Great Gifts for Book Lovers

This past weekend I went shopping for my loved ones and since many of them are book lovers, I ended up finding a lot of lovely bookish gifts. I thought I’d share a few ideas here for those who are looking for last minute bookish gifts for the holidays.

Franklin Books 

I found some of these for sale in a used bookstore and after seeing them in person, I can say these are some of the most beautiful books I’ve ever laid eyes on. They are all well bound, beautiful colors, excellent quality and of course, a lot of amazing reads. They have everything from books on space signed by astronauts to classic favorites like Alice in Wonderland or Moby Dick. At around $100+ a book, it is a little more expensive but they’re books that will stay in a library for life and be loved forever. As a book lover myself, I’d be ecstatic if someone bought me one of my favorite books from these collections.

Alibris – A Signed First Edition 

Another great gift for bookish friends and family is a signed and/or first edition of their favorite book. I’ve always had great luck finding these on Alibris, especially since you can search by ‘hardcover’ ‘first edition’ and ‘signed’ to easily find the best books to give as gifts. Not all book lovers crave this of course, but I do think it makes a nice and thoughtful gift regardless. I’ve found them for as cheap as $20 and as expensive as $2000, so it totally depends on the book, condition and rarity.

Book Jewelry   

Some of the coolest gifts I’ve found are on websites like Etsy, especially book related gifts. You can find styles for book lovers, like for the lover of steampunk books, there is steampunk jewelry (see left necklace) or simple bookish adornments like the necklace on the right. These range anywhere from $10 to $500+ depending on what your style and budget is.

Penguin Postcards     

These one hundred postcards from penguin feature different book covers over the years published by Penguin Books.  I’ve actually wanted these for a couple years now and my friend got it for me this year. The picture on the right is one I took of some of the postcards in my box. I absolutely love it. At $16.50, its a decently priced and adorable gift for a book lover.

Library Smell in a Bottle  

In my head this smells like parchment and silence, but really, it could smell like anything. As I haven’t smelled it myself, I can’t vouch for how great this is but I think its a really cute gift idea for a book lover.

Novel Tea  

Novel themed teas for the tea drinkers in your life. I’m a coffee girl myself so I haven’t tried it, but it looks great!

Out of Print Clothing    

One of my favorite new bookish websites, Out of Print makes really cool shirts, phone cases, tote bags, eReader covers and other bookish gifts. I own the Moby Dick iPhone case, and can say it’s a great quality cover with an awesome design.

The Literary Gift Company

Another literary bookish site with lots of book related gifts from purses to stationary. I haven’t bought something from them myself, but they look like a great resource for bookish gifts.

Hope this helps someone find a great gift this season! Best of luck and Happy Holidays.

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The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

  “I hear laughter and someone asks if I need help, not in a nice way. I snarl, “What I need is for your mother to have thought a little harder nine months before your birthday.

Kate Connolly, also known as Puck, lives on the island of Thisby where once a year the fall tides cause the water horses come out of the ocean onto land. Fierce, untamed, dangerous horses that can kill a man in its jaws, these horses are legend. The locals of Thisby try to catch these horses, train them and tame them for racing. This annual event, The Scorpio Races, are where many locals of Thisby die each year in front of the crowds of tourists who come to watch.

There are two voices in this story, Puck and Sean. Puck’s parents are both dead. She lives with her two brothers trying to make ends meet by selling teapots and odd jobs, but when the landlord comes calling, they know they’re going to lose the house. Then to make matters worse, Puck’s brother Gabe says he is leaving the island. Puck panics and tells him she’s racing In The Scorpio Races keep him around a little longer. But when she signs up for the races, Puck meets challenge after challenge of men not wanting her to race because she’s a woman.

Sean is a young man who works at the local horse yard and has won the race four years in a row. He loves his water horse Corr, but never trusts him because Corr killed his father. He is working everyday for the Malvern’s horse yard to try and earn enough money to buy Corr and become independent, but he can never get Malvern to agree to sell. Sean’s part of the story is him discovering Puck, but also finding the strength to demand his own freedom.

I didn’t enjoy Stiefvater’s Shiver, I remember thinking it was predictable and boring, so I was surprised when I enjoyed this book. In Shiver, the romance was the focus rather than the action or character development, which always annoys me in novels (unless they’re romance novels, then hey, at least you’re being honest!) In The Scorpio Races, the main storyline is about Puck’s new independence and Sean trying to find his way. Yes, there is a little romance thrown in there, but it doesn’t change either character or hold them back, so I thought it enhanced the story rather than retracted from it.

What really made the book for me were the water horses, which I wish could exist so I could see them. They sound magnificent. In addition, Puck’s love for her island and Sean’s loyalty for his horse give the book a little more depth. Overall, The Scorpio Races was nothing spectacular, but a fun read and an enjoyable book nonetheless.

If you’re feeling like a little light reading on a rainy day, I wouldn’t hesitate to pick this one up.

The Son of Neptune by Rick Riordan

“Um…is that thing tame?” Frank said.
The horse whinnied angrily.
“I don’t think so,” Percy guessed. “He just said, ‘I will trample you to death, silly Chinese Canadian baby man.’

Though I have liked reading the Kane Chronicles, I was overjoyed to get another installment in the Olympians series. And not only another installment, but we get Percy back as narrator! Whether it is simply because for many of us he is the original voice of the Olympian books, or he is just a stronger character than Jason (I think the latter), it is a relief and a joy to have him back telling the story in The Son of Neptune.

In our last adventure with The Heroes of Olympus, Jason (of the Roman camp), Piper, and Leo made their way to Camp Half-Blood and went on a quest. In The Son of Neptune, we get to visit the Roman camp at last with Percy. He has lost his memory, been trained by wolves and finds himself entering the Roman camp as a new camper. This camp is quite different from Camp Half-Blood, a little more intense, a little more.. Roman. If you make a mistake or betray someone, you can be put to death as punishment. Instead of beads, you get tattoos to mark your progress. Capture the flag is a serious game where you can build castles and use deathly weapons to defeat your opponents. But there are positives to this new camp that readers will discover quickly as well, even aspects that we wish existed in Camp Half-Blood because they give us hope for the demigods and their future.

This book did feel a little like a repeat of Percy’s first trip to Camp Half-Blood but it is enjoyable to see all the differences and experience camp the Roman way. Percy has been put to sleep for months by Juno, which is why we didn’t hear from him in the last book. Now he is finally awake, has been trained by wolves and arrives at camp in his usual hectic manner, running for his life. He quickly proves himself, gains a couple of misfit friends (doesn’t he always?) and then is off on a quest. This quest goes beyond the borders of the Roman/Greek god’s powers, which adds a new element of the unknown to the plot.

Percy is, as always, funny, charming and undeniably, badass. His sidekicks have new powers we’ve never seen before and they encounter troubling new foes. The entire book is great fun, cover to cover. Fans of the Olympian series will definitely enjoy this installment.

I am already impatiently awaiting the next book because, as we all know, the next book is when both camps come together to save the world (the world seems to get into a lot of trouble eh? ) and I think it could be the best book yet.

In the Linen Closet

I’ve moved into a new apartment, a lovely, one bedroom, empty apartment. My possessions consist of a more-comfortable-than-I-thought-it-would-be air mattress on the floor and some boxes. The boxes are now half empty, scattered about with no actual plan or reason. I don’t have any type of furniture. I have nothing to set the moose vase I bought in Estonia upon. Yea, it sounds hideous, and it probably is, but I love it. It reminds me of that castle in Tallinn where we stumbled upon a ridiculous little store full of hand made moose items. Moose necklaces, moose earrings, moose coffee mugs and hand painted moose vases. Moose vases! Amazing. You see why I had to buy the vase and then carry it in my hands on the plane all the way back to America to make sure the antlers didn’t snap off. But I digress. This of course, is not the point. My moose is on the floor, my paintings are laying about, everything is just there. It has no where to go. My books though… my books are another story.

When I walked into my new apartment, I despaired a bit at the lack of bookshelves. In my opinion, new apartments should come with bookshelves. Here I was, in this new city, new apartment, driven halfway across the country, five days, endless gas money, all in essence…to tote four very full storage containers and multiple bags of books all the way to my new home. If my books hadn’t been in my car, it would have been me, a computer and two suitcases. Thanks to my books, I couldn’t see out the back window. At all. They were piled in so tightly my friend who drove across the country with me couldn’t recline her chair. It was really ridiculous (but obviously, necessary.) She was a good sport eventually though, she gave up, completely hopeless, after she tried to convince me I didn’t actually need all my books. To be fair, I gave a good 50 or so away. I only kept the ones I truly needed. Really.

When I lived in Massachusetts my apartment had no room for bookshelves so they ended up in my kitchen cabinets (all of them but one) and piled around the studio, towers of them here and there became natural fixtures. Under my tables, upon the nightstand, next to the couch. Now with no furniture, its a little tricky. But then, I discovered, my new apartment has this contraption called a linen closet.

Its got these nicely spaced shelves, a whole ceiling to floor row of them. Unable to leave my books in boxes  (anyone else have a compulsive need to unpack books?), the linen closet, top to bottom, crammed into every crevice, has become a home for my books.

I kind of like it actually, I can close the door on them at night and feel that they are safe, waiting and hoping for the day I have enough money to buy them a real home. So hey, if you know where I can get a bookshelf, please let me know. Then maybe I’ll be able to buy some sheets.

2011 Banned Books Week Giveaway (closed)

Banned Books Week! Libraries across the country are brushing off tables and setting them at their entrances with signs that say “Read a Banned Book!”, book lovers are pinning ‘I read Banned Books’ pins to their bags, and tee shirts, flyers, bookmarks are all being printed and sold at indie bookstores. Most of all, some of the most banned books in the history of our country are being read out loud, discussed and discovered.

According to the American Library Association, some of the most classic banned books are:

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
The Color Purple by Alice Walker
Ulysses by James Joyce
Beloved by Toni Morrison
The Lord of the Flies by William Golding
1984 by George Orwell
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
Animal Farm by George Orwell
The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner
Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

and countless others.

And here are some of the most challenged books of 2010:

And Tango Makes Three, by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson
The Hunger Games (series), by Suzanne Collins
Lush, by Natasha Friend
Revolutionary Voices edited by Amy Sonnie
What My Mother Doesn’t Know, by Sonya Sones
Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley

For this giveaway you have choices, which in my opinion, is delightful. You can tell me what banned book you’d like to read and why. If you win, I’ll mail it to you. Or you can suggest a banned book that you’d like donated to a specific library or school near you (that may be in need of it) and I’ll mail it to them.

So go ahead, tell me what wonderful banned words you’d love to read this week!

*Winner is @Demibeans! Please send me your mailing address so I can send you your book!*

The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka

  “On the boat we carried with us in our trunks all the things we would need for our new lives: white silk kimonos for our wedding night, colorful cotton kimonos for everyday wear, plain cotton kimonos for when we grew old, calligraphy brushes, thick black sticks of ink, thin sheets of rice paper on which to write long letters home, tiny brass Buddhas, ivory statues of the fox god, dolls we had slept with since we were five, bags of brown sugar with which to buy favors, bright cloth quilts, paper fans, English phrase books, flowered silk sashes, smooth black stones from the river that ran behind our house, a lock of hair from a boy we had once touched, and loved, and promised to write, even though we knew we never would, silver mirrors given to us by our mothers, whose last words still rang in our ears. You will see: women are weak, but mothers are strong.”

The Buddha in the Attic is a spellbinding emotional journey through the lives of mail order brides brought from Japan to San Francisco in the 1900s. In Otsuka’s poetic prose, it tells their story from the collective viewpoint of ‘We.’  The Buddha in the Attic explores how it felt to be a woman, a wife, a mother and of course, a Japanese American during those historic years.

We follow their lives from the beginning on the boat sailing to America, to their final experiences after Pearl Harbor. We are entranced by their memories of rice fields at sunrise, their disappointing meeting of their new husbands, their acceptance of the lies they were told to get them to America and their ensuing lives ever since.

“This is America, we would say to ourselves, there is no need to worry. And we would be wrong.

Their new American lives range from terrifying to comfortable. They are put to work as cheap farm labor, they are raped, they are loved, they are cherished, they are beaten, they are poor, they are happy and they are terribly miserable. They raise their children in fields, in laundromats, in restaurants and in big houses where they work as maids. Their children stop speaking Japanese, know perfect English, disregard traditions and are sent back to Japan for a better life. Then the war begins and their lives change once again, forever. Their stories are entrancing and heartbreaking.

On the boat we had no idea we would dream of our daughter every night until the day we died, and that in our dreams she would always be three and as she was when we last saw her: a tiny figure in a dark red kimono squatting at the edge of a puddle, utterly entranced by the sight of a dead floating bee.

Though the very last installment is from the viewpoint of the White Americans and doesn’t quite live up to the entire book thus far, Otsuka’s writing is a pleasure to read. Her many threads flow together seamlessly without losing sight of each joy or tragedy. She is able to effortlessly capture us with glimpses into each individual’s life and the collective experience in the same sentence.

We stay with each woman until the last moments of her story, and cannot help but wish for more after we turn the last page.

She left laughing. She left without looking back.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

“The circus looks abandoned and empty. But you think perhaps you can smell caramel wafting through the evening breeze, beneath the crisp scent of the autumn leaves. A subtle sweetness at the edges of cold. The sun disappears completely beyond the horizon, and the remaining luminosity shifts from dusk to twilight. The people around you are growing restless from waiting, a sea of shuffling feet, murmuring about abandoning the endeavor in search of somewhere warmer to pass the evening. You yourself are debating departing when it happens.”

The Night Circus is, in a word, enchanting. I started this book over coffee yesterday morning and throughout my day whenever I had an appointment or a chore, all I could think was “When do I get to go back to reading The Night Circus?”

Le Cirque des Reves is a black and white circus that appears suddenly and leaves just as silently. It opens at nightfall and closes at dawn. It is filled with circular paths that lead to circular tents, each of which invite you to see an astounding environment, performer or experience. There is the ice garden, a whole crystalline world made of sculpted frozen water, from the petals of the roses to the benches at the fountain. There are the acrobats who twirl and twist in ways no human thought possible, the statues which are real people moving so slowly you can’t actually see it, the fire eaters and the fortune teller. The tents are filled with memories, mazes, magic and dreams. All of which are constantly growing, changing and new tents full of new marvels are always appearing.

The Night Circus could not exist without two people who are central to its life and this story. Celia, the Illusionist, uses her real magical abilities to put on a show as one of the acts in the circus. Marco, the proprietor’s assistant, is another magician who manipulates aspects of the circus from the outside world. Celia and Marco both grew up with rivaling teachers, they learned their magic in different ways, through pain and heartbreak for one, through books and loneliness for the other. Their whole lives they were being prepared to compete with each other in a chosen venue to prove which method was stronger. What we learn quickly is that this chosen venue is The Night Circus and though its entire existence is beautiful and wondrous, it is also a very serious and dangerous game.

What stands out in this book is not so much the characters or the plot, though both are quite engaging, but the circus itself. I could not help but wish with every tent that was visited, every amazing new aspect of this world unveiled, that there would always be more. It is completely mesmerizing.

Everything from the food “Apples dipped in caramel so dark they appeared almost blackened but remained light and crisp and sweet. Chocolate bats with impossibly delicate wings. The most delicious cider Bailey had ever tasted.

To each new act we encounter “But the figure on this platform does not move. Bailey almost thinks it is a statue, dressed in a white gown edged in matching fur that cascades beyond the platform to the ground. Her hair and skin, even her eyelashes, are an icy white. But she moves. Very, very slowly. So slowly Bailey cannot pinpoint exact motions, only slight changes. Soft flakes of iridescent snow float to the ground, falling from her like leaves from a tree.

It would be hard to explain this book further, as there are multiple storylines that twist and turn around Marco and Celia, much like the black and white paths around the tents they create. The characters that inhabit their world each add something different, whether it be sadness, magnificence or comfort as soothing as hot chocolate on a dark rainy night.

As I turned the last page of this book, I was delighted and then suddenly, overwhelmed by a deep feeling of melancholy. I realized that though I can visit Le Cirque des Reves in the pages of this book for years to come, I will never actually get to see the mysteries of The Night Circus. And for that, I will always feel a profound regret that such wondrous place doesn’t actually exist.