Christmas 2016 Book Gift Guide

Happy December, y’all. Thanksgiving is over, the Christmas tree is up, and it’s officially my favorite time of year.

Like many bookworms, I love getting books for Christmas. I also love giving books to others as gifts. But sometimes it can be hard to know what to get someone, especially if you aren’t a big reader yourself. So like the helpful person I am, I’ve made a list of some recommendations if you are looking to get someone in your life a book (or two or three) for Christmas, or any other holiday you may be celebrating.

I’ve made my recommendations based on type (poetry, fantasy, etc.) Some of these books are new releases, while others are old favorites.

Christmas gift recommendations for…

The Poetry Reader

No Matter the Wreckage by Sarah Kay

Sarah Kay is a spoken-word poet, and No Matter the Wreckage is her first (and so far, only) full-length poetry book. I’ve been a fan of Kay’s videos on YouTube for a while, and I just finally read this book a few months ago. The poems in this collection are full of emotion and many of them are incredibly relatable. Kay has a way of drawing you into the story of each poem, even the short ones. Many of these poems have stuck with me long after closing the book.

A YA High-Fantasy Fan

A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J Maas

While this book has been marketed as a young adult book, it’s more appropriate for older teens (In my opinion, probably 16 and up), and adults, as there is some pretty explicit sexual content in it, as well as in the sequel, A Court of Mist and Fury. That being said, I really enjoyed this book. It’s a retelling of Beauty and the Beast, set in a world with faeries. The protagonist, Feyre, is an incredibly strong female character. The second book in this series, A Court of Mist and Fury, is, in my opinion, even better than the first. The third and final book in the series, A Court of Wings and Ruin comes out next year, so now is the perfect time to get started on this series.

The One Who Loves the Paranormal and Magic

The Raven Boys by Maggie Steifvater

This is the first book in the Raven Cycle series, one of my favorite series of all time. It follows Blue, a non-psychic teen in a family of female psychics, and the four boys she becomes friends with: Gansey, Adam, Ronan, and Noah. Together the five of them search for the dead Welsh king Glendower. This series has magic, friendship, and romance, and it’s one of those series that is so layered it gets even better the more times you reread it. The final book in the series, The Raven King, just came out earlier this year, so after your friend reads The Raven Boys, they will be able to binge the whole series without waiting for any new books to come out (trust me, they’re going to want to).

The Writer

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott

This non-fiction, part-memoir, part writing-guide, is a great book to give to someone who wants to be a writer. Anne Lamott talks about her journey as a writer, and offers tips to those who are trying to become writers themselves. She also writes about how writing is its own reward, and how writers can find fulfillment in their work even if they don’t get published, which is an encouraging message for those who may be struggling to get their work noticed.

 

The Jane Austen Lover

If you have someone in your life that loves Jane Austen and you are willing to splurge on them, then I would highly recommend the complete Jane Austen Heirloom Collection set. My dad got me this for Christmas a couple years ago (I’m pretty sure it was on sale at the time), and they are gorgeous. Each one is hard-bound and beautifully illustrated. They will look beautiful on any book collector’s shelf.

The Romance Reader

Attachments by Rainbow Rowell

In my opinion, Attachments might be Rainbow Rowell’s most underrated books. Set at the end of 1999 and the beginning of 2000, this romance is told in large part through a series of e-mails. While this is a feel-good, happily-ever-after romance, it’s not without substance. Get this for your friend who loves romance, or for someone who has enjoyed other books by Rowell but hasn’t given Attachments a try yet.

 

Okay, I’m going to stop there, because this post could get really long if I let it. I’ll leave you with a list of a few more recs below. Let me know what you think of these books, or any others that you would recommend as gifts, in the comments, or on Twitter.

Happy reading! (And gifting)

BONUS RECOMMENDATIONS!

Wicked Lovely by Melissa Marr – The first in a six-book YA series. Faeries, paranormal, and romance.

The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson – Standalone post-apocalypse/dystopian/sci-fi with some romance. For older teens (16+).

Write About an Empty Bird Cage by Elena Ellis – Poetry

Throne of Glass by Sarah J Maas – High fantasy YA. The first in a series, with the final book due out next year. Magic and romance and also lots of emotional suffering.

Bluets by Maggie Nelson – Prose poetry/non-fiction. Meditations on the color blue. Honestly this book is kinda weird and hard to categorize, but it’s great. Maybe get it for that friends that’s kind of weird and hard to categorize.

Strange Angels by Lilith Saintcrow – First book in a five-book YA paranormal series. Kickass female protagonist that hunts ghosts, zombies, wulfen, and all manner of other dark creatures. Some romance as well.

Review: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (Script Book Edition)

When I first heard that a play would be hitting the stage in London telling the “8th story” of Harry Potter, I was both excited about the prospect and sad that I wouldn’t be able to see it. When I heard that the script of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child would be published as a book, I may or may not have almost cried with happiness.

I’ve kept this review spoiler-free, so if you haven’t read/seen the play yet, no worries!

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5 Things We Need to See More of in Young Adult Literature

I love young adult literature.

Yes, I’m 24, and no, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that! YA lit is an incredibly broad genre and there are so many different types of stories that fall underneath this category, whether you want romance, fantasy, sci-fi, or anything in between. I think there’s a certain amount of freedom that YA authors get to have when writing about and for teens that authors of more “adult” fiction just don’t get to-or won’t-take. Why that is, exactly, is a post for another day.

Despite the variety of of topics covered in Young adult literature, there is still a whole lot of room within the genre to grow. I’ve listed just a few of the places where I think there is particular room for improvement, especially within the books put out by the big publishing houses. Click below to read my list of 5 things we need to see more of in young adult literature.

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Book Review: The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson

The Summer Prince is Alaya Dawn Johnson’s first young adult novel. Set hundreds of years in the future in the imagined city of Palmares Tres in Brazil, the novel follows seventeen-year-old June Costa, a girl who calls herself “the best artist in Palmares Tres.” When June meets Enki, the newly elected Summer King and a fellow artist, they work together to create works of art the likes of which no one in their city has ever seen. Meanwhile, tension grows as more and more people push back against the government’s severe restrictions on new technology.

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Mini-Review: Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay

 

Bad Feminist is a collection of essays by Roxane Gay that covers an array of topics, including her personal thoughts on the feminist movement and why she calls herself a feminist, what it is like growing up as a woman of color, the way sexual violence is viewed in today’s society, and issues of race and politics. This book covers a lot, but Roxane Gay handles the topics with skill and intelligence.

I hadn’t read much by Roxane Gay before I picked this book up, but I had heard about her and the book sounded interesting, so after reading the free preview available on my nook, I downloaded and read the rest. I’m glad I did, because not only did Gay open my eyes to things that I hadn’t given much thought to, she articulately expressed opinions and ideas that I have had in the past, but have never been able to put into words the way she does. I especially appreciated her chapters in the beginning where she explains her idea of feminism and why she chooses to identify as a “bad feminist.” Gay writes,

I openly embrace the label of bad feminist. I do so because I am human. I am not terribly well versed in feminist history. I am not as well read in key feminist texts as I would like to be. I have certain…personality traits and opinions that may not fall in line with mainstream feminism, but I am still a feminist.”

Gay understands why some women may shy away from the term feminist, and that, like anything else, feminism has its flaws. Still, she points out that, “In truth, feminism is flawed because it is a movement powered by people and people are inherently flawed.” She reminds us that feminism is often “[held] to an unreasonable standard,” because when it does not live up to people’s expectations, they decide that “the problem is with feminism rather than with the flawed people who act in the name of the movement.” This is something that I think we could all be reminded of. I certainly needed to be.

Gay also writes deftly on the topics of gender and sexuality, and part of me feels like every essay in her “Gender and Sexuality” section should be required reading in high schools everywhere. Her essays, “The Careless Language of Sexual Violence,” “Blurred Lines, Indeed,” and “Some Jokes Are Funnier Than Others,” stand out in my mind as particularly smart looks at the ways we treat sexual violence as a society, and the detriment this has.

Of course, like any book dealing with the topics that Bad Feminist does, not everyone is going to agree with it. Nor should they, necessarily. As Gay herself writes in the first section, “I am not trying to say I have all the answers. I am not trying to say I’m right. I’m just trying—trying to support what I believe in, trying to do some good in this world.” While Bad Feminist is by no means the final word on any other the topics it covers, it is a smart, accessible addition to the conversation. I look forward to reading more from Roxane Gay in the future.

My Twilight Phase and Book Snobbery

When I was in high school I loved Twilight. Yes, I know it’s got its problems, but 16-year-old me couldn’t have cared less. I loved Bella because she was a nobody, like me. I loved that it was set in Washington, near where I grew up. I loved the idea of a magical world existing right alongside this one. I loved the idea of an average girl being swept up in that magic.

You get the idea. I loved Twilight.

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Book Review: The Ruby Circle by Richelle Mead

The Ruby Circle is the sixth and final installment in Richelle Mead’s Bloodlines series. It picks up about a month after where Silver Shadows ended. Sydney and Adrian are living in the Moroi court, the only place where they can be assured protection from the Alchemists, who are still intent on punishing Sydney for her marriage to Adrian. Meanwhile, everyone is searching for Jill, who disappeared without a trace at the end of Silver Shadows.

Like the previous two books, The Ruby Circle is told from both Adrian and Sydney’s perspective, and Mead continues to handle the dual perspective well, staying true to the inner voices of the characters that we have come to know over the past five books. We also see how Adrian’s continued hallucinations of Aunt Tatiana speaking in his head are affecting him, and how much he continues to struggle with his use of Spirit.

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Book Review: Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt

Tell the Wolves I’m Home is Carol Rifka Brunt’s debut novel, and what a debut it is. I picked this book up on a whim—I was intrigued by the title and wanted to know what it meant. What I got in return was a book of such beauty and heartbreaking emotion that I will be recommending it to anyone who will sit still long enough to listen.

The novel centers on fourteen-year-old June Elbus, who lives in New York City in 1987. June is something of a loner, a girl who spends her afternoons wandering in the woods, imagining that she is living in medieval times. Nobody understands her quiet like her uncle and godfather, Finn. But when Finn dies, a void is left in June’s life that she thinks she will never be able to fill. That is, until she receives a package from Toby, a man she has never met. The two strike up an unlikely friendship, and June soon discovers that she isn’t the only one who cared about Finn.

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Book Review: Maybe Someday by Colleen Hoover

Colleen Hoover’s Maybe Someday delivers all of the elements that I have come to expect from this bestselling author—a likeable protagonist, rounded characters, and heartbreaking conflict—as well as compelling twists that kept me hooked from start to finish. Maybe Someday begins with 22-year-old Sydney finding out that her boyfriend has been cheating on her with her best friend and roommate. The novel opens with a scene of Sydney, who finds herself to be a “purseless, crying, violent, homeless girl,” sitting in the rain with nowhere to go now that she has to leave the apartment she shared with her traitorous friend.

In the same apartment complex lives Ridge, an attractive musician who plays his guitar on his balcony almost every night, and someone that Sydney has noticed from afar. Soon, their lives are intertwined in complicated ways that neither of them could have anticipated, and they find themselves having to make some tough choices.

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Book Review: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

In his book, The Book Thief, author Markus Zusak does what many writers can be hesitant to do: tell their story through an omniscient narrator. Luckily for readers, Zusak’s choice of narrator pays off. The Book Thief begins in 1939, and follows the life of young Liesel Meminger, a German foster child living under Hitler’s reign, whose desire for knowledge leads her to steal books any chance she gets.

The omniscience of the narrator gives an original perspective on the events that unfold in Nazi Germany. Rather than tell the story through Liesel’s eyes and risk creating a biased or narrow point of view, Zusak is able to use the more unbiased omniscient narration to simply lay out the “facts.” Zusak uses the narrator to invite the readers: “If you feel like it, come with me. I will tell you a story. I’ll show you something.” And that’s exactly what happens. The reader is shown Liesel’s story, the story of one small girl, living her life amidst the greater context of the evil happening around her.

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