Bookstore Owners Recommend The Books That Make The Most Foolproof Gifts

Their expert recs include a feel-good romance and deeply researched biography that are perfect for any book lover.
"Big Swiss" by Jen Beagin, Mark Forsyth's "The Illustrated Etymologicon: A Circular Stroll Through the Hidden Connections of the English Language" and "Monstrilio" by Gerado Sámano Córdova.
"Big Swiss" by Jen Beagin, Mark Forsyth's "The Illustrated Etymologicon: A Circular Stroll Through the Hidden Connections of the English Language" and "Monstrilio" by Gerado Sámano Córdova.

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When you’re a lover of reading, walking into a small neighborhood bookstore can be an experience akin to something sacred. There’s the smell of ink on printed pages, the carefully curated book displays and shelves upon shelves of book spines, just waiting to be cracked. As book lovers, we inherently understand how important it is to support and preserve these little troves of literary joy, especially when they are challenged by monolith booksellers and online retailers. And to do our part, this week HuffPost Books is highlighting some of these great independent bookstores to find out what books they suggest for gifting this holiday season.

Shop owners from places like the Ripped Bodice, a bicoastal staple that specializes in romance and smut, and book buyers from the iconic Unabridged Bookstore in Chicago lent their expertise and adoration of books to help us create the following gift guide of must-reads. The book lover in your life will adore the off-kilter romance novel starring a former pharmaceutical tech and a married Swiss woman or Jonathan Eig’s latest biography of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., told like never before.

To learn more about these suggestions and others, peruse the upcoming list and support some beloved indie bookstores.

HuffPost and its publishing partners may receive a commission from some purchases made via links on this page. Every item is independently curated by the HuffPost Shopping team. Prices and availability are subject to change.

“The Illustrated Etymologicon: A Circular Stroll Through the Hidden Connections of the English Language” by Mark Forsyth
Have you ever wondered where the word “assassin” came from? Did you know the word is related to the word "hashish,” which is in reference to a Medieval cult of hitmen so renowned for their abilities that people assumed they were drug-addled super killers? No? Well, you will if you read this delightfully fascinating book from author Mark Forsyth. A study of words, their meanings, evolution and connections, "The Illustrated Etymologicon” is more of a witty jaunt through language than it is a tedious lesson in etymology. Springing from Forsyth's quirky "Inky Fool" blog, his debut book serves as an "erudite guided tour of the secret labyrinth that lurks beneath the English language," according to its publisher, and is complete with pen-and-ink illustrations from the author.

“[This] is a gorgeous book to gift for the holidays. It's for language lovers (and what bookworm isn't?), and for folks who love beautifully designed books. It's full of witty and thoughtful connections between words that is a delight to read and flip through.” — Consuelo Wilder, buying and inventory director at Book People in Austin, Texas
"Legends & Lattes" by Travis Baldree
The second book in this cozy fantasy series by Travis Baldree has quickly become a bestseller with its Dungeons and Dragons vibes and themes of found family. The sword-wielding orc Vivian lost her sense of meaning after dealing with a devastating injury working as a notorious mercenary for the company Rackam's Raven, and she's packed off against her will to recuperate in the sleepy beach town of Murk. Nursing her wounds, the restless Viv spends her time in a beleaguered bookshop and in the company of its bitingly foul-mouthed proprietor — a life she definitely did not foresee. But adventure finds its way back to her when the town of Murk proves to be a lot less tranquil than expected. With its mysterious encounters, summer flings and a growing number of skeletons, Baldree’s fantastical novel is the perfect winter indulgence.

“Travis Baldree's two titles, ‘Bookshops & Bonedust’ and ‘Legends & Lattes,’ were two of the happiest books I've read this year. Baldree got it right, especially with his bookselling rattkin, Fern. These books should come with a calorie warning, though — the baked goods will have you reading all day at the local cafe.” — Christine Longmuir, owner of Two Rivers Bookstore in Portland, Oregon
"Monstrilio: A Novel" by Gerado Sámano Córdova
“Monstrilio” is a literary horror and queer novel that defiantly blends love, terrors and despair. This ambitious debut by Gerado Sámano Córdova is broken into four parts and four alternating perspectives. Córdova’s writing is at times horrifically graphic and then, inversely, paced slow and quiet, allowing the reader to catch a breath from the more intense parts of the story. It’s considered an exercise in the limits of love, the frightening undoing of loss and the autonomy of identity.

“I would recommend ‘Monstrilio’ by Gerado Sámano Córdova for fans of literary horror. There's a lot to love in this chilling debut about the monstrosity of grief. After the death of her 11-year-old son, the boy's mother is inspired by a Mexican folktale and removes a part of her son's lung and places it in a jar to nurture it. What starts as a desperate attempt to keep his memory alive soon becomes something else entirely. Unconditional love and grief are powerful, complex emotions, and ‘Monstrilio’ interrogates the slippery morals that are compromised in times of extreme desperation. Inventive, unsettling, and surprisingly tender, [it] blurs the lines between human and monster, belonging and rejection. I highly recommend it!” — Shane Khosropour, manager and book buyer for Unabridged Bookstore in Chicago, Illinois
Book Soup
"Big Swiss" by Jen Beagin
This wild and inventive novel from author Jen Beagin follows a female protagonist’s complicated romance. Middle-aged Greta is a former pharmaceutical tech who lives in Hudson, New York, and works as a transcriptionist for a sex coach. The sex coach, who goes by the name “Om,” is a new-agey type of therapist, and while going through hours of recordings, Greta finds herself completely bewitched by one of his clients — a married Swiss woman she calls “Big Swiss.” When Greta one day recognizes the woman’s voice at a dog park, she panics and gives a fake name, launching an explosive affair between the two. Beagin’s book is funny, dark and dives into the messiness of infidelity, desires and sexual stereotypes, all told through her two tortured protagonists.

“I'm something of an evangelist for this book, which I did not read right away in February of this year, but boy am I glad I found my way to it. Beagin crafts a wickedly funny tale about a young woman adrift and leaning into one bad decision after another and with no apologies. I rooted for Greta (and Big Swiss!) and chortled and guffawed my way through this book. It's perfect for the funny person on your gift list or for someone you know who needs a break from the crushing anxiety of our daily life now.” — Dan Graham, promotional director with Book Soup in Los Angeles
Book Soup
"King: A Life" by Jonathan Eig
Jonathan Eig’s biography of civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr. is touted as an “exhaustively researched” new work by its publisher, which says it is also "the first to include recently declassified FBI files.”

Eig, a journalist and New York Times bestselling author, had already taken on several other modern legends including Muhammad Ali and Jackie Robinson. In “King: A Life,” the author provides an engrossing and humanizing narrative that reads like something akin to a thriller. Quickly paced and filled with compelling reflections and extraordinary new details into Dr. King’s life, this work of nonfiction will give more insight into the civil rights leader, including his relationship with his wife, Coretta Scott King.

“You may think you know all you need to know about Martin Luther King, who looms large and mythical over our American story. But now, this exceptional biography tells the story of an earnest man wrestling with very real personal demons, carried by his convictions and the understanding that he could not turn back now. MLK was dogged by Hoover's FBI, plagued by self-doubt and the near certainty of a violent death, and stood and met the moment anyway. Give this book to the biography or U.S. history reader on your list. It soars!” — Graham
"Romantic Comedy" by Curtis Sittenfeld
A romp of a contemporary romance, Curtis Sittenfeld’s “Romantic Comedy” is perfect for anyone who binges “30 Rock” but craves a little more heat. Bitingly funny writer Sally Milz, who is a sketch writer for a late-night “SNL”-esque comedy show dubbed the “The Night Owls,” is a cynic when it comes to love — and why wouldn’t she be, when she daily witnesses a string of celebrity glamazons falling for the dumpy male comedy writers on her team? The pairings baffle and irritate her, so she writes a script mocking one of her writers and his recent romance with a beautiful actress. But when Noah Brewster, a mainstream musician and known modelizer, is the guest for the week’s show, Sally finds herself possibly in the very same situation she mocked — with an attractive A-lister who might be falling for her.

“‘Romantic Comedy’ is the perfect title given its hook. As the title promises, the book is both a romance and supremely funny. What the title doesn’t promise, but the book delivers on every page, is Curtis Sittenfeld’s intellectual acuity and uncanny wisdom, her knife-sharp observations about true intimacy, about being a human in a physical body, about being vulnerable in love and friendship, about insecurity and compromise and communication and professional success. Funny and romantic, yes — but also so tender and wise and beautiful. All that, plus it’s a love letter to therapy and the Indigo Girls? Literary fiction doesn't get more enjoyable than this.”Emilie Sommer, book buyer at East City Books in Washington, D.C.
The Ripped Bodice
"The Neighbor Favor" by Kristina Forest
Shy bookworm Lily Greene has always preferred fictional relationships to the real thing. She works in the publishing industry, dreams of becoming a children's book editor and even has a pen pal relationship with her favorite fantasy author, a mysterious Brit who goes by the name N. R. Strickland — until one day, he ghosts her. A few months pass after their last correspondence, and Lily decides she needs to engage with the real world. She needs a date for her sister’s wedding and boldly asks her good-looking new neighbor Nick Brown to help her find one. She's oddly drawn to Nick, but can’t seem to pinpoint why. Their attraction is undeniable, but with plenty of hang-ups for both of them, will the bookish pair bind up?

“For the romance readers in your life, this year I would gift ‘The Neighbor Favor’ by Kristina Forest. This charming and modern story brings shades of 'You've Got Mail,’ when an obscure author starts corresponding with what seems like his singular fan. I love how it explores the magic of connections forged through shared passions.” — Leah Koch, co-owner of The Ripped Bodice in New York City and Los Angeles
Yu & Me Books
"The Arsonists' City" by Hala Alyan
“The Arsonists’ City,” the second novel from Palestinian American author and clinical psychologist Hala Alyan, is about the Nasrs, a family with members who are are scattered all over the world but are pulled together for one central thing: to save their ancestral home in Beirut. When the Nasr patriarch passes, the new one, Idris, takes his place and decides to sell the Beirut home. But then the family rallies against Idris’ decision, forcing more to the surface than just this shared cause for connection, but also the rivalries, jealousies and secrets that the distance kept subdued.

“I would recommend ‘Arsonists' City’ as a perfect gift for someone who loves family sagas, multiple points of view, and exploring the impact of political backdrop on daily lives. Alyan's poetic sensibility adds an extra layer of depth and artistry to the narrative, making [this book] a truly captivating and emotionally resonant read. It is a must-read for anyone who appreciates well-crafted character studies and an intimate exploration of humanity's struggle to find its place in a world of upheaval.” — Lucy Yu, owner of Yu & Me Books in New York City

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