Friday, December 10, 2010


Readers who celebrate Hanukkah have already distributed  their bounty among  family and friends. For those who celebrate  Christmas,  there are few days left in which to shop. But it is never  too late to buy books. The holidays provide us with  excellent reasons to share the our favorite  writers' work with those we love. These are the books I reccommend as this season's  best gifts,

INNOCENT, by Scott Turow--Looking for the perfect gift for the reader who  require more than popcorn for the mind? Consider  this intricate story written in clear, sparkling language. In this novel, Turow revisits the territory of Rust Sabich, the protagonist of  PRESUMED INNOCENT. Once again, he  plunges Sabich into a love affair that brings with it cataclysmic changes.  But there is nothing repetitive here. Those who enjoyed  his previous work will find that Turow only  gets better. INNOCENT is cleverly plotted and beautifully realized.

DARLING JIM, by Christian Moerk--As dark and complex as the best chocolate, this is a book that showcases the  writer's pitch perfect voice and uncanny sense of place. Noir readers will enjoy the grittiness of this Irish tale crafted by a Dane who bends the English language to his will with amazing grace.

THE REMBRANDT AFFAIR, by Daniel Silva--Another thrilling adventure featuring  Israeli spy and art restorer Gabriel Allon and his unforgettable team of Mossadniks. Now married to his Florentine sweetheart Chiara, Allon basks in domestic bliss until his London associate Julian Isherwood calls help after he comes across a Rembrandt painting of Hendrickje Stoffels. There ensue the murder of  Gabriel’s fellow student and art restorer in quaint Glastonbury,  investigation of one of the  corrupt Swiss bankers who profited enormously from the Shoah. The investigation takes Gabriel and Chiara to Argentina, England Holland,  France,  Switzerland the United States. Along the way,   new  characters join the Allon team—a memory militant, an alluring reporter,  an engaging art thief. British and American intelligence agencies joinAllon’s team when it becomes clear that the corrupt banker has ties with Iran. Throughout, Allon leads his team with same adroitness he  demonstrated in Silva’s previous novels. As usual, the plot is taut, the dialogue is skilfully crafted, the research on cutting edge electronic aids to espionage impeccable,  the historic facts accurate and the socioeconomic and political analysis spot on. What is more, this time around Silva replaces guns with Krav Maga. I can’t wait for the movie with Lior Ashnekenazi as Gabriel.
THE HARE WITH AMBER EYES, by Edmund de Waal--In this intriguing book internationally known ceramicist de Waal's departure point is Japan where he first came across all that remained of his family's considerable fortune. The creme de la creme of Parisian   financiers,  de Waal's ancestors, the Ephrussis were  patrons of the arts whose social circle included Renoir and  Manet. Charles Ephrussi, who appears in Renoir's Luncheon of the Boating party--he is the nattily dressed guy in the top hat--started a netsuke collection that was the only tangible legacy left to the Ephrussi's after their despoliation by the Nazis. The collection ended up in Japan with de Waal's  American uncle where de Waal spent time as a student. In his books, he follows the trail of the netsuke, adding unforgettable portraits of family members, historical tidbits, and a somber reminder of the consequences of anti-Semitism. Elegaic and elegant, this is the best nonfiction book I read this year. 
CITY OF VEILS, by Zoe Ferraris--This novel, set in Saudi Arabia,  transcends crime fiction. It reveals the ugly inner workings of a theocracy where oppression is felt is the minutest aspects of daily life. Lab tech Katya's murder investigation is a dangerous experience. As so many professional women who try to be productive in a regime that has no room for dissidents,  she walks the tightrope between conformism and rebellion. Ferraris makes no overt judgement on Islamic. She does not have to. Her story speaks for itself.   

THE BRUTAL TELLING, by Louise Penny--Once again the Canadian novelist entices her readers into cozy Three Pines, a little town where the occasional murder jolts the residents out of their complacency. Penny balances her mastery of cozy with deft plots her hero Inspector Gamache unravels with intelligence, charm and human warmth. Any of Penny's books would make a great gift. Her entire Gamache series would satisfy the finickiest reader.

DOCTOR ZHIVAGO--a new translation by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. Not your mom's Doctor Zhivago, this is clearer and closer to the heart of Pasternak's writing. Definitely a memorable gift.

THE GOOD DAUGHTERS, by Joyce Maynard--two babies who  share a birthday move through divergent paths and each  tells her stories in alternate chapters. Always a brilliant chronicler of America's rites of passage, Maynard infuses her novels with plausibility. Hers is an an unfailingly elegant and istinctive voice.   

BABY, WE WERE MEANT FOR EACH OTHER, by Scott Simon. This compelling account of how he and his wife Caroline adopted their two daughters in China  moved me beyond words. Simon is as witty, charming and perceptive and writer as he is a public radio commentator.  If I could choose only four books to give away this season, his would be one of them.   

THE WISDOM OF THE LAST FARMER, by David Masumoto. In this paen to the vanishing art of growing heirloom peaches organically, Masumoto also tells us about the history of his family. He tells of his Japanese grandparents' dream of owning land in an America whose racist laws forbid them to do so. During World War II they were classified as enemy aliens and sent to  an internment camp even as two of their children served in the American army. After the war,  Masumoto's father bought the land where the author grows heirloom organic peaches. These are the bare bones of the  memoir and they  should be enough. But there is more to Masumoto's meditative telling of what it takes to bring great tasting fruit to American tables. 

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