Books Are Here To Save the Day!

Hello intrepid shoppers!

That’s right, it’s PRESENT-BUYING TIME again!  Yeep!  Are you ready?  Are you mentally prepared?  Because I’m totally not.  Ack!  Decisions are hard!  I have too much else to do!  Panic!

So, in the hopes of saving you from the state my own brain is currently in, it’s about time I did my Favorite Books of the Year List!  Woo hoo!  Since I am quite sure all of these would make marvelous presents for the right people.  :-)  Remember, these are not necessarily books published this year (in fact, my two favorites are quite ooooold), but these are my favorites of the books I’ve read this year.  (And I’m only at 84!  Meaning I have to read 16 more books this month to hit my goal; so much for all the other things I supposedly need to do.  Can’t The Count of Monte Cristo count as, like, three books at least?  I mean, seriously.)

Speaking of which . . .

For Your Friend Who Loves Adventure, Romance, Intrigue, Unexpected Plot Twists, Revenge, Madness, Murder, and Handsome Mysterious Swashbuckling, and Who Is Also Unlikely to Throw a 1200-Page Book at Your Head When He/She Finds This Under the Tree Instead of an iPad

Count of Monte Cristo
The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexandre Dumas (translated by Robin Buss)

So so so so SO SO awesome!  I recommend the unabridged Robin Buss translation, not that I’ve tried any others, but apparently it puts back in all kinds of scandal that was edited out of the Victorian translation (LESBIANS!) and seriously, unabridged is clearly the way to go.  Unlike certain other books (Anna Karenina, love you, but really with the Russian farmer politics?), there was nothing in here I’d have wanted to skip. 

Plus if you’re enjoying ABC’s ridonkulous new show Revenge as much as I am, you should totally want to go back and read the original even more super-bad-ass version.  So much murder!  And betrayal!  And shocking twists!  OK, I can’t tell you enough how fun this book is.  I wish every book were like this.  I wish any book written today were like this.

For Your Sardonic Funny Tough Friend Who Would Have Made an Excellent Wild West Sheriff/Gunslinger/Bounty Hunter
Or Your Dad

True Grit
True Grit, by Charles Portis

I was shocked—SHOCKED!—at how much I loved this book.  I haven’t seen either movie, and I’m not normally a Western kind of gal, but first of all, did you know this book is narrated by a 14-year-old girl?  Who is COMPLETELY AWESOME?  She’s as driven as the Count of Monte Cristo in looking for revenge (sorry, “justice”), but quite a bit more direct and hilariously dry and determined.  I can’t think of any other character in literature quite like her (Katniss? maybe? if she were 14 and lived in the Wild West instead of District 12?).  And it makes this book so deadpan funny, with a lot more dialogue than I would have expected from a Western.  Regular Western fans should still enjoy it (there’s shooting! and outlaws!), but it’s also great for those of us who are like, “men on horseback in the dust, meh.” 

(Just be careful if you pick up this particular edition that you don’t read the reviews at the beginning, because one of them fully gives away everything that happens—RUDE!)

For Your Friend Who’s Weirdly Fascinated by Feudal Japanese Culture or Dutch Trading in the 1800’s or Forbidden Romance or Creepy Baby Cults (surely you know someone who’s into at least ONE of those things!)  😉
Or Your Dad

Thousand Autumns
The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, by David Mitchell

David Mitchell wrote one of my favorite books of all time, Cloud Atlas, which is even more impossible to describe than this one, but brilliant.  As a result, I plan to read everything he ever writes, and I was really excited that he had a new book out this year.  It’s “a historical epic about a Dutch accountant’s adventures in feudal Japan” (as the Details magazine review describes it) but I PROMISE it is MUCH MORE EXCITING than that sounds.  The writing is frequently gorgeous without being over the top, and the characters are great, often creepy, and nothing happens quite the way you would expect it to.  (Actually, your mom would probably like it, too—mine did!—but dads are the hardest to buy for, aren’t they?)

For Your Friend Who is Like, “I Love Fantasy, But I Wish It Were FUNNIER”
Or Any Thwarted Genius Magicians You Know

Bartimaeus 1
Bartimaeus, Book One: The Amulet of Samarkand, by Jonathan Stroud

These books have been out for a while, so I’m behind the times and maybe everyone you know has already read them, but I LOVED book one and so far I feel the same way about book two.  The main narrator is a grumpy, sarcastic djinn (I don’t think he’d like being called a genie), which gives this big complex fantasy a perfect sense of humor.  It’s also kind of a cool, well-thought-out alternate universe, where magicians have kept the British Empire alive well into the 20th century and there’s a disturbing divide between magic users and “commoners.”  And it’s an action-packed adventure!  Really anyone would like it, if you ask me.  🙂

For Your Bright, Discerning Friend Who Enjoys Both Napoleonic Historical Fiction and DRAGONS!

Temeraire 1  Temeraire 2  Temeraire 3
The Temeraire series, by Naomi Novik

I’ve blogged about these books already, and I’ll probably mention them again next year when I read the rest of the series (and whenever I talk about favorite dragon books), but I do think they’d make excellent gifts!  (The first three even come together in one magical super-edition!)  Especially for those people you know who love both historical fiction and epic dragon stuff . . . or anyone who’d appreciate an honorable, brave hero (a la Horatio Hornblower) and his bromance with a hilarious, loyal young dragon.  Again, I like that these have a sense of humor, and I’m impressed by the details of this alternate universe where Napoleon still exists, but dragons are an integral part of every country’s war effort.  It feels like authentic British historical fiction (a more military Jane Austen), with appropriate polite dialogue, but has the extra awesomeness of dragons.  Dragons!

For Your Big Sister Or Your BFF, Especially If She’s Pretty Funny

Gimme a Call    Boyfriend List

Gimme a Call
, by Sarah Mlynowski, is my favorite of her books that I’ve read, although they’re all really fun.  Check out this awesome premise, though: a high school senior discovers she can call her freshman self, and by giving her advice from four years down the road, is able to change her present as well.  So funny!  Such a smart idea!

The Boyfriend List
, by E. Lockhart – I think her most awesome book is The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, but if you already gave that book to this friend as I advised you to last year :-), consider going back to Lockhart’s earlier books.  The whole Ruby Oliver quartet is funny and surprising, with a very believable, relatable heroine and lots and LOTS of cute boys!

For Your Friend Who Loves Little House and Still Wants More, Since I’m Sure You Already Gave Her Nellie Oleson and You Can’t Give her Farmer Boy Goes West Until Next Year

Wilder Life
The Wilder Life, by Wendy McClure

I wrote a whole blog about my enthusiastic mad love for this book already, so I’ll just reiterate: so funny, so informative, SO GREAT for Little House fans, and I think lots of fun for anyone else, too.  Buy it, read it, give it to all your friends, love it madly!  🙂

For Your Friends Who Say They’ll Only Read Nonfiction Because “It’s Real” or “It’s Educational,” But You Know They’d Appreciate It If the Books Were Actually Exciting As Well
Or In Other Words, MY Dad

Shadow Divers     Manhunt

Shadow Divers, by Robert Kurson:  Holy bats, this book was tense, and disturbing, and FULL OF CRAZY PEOPLE.  Meaning deep-sea divers who’ll risk (and often lose) their lives trying to find old submarines and solve old WWII mysteries.  This book is so well-written and shocking and suspenseful; I couldn’t put it down, and I never knew what was going to happen at any given moment.

Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln’s Killer, by James Swanson:  Full confession, I only started this book yesterday, but it is ALSO gripping and well-written and tense and I can’t put this one down, either!  I do know some of what’s going to happen (for instance, from reading Team of Rivals and watching The Conspirator) (and also from, you know, American History – like, I’m preeeeetty sure the president’s not going to make it), but I have no idea how they’ll find and catch Booth, who is currently escaping on horseback through the wilds of Maryland while the capital loses its mind and nobody knows what to do.  SO RIVETING!  How am I supposed to do my own work when there are books like this to distract me?  I ask you.

For Your REALLY Smart Friend Who Can Handle a Bit (OK, a Lot) of Weird Within a Totally Marvelous Character-Driven Story
You Know, The One Who Liked and Could Actually Follow Memento and Spirited Away and Donnie Darko and Pan’s Labyrinth
And Also Appreciates Smart, Thoughtful Heroines

Chime  Tricksters  Tam Lin

I . . . have no idea how to describe any of these books.  They are all weird and delightful and funny and surprising and peculiar in their own fantabulous ways.

Chime, by Franny Billingsley Kind of a historical-supernatural setting with sisters and secrets and magic and an awesome romance and an incredibly strong, compelling narrative voice.

The Tricksters, by Margaret Mahy Everything by this author is BEYOND AMAZING.  Real-world setting (usually New Zealand), almost frighteningly believable characters, strange supernatural happenings, and just the best writing ever.

Tam Lin, by Pamela Dean A YA fantasy classic, set at a regular Minnesota college with regular college kids (well, they quote a bit more Shakespeare and Dante and every poet in the universe than my college friends did!), but inexplicable things keep happening, and maybe there’s faerie doings afoot . . .

For Your Mom If She Can Handle Some Darkness In Her Mysteries
Or Anyone Who Watched the Masterpiece “Case Histories” Episodes and Wants More Jackson Brodie (<—Redundant, That’s Everyone)

Started Early
Started Early, Took My Dog, by Kate Atkinson

Here’s another author where I’ll read everything she ever writes (she wrote two of my favorites: Behind the Scenes at the Museum and Not the End of the World), and this is the latest in her Jackson Brodie mystery series which started with Case Histories.  Lots of dark stuff happening, but amazing writing and characters.  (And a sense of humor!  Yeah, there’s a theme here.)

The Inevitable Parenting Book Recommendations

Raising Happiness    NurtureShock    Pink Brain

Raising Happiness, by Christine Carter, Ph.D.:  Not a lot of super-surprising advice, but all true and lovely and helpful to think about.

NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children, by Po Bronson & Ashley Merryman:  The most recent studies that upend traditional thinking about kids and parenting; very VERY surprising and all fascinating!

Pink Brain, Blue Brain, by Lise Eliot, Ph.D.:  Especially good if you have any interest in neuroscience, but if you’re, say, me, you can skim any of that to get to the stuff about how gender differences really develop and what we can do to strengthen the “weaknesses” each gender supposedly has.

No Biking
No Biking in the House Without a Helmet, by Melissa Fay Greene

This isn’t a parenting book, per se—more of a memoir of one woman’s adventures in adoption and her big joyful family—but it’s funny and sweet and full of really likable people.

Or Maybe For Your Younger Sister or BFF Who Is Almost But Not Quite Ready for The Hunger Games

Tomorrow Girls Bk1 final  Tomorrow Girls Bk2 final 
Tomorrow Girls Bk3 final  Tomorrow Girls Bk4 final

Tomorrow GirlsTomorrow GirlsTomorrow GirlsDystopian action-adventure starring girls just like you!  Yes, I wrote book two, but I just finished reading book three (by someone who is not me!) and it is awesome!  And book four is available now too!  And look, they’re all part of Amazon’s 4-for-3 promotion, meaning you could get all four for somebody for the price of three!  How excited are you?  ;-)  Oh, you know these would make an awesome Christmas present.

And a Couple More With Big Hugs to the Authors

MillionMiles cover  Nowhere Girl

Two of my wonderful writer friends had new books out this year: A Million Miles From Boston, by Karen Day, and Nowhere Girl, by A.J. Paquette – both wonderful (not that I’m biased!) 🙂 and both definitely great reads for any thoughtful 10- to 12-year-old girls you know.

Of course, nowadays I also have ENTIRELY TOO MANY book recommendations for toddlers, but I think those will have to wait for another blog, don’t you?  I believe I’ve reached my quota of superlative adjectives for the day.  :-)  But if you need more ideas immediately, one of my favorite blogs, Annie and Aunt, has book lists along the side that can point you at some more wonderful books for all ages.

And if you’re looking for something to give in addition to a book :-), how about a flock of chickens?  Or a well?  Or a malaria net that could totally save lives?  Nicholas Kristof has his column of charitable giving suggestions up, and I absolutely trust his judgment.  (I hope you can get to that link without paying . . . hmmm.)  I’m also a big fan of the World Wildlife Fund, Doctors Without Borders, Room to Read, Shining Hope for Communities, and First Book.  And if you can do any of your Christmas shopping on The Rainforest Site, that always seems like a pretty good idea to me.  🙂

Good luck!  I love this time of year and I LOVE giving presents, but boy, this year I wish someone would give me an extra day where present-shopping was all I had to do.  Crazy crazy!  Well, back to revisions!  :-)  Hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Quote of the Day:
Christobel had arrived.
“Here I am!” she shouted in case they were in any doubt about who it was.
. . .
Beauty was not enough for Christobel.  She wanted to be noticed in every way, and if she had nothing surprising to talk about she simply made something up.  Now, shaking Anthony’s hand, she said, “Forestry! Jack—he hasn’t come halfway round the world to look at a million pine trees?  Either he’s embezzled money or had a terrible love affair, and now he’s trying to find a forest at the end of the world where robins will cover him over with leaves.”

— from The Tricksters, by Margaret Mahy