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Procrastinate no more

Books that make great Christmas gifts

By CNN Interactive Writer
Jamie Allen

ATLANTA (CNN) -- Now that we've successfully procrastinated to "last-minute" status in our Christmas shopping, it's time to consider the most reliable of all presents: the book.

Sure, it's the easiest gift to buy: it's original (because authors are, for the most part, creative people) and it says you care about the giftee enough to give them something to expand their mind.

But there's more than just the best-sellers list to consider. As you'll see below, we've taken the time to browse bookshelves and uncover some entertaining writes that span the spectrum of interest.

Feliz fiction

Have a friend with varied reading tastes? "Legends," a new book edited by Robert Silverberg, could satisfy them in one shot. The book is 715 pages of new short novels by some of the most popular writers today: Stephen King, Terry Pratchett, Terry Goodkind, Orson Scott Card, Ursula K. Le Guin, Tad Williams, George R.R. Martin, Anne McCaffrey, Raymond E. Feist, Robert Jordan and Silverberg.

William Horwood received praise for his first two sequels to the Kenneth Grahame classic "The Wind in the Willows," and now he's back again with another installment. "The Willows and Beyond" takes readers down a familiar path with the characters Mr. Toad, Mole, Otter and the rest of the gang as they fight against the industrialization of their river home.

Guy Johnson, the son of Dr. Maya Angelou, has made his fiction debut with "Standing at the Scratch Line". The novel set in the early 1900s is billed as a history of black America through the eyes of King Tremain, a character whose credo is, "I came to kill."

Best-selling author Richard Paul Evans returns with "The Locket." Billed as a sensitive portrayal of aging in America, the story revolves around the relationship between a young man and a reclusive nursing home resident. Evans warmed hearts with "The Christmas Box," written as an expression of love for his daughters. It stayed on the New York Times best-seller list for 26 weeks. "The Locket," Evans says, was spawned from his own experiences with an elderly woman he met through a high school assignment.

Tales to tell

Everybody loves a good ghost story. "Great Ghost Stories" provides them with thirteen howlingly good scares, including: "The Red Room" by H.G. Wells, "The Others," by Joyce Carol Oates, "The Monkey's Paw" by W.W. Jacobs and "The Judge's House" by Bram Stoker.

For those not in the ghoulish spirit but who still appreciate a good yarn, "A Family Treasury of Myths from Around the World" is an enjoyable alternative. The book is aimed for young readers, but anyone who appreciates mythology will enjoy this collection. The classic tale of Romulus and Remus and how everyone's favorite city in Italy came to be called Rome is included, along with treasured myths from places as diverse as Japan, Senegal and India.

A cousin of the myth, the folk tale is the entertaining hybrid of fact and fiction. In "American Folk: Classic Tales Retold," author Charles Sullivan retells some favorites: "George Washington and the Cherry Tree," "Jesse James and the Widow," "Rip Van Winkle," and "Rosie the Riveter" are some of the diverse selections.

Culinary reads

"The Joy of Cooking" has been a perennial best-seller for years, and now it's expanding into cyberspace. The book is now in CD-ROM form, with some handy additions for the computer cook. Along with recipes and cooking tips that have made the book a mainstay on household bookshelves, "The Joy of Cooking" CD-ROM also offers a program that lets you add and organize your own recipes, as well as computerized menu planners and shopping lists.

Following up on his successful kitchen treasures "From a Monastery Kitchen" and "Twelve Months of Monastery Soups," Brother Victor-Antoine d'Avila-Latourrette, who lives and works at a New York state monastery, reveals a new culinary retreat -- this time to the garden. "Fresh from a Monastery Garden" gives over 200 vegetable recipes, from asparagus to zucchini, that are suitable for occasions casual and formal.

Got a wine lover on your list, or perhaps someone who doesn't know the difference between merlot and cabernet sauvignon? The resource book "Best Wines: Great Discoveries amd Bargain Gems" could be a choice gift. Written by Gail Bradney, the book is accessible alternative to those outside "the wine snob culture." It focuses on the best wines for your buck -- under $15, in all varieties (cabernets, chardonnays, merlots, blushes, pinot noir, etc). But the book is also a simple education for the vintage-challenged. Bradney spends extra time revealing everything you need to know about the art of the grape.

Rome in a day

Sir David Attenborough has turned his documentarian eye to the skies in his latest book, "The Life of Birds", which is based on a ten-part series that will air on PBS in 1999. The book, filled with spectacular photography that will fascinate any bird lover, considers the bird kingdom as a marvel of behavior and world colonization, from the soaring albatross to the extinct dodo.

Know a curious soul who is interested in learning more about the way things work? "The Way Life Works" is billed as a scientific guide to how life grows, develops, reproduces and gets along. Clever cartoon illustrations help explain difficult subjects made easy. From sex to DNA, the book is a handbook to the how and why of our existence.

For jet-setting friends, or those who wish they were, "Rome 360 Degrees," the follow-up to the New York and Venice editions of the same concept, is an expanded take on coffee table books. Offering unfolding pages of detailed panoramic shots from favorite Rome destinations like the Trevi Fountain, the Coliseum, or any of the city's fame piazzas, the book brings readers into the Rome experience, without ever leaving the couch.

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