Santa’s Book Shopping List 2017

The request has come in for some shopping suggestions for those of you looking for a literary gift or two for your bookish friends/family members this holiday season. And, of course, I am more than happy to oblige. When it comes to books, I’m always ready to talk shop (and just shop!). I’ve sorted and resorted this list a handful of times this morning, but my peppermint hot chocolate is starting to cool and my snowman sugar cookie is now headless, so it is time to pick a format and stick with it, so rather than sorting mainly by genre, I’m going to give my recommendations by family member, but then because I couldn’t stick with five books per category, I have some bonus genre-based picks at the end.  (Yes, it feels a bit stereotypical and not all moms like the same stuff, but find the heading that fits best with your Secret Santa’s personality and start from there.)


Artemis by Andy Weir

Endurance: A Year in Space by Scott Kelly

Origin by Dan Brown

The Radium Girls by Kate Moore

Themis Files (Books 1 and 2) by Sylvain Neuvel


Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

Fierce Kingdom by Gin Phillips

Something Like Happy by Eva Woods

The Confusion of Languages by Siobhan Fallon

The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls

Adult Siblings

Idaho by Emily Ruskovich

Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathon Lethem

My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent

Sting-Ray Afternoons by Steve Rushin

The Power by Naomi Alderman


She Persisted by Chelsea Clinton

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

This is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel

This is How It Happened by Paula Stokes

Wishtree by Katherine Applegate


You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me by Sherman Alexie

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

Option B by Sheryl Sandburg

Gather the Daughters by Jennie Melamed

4 3 2 1 by Paul Auster

Other Fiction Standouts of 2017

Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance by Ruth Emmie Lang

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

The Golden House by Salman Rushdie

Uncommon Type by Tom Hanks

Other Non-fiction Standouts of 2017

Daring to Drive by Manal al-Sharif

Evicted by Matthew Desmond

From Here to Eternity by Caitlin Doughty

The Lost City of the Monkey God by Douglas Preston

Word by Word by Kory Stamper

Of course, I’m always happy to give more personalized recommendations. Just give me an idea of the person you’re shopping for in the comments and I’ll get back to you with a couple of selections. (How can I make being a personal book shopper a full-time, paying gig?)

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanzaa, Happy New Year, and just an overall “happy” to everyone. Read more and be kind. That is all.


‘Tis the Season?

The halls are decked with boughs of holly and stockings are hung by the fireplace with care, and yet, I can’t quite wrap my head around the season. Is it really Christmastime again? (Okay, really, my million miles of staircases are decked with glittery, plastic garland and my stockings are hung on the bookshelf, but it’s close.) But, how can it be Christmas? I am wearing a sundress and sandals and my hoodie never sees the light of day. The Christmas tree is up, sparkling in the corner of the living room and I’ve put “winter smells” on the Scentsy, all in hopes of making 90 degrees feel like December in Idaho. But, the tiny lizards skittering on the wall behind the tree are a gentle reminder that we aren’t in Kansas (or Idaho) anymore.

So far, with five months under our belts (five months already?!?), Kuala Lumpur has been a great second posting. The city is easy to live in (well, if you don’t count the slightly crazy traffic patterns) where you can find anything- for a price. While I hear people complain of pollution problems, it is a million times better than Chengdu, so another check in the “positive” column for us. Physically, Kuala Lumpur is a much simpler place to get by on a day to day basis than anywhere we lived in China.

But, the thing that really gets to me is not the physical aspects of living here, but the mental- it’s all about the seasons.

As a native Idahoan, I’ve seen my share of chilly winters. When I was a kid, we’d get snow drifts in the backyard that were ripe for tunnel and fort creation and the canyon behind our house was prime sledding real estate. We’d bundle up in our rainbow colored moonboots, dorky earmuffs shaped like fuzzy rodents and uber-puffy coats with mittens on a string and head for the hills. Literally. Years later, as an adult, a similar process would take place at my parents’ cabin in the mountains. Although I was lacking the over-the-top 80s outdoor gear, layers upon layers were easily accumulated and adorned before heading out in search of the perfect place to make inaugural runs down the hillside. (Sometimes, making your own path has its own perils. I’ve got a scar on the small of my back to prove that going top speed down an ungroomed hill isn’t always as fantastic of an idea as it appears when you are standing at the top of the abyss. You never know where a sharp spike of a branch lies hidden just below the surface of the snow…)

I don’t love cold, but I am willing to make the best of it.

The lack of cold was actually one of the huge selling points for me when we looked at KL. Strangely, after twenty-or-so weeks, it is the thing that has been hardest to wrap my head around here. I can understand why people park their cars in the street, blocking traffic (pretty much because, why not? No one does anything to discourage/stop it) and I get why malls are the hottest entertainment around (can you say “automatic air con?).

But no seasons?

How does one mark time? When I look at photos from the last half a year, I’m wearing my Malaysia uniform in all of them- brightly colored, layered tank tops and neutral shorts with a pair of strappy sandals. Was that taken in July? October? December? Who knows!?!? I’d never have a problem picking out the time of year a photo was taken when we were in Idaho, Utah, Washington DC, Chengxian or Chengdu. These places all have seasons!

Eventually, it does start to mess with your mind. Time flows wrong without the passage of seasons. I can look at a calendar and know subjectively that Halloween/a birthday/Thanksgiving/Christmas is upon us, but as soon as I glance away from the calendar, those thoughts flee like cockroaches from Thad’s shoe.

It really is strange.

The best way to remedy thoughts of it not being the holiday season is a quick trip to one of the local malls. Currently, they are all blasting carols throughout their corridors and the bigger the mall, the more massive the Christmas display erected in its center court. (We’re talking several stories high trees, snowman that look like they got make-up advice from the Joker, animatronic elves- each and every one bucktoothed, as if it is a genetic predisposition, and even small Ferris wheel that looks like it belongs to Santa himself.

So, with December and the holidays having sneaked up so stealthily, my one wish for the man in red this year is for post #3 to have seasons. They don’t have to be long or dramatic, but seasons where the temperature fluctuates and my wardrobe requires at least a minimal rotation, maybe a nod to some cute boots or a fashionable scarf and definitely the desire for a cup of hot chocolate with whipped cream on top. I’ve been good this year, I promise, and my list is short. Seasons. Mild ones, even.

Season’s greetings, from the land of no seasons!


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The Most *Fabulous* Time of the Year

The holidays can be stressful. There’s no getting around it. From searching for the perfect gift (something I obsess over and start working on in September!) to decorating and wrapping, to holiday parties, there is always lingering things on my to-do list. When you live overseas, some of that stress lessens, as the hectic hustle and bustle of mall shopping in non-existent (okay, in China, it exists, but as the status quo, since you’re sharing the mall with a million other shoppers on any given Saturday) and you’re used to being flexible with traditions. (In the States, we *always* had a full-sized, live Christmas tree, but now that we are constantly on the move, we’ve got an adorable 3-foot tree that stores away on top of an armoire eleven months out of the year, but does the trick.)

But, this year, I ran into a whole new level of holiday craziness. No, it wasn’t the four parties in seven days. That was actually pretty fun: one fancy house party for sixty, one staff party for eighty, one cookie exchange that I baked not one, but *two* kinds of cookies for (the only place I spent less time than the kitchen is the gym!) and then a low-key, enjoyable evening with friends to wrap up the hectic holiday week.

So, if four parties wasn’t the cause of my quickly graying hair, what was? Santa. Plain and simple. It was Santa.

He’s a staple of Christmas parties and was scheduled to make an appearance at not one, but both of the events that I hosted this year. With that in mind, before Thanksgiving, I was checking on my red velvet suit, coal black boot covers and white wig/beard combo. Last year, it was borrowed by some folks at work for their personal Christmas party and it then spent the rest of the year at their place. When I went in search of it a few months ago, I was told by the borrowers that yes, they had it, no problem.  Then, once I tore of the penultimate page of my calendar and was facing down the holiday season, I again inquired about the suit. This time, the news was not good. What the borrowers thought was my Santa suit turned out to be a Mario Brothers costume! (I know. You are currently wondering how in the world the two could be mistaken, but without asking too many questions, I’m chalking it up to seeing a lot of red fabric in a bag and assuming it belonged to Santa, rather than Mario. (Yes, I did just have to look up which brother wore red. Thank you, Google.)

That left me a week before Santa was supposed to make his inaugural appearance and with a middle-aged Italian plumber in place of a jolly old fat man with a massive white beard. I don’t think I’d be able to pull that one off, even for the toddlers!

No good.

Talk about ramping up the holiday stress! Four days and counting, with no Santa.

Chengdu was searched, high and low, to no avail. Malls were walked. Markets were scoured. Schools were called. Hotels were contacted. Nothing.

Just as I was starting to contemplate two holiday parties with no guest of honor, a Christmas miracle appeared out of the fog (pollution?). A colleague mentioned that her apartment complex had a holiday party the weekend before, where Father Christmas made an unexpected appearance (along with dancing pandas and dinosaurs  reenacting “What Does the Fox Say?” and scantily clad girls gyrating to Christmas classics, but that is an entirely different story!) This colleague’s husband made a few calls and sent a few emails and within hours we were in possession of a FABULOUS Santa suit. (And believe me, it was fabulous. The white around the collar and the boots was rainbow glittered and the belt was gold and just sparkly enough to summon unicorns, but I was in no position to negotiate my suit accessories. Fabulous Santa it would be!)

In the end, my two volunteer Santas suited up and did a marvelous job, entertaining the young and the less young alike. So, while others are pondering their last minute gift shopping needs (I did have to run and do stocking stuffer shopping at the last minute, on my lunch break today), I’m using Google to search out the nearest hair salon to our hotel in Honolulu. Santa may be blessed with snowy white hair, but after this holiday season, I’ve been gifted with stress-given gray!

Fabulous Santa #1

Fabulous Santa #1