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12.19.10

Last-Minute Gift Books

Looking for a perfect book to give? From David Baldacci's new thriller to a history of the Atlantic, Janice Kaplan offers up 10 perfect books that any reader would want to receive.

Looking for a perfect book to give? From David Baldacci’s new thriller to a history of the Atlantic, Janice Kaplan picks 10 perfect books that any reader would want to receive. Watch Janice Kaplan on Good Morning America discussing her choices.

Some books are the literary equivalent of fine Champagne—delicious, much-desired, and appropriate for practically everyone. The choices on this list make great gifts, no matter what the recipient's interests. They'll broaden horizons, bring a smile—and last longer than that bottle of Cristal.

Frank: The Voice
By James Kaplan

Even those who've never downloaded a Sinatra song will be enthralled by this story of the smooth singer in the early years of his career. Sinatra seems more like the hero of a novel than a real-life star, but stories about his romances with stars from Lana Turner to Ava Gardner will keep fans humming along. Though ostensibly about Sinatra, the book is also a brilliant look at fame, family, and 1940s and '50s America. And while the country was captivated in those days by Sinatra's voice, it's the author's voice—knowing, irreverent, and wise—that keeps you engrossed now.

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I Remember Nothing and Other Reflections
By Nora Ephron

In movies like When Harry Met Sally or Sleepless in Seattle, writer Nora Ephron offered witty riffs on love and romance. In these essays, she's funny about divorce, death, and getting old. Her wry, self-deprecating tone gives an appropriate edge whether she's talking about the inheritance she didn't get or the people she regularly forgets. Ephron grew up in a Hollywood family and has become one of the most successful women in movies. But on the page, she is Everywoman—and anyone reading the collection will laugh out loud in both sympathy and recognition.

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Atlantic: Great Sea Battles, Heroic Discoveries, Titanic Storms, and a Vast Ocean of a Million Stories
By Simon Winchester

Winchester is a master storyteller, and he uses his history of the Atlantic Ocean to talk about geography, art and poetry, remote islanders, and both piracy and slavery. An adventure-seeker who has traveled to every corner of the earth, Winchester links the Atlantic to both a mountain in northern Montana and the founding of Israel. He flippantly describes the 1982 Falklands war (yes, on an island in the Atlantic) as having "some Nelsonian romance and derring-do about it," but also puts it in context of battles back to Trafalgar. Sometimes the Atlantic seems like little more than an excuse for his curious mind to find yet another interesting tale, but it doesn't matter because reading his book is like sitting next to the cleverest, most charming person at a dinner party.

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Harmony: A New Way of Looking At Our World
By HRH The Prince of Wales

The Man Who Would Be King (if only his mother would retire) has some strong ideas about the environment and our need to be more in harmony with the natural world. His dislike of modernist architecture may be extreme, but he supports his philosophy of balance with science, history, and art. Sometimes stiffly written—think Al Gore with a crown—the book succeeds with its reasoned arguments about the dangers of climate change and the destruction of rainforests. Not quite as exciting as Kate and William's wedding, but a royal treat, nonetheless.

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Hell's Corner
By David Baldacci

Anybody who complains about getting a great thriller as a gift should be banished to the North Pole. In Baldacci's 20th book, the plot is as fast-paced and twisting as all the bestsellers that have come before. A bomb goes off in Lafayette Park, across from the White House, and former assassin Oliver Stone has to figure out who is behind it and why. Baldacci has been amazingly prescient in previous books, plotting evil deeds that eventually happen in real life. So pay attention to his description of nanobots here. You may eventually be reading about them on the front page of The New York Times.

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The Lonely Polygamist
By Brady Udall

Though the title suggests a book that would be of interest to only a few people in Utah, this brilliant story of love, loss, and what-does-it-all-mean hits universal chords. Four wives can't resolve the hero's feelings of loneliness and existential despair. He loses a child, takes a lover, and feels—quite literally—godforsaken. The tender, painful, and sometimes very funny sex scenes give touching insight into the selves we seek to escape, but never can.

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My Passion for Design
By Barbra Streisand

Barbra Streisand already had a home in Malibu, so the "barn" she built next door was more the stage-set for a dream. She envisioned a New England farmhouse from 1904 complete with a 14-foot high water wheel cut from hand-felled white oak. She threw herself fully into the project, and this beautiful book shows the results of her obsession. While talking about design, Streisand offers wonderful insights into herself—a girl from Brooklyn still awed by the colors of the open sky. She has spent her life wanting beauty, and now she no doubt has the only home with antiques from America's greatest craftsmen and doors from the set of Meet the Fockers.

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20 Under 40: Stories From The New Yorker
Edited by Deborah Treisman

The age cut-off may be arbitrary (pity the genius who just turned 41), but the writers chosen for this collection have extraordinary talent—as well as different viewpoints and styles. Conceived to identify and establish the greatest writers of a generation, the book also stands alone as a collection of individual stories worth reading, no matter what your age.

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The Rembrandt Affair
By Daniel Silva

Gabriel Allon, an art restorer who works for a secret agency in the Israeli government, gets called in when a Rembrandt portrait is stolen. He connects the painting to old Nazi atrocities and current terrorist threats. But the pleasures of Silva's books are his thoughtful, well-drawn characters, and his willingness to see complexities, even in action heroes.

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Finishing the Hat:  Collected Lyrics (1954-1981) with Attendant Comments, Principles, Heresies, Grudges, Whines and Anecdotes
By Stephen Sondheim

The genius behind musicals from Gypsy to Sweeney Todd affably describes how he wrote some of his greatest songs—and offers the behind-the-scenes stories of the stars who first performed them. Sondheim includes songs cut from shows, and admits in the most gracious way imaginable that his lyrics for West Side Story "suffer from a self-conscious effort to be what Lenny [Bernstein] deemed 'poetic.'" You'll never hear "tonight there will be no morning star" quite the same way again.

Plus: Check out Book Beast for more news on hot titles and authors and excerpts from the latest books.

Janice Kaplan is a television producer and former editor-in-chief of Parade magazine. She is the author and co-author of ten novels, including the bestselling Mine Are Spectacular and The Botox Diaries; her most recent is the mystery A Job To Kill For.