Top 10 Best Books To Gift For 2021 Holidays

Can you believe the holidays are almost here? Seriously? That means I need to think about gifts – family, friends, my hairdresser . . . Yikes!

As ya’ll know, my idea of the perfect day is curling up somewhere cozy to read a good book, so it will come as no surprise that I as far as I’m concerned, the primo gift to give and to get is a book. That said, if you have a gift hole on your get list, here are 10 I would like to find under my tree this year. And you can do a one stop holiday shop at Chapters Indigo in store or online.

Best holiday gift ideas for the book lovers in your life looking to enjoy a cozy read this winter.
Best holiday gift ideas for the book lovers in your life looking to enjoy a cozy read this winter.

Massey Hall

Massey Hall by David McPherson with a Foreword by Jann Arden is a loving celebration of music, community and the magic of Canada’s most cherished concert hall.

Philanthropist Hart Almerrin Massey conceived of the hall as a living memorial to his eldest son Charles, who died of typhoid fever at 36, and built it as a “place for the people”. 

Massey Hall opened in June, 1894, and offered Torontonians a mashup: the symphony, opera, evangelists spreading the word, typewriting championships, boxing –  yup, boxing – political rallies . . . but thanks to its extraordinary acoustics and sight lines, the hall became the venue for emerging and established artists from around the world.

Melissa Etheridge, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Little Stevie Wonder, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Bob Marley, The Police, Susan Aglukark, Keith Richards sans the Stones , William Prince (April 2022) . . . 

Playing the hall says, “I’ve made it”.

As Serena Ryder, who opened for Etheridge in 2010, put it, “I felt like I was in a dream, standing on the same wood as my heroes. Up there, time disappears, history is brought into the present and the present is made historic.”

McPherson, a meticulous researcher, brings Massey Hall’s history and musical high notes to life, and toasts the artists and the community who have made the hall so much more than Hart could have imagined.

Hockey 365, The Second Period: More Daily Stories from the Ice

Mike Committo is the director of applied research and innovation at Cambrian College in Sudbury with a Ph.D in history.

But really, he’s a hockey guy. Which is why Hockey 365 is such a great book for hockey fans and trivia nerds alike.

Day by day, month by month, for an entire year, each page recounts an event you want to know about, in a conversational style that reads like you’re having a beer with your buds and watching the game.

My personal fave?

December 23, 2002, New York Islanders and the Philadelphia Flyers, Nassau Coliseum.

The team had been struggling to fill seats so some marketing guru said, “Hey. Wait a minute. Let’s let anyone who arrives in a Santa Claus suit in for free. And then we’ll invite them onto the ice during intermission for a parade.”

Yes . . . well . . . said marketing guru expected maybe 250 Santa Clauses. Nu Un. Almost 1000 St. Nicks showed up.

Time for the parade, and on the ice, many of the Santas opened their suits to reveal New York Rangers jerseys underneath.

The Islander Santas were not happy, knocking one faux fan into the glass and another into the boards and mobbing him as they tried to rip off his offending jersey. Even a little kid got into the act.

Hockey 365 is packed with great stories like that, a reminder why Canada’s game is about more than billion-dollar contracts and box seats.

The Son of the House

Cheluchi Onyemelukwe-Onuobia debut novel, shortlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize 2021 and a finalist for the Nigeria Prize for Literature 2021 (she splits her time between Halifax and Lagos) is a can’t-put-down exploration of motherhood, class, gender and cultural expectations that is Nigerian in place but borderless in concept.

Nwabulu, a housemaid since she was 10, dreams of becoming a typist in a big office, wearing important clothes and living a life beyond the station to which she was born.

But she falls in love with the son of a wealthy neighbour, gets pregnant, is denied by her boyfriend and dismissed by her employers – and her son is taken shortly after he is born.

Against all odds, Nwabulu not only survives but also prospers, becoming a successful fashion designer. 

Julie, educated and privileged, likes the expensive jewellery her lover – a married man – gives her, but doesn’t intend to be a second wife (polygamy isn’t actually legal but is widely practiced regardless). However, when she fakes a pregnancy and adopts a son as her lover’s own (he’s none the wiser) he leaves his wife and Julie is supreme.

When Julie visits Nwabulu’s shop, the two strike up an unusual and unexpected – given their disparate backgrounds in a class-conscious society – friendship.

When the two are kidnapped and held hostage in a dark, cramped closet they begin to share the story of their lives. And discover a shared secret that changes them both forever. The Son of the House is a must-read for Canadian book lovers in 2021

Between Two Kingdoms: A Memoir of a Life Interrupted

It started with an itch,Suleika Jaouad tells us. And then, slowly, crushing fatigue that no amount of coffee or uppers could fix. Parasites, she thought, and soldiered on.

Jaouad, then 22, graduated from Princeton and took a job in Paris as a paralegal. But then she got sick, really sick, and flew home to her parents in Saratoga Springs, New York.

The diagnosis? Myeloid leukemia. A 35 percent chance of beating it

After almost four years of debilitating treatment – chemotherapy, a clinical trial, a bone-marrow transplant – during which she wrote a New York Times column called Life Interrupted sharing her days, her fears, her relationship to life and her thoughts about death.

Readers connected with her through her column including a California mother who had lost her adult son to suicide, a big hearted cook on a Montana ranch and a Louisiana death row inmate named Lil’ GQ. And they offered her a lifeline to the world outside her hospital room.

At the end of her treatment Jaouad set out on a solo – except for her pooch-companion Oscar -100-day, 33-state pilgrimage to connect with the people who had supported her throughout her treatment. 

It would be easy to say Between Two Kingdoms is a story about surviving cancer. OK, it is. But it’s also about something I found equally powerful: the search for meaning when you have a second chance at life.

The Final Revival of Opal & Nev

The premise of Dawnie Waton’s latest: Sunny Curtis becomes the first African American, and first woman, editor-in-chief of Aural, the music bible (think Rolling Stone).

Opal Jewel, “the ebony-skinned provocateur, the fashion rebel, the singer/screecher/Afro-Punk ancestor”, who hasn’t performed in 25 years, is considering a revival tour with her former musical partner Nev Charles, who has since enjoyed an international solo career. 

Sunny spins this scoop into a book, the history of Opal and Nev’s iconic collaboration in the early ‘70s, focusing especially on the a racially fueled riot that broke out at one of their performances – and killed her dad, the duo’s drummer, a Black man named Jimmy Curtis. Who happened to be having an affair with Opal when Sunny’s mum got pregnant.

OK, I knew this was fiction – kinda like Daisy Jones and The Six. But truth? I googled some stuff as I read just in case those tidbits were real.

You heard it here first: this will be a movie!

The Rose Code

I lovedKate Quinn’s The Huntress and The Alice Network so I opened The Rose Code anticipating an engrossing read. And I was not disappointed!

It’s 1940, and as England girds for war, three very different women want to do their bit to beat the Nazis. Mabel – “Mab” – a working-class girl who aspires to more, spunky Osla, educated privileged and looking for meaning beyond socialite, and Bethan – “Beth” – an isolated, socially awkward, country bumpkin raised by a Bible-thumping mum who has spent her life telling Beth she is useless.

The three end up working together as codebreakers at Bletchley Park – a real place, BTW. All the Bletchley Parkers sign NDAs – get caught talking about what they do, even to each other, and they’ll be charged with treason.

But people need people, right? And the unlikely trio become fast friends. Until one of them must choose between loyalty to England and loyalty to each other.

The Strangers

Longlisted for the 2021 Scotiabank Giller Prize and a finalist for the 2021 Atwood Gibson Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize,Katherena Vermette’s The Strangers is an extraordinary story about three strong Metis women, the impact of intergenerational trauma, and their struggle to survive in a world that denies them purchase in life.

Elsie battles her demons with addiction – she lost her girls to the child welfare system – but never stops trying to get clean and get them back.

Phoenix, the older daughter, gets pregnant and then gets locked up, giving birth to a son she’ll never see and trying hard to sort out who she can be from who she thinks she is.

Cedar-Sage, the youngest, moves from foster home to foster home, until her dad – who was absent all these years but has turned his life around – asks her to come and live with him and maybe, finally, experience stability.

The Strangers is a wrenching indictment of the impact of trauma. Vermette layers each woman’s story over and under the others, and shows us how the choices we make can belong as much to the ones who came before as they do to us. And in the end, there can be forgiveness, redemption and healing.

Klara and The Sun

You remember the movie Her, right? That future-forward one, where Joaquin Phoenix falls in love with his laptop? Not my thing but I got talked into watching anyway – and loved it.

For the same reason, I wasn’t too sure about Klara and The Sun either, but hey,Kazuo Ishiguro is a multi-award-winning author including receiving the Nobel Prize for Literature.

I was only a few pages into Ishiguro’s story and I was hooked. Binge read it, in fact.

Set in a future that feels a lot like today except that kids can get “lifted” – genetically modified – to be uber smart and successful, and parents can buy these same kids a solar-powered AF  – Artificial Friend – if they are shy or lonely or whatever.

Josie, who suffers from a mysterious illness, spots Klara, an AF, in a shop window, and convinces her mum to buy her.

To call Klara a robot sells her way short. She is, in astonishing ways, very human. In fact, she is so smart, so observant, that she can mimic Josie’s walk, voice, personality.

The Mother – that’s what Klara calls her – is deeply depressed by the death of Josie’s sister and Klara wonders if Josie, too, will die. But when she asks The Mother for deets, she’s told to mind her own business.

Is Klara being groomed as a surrogate in the event that Josie dies?

And that, really, is at the core of Ishiguro’s story: what does it mean to be human?

Together: Memorable Meals Made Easy

Together,” writes Jamie Oliver in his introduction, “feels more poignant in 2021 than ever before. To be in a loved one’s presence, to see their face light up, share memories and laugh out loud together, that’s what life is truly all about.”

Amen to that, I say! 

True to his word, Oliver’s new cookbook serves up 120 fuss-free recipes for no-stress get togethers from sorta fancy to humble to super-relaxed – think laid back feasts, curry nights, taco parties. And recipes often include a vegetarian or vegan workaround so no one gets left out.

Each chapter features a meal with a starter, main, sides and dessert, and arms you with hacks to give you a head start so you’re spending time with your peeps not solo in the kitchen.

Oliver’s all about making the get together yours so the idea here is to follow the easy peasy menu, soup to nuts, or put on your chef’s hat and mix and match.  Your choice.

And because you might want to ramp up your bevie game, there’s a chapter featuring smart cocktails from a Filthy Vodka Martini to an Elegant Pina Colada.

Bonus: a chapter from Oliver’s nutrition team reminds you how eat a healthy, balanced diet, and supplies the nutrition breakdown for each recipe.

Packed with lots of beautiful photography, the shots of food, family, friends set the table for love, laughter and good times.

The Pump

Twenty-four-year-oldSydney Warner Brooman’s debut collection of interconnected short stories – think Alice Munro – explores the dark recesses of life of in a small south-western Ontario town known as The Pump.

The Pump is not Hollywood-ized, small-town bucolic. It’s a hot mess of Gothic decay, plagued by a tainted water supply, a don’t-much-care municipal government, a fatal skin disease known as The Rash, a deadly swamp and, oh yes, marauding talking beavers.

The town’s physical decay is mirrored by the citizens’ psychic decay: small town intolerance and bigotry are as commonplace as ordering a double double at Tim’s.

Young people seem to bear the brunt of the town’s misery; they know The Pump is dying and refuse to play by rules designed to break them. They dream of getting out.

If you left your small hometown because you were “different” – gay or trans in particular – you will see yourself in this smart, authentic and beautifully written book. If you didn’t, you will be spellbound nonetheless.

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