BOOKS YOU MIGHT SEE, UNDER YOUR TREE
If you’re struggling to find that perfect read to curl up with this winter or the ideal treat for your loved ones this Christmas who better to help out than our esteemed wordsmiths? Here at NB we’ve asked a range of authors which books they will be gifting this holiday season to aid you with those all-important book buying decisions.
There would have been more books under our Christmas tree if we weren’t so keen on them. I was planning on giving my husband the new Paul Ewen, Francis Plug: Writer in Residence, but as soon as it came out he bought it himself. My son loves Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid series so I was expecting to put the latest volume, The Meltdown, in his Christmas stocking, but as we’re currently rereading the set I know already that as soon as we finish number 12 we’ll be starting on number 13.
I’m looking forward to giving my sister Emily Morris’s My Shitty Twenties, but it’s going to take some self-control not to read it myself before wrapping it up. The author was 22, a student and skint when she became pregnant. The father’s parting words were: ‘enjoy your impending shitty, snotty, vomitty twenties’. ‘When I found out I was pregnant,’ writes Emily, ‘it felt like the end of the world.’ Her experiences as a single parent went on to inspire an award-winning blog, this Guardian-readers-favourite-books-of-2017 memoir, described by Emma Jane Unsworth as the ‘freshest, frankest, wisest, ballsiest memoir I’ve read’, and has recently been optioned for TV.
Sunny and the Ghosts by Alison Moore is out now.
I love buying books for Christmas. It’s the perfect excuse to introduce friends and family to new authors I’ve read and enjoyed throughout the year. This festive season I’ll be bulk buying two novels ready to wrap as a set. They’re both from a new author, Laura Purcell. Her debut novel, The Silent Companions, is one of my firm favourites and she followed it up by another corker this year, The Corset. Both are traditional gothic, spooky stories which will set your scalp tingling. They’re beautifully written and presented. I don’t often buy hardbacks these days, but these have beautiful covers and are a neat size – not too unwieldy – so are perfect for present-giving. I think it’s still nicer to give and receive a hardback as a gift. What is it about Christmas that makes it the perfect time of year to curl up in front of the fire with a story that makes the hairs on the back of my neck rise? The beauty with these books is that they’re suitable gifts for both men and women across all ages. I think I’ll be settling down with a good glass of read to read them both again. Merry Christmas!
Christmas Cakes & Mistletoe Nights by Carole Matthews is out now.
For most of the year I’m a bit of a cynic, unmoved by cute kitten gifs or X Factor sob stories, but when December rolls round I become as excitably starry-eyed as one of Father Christmas’ elves. Get too close to me during this month and I will decorate you with tinsel, carol at you or dust you with icing sugar.
So when it comes to my festive reading choice, out go the gritty thrillers and in comes Nigella Christmas. Yes, this is a cookbook – and a fabulous one at that – but it is as much for Nigella’s sparkling writing about Christmas, as for her recipe for gingerbread stuffing, that I look forward to picking this up every year. Besides, with its humorous anecdotes and quirky, loveable protagonist, at times you do actually feel like you’re reading a light-hearted Christmassy novel.
Nigella’s exuberant love of Christmas and its traditions leaps from every page, and gets me far more in the mood than another read through The Christmas Carol (which always leaves me feeling stressed about how poor Mrs Cratchit copes in that tiny house with six children).
Of course, the glossy food photos help crank up the festive factor, but Nigella is such a brilliant writer and the book’s central message – one of exuberant joy and generosity – couldn’t be more Christmassy. This may be a food book, but it is most definitely a humbug-free read.
More Than A Feeling by Cate Woods is published by Quercus on the 27th of December.
“Inside a great novel,” speaks a character in Amanda Craig’s Lie Of The Land, “there is no time, only a place of joy where readers may meet and embrace each other.” This truth is what Craig’s writing is all about. She gives us what we want; a great story written beautifully. The ease with which she does it belies the gift it takes to make it look that simple. She weaves and threads and pulls you in, builds layer upon layer, until everywhere you look, something is happening. Part satire, part thriller, its reach is as wide as the west country sky, its avenues as many as the Devonshire lanes. Through the lives of Lottie and Quentin, a couple on the brink of divorce, but forced to live together for one more year in a tumbledown cottage on Dartmoor, we move through the complexities of marriage, rural life, fame and poverty, while hearing, all the time, the ticking of something darker. It is a book to escape to when you’re full of Christmas. It is a book for all seasons, but none better than the long, dark nights of winter, when all you want to do is lose yourself in someone else’s life.
A Perfect Explanation by Eleanor Anstruther is published by Salt in March 2019.
The books we give to children have the power to shape young minds and become trusted companions for life. For this reason, the book I’m most excited to gift this Christmas is The Restless Girls by Jessie Burton. Written by the bestselling author of The Miniaturist, this spirited adaptation of Grimms’ The Twelve Dancing Princesses offers a new, feminist take on the traditional fairy tale while losing none of the story’s original charm.
Crazed with grief at the death of his beloved wife, King Alberto confines his twelve daughters to a room in the palace, determined that no danger should ever befall them. What the King hasn’t counted on, however, is the bravery and determination of his eldest daughter, Frida, who together with her sisters, fights for the right to live and thrive. In Burton’s accomplished hands, the tale becomes an inspiring story of courage, kindness and the power of the imagination.
Beautifully illustrated by Angela Barrett, and with just the right balance of text and pictures, it’s a wise and enchanting fable just perfect for any little girl who has recently discovered the illicit thrill of hiding under the bedcovers after lights out, lost in the pages of a book.
The Peacock Summer by Hannah Richell is out now
I always gift a heap of books to my family for Christmas, and luckily their tastes are broadly similar to mine, so I’m almost never stuck for ideas! This year I’m eyeballing Dean Ruxton’s When the Hangman Came to Galway, Leonard Cohen’s The Flame, Tina Callaghan’s Dark Wood, Dark Water, and The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton, among others.
One novel that I’m particularly excited to be gifting, however, is Rosewater by Tade Thompson. Set in Nigeria in the year 2066, after the arrival of an alien life-form has left the world infested by extra-terrestrial spores, the plot follows Kaaro, a telepathic thief and con-man who has been press-ganged into a shadowy arm of the Nigerian security services. Looming over everything is the enigmatic alien itself, a dome-like thing that settled in Nigeria after being driven away from the US and the UK; every so often, it opens up and heals everyone in its vicinity – even bringing people back from the dead.
A Brilliant Void: A Selection of Classic Irish Science Fiction, edited by Jack Fennell is out now.
I often give people books for Christmas, I have different choices for them depending on whether they’re fiction readers or not. For the reader of fiction, I’d choose All That Was Lost by Alison May. It’s a deeply moving novel about a psychic who claims she can talk to the dead, a bereaved mother who would love to talk to her son again and a journalist who is on a quest of his own. The story is set in Scarborough (which is near where I live) and takes place over two timelines – one in the 1960s and one in the present. It explores grief and the lies we tell ourselves and others in order to get through life. It’s a quiet, thoughtful sort of read, ideal for the pensive days between Christmas and New Year.
If the giftee is more likely to appreciate non fiction, I’d give them a copy of Swearing is Good For You by Emma Byrne. Partly because the title is intriguing, but mostly because it’s a well researched book about the neuroscience behind swearing with scientific information presented in an accessible and often funny way.
Christmas at the Palace by Jeevani Charika is out now.
I’ve noticed that with every book I write, I invariably pick up a thread of interest which I then carry through into the next. In this instance, I appear to be intrigued by the idea of privilege and the newcomer’s experience of it. The book I have just finished writing concerns a woman who turns her back on her influential family just as Spain teeters on the brink of Civil War and the story navigates the ramifications that decision brings to bear on the rest of her life. In my story, my heroine’s turning away from money, power and prestige is propelled by an impetus more powerful than any of those things but in The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst, the protagonist is rushing towards them at great speed; it’s the flip-side of the coin as a young man rents an attic room in Notting Hill and steps into the family life of a Tory MP, becoming swept up in the pursuit of power and beauty. I read once that individually, beauty, money or intellect are blessings, but that to have all three is a curse; I’m looking forward to finding out whether there’s any truth in that with this book.
The Christmas Lights by Karen Swan is out now.
This year I’ll be buying Miss Marley by Vanessa Lafaye for everyone. It’s the Untold Story of Jacob Marley’s Sister, a prequel to A Christmas Carol, and so perfect for anyone this season. The late Vanessa was a dear friend, and another friend of ours, Rebecca Mascull, completed this beautiful, festive book.
For my mum, I’ll buy The Book of Love by Fionnuala Kearney. She likes a beautifully written, human story, and this is definitely that. I know she’ll cry at the end – I did. She’ll also love Missing Pieces by Laura Pearson, as I did, so that could be a stocking filler. My husband likes things dark, crimey, and gritty – so he’ll be getting a copy of Good Samaritans by Will Carver. This book was so sexy I needed six cold showers afterwards. My daughter’s number one author is John Marrs (yes, above me!) and conveniently his newest, Her Last Move, will be just out so she’ll be getting that one for Christmas. I was lucky enough to be an advance reader, and it’s a real ride, with all the usual twists and turns, but more police-based. I’d also like to introduce my sisters to Claire Allan’s breath-taking Her Name Was Rose. It was one of the highlights of my year, and a big, brave departure for Claire.
The Lion Tamer Who Lost by Louise Beech is out now and one of our recommended reads!
What would I like Santa to have in his sack especially for me? Easy – The latest Jeffrey Archer novel, please. Heads You Win is out on November 1st – ooh, can I wait? Described as the incredible and thrilling novel by the master storyteller and bestselling author of the Clifton Chronicles and Kane and Abel, the story begins in Leningrad, Russia,1968.
“Alexander Karpenko is no ordinary child, and from an early age, it is clear he is destined to lead his countrymen.”
Just reading that snippet of the blurb makes me tingle with excitement at the prospect of snuggling into my big armchair in front of a crackling fire and by my side, a glass of wine flanking bowls of nibbles. I can see it now – no feel it. Christmas tree glittering, remnants of silver and gold wrapping paper strewn on the floor, and the smell of pine needles, mince pies, and the fresh, crisp pages of my new book. I’ll be wearing my bright bed-socks and Christmas jumper. All rosy-cheeked from toasting the Queen and stuffed fuller than the dishwasher, as I curl up for the ‘quiet period’ of Christmas day to lose myself in my latest Jeffrey Archer. Counting the days…
The Forgotten Daughter by Mary Wood is out now.
There’s nothing more I love than to snuggle up with a good book, but with writing deadlines always looming it can feel like a guilty pleasure, so holiday times I indulge. I devour a wide range of genres from psychological crime thrillers to historical sagas, but this Christmas I’m saving Gary Barlow’s A Better Me for my snuggle read. Having a forty -something daughter who’s been besotted with the gentleman in question for ever, I’ve been privy to his chequered career whether I wanted to be or not, but it’s the reported raw and painful honesty of this memoir that’s placed it at the top of my Christmas books. Everyone loves a comeback, and my word, has Mr Barlow come back!
From being in Take That, one of the most successful boy bands ever, to a catastrophic and very public plunge into being out of work and an industry “untouchable” leading to depression and obesity for nine years during which Gary hid away from the world, his rise like a phoenix out of the ashes to forge a new and brilliant career, has to be a gutsy read and so much more than the average “look at me” celebrity autobiography. Good on you, Gary!
Beneath a Frosty Moon by Rita Bradshaw is out now.
There are things you wait for, that you build up, and they only disappoint: the latest series of X Factor, a New Year’s Eve party, the reunion of a 90s band. Then there are the things that always deliver: the new Scorsese film, that Guns ’n’ Roses album, Christmas, and, for me, Markus Zusak. His last novel, The Book Thief, was an absolute triumph. It is the only book I have ever read where I cried my way through the last fifty pages and I bought copies for everyone I’ve ever known; I gave copies to strangers. It’s been a decade and his new book Bridge Of Clay is finally here. It is the story of five brothers living in the turmoil of a house with no grown-ups. When their estranged father suddenly returns home, he has one request: Who will build a bridge with him?
It’s a coming-of-age tale and one of redemption, told in the characteristic Zusak style. I haven’t finished it yet but I have already made a note of five people who will be receiving this book as a gift from me this Christmas. And I know that they will not be disappointed.
Good Samaritan by Will Carver is out now.
I haven’t read Milkman and am assured that it’s great – but until I get around to it I’m sticking with The Overstory as my favourite Booker prize contender of 2018. Richard Powers’ dazzling, nourishing doorstop of a novel runs well over 500-pages, which means that it’s long enough to be read compulsively over Christmas and then far into the new year. This is a tale of America and of the nation’s trees; a book of multiple branches, abundant colour and deep narrative roots that audaciously conspires to cast the people as its supporting players while still managing to retain a rich, human pulse. I loved its wildness, its expansive nature. Powers has managed an astonishing feat here. He’s taken the ecstatic hallmarks of American Transcendentalism and turned them inward, towards collapse and contemplation. In so doing, he’s rustled up a climate-change story that’s so desperate and intimate we can almost feel its hot breath on our neck. The trees are his messengers and they spin a powerful tale. “The best arguments in the world won’t change a person’s mind,” Powers writes at one stage. “The only thing that can do that is a good story.”
The Clocks in this House All Tell Different Times by Xan Brooks is out now.
From feminist children’s books to pop icon’s autobiographies to the Man Booker Prize shortlist we hope our Christmas panel of authors have helped you to find the perfect read for your nearest and dearest and, perhaps yourself too!