for Illustrated Black History by George McCalman

For Illustrated Black History: Honoring the Iconic and the Unseen, artist, designer and creative director George McCalman created 145 original portraits spotlighting Black pioneers in many fields, each accompanied by a short biographical essay. Moving alphabetically from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to cinematographer Bradford Young, McCalman uses a bold array of acrylics, watercolors, pen and ink and colored pencils, to capture each personality in an individualized way. “I document body language, I document exuberance, I document pain,” he writes. “I draw like a reporter because I am a reporter.” 

McCalman began this project by challenging himself to paint one such portrait every day for a month, and the result overflows with energy and color. His choices are inspiring and well-rounded, running the gamut from Frederick Douglass and James Baldwin to activist Alicia Garza and food journalist Toni Tipton-Martin.

My Travels With Mrs. Kennedy

Book jacket image for My Travels With Mrs. Kennedy by Clint Hill

Despite the mountains of books already written about the Kennedys, I couldn’t put down My Travels With Mrs. Kennedy, a conversational memoir and very personal photo album by Clint Hill. A former Secret Service agent who served under five U.S. presidents, Hill was present during John F. Kennedy’s assassination and later assigned to the first lady and her children. He’s written other books about those experiences, including several with his wife and co-author, Lisa McCubbin Hill. 

This book was sparked by the process of cleaning out the garage of Hill’s home in Alexandria, Virginia, going through boxes of memorabilia, including a forgotten steamer trunk. Dialogue between the co-authors makes the book immensely readable as they discuss their discoveries and Hill’s memories. Numerous photos bring each scene to life, capturing intimate moments that reveal the first family’s personalities, especially that of Jackie. Of their relationship, Hill writes, “It wasn’t romantic. But it was beyond friendship. We could communicate with a look or a nod.”

The Only Woman

Book jacket image for The Only Woman by Immy Humes

The Only Woman is a unique gallery of group portraits that contain a lone female figure surrounded by men. There’s Marie Curie, for instance, with her head in her hand, looking downright bored among a group of suited scientists at a 1911 conference in Belgium. There’s 9-year-old Ab Hoffman, who earned a spot on a Canadian hockey team for one season in 1956 because her coaches hadn’t noticed her gender. In a 1982 photo, a white male U.S. Army Diver candidate sneers at Andrea Motley Crabtree, a Black woman who made the training cut when he didn’t. “Most of the men hated me being there,” Crabtree recalls. “He couldn’t understand how I was better than him.” 

Oscar-nominated documentary filmmaker Immy Humes provides concise commentary throughout her collection, which spans from 1862 to 2020. She speaks to “the pleasure of spotting them, and then, most of all, the mystery of them: What was she doing there?”

Affinities

Affinities book cover

In need of some creative downtime? Curl up with the hefty Affinities: A Journey Through Images From the Public Domain Review and lose yourself in a delightfully imaginative, visionary game. The book’s 350-plus pages contain a miscellany of images arranged to showcase unexpected similarities. For example, one section features the shapes of outstretched arms as seen in a 16th-century drawing of a mechanical arm, an image of the Borghese Gladiator sculpture, a John Singleton Copley painting and—of all things—a photo of damage sustained to the bow of the HMS Broke during a World War I battle. 

With images old and new from around the world, all selected from the archive of the Public Domain Review, this is a book designed for random perusal. Some images come with suggested paths to different pages, creating a sort of chutes-and-ladders effect. As explained in the introduction, the result is “a maze of rootlike cut-throughs that allow you to move through the book in different ways, to disrupt the sequence and carve through your own serpentine trajectory.”

The armchair historian’s wish list isn’t a tough nut to crack. Just give them a great book.

Discover your next great book!

BookPage highlights the best new books across all genres, as chosen by our editors. Every book we cover is one that we are excited to recommend to readers. A star indicates a book of exceptional quality in its genre or category.

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