Readers' Favorite

November 26, 2021

Holiday Buying Guide 2021 - Books to Give

by Donna Huber

It's time for my annual Holiday Buying Guide. Since 2011 (the first year of Girl Who Reads) I've been recommending books to buy the readers on your list. I have read 148 books this year and so many of them were really good, but only 27 garnered 5 star ratings. From those 27 books, I've narrowed my list of recommendations to 11 books with a few getting an honorable mention. I hope you find this list helpful in choosing the perfect book for the readers in your life.

Amazon affiliate links are used on this site.

For the youngest readers

Eli and the Mystery of the Hallowshine Dragon by Eve Cabanel

Eli and the Mystery of the Hallowshine Dragon

I would buy this for the child who you want to inspire and spark curiosity in. The illustrations are wonderful and an imaginative child will spend hours making up their own stories about the world Cabanel and illustrator Ekatrina Ilchenko have created. The story is cute. What better memories can a child make than sharing a book with a parent? Read my full review (you'll find more recommendations for young readers at that link, too).

You might also want to check out Always Together at Christmas by Sara Sargent (this was written during the pandemic to help children cope with not being with extended family during the holidays) and The Grumpy Frumpy Croissant by Mona K.

For young readers

The Backyard Secrets of Danny Wexler by Karen Pokras

The Backyard Secrets of Danny Wexler

Are you still reading bedtime stories together with your kids? Then you will want to pick up this book as it will be enjoyable for both you and your kids. This a must give book for any reluctant reader as they won't be able to resist the adventures of Danny Wexler. This book would be great for elementary and middle-grade readers. Read my full review.

Buy The Backyard Secrets of Danny Wexler at Amazon

For young adult readers

Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi

Ship Breaker

My post-apocalyptic book club read this book this summer and it was great. While it is a young adult novel, Ship Breaker only occasionally felt like a YA book - mostly in the main characters being kids and some of the writing was more what is expected in a YA novel. It is pretty typical of a YA dystopian novel. Unlike some of the recently popular dystopian novels (Hunger Games, Divergent), the main character is male. But there are several female characters to root for as well. This is book 1, but the whole trilogy is available so if you have an avid reader you may want to get them the set.

Buy Ship Breaker at Amazon

For cozy mystery readers

Death Comes to the Rectory by Catherine Lloyd

Death Comes to the Rectory

I read a lot of cozy mysteries, so this was a difficult choice. I ultimately picked Death Comes to the Rectory because it is the last book in the Kurland St. Mary Mystery series. If the cozy mystery fan on your list hasn't read this series, then gifting the entire series (there are only 8 books) would be a wonderful present. I love Lucy and Robert and this series ended on a high note. Even so, I hated saying goodbye to these characters. I don't often re-read cozy mysteries, but I'm very tempted to do so with this series just so I can enjoy the characters a little longer. Read my full review.

(Kindle Unlimited subscribers can read the ebook for free)

If you need more cozy mystery recommendations check out Murder in the Belltower by Helena Dixon, Killer Research by Jenn McKinlay, and God Rest Ye, Royal Gentlemen by Rhys Bowen.

For readers of post-apocalyptic fiction

The Salt Line by Holly Goddard Jones

The Salt Line

This is another book that my post-apocalyptic book club read this year. Some post-apocalyptic fiction can veer too much into science fiction or horror for me, but this one is squarely in the dystopian genre. I loved it. It's a well-written story with complex characters. 

Buy The Salt Line at Amazon

For readers of historical fiction

Historical fiction is another genre that I read a lot of so it is always difficult to decide on just one so you get 2 recommendations.

A Most Clever Girl by Stephanie Marie Thornton

A Most Clever Girl

The story is quite the journey. I didn't know anything about Elizabeth Bentley - I hadn't even heard her name prior to picking up this book. While I was aware of McCarthyism and the Red Scare it was more something I picked up because of my own interest rather than something studied in a history class (all the history classes I ever took barely made it to the end of WWII). The book was interesting from a historical perspective but also as an intimate look into the life of one woman who kept trying to do her best in a complicated situation. I listened to the audiobook so if the reader on your list likes to listen to books, this would be a great book to get the audiobook version. Read my full review.

Buy A Most Clever Girl at Amazon

The Invisible Woman by Erika Robuck

The Invisible Woman

With how much WWII fiction I read, you know I had to recommend at least one book in this subgenre of historical fiction. This was an emotional story. Fans of Codename Helene will want to read this book. I love that the stories of these brave women are finally being told. Read my full review.

Buy The Invisible Woman at Amazon

If you need more historical fiction recommendations, check out The Women of Chateau Lafayette by Stephanie Dray (an epic saga from the French Revolution to WWI to WWII) and A Women of Intelligence by Karin Tanabe (a spy novel set on American soil).

For readers of translated fiction

Gerta by Kateřina Tučková, Véronique Firkusny (translator)


I've started to read a lot more translated fiction this year and I've read some really interesting books. this is the first Czech book I've read. Gerta is a heartbreaking and difficult story to read, but eye-opening as well. It covers a large chunk of time - from slightly before the war to the 2000s. It is more focused on what happened after WWII but the earlier parts are needed for context. Read my full review.

Buy Gerta at Amazon
(Prime members can read the ebook for free)

For readers of suspense

Another genre that I had trouble choosing between two terrific books so I'll recommend both of them.

My Sweet Girl by Amanda Jayatissa

My Sweet Girl

This book has one of the best unreliable narrators that I've ever read. I could not put this book down. And the twist - wow. Read my full review (you'll also find another great suspense novel recommended at that link).

Buy My Sweet Girl at Amazon

Such a Quiet Place by Megan Miranda

Such a Quiet Place

This book had me guessing the whole time - who was telling the truth, who was lying? This book has one of the creepiest close-knit neighborhoods that I've read. Read my full review (and get recommendations of some other great books)

Buy Such a Quiet Place at Amazon

For readers of memoirs

Beautiful Country by Qian Julie Wang

Beautiful Country

A very poignant, beautiful story. I was teary-eyed several times. Immigration is such a complex web of legalities, politics, and morality that we often lose sight of the individuals that are deeply affected by it. Read my full review.

Buy Beautiful Country at Amazon

Another great memoir I read recently was The Unseen Body: A Doctor's Journey Through the Hidden Wonders of Human Anatomy by Jonathan Reisman.

For nonfiction readers

The Other Dark Matter by Lina Zeldovich

The Other Dark Matter

We are finishing up Nonfiction November so you might already have gathered a number of nonfiction recommendations already, but I had to put The Other Dark Matter on my list. It is such a fabulous book. Who knew there was so much to know about poop and that it is quite fascinating. Read my full review (and get another nonfiction recommendation).

Buy The Other Dark Matter at Amazon

If your nonfiction reader is into podcasts or audiobooks, then you will want to check out Under the Sea: A World Like No Other by Seeker

For readers of holiday stories

In case you are exchanging gifts early or you need something to put you in the holiday spirit, I have a couple of recommendations for Christmas books - one that is a holiday romance and one that isn't so much romance.

Christmas by the Book by Anne Marie Ryan

Christmas by the Book

This has been my favorite Christmas book this year. Every bookworm will want to read this book for all the literary references. But it is also a great heartwarming novel about family and community. Read my full review (and get more recommendations for Christmas reading).

Buy Christmas by the Book at Amazon

A Magical New York Christmas by Anita Hughes

A Magical New York Christmas

I love Anita Hughes's Christmas books. This is a longer read than your typical holiday romance so you get to really know the characters. They are lovely and the story was so complete that I felt satisfied with saying goodbye to them at the end. Read my full review (and get even more Christmas reading recommendations).

Other great bookish ideas:

Audible Gift

Kindle Unlimited

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. How fun. I love bookish gift guides.

    Lauren @