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Uncle Orson's list of emergency Christmas gifts - 2007


It's the day before Christmas and you realized that you didn't get a gift for your sister's kid. Or your sister.

Or maybe a friend comes by and gives you a "little something" and you don't have anything for them. The stores are only open for a few more hours. What do you do? What do you buy?

BOOKS

Even people who never read books are flattered to think that you think they are readers. And kids who don't read books usually haven't been given the books they want to read!

Books for Kids

Age 3-5

Arnold Lobel's wonderful Frog and Toad books. Any of them. A set of them.

Age 6-8

It's disgusting but funny and kids love them. Dav Pilkey's Captain Underpants.

Girls 9-14

Shannon Hale, Goose Girl. A terrific realistic spin on a fantasy story.

Mette Ivie Harrison, Mira, Mirror or The Princess and the Hound. Nobody else thinks or writes like Harrison.

Boys and Girls 9-14

It's just a fact of life -- girls will read boys' books, but boys won't read girls' books. Live with it.

Margaret Peterson Haddix, Among the Hidden or any of the other "Among the ..." books in the Shadow Children Sequence. A future in which it's illegal to have more than two children -- so third children are hidden away until the state finds them and takes them.

Lloyd Alexander, absolutely anything. He simply doesn't know how to write a book that isn't exciting and rich with character.

Gail Carson Levine, the Fairy Haven series, starting with Fairy Dust and the Quest for the Egg. A classic-to-be.

Peter S. Beagle, The Last Unicorn. They've just come out with a new hardcover of this classic. A perfect gift -- for adults, too.

Jack Higgins with Justin Richards, Sure Fire. A thriller for kids, and it's a good one, way smarter and better than the Spy Kids movies.

Neal Shusterman, Unwind. The ultimate solution for unruly teenagers -- you just cut them up for spare parts. It's the law! The author of the brilliant Everlost with the ultimate paranoid thriller.

Mystery

For Women

Jacqueline Winspear, any of the Maisie Dobbs novels. Set in England after World War I, brilliant historical novels as well as mysteries.

M.C. Beaton, any of the Haimish Macbeth novels, which have titles that begin with "The Death of ...". Get to know village life in the Highlands -- along with good solid mysteries and an ongoing series of romances.

Margaret Maron, her Deborah Knott mysteries. The newest is Hard Row, still in hardcover for a very nice gift.

Sharyn McCrumb, the author of magical Appalachian mysteries like If Ever I Return Pretty Peggy-O, comes to us with a NASCAR novel that women can love: Once Around the Track.

For Men or Women

Robert Crais: Anything at all, but especially The Two Minute Rule and The Watchman

Michael Connelly: Again, anything, but especially The Overlook

John Mortimer: Any Rumpole of the Bailey book

Science Fiction

Come on, who do you think is writing this list? A War of Gifts by <ahem> Orson Scott Card is a perfect last-minute gift -- a thin hardcover with a compelling story that features the title character from Ender's Game. Or pick up the newly-released paperback of Empire, my novel about a civil war in present-day America and the need for us to return to civility in our public discussions. Or the hardcover Invasive Procedures, co-written with my brilliantly talented young friend Aaron Johnston, about a healer who'll make you "better" whether you're sick or not.

Fantasy

Lynn Flewelling: The Tamir Triad, starting with The Bone Doll's Twin and continuing with Hidden Warrior and The Oracle's Queen. Perhaps the deepest psychological novel I've ever read -- the fantasy makes the unconscious issues real. Gorgeous but dark.

Kate Elliott: The Crown of Stars series. Just pick up the first volume, King's Dragon. Not the book entitled Crown of Stars -- that's volume seven. You might worry that your fantasy-reader friend might not be glad to get volume one of seven -- but I promise you, they'll be grateful once they've read this extraordinarily powerful opening volume. But this, like Lynn Flewelling's, is not for the faint of heart.

David Gemmell: Anything. I recently discovered this British author and was dismayed to learn he died just a few years ago. I've read all of the beautiful and moving Rigante series, but so far I've picked up nothing of his that wasn't excellent and compulsively readable for the fantasy fan.

History

I spend my life reading history, and there's simply too much out there for me to try to recommend it all. But ... for last-minute shopping, pick up Tim Weiner's Legacy of Ashes, a brutally accurate history of the CIA using all the available documents and interviews with many of the participants. The miracle is that the United States still exists. Or pick up Stefan Rudnicki's compelling reading of it in the book on CD. You can't make a serious evaluation of what the CIA tells the President -- and us -- unless you understand just what this organization was and is. It will break your heart. THICK HARDCOVER

Biography

Ron Chernow's biography of Alexander Hamilton is a must-read for anyone who wants to understand the roots of the American Republic. It will also change your view of Thomas Jefferson and John Adams forever. Chernow is a gifted writer who makes the story clear and smooth to read, while still including all the facts and reasonable conclusions. Or pick up Scott Brick's sharply intelligent reading of it in the book on CD. THICK BOOK

Celebrity

There's only one celebrity memoir this year that's worth giving as a gift: Steve Martin's Born Standing Up: A Comic's Life. It's a marvelous yet brief autobiography and a compendium of his best bits during the years that he erupted into a dominant position in American comedy. THIN HARDCOVER

GAMES

Our favorite game this year was Ticket to Ride, but it's not in the stores and the online sources are mostly out of it. So it's no good as a last-minute gift. My wife and I went into Barnes & Noble and scanned the table where they're selling games. These are in the store right now, and that's what counts.

Apples to Apples: for people likely to play in a group of at least four, this is lots of fun -- and children can take part, if you make allowances. It's not about winning, it's about the fun of thinking and discussing the choices you make. Though there is a winner, for those who need that.

Blokus: This is for two to four players, but it doesn't require any special knowledge. Instead, you place different-shaped pieces on the board, trying to get rid of them all while blocking your opponents from using theirs. Very challenging and yet accessible to kids above, say, ten.

Settlers of Catan: Unlike some games that require endless setup, you're into the game and playing within a few minutes. The rules might seem complex, but in actual play they're very simple. It's the ultimate game of capitalism -- you're trying to get into a winning position through trade, and you have to make bargains with the other players in order to get ahead yourself.

VIDEO

It's eighty bucks, but Planet Earth is the reason televisions were invented. Incredible film of animal life in every possible habitat, you can hardly believe what you're seeing. And if somebody on your list has HD or Blue Ray, those versions of the DVD set will show what their cool new machine can really do.

CONSUMABLES

Not every gift has to last. But money or open-ended gift certificates are what you do instead of a thoughtful gift. Here are some gifts that give an experience, not just cash, and because they get used up, they won't clutter up the house.

Gift certificates to a favorite restaurant. Make sure you get it for enough to cover dessert and a good tip.

Movie theater gift certificates. Get enough for everybody in the family to go, or specify it's for the parents to have a date; and if you can, make it for enough to get popcorn and a drink, too.

Redeemable Promises.

Do they need a babysitter? Give them a certificate offering your services and then make sure you're available to carry it out!

Or if you're good with electronics, a certificate that promises you'll come over on Christmas day and hook up any electronics or set up any computers they might have received.

Whatever your skill is -- baking, macrame, framing, carpentry -- promise them a project of their choosing by a date to be set later. This is a gift of real friendship, and it might help you turn a casual friend or distant relative into a close one.


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