Merry Bookmas! A book-buying guide for the holidays

Christmas tree made out of books

Stumped for gift ideas? Out of shopping days? Tired of giving socks and giftcards? (Seriously, why are you doing that? Amazon is right there.)

What you should be giving people is books. Your friends love to read (or at least they say they do on their Tinder profile), the authors get new fans, and you look super smart and cool. Win-win-win!

Here’s a handy list of books, short stories, poetry, and games(!) for all your gift-giving needs this holiday season. And hey, maybe pick up a present for yourself while you’re at it.


Sci-Fi & Fantasy

  • Sciath – J. A. Castelli: A catastrophic accident leaves Kyra to puzzle out a swirling vortex of questions before the Architect’s power is passed into the wrong hands.
  • The Crashers – Magen Cubed: Five strangers walk away from a subway crash unscathed, only to realize the event has left each of them with strange new powers.
  • The Transmigration of Cora Riley – Ellie Di Julio: With the help of an unusual guardian angel, Cora navigates the afterlife and quickly learns that gods and monsters are very real indeed. Only the power of belief – in the Otherworld, in her companions, and in herself – will return her to the land of the living.
  • Desperation – Alexander Dundass: Arriving in Lonsation space, Admiral Savage finds it seized by the Hegemony. To take advantage of their uranium supplies, he must free Lonsatia. But do so, he must battle his cyborg brothers exiled for attempting to take over the galaxy.
  • Steel Victory – J. L. Gribble: Today, the vampire Victory is a councilwoman, balancing the human and supernatural populations. Her human daughter is a warrior-mage, balancing life as a mercenary with college courses. Tomorrow, the Roman Empire invades.
  • Lycopolis – Ali Luke: Seth’s got a lot going for him: money, charm, and a niche online game where he can play god. He wants more. much more. Because Lycopolis isn’t just a game–something ancient and evil has been playing him all along.
  • Home Birth – Jessica McHugh: When the queen of the darkogs makes Eibal an offer she can’t refuse, she risks everything to give her an heir. But Eibal soon finds herself in a war between humans, darkogs, and her own body.
  • The Empress Game – Rhonda Mason: The seat of the Empress Apparent isn’t won by votes or marriage. It’s won in ritualized combat. Now that tournament has been called and the females of the empire will stop at nothing to secure political domination for their homeworlds.
  • Keys and Needles – Michelle Nickoliasen: In her nightmares, Tania sees a mysterious hooded figure ripping children from their families. When her dreams start coming true, Tania and Logan must set out on a dangerous mission beyond anything they’ve ever imagined.
  • Spiralchain: Gatemaker – Jeremiah L. Schwennen:  When a mysterious girl from another world reveals to Adam that he was is a Gatemaker, everything changes. Together, they must travel to the medieval world of Onus and confront both terrible danger and their own fears.
  • Queen of Shadows – Dianne Sylvan: Overwhelmed by her ability to manipulate emotions through music, Miranda Grey comes to the attention of vampire lord David Solomon, who discovers that Miranda’s powers may affect the vampire world, too.
  • Nightlord: Sunset – Garon Whited: When Sasha is killed, reluctant vampire Eric is thrust into an alternate world to avenge her death. There he becomes a Nightlord, fights a dragon with the help of his magical steed, and upchucks a sword named Firebrand.

Young Adult

  • In a World Just Right – Jen Brooks: Sometimes high school senior Jonathan Aubrey wishes he could just disappear. And as luck—or fate—would have it, he can. Ever since coming out of a coma as a kid, he has been able to create alternate worlds.
  • Chemistry – C. L. Lynch: Only one person seems to like Stella: Howard, the biggest loser at her new school, who’s also a great listener and respects her. And now undead hordes are showing up at Stella’s door, and Howard might be to blame.

Romance

  • The Reluctant Reaper – Gina X. Grant: Desperate to reunite body and soul Kristy D’Arc seeks out allies, but what of her attraction to Dante, the sexy Reaper with a flair for romantic language who scythed her soul?
  • Fairest of the Faire – Susabelle Kelmer: Fair performer Gage Youngblood is infatuated with widowed Connie at first sight. Despite his commitment-free life and Connie’s don’t-touch-me attitude, he soon has her in his arms, realizing quickly she is also in his heart.

Short Stories

  • Five Empires: Escape – Joely Black: One Master Assassin has spread rumors of coming war and Lorasz must decide whether he has the courage to prevent the end of the world as he knows it.
  • Head – Nik Markevicius: A day of lurid adventure as Nate’s desperation drives him into the gutter of humanity. As he upsets ever more dangerous people, Nate realizes there’s no such thing as a sure thing.
  • Revolver – Joel K. Sullivan: Nine short stories, from a soldier’s last letter to a comical encounter with an assassin to the dark spiral of a suicidal millionaire.

Anthologies

  • Fight Like a Girl: A powerful collection of science fiction and fantasy ranging from space operas to medieval warfare to urban fantasy. These are not pinup girls fighting in heels; these warriors mean business.
  • Twice Upon a Time: Fairytales don’t always happen once upon a time. Fables don’t always have a happy ending. Sometimes the stories we love are too dark for nightmares.
  • Upside Down: Inverted Tropes in Storytelling: Over two dozen authors, ranging from NYT-bestsellers and award winners to debut writers, chose a tired trope or cliche to challenge and surprise readers through their work.

Poetry

Personal Growth

Games

  • Visegrad: The Coming War in Eastern Europe – David March: A hypothetical conflict between the Eastern NATO and Russia, with a weakened US, a neutral Germany, and a surprise threat from Poland.
  • Pugmire – Eddy Webb: Fantasy adventure in the ancient future where dogs have been uplifted to use tools and language and seek to rediscover the world they’ve inherited. Pugmire is a world in which dogs have built a new society using ancient but fragmented lore left behind by humanity.

When you want to shake the baby

Rage and Gentleness by Daniela Uhlig via DeviantArt

When you announce that you’re pregnant, a tidal wave of advice follows. Everyone who’s ever seen a baby wants to tell you what they know, what happened to them, what you should do. Most of it is horrifying.

“It’s fantastic what you’re doing. I love the way you’re handling this. It won’t be like what happened to Michelle.”

“What? What happened to Michelle?”

“Oh, did I say Michelle? I didn’t mean to mention that, I’m sorry. Don’t worry…she was a fool. She ate vegetables and drank water. The baby came out her ear. You’ll be fine.”

— Dylan Moran, Like, Totally

And it doesn’t stop after you have the baby, either. They want to tell you about insomnia and poopsplosions. If you know them really well, they’ll tell you about leaving the baby in the car or giving unnecessary Benadryl.

But there’s one story no one tells. One piece of wisdom that’s rarely passed along because it’s absolutely taboo to even think about.

It’s this:

You want to hurt your baby sometimes.

Before I had a baby, I was aghast that anyone could ever shake one to death, even on accident. What kind of monster does that?!

And then that monster rose up in me.

When Mackenzie was about a month old, after a day of inconsolable screaming despite hours of nursing, barely-damp diapers, and putting nearly 10km on the stroller, I felt the awful urge to just. make. it. stop. I knew I could. It would be so easy.

A twist of the neck. A dash to the tile floor. A blanket she couldn’t pull away.

I lifted her out of the carseat, still shrieking like an injured pterodactyl, and my arms tightened around her. My cells buzzed with the undeniable compulsion to shake her, slap her, cover her mouth, anything to make the screaming stop just for a second, to make her understand how senseless it was, how frantic and insane it made me feel.

Why won’t she stop crying? There’s nothing wrong! Just. Shut. Up!

And as quick as the desire to hurt came, a flash of clarity rocked me back.

She’s a newborn. The world is traumatizing. This is the only way she can communicate. You’re her mom. It’s your job to protect her.

Then I cried, too, as I used the same arms that wanted to squeeze the breath out of her to protectively clutch her little body to me. All I could say between hitching sobs was, “I’m sorry, baby, I’m so sorry,” over and over.

It was a moment of insanity–true disconnection from reality–that could quickly have turned fatal. It was so real, so fast, so dangerous. Such easy darkness, such ferocious, selfish rage.

And despite being surrounded by mothers of all experience levels, no one ever warned me.

If there’s any proof for the existence innate evil, this is it: that I could not just imagine but crave deadly violence towards my own helpless child. I’ve struggled with emotional disturbance, but I’ve never felt anything like this. Animal rage borne of despair and exasperation chased with shame, compounded with the certainty that if you tell anyone, they’ll report you, damn you, shun you.

Worse, it’s not just a one-time thing.

This demon squats inside me, waiting for a vulnerable moment to throw sand in my eyes and see what I’ll do. It doesn’t go away because I’m aware of it or because I fought it off once.

What’s important is that I’ve never acted on it. And neither have thousands, maybe millions, of other mothers.

But some have.

They’re the ones we see on the news. The ones who lost their battle with the demon. Their stories mirror our own, forcing us to hide our experience lest we face the same condemnation despite our victories.

This is a call for truth.

If you know this rage, this shame, talk about it. When we can be open, we can support each other, and we can beat the stigma. Yes, it’s scary. Yes, it’s horrific. But until we can speak truth to the darkness, guilt and isolation will continue to rule. Knowing that it’s not just you, that you’re not a broken monster, steals the demon’s power. It can literally save lives.

Don’t let your sisters, the mothers-to-be, get blindsided. Share your story so they don’t have to share your pain.

Things I wish I understood about being a mom before I became one

Infant Insomnia by KelleyBean86 via DeviantArt

I like to think I’ve learned a few things in the six months I’ve been a mom. Most of them involve how much poop/barf/cereal you can leave on furniture before it’s permanent, but there are a handful of lessons that run a little deeper. Keep in mind this is my experience; your mileage may vary, etc.

All your emotions now go to 11.

A friend warned me about this, but for some reason I thought I was immune. I’ve lived with depression and suicidal ideation, endured mania, fallen in love on a first date, and had over-affectionate feelings for cats–I’ve run the gamut. But none of that prepared me for babyfeels. New levels of fear and joy unlocked the second she was born. No rejection has ever sliced so fine and sharp as her refusal to nurse; no smile has ever healed so easily as her first.  The way her cries of distress paralyze my soul; the bone-deep satisfaction of her giggles. Every emotion I’ve ever had is suddenly raw with unfamiliarity, as if it’s never been handled before, almost like I’m experiencing things the way she is–for the first time. It’s both amazing and terrifying.

Mother’s intuition isn’t automatic.

There is no switch that flips when you have a baby and now you magically know how to feed, clothe, clean, and soothe it. No matter how nurturing you are by nature, there are things you have to learn like any other skill. Much like learning a foreign language, you pick up concrete things first (diapers, food) and then move on to abstract concepts (tired vs boredom vs gas). You develop mother’s intuition by becoming a student of your child; what looks like an innate sixth sense from the outside is really the fruit of experience.

You forget those precious first days.

It’s heartbreaking but true. The first 6-8 weeks are brutally beautiful., and I didn’t feel like I came up for air until after 12. You have no idea what you’re doing, you’re exhausted, there’s so much crying and so few answers, and you can’t stand how cute they are. But no matter how many pictures you take, endless days and sleep deprivation slowly rob you of what you wish you could hold onto forever. The closeness of nursing, the wonder of holding them for the first time, the moment they look at you with recognition, how tiny their newborn body feels in your arms. You know you did it, but the realness is gone, like it happened to someone else. I’m convinced that it’s this forgetting that makes us want to have another baby–we want to remember.

Your body is different: forever.

I’m not talking about muffin tops and stretch marks (although they’re certainly a factor). I’m talking about being physically reshaped. Your bones and muscles and tendons are subtly changed by nine months and thirty hours of increasingly hard work. Your butt and hips don’t hold up your pants they way they used to, now too broad and round. Your shirts and bras have shifted position, a little fuller and lower. Your face is changed. You walk differently. One day you look in the mirror and realize that this body isn’t the one you started with. And that takes some getting used to.

Every choice has a consequence you can’t foresee.

Breastmilk or formula. Attachment or babywise. Parent-led schedule or baby-led schedule. TV or no TV. Back to work or stay at home. Your baby’s life is shaped by the choices you make every day, big and small, and you have no way to know if they’re the best ones. It is so, so easy to let fear take over and make you obsess about every possible option and outcome. But there’s no right answer, and no matter how unsure you are, you still have to decide. You have to use what you have and know and trust that it’s going to be okay.

You’re never alone. You’re alone all the time.

I’ve never experienced anything like this paradox before, and it’s hard to wrap words around. As an introvert, I like spending time alone, often going days without stepping foot outside, but I wasn’t prepared for feeling isolated while being tethered to someone. You’re juggling the baby’s feedings, sleeps, baths, and playtime while caring for the house and your partner, all while trying to shoehorn in food, sleep, and hygiene for yourself. You spend more time with your baby than anyone else; you’re constantly in contact and on call. But it’s not like they can converse about world affairs or help with dinner, so you end up feeling desperately lonely. And given everything you’re managing, it’s hard to connect with someone who doesn’t secretly poop themselves. When you finally do, you’re so relieved to speak in polysyllables that you swear you’ll get out more. Then you don’t because it’s so much easier to just stay home. And it starts all over.

Your best isn’t good enough.

No matter how hard you try, you’re going to flub something. It’s going to happen. You’ll mistake gas for hunger and make it worse. You’ll sacrifice naptime to run errands. You’ll nurse too soon after a beer. You’ll give meds when you’re not sure if it’s necessary. You’ll forget to buckle them into the carseat. You’ll drop your phone on their soft spot. (Yes, I’ve done all of these.) Control is an illusion; perfection, doubly so. And you can either let that be a prison of condemnation or accept that fucking up is inevitable and be set free. As a recovering perfectionist, I’m working hard to break out of jail. Every day, the bar gets lowered a little, which is actually a good thing. It means I don’t have to be Mom of the Year every day. As long as we survive until bedtime, we’re good.

Don’t wish it away. Don’t look at it like it’s forever.

Shortly after Mackenzie was born, I turned to my mother and said, “This week has been the longest day of my life.” I was in pain, the baby’s cries petrified me, and time made no sense. My mind grasped at imaginings of an easier future where I didn’t have to nurse with cracked skin (or at all) and the nights were uninterrupted. But I knew I had to stay present or I’d miss the most precious time of my daughter’s life. I’m constantly wanting to be elsewhere/when, anxious to get to better times, if only this would stop or that would change. But that’s how I end up with regrets, how I’m blinded to what’s precious right now. I will always regret wishing away nursing–and getting my wish. Reality is that momming doesn’t get easier; it just changes. You (I) have to remember they’re only this little once. This is the most they’ll ever need you. Don’t rush because it’s hard. Don’t miss it.

Love wins.

So much of what I’ve learned about being a mother has been hard. A lot of it no one talks about, some of it I didn’t believe, and the rest requires stretching myself in uncomfortable ways. I never had a love-tsunami wash over me like a lot of moms describe; it trickled in quietly. But on the days when she’s crying and I’m crying and nothing is okay and darkness presses in, that slow, steady love is a life preserver holding us both up. It makes her happy to see me after a hard-won nap. It makes me cling tighter when she’s angry. It makes each morning new. No matter what happens today, tomorrow is a fresh start because we love each other in a way that I don’t fully understand. And that’s enough.

Writer’s note: I cut a point from this list because it’s so important and potentially inflammatory that needs its own post. Stay tuned.