Thursday, December 12, 2013

Countdown: Twelve Books for Christmas Gift Giving

I've been pondering my recommendations for the past two week and still keep coming up with these first three as easy picks. I put my age recommendations below the titles, but this is just my opinion.

Lockwood & Co.: The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud
Midgrade and Up

This is my favorite book of the year.

I know, I know, you Bartimaeus fans won't find him inside, and you'll miss him because, well, who else could possibly be Bartimaeus?* But you will find another** alternative London identical to our own with the addition of a plague of visitors: ghosts, haunts, spirits, and specters that only young psychics can sense and vanquish.

This is the story of  young Lucy Carlyle after she joins a small psychic investigation agency run by Anthony Lockwood, himself only a teenager. When a bumbled case results in the entire haunted house burning to the ground, they are eventually enmeshed in a mystery that can only be solved by investigating, and surviving, the most haunted house in England, which features a screaming staircase and the aptly named Red Room (shudder).

If you like action, suspense, humor and are giddy about inventive verbs and sophisticated punctuation, you are my kind of person, and you will treasure this book. Not to mention, it's the first time in years that I've been truly creeped out by the dark.

My two teens loved it, my adult neighbor loved it, my husband is mad that it hasn't been out of someone's hands long enough to read it himself yet, and we all have very different taste in books.

All the Truth That's in Me, Julie Berry
Teens and Up 

This is a powerful book: an engrossing story well told by a teen who has lost the power of speech.

When Julie Berry spoke about this book at my library, I was disappointed that she was giving away key points of her climax. No. She only told some bits of what happens in the first fourth of the novel. To call this book riveting is an understatement, but what else can you say? Gripping, spell-binding, relentless, enthralling, stay-in-bed-and-pretend-you're-sick-for-a-weekend-so-you-can-finish-it-good. If you haven't been glued to a book in a while, this one's for you.

Four years before the novel opens, Judith and her best friend go missing from their home in colonial America. Her best friend is found dead a few days later. Judith returns after two years unable to speak and assumed to be unclean by those around her. I know it sounds dark and heavy, but it's one of those books that courageously resounds with hope. You just have to read it.

Julie Berry is a master weaver of words and she will make you think and feel as you feverishly turn pages deep into the night.

Ranger's Apprentice by John Flanagan

The twelfth in this bestselling series came out this year and, though I haven't read it yet, I am working my way through this simple adventure series set in an alternative England of the middle ages.

In the first book, a boy coming of age hopes to become a knight but is chosen to apprentice as a creepy ranger and doesn't know what to make of it. There's a bully who is bullied in turn, a killer pig or two, and a dangerous outcast who can control the minds of fantastical murderous creatures.

What I love about these books is the straightforward writing style that somehow makes you see every scene as if you'd dreamed it yourself. The author claims he doesn't see the scenes he writes, he hears them, using words to evoke emotion and description all in one. All I know, is I'd like to be able to do that, too. I have laughed out loud and shed tears in each and every book. They just get to me. Plus, there's a movie in development. You can be one of the cool people who liked it first.

Dog in Charge by KL Going, Illustrated by Dan Santat

This was my favorite picture book of the year, though it was published in 2012. It's a simple little thing, easy to read, fabulous pictures... And then you realize that on top of the counting to five and the cats your kids get to find hidden in the pictures, there are plot reversals, an exciting midpoint, even a dark night of the soul, all wrapped up in a tight little package.

Yes, there was some Deus Ex Cattus but Dog earned it.

I am seriously going to have kick my game up a level if I ever hope to publish another picture book. I wasn't surprised to see that Going is a Printz Honor winner and a successful YA novelist.

So there you go. Don't forget to check out Boleyn Deceit by Laura Andersen...intrigue, mystery and romance in an alternative Tudor England. Sigh. LOVING IT.

*I am such a nerd. I found this Bartimaeus Trilogy wish list in progress on IMDB and was so excited: Alan Rickman, Benedict Cumberbatch, John Rhys-Davies, and on and on. NOT A REAL CAST LIST. Sigh. Well here's to hoping that someday it will be a movie...and Artemis Fowl, too. Still, I don't know why I get all excited. Books are always better. Almost always better.

**For the uninitiated, The Bartimaeus Trilogy also features an alternative London where leaders are magicians who have learned the art of harnessing demon magic. Bartimaeus is a demon an esteemed genie. He is also fond of footnotes.


  1. Gosh, I haven't read the Screaming Staircase and it sound wonderful. Guess I know what I'm getting for Christmas!

  2. Yes! Do it, then thank me profusely ;)

  3. Wow, these all sound wonderful! I've loved Stroud for ages and considered reading The Ranger's Apprentice even longer, so I think these are perfect for me. Thanks for the recommend!