Looking for some last-minute stocking stuffers? Try these geek-tested choices:


Hunger GamesCatching FireFor teenagers and adults, The Hunger Games and its sequel Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins. These may be the most intense books you ever read. They’re set in a dystopian future America. A teenaged girl named Katniss is randomly selected to participate in an annual reality show where 24 people enter a gladitorial arena, and only one walks out alive. As bleak as it sounds, the story abounds with love; you will see humanity not only at its worst, but at its best. It may be too scary for kids under 14.


 The Lightning theifFor younger kids, The Lightning Thief and sequels by Rick Riordan. My 11-year-old son loves this series about a boy who discovers he’s the son of a Greek god. This book is being made into a movie which comes out in March of 2010, so your kid can be extra cool by reading it before then!



 For geeky parents, Nurture Shock: New Thinking about Children, by Po Bronson and Ashley Nurture shockMerryman. This nonfiction book is a collection of the latest research on how children develop and how much of our current thinking is wrong. Learn why praise can backfire, why kids lie, and why early high school start times are hurting our kids. You may not agree with everything in this book, but it will certainly get you thinking.



For the mythology nut, Norse Code by Greg van Eekhout. The book follows a super kick-ass Valkyrie who is fed up with blind obedience and strikes out on her own to stop the end of the world and rescue her sister from Hel. She teams up Norse Codewith Hermod, a down-on-his-luck son of Odin and one of the few gods whose future is not laid out in the myths. He’s kind of prone to catastrophe, for being a god. The author does a great job of keeping in the spirit of the myths while creating a new and compelling story around the lesser characters.



Know someone who likes romance novels, but can’t stand it when the heroine is a pathetic weakling and the so-called “hero” is an asshat? Here are three feminist-friendly romance novels guaranteed not to be thrown against the wall!

 Can't stand the heat

Can’t Stand the Heat, by Louisa Edwards. She’s a snarky food critic. He’s the head chef of a hot new restaurant. Hardly brooding or angsty, our hero is happy and passionate and devoted to his kitchen, which he runs with an iron fist and zero tolerance for lackluster work. This book is as fun for its look at the inner workings of an upscale restaurant as it is for the romance.



Games of Command, by Linnea Sinclair. She’s a starship captain with a checkered past. He’s an admiral and a biocybe–a cybernetically enhanced human. Theoretically, he’s emotionless, except wait, he’s not. He has her assigned to work on his starship. She thinks it’s because he’s learned something about her past and is out to get her, but actually it’s because he has a GIANT CRUSH on her. Great fun. Bonus geek points for being set in a Star Trek-like universe.


 In the bleak midwinter

In the Bleak Midwinter, by Julia-Spencer Fleming. This is actually a mystery novel with romance elements. She’s a former army helicopter pilot, now an Episcopalian priest. He’s a Vietnam vet and chief of police in the small town where she’s just been assigned. They bond while working together to solve a crime–but there’s one small problem. He’s married. Uh oh!


Got a gamer in the family, but can’t stomach those $50 game prices? Here are some high-quality but inexpensive options:


Plants vs. Zombies. This little gem from PopCap, makers of super-addictive casual games like Bejeweled, lets you plant a garden of ravenous plants to defend your household from a horde of marauding zombies. It’s very cute. I defy you not to laugh when the dancing zombies show up! While it’s aimed at adults, I’ve seen kids as young as 5 get into this game. It’s $20 purchased directly from PopCap, or $10 on Steam.


Defense Grid: The Awakening. Know someone who loved Plants vs. Zombies but thought it was too easy? Like Plants vs. Zombies, Defense Grid is a tower defense game. You build defensive structures to repel an invading horde, in this case aliens instead of zombies. It’s not as cute as Plants vs. Zombies, but it’s far more strategically complex, because the placement of your towers alters the path of the invaders. A great game for puzzle solvers and engineering types who like to tinker and get a design just right. The gameplay is addictive, and the storyline is actually touching in places. $20 on Amazon or $10 on Steam.