Raise your hand if you’re a last minute Christmas shopper.
Ahem, you can’t see me right now, but I’m raising my hand. It’s only a few weeks till Christmas and from the way I’ve been procrastinating, you would think I had some guy in a red suit handling all my gift giving for me.
If you’re anything like me, you’re still looking for last-minute stocking stuffers for your nearest and dearest. Therefore, I have taken it upon myself to create a Christmas shopping guide just for you, my favorite book lovers.
But wait, this isn’t just a list of fabulous books, it isn’t just a list of inexpensive ebooks, this is a list featuring only indie and small press authors.
So you can give the gift that keeps on giving this year by supporting small authors AND giving your friends some amazing stocking stuffers.
Or, you can absolutely give yourself a Christmas present and keep them for yourself.
So are you ready? Here we go; my top recommendations, separated neatly by genre and category.
– HOLIDAY –
The Enchanted Sonata
This is my number one recommendation for anyone looking for a dazzling holiday read. The authoress did a grand job in retelling The Nutcracker. From The March of the Toys to the dance of the Peppermints, you’ll find the magical movements of this beautiful ballet retold in a new way, featuring a cast of irresistible characters. Clara is a sweet and plucky heroine. But it is the quirky and gentle Prince Nikolai who stands out, his noble goodness and awkward humility made him one of my new favorite romantic heroes. While the characters and plot are good, it is the mood and vibe of this story that kept me glued to the pages. This novel is positively steeped in atmosphere, with imagery as rich and dreamy as cream and written in a style as delicate as a snowflake. It’s nothing short of a treat.
Imagine a contemporary A Christmas Carol with a less creepy story line! This novella moves along at a strong clip, sweeping us up into the main character’s confused plunge through a succession of dreams – or are they dreams? – and culminating in a very satisfying and truly sweet ending. A perfectly paced story full of heart but without the saccharine jingle-jangle that inhabits most Christmas stories with a narrator who remains sympathetic, even if he isn’t the most likable guy. If you’re looking for a holiday story but aren’t an overly sentimental person this is just the ticket. And if you are a full-blown, holly-jolly Christmas Elf this will STILL satisfy you. There’s simply nothing to dislike here.
A poignant and delightfully eerie short story featuring strong themes of Truth and intriguing characters unfolding in a richly detailed setting. The only bad part is waiting for the next installment, because my appetite is whetted, and I am anxious to dive deeper into a story world that is clearly brimming with beauty and complexity.
This hilarious original fairy tale where every line is packed with humor. This zany adventure had me laughing out loud every few pages (a rare thing for me) and is ridiculously self-aware. If you’re looking for an unabashed fantasy novel that romps and mocks its way through every trope under the sun with a silliness that would put The Princess Bride to shame, this is the story for you.
This novella infuses new life into an old tale with a flowing, traditional style with an epic, mythological, Tolkien-esque vibe. Despite being a novella, Williams knows how to use every word to the max, and the story feels longer and the setting (moody, mysterious, and frigid) feels intimate and detailed. There are very few authors that can really portray True Goodness . . . and I felt that in this book. I loved the kindness Keeva shows almost immediately to Idris – and the determined courage in her humble gesture as she takes the hand of a man that most would revile. I will admit, I am infamous for my criticism of romance, but I shipped these two from page one. Snow White has never been my favorite fairy tale, but H.S.J. Williams has made me a believer!
I first read Escape To Vindor when I was suffering from a nasty cold, and it was the right choice. These books were made for a mug of hot tea, a soft blanket, and a cozy chair as they administer comfort and wonder to the reader. This one of the most richly-imagined fantasy worlds I have discovered in a long time. The attention to detail is positively lavish. Emily Golus combines the wisdom of Narnia with the unfettered imagination of Peter Pan, topped with endearing characters that will absolutely steal your heart. The subtle Christian themes, especially, deeply moved me. And did I mention there are centaurs and goblins? Read it; you won’t regret it.
There’s a simple, straightforward heart to the Vindor series that is simply irresistible. Something about it moves me to pleasure, joy, and near-tears . . . especially the endings! At the end of Mists of Paracosmia, I was very nearly crushed and spent the last chapter in the most horrid fear, but the author did not disappoint me, and left me with the same bitter-sweet surprise and contentment. Golus effortlessly harks back to the wonder of the first book while still forging new ground with one particularly fun twist. This time around, fantasy creatures have passed into our world and are trying to lay low on a college campus – a hilarious scenario that leads perfectly into the beautiful theme of embracing the wonder of what’s right in front of you and the magic of an ordinary life. A perfect sequel!
H.S.J. Williams has the ability to slam you right between the eyes with spiritual themes of such intense Truth, you are left reeling. More than once, I had to set the book down and stare, open-mouthed, at the wall, as the emotions washed over me. That ability to portray the fight between good and evil creates a powerful story where grace wins with a roar of triumph. I especially loved the female characters in this novel. Tryss was a uniquely gentle and quietly steadfast character who is still cautious, reserved, and suspicious even while being bold in love and kindness. But I have to say it was the Daisha that really stole the show. Cranky, arrogant, magnificent, intense—she is one amazing (and furry) mother figure.
At last, a sweeping adventure story that is also clean! The author’s spare writing style is well suited to the stark setting of this novel, creating a perfect setting for this gem of a story. The cast is perfect, especially Maki, the plucky young heroine. Aside from satisfying my yearning for an adventure novel, I was craving some “frontier / flintlock fantasy.” Seventh City’s general vibe is reminiscent of Last of the Mohicans and Ice Age. A frigid and fascinating journey with a magical world where the minutiae of the journey is carefully cataloged, as if we are reading the log of great explorers. A captivating and thoughtful read culminating in a bittersweet ending; I highly recommend this historical fantasy novel.
I love a good Middle Grade adventure and Echo Of The Fae delivers. Magic portals, tricky fae, otherworldly courts, lashing selkie-filled seas, this book has it. I’ve never really been able to get into selkies—until this book. Instead of the over-sexualized tropes that permeate any half-human sea creatures, Jenelle summons up all the magic and mystery of these mysterious creatures in a new and family-friendly way. Family is really at the core of this entire novel, woven gently and sweetly through the entire heroic journey and culminating in a heart-warming finale of sacrifice and sisterhood. That ending—*chefs kiss*—is guaranteed to make you close this sweet and magical adventure with a sigh of happiness.
A King Arthur retelling set in the Wild West? It makes perfect sense. Hayse has brought over all of the majestic elements of Arthurian legends without any of the muck and created a truly memorable adventure. But this isn’t JUST a classic Western: there are some non-magical fantasy elements added to this familiar setting! The embellishments are subtle, but welcome, like finding a flash of gold in a familiar river. It’s a fabulous beginning to the trilogy. and I can’t wait for book two. But, as always, it’s Emily’s writing that I love the most. First of all, she is one of the few authors that truly masters present tense: she makes me love it. It gives this story a breathless immediacy and eerie stillness. Lonely, thoughtful, yearning, wild and with a blend of strength and delicacy: it holds you fixated from beginning to end.
“Noble” is the first word that comes to mind to describe Hayse’s writing. There’s an elegant, straightforwardness to her writing that is as straight and clean and shining as a river. This story has this marvelous classic vibe that reminded me strongly of White Fang. Of all the voices that Hayse writes, she captures the indigenous narrator well—there’s a tone of intimacy with the land, wild freedom, and contented isolation that she strikes at with precise beauty. The Rivers Lead Home is a visceral experience from beginning to end. It’s old-fashioned adventure fiction full of the clear-cut heroes, tough leaders, and strong moral codes that we desperately need to see again. We don’t have Jack London or Louis L’Amour anymore, but, thank goodness, we’ve got Emily Hayse.
This is the part where I plug my own book. Call it a Christmas present to myself. This is a magical and heartfelt retelling of The Steadfast Tin Soldier featuring a main character who is very important to me: an ugly little goblin named Grik who does not feel worthy love. But that’s all I’m going to say about it; I’ll let a Goodreads review tell you some more.
“If you’ve ever felt unseen or forgotten, if you feel like you’re wandering in the darkness longing for a glimpse of beauty, if you feel guilty, wounded, or less than enough—read this book!”
This brilliant serial was written by my sister, but I’m not at all prejudiced. I can honestly tell you it’s one of the most exciting adventures I’ve read in a long time. If you love sci-fi thrills with military vibes, strong female characters, found family themes, and a plot that just doesn’t stop, Tor has you covered. AND, they’re on sale right now, so grab them at a discount while you can!
Dieselpunk is often an overlooked genre—and it shouldn’t be. It’s one of my favorite time periods of American history (the early 1930s) mashed up with the “punk” subgenre—that sci-fi twist that asks “what if?” What if an airship floated above the prairies of a Kansas town? What if a girl trapped in a plot in the skies fell to the ground and is discovered by a roguish pilot and the two of them are swept into the life of a flying circus? Weiland’s STORMING is a truly atmospheric read. My favorite part was probably Walter, the young over-all clad boy with a heart for flight and a missing voice who carries the heart of this story around in his plaintive narrative. This is definitely a high-flying adventure that you do not want to miss!
I stayed awake into the wee hours to finish this baby because I could NOT put it down. A steampunk buddy story chock-full of wild inventions, adorable robots, and political intrigue was just the adventure I was looking for. Reeder has created an absolutely captviating world with THE CELESTIAL ISLES and has a particular flair with the magic and wonder of the steampunk circus that is featured front and center in this thrilling and charming escapade. The story is rollicking and thoughtful by turns, making me both laugh and cry – a delicious combination wound around Mollie’s smooth writing style. Just like the circus in this book, THE ELECTRICAL MENAGERIE is a show-stopper, because Reeder proves with this book that she can do more than entertain—she enchants.
Before magic there was tall tales. When you’re a kid, ALL tales are a little tall. We’re unstoppable, we can do everything the adults do. There’s no inconvenient logic ruining our playtime. Our imaginations are completely uninhibited. That is precisely what Goldwater Ridge is. And yet, mixed in with its levity, is a heartfelt message that gives this high-flying adventure a down-to-earth kindliness. It’s rambunctious, rip-roaring, high falutin’ tale full of large-than-life characters and one plot twist after another. The writing style made even the simplest thought hilarious—even the names in this book will make you smile. Hannah Kaye has produced a book that is not only clean and wildly entertaining.
This has all the components that we crave in Westerns—stagecoach hold-ups, new railroads, shoot-outs, and bandits’ treasure—but it’s far more than that. The tension, the claustrophobic closed-door scenario, and the mystery makes it feel more like a mystery thriller mash-up. It’s a delicious combination and it kept me glued to the pages. This book had it all. Endless excitement, amusing characters, sweet and subtle romance, thrilling stakes, and sly humor. But this is no mere flaky concoction—there is meat under that light pastry. At its core, it’s is a beautiful story of reconciliation, redemption, & forgiveness.
I would have thought it was inhumanely possible to set THE TWELVE DANCING PRINCESSES in the Wild West. But Kovaciny pulled me wrong—and in the most delightful way. All of the elements of the original fairy tale there, with a cowboy twist that will leave you grinning. Kovaciny’s style perfectly captures the wry drawl of a classic Western, and her sense of story holds your attention to the final page. It’s a down-to-earth mosey through a classic story led by a main character that is sure to charm you as easily as he charms twelve ladies who can’t stop dancing.
Elisabeth Grace Foley is rapidly making westerns become my new favorite thing! I am extremely particular about Westerns as a rule and only like them if they are ‘unusual’ – not your standard sheriff comes to town sort of story – and this authoress NAILS IT! The story is more like a Shakespearean comedy-of-errors – my mouth was literally open with surprise and laughter by the first few pages. Characters were zany, hilarious and human but best of all THE VOICE; the turn of phrase in this book is hysterical and unique. I was actually chuckling out loud as I read it; something that rarely happens. If you’re a fan of Westerns and P.G. Wodehouse – read this book!
LOST LAKE HOUSE is as atmospheric as the cover and title suggest. There’s a lovely, old-fashioned element to Foley’s writing paired with an mesmerizing descriptive meter that is the perfect compliment to the bewitching story this is based on. The solid no-nonsense grandeur of the WW1 era collides with the dazzling rush of the Roaring Twenties in a combination that is as sparkling as a glass of Prohibition champagne. This juxtaposition is perfectly summarized in the mercurial heroine and down-to-earth hero, whose possibilities as a couple are just as appealing as the thread of danger woven through-out this short and sweet novella.