My long list of gift ideas continues! The items on this list don’t necessarily fall into any of the other categories I’ve already talked about (picture books, middle-grade books, and adult fiction) but are all great ideas, if I do say so myself. And I do!
Campaigns and Companions: The Complete Role-Playing Guide for Pets by Andi Ewington and Rhianna Pratchett, illustrated by Calum Alexander Watt
This book made me laugh out loud. With hilarious dead-on jokes and fantastic artwork, Campaigns and Companions would be a perfect gift for anyone who enjoys TTRPGs (whether they have pets or not). Review here.
Frostbeard Studios has the best bookish candles! I have tried most of them at this point and I haven’t found a scent that I didn’t like. My favorite is Sherlock’s Study…or Winter’s Keep…or Les Cirque de Revés…or…the list keeps going. I highly recommend these candles.
I loved this beautiful graphic novel! The story was so wonderful and the illustrations are amazing. You can read my (slightly) more eloquent rave here.
You can find the most delightfully nerdy coffee on this site! From D&D-themed, to coffees featuring homages to great movies or books, you can find it all here. Check out Smugglers Coffee!
Dungeons and Dragons Starter Set
I have seen a lot of people asking how to dive into Dungeons and Dragons. While I personally prefer playing in worlds or stories created by the DM (the “Dungeon Master” is the person who runs the game), this is a good jumping off point for anyone who is a little trepidatious about diving into the deep end. It has everything you need for a campaign, including dice. Of course, you’ll end up hooked and rushing out to buy your own dice, Monster Manual, and Dungeon Master’s Guide, but you can always start here.
2021 has been an amazing year for fiction. I have read so many excellent books, any of which would make a wonderful gift. For this year’s list, I picked books that are either the first in their series (as opposed to a continuation of a series) or standalones. You can find last year’s adult recommendations here: It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas: 2020 Adult Fiction Edition.
The House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune
This is the most surprising, delightful, and heartwarming book! It is a hug in print and I loved every single moment of it. You can read more of my gushing about it here.
Paladin Unbound by Jeffrey Speight
Paladin Unbound would be an excellent gift for fans of the fantasy genre, readers who are new to fantasy, or people who play tabletop roleplaying games. Basically, it would make a great gift for 99% of the people I know (I’m still trying to convince a few friends to give fantasy a go). You can read my review here.
The Spirit Engineer by A.J. West
Loosely based on a real person and real events, this book sucked me in and kept me feverishly turning pages. It is so well written, and would be a great gift for readers who like mind-twisting, psychological reads. You can find my review here.
The Resurrectionist of Caligo by Wendy Trimboli and Alicia Zaloga
This book was so much fun! The Resurrectionist of Caligo would be perfect for readers who like a healthy dose of mystery in their fantasy. You can find my review here.
The Jasmine Throne by Tasha Suri
Complex and beautifully written, The Jasmine Throne will keep readers engrossed. This would be a great gift for fans of books that have great worldbuilding, political machinations, and twists aplenty. You can read my review here.
Book two in the Drowning Empire series, The Bone Shard Emperor was a wild ride full of action, betrayal, and heart-in-your-throat plot twists. Nothing happens as expected, and it’s fantastic.
The Bone Shard Emperor picks up soon after The Bone Shard Daughter ends. We are still following the points of view found in book one, although a few characters find themselves crossing paths. This is one of the main changes in dynamic: the new interactions. Instead of being on separate but related paths, the book slowly brings the characters into contact with each other. Some form alliances. Others…not so much.
While the world is well developed (and massive), it’s the characters that drew me in and kept me enthralled. Phalue and Ranami, now married, grapple with Phalue’s new role as governor. There are new obstacles and a new twist in their relationship: a scrawny urchin who may be hiding something. While still not my favorite points of view, Phalue and Ranami add a different angle to the story, fleshing it out well.
Meanwhile, Lin finds herself head of a kingdom that is, quite literally, drowning. I am always curious why anyone in their right mind would actually want to be in charge, so seeing her motives and the shifts in her viewpoint was fascinating. She is no longer the idealistic and motivated character she was in The Bone Shard Daughter. Instead, she is a person struggling to keep her head above the dark waters of politics, alliances, secrets she must keep, and an approaching army. From being rather ambivalent about her for the first half of book one, I have gone to eagerly reading the next part of her storyline, wondering if she can somehow hold the fraying kingdom together. I loved the combination of vulnerability and sheer stick-to-it-ness that Lin displayed. She didn’t quit, even when she really probably should have.
Jovis (and Mephi!) once again stood out as my favorite storyline, although things are a little different now. Jovis is now Lin’s Captain of the Guard, and his relationship with her is complicated, to say the least. They are both hiding big things, while at the same time trying to learn who to trust. His part of the book felt like it was always about to tip over into chaos, but never quite did. Author Andrea Stewart kept the multiple threads of his narrative held together wonderfully. Nothing was forgotten, and every action had consequences that were both far-reaching and sometimes flat-out terrifying.
Stewart has come into her own, her writing skillful and confident. The narrative flows wonderfully and the pacing is magnificent. The Bone Shard Emperor felt like a roller coaster, building up speed as it hurtles from drop to turn, turning everything on its head before plunging you straight into an astonishing confrontation. If the series continues on in this vein, it will easily become one of my favorites.
Today I’ve got some middle-grade books that would make great books! Some of them are books I’ve enjoyed this year, but the majority of them are books that my middle-grade reader loved, which means they’ve passed the “target audience” test. You can find list of middle-grade gift ideas from last year here: It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas: 2020 Middle-Grade Edition.
The Ascension Machine by Rob Edwards
This book was so much fun! There was action, adventure, a little bit of a mystery, and a great cast of characters. Plus, there’s the whole superhero college thing. You can read my review here. I think this would be a winner for most kids.
The Heroes of Olympus series by Rick Riordan
My oldest really enjoys Riordan’s writing. Although Riordan’s Egyptian-inspired series is his favorite, my oldest has loved reading the Heroes of Olympus books this year.
Little White Hands by Mark Cushen
This is the sort of book I loved when I was young. It has the magical feeling that readers get seeing Narnia for the first time, the sense of bravery and adventure found in Arthurian tales, and such wonderful characters. You can read my review here.
Wings of Fire series by Tui T. Sutherland
My oldest fell in love with this series. It became a much-discussed topic in our house, and he even had a dragon-themed birthday cake based solely on his love of these books. Based on that, I feel pretty confident in recommending them despite not having read them myself.
Amari and the Night Brothers by B.B. Alston
My oldest and I both really enjoyed this one. It is so creative! The world building is great and the main character is a delight. The sequel comes out in April and my oldest and I will be racing to see who gets to read it first. You can find my review here.
What are some middle grade books you’d recommend? Have you read any of these?
This year has been an odd one, full of unexpected plot twists. Some months dragged on forever, while others raced ahead. I’m pretty sure we skipped August completely. At any rate, we are tiptoeing closer to Christmas, and with shipping issues being what they are, now is probably a good time to start on any planned gift shopping. Here are a few picture books that are loved in my house. Any of them would be a winner under the tree. If you’d like more suggestions, you can read my list from last year here: It’s Beginning to Look a lot Like Christmas 2020 Picture Book Edition.
Nobody Likes a Goblin by Ben Hatke
We read this one with my youngest for the first time this year. It is so cute! It is the perfect length for an emerging reader, although it’s also perfect for before bed story time as well. The illustrations are adorable and the storyline is creative and fun. It follows Goblin as he sets off to rescue his best friend, Skeleton, from the evil clutches of a group of heroes.
Bach to the Rescue!: How a Rich Dude Who Couldn’t Sleep Inspired the Greatest Music Ever by Tom Angleberger, illustrated by Chris Eliopolous
My kindergartener loves historical figures. From U.S. presidents to famous writers, from authors to artists, if a person has made a mark on history, he is excited about it. This is a fun (and true!) story about Bach, written by the author of the Origami Yoda series. The pictures are zany and entertaining, and the book gets bonus points from me for adding an afterword with the historical facts.
Good Knight, Mustache Baby by Bridget Heos, illustrated by Joy Ang
The Mustache Baby books are so stinking adorable! This is the latest in the set, releasing on December seventh. I’ve already ordered a copy to give to the youngest.
Today I Feel Silly: And Other Moods that Make My Day by Jamie Lee Curtis, illustrated by Laura Cornell
My youngest has experienced a lot of changes this year, and sometimes he struggles to know the appropriate way to express himself. I wanted him to know that whatever he feels is okay, that he isn’t “bad” if he is sad or angry. Today I feel Silly! to the rescue! The pictures are so bright and energetic and there’s a little “mood wheel” at the back, which is a lot of fun.
Sir Lilypad by Anna Kemp,illustrated by Sara Ogilvie
My husband gave me a copy of this book because he knows that I love dragons in any form I can get them (I also love children’s books). I loved it! I read it to my youngest, who was equally delighted. It would be a perfect Christmas gift for any little one!
Lives of the Writers: Comedies, Tragedies (and What the Neighbors Thought) by Kathleen Krull, illustrated by Kathryn Hewitt
I’d be remiss if I didn’t include this book. It’s part of an entire series and they’ve been my youngest’s favorite books this year. They give information in an accessible and engaging way. They’d be a good gift for any nonfiction-loving little readers.
Thank you to Storytellers on Tour and the author for allowing me to join the book tour for Little White Hands. This book is available for purchase now.
For those of us who are fantasy readers, there’s that moment of wonder and anticipation when we get swept up into a new world for the first time. It’s one of the many great things about fantasy: that excitement that comes with the beginning of a new adventure. That excitement is just waiting for the reader who opens Little White Hands.
Garlan “Little White Hands” is a wonderful main character. He is a dreamer whose aspirations of knighthood seem destined to fail. He is, after all, only a kitchen hand. One of the things I loved about him is that, despite having the adventure he dreams of delivered to him, Garlan understands that there are dangers that come with it. It isn’t a game. He takes his role seriously and does his best no matter what. His interactions with others show that at his heart he is a good person, the sort of person who should be the hero in a book like this.
Garlan happens to receive the last words from a dying man- a call that sets off a quest to save everyone from an endless winter. As he journeys, he battles monstrous foes and learns about the world, and about himself. He is joined by others who help along the way. I loved Trickster, in particular. And, of course, there’s Oldface. What an incredibly creative idea for a companion!
It only took half a chapter before I was completely invested. Seeing as this book would be enjoyed by older elementary and middle grade children, a half chapter of setup is perfect. Any more than that, and there’s the risk of loss of interest from some of the more impatient readers. There was never a danger of that, as the story moved at a steady pace, with character development and further backstory coming along throughout the rest of the story.
The world was beautifully realized and utterly unique. Everything was described perfectly, with words that seemed deliberately placed to invite the imagination. Little White Hands is a great read for any older elementary/middle grader, and would be a great place to start when introducing younger readers to the wonders of the fantasy genre.
I hope this is the first of many books by this author.
Mark Cushen has loved the fantasy genre since he accidentally stumbled onto Ray Harryhausen’s stop-motion masterpiece, “Jason and the Argonauts”, while channel-hopping one Christmas-time Saturday afternoon, somewhere between the ages of 5 and 8.
Ever since then he has been obsessed with stories of sword-wielding heroes battling monsters in fantastical lands, and is now attempting to create his own. Little White Hands is the first of (hopefully) many.
Thank you to the author for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. Odyssey: The Reboot is available for purchase now.
Odyssey: The Reboot: A Hooligan’s Tale is that wonderful mix of completely irreverent and smart that is so hard to find. I loved author Keith Tokash’s take on the Iliad (review here), and he continues in fine form here. The thing about “classics” such as the Odyssey is that they’re ripe for parody. There’s nothing like lovingly poking fun at a timeless tale that is pretty much required reading for every junior high school student. Tokash uses the classic to craft a fast-moving “true story” about the events of the Odyssey and it is hilarious.
Once again, Gelios (the cousin of Homer) crashed through an epic, causing mayhem. Gelios was pretty much born with his foot in his mouth, yet he is also somehow endearing. He’s a fantastic main character and reading the shenanigans he finds himself in was so much fun!
The writing is snappy, the humor is dry and witty, and the story is a blast. The author has taken everything that worked well in his first book (which was pretty much everything) and somehow made it even better. You don’t need to read Iliad: The Reboot to enjoy this book, although I highly recommend it. In a year (decade?) where humor is as good as gold, Odyssey: TheReboot: A Hooligan’s Tale delivers. Go ahead and grab both books; you’ll thank me.