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Holiday Gift Guide – Kid’s Edition

November 24, 2014

I was going to start with “There is no wrong book to give a child.” But I think we can all agree that Game of Thrones or Fifty Shades of Grey would, in fact, be the wrong books. Sadly, even books that I adore now would be the wrong books. Pride & Prejudice and Stranger in a Strange Land were not the correct things to appear in my Christmas stocking at age 8. They got the same, “Thank you,” meaning “What the heck is this?” that the package of socks had gotten the previous year.
It also isn’t as simple as Book + Child = Win!
There are great books that are the wrong books for this particular child. Check in with the kid you’re buying for. Make sure you’re accommodating their reading level and interests.
That being said, here are some kids books I think make great gifts:

Julia’s House for Lost Creatures by Ben Hatke


I’ve reviewed this book already, so I won’t say too much about it here. It’s a beautiful picture book. It does have a female main character, so if you’ve got a kid who just really thinks girls are icky then it might not be the best choice, although the awesome monsters could sway them. Both the boys and the girls at my school seem to like this one.



owlyOwly & Wormy: Friends All Aflutter by Andy Runton

This is a fantastic wordless book. I’ve met Andy several times, so I’m slightly biased. He’s really nice, but his books are also fantastic. He does a series of black and white wordless comic books with Owly and his best friend Wormy. Those are great for slightly older kids, maybe 8 all the way up to adults.

This is one of his two full-color picture books. Friends All Aflutter is about Owly making friends with several butterflies. There is also Owly & Wormy: Bright Lights and Starry Nights. One is brighter and the other is quieter and darker, but they’re both fantastic. The story is perfectly clear and doesn’t need words at all.

princessThe Princess in Black by Shannon Hale

This is a great middle-grade story about a young Princess who is pink and blonde and wears frilly dresses and white stockings and eats cakes with her tea. Until there is a threat to the kingdom and then she becomes THE PRINCESS IN BLACK!
It’s the perfect disguise because everyone knows princesses would never wear black!
There is adventure and a really cute goat herd who is inspired by The Princess in Black to become a superhero in his own right.
The Princess faces off against trolls, but her most dangerous opponent is the noblewoman poking around in her tower, trying to discover the Princess’s secrets. Will she be able to keep her secret identity?

billionaireThe Billionaire’s Curse by Richard Newsome
This is a slightly older book, but it’s fantastic. It never really blew up, so the chances that the person you’re shopping for already has it are pretty slim. Gerald Wilkins is a regular kid living in Australia when his great-aunt Geraldine dies in London. Suddenly, Gerald discovers that he has inherited TWENTY BILLION POUNDS! along with an island, a yacht, several houses, and, possibly, a homicidal maniac.
You see, Aunt Geraldine may well have been murdered. And the killer could be after Gerald now. His parents are no help. They’ve taken off on the yacht to “inspect his properties” and are out of contact, leaving Gerald with his aunt’s creepy butler.
Fortunately, Gerald makes some good friends that are willing to help him solve the mystery of just what the Archer Legacy is, how it relates to Gerald, and why someone might be willing to kill to get their hands on it.

dragonbreathThe Dragonbreath series by Ursula Vernon

The Dragonbreath series is an illustrated middle-grade series on the lines of Diary of a Wimpy Kid or Big Nate. However, the protagonist is an adorable dragon who gets into all kinds of scrapes. The series is about ten books long now, so there’s plenty of it out there to be enjoyed.
Danny Dragonbreath is the only mythical creature at his school. It’s really hard when everyone else is a normal lizard or amphibian and you’re well… a dragon. Especially a dragon who can’t breath fire. But, there are advantages to being from an unusual family, and when Danny takes his best friend on a family trip he gets to see some of those advantages for himself.

I”llSo, what are you thinking about picking up for the younger folks in your life this holiday season?

Buying Books As Gifts

November 23, 2014

I’m planning several gift guides to come out over the next week, but first I wanted to talk a little about the etiquette of buying books for someone. This is not going to be the Emily Post or Miss Manners version. This is just my personal take on the matter from years as both a book seller and a book consumer.




Hardcover vs Paperback
There seems to be a conviction among the gift buying populace that hardcovers are inherently better. I cannot tell you the number of times someone has come to the store, asked for a specific book, and then turned their noses up at the paperback because, “It’s a gift.”
Guys, it’s a book. It has the same content in the paperback as it does in the hardcover (unless we’re talking about a special edition and that’s an entirely different critter all together.) If your friend/family member/coworker/secret santa is judging you on whether you spent $26 or $15.99 then there are bigger problems in that relationship than I can help you with.

Let’s take a quick look at some industry facts:



1. Hardcovers are not forever.
If you’re coming in looking for a book that’s more than a year or two old it probably isn’t available in hardcover anymore. There are exceptions (there are ALWAYS exceptions) like classics or remarkably popular books. I can still get you The Kite Runner in hardcover, but that random Jan Karon book from five years ago, probably not.

2. We don’t keep the hardcovers forever.
Generally, once the paperback of a book comes out we all (big box stores included) send the hardcovers back to the publisher. We can usually get one back in for you, but we need a couple of days lead time. This is why, if you come in and ask for a three year old hardcover that you need for a party in an hour we’re probably just going to blink at you for a second.

The only reasons to really insist on a hardcover is if type size is an issue. Hardcovers traditionally have larger type than paperbacks, although the trade paperback size can be pretty close.
There’s also the argument that you want to get the newest book. That can work, but there are also great paperback original releases that you might miss just buying hardcovers.

signNew vs Used
But Sara, we can’t buy someone a used book as a present!
Bull. You totally can. Maybe the book you want to get them is out of print. Maybe your budget is a little tight. Maybe you want to get three books for the price of one and give them even more hours of enjoyment.
There is nothing wrong with buying someone a used book as a gift. Yes, some used books look really ratty, but many of them are barely read. And what’s more important; that you get someone a book you truly think they will enjoy or you get them one that’s shiny?

Gift Card vs Physical Item
I honestly don’t think it matters. If you have no idea what someone would like, get them a gift card. It’s not rude, it doesn’t show a lack of thought or foresight. Some people are just hard to shop for. I’m pretty sure my Dad and I would both have been much happier if we had just exchanged gift cards instead of constantly trying to find something the other would like.

What other issues do you have when it comes to buying books for people? Anything else you’d like to see me address?

Too Many Books

November 22, 2014
Scene from "Winter Passing" not my actual house

Scene from “Winter Passing” not my actual house

First of all, there is, sadly, such a thing as too many books. I fight against this truth. I rail against this truth. And then I look at the stacks and piles of books scattered around my house. There are books everywhere. Some of them are even on the seventeen bookshelves! But there are piles of books on my desks, on my dresser, my bedside table, the kitchen stool, the dining room table, on the floor, and even the bathroom sink. It’s a problem.

So, what do you do when you have too many books?
Well, you have to get rid of some of them. It just a fact.
Ok, how do you choose what to get rid of?

too manyI go through my books fairly often (and yes, I still have that many scattered around). First, I look at whether or not I’ve read it.
Yes: Will I read it again?
No: Why not and how long have I had it?

If I’m not going to read a book again, then that’s easy; into the pile it goes.
If I haven’t read the book at all that becomes more complicated. I obviously picked it up for a reason. I thought it looked good. I wanted to read it. So, that’s where time comes in. If I’ve had the book for more than a year and I still haven’t read it, then it can go. If the urge to read it comes back (and I can remember what the heck it was), I do work at a bookstore. It’s not like the book will be gone forever, wiped out of existence the moment it leaves my house. Even out-of-print books are available through the magic of the interwebs!

dragonOf course, all of this is the theory. In practice I manage to come up with some reason that I can’t sacrifice my precious, precious books. They’re mine! My books! My preciouses!
Yeah, I have issues. I’m like a little book dragon. (There was totally a book called that. I bought it when I was in high school. I can’t remember if I ever actually read it or not though.)

Now, let’s assume you have a pile of books you need to get out of your house. What do you do with them.
1. Used bookstores!
You can get credit for MORE books. (It’s a slippery slope, but the exchange rate means that if you can confine yourself to just spending the credit you should end up with total fewer books in the house.)
Not all used bookstores take the same things or even take books all the time (LP is currently not taking used books because we’re too full) so check before you haul all your books across town.
2. Donation!
Most libraries have a Friends of the Library store where they sell books to raise money. They’re usually not too picky about what they take and you can get a tax receipt for your donation. There are also thrift stores, literacy programs, VA hospitals, and various shelters. The local shelter for abused women is almost always happy to get books, especially anything that kids can read.
3. Host a book swap.
This has the same problem as #1, but it can help spread books around your social circle. Maybe you have something that Tim really wants, but just can’t spring for right now. The nice thing about a book swap is that if there are leftovers you can still employ any of the previous suggestions.
4. Have a giveaway on your blog!
Yeah, I’m sneaky. Sometimes I give you guys books that I’ve got built up around here.
5. Give them to your friends!
We’ll discuss the giving of books as gifts in a later blog (the holidays are approaching with the inevitability of the Russian winter), but there is nothing wrong with giving a used book as a gift if you think the person will genuinely like it. I mean, as long as your cat hasn’t peed on it or something.

So, those are a few ideas for what to do when you’ve got too many books. And tell me what you do in the comments!

Hansel & Gretel by Neil Gaiman

November 20, 2014

hanselFirst of all, I know, I missed yesterday. I’m sorry, but I got struck down by a terrible cold. I just couldn’t get my brain together enough to come up with something coherent for you all. So, I took the day off from writing and tried to drink all the tea in my house. I did not succeed (I have a disturbing amount of tea), but I did put a large dent into my cinnamon tea supplies. I am still ill, but doing much better today, hence the present though somewhat late and brief review.

I picked up Neil Gaiman’s new Hansel & Gretel from Little Professor the day it came out, but then I set it down on my desk and sort of forgot about it. I occasionally rested a mug of tea on it or another book. But I didn’t pick it up. It’s just one of those things I ought to own, but I’ve read Hansel & Gretel. I’ve read it repeatedly. What can Neil Gaiman really give me that ‘s new?

The answer to that is complicated. It is both, “nothing much” and “everything.”
The story has not changed much from the one you are used to.
There is a father and a mother. (Not a step-mother, by the way.) There are two children. There is a house of gingerbread, and a cage, and a bone. There is a tearful reunion of the children and their father.
There are differences.
The old woman is not necessarily a witch. Oh, she is old. She is crazy. She somehow made a house out of gingerbread in the middle of a famine. But she never uses magic that we see. She drugs the children. She locks up the children. But she doesn’t curse them or enspell them.
The mother is cold and bitter and the father isn’t perfect. He stays away more than he has to, maybe to escape his wife. And she only has to work on him for one night to get him to take the children out the first time. One night isn’t such a very long time to decide to lose your children.
The difference I found most striking was that the old woman offers to teach Gretel everything she knows about trapping visitors. I don’t think I’ve ever read a version where Gretel is to become her apprentice. I like it and it simultaneously adds to the creep-factor immeasurably.

The true standouts of the book are, of course, the illustrations by Lorenzo Mattotti. These illustrations change this from what would be, on the whole, a moderately entertaining, but ultimately forgettable retelling of Hansel and Gretel and make it something dark and creepy that will crop up in your dreams. The illustrations are not facing the text pages. You read two pages of text and then, you flip to the next page and get this:
woodsThe art seems almost violent. Everything is black or white. There are no muted greys, no bright reds. It is stark, but also rich in a strange way. There are the carefully rendered figures and then huge sweeping shapes around them. There is delicacy combined with boldness. It’s beautiful. There is no doubt about that. The illustrations are beautiful. But they are also as haunting as Gaiman’s descriptions of war. And they are what make this book stand out as something you will want to keep on your shelf rather than just reading and passing along.


Writing Excuses and the Giveaway Winners

November 18, 2014

WX-bannerFirst, let’s get the old business out of the way.
My 150 Follower giveaway is over. The winners have all been emailed. Thank you everyone for participating!

Now, onto new business.

I mentioned before that while I was at the Out of Excuses retreat I got to be the special guest on an episode of the Writing Excuses podcast. This fulfilled a major life goal and finished out the last of my three wishes for Emma Newman’s Three Wishes project.

So, if you’re at all interested, here is a link to my episode of the Writing Excuses podcast; A Bookseller’s Perspective.
(Sidenote, Brandon will reference me pitching a book in an earlier episode. That will actually come sometime next season. They posted this one much earlier than originally planned.)

Top Books of 2014 – Little Professor Edition

November 17, 2014

Every year we at Little Professor post our list of our favorite books from 2014. Most of mine are included here, but I’ll do a separate post with small reviews later. For now, here is the list full LP list without commentary:



Valour and Vanity by Mary Robinette Kowal


Lock In by John Scalzi







The Brothers Cabal by Jonathan Howard


The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell




The Magician’s Land by Lev Grossman


Tigerman by Nick Harkaway

9The Martian by Andy Weir




Tomorrow the Killing by Daniel Polansky




The Book of Strange New Things by Michael Faber6

Indexing by Seanan McGuire




4Half-Off Ragnarok by Seanan McGuire

3The Secret Place by Tana French


The Painter by Peter Heller



Ghost Train to New Orleans by Mur Lafferty


Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage

by Haruki Murakami


What’s on the Shelf

November 16, 2014

Not that I have very much time to read this month, but I thought I’d let you know what I am reading during my minuscule free time.

waistcoatsWaistcoats and Weaponry  by Gail Carrier
This is the third of the Finishing School books. Sophronia is in her second year of school learning more ways to, ehm, finish an opponent. She has a new favorite weapon, a bladed fan, but also more challenges. Soap, her dearest non-female friend has been showing a disturbing tendency  toward romantic feelings. Sidheag, Lady Kildair, is mysteriously missing from school. And Lord Mersey, Sophronia’s erstwhile beau, is being terribly confusing. And that’s just the first few chapters!
This series is a delightful steampunk romp. It’s also a YA prequel to the more adult Parasol Protectorate series that Gail is justifiably famous for. I’m enjoying it tremendously, albeit slowly.

londonLondon Falling by Paul Cornell (on audio)
I won’t recap the plot here, since I’ve talked about this book several other times. It’s a dark urban horror sort of a book. It creeps me right out to be honest, in part because it is so well narrated. The POV switches between several characters, all of whom are given very distinct voices. Damian Lynch does a lovely job. I’m also not very far into this one either, just in Chapter 8. I can’t listen to it right before bed or I’ll be up all night.
If you’re looking for a spooky, gets-under-your-skin sort of read, I recommend this one! And The Severed Streets, the sequel is already out, so there’s no waiting!

What’s on your bookshelf these days?


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