The best gift to give this Christmas

Since it’s already December, I thought it would be appropriate to talk about Christmas gifts. If you are like me, you might not have a ton of money to spend on gifts this year but if you still want to give the people you care about something, there is only one thing worth spending money on:

BOOKS!

I think books can be some of the greatest gifts you can give. They are not just paper with words on it. They can be experiences, knowledge, or even a ticket to another dimension. If you read the right book it can change your life.

So, without further ado and in no particular order, here is a list of my favorite fiction and non-fiction books.

“Quiet” by Susan Cain

Our lives are highly determined by where on the introvert/extrovert scale we land. It dictates how we interact with people, how we think, create new things, and recharge after a long day. Therefore, in my opinion, understanding the differenced between being an introvert or an extrovert is fundamental to living a happier life, especially if you are more on the introverted side.

I’m an introvert myself, and before I read this book I honestly thought something was wrong with me. I didn’t relate to people the same way my chatty best friend did, and I honestly disliked parties. Reading this book answered so many questions for me that I honestly cried tears of happiness when I finished it. For anyone who has not read this book yet, I highly recommend it.

Where to get the book:  Bookdepository | Amazon UK | Kindle

“Vicious” by V.E. Schwab

This a modern tale of good and evil. Victor and Eli, both brilliant outcasts, bond over a shared research interest in adrenaline, near-death experiences, and seemingly supernatural events reveal an intriguing possibility: that under the right conditions, someone could develop extraordinary abilities. But when their thesis moves from the academic to the experimental, things go horribly wrong. Ten years later, the lines between good and evil have blurred, and Victor and Eli face the past and each other once again.

This is definitely one of those books where you stay up until 3 am on a work/school night because there is no way you can put it down. The story has so many new and fresh elements, its characters are so human and flawed that you can’t really predict where it’s going to go. Pick it up and experience the roller coaster of emotions for yourself.

Where to get the book:  Bookdepository | Amazon UK | Kindle

“The gifts of imperfection” by Brene Brown

I’m a huge fan of Brene Brown. Ever since I saw her first TED Talk, I was fascinated by her research and her work ethics. This book is one of her first. It’s short but it delivers so many great insights about how to let go the hunt for perfection and instead enjoy life as the person you are, not the person you think you should be.

In its essence, this book is a big permission slip to stop caring about looking good in the eyes of people who don’t really care about you. Even though this is a short book, I would advise setting aside some time to read it because you will be going back and rereading every sentence in order to soak up all the knowledge that she is giving in this book.

Where to get the book:  Bookdepository | Amazon UK | Kindle

“The first fifteen years lives of Harry August” by Claire North

This is a story about Harry August. Harry is born, he lives a fairly good life, and he dies. By then he is born again. And again. And again. And then twelve more times, meanwhile he keeps the memories from all of his previous lives. As Harry nears the end of his eleventh life, a little girl appears at his bedside. “I nearly missed you, Doctor August,” she says. “I need to send a message.” This is the story of what Harry does next, and what he did before, and how he tries to save a past he cannot change and a future he cannot allow. This book is a masterpiece that has to be experienced!

Where to get the book:  Bookdepository | Amazon UK | Kindle

“I’ll give you the sun” by Jandy Nelson

Warming! This one is a real tear-jerker. At first, Jude and her twin brother Noah, are inseparable. Noah draws constantly and is falling in love with the charismatic boy next door, while daredevil Jude wears red-red lipstick, cliff-dives, and does all the talking for both of them.

Years later, they are barely speaking. Something has happened to change the twins in different yet equally devastating ways. This story is told from two perspectives – Noah counts down from the past, while Jude is in the present telling her story backward. When their narratives meet you better have a box of tissues next to you!

Where to get the book:  Bookdepository | Amazon UK | Kindle

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3 unconventional books to read this summer

Typically, people pick up light books to read when they go for holidays, and it’s pretty understandable. They want to relax and let their brain get a break from the hassle and seriousness of the everyday life, and that is what every summer reading guide seems to cater to. I get it. Give people what they want.

Sometimes I also want some light read that will make me smile and laugh, but I’ll most likely forget the whole plot the minute I turn the last page. But a vacation can be a great time to read those heavier books exactly because there is nothing your brain needs to think about. So today, I want to break that pattern a little bit and suggest 3 books that will not only bring you a ton of entertainment but also leave your brain with enough food for thought for the rest of the year.

Let’s dive into the recommendations:

“A Handmaid’s Tale” by Margeret Atwood

Handmaids tale coverThis book is getting a lot of attention these days because of the HBO adaptation. The series is incredibly good, but reading the book is an experience of its own.

In short, this is a dystopian novel set sometime in the future where fertility among men and women has drastically gone down. Blaming the modern development of the society, a religious group seizes the control of present day the USA and forms a new state called Gilead.  The group reinstates a more old-fashioned and religious way of living where women have lost all rights (work, own property, read etc) and the few remaining fertile women are forced to be Handmaids who are basically surrogates for the wealthy.

The only purpose of a Handmaid is to bear children. Every month they are forced to have sex with the man of the family they belong to until they get pregnant. Once they do, the family keeps the baby, and the Handmaid is relocated to the next family to do it all over again.

The story is told through the eyes of one of those Handmaids, Offred. Throughout the book, you also get to see how this society came to be, and how people let this happen. It’s a quiet incredible read because as a reader you can’t quite believe that anyone would allow such horrible way of living to be forced on anybody. You sit there and think: “Surely if this happened in my country I would have done something!”. But the brilliant point of this book is that this was the thinking of the characters in the book too. And yet, it happened.

 

“Forgive me, Leonard Peacock” by Matthew Quick

This book is one long goodbye letter written by a sad and confused kid, Leonard, as he isForgive me cover preparing to take his own life. Whoa, you might think, reading about suicide isn’t exactly a way to relax, but believe me when I tell you that this book is as much about death and sadness as I am Princess Diana.

We follow Leonard for a full day, as he is visiting the people who are dear to him so he can say goodbye to them. At times his thoughts are incredibly heartbreaking (I cried several times while reading it), but they are also deeply profound, funny and surprisingly positive. It depicts how lonely being a human can be, how difficult it is not to be like everybody else, and how people you least expect to care about you might be who you need to be around.

It’s difficult to talk about this book without spoiling too much, so I’m going to stop here. It’s best to go into this book knowing as little as possible. Matthew Quick’s writing style is phenomenal. His ability to say so much with so little words amazes me and makes this book much more impactful. It’ll leave you satisfied, yet hungry for more.

 

“Night Film” by Marisha Pessl

Night film coverLovers of mystery thrillers and film noir – this book is for you. In addition to an amazing story line, the book features visual effects such as newspaper clippings, photographs, and website screenshots, which bring the reading experience to a totally different level. The visual aids add to the book’s dark mood and help you dive deeper into the world Marisha Pessl has created.

The plot revolves around Stanislav Cordova*, a famous and mysterious filmmaker, who has been making strange films about the ugly and dark parts of society, revealing the worst sides of humanity. Thanks to that, Cordova gained quite a following before disappearing both from the public and the movie scene. Now his name appears again in the papers, this time relating to the death of his daughter Ashely Cordova.

Ashley’s death is quickly ruled out as a suicide, but that explanation does not sit right with a journalist named Scott McGrath. At this point you might think that this story is set up to be a classic murder mystery where a curious journalist solves the case, exposing Stanislav Cordova for what he truly is – a murder. That could not be further from the truth.

Scott’s relationship with the Cordova family is quite complicated. After failing to expose Stanislav Cordova in the past, Scott got fired from his job as a journalist and he didn’t take it well. Thirst for revenge and a wish to gain his reputation back drives Scott to pursue the case of Ashley Cordova’s death. His investigation takes him to strange places and forces him to team up with strange people, which makes for an interesting and unique ride for the reader.

Scott McGrath is also a very flawed character, which compliments the dark and mysterious mood of the book. You can’t always trust what Scott is thinking, seeing or saying because he is never far away from thinking about his next drink. And this gets heavily in the way of you trying to solve the murder of Ashley and making sense of the story of Stanislav Cordova.

So, here is my list. Three unconventional reads to bring on vacation this summer. These books are something you definitely won’t forget right away and would want to keep on your bookshelf to reread over and over again.

 

Happy reading!
– Maria

 


* Being originally from Russia, I just have to rant a little about the use of this surname. In Russian, female surnames (family names) end in -a while male names end in -v. Thus, Stanislav, being a man cannot be named Cordova but should be named Cordov. I know in the Western countries this is not practiced and therefore this kind of mistake is made often, but it just bugged me a little while reading and ruined the experience a bit.