Transcript: Not Now, A Very Special Holiday Gift Guide

[Funin’ and Sunin’ by Kevin MacLeod plays]

C: Welcome back to episode 21 of Not Now, I’m Reading your one-stop shop for all things genre. My name is Chelsea.

K: And I’m Kay.

C: And this is going to be our holiday gift guide. Things that we really loved that came out this year that we are gifting to people or would be willing to gift to people. Do we wanna go back and forth?

K: Sure!

C: Okay, do you wanna go ahead and start with the things that we do? Like, go ahead and start with your cookie party thing and then I’ll talk about what we do to celebrate.

K: So mostly this is kind of doubling up as our favorite releases of 2017 books. [Laughs]

C: Yes.

K: Cause we think gifting books is fairly easy and nice and not incredibly expensive. But we both just had a couple of little ideas of things you can also do. I am always doing holiday gifting on a budget. Cause usually my gift is traveling somewhere to see my family and it’s not cheap. So one of my favorite things to do is get together with your local friends. Everyone makes a couple batches of their favorite cookies. And everyone brings a different kind and you all can make up little cookie gift bags or boxes to send to people or to give to people. And that way you don’t have to make up fifteen different types of cookies, but you can still manage to give like fifteen different types of cookies which is always lots of fun. And you can make them look really pretty for not a lot of money.

C: In a similar vein, we always do a potluck dinner every year. And especially if you’re trying to do things on the less expensive end that’s more experiential that also involves gathering people together and share people’s company is a good way to cover all your bases. Because if everybody brings a dish for not too much of a financial investment you can cook a holiday meal for people and get together and then you’ll have that experience as well as that camaraderie to kind of use as your holiday present both as yourself and to everybody else.

K: I love a good potluck. And you can actually do, if you actually buy a turkey or a ham or whatever, it’s pretty expensive. But one thing I’ve done with friends in the past is everyone pitches in a couple dollars and brings a side, and then whoever’s hosting will use everyone’s dollars to buy the big meat entree that you’re cooking and it makes it much more fiscally reasonable for everybody. [Laughs]

C: We’ve also done before you can get turkey tenderloin. There’s various ways you can get a similar holiday vibe for less expensive. And then again, like Kay said, if you’re the one hosting and you’re providing the house and the dishes and the seating and all of that, you know, it never hurts to ask friends to kick in a couple of bucks and then you can have that wonderful holiday warm fuzzies together. That’s always my favorite part of the year is friends getting together.

K: Just spending time with people you actually enjoy spending time with is the part of the holidays that I most enjoy. I don’t really care that much about presents or even the food, specifically, but around the holidays is when you get to see people you don’t see that often, a lot of the time. Which is great.

C: Amen!

[Laughter]

C: But since you cannot always wrap up that warm fuzzy, we do have some actual things. Media things and books and things you can purchase IRL to give to people. My standby for the last couple years and for the next foreseeable several years, are the illustrated Harry Potter books that are coming out. I’ve been getting these for my niece. My niece just turned thirteen, so by the time these finish coming out she will have aged up a little bit, but who doesn’t love a wonderful Harry potter book. If you haven’t seen these, they’re illustrated by Jim Kay and they’re large hardback editions with a nice ribbon marker. They’re absolutely gorgeous. The Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets are already out

K: They’re actually almost the same price as if you just got the regular hardback edition, so I’ve been slowly replacing my collection because my hardbacks are kind of beat to heck because they got lended to everyone in the extended family. So I’m slowly replacing mine as the illustrated editions come out. But they are huge.

C: They are huge and they’re about to get longer, so I’m guessing that after this year they’ll slow down to every other year or so, but rest assured that whenever they come out they’re automatically on the buy list.

K: Absolutely. So my first pick is going to be, it’s a double, okay? So it’s An Extraordinary Union and A Hope Divided by Alyssa Cole, which are the first two books in the Loyal League series. These are historical romances with black heroines during the Civil War. And An Extraordinary Union we did read for the podcast, so we’ll link you to that episode. But then A Hope Divided, the second book in this series, just came out in November. It’s also wonderful. They are so great. Alyssa is such a gem. Read them immediately, buy them for your friends.

C: I’m gonna go ahead and recommend my next book, that is Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia. You guys heard me talk briefly about this book when I was about three quarters of the way through it. But then I finished it and it immediately became one of my favorite books of the year. Content warnings ahead of time for depression and anxiety and mentions of suicide. Just so, if that’s a thing for you, you can know that going into it. But even with all that being said, this book is such a fantastic discussion of fandom and the relationship between fan consumer and fan creator. And also being in high school and falling in love and dealing with having most of your friends be on the internet. Like hashtag relatable.

[Laughter]

C: Said the girl who majority of her friendships are entirely internet based.

K: I mean, yeah.

C: Yeah. So it’s completely wonderful. It’s young adult, first person young adult. But I really think it’s worth picking up and I’m looking forward to reading some of Francesca Zappia’s back catalogue because if all of it lines up with how Eliza and her Monsters was, it’s gonna be really great.

K: Nice! I’m also gonna rec some YA while we’re at it and it’s gonna be the entire Lois Lane trilogy of books by Gwenda Bond.

C: So good!

K: This series starts with Fallout so you’ll wanna start there. I don’t think there’s a box set, as yet.

C: Not that I’ve seen.

K: So there’s not a super cheap way you can gift this to someone. But the first book, I think, is in paperback for less than $8 US. So that’s not terrible. And if you really wanted to gift someone the whole series you can do that for not a huge amount of money. They’re really funny. They’re really sweet. And Lois Lane is just the best.

C: I was gonna say, she’s just fantastic. All the Lois Lane, please.

K: I’ve talked about these a couple times on the podcast, but it’s about awesome girl reporter Lois Lane in high school.

C: So good. Which is just such the perfect place for Lois Lane to be, being Lois Lane.

K: So good. Love it.

C: Okay, so since, let’s just keep kicking on the young adult train, I will go ahead and recommend When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon. So if you want to know more in-depth how much we loved it you can hear us be completely nonsensical about it for like 45 minutes because it’s so good.

K: It’s so cute.

C: It’s so good. It is about Dimple Shah who just wants to go to this programming camp and to win this programming competition for an app, but there’s a boy there named Rishi who unbeknownst to her is her betrothed, basically. And when they meet at first it goes very badly, but then things turn around and it’s an adorable young adult romance that’s about family and being a teen first generation and just all of those things combined with technology and being away at camp and falling in love and it’s just so good. It’s so good, guys. Plus it’s got A+ cover.

K: It has an amazing cover. Amazing cover!

C: Front and back. That is 360 degrees amazing cover design.

K: Absolutely it is. Alright, next up. Back to romance. This is a two-fer again. It’s Take the Lead and Dance with Me, the first two books in Alexis Daria’s series about — I don’t even know why I like these, because I am not a reality tv person, but it’s about the dancers on a Dancing with the Stars type reality tv competition. Take the Lead is my favorite of the two, but they’re both great. They both have New York Puerto Rican female leads. And they are both amazing and very different. And in the first one the hero is [laughs] this is peak Chelsea bait, okay?

[Laughter]

K: The hero in the first one is this tall stoic guy whose family is on one of those wilderness survival-y type shows set in the Alaskan wilderness.

C: Ohmygod.

[Laughter]

K: So she needs to read that immediately.

C: I’m so excited to get to these, friends.

K: They’re super charming and funny and very sexy. So that’s, again, Take the Lead and Dance with Me by Alexis Daria.

C: Wonderful. I will also go ahead and recommend a romance. This is another one we did podcast about. It’s kind of another three-fer. I think it’s nice, sometimes, to give anthologies as gifts because it gives the recipient a chance to sort of dabble or try some things that are new for them and also an entirely new thing you’re throwing at them. I am of course talking about Hamilton’s Battalion: A Trio of Romances by Courtney Milan, Alyssa Cole, and Rose Lerner. We actually just very recently did our episode on this so you can scroll not too far back and find it. We really really enjoyed it. Some of the romances are stronger than others, but like I said, there’s something in here for everyone. Both for people who have been reading romance for a while and who are maybe just kind of starting out and still figuring out what it is that they enjoy or like the most. So, yeah. Definitely check that out. We love Alyssa and Courtney and have recced several of their titles on the show before.

K: Yeah.

C: Rose Lerner was a new one to me, but yeah. Still highly recommend that.

K: Really love Hamilton’s Battalion. Although neither of us can ever spell battalion right on the first try.

C: Did I spell it wrong in our notes?

K: You sure did.

C: Yup.

K: I spelled it wrong like eight times doing the transcript for that episode.

C: Why are there two t’s?

K: Well, battle has two t’s in it so it shouldn’t be that hard for me to spell it.

C: And yet.

K: You know. And yet. Alright, it’s time for my token white guy rec.

[Chelsea laughs]

K: So obviously it’s gonna be a book by John Scalzi. It is The Collapsing Empire which is the first book in his new space opera series. It is fantastic. It is so funny. It is, I don’t even wanna say hardly anything about it because I feel like even really discussing the concept of it much is a spoiler. It has one of the best ensemble casts I have read in SFF in a while. It’s so hilarious. If you’re familiar with Scalzi’s work you’ll know if his humor works for you or not. It works really well for me and I think it’s very funny. One of the main leads in this has a super foul mouth which I really enjoyed, but my dad who also reads all of Scalzi’s books with me was not a fan of that.

[Laughter]

K: Which I thought was super adorable. He’s like I just don’t think she needed to swear that much. I was like, okay dad, but you have met me, so I don’t.

[Laughter]

K: I don’t understand. It’s really funny. I’ll link to, I fancast this book over on Book Riot. So go ahead and look at that. It’s very, very lightly spoilery. But basically just in a these are who the main characters are kind of way.

C: And it’s a delightful fancast.

K: Thank you, thank you very much.

C: You’re welcome. Well deserved.

K: Someday we’re gonna get a John Scalzi property actually made after somebody buys the rights to it, but there were three different things he had that just cycled back out. Like Redshirts rights are back up for purchase again, so that’s not getting developed for TV like I was hoping it would. [sighs] Heavy sigh. Anyway, token white guy rec: John Scalzi’s The Collapsing Empire.

C: Wonderful.

K: Okay, next up: Act Like It and Pretty Face. Pretty Face came out this year, Act Like It I’ve been talking about how much I love it for a million years.

C: If we had a list of things we can’t talk about anymore because of the number of times we’ve talked about it.

[Laughter]

C: This would definitely be on the list.

K: Those two and Crimes Against Humanity.

[Laughter]

C: Hey, man. We like what we like and we like it real hard.

K: Act Like It and Pretty Face are both really wonderful kind of romcomy contemporary romances. They’re by a New Zealand author. They’re set in the London theater scene. They’re both fantastic. Act Like It is a fake dating romance and Pretty Face is a kind of like, forbidden he’s sort of my boss there’s a little bit of an age difference romance. They’re both wonderful. The next book in the series, I believe, is coming out next fall and I’m super excited about it. And we’ll definitely keep you updated. But again, that’s Act Like It and Pretty Face by Lucy Parker and these are both out in paperback, now, so awesome.

C: So get on that. My next rec is gonna be Ashwin by Kit Rocha. This is the first book in the Gideon’s Riders series. It’s not a spinoff series, but it’s set in the same world as her Beyond series. They’re very tangentially related. You do not need to have read one to read the other, really in any way. It’ll just add some fun little extra details in there if you have already read the Beyond books. But this is basically the story of a supersoldier who is programmed not to feel learning how to find his feelings.

[wailing noises]

C: And it’s just so good.

K: I think Ashwin might be my favorite of their books, which is saying something cause I love basically all of their books.

C: I have a really hard time not always recommending Beyond Jealousy, which is really hard cause it’s like the fifth book, but it’s the one with Rachel and Cruz and Ace and they’re my original ride-or-die OT3 for life in this universe. I just. I have a problem. But! I think this is —

K: Is it a problem, though? I don’t think it’s a problem.

C: No, it’s delightful. It’s the best thing. But this is a wonderful jumping off point for picking up their work or for getting kind of an intro to this universe. In addition to the fact that, I mean, who doesn’t love a good supersoldier learns to find his feelings story? It’s so good.

K: It’s so good. [Laughs] I think we’ll just say it’s so good about everything.

C: Well, obviously.

K: Obviously. Next I’ve got another double rec because both of these came out this year and they’re in the same series. It’s The Ruin of a Rake and The Lawrence Browne Affair, both by Cat Sebastian. And this is a dual rec for both me and Chelsea because we love these so much.

C: Every Cat Sebastian book.

K: They’re always good. We read The Ruin of a Rake for an episode, right?

C: Yeah, we read it.

K: They’re just so good. I think that this series is complete, now. I’m pretty sure that this was the end. The other book in this series was The Soldier’s Scoundrel, if I’m remembering correctly. A Soldier’s Scoundrel? The Soldier’s Scoundrel. Something like that. We’ll have links to everything in the show notes, obviously. I think you can get the ebooks for all three right now for less than $6, so if you know someone, which many romance readers do read a lot of stuff digitally, I strongly recommend that as a really inexpensive gift, but I believe they are all available in paperback as well.

C: Guys, they are so fantastic, they’re so fucking good.

K: Really wonderful male/male historical romances. So funny, so swoony, so good.

C: Just fantastic.

K: Just so fantastic.

C: I will go ahead and do my double rec. These books are not actually in any way related to each other other than they are written by the same people. The first one is Dating You / Hating You by Christina Lauren. Christina Lauren is a writing duo. This is an adult romance that is about two kind of competing Hollywood PR talent agents as their firms merge. It starts out and it’s got a lot of really good prank war enemies to lovers stuff kind of going on, but it also does a great job looking at sexism in the workplace. I read it shortly around the time that the news about Harvey Weinstein came out which made it kinda hit really close to home in some of those particular scenes, but it’s still really sweet and really swoony and has maybe one of the best meet cutes that I read at the beginning this year. And the other Christina Lauren book I’m recommending is Autoboyography which is a young adult male/male romance sort of. It’s more about the beginnings of a romance, but it is basically about a young man who is out as bisexual in California and then his mom gets a job at a tech company in Salt Lake City so he chooses to go back in the closet kind of as he thinks of it for the good of his family, but then he meets a boy with whom he falls in love so he’s got to deal with the thing where he’s back in the closet and about to leave Utah and he’s also writing this novel. And it’s all very emotionally intense and muddled as many things in young adult literature tend to be, but I absolutely loved it. It was fantastic. When I talked about it in our recommendation section in another episode I ranted for like fifteen minutes because it was so good and so fantastic. Definitely recommend picking it up.

K: Well, I’ll recommend my last YA book, then. This is The Names They Gave Us by Emery Lord. This is the first book I’ve read by Emery, but it will definitely not be the last. It came out in May which is perfect because it’s a super summery read, but I also love to give those in the winter because it transports you from that terrible late December early January weather you may be having depending on where you live. I’m not having that, currently, cause I am in Phoenix and it is like eighty degrees outside, but I know other places have already gotten snow.

C: It’s thirty-four outside right now.

K: Yuck.

[Laughter]

K: So this is a young adult book that takes place mostly at a summer camp. The lead is kind of a last-minute replacement for a camp counselor at what is basically a camp for troubled youth. The prose is really gorgeous. There’s a great ensemble of diverse characters who all feel really fleshed out. And it deals with a lot of serious stuff. The main character’s mom is very seriously ill and that’s why she’s kinda been shipped off to this camp at the last minute. But it’s really, really wonderful. You will laugh, you will cry, and it’s just really good. So the paperback of this does not come out until May and the hardcovers currently at, like, $14, which is not super cheap, but it’s not super expensive. And I’m seeing used copies on Amazon for like less than $4. So you could find a cheaper one if you don’t have bad feelings about giving used books. And I definitely don’t feel bad about giving used books.

C: Oh, not at all.

K: I gift used books a lot. So. I would totally recommend that. Again, that’s The Names They Gave Us by Emery Lord.

C: Fantastic. Okay, well I’ll go ahead and recommend my one middle grade of the year. I really like middle grade books, so I’m gonna use this as a time to plug middle grade books as a genre. They can be great for busting reading slumps or for trying out new tropes or genres or content that you may not be familiar with. They usually read really fast, so if you have some people in your life who are maybe a little bit older but reluctant readers, they can be really great entry points. That’s my little soapbox about middle grade and why it’s great.

K: We love middle grade.

[Laughter]

C: Oh man, and 2017 killed it with middle grade, a lot of good stuff came out this year. But the one I specifically wanna talk about is called Star-Crossed by Barbara Dee. This is about a sixth grade class that is putting on a production of Romeo and Juliet and one of the girls in the class has a crush on the girl playing Juliet and she, through a series of events, gets cast playing Romeo. So it’s about being young and exploring your sexuality. Not really coming to terms with it, the main character never at any point is debating or struggling with whether she is bisexual, it’s just something she’s then kind of going through as she begins to grow up and find other people she may or may not have affection for as most middle schoolers do. But all of that also takes place within the confines of them being introduced to the story of Romeo and Juliet. Which, as we obviously all know how that plays out, but it’s fun to see it through these kind of baby-faced young readers who are still learning about the story. If you are at all interested in Shakespeare or you have any kids in their life who are going through their own process of coming out or coming to terms with their sexuality it’s really super adorable and a great read to pick up.

K: It sounds so cute. I really do need to read that.

C: It’s so cute and once you do you’ll really fly through it, so. Save it for a slump and it’ll be good to bust out.

K: Perfect. Alright, my next pick is my last romance pick of the day. It is The Duchess Deal by Tessa Dare.

C: So, this book is so good.

K: I have frantically recced this to so many people because I love it so much. We are both big Tessa Dare fans, here at the podcast. But I’m pulling up this tweet because she retweeted me and agreed with my characterization. Well, basically I was telling her happy book birthday, cause it’s got marriage of convenience, badminton, and Regency Batman. And then I did the little screencaps from Lego Batman where he’s like [laughs] I don’t talk about feelings, Alfred. I don’t have any. I’ve never seen one.

[Laughter]

C: I love Lego Batman.

K: I love Lego Batman. And Tessa retweeted it and said if you’re wondering which of the Batman’s Ash most closely resembles it’s Lego Batman, 100%. So that should tell you [laughs] how perfect this book is. It’s very romcomy. There are lots of shenanigans. I love me a marriage of convenience and that’s not normally, uh, Chelsea’s favorite.

C: Not usually my jam, y’all.

K: And she still loved this book.

C: Although, to be fair, I wonder how many times I have to say it’s not my jam only to be proven wrong until I have to stop and acknowledge it’s more of my jam than I originally thought.

K: Here’s my thing: a lot of times a thing doesn’t seem to be your jam only because you’ve read bad examples of examples of the things.

C: That’s probably fair. And I am slightly more particular in terms of what I will accept as a reasonable explanation for why you would get fake married or have a fake relationship, but his book passes cause it’s fantastic.

K: It’s so good. I love it and I love all the supporting characters and I’m looking forward to the other books in this series, cause there’s some excellent sequel bait in this one. So again, that’s The Duchess Deal by Tessa Dare.

C: Alright, cool. I’ll go ahead and recommend my last recommendation. This was another one that kinda caught me by surprise, but there have been several times since I’ve read where I stopped to think about it and it’s White Tears by Hari Kunzru. This book is fucking bananas. Y’all.

[Laughter]

C: It was pitched to me as a ghost story that’s southern gothic, but it is so much more than that. It is about music and cultural appropriation and race relations, but it is a ghost story, but it’s also fucking terrifying and will creep you out and has several fever dream qualities that just oh man, this book was as trip. I really loved it. I would really recommend picking it up if you’re at all into horror, cause I think it’s a really cool spin on a ghost story and on the things you can do with horror that also talk about things like race. It’s not very long. I actually listened to it the first time on audio and then went back and checked it out from my library on ebook. So it’s worth checking out in either format. Really really loved it. Highly recommend. It’s. Stick with it. It starts weird, but it gets so much better.

K: Doesn’t it start weird and get weirder? I feel like when the Reading the End podcast read this everything they said blew my mind.

C: It was not that thing but was such a good thing in its own right that I highly recommend you pick it up.

[Funin’ and Sunin’ by Kevin McLeod plays]

C: Alright, friends, well that wraps up our holiday gift guide slash let’s be real, best of 2017 books recap episode. Basically. But yeah, let us know if you have any thoughts about anything we recommended or any books for 2017 you really wanna shout out as being worth passing along during the holiday season. You can join us next week when we will be reading Warcross by Marie Lu. We had some thoughts, friends, and our thoughts differed in terms of the thoughts that we had.

[Kay laughs]

C: So come back and join us for that. The week after that we will be reading Leia, Princess of Alderaan by Claudia Gray, which will also kick off our super special basically all holiday Star Wars extravaganza, folks. You heard it here first. Through the entire month of December, minus an episode for doing kind of a statistical breakdown of the podcast thus far, we are gonna be talking about Star Wars and we are gonna kick it off, like I said, with Leia, Princess of Alderaan by Claudia Gray. It’s out now. Read it and come back and join us when we’re talking about all of our many, many Star Wars feelings. Until then, you can come find us on the internet, on twitter. We are always here to talk to you folks. Take care of yourselves and take care of each other. Bye, guys.

K: Bye!

[Funin’ and Sunin’ by Kevin McLeod plays]

Outtakes:

K: It won’t let me exit the call, but it won’t keep letting me talk. It’s driving me crazy. If it keeps doing this we might just need to kick it old-school on the phone, again.

 

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