I write this whilst watching The Holiday (again) and conducting three separate WhatsApp chats – mostly about Christmas. One week, folks. That’s all we have. And I offer you the one gift that truly will keep giving…a really good book.
One of my chats was with Helen (who wrote this for us – and delivers mini book reviews via her Instagram), who messaged that she would be “all for instigating the Icelandic Christmas tradition of exchanging books and pyjamas as presents on Christmas Eve, and everyone gets cosy and reads for the evening before Christmas begins”. I hadn’t heard of it but this is possibly the best idea ever.
1. New York, Places to Write Home About – Polly Devlin
Major interiors inspiration from one of the world’s coolest cities? Pass me a box of Cadbury’s Roses and a chair by the fire.
2. Manhattan Beach – Jennifer Egan
The new novel from the Pulitzer-winning author of A Visit from the Good Squad, tells the story of one truly astonishing heroine, who works as a diver during the Depression of 1930s New York, and again through WW2. Clever, tense, ingenious – one to inhale.
3. Here We Are – Notes for Living on Planet Earth – Oliver Jeffers
Everything Oliver Jeffers is worth reading. (Lost and Found, How to Catch a Star, Heart in a Bottle (I well up just thinking about it)…) His first non-fiction work is a manual for navigating the big, beautiful, bewildering world – for young, enquiring, brilliant minds. Beautiful, as always.
4. The Snowbear – Sean Taylor
Who wouldn’t to build a magical snowbear who came to life, eh? Especially one as brave and adorable as this one?
5. The Vanity Fair Diaries – Tina Brown
This is on my Christmas list and I am really hoping Santa delivers, as I plan to curl up in that aforementioned armchair with it. Helen tells me it’s enthralling stuff.
6. A Gentleman in Moscow – Amor Towles
NY bestseller alert. In post-Revolution Russia, charming Count Alexander Rostov is sentenced to lifetime imprisonment in the (attic of) the Hotel Metropol. You’d think a novel confined to the four walls of a hotel over decades might be limiting, even dull – but this is human, insightful, and witty. (Thanks largely to urbane Count, who is forever a gentleman. You may even develop a crush on him.)
7. Little Women – Louisa May Alcott
This was a Helen suggestion – and a very welcome one it is, too. She quite rightly points out that you can’t go wrong giving this as a gift. Also: HOW are excited are you about the new adaptation coming on Boxing Day? (Or sceptical/terrified that it won’t match up to previous incarnations?)
8. The Seven Days of Us – Francesca Hornak
Hornak has reinvented the country house genre – and it’s a real treat. Every Christmas, the Birch family hole up in Emma’s childhood home in Norfolk. Emma loves it, her husband Andrew not so much. This year is different: they’re in quarantine. One of their daughters, Olivia, has just returned from Africa, working with victims of an epidemic. She doesn’t get on very well with her father or her sister, Phoebe (preoccupied by planning her wedding to her hooray Henry boyfriend). There’s also a hitherto unknown son from a former relationship running around. Scene set for entanglements, confusion, secrets and lies.
9. 100 Nasty Women of History – Hannah Jewell
Another Helen suggestion – and it’s a corker. Your very own version of Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls. Get it for every women you know