Book Reviews

A book on every bed for Christmas

More than 20 gift suggestions, from historical fiction to romance to psychological thriller

By Donna Bruno
Posted 12/12/23

Books make excellent and well-appreciated gifts for Christmas. For one thing, they are beneficial in multiple ways: enjoyment, enrichment, broadening knowledge, and expanding cultural awareness. …

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Book Reviews

A book on every bed for Christmas

More than 20 gift suggestions, from historical fiction to romance to psychological thriller


Books make excellent and well-appreciated gifts for Christmas. For one thing, they are beneficial in multiple ways: enjoyment, enrichment, broadening knowledge, and expanding cultural awareness. Moreover, they engage the reader for many days beyond the holiday. Since reading is known to decrease blood pressure, you are also presenting a healthy gift.

Below are suggestions of truly great choices for the readers on your list. I guarantee their high quality.

Historical figures

“Hero of the Empire: The Boer War, A Daring Escape, and the Making of Winston Churchill, by Candace Millard: Exciting account of the heroic exploits of a young Churchill, who made his unparalleled reputation in his twenties while fighting in Africa. Reads like a James Bond thriller.

“Destiny of the Republic: The Tale of Madness, Murder, and the Killing of a President,” by Candace Millard: Biography of little-known, but well-loved President James Garfield, who was assassinated after only six months in office by a crazed madman. A totally self-made success, Garfield rose from abject poverty through sheer diligence, keen intelligence, and hard-work to the highest office in the land – equal in fine character to Washington and Lincoln. Inspiring.

“The Cowboy President: The American West and the Making of Theodore Roosevelt,” Michael F. Blake: Extremely interesting – sometimes amusing – tale of TR’s thirst for adventure, which led him to seek it among cowboys out West. He was the American equivalent to British Winston Churchill, who shared a mutual admiration society.

“Becoming FDR: The Personal Crisis That Made a President,” by Jonathan Darman: Inspiring story of how FDR’s contraction of polio and subsequent struggle transformed his character to become the great leader during the Depression and World War II.

“Hillbilly Elegy,” by J. D. Vance: Remarkable story about current Ohio Senator JD Vance’s rise from poverty in a hillbilly family in Appalachia to achieving the American Dream. Making no apology for his unrefined relatives whom he loves dearly, he questions some of their unhealthy choices that keep them from rising above their circumstances. Very heartfelt and candid.

World War II setting

“Beneath a Scarlet Sky,” by Mark Sullivan: True story of young boy in Italy about to be drafted into Mussolini’s Fascist army who escapes to an abbey in the Alps and trains to lead Jewish refugees to safety. When forced to return home, he becomes the driver for a high-ranking Fascist general, enabling him to become a spy. Suspenseful. At time of publication, he was an old man living in California.

“The Paris Architect,” by Charles Balfoure: Very suspenseful, page-turner about a young, ambitious architect, an opportunist with no moral code nor concern about Jewish persecution by the Nazis, who as his character develops, begins to use his talents to design extremely clever and innovative hiding places to assist Jews in their escape. Outstanding!


“Luncheon of the Boating Party,” by Susan Vreeland: About Impressionist painter Pierre Auguste Renoir’s multiple difficulties with the iconic painting by this title. A treat for art aficianados with an eye for sumptuous visual detail.

“A Piece of the World,” by Cynthia Baken Kline: About the painter Andrew Wyeth and his unusual relationship with the crippled subject of his painting by the above title.

“Little Dancer Aged Fourteen: The True Story Behind Degas’ Masterpiece,” by Camille Laurens: Absorbing account of Impressionist painter and sculptor Edgar Degas and the adolescent subject of his iconic sculpture by the above title. It gives an enlightening account of the lives of petit rats, destitute students at the Parisian ballet academy who sometimes served as models for artists.


“The Nickel Boys,” by Colson Whitehead: Heartbreaking, disturbing narrative about hellish reform school in Central Florida during Jim Crow era.

“Beneath a Ruthless Sun: A Tale of Power, Race, and Justice Lost and Found,” by Gilbert King: True story of the corrupt and infamous racist Sheriff Willis McCall in Central Florida known for his persecution of young blacks, including Jesse Daniels, a sweet, mentally-challenged innocent he framed for the rape of a white women. A determined female journalist, keenly aware of this cruel injustice, pursued the case for many years, leading to McCall’s prosecution, as well as Jesse’s release after many years’ incarceration. Provokes outrage.


“Beautiful Country,” by Qian Julie Wang: Moving story of an undocumented child living in poverty in one of the richest countries in the world. Very insightful regarding the immense challenges faced by certain immigrants. Evokes heartfelt empathy.

Young Adults (teens)

“The Junkyard Wonders” and “Wonder,” both by Patricia Polacco: 12-year-old Tricia is hoping to keep her dyslexia a secret, but it is not to be. Polacco focuses on stigma, ostracism, and bullying as the challenges of kids faced with disabilities. “Wonder” is definitely the very best book I have ever read for kids – highly recommended by both my grandchildren. About a boy with severe facial deformity and how he navigates the challengers it brings his way.

“The War That Saved My Life,” by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley: Sweet and touching story of a young girl evacuated from London to the countryside during the WWII Blitz, removed her from an abusive home to a wholesome and nurturing environment where the healing begins.

“Wolf Hollow,” by Lauren Wolk: 12-year-old Annabelle’s conflict with a troubled girl who moves to her neighborhood in the country and causes problems, one of which Annabelle struggles to keep secret.

“Beyond the Bright Sea,” by Lauren Wolk: Orphan 12-year-old Crow lives on an isolated island with Osh and suspects that her parents were lepers confined to a colony nearby. When both seek information about them, a suspenseful  mystery is unearthed that keeps you guessing.


“Cary Grant: A Brilliant Disguise,” by Scott Eyman: Entertaining and enlightening biography about Grant, who started out penniless in British carnival and spoke a lower-class cockney accent to become one of the most graceful and elegant stars of film. His was a persona painstakingly cultivated.

New Yorkers

“Primates of Park Avenue,” by Wednesday Martin: Amusing look at Manhattan’s Upper East Side mommies, their attitudes, habits and costly expenditures to be accepted by the “in-crowd.” Very intriguing!


“Lessons in Chemistry,” by Bonnie Garmus: Two chemists fall in love and adopt a dog whom they name “Six-thirty” for the time they found him. When the husband passes away, the pregnant wife gives birth to a precocious child whom she adores. Eventually, she will star on a cooking show in which she emphasizes the chemical reactions that occur in food when cooking. It becomes extremely popular when she goes rogue, resistant to the props and instructions of the producer. Extremely enjoyable and entertaining, especially the dog.

Psychological thriller

“Confessions on the 7:45,” by Lisa Unger: A woman meets another female on a train and in a weak moment confesses her husband’s recent infidelity, to which the latter can relate having experienced the same betrayal. This starts a very involved plot that includes secrets, scams, lies, and switched identities.

Donna Bruno is a prizewinning author and poet recently recognized with four awards by National League of American Pen Women.

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