Best books to give as last-minute holiday gifts

With final exams, work and family commitments piling up this month, chances are you might have put off your holiday shopping. But, don’t panic! If you’re in need of the perfect stocking stuffer or that Hanukkah gift for the eighth night, FIU Creative Writing Program Director Les Standiford believes giving a book as a  gift is a special sign of recognition between the giver and the recipient.

“To give a book that you have enjoyed and responded emotionally to says in essence, ‘Here is something that I think will touch your core.’ It signifies a special understanding and appreciation of the recipient,” Standiford says. “Far more significant a gift than a tie or a scarf.”

Not that your old man wouldn’t appreciate another one for his collection, Standiford offers his favorite books from FIU writers.


Straits of Fortune (HarperCollins Publishers, 2009): Ex-cop Jack Vaughn moved from the gritty streets of New York to Miami to work as a personal trainer. The sun, sand and tanned bodies of Miami are a welcome distraction from the haunting memory of another cop’s death in New York. But when he becomes involved with millionaire businessman Colonel Patterson, his newfound peace is short-lived as he finds himself entangled in a web of lies, lust and violence. The crime novel was written by creative writing alumnus Anthony Gagliano and based on his Master of Fine Arts thesis.

The Emperor’s Club (MidTown Publishing, 2014): Jack Vaughn’s old friend Cal has gone missing. His vintage Cadillac has been pulled out of a South Florida canal. His house is suddenly up for sale. Suspecting foul play, the ex-cop goes in search of his friend hoping to find him alive. The crime novel was written by Gagliano as a follow-up to the critically-acclaimed Straits of Fortune. But in 2009, midway through the manuscript, Gagliano suffered a stroke and died shortly after. Former professors Standiford and Dan Wakefield finished writing it, and John Dufresne served as editor.

Miami Noir: Stories from the Underbelly of Paradise (Akashic Press, 2006): Sixteen diverse and entertaining mystery stories make up this collection with each short story set in a distinct neighborhood or location in Miami-Dade County, including Coconut Grove, Homestead, North Miami, Miami Beach, Biscayne Bay and South Beach. It features the works of FIU faculty and alumni including Preston L. Allen, Lynne Barrett, John Dufresne, Anthony Gagliano, James W. Hall, Vicki Hendricks, Barbara Jane Parker and Jeffrey Wehr.

Suspicion of Innocence (Open Road Media, 2014): Gail Connor is a rising attorney in a major law firm about to make partner — until her life is derailed by the discovery of her sister’s murdered body and the revelation that she is the prime suspect. Gail must fight for her life as she gets a firsthand look at the dark underside of the legal system. Authored by creative writing alumna Barbara Jane Parker, the legal thriller was based on her Master of Fine Arts thesis and became a national best seller.

Blue Christmas: Holiday Stories for the Rest of Us (Books & Books, 2013): From brats disappointed with their holiday loot, to the dread of shopping and the ill-timed personal tragedies that sometime strike during the holidays, Christmas can be brutal. As a response to the saccharine, sentimental stories permeating the holiday season, this collection of short stories reflects the realistic and different versions of Christmas experienced by different storytellers. Some are funny, grim or sad, but they all cover the gamut. This book features the work of FIU faculty and alumni, including Preston L. Allen, Steve Almond and Ana Menendez.