It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas 2022- Adult Edition

Coming up with this list was incredibly difficult! I love giving books as gifts, but I have a tendency to pick ones that I think will appeal specifically to the person I am shopping for. However, there are a few that I think will be great gifts for the majority of my friends. I’ve included some that I would love to receive myself (assuming I don’t already own them). You can find my previous lists here: 2021, 2020.

Empire of Exiles by Erin M. Evans

The empire moved on. 

Now, when Quill, an apprentice scribe, arrives in the capital city, he believes he’s on a simple errand for another pompous noble: fetch ancient artifacts from the magical Imperial Archives. He’s always found his apprenticeship to a lawman to be dull work. But these aren’t just any artifacts — these are the instruments of revolution, the banners under which the Duke lead his coup. 

Just as the artifacts are unearthed, the city is shaken by a brutal murder that seems to have been caused by a weapon not seen since the days of rebellion. With Quill being the main witness to the murder, and no one in power believing his story, he must join the Archivists — a young mage, a seasoned archivist, and a disillusioned detective — to solve the truth of the attack. And what they uncover will be the key to saving the empire – or destroying it again. (Taken from Amazon)

Good gravy, I loved this book! The writing is phenomenal and the magic system is breathtaking. This would make an excellent book for a reader who is experienced in fantasy and loves being sucked into a book. Just don’t expect to hear from them until they’ve finished: it’s too engrossing. Review

The Shadow Glass by Josh Winning

Jack Corman is failing at life.
 
Jobless, jaded and on the “wrong” side of thirty, he’s facing the threat of eviction from his London flat while reeling from the sudden death of his father, one-time film director Bob Corman. Back in the eighties, Bob poured his heart and soul into the creation of his 1986 puppet fantasy The Shadow Glass, a film Jack loved as a child, idolising its fox-like hero Dune.
 
But The Shadow Glass flopped on release, deemed too scary for kids and too weird for adults, and Bob became a laughing stock, losing himself to booze and self-pity. Now, the film represents everything Jack hated about his father, and he lives with the fear that he’ll end up a failure just like him.
 
In the wake of Bob’s death, Jack returns to his decaying home, a place creaking with movie memorabilia and painful memories. Then, during a freak thunderstorm, the puppets in the attic start talking. Tipped into a desperate real-world quest to save London from the more nefarious of his father’s creations, Jack teams up with excitable fanboy Toby and spiky studio executive Amelia to navigate the labyrinth of his father’s legacy while conjuring the hero within––and igniting a Shadow Glass resurgence that could, finally, do his father proud. (Taken from Amazon)

The Shadow Glass would be the perfect gift for people who grew up loving The Labyrinth or The Dark Crystal. It’s an urban fantasy with fantastic nostalgia lacing throughout. The character development is amazing and anyone lucky enough to receive this book will be cheering by the end. Review

Dragonlance Destinies: Dragons of Deceit by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman

Destina Rosethorn—as her name implies—believes herself to be a favored child of destiny. But when her father dies in the War of the Lance, she watches her carefully constructed world come crashing down. She loses not only her beloved father but also the legacy he has left her: the family lands and castle. To save her father, she hatches a bold plan—to go back in time and prevent his death.

First, she has to secure the Device of Time Journeying, last known to be in the possession of the spirited kender Tasslehoff Burrfoot. But to change time, she’ll need another magical artifact—the most powerful and dangerous artifact ever created. Destina’s quest takes her from the dwarven kingdom of Thorbardin to the town of Solace and beyond, setting in motion a chain of disastrous events that threaten to divert the course of the River of Time, alter the past, and forever change the future. (Taken from Amazon)

If you know me at all you’re not even remotely surprised that I’d add Dragons of Deceit to the list. Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman came back to the world they’ve created with a bang. While this can be a jumping-off point for anyone new to the world, I strongly recommend giving the Dragonlance Chronicles as a gift as well if the recipient hasn’t yet read them. This book will be even better if they know the original story. I guess that means I’m sneaking in multiple suggestions under the guise of one. I’m a slyboots. Review.

Small Places by Laura Owen

The woods are stirring again. . . . 

Lucia and her sisters grew up on the edge of Mockbeggar Woods. They knew it well—its danger, but also its beauty. As a lonely teenager, Kate was drawn to these sisters, who were unlike anyone she’d ever met. But when they brought her into the woods, something dark was awakened, and Kate has never been able to escape the terrible truth of what happened there. 


Chloe has been planning her dream wedding for months. She has the dress, the flowers, and the perfect venue: Small Angels, a charming old church set alongside dense, green woods in the village that her fiancé, Sam, and his sister, Kate, grew up in. But days before the ceremony, Chloe starts to learn of unsettling stories about Small Angels and Mockbeggar Woods. And worse, she begins to see, smell, and hear things that couldn’t possibly be real. 

Now, Kate is returning home for the first time in years—for Sam and Chloe’s wedding. But the woods are stirring again, and Kate must reconnect with Lucia, her first love, to protect Chloe, the village, and herself. An unforgettable novel about the memories that hold us back and those that show us the way forward, this is storytelling at its most magical. Enter Small Angels, if you dare. (Taken from Amazon)

For this suggestion, I’m veering from fantasy into spooky territory. Small Angels never crosses into straight-out horror, but instead uses descriptive language to paint an eerie picture. This was very enjoyable and will suck in any reader. Review.

The Hero Interviews by Andi Ewington

Heroes… you can’t swing a cat without hitting one. You can’t even hatch a nefarious plan without some adventuring party invading your dungeon to thwart you. So, it stands to reason they’re a force for good—right?
Well—yes and no…
Elburn Barr is a Loremaster who has turned his back on his family’s tradition of adventuring and stepped out into the realm of heroes to interview a whole smörgåsbord board of fantastical characters from stoic, swear-shy Paladins through to invisible sword-carrying Mime Warriors.
Through his transcribed journal, he’ll take a cheeky peek at the truth lurking behind the hero myth—and everything associated with them. Across his many encounters, he hopes to uncover his brother’s fate—a brother who has been missing for ten summers after brazenly setting out to forge a heroic name for himself.

Will Elburn discover what really happened to his brother, or will he fail in his quest and become another casualty of the adventuring trade?
The Hero Interviews is a departure from the usual swords and sorcery yarn—it’s a sometimes gritty, sometimes amusing, but completely bonkers look at the realm of heroes. (Taken from Amazon)

This hilarious book would make an AWESOME gift! I’ve guffawed my way through it multiple times now and each time something different makes me snort-laugh. The Hero Interviews releases on kindle the first week of December, so give it to friends who like ebooks (I think that’s most people). Go ahead and snag it for yourself too. You’ll love it. Review.

The Withered King by Ricardo Victoria

Fionn is the wielder of a legendary Tempest Blade, and he is blessed – or cursed – by the Gift. Though his days as a warrior are long over, his past leaves him full of guilt and regret. Life, however, has other plans for him, when he agrees to help a friend locate a missing person. Gaby and Alex never expected to become heroes… until they met Fionn. As an ancient evil arises and consumes the land, Fionn must help them to master their own Gifts and Tempest Blades. Together the three of them, and their friends, will chart a course aboard the flying ship Figaro to save the planet. Will Fionn’s past be an anchor, or will he overcome the one failure from his former life before time runs out? In a world where magic and science intermingle, anything is possible. Including second chances. (Taken from Amazon)

This is the first book in the Tempest Blades series. I really love the tones of hope and second chances that run through both The Withered King and its sequel, The Cursed Titans. I don’t know why, but I get a bit of a My Hero Academia vibe. I think it’s that both that show and these books have great character development, complex storylines, and a lot of action. That’s a lot to finagle at once and author Ricardo Victoria manages it wonderfully. Review.

Slaying the Dragon: A Secret History of Dungeons and Dragons by Ben Riggs

Role-playing game historian Ben Riggs unveils the secret history of TSR― the company that unleashed imaginations with Dungeons & Dragons, was driven into ruin by disastrous management decisions, and then saved by their bitterest rival.

Co-created by wargame enthusiasts Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson, the original Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game released by TSR (Tactical Studies Rules) in 1974 created a radical new medium: the role-playing game. For the next two decades, TSR rocketed to success, producing multiple editions of D&D, numerous settings for the game, magazines, video games, New York Times bestselling novels by Margaret Weis, Tracy Hickman, and R. A. Salvatore, and even a TV show! But by 1997, a series of ruinous choices and failed projects brought TSR to the edge of doom―only to be saved by their fiercest competitor, Wizards of the Coast, the company behind the collectible card game Magic: The Gathering.

Unearthed from Ben Riggs’s own adventurous campaign of in-depth research, interviews with major players, and acquisitions of secret documents, Slaying the Dragon reveals the true story of the rise and fall of TSR. Go behind the scenes of their Lake Geneva headquarters where innovative artists and writers redefined the sword and sorcery genre, managers and executives sabotaged their own success by alienating their top talent, ignoring their customer fanbase, accruing a mountain of debt, and agreeing to deals which, by the end, made them into a publishing company unable to publish so much as a postcard.

As epic and fantastic as the adventures TSR published, Slaying the Dragon is the legendary tale of the rise and fall of the company that created the role-playing game world. (Taken from Amazon)

Okay, this is a gift for a very select type of reader. Not everyone is going to give a fig about the history of D&D or what happened to TSR. This is for those of us who look forward to diving into imaginary worlds and using our imaginations. However, I argue that not only is it absolutely fascinating, Slaying the Dragon is ridiculously well-researched and written in a way that is engaging and flows well. Grab this one for your TTRPG friends. Trust me, they’ll love it. Review.

And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie

Ten people, each with something to hide and something to fear, are invited to an isolated mansion on Indian Island by a host who, surprisingly, fails to appear. On the island they are cut off from everything but each other and the inescapable shadows of their own past lives. One by one, the guests share the darkest secrets of their wicked pasts. And one by one, they die…
Which among them is the killer and will any of them survive? (Taken from Amazon)

My oldest son has just dipped his toes into Agatha Christie’s writing. And Then There Were None is my favorite of hers. It would make a great gift for mystery lovers old and new.

Dragons of a Different Tail Edited by Marx Pyle

Eighteen award-winning, veteran, and emerging authors bring you seventeen unique dragon tales that defy tradition. Winged serpents as large as continents, as well as those tiny enough to perch on the fingertip of a young girl. Dragons who inhabit the Wild West, Victorian London, Brooklyn, and a post-apocalyptic Earth. Scaly beasts who fight in the boxing ring, celebrate Christmas, and conquer the vast void of outer space. There are rockstars who meddle with dragon magic, clever and conniving shapeshifters, and powerfully exotic hybrids. Science fiction, urban fantasy, mystery, western, epic fantasy, YA fantasy…no matter the setting or the genre—here be dragons! (Taken from Amazon)

I loved this highly entertaining collection of dragon stories! It’s so creative. Each story is so different from the one before it, from tone to genre. Any fantasy reader would be delighted to add these dragons to their collection. Review.

Legends and Lattes by Travis Baldtree

High Fantasy with a double-shot of self-reinvention

Worn out after decades of packing steel and raising hell, Viv the orc barbarian cashes out of the warrior’s life with one final score. A forgotten legend, a fabled artifact, and an unreasonable amount of hope lead her to the streets of Thune, where she plans to open the first coffee shop the city has ever seen.

However, her dreams of a fresh start pulling shots instead of swinging swords are hardly a sure bet. Old frenemies and Thune’s shady underbelly may just upset her plans. To finally build something that will last, Viv will need some new partners and a different kind of resolve.

A hot cup of fantasy slice-of-life with a dollop of romantic froth. (Taken from Amazon)

This book is absolutely delightful! It’s a hug in print. It would be such a great gift for anyone who could use a happy ending right about now, and I kind of think that’s everyone. I really wish this coffee shop existed in the real world but, since it doesn’t, the book would make an excellent gift along with a cute mug.

What books are you planning on gifting this year? And how many are you going to gift yourself?

Blood Feud: Detroit Red Wings v. Colorado Avalanche by Adrian Dater

In Blood Feud, Colorado Avalanche beat writer Adrian Dater not only submits that the Red Wings-Avalanche rivalry was the most feverish match-up in recent years, but also that there was none better played. No fewer than twenty players have or will eventually make it to the Hall of Fame; the best scorers were matched up against the best goalies; brilliant coaches could be found on both benches, and two of the league’s smartest general managers ruthlessly tried to one-up each other at every NHL trade deadline. Blood Feud is a rollicking story of a fierce, and often violent, rivalry. (Taken from Amazon)

I actually bought Blood Feud: Detroit Red Wings v. Colorado Avalanche for my husband but, being a huge Colorado Avalanche fan myself, I decided to read it when he finished. Full disclosure: the majority of this took place before my time. I was young enough to prefer Power Rangers and Buffy the Vampire Slayer at the time and it was hard to watch the games on TV since I didn’t live in either Detroit or Colorado. That being said, most hockey fans at least know the bare bones of the legendary (and ugly) rivalry between two top teams.

For those who don’t know, the whole thing can (depending on who you ask) be traced back to a bad hockey hit made by Avalanche player Claude Lemieux on Kris Draper of the Red Wings. It sent Draper to the hospital where he was found to have several serious injuries including a broken jaw and shattered cheekbone. The following season saw Bloody Wednesday, a game that saw more brutality and fighting than actual hockey playing. From there, a feud the likes of which hasn’t really been seen since developed between the two teams. It was intense. It was violent. And it was an example of what happens when players cross a line.

The videos and images are bad. Like, really bad. I don’t mind a good ol’ hockey fight, but these two teams took it to an ugly level. I don’t think I would have ended up being a fan of either team if that feud was my introduction to hockey, to be honest. That being said, the story of what happened, how everyone felt about it, and how the media on both sides fanned the flames, was an interesting one.

Adrian Dater, the author, was a reporter covering the Avalance and has a fascinating perspective. The information he gave added to what I already knew, and I think many hockey fans would enjoy the book, but with some conditions attached. First of all, there are no introductions to the people involved. If you don’t already know who most of the players are, you’re going to be pretty lost. As it was, there were a LOT of statistics thrown around and I got confused a few times. I think part of that was the way the book itself is presented.

It isn’t necessarily written in chronological order, instead seeming to be a bunch of collected memories woven into book form. I think a little more editing might have made an already riveting story more cohesive. There was one section, in particular, where I was completely thrown: it mentioned Lemieux being married to his first wife, then he was abruptly mentioned as being with his second wife, then it went right back to talking about his first marriage again. All of this happened on one page. It was a bizarre thing to read.

I really liked the quotes. There was a cool combination of bits from articles written at the time and players’ reactions both in the middle of the rivalry and years later. The amount of information and research gathered was impressive. Coaches were spoken to and Dater mentioned the media’s part in stoking the flames of the feud. Actually, I thought a lot of what the media did was disgusting at best and horrible at worst (I don’t mean include Dater in this opinion. He didn’t spread the vitriol other journalists did). He even wrote about some of the run-ins he had with different people involved at the time and how even he wasn’t above the emotion and anger that made those games so intense.

What’s incredibly interesting is how, years later, many of the coaches and players are at least friendly with each other. Well, minus a few people who were most affected. That is completely understandable. Blood Feud was an intensive look at a battle that spilled off the ice, perfect for people who want to know both the impetus and the mindset of everyone involved. That being said, if you don’t know much about what happened but are intrigued, this might not be for you. A better introduction, if you can handle the nasty visuals, is the excellent documentary Unrivaled: Red Wings v Avalanche.

Slaying the Dragon: A Secret History of Dungeons & Dragons by Ben Riggs

Role-playing game historian Ben Riggs unveils the secret history of TSR― the company that unleashed imaginations with Dungeons & Dragons, was driven into ruin by disastrous management decisions, and then saved by their bitterest rival.

Co-created by wargame enthusiasts Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson, the original Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game released by TSR (Tactical Studies Rules) in 1974 created a radical new medium: the role-playing game. For the next two decades, TSR rocketed to success, producing multiple editions of D&D, numerous settings for the game, magazines, video games, New York Times bestselling novels by Margaret Weis, Tracy Hickman, and R. A. Salvatore, and even a TV show! But by 1997, a series of ruinous choices and failed projects brought TSR to the edge of doom―only to be saved by their fiercest competitor, Wizards of the Coast, the company behind the collectible card game Magic: The Gathering.

Unearthed from Ben Riggs’s own adventurous campaign of in-depth research, interviews with major players, and acquisitions of secret documents, Slaying the Dragon reveals the true story of the rise and fall of TSR. Go behind the scenes of their Lake Geneva headquarters where innovative artists and writers redefined the sword and sorcery genre, managers and executives sabotaged their own success by alienating their top talent, ignoring their customer fanbase, accruing a mountain of debt, and agreeing to deals which, by the end, made them into a publishing company unable to publish so much as a postcard.

As epic and fantastic as the adventures TSR published, Slaying the Dragon is the legendary tale of the rise and fall of the company that created the role-playing game world. (Taken from Amazon)

“You are in a darkened room, a shadow of its former glory. Around you huddle the remains of your party, their weapons dangling from tired hands. Danger besets you on all sides. The door slowly opens, revealing an unspeakable horror. What do you do?”

This could be setup from a Dungeon Master at any late-night D&D session. It could also easily describe the situations in Slaying the Dragon: A Secret History of Dungeons & Dragons, although the “weapons” were creative minds, and the “unspeakable horror” was financial ruin, mismanaged products, and mistreated employees. I was fascinated and heartbroken in equal measure, reading the history of TSR, the company that once owned Dungeons and Dragons (as well as Dragonlance and Forgotten Realms, among other things).

Every story has two (or more) sides. So many times, the narrative is “big, bad, Wizards of the Coast devoured the little guy”, but of course there’s more to it than that. This book delves into the state of TSR and explores why on earth it was in a position to be bought out anyway. It had so much going for it: a plethora of creative ideas, artists that are still seen as some of the best in the fantasy art genre, and a passion that many workplaces just don’t have. Sadly, it also had some of the worst financial management I’ve heard of and some higher ups that just didn’t understand what TSR was trying to do.

In many ways, it was a trainwreck of epic proportions, although it didn’t start out that way. The mess made for an incredible tale, though. As the saying about train wrecks goes, “it was impossible to look away”.

Slaying the Dragon is written in an easy-to-understand way. It’s well organized and doesn’t meander. There are a few parts that I would have loved to see expanded a little (the section on the Satanic Panic, for example, since there is a lot to unpack there), but it moved at a good pace. About halfway through, I wished it would slow down, just because what happened was so darn sad. It was hard to watch the book walk toward a disaster like that.

There were interviews throughout the book, which were fascinating and added a new level of clarity. It also broke up the author’s narration and kept it from ever becoming too dry. That personal angle was always there. I have to give Ben Riggs credit: he went above and beyond to get as many opinions of what happened as possible, and dug deep into his research as well.

Slaying the Dragon: A Secret History of Dungeons & Dragons was a riveting look at the rise, fall, and reincarnation of TSR, the most honest one I’ve seen to date. I recommend this to anyone who remembers going into Walden books and seeing a treasure trove of creativity, and to D&D fans of all ages.

Let’s Talk About: Self-Published Authors Appreciation Week

Banner Credit: Fantasy Book Nerd

If you’ve followed my blog for a while, you’ll know that I have been lucky enough to read many indie/self-published. I love the creativity and uniqueness often found in self-published books. Last year was the first ever Self-Published Authors Appreciation Week, during which I was joined by many amazing bloggers, podcasters, and Youtubers, all sharing their appreciation for great self-published authors. Well, guess what? We’re doing it again this year!

This year Self-Published Authors Appreciation Week will run from July 24th-30th. How can you get involved? Read self-published books, review self-published books, shout about great self-published authors. You’re welcome to use the above banner (created by the awesome Fantasy Book Nerd) and if you tag my Twitter @WS_BOOKCLUB, I will add your posts to a blog hub and share those posts on my Twitter. On Twitter, you can the hashtags #SPAAW, #SuperSP, and #IndiesAreAwesome.

For those of you who would like to see some of the amazing pieces published during last year’s SPAAW, you can find them linked here: Self-published Authors Appreciation Week Hub.

I hope it will be even bigger this year. Let’s shout about self-published authors!

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas: 2021 Picture Book Edition

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

Goblin, a cheerful little homebody, lives in a cosy, rat-infested dungeon, with his only friend, Skeleton. Every day, Goblin and Skeleton play with the treasure in their dungeon. But one day, a gang of “heroic” adventurers bursts in. These marauders trash the place, steal all the treasure, and make off with Skeleton―leaving Goblin all alone!

It’s up to Goblin to save the day. But first he’s going to have to leave the dungeon and find out how the rest of the world feels about goblins. (taken from Amazon)

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

Every famous piece of art has an origin story—even Bach’s Goldberg Variations! When the richest dude in town can’t sleep, he hires a much-less-rich dude named Johann Gottlieb Goldberg to play him lullabies on the harpsichord. Goldberg does an OK job, but as the Rich Dude hollers for Goldberg each night, he wakes up the whole town in the process. As the town gets sleepier and sleepier and grumpier and grumpier, Goldberg worries he may be out of a job soon. But then, the one and only Bach enters the scene with a series of lullabies composed specifically for the Rich Dude. And, thus, the Goldberg Variations are born! (taken from Amazon)

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

Knights in shining armor go full baby (and full mustache) in this silly and soothing bedtime adventure. Young knaves will fall blissfully asleep after hearing the tale of two brave knights: Baby Billy, House of Mustache, and Baby Javier, House of Beard, and how they fought to conquer their biggest foe: bedtime! The babies fight their enemy valiantly, but eventually even gallant Baby Billy falls victim to sleep, foiled by, of all things, an enchanted book. Though Billy succumbs to the magic of the story, in his dreams, he rejoins his bearded co-knigh . . . and they became the stuff of legend. (taken from Amazon)

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

Jamie Lee Curtis’s zany and touching verse, paired with Laura Cornell’s whimsical and original illustrations, helps kids explore, identify, and, even have fun with their ever-changing moods.
Silly, cranky, excited, or sad—everyone has moods that can change each day. And that’s okay! Follow the boisterous, bouncing protagonist as she explores her moods and how they change from day to day. (taken from Amazon)

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

Once upon a time, in a deep dark bog, lived a teeny, tiny speckled frog. Now, he might be tiny (the other frogs call him stuff, like ‘weedy pants’ and ‘sugar puff’) but his ambition is great. For he wants to be known henceforth as Sir Lilypad! Sir Lilypad the brave and wise! Slayer of the – er – dragonflies. And all he needs to effect this transformation? A kiss from a willing princess, of course…(taken from Amazon)

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

Shakespeare wrote with a feather quill and ink; Emily Dickinson wrote with a fountain pen; Isaac Bashevis Singer wrote on a Yiddish typewriter. But what did such writers do when they weren’t writing? What did Jane Austen eat for breakfast? What could make Mark Twain throw his shirts out the window? Why would Zora Neale Hurston punch a fellow elevator passenger? Lives of the Writers tells all that and more. (taken from Amazon)

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.

African Icons: Ten People who Shaped History by Tracey Baptiste

Meet ten real-life kings, queens, inventors, scholars, and visionaries who lived in Africa thousands of years ago and changed the world. 

Black history began long ago with the many cultures and people of the African continent.

Through portraits of ten heroic figures, author Tracey Baptiste takes readers on a journey across Africa to meet some of the great leaders and thinkers whose vision built a continent and shaped the world.

Illustrator Hillary D. Wilson’s brilliant portraits accompany each profile, along with vivid, information-filled landscapes, maps, and graphics for readers to pore over and return to again and again.  (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Algonquin Young Readers for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion, and for allowing me to join the blog tour. African Icons is available now.

I am a homeschool mom so I am constantly looking for good educational books to add to our curriculum. This has made the cut! African Icons is a useful, well-written look at a part of history that is often unseen.

Sometimes it seems that history only mentions figures like Martin Luther King Jr., George Washington Carver, and Harriett Tubman. That leaves out so many interesting people, and so many fascinating moments in history. This book endeavors to fill in some of the gaps left in knowledge.

My youngest child is a history lover. Because of that, I was able to test whether this will hold a child’s interest. He was definitely interested, although this book is probably best for older elementary kids. The facts were delivered in a way that didn’t shy away from some of the darker parts of history, while also not glorifying violence. It is quite obvious that author Tracey Baptiste put both time and effort into crafting a book that was both informative and accessible. The pages were full of backgrounds, details, and even pronunciation guides, which I very much appreciated.

I really loved the collection of people chosen for this book. There were both males and females and it was fantastic seeing women get their due in a history book. It really doesn’t happen nearly as often as it should. The illustrations were brightly colored and attention-catching, although I do wish there were more of them.

This will probably be a bit too wordy for most younger children (although my pint-sized history buff loved it), but I highly recommend African Icons for older elementary and middle grade children. It would also make an excellent resource for educators or parents who want to provide a more complete look at African history.

Banned Books Week 2021: Read Dangerously

Censorship is the child of fear and the father of ignorance. – Laurie Halse Anderson

Ah, it’s that lovely time of year. The time of year where I pull out my soapbox, climb on it, and start yelling about how much I disagree with the banning and censoring of books. That’s right- it’s Banned Books Week!

According to the American Library Association, “a challenge is an attempt to remove or restrict materials, based upon the objections of a person or group. A banning is the removal of those materials.” I think most people can understand why this is a dangerous concept. Banning a book allows us to silence people we disagree with. It allows history to be ignored. It takes away the chance to learn from or connect with a different point of view.

Let me start with a little backstory here. The banning of books is nothing new. In fact, it’s believed that the first widely banned book in the U.S. was Uncle Tom’s Cabin, banned for having a “pro-abolitionist agenda”. (via lithub) Howl was actually put on trial. The defendants were told to prove that the book had “literary merit”. Ender’s Game was challenged in 2012 for pornographic content despite that fact that there is no sexual content in the book at all, much less content of a pornographic nature. Even the children’s book Where the Wild Things are has been banned in the past.

Books are banned and challenged for a myriad of reasons. These include sexual issues, the idea that a book has content that is unsuitable for its intended age group, language that is considered offensive, LBTQIA+ content, or any topic that might be considered divisive, really.

Courtesy of The American Library Association

The banning and challenging of books still happens. In fact, you can read about a recent incident involving a full list of books being banned in a York, PA school district. Incidentally, every single book was either by or about a person of color. ( via Penn Live Patriot News) Thankfully, the huge public outcry pressured the schoolboard into reversing the ban. While authors including Brian Meltzer were closely involved in the protest, it was originally led by students. How cool is that? I tell you, the younger generation will shake this world.

When you ban a book, you reveal yourself.– Brad Meltzer

The list of banned and challenged books is huge. It includes ‘classics’ such as To Kill a Mockingbird and Catch 22. Children’s books as ubiquitous as Where’s Waldo and A Light in the Attic have also made the list. Some of the most commonly challenged books in recent years include And Tango Makes Three, the Harry Potter series, The Hate You Give, Thirteen Reasons Why, The Handmaid’s Tale, and the Captain Underpants series. To Kill a Mockingbird seems to be constantly challenged or banned. The reasons are varied, but I think they all have something in common: those who are challenging are doing so because they are scared. They are scared of reading things they don’t understand, don’t agree with, or don’t want to think about.

Choosing not to read a book is always an option, of course, which leads into a conversation on canceling, as the words canceling and banning tend to get a little confused. I think we’re all familiar with the term “cancel culture” by now. According to Miriam-Webster, cancel culture is “the practice or tendency of engaging in mass canceling as a way of expressing disapproval and exerting social pressure.” Canceling and banning a book are two very different things. Canceling is basically a boycott and it is a personal choice. Book banning involves having your choice to read or not read a book taken from you by others. I am unequivocally against the banning of books. No group of people should be able to deny others the opportunity to read books.

So, what can we do? Read banned books. Buy banned books. Speak out against the banning of books. You can find an excellent list of commonly banned books to get you started here. I also went to social media to see what people’s favorite banned books are. You can find the results of that at the end of this post. It’s a great list, and there are a few on there that I haven’t read yet (I plan to change that).

There are many experiences that I haven’t had, shoes that I haven’t walked in, or situations that I haven’t dealt with…but books can help me understand and empathize with those who have. They teach us compassion and broaden our horizons. So, are they dangerous? I should hope so. After all, growth and change generally are.

Live dangerously. Read.

Social media’s favorite banned and/or challenged books:

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

The Bible

The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling

Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle

The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

The Giver by Lois Lowry

Number the Stars by Lois Lowry

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

The Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson

Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Peig: The Autobiography of Peig Sayers of the Great Blasket Island by Peig Sayers

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’engle

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

The Jungle by Upton Sinclair by Mariko Tamaki

Moby Dick by Herman Melville

Howl and other Poems by Allen Ginsberg

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

The Library: A Fragile History by Andrew Pettegree and Arthur Der Weduwen

Famed across the known world, jealously guarded by private collectors, built up over centuries, destroyed in a single day, ornamented with gold leaf and frescoes, or filled with bean bags and children’s drawings—the history of the library is rich, varied, and stuffed full of incident. In The Library, historians Andrew Pettegree and Arthur der Weduwen introduce us to the antiquarians and philanthropists who shaped the world’s great collections, trace the rise and fall of literary tastes, and reveal the high crimes and misdemeanors committed in pursuit of rare manuscripts. In doing so, they reveal that while collections themselves are fragile, often falling into ruin within a few decades, the idea of the library has been remarkably resilient as each generation makes—and remakes—the institution anew. 
 
Beautifully written and deeply researched, The Library is essential reading for booklovers, collectors, and anyone who has ever gotten blissfully lost in the stacks. (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. The Library: A Fragile History will be available for purchase on November ninth.

I was so excited to read The Library: A Fragile History! A book dedicated simply and wholly to the subject of libraries? Yes, please! This is an exhaustive, detailed dive into a subject that is dear to most book lovers: namely the history of libraries and the roles they have played over the years. I fully expected this to become a new favorite.

Unfortunately, that was not my final takeaway. This is the sort of book that does not benefit from a straight cover-to-cover read. It would be better taken in pieces over a longer period of time. There is simply so much information to take in. It is apparent that the authors took great care in doing their research and they spared no detail. And I mean no detail. Therein lies my difficulty. As much as the subject appeals to me, and as much as I’ve enjoyed other books about similar subjects, this book bored me.

It wasn’t for lack of knowledge on the authors’ parts. It wasn’t that the book was poorly organized. Rather, it was very well put together. There was just no excitement shown in the pages. I felt like the authors weren’t really all that invested in what they were writing. And that sort of rubbed off on me a little bit. This would make a great study guide, but as a book that is read for enjoyment, it just didn’t quite do it for me. I will admit that I might have enjoyed it more if I had read it in bits and bursts, instead of straight through. There was so much information to take in, after all.

If you don’t mind books that are a little dry, the information in this book might appeal to you. After all, if you’re taking the time to read a book blog, chances are high that you love books and libraries. I really wanted to love The Library: A Fragile History, but this book just wasn’t for me.

Not Cool: Europe by Train in a Heat Wave by Jules Brown- Cover Reveal

Today I have the opportunity to show off a great cover for a book that looks hilarious. This is the sort of book I’d happily curl up in front of the pool with if I did, in fact, have a pool. Check out the cover and blurb!

Are you ready?

Here it is!

A laugh-out-loud train journey across Europe with a travel writer who should know better.

Inspired by the budget InterRail trips of his youth, veteran travel writer Jules Brown thought he’d try and visit 9 cities in 9 countries in 9 days. Sadly, that wasn’t his only mistake.

It soon turned into a hot and steamy adventure (no, steady on, not that kind) by rail across Europe, taking in Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Bratislava, Ljubljana, Zagreb, Liechtenstein, Zürich and Milan.

A tale of relaxing train rides to famous tourist destinations and guidebook sights? Not so much. All aboard for an offbeat travel adventure with a very funny writer seriously in danger of losing his cool.

About the author:

I took my first solo trip around Europe when I was seventeen, and I’ve been travelling and writing professionally since I published my first travel guide – to Scandinavia – in 1988. Since then I’ve eaten a puffin in Iceland, got stuck up a mountain in the Lake District, crash-landed in Iran, fallen off a husky sled in Canada, and got stranded on a Mediterranean island. Not all of those things were my fault. You can read about my travelling life in my memoir, Don’t Eat The Puffin.

I wrote Rough Guide travel books for over thirty years, but now that I no longer have to copy down bus timetables for a living I don’t really know what to do with myself. So I come up with ridiculous ideas for trips and then write about them, which is where my 9-city, 9-day, 9-country trip came from – that’s covered in Not Cool: Europe by Train in a Heatwave.

I still don’t know what I want to do when I grow up.

You can find out more about me and my books at my publishing website, www.trustmetravel.com.

I also blog at www.julestoldme.com, sharing travel stories, travel-writing tips, videos and inspiring destinations – see you there, and happy travels.

Author Links

Website: www.trustmetravel.com

Blog:  www.julestoldme.com

Twitter: @julesbrown4

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/JulesBrownWriter

Committed: Dispatches from a Psychiatrist in Training

Adam Stern was a student at a state medical school before being selected to train as a psychiatry resident at one of the most prestigious programs in the country. His new and initially intimidating classmates were high achievers from the Ivy League and other elite universities around the nation. Faculty raved about the group as though the residency program had won the lottery, nicknaming them “The Golden Class,” but would Stern ever prove that he belonged?

In his memoir, Stern pulls back the curtain on the intense and emotionally challenging lessons he and his fellow doctors learned while studying the human condition, and ultimately, the value of connection. The narrative focuses on these residents, their growth as doctors, and the life choices they make as they try to survive their grueling four-year residency. Rich with drama, insight, and emotion, Stern shares engrossing stories of life on the psychiatric wards, as well as the group’s experiences as they grapple with impostor syndrome and learn about love and loss. Most importantly, as they study how to help distressed patients in search of a better life, they discover the meaning of failure and the preciousness of success. 

Stern’s growth as a doctor, and as a man, have readers rooting for him and his patients, and ultimately find their own hearts fuller for having taken this journey with him. (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. This book will be available on July thirteenth.

Committed: Dispatches from a Psychiatrist in Training is an engrossing look into the lives of those learning how to help those with mental illnesses and provide quality mental health care. Told from the perspective of Adam, a psychiatrist-in-training, it follows his life as he tries to navigate the world of mental health care as well as his personal life.

I don’t read memoirs all that often. In fiction, I do not need to relate to or like a character to enjoy the book- I just want them to be interesting. In nonfiction, it helps if I care about the person the book is about. Adam was supremely human and very open about both his strengths and weaknesses. That takes bravery on the part of the author. He vacillated between feeling very out of his depth and unqualified and seemingly having extreme bouts of self-confidence. I can definitely relate to feeling unqualified as I am well acquainted with Imposter Syndrome in most aspects of my life.

I loved seeing Adam’s growth in his ability to properly diagnose and treat patients, but more importantly in his ability to connect with his patients. He realized that his patients are more than just a diagnosis and list of medications: they are real people with unique stories, backgrounds, and experiences. Watching his empathy and understanding grow was an incredibly rewarding experience.

The patients themselves were fascinating. I wanted them all to find the help they needed and defeat their personal demons. I could feel the sadness in Adam Stern when a patient was lost (spoiler alert: not every patient has a happy ending). I could also see his excitement and renewed sense of purpose when a patient improved.

I did sometimes find the switch from Adam’s psychiatric situations to his dating life a little bit jarring from time to time. I understand why it was there-to highlight the way a profession in mental health affects every aspect of a person’s life- but I struggled to pay attention during those parts. It just wasn’t as interesting to me.

Taken as a whole, I found Committed to be a fascinating look at life as a mental health expert. It is an important profession, when taken up by caring individuals, and I have the utmost respect for Dr. Adam Stern for the aid he is able to provide.