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Authors' Picks

Local authors reveal which tomes they love to read and give.



Dennis Danvers, author of "The Bright Spot" (HarperCollins)

Sci-fi and fantasy novelist Dennis Danvers loves "Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America" ($23, Henry Holt & Company), by Barbara Ehrenreich, because it's "a vivid depiction of the life of the working poor in this country." He calls "His Dark Materials" trilogy ($20.97, Laurel-Leaf Books) by Philip Pullman "the best fantasy series I know for both young adults and adults," and Mark Haddon's tale about an autistic boy, "The Curious Incident of a Dog in the Night Time" ($12.95, Vintage Contemporaries), "a marvelous search for the truth."

Caroline Kettlewell, author of "Electric Dreams: One Unlikely Team of Kids and the Race to Build the Car of the Future" (Carroll & Graf Publishers)

Her ultimate gift to give or receive is "The Complete New Yorker: 80 Years of the Nation's Greatest Magazine" with an intro by David Remnick. It's eight DVDs with 4,109 issues for $100. She also says she loves any of the books from "The Best American" (Houghton Mifflin) series: "Fiction, essays, poetry, even recipes -- they're all great books to give or receive."

David Lawrence, author of "Upheaval From the Abyss: Ocean Floor Mapping and the Earth Science Revolution" (Rutgers University Press)

"As you can tell, I am in an optimistic space right now," jokes Lawrence as he recommends the less-than-upbeat classics "Catch-22" ($16, Simon & Schuster) by Joseph Heller and "Heart of Darkness" ($10, Penguin) by Joseph Conrad.

Susann Cokal, author of "Breath and Bones" (Unbridled Books)

This Virginia Commonwealth University professor and novelist can't get "Wolf Point" ($23.95, Unbridled Books) by Virginia Tech author Edward Falco off her mind. She's been rereading Elizabeth McCracken's "The Giant's House," ($13, HarperCollins) "and falling in love with it all over again," she says. Cokal also rereads Edward Eager's "Half Magic" ($23.95, Harcourt) series for children every year or so. "They are so witty and inventive and delightful," she says.

Ron Smith, author of "Moon Road" (Louisiana State University Press)

This recent winner of the Carole Weinstein Prize in Poetry wrote that "Little Boats, Unsalvaged" ($17.95, Louisiana State University Press) by Dave Smith "is a knotty volume that muscles memory and disappointment with the cunning of an indefatigable spirit." Smith calls "The Essential Gwendolyn Brooks" ($20, American Poets Project), edited by Elizabeth Alexander, "a must for poetry lovers, as well as for African-American collections." Claudia Emerson's "Late Wife" ($16.95, Louisiana State University Press), Smith's third favorite poetry book this year, "deftly elegizes, and to some extent chronicles, the breakup of a marriage and then examines and celebrates the creation of a new one."

Anne Soffee, author of "N‰rd Girl Rocks Paradise City: A True Story of Faking It in Hair Metal L.A." (Chicago Review Press)

Soffee plans to give Marritt Ingman's "Inconsolable: How I Threw My Mental Health Out With the Diapers," ($14.95, Seal Press) to all her mom's friends, she says, because "it's the only parenting book I know of that mentions GWAR." The little people in her life will be getting one of Charlottesville author Cece Bell's sock monkey series "Sock Monkey Goes to Hollywood" or "Sock Monkey Boogie Woogie," ($14.99, Candlewick Press), which she says are "fabulous."

For the Humbug on your List:

If the month of December makes you break out in hives, you may enjoy "The Worst Noel: Hellish Holiday Tales" ($14.95, HarperCollins), a hilarious compilation of holiday stories gone wrong, or the not-so-classic children's book, "Burn, Christmas, Burn" ($17.95, Soft Skull Press) by Brian Gage.

New Virginia Releases

"Imagining Eden: Connecting Landscapes" by Lyle Gomes, hot off the University Press of Virginia, is a striking collection of black-and-white photographs from America and Europe, all designed to invoke the idea of Eden, utopia — the perfect place. … "The Best Early Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald" ($9.95, Modern Library Paperbacks) edited and introduced by VCU English professor Bryant Mangum, offers an introspective look into a briefly illuminated period for one of America's literary giants. … "The Poetry of a Speaking Spirit" ($12, LP Publishing) by Richmond writer Lynn Painter is a personal look at faith, fathers and issues facing today's African-American culture. … For the preschool and elementary set, "Elf Dog" ($15.95, Antsy Aunts LLC) by Mathews County resident Pamela Woods Redmond is a heartwarming children's tale with a wag of its own. — V.H.

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