Just wanted to mention that books make wonderful holiday gifts :)
The Ritual by Adam Neville - This book is broken up into two parts. The first part is fantastic. Couldn't put it down fantastic. And the second part, well, that was disappointing. Four college buddies get together to go for a hike in the Swedish woods. They quickly discover that two of them are in less than stellar shape and take a shortcut to hopefully get to their destination sooner. Of course, this shortcut is anything but. They are lost, hungry, and something is killing animals and stringing them up in trees. As they attempt to right their course, they realize that they are being hunted. But by what? This part of the book is brilliant - it captures the fear of the unknown, the breakdown of relationships, and the hopelessness that the men feel. I don't know if I can recommend this though because I felt like the resolution wasn't worth it. Ultimately, The Ritual had a fantastic start, but didn't deliver in the end.
Underground Airlines by Ben H. Winters - This book was FANTASTIC. Pick it up right now. Imagine a United States where the Civil War didn't really happen. Instead, four states were allowed to continue the practice of slavery. Victor, a black man, is a present-day spook working for the US Marshals, bringing in runaway slaves. When he is put on the case of "Jackdaw", something immediately feels off to him. He's good at his job, he's done this many times, but there is something about this one that isn't sitting well. As he investigates further, we find out Victor's own story. This was so well-written and feels so important to read in this time. I can't recommend this enough.
Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty - I'm going to be honest - I initially wrote off all things Liane Moriarty as chick lit. It's my own fault, I should know better. And now I do because I loved this book and found it smart, funny, and literary. Celeste, Madeleine, and Jane all have children in the same kindergarten class in an Australian beach community. While Celeste's life may look fabulous from the outside, she's hiding a dark secret. Jane is a young, single mother trying to do the best she can for her son. Madeleine is dealing with her own personal drama in the form of an ex-husband, his new wife, and their child, who also happens to be in the same kindergarten class. When tragedy strikes at a school function, the truth comes out for everyone. This was so fun! A great read. I'll be grabbing more Moriarty in the future.
The Children by Ann Leary - Charlotte is an agoraphobic, living in her mother's lakeside house, making a living as a mommy blogger. The house is not actually owned by Charlotte's mother - she is allowed to live there as a provision of her late husband's will, but the house is owned by his two sons from his first marriage. The family gets along well and has never had any issues because of that. Then the younger son, Spin, brings home his fiance, Laurel. Laurel is quite curious about the house and the financial situation surrounding it. Her presence, and her manipulations, force issues to the surface. I love a good family drama. This was a clever story and one that deserves your attention.