The year in books, gifted

Books make excellent last-minute gifts: simple, easy to wrap, old school and they can be purchased locally. What's more, you're likely to surprise just about any friend with a book. But which book to get?

The real key to happy book giving is to keep it local—and since Sacramento's chock-full of writers, that's a piece of cake. For fiction readers, consider American River College professor Christian Kiefer's debut, the well-received novel The Infinite Tides (Bloomsbury USA, $26), about an astronaut who must negotiate the terrain of grief, which proves even more unfamiliar than the vastness of space. There's also the debut collection from Sacramento writer and teacher Valerie Fioravanti, Garbage Night at the Opera: Stories (BkMk Press, $15.95), a series of linked stories that follow the residents of a north Brooklyn neighborhood through the process of economic collapse, community disintegration and gentrification.

William T. Vollmann, the ever-productive Sacramento writer, edited the annual collection of The Best American Travel Writing 2012 (Mariner Books, $14.95). Two other, older favorites by Vollmann—both available in paperback—that might interest the readers on your Christmas list are 2008's Poor People (Harper Perennial, $16.95) about the nature of poverty, and Riding Toward Everywhere (Harper Perennial, $14.99), his firsthand account of “catching out”—hopping trains and riding the rails.

For science-fiction fans, Davis resident Kim Stanley Robinson's latest novel 2312 (Orbit, $25.99) looks at what we humans might become 300 years hence, should we venture to the stars—and fail to care for our own planet.

If you're buying for a romance reader, there are a couple of best-selling Sacramento authors to choose from—depending on how much mystery and sex you're looking for in your gift. For those drawn to erotic thrillers, Sacramento writer Allison Brennan has published two new novels in her popular Lucy Kincaid series this year: Silenced and Stalked (Minotaur Books, $7.99 each). Should the reader you're buying for prefer a little less sex and violence, Sacramento's own Brenda Novak keeps the romance upfront—along with a California setting—in her new Whiskey Creek series, When Lightning Strikes and When Snow Falls (Harlequin MIRA, $7.99 each), with a third installment due early next year.

And should you need to buy for someone who likes a bit of military-style action and adventure with their thrillers, try Sacramento veterinarian-turned best-selling novelist James Rollins' latest novel in his Sigma Force series, Bloodline (William Morrow, $27.99). It's got the Knights Templar, Somali pirates and the Sigma Force team, which adds a former U.S. Army Ranger with a K-9 partner to rescue the pregnant daughter of the U.S. president. Another sure bet for a mystery-thriller fan is local writer John Lescroart's latest novel featuring San Francisco PI Wyatt Hunt, The Hunter (Dutton Adult, $26.95). This time, the mystery Hunt needs to solve is the murder of his birth mother.

Of course, if it's too risky to buy a book for a readerly friend (what if it's already on the shelf at home?), there's always a great fallback position: Time Tested Books (1114 21st Street, offers “Time Tested Bucks.” These are gift certificates in several denominations which feature a drawing of a well-known author—and they can be used for new, used or special-order merchandise. I'm partial to the $20 buck, which features a lovely portrait of Sacramento's favorite daughter, Joan Didion.