This has actually been quite hard to write this year – some of the books that I wanted, I’ve just bought myself (stress brings on book-buying, you all know that) and others I was lucky enough to get advance copies of, or borrow from the library. Until a few weeks ago, The Starless Sea would have been on this list, and we all know what happened there… But truthfully, there’s always books that I want, so here are this year’s top picks that I’m hoping to find in my stocking…
Home Work by Julie Andrews
I should be getting this. I mean I sent a group message to my family saying that if they wanted to buy me a Christmas book, this was what i wanted and could they please fight it out between them but make sure I got it. I read the first volume of her memoirs (Home) back in my pre-blog Essex days and liked it, but was annoyed that it finished before her Hollywood pinnacle. This is that part of her story – and she’s been on the chat shows to promote it and I’m very excited. Mary Poppins and the Sound of Music were big parts of my childhood – and I still watch them now. I’ve always been really interested in behind the scenes Hollywood stuff and she’s had a fascinating life. How much more could it be up my street?
Glittering Hour by Iona Andrews
I loved Iona Andrew’s debut Letters to the Lost four years ago and this is her new novel. It’s another spit time narrative – with one story in the 1920s and the other a decade later. According to the blurb it has a Bright Young Thing, an artist, forbidden love and tragedy. Letters to the Lost made me cry, so I’m fairly sure this will too. But sometimes you need a weepy novel to read, preferably curled up by the fire. It’s out in paperback too, which we know I prefer for fiction.
The Chelsea Girls by Fiona Davis
This is set in the 1950s, as the Blacklist is starting and follows two women living in a famous New York hotel and trying to get a Broadway play off the ground. I’ve read a lot about the Red Scare this year, and I love stories about buildings and the people who live in them. You may recall seeing The Dollhouse on the WiB list a few weeks back. Well this is the Fiona Davis that I really wanted to read, but that the library didn’t have! It’s only in hardback (or expensive ebook edition) at the moment, so if it doesn’t turn up in my stocking, then I’ll have to wait for the paperback in summer 2020…
Beyond that, it’s a bit tricky. I mean you could buy me some of the nice hardback Terry Pratchetts that I seem to have started acquiring – I’d like Going Postal, Mort and Making Money next please. Or maybe one of the Virago hardbacks I’m missing – like The Birds or Strangers on the Train. Or just a book token. I can always find a way to spend it…
It’s that time of year again. Well actually it’s a bit late (again) but what’s new. This year at least I have the cast iron excuse of the Washington trip to explain my tardiness. Anyway, here’s my annual look at which books I’d like to find under the Christmas tree this year.
I mentioned Nick Offerman and Megan Mullaly’s book in yesterday’s gift suggestion post – but another Parks and Rec alum has a book out that I want to read too. I tried to get Retta’s So Close To Being The Sh*t, Y’all Don’t Even Know from the library while I was in the US without any joy at all and I still *really* want to read it. It’s her autobiography, and a lot of the reviews that I’ve seen are variations of “I chose it because I loved her in Parks and Rec but didn’t know much more about her than that, and it turns out she’s just as smart and funny as you’d hope.
Another book that I didn’t have any luck getting hold of while I was in America is Beck Dorey-Stine’s From the Corner of the Oval, which his her memoir of how she ended up as a stenographer in the Obama White House after answering an ad on Craigslist. As you may remember, I read a lot of books on US politics before I went to DC, but my favourite ones – that left me wanting more – were the more personal memoirs rather than the more serious “proper” analysis, so this looks right up my street.
On the history front, there have been a lot of great new books out this year. Fern Riddell’s Death in Ten Minutes, about the suffragette Kitty Marion has been sitting in my online shopping cart since it came out waiting for me to get the to-read list down a bit, as has Agnès Poirier’s Left Bank: Art, Passion and the Rebirth of Paris, 1940-1950. I also love reading about Old Hollywood, and one of my podcast discoveries of this year has been You Must Remember This (which has been going for ages, I’m just late to the party) and Karina Longworth, who writes and presents it, has a new book, Seduction: Sex Lies and Stardom in Howard Hughes’s Hollywood, out this Christmas which I also really want to read.
Regular readers here know that I love a good group biography and often use them as jumping off points to find new topics and people to find out more about. There are two that I’ve got my eye on this Christmas: firstly there’s Michelle Dean’s Sharp, which is about women writers with opinions, from Dorothy Parker through Nora Ephron. Slightly older is Outsiders: Five Women Writers Who Changed The World by Lydall Gordon, which came out last autumn and so is now in out in paperback.
Even older still is Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff, which has been on my radar for ages as a classic about the space race that I should really read but which jumped up my list earlier this year after he died and then again after I did the Air and Space Museum and the Air and Space Museum annexe while I was in Washington. It still boggles my mind that that we explored space back when we had so much less technology than we do now and the people who were prepared to strap themselves to a giant rocket absolutely fascinate me.
The non-fiction part of this list is always the easier one for me to write – because there are so many hardback books that I really want to read, but can’t justify buying, whereas so much of my fiction reading starts off in paperback or is available from the library. And most of my kindle purchases tend to be fiction (they seem to get better discounts than non-fiction) as well so things just don’t hang around on my to-buy list as long. That said, there are a few novels that I’ve got my eye on.
I’ve been quite lucky with reading new romances as they came out this year, but the the lists of best of the year are out now, and Alexa Martin’s Intercepted is the one that keeps popping up on all the lists that I haven’t read. I didn’t get a chance to buy it while I was in the US (and had no suitcase room for it anyway) so maybe if I’m really good Santa will bring it for me on the 25th.
On the crime front, I quite fancy reading A Talent For Murder, by Andrew Wilson, which is a mystery with Agatha Christie as the detective. I have a somewhat mixed record with books like this – including a slightly love-hate relationship with the Josephine Tey series – hence why I haven’t bought it for myself yet (because it’s in hardback and expensive for something I don’t know if I’m going to like) but if someone were to buy it for me that would be different…
Curtis Sittenfeld had a collection of short stories out this year – You Think It, I’ll Say it – which I would love to read. I’ve really enjoyed her novels (Eligible was one of my top picks of the year a couple of years ago) I’ve also had Lucia Berlin’s short story collection A Manuel for Cleaning Women in the shopping basket for ages . I don’t often buy short story collections for myself so either of these would be a real treat.
I’ve been hearing about Julie Murphy’s Dumplin’ for years now and haven’t got around to reading it, but the movie version is out on Netflix now so perhaps there might be a tie-in edition that someone could buy me for Christmas? Also not new is Rich People Problems by Kevin Kwan, the last of the Crazy Rich Asians trilogy. I’ve read the first two books and I still haven’t seen the film (it came out in the UK after I went to the US and had already left cinemas in the US when I arrived) and a dose of the insanity of the superrich is exactly what I’m usually in the mood for in the lull between Christmas and New Year!
Also sitting in the shopping cart, hoping that one day I’ll be able to justify buying them is Nicole Kornher-Stace’s Archivist Wasp and a selection of my favourite Terry Pratchett novels in the beautiful cloth-bound hardback editions. I don’t currently have copies of many (any?) Pratchetts – as my dad has the family set – but I would love Going Postal, Making Money, Mort and Monstrous Regiment. The trouble is that I know as soon as I get one, I’ll want the whole set…
Let me know which books you’re hoping to get for Christmas in the comments, and Happy Reading.
Yes I know. It’s only 10 days until Christmas Day and I’m late posting this again. But to be honest, you wouldn’t expect anything less from me would you? I’m only writing one post this year though – but there are plenty more ideas in my posts from the last couple of years if you need them. Some of these are books that I’ve read, some are books that I want to read and have heard good things about. Coming tomorrow: the books that I want for Christmas!
First of all, if you have a Peter Grant fan in your life, the new Rivers of London book, Lies Sleeping, came out in hardback midway through last month. (If you don’t have a Peter Grant fan in your life, you could try to convert them, but do start at the beginning with Rivers of London or it’ll all make no sense to them). I’m working my way through Carl Hiaassen’s books at the moment – and if you’ve got someone who likes darkly funny mystery-thrillers, then that would be a good place to go – I’m reading Star Island next – about a drug-addled starlet and her double – but Skin Tight is excellent, if gross.
Novels based on real people can go either way, but I think they make a solid choice for book gifts – because you sort of know what you’re letting your giftee in for. I’ve got Swan Song by Kelleigh Greenberg-Jephcott on my to-read shelf, which looks like a promising choice as a gift. It tells the story of the events that led up to Truman Capote’s professional and social suicide, a decade after In Cold Blood Made him a literary star. The only reason I haven’t read it already is the fact I couldn’t take it with me to Washington!
I read Fatal Inheritance by Rachel Rhys over the summer – and although it’s set on the French Riviera in the summer, I don’t think a spot of sunshine in the middle of winter is a bad thing. If you’re buying for someone who likes historical fiction and mysteries, this would be a good choice. For some reason I’m struggling to think of a really good comp for it – but it’s a bit Lauren Willig, Beatriz Williams-y, but with more tension.
And it was a Book of the Week back in the summer, but Helen Hoang’s The Kiss Quotient would make a good pick for someone looking for a romance to get lost in. What’s not to love about a gender-flipped Pretty Woman, with a heroine with Asperger’s?
I’ve heard good things about Megan Mullaly and Nick Offerman’s book, The Greatest Love Story Ever Told, which as the title suggests tells the story of their love story – and how a carpenter and an actress fell in love and made it work, despite their differences. If you have someone to buy for who loves Parks and Rec (and especially Ron and Tammy 2) then this could be the genius Christmas book you need to buy. Although I hear it’s even better on audiobook… In other celebrity memoirs that might make good gifts, 2018 has been very much the Year of Tiffany Haddish and her book The Last Black Unicorn would make a good Christmas gift for the film fan in your life.
I’m midway through (as you know from the Week in Books posts) Priestdaddy by Patricia Lockwood – which I’m really enjoying when I’m sufficiently caught up on my podcasts to have some free listening time. It tells the story of Lockwood’s own life growing up up in the Mid-West with a Catholic priest for a father (he got the call after he was already married with kids) and what it’s like when you have to move back in with your parents when you’re married yourself and 30.
If you want to buy someone something historical, I’ve got my eye on A Lab of One’s Own, about pioneering suffragist scientists in the First World War. I heard the author, Patricia Fara, interviewed on History Hit earlier in the year and it sounds like a good choice for the end of this cententary year of the end of the Great War.
I’ve had a bit of a struggle coming up with fresh children’s ideas this year – because most of my non-adult reading has been series that I’ve already talked about (at length) like the Wells and Wong books or old Girl’s Own stories that you really can’t give to children today. The good news is that Katherine Woodfine has started a new series – following Sophie and Lillian from the Sinclair Mysteries as they turn their hand to spying. The first book, Peril in Paris, sees them heading across the channel.
I’ve also bought the first in the Rosewood Chronicles series, Undercover Princess, and The Secret Key, the first in the Agatha Oddly series, for some of the younger readers in my life, and am busy resisting the temptation to keep them both for me. I would also suggest Howl’s Moving Castle if they haven’t already read it, because I loved it when I finally got around to reading it this year – more than a decade after I first saw the film version (which is also good, but different).
So there you go. Coming up tomorrow – the books that I’m hoping might appear under the Christmas tree this year. I hope Santa is reading.
I always love writing this post. It’s the easiest of the Christmas book posts for me to write, because I always have a big old list of books that I want but can’t justify buying. And given that I’ve been being really disciplined about not buying books as I try and shrink the to-read bookshelf down, this year the list is bigger than ever.
After my trip to the cinema to see Death of Stalin, I’ve got a yen to read more about Soviet Russia and I saw someone reading Frances Spufford’s Red Plenty on the train the other week and I would love to find that in my stocking, but Stalin and the Scientists by Simon Ings also looks like it might scratch that itch.
I’ve also been staring enviously at The House of Fiction by Phyllis Richardson which looks – as you might expect – at houses in fiction and how authors’ life experiences influenced the houses they created in their novels. Also on the bookish front, I would be happy to find The Book of Forgotten Authors by Christopher Fowler under the tree. And, although it might make me blush when I unwrap it, I really want to read Fern Riddell’s Victorian Guide to Sex. We all know that I read a lot of historical romance novels, and I would love to read some actual historical research into what people were really up to in the Nineteenth Century.
I’ve been lucky with managing to get my hands on a lot of the current-affairs-y nonfiction that I’ve been looking for this year, but I still haven’t managed to get a copy of Anne Helen Peterson’s Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud: The Rise of the Unruly Woman
There aren’t a lot of memoirs on my list this year, but if you’ve been reading a while, you’ll know that I loved the Tales of the City series, so it’s probably not a surprise that Armistead Maupin’s memoir Logical Family is one of them. As far as biographies go, I keep staring at Tatiana de Rosenay’s Manderley Forever about Daphne Du Maurier, but I’m not sure I’m enough of a Du Maurier fan to get the most out of it.
A Manual for Cleaning Women: Selected Short Stories by Lucia Berlin, which sounds like it might be right up my street. In terms of authors I love who have new books out that I haven’t been able to justify buying, I really want the new Sarah MacLean, Day of the Duchess, but only in the cheesy US mass market paperback edition or it won’t match the others in the series!
We’re (slowly) working our way through a complete rewatch of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and I heard The Last Adventure of Constance Verity by A Lee Martinez described as being a book with a Buffy-ish feel, so that went straight on my Christmas list!
If you want to buy me something pretty for my bookshelf, I’m still lusting over a couple of the Virago Designer Modern Classics – the Daphne Du Maurier short story collections (which would go nicely with the de Rosenay wouldn’t they, wink wink) The Birds and Don’t Look Now, and Patricia Highsmith’s Strangers on a Train. I can’t justify buying them for myself just to add to a pretty bookshelf, but they would look nice. And if Virago did any more of these lovely clothbound babies, I would be first in line to buy!
I’m coming up a bit short on other bookish ideas – I’m well stocked for notebooks and pens – and I think if I get given any more book bags Him Indoors will throw a fit. As with last year, I still have a Literary Review subscription* and Vanity Fair and a bunch of newspaper subscriptions and I don’t have a lot of other ideas, unless someone wants to buy me Private Eye for a year or pay for another year of Fahrenheit Press (if they do a subscription again in 2018).
Anyway, that’s what I’m hoping to see in my stocking this year – and I’ll keep you posted on whether any of my wishlist actually appears! And in case you missed them, here are my Books for Him and Books for Her posts for ideas for what to buy your nearest and dearest this year!
*It’s very good, the nonfiction reviews help me work out what I want to buy and the fiction reviews mean I can sound knowledgable about the latest literary fiction without having to read it thus giving me more time to devote to reading romance and cozy crime!
I’ll admit I’m struggling slightly for Man Books this year. And by Man Books, I mean books that the men in my life would like. As you know, every year I buy books for Him Indoors, my Dad and my little sister’s partner and, although my dad reads a lot of my mum’s books when she’s done with them, I do try and get him something he wouldn’t be able to pick up off my mum’s pile. For years his book was the latest Terry Pratchett, but as that option is no longer available to me, I’ve had to me more creative. Him Indoors likes Bill Bryson and I’ve had success with Guy Martin’s books previously, but some of the other autobiographies he’s been given have sat unread on the shelves, and that makes me sad. Little Sister’s partner is a fascinating enigma and I have to pick her brains for ideas every year. But between the three of them it usually gives a good cross section of stuff that I wouldn’t be buying for other people (or myself). But this year is tricky. Very tricky.
So the obvious choice for the Formula One fan in my life would be Jenson Button’s autobiography Life to the Limit, but there are a couple more behind the scenes-y books out this year too – Adrian Newey (legendary car designer) has one out – How to Build a Car – which looks like it’s full of designs and technical details and there’s also Mechanic: The Secret Life of the Pit Lane by former McLaren mechanic Marc Priestly. I’m going to have to go to Foyles and have a flick through them before I can decide which it’ll be.
In other nonfiction terms, Timothy West and Prunella Scales have written a book to accompany their TV series: Our Great Canal Journeys which might make a nice coffee table book for older relatives. There’s a book accompanying Blue Planet II which looks lovely as well and of course there’s David Attenborough’s own memoir Adventures of a Young Naturalist. There are also two space-related books out this Christmas – the patriotic choice is obviously Tim Peake’s Ask an Astronaut, but I’m actually more interested in Scott Kelly’s Endurance – although he didn’t come across as the chattiest of people during his media round promoting this, the reviews I’ve seen have been excellent and I’ve been fascinated by his story for ages. In case you didn’t know, he’s the American astronaut who spent a year in space – his identical twin brother is also an astronaut (now retired, he’s married to former US Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords) and one of the things the year in space was able to do was compare the differences between the the two men and see what space was doing to him compared to earth.
I found the fiction picks this year really hard, but eventually I’ve come up with a few. I read Anthony Horowitz’s The Word is Murder the other week and I think it would make a great Christmas read – it’s a modern day Sherlock type story, but very, very meta. Perfect for reading in front of the fire on Boxing Day. Although (as previously mentioned) there are no new Pratchetts anymore, there are lovely new hardback editions of his books coming out, if you’ve got someone who hasn’t got them all – the one of Good Omens, which he wrote with Neil Gaiman, is particularly nice – and there’s a TV adaptation coming soon, starring Michael Sheen and David Tennant, so now is the time to read it if you haven’t already. Talking of Neil Gaiman, his Norse Mythology would probably be a good choice – I know I want to read it!
So there you go, a stack of book suggestions that veer towards the sciences, technology, sci fi and mystery. If you’re still short of ideas, here’s last year’s post for more ideas – I’ve read Mary Roach’s Grunt since I wrote the post and can now endorse her fully, ditto Ready Player One which has a movie out soon too. And if you’re looking for books about history, cooking and a stack of fiction picks, try my Books for Her post.
Here we go again, it’s the Christmas gift suggestion post marathon. I’m starting with books for her, then there’ll be books for him, books for kids and what *I* want for Christmas. And this is separate from books set at Christmas – newly published and not so new – I have recommendations for that coming soon too. And I’ve even got myself in gear this year, so this first batch are coming to you earlier than usual – and at a point when Foyles are doing 20 percent off everything for Black Friday, which is really useful for the stuff that’s not on a big release (and thus not discounted by Amazon.
Rarely a Christmas goes by without me buying someone a cook book. This year, my pick is The Roasting Tin by Rukmini Iyer, which bought for my sister for her birthday after seeing some of the recipes on a weekly cooking email that I get. I’ve cooked a recipe from it* (and want a copy myself) and Little Sister has given it a glowing review too based on the recipes she’s tried.
I pretty much always buy my mum a big old biography of a historical figure for Christmas – she tends to prefer stuff from the Georgians onward – tending towards women, royalty and society figures. In that vein this year I’ve been eying up Queen Victoria’s Matchmaking by Deborah Cadbury (which I actually have an e-proof of still waiting be be read as part of the Noirville backlog) and Ma’am Darling: 99 Glimpses of Princess Margaret by Craig Brown, but if you’re buying for someone who likes Tudor history, Elizabeth’s Rival: The Tumultuous Tale of Lettice Knollys by Nicola Tallis also looks quite good and although I need to have a look at it in a shop before I’ll buy it for anyone, Lettice is someone who has popped up in Philippa Gregory novels so that could make a nice choice if you have a Gregory reader to buy for.
If you want to do current affairs, Hillary Rodham Clinton’s What Happened seems like a bit of an obvious choice, so how about White House photographer Pete Souza’s Obama: An Intimate Portrait which would look great on a coffee table. Depending on how woke the person is that you’re buying for, you might also want to consider Ta-Nehisi Coates’s We Were Eight Years In Power, which is waiting for me on my bookshelf at the moment after I read Between the World and me earlier in the year.
To lighter things now, and Life in the Garden by Penelope Lively looks like it would make a lovely pick for the gardner in your life – it’s billed as a memoir of her life in gardens as well as a look at gardens in literature. Both of my parents are gardners, but I’ve put this in here because I know that my mum likes Lively’s adult books (I’ve read some of her children’s novels but none of her adult stuff). I read Sweetpea Slight’s Get Me the Urgent Biscuits a few weeks back, and whilst it’s not quite as satisfying as I wanted it to be, if you have a theatre geek in your life, the story of life as an assistant to a theatrical impresario in the 1980s and 90s is still fascinating. There’s also The Vanity Fair Diaries: 1983 – 1992 telling the story of Tina Brown’s time as the editor of the legendary magazine (I wouldn’t mind this myself to be honest, but I’ve got so many things on my own list I decided to be generous and include this here!).
In fiction, I’ve added Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler to my list of books to give based on what I’ve read so far. I always worked in retail when I was younger, not hospitality or catering, but having read this I feel like I may have missed out. Although as I’m terribly clumsy I would have been a terrible waitress! You may remember be going mad over Emma Straub’s Modern Lovers earlier this year – and as I love Rich People Problems books I think that would make a great gift, as would The Wangs vs The World by Jade Chang (although I didn’t love it as much as some others have). There’s also a second book out now in the Dandie Dinmont murder mystery series – I enjoyed the first one earlier this year and if it’s anything like the first one Resort to Murder would make a great stocking stuffer: a lady journalist in 1950s Devon solves mysteries that she comes across during the course of her reporting duties.
And it was a BotW a few weeks ago, but To Bed With Grand Music would make a great Christmas book for anyone who needs to sit and spend a few hours with a fascinatingly awful woman in wartime Britain to take them away from whatever chaos they’re living with.
So, there you have it. Part One of my Christmas book suggestions for this year. Part Two will follow tomorrow, but in the meantime you can always check out last year’s post – as well as last year’s suggestions for books that I wanted to receive.
*The recipe we tried was this one – it was excellent, as were the leftovers.
Yes, it’s that time of year again, where I tell you what’s been sitting in my Amazon Shopping basket for months as I try to justify buying more books in the guise of offering recommendations for people who like what I like but actually offer last minute hints to my loved ones who read the blog and anyone else who wants to buy me something. In writing this I went back over last year’s version of this post and was cheered over how many of my 2015 wishes I’ve got and have read – and there are a couple more on my Kindle too that I bought myself!
The non fiction section of this list always seems to be bigger than the fiction one – I think because non-fiction books are often more expensive or come out in hardback first so I’m less likely to buy them myself and it takes longer for them to drop down in price secondhand.
A new addition to the list is Trainwreck: The Women We Love to Mock, Hate and Fear by Sady Doyle, which Sarah MacLean recommended in her Christmas mailing list. It’s a look at troubled women in the public eye through history – from Mary Wollstonecraft through Britney Spears and Amy Winehouse – examining what makes a “trainwreck” and why we’re so fascinated by them. I’ve had my eye on The End of the Perfect 10 by Dvora Meyers since the Olympics in the summer, but haven’t been able to justify shelling out for it when I have so much waiting on the to-read shelf. And then there’s Roxanne Gay’s Bad Feminist and Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me which I’ve just heard so much about but haven’t got around to reading yet.
There’s a few memoirs that I’m interested on – I keep hearing good things about Tara Clancy’s The Clancy’s of Queens about her childhood growing up in different parts of New York. Then there’s Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime about growing up in South Africa when his parents’ marriage (between a white Swiss man and a black Xhosa woman) was illegal. Noah is almost exactly my age and it’s crazy to me that this was still happening in my lifetime, to my contemporaries.
In history terms, I’d like First Women by Kate Anderson Brower about modern First Ladies of the US, I want to read Barbara Leaming’s Kick Kennedy because I already have Paula Byrne’s novel Kick waiting on the shelf and I wouldn’t mind Rosemary by Kate Larson (although I fear it may make me sad and angry) because most of my knowledge about the other Kennedys comes from Laurie Graham’s novel The Importance of Being Kennedy and Robert Dalek’s biography John F Kennedy: An Unfinished Life.
I’m not one for science books in the main – although I’d also like to read several of the Mary Roach books I recommended yesterday – but I’d really like Emily Nagoski’s Come As You Are which is an exploration of female sexuality and sex, but I’m not sure there’s anyone I know well enough that I can ask them to buy it for me! Perhaps I’ll treat myself to it in the New Year!
The fiction section this year breaks down into authors I want to try or books I keep hearing about and series/authors I collect. I’ll start with the former, because if you’ve been here a while the latter may seem a bit familiar to you…
Last year I was asking for the last of Lauren Willig’s Pink Carnation books – this year i’m asking for her first collaboration with Beatriz Williams (who I also really like) and Karen White, The Forgotten Room, which is a timeslip novel covering three generations of a family in New York. And incidentally I still haven’t managed to read Willig’s other novel from last year That Summer, where a woman inherits a house and discovers a painting and a mystery.
I’m always wanting non-Christmassy books to read in January – particularly because that’s when my birthday is and I’m sick of tinsel and mistletoe by New Year’s Day – which conincidentally is when Sherlock is back on TV, so Brittany Holmes A Study in Charlotte (female Holmes descendant at a US boarding school) or Sherry Thomas’s A Study in Scarlet Women (historical romance with female Sherlock) which I’ve been coveting for ages might well suit my mood early in 2017.
On the collection front, Virago reissued three more Angela Thirkells recently that I have not yet read or added to my collection (I wasn’t allowed to buy myself when Foyles were doing 20% off online, apparently 1 book as a present and 1 book for me was not an acceptable purchase ratio…) Miss Bunting, The Headmistress and Marling Hall. There’s also a few more of Virago’s Designer Hardbacks that I’d quite like to add to the shelf – notably the two Daphne Du Maurier short story collections – Don’t Look Now and Other Stories and The Birds and Other Stories and Patricia Highsmith’s Strangers on the Train.
And in more boring every day reading so to speak, I really want to read the new Aurora Teagarden Mystery by Charlaine Harris, All the Little Liars, partly because I like the series but also because the idea of an author coming back to a series after nearly 15 years fascinates me. I still don’t have the latest Julia Quinn (Because of Miss Bridgerton) or Sarah MacLean (A Scot in the Dark) so I’m falling behind in my historical romance reading as well as the rest of the backlog.
As I mentioned yesterday, I’ve already bought myself another year of Fahrenheit Press books and a couple more years of Literary Review, and I have Vanity Fair as well. I did investigate a membership of the London Library, but I don’t know anyone who would spend nearly £500 on a library membership for me – especially with the massive backlog I have at the moment (and I can get a *lot* of books for £500 – that’s probably more than I’ve spend on books for myself this year anyway!).
I do fancy a new Kindle e-reader though – my first generation Kindle Touch has given me faithful service for more than 4 years, but it’s now struggling a little bit (it keeps stalling, possibly because of the amount of stuff on it) and the paint is scratching off it. It’d also be nice to have two so that Him Indoors could use one on the beach on holiday (he ended up using mine for a fair bit of our last one). My pick (I think) is the Voyage – because I want the backlight but I’m also getting lazy in my old age and liked the page turning squeezing thing when I tried it at the airport.
So there you are, more books than you can shake a stick at that I want for Christmas, despite the piles I already have. It’s like an addiction except that I learn things and it’s not illegal.
It’s that time of year, Christmas present shopping has hit last minute panic mode is in it’s final throes and I’d like to remind you all that books and bookish related paraphernalia make great presents and are easily available without venturing into a department store. The fractured elbow has slowed my progress somewhat – this should have been with you a week or more ago – sorry. But here are some suggestions from me.
Books for Him
My other half has just devoured the new Guy Martin book Worms to Catch in about 3 days (very fast for him). I mentioned him last year, but he keeps turning out very readable books for the petrolhead in your life. I don’t think you can go wrong with A Kim Jong-Il Production(a BotW pick a few months back) because as far as narrative non-fiction goes it’s just so bonkers it’s hard to believe it’s true. I keep hearing Mary Roach recommended places – and they sound like they might be perfect books for men (although I’m still hoping one might end up in my stocking) Grunt – all about how science and war and people collide – or Stiff – about what happens to human cadavers (as long as the recipient isn’t squeamish like me) seem to be the top picks.
For Fiction, I read The Murdstone Trilogy (actually just one book) by Mal Peet earlier this year – about a writer whose sensitive YA novels about troubled teens stop selling and who ends up writing fantasy – it’s a dark and funny look at fantasy tropes with some horror thrown in too. If he’s read Lord of the Rings/Game of Thrones or the like there’s probably something here for him.For my last pick, I’m suggesting Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One, another book that I haven’t read yet, but have heard great things about. It’s set in the future where natural resources are scarce and people escape into immersive video games like OASIS. Then one player stumbles upon the first clue to a series of Easter Eggs which could lead him to a fortune. I have the audiobook of this waiting on my phone for just as soon as I finish The Romanovs by Simon Sebag Montefiore – which is good, but very, very gory and long – only 20 hours of that to go!
Books for Her
Lets start with the fiction. It feels like a long time ago that I read Curtis Sittenfeld’s Eligible (April) but I’ve lent it on since then and had nothing but good feedback, so I’m going to recommend it again. I can’t remember why it wasn’t BotW at the time (maybe because I was half expecting to be reviewing it for Novelicious) but it is definitely one of my favourite books of the year, and hands down my favourite Pride and Prejudice retelling. I reviewed Lucy Dillon’s All I Ever Wanted over on Novelicious the other week, and that would also make a really good pick – it’s sort of Christmassy (it starts at Christmas) but it’s not all tinsel and mistletoe, it’s a great wintery read to give to someone who wants to spend Boxing Day (or longer) curled up on the sofa with a book in front of a roaring fire if you have one. Helen Ellis’s collection of short stories American Housewife (a previous Book of the Week) would also make a nice stocking filler if you have a woman with a dark sense of humour in your life (get a taste of what I mean here).
And now some non-fiction. I’ve already mentioned The Best of Dear Coquette(which you should totally buy as a present for yourself at least!), but if you’re buying for someone who was a teenager in the mid 90s or later, As If! an oral history of the making of the movie Clueless might be perfect. Clueless was one of the films that I watched on heavy rotation as a teenager (it came out just before I started secondary school so we had it on video at various slumber parties) and it still stands up today. As If! is a fun look behind the scenes and a reminder of how different and big the film was at the time
Books for Children
For little children, I love Jon Klassen (I’ve mentioned this before) and this Christmas sees his third book about hats – We Found a Hat follows on from I Want My Hat Back and This Is Not My Hat which have been big hits among the children I buy for.
I really enjoyed the first two books in Katherine Woodfine’s Sinclair’s Mysteries and both The Mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow and The Mystery of the Jewelled Moth should be fairly easy to get hold of if you’ve got a middle-grade (upper half of primary school) reader to buy for. Robin Stevens’ Wells and Wong books got a mention last year, but the series has grown since then and I think it’s a great choice for a girl (or boy) who has done St Clares or Mallory Towers and some Famous Five/Five Find-outers and wants more. They do contain death though
Other Bookish Gifts
In my post about presents for me last year, I said that I wanted a Literary Reviewsubscription – I got one (thanks Little Sis!) and have just bought myself another two years worth. I’ve enjoyed reading it, found books I want to read that I wouldn’t otherwise and used their reviews it to weed out books I don’t want to read/can wait to turn up in the secondhand shops.
I can’t believe how much I’ve talked about Fahrenheit Press already, but I’m going to do it again now – sorry! I bought myself their subscription earlier on this year – and it’s given me a string of Books of the Week and so much good stuff. I’ve just renewed it for another year and if you have a crime reader in your life this might be just the gift for them. 2016 has had reissues of 90s crime series, new thrillers about all sorts of things, the Danny Bird series and James Bond and Stephanie Plum’s lovechild and more. They’re so good I feel like I’ve done nothing but talk about them all year. And that’s before I write my Books of the Year post! Details here.
I got myself a Vanity Fair subscription this year which I’m still enjoying – and magazines are a gift that keeps giving through the year – I’ve bought Good Food, Gardener’s World and others at various points. Condé Nast keep emailing me to tell me that if I buy the wrong magazine for me giftee then I can change it for free too and so that’s practically a win win!
So there you have it, some gift suggestions from me. And if you need any more ideas, all my suggestions from last year still stand – gifts for him, her and kids. Coming next: What I want for Christmas…
So, after gifts for him, her and children, for Part Four of my Christmas book recommendations, I’ve come to books I want for Christmas. As you know I read a lot of books and have a big backlog anyway, but this is my wishlist. Perhaps it’ll give you some more ideas for gifts – or maybe it’ll give you some ideas about what to ask other people to get you!
I’m hoping to find some Deanna Raybourn in my stocking. I’ve really enjoyed her Lady Julia Grey series, and I’m hoping that Santa will bring me some of her standalone books – which are more expensive over here as they’re US Imports – like Night of a Thousand Stars, City of Jasmine or A Spear of Summer Grass (which after months of being c£7 for Kindle has dropped to £2.99 at time of writing, but I now can’t buy because I might be getting it for Christmas!) or the first book in her new series A Curious Beginning.
Another American import on my Christmas list is The Lure of the Moonflower – the final book in Lauren Willig‘s Pink Carnation series. I’m desperate to know what happens – I have the second last book sitting on my shelf ready to read, but I don’t dare start it because I know as soon as I read it I’ll want to read the last one *now* and then i’ll end up buying it before Christmas comes!
I’ve seen glowing reviews, but heard mixed word of mouth on Elena Ferrante‘s Neapolitan trilogy, so I’m curious to read them but can’t justify buying them myself with the to-read pile in its current state. So if anyone fancies buying me My Brilliant Friend, I’d really appreciate it! I’m also after the last in the Tales of the City series – The Days of Anna Madrigal.
Regular readers will know of my love of detective stories and cozy crime, so I’d be delighted if the latest Grantchester novel from James Runcie turned up on Christmas Day – Sidney Chambers and the Forgiveness of Sins is in a rather expensive US paperback edition or hardback (which would match the ones I already own better) at the moment. I’d also be happy to find the next book (that I don’t own) in the Tasha Alexander‘s Lady Emily series (Dangerous to Know), or one of Catriona McPherson‘s Dandy Gilvers that I haven’t read (like …and the Reek of Herrings),
I don’t tend to buy myself a lot of non fiction, what with the pile being so big and so much of it coming out in hardback first, so Christmas is a a really good opportunity for me to get a few things that I can’t justify buying with the to-read pile in its current state!
I mentioned in my Gifts for Her post that I’m not big on Roman history, but I do quite fancy Mary Beard‘s latest SPQR, but hardbacks do tend to linger on my shelf somewhat, so perhaps her Confronting the Classics might be a better choice and likewise fill in some gaps in my education. Also on the history front, I really want to read Anita Anand’s Sophia: Princess, Suffragette, Revolutionary, especially after seeing the documentary based on it on BBC One a few weeks back – which is still on iPlayer for a few more days. I’m a big fan of Helen Rappaport‘s books (she’s a great speaker too) and I’d quite like her Four Sisters: The Lost Lives of the Romanov Grand Duchesses, even though I usually find the Russian Revolution too unbearably depressing!
From this year’s crop of celebrity autobiographies and memoirs, my picks would be Sue Perkins‘ Spectacles and Drew Barrymore‘s Wildflowers or maybe Grace Jones‘s I’ll Never Write My Memoirs which is about an era which I’m fascinated by and was hoping that The Boy would ask for, but he hasn’t! She’s not a celebrity in the traditional sense, but I’m an occasional reader of The Bloggess and Jenny Lawson‘s second book Furiously Happy is on my want list – I’ve read the kindle preview and am really interested by it. It’s only in hardback at the moment, but as I still haven’t got her first book, Let’s Pretend this Never Happened, I would be happy to receive that instead/as well!
Those who know me in real-life know that I don’t wear a lot of make-up. But despite this, I do watch a lot of YouTube make-up videos. And Lisa Eldridge is one of my favourites. Consequently I’d really like her history of make-up Face Paint, but can’t justify buying it for myself. Hint. Hint. At the quirky end of the book spectrum, I’ve got a fancy for How to Climb Mount Blanc in a Skirt, and either of Shaun Usher‘s Letters of Note books – the new one sounds fabulous
On the aspirational home front, I’d really like Marie Kondo‘s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying because I am a bit of a hoarder – even when it’s not books! I’m sure The Boy would be delighted if I could find away of jettisoning some of my stuff happily, although obviously he’d be even happier if I could stop acquiring the clutter in the first place!
I know my reading habit can intimidate people and scare them off buying me books (in case I already have it or have read it) but I’m always delighted to get a book voucher – be it a National Book Token or a Kindle voucher and I try to spend them on something I consider a treat – like a nice hardback or an ebook that’s over my usual price limit. After chortling over their Bad Sex Awards for years, I’ve been eyeing up a subscription to Literary Review but can’t really justify buying myself it!
What don’t I want? No cookery books please (unless it’s a Mary Berry I don’t already have) as I still haven’t worked my way through everything I want to cook from the ones that I already have and the cookery book shelf is getting full. Don’t buy me the Booker shortlist – I’ve got so much to read already, I’ll never get around to them – as my attempts to try and improve my award-nominated book hit rate show!
And finally, if you really want me to love you forever, you could pre-order me a copy of The Rogue Less Taken from Sarah MacLean – one of my favourite purveyors of smart, funny and sexy historical romance – and do it from her local Indie bookshop Word in Brooklyn, because I really want the US version (the UK one doesn’t match my collection, but I’ll link you to it anyway in case you want it for you), and Word will send it to me signed and with bonus goodies. But even nightshift brain can’t really justify spending $22 shipping a $7.99 book to the UK. Even if I did do it for Never Judge a Lady by her Cover last year – which is also not as nice in its UK edition, which is something I never though I’d say about an American edition of a romance book. But if you do, let me know, because I may yet weaken and buy it anyway, and it would be stupid for two of us to do it….
After Books for Guys and Books for Girls, I give you Books for Kids! I buy books for all my nieces and young cousins every year. I think boys and girls should be encouraged to read books with male and female protagonists, so hopefully there’s something for everyone, but obviously these are going to be influenced by what I’ve read and what the girls have read and told me they liked. I don’t have kids, so if some of my suggestions seem really obvious to those of you reading who are parents, I’m sorry.
An oldie but a goodie to start for the upper end of this age group – Janet and Alan Ahlberg‘s The Jolly Christmas Postman. They need to be past the ripping things apart stage and be able to cope with the little letters without losing them. Mog is everywhere this Christmas, and it’s totally deserved – Judith Kerr writes wonderful children’s books. My favourites are obvious ones like The Tiger Who Came to Tea and all the Mog books, but also The Great Granny Gang. Jon Klassen‘s books have gone down well with the little people I buy for – I’m still getting fish drawings based on This Is Not My Hat. I also like Chris Naughton‘s books like Oh No! George – but Little Sis-the-teacher reckons she prefers her picture books with more detail so you can get the kids to describe them. And finally, if you haven’t already seen them, Oliver Jeffers‘ books are gorgeous – I love Lost and Found.
Five to Eight year olds
The Nieces are in love with Jenny Colgan‘s Polly and the Puffin – we got a postcard with a puffin on it from their latest holiday and a note saying it was because of the book. If you want to give something educational, but also absolutely beautiful and engrossing, go and find a copy of Aleksandra Mizielinska andDaniel Mizielinski‘s Maps in your local bookshop. I think this is gorgeous and it teaches stuff subtly as well, a bit like Richard Scarry did for younger kids. Their Welcome to Mamoko is equally beautiful. I’m also debating buying My Sewing Machine book for the nieces – as they have a Grandma who is big into sewing and patchwork – but I’m not sure it’s fair to let her in for the extra work!
Eight to Twelve year olds
School Ship Tobermory by Alexander McCall Smith went down well with Eldest Niece (just under this age bracket, but a keen reader) – who wouldn’t love a story about a boarding school that’s on a tall ship? I read it and thought it was fun and clever and modern. In Waterstones last week I saw some lovely new editions of Noel Streatfeild‘s Shoe Books. I haven’t read them all, but Ballet Shoes is amazing – although I was a little annoyed there wasn’t a similarly pretty version of White Boots (which I still have on my shelf upstairs) which is sometimes called Skating Shoes to make it fit the series. If you want to give some classics, my local branch of The Works had a variety of Enid Blyton Boxsets – including Famous Five, Secret Seven and The Faraway Tree – although I can’t find all of them on the website.
Also mentioned here before are Robin Stevens‘ Wells and Wong mysteries – I can’t wait for Eldest Niece to hit the right age (I think murders are a bit scary for her yet), Murder is Unladylike is the first one, but First Class Murder is the latest and is all you’d hope for from a book that is boarding school story meets Murder on the Orient Express. For the top end of this age bracket, I’d also suggest Simon Mayo‘s Itch (which I’ve read) and its sequels Itch Rocks and Itchcraft (which I haven’t) which are sciencey thriller chase stories.
No surprise that I’m going to recommend Gail Carriger‘s Finishing School series. Her books are one of my obsessions – I’m currently working my way through her audiobooks on my walks too and from work. Etiquette and Espionage is the first one, and would be a great gift for someone who has read St Clares/Malory Towers or similar when they were younger. I really enjoyed the Geek Girl series earlier this year, which would make a great choice for a girl who is into her clothes and fashion, but which isn’t afraid to show the less glamourous side of modelling as well as the difficulties of not fitting in at school.
I read Jenny Valentine‘s Fire Colour One back in the summer and it would make a good choice for someone who’s read The Fault in Our Stars (they’ll almost certainly already have TFIOS, but I’ve put the link in anyway), but doesn’t quite want to cry as much again. One which will make you cry (especially if you’ve read other Pratchetts) is the final Tiffany Aching book The Shepherd’s Crown. I spoke about it at length earlier this year, but I really think that this book is the culmination of a brilliant series. If you’ve got someone who’s read Harry Potter and/or The Hobbit and is looking for the next move, start them on The Wee Free Men and you may be the originator of a Discworld love affair. If you’re buying for someone who’s not as much of a reader, may I suggest the first Lumberjanes book. I loved this graphic novel, and even The Boy pronounced it “quite good, but it ended just as it got interesting”, which presumably bodes well for Part Two.
Finally, if in doubt, there’s always a book token. But lots of your old favourites from when you were that age may still be in print, but out of fashion, so the kids may not have them. my mum’s getting My Naughty Little Sister for one of the little girls she buys for this year. I bought Eldest Niece The Worst Witch for her birthday in the summer (and I’ve heard a passage from The Worst Witch being used in a school entry reading comprehension test!) and I think she’s since asked for more of them. Meg and Mog, Hairy McLairy, The Enormous Crocodile and Peace at Last are all still out there too.