2007's top-notch books range From 'Astrid...' to 'Zoli'

Book recommendations don't usually inspire bodily assault. But the other day, Daniel Goldin found himself grabbed and shaken by a woman saying, "I... Loved... This... Book."

The book in question, Astrid and Veronika, by Linda Olsson, comes out in February. Mr. Goldin, senior buyer for Harry W. Schwartz Bookshops in Milwaukee, says staffers from ages 25 to 70 have enthused about the novel, which details the friendship between two Swedish women. He is considering doubling his order.

For readers looking for a little literary companionship, 'tis most definitely the season. To help convert those holiday gift cards into satisfying reading, the Monitor polled industry experts to ask which new books they're most excited about. Whether you're looking for pure entertainment or something a little more profound, there should be a title here to pique your interest. But you might want to stand back when sharing our suggestions.

In a winter loaded with offerings from literary heavyweights such as Booker winner Roddy Doyle and Paul Auster, the most noteworthy book just might be by a first-time writer. As a 13-year-old, Ishmael Beah was nabbed by Sierra Leone's Army and forced to become one of the estimated 300,000 child soldiers fighting in conflicts worldwide. Now in his 20s, he's written a first-person account, A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier. The book, due out in February, could be a breakout hit, says Sara Nelson, editor in chief of Publishers Weekly magazine. "He is extremely well spoken and engaging, and the book is extraordinary. I just think it has all the makings." A second book about the legacy of war also made Ms. Nelson's most-notable shelf: Father of All Things: A Marine, His Son, and the Legacy of Vietnam, by Tom Bissell.

As Americans open their credit-card statements and realize it's going to take them until May to pay off Christmas, James Scurlock has a timely message. His Maxed Out: Hard Times, Easy Credit and Predatory Lenders, a companion to a documentary film of the same name, portrays unwary Americans as being chewed up in the jaws of a "relentlessly efficient and voracious machine." "It's a really well-done book," says Goldin. "It's hard with these issue books to keep a good narrative going; have all the facts; and get people excited, interested, or horrified enough to keep reading."

Coauthors Chip Heath and Dan Heath are clearly gunning for fans of Malcolm Gladwell's "The Tipping Point" with their new Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die. "I gave a copy to my wife," says Dave Weich, marketing director of Powells.com in Portland, Ore. The book doesn't just focus on fads or products, but "breaks down the elements that make an idea memorable.... It's totally accessible and very readable."

Fiction readers looking for the most pages for their buck might want to check out Vikram Chandra's new brick of a book, Sacred Games, out next week. Set in Mumbai (formerly Bombay), Chandra's 928-page novel, which tells the stories of a jaded policeman and a flamboyant gangster, is Nelson's top fiction suggestion and the No. 1 pick for January by Booksense.com, an association of independent booksellers.

But for those looking for something that they could, say, hold in one hand, Zoli, by Colum McCann also comes out next week. Mr. Weich "stumbled" upon the novel, based loosely on the life of a female Romany poet, "dove in and just loved it." The new novels by Christopher Moore and Martin Amis are also on his must-read list for the month.

Satirist Christopher Buckley ("Thank You for Smoking") has another modest proposal sure to push readers' buttons. In Boomsday, a young Washington blogger – tired of her generation having to pay for the excesses of baby boomers – suggests that they "voluntarily transition themselves to the next life," to solve the Social Security crisis, Nelson says. "It's very, very funny and strong. I am crazy about that one."

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