Books to Make You a Better Cook


Today’s entry in our Books to Make You a Better Human series focuses on a handful of our favorite cookbooks.

No matter your experience level in the kitchen, at least one (but probably more) of these books is likely teach you something new about cooking. Maybe it’s an interesting recipe, a fundamental concept you haven’t heard of, or the history of a particular dish. Whatever the case, you’ll come away a bit more enlightened about making good food.


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The Food Lab cookbook by J. Kenji López-Alt.

The Food Lab cookbook by J. Kenji López-Alt.

The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science »

The Food Lab cookbook by J. Kenji López-Alt (of Serious Eats fame) dives deep into the chemistry of home cooking. Over the course of 900+ pages, 300 recipes, and a ton of great photos, J. Kenji teaches everything you need to know to be successful in the kitchen and why certain culinary techniques are scientifically better than others.

Lessons include basic knife care and usage, the composition of eggs + the ways they change during cooking, the shelf life of various cooking ingredients when stored properly, the best way to cook pasta + the five “mother” sauces at the root of nearly all pasta dishes, an in-depth explanation of stock for soups and stews, and much more.

Get the book in these formats:

Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat by Samin Nosrat.

Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat by Samin Nosrat.

Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking »

Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat is a relatively new book by Samin Nosrat and illustrated by Wendy MacNaughton — with a foreword by Michael Pollan, famed author of In Defense of Food and The Omnivore’s Dilemma — that aims to teach and inspire a new generation of cooks about the fundamentals of cooking, along with what actually makes food taste great:

Master the use of just four elements — Salt, which enhances flavor; Fat, which delivers flavor and generates texture; Acid, which balances flavor; and Heat, which ultimately determines the texture of food — and anything you cook will be delicious. […]

Echoing Samin’s own journey from culinary novice to award-winning chef, Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat immediately bridges the gap between home and professional kitchens. With charming narrative, illustrated walkthroughs, and a lighthearted approach to kitchen science, Samin demystifies the four elements of good cooking for everyone.

The book includes 100 essential recipes (along with dozens of variations) so you can put its lessons to practice, and Wendy MacNaughton’s fun illustrations throughout are a treat for the eyes.

Get the book in these formats:

Ratio by Michael Ruhlman.Photo credit: Gabriel DiMartino

Ratio by Michael Ruhlman.

Photo credit: Gabriel DiMartino

Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking »

Michael Ruhlman’s Ratio wants you to stop being so dependent on recipes and instead master the actual fundamentals of cooking. Armed with the knowledge within this book, you’ll have the ability and building blocks to become a more improvisational cook rather than one who has to follow a recipe every time they step into the kitchen.

In the words of the author, “Ratios liberate you—when you know the ratios and some basic techniques, then you can really start to cook.” For an example of what you’ll learn from this book, check out Jim Ray’s take on making homemade biscuits from scratch, which we mentioned in our “Quality Recipes” guide in December 2014.

Get the book in these formats:

(Editor’s Note: If you’d still prefer a traditional-style cookbook, check out Mark Bittman’s seminal How to Cook Everything. It’s essentially an encyclopedia of recipes.)

A New Way to Dinner by Amanda Hesser & Merrill Stubbs.

A New Way to Dinner by Amanda Hesser & Merrill Stubbs.

A New Way to Dinner: A Playbook of Recipes and Strategies for the Week Ahead »

A New Way to Dinner is a book written by Food52 founders Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs. Designed around weekly and seasonal grocery shopping, this book is an indispensable guide to advance meal preparation — that is, cooking a few base dishes on the weekend and using them in dishes throughout the next week (mostly dinners, with a few lunches and desserts thrown in for good measure).

If you struggle to find the balance between a busy life and eating well, A New Way to Dinner will help you master make-ahead meal planning so you can stop stressing out about cooking every night and just enjoy the food.

Get the book in these formats:

The Pho Cookbook by Andrea Nguyen.

The Pho Cookbook by Andrea Nguyen.

The Pho Cookbook: Easy to Adventurous Recipes for Vietnam’s Favorite Soup and Noodles »

Andrea Nguyen’s The Pho Cookbook is admittedly more specific than other books in this guide, but if you’re fan of pho — despite the kitschy names of so many its restaurants (at least here in the US) — you’ll appreciate why we included it. This is the authorative guide to that delicious Vietnamese broth-and-noodle soup — not only in terms of recipes and home preparation, but also the history and culture of the dish.

Get the book in these formats:

For more food goodness, including some cookbooks not mentioned in this guide, check out our “cooking” archive.


Be Focused Pro


Over at The Sweet Setup, Be Focused Pro was picked as the best pomodoro app for Mac and iOS. What is pomodoro? The pomodoro method uses a timer to break work down into intervals of 25 minutes.

Be Focused Pro was chosen as favorite pomodoro app for macOS. It has a simple and clean user interface that provides easy access to timers and provides enough additional features without creating clutter that give it enough power to fit just about any workflow.

Read the entire review at The Sweet Setup, and you can download the iOS ($1.99) and macOS ($4.99) apps on their respective stores.


ŌURA Fitness & Sleep Tracker Ring


The ŌURA — which is pronounced somewhat like “aura”, but more like OH-rah than OR-rah — is a fitness tracker device that takes the form of a ring rather than a wristband. The reason they went with this design is that the ŌURA’s built-in finger artery sensors can more accurately track factors such as…

  • How well you sleep each night
  • Which sleep phases you’re spending the most time in — i.e. light sleep, R.E.M., deep sleep, and wakefulness
  • Your physical activity, including total distance traveled, time spent sitting, and calories burned per day
  • Blood volume pulse and body temperature

Their free companion app takes all these metrics and synthesizes them into actionable data for you the next day, including summaries, trends, recommendations for improving your sleep, goal progress, and more. It also produces a “Readiness Score” that takes a bunch of factors and turns them into a simple measure for identifying which days are ideal for challenging yourself and which ones are better spent resting and recuperating.

In a nutshell, this nifty little gadget wants to help you get more restful sleep and perform better in your everyday life. It’s also pretty durable and waterproof up to 164 feet /50 meters, so you can go ahead and wear it while swimming/showering/whatever.

Visit the ŌURA site to learn more, or you can head straight to the product page to purchase one. It comes in three colors; the glossy “Arctic White” and “Mirror Black” are both $299, while the matte “Stealth Black” is $499.

Buy Now


A Review of the Rural Kind Tin-Tie Lunch Bag


When Shawn first contacted me to write for Tools & Toys, I never imagined a future where I would get to write about a lunch bag.

This has to be the most unique product I’ve ever reviewed.

I’m convinced one of the greatest ways to save for retirement is to bring a lunch from home each day. Depending on where you live and the quality of food you want to eat, buying lunch can cost anywhere from $5 to $15 (or more) a day — or $1,305 to $3,915 a year. Some people may find value in spending that kind of money. Not me.

Instead, I’ve become a huge fan of leftovers. Casseroles, lasagnas, and soups are my particular favorites. Throw them in a container in the morning, add a banana or an apple, and throw in a bottle of water and you’ve got yourself a hearty meal for a tenth of the cost of eating out.

Of course, making the food, packing the food, and transporting the food to your workplace is a chore. I used to use old plastic grocery bags to do the job.

Not anymore.

Rural Kind Lunch Bag

The Rural Kind Tin-Tie Lunch Bag in Slate. You can also find this bag in a Teal and Tobacco color.

The Rural Kind Tin-Tie Lunch Bag is now the go-to bag for such a task. It offers great durability, surprising utility, and a dash of flare to an otherwise boring part of my working life. This lunch bag screams “curated” unlike any other product I’ve ever owned.

But it comes at a cost.

Editor’s note: The Rural Kind Tin-Tie Lunch Bag was sent free of charge for purposes of review by Waremakers. To be as fair as possible, I’ve expressed my thoughts without regard to how I acquired the bag. I think it’s fairly easy to stay objective when reviewing an expensive lunch bag, but I want to make sure all readers are aware of the situation. Thanks to Waremakers and Rural Kind for the great opportunity. — JG

Waxed Canvas

Rural Kind wouldn’t have any premise for making a high-style lunch bag if it didn’t use top shelf materials. From the waxed canvas exterior to the leather closure band, the Tin-Tie Lunch Bag derives most of its positives from its design.

Rural Kind Lunch Bag

Waxed canvas picks up stains and dirt smudges over time. While these kinds of things add character, it’d be good if it was easier to clean the bag.

The waxed canvas has a particular style and feel to it. After a few weeks of use, the canvas picks up a few marks to give it extra character. The Slate color is particularly handsome and more subdued than the Teal color, and looks much less like a boring paper bag like the Tobacco color.

Rural Kind Lunch Bag

An unloaded Tin-Tie Lunch Bag.

Rural Kind Lunch Bag

A loaded Tin-Tie Lunch Bag. I wish the bag could hold one extra container. As it stands, the bag can hold your lunch, but very few extra snacks for your afternoon coffee break.

The waxed canvas material has its share of pros and cons. On a positive note, waxed canvas is extremely durable. There’s no pulling, tearing, or ripping this material — you can rest assured your lunch inside is well protected. But consequently, waxed canvas isn’t flexible or expandable — the Tin-Tie comes in one size and one size only. If you can’t pack your lunch into a single container or two, you likely won’t fit it inside Rural Kind’s Lunch Bag.

Another reality of waxed canvas is its cleanliness — or perhaps lack thereof. Leather is easier to simply wipe and keep clean, while waxed canvas requires extra care. Cleaning instructions for Rural Kind’s waxed canvas can be found on their website:

It is always best to clean off dirt with a stiff brush when the bag is dry. However you can also use a damp soap free cloth to help clean off stubborn areas of dirt or stains. Avoid using washing powder and soap on the bag as this is likely to affect and remove some of the fabric’s wax coating. Never machine wash or dry-clean your bag.

On the exterior, I don’t much care about some scrapes and dirt smudges. But if I’m going to use this lunch bag for the rest of my life, I hope decade-old food doesn’t accumulate on the inside of the bag.

Leather Closure Strap and Fasteners

The leather closure strap is of the highest quality and has the only visible branding on the Tin-Tie Lunch Bag. The half-inch wide piece of leather lines the top of the lunch bag and has two brass snap fasteners for closing the bag. It’s thick and durable and sure to last a lifetime.

Rural Kind Lunch Bag

Just like the waxed canvas, the leather closure strap is extremely high quality and super durable. It also holds the only branding on the bag.

I really like the color coordination between the Slate waxed canvas and the natural leather closure strap. Most of the Tin-Tie’s marketing shots make the leather closure strap look orange in color, but it’s far more subdued in real life. The Slate/orange color combo looks far less pleasing than the Slate/natural combo if you ask me.

Rural Kind Lunch Bag

The brass fasteners leave nothing to be desired. This bag isn’t opening unless you truly mean to open it.

The brass fasteners on the ends of the leather strap are equally impressive, giving absolute confidence in the life of this bag. Hard plastic snap fasteners break easily and don’t hold when there’s real weight inside the bag. Using brass ensures strength and durability — two of my favorite characteristics for any bag.

Rural Kind Lunch Bag

The two copper rivets hold the leather strap to the bag.

The brass fasteners are fastened to the waxed canvas via copper rivets, continuing the impeccable material selection. In the same manner the brass fasteners instil confidence in the closure, so too do the copper rivets.

Actually closing the bag takes some practice.

Rural Kind Lunch Bag

To close the bag, position the leather strap facing away from you and roll over the top of the bag twice.

Rural Kind Lunch Bag

Here you can see the female end of the brass fastener positioned inside the fold of the bag.

Rural Kind Lunch Bag

Once the top is rolled over twice, stick the leather strap ends into the fold of the bag and attach to the female end of the brass fasteners. This takes some practice, but you’ll be able to do it with your eyes closed fairly quickly.

Included in my little package was a handwritten note highlighting how to properly close the bag.

  1. Pack your containers and food inside the bag.
  2. Turn the bag so the leather closure strap is facing away from you.
  3. Roll the top of the bag over twice, directly away from your body.
  4. After two rolls, the leather strap ends with fasteners fold into the lunch bag’s side fold. Attach the male brass fasteners to the female end.
Rural Kind Lunch Bag

After everything is attached, you carry the Tin-Tie Lunch Bag just like paper lunch bags of old.

With the top folded over, you carry the Tin-Tie Lunch Bag just like those old paper lunch bags we all had back in elementary school. This gives the Tin-Tie Lunch Bag a hint of nostalgia, if the overall design wasn’t already clear.

A Few Further Observations

In all seriousness, this is a lunch bag — there’s only so much to be said.

  • To reiterate, the Rural Kind Lunch Bag’s durability should never come into question. Waxed canvas may be more difficult than other materials to keep clean, but this bag is thick, heavy, and ready to take a beating. The same can be said about the leather closure strap and the fasteners.
Rural Kind Lunch Bag

The stitching seen above showcases the positioning of the small leather sleeve inside the bag. You’re supposed to be able to cutlery in this sleeve, but all my cutlery is too large for the sleeve.

  • Inside the bag is a small leather sleeve to slide in a piece of cutlery or two. All the cutlery in my house is either too long or too thick to fit inside the sleeve, meaning I leave cutlery loose inside the bag. It’s not a deal breaker, but I’m not sure what kind of cutlery would fit in this sleeve, let alone two pieces of cutlery.
  • As mentioned, waxed canvas doesn’t flex or stretch at all, ensuring you can only fit a few small containers inside the bag. This is my biggest complaint about the bag. Straight up, the Tin-Tie Lunch Bag just isn’t big enough.
Rural Kind Lunch Bag


The more I think about it, the size of the bag may only be my second biggest complaint behind…


I started this review with the argument of saving money by taking lunch from home each work day. And this is where that whole argument falls apart.

Rural Kind’s Tin-Tie Lunch Bag is £65/75€/$85. If you want to amortize this over a lifetime, then sure, it’s a reasonable price. But you’re definitely paying for all those high quality materials. If you use 5 cent plastic grocery bags like I used to, it would take 1,700 grocery bags to pay for this bag. That’s a lot of leftovers for lunch.

Rural Kind Lunch Bag

Rural Kind’s Tin-Tie Lunch Bag is a phenomenal piece of work, but it’s not cheap at all. These bags are handmade with the highest quality materials, and you’re going to pay for it.

If Waremakers and Rural Kind hadn’t sent this bag for review, I would’ve had a hard time purchasing it. Now that I have the bag, I genuinely like it. I’ve had a lot of comments from co-workers when I carry this bag in with me first thing in the morning. So while I’m not sure if the Tin-Tie Lunch Bag is worth the price tag, you certainly won’t be disappointed if you decide to pick one up.

In short, if you have a curated list of items and if you want the best and only the best, the Rural Kind Tin-Tie Lunch Bag is a good buy. If you’re looking for something more simple than the highest quality lunch bag, the Tin-Tie Lunch Bag might be a silly buy. It’s not like it adds some sort of magical taste to leftovers for lunch.

Wrap Up

The last section on price puts a damper on the overall attitude surrounding the Rural Kind Tin-Tie Lunch Bag. If I didn’t comment on price, you’d think the lunch bag was the coolest, most unique product we’ve highlighted here on Tools & Toys.

Rural Kind Lunch Bag

Would I purchase the Tin-Tie Lunch Bag? I’d have a hard time doing so. That being said, now that I have one, I use it all the time. And I get tons of comments from co-workers when I pull it from the fridge at lunch time.

But throw in a near $100 price tag after shipping and everything changes.

Each part of this lunch bag is phenomenally well-made. I couldn’t be more impressed with the quality of the waxed canvas/leather/brass/copper combination, especially in this color.

Rural Kind Lunch Bag

The Rural Kind Tin-Tie Lunch Bag has to be the most unique product I’ve ever reviewed, and I’m glad to say I genuinely love it. I’m sure anyone would love it. But first, you have to justify it.

Putting them all together yields an incredible result — albeit small and albeit pricey.

Sometimes though, $100 is worth the raised eyebrows and pending comments you’ll receive in the lunch room.

Thanks again to Waremakers and Rural Kind for sending over the Tin-Tie Lunch Bag for review.

Buy Now


Hanayama “Nutcase” Cast Metal Puzzle


Don’t be deceived by the simple appearance of Hamayama’s “Nutcase” puzzle; this thing is a definite brain teaser. This cast metal puzzle offers two challenges:

  1. Disassemble the case to reveal a hidden compartment with small nuts inside.
  2. Reassemble the puzzle but with the words on the bolts in reverse order (i.e. nut-casecase-nut)

This puzzle will probably take a while for you to solve on your own. Of course, you could always read the included solution if you get stumped, but where’s the fun in that?

Get the puzzle for $10 on Amazon.

Buy Now


Retro 51 “Bamboo Tornado” Rollerball Pen


If you’re in the market for a new pen, sure, you can always go to Walmart and pick up a cheap pack of BiCs. Sometimes though, maybe you want something that looks nicer and feels great in the hand, without going too far off the pen-nerd deep end (not that we’d have any room to judge you for that).

Today, I’ll point you in the direction of Retro 51’s Bamboo Tornado rollerball pen. It sports a lovely, light-colored bamboo wood barrel with antique silver accents, plus there’s a cute panda logo engraved on the back. Here’s a closer look at that panda by Mike Dudek (aka @clickypost / @dudekmoderngoods) on Instagram:

Photo: Mike Dudek

Photo: Mike Dudek

For every pen you buy, Retro 51 makes a donation to the Arbor Day Foundation to rescue 250 square feet of rainforest. Get yours for $36 at Amazon.

Buy Now


John Williams & Steven Spielberg: The Ultimate Collection


The partnership between composer John Williams and director Steven Spielberg has long been one of the best pairings in Hollywood history. There’s almost no way that you haven’t heard at least a few of the film soundtracks they’ve made together.

A couple months ago, Sony Masterworks released a compilation called John Williams & Steven Spielberg: The Ultimate Collection that gathers decades of the duo’s iconic film music into a 3-disc set, including new recordings of tracks from movies like Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Raiders of the Lost Ark, The BFG, Lincoln, Minority Report, Catch Me If You Can, Saving Private Ryan, The Terminal, and more.

The deluxe edition also includes a 24-minute “making-of” documentary called Steven Spielberg and John Williams: The Adventure Continues — made by Laurent Bouzerau, who’s been chronicling Spielberg’s work for over twenty years — which offers a behind-the-scenes look at the collaboration and friendship between Williams and Spielberg.

You can buy the set in these formats:

Buy Now


Quality Linkage: Coral Bleaching, Cloud Inversions, and the Colors of Mr. Rogers’ Cardigans


Welcome to this week’s edition of our Friday Quality Linkage column. Please enjoy this week’s collection of interesting and entertaining links. Brew a fresh cup of coffee, find a comfortable place, and relax.

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The Great Barrier Reef is Probably Doomed No Matter What »

Robinson Meyer of The Atlantic wrote about a startling new study published in the Nature Climate Change science journal earlier this week, which predicts the doom of the Great Barrier Reef even if we keep global warming to 1.5°C (and even that would require the world to halt all carbon emissions by 2021):

The summer of 2016 remains one of the most severe coral bleaching and die-off events ever observed—a level of devastation that scientists didn’t expect to see until the 2050s. A new study argues that it will not remain a rare event for long. Even in simulations of the most hopeful global-warming scenarios, modern climate models suggest that ocean temperatures around the Great Barrier Reef will regularly surpass the devastating warmth of 2016.

In other words: A once-in-a-lifetime event will soon become the new normal.

As Meyer said on Twitter, it’s hard to overstate how grim this study is.

iOS 11: iPad Wishes and Concept Video »

Federico Viticci and Sam Beckett of MacStories just published their iOS 11 wish list, which includes the awesome concept video embedded above. (I suggest watching it in 1080p or 4K.) The main difference with this year’s wish list is that it focuses exclusively on the iPad’s shortcomings:

iOS for iPhone is, I believe, at a point of sufficient maturity: aside from particular feature additions, I don’t think there’s anything fundamentally missing from the iPhone.1 The iPad now bears the proverbial low-hanging fruit of iOS. There are obvious areas of improvement on iOS for iPad, which is, effectively, two years behind its iPhone counterpart. The iPad’s lack of meaningful software advancements allows us to explore deeper ideas; thus, in a break with tradition, I decided to focus this year’s iOS Wishes exclusively on the iPad and where Apple could take its software next.

Lots of great ideas here. I approve of everything, especially the Apple Music-style overhaul to the App Store UI.

  • Federico, Stephen Hackett, and Myke Hurley also recorded a special episode of their Connected podcast where they discuss the wish list and more.

Photo credit: Colin Lane

Photo credit: Colin Lane

The Last Moment of the Last Great Rock Band »

NSFW for language.

Remember how famous The Strokes got in the early 2000s after their debut album Is This It dropped? I was 16 when I first heard “Last Nite”, and I remember everyone’s general attitude afterward, like these guys were going to be the biggest thing in music for years to come. It turned out to be a short-lived phenomenon.

This excerpt from Lizzy Goodman’s book, Meet Me in the Bathroom: Rebirth and Rock and Roll in New York City, 2001–2011, tells the oral history of how the band got in the way of their own success, as told by the people who lived it. Here are a couple of my favorite bits:


Fabrizio Moretti (drummer, The Strokes): That’s the house of cards that is being in the Strokes. There were a lot of emotions that were kept secret but were so evident. We didn’t know how to process them, (a) because we were children and, (b) because it’s hard to process subliminal subconscious volcanic emotions. We were kids that wanted to conquer the world, but we had no idea that we were going to be given the chance.


Laura Young (blogger): To me, the Strokes’ first album is one of the greatest albums ever. But they represent such a moment in time that it’s hard to break out of unless you really reinvent yourself. Unless you’re the Beatles and you make Sgt. Pepper, you’re not going to break out of that mold of “Oh, this is that band that came out of the early 2000s and defined a moment.” Nothing they do will ever be as cool as that first album.

Now excuse me while I go relive my high school years.

Timelapse of a Full Cloud Inversion Filling the Grand Canyon »

You know that SKYGLOW book/film I wrote about a couple days ago? This video from the project’s creators showcases a neat trick of nature:

Millions of visitors a year come to Arizona’s Grand Canyon National Park, one of the seven natural wonders of the world and the most visited national park in the western United States. However, on extremely rare days when cold air is trapped in the canyon and topped by a layer of warm air, which in combination with moisture and condensation, form the phenomenon referred to as the full cloud inversion. In what resembles something between ocean waves and fast clouds, Grand Canyon is completely obscured by fog, making the visitors feel as if they are walking on clouds.

Graph: Owen Phillips, The AwlData from The Neighborhood Archive

Graph: Owen Phillips, The Awl

Data from The Neighborhood Archive

Every Color Of Cardigan Mister Rogers Wore From 1979–2001 »

Using data from Tim Lybarger’s The Neighborhood Archive — an archival website devoted to all things Mister Rogers — Owen Phillips of The Awl charted the color of every cardigan sweater Fred Rogers wore on his PBS show between 1979 and 2001:

Some sweaters were worn once and then never again, like the neon blue cardigan Rogers wore in episode 1497. Others, like his harvest gold sweaters, were part of Rogers’ regular rotation and then disappeared. And then there were the unusual batch of black and olive green sweaters Rogers wore exclusively while filming the “Dress-Up” episodes in 1991. To this day, members of the Neighborhood Archive message board claim those are the only sweaters Rogers wore that were store bought. The rest were hand knit by his mother.

Notice how the colors of Rogers’ cardigans gradually got darker as the show went on. (via Jason Kottke)

  • Ed. note: I take issue with this bit at the end of the article:

    (Ed. note: Fred Rogers’s questionable ess-less possessive has been honored throughout.)

    It’s not questionable at all sir!

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Got any suggestions for articles, videos, stories, photographs, and any other links you think we should be posting in our weekly Quality Linkage? Please do let us know on Twitter.


Souvenir – Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors


Many of you know that I am a huge fan of Drew Holcomb & The Neighbors. I feel like they are a perfect representation of the kind of music Nashville, TN is putting out right now. They recently released a new album that I absolutely love. It’s 11 songs of simple melodies that get right to the heart of what I love about this band.

You can buy it on vinyl at Amazon, Stream on Spotify, purchase on iTunes, or stream on Apple Music.

If you have Apple Music, you can listen below:

Buy Now


Five Great Fantasy Novels


Similar to what I said in last week’s roundup of great science fiction novels, my dad got me hooked on reading fantasy stories from a young age. One of the first things I checked out on my own from our local library was The Hobbit, and we also owned the entire Wheel of Time series (at least up to the point when I moved out).

With that basic background in mind, I hope you’ll enjoy this handful of recommendations for stories of the more fantastical variety.

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The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker.

The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker.

The Golem and the Jinni »

Helene Wecker’s debut novel The Golem and the Jinni is a nice, meaty story that will hold your interest from start to finish. It’s about a female golem (Chava) who is marooned in the city after her Polish-immigrant master dies at sea, and a male jinni (Ahmed) who is accidentally released from an ancient copper kettle by a Syrian tinsmith, only to find himself mysteriously trapped in human form. Each of them struggles, in their own respective ways, to adapt to American society — just as human immigrants would.

The unique mixture of Jewish and Arab mythologies, along with American history, is quite compelling. We found it hard to put the book down after starting it.

Get the book in these formats:

Uprooted by Naomi Novik.

Uprooted by Naomi Novik.

Uprooted »

Naomi Novik’s Uprooted is about a young and troublesome girl named Agnieszka, who lives in a small village at the edge of a sinister forest called the Wood. The townfolk rely on a local wizard known as the Dragon to keep them safe from the Wood’s horrors. He’s not much of a nice guy though, and his price for the town’s protection is that every ten years, they must send a young woman to live in his tower and serve him until the next maiden is chosen.

As you can guess, Agnieszka’s the one who gets picked in this story. And as it turns out, she has some latent magical ability of her own.

Get the book in these formats:

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss.

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss.

The Name of the Wind »

Patrick Rothfuss’ The Name of the Wind is the tale of a gifted and notorious wizard named Kvothe, told in his own voice. The description at Goodreads sums the book up well:

The intimate narrative of his childhood in a troupe of traveling players, his years spent as a near-feral orphan in a crime-ridden city, his daringly brazen yet successful bid to enter a legendary school of magic, and his life as a fugitive after the murder of a king form a gripping coming-of-age story unrivaled in recent literature.

My only issue with The Name of the Wind is that Kvothe is a bit too good at everything he does, and there’s clearly some nerd wish-fulfillment happening throughout. Other than that, it’s an entertaining read that I’d recommend.

Get the book in these formats:

The Ocean at the End of the Lane »

Neil Gaiman’s 2013 novel The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a macabre fairy tale that resurfaces in the mind of its protagonist as he recalls a series of disturbing events from his youth.

While I wouldn’t exactly call it a horror novel, there are indeed some spooky moments and… let’s just say not-kid-friendly scenes, despite the majority of it being told from the vantage point of a seven-year-old boy. A relatively short read that’s well worth your time.

Get the book in these formats:

Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard: The Sword of Summer »

Before reading this one, it helps if you’ve already read Rick Riordan’s previous series, Percy Jackson and the Olympians and the follow-up one, Heroes of Olympus. Those books followed groups of modern-day teens who happen to be the descendants of ancient Greek and Roman gods.

The Sword of Summer takes place in the same universe and follows the same vein, but using Norse mythology instead. You know…Odin, Loki, Asgard, Valhalla, elves, wolves, that sort of thing. As you’d expect, title character Magnus Chase is a kid who happens to be a descendant of a Norse god. Whereas Percy Jackson is definitely on the self-serious side, Magnus’ Bostonian sarcasm pervades from the very first paragraph:

Chapter 1: Good Morning! You’re Going to Die

YEAH, I KNOW. You guys are going to read about how I died in agony, and you’re going be like, “Wow! That sounds cool, Magnus! Can I die in agony too?”

No. Just no.

Don’t go jumping off any rooftops. Don’t run into the highway or set yourself on fire. It doesn’t work that way. You will not end up where I ended up.

Besides, you wouldn’t want to deal with my situation. Unless you’ve got some crazy desire to see undead warriors hacking one another to pieces, swords flying up giants’ noses, and dark elves in snappy outfits, you shouldn’t even think about finding the wolf-headed doors.

My name is Magnus Chase. I’m sixteen years old. This is the story of how my life went downhill after I got myself killed.

After reading this first book in the Magnus Chase series, be sure to pick up the second one, The Hammer of Thor.

Get the book in these formats:

For more excellent fantasy stories (which can be read online for free!), check out the recommendations in our guide, “Fantasy/Adventure Webcomics Worth Reading.”