Some of our favorite authors to follow on Twitter

We live in a golden age — not only do we get to read masterful books from some truly groundbreaking authors, but we also get to follow them on social media and see what they’re having for lunch and their musings on the latest Taylor Swift album. I’ve been on bookstagram for a while, but recently started getting more into Book Twitter, and while it is a wild and lawless place, it’s also full of hilarious, thoughtful writers. It makes sense that great writing would translate to wonderful social media accounts — check out some of our favorites!

  1. C.L. Polk, author of The Kingston Cycle novels and The Midnight Bargain. Her tweets are somehow relatable and hilarious.
  2. Christina Lauren, author duo who has written 25+ romance books together. They will remind you that being a romance writer isn’t all champagne and flowers.
  3. Kwame Mbalia, author of the middle-grade Tristan Strong series and Last Gate of the Emperor. He is the creator of Gum Baby, Tristan Strong’s snarky sidekick, who is the best thing about the internet.
  4. Saeed Jones, poet and author of How We Fight For Our Lives and Prelude to A Bruise. I follow him for unapologetic takes on the news, politics, writing, and everything else. And for the judgemental cuteness of his dog.
  5. Susan Orlean, writer for The New Yorker, and author of multiple books. Over the summer, a drunken tweetstorm provided some much-needed laughter.
  6. Alexander Chee, author of How to Write an Autobiographical Novel, The Queen of the Night, and Edinburgh. He’s a professor of creative writing at Dartmouth, and his tweets make you realize that the truly great writers see things a little bit differently.
  7. Jasmine Guillory, author of five romance novels. She’s been open and honest about the difficulties of keeping on during the pandemic, which has provided me with some much-needed realism. Her newsletter is also wonderful — I’ve gotten some great recipes from it!
  8. Brandon Taylor, author of Real Life and the upcoming Filthy Animals. My favorite things are his hot takes on centuries-old pieces of art. 
  9. R.F. Kuang, author of The Poppy War trilogy. Readers are constantly tweeting sentiments like “WHY!?” at her as they make their way through her books and terrible things happen to their favorite characters — she seems to take great delight in this, and it’s hilarious to watch.
  10. Nicole Chung, author of All You Can Ever Know, editor of Catapult. She recently started a parenting column, and I’ve found it enlightening and inspiring. Also her Peggy the puppy tweets are a pure endorphin rush.
  11. Roxane Gay, author of several books and contributor to multiple anthologies. Honestly, there are so many reasons to follow her, but I think her pinned tweet sums it up: “I will say it again. My tweets are not meant to be universal. They will not nor cannot account for every reality. If something I say doesn’t include or apply to you that doesn’t invalidate your truth.”
  12. Kristen Arnett, author of Mostly Dead Things and the upcoming With Teeth. The randomness of her thoughts regularly makes me snort with laughter.
  13. Dahlia Adler, author of several novels and book blogger. She regularly champions other authors’ books with boundless enthusiasm and joy, which is truly delightful.
  14. Leah Johnson, author of You Should See Me in A Crown and the upcoming Rise to the Sun. Her small obsessions always make me smile — when she talked about Logan Lerman in Percy Jackson, it ended up making me start the series.
  15. R.O. Kwon, coeditor of Kink, author of The Incendiaries and contributor to multiple outlets. She can tweet back to back tweets about writing panic, political disgust and needing a haircut without breaking a sweat.
  16. Aiden Thomas, author of Cemetery Boys and the upcoming Lost in the Never Woods. He has so much enthusiasm for the things that he loves that it will leap through the screen.
  17. Sabaa Tahir author of An Ember in the Ashes series. Another writer who seems to take pleasure from the pain she causes her readers by putting the characters in her books through pain and suffering.
  18. Alisha Rai, romance author most recently of First Comes Like. She creates excellent TikTok videos and posts them on Twitter for everyone’s enjoyment.
  19. Samantha Irby, blogger and author of several books. No one’s books have ever made me laugh like hers, and this translates well to her Twitter feed. 
  20. Sarah Gailey, author of several novellas and books, most recently The Echo Wife. Their tweets take on the most random of things, and they always stands up for the disabled community.

And special shout out to Mike Lasagna — he’s not an author, but champions them relentlessly in a way that will make you buy way too many books.

Black History Month book recommendations and beyond

To celebrate Black History Month, we asked some of our favorite bookstagrammers to recommend books you should be reading all year round, not just in February! Give them a follow, and then pick up one of these books — there’s something for everyone on this list!

  1. Katherine (@foreverabookseller) recommends: Happily Ever Afters by Elise Bryant. “Happily Ever Afters is for every Black girl that’s felt like she would never find love because she had been told by the world for years that she wasn’t good enough. I can tell you that you are good enough, and I know that by the time that you’re done reading this romantic, funny, kind, loving, and smart debut young adult novel, you’ll believe it too.”
  2. Brittany (@bnjreads) recommends: Snapped by Alexa Martin. “On my account you will see a mix of everything, from feel good rom-coms to explorations of trauma — I read it all! My most anticipated read of 2020 also happened to be my favorite (don’t you love it when that happens)! Snapped by Alexa Martin is my recommendation! Alexa Martin always finds a way to weave together football, social issues, true sisterhood and all the steam you need in her books and just like the other books in the Playbook Series, (Intercepted, Fumbled and Blitzed), Snapped delivered it all!”
  3. Aixa (@thatgoodgoodbook) says: “I recommend Four Hundred Souls, edited by Ibram X. Kendi and Keisha Blain out on February 2 from One World Books. It’s the perfect alchemy of art and history written by some of the most insightful thought leaders and writers (artists) in America. Readers will go back to the future.”
  4. Nicola (@bookedupandbusy) recommends: Born A Crime by Trevor Noah. “I loved this book because not only is it educational and enlightening about Trevor growing up post-apartheid in South Africa, it is filled with super funny and charismatic stories. A well-written and genius memoir.”
  5. Shakara (@booksnbrownsugar) recommends: Monday’s Not Coming by Tiffany D. Jackson. “My top recommendation for any reader or non-reader is Monday’s Not Coming by Tiffany D. Jackson. It’s an easy read that’s packed with the right amount of suspense to keep the pages turning from beginning to end while also sparking the reality of missing children, gentrification, and abuse. A good book should move you, and this novel does just that!”
  6. Bailey (@paperinkstars) recommends: Legendborn by Tracy Deonn. “Legendborn, a debut YA fantasy, is the book I wish I had growing up, the book I’m beyond happy to have grace my shelves now, and the book I would recommend to anyone. It’s a beautiful and impactful exploration of grief, PTSD, intergenerational trauma, racism, and so much more. Legendborn is definitely worth the read!”
  7. Shani (@_shaniakilah) recommends: How To Love A Jamaican by Alexia Arthurs. “Such a wonderful collection, exploring stories from Jamaica and its diaspora in a lyrical and authentic way. Absolutely beautiful and unforgettable!”
  8. Rachelle (@raethereviewer) recommends: Early Departures by Justin A. Reynolds. “It’s a wonderful exploration of friendship, grief, and moving forward. It also tackles issues of toxic masculinity in the Black community.”
  9. Toya (@contemporarily_yours) recommends: When You Were Everything by Ashley Woodfolk. “When You Were Everything is a beautifully written and heartbreaking story that explores the topics of friendships, love, loyalty, and how our expectations can be flawed. It’s a story that reminds us that not all friendships last forever and that sometimes friends grow apart, leaving us to pick up the pieces and figuring out how to continue on without someone you thought would be around forever.”
  10. Suzie (@asbthebookworm) says: “For my book recommendation, I’m going to go with a favourite read from 2020, which is Punching the Air by Ibi Zoboi and Dr. Yusef Salaam. It’s an incredible and deeply moving YA novel in verse that at its core is about finding light even in the darkest of places and holding on to that light. It’s also about the power of art and the importance of the written and spoken word. A phenomenal story that will stay with you long after you’ve read the last page.”
  11. Shawntaye (@shawntaye1) recommends: The Toni Morrison Book Club by Juda Bennett, Winnifred Brown-Glaude, Cassandra Jackson, and Piper Kendrix Williams. “In this nonfiction book, four friends — who are also educators — examine themes in Toni Morrison novels and then connect those themes to their own lives and injustices in the Black community. Reading this book, I felt like part of their intimate circle and wanted to reread the novels with them. This book is evidence that Morrison and her work will always be relevant.”
  12. Zae (@whittyreads) recommends: Take A Hint, Dani Brown by Talia Hibbert. “Last year was a difficult year in many different ways for people. However, that book brought me so much joy and I think it’s a book that everyone should read. If you need to smile or laugh this book is the perfect pick me up.”
  13. Toya (@thereadingchemist) recommends: Concrete Rose by Angie Thomas. “Angie Thomas delivers a raw and unflinching account of Maverick Carter’s life before he was the wise and down to earth dad in The Hate U Give. Concrete Rose will make you uncomfortable and question your biases when it comes to topics such as gangs, teenage pregnancy, and incarceration, but this story is a must read when it comes to understanding the youth that is so often ignored and/or beat down by society.”
  14. Lizz (@readingismyfirstlove) recommends: A More Perfect Union by Tammye Huf. “This romance between a Black slave woman and an Irish immigrant, based on the author’s ancestors’ own story, will make you feel deeply for things that didn’t happen to you: to cry at fictional misery, grieve an imaginary loss and cherish moments of a make-believe forbidden love. Along with the touching romance and theme of courage through strife, this book is a tear-jerker. Full review on Bad Form.”
  15. Hawa (@hawa.reads) recommends: They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us by Hanif Abdurraqib. “I love this book because of the way that the author connects music to his personal experiences. For Hanif Abdurraqib to have such a way with words, I think this essay collection is pretty underrated. I’ll read anything he writes!”
  16. Kayla (@honeybuttergal) recommends: Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi. “Transcendent Kingdom is a book about many things — depression, science, the opioid epidemic, absentee parents, wrestling with one’s faith, life in the American South as an immigrant and racial minority. Each topic warrants a closer look in their own right, but where some books might tackle them all and feel bloated, Gyasi is able to strip each of these topics down to their most salient points in a way that is both breathtaking and haunting.”
  17. Latoya (@jamaicangirlreads) recommends: Genesis Begins Again by Alicia D. Williams. “I loved this book! I saw my younger self on every page and I connected personally with the story and characters. This is a middle grade book that is so relevant for our young girls especially at a time like this. The writing flows easily for the targeted audience and I can see so many young girls relating to Genesis’ story of learning to love and accept herself, manage family complexities, colorism and belonging. I’ll probably re-read this book many times and it will always be on my most recommended list.”
  18. Vivi (@culturedmarketer.reads) says: “I would recommend Afropean, a travel memoir by UK broadcaster, photographer and journalist Johny Pitts who journeys in search of Black Europe. A lot of the history discussed was personal to me, having been born in DR Congo, a country which suffered atrocities under Belgium’s colonial rule, and raised in Europe. Pitts’ visits to a gentrified Matongé and to Tervuren, the disgraced Royal Museum for Central Africa in Belgium brought back memories. It made me reflect on Sri Lankan novelist Ambalavaner Sivababdan’s words, as referenced in the book, ‘We are here because you were there.’”
  19. Mikhaila (@mikhailareads) recommends: Black Card by Chris L.Terry. “Black Card is a satire on the black experience. The narrator is a mixed race guy in a punk rock band. I enjoyed this book because it’s reminiscent of living while black, and left me thinking about the painstaking task of being black in America. Terry’s story is reality bending, hilarious, and a unique perspective on blackness.”
  20. CoCo (@coco_chasing_adventures) says: “My choice for a book to get you through quarantine is Take A Hint, Dani Brown by Talia Hibbert. This novel follows the spunky and colorful Dani Brown —  an ambitious, witchy,  PhD candidate studying feminist theories. Dani charges her crystals in a full moon (word to Beyoncé), is body and sex positive, and puts her career first. Still, orgasms are elusive and as a result, she has taken to asking the Gods to send her the perfect sneaky link up. In walks the big, strong and cuddly Zafir Ansari. He’s a former rugby player and reads romance novels (swoon!) This book meets all my criteria for a romance novel: fierce protagonist, snarky humor and Black girl magic. Out of everything, it’s the STEAM for me. Curvy bodies, spontaneous romps and satisfying endings will have you  reaching for every book written by Talia Hibbert.”
  21. Marlowe (@lowelowe_bythebook) says: “For those that are fans of speculative fiction and fantasy, I will forever recommend The FIfth Season by N.K. Jemisin.  The world-building is phenomenal, with some of the most compelling characters I’ve ever read.  What I love most about this book is the way the author addresses issues that very much pertain to our society without using euphemisms or ever stepping out of the fantasy world she has created.  You are dropped into a world and left to figure it out until she decides to let you in on the secret everyone else knows by pushing you off a cliff.  I don’t exaggerate when I say this book (and the series) changed my life and I envy anyone that gets to read it for the first time.” 
  22. Kim (@kimbookwym) recommends: Legendborn by Tracy Deonn. “This Arthurian retelling mixed with heavy doses of Black [Girl] Magic and grief, is the story I’ve waited for. It’s definitely one of my top reads of 2020!”
  23. Brittany (@_britt_lit) recommends: Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi. “I love this book because it puts black history in the context that spans over several decades by highlighting different stories of fictional people. Even though it’s fictional, the history is true. I never knew I could learn so much about black history from reading a novel. It really opened my eyes to the power of fiction.”
  24. Lauren (@thedopelibrarian) recommends: Black Girl Unlimited by Echo Brown. “It’s difficult to sum the magic of this book up into a couple of sentences. This book is a magical memoir about the power that rests in each of us. We do not have to be overcome by the circumstances of life, you do not have to go at life alone, but you can tap into a space resting beneath the surface and live a life of wonder. This is a transformative book. You will not read this book and remain the same person. You will feel powerful.”
  25. Amanda (@crownofstories) recommends: With The Fire on High By Elizabeth Acevedo. “It was the first time reading a book where I felt intimately connected to a character. The way Elizabeth touched on Emoni’s fears of not being a fully formed person because her mother was dead and wasn’t able to show her how to be apart of the world were some of the same fears I had as a teenager and as a young woman. The discussion on blackness in the Latin community is also something I’ve found myself speaking about at length with my family.”

Finished Bridgerton and need something else to read?

If you’re anything like me, you’re finding yourself HOOKED on the latest Netflix craze, Bridgerton. This period show was based off of the Bridgerton series by Julia Quinn, and the books are becoming increasingly harder to find on bookstore shelves. These are unprecedented times we are in, and I personally am loving the historical romance. It’s keeping me occupied and entertained during these long days of quarantine, and I need MORE MORE MORE! So, if you’re a fan of Bridgerton, here are some other titles you might want to check out: 

Bringing Down the Duke by Evie Dunmore (A League of Extraordinary Women #1)

A stunning debut for author Evie Dunmore and her Oxford Rebels, in which a fiercely independent vicar’s daughter takes on a duke in a fiery love story that threatens to upend the British social order. This is a newer series by the brilliant Evie Dunmore. The second book in the series, A Rogue of One’s Own, just came out in 2020. Her next book will be out this year – stay tuned!

A Princess in Theory by Alyssa Cole (Reluctant Royals #1)

Between grad school and multiple jobs, Naledi Smith doesn’t have time for fairy tales…or patience for the constant emails claiming she’s betrothed to an African prince. But, when Naledi mistakes the prince for a pauper, Prince Thabiso can’t resist the chance to experience life—and love—without the burden of his crown. The chemistry between them is instant and irresistible, and flirty friendship quickly evolves into passionate nights. But when the truth is revealed, can a princess in theory become a princess ever after?

Secrets of a Summer Night by Lisa Kleypas (Wallflowers #1)

Four young ladies at the side of the ballroom make a pact to help each other find husbands…no matter what it takes. Another great historical romance series to cozy up by the fire with!

Destiny’s Embrace by Beverly Jenkins (Destiny #1)

With Destiny’s Embrace, Jenkins brings readers back to the American West, where Logan Yates, a self-important ranch owner, must confront his feelings for his beautiful, free spirited housekeeper, Mariah Cooper. While they bicker incessantly, their sexual tension is palpable, and only rises when Mariah’s former lover arrives on the scene. Will she accept Logan’s heart?

Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake by Sarah Maclean (Love by Numbers #1)

A lady does not smoke cheroot. She does not ride astride. She does not fence or attend duels. She does not fire a pistol, and she never gambles at a gentlemen’s club… but this lady has vowed to break the rules. A spicy series with a strong female protagonist … sign me up! Sidenote: the audio is said to be amazing for this one! 

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

Not since Jane Eyre has a heroine faced such difficulty with the Other Woman. An international bestseller that has never gone out of print, Rebecca is the haunting story of a young girl consumed by love and the struggle to find her identity. This is a #bookstagrammademedoit title that I’ve seen floating around quite a bit, and it has exceptional ratings on Goodreads. Though it is a standalone, it might just keep you entertained for the time being! 

The Duchess War  by Courtney Milan (Brothers Sinister #1)

Sometimes love is an accident. This time, it’s a strategy. Miss Minerva Lane is a quiet, bespectacled wallflower, and she wants to keep it that way. So when a handsome duke comes to town, the last thing she wants is his attention. But that is precisely what she gets. Because Robert Blaisdell, the Duke of Clermont, is not fooled. When Minnie figures out what he’s up to, he realizes there is more to her than her spectacles and her quiet ways. And he’s determined to lay her every secret bare before she can discover his. But this time, one shy miss may prove to be more than his match…

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon (Outlander #1)

The year is 1945. Claire Randall, a former combat nurse, is just back from the war and reunited with her husband on a second honeymoon when she walks through a standing stone in one of the ancient circles that dot the British Isles. Suddenly she is a Sassenach—an “outlander”—in a Scotland torn by war and raiding border clans in the year of Our Lord…1743. Hurled back in time by forces she cannot understand, Claire is catapulted into the intrigues of lairds and spies that may threaten her life, and shatter her heart. For here James Fraser, a gallant young Scots warrior, shows her a love so absolute that Claire becomes a woman torn between fidelity and desire—and between two vastly different men in two irreconcilable lives. Admittedly, I’ve never read the Outlander series, but I might need to now! I recently read Kindred by Octavia Butler and really loved the back-and-forth timeline, which it sounds like exists here. I’m definitely intrigued and given the size of the first book alone, I think these could get me through the winter!

Have other recommendations to add to this list? Be sure to contact me at elysse@booksforward.com. Happy reading!

Influencer Marketing Tips and Tricks for Authors

The term “social media influencer” comes up often these days, though it is vague and meaningless to some people. Books Forward is here to help you find out who these people are, and how you both can work together!

Who are influencers?

Influencers are people who have a decent following on social media, full of an audience of people who are specifically interested in the influencer’s opinions on whatever topics or items it is they discuss. Some influencers are “fitness gurus” who post videos of workout plans, their healthy eating habits and fitness clothing brands they prefer. Other influencers post makeup tutorials and makeup brand preferences. In the book world, there is an entire community of influencers who make posts that center around books they love, books they are reading, books they are planning to read, books they bought six months ago but still haven’t had a chance to pick up, books with beautiful covers, books with sad endings. . . do you see the theme here? There is an entire social media world out there that focuses specifically on books. As an author searching for an audience, it is crucial and beneficial to tap into that!

What do influencers do?

All of the posts that influencers make on social media build their reputation on their platform. Twitter’s #BookTwitter, TikTok’s #Booktok, Youtube’s “Booktube” and Instagram’s “Bookstagram” accounts are popular platforms for booklovers to unite and discuss everything that is books. Twitter is a place where people typically discuss in-depth themes of books, while TikTok features aesthetically pleasing videos of bookshelves with books arranged by color, or book challengers for people to complete together. Youtube is a great place to find people talking through book reviews, and Bookstagram has beautiful, artsy pictures of books with thoughtful captions about the books featured.

Influencers with a large following are often sent book after book from many different publishers, so the books they decide are good enough to read, or have an attractive enough cover to post, hold significant value in the book world. However, large accounts can also be deceiving. Sometimes, sending your book to an account with a smaller following will garner just as many audience members because of engagement of posts and thoughtfulness in posts. People like to get an opinion on a book from somebody they trust, and when a well-respected influencer gives a raving review about a book on their account, it immediately gains leverage.

What Does This Mean for Authors?

This is the most important question, right? Why does this entire “book world” on social media matter? It just sounds like an outlet for people who are obsessed with reading, right? Well, that is right, and that is also why it is important for authors. Just like us, a lot of these influencers have their specific preferences. Maybe there’s one who LOVES historical fiction novels, or YA romance novels. If you are releasing your debut YA romance novel and manage to get an influencer to read and review your book positively, you now have a significant following of people listening. About YOUR book. Even if you only get the influencer to post a picture of your book, saying they are excited to read it, it gets your book in front of people who are potentially interested. You are tapping into a niche audience that was basically formulated for books like yours!

A lot of the time, influencers will be perfectly happy with a free copy of the book in exchange for an honest review. A lot of bookstagrammers don’t post negative reviews so it depends on who you reach out to, but you basically send them the book for a post on their story, or a picture on their feed. Also they aren’t sent as many books as the bigger accounts and can be more thoughtful with posts.

Common Misconceptions

It is not always about the number of followers that a bookstagrammer has. If you get an influencer who has 100k followers to read your post your book, but your book is YA and the influencer prefers mystery books, the audience receiving the message is targeted to people who might not be interested in your book. It is best to find an influencer who’s brand lines up with yours, because the people representing your book are a reflection of it. You want people who support and appreciate your work as an author and your book’s genre. Accounts with smaller followings should not be cast aside because of their size; these accounts may look smaller but could have a high engagement level! This is something you should always consider when picking influencers to work with. Smaller accounts also don’t have as many books coming their way, and the chance of getting a review or post from them is higher. Reach out to a variety of followings, and focus on the branding of the individual influencer.

 

10 of our favorite books featuring dragons

Happy Appreciate A Dragon Day! Yes, that’s another one of those weird made up holidays, but also I love books with dragons, and I’m not going to NOT share about them if given the chance. Some just have appearances of dragons, and the dragons are main characters in others, but if you also have a love for these large scaly beasts, be sure to check out some of the books on this list! Here are 10 I’ve read and enjoyed:

  1. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkein – However you pronounce his name, Smaug’s greed and treasure hoarding (classic dragon) sets off one of the greatest adventure stories ever written.
  2. Dragons Love Tacos by Adam Rubin, illustrated by Daniel Salmieri – One of my daughter’s favorite picture books, and one I don’t mind reading over and over. It’s also guaranteed to make you want tacos!
  3. Blazewrath Games by Amparo Ortiz – Honestly, who doesn’t want to compete in a tournament where you and a dragon compete for glory?
  4. Priory of the Orange Tree by Samatha Shannon – This epic fantasy tome has a bonus of having good dragons (no wings, water-based) vs. bad dragons (fiery, can fly).
  5. The Rage of Dragons by Evan Winter – Truthfully, there were a lot fewer dragons than I expected in this book, but they were central to the plot and interwoven beautifully.
  6. How to Train Your Dragon – A cute early reader series that’s been turned into a great movie series as well. I’m hoping this book will eventually lead my kiddo to liking dragons as much as I do!
  7. A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan – The perfect combination of historical fiction and fantasy. The book is written from the perspective of a journal by the world’s leading expert on dragons, who just happens to be a woman (gasp)!
  8. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis – The dragon in this book plays a relatively small part, but it’s integral to a central character’s growth.
  9. The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill – This book flips the script: instead of the dragon being large and overwhelming, he is perfectly tiny, and a wonderful addition to a lovely cast of characters.
  10. Highfire by Eoin Colfer – Take it from me, if there was (is?) a dragon living in the swamps of Louisiana, this is exactly what he’d be like: surly, frequently inebriated, but with a heart of gold.

Did we miss any of your dragon favorites? Let me know at ellen@booksforward.com!

Books Forward authors most anticipated books of 2021

There are a lot of things to look forward to in 2021, and new books are at the top of our list! When our authors aren’t writing, lots of them are reading, and we asked them what books they’re excited to read next year.

“Halli Gomez’s List of Ten is a contemporary YA debut about a teen living with Tourette syndrome and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder who is considering suicide. I read an early draft of this #ownvoices novel and it handles these challenging issues in a thoughtful and inspiring way.

Nicole Lesperance’s The Nightmare Thief, a MG fantasy about a girl who works in her family’s dream shop, where they can craft any dream you want — including nightmares. Lesperance is a beautiful writer and I’m a sucker for MG fantasy, so I can’t wait for this one!

Rissy No Kissies by Katey Howes tackles the issue of consent for the picture book set. Beautifully illustrated by Jess Engle, it creates a forum for discussion of bodily autonomy in an engaging and informative way.”

Katharine Manning, author of The Empathetic Workplace

“I couldn’t stick with just one so indulge me, people, but there are four books from the world of crime fiction I’m excited about. In no particular order, P.J. Vernon’s Bath Haus is already garnering a lot of accolades and is poised to be his breakout novel. I’ve been a fan of Laura McHugh’s work for a while, and What’s Done in Darkness looks spectacular. I first read Hannah Mary McKinnon this year, which was a mistake since I should have read her much earlier – she’s now on my “read as soon as it’s out” list, and You Will Remember Me sounds fantastic. And Mia P. Manansala’s debut, Arsenic and Adobo, is long-awaited (Mia’s racked up “emerging writer” awards on her way to publication) and the promising start of a wonderful career.”

E.A. Aymar, author of They’re Gone (written as E.A. Barres)

“There are so many 2021 releases that I’m looking forward to adding to my bookshelves, but the one I’m probably the MOST excited about is Blackout. Not only does this book feature stories written by six AMAZING Black female YA writers (Dhonielle Clayton, Tiffany D. Jackson, Nic Stone, Angie Thomas, Ashley Woolfolk, and Nicola Yoon), but these short stories are all focused on Black love. 2020 was a tough year for everyone, but especially Black and Brown folks — so seeing more Black joy stories couldn’t have come at a better time!”

Pamela Harris, author of When You Look Like Us

“I recommend Trial By Fire, by Scott James. Through interview-based reporting, James investigates the 2003 nightclub fire at The Station in West Warwick, Rhode Island, which happened during a Great White concert. James spoke with concertgoers and local media who survived the fire, as well as others close to the investigation with their own stories and information to share. A true story that reads like a thriller novel.”

Katie Burke, author of Urban Playground

“The books I anticipate reading early in the new year are mainly ones I have, but have not yet gotten to this year.

A novel by Philip Duke called The Village, a story about the German invasion of Crete in WWII, a rich history and a well-paced thriller that explores several points of view, including not only the Cretan guerrillas and the people of the eponymous village, but the opposing figures of a British soldier who gets caught up in it and a German paratrooper. True I have already begun to read it, and we may know how the story ends in history but I’m eager to see how it turns out for the characters.

Most of my reading is research, and most of my research these days is either concerned with the immediate future of our species, particularly related to climate issues. To that end, I also read about the deep past. Here is a sampling:

Humankind, by Rutger Bregman, a more optimistic look at us that I hold and hopefully an antidote to my current pessimism. He wrote Utopia for Realists.

The Rules of Contagion by Adam Kucharski, appropriate for the time of pandemic, but an ongoing issue for the world, and appropriate for my current project, third in my Lisa Emmer series of thrillers. Not only contagions, but toxic memes and disinformation all follow the rules.

Kindred: Neanderthal Life, Love, Death and Art by Rebecca Wragg Sykes. My recent book, Mixed Harvest: Stories from the Human Past, touches on encounters between modern humans and Neanderthals in the Paleolithic era. Research in this area remains intense since it overturned everything we thought we knew about our cousins. Many of us carry Neanderthal genes, which should not only give us more respect, but again in the history of science knock us down another peg on the Great Chain of Being.

Metazoa: Animal Life and the Birth of the Mind by Peter Godfrey-Smith. I picked this book because of Other Minds, his wonderful book about cephalopods, particular octopuses, and how consciousness emerges, and how very different it can develop even on our own planet. They are the real aliens, except from Earth.”

Rob Swigart, author of Mixed Harvest: Stories From the Human Past

Bookstagrammers to follow for National Science Fiction Day

Science fiction gives us an avenue of escape and a view of a possible future. I think sometimes people can be intimidated by the genre or think it’s nerdy, but there’s a sci fi book out there for everyone! I added my own recommendation at the end, because these are some of my favorite books to read and I will take any opportunity to push Becky Chambers on people.

  1. Becky (@basiclandcave) says: “One of my go-to recommendations for science fiction fans is Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee. It’s the first in an extraordinary queer space opera trilogy filled with high stakes intrigue, creative magical technologies, and the best characters. It takes some investment to get started with this uncommon novel, but the payoff is more than worthwhile.”
  2. Erin (@erins_library) recommends The Space Between Worlds by Micaiah Johnson. “I recommend this book for many reasons, but would ask you to read it for the twists alone. There’s a special place in my heart for books about the multiverse and interdimensional travel. And this book serves as a great platform to discuss and explore classicism, segregation, racism, exploitation and poverty.”
  3. Bezi (@beingabookwyrm) says: “My pick is Escaping Exodus by Nicky Drayden — the worldbuilding of space beasts in which human societies now live is entirely unique, and I was so intrigued by the depiction of this society’s space matriarchy that centers Black women. It’s a bit gory at times, but I definitely recommend this epic space opera of class politics and star-crossed friends-to-lovers.”
  4. Katy (@theshriekingstack) says: “These days I’m a science fiction and fantasy enthusiast, but before I experienced N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy (starting with The Fifth Season), I wasn’t interested in SFF at all. Jemisin tackles racial, social, and environmental politics on a continent ravaged by climate disaster. She takes a nuanced route to dealing with issues that parallel our own world in a way that takes into account the complexities of human conditioning, inequality, and oppression. Realizing that SFF offered such gems as these and could not only include but focus on characters from marginalized backgrounds changed the entire way I looked at the genre. The Broken Earth is a stunning feat of imagination with unparalleled worldbuilding and mythology and a multi-faceted exploration of finding yourself in a world that doesn’t see you as human.”
  5. Erin (@roostercalls) recommends The Future of Another Timeline by Annalee Newitz. “If you like your time travel stories historically contextualized, socially aware, and a little bit punk rock, Annalee Newitz has got a magical wish-granting piece of fiction for you.   In addition to being straight-up fantastic writing, The Future of Another Timeline is also fiercely feminist, and was the galvanizing reminder I needed in 2020 that resistance matters — that a better world is worth fighting for and can be won.”
  6. Kim (@runoutofpages) recommends Chilling Effect by Valerie Valdes. “There’s nothing I love more than a good space opera. Chilling Effect (and the sequel Prime Deceptions) has a strong heroine, a sexy love interest, a fantastic crew, lots of action, too many geeky easter eggs to name, and plenty of laughs.”
  7. Casey (@caseythereader) recommends Octavia E. Butler’s Lilith’s Brood trilogy. “A crew of humans wake up to find themselves on an alien ship, where the aliens are planning to save humanity and expand their alien empire by integrating themselves – mating – with the humans. This series is an extended examination of what it means to be human, both on the literal genetic level and on a cultural and emotional level. It’s engrossing and terrifying and thought-provoking; a true classic of the genre.”
  8. Cristina Marie (@2bookornot2book) recommends Vanished Birds by Simon Jimenez. “It’s a beautiful, sweeping science fiction debut that centers around the love people have for each other, whether that is romantic, friendly or familial. It’s a story about the importance of music and the magic of space and science, and the deeply important value of chosen found family. It’s one of my favorite books I’ve ever read, period, no qualifiers.”
  9. Gagan (@afantasysky) recommends The Space Between Worlds by Micaiah Johnson. “I loved The Space Between Worlds for so many reasons but mainly for the fascinating take on parallel worlds, complex characters and amazing twists. It’s dark, layered and full of surprises.”
  10. Angie (@angiesreading) says: An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon takes the horrors and injustices of the antebellum South into space aboard the HSS Matilda. The mystery behind our protagonist, Aster, and her mother’s death, along with an incredible cast of characters made this one of my favorite reads of the year. 

And from me, I recommend The Long Way To A Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers. This is one of my all-time favorite books — it manages to be a fun space voyage across the universe with buddies while also making you stop to think about the world around you. The rest of the Wayfarers series is just as good, and her standalone novella, To Be Taught, If Fortunate, is also outstanding. 

Books for winter that aren’t holiday reads

Now that Christmas is past, it might seem like seasonal reading is over, but there are lots of great books set in cold climates or during the winter months that don’t have to do with the holidays. Cozy up with a blanket and candle and dive into one of these great reads to embrace the chill.

  1. The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey
    Alaska, 1920: a brutal place to homestead, and especially tough for recent arrivals Jack and Mabel. Childless, they are drifting apart — he breaking under the weight of the work of the farm; she crumbling from loneliness and despair. In a moment of levity during the season’s first snowfall, they build a child out of snow. The next morning the snow child is gone–but they glimpse a young, blonde-haired girl running through the trees. This little girl, who calls herself Faina, seems to be a child of the woods. She hunts with a red fox at her side, skims lightly across the snow, and somehow survives alone in the Alaskan wilderness. As Jack and Mabel struggle to understand this child who could have stepped from the pages of a fairy tale, they come to love her as their own daughter. But in this beautiful, violent place things are rarely as they appear, and what they eventually learn about Faina will transform all of them.
  2. The Snowman by Jo Nesbo
    In Oslo, the first snow hit. Jonas gets up in the morning and finds out his mother’s gone. There’s only one clue left – the pink scarf he gave her for Christmas. He’s got a snowman on his neck. The previous night, he unexpectedly appeared in the backyard, and his black eyes stared straight into the house. The case is being handled by Inspector Harry Hole, who recently received a mysterious letter with the signature Snowman. The situation gets even more tangled when Harry discovers that this model is repeating itself – eleven women have been lost in the last ten years, always on the very day the first snow hit. The investigation is all the more difficult for Harry to relate to his new colleague, but also to his beloved Rachel. The Snowman case brings him to the brink of madness. Brilliantly plotted characters and graduating suspense guarantee a thrilling story that only the master of contemporary thrillers Jo Nesbo can write.
  3. The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones
    Seamlessly blending classic horror and a dramatic narrative with sharp social commentary, The Only Good Indians follows four American Indian men after a disturbing event from their youth puts them in a desperate struggle for their lives. Tracked by an entity bent on revenge, these childhood friends are helpless as the culture and traditions they left behind catch up to them in a violent, vengeful way.
  4. A Fatal Grace by Louise Penny
    Welcome to winter in Three Pines, a picturesque village in Quebec, where the villagers are preparing for a traditional country Christmas, and someone is preparing for murder. No one liked CC de Poitiers. Not her quiet husband, not her spineless lover, not her pathetic daughter—and certainly none of the residents of Three Pines. CC de Poitiers managed to alienate everyone, right up until the moment of her death. When Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, of the Sûreté du Québec, is called to investigate, he quickly realizes he’s dealing with someone quite extraordinary. CC de Poitiers was electrocuted in the middle of a frozen lake, in front of the entire village, as she watched the annual curling tournament. And yet no one saw anything. Who could have been insane enough to try such a macabre method of murder—or brilliant enough to succeed?
  5. The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden
    At the edge of the Russian wilderness, winter lasts most of the year and the snowdrifts grow taller than houses. But Vasilisa doesn’t mind—she spends the winter nights huddled around the embers of a fire with her beloved siblings, listening to her nurse’s fairy tales. Above all, she loves the chilling story of Frost, the blue-eyed winter demon, who appears in the frigid night to claim unwary souls. Wise Russians fear him, her nurse says, and honor the spirits of house and yard and forest that protect their homes from evil. After Vasilisa’s mother dies, her father goes to Moscow and brings home a new wife. Fiercely devout, city-bred, Vasilisa’s new stepmother forbids her family from honoring the household spirits. The family acquiesces, but Vasilisa is frightened, sensing that more hinges upon their rituals than anyone knows. And indeed, crops begin to fail, evil creatures of the forest creep nearer, and misfortune stalks the village. All the while, Vasilisa’s stepmother grows ever harsher in her determination to groom her rebellious stepdaughter for either marriage or confinement in a convent. As danger circles, Vasilisa must defy even the people she loves and call on dangerous gifts she has long concealed—this, in order to protect her family from a threat that seems to have stepped from her nurse’s most frightening tales.
  6. Beartown by Fredrik Backman
    People say Beartown is finished. A tiny community nestled deep in the forest, it is slowly losing ground to the ever encroaching trees. But down by the lake stands an old ice rink, built generations ago by the working men who founded this town. And in that ice rink is the reason people in Beartown believe tomorrow will be better than today. Their junior ice hockey team is about to compete in the national semi-finals, and they actually have a shot at winning. All the hopes and dreams of this place now rest on the shoulders of a handful of teenage boys. Being responsible for the hopes of an entire town is a heavy burden, and the semi-final match is the catalyst for a violent act that will leave a young girl traumatized and a town in turmoil. Accusations are made and, like ripples on a pond, they travel through all of Beartown, leaving no resident unaffected. Beartown explores the hopes that bring a small community together, the secrets that tear it apart, and the courage it takes for an individual to go against the grain. In this story of a small forest town, Fredrik Backman has found the entire world.
  7. Snow Falling on Cedars by David Gutterrson
    Gripping, tragic, and densely atmospheric—a masterpiece of suspense San Piedro Island, north of Puget Sound, is a place so isolated that no one who lives there can afford to make enemies. But in 1954 a local fisherman is found suspiciously drowned, and a Japanese American named Kabuo Miyamoto is charged with his murder. In the course of the ensuing trial, it becomes clear that what is at stake is more than a man’s guilt. For on San Pedro, memories of a charmed love affair between a white boy and the Japanese girl who grew up to become Kabuo’s wife; memories of land desired, paid for, and lost. Above all, San Piedro is haunted by the memory of what happened to its Japanese residents during World War II, when an entire community was sent into exile while its neighbors watched.
  8. The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
    So begins the story of Susie Salmon, who is adjusting to her new home in heaven, a place that is not at all what she expected, even as she is watching life on earth continue without her — her friends trading rumors about her disappearance, her killer trying to cover his tracks, her grief-stricken family unraveling. Out of unspeakable tragedy and loss, The Lovely Bones succeeds, miraculously, in building a tale filled with hope, humor, suspense, even joy.
  9. Smilla’s Sense of Snow by Peter Hoeg
    She thinks more highly of snow and ice than she does of love.  She lives in a world of numbers, science and memories–a dark, exotic stranger in a strange land.  And now Smilla Jaspersen is convinced she has uncovered a shattering crime… It happened in the Copenhagen snow.  A six-year-old boy, a Greenlander like Smilla, fell to his death from the top of his apartment building.  While the boy’s body is still warm, the police pronounce his death an accident.  But Smilla knows her young neighbor didn’t fall from the roof on his own.  Soon she is following a path of clues as clear to her as footsteps in the snow.  For her dead neighbor, and for herself, she must embark on a harrowing journey of lies, revelation and violence that will take her back to the world of ice and snow from which she comes, where an explosive secret waits beneath the ice….
  10. Moon of the Crusted Snow by Waubgeshig Rice
    With winter looming, a small northern Anishinaabe community goes dark. Cut off, people become passive and confused. Panic builds as the food supply dwindles. While the band council and a pocket of community members struggle to maintain order, an unexpected visitor arrives, escaping the crumbling society to the south. Soon after, others follow. The community leadership loses its grip on power as the visitors manipulate the tired and hungry to take control of the reserve. Tensions rise and, as the months pass, so does the death toll due to sickness and despair. Frustrated by the building chaos, a group of young friends and their families turn to the land and Anishinaabe tradition in hopes of helping their community thrive again. Guided through the chaos by an unlikely leader named Evan Whitesky, they endeavor to restore order while grappling with a grave decision.
  11. Raven Black by Ann Cleeves
    Raven Black begins on New Year’s Eve with a lonely outcast named Magnus Tait, who stays home waiting for visitors who never come. But the next morning the body of a murdered teenage girl is discovered nearby, and suspicion falls on Magnus. Inspector Jimmy Perez enters an investigative maze that leads deeper into the past of the Shetland Islands than anyone wants to go.
  12. Peace Like A River by Leif Enger
    Once in a great while, we encounter a novel in our voluminous reading that begs to be read aloud. Leif Enger’s debut, Peace Like a River, is one such work. His richly evocative novel, narrated by an asthmatic 11-year-old named Reuben Land, is the story of Reuben’s unusual family and their journey across the frozen Badlands of the Dakotas in search of his fugitive older brother. Charged with the murder of two locals who terrorized their family, Davy has fled, understanding that the scales of justice will not weigh in his favor. But Reuben, his father, Jeremiah—a man of faith so deep he has been known to produce miracles—and Reuben’s little sister, Swede, follow closely behind the fleeing Davy.
  13. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe  by C.S. Lewis
    Narnia…the land beyond the wardrobe door, a secret place frozen in eternal winter, a magical country waiting to be set free. Lucy is the first to find the secret of the wardrobe in the professor’s mysterious old house. At first her brothers and sister don’t believe her when she tells of her visit to the land of Narnia. But soon Edmund, then Peter and Susan step through the wardrobe themselves. In Narnia they find a country buried under the evil enchantment of the White Witch. When they meet the Lion Aslan, they realize they’ve been called to a great adventure and bravely join the battle to free Narnia from the Witch’s sinister spell.
  14. In the Midst of Winter by Isabel Allende
    In the Midst of Winter begins with a minor traffic accident—which becomes the catalyst for an unexpected and moving love story between two people who thought they were deep into the winter of their lives. Richard Bowmaster—a 60-year-old human rights scholar—hits the car of Evelyn Ortega—a young, undocumented immigrant from Guatemala—in the middle of a snowstorm in Brooklyn. What at first seems just a small inconvenience takes an unforeseen and far more serious turn when Evelyn turns up at the professor’s house seeking help. At a loss, the professor asks his tenant Lucia Maraz—a 62-year-old lecturer from Chile—for her advice. These three very different people are brought together in a mesmerizing story that moves from present-day Brooklyn to Guatemala in the recent past to 1970s Chile and Brazil, sparking the beginning of a long overdue love story between Richard and Lucia. Exploring the timely issues of human rights and the plight of immigrants and refugees, the book recalls Allende’s landmark novel The House of the Spirits in the way it embraces the cause of “humanity, and it does so with passion, humor, and wisdom that transcend politics” (Jonathan Yardley, The Washington Post). In the Midst of Winter will stay with you long after you turn the final page.
  15. The Terror by Dan Simmons
    The men on board HMS Terror have every expectation of triumph. As part of the 1845 Franklin Expedition, the first steam-powered vessels ever to search for the legendary Northwest Passage, they are as scientifically supported an enterprise as has ever set forth. As they enter a second summer in the Arctic Circle without a thaw, though, they are stranded in a nightmarish landscape of encroaching ice and darkness. Endlessly cold, with diminishing rations, 126 men fight to survive with poisonous food, a dwindling supply of coal, and ships buckling in the grip of crushing ice. But their real enemy is far more terrifying. There is something out there in the frigid darkness: an unseen predator stalking their ship, a monstrous terror constantly clawing to get in. When the expedition’s leader, Sir John Franklin, meets a terrible death, Captain Francis Crozier takes command and leads his surviving crewmen on a last, desperate attempt to flee south across the ice. With them travels an Inuit woman who cannot speak and who may be the key to survival, or the harbinger of their deaths. But as another winter approaches, as scurvy and starvation grow more terrible, and as the terror on the ice stalks them southward, Crozier and his men begin to fear that there is no escape.
  16. The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah
    Alaska, 1974. Unpredictable. Unforgiving. Untamed. For a family in crisis, the ultimate test of survival. Ernt Allbright, a former POW, comes home from the Vietnam war a changed and volatile man. When he loses yet another job, he makes an impulsive decision: he will move his family north, to Alaska, where they will live off the grid in America’s last true frontier. Thirteen-year-old Leni, a girl coming of age in a tumultuous time, caught in the riptide of her parents’ passionate, stormy relationship, dares to hope that a new land will lead to a better future for her family. She is desperate for a place to belong. Her mother, Cora, will do anything and go anywhere for the man she loves, even if it means following him into the unknown. At first, Alaska seems to be the answer to their prayers. In a wild, remote corner of the state, they find a fiercely independent community of strong men and even stronger women. The long, sunlit days and the generosity of the locals make up for the Allbrights’ lack of preparation and dwindling resources. But as winter approaches and darkness descends on Alaska, Ernt’s fragile mental state deteriorates and the family begins to fracture. Soon the perils outside pale in comparison to threats from within. In their small cabin, covered in snow, blanketed in eighteen hours of night, Leni and her mother learn the terrible truth: they are on their own. In the wild, there is no one to save them but themselves.
  17. The Shining by Stephen King
    Jack Torrance’s new job at the Overlook Hotel is the perfect chance for a fresh start. As the off-season caretaker at the atmospheric old hotel, he’ll have plenty of time to spend reconnecting with his family and working on his writing. But as the harsh winter weather sets in, the idyllic location feels ever more remote…and more sinister. And the only one to notice the strange and terrible forces gathering around the Overlook is Danny Torrance, a uniquely gifted five-year-old.
  18. The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin
    A groundbreaking work of science fiction, The Left Hand of Darkness tells the story of a lone human emissary to Winter, an alien world whose inhabitants can choose – and change – their gender. His goal is to facilitate Winter’s inclusion in a growing intergalactic civilization. But to do so he must bridge the gulf between his own views and those of the completely dissimilar culture that he encounters. Embracing the aspects of psychology, society, and human emotion on an alien world, The Left Hand of Darkness stands as a landmark achievement in the annals of intellectual science fiction.
  19. Wolf Winter by Cecilia Ekbäck
    Swedish Lapland, 1717. Maija, her husband Paavo and her daughters Frederika and Dorotea arrive from their native Finland, hoping to forget the traumas of their past and put down new roots in this harsh but beautiful land. Above them looms Blackåsen, a mountain whose foreboding presence looms over the valley and whose dark history seems to haunt the lives of those who live in its shadow. While herding the family’s goats on the mountain, Frederika happens upon the mutilated body of one of their neighbors, Eriksson. The death is dismissed as a wolf attack, but Maija feels certain that the wounds could only have been inflicted by another man. Compelled to investigate despite her neighbors’ strange disinterest in the death and the fate of Eriksson’s widow, Maija is drawn into the dark history of tragedies and betrayals that have taken place on Blackåsen. Young Frederika finds herself pulled towards the mountain as well, feeling something none of the adults around her seem to notice. As the seasons change, and the “wolf winter,” the harshest winter in memory, descends upon the settlers, Paavo travels to find work, and Maija finds herself struggling for her family’s survival in this land of winter-long darkness. As the snow gathers, the settlers’ secrets are increasingly laid bare. Scarce resources and the never-ending darkness force them to come together, but Maija, not knowing who to trust and who may betray her, is determined to find the answers for herself. Soon, Maija discovers the true cost of survival under the mountain, and what it will take to make it to spring.
  20. The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper
    With these mysterious words, Will Stanton discovers on his 11th birthday that he is no mere boy. He is the Sign-Seeker, last of the immortal Old Ones, destined to battle the powers of evil that trouble the land. His task is monumental: he must find and guard the six great Signs of the Light, which, when joined, will create a force strong enough to match and perhaps overcome that of the Dark. Embarking on this endeavor is dangerous as well as deeply rewarding; Will must work within a continuum of time and space much broader than he ever imagined.

Books Forward holiday gift guide

Still on the hunt for the perfect gift for the special people in your life? We have a few suggestions…

For your mom, who is working to diversify her reading life:
We love our families and we love our mothers, sisters, grandmothers, and aunties, but not every family looks like a Norman Rockwell painting, and not every woman is a 1950’s homemaker. Nor should they be! Seema Yasmin’s Muslim Women Are Everything is a beautifully illustrated book with inspiring stories of successful Muslim women from around the world.

For your BFF who thinks they’re totally a detective after binging too many true crime docs:
We all have that friend who is obsessed with true crime documentaries and can’t get enough of suspenseful TV dramas. Let them get lost in the pages of The Second Mother, the newest psychological thriller by USA Today bestselling author Jenny Milchman. This twisting story follows a schoolteacher who attempts to outrun her past by accepting a job on a remote Maine island — only to discover that its residents may be more dangerous than the isolation itself.

For the aspiring hip hop artist in your life:
Big Freedia is the irrepressible force behind bounce rap music going mainstream and a collaborator with Beyonce, Lizzo, Drake and Kesha. And although this year’s tour with Kesha was canceled due to the pandemic, this iconic voice for LGBTQ+ and Black Lives Matter activism is celebrating the paperback release of her memoir, Big Freedia: God Save the Queen Diva, just in time for the holiday shopping season. From growing up as an overweight gay choir boy in New Orleans’ worst neighborhood, to surviving Hurricane Katrina by living on her roof for two days, to bursting underground bounce music into the mainstream, Freedia’s signature creativity and resilience continues to set her apart. Grab a copy of this book and pair it with Big Freedia’s new holiday album, “Smokin’ Santa Christmas,” available on Dec. 11.

For your armchair psychologist sister:
Did your sister take an intro psychology class in college and now she wants to diagnose everyone in the family? Losing the Atmosphere: A Baffling Disorder, a Search for Help, and the Therapist Who Understood is the perfect book for her. In this stunning new memoir, Vivian Conan takes a deep dive into her struggles with unsettling symptoms and her mental health journey.

For your activist cousin who’s not afraid to discuss race and politics at the dinner table:
Your family has a carefully curated list of topics to NOT talk about at the table — and your cousin can be relied on to confront them all during the course of the holiday. It’s a breath of fresh air after too many prim discussions about the weather and the consistency of the mashed potatoes; these dialogues are important, even if they challenge some of your relatives. Gift your cousin Wings of Ebony by J. Elle. This explosive YA debut is about a Black girl from a poor inner-city neighborhood who is desperate to return to her community after she discovers she has magic powers and is swept away to the secret land of Ghizon, only to discover that the evil infiltrating the land may also be threatening her hood. Described as The Hate U Give meets Wonder Woman in a Black Panther world, this novel tackles racism, privilege, and allyship with clear parallels to the Black Lives Matter Movement.

For your favorite crazy cat lady:
We know them, we love them, and we (usually) support their feline fandom. So instead of turning to a typical T-shirt or overdone wall art, this year, gift your cat-obsessed friend with a book from a cozy mystery series featuring lovable Siamese RahRah and his amateur sleuth owner, Sarah. Debra H. Goldstein’s Sarah Blair Mystery Series are witty and charming whodunits that include easy recipes for the cooking-averse — and of course, lots of cat content!

For the theater nerd in your life:
Got that one friend who breaks out into song when things are a bit too quiet? Or maybe you are that friend. Either way, embrace that performance prowess by pre-ordering your friend — or yourself — a copy of Odd Woman Out by actress Melanie Chartoff (aka Didi Pickles from Rugrats). From breaking into the biz to the devotion that led her to put career over love and family, Melanie’s stories are equal parts heartwarming, entertaining and oh, so funny in this memoir.

For your siblings who swear like sailors:
None of us can deny 2020 has been a mess. But instead of shushing your brother’s creative cursing or stifling your sister’s impulsive swears, psychologist Jodie Eckleberry-Hunt would rather embrace it, as she details in her self-help guide Move On Motherf*cker: Live, Laugh, and Let Sh*t Go. Whether it’s journaling exercises or practical steps individuals can incorporate into their daily lives, this is a book your family members will be ******* glad to receive under the Christmas tree this year.

For your film-obsessed friend:
I bet you’re thinking, “We all love movies, right?” or “I’ve been watching 10+ hours of Netflix per day since March, surely that counts, right?” Well, nice try. But when we say obsessed, we mean like, knows-Cary-Grant’s-birthday-and-celebrates-it-annually obsessed. Or, someone who actually knows what French New Wave Cinema is, someone who’s not only subscribed to Netflix and Hulu but also the Criterion Channel. You get the idea. Well, if you’re into getting the perfect gift, look no further than Phantom Lady: Hollywood Producer Joan Harrison, the Forgotten Woman Behind Hitchcock by Christina Lane. Considering that this is the first-ever biography on writer-producer Joan Harrison, it’s sure to have even the most extreme film fanatic saying, “Huh, I actually never knew that!”

For your techie cousin:
If your cousin is always coding or streaming on Twitch, then getting them a book may not seem like the obvious choice – but we’re not talking about a slow-burn here, we’re talking about a fast-paced, action-packed, furious page-turning type of book. The Price of Safety by Michael C. Bland is set in the United States in 2047, a time when technology is implanted in human brains and extensive surveillance is used to reduce crime rates. After a techie dad decides to help his daughter cover up for a crime, things get dangerous, pitting them against powerful forces in the government.

For your younger brother, who has taken to wearing all black and talking about death a lot:
This year has brought out the nihilism in a lot of people, but we suggest directing them to a book that will fit their darkness but leave them uplifted. E.A. Barres’ thriller They’re Gone is gritty with great character work. It starts off with two murdered men and only gets more intriguing from there.

For your uncle who misses the glory days of rock ‘n roll:
Jon Zazula, who is known in the music world as Johnny Z, gives a look behind the scenes in his book, Heavy Tales. After he and his wife founded Megaforce Records in the early ’80s, he had a hand in the early successes of bands like Metallica, and has stories to share.

Need even more book recommendations? Check out our previous blog posts or email me at ellen@booksforward.com.

Why do virtual events have higher attendance but lower sales?

 

After a monumental shift to hosting 2020 author events online, many bookstores reported that attendance for virtual events is higher (sometimes much higher) than for physical book events–but event-related sales are way down.

In fact, during a briefing at the SIBA/NAIBA trade show in September 2020, Brooklyn bookstore Greenlight Books (who had hosted 150+ virtual events since March!) shared that one event drew 80 online attendees, but they only sold 12 books. And this rate is actually above average: many booksellers are reporting an average sales conversion of 10% for virtual events. So what’s happening?

There could be any number of reasons for this, but one intriguing possibility revolves around active vs. passive investment.

It takes effort to attend a physical event: you have to get ready (even if you just put on your shoes), travel to the venue, potentially spend money on fuel or food while you’re out, and spend at least a couple of hours outside of your home. That’s active investment; you’ve put work into being in that space, and this increases your stake in what you “take away” from the event at the end of the night, whether intangible (general enjoyment) or tangible (a book or other purchase).

Subtle social pressures may also influence sales at physical events: the signing and sales are public, and choosing to buy–or not buy–the book may feel “noticed” by other attendees, booksellers, or the author. At physical events, you have an opportunity to connect with an author directly, and even this brief interaction can create a positive impression, even a feeling of “relationship,” that incentivizes you to support the author with a book purchase.

Contrast this to a virtual event, where there’s no expectation to dress to “go out,” no travel is required, and you can turn off your video and “disappear” from the event at any point without scrutiny. This is more passive investment. You can’t peruse store shelves, or mingle with other participants in a physical space. The bar to attendance is lower than ever–but “attending” is not the same thing as engaging.

In addition, the instant gratification of the book signing a challenge. At traditional author events, attendees who buy a book during the event leave with it in-hand. Physical book signings also enable readers to have direct, personalized experiences with authors. Not so with virtual events: Book plates and mass-signed stock don’t have the same personalized feeling, and waiting on a book delivery is not as satisfying as leaving with it. A lack of physical connection and instant gratification also contribute to lower sales and event engagement.

During virtual events, book sales are handled privately and not publicly, and (much like any online shopping experience) passive investment, distraction, apathy, lack of peer pressure, and even the subtle inconvenience of writing in your payment/shipping details can result in fewer purchases.

Virtual events have lowered the bar for participation, which dramatically increases attendance — but not sales. It’s important to understand that, for the time being at least, online events revolve less around sales and more around:

  1. pure necessity (as some stores just aren’t able to physically reopen right now),
  2. enabling participants to join regardless of location (meaning you now have a better chance of working with bookstores that aren’t necessarily “local,” and involving nonlocal participants from around the world), and
  3. engaging with your audience in fresh new ways.

Online events are still your time to shine. Even if there’s not an immediate sales boost, increased attendance and exposure during virtual events can have a positive impact on growing your readership, relationships, and sales long-term. So if you’re wondering if you should participate in virtual events, the answer is a resounding: yes! Understanding the challenges and opportunities of this unique virtual space will help you set better expectations, get creative, and strategize how to best invest your own time and energy during your event!