Starter Villain cover; a fluffy cat wearing a suit and tie. By John Scalzi.Another single topic column. This one Marion’s Own Idiosyncratic, Book-themed Gift Guide for the 2023 year-end holidays. These aren’t new releases or 2023 books—these contain some new books, some old favorites, and a few in between.

For the historian, feminist reader on your gift list:

Library of America: The Joanna Russ Compilation. This collection of three of Russ’s novels, including her best known, The Female Man, as well as the Alyx stories and three other award-winning and finalist stories, restores this intellectual, feminist writer to her place in history, and in current dialogue.


For the literary reader on your list:

North Wood by Daniel Mason. This novel told as a series of linked stories imagines the history of a patch of land in Massachusetts, and its various inhabitants, human, other mammal, and insect. Read it for the exquisite prose.

The Truth Against the World by David Corbett. This dystopian road-trip novel is richly embroidered with Irish folklore, with a pair of soulmate protagonists who will fight for justice with their final breaths. Read this one for the exquisite prose too, but also read it for the way Corbett combines a “real world” with an equally realistic afterlife.

For the Cat Lover on your list:

Starter Villain by John Scalzi. More on this one below.

For the Dog Lover on your list:

The Twisted Ones by T. Kingfisher, simply for the protagonist’s faithful hound.

Fernis and Mott by Greg van Eekhout. More below.

For the cishet romance reader on your list:

The Midnight Bargain by C.L. Polk is a couple of years old now. Part Jane Austen, and part later regency-period romance, like Georgette Heyer, this story brings in magic, and discrimination. And a mischievous spirit.

For the queer romance reader on your list:

The Mimicking of Known Successes by Malka Older (sapphic romance). Pure science fiction, this Holmesian mystery, set in the upper atmosphere of Jupiter, where humans have crafted a habitat, follows two very smart women, one an investigator, the other a scholar, as they explore a strange disappearance. They were lovers in the past—will they be again? The mystery is wonderful, the sideways-glance romance, the will-they-or-won’t-they tension, is priceless.

A Marvelous Light by Freya Marske (men loving men romance). If your giftee likes Lord Peter Whimsey or Agatha Christie, then this book will feel right at home to them. It has a convincing magical conspiracy, but the odd-couple romance; a hearty, sporty young aristocrat who has no magic, who falls into a civil service job through mostly happenstance, and Edwin, the introverted scion of a magical family, whose magic is not as strong as his siblings’, makes this book. Watching their relationship grow, as they solve the murder of another civil servant, is a delight. A note: The sex is explicit in this; that’s either a feature or a bug depending on what you like to read.

For the middle-grade reader on your list:

Fenris and Mott by Greg Van Eekhout. Fast-faced, funny, with serious points to make about keeping your word, and working through problems, this is a delight.

For the teen reader on your list:

Thornhedge by T. Kingfisher. This is not marketed as YA or teen-fic, but I think most teens will love it, and you might enjoy reading it yourself and discussing it with them later.

For the gothic horror reader on your list:

Little Eve by Catriona Ward. This book is filled with false identities, creepy cults and one of creepiest ruined castles ever.

A House With Good Bones by T. Kingfisher. She makes this list a lot! This may not technically be gothic horror, but it has gothic horror notes in a story that is probably more fold-horror. The protagonist and her long-suffering mom are two of the best characters I’ve read in horror recently.

Beneath the Rising Trilogy by Premee Mohamed. For the reader on your list who wants to read some good Lovecraftian horror without the baggage. The books features inter-dimensional creatures who would have made Lovecraft shiver, and one of the best villains in fiction.

For the humor reader on your list:

Flight Risk by Cherie Priest. Book Two of Priest’s The Booking Agents, featuring a psychic travel agent in Seattle, is more mystery than anything else, but this mystery has lots of humor. Whether it’s the banter, or the gross humor involving body parts or a beloved dog’s digestive track, Priest keeps the laughs coming as Leda Foley, the travel agent, and Grady Merrit, Seattle cop pursue two cases that intersect.

Starter Villain by John Scalzi. Read it for the cats. No, read it for the dolphins. Wait, no! Read it for the berry spoons. Read it for the sheer fun as Scalzi takes aim at a classic comic-book-and-film trope, the supervillain. What happens when you’re the hapless relative of a supervillain who has died and left you their estate? And what do you do when the Convocation, a sort of Bohemian Club for supervillains, invites you to their “annual meeting?”

For the novella reader on your list:

Two from Premee Mohamed: The Annual Migration of Clouds (science fiction,) and, for someone whose taste runs more to the surreal, the beautiful and the decadent, What Can We Offer You Tonight. The Annual Migration of Clouds takes place in a planned community in the later stages of climate change, where some unlucky humans have been colonized by a fungus. It’s a story of individualism and community, and what happens when those two things collide. It’s brilliant. And What Can We Offer You Tonight is a story of an undead woman seeking vengeance, set in a gorgeous, drowning city.

Again, I must stress, idiosyncratic list. Please chime in with your gift-favorites, or recommendations.


  • Marion Deeds

    Marion Deeds, with us since March, 2011, is the author of the fantasy novella ALUMINUM LEAVES. Her short fiction has appeared in the anthologies BEYOND THE STARS, THE WAND THAT ROCKS THE CRADLE, STRANGE CALIFORNIA, and in Podcastle, The Noyo River Review, Daily Science Fiction and Flash Fiction Online. She’s retired from 35 years in county government, and spends some of her free time volunteering at a second-hand bookstore in her home town.