2004 Holiday Gift Guide








crime fiction

art & culture

children's books







America Discovered: A Historical Atlas of North American Exploration
by Derek Hayes
Published by Douglas & McIntyre
224 pages, 2004

We want to know how he does it. Against all odds, every couple of years, Derek Hayes comes up with huge, luscious books documenting the history of various aspects of our world through historical maps and charts. The most recent, America Discovered: A Historical Atlas of North American Exploration, promises to be his most widely appealing yet, if for no other reason than there are more people deeply interested in the area he covers in this book than, say Historical Atlas of the Pacific Northwest and Historical Atlas of the Arctic. What's special here, too, is the way Hayes has organized his material. It's like seeing North America revealed a little bit at a time: a magic act organized by the earliest European explorers to North American shores. The historical maps and charts reproduced here would alone be worth the price of admission, but they're accompanied by Hayes' expert but lucid explanations. Hayes has created another wonderful addition to the armchair historian's library, once again bringing history unexpectedly to life through historical cartography.

Anna May Wong
by Graham Russell Gao Hodges
Published by Palgrave Macmillan
284 pages, 2004

Anna May Wong was the biggest star you never heard of. Though she starred in 60 films over a 40 year period alongside the likes of Lon Chaney, Myrna Loy, Douglas Fairbanks and Marlene Dietrich -- with whom it's thought Wong had an affair -- American film history has gone out of its way to forget her. Graham Russell Gao Hodges, author of Anna May Wong: from Laundryman's Daughter to Hollywood Legend, writes: "She is left out of standard books on women of silent film and omitted in memoirs and biographies of better-known actors. When she is recalled, Anna May is burdened by a reputation as someone willing to undertake roles degrading to her people." But, Hodges argues, "Anna May Wong established a reputation for a high level of professionalism, personal grace and charm, and an unmatched film presence." If the tone of Hodges' book is occasionally ponderous, we have to forgive him: this professor of history at Colgate University brings us a complete look into the life of a forgotten screen legend. -- Lincoln Cho

Book Lust: Recommended Reading for Every Mood, Moment and Reason
by Nancy Pearl
Published by Sasquatch Books
288 pages, 2003

Since this was released so late last year, let's cheat and count it as 2004 title. And what a work it is, chock-full of fabulous book suggestions and literary lore. Book Lust is as close to the perfect present as any reader would wish to receive this holiday season. Seattle librarian Nancy Pearl obviously knows whereof she speaks, and has put together a witty, fun-filled compendium of her favorite volumes, guaranteed to fit any reading taste. Her broad appetites are evident in her chapter titles: "Lost Weekends," "Our Primates, Ourselves," "I Love a Mystery," "California Here We Come," "Girls Growing Up," "Do Clothes Make the Man (or Woman)?," "Dinosaur Hunting," "Les Crimes Noir," "Western Memoirs," "Russian Heavies" and "Australian Fiction." Paging through Book Lust is a nice way to check out some writers you might not have previously discovered. For instance, under the eclectic heading "Too Good to Miss," she lists: Jonathan Lethem, Lewis Nordan, Ward Just, Rex Stout, Robert Heinlein, Connie Lewis, Eric Kraft and others, each writer receiving a few paragraphs of enthusiastic endorsement. Ms. Pearl is obviously an omnivorous consumer of noteworthy literature, and aren't we lucky? Oh, and just out is a companion, 2005 Book Lust calendar. Perfect. -- Yvette Banek

The Cruise of the Vanadis
by Edith Wharton
Published by Rizzoli
221 pages, 2004

Though the lost manuscripts of great writers often deliver little beyond disappointment, Edith Wharton's recovered The Cruise of the Vanadis completes the Wharton library, reminding us of why this author of over 40 novels was one of the most esteemed writers of her generation. In the winter of 1888 when she was a young bride of 26, Wharton told her cousin-in-law, James Van Alen, that she would give anything to go on a cruise of the Mediterranean. In her memoirs, Backward Glance, Wharton writes that Van Alen responded, "You needn't do that if you'd let me charter a yacht and come with me." Wharton kept a diary on the trip that wasn't uncovered until 1991 when Claudine Lesage was doing research on Joseph Conrad. When Lesage read the manuscript pages, she was overwhelmed. "I cherished the strange circumstances which had given me such a privilege; I now know how a miser would feel when contemplating his cassette..." Photographer Jonas Dovydenas retraced the steps of Wharton's trip with his camera. The resulting images flesh out the young Wharton's spare descriptions, creating a package that should prove irresistible to fans and scholars of Wharton's work. -- Monica Stark

The Dog Owner's Manual
by Dr. David Brunner and Sam Stall
Published by Quirk Books
222 pages, 2004

Though there is little new or completely groundbreaking in The Dog Owner's Manual, David Brunner and Sam Stall's primer for dog owners -- and would-be dog owners -- is engagingly enough written and cleverly enough packaged to make this a good choice for the stuffing of a stocking. As the title suggests, The Dog Owner's Manual is set up very much like the manual that comes with a car and the text supports this feeling. From the opening chapters: "Whether you have just acquired a new dog or are contemplating getting one, congratulations. This products' legendary utility has inspired unprecedented customer loyalty among humans of every culture, age, and locale. With proper care and maintenance, it can accomplish almost any task its owner cares to assign."

Field Guide to Tools: How to Identify and Use Virtually Every Tool at the Hardware Store
by John Kelsey
Published by Quirk Books
312 pages, 2004

Everybody knows the guy -- or knows someone who knows the guy -- who has spent a fortune buying every tool he can think of, but has no idea how to use half of them and who would, in a pinch, even have trouble naming them all. Field Guide to Tools would help anyone avoid that fate. Essentially a tiny encyclopedia -- it would fit handily into most holiday stockings -- it covers every aspect of home handypersonship tool by tool by tool. And so, under home decorating, you can find a stepladder and a putty knife, a random orbit sander, a paint pad and a great deal more. Sections on garden and yard; electrical and electronic; carpentry and building; woodworking; fasteners; plumbing; and mechanical and automotive are all covered. There's also a very good index so you don't have to dig through the whole book to find the single tool you want an explanation for. Ditto a thick center section with color photos of a great many tools that functions as a visual index, allowing wannabe tool users to simply look for the picture that matches their unidentified tool.


Goodbooks Lately
by Ellen Moore and Kira Stevens
Published by HarperCollins
348 pages, 2004

For the last half decade or so, book clubs have been helping to change the face of reading. Traditionally an activity that's done in isolation, the book club offers reading a more social aspect. Ellen Moore and Kira Stevens' Goodbooks Lately is meant to function as a book club's backbone. It covers all aspects of the modern book club: how to set one up, what to do when you get a group together, how to choose material and even how to continue operating through personality disconnects. As anyone who has been involved with a book club will tell you, it all sounds terribly simple, but there's a great deal involved in being part of a successful book club. Moore and Stevens have looked at all aspects and packaged it neatly, concisely and informatively in their book as they have on the Good Books Lately Web site.

Hatchet Jobs and Hardball: The Oxford Dictionary of American Political Slang
edited by Grant Barrett
Published by Oxford University Press
320 pages, 2004

If you want proof that U.S. politicians and the too-obsequious political press that observes them have grown distanced from "reality-based" voters, you have only to study the jargon they jointly employ. Belligerati? Minarchist? Graymail? It's almost as if our government representatives want to keep something from us, so they've cooked up their own nomenclature that can be used to explain things without actually revealing anything ... and the best bafflegabbing bureaucrat wins! Consider it an estimable service, then, that lexicographer Grant Barrett has done by collecting all of this highfalutin gobbledygook into a single, sly, often funny volume, Hatchet Jobs and Hardball. Now, you'll be able to tell your feminazis from your libbers, your piebiters from your gutfighters, and your oppos from your pinkos. Barrett also includes here handy guides to the evolution of -gate as a scandalizing suffix (Halliburtongate, Iraqgate, etc.), the well-hung etymology of that Election 2000 term chad, and the cynical use of acronyms in naming congressional bills (USA-PATRIOT Act, anyone?). The ideal present for those many spinsters, glad-handers and wonks on your holiday list. -- J. Kingston Pierce

The Man Who Would Be King: The First American in Afghanistan
by Ben Macintyre
Published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
368 pages, 2004

In the pantheon of 19th-century American folk heroes, none may be more thoroughly forgotten, or more worth recalling in our own era of imperialist-wannabes, than Josiah Harlan. Born a Quaker in 1799, and raised a Freemason, the heavy-bearded Harlan fled a failed romance and faked his way into service as a surgeon with the British East India Company. After participating in a military invasion of Burma, Harlan -- full of hubris, and anxious to follow in the footsteps of his hero, Alexander the Great -- turned soldier of fortune, agreeing to help a deposed and exiled Afghan king, Shah Shujah al-Moolk, regain his thrown. In exchange, Shujah would make Harlan his vizier, or effective ruler of his kingdom. So, with this royal benison, Harlan set off from India in 1827 at the head of a motley army, bound for Kabul. Sound familiar? It's probably because Rudyard Kipling reportedly took Harlan's tale as the basis for his 1888 short story, "The Man Who Would Be King," which John Huston turned into a movie (starring Sean Connery and Michael Caine) in 1975. But when journalist Ben Macintyre, who'd covered Afghanistan for the London Times from 1989 to 91, set out to learn the truth about Harlan -- ultimately unearthing this empire builder's long-lost memoir -- he realized that not even the expanse of Kipling's prose could accommodate the extraordinariness of Harlan's life. The Man Who Would Be King is a challenging read at times, with too many similarly named characters and a redundancy of political intrigues (often resulting in the losers relinquishing vital body parts). And Macintyre quotes rather too liberally from Harlan's flowery journal. Yet, this remains an absorbing and exotic adventure. Realizing he was short of firepower, the American filibuster soon abandoned his rebellion against Shujah's usurper, instead ingratiating himself with the devotedly debauched maharajah of Punjab, for whom he served as a military adviser and district governor, before being expelled for allegedly counterfeiting money from alchemized gold. Harlan later led (on elephant-back, no less) an army against a refractory warlord in northern Afghanistan, and was just about to make that region his personal principality, when British expeditionary forces foiled his plans. Disheartened, Harlan retreated to the States, married, sought to introduce camels into the American West, led a mutinous regiment during the Civil War, and finally returned to doctoring, this time in San Francisco, where he died in 1871, unmourned. Macintyre, whose taste for historical eccentrics already produced The Napoleon of Crime: The Life and Times of Adam Worth, Master Thief (1997), is no jaded biographer. Thank goodness, for The Man Who Would Be King wouldn't be half as good were it not told with a wide-eyed amazement at the scope of it all. -- J. Kingston Pierce

Monarch Butterflies: Saving the King of the New World
by Phil Schappert
Published by Key Porter Books
113 pages, 2004

Who can help but wonder at the life cycle of what is arguably the most beautiful butterfly of all, the monarch? In the preface to The Monarch Butterfly: Saving the King of the New World, author Phil Schappert details in wonder. "Imagine, if you can, an entire generation of butterflies that undertake a journey en masse covering up to 4500 km (2800 mi) or more -- to a place they've never been -- in a last-ditch effort to avoid the travails of winter." Schappert is a recognized lepidopterist with the University of Texas at Austin and a charter member of the North American Butterfly Association. Schappert knows his butterflies. And it shows. Monarch Butterflies is affectionately and informatively written. Though it is well-illustrated with many color photos and some maps and charts, this is not a coffee table book. Rather it is an absolute handbook to the Monarch. One gets the feeling that, if Schappert hasn't covered it here, it's probably not worth knowing.

The Museum Called Canada: 25 Rooms of Wonder
by Charlotte Gray
Published by Random House Canada
707 pages, 2004

Bestselling author and adjunct research professor in the department of history at Carleton University, Charlotte Gray, clearly knows how to write about Canada's history. She's done it numerous times before, with compelling, award-winning and bestselling results. Flint and Feather: The Live and Times of E. Pauline Johnson and Sisters in the Wilderness: The Lives of Susanna Moodie and Catherine Parr Trail might be her best known books, but there have been others, as well. All sterling. However nothing Gray has done before has been as ambitious as The Museum Called Canada. Though the work is encyclopedic in nature, The Museum Called Canada is not an encyclopedia, nor even very much like a history book. Rather it's more like a unimaginably huge art project, successfully stuffed between the covers of a fat and well-produced book. "Things," Gray writes in her introduction. "There is so much story in things, and not only those that have a personal relevance. Whether they are natural objects, such as pebbles or bones, or artifacts such as teapots, maps, or feather bonnets, things allow us to engage with history in a way that is far more immediate than the abstract connection offered by the written word." The Museum Called Canada is a tactile wonder. And all on the printed page.

The New Best of Fine Woodworking: Volume 1
Published by Taunton
Six Volume Box Set, 154 pages each volume

For the professional cabinetmaker or even the weekend woodworker you couldn't do much better than The New Best of Fine Woodworking: Volume 1. From the same company who publish the magazine Fine Woodworking, this boxed set of six books covers six separate topics: Working With Routers, Designing and Building Cabinets, Designing Furniture, Traditional Finishing Techniques, Small Woodworking Shops and Building Small Projects. Culled from the best articles published in the magazine and written by some of the finest experts on the topic of woodworking, each book is laid out with clear step-by-step instructions and easy-to-follow illustrations and directions. For the pro these books will help refine technique and style. For the amateur Best of Fine Woodworking offers timeless and invaluable advice and will no doubt create more than a few carpentarial epiphanies. -- David Middleton

1912: Wilson, Roosevelt, Taft & Debs -- The Election That Changed the Country
by James Chase
Published by Simon & Schuster
336 pages, 2004

In the run-up to November's disastrous U.S. presidential election, a variety of excellent histories were published dealing with past such contests, including Happy Days Are Here Again, Steve Neal's account of Franklin D. Roosevelt's 1932 campaign for the White House, and a pair of books recalling the tumultuous election of 1800: Adams vs. Jefferson, by John Ferling, and Jefferson's Second Revolution, by Susan Dunn. My personal favorite, though, if only because it deals with such a distinctive mix of personalities, has to be James Chace's 1912. Instead of two major candidates, Americans were faced in that year with four, all of whom thought they'd be the best stewards of the nation's destiny, and two of whom had already helped shape it. Three years before, Republican Theodore Roosevelt had vacated the Oval Office in favor of his secretary of war, William Howard Taft. But Taft, a former Ohio judge who actually aspired to become chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, lacked TR's great exuberance for the presidency and his skills at uniting the country behind him. Though the corpulent Taft agreed to seek re-election in 1912, he knew he was vulnerable. So did Democrat Woodrow Wilson, a former Princeton University president who'd gone on to turn his reformist theories into legislative accomplishments as the governor of New Jersey. Despite fervent opposition from bigger names within his party, Wilson won the Democratic nomination and looked forward to facing Taft. But he had other competition, too. As a result of several disagreements with Taft over foreign policy and the handling of conservation issues, Roosevelt -- not yet 50 and still wildly popular -- decided to challenge his successor. He initially sought the Republican nomination, but after failing in that, TR and his progressive backers bolted and organized the Progressive, or Bull Moose, party. Taft, who'd made the mistake of splitting the GOP by siding too often with its conservative wing, was doomed politically. The real contest was between the articulate Wilson and the dynamic Roosevelt, both of whom ran on progressive platforms and espoused grand political philosophies -- areas where the fourth candidate in this contest, Socialist Party standard-bearer Eugene V. Debs, also hoped to find support. As the election neared, clashes between these four giants (as well as some peculiar events, including an assassination attempt on Roosevelt in Wisconsin) not only entertained, but enlightened the American electorate. Every student of political history knows the end of this story: Wilson won, and went on to serve two full but sometimes troubled terms; Roosevelt came in second, the last third-party candidate to achieve such a showing, and died in 1919 -- as Republicans were again planning to run him for president; Taft earned a distant third place, but he was compensated in 1921 by finally being appointed as the Supreme Court's chief justice; and though Debs came in fourth (and was later imprisoned, stupidly, for sedition), his 6 percent of the popular vote was the greatest ever scored by a Socialist contender for the White House. As dramatic as the history of this campaign was, Chace insists that its real importance was the lasting influence it had on America's generally two-party system. "1912," he writes in his prologue, "introduced a conflict between progressive idealism ... and conservative values" that has not only divided the nation ever since, but left the GOP struggling between "reform and reaction," conservatives against moderates. When there might be another realignment of U.S. politics is anyone's guess. But let's hope it's soon. -- J. Kingston Pierce

No Man's River
by Farley Mowat
Published by Key Porter Books
355 pages, 2004

Students of Canada's North and fans of the venerable Farley Mowat will enjoy No Man's River, a new work of non-fiction by one of Canada's best read -- and best loved -- authors. No Man's River tells Farley's own story of a scientific expedition he took to the north in 1947 where he was based at Windy Post in northern Manitoba. His experience at Windy Post came at a time when the traditional Inuit lifestyle was coming to a terrible end with the introduction of disease, the decrease in the population of the Caribou and the indifference of the Canadian government to the plight that they had inadvertently wrought. But this is Farley Mowat and so this poignant tale is engagingly -- occasionally even brightly -- told in his distinctive, conversational style that shows no sign of fading over five decades into his formidable career as a writer. -- Monica Stark

Off The Cuff: The Essential Style Guide for Men and the Women Who Love Them
by Carson Kressley
Published by Dutton
168 pages, 2004

It hasn't taken long for Carson Kressley's face to become exceedingly familiar. As the voice of men's fashion on the hit television show Queer Eye For the Straight Guy, Kressley cheerfully proclaims on what is fabulous and what is not in fashion for men. Kressley is the first to admit that knowing what to wear can be a confusing business for men. These days, he says, learning how to dress "would be like if you were trying to learn to make a cheese omelet and the only guidance you were given was, 'Okay, here are 90 million ingredients, Make something tasty and delicious.'" With all of the choice, what's a guy to do? Well, for starters, call Kressley. "I'm here," he writes, "I'm queer, and I can help you." Think of it: this book might be a better investment than a sweater ever could be.

by Richard Havers
Published by DK
304 pages, 2004

Frank Sinatra is a world unto himself. And Sinatra proves that point beautifully. A deluxe, detailed portrait of the man in words and images, this book is an expertly assembled pastiche of memorabilia and remembrance. The book tracks the Sinatra saga from boyhood to the Rat Pack to Chairman of the Board with images of every description: record covers, posters, film stills, on-set photos, backstage shots, sheet music, magazine covers and more -- all packed in signature DK style. You name it and it's probably here. Plus, there are album track lists, tour dates, profiles of Sinatra's colleagues and sidekicks, a look at his relationship with JFK, profiles of his movies and on and on. Sinatra is one of the few performers who even deserves this kind of adoration (The Beatles get their own similar book, also from DK) and this book pulls no punches. It's an awe-inspiring collection that's as fascinating as the man himself. -- Tony Buchsbaum

There Is A Season: A Memoir in a Garden
by Patrick Lane
Published by McClelland & Stewart
309 pages, 2004

"I stood alone among the yellow glacier lilies and the windflowers of spring, the western anemone, their petals frail disks of trembling clotted cream." A memoir from an esteemed poet can be a beautiful thing. Here one of Canada's greatest living poets, a previous Governor General's Award winner and the author of more than 20 books of poetry brings us his life, as viewed through the lens of his garden. An accomplished greenthumb, Lane sees his life as being connected to that of his garden. And, as he shows us in There Is A Season, when he was recovering from years of alcoholism, he found strength and solace in the growing things he tended in his yard. There Is A Season is a lovely book: rare and raw and real. It verifies Lane's reputation as a master. -- India Wilson


Trespass Against Us: Dow Chemical & The Toxic Century
by Jack Doyle
Published by Common Courage Press
486 pages, 2004

In case your holiday season has just been a little too cheery and you want to take the volume down a notch, Trespass Against Us is an alarming and enlightening book that you won't want to miss but might make you sorry you ever picked it up. The first paragraph of the introduction sets the tone for the whole book: "The Dow Chemical Company has been trespassing on private property for decades, crossing private boundary lines without the owner's permission. The boundary lines being crossed are unseen for the most part and the property is personal, even sacrosanct. For what is being violated is the biological common, or rather, 'all of us,' one-celled and many-celled; paramecium and orangutan; Mom, Dad, and the kids." Author Jack Doyle, a Washington-based investigative journalist and consultant, writes with the verve and venom of a man who is mad as hell and not going to take it anymore. He writes about Dioxin; the nerve poison insecticide Dursban; leaky silicone breast implants; Agent Orange and a whole lot of other disturbing stuff, variously -- as you'll have guessed -- Dow connected.

The Tribe Has Spoken: Life Lessons from Reality TV
by David Volk
Published by Andrews McMeel Publishing
160 pages, 2004

OK, right off the bat let's accept that "reality TV" isn't realistic at all. I mean, gathering together a dozen or more people on an island someplace, or in a boardroom, and demanding that they demonstrate leadership or survival skills -- while the cameras roll -- doesn't happen to most of us every day, or even any day. And who among us would really trust a bunch of mocking gay guys to remake our lives? No, these are entertainment shows on the cheap and cheeky, designed to boost our egos because we know we wouldn't make the same mistakes as the folks we watch weekly on the screen. Still, as Seattle humorist David Volk demonstrates in The Tribe Has Spoken, there is the possibility of some accidental wisdom slipping through in these series. Fashion advice from What Not to Wear: "If I had a dollar for every time somebody told me, 'Oh, yeah, black, it's slimming.' Black is only slimming if it fits correctly." Career guidance from Average Joe: "Some people want to be doctors, some people want to be lawyers. I want to be a weatherman. I even have a name picked out. Jason Storm." And even some hard-won common sense from The Anna Nicole Show: "People asked me if I ever learned anything when I was a stripper. Yes, I did. One man plus two beers equals $20." Sometimes, of course, the lesson isn't obvious, which is when Volk steps in to translate. Take this example from The Newlyweds: "'I made a deal with her. I said, if you cook, then I'll be the one to do the dishes. Well, so she'd have a bowl of cereal and leave the dish in the sink.' ... Lesson: When you make a deal to split chores with a spouse, make sure you read the fine print first." Although we may be quite confident that The Osbournes, The Amazing Race and The Simple Life represent society's lowest points (hey, there's a reason it's called "the boob tube"), it's hard not to chuckle when Ashton Kutscher explains dating etiquette on Punk'd: "Advice to all women: Never compliment the ex-boyfriend. I don't care if you were dating Jesus Christ's brother, Ricky Christ, he wasn't a good guy; that's what you say." Lesson: Reality ain't what it used to be. -- J. Kingston Pierce

What We've Lost: How the Bush Administration Has Curtailed Our Freedoms, Mortgaged Our Economy, Ravaged Our Environment, and Damaged Our Standing in the World
by Graydon Carter
Published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
352 pages, 2004

Presenting his case that George W. Bush has been a disastrous leader for the United States, longtime Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter begins his book, What We've Lost, with a single important decision: Bush's unilateral move in 2003 to wage a "war of choice" against Iraq. "In making his final decision ...," Carter writes, "Bush did not seek the advice of his father, a veteran of World War II and former president who had gone to battle with the same foe a decade earlier. Nor did he seek the overall final recommendation of his secretary of state, or of his secretary of defense, the only men in his cabinet who had been decorated for military service in wartime with the medals befitting a national hero. Instead ... he consulted his God, a God that the president presumes takes sides in disputes between peoples." Such recklessness, Carter declares, has led not only to a decline of America's standing in the world, but a decline as well in the nation's economic vitality and promotion of individual freedoms. The same administration that's continually trumpeting liberties and prosperity internationally is trumping both domestically -- championing legislation that allows for secret arrests and gives more leeway to intelligence-gathering agencies, and that shifts the greatest burden of taxation from the wealthy to the working class. While Bush insists that he's strengthening education, protecting the environment and enhancing the country's reputation abroad, Carter contends that he's instead undermining all of them. In this, he echoes Senator John Kerry, who earlier this year decried Bush's efforts to say one thing while doing the opposite, cynically trusting in voters to be just as stupid as his Republican handlers claimed they were. There are times when What We've Lost almost clobbers readers with its encyclopedic information (about job losses, the deceptions leading to the conflict in Iraq and the failure to properly protect the troops, and efforts -- both over and under the radar -- to pack courts with right-wing ideologues). But amid the sizable accounting of Bush scandals, abuses and examples of either ignorance or arrogance, Carter proves his contention that "America's reputation for strength and justness, which has taken more than two centuries to establish, has been rent asunder by a single administration." And all under the aegis of a politician who professed to be a "uniter and not a divider." Of the numerous Bush-bashing texts published this year, What We've Lost may be among the few with staying power. But it is also one book I don't look forward to seeing updated. -- J. Kingston Pierce


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2004 Holiday Gift Guide