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Mother’s Day Gift Books That Don’t Suck

Rebecca Joines Schinsky

Chief of Staff

Rebecca Joines Schinsky is the executive director of product and ecommerce at Riot New Media Group. She co-hosts All the Books! and the Book Riot Podcast. Follow her on Twitter: @rebeccaschinsky.

Let’s be real. Your mom doesn’t need another pocket-sized book with photos of baby animals accompanied by inspirational quotes. Or a Mom’s Daily Journal instructing her to be grateful for you. Or anything described as “cozy,” accompanied by an Oprah sticker, or adorned with a cover showing two women walking hand-in-hand. What your mom needs is a book that is, you know, actually good. She needs a treat. You love your mom, right? Buy her good books for Mother’s Day. Here are some recommendations to get you started.


200px-Outlander_cover_2001_paperback_edition__120717160015The Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon–Before my mom fell for this series, all I knew about it was that it was an epic historical fantasy-romance with time travel and sexy accents. Now I know all that and SO MUCH MORE, including that pretty much everyone who reads these books falls ass over teakettle in love with the hero and feels that they have a special connection to him. Seriously! Ask a person who has read these books about them, and you better be prepared to sit still for a while and get a biiiiiiig earful. There’s love and sexytimes (in my mama’s words, “They like to do it….a lot!”) and a dreamy setting, making these books the perfect escape reading. When I polled fellow Rioters about their Mother’s Day gift book choices, several chimed in with this one too. Outlander is Riot Mom tested and Riot Mom approved.

Shine Shine Shine by Lydia Netzer–This one’s for the mothers who like their writing literary, their characters flawed but beautiful, and their relationships complicated. Sunny and Maxon have known each other since childhood. Now he’s in space on a NASA mission with his robots (no, this is not a futuristic sci-fi novel) and she’s at home with their autistic son and pregnant with another child. Sunny’s mother is dying, she’s just had a car accident, and her marriage is on the brink of falling apart. When something goes wrong with Maxon’s mission, a whole bunch of Sunny and Maxon’s longheld secrets come to light, and Sunny ditches her Perfect Housewife routine in favor of the embracing the messiness of reality. Netzer’s debut novel is skillfully crafted and beautifully written. This is a delightfully strange story about the challenges of love, marriage, and motherhood.

where-d-you-goWhere’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple–If you could bottle up a Calgon moment and whip it into fiction, you’d get this hilarious, caper-filled novel from Arrested Development writer Maria Semple. Bernadette is a former architect raising her precocious teenage daughter Bee in a falling-down house in Seattle while her husband toils away on the latest top-secret project at Microsoft. She hates the politics and social obligations of her neighborhood and her daughter’s private school, but she tolerates them (and rants about them in emails to friends and colleagues) until….she disappears. In her attempt to find her mother and figure out what led to her disappearance, Bee reconstructs Bernadette’s emails, notes, and personal records, which compromise the bulk of the story. Where’d You Go, Bernadette? is a bubbly fun pageturner that is also rich in substance and in character.

….and for the mom who loved Fifty Shades of Grey and told you all about it and made you feel super-awkward: 

The Rules of Scoundrels series by Sarah MacLean–Take innocent Victorian ladies and dashing, rakish, not-so-gentlemanly gentlemen. Toss in a gambling hall, the marriage season, and smart heroines determined to bend the rules until they break, and you’ll have this rompalicious historical romance series. Family reputations and, more important, family fortunes hang in the balance, but who cares about  losing face when things get hot and heavy? MacLean’s stories are a treat, and her sex scenes are filled with heat without ever approaching vulgarity. The first love scene in the second book, One Good Earl Deserves a Lover, doesn’t even have any touching in it, and it’s one of the steamiest things I’ve read. Give this to the mom who likes her romance on the classy side.

The Original Sinners series by Tiffany Reisz–You might not want to give this to YOUR mom (unless you know her REAL well), but I’m willing to guess that *a* mom in your life would enjoy it. Reisz’s erotica series–and this is erotica, kids, not romance–follows erotica writer Nora Sutherlin in her quest to get a better publishing deal, seduce her editor, make sense of her long-time Dominant/submissive relationship with a lover who changed her life, and get her sexual kicks in New York’s most exclusive sex club. Did I mention that, though Nora is the submissive in her relationship, she’s also a professional dominatrix? Yeah. Reisz knows how to keep readers turning pages. These stories are BDSM-filled dirtybadfun.


For contemplation:

when women were birdsWhen Women Were Birds by Terry Tempest Williams–Written the year that Williams was 54, the age her mother was when she died and left Williams her life’s journals (three shelves of them, and every last one was blank), this is a collection of essays and vignettes in which Williams works to understand what her mother was saying by choosing to say nothing at all. There are pieces here about womanhood and family, marriage and community, friendship and motherhood and sex and nature and writing. Running through them all are threads of love and grief and profound gratitude. This beautiful book changed my life, and it could change yours. Buy this for your mother, and she will reflect on her mother and what it means to be a mother and a daughter. Let Terry Tempest Williams say the things you feel but don’t know how to give voice to.

She Matters: A Life in Friendships by Susanna Sonnenberg–Each chapter of this memoir recalls a different significant friendship in Sonnenberg’s life. She presents the women who have shaped her life, candidly revealing the good moments and the bad ones, the joyous connections and the friendship-ending mistakes. The “she” hanging over every story is Sonnenberg’s own mother, with whom things are difficult and complicated, to put it mildly, and so while this is a book about women friends, it is also about mothers and daughters and how our families affect the way we enter all meaningful relationships. Give this to the mom you consider among your closest friends, and encourage her to give her best friend a copy too.

Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed–Life is messy, and sometimes the only good thing to do is the really, really hard thing. Cheryl Strayed knows that terrain well. This book collects essays Strayed wrote in response to requests for advice in the Dear Sugar column at The Rumpus, and I say “essays” because what’s here is more substantial and heartfelt than anything I’ve ever encountered in an advice column or a self-help book before. Strayed tells stories from her own life–her struggles and her successes–to illustrate and explain the courses of action she recommends to her readers, making the book just as much about the power of genuine vulnerability as about figuring out what the right thing is and doing it. This one’s for introspective mothers who want to make themselves better without doing the cheesy self-help thing. Wrap it up with an extra box of tissues.

And for fun:

breastsBreasts by Florence Williams–It’s a book about boobs! What’s not to love? Williams presents a comprehensive look at the breast in American and world culture, combining science, history, philosophy, psychology, and humor. Your mom will learn about why human breasts look the way they do, how and why they do what they do, and all the crazy things humans do to them, both intentionally and unknowingly. (Bonus: the bits about the first boob job are crazy and are a surefire way to talk your mom out of her midlife consideration of plastic surgery.) Buy this one for the woman who likes to learn and wants her nonfiction to be fun and funny.






These are just a few to get you started. What books are you buying for moms this year?