Something I’ve become increasingly aware of lately is my inability to defer gratification when it comes to reading (and jam doughnuts).
I keep making resolutions to read the books I have on my shelf before getting new ones. To work through a reading list systematically. To read Reservoir 13 that my brother passed on to me in October and keeps asking about. But mostly to make use of my local library to borrow books rather than buying them.
And I try so hard.
I take Phoebe to the library every Monday as that’s my day off work and we have a lovely time sitting with the teddy bears and choosing stories to read to them. Then I let her browse the shelves and pick some books for us to take home to read as bedtime stories. Sometimes, I’ll pick myself something that I’ve reserved up, so today I decided to plan ahead and check the catalogue for a book that I’ve been fancying since it broke out all over Twitter like a rash.
The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock. The cover is so beautiful and it popped up so promisingly in the library catalogue search. I only had to type Mermaid and there it was… probably because 21 people had reserved it before me. 21 people… I’m estimating loaning it for a fortnight each… that would make it nearly 2019 before I got my hands on the seductive cover, all clam shells and gold foil on a matte black background.
Reader, I walked home via W H Smiths and bought a copy there because I have no will power and was too tired and achy to even make it to my local indie bookshop.
It’s that time of year again. You know, less than a month to Christmas and a lack of ideas for secret santa presents or stocking fillers has you panic buying “funny secret santa presents” like stressticles or office voodoo dolls which the recipient will throw in the bin by January 1st. I’m here to make a plea that you save the planet from the extra plastic waste, and for under £15 buy them book that they will enjoy for at least three hours, if not a lot longer.
The best bit? These will all be available at your local bookshop for a last minute Christmas gift.
La Belle Sauvage: The Book of Dust
For readers of a certain age (my age) the release of La Belle Sauvage: The Book ofDust by Philip Pullman, the first in a new trilogy which is set to be a companion to his Northern Lights trilogy was probably the publishing event of the year. Hailed as a tidal wave of imagination, though darker and more savage than the original trilogy, it’s a safe bet for any lover of fantasy.
The most powerful work of speculative fiction that I’ve read in a long time, Naomi Alderman’s The Poweris a must read for any fan of Margaret Atwood. I keep meaning to write a review of this, but my mind is still processing the emotions I felt reading it. It’s a safe present for any woman who hasn’t read it, and it’s always interesting to listen to people’s post-read dissections.
The Wildlife Gardener
I was delighted to see the new edition of Kate Bradbury’s best-selling The Wildlife Gardener publish this year and swiftly bought myself a copy. It’s the perfect present for any gardener or wildlife enthusiast, and gives fun, practical advice for creating a home for wildlife in what outside space you have available. Saving the planet starts here, folks.
The Lost Words
Remember when Oxford University Press decided that children no longer needed to be able to look up words like acorn and bramble in the dictionary? Well that outrageous act inspired Robert MacFarlane and Jackie Morris to create The Lost Words, this beautifully illustrated volume of poetry. A spell book which reminds adults and children alike about the power of words, reading the poems brings the words back to life and gives nature power and relevance for a new generation.
Lincoln in the Bardo
Winner of the Man Booker Prize 2017, and shortlisted for multiple awards and honours besides, Lincoln in the Bardois a safe fiction bet for anyone who likes to read the current big novel. This first novel is an experimental work of fiction, a story of love after death which looks at a problem which faces all humans, how do you find the courage to love when it means you will face loss?
Hortense and the Shadow
A beautifully illustrated picture book, with a story in the tradition of the old fairy tales, Hortense and the Shadow is dark and exhilarating at the same time. This is set to become an instant children’s classic which adults will love as well. I’ll be adding it to my collection.
Last Stop on The Reindeer Express
I loved Last Stop on the Reindeer Express so much when it published that I bought it only a month later to read with my daughter on Christmas Eve. It would make an ideal Christmas present for any picture book lover or younger gift recipient. A little girl who is missing her Daddy discovers a world within a post box and goes on a beautifully illustrated lift the flap and peep through the pages adventure. I can’t wait to read it as a family before Santa visits.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
In case you worried that you’d run out of presents to buy for Harry Potter fans, the launch of the Fantastic Beasts film franchise has also lead to the publication of this beautiful Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Thembook which reminds me of the Tolkein’s bestiary that I had as a child, with the names, descriptions and magical illustrations of all the fantasy creatures you encounter in the Potter novels.
This is Going to Hurt: Secret Diaries of a Junior Doctor
Adam Kay is a comedian and former junior doctor, and This is Going to Hurt is his frank memoir of life on the front line of the NHS. Hilarious and heart-breaking, it gives you an insight into what life is really like for the junior doctors keeping us and the NHS ticking along.
Daemon Voices: Essays on Storytelling
I always find it fascinating when an author I admire writes an exposition on their craft. Philip Pullman is indisputably something of a master storyteller, and in Daemon Voices, a collection of thirty essays, he lets his readers peer behind the veil to learn about his views on storytelling, including such topics as the origins of his own stories, the art of writing, and the storytellers who have meant the most to him. A great gift for readers, and aspiring writers.
The Mindfulness Colouring Book has been everywhere this year. Practicing mindfulness has been credited with reduced stress levels and improved focus, but really speaking, who doesn’t love a colouring book? The Mindfulness Colouring Book is a grown up twist on everyone’s favourite childhood pastime full of the kind of beautiful patterns you used to draw for yourself then carefully colour in.
I’m a big fan of Game of Thrones tv series, so I was very excited to hear about theGame of Scones: All Men Must Dine cookery book when it was announced a few years ago. I’m even more excited now that it’s been released, full of recipes like Tyrion’s Shortbread, and Jamie and Cersei’s Family Mess. On a similar note, Breaking Bad fans might like the Baking Bad cookbook…
The Magpie and the Wardrobe is an enchanting collection of folklore, traditional recipes and quirky facts tumbled together in a beautifully designed book. With a chapter for each month of the year, there’s something to interest everyone. For example, did you know that people started hanging glass baubles in their windows to trap witches?
Doing Good Betteris a must read for anyone who wants to make a positive difference in the world. It challenges the reader to re-examine their assumptions about altruism to take an evidence based approach to charity. Effective altruism is rapidly becoming a hot topic.
Versions of Us is one of only two fiction books I’ve put on this list as I think that it’s quite a subtle area of interest to judge when buying a Secret Santa present, but I couldn’t resist this book which has been described as a bit of a literary sliding doors and asks the question, what if you had said yes?
Britannia Obscura takes an alternative look at Britain, exploring different ways of engaging with the landscape- via networks of caves, through the skies, by canal and around leylines- and exploring the worlds of people who experience the country through these. This would be an unusual gift for ramblers or map fanatics.
The other fiction book I’ve put on this list is the newly released, illustrated Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone. The illustrations are just perfect, and it would make the perfect gift for Harry Potter fans young and old. I can’t wait to start reading this with Phoebe when she’s older.
You might have guessed from my recent post about my Sass and Belle cushions that I’ve got a bit of a thing about foxes. I’ve been feeling a bit run down at the moment, I just seem to be so busy that when I have a moment to myself I just end up falling asleep so I decided to buy myself a treat to cheer myself up. Meet Mr Cordy Roy Fox by children’s toy maker Jellycat.
I wanted to get Cordy Roy for my newborn niece at Christmas, but as you can guess by looking at his cheeky little face, he’d sold out so I got her a Jellycat raccoon instead who my sister assures me is now her best friend. If you’re looking for toys for children that encourage imaginative play, Jellycat is a great place to look. Not only do they have a great range of animals which includes dragons and woolly mammoths, but they have dolls which map to fairy tales and would make great bedtime story companions.
Other than reading, one of my favourite things to do at Christmas is to curl up on the sofa watching re-runs of old Sherlock Holmes films and adaptations. You’d be surprised how many you can find and in the past my father and I have managed to fill at least three days of viewings with Sherlock Holmes re-runs with a bit of canny channel surfing, much to the consternation of my little sister. I’ve even managed to hook my boyfriend on the stories to the point that we now have quarrels about which of us is Holmes and which of us is Watson. I am clearly Holmes, as you’ll be able to see from the following exchange:
Me: Elementary, Watson.
Boyfriend: You’re Watson, I’m Shakespeare.
Anyway, I digress. If you have a Holmes fan in your life, or want to introduce a loved one to the Sherlock Holmes stories, the following are great gift ideas:
I am a huge fan of the Penguin Clothbound Classics series. They look amazing and if, like me, the reader in your life is constantly berating themselves for having failed to read a particular classic, they’re a great gift. Even if you’re buying for someone whose favourite book is The Hound of The Baskervillesand has read it a thousand times, they’re sure to love this beautiful edition which will be cherished by Holmes veterans and Sherlock newcomers.
In the unlikely event that, like myself and my boyfriend, you and your loved ones are arguing over which of you is Watson and which of you is Holmes, you can settle things once and for all by treating them to a The Hound of The Baskerville personalised classic which lets you swap the characters’ names for those of your choosing. A word to the wise, my little sister got me an Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland personalised classic, and the recipient gets to choose the characters on the internet. If settling disputes like me and the boyfriend, intercept the pack and do this for them then give them the finished book.
If your Holmes fan is, like me, a big fan of the BBC adaptation Sherlock which stars Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock and Martin Freeman as Dr John Watson, then they probably can’t wait for the new series to be released. Help them catch up with this box set of series one and two. It is coming soon, it is, it must be. And I still can’t figure out how he did it.
If your Holmes fan already has the Sherlock box set, firstly congratulate them on their well-maintained DVD collection, then consider leading them in the direction of the Elementary box set which stars Johnny Lee Miller as Sherlock Holmes and Lucy Liu as Dr Joan Watson. I know what you’re thinking, I expected to hate it as sacrilege too. But I actually really enjoyed it and will buy pre-ordering for my father and hoping that it comes in time for Christmas. This shopping game is afoot.
You may already have heard, but if you haven’t Christmas is officially six weeks today and UK shops are rolling out their blockbuster adverts in the hope of stealing John Lewis’ crown. This year, the John Lewis Partnership (brief side note- am I the only person who finds the Partnerships’ sociolect a little cult-like?) have splashed out a reported £7 million on an old school Disney-style epic of an advert, following the improbable friendship of a bear and hare, which has been doing the rounds on the internet under #BearAndHare. If you’ve managed to avoid it so far, it can be viewed here:
What caught my attention though, was this slightly surreal parody from Waterstones Oxford Street, The Hare With the Amber Eyes and A Bear Named Pooh. If Rosie Huntington-Whiteley inspired you to experiment with the unusual this Christmas in her trip down the rabbit hole for Marks and Spencer, then you should definitely watch this for a whole new level of brilliantly weird:
If you’ve read this blog for a while you probably know I have a slightly sacrilegious attitude to many of the classics which form the literary canon, but despite this I love Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre and all things Brontë. The sister’s lives could have been a novel in their own right, I’m pretty there isn’t a massive motion picture being promoted at the moment, given the success of biopics about Keats, Austen and Potter in recent years. Either way, their books are amazing, a blend of the Gothic and Romantic traditions which are perfect for reading on cold winter nights.
Consequently, I have decided that Brontë inspired items would make great Christmas presents for the Romantic (with a capital R of course…) in your life. Here’s a list of my favourites.
Jane Eyre Birdcage Necklace
I love this necklace for the free thinker in your life. As my boss reminded me, much to my amusement, when we were selecting book covers in work the other day; bird cages are very on trend. This trinket adds weight to the motif with a well-chosen quotation on the presentation card, “I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will.”
If it was the Romance with a capital ‘R’ that brought you here, then I think that these earrings which quote Cathy’s outburst about Heathcliff being “More myself than I am. Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same” has to get a mention. Almost certainly one of the best declarations of love in literature, and one of the ones with the most heartbreaking outcomes for the couples involved.
Jane Eyre Manuscript Journal
If you’re looking for a present for an aspiring writer, they may take inspiration from this mini journal which is embossed with Charlotte Brontë’s writing from the manuscript of Jane Eyre. It’s a bargain at £6.99 and would make a lovely diary.
Wuthering Heights Poster
I mentioned some time ago that I didn’t want so much as need this amazing paper cut style poster which is being sold to raise money for a charity which aims to fight illiteracy. So for about £40 you effectively have a gift that gives twice, a beautiful picture for the recipient and a better life for someone who learns to read.
It may be because I’m decorating my house at the moment, but I’m a big fan of this Wuthering Heights decal which contains part of one of my favourite passages in literature. I think it’s great inspiration for a gift for a book worms, you could order a custom decal with a favourite passage from any book, or even a song lyric. I would put this up in a shot if my boyfriend would let me. Compromise leads to a very bland aesthetic.
The Melting Library sells beautifully scented soy candles and has a great range based on a wide variety of books. I want so many of them. If you want to experience being out on the winding, windy moor more fully while reading in the comfort of your own home (or bath) then this Wuthering Heights inspired Wild Heather Emily Brontë candle is just the ticket. Just be careful you don’t stir up any ghosts by leaving it alight in your window…
Anne Brontë always seems to me to be the overlooked sister, but I love this greeting card with a quotation from The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. Obviously it would work well as a card in it’s own right, but pop it in a frame and it would make a lovely artwork for a gallery wall such as the one I’ve been creating in my dining room…
Recently, instead of catching up on the news while I wait for the bus, I’ve been reminding myself how much I love reading classic fairy tales by reading the stories of Hans Christian Andersen and The Brothers Grimm as eBooks on my phone. The stories are still great, but the lack the magic of settling down by the fire with a beautifully illustrated book. In honour of Christmas Magic, I thought I would share my top fairytale inspired Christmas presents. I hope you find them helpful when shopping for gifts for fairytale lovers.
The Yellow Fairy Book
No list of gifts for lovers of fairy stories would be complete without the Folio Society Fairy Books. Colourful, luxurious and beautifully illustrated with introductions from key names in folklore studies, I think they would make the perfect Christmas present. I’m tempted to start a collection as well, but where to start? They’re all so beautiful. The Folio Fairy Books are quite expensive but have real heirloom potential.
This Once Upon A Time storybook necklace, is made from solid silver, and can be customized with a personal message especially for your fairytale fan. It also comes in a really cute little gift box, which is a bonus if you’re no good at wrapping presents. I have this necklace and people always ask about it, especially children who want to open it and read the story inside (it doesn’t open sadly).
I used to have a copy of The Frog Price that was decorated with the most amazing papercut illustrations, I think it might actually still be at my father’s house so I’ll need to dig it out when I’m next back. These papercut illustrations of Cinderellaand Little Red Riding Hood remind me of that book, and I love the splash of red in Little Red Riding Hood’s coat along with the important life advice, it seems a more Brothers Grimm phrase than the slightly saccharine one that accompanies Cinderella…
I loved the above post on Anni Cardi’s blog, which links you to a charity Doedemee selling posters of redesigned book covers to help raise money to fight illiteracy.
Guess where I’m shopping this month! I think I’ll probably get the Wuthering Heights design for myself, because it’s completely gorgeous AND one of my favourite books.
The posters for Alice’ Adventures in Wonderland, Anna Karenina, Wind in the Willows, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, To Kill a Mockingbird, Atonement and Northern Lights are also amazing. I might ask for some for my birthday/Christmas.
If you’ve forgotten Valentine’s Day, instead of the obligatory perfume, chocolates and flowers which reveal your faux pas why not give these bookish alternatives which offer a thrilling, and sometimes chilling, take on the love story.
Perfume– Perfume Patrick Suskind
The dark tale of a man who becomes obsessed with a quest to bottle the ultimate perfume by capturing the scent of young women. A compelling novel, this has the added kudos of being Kurt Cobain’s favourite novel.
Chocolates– Like Water for Chocolate Laura Esquivel
A brilliant work of magic realism, Like Water for Chocolate tells the story of the forbidden love between Tita and Pedro. Kept apart from Pedro, Tita pours her feelings into the food she cooks, which then begins to have very strange effects on those who eat it…
Flowers– Tulip Fever Deborah Moggach
In 17th century Amsterdam, Sophia is trapped in a loveless but comfortable marriage to a much older man when she falls in love with a passionate young artist. An engaging read with art, intrigue and tulipomania. A film is rumoured to be in the works for 2013 so appear cultured by giving this to your beloved before the bandwagon gets rolling!