Looking back at 2019 books – gift ideas

I really don’t feel like I can say this is my “Best of 2019” list because we’re not even a full week into December. So many amazing books are coming out this month, and putting together a best of list without giving those lovelies a chance would be mean.

BUT, maybe you’re like me and you’re already holiday and birthday shopping for people (I have quite a few friends with December birthdays). And if you’re like me, you want to share some of the great books you’ve read this year.

I went back through my book recommendations so far and thought, I should give you all something NEW on this list. You already have my top 3 for summer, and favorites from the 1st and 2nd quarters, plus some Friday the 13th Reads and of course, romance! Those were all great books. I still recommend them. This list, however, has other stories I read this year and enjoyed so much I can’t help but buy them for friends and family as gifts.

Broken down by age/category:

Children’s Picture Books

Franklin’s Flying Bookshop – Jen Campbell and Katie Harnett

The artwork in this drew me in initially. Well, that and it’s about a dragon with a bookshop, so that pretty much sealed the deal.

Franklin is a dragon who loves stories and sharing those stories with others, but sadly people are scared of Franklin. He keeps trying to make friends and failing because of their fear (great social commentary! loved the messages in this book about giving people a chance even if they’re different from you) until he meets Luna, who is so excited to talk to him, and to share stories. Together, they create the flying bookshop on his back and go into town, where again, people are terrified of Franklin. But Luna and Franklin work together to show the townspeople that they can all get along through sharing stories and adventures.

This book was so heartwarming, and I think the message about giving people a chance and putting aside your fear is a great one for children. It also shows children that reading and sharing what you read is an adventure in and of itself.

I bought my best friend’s daughter this book for her birthday and I can’t wait to hear what she thinks.

Julián is a Mermaid by Jessica Love

Julián goes with his abuela to the pool. On the ride home, he sees women dressed up as mermaids, which inspires him to dress up when he gets home. He strips down and creates a fabulous headdress out of a houseplant (creating a bit of a mess in the process) and dons lipstick to complete his fancy look. When his abuela finds him, she doesn’t scold him for making a mess, or for wearing her makeup. Instead, she takes him out to a party with other fabulously dressed people so that they can all ‘be mermaids’ together.

The fact that this picture book embraces people being who they are, no matter what that looks like, is so refreshing. I was smiling hard while reading this short book. I highly recommend it. The art is gorgeous, and the feels are huge.

SumoKitty by David Biedrzycki

A stray cat discovers that in exchange for chasing mice, he can receive food and housing at a sumo wrestlers’s stable. The problem is, he gets too fat and lazy to chase mice and winds up back on the streets. But he learned from those sumo wrestlers, watching them train. And soon, he’s training too. When the mice overrun the stable, he’s back, chasing the mice, and showing off his new moves.

Again, they had me at cats. I’m a simple woman, what can I say?

Opening up this book, I was expecting something silly and playful. What I got was a beautiful story about finding your home and your worth with inspiration quotes that really stuck with me.

I don’t know many Japanese phrases, so I found it fun that the author included little guides for the words and phrases he stuck in there.

Middle Grade

The Storm Keeper’s Island – Catherine Doyle

Fionn and his sister Tara go to visit their grandfather who lives on an island off the coast of Ireland. Their grandfather is a storm keeper, holding storms inside candles. Rumor has it that there is a sea cave that offers one wish per year to whomever can find it. Tara is determined to get that wish, but Fionn wants the wish so he can get back his father, who was lost to the sea years before. But Tara and Fionn are not the only people on the island who are hunting for the cave to get that coveted wish. Fionn steals a candle in the hopes its magic will help him get to the cave first, and then…well, you’ll have to read the book.

This book is emotional, but adventurous. There’s sorrow, but there’s hope too. It’s beautifully written, and the magic found on the island had me longing to return to Ireland, where there is indeed a feeling of magic in the breeze that comes up off the coast.

Young Adult

Carry On by Rainbow Rowell

*Deep breath* I’m going to out myself here. I’m not a Potterhead.

What I mean is, I read the books, up to book 5, as they were coming out. I saw people becoming intensely attached (you know, really picky about every detail the movies screwed up), and I just wasn’t that invested. I did see all the films. They’re fun. I’m not saying HP is not awesome or anything like that. What I am saying is that you don’t have to be a Potterhead to LOVE Carry On.

Why did I even start this recommendation like that? Because this is book one of a trilogy (third book is not out yet) that is YA and about a school for wizards. And Simon is the chosen one. Except he’s stuck with the worst roommate, who he’s pretty sure is a vampire out to kill him, and kind of struggling.

I LOVED THIS BOOK. I loved the sequel, Wayward Son, too. I can’t recommend them enough. It’s fun, it’s got a new magic system, and it’s queer. Bonus on the sequel: an epic road trip.

Night of Cake & Puppets – Laini Taylor

Disclaimer: I have not read the Daughter of Smoke & Bones series. This is a standalone, but ties into that series. Having not read the series, I can tell you this truly is a standalone. I didn’t feel like I was missing anything by having skipped the series.

This is another one where the cover drew me in. I was at Sirens in October, and saw this beautiful cover, but then was a little worried about it being part of a series universe that I hadn’t read. Then a friend basically hand-sold me the book by telling me that’s a romance novella. And it’s freaking adorable.

You see, that cool chick on the left? She’s had a crush on the musician guy on the right for a while, and she’s finally going to do something about it. Instead of talking to him directly (that’s scary!) she leaves him a series of clues and takes him on a scavenger hunt across the city, where the prize is her!

I devoured this novella in one sitting and was left with a goofy grin on my face. There’s light magic in it; it’s definitely fantasy. If you’re looking for a fun read that’s not dark at all, and you just want to feel that giddy feeling of first love, pick this up.

Adult

The Only Harmless Great Thing – Brooke Bolander

This Nebula award winning novella is an alternative history with sentient elephants forced to paint using radium. If you don’t know, there were women hired to do this job in the early 20th century, and radium is very bad for you. They ended up having horrible health issues and diseases and there was a big lawsuit over it. Also around this time, there was an elephant electrocuted at Coney Island as a way to show the power of electricity. Both of these things really happened and weren’t great moments in American history. This novella re-imagines those horrors.

It’s not a light read, but it’s gorgeous and thought provoking.

Silver in the Wood – Emily Tesh

This is also a fantasy novella. I read this not long after finishing The Binding, and to me they had a similar mysterious vibe, and they’re both queer. In this, we have a fae in the woods and new landowner living near those woods who maybe doesn’t quite know enough about the magic and dangers of the land.

I really don’t want to give too much away here, so I’ll just say if you like stories about magical forests, fae, and love, pick this up. It’s short, but completely immersive with it’s lovely prose and vivid setting.

Fierce Fairytales: Poems & Stories to Stir Your Soul – Nikita Gill

I feel as thought I’ve been walking around much of this year basically saying “have you met Nikita Gill?” (If you haven’t seen How I Met Your Mother, that joke is lost on you. Sorry).

Here’s the thing. I don’t typically read poetry. Or rather, I haven’t in years. But then this book was sitting there looking so welcoming, and I needed something to stir my soul, so I picked it up. And BAM Nikita Gill happened. Not every piece struck a chord with me, but I don’t know that they’re all going to speak to every reader. Some of them, however, hit me hard.

This collection is lyrical, and loving, and angry, and fierce as the title says. It’s feminist. It’s heavy. It’s also a little light. I’m currently making my way through another Gill collection, Great Goddesses: Life lessons from Myths and Monsters and so far it’s also excellent.

American Hippo – Sarah Gailey

The forward of this book reads like pure fiction. But it’s not. Let me paraphrase so that you’ll be as sucked in as I was:

In the early 20th century, the US Congress thought that importing hippos and raising them in Louisiana’s bayous would fix a meat shortage problem in the US. Yes. Hippos.

This book is fiction and explores what could have happened if Congress’s plan had been enacted.

It’s gritty and feels like a western, but wait, it’s also a HEIST. These cowboy-eqsue criminal hired to do a job ride in on hippos. As a Texan, I delighted in the mental image that came with this concept.

There you have it. Want a hippo-riding outlaw teaming up with other outlaws on a heist? This book is your book.

Non-Fiction

The Vagina Bible – Jen Gunter, M.D.

If you have a vagina, or just want to know more about them, get this book. And you’ll want to buy a copy instead of checking it out from the library, because this covers basic sex ed; everyday info on how diet, medicine and underwear impact your lady bits; care and cleansing; menstruation; menopause; sexual transmitted infections; other medical conditions; and how to talk with your doctor about any and all of this. In other words, you’ll probably want to reference it over the years.

I learned that some of what I knew is actually myth, and then I learned some new stuff I’d never heard before. By the time I was done, I felt pretty empowered because I had new knowledge about my body and that felt freeing. My body does what I thought was weird thing X and then I read in this book, yep that’s normal, and this is normal too, and this other thing can be helped by doing Y. Turns out the vagina does so much cool stuff that I wasn’t aware of before. Now I feel like I have some super anatomy that I should be proud of.

Knowledge is power, right? So read up!

Roar: How to Match Your Food and Fitness to Your Unique Female Physiology for Optimum Performance, Great Health, and a Strong, Lean Body for Life – Stacy Sims

I workout a lot and have a slew of health conditions that run in my family, as well as food allergies, and other health issues that generally make exercise a necessity instead of a ‘nice to do’, and careful eating a must. I was excited for this book because for the last, I don’t know, decade, I’ve been working out with my husband and he’s been dictating the workouts. He also does all our meal planning. This year, I noticed that I was really struggling with energy levels. Then he tells me he’s heard about a book that says women have different diet and workout needs than men. I had to read it.

This whole book is based on the very simple fact that women are not little men. Yet that’s how the medical and fitness world (actually, just the world in general) tends to think of us. For workout: use lighter weights, or fewer reps. For food: eat less. But that’s not how women’s bodies work. We’re hormonally and physically different. This book explains the differences so that you can leverage them for a healthier diet and workout.

I hate the word diet. I really do. Let’s say healthier eating instead. Cool? Moving on.

Another thing I liked about this book is that Stacy talks about how men and women are different in their mindsets about working out. For instance, a lot of times women want to understand a workout, either breaking it down into steps, or just knowing how that workout will impact them. Men have a tendency to just follow a routine without asking questions. But, more importantly in my mind, women are also more likely to think they’re not athletes and to blame themselves when they have a ‘bad workout’.

This certainly rings true for me. I workout at least three days a week. I sometimes add in a run, or an additional yoga class. But every week, I do kettlebell training followed by yoga, HIIT class, and an hour to an hour and half on Saturday weight training. If someone were to ask me before reading this book if I considered myself to be an athlete, I’d have said no. I also have days where I feel miserable while working out and instead of saying, “today was hard” I say “today I wasn’t on” or “I was weak today”. This book points out that this “I screwed up” mindset when it come to fitness isn’t something most men default to.

ANYWAY!

If you’re not a hardcore athlete, there are sections of this book you can skip. I read them and thought, cool, I’m not training for a marathon, so this doesn’t apply, and moved on. But! There are sections that talk about how your menstrual cycle will impact your body, and these sections are fantastic to read no matter your fitness level. She gives awesome dietary changes that can help boost your energy and alleviate PMS symptoms. All around, it’s a very useful book and eyeopening.

TL/DR : this book is not just for fitness gurus, it’s also for everyday women (men can read it too!!) who want to know more about their bodies.


Lastly, I’d be remiss if I didn’t do a little plug here for the 2019 Sirens Benefit Anthology. I’m sure you all understand.

Heroes & Hellions: A Sirens Benefit Anthology – Natalie J. Case, ed.

I’ve finally had a chance to dive into this anthology and read what the other authors wrote, and I’m blown away. It’s so fun to see the variety of ways each author interpreted the theme in crafting their fantasy stories.

Authors Edith Hope Bishop, Kristen Blount, Natalie J. Case, Lyta Gold, Christine Hanolsy, Rowan Beckett Grigsby, Lola Lindle, Cynthia Porter, and yours truly explore what it means to be a hero or a hellion in immersive short stories that leave you thinking about the characters and themes for days afterwards.

Maybe it sounds like I’m just trying to sell my own book here, but this is a benefit anthology and money from the sale benefits the Sirens organization.

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