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November 27, 2020

17 Books to Give This Year

by Donna Huber

The holidays are looking a bit different this year and you may be looking for gifts that are easier to ship to your loved ones. Books are great gifts to give. They provide hours of entertainment and can transport the reader to a different world. This year, more so than ever, people are looking for even brief moments to escape the constant news of disease, death, and divisiveness. If you are looking for recommendations for what books to give this year, then you are in the right place. Today, I have my list of top books that I've read this year that I think others would enjoy too.
Amazon affiliate links are used on this site. Free books were provided for an honest review.

World War II historical fiction

WWII historical fiction is a wildly popular genre and is enjoyed by a great many people. Here are two of my favorites that came out this year. 

The Whispers of War by Julia Kelly

The Whispers of War
This was a really good book. I love listening to older people tell stories about their younger days so the way this book is set up is perfect for me. Most of history skims over the fact that Germans, Austrians, and other people who were from Axis countries were interned during WWII. I liked that this book shed light on this subject. Read my full review. Kelly has written a number of books in this genre so you could get a few of her books for the WWII fan on your list. I also enjoyed The Light Over London (read my review) which came out last year.

In August of 1939, as Britain watches the headlines in fear of another devastating war with Germany, three childhood friends must choose between friendship or country. Erstwhile socialite Nora is determined to find her place in the Home Office’s Air Raid Precautions Department, matchmaker Hazel tries to mask two closely guarded secrets with irrepressible optimism, and German expat Marie worries that she and her family might face imprisonment in an internment camp if war is declared. When Germany invades Poland and tensions on the home front rise, Marie is labeled an enemy alien, and the three friends find themselves fighting together to keep her free at any cost. (Goodreads)

Buy The Whispers of War at Amazon - the ebook is only $1.99!

The Prisoner's Wife by Maggie Brookes

The Prisoner's War
This was so good. If the reader on your gift enjoys stories based on true events, then this is a must read. While there were some elements of the typical WWII story of a country girl falling in love with a POW there were definitely some differences. It would be really cool if someone read this book and knew who the main characters were in real life. Read my full review. You can also check out Susan's review which includes recommendations for 3 more WWII novels.

In the dead of night, a Czech farm girl and a British soldier travel through the countryside. Izabela and prisoner of war Bill have secretly married and are on the run, with Izzy dressed as a man. The young husband and wife evade capture for as long as possible--until they are cornered by Nazi soldiers with tracking dogs.

Izzy's disguise works. The couple are assumed to be escaped British soldiers and transported to a POW camp. However, their ordeal has just begun, as they face appalling living conditions and the constant fear of Izzy's exposure. But in the midst of danger and deprivation comes hope, for the young couple are befriended by a small group of fellow prisoners. These men become their new family, willing to jeopardize their lives to save Izzy from being discovered and shot.

The Prisoner's Wife tells of an incredible risk, and of how our deepest bonds are tested in desperate times. Bill and Izzy's story is one of love and survival against the darkest odds. (Goodreads)

Buy The Prisoner's Wife at Amazon


I've noticed the last few years that people are trying to read more nonfiction. While I've always read the occasional nonfiction title, the past two years I've intentionally sought out nonfiction books. I think this might be the first time that nonfiction books have appeared on my annual holiday gift guide. It's no secret that I love science so it makes sense that both books are in the sciences but they touch on so many more topics that non-sciency people will enjoy them.

Cat Tale: The Wild, Weird Battle to Save the Florida Panther by Craig Pittman

Cat Tale
While Craig Pittman worked on this book I was still dreaming of becoming Dr. Donna and studying the Florida panther. It was interesting to get personal insight into the people whose papers I read and behind the scenes look at what went into those published studies. I was obviously aware of the "Maehr scandal" but not all the details. One of my committee members is even mentioned in the book. I have often thought of publishing a version of my non-defended dissertation, but after reading this book I know it would never be as good a read as this one. Read my full review. Pittman has written several other books focused on Florida including one about orchids and another about manatees. 

It wasn't so long ago when a lot of people thought the Florida panther was extinct. They were very nearly right. That the panther still exists at all is a miracle--the result of a desperate experiment that led to the most remarkable comeback in the history of the Endangered Species Act. And no one has told the whole story--until now.

With novelistic detail and an eye for the absurd, Craig Pittman recounts the extraordinary story of the people who brought the panther back from the brink of extinction, the ones who nearly pushed the species over the edge, and the cats that were caught in the middle. This being Florida, there's more than a little weirdness, too.

An engrossing narrative of wry humor, sharp writing and exhaustive reportage, Cat Tale shows what it takes to bring one species back and what unexpected costs such a decision brings. (Goodreads)

Buy Cat Tale at Amazon

A Lab of One's Own: One Woman's Personal Journey Through Sexism in Science by Rita Colwell & Sharon Bertsch McGrayne

A Lab of One's Own
This was very good. I work in the sciences and am in awe of all that women have gone through. I'm amazed at how recent some of the changes mentioned occurred. I've never worried about a male scientist grabbing my breast instead of shaking my hand (I'm still flabbergasted at that story in the book). Now knowing how much discrimination was still occurring when I was in college makes me wonder if I was subjected to more subtle forms of discrimination or if gender bias shaped my college education or future career. I need to figure out how to get Rita Colwell invited to my university to speak. Read my full review.

A riveting memoir-manifesto from the first female director of the National Science Foundation about the entrenched sexism in science, the elaborate detours women have taken to bypass the problem, and how to fix the system.

If you think sexism thrives only on Wall Street or in Hollywood, you haven’t visited a lab, a science department, a research foundation, or a biotech firm.

Rita Colwell escaped the narrow expectations of her Italian immigrant family to become a groundbreaking microbiologist and ecologist who tracked down how cholera survives around the world, a discovery that would save countless lives. But when she first applied for a graduate fellowship in biology, she was told, “We don’t give fellowships to women.” Colwell could have given up then and there, but she persisted, although a lack of support from some of her male superiors would force her to change her area of study six times before she earned her PhD.

A Lab of One’s Own documents all Colwell saw and heard over the next six decades as she rose to the top of her profession, from tales of sexual assault in the lab to secret systems used to block women from leading professional organizations and getting their work published. Along the way, she also meets women pushing back against the status quo, like a group at MIT who revolt when they discover their labs are a fraction of the size of their male colleagues’.

Colwell’s resistance gives her special gifts: forced to change specialties so many times, she comes to see science as interdisciplinary, which turns out to be key to making new discoveries in the silo-less 21st century. She also witnesses the advances that can be made when men and women work together as equals, such as when she led the team whose work was critical in identifying the source of the anthrax powder used in the 2001 letter attacks.

At once alarming and inspiring, A Lab of One’s Own is an indispensable history of sixty years of scientific progress and a must-read for any woman with dreams of shattering the glass ceiling in STEM. (Goodreads)

Buy A Lab of One's Own at Amazon


The heart-pounding, adrenaline-pumping storylines of thrillers have readers so consumed that the world around them could disappear. These are the books that are so hard to put down because you have to know that everything turns out okay - that the bad people are caught and the good people get justice. If you want a gift that person will stay up too late with then I highly recommend these two novels.

When You See Me by Lisa Gardner

When You See Me
If I could have pulled an all-nighter I would have never stopped reading. I can't remember a novel ever making me audibly gasp. So very good. Read my full review. This is another author with a huge backlist and I haven't been disappointed by one of Gardner's books yet.

FBI Special Agent Kimberly Quincy and Sergeant Detective DD Warren have built a task force to follow the digital bread crumbs left behind by deceased serial kidnapper Jacob Ness. And when a disturbing piece of evidence comes to light, they decide to bring in Flora Dane who has personal experience of being imprisoned by Ness.

Their investigations take them to a small town deep in the hills of Georgia where something seems to be deeply wrong.

What at first seems like a Gothic eeriness soon hardens into something much more sinister as they discover that for all the evil Jacob committed while alive, his worst secret is still to be revealed.

Quincy and DD must summon their considerable skills and experience to crack the most disturbing case of their careers - and Flora must face her own past directly in the hope of saving others. (Goodreads)

Buy When You See Me at Amazon

Burning Justice by Marti Green

Burning Justice
Wow. Once I got to chapter 3 I couldn't put the book down. It read really fast and I became very invested in the characters. Dani reminded me of Erin Reagan from Blue Bloods. I didn't realize the book was part of a series so I don't think it is necessary to have read the other books. But if you are giving it as a gift it might be nice to give all 6 books. Read my full review

Convicted of setting fire to her house and killing her three children, young Texas widow Becky Whitlaw is sentenced to death. Bechy maintains her innocence - even though a part of her worries she may have indeed committed arson during a drunken blackout.

Twenty years later, attorney Dani Trumball works with the Help Innocent Prisoners Project defending cases of the wrongfully convicted. Now living with her husband and two children in California, Dani takes Becky's case, even though the evidence paints a grim picture.

California has been besieged by wildfires, and the raging fires strike dangerously close to home. Dani fights to gather new information that might save Becky's life, while keeping her own family secure, but time is running out.

Getting justice in this case may test not only Dani's legal talents but also the limits of her own heart. (Goodreads)

Buy Burning Justice at Amazon

Cozy Mystery

This is one of my favorite genres. The books are usually fun and lighthearted. I love books that focus on the characters and cozy mysteries are often filled with quirky, lovable characters. If you want a gift that will make them smile, then a cozy mystery is the way to go. As most cozies are part of series but can often be read as stand-alone, you can buy one book, a few books, or the whole series.

Murder on a Mississippi Steamboat by Leighann Dobbs

Murder on a Mississippi Steamboat
Loved it! Loved everything about it - the characters, the setting, the time period. And so fun. I've read a few of Leighann Dobbs's cozies but I think this is my favorite one. Read my full review.

Nora elbowed her way up to the railing and looked down. The paddle wheel was making its last turn, dredging up a mass of turquoise chiffon made almost transparent by the water. A hand, its red lacquered fingernails a contrast to the pale white skin, stuck up from a bejeweled cuff…

A relaxing cruise down the Mississippi on the Miss Delta Belle steamboat turns to tragedy when celebrity Delilah Dove falls from the deck and is swallowed by the river faster than you can say ‘man overboard!’

It’s touted as a tragic accident, but guests Miss Nora Marsh and her wily great-aunt Julia know a murder when they see one. Can they get justice for Delilah and crack the case without alerting the murderer to their suspicions?

As Nora and Julia hunt for clues it emerges that nearly everyone had a reason to want Delilah dead. And that’s bad news for the two sleuths—who want to solve the case pronto, before Mississippi police chief and Aunt Julia’s nemesis Artemis Leonard comes on board at the next port to launch the official investigation. She’s not letting him get the credit if she can help it.

With multiple suspects and a series of mysterious thefts onboard—not to mention the distractingly handsome Max Lawton turning Nora’s head—this is shaping up to be one tough case to crack. What started as a gentle river voyage is far from plain sailing. (Goodreads)

A Witness to Murder by Verity Bright

A Witness to Murder
I loved this from the first page to the last. I want to be Eleanor. I will have to look for the first two books in this series as this one was such a delight. Read my full review.

Autumn, 1920. Lady Eleanor Swift, accidental amateur detective and retired explorer, is determined to take a break from investigating murders. So when a local politician dies suddenly at an elegant dinner party at Farrington Manor, she tries her hardest not to listen to the raft of rumours around the village that he might have been poisoned by the fudge. It’s the anniversary of the disappearance of her beloved parents and she’s promised herself not to get mixed up with any more mysteries. She isn’t sure they’d have approved.

But when she arrives home to discover that Mrs Pitkin, the kindly cook from Farrington Manor, has been dismissed without wage or reference because the police consider her a suspect, Eleanor knows she needs to act. If there was a murder, then she needs to track down the culprit and clear Mrs Pitkin’s name.

Accompanied by her faithful partner in crime, Gladstone the bulldog, who has the best nose for sniffing out bones in the country, Eleanor sets out to find the killer. And when another body turns up and she finds poisoned fudge in the victim’s house, Eleanor knows she’s on the right track. But can she sort the truth from the lies before she becomes a witness to another murder – this time rather closer to home? (Goodreads)

Buy A Witness to Murder at Amazon

Kurland St. Mary Mystery series by Catherine Lloyd

Death Comes to Bath
This is one of my favorite cozy mysteries. I'm reading it all out of order but it doesn't matter. I love Robert and Lucy but they were particularly enjoyable in Death Comes to Bath. I loved seeing them work together to solve the mystery. A new book in the series comes out in January so now it would be a great time to catch up with this series if you (or the reader on your list) haven't read it yet. You can read my review of two of the books in the series.

On a visit to Bath, Major Sir Robert Kurland and Lady Lucy Kurland discover that the English spa town is not beneficial to everyone's health . . .

After Sir Robert's injury from the battle of Waterloo begins troubling him again, his wife Lucy insists they relocate from the village of Kurland St. Mary to Bath, along with her sister Anna, so that Robert can take the waters and recover.

At the Roman baths, Robert befriends an elderly and pugnacious businessman, Sir William Benson, ennobled by the Crown for his service to industry. Their acquaintance is short-lived, however, when the man is found drowned in the baths. Robert vows to find his killer, with Lucy's aid.

The members of Sir William's family seem the most obvious suspects to benefit from the wealthy man's death, but his will has gone missing. To deduce who sent Sir William to a watery grave, Robert and Lucy must investigate with the utmost discretion—before they too find themselves in over their heads. (Goodreads)

Buy Death Comes to Bath at Amazon

The Butterfly Conspiracy by Vivian Conroy

The Butterfly Conspiracy
This is my favorite series by Vivian Conroy. I love Merula and Raven and can't wait for more stories in this series. I read book 2, Death Comes to Dartmoor (read my review) last year. Thanks to the pandemic for giving me more time to read I was able to pick up The Butterfly Conspiracy and it was great fun getting to see how they met. It would be great to read the books back to back.

Miss Merula Merriweather is not like other women her age: instead of hunting for a husband at balls and soirees she spends her time in a conservatory hatching exotic creatures. As the Royal Zoological Society won't accept a woman's accomplishments, she has her uncle Rupert take credit for her achievements. But at a zoological lecture, the guest of honor dies after contact with one of Merula's butterflies, and Merula's uncle is arrested for murder.

In an attempt to safeguard evidence to prove his innocence, Merula almost gets killed but for the timely interference of enigmatic Lord Raven Royston. Viewing natural history as a last resort to regain respectability lost by too many dubious business investments, Raven didn't expect his first lecture to take a murderous turn. Feeling partially responsible because he encouraged Merula to release the gigantic butterfly from the glass case in which it was kept, Raven suggests they solve the puzzle of Lady Sophia's sudden death together by looking closer at her relations with estranged friends, long suffering staff and the man groomed to be her heir, so close to her money and yet unable to touch any of it.

With the police looking for them, and every new discovery raising more questions than answers, especially about the murder method which left no traces of foul play on the body, Merula will have to risk her own life to get at the truth and save her uncle from the gallows in The Butterfly Conspiracy, Vivian Conroy’s enchanting series debut. (Goodreads)

Confessions of a Slight Neurotic Hitwoman series by JB Lynn

The Hitwoman Plays Games
This is another one of my favorite series. It is hilarious with a huge cast of quirky characters. I don't think I've ever kept up with a series as long as this one (there are currently 24 books in the series). And I can't wait for the next one. While the books could be read alone, I think they are more enjoyable if read in order. Three books have come out this year: The Hitwoman Goes to Prison (read my review), The Hitwoman and the Exorcism (read my review), and The Hitwoman Plays Games (read my review). 

Life’s not all fun and games…

Hitwoman Maggie Lee has faced off against some bad people in the past, but nothing she has ever faced before has prepared her for her new assignment. Nothing.

What could be worse than working at a kid’s game center?

Flashing lights, beeping machines, screaming kids on a sugar high, and the world’s biggest claw machine may be the combination that finally pushes Maggie over the edge, as she tries to hold down a legit job as a cover for her first PI case.

Not that her downtime offers any respite. While she’s “off” she has to deal with family drama, dangerous dancers, a weird job assignment from the mob boss, and a VERY high stakes poker game.

Thankfully she’s got her animals to confide in, a bodyguard who’s looking out for her and a certain police detective on her side.

Maggie’s got to deal with the hand she’s been dealt…but there’s no guarantee she’ll come out the winner. (Goodreads)

Women's Fiction

Women's fiction can encompass a number of subgenres - suspense, mystery, romance, historical, etc. What ties this genre together is the focus on women who are discovering something about themselves. They are often uplifting stories that all women can relate to.

Becoming Mrs. Lewis by Patti Callahan

Becoming Mrs. Lewis
Even though I knew how the story ended I still cried in the end. Callahan just so beautifully imagines the love story of Joy Davidman and C.S. Lewis. I didn't know them before reading this book, but now I feel like I have sat in a pub with them - that is the level of intimacy shared on these pages. Read my full review.

In a most improbable friendship, she found love. In a world where women were silenced, she found her voice.

From New York Times bestselling author Patti Callahan comes an exquisite novel of Joy Davidman, the woman C. S. Lewis called “my whole world.” When poet and writer Joy Davidman began writing letters to C. S. Lewis—known as Jack—she was looking for spiritual answers, not love. Love, after all, wasn’t holding together her crumbling marriage. Everything about New Yorker Joy seemed ill-matched for an Oxford don and the beloved writer of Narnia, yet their minds bonded over their letters. Embarking on the adventure of her life, Joy traveled from America to England and back again, facing heartbreak and poverty, discovering friendship and faith, and against all odds, finding a love that even the threat of death couldn’t destroy.

In this masterful exploration of one of the greatest love stories of modern times, we meet a brilliant writer, a fiercely independent mother, and a passionate woman who changed the life of this respected author and inspired books that still enchant us and change us. Joy lived at a time when women weren’t meant to have a voice—and yet her love for Jack gave them both voices they didn’t know they had.

At once a fascinating historical novel and a glimpse into a writer’s life, Becoming Mrs. Lewis is above all a love story—a love of literature and ideas and a love between a husband and wife that, in the end, was not impossible at all. (Goodreads)

Buy Becoming Mrs. Lewis at Amazon

Hello, Summer by Mary Kay Andrews

Hello Summer
I really enjoyed this book. I loved the characters and hate that I have to say goodbye to them. Andrews is sometimes referred to as the "Queen of Beach Reads", but her books are enjoyable any time of the year. Actually if the one you are gifting this to is surrounded by snow this holiday season, they may especially like escaping to the warm climes of Florida (even if it is just in the pages of a book). This book has it all - great characters and a great plot. Read my full review.

It’s a new season...

Conley Hawkins left her family’s small town newspaper, The Silver Bay Beacon, in the rearview mirror years ago. Now a star reporter for a big-city paper, Conley is exactly where she wants to be and is about to take a fancy new position in Washington, D.C. Or so she thinks.

For small town scandals...

When the new job goes up in smoke, Conley finds herself right back where she started, working for her sister, who is trying to keep The Silver Bay Beacon afloat—and she doesn’t exactly have warm feelings for Conley. Soon she is given the unenviable task of overseeing the local gossip column, “Hello, Summer.”

And big-time secrets.

Then Conley witnesses an accident that ends in the death of a local congressman—a beloved war hero with a shady past. The more she digs into the story, the more dangerous it gets. As an old heartbreaker causes trouble and a new flame ignites, it soon looks like their sleepy beach town is the most scandalous hotspot of the summer. (Goodreads)

Buy Hello, Summer at Amazon

Science Fiction/Alternate History
I don't read much science fiction but since joining my post-apocalyptic book club I've read more and some alternate history. It still isn't one my favorite genres but there are some really good books that appeal to both diehard sci-fi fans and those that are just dipping their toe in.

The Relentless Moon by Mary Robinette Kowal

The Relentless Moon
I discovered this series when it was recommended to me by my contact at Audible. My book club read the first book in the series, The Calculating Stars (read my review), and everyone loved it. The Relentless Moon (read my review) focuses on a secondary character from the first two books but it is every bit as enjoyable. I felt so many emotions while reading it. There are a number of novellas in the series. I haven't read them but I suspect they are every bit as good as the three novels I've read. 

Mary Robinette Kowal continues her award-winning Lady Astronaut series, which began with The Calculating Stars and The Fated Sky, with The Relentless Moon.

The Earth is coming to the boiling point as the climate disaster of the Meteor strike becomes more and more clear, but the political situation is already overheated. Riots and sabotage plague the space program. The IAC’s goal of getting as many people as possible off Earth before it becomes uninhabitable is being threatened.

Elma York is on her way to Mars, but the Moon colony is still being established. Her friend and fellow Lady Astronaut Nicole Wargin is thrilled to be one of those pioneer settlers, using her considerable flight and political skills to keep the program on track. But she is less happy that her husband, the Governor of Kansas, is considering a run for President. (Goodreads)

Buy The Relentless Moon at Amazon

Translated Fiction
This is another "genre" that I've been trying to read more of. This year I read a Polish book and a Japanese book. I find it interesting to read books meant for a different culture than the U.S.

Before the Coffee Gets Cold by Toshikazu Kawaguchi

Before the Coffee Gets Cold
This book just came out a week or so ago and I'm afraid with all the holiday hubbub that it will get overlooked. It is one of the most poignant books I've read this year. Read my full review.

If you could go back, who would you want to meet?

In a small back alley of Tokyo, there is a café that has been serving carefully brewed coffee for more than one hundred years. Local legend says that this shop offers something else besides coffee—the chance to travel back in time.

Over the course of one summer, four customers visit the café in the hopes of making that journey. But time travel isn’t so simple, and there are rules that must be followed. Most important, the trip can last only as long as it takes for the coffee to get cold.

Heartwarming, wistful, mysterious and delightfully quirky, Toshikazu Kawaguchi’s internationally bestselling novel explores the age-old question: What would you change if you could travel back in time? (Goodreads)

Christmas books

Is there a person on your gift buying list that loves Christmas? Then a Christmas book is a great option. I love reading Christmas stories and now that it is after Thanksgiving, I will be bingeing on as many as I can between now and New Year's Day.

Jingle All the Way by Debbie Macomber

Jingle All the Way
I loved this book. It was the perfect fluffy holiday romance story. It reminded me a bit of Dashing Through the Snow which was the first Macomber Christmas book I read, and it made me want to read all her Christmas books. Read my full review.

Everly Lancaster always dreamed of leaving her hometown in rural Illinois. Now she helps run a burgeoning startup in Chicago, where her professional goals leave little time for friends...or a vacation.

When a massive snowstorm hits, Everly's mother urges her to come home for Christmas, but she hesitates to return to the life she's worked so hard to escape. Searching for other holiday plans, Everly tasks her assistant with booking her a cruise--the perfect getaway. Embarking on a weeklong tour of the Amazon guided by charming naturalist Asher Adams, Everly slowly but surely begins to realize that relationships are more important than work--and just might decide to journey home just in time for Christmas Day. (Goodreads)

Buy Jingle All the Way at Amazon

The Christmas Swap by Sandy Barker

The Christmas Swap
This was a fun read. I think it would be fun to go to another country for Christmas (at least in theory). These 3 friends sure made it seem like fun. It had everything that a good Christmas story should have - family, friends, and a little romance. Read my review.

Chloe, Jules, and Lucy meet at a Maui resort kids' club, aged 11, forging a lifelong friendship spanning two decades and three continents.

Twenty-two years later, they decide to swap Christmases, none of them expecting the hilarity and romantic escapades that will ensue.

Chloe from Melbourne spends her Christmas with Lucy's mum and dad in a sleepy village in Oxfordshire, England, stunned to the core when she discovers who grew up across the road from Lucy.

Lucy, who has jetted off to snowy Colorado for her dream-come-true white Christmas, is taken into the fold of Jules's loud and brash family, discovering more about herself in a few short days than she has in years.

And Jules leaves the cold climes of Colorado to spend a balmy 'Orphan's Christmas' with Chloe's friends in Melbourne, finding that time away from her mundane life is just what she needed.

Join these three lovable women as they each get a Christmas to surpass their wildest dreams. (Goodreads)

Buy The Christmas Swap at Amazon

Not sure what the reader on your list has or hasn't read? A gift membership is also a great gift idea:

Don't have an audiobook fan on your list, then a membership to Kindle Unlimited will let them read thousands of ebooks for free all year long.

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Donna Huber is an avid reader and natural encourager. She is the founder of Girl Who Reads and the author of how-to marketing book Secrets to a Successful Blog Tour.

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  1. My daughter is starting a Science degree next year so A Lab of Ones Own sounds like something she should read, thanks for sharing this list

  2. some awesome looking books. cat tale about the florida panthers really caught my attention. thanks for sharing
    sherry @ fundinmental

  3. Thanks for this amazing information.