Past Tense

Bookish Gift Ideas for the Holidays

Hello historical fiction fans! The holiday season is upon us, so I’ve put together a little gift guide to help you find the perfect gifts for the readers in your life. These gifts aren’t necessarily directly related to historical fiction books, but that just means they’ll work for any kind of reader. I know finding the perfect present for all my loved ones is a really special part of the holidays for me. We all know the holidays are about more than just gifts, but the act of giving and bringing others joy to others is a big part of my own holiday tradition. And I hope these bookish suggestions help you get started or spark some ideas for your own holiday gift giving!

So without further ado, here are some great gift ideas for all the readers on your holiday list this year:

Bookish Candles

I love a good candle whether I’m curdled up reading or tidying the house, and this all-natural soy wax candle with notes of “rainforest, sugarcane, and coffee” sounds like just the thing for candle-loving bookworms everywhere. Grab one for yourself and a friend from Salty and Lit.

Books, coffee, and rain candle


You can never go wrong with a nice, unique bookmark. I love this one created from “a real Sugar Maple leaf dipped in gold.” You can find it and other gorgeous variations on Etsy at Arborvita: Real Leaf Jewellery and Gifts.

Sugar maple leaf bookmark

Or maybe a more book-centric bookmark like this one from Literary Emporium.

Just one more chapter gold bookmark

E-Reader Cover

One of my all-time favorite bookish accessories is my Kindle cover designed to look like a cover of Pride and Prejudice. It’s stylish as well as functional and shows off my love of one of my favorite books. You can fine your own (and choose any book you like!) at Klever Case on Etsy.

book cover styled kindle cover

Literary Map

There’s just something magical about cracking open a book cover and seeing a map. Bring that spark of literary magic home with a literature-inspired map like this one featuring the location of Shakespeare’s plays from Bibliotography.

print of a map of where Shakespeare's plays took place

Bookish Mug

You can never have too many books or too many mugs! Get this adorable “books books books books” mug from Fable Bound to show off a love of books while sipping on some coffee or your favorite blend of tea.

White mug with vintage, colorful font with the word "books" four times.

And of course…


Share your historical fiction love with some great titles from the past year like:

Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doer

Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid

The Pull of the Stars by Emma Donoghue

Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo

The Forest of Stolen Girls by June Hur

Island Queen by Vanessa Riley

Or gift one of your own personal favorites!

Don’t forget you can get three free audiobooks at with a free trial!


That’s it for now, folx! Stay subscribed for more stories of yesteryear.

If you want to talk books (historical or otherwise), you can find me @rachelsbrittain on Instagram, Goodreads, Litsy, and occasionally Twitter.

Right now I’m reading A Snake Falls to Earth by Darcie Little Badger. What about you?

Unusual Suspects

Atmospheric Suspense and a Historical Mystery in a Circus

Hello mystery fans! I’m trying to squeeze in as much end-of-year reading as I can and I’m really glad I got to these two: one will take you to a remote cabin and the other to a traveling circus.

These Silent Woods cover image

These Silent Woods by Kimi Cunningham Grant

If you want suspense, atmospheric, a remote setting, and a character-driven narrative with an ending you’ll be thinking about long after finishing, this is absolutely your next read. It’s the kind of novel where you fall in love with a character(s) but immediately realize that the situation can only unravel, or explode, and that tension continues to build until the end.

In the Appalachian woods, Cooper lives with his eight-year-old daughter Finch. Only two people know where they are: a nosy neighbor Cooper doesn’t trust and a friend who comes once a year to bring Cooper and Finch all the supplies they’ll need to survive another year. Except Cooper’s friend doesn’t show up this year, and the neighbor keeps making Cooper uneasy. Then a young woman Cooper and Finch spotted in the woods disappears. As we slowly come to learn how Cooper and Finch came to live in this remote cabin, fearing the outside world finding them, their delicately structured life begins to unravel, forcing Cooper to realize he won’t be able to continue living in this bubble he’s created…

Finch is such a wonderful character who is empathetic, curious, and smart. She does her best to listen to Cooper’s warnings but she’s also a child looking for more than their tiny circle. I loved watching Cooper and Finch’s relationship and found myself deeply absorbed into their world and life while listening to the audiobook.

(TW PTSD/ fat shaming/ panic attack/ animal deaths, killings related to survival)

Murder Under Her Skin cover image

Murder Under Her Skin (Pentecost and Parker #2) by Stephen Spotswood

This is the second book in a recent historical mystery series with two leads that are opposite in personality that gives a nod to classic noir and Sherlock and Holmes. In the first book, Fortune Favors the Dead, we learn how Willowjean “Will” Parker meets Lillian Pentecost, the most famous woman PI in the US, and comes to become her apprentice in early 1940s New York.

Now it’s 1946 and we get the absolute pleasure of following Will through a case that is very personal. After running away from home as a teen, she found a home in a traveling circus before coming to work with Lillian. But with the tattooed lady from the circus murdered and her knife-throwing mentor being accused, while performing in Virginia, she has to figure out how to set aside her personal feelings and find the truth… and maybe gain a crush along the way.

This is a fun whodunnit with the backdrop of a traveling circus and two wonderful leads that perfectly compliment each other in their differences.

(TW brief suicide mention, detail/ brief mention of past domestic and child abuse/ addiction/ ableism)

Don’t forget you can get three free audiobooks at with a free trial!

From The Book Riot Crime Vault

5 Winter Mysteries That are Cozier Than a Cup of Tea

Browse all the books recommended in Unusual Suspects previous newsletters on this shelf. See upcoming 2021 releases. Check out this Unusual Suspects Pinterest board and get Tailored Book Recommendations!

Until next time, keep investigating! In the meantime, come talk books with me on Twitter, Instagram, Goodreads, and Litsy–you can find me under Jamie Canavés.

If a mystery fan forwarded this newsletter to you and you’d like your very own, you can sign up here.

True Story

New Releases: December 1

Holidays! What a minefield. I find the holidays can bring you closer to certain books, because sometimes you just have to lock yourself in a room away from other people and save your sanity by reading. And then you love those books forever, because they were There for You.

That being said, I hope your holidays are stress-free, but still filled with books. Maybe some of these new releases! Let’s look at ’em:

Dark Tourist cover

Dark Tourist: Essays by Hasanthika Sirisena

Sirisena is an English professor who was born in Sri Lanka but grew up in North Carolina. In her essay collection, she looks at the places where personal identity meets history, including “the 1961 plane crash that left a nuclear warhead buried near her North Carolina hometown, juxtaposed with reflections on her father’s stroke,” her coming to grips with her queer identity while in Chicago, and “the ways that the permanent aftereffects of a severe eye injury have shaped her thinking about disability and self-worth.” This looks really, really good, and side note: I love the cover.

Disorientation Cover

Disorientation: Being Black in the World by Ian Williams

Williams is a Canadian poet and author of fiction and nonfiction, as well as a professor at the University of British Columbia. I know I just said I loved the cover of the previous new release, but I love this one too! Excellent job, designers. Williams was “[s]purred by the police killings and street protests of 2020” and here “offers a perspective that is distinct from that of U.S. writers addressing similar themes. Williams has lived in Trinidad (where he was never the only Black person in the room), in Canada (where he often was), and in the United States (where as a Black man from the Caribbean, he was a different kind of ‘only’).” These experiences all lend to his views on living life as a Black man in different environments.

Elizabeth Stuart cover

Elizabeth Stuart, Queen of Hearts by Nadine Akkerman

Yeah, like I’m not gonna include an obscure history new release in this list. Elizabeth Stuart was the daughter of James VI and I, the first monarch to reign over a united England and Scotland. She married someone who became King of Bohemia, but only for a year, garnering her the nickname “the Winter Queen” due to her husband’s reign lasting one winter (harsh but fair). Anyway, this is a bio of her, so if that’s your sort of thing, have at it!

Don’t forget you can get three free audiobooks at with a free trial!

We’re hiring an Advertising Sales Manager! Do you like books and comics? Does helping advertisers reach an enthusiastic community of book and comics lovers intrigue you? This might be your job. Apply by December 5, 2021.

For more nonfiction reads, check out the For Real podcast which I co-host with the excellent Kim here at Book Riot. And don’t miss Book Riot’s new podcast Adaptation Nation, all about TV and film adaptations of awesome books. If you have any questions/comments/book suggestions, you can find me on social media @itsalicetime. Until next time, enjoy those facts, fellow nerds.

Read This Book

Read This Book…

Welcome to Read This Book, a newsletter where I recommend one book that you should add to your TBR pile or nightstand or hidden stack under the bed, right away!

I often like to sit and retrace how I stumbled upon a book, why the overbearing need to read a particular book took me over. For this, my pick today was the author. I thought of this book recently as I was leaving Pakistan after a hasty vacation with a lingering sense of nostalgia. The author I talk about is one of Pakistan’s shining stars and captures the essence of what it means to live in and out of Pakistan.

cover of Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie

Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie

I read the opening scene of Home Fire exactly 24 hours before my flight to the US. The opening scene focuses on our narrator, Isma, who is stuck in a random security check at the airport and is afraid she is going to miss her flight. She recalls her sister’s words, ‘You don’t have to be so compliant…you have to show at least a tiny bit of contempt for the whole process.‘ I thought of this a lot like the next day as I was pulled away for a random security check before boarding my flight.

The opening scene does do a fantastic job at setting up the tensions that pervade the rest of the book, it’s the most effective epigraph I have ever seen. At its core, it is the story of a British family of Pakistani origin and their struggle to live in their adoptive country in the shadow of a terrorist threat, and what this means for their place in the country. The novel is divided into 5 sections, each focuses on the experience of one character from the family.

It is a raw and honest work that speaks eons about immigrant life and what it means to live a hyphenated existence, where you are not quite from one place nor another. It does it all in a 240-page volume too. If you have enjoyed works like The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri and the sharp writing of Arundathi Roy, then this one is for you.

Don’t forget you can get three free audiobooks at with a free trial!

Have you heard? We’re hiring an Advertising Sales Manager! Do you like books and comics? Does helping advertisers reach an enthusiastic community of book and comics lovers intrigue you? This might be your job. Apply by December 5, 2021.

Come tell me what you thought of the pick on Twitter @JavedNusrah.

Happy Reading!

In The Club

Reading Harder

Welcome to In The Club, a newsletter of resources to keep your book group well-met, well-read, and well-fed.

Does anyone else live around bad a** kids lol? I mean, they’re actually very pleasant each of the few times I’ve interacted with them directly, but when I have the window open and they’re playing right outside of it, I can hear all their little drama. And it’s a LOT. They dance, tell jokes, yell (so much yelling), and discuss their dating lives *dead*. They’re a range of ages, but I think the oldest can’t be past ten. I’m so serious. They put all their little business on front street. And, I feel like they think no one else can hear them, maybe because they can’t see us? I don’t know, but they are a mess.

A verbatim excerpt from one of their conversations I overheard:

“Yasssssuh. Look at my leeeggss.”

Several of them: “Ew! No, I don’t wanna look at your legs!” *various sounds of dismay*.

They also practice cussin’ sometimes. I can’t. I have to admit they are low-key funny, though, and I’m also me, so there’s that.

Now, on to the club!

Nibbles and Sips

vegetable au gratin

Rosalynn Daniels gives us this recipe for this beautifully crusted vegetable au gratin that I think could be graduated to being the main course.

To the books!

In Other Words, I Need to Read More Nonfiction

Since the world has the nerve to already be in the month of December, I’ve started looking back and thinking about what I’ve done this year, etc. One place I think I could have done a bit better in is reading more books outside of my comfort zone. I used Book Riot’s Read Harder Challenge to draw some topics from.


cover of Seven Fallen Feathers by Tanya Talaga

Seven Fallen Feathers by Tanya Talaga

Talaga gives a voice to Indigenous children whose deaths were never properly explained. She makes the case about how the lives of the Indigenous people of Canada have never been treated equally. This is easily seen in how missing cases and deaths of Indigenous people have a history of not being properly investigated. The 1966 case of Chanie Wenjack who froze to death at the age of twelve after having run away from a residential school is an example of this. Although there was an inquest and recommendations given to prevent it from happening again, none of it was taken seriously.

Decades later, seven Indigenous high schoolers died in Thunder Bay, Ontario hundreds of miles away from their families. A few were found in rivers, a couple died in their boarding houses, and one disappeared into the freezing night. Seven years after the first child, Jethro Anderson, was found, an investigation was finally ordered in response to Reggie Bushie’s death. Talaga focuses on the Northern City of Thunder Bay, but its history of handling Indigenous children and people is representative of Canada as whole.


cover of Disfigured by Amanda Leduc

Disfigured by Amanda Leduc

Leduc examines the role fairy tales have played in society’s view of disability. Throughout her book, she critiques tales that range from the Brothers Grimm to modern Disney iterations, showing how happiness has only ever been thought to be for beautiful, able-bodied people. It’s interesting how every culture has myths, and how much these stories are meant to shape the cultures in turn. Many of the myths from the Disney fairy tales that Leduc discusses here were borrowed from other continents, so the views regarding disability didn’t originate with the entertainment company, but I wonder just how much actually seeing this kind of discrimination play out in the form of movies made them that much harder to dispel.


Punch Me Up to the Gods a memoir

Punch Me Up to the Gods by Brian Broome

Broome frames his memoir around Gwendolyn Brook’s poem “We Real Cool.” In it, he recounts his experiences growing up in Ohio as a dark-skinned, queer Black kid. As you might have imagined, this was an experience was full of homophobia, racism, and even abuse from his father. He further describes how he used sex and drugs to self soothe to disastrous effects in this beautifully written memoir that just won a Kirkus Prize.

Side note: The book blurb describes Brook’s poem as a “loving ode to Black boyhood,” which I think is… interesting. Reading the poem gives me anything but Black joy vibes, but this isn’t the first time I’ve seen blurbs use examples of other well-known Black art to describe Black books, even when it doesn’t exactly fit (all the “just like the movie Get Out” books, I’m looking at you). Let me know what y’all think about this.

Don’t forget you can get three free audiobooks at with a free trial!

Suggestion Section

Good news! We’re hiring for an Advertising Sales Manager. Do you like books and comics? Does helping advertisers reach an enthusiastic community of book and comics lovers intrigue you? This might be your job. Apply by December 5, 2021

Here are some more book club themed gifts for your fellow book clubbers

For December’s Book club pick, GMA has chosen Dava Shastri’s Last Day

B*tch Media has chosen Darcie Little Badger’s A Snake Falls to Earth as their last pick of the year. There will be an interview with the author that you can join on December 13

I hope this newsletter found you well, and as always, thanks for hanging out! If you have any comments or just want to connect, send an email to or holla at me on Twitter @erica_eze_ . You can also catch me talking more mess in the new In Reading Color newsletter as well as chattin’ with my new cohost Tirzah Price on the Hey YA podcast.

Until next week,


Today In Books

Adam Silvera Announces New Books in THEY BOTH DIE AT THE END Universe: Today in Books

Film Adaptation of Alice Sebold’s Lucky Scrapped After Rape Charges Overturned

Netflix has scrapped its plans to adapt Alice Sebold’s memoir Lucky into a film after the rape conviction at the heart of the author’s memoir was overturned last week. Originally the film was set to starYou star Victoria Pedretti, but now the actress is no longer attached to the project, and according to a source close to the project, it was abandoned after “losing its financing months ago.” Neither Alice Sebold nor the memoir’s publisher Scribner have released a statement.

Adam Silvera Announces New Books in They Both Die at the End Universe

Earlier today on Instagram, author Adam Silvera announced that he would be expanding the universe created in his hit novel They Both Die at the End with two new books. The author wrote that the universe would be expanding into two interconnected novels, starting with The First to Die at the End: “THE FIRST TO DIE AT THE END follows new star-crossed lovers as they’re put to the test on the very first day of Death-Cast’s fateful calls, seven years before THEY BOTH DIE AT THE END. In this book, you’ll get to see familiar faces alive and well (!!) AND meet the family behind Death-Cast as they’re launching this new life-changing service. That’s all I can say for now!!” The First to Die at the End is now available for preorder, and it hits shelves on October 4th, 2022.

Small Business Owner Launches Banned Book Subscription Series

Small business owner Ariel Hakim has just launched Banned Books Box, a new monthly subscription box service to “stand with banned authors, express a love of reading and justice, and support small business.” Each month, subscribers will receive two banned books that have been published within the past decade, an enamel pin inspired by one of the books, and other bookish items. The December box will feature Maia Kobabe’s graphic novel Gender Queer, including an enamel pin designed by the author. Sign-ups for the December box close on December 12th.

Mary Shelley’s Former London Apartment For Sale

If you’ve ever wanted to own your own piece of literary history, now is the time. Mary Shelley’s former residence on London’s Marchmont Street is for sale.

Kid Lit Giveaways


We’re giving away five copies of Spell Sweeper by Lee Edward Födi to five lucky Riot readers!

Enter here for a chance, or click the image below!

A delightfully dysfunctional fantasy with an imaginative twist on magic school—perfect for fans of Nevermoor and The School for Good and Evil.

Cara Moone is a wizard—but she’s basically flunked out of wizard school. Now she’s in training to be a Magical Occurrence Purger, also known as: it’s Cara’s job to sweep up the hazardous dust a real wizard’s spells leave behind. A real wizard like Harlee Wu, the so-called Chosen One destined to save the magical world. But when one of Harlee’s spells goes awry and leaves behind a rift in the fabric of magic itself, it’ll take more than magic to clean up the mess.



We’re giving away five copies of The Eye of the World: Book One of The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan to five lucky Riot readers!

Enter here for a chance, or click the image below!

Read the first novel in Robert Jordan’s internationally bestselling epic fantasy series, The Wheel of Time®, now an original Prime Video series starring Rosamund Pike as Moiraine!
Since debuting in 1990, The Wheel of Time® has captivated millions of readers around the globe with its scope, originality, and compelling characters. The last six books in the series were instant #1 New York Times bestsellers, and The Eye of the World was named one of America’s best-loved novels by PBS’s The Great American Read.
The Wheel of Time turns and Ages come and pass, leaving memories that become legend.

Riot Rundown


The Stack