We've got some books, music and movies that can bring a sparkle to the people on your list.
Perhaps a bracing dose of dark humor might be a nice way to start our list, don't you think?
For book lovers on this season's gift lists, we're recommending a volume that offers just that: "The Dreaded Feast: Writers on Enduring the Holidays" (Abrams Image, 192 pages, $15.95). It's a collection of essays, short stories and poetry from some of our finest writers, both wry and dark, including Hunter S. Thompson, John Cheever, John Waters, David Sedaris and Calvin Trillin.
Changing My Mind
By Zadie Smith (Penguin Press, 320 pages, $26.95)
The author of novels "White Teeth" and "On Beauty" pens essays on British comedy, feminism, Katharine Hepburn and Obama.
House of Cards: A Tale of Hubris and Wretched Excess on
By William D. Cohan (Doubleday, 480pages, $27.95)
Cohan, a former investment banker, recounts the 10 days when Bears Stearns collapsed and the financial meltdown of 2008 began.
Strength in What Remains
By Tracy Kidder (Random House, 304 pages, $26)
Pulitzer Prize-winner Kidder tells the story of Deo, a refugee who landed in New York City after escaping genocidal civil war in Burundi. Kidder "may have just written his finest work," says The New York Times Book Review.
By Dave Eggers (McSweeney's, 342pages, $24)
Eggers recounts the government's response to Hurricane Katrina through the story of Abdulrahman Zeitoun, a Syrian-born painting contractor. A New York Times reviewer says this book will be what people turn to in 50 years when they "want to know what happened to this once-great city during a shameful episode of our history." Pam Kelley
Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned
By Wells Tower (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 256 pages, $24)
In his debut story collection, Tower, who grew up in Chapel Hill, creates a fine tension between wry humor and primal rage, says Publishers Weekly. The title story, about a Viking siege, manages to be funny and poignant.
In Other Rooms, Other Wonders
By Daniyal Mueenuddin (W.W. Norton,
256 pages, $23.95)
Mueenuddin's collection of linked stories draws a portrait of feudal Pakistan in the midst of transformation. A National Book Award finalist, the collection is likely to be the first widely read book by a Pakistani author, The Washington Post says.
By Barbara Kingsolver (Harper, 528 pages, $26.99)
Kingsolver "masterfully resurrects a dark period in American history," says Publishers Weekly, in this tale of a man pulled between two nations - the U.S. and Mexico. Pam Kelley
By Hilary Mantel (Henry Holt and Co., 560 pages, $27)
This Booker Prize-winning historical novel focuses on Henry VIII's chief minister, Thomas Cromwell, the guy who helps bring about Henry's marriage to Anne Boleyn, as well as a little thing called the English Reformation. Pam Kelley
Under the Dome
By Stephen King (Scribner, 1,088 pages, $35)
A town in Maine is suddenly enclosed by a force field. The Observer's Salem Macknee advises readers to "be prepared to dodge flying body parts and an ark's worth of dead wildlife as you follow King to the unambiguous conclusion."
The Brutal Telling
By Louise Penny (Minotaur,
384 pages, $24.99)
In this fifth installment of Penny's Armand Gamache series, Olivier Brule is a suspect in the murder of a recluse found dead in Olivier's bistro.
The Fitzgerald Ruse
By Mark de Castrique (Poisoned Pen Press, 254 pages, $24.95)
The second book in the Sam Blackman series by Charlotte's de Castrique is set in Asheville, where Blackman, an Iraq War amputee, opens a detective agency.
The Long Fall
By Walter Mosley (Riverhead, 320 pages, $25.95)
Mosley introduces a new detective series about bad-guy-turned-good Leonid McGill, a New York PI.
The Last Child
By John Hart (St. Martin's, 384 pages, $24.95)
Hart, who lives in Greensboro, delivers another satisfying thriller as 13-year-old Johnny Merrimon searches for his missing twin sister.
By Woody Holton (Free Press, 512 pages, $30)
This new biography portrays a woman who denounced sex discrimination, amassed a personal fortune (defying laws that assigned a married woman's property to her husband) and became one of the finest writers of her age.
The Secret History of a Full-Time Eater
By Frank Bruni
368 pages, $25.95)
The New York Times columnist and former restaurant critic recounts his lifetime battle with overeating.
Cheever: A Life
By Blake Bailey (Knopf, 784 pages, $35)
Bailey's access to John Cheever's family and friends, plus unpublished portions of the late writer's famous journals, helped produce this masterful biography of the "Chekhov of the suburbs."
By George Carlin with Tony Hendra (Free Press, 320 pages, $26.99)
The autobiography of the man behind some of America's best contemporary comedy.
Charlotte Then and Now
By Brandon Lunsford (Thunder Bay Press,
144 pages, $18.95)
This coffee-table book takes readers on a visual journey of Charlotte that spans more than a century. Photos juxtapose long-gone Charlotte landmarks, such as the Central Hotel and the Masonic Temple, with the buildings that have replaced them.
Justice Older Than the Law: The Life of Dovey Johnson Roundtree
By Katie McCabe and Dovey Johnson Roundtree (University Press of Mississippi, $30)
This graceful biography of Charlotte native and pioneering civil rights lawyer Dovey Roundtree immerses readers in life in segregated Charlotte. Roundtree, 95, still lives in Charlotte.
Long Story Short:
Flash Fiction by Sixty-Five of
North Carolina's Finest Writers
Edited by Marianne Gingher (University of North Carolina Press, $32 hardcover; $16 paperback)
These short-short stories, each less than 1,700 words, provide an entertaining introduction to N.C.'s rich writing talent.
The Twelve Days of Christmas
in North Carolina
By Judy Stead (Sterling, 32 pages, $12.95)
Written and illustrated by Stead of Charlotte, this picture book is one of a series retelling the 12 Days of Christmas saga in specific states. Pam Kelley
Ansel Adams In Color
By Ansel Adams; edited by Harry M. Callahan and others (Little, Brown, 168pages, $35)
An expanded edition of the only collection of color photographs by the famed landscape photographer, including previously unpublished images from his archive. Ann Allen
Atlas of the Civil War: A Comprehensive Guide to the Tactics and Terrain of Battle
By Stephen G. Hyslop (National Geographic, 256 pages, $40)
Includes color maps, informational graphics and historical overviews, organized year-by-year and battle-by-battle. Ann Allen
The Architectural History of Watauga County, North Carolina
Edited by J. Daniel Pezzoni (Watauga County Historical Society, 356 pages, $65)
Includes 600 pictures and illustrations dating to 1849, featuring mills, churches. Joanne Aldridge
Give My Poor Heart Ease:
Voices of the Mississippi Blues
By William Ferris (UNC Press, 320 pages, includes CD and DVD, $35)
This book grew from stories, music and film that William Ferris recorded in the '60s and '70s. Musicians range from B.B. King and Willie Dixon to neighborhood performers. Joanne Aldridge
Ad Hoc at Home
By Thomas Keller (Artisan, 360 pages, $50)
Keller has serious chef credentials, but he unbends and has fun in his long-awaited book on home cooking. It's mostly doable and useful for home cooks. Mostly.
By Stephane Reynaud (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 480 pages, $40)
Francophiles will love, love, love this quirky, personal tome that covers French food from meat cuts to classic recipes, even Parisian songs. These pages beg for red wine stains.
Drink This: Wine Made Simple
By Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl (Ballantine,
348 pages, $26)
Wine made simple is sometimes wine made stupid. Not here. Grumdahl's readable book is a crash course in eight basic wines that's loaded with things you need to know.
Mad Hungry: Feeding Men & Boys
By Lucinda Scala Quinn (Artisan,
267 pages, $27.95)
If you've got boys - girls, too - you'll eventually have teenagers. And you'll need a plan. A fun book of practical strategies and recipes. Kathleen Purvis
Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days
By Jeff Kinney (Amulet Books, 224 pages,
ages 9-12, $13.95)
In this continuing saga, wimpy kid Greg Heffley plans to spend his summer playing video games. His mom has other ideas.
Listen to the Wind
By Greg Mortenson, illustrated by Susan Roth (Dial, ages 4-8, 32 pages, $16.99)
Greg Mortenson, author of the best-selling "Three Cups of Tea," retells his inspiring story for children.
By Susan Gal (Knopf Books for Young Readers, ages 3-6, 32 pages, $14.99)
Beautiful illustrations are woven with the story of a child's evening routine. "A seamless bedtime story," says Kirkus Reviews.
By David A. Carter (Little Simon, ages 4-8,
20 pages, $22.99)
The New York Times calls this pop-up book "a romp through cubism and futurism, and a lesson in early-20th-century modernist formalism."
Along for the Ride
By Sarah Dessen (Viking, 383 pages, $19.99)
Auden, a high-achieving adult-acting 18-year-old, spends a life-changing summer at the beach. Dessen, hugely popular with teen girls, lives in Chapel Hill.
By Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 576 pages, $17.99)
Amazon has named this fantasy tale of star-crossed lovers, set in South Carolina, its 2009 No. 1 pick for teens.
By Libba Bray (Delacorte Books for Young Readers, 496 pages, $17.99)
Reviewers laud Bray for the surreal humor, fantasy and adventure in this story of 16-year-old Cameron, a kid with an illness that's supposed to be terminal.
Front and Center
By Catherine Gilbert Murdock (Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, 272 pages, $16)
Will Wisconsin farm girl D.J. Schwenk become a college basketball star? This is the final book in Gilbert's popular "Dairy Queen" trilogy.
As They See 'Em: A Fan's Travels in the Land of Umpires
By Bruce Weber (Scribner, 352 pages, $26)
New York Times reporter Weber profiles umpires and works games as an umpire himself in this entertaining read.
The Book of Basketball
By Bill Simmons (ESPN, 736 pages, $30)
Also known as ESPN.com's Sports Guy, Simmons offers an all-encompassing single volume that's funny, irreverent and insightful.
Hard Work: My Life On and Off the Court
By Roy Williams and Tim Crothers (Algonquin Press, 288 pages, $24.95)
Coach Roy Williams tells the story of his life. A must for Tar Heel basketball fans.
Sports in the Carolinas: From Death Valley to Tobacco Road
Edited by Ed Southern (Novello Festival Press, 260 pages, $22.95)
A satisfying nonfiction collection that will appeal to sports addicts and nonfans. Pam Kelley
The Book of Genesis Illustrated
By R. Crumb (W.W. Norton, 224 pages, $24.95)
This graphic-novel retelling of the Bible's first book is being lauded as remarkable and compelling.
By the Harvard Lampoon (Vintage, 160 pages, $13.95)
In this sendup of the mega-bestselling "Twilight" series, Belle is convinced that computer-nerd Edwart is a vampire. After all, he resists her charms.
You Can't Drink All Day If You Don't Start in the Morning
By Celia Rivenbark (St. Martin's Press, 256 pages, $24.99)
Wilmington's Rivenbark is more than funny. She's Carolina funny. Essay topics include Clay Aiken and Miss North Carolina.
By David Small (W.W. Norton & Co., 336 pages, $24.95)
Subjected to repeated X-rays as a child, Small developed cancer and was operated on without being told what was wrong. This award-winning children's book illustrator uses black-and-white pen and ink drawings to tell the painful, moving story in this graphic memoir. Pam Kelley
For young people
The Avett Brothers:
I and Love and You
The hometown heroes went to L.A. to record with producer-guru Rick Rubin (Beasties, Johnny Cash), and this is what they came back with: A set of gorgeous chamber-folk songs, indie rock and their patented hillbilly-Beatles harmonies.
Mastodon: Crack the Skye
For the hard rock fan, these Southern headbangers mix the complexity of progressive metal with the howling rage of hardcore. And they do it better than anyone around these days.
TV on the Radio: Dear Science
On their third album, hip Brooklyn experimental rockers TV on the Radio perfect their ambitious mix of indie- and prog-rock, free jazz, funk and soul, somehow creating music that even the pop fan on your list can dance to.
American Saturday Night
(Arista Nashville, $13.96)
This disc packs everything that's great about America's best contemporary country-pop singer: seductive melodies, smart lyrics and scorching guitars.
Aventura: The Last
(Sony International, $14.98)
Bronx-based outfit offers an American twist on the Dominican dance music style bachata. With guests Ludacris and Akon, the group fuses bachata with hip-hop and pop, making the Puerto Rican-born reggaetón seem so 2004.
Miles Davis: The Complete Columbia Album Collection
This set costs as much as a 32-gig iPod, but it's worth it. From the 1950s to the '80s, Miles Davis charted the course of jazz for Columbia Records, releasing 52 albums from be-bop to psychedelic funk. It's all here, on 70 CDs, a bonus DVD and 250 pages of history.
The Beatles: The Beatles Stereo Box Set
The songs on these 16 discs changed pop music forever. You know the story. Also includes mini-documentaries on the making of each album, and lots of photos and notes.
Kraftwerk: The Catalogue
Kraftwerk did for modern electronica and hip-hop what the Beatles did for pop and Miles Davis for jazz. Cool, minimal and melodic, these eight discs compile all of the German band's electronic soundscapes, from their '70s hit "Autobahn" to their pioneering 1981 "album Computer World."
Various Artists: Where the Action Is! Los Angeles Nuggets 1965-1968
Forget pop, jazz and electronic music - you have a rock fan on your list who likes it raw. This latest collection in Rhino's "nuggets" garage-rock series compiles obscure L.A.-area bands along with non-obvious stuff from more well-known acts such as The Byrds, The Beach Boys and the inimitable Captain Beefheart.
Dolly Parton: Dolly
(Sony Legacy, $49.98)
We're in the South, so a country collection is mandatory. This relatively inexpensive four-disc set compiles 100 songs, from the queen of pop-country's earliest and twangiest material (demos and songs such as the brilliant "Dumb Blonde") to her superstar years recording hits like "9-to-5."
Forrest Gump (Chocolate Box Gift Set)
(Blu-ray, $49.99; DVD, $29.98; 2 discs)
Tom Hanks' travels never looked or sounded better. Also available without candy.
True Blood: The Complete First Season
(HBO Series, $59.99)
The sexy TV series that popularized the current vampire craze.
(DVD, 3-Disc Blu-ray, $29.99-$39.99)
The back story of the Enterprise crew. Chris Pine stars as Kirk, Zachary Quinto as Spock. Via time travel, Leonard Nimoy appears as old Spock.
(Single and multi-disc DVD, Blu-ray, $29.99-$45.99)
Best movie of 2009? The adventures of Carl (voice of Ed Asner), grieving over the death of his wife, and Russell. Carl ties thousands of balloons to his house, which takes them to South America.
A Christmas Story
DVD, Blu-ray, collector's edition, $28.99-$49.99)
Hilarious story of Ralphie's (Peter Billingsley) quest for a Red Ryder air rifle waiting for him under the tree on the big morning. Comes with Christmas cookie cutters shaped after key objects in the film, more.
Gone With the Wind 70th Anniversary
Ultimate Collector's Edition
(DVD, Blu-ray multi-discs, $24.98-$84.99)
For its 70th anniversary, available for the first time on Blu-ray. Velvet keepsake box with book about the production, 10 watercolor prints of set designs, memos from producer David O. Selznick and reproduction of 1939 program.