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Our staff recommends great books for giving

It's sweet to read a great book - and sweet to recommend it to friends, to pass along the pleasure of a good read. In the giving spirit of the holidays, staff members tell us their favorites from this year. Prices are hardback.

"The Year of Yes" by Shonda Rhimes.
"The Year of Yes" by Shonda Rhimes.Read more

It's sweet to read a great book - and sweet to recommend it to friends, to pass along the pleasure of a good read. In the giving spirit of the holidays, staff members tell us their favorites from this year. Prices are hardback.

As books editor, I have some perks and preferences.

This was the year of The Wright Brothers by David McCullough (Simon & Schuster), a book that really took off. And everyone should read National Book Award winner Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates (Spiegel & Grau), an autobiography, homage to James Baldwin, and existential protest of U.S. race relations right now.

As for fiction, what else? The books everyone is talking about and reading obsessively: the four bewitching "Naples novels" of mysterious author Elena Ferrante. The final one, The Story of the Lost Child (Europa, $17), came out in English this year. Read all. And then there are Penguin's new translations of the novels of Georges Simenon - start with Mr. Hire's Engagement (Penguin, $11).

Over to you, dear colleagues:

Inquirer Editor Bill Marimow likes Ghettoside: A True Story of Murder in America by Jill Leovy (Spiegel & Grau, $28): "Ten years in the works, this book by Jill Leovy, who covered police for the Los Angeles Times, scrutinizes how a relentless homicide investigator pursued a neighborhood murder case against long odds."

Erica Palan, digital strategist, liked The Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes (Simon & Schuster, $24.99): "In this book, part self-help, part memoir, Rhimes takes on everything from work/life balance and weight-loss to stage fright and performance anxiety. With juicy behind-the-scenes details about TGIT-on-ABC programming, it's easily the best celeb title of the year."

Staff writer Linda Loyd calls Dead Awake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson (Crown, $28) a "nonfiction spellbinder" that examines the 1915 sinking of the Lusitania during World War I.

Michael Matza, staff writer, likes Killing a King: The Assassination of Yitzhak Rabin and the Remaking of Israel by Dan Ephron (Norton, $27.95): "With vivid storytelling that brilliantly clarifies the role of religious extremism in the 1995 death of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, this book is a relentlessly readable illumination of assassin Yigal Amir's dark path from fundamentalism to murder."

Copy editor Nick Cristiano praises Sumdumhonky by Lloyd Price (Cool Titles, $14.95): "This is no ordinary musician memoir. The seminal R&B artist - he wrote and sang 1952's immortal 'Lawdy Miss Clawdy' - focuses less on his long and varied accomplishments and more on accounts of his dealing with racism."

Staff writer Martha Woodall touts H Is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald (Grove, $26), an "extraordinary, gripping memoir that is also a meditation on grief, falconry, T.H. White, the Arthurian legend, sanity, and what it means to be human." Woodall also praises The Prize: Who's in Charge of America's Schools? by longtime Washington Post reporter Dale Russakoff. (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $27). After Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg pledges $100 million to transform Newark's troubled public schools, "Russakoff's absorbing, from-the-ground-up account illuminates what happened in Newark's schools afterward - and what didn't."

Architecture critic Inga Saffron recommends three books on how the 20th century shaped Philadelphia. Richardson Dilworth, The Last of the Bare-Knuckled Aristocrats by former Inquirer staff writer Peter Binzen with Jonathan Binzen (Camino, $24.95) tells of "how a New York blueblood wrested power from Philadelphia's corrupt Republican machine, reformed City Hall, and launched the city's Democratic machine."

The Outsider: Albert M. Greenfield and the Fall of the Protestant Establishment by Dan Rottenberg (Temple University, $35) is both "a biography of a poor Jewish immigrant who became one of Philadelphia's most powerful business figures" and "a primer for understanding the symbiotic relationship between today's politicians and real estate developers."

And Becoming Penn: The Pragmatic American University, 1950-2000 by John L. Puckett and Mark Frazier Lloyd (University of Pennsylvania Press, $49.95) tells of the "series of ruthless real estate grabs executed in the name of urban renewal" that led to the creation of Penn's campus.

Erin Arvedlund, staff writer, enjoyed Stolen, Smuggled, Sold: On the Hunt for Cultural Treasures by Nancy Moses (Rowman & Littlefield, $34), which "raises the question, 'Who should own the world's cultural masterpieces? Museums and people of means, or the cultures that spawn them?' "

Editorial assistant Barry Zukerman recommends Reagan: The Life by H.W. Brands (Doubleday, $35), in which "Brands accords lofty status to Reagan, whom he places alongside FDR as one of the two most significant presidents of the 20th century."

Inquirer columnist Kevin Riordan likes On the Move by Oliver Sacks (Knopf, $27.95), "a memoir by the famed neurologist and elegant writer, who died this year."

Lynn Ross, news editor, recommends Rosemary: The Hidden Kennedy Daughter by Kate Clifford Larson (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $27), the story of "the struggle Joseph and Rose Kennedy, and later some of the other children, went through in relating to Rosemary and the educational approaches and treatments they tried based on the belief that she could become normal."

This was the Year of the Adult Coloring Book, so of course we have a dinosaur coloring book for all ages. Staff writer Tom Avril recommends A Dynasty of Dinosaurs by Jason Poole and Jason P. Schein (Artemesia, $12.95): "Who says scientists can't be artistic? Poole, of Philadelphia's Academy of Natural Sciences, and Schein, of the New Jersey State Museum, authored an action-packed dino coloring book with fun paleo-facts on each page."


Loyd likes The Girl on the Train, a best-selling title by Paula Hawkins (Riverhead, $26.95): "A novel and psychological thriller told in the first person by three women, and what one of them sees on her train ride to London every day that is suddenly disturbing."

Aubrey Whelan, staff writer, celebrates Get in Trouble by Kelly Link (Random House, $12.45): "Nine deeply weird and deeply beautiful short stories by a writer at the top of her game."

TV critic Ellen Gray recommends A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara (Doubleday, $30), a book on a lot of people's best-of lists: "What seems at first to be a little story - four friends who met at an elite college pursuing their passions in New York - becomes instead the not-so-little life of one, Jude St. Francis, and a study in the power, and limits, of friendship."

Copy editor Deborah Woodell cites Dark Days by D. Randall Blythe (Da Capo, $26.99): "An impressive memoir by the lead singer of the band Lamb of God, largely about his prison time in the Czech Republic, accused of the death of a fan following a show in 2012."

Molly Eichel, staff writer, likes Loving Day by Mat Johnson (Spiegel & Grau, $26): "Set around a dilapidated mansion in Germantown, it's a searing satire of race, a lovely father-daughter story, and incredibly witty all at the same time. Johnson's Warren Duffy is a biracial comic book artist who grew up in Philly but fled to Wales, abandoning all problems in his wake. When his father dies, leaving him the aforementioned Germantown manse, Duffy has to confront not only what he left behind, but the daughter he didn't know he had."

Peter Rozovsky, copy editor, is also an expert on crime fiction. He hails The Great Swindle by Pierre Lemaitre (MacLehose, $24.99), which, he says, "is at least as much about post-World War I France, class fissures, and political and business corruption, as it is about crime. Lemaitre, a two-time winner of the International Dagger Award for translated crime fiction in the U.K., won France's Prix Goncourt for this one."

Gray likes the best-selling A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson (Little, Brown, $28): "This sort-of-sequel to her brilliant Life After Life focuses on Teddy, younger brother to her former heroine, Ursula Todd, but ultimately is about the power novelists seize for themselves, including the power periodically to dismantle the very universes they've created."

Staff writer William Bender likes The Last Flight of Poxl West by Daniel Torday (St. Martin's, $25.99). Torday, who teaches at Bryn Mawr College, "alternates between the voice of young Eli Goldstein and a memoir written by his war-hero uncle, Poxl West, whom he idolizes," Bender says. "It felt like I had just read a true story about a flawed man and his nephew, not a novel written to make it on best-seller lists."

Editor Becky Batcha recommends A Replacement Life by Boris Fishman (Harper, $25.99): "The best of the recent Russian-Jew-émigré-out-of-water tales (Gary Shteyngart's included). Told with humor, insight, and one heck of a plot by a first novelist who's one to watch."

Palan touts The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan (Grand Central, $26), "a modern-day Cinderella story in which an American college student falls in love with the heir to the British monarchy."

Copy editor Lidija Dorjkhand enjoyed The Bourbon Kings by J.R. Ward (New American Library, $27.95): "There's nothing better for a reader than discovering a great new series by a favorite author. This novel on the rich and powerful Bradford family of Kentucky is deliciously entertaining. 'With plot twists, villains, and hot romance, it will have you eagerly awaiting the next book in the saga."