Stockings are one of my favorite Christmas traditions. There’s something that never stops being fun about finding small treasures meant to do nothing but delight, with no running around to find the hottest and least-in-stock game or toy necessary. If you’d like to sneak a book in with the little snacks and games and baubles, here are some slender volumes that will fit right in.
A Spindle Splintered (Alix E. Harrow) – Zinnia knows there’s no such thing as happy endings. Still, she can’t help love-hating the story of sleeping beauty, since she’s also doomed to be on a clock: nobody with her rare medical condition has made it past their 21st birthday. So when she’s pulled into another Beauty’s story, she decides that enough is enough: stories belong to people, not the other way around, and she’ll fight to change at least one girl’s ending.
For: girls who could use a dose of badassery, anyone who needs to write a new ending
The Album of Dr. Moreau (Daryl Gregory) – You ever wonder what would happen if a boy band were caught up in a murder? You ever wonder how that would play out if the boys were also human-animal hybrids? No? Well, you should have, because you’re going to really care about the outcome of Detective Delgado’s crazy investigation.
For: music fans, anyone who is or used to be obsessed with a boy band or a parent thereto
Hard Reboot (Django Wexler) – Kas is the only poor student among legacy kids on an archaeological expedition to Old Earth. While her compatriots promptly start treating it as a field trip, Kas really means to delve into 25th century robotics. Only she might have to get a lot more hands-on experience than she planned, because between an accidental wager and an astonishing discovery, she’s drawn into a mech-fighting ring.
For: anyone who has specific opinions on Iron Man’s or Batman’s various suits, academics in any field, anyone who named their roomba and glances at it hopefully when it does something unexpected
The Woman in the Purple Skirt (Natsuko Imamura) – Our mysterious narrator watches another mysterious woman, shadowing her movements as she moves listlessly from unemployment to menial labor and back again. The Woman in the Purple Skirt can’t seem to hold down a job until our narrator gets involved, subtly helping her–or is she harming her? And the Woman, is she down on her luck, or can’t she keep a job because of some darker character flaws?
For: fans of You, Japan Enthusiasts, anyone you think would like a mystery but don’t feel comfortable giving a lurid murder story
In the Watchful City (S. Qiouyi Lu) – A novella filled with even shorter stories that explore the nature and textures of freedom. What does it mean to belong to your body? To your community? To your nation? Who gets to decide which parts of that are your self, and which parts are expendable? This isn’t a book for easy answers but it is one for excellent questions.
For: the queer kid in your life, anyone questioning themselves, poetry enthusiasts, rebels with causes
A Psalm for the Wild-Built (Becky Chambers) – Reigning queen of hopepunk Chambers has given us a short, sweet tale of a world that went the right way, turning away from capitalist consumption and toward peaceful coexistence with the natural world. And the not-quite-as-natural world: robots, upon gaining sentience, decided they would rather not participate in human society. Only now one has returned, just to see how humans have been getting along. Their first encounter is with Dex, a tea monk who has found and lost his place in human society several times, and is searching for something just a little bit more.
For: anyone who’s had a rough year, anyone who needs a hug, anyone who needs help stepping away from a productivity mindset
The Necessity of Stars (E. Catherine Tobler) – This brief and gorgeous meditation on the persistence of memory is less about melting clocks and more about blooming gardens. The refrain “when I don’t remember my name I will remember this” anchors us in the plot and the character of Breone even as it jumps across time and space. A highly evocative and provocative little novella.
For: the climate-minded, the older woman in your life who still loves adventure, the person who prefers Star Trek to Star Wars
Nothing But Blackened Teeth (Cassandra Khaw) – Five friends explore a haunted house. Already a bad plan, right? Now make sure the house is in a foreign country where nobody really speaks the language, reveal that none of them are really friends anymore, and throw in a definitely-real ghost and you have some real trouble. Khaw’s writing is superb, making this a ghost story par excellence.
For: That person in your life who won’t take down their Halloween decorations until Christmas morning (or maybe after)