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Book recs: Kansas City librarians and teacher suggest these relaxing reads and great gifts

A woman stands between two rows of shelves filled with books. Near her is a cart filled with books. She is placing books on a shelf.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Mariah Robinson shelves books inside the Mid-Continent Public Library's Colbern Road Library Center on April 4, 2023.

If you're looking for a good book to end the year with, Up To Date's panel of Kansas City book enthusiasts have read a combined total of more than 210 books this year. Check out their recommendations for your personal reading or for gifting to loved ones.

Although there's plenty to do around the holidays, hopefully you also make time to relax with a good book, too.

For Lucy Donnelly, a readers' services librarian at the Kansas City, Kansas Public Library, chores around the house are much more palatable to the tune of a great audiobook.

Donnelly sometimes turns to the recommendations of Kari Bingham-Gutierrez, an assistant customer service manager at the Olathe Public Library who's read 108 books this year.

Mark Luce, English Department chair at The Barstow School, also shared what he's been reading with KCUR's Up To Date.

"I'm always looking for one good graphic novel," Luce says. "I'm always looking for a good crime book, and I'm always looking for what I would consider light nonfiction."

Luce, Bingham-Gutierrez and Donnelly joined Up To Date with recommendations to help with last minute gifting options and books they'd each recommend you add to your reading list.

Lucy Donnelly's recommendations

"The Bromance Book Club" by Lyssa Kay Adams. Romance.

After finding out that his wife, Thea, has been faking it in bed all along, Gavin Scott spirals into an unrecognizable self-loathing version of himself. Enter the Bromance Book Club, a collection of Gavin’s friends who break him out of his spiral with the most unlikely of tools: a romance novel.

In order for Gavin to prove that he is the man for Thea, he must learn to woo her just like the count in the romance novel he is reading. Thea must also work to find what she wants and whether Gavin is part of that picture. A fun contemporary romance with just the right amount of spice.  

"The Thief" by Megan Whalen Turner. Young adult fantasy.

In this 1997 Newberry Honors book, Gen is a thief who boasts he can steal anything and finds himself on an adventure of a lifetime to steal a legendary stone with the power to make kings. In order to accomplish this task, Gen must ensure that he does not offend the Gods. Can he do it? This book is fast-paced and lays the foundation for an engaging and entertaining series.

"The Switch" by Beth O'Leary. Fiction.

Leena finds herself a burned out 20-something living in London when her Grandma Eileen suggests the wackiest of ideas: They switch lives for two months. Quirky cannot begin to describe the cast of characters Leena finds herself helping as she steps into Eileen’s shoes.

All while Eileen, a near octogenarian, enters the exciting world of online dating and sets out to create a community space in Leena’s London flat building. What these two women learn about themselves, their family, and communities is sure to bring a smile to the reader's face.

"Start Here" by Sohla El-Waylly. Cooking.

Sohla El-Waylly has made a name for herself as a cooking personality on YouTube and beyond. In her debut cookbook "Start Here" home cooks will find an invaluable resource to help level up their cooking. This book is full of detailed recipes, eye-catching images, and explanations that will help fill any gaps in culinary understanding. You will come for the tasty treats and stay for the incredibly accessible knowledge shared.

Kari Bingham-Gutierrez's recommendations

"I Am My Country and Other Stories" by Kenan Orhan. Short stories.

Kenan Orhan is a local Kansas City author with family ties to Turkey. This is his debut collection of short stories that explores the lives of Turkish people with fantastical elements, political commentary, and lyrical heartfelt prose.

Stories range from a woman training a dog to bomb a fascist leader to a garbage collector storing musicians collected from the trash in her attic. The author’s deep love and appreciation for Turkey and its people and his great disdain for Erdoğan is evident in this collection.

"Bookshops & Bonedust" by Travis Baldree. Fantasy fiction.

"Bookshops & Bonedust" is a prequel to Baldree’s "Legends & Lattes." After an injury to her leg during a hunt for a necromancer, Viv is forced to rest up in a small seaside town to heal. To stay busy, Viv helps a bookshop owner revamp their store while also discovering the magic of reading.

However, when a suspicious traveler shows up, Viv must team up with unlikely characters to protect the town. This cozy fantasy is the perfect winter read for those who want to escape the cold with a D&D-type adventure.

"Shark Heart: A Love Story" by Emily Habeck. Fiction.

A literary novel that asks the question, “Would you still love me if I was a shark?” After Lewis receives the diagnosis that he will transform into a great white shark, he and his wife, Wren, must come to terms with the fate of their relationship. As Lewis transitions, we gather glimpses from Wren’s past and her challenging relationship with her mother.

This novel deftly tackles feelings of love, loss, and grief with lyrical prose, humor, and tenderness. While not lighthearted or necessarily relaxing, this novel will leave you thinking about your relationships with the loved ones in your life and might leave you appreciating them slightly more this holiday season. 

"You're a Mean One, Matthew Prince" by Timothy Janovsky. Fiction.

In this enemies-to-lovers holiday romantic comedy, Matthew Prince, a spoiled socialite, is cut off by his parents and sent to spend the holidays at his grandparents’ house to learn the meaning of hard work. While there, he’s forced to share a room with Hector Martinez, who obviously can’t stand him. When the town loses its coordinator for the charity gala, the two begrudgingly team up to throw the best gala the town’s ever seen… and catching feelings along the way. This book is sure to put you in the Christmas spirit.

Mark Luce's recommendations

"Thirteen Question Method" by David Ulin. Psychological thriller.

A nameless, divorced narrator hears repeated screams from a neighboring apartment. And then, that screaming woman walks into his apartment. Over the next 169 pages, Ulin drops us into an L.A. noir with the creepiness of Dorothy Hughes' “In a Lonely Place,” the nastiness of James Cain's “Postman Always Rings Twice,” and the surreality of Nathaniel West's “Day of the Locust.” Ulin's prose oozes the griminess of his narrator's mind, which also serves to underscore the city's own dirtiness.

"The Story of Art Without Men" by Katy Hessel. Historic nonfiction.

With accessible, smart prose, Hessel tells us the story of women in art — from the early paintings of Anguissola and Gentileschi to the works of Amy Sherald and Mickalene Thomas. While the book examines the obstacles faced by women artists through the century, it also showcases the variety, styles, and innovation of so many artists most of us have never heard of. An excellent addition to the library of any art lover.

"Art Thief" by Michael Finkel. Biography/memoir.

Finkel traces the bizarre case of Stephane Breitwieser and his girlfriend Anne-Catherine Kleinklaus, who visited countless museums to steal paintings, decorative statues, pistols and anything they could get their hands on.

The odd part: They never sold any of the $2 billion of pilfered goods. Instead, they stuffed their attic-studio with the spoils. Finkel writes decently, but the real strength of the book is the psychological makeup of Breitwieser, who only wants to be surrounded by beautiful things.

"Artificial" by Amy Kirzweil. Graphic Novel.

In this fascinating graphic novel, Amy Kurzweil, a New Yorker cartoonist, chronicles her father's attempt to build a chatbot that writes in the voice of his deceased father. Her dad Ray Kurzweil, a well-known inventor and futurist, wants to channel the voice/memory of his dad Fredric, a conductor and musician who escaped the Nazis. The result is an intriguing examination of family memory, art, and technology.

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When I host Up To Date each morning at 9, my aim is to engage the community in conversations about the Kansas City area’s challenges, hopes and opportunities. I try to ask the questions that listeners want answered about the day’s most pressing issues and provide a place for residents to engage directly with newsmakers. Reach me at steve@kcur.org or on Twitter @stevekraske.
As a producer for Up To Date, my goal is to inform our audience by curating interesting and important conversations with reliable sources and individuals directly affected by a topic or issue. I strive for our program to be a place that hosts impactful conversations, providing our audience with greater knowledge, intrigue, compassion and entertainment. Contact me at elizabeth@kcur.org or on Twitter at @er_bentley_ruiz.
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