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Christmas 2020 is bound to be very different from our expectations and memories of big family get togethers, and parties. While we may not be rocking around the Christmas tree in the same numbers this year, we can still curl up with a feel-good festive read, or wrap the perfect literary gift for a friend or family member.
Those dark November and December days wouldn’t be the same without an uplifting festive pick me up and we haven’t missed out including some brilliant titles that will fill you with warmth and the feelings of Christmas.
There's been plenty of topical books released, for readers who want to reflect on what a year we've had! For any non-fiction fans and bookworms who love learning about people we have some brilliant history books, memoirs and non-fiction titles to browse. And for those who want to ‘eat, drink and be merry’ at Christmas, a cookbook is a great gift for any cooking aficionado and will be treasured for life.
Our Christmas 2020 Book Recommendations are filled with gifts that can be picked up and enjoyed again and again at any time of year. We’ve also included some of the brilliant books we’ve read throughout the year, in case you want to add to take the time to finally enjoy them or wrap one up for a friend. You can also check out our Star Books section to see the creme de la creme of our recommendations and our Books of the Year or why not take a look at our Collections if you're looking for something more specific?
So while you're making your list (and checking it twice), scroll on through our Christmas 2020 Book Recommendations to check you have the best presents for the bookworms in your life and a treat for yourself too, why not? It’s Christmas!
A book to fall totally and irretrievably in love with, Lion is full of the most gorgeous paintings, drawings, and sketches, and is absolutely stunning. The lion, an apex predator, is surely one of the most beautiful sights you can see. When I was 19 I found myself in Kenya, eyes wide, mouth open as I watched a lioness and three cubs at a water hole. It is something that is as clear to me now as it was then, so, when I saw this book was going to be published, I was first in the LoveReading queue. Here we journey together with Mark Adlington as he studies lions in East and Southern Africa. The foreword by the winner of the Prince William Award for Conservation in Africa and Co-Founder and Director of Operations at the Big Life Foundation, Richard Bonham, is effusive in its praise of Mark Adlington. It comes with a warning, that lions do not make good neighbours, and “where humans and wildlife compete, wildlife will surely lose”. However all is not: “doom and gloom… in the Amboseli ecosystem, by 2003 there were only 25 lions left… today, things have changed and the population has clawed itself back to over 200”. Mark has painted the progeny of the lions this programme has saved, and they appear in this dazzlingly impressive book. Mark describes meeting Richard and his wife Tara as a miracle: “I found myself invited to stay ‘in the most beautiful part of Kenya’ by a total stranger on the strength of a little sketch of a lion cub posted on instagram”. Mark also allows us access to his sketchbook musings (oh, the tortoise!), and finishes by saying that a world without the lion is unimaginable. What then follows is page after page of the most beautiful artwork, and this is where my mouth dropped open. Each piece is so full of character and movement, so vibrantly alive, that it brought tears to my eyes. The art is allowed to shine, no page numbers or captions to distract, you can simply sink into the beauty of the lion. So, Lion is a book to take pride of place on your bookshelves, a book to return to and open with wonder, to sit with eyes wide and heart open, to adore. Undoubtedly one of my personal books of the year, Lion just had to join our LoveReading Star Books and is of course one of my Liz Picks of the Month.
Discover the most romantic of Christmas treats in this lovely relationship and friendship story. Eco consultants Hannah and Noah spend the run-up to Christmas working at a beautiful hotel in Cornwall. When a storm cuts the village off, they join the community, enjoy scrumptious food, and find themselves on a ghost hunt. If you’ve already read the other books in the Cornish Cream Tea series then you’ll meet some very familiar faces. If this is all new to you though, you can quite happily start here (and then catch up on the other stories). Fresh and modern, yet told with a gentle warmth, I found myself sinking into this delightful tale. Each of the four parts in this novel almost make a story in their own right, when read together they form a will-they won’t-they huggable romance. Cressida McLaughlin writes with genuine affection for this setting and group of characters. From mischievous dogs to runaway Christmas puddings, there is a smile to be found within the pages. The Cornish Cream Tea Christmas is an enchanting addition to this series, and it simply glows with festive spirit.
With enough family drama and romance to please the most fervid romantic saga novel fan. This would also make a perfect gift as it starts and finishes at Christmas, with all the turmoil and excitement that the year between brings. As Sally Suggs struggles to continue the family rag-and-bone round in 1865, help comes from unexpected quarters. Sally is feisty, compassionate, and thoughtful, with two men quite obviously interested in her, she has a number of difficult decisions to make. Author Dilly Court has been writing novels for 15 years, and this is her 40th novel. She skilfully creates a story that gathers interesting characters, intrigue, and historical atmosphere to its heart. Rag-and-Bone Christmas is a warm-hearted, page-turning, festive feast of a novel. To find out more about Dilly Court, visit our LoveReadingLoves Channel - Fall in Love with Dilly Court
The perfect pick-me-up, this book delivers plenty of romance, smiles, and most importantly enfolds you in a lovely satisfying storyline too. Minnie would rather spend her birthday on New Years Day hiding under her duvet, as far as she’s concerned the last and first day of the year is jinxed. Then she meets Quinn who shares her birthday but otherwise appears to waltz through life, and the attraction is undeniable. Sophie Cousens has the most lovely refreshing style, a lightness of touch and sparkling wit walks hand in hand with considerate contemplation and emotion. Travelling back to the past ensured we saw what had affected, shaped and changed these two characters. I loved the ping-pong of little morsels of information, popping up to build a picture that we had access to, but Abbie and Quinn remained unaware of. Missed chances is the main theme here, but there is so much more on offer too, with access to Quinn ensuring this wasn’t just a one way Minnie street. The supporting characters are a lively bunch, with a mixture of personalities and issues keeping things interesting. Romantic, yes most definitely, This Time Next Year is also an amusing, thoughtful, and friendly read too.
Taking us through the seasons, and covering eighty species, Sarah Cheesbrough’s Wild Neighbours is a lovingly-curated collection of photographs that lays bare London’s often overlooked wildlife wonders. As such, it will surely inspire city-dwellers to explore urban environments with fresh eyes. What’s more, alongside its inspirational exhibition of natural beauty, the book is driven by an ethos of conservation, and a belief that even in the most urban areas we can “be good neighbours” to wildlife. Having spent hundreds of hours in the field, and walked as many miles, Cheesbrough’s photographs attest the sense of well-being that can come from observing wildlife. In her words, “I’m regularly awestruck at the generosity of the natural world to offer up gifts of connection, sweetness, beauty, hope, non-judgement and peace. Here we encounter the majestic elegance of red deer as they bathe, graze and rest. Foraging hedgehogs hidden in spiky grass. Squirrels scampering and digging. Fleet-footed foxes, and dozens of insects, among them bees, butterflies, ladybirds and caterpillars. The avian images are stunning too, from the cheering tropical vibrance of ring-necked parakeets, and red-breasted robins dazzling against snowy backdrops, to piercing-eyed peregrine falcons, mallards, moorhens and everyday pigeons. The final photo is a dream of a shot that perfectly encapsulates the spirit of the book, and the wondrous unpredictability of nature as we see a huge, stately deer springing from river to waterside behind an unsuspecting pair of city joggers. What a glorious pictorial pick-me-up this is - a reminder that wild magic is all around, if only we open our eyes to it.
Companion to A Nature Poem for Every Day of the Year and Friends: A Poem for Every Day of the Year, A Nature Poem for Every Night of the Year is an exquisitely curated collection that induces calm contemplation as it evokes nature in all its awe-inspiring forms - frozen lakes, majestic trees, creeping autumnal twilights, disquieting night winds, multitudes of birds, and much more besides. It’s a book to reach out to before bed, for pondering each poem will instil a sense of slowing down before sleep sets in, nurturing gentle focus and moments of natural respite. As the book progresses through the year, there’s a tangible sense of nature budding, blooming and abating through the shifting seasons. We walk with Oscar Wilde by the “withered leaf of the moon”. We pass through the “door of spring” with Ethelwyn Wetherald. We revel in springtime birdsong beside William Wordsworth. We’re dazzled by Christina Rossetti’s blossoming “golden glories”. And then comes Betjeman’s harvesttime hues, Tennyson’s September dew, and Sara Teasdale’s “feathery filigree of frost”. Alongside such esteemed names, lesser-known poets are included too, which means it also serves as an excellent springboard to discovering hitherto unknown voices.
A clever concept, delectably delivered - featuring a feast of recipes and tales to inspire readers around the table, around the year, Miranda York’s The Food Almanac will make a piquant present for gourmands and bibliophiles. With a bounty of stories, pieces of passion, stylish illustrations and reading lists accompanying the recipes, this is a book to relish over time rather than scoff down in one sitting, though the delicious results might make that quite a feat of restraint. Each chapter covers a month of the year and opens with a handy checklist of seasonal ingredients to look out for, with an in-depth focus on star ingredients - lemons that “bring flashes of brightness to the dull grey days of January”. Gooseberries that “perform their spritely dance” in July puddings. September’s “tiny, tangy, ancient” crab apples. The “smoky sweetness” of December chestnuts. It’s global in outlook too, with poets, novelists and acclaimed food writers and chefs from around the world sharing stories, memories and insights alongside coverage of food-focussed feasts deserving of a fanfare, among them New Orleans Carnival and Anzac Day in Australia. The roll-call of writers provides a rich range of voices and views too, with contributions from chefs Raymond Blanc and José Pizarro, chef, restaurateur and food writer Yotam Assaf Ottolenghi, writer and cook Zoe Adjonyoh, novelists Kit de Waal and Deborah Levy, and many more besides.
Stuart Dunns’ Only Us is an exceptional photographic celebration of humanity, with 160 pages of portraits of people from around the globe taken during the course of his career as a celebrated documentary filmmaker and photographer. An appropriate alternate title might be “all of us”, for all human life, from all areas of the world, is laid bare here - an incubated baby in Sheffield. Ugandan night fishermen at work. Thai monks on laundry day. Tanzanian hunter-gatherers. Canadian rangers protecting polar bears. A Newcastle native outside a pub. Having said that, the “Only Us” title perfectly captures Dunns’ recognition that “amongst the incredible diversity that we inhabit, our lives are surprisingly similar. From the mundane to the dramatic, we all go through it… There has never really been ‘Us and ‘Them’; there is ‘Only Us’”. And this outward-looking, inclusive global perspective on humanity permeates every image, each of which really is worth a thousand words. Each of them prompts questions, invites the viewer to consider the lives of the people depicted. They summon stories. While the accompanying copy contextualises the images, noting where they were taken and who’s featured, with occasional fascinating personal anecdotes, Dunns’ words leave space for personal contemplation. Some are close-up portraits, focussing on faces, with the subjects’ eyes and expressions revealing emotional states we all recognise and relate to. Others take a step back and show people at home, at work, or in their natural landscapes, from Arctic tundra to Omani deserts. And all of them lay bare our shared human experiences, prompting empathy, and a stirring sense of interconnection.
A fabulously perfect festive read that delivers oodles of heartwarming charm. This could easily be read as a standalone novel, but I do recommend starting with Happiness for Beginners as Christmas for Beginners continues the lovely story of Molly and Hope Farm. When I read the first few sentences: “One of the alpacas has eaten the Baby Jesus. I’m not sure which one. Frankly they all look the picture of innocence, but I know them better.” I knew I was in for a treat of a read. Carole Matthews takes the ‘up’ in uplifting and elevates it to a whole new level. She doesn’t shy away from the aches and pains of real life and it is this that makes her books so relatable. The characters of the farm animals ensure they sit front and centre, often eclipsing their human counterparts. Even here, in the middle of a freezing cold farm yard you can also discover humour, hugs, and merrymaking. Carole Matthews really is the most beautifully consistent writer and we just had to pop this into our LoveReading Star Books category. Christmas for Beginners is an absolute gift of a book and comes as highly recommended by me.
A seriously beautiful, absolute treasure of a book which is just as magical and bewitching as its big sister The Lost Words. Read, chant, feel each spell-poem by Robert Macfarlane and sink into the artwork by Jackie Morris, each giving life to the other. I was haunting my postbox waiting for this to arrive, suitable for any age it would be the perfect present for any lover of our natural world. It isn’t in the slightest bit fluffy (as the barn owl declares), instead you’ll find the most vibrantly real and alive book awaits you. Jackie Morris and Robert Macfarlane make the most wonderful combination of words and pictures together, each part without the other would be lost, together they just create magic. The fox, both city and countryside dweller is the perfect start, the jackdaw leapt into my heart and was conjured in front of me, while the last spell sent a shiver skittering down my arms. This is a book to tell your friends about, I’ve read the poems to family and friends and I will be thrilled when I see it on their bookshelves. Yes, of course I adored it, once again I have lost my heart to a creation of the team behind The Lost Words. It just had to be one of my picks of the month, and a LoveReading star book too, it really is that gorgeous.
If you need a slice of pick-me-up then stop right here. Dean Nicholson is famous on social media as 1bike1world. His original aim to cycle solo around the world changed when he rescued abandoned kitten Nala and she joined him on his travels. The book charts his and Nala’s story and contains some squeezably lovely photos too. It seems as though Dean is still in shock at how quickly people took to his story (their instagram page at the time of writing sits at 810k followers). Dean comes across as completely down to earth and appreciative of the small things in life, the things that actually matter and mean the world. He has seen the very best of people, while also bearing witness to the sorrowful treatment of animals by some. Dean has raised a huge amount for charity since Nala came into his life. She is one photogenic cat, and her utter trust and love for Dean shines through. A hugely glorious bundle of feel-good, Nala’s World comes with beaming smiles of recommendation from me. Chosen as a LoveReading Star Book, this would make a perfect gift for a loved one (don’t forget to buy a copy for yourself too!). Explore our '80+ Books That Deliver a Hug' listicle for more feel-good or uplifting books.
A wonderful game for all the family, this really would make the most beautiful gift to celebrate the wonder of nature. Based on the best-selling book The Lost Words by Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris this is a game for two to four players from the age of 8 and up. The Lost Words was one of our Books of the Year in 2017, and the more recent The Lost Spells is another LoveReading Star Book, these are books to celebrate and treasure. The card game has been created in conjunction with the authors, and is firmly embedded within the ideology found in the books. The cards are large (tarot size), feel luxurious to touch, and the pack contains the beautiful artwork of Jackie Morris (Nature Cards), spells of Robert Macfarlane (Spell Cards), and Special Cards which instruct an action, such as fishing for a Spell Card or sealing and protecting a completed pair. The aim of the game is to be the first player to place a matching Spell Card, on to all of your displayed Nature Cards. I would suggest you thoroughly read the instructions before starting, and perhaps form a few rules of your own, such as when you match a Spell and Nature Card, you read or chant or sing the spell! The game takes roughly 30 minutes, I was thoroughly beaten when playing for the first time. I would say there is a small amount of skill involved, but it is mostly down to the luck of the draw, which means all of the family can play together. The Lost Words Card Game would make the perfect stocking filler for Christmas, and comes with a celebratory thumbs up from me.
Full to overflowing with love and laughter, this is a simply wonderful Christmas treat. Janie Johnson comes back from safari having fallen in love with with her tour guide, everyone warns her against following her heart, will she listen? Originally released in 2011, and shortlisted for the Romantic Novelists’ Association Romantic Comedy Novel Award 2012, this is the perfect time to reissue this wonderfully uplifting story. It now includes a follow-up short story, and an extract from Carole’s new novel. Carole Matthews has combined the African Maasai Mara with Christmas, snow, and a bad-tempered cat which ensures this festive offering is just that little bit different. I knew I was in safe hands and just settled down for a lovely read. I smiled, chuckled, and felt that wonderful warm glow that comes from a double-serving of romance and the most wonderful time of the year. Wrapped Up In You, with its huggable characters and storyline, is a smile in a book, how lovely! Explore our '80+ Books That Deliver a Hug' listicle for more feel-good or uplifting books.
The third book in the stunning `River Maid' series from Sunday Times bestseller, Dilly Court! Standing on London's Victoria docks with the wind biting through her shawl, Rose Munday realises she's been abandoned by her sweetheart. She had risked everything to get to London but, stumbling through the peasoup fog, she has nowhere to go, and no one to turn to. Scared and alone, Rose steps straight into danger, only to be rescued by two women with even less to their names - a woman of the night and her young sidekick, Sparrow. With only a cluster of love letters to her name and all hope of her sweetheart's return fading, Rose finds herself forging a new life with her unlikely companions. But when a good deed turns sour, a dangerous enemy threatens to ruin them all. Will Rose be able to save her new friends and her future? If she can, a Christmas gift awaits that will change her life forever...
This reissue of a classic mystery originally published in 1939 sparkles with wonderfully wry humour and the energy of the time. John Rutherford finds himself puzzling the mysterious disappearance of a man from an evening of carol singing. The novel begins with: “A rather curious thing happened during the evening of Sunday, the 21st of December”. John narrates, and within a few paragraphs had me chuckling in appreciation. As John investigates it becomes clear that the darkest of deeds may have been committed, and he reports the case to Inspector Charlton. Clifford Witting wrote 16 novels between 1937 and 1964, Catt Out of the Bag is the fourth involving Inspector Harry Charlton, yet you can quite happily read this as a standalone. I found myself completely wrapped up in the era, and thoroughly enjoyed the lively wit. Sitting as it does within the ‘Golden Age’ of mystery writing Catt Out of the Bag really is a perfect Christmas Mystery.
This gorgeous festive book sweeps you up in a great big squishy loving hug. A glorious beach hut acts as a haven for Lizzy after she runs away from the stress of Christmas. Will her family realise what they are missing without her there to cater to their every need, and can Lizzy fall back in love with Christmas? I simply adore Veronica Henry’s writing, I smile as I’m reading, and she has the wonderful ability to make feelings, moods and issues relatable. From little tots, charming dogs, and tricky teens, through to a despicable bully, weary mum, and lonely grandmother, the characters fill the pages with a vibrant energy. There is a warmth to the writing that just settled over me in a lovely affectionate embrace. Christmas at the Beach Hut is a book you can curl up with, relax into, and really enjoy, and it is also perfect for anyone who adores Christmas in all its wonderful slightly mad glory. Featured in the LoveReading Christmas Gift Guide. Explore our '80+ Books That Deliver a Hug' listicle for more feel-good or uplifting books.
A perfect stocking filler for anyone who likes a little spooky darkness to pay a visit at Christmas time. Twelve short stories are set in and around, or somehow connected to the Essex Witch Museum. If you haven’t yet explored the series, don’t worry, you can most certainly enter here. Can I just say that the cover is absolutely delightful, skulls and snowflakes sit perfectly alongside each other, as if they were always meant to be. Some of the stories tiptoe around Christmas, others stomp into it, all verge on the different though, and all have a certain chill factor. Syd Moore has a wonderfully light touch, humour sits alongside the macabre, and I was never quite sure what was going to come next. Can I just say that Doreen and her demonic Hoover was a particular favourite of mine! The Twelve Strange Days of Christmas really is a fabulous little book, full of the weird and wonderful I adored it!
Thirty beautiful short stories written for Christmas sit within the pages of this book. George Mackay Brown (1921-1996) from Orkney, wrote these tales during the 1970’s and 80’s, and yet they somehow sit outside of time. As William S. Peterson says in the introduction: “Some of them are set in the ancient or medieval world; others seem to be taking place in the early twentieth century. Always, however, he insists upon collapsing the dissecting between the present and a shadowy past…”. Sometimes Christmas is obvious, while at others there is just a whisper as they sit within the Advent season, but these stories hold tradition, myth, childhood, family, and what it is to be human during this time of year. The wood and lino cuts are an additional treat. A story that is a particular favourite of mine is Dialogue at the Year’s End which sent a shiver of goosebumps cascading down my arms with the kiss of a fairytale, and brought a tear to my eye. Christmas Stories is the most lovely festive treasure, and would make a lovely stocking filler as it brings alive the human spirit and joy of Christmas.
Sparked by the gargantuan global popularity of English Heritage’s The Victorian Way YouTube series, How to Cook the Victorian Way presents the life and recipes of the real Mrs Crocombe. Head cook at Audley End House from 1878 to 1884, her handwritten cookery book was passed down through her family and uniquely reveals the tastes and dining habits of Victorian Britons. With context on Audley End House, “one of the greatest houses of Jacobean England”, and absorbing detail on the kitchens of Mrs Crocombe’s era (the book is co-authored by Andrew Hann, head of the historians’ team at English Heritage), her recipes have been modernized by food historian Annie Gray, yet retain their authenticity. Some of them are familiar - pancakes, ginger beer, macaroni cheese, trifle and spotted dick - then there are more outlandish dishes too (to modern tastes, at least), such as mock turtle soup, larded sweetbreads and squab pie. This beautifully presented, meticulously researched compendium is a true treat for gourmands looking to expand their culinary repertoire - perfect for inspiring flamboyant Victorian ‘Come Dine with Me’ dinner parties.
A fabulously entertaining absolute romp of a murder mystery set in 1940’s New York. Famous private detective Lillian Pentecost, and her assistant Willowjean Parker are hired to track down the murderer of a wealthy young widow who was bludgeoned to death with a crystal ball at a seance. This is the debut novel and first in the Pentecost and Parker series from Stephen Spotswood, who is an award-winning playwright, journalist, and theatre educator. He quite obviously knows how to tell one heck of a captivating story, and this sits somewhere between hard-boiled and cosy! The first sentence is a corker, and sets up Willowjean (Will) as the most engaging and one-of-a-kind narrator. This is very much a character-led story, the feeling of the time is created with dialogue, which snaps and crackles with energy. Both Lillian and Will are fascinating characters, with more than a few tricks hidden up their sleeves. With a locked-room mystery, wonderfully diverse central characters, and a cracking storyline, Fortune Favours the Dead is a dream of a read and has been chosen as a LoveReading Star Book.
Find comfort with Mary's easy home cooking. In this brand new tie-in to a new BBC Two series, Mary Berry shares over 120 of her ultimate food recipes, all made simply and guaranteed to get smiles around your kitchen table. Mary's utterly reliable recipes are perfect for days when you want tasty and dependable food. Come home to the delicious simplicity of a Whole Roasted Squash with Garlic and Chilli Butter, or a warming Spicy Sausage and Red Pepper Hot Pot. Treat your family to Slow Roast French Lamb with Ratatouille, and spoil everyone with a decadent Frangipane Apple and Brioche Pudding. Featuring all the recipes from Mary's new series, plus many more fresh from Mary's kitchen, every single dish is accompanied by a photography of the finished food, so you know exactly what you're making. Each recipe includes Mary's trademark no-nonsense tips and techniques for getting ahead, and has been rigorously tested to make your cooking stress-free.
Flavour-forward, vegetable-based recipes are at the heart of Yotam Ottolenghi's food. In this stunning new cookbook Yotam and co-writer Ixta Belfrage break down the three factors that create flavour and offer innovative vegetable dishes that deliver brand-new ingredient combinations to excite and inspire. Ottolenghi FLAVOUR combines simple recipes for weeknights, low-effort high-impact dishes, and standout meals for the relaxed cook. Packed with signature colourful photography, FLAVOUR not only inspires us with what to cook, but how flavour is dialled up and why it works. The book is broken down into three parts, which reveal how to tap into the potential of ordinary vegetables to create extraordinary food: Process explains cooking methods that elevate veg to great heights; Pairing identifies four basic pairings that are fundamental to great flavour; Produce offers impactful vegetables that do the work for you. With surefire hits, such as Aubergine Dumplings alla Parmigiana, Hasselback Beetroot with Lime Leaf Butter, Miso Butter Onions, Spicy Mushroom Lasagne and Romano Pepper Schnitzels, plus mouthwatering photographs of nearly every one of the more than 100 recipes, Ottolenghi FLAVOUR is the impactful, next-level approach to vegetable cooking that Ottolenghi fans and vegetable lovers everywhere have been craving.
Thrills, chills, and buckets of blood are to be found in this plot-twisty, mesmerising whammy of a read. In order to rescue his kidnapped fiancé, and prevent himself from being framed for murder, Matt has been given full instructions on how he can save her and clear his name. He must kill a target, a stranger, within 24 hours. This is a standalone thriller from a favourite writer of mine, Simon Kernick excels in writing fast-moving, action-packed novels. The prologue sets the tale up beautifully with a DCI announcing three murder suspects and a trail of dead bodies. What follows is a number of people telling their own story, just who, if anyone is telling the truth? This read was a total brain-rush, each short and sharp chapter sucked me in until it ruthlessly spat me out as the next arrived. The plot zipped along while the characters thoroughly messed with my head. As the ending hurtled towards me and landed, I smiled, oh how I smiled, and felt very satisfied indeed. Kill A Stranger is another blockbuster of a read from Simon Kernick, and shoots straight onto our list of LoveReading Star Books.
Kiss Me Goodbye, Ferdinand Mount’s personal memoir of his mysterious millionaire Aunt Munca, dances with evocative detail - of people, place and period - and is an affectionate, fascinating delight. Elegantly appointed mansions. Upper echelon entertaining. Exuberant outings in a Rolls-Royce - these are among the author’s early memories (from 1945) of his enigmatic, affectionate Aunt Betty, who asks to be called Munca after a Beatrix Potter mouse. But through time, and little by little, big questions begin to gnaw - where did Aunt Munca’s adopted daughter go, and why? Why did she force her daughter to break-off her engagement to David Dimbleby? Why did Munca never mention her first marriage? Having seen “just enough through the half-open door into the next room”, the author cannot resist entering the next room: “I had tugged the thread and I could not resist following it to the end.” And so an exhilarating quest to untangle Munca’s truths begins. It’s a thrilling edge-of-your-seat journey as Mount uncovers documents, photos and articles that reveal the many fabrications of his mysterious Aunt Munca, and other family members. The tangled threads take tenacious Mount from mid-century high society to the back streets of industrial Sheffield, and wind-up with an unexpectedly joyous find.
Holding the letter in trembling hands, Daisy's future crumbled before her - the words engraved on her heart forever. The village of Little Creek, the long winter of 1867 The first flakes of snow are falling when Daisy Marshall, secretly engaged to her master's son, finds herself jilted at the altar. Heartbroken, Daisy flees to the small village of Little Creek, nestled on the coast of Essex. There she is warmly welcomed - but the village is poverty-stricken, suffering under a cruel Lord of the manor. And when cholera hits, the villagers are truly in dire straits. Determined to help, Daisy makes new friends in earnest doctor Nicholas and dashing smuggler Jay - but also dangerous new enemies, who threaten to destroy everything she's built. Can Daisy save the village and find happiness in time for Christmas?
Based on interviews with witnesses, victims and their families, a gang leader and his associates, along with public servants, police and lawyers, crime reporter Ann Tornkvist’s Follow F***ing Orders is a no-holds-barred, exhaustively researched account of the brutal 2010 murders of professional Swedish footballer Eddie Moussa and his brother Yaacoub. Their murders sent the town of Södertälje reeling and precipitated Sweden’s biggest ever investigation into organised crime. As it recounts the personal tragedy, with all its complicated layers and twists, the book is shot-through with personal flair - Tornkvist has a detective‘s eye for detail, and a writer’s way with words. The result is a gripping, visual, visceral account of a mobster murder that gripped Sweden. The author’s deep involvement is clear through her forensic writing, and then there’s the fact that the book’s publication was threatened by threats on her life. This is true crime at its truest.
Paul Armstrong’s Why Are We Always Indoors? is a slam-dunk account of the COVID-19 pandemic from mid-March 2020 to 21st June that Boris Johnson devotees might want to avoid, but should definitely read. On the other hand, readers enraged by the likes of PPE shortages, Dominic Cummings’s Barnard Castle road-trip eye test, and track and trace bungles will find a kindred spirit in Armstrong. It certainly packs potent personal and political punch. This London lockdown diary began life “as a way of recording daily reflections on the most bizarre football close-season ever known, and to fill the long hours of lockdown” but, “as events beyond our four walls grew darker, so the focus drifted from whimsical musings on football, TV and music to a growing unease with how a dreadful pandemic was being handled.” As so much has shifted, flipped and flopped since the author began keeping this journal, reading his account of the experience some seven months later is a vital reminder of what we’ve been through collectively. Alongside prescient reactions to governmental decisions, the author recounts experiences many of us will relate to - being horrified by reports from Italy. Taking daily walks that felt “like the pre-titles sequence in a zombie apocalypse movie”. Clapping for carers. The existential strangeness of having to psyche ourselves up to go to the shop. Fans of the author’s memoir Why Are We Always on Last? will also love the football and music musings and anecdotes. While right now (October 2020), no one knows how or when the pandemic will end, Why Are We Always Indoors? ends on a fittingly bittersweet note, pointing out that while we don’t know “whether we’ll taste the true freedom we once knew ever again”, we can “take comfort where we can and hope for happier times. We know there’s trouble ahead but, as Irving Berlin said, ‘While there’s music and moonlight and love and romance. Let’s face the music and dance.’ And, for now at least, there’s football, too.”
Celebrate Christmas with the ultimate Shopaholic! A Sunday Times bestseller. The brilliant laugh-out-loud festive novel from the Number One bestselling author. Becky Brandon (nee Bloomwood) adores Christmas. It's always the same - Mum and Dad hosting, carols playing, Mum pretending she made the Christmas pudding, and the next-door neighbours coming round for sherry in their terrible festive jumpers. And now it's even easier with online bargain-shopping sites - if you spend enough you even get free delivery. Sorted! But this year looks set to be different. Unable to resist the draw of craft beer and smashed avocado, Becky's parents are moving to ultra-trendy Shoreditch and have asked Becky if she'll host Christmas this year. What could possibly go wrong? With sister Jess demanding a vegan turkey, husband Luke determined that he just wants aftershave again, and little Minnie insisting on a very specific picnic hamper - surely Becky can manage all this, as well as the surprise appearance of an old boyfriend and his pushy new girlfriend, whose motives are far from clear . . . Will chaos ensue, or will Becky manage to bring comfort and joy to Christmas?
The heartwarming historical novel from Sunday Times bestseller, Dilly Court It's Christmas Eve. Flurries of snow fall on the cobbled streets of Whitechapel and an abandoned baby, swaddled in a blanket, is found on a doorstep in Angel Lane . . . Named after the street on which she was found, Angel Winter was blessed to be taken from the harsh streets into a loving home. But fate deals a cruel blow and she's torn from the only family she has ever known, and thrown onto the cobbles of Covent Garden to fend for herself. With winter closing in, Angel scratches a living selling mistletoe to the City gentlemen who pass through the market, hoping they will take pity on her as she shivers in the snow. The only way she can survive is to make her own luck. She will never sell the one treasure that could feed her for a month, the gold and ruby ring that was hidden in her swaddling - it could hold the key to the secrets of her past . . .
Michael Dixon’s Time to Heal: Tales of a Country Doctor is a timely, spirited call-to-action to restore “humanity to medicine”, and comes highly recommended for readers who like autobiographies with bite, and for those interested in discovering what it’s really like to be a present-day GP - warts and all. Moreover, one hopes that it might also serve as a wider wake-up call - “every society should be judged by what it does for its weakest. We are one of the world’s wealthiest nations,” is not a statement to be ignored. The early chapters covering Dixon’s unusual route to becoming a doctor are wistfully witty - he made the move to medicine after reading Philosophy and Psychology at Oxford. On qualifying in 1984, he took up a GP post in Devon and embarked on a life-long learning journey. From these beginnings, and through his career, he sees that serving patients’ needs demands much more than merely prescribing medicine and programmes of treatment. Indeed, Dixon’s view that practicing medicine demands a holistic, human approach is at the core of his book: “above everything, we must value and refine our skills as healers over and above the pills and procedures that we may offer.” The importance of this becomes starkly clear when we consider that despite medical advances “life expectancy is no longer improving”, and Dixon firmly believes that the increasing epidemic of long-term diseases like depression, diabetes, dementia and cancer are “the result of our catastrophic failure to care for the environment, the planet, ourselves and each other.” These failures, he observes, have become even more pronounced during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has exposed the need for community connections and “the impact of social isolation”. Always honest, thoughtful and wise, I came away moved, enlightened, and hoping desperately that we see the kinds of social, community-focussed changes Dixon suggests, which are, in essence, centred around “rediscovering a common humanity.”
August 25, 2010. Mazhar Majeed – an agent representing a number of players in the Pakistan squad due to play a Test Match against England – sends a text to an Indian businessman he knows as Mohsin Khan. Majeed wants to convince Khan to join him in a match-fixing plot he claims will make them both very wealthy. The text confirms their plan is going ahead. What Majeed doesn’t know is that Khan’s real name is Mazher Mahmood and that he is an undercover investigative reporter for the News of the World. Mahmood – famous for his exposes on such personalities as Sarah Ferguson, Jerry Springer and Sven Goran Eriksson – is known to the world as the Fake Sheikh. On the back of Majeed’s greed and lack of caution, he is about to run a story that promises to be the greatest sporting scoop the UK press has ever seen. The beginning of The Thin White Line is so enthralling, so complex and so fast-moving, it read like an extract from Mission Impossible or The Sting. The difference – something that made this read all the more exciting – was this was real. This happened. I was gripped. Mazher Mahmood was responsible for exposing criminal and corrupt activity among a lot of people. His methods were fraught with risk and extremely expensive. He got results, though, and he was lauded by the industry for doing so. His was a style of journalism that, with hindsight, was doomed to fail one day and probably in a big way. It did, and as a result Mahmood found himself in the dock and facing a prison sentence. Nick Greenslade’s research is incredibly thorough and the quoted sources in the book read like a who’s who of well-known sporting personalities. The Thin White Line isn’t just a book for cricket fans, though – although they will relish it, I’m sure. Anyone with even minimal interest in corruption within sport or in the goings-on of the newspaper world of the time will find it a fascinating insight. I loved it. But I’d be prepared to wager you’d already worked that out for yourself.
Written with all the dynamism and fluidity of a total football team, Gavin Bell’s Because It’s Saturday is essential reading for anyone who’s fallen for the Beautiful Game. Witty, warm-hearted and propelled by passion, the book’s overarching aim is to “take readers on a season ticket to sparsely filled grounds where managers and fans are on first-name terms and players join them for a pint after the game.” Here the author gives voice to the unsung heroes of lower league clubs, with plenty of personal anecdotes alongside interviews with devoted fans, players and staff, from local Roy of the Rovers type players, to the backroom heroes who freely give their time and skills to keep struggling clubs afloat. The contrast between Premier League clubs and the teams Bell surveys (among them Accrington, Blackpool, Grimsby and Plymouth) reveals the extent to which modern football is a game of two halves: “If the stadia of glamour clubs are like gladiatorial arenas, those in the lower leagues are more like community playing fields where matches are social occasions for friends to catch up on local news and gossip over a pie and a pint.” At the same time, teams in the lower leagues “provide fields of dreams for the stars of tomorrow to hone their skills and attract big-club scouts. It is they who conjure the romance of cup ties in homespun grounds against giants of the Premiership, and fairy tales when they win.” What’s more, these teams provide fans with so much more than on-pitch entertainment. They’re the lifeblood of communities who “support their clubs and in return the clubs support their communities with extensive social welfare programmes.” It’s a beautiful, inspirational symbiotic relationship, much like this book is a beautiful, inspirational testament to the enduring enriching role played by the clubs it covers.
This small yet perfectly formed book covers personal thoughts, poetry, and the relationship we develop with dogs when roaming, hiking, and running through our wild places, in particular hills and mountains. Helen Mort discusses photography, historical records, research, and shares her experience of her own four-legged friends. She also takes a fascinating look at the dogs bred to be our companions in hills and mountains such as Huskies and St Bernards. Even though this is non-fiction, there is a beauty to the writing, with moments that really made me stop and think. The author is a poet and as she wanders through her own thoughts, pondering, considering, and analysing, she lets us into her soul. Never Leave the Dog Behind would make a lovely little gift, if you adore dogs and nature, then this is the book for you.
It’s difficult for most people to step out of their comfort zone – but even more so if they suffer from anxiety. In How To Be Comfortable With Being Uncomfortable, Ben Aldridge explains how pushing his personal boundaries helped him to deal with his own anxiety and panic attacks. This book is written in a simple, chatty style, explaining his experiences in a visual and emotive way. It touches on psychology and philosophy in relation to mental resilience and how to challenge negative thoughts using cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). Most of the book, though, concentrates on the 43 challenges Ben took on his year-long journey of self-improvement. Ben’s challenges are split into three categories – skills, physical and mental. They range from the seemingly straightforward (eat something unfamiliar, learn a language) and the entertaining (outrageous clothing day, skip like Rocky) to the physically demanding (complete a triathlon, climb a mountain). With each challenge, he writes about his personal experience and what he learnt from it. He also suggests how you can make the challenge your own, or even go one step further by making it harder for you. How To Be Comfortable With Being Uncomfortable was a fascinating read and, as someone who doesn’t often step out of her comfort zone, it made a lot of sense to me. I enjoyed going through Ben’s list, ticking off the challenges that I have already achieved (e.g. have acupuncture, read a technical book, public speaking…). And now I just need to choose which challenge to try… A book that will help you to face your fears and improve your mental and physical wellbeing!
Heart-rending, inspirational and all-encompassing, Poems for a Pandemic will undoubtedly become a matchless historic document of how it was to live - and die - during the Covid-19 pandemic. And right now, in June 2020, with most of the world still in the clutches of Covid-19, it’s an invaluably empathic volume that shows we are not alone even when we feel at our loneliest. A book that will move readers to tears, to give thanks for life, and to the NHS. Poems for a Pandemic came about due to the drive of Angela Marston, a retired Palliative Care Nurse who devoted almost forty years of her life to the NHS. While struck with Covid-19 symptoms, Angela was inspired to write her first poem in years. On recovering she was compelled to “do something meaningful”, and so the anthology was born. Angela set about collecting poems by people from all walks of life - nurses, doctors, pharmacists, teachers, food bank volunteers – whose varied, powerful thoughts grace this 100-poem collection, with several professional writers adding their voices to the poignant chorus. Her vision was to raise money for the NHS (all proceeds of this anthology will go to NHS Charities Together), and to “record for all eternity the thoughts and feelings of ordinary people at an extraordinary time”. By Jove, she’s done that and more. The anthology spans raw, elemental subjects - health professionals holding the hands of the dying, acute lockdown loneliness, the fears of the proud relatives of NHS staff - to poems that document shifts in behaviour and collective consciousness – interacting online, staying home to save lives, staying apart on eerie streets, the hailing of new kinds of heroes. Then there’s nine-year-old Harry Husselbee who speaks for all humanity when he writes, “How I wish I could get this virus/And throw it to the moon”. And ten-year-old Cory Yeoman who warns, “Coronavirus you better watch out, because these doctors and nurses don’t want you about. This is our world…Get out! Get out! Get out!” We’re with you, Harry and Cory. In his stirring foreword Darren Smith, author of the powerful anti-racist poem “You Clap for Me Now”, writes “At its heart poetry is about trying to express something too big for words. Fear. Loneliness. Love. Community. Death.” With that definition in mind, Poems for a Pandemic is the very epitome of what poetry is about. Download your copy on Amazon here or from any other ebook retailer now
Why You Should Empower Yourself is an easy-to-read book about resilience, building confidence and turning negative thinking into positive action. This small hardback has the subtitle of ‘How to Make Lemonade when Life Gives You Lemons’ and is all about taking control of your life at a time of crisis. It packs a lot of helpful advice and ideas within its 200 pages, from self-care and digital detoxing to self-awareness and empowerment. Read how to create healthy lifestyle habits and boost your confidence. Challenge your preconceptions and think for yourself. Be disciplined as you work towards your goals. Look after your physical health, getting plenty of sleep and using meditation and breathing techniques to boost your wellbeing. There’s a strong focus on spending less time on social media - a particular interest area of the author. She discusses the importance of technology but also the benefits of regular downtime, while using the digital world as a tool when building your own brand. There’s also a chapter on gender equality and feminism, including women’s changing roles within society, and why it’s important to stand up for others as well as yourself. Why You Should Empower Yourself imparts important life lessons. It will help you to become more self-aware, face your flaws, see your own strengths and know your own worth. And, above all, bounce back when life doesn’t go quite the way you planned. A book that you’ll want to dip into again and again.
Dream Believe Succeed is all about changing your mindset so that you can turn your dreams not just into a reality but also into a success. Camilla Sacre-Dallerup was part of the original Strictly Come Dancing line-up but changed direction in 2010 to become a life coach and hypnotherapist, after consulting a life coach herself. Dream Believe Succeed is her journey … partly memoir and partly an exploration of the lessons she learnt along the way. Her book follows the emotional rollercoaster of her own life – her relationships and her career – with all its highs and lows. It’s written in a friendly tone, weaving advice for readers seamlessly into her personal experiences, and offering practical suggestions on taking action and not giving up. She includes simple (highly enjoyable) exercises and thought processes to help readers work towards their own dreams and discover what success means to them. I really enjoyed reading Dream Believe Succeed. I always find memoir fascinating, learning more about other people’s lives and, in this case, realising that celebrity lives are not as perfect as they seem from the outside. But this book goes far beyond that. It made me pinpoint which of my own childhood, or long-term, dreams are still within my reach. And by the time I finished reading the book, I felt much more confident about taking steps to achieve them. Dream Believe Succeed convinced me that my dreams are worth following, however long it takes to get there and however much effort I need along that journey.
Setting out to show “how the Roman military changed from one always on the front foot, driving the borders of the Republic and early Empire ever forward … to one acting as the bulwark on the Roman limes as offence turned to defence”, Dr Simon Elliott’s Romans at War draws on the huge canon of existing literature on the Roman military, while also being informed by the author’s pioneering primary research. Elliott’s scholarly lucidity is shot-through with an engaging, entertaining style, which means the keen layperson will find his exhaustive assessment of the Roman military’s key chronological phases (the Republic, the Principate Empire and the Dominate Empire) eminently accessible. Readers already familiar with literature on this subject will be especially interested in the author’s assertion that late Roman military leaders were effectively independent warlords. Elliott also shares new research into the Severan campaign in 3rd century Scotland, and offers a fresh evaluation of late Roman troops. Accompanied by a wealth of colour photography, and supported by a detailed timeline, thorough glossary and maps, this is a mightily impressive - and edifying - feat.
Shot-through with the author’s personal experiences as a coach, player and all-round football obsessive, Dominic Stevenson’s Get Your Head in the Game is a timely must-read for fans, players, coaches - the whole kit and caboodle of anyone involved with football. Sharing the experiences of internationally renowned players, figures from top clubs, trailblazers of the women’s game (and many more besides), and offering legions of insights into how sport and the mind could be reconnected, this might just make the beautiful game yet more beautiful - and transformative. Stevenson’s context will strike a powerful chord with fans: “Football is the universal leveller. It speaks in a way that no language does. It is poetry without the pontification, a novel without the concentration, and it changes the world in minutes.” What’s more, football’s “community spirit, the sense of comradeship and the provision of a social lifeline for those who may otherwise be alone are enormous, and they have great potential to be positively exploited for the greater good of society.” Despite these huge positives, mental health “is still an issue that doesn’t get the exposure it deserves, in spite of well-meaning link-ups between football clubs and mental health charities”, and the testimonies from players under pressure feeling they’ve failed even after playing for top clubs, and those blighted by injury and abuse, cut to the core. Then there’s the lack of support from clubs, and heart-breaking accounts of suicide attempts. The book also covers football’s efforts to become truly inclusive, acknowledging that while steps have been made, the game still has a long way to go before racism, homophobia, sexism and transphobia have been totally kicked out. Concluding with a range of tips for improving mental health in the context of football, and confident that “the glory days of football are still ahead of us”, this book is a game-changer.
A compelling, adventurous, and somewhat quirky tale of the sea. When a small Scottish town is cut off by heavy snow in 1967, the skipper of the Girl Maggie and others in the fishing fleet set sail for supplies. Forming a ‘tale from Kinloch’ you actually don’t need to have read the DCI Daley Series to enjoy this novella. It is set years before DCI Daley enters town, and features Hamish (one of my favourite characters from the series), though this is before he is the fully formed Hamish of today! If you already know and love the series then this will be a must-read for you. You’ll recognise names and places but meet a whole new crowd of residents. As usual Denzil Meyrick paints a vividly vibrant picture that you can step straight into. There are some mystical touches of otherworldliness to be discovered along the way that really appealed to me, as did Sandy and the lobster! Amusing and entertaining, A Large Measure of Snow would make a perfect stocking filler for all the Denzil Meyrick fans out there.
This may be a small book in size, but it is mighty of heart and contains 226 pages of delight. I think it would make the most wonderful gift, if not for yourself, then perhaps for someone who would appreciate a smile or hug in book form. This wonderful little treasure contains a myriad of short stories, sitting in sections that range from kindness to poignancy, and from school life to meeting in lifts. There are also some decidedly witty amuse-bouche stories (in cartoon strip form with illustrations by Iain McIntosh) to be found between the pages. It is no secret that I adore Alexander McCall Smith’s writing. He has the ability in a few sentences, to make me stop and think, or splutter and chortle. Every word counts, and each joins to create the most wonderful journey as you travel the world and through time. You can either dip in and out, or binge read like I did as I snickered and smiled my way through the pages. Short and sharp, yet bountiful and considerate, Tiny Tales really is the most fabulous book. Explore our '80+ Books That Deliver a Hug' listicle for more feel-good or uplifting books.
Written by the world’s most famous and most investigated paranormalist, Learn to Dowse with Uri Geller provides an accessible overview of dowsing with a sense of practical play. In the words of the man himself, “every page is full of fun”. To set the context, Geller explains that “dowsing is a method of searching by intuition. Instead of relying on the five senses, a dowser uses the power of the mind”, and can be used to find objects and “unlock the submerged thoughts, knowledge and intuitions in your own mind”. He then elaborates on the main methods and tools for dowsing - crystal pendulums, metal divining rods, forked twigs, map dowsing - and concludes with a technique for dowsing without any instrument at all. When it comes to dowsing to find lost objects, the good news is, according to Geller, that “Everything that’s lost wants to be found.” I won’t reveal it here, but he provides a technique that promises to reunite people with pesky lost phones. Throughout, Geller peppers practical instruction with personal anecdotes from his career, such as when he located an offshore oil field for the Mexican national oil company. The history of dowsing is covered too, and celebrity practitioners, with Geller reporting that “Nobel-prize-winning scientists, world leaders and bestselling novelists have all been noted dowsers”, among them Leonardo da Vinci, Albert Einstein, Sir Isaac Newton and Stephen King. If you’re a Geller fan and fancy trying your hand at dowsing for fun, success, health and well-being, this is the book for you.
You are encouraged to view the Greek myths in a completely new way with this fascinating book that focuses rather wonderfully on the women from the tales. Natalie Haynes “redresses the imbalance… she puts the women of the Greek myths on equal footing with the menfolk”. She has chosen ten women and here we see how they were actually viewed in the ancient world. These are stories that include Hera, Athena, Artemis, Eurydice, and Penelope. As the author explains, of the eight tragedies written by Eurpides that survive today, seven were titled by women, only one included a man. Yet over the years the stories have altered, the women have been overshadowed, made into monsters, or they even brought about the downfall of men. “Which version of a story we choose to tell... reflect both the teller and the reader. They are not villains, victims, wives and monsters: they are people”. Pandora’s Jar really is the most interesting and readable book, it sits on the Liz Picks of the Month and comes as highly recommended by me.
Best known for his No.1 Ladies Detective Agency series, Alexander McCall Smith’s writing is nothing if not warm-hearted, charming and filled with the joys of friendship - themes and characteristics that are at the heart of this delightful poetry anthology. Being a book to treasure and return to through the year (and across years), this will make a wonderful gift for fans of his fiction - even those who don’t usually read poetry. With sections covering the likes of journeys, Scotland through the seasons, animals, love and longing, books and reading, and places - with contextualisation coming courtesy of the author’s personal anecdotes - many of the poems invite readers to slow down, to look, to see, to remember. To take-in “the simple facts of being”. Others take readers on evocative journeys - we stand beside the author as he observes Mumbai from his hotel room, and as he and a friend save an oak tree in Scotland. We sit beside him as his train pulls into Kings Cross, as he drives through Los Angeles, as he explores Kerala, South India, and rural Australia. And all of them inspire reflection, and an empathetic urge to take-in the world through the eyes of others.
This most certainly isn’t just a fright-fest, it is an intelligent, interesting foray into the world of assassinations. Featuring over 100 cases from Julius Caesar to President Kennedy, we explore the victims and assassins themselves as well as failed assassinations. Just as a word of warning, this book is also full of photos relating to their history (including in some cases the dead victims). The chapters highlight geographic areas, before near the end, there is the eye-opening section on investigative journalists. The move through time from individual assassins to political and religious terrorists, and state sponsored killings is examined. British politician and author Kenneth Baker states that: “All assassins believe that by killing their target they will change the world”. He has personally known eight people who were assassinated, including two who were personal friends, and says: “their deaths did not change history”. He: “wanted to explore whether the assassination of other public figures had resulted in a poisoned chalice for the assassin”. On Assassinations is a quality book, and while this may sound somewhat macabre, it would actually make an excellent gift for those interested in exploring these savage moments of history.
Our July 2020 Book Club Recommendation. Click here to see our Reading Group Questions. A completely divine and ultimately uplifting debut, I cried, I smiled, I laughed, I loved it. With the best intentions Andrew has told a fib which has grown to surround and become a part of him, his life is then thrown up in the air when he meets Peggy. Ahh, Andrew, I admit to completely falling for this shy, kind, thoughtful man. The first few pages had me smiling, humour finely balancing and holding hands with poignancy. Richard Roper has developed the most fabulous characters and one heck of an emotional setting, which he handles with beautiful sensitivity. As the story developed, I hoped, oh how I hoped for a happy ending but I really couldn’t tell what the final outcome was going to be. With heartache tempered by gentle good humour Something To Live For casts the warmest of glows. I have no doubt that it will be topping my favourite reads of the year. We adore this quirky must-read and have chosen it to sit as a Debut of the Month, Liz Pick, and LoveReading Star Book! Explore our '80+ Books That Deliver a Hug' listicle for more feel-good or uplifting books.
Achingly painful and stunningly beautiful, be prepared to fall long and hard for We Begin at the End. This is a crime novel that will stay with me, and is now firmly ensconced on my list of favourite books. Duchess, full of awareness of the difficulties of life at just 13 years old, throws her family’s life into chaos when Vincent King is released from prison after 30 years. The first few sentences caught and held me, the prologue sets a shiver inducing scene. By the time the first chapter began I was already in thrall to Chris Whitaker’s writing. I felt, really felt the pain, the love, the joy, the desolation, each feeling clamouring to have its say. Duchess has stamped her way into my mind and will remain there, occasionally elbowing my attention into remembering. I adore her, she feels vibrantly alive to me. The ending felt truly perfect, and not that I would deface a book of course, but imagine ‘Highly Recommended’ stamped all over We Begin at the End. We have chosen this as a Book of the Month, Liz Pick of the Month, and a LoveReading Star Book too, because it is so completely gorgeous. I’m just sad that I don’t have the opportunity to experience it again for the very first time.
This is an astounding novel telling the stories of twelve characters living across the country and through the years. Each character is vivid as they take centre stage to share their story with us. Whether it's the sassy, argumentative Yazz, or the devastating narratives of Carole and Dominique. This book is filled with humour, culture and passion and I think it is a must-read for everyone. Composed as poetic prose, Bernadine Evaristo's lyricism throughout makes the sections flow, hammers home key points and gives each character their own unique tone. This is a book that will stop you in your tracks as you find out more about the characters but will also stop you reading as you contemplate the beauty in Evaristo's style of writing. "It's a novel about who we are now". Head to our 'Black Lit Matters' list to find more must-read novels by black writers.
Glorious, simply and beautifully glorious! Inspired by Shakespeare’s son Hamnet, this is the imagined story behind the writing of Hamlet, which was written between 1599 and 1601. Hamnet and Hamlet were apparently “entirely interchangeable in Stratford records in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries”. Maggie O’Farrell says she wanted to write this story for over thirty years. “What did it mean for a father to name a tragic hero after his ( ) son. What was this unusual act telling us?” The cover design is beautiful, it called to me. On opening, I slipped into and fell in love with this tale. Hamnet has an almost otherworldly feel, and yet is as earthy and believable as can be. Two time frames sit side by side, Hamnet becoming ill in 1596, and then the earlier story of Shakespeare and Agnes meeting and falling in love. The descriptions became clear bright images in my mind. I could feel the words, they echoed deep inside me, creating pools of emotion. I cried on finishing, all the feelings that Hamnet created slipped out of me and trickled down my cheeks. I adore Hamnet, it now sits on my list of favourite books, and will be one that I reread each year. Chosen as a Book of the Month, LoveReading Star Book, and Liz Pick of the Month.
A masterful murder mystery, this folks, is how it is done! A celebrity wedding is taking place on a remote island off the coast of Ireland, but before the celebration finishes, a murder and a storm hit with full force. I’ve adored all of Lucy Foley’s novels, from historical to crime, she is one of my must-read authors. She has used the same fabulous format as in the bestselling The Hunting Party but this still feels fresh, original and very much its own wonderfully distinct creation. I slipped into the storyline, got to know all of the characters, and started to sleuth my way through the secrets and intrigue. And oh what intrigue! The immediate lead up to the reveal made my inner investigator rub gleeful hands. The reveal itself, well, I just want to stand up and applaud Lucy Foley! Addictively readable and immensely satisfying The Guest List has star quality stamped all over it. Chosen as a LoveReading book of the month and LoveReading Star Book, we adore it! Lucy Foley is our Putting Authors in the Picture Feature for February. Check out her Q&A here!
From the detailed domestic scenes dappled with loss, love, hardship and hanging on, to sweeping waves of war, the rare power of Maaza Mengiste’s The Shadow King creeps up on you, catches you unaware, becomes compulsive in the manner of complex classics of the ancient world. It’s 1935 in Ethiopia and newly-orphaned Hirut is employed as a maid by an officer in Emperor Hailie Selassie’s army. In her previous life, Hirut’s father taught her to use a gun: “This, he says, you do not touch unless you are prepared. Prepared for what, she asks. He slips the bullet back into his pocket. Prepared to be something you are not.” And this is what Hirut is prepared for when Ethiopia is invaded by Mussolini’s vengeful army. Not content to merely care for the wounded, she devises a plan and rouses women to rise up and fight. As they shift from being housewives, to nurses, to warriors, their stories are haunting, harrowing and stirring, and this novel confirms Mengiste’s status as a writer blessed with lyrical bravery and unique vision. Head to our 'Black Lit Matters' list to find more must-read novels by black writers. Visit our 'Women's Words - 60+ works of feminist-minded fiction' to explore our collection of feminist-minded fiction from around the world, and across centuries.
Our October 2020 Book Club Recommendation. Click here to see our Reading Group Questions. An absolutely charming and thoroughly entertaining mystery debut starring four septuagenarians. A real-life murder tickles the detective fancy of certain members from a well-to-do retirement village. Led by Elizabeth they sneakily make themselves indispensable to the investigating officers. I’m already working out who I would cast as Elizabeth, Joyce, Ibrahim, and Ron if this was made into a TV series. Each character in this amusing (yes it is charming and amusing even with a murder to solve) story is perfectly placed. There is a sense of ease, an inviting warmth, and a hint of old-fashioned, yet this story is actually bang up-to-date. A sharp edge to observations slices through any thoughts of cosy, while there is a gentle poking of fun at middle England. Richard Osman has created a wonderfully readable story that is the perfect introduction to a new series. I can't wait to see what comes next! The Thursday Murder Club has waltzed its way into my heart and the LoveReading Star Books list - highly recommended.
Be prepared for a reading maelstrom to suck you in whole when you open this LoveReading Star Book. Set in 1634 a boat leaves the East Indies with a detective duo on board. Although one is locked up and facing execution, their skills are very much needed when the voyage is beset by a terrible forewarning. Stuart Turton’s debut picked up the Costa First Novel Award Winner for 2018. The Devil and the Dark Water is just as fabulous and will be going straight onto my list of favourite books this year. It is the perfect novel to read as the nights are drawing in, the story built itself into a reality, I was there, bearing witness. Surprises wait in store, strange beings stalk the decks, and several locked room/ship mysteries just beg to be solved. My thoughts were broken open, and exploded one way then the other as I sought answers. All of the characters are fascinating in their own unique way and while I initially thought I was meeting a Holmes and Watson pair, I quickly realised they were very much their own men. The Devil and the Dark Water crosses genres in the most wonderfully entertaining way and sails straight onto my list of Liz Picks of the Month. I’ll be standing and applauding this one!
A beautiful and inspiring story that is full of hope. Nora Seed enters The Midnight Library and is given the opportunity to experience how her life could have turned out, answering her "what ifs?" and undoing each regret she has in search of the perfect life. An open and heartfelt tale from the briliant, emotionally cognizant Matt Haig, The Midnight Library is an entertaining story with a soul and very important lesson to share.
Our August 2020 Book Club Recommendation. Click here to see our Reading Group Questions. Glorious! A novel of such startling sincerity, clarity and eloquence it feels as though the narrator herself is stamped onto every page. A Room Made of Leaves is inspired by letters and documents on entrepreneur and pioneer John Macarthur and his wife Elizabeth. They left England in 1788 for New South Wales in Australia when he was posted as Lieutenant to the penal colony of Sydney Town. This is Kate Grenville’s first novel in a decade, she is the author of the 2006 Man Booker shortlisted novel The Secret River. Elizabeth narrates, headstrong and wilful she nonetheless finds she is folding herself smaller and smaller in order to not be observed. Each chapter may be short but they are full of suppressed emotion, candour, and are as compelling as can be. The chapter headings, if all joined together, would create a story in themselves. As each word, as each sentence and chapter flowers, the inner being of Elizabeth opened to allow me to see, and also feel her emotions. The cover is gorgeous and the understanding of the title when it came, made the beauty resonate all the more. Australia is obviously much loved, and I in turn loved reading between the lines of history. Unique and spirited, A Room Made of Leaves truly is a beautiful novel, it also deservedly joins our LoveReading Star Books. Have a look at our Ambassador Book Buzz for A Room Made of Leaves. Visit our 'Women's Words - 60+ works of feminist-minded fiction' to explore our collection of feminist-minded fiction from around the world, and across centuries.
Based on her great-great grandparents’ experiences, Tammye Huf’s A More Perfect Union is a heart-rending, soul-stirring story of the love between a black slave and an Irish immigrant. A lucid, bold tale of the despicable brutality of slavery, personal conflicts, and a bond that will not be broken. Henry O’Toole fled Ireland in 1848 to escape the famine. On arriving in New York, “America stabs me with homesickness” and he can’t find a job - “Every day it’s the same. No Irish”. Compelled to flee the city, he changes his surname to the English-sounding ‘Taylor’ and heads to Virginia. House slave Sarah is separated from her Momma and brother when she’s sold as a “quick-cleaning-slave-who-don’t-get-sick”. She and Henry meet when he comes seeking work as a blacksmith at the plantation she’s been sold to. Here Henry is moved by the sound of slaves singing at night, while Sarah paces her hoe in the kitchen garden to “the rhythmic strike of the blacksmith’s hammer”. The stirring attraction between them is palpable, but theirs is a forbidden relationship - inter-racial marriage is illegal, and viewed as an abomination. What’s more, she’s owned by another man. The couple are in an excruciating situation, their complex personal conflicts evoked with shattering clarity. Sarah has to reconcile loving a man whose white skin represents her oppression, and she’s also ostracised by fellow slaves. Then there’s the searing exchange when Sarah sees Henry making neck rings and shackles. When he protests that he has no choice, that he needs to earn money, that he knows what it is to be shackled by poverty, Sarah’s response captures the despicable inhumanity of enslavement: “’I know you been through a hard, hungry life,’ she says. ‘I want you to understand that slave suffering is a different thing. When somebody owns you, there ain’t nothing they can’t do to you.’” Both their voices are conjured with brilliant authenticity, and their story builds to an agonisingly edgy crescendo as the risks they take are as immense as their love. I cannot recommend this enough. Head to our 'Black Lit Matters' list to find more must-read novels by black writers.
Our September 2020 Book Club Recommendations. Click here to see our Reading Group Questions. Unique, provocative, and powerful, this is also a painfully exquisite and beautifully written book. Focusing on her affair with Connor, the harrowing and damaging emotions of loss, grief, and obsession overflow within Ana’s mind. A novel, yes, but not as you know it. Told in verse, Sarah Crossan writes as you might think. Thoughts flow, yet are spliced, splintered, hesitant, fractured. This is the first novel for adults from award winning Sarah Crossan, who was Ireland’s Children’s Literature Laureate (Laureate na nOg) for 2018-2020 and it has huge impact. Ana’s mind is an uncomfortably intimate place to be, thoughts ebb, flow, blast, rage. Each new unexpected bite of information hit me with raw overwhelming precision. As Ana unravelled, so did my feelings, and I positively ached for all involved. Will some people find this a difficult read due to the raw dark content, yes quite possibly, yet for me that is the wonder of this book. Every slicing emotion peels away another layer until you reach the core. Here is the Beehive has been chosen as a LoveReading Star Book and Liz Robinson Pick of the Month as for me this is a must-read.
The Silent Stars Go By is a riveting read-in-one-sitting experience driven by compelling characters who leap off the page, not least the young woman at its heart, an unmarried secretarial student who’s forced to give up her baby during WWI. The novel is also underpinned by a superb sense of social history, with evocative details of post-war village life nestling within the bigger story, and - as might be expected of the author of Things a Bright Girl Can Do - it’s threaded with feminist themes. It’s 1919, Christmas is on the horizon and two years have passed since nineteen-year-old Margot was forced to give up her baby for her parents to raise as their own. She was only fifteen when she and Harry fell madly in love ahead of him being called up. The magic of their time together is evoked in all its tingling passion, contrasting with Margot’s present-day torments. It hurts when little James calls her mother “Mummy”, and she doesn’t know how she can continue to keep James a secret from Harry, who’s returned to the village after recuperating on the Isle of Wight. The flashbacks to Margot’s time on the maternity ward are particularly poignant and, of course, the reason she has to endure this unbearable situation is due to the fact that she lives in a world in which “the girl is the one whose honour is defiled or whatever rot they spout” whereas “the boy is just being a boy”. Coupled with that wider context, Margot’s vicar father is a man who “forgave drunks and tramps and fallen women and the men who tried to steal the lead from the church roof. But he couldn’t forgive her.” Realising that “things couldn’t go on like this,” Margot decides to confront her fears amidst the rare glamour of a ball on New Year’s Eve.
In this rip-roaringly feminist re-imagining of Cinderella, our justice-seeking heroine, Sophia, seeks a princess rather than a prince, and bodice-ripping is done in the name of shedding the shackles of patriarchy. Giddily entertaining, and spiced with dagger-sharp dialogue and romantic attraction, one message beams bright through Sophia’s story - “do not be silent. Raise your voice. Be a light in the dark.” Though 200 years have passed since Cinderella’s time, a twisted version of her legacy lives on in Lille, where the present-day Prince Charming, King Manford, has decreed that girls must recite the fairy tale daily and, at the age of sixteen, they will be sent to the palace to be chosen by a man at a grand ball. Attending the ball is law, and, in the words of Erin, Sophia’s best friend and lover, “It is our only hope for making some kind of life”, for those not chosen are doomed to an even worse existence than being married off. As Sophia’s father admits, “I’d rather see you unhappy than imprisoned or killed.” Such is the impossible situation. So, Sophia goes to the ball, still hoping to escape with Erin, still burning with anger that the “founding tenet of our laws is that women, no matter their standing, are at the mercy of the fickle whims of men.” At the grandiose selection event, girls are put on show for the male suitors, some of them old enough to be Sophia’s grandfather, “but that doesn’t stop them from shamelessly ogling the young girls.” As shocking events unfold here, she flees and finds a sisterly comrade in flame-haired Constance, who also sets her heart alight. As the feminist fugitives go on the run, Constance reveals truths about Cinderella’s real story - a story that was suppressed and twisted into patriarchal propaganda by men in power. And so they embark on a quest to find the White Wood, the last known location of the original fairy godmother, who might just hold the key to further truths that will help Sophia rouse revolution. What an inventive, entertaining and flamboyantly feminist treat this is.
For ages 9 to 90 ‘Every story is the sound of a storyteller begging to stay alive’, says Khosrou – or Daniel as he’s known to his new classmates in Oklahoma - the narrator of the many wonderful stories that make up this book. Central of course is his own story, how with his mother and sister he had to flee his home in Iran, leaving his father behind, but there are also the stories of his grandparents and great-grandparents, plus the myths that he’s grown up with. Horribly picked on at school and tormented at home by his new step-father, he shares his stories Scheherazade-like with his class and with us, the lucky readers, and because of that we know that one day he will be whole again. Poignant, touching, funny and heart-breaking, this is a book in a million, a story that will connect with every person who reads it and become part of their own.
As Tough Women’s subtitle declares, these are “stories of grit, courage and determination”. True tales from twenty-two tough women from around the globe who undertake awe-inspiring adventures across the globe, from canoeing the Canadian wilderness, to hiking Pakistan, to cycling South America. Its editor is the intrepid Jenny Tough, a Canadian mountaineering expert who notes in her introduction that “the outdoor industry is actually fully of women, but when it comes to the highest level of media…the demographic dwindles to one”. Fortunately, this sexist state of affairs could be on the verge of changing - through giving voice to the “badass outdoorswomen” who here tell their extraordinary stories, this book might just change that narrow narrative and inspire new generations of female adventuresses. Each account enthrals like the best kind of travel writing. There are dazzling evocations of, for example, rugged Himalayan mountain-scapes, lush South American jungles, and howling Norwegian glacial valleys. Many of the women’s stories reveal monumental physical and emotional challenges - challenges tackled and overcome with super-human strength and resilience - and all of them underpinned by a joyously life-affirming spirit of curiosity.
Full of information and sensible advice, this is an excellent guidebook for any young person who is considering turning vegan, or who just wants to cut back on meat and dairy. For one thing, it is packed with delicious and faff-free vegan recipes, easy to follow, easy to make and certain to be a hit with everyone in the family, even dyed-in-the-wool carnivores; but it’s also full of equally useful and appealing information on the whys of being vegan. Niki Webster explains it all in a way that feels friendly and do-able, making sure to answer FAQs on getting enough protein and vitamins as well as on the best vegan substitutes, and laying out clearly, but with a sense of passion, why veganism is about more than just food and diet. The illustrations and design make this look good enough to eat, and it successfully provides lots of food for thought too.
Imparting wisdom from across two decades, Philip Pullman’s Dæmon Voices shares a generous banquet of thought-provoking insights into the art of story-telling and Pullman’s personal processes and passions. As the book’s editor, Simon Mason, writes in his introduction, Pullman is “interested in, above all, human nature, how we live and love and fight and betray and console one another. How we explain ourselves to ourselves,” and this all-encompassing ethos is reflected here, with essays covering everything from the responsibilities of the storyteller, how stories work, and authors’ intentions, to William Blake, Oliver Twist, and writing fantasy realistically. The tone is lively, ablaze with clear-sighted wit, no matter how complex the subject, with many pieces having been delivered at conferences. One of my personal favourites is “Let’s Write it in Red” which begins with an anecdote about a train journey during which the author witnessed children demonstrating the “two great principles of storytelling”. The first principle is that there are rules - among them stories must begin and have unity, and storytellers mustn’t be afraid of the obvious. Stories must have a destination too, and storytellers “must design the path so that it leads to the destination most surely, and with the maximum effect.” The second principle relates to form: “if the story is a path, then to follow it you have to ignore quite ruthlessly all the things that tempt you away from it. Your business as a storyteller is with the path, not the wood.” To these, Pullman adds a third - knowledge. Storytellers should “become more interested in your subject-matter than in the way you appear to others to be dealing with it.” With each of the 32 essays embodying these astute principles, Dæmon Voices is a trove of enlightenment, and entertaining to boot.
This enchanting reinvention of a Natural History of Fairies written by botanist Professor Elsie Arbour in the 1920s glows with timeless charm and the magic of nature. What’s more, author Emily Hawkins’s message about protecting fairies’ natural habitats has important real-world resonance, such as this: “human actions are putting fairies’ habitats at risk. When forests and woodland are cut down to make space for farmland…then fairies’ homes are destroyed.” Fairy enthusiasts will delight in the detail of the softly-radiant illustrations that present fairy anatomy and life cycles in the manner of natural history books, replete with labels and descriptions. Throughout, the book is suffused with a thrilling feeling that fairies might be found - if you know what you’re looking for, and where to look. The section on language and secret scripts will undoubtedly inspire young readers to write their own fairy codes, while coverage of a huge range of habitats - from meadows, gardens and woodlands, to mountains, marine environments and jungles - gives a satisfying global feel. Alongside providing fairy-lovers with much fodder for exploration, this coverage of habitats, and information on the likes of leaves, plants and animals, might also spark a wider love of nature. Sumptuously presented, with a silk bookmark, and gold edging and cover foil supplementing Jessica Roux’s illustrations, this book’s style is every bit as charming as its content, which makes it a gift to treasure.