You guys! I love giving books to my friends and family and heaping recommendations on them year-round, but the holiday season is a major bonus because THEY CAN’T SAY NO. Muhahahaha, they must take whatever I give them. Got a relative that loves a genre you don’t read or just looking for confirmation that you’re on the right track with a genre you do read? No problem.
North of Beautiful by Justina Chen Headley. This is a really great story with gorgeous writing that doesn’t get enough attention. It is all about a girl’s journey to figuring out what real beauty is and it also documents a great mother/daughter story. The book has real depth and meaning and isn’t just a surface enjoyment read.
Audrey, Wait! by Robin Benway. This book is SO MUCH FUN. You won’t even believe how much someone can laugh through one story. It has music, fame, awkwardness, romance and edge – a little of everything, really. It would make a great choice for someone that doesn’t read a lot because it is so entertaining.
I Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga. This would be a great choice regardless of whether you’re shopping for a boy or girl. It follows the son of an infamous serial killer as people in his small town begin to die – is he just trying to find the killer or is HE the killer? The book is infused with humor and great side characters that make it a really well-rounded story. It is the first of a series, but it stands alone just fine.
Daughter of the Flames by Zoe Marriott. Really great high fantasy that is a little lesser known than some. The writing transports you to another world where the romance and political intrigue make for an incredibly engrossing story.
Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card. This one is already becoming regarded as a classic – and for good reason. Once again, it would be a great choice for either boys or girls. The fate of worlds is resting on a little boy’s shoulders.
A Long, Long Sleep by Anna Sheehan. This book packs a lot into one story – this is the perfect choice for dystopian, fairy tale retelling and fantasy fans. Sleeping Beauty retold in a futuristic society where the political atmosphere is extremely tenuous. A little romance, friendship with robots, missing memories and mysterious older characters all work together in this complex, wonderfully written book.
The Hallowed Ones by Laura Bickle. Dude – this is a novel about vampires and Amish people, and it isn’t crazy or terrible. Plus, the vamps are actually scary. It actually ended up being one of my favorite reads of the year – so it would make a great, different choice for the vampire-loving friend on your list (there’s always one!).
Virals by Kathy Reichs. This makes the shopping guide because it would be a great read for boys as well as girls. A group of kids are exposed to a virus that gives them heightened senses and reflexes. It isn’t billed as middle grade, but it would be appropriate for younger readers.
Shifting by Bethany Wiggins. This was one of the better things I read in 2011 – a fantastic take on the Native American skinwalker mythology. It would definitely be a great choice to give paranormal readers that normally stick to the more common vampire/angel type reads. (Or adult urban fantasy readers that enjoy the Mercy Thompson series!)
The Lions of Little Rock by Kristin Levine. Based on events that actually occurred when Arkansas was going through the process of segregating their schools – this is a really thought provoking read about racism and friendship. Definitely recommended!
The Princess Curse by Merrie Haskell. The Twelve Dancing Princesses gets retold quite a bit – but this is a fresh take, and my favorite of any others that I’ve read. It is told from a younger servant’s POV and is a great fairy-tale vibed read for younger girls.
Up a Road Slowly by Irene Hunt. I read this very recently despite it being published several decades ago. It is a great choice for readers that enjoyed reads like Anne of Green Gables or Little Women.
Cut & Run by Abigail Roux. This series won’t be right for everyone – but would be a great choice for someone. It is the first book in a very explosive, emotional and engaging mystery series with a strong male/male romantic plot. I think it is probably one of the most addicting series I follow, and has amassed an incredibly obsessive fan base.
To Die For by Linda Howard. This is the first of a really fun and suspenseful duology, but it does stand alone quite well. I don’t even know how to adequately describe the protagonist, Blair Mallory – a fitness club owner determined to shoot down the dumb blonde stereotype. When someone is out to kill her, her old boyfriend signs on to protect her with hilarious results.
Don’t Tell by Karen Rose. This is one of the books I recommend the most – in real life and on the blog. This is a really emotionally engaging story with brilliant – phenomenal – unbelievable characterization. I will never stop being amazed that every person in the world doesn’t follow everything this author writes. If you are shopping for a mystery and/or romance and/or thriller fan? You can’t go wrong.
Kushiel’s Dart by Jacqueline Carey. If you want to knock the socks off any readers you’re shopping for who you’re despairing over because they loved 50 Shades? THIS, THIS! It is an incredibly original high fantasy series with pretty extreme sexual components (keep that in mind, because this isn’t a series for everyone.) The world building and characterization are incredible.
The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch. This is an extremely madcap and hilarious tale of a band of young criminals. Trickstery and fun and irreverent. Once again, it won’t be for everyone – there is quite a bit of cursing (something I usually can’t stand in excess – but it fits this story so well that it didn’t bother me). This is something really different, fresh and original you can give to the fantasy reader on your Christmas list.
The Poison Throne by Celine Kiernan. This is the first of a dark fantasy trilogy. A nice epic, quest-y tale full of different tribes and nations that are so easy to get lost in. These books aren’t very well known at all – but THEY ROCK. Definitely a wonderful gift option.
The Emperor’s Soul by Brandon Sanderson. (Yes, an extra option. What can I say? This is my favorite genre.) This is Sanderson’s newest release and it is BRILLIANT. My favorite of his works since Mistborn. It is a novella, so the length makes it a great gift for someone you’re hoping to convert to the genre as well as long-time fans. You can’t go wrong with Brandon Sanderson.
PARANORMAL ROMANCE/URBAN FANTASY
Kindling the Moon by Jenn Bennett. Only two books have been released in this newer series so far, and I am already a rabid fan. Arcadia Bell is a fantastic heroine – a quirky magician bartender. There is a perfect blend of action, romance and intrigue. A mixture of demons, the occult and magic make it a very original story.
Unholy Ghosts by Stacia Kane. This series is on the darker and grittier side of the genre. The heroine is pretty disturbed and hard to like at first – she has a dangerous drug addiction that gets her in trouble with the wrong people. Once you get used to the world though? The books are hard to put down. If you’re shopping for someone familiar with the genre and/or who isn’t scared of the tougher, darker stories, this is a perfect choice.
Dragon Bound by Thea Harrison. This read is strong on the romance, and the sexytimes are fairly graphic. The paranormal elements don’t suffer for it though – so it makes for a strong read for those who prefer more romance than some offerings that this genre provide.
When Beauty Tamed the Beast by Eloisa James. A retelling of Beauty and the Beast in which the main character is based off the House TV Show character. Do I need to say anything else? I don’t think so.
The Secret History of the Pink Carnation by Lauren Willig. This series is a genre-bender. It could fit in historical romance, historical fiction or mystery. Whether you’re choosing for a newer or seasoned reader, this is a very intelligent and entertaining read.
Edenbrooke by Julianne Donaldson. A wonderful, Austen-esque read that will appeal to readers who prefer clean romance. The lack of sexytimes doesn’t hold this story back at all – it is fabulous!
The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller. This was published earlier this year and absolutely blew me away. Reading about Achilles and the Trojan War from the point of view of Patroclus is a really unique and fabulous idea. We see Achilles as a lover and friend and not just a warrior. Really beautiful story for history and mythology fans.
A Matter of Magic by Patricia C. Wrede. This is duology bind-up of two smaller YA books. Perfect for younger or older readers – it is witty, charming and intriguing. The plot is light and just a lot of fun to read. Once again, great for newer readers as well.
Scarlet by A.C. Gaughen. Robin Hood retold with the Will Scarlet character as the female protagonist. It is written with a YA audience in mind, but has an awesome story for readers of any age. I love the originality and romance added to the classic story we all know and love.
Jubilee Trail by Gwen Bristow. This was originally published in 1950 so it has a nice classic, older vibe to it. It is set in mid-19th century California. Adventure, romance and quick jaunts in New York City and New Orleans are all wrapped up in this book and I think it is absolutely fabulous for historical fiction fans. It was actually given to me as a Christmas gift several years ago!
Cross My Heart by Sasha Gould. This is a YA novel published this year, and I fell in love with it from the start. Set in 16th century Venice, the setting is absolutely gorgeous. There are a lot of twists and turns in the plot that definitely keep the pages turning. If you’re hunting for a rich and atmospheric historical read, you can’t go wrong here.
The Tea Rose by Jennifer Donnelly. JD is one of my absolute favorite authors, her writing is as good as it gets. This is the first book in a nice sprawling trilogy. If you’re shopping for someone who likes to dig into long epic stories, this is the perfect choice.
Silent in the Grave by Deanna Raybourn. I rave about this series all the time. It has slightly darker and Gothic vibes than some of my other favorite reads in this genre. The characters are really original and captivating – from the eccentric Lady Julia to the mysterious half-gypsy Brisbane. I don’t know anyone who has picked this up and not loved it. It would be a fabulous choice if you want to give a historical romance reader something a little different.
And Only to Deceive by Tasha Alexander. Another of my favorite and most often recommended series. It has a lot in common with Deanna Raybourn’s series, but sticks a little more closely to the British aristocratic crowd. The romantic plot is another one of my favorites as well.
The Beekeeper’s Apprentice by Laurie King. I just FINALLY started this series a few months ago, and I’m a wholehearted convert. Mary Russell becomes a protege (and later, wife) of the infamous (older) Sherlock Holmes. I cannot get enough of reading about these characters – they play off of each other fabulously. A great choice for someone who has gotten into the newer BBC Sherlock and/or Elementary TV shows to give them yet another flavor of the famous figure.
Did I miss a genre? Say it ain’t so! Just let me know if I didn’t cover what you’re looking for. I tried to stick on the side of lesser known (ish) titles instead of going for the obvious to give you a fresher perspective.
Let me know what you’re planning on getting the readers in your life!