With a nip in the air, the sound of Christmas carols everywhere, and treasured family recipes for the best stuffing and pudding passed from generation to generation, Christmas revives memories and sentiment like no other holiday. When it comes to books, Christmas is the time when we give and receive both the latest bestsellers as well as those treasured favourites which we read years ago and want to share with friends and family.
The Bloomsbury Reader team would like to share some of our favourite books from our list. Whether you are a fan of adventure, mystery, romance, memoir or literary fiction, we have something for everyone.
A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens with an interview and reading by Monica Dickens
We cannot imagine December without A Christmas Carol. Christmas can be happy and difficult in equal measure. Charles and Monica Dickens recognized this and both have left an extraordinary legacy affirming the redemptive power of giving. A Christmas Carol awakens the spirit of love and sharing like no other book and this enhanced edition contains a lovely, rare interview with Monica Dickens, as well as her reading from her great grandfather’s story. Listen to a short clip from the interview on the redemptive spirit of Christmas here. Half the proceeds for every sale goes to the Samaritans of Cape Cod, which Monica Dickens founded.
The Ka of Gifford Hilary, Dennis Wheatley
From the very first sentences, Wheatley has us hooked on one of his most impressive and creative plot lines. It is a difficult novel to talk about without introducing spoilers, but there is one that seems impossible to avoid: Gifford Hillary is dead, mourned and entombed within the first quarter of the novel… Hillary is not, however, a man to allow death to stop him from doing what he has to do but, quite apart from the inconvenience of no longer being alive, everything seems to conspire against him in his quest for truth, reason and justice. This is an outrageously clever and intricate work – both a political and a supernatural thriller – with twists that will keep you reading long into the wintry nights.
I am in prison awaiting trial for the murder of my wife’s lover. When I was arrested I had excellent reasons for refraining from telling the truth about the crime. Now they are no longer valid, and by revealing the whole awful story there is just a chance that I may save someone who is very dear to me from ruin and a long term of imprisonment. I have little hope that I shall be believed. My version of what occurred is so utterly fantastic that it is certain to be taken as an attempt by me to show that I am mad. But the doctors have already agreed that I am sane; so for myself I see no escape from the gallows. Nevertheless, I swear by Almighty God that all I am about to dictate into a recording machine is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth
Kick and Run, Jonathan Wilson
Jonathan Wilson’s passion for football has had a decisive influence over his life, but Kick and Run is a memoir that can be equally enjoyed by both die-heard football fans as well as those with a mild interest in the sport. Jonathan Wilson with humour and insight takes us through his colourful journey from childhood and adolescence spent in North London where he had trouble to fit in, through studying in Oxford, travels to Israel and Russia to settling in U.S. where he became a literature teacher. This memoir shows how passion for sport and passion for books do not have to exclude each other, moreover his autobiography is so encompassing, both warm and witty, that it reaches to all sorts of readers regardless their gender or football preferences.
In his poignant essay The Crack-Up, Scott Fitzgerald counted his failure to make the (American) football team at Princeton the first of two juvenile regrets of his life. (The other was not getting overseas during WWI.) Yet, in the end, from these twin frustrations evolved the deep understanding of illusion and disillusion that inform his greatest work.
If Fitzgerald had made the football team at Princeton, I doubt there would have been a Jay Gatsby. I’m not saying that if I’d made the Willesden soccer team in 1960 I wouldn’t have tried to become a writer, but certainly lessons in disappointment must play some part in forging a creative sensibility.
The philosopher Jacques Derrida is another case in point. In response to a question about whether he ever did anything “normal” in his life, like “go to the movies or play sports,” Derrida replied: “You’ve touched a private part of me … I wanted to be a professional soccer player, but I had to give it up because I was not good enough.” As with Fitzgerald, we have Derrida’s relative ineptitude on the muddy fields of glory and his subsequent surrender to the lessons of the real to thank for the entire magnificent invisible city of his (de)constructions.
Lady Susan Plays the Game, Janet Todd
For all the fans of romance we recommend Janet Todd’s Lady Susan Plays the Game – a mischievous re-imagining of Jane Austen’s first epistolary novel. The anti-heroine, Lady Susan, is manipulative, calculating and out for herself and has little feelings for others, not even her own daughter’s emotions and happiness matters much to this shrewd lady. Her conniving intrigues and love-traps set, in the hope to re-marry someone wealthy as well as attractive, become more twisted and entertaining as the narrative progresses. Janet Todd’s writing is intelligent yet wonderfully accessible, and it echoes the style of Austen without simply imitating it. It is a swift and amusing read.
For a time Lady Susan had been intimate with Jack Fortuny, a supposed card sharper who was said to have learnt his trade from the famous Gerachi – until she caught Lady Heton and other ladies looking askance at her.
‘I do think I might influence him a little,’ she’d whispered to this lady just loud enough for her alone to hear. ‘If he does cheat it’s not for gain, rather to be of consequence, to make a figure.’ She came closer; Lady Heton was all attention but was also rather deaf. ‘He’s not short of money, he’s inherited a good estate in the north – Yorkshire, I believe, or Derbyshire – he can’t need income. So you see, its amour propre he lacks. I do what I can.’ Lady Susan favoured this kind of analysis. It had a feminine yet clever air. When she’d stopped talking, Lady Heton had squeezed her hand and looked at her out of her naïve aged eyes in so dolefully kind a way that her friend had to raise her fan to her face to hide her amusement.
‘You are a good soul,’ Lady Heton had said; then, anxious that her compliment had made Lady Susan blush, she’d pressed the hand again. Lady Heton must be the only woman in London who could have believed this story, thought Lady Susan. She would not have tried it on anyone else.
The Fancy, Monica Dickens
The Fancy is perfect for those relaxing evenings of Christmas break when after all the socialising and eating you dream of a quiet moment with a cosy book. The Fancy, set in London during the last years of WWII depicts the colourful life and everyday struggle of the girls and women from all walks of life who work together in the aircraft factory under the supervision of good-hearted if somewhat clumsy Edward Ledward. From the food rationing, wartime swindle and shortage of accommodation to heartbreaks and overcoming of marital difficulties Monica Dickens, depicts in minute detail the realities of life during the war. This book will charm you slowly and before you know you will not be able to put it down until the faith of all the characters is revealed.
On the Monday morning, Canning Kyles, which had been given over for a week to stock-taking, chugged into motion again and the machines hummed as if they had never been silent. In the Inspection Shop, nobody felt like getting down to work at first. They stood about telling each other what they had done, or sat yawning, trying to work up enough energy to get started and thinking that they had forgotten how much they disliked the place. You went on holiday and within a few hours you could hardly believe you had ever been doing anything else but what suited you. After a day or two, you could hardly even visualise the Shop, or the faces of your workmates. Then you came back, expecting it all to seem a little unfamiliar : people who look different, or be saying different things. You found that the place and everyone in it was just the same, deadeningly the same, and when you forced yourself to start work, your fingers moved of their own accord and within a very short time, you could not believe that you had ever done anything but sit at a factory bench in a grey overall with the smell of oily metal in your nostrils and creeping into your hair. You had had a holiday—oh, ages ago—but it was as unreal as a dream. This was reality. By lunch-time the holiday might never have been.
The Middle-Temple Murder, J.S. Fletcher
For all the fans of classic mystery and crime fiction we recommend The Middle-Temple Murder. This old-fashioned crime tale with many twists, hidden identities and murder at its core is a truly entertaining read. J.S. Fletcher has a gift of storytelling comparable to that of Wilkie Collins, and his mysteries written with old-fashioned but charming courtesy are true page turners. Here, a young journalist Frank Spargo unexpectedly happens upon a scene of a puzzling murder – the victim’s identity is unknown and with no suspect or motif in sight the investigation begins slowly. Spargo propelled by his professional curiosity decides to join Detective-Sergeant Rathbury in search of answers and so the complicated quest for truth and the murderer begins.
Spargo went home; there seemed to be nothing to stop for. He ate his food and he went to bed, only to do poor things in the way of sleeping. He was not the sort to be impressed by horrors, but he recognized at last that the morning’s event had destroyed his chance of rest; he accordingly rose, took a cold bath, drank a cup of coffee, and went out. He was not sure of any particular idea when he strolled away from Bloomsbury, but it did not surprise him when, half an hour later he found that he had walked down to the police station near which the unknown man’s body lay in the mortuary. And there he met Driscoll, just going off duty. Driscoll grinned at sight of him.
“You’re in luck,” he said. “’Tisn’t five minutes since they found a bit of grey writing paper crumpled up in the poor man’s waistcoat pocket–it had slipped into a crack. Come in, and you’ll see it.”
Love Lies Dreaming, C.S. Forester
Love Lies Dreaming by C.S. Forester opens with intriguing lines that catch your attention immediately – Important matters always have to wait until dinner is over. I am not quite sure why this should be so; I think it is merely contrariness – and although what follows is not the news of murder or a juicy scandal, the charming and funny voice of the narrator is hard to resist. Despite being written in 1927 and wearing some signs of its time (there are maids and gas fires and other things that you can expect in a book written between the wars) the narrating voice – of a young writer struggling to find an inspiration for his next novel and also struggling with some marital troubles – sounds also very contemporary. It portrays humorously the vicious cycle of the writer’s block syndrome as well as some of those very familiar male–female misunderstandings.
Love Lies Dreaming is a truly entertaining but intelligent book, perfect for all those who like reading about writing process, light-hearted relationship troubles or simply enjoy a good story written in a beautiful voice.
My study is the second bedroom in the flat. In it there are my desk and my typewriter. And there is a bed in it too. That is only natural, for we have to be able to put up a friend occasionally, and when we were first married the idea was that if I were seized with an urgent need for work (it does happen occasionally; by straining a point it might be called inspiration) I could work late and get to bed without disturbing Constance.
I tried it a few times after we were married. In the morning Constance would be to all appearances her usual serene self, but after a time I noticed that her inquiries as to whether I had passed a good night were just a little bit stressed. Constance has a far higher opinion of my literary work than I have; because I have had a novel or two published, and because she has quite a fair collection of newspaper cuttings about me, she thinks I am exceptionally gifted in that way. In matters literary my opinion is gospel to her, and she would not dream of interfering in the least with my methods of work. If I saw fit to sleep by myself after working that was a fact that precluded any argument. Yet for all that she did not like it. What in the world she thinks I can get up to in my study in the early hours of the morning is more than I can possibly guess. I simply can not hold one-man orgies there or anything. Yet she is quite unhappy that I should elect to spend my nights away from her. So that after those few trials in the early months of married life I did so no longer.
Pretty Doll Houses, Gabriel Fielding
Gabriel Fielding’s Pretty Doll Houses title awakens childhood memories and dreams of wanting to have a doll’s house. It is indeed a book about childhood and adolescence and it is written with heart-warming magnetism that is irresistible. The opening paragraphs of Pretty Doll Houses evoke that so-well-know illustration by E.H. Shepard from Winnie-the Pooh, where Christopher Robin drags his bear down the stairs setting for adventure:
Tullagee […] was my second home. On a very sunny Saturday when I was nearly six years of age I walked away from it with my polar bear because I wanted to.
I wanted to because I was lonely. There were some dark things troubling me; dark things there in the sunlit nursery which I couldn’t sort out or really describe to myself since they were in some almost forgotten part of my mind that I hadn’t visited lately and wasn’t sure that I cared to. But they were there even so, like the things in the Tullagee attic when you went up the unlit linoleum stairway on winters’ days when it was rainy and darkish. […]
So these things in my head had to be seen to or else I had to do something to try to forget about them for a bit – just for a little while. And that was partly why I decided to leave home for a time with my polar bear. He couldn’t talk, of course; but he was easy to push uphill and he made a pleasant sound as his metal wheels trundled over the pavement. It hadn’t occurred to me that I could have ridden him down the hills. It wasn’t because of his dignity or because you don’t jump on your friends’ backs. It was just that I didn’t think of it. Sometimes I did jump on other boys, either for fun or because I didn’t like them; but with the bear I only kept my hand on his back or his rump which were always warm and, today, rather sweaty.
But Pretty Doll Houses is not a children’s book. It is a book about growing up and the seemingly child-like voice of the narrator is underlined with an adult’s effort to understand those distant events that influenced his future life. It is a great read which takes you back into the realities of a family life and coming of age in England between the wars, and Fielding’s masterful pen manages to keep balanced the deep reflection with great sense of humour.
I went about asking everyone, ‘What’s a slum? What’s a slum?’ and someone, Mick, I think, replied, ‘You’ll soon know. You’re going to live near one.’ […]
In the months that followed we got to know very well what a slum was and both of us quite liked it. I got invited into people’s houses because I’d caught a few friends, some of whom lived in the slum all the time.[…]
If anyone wants to know what a slum is they have only to collect a lot of people together, give them hardly any money and let them live for a week in one room. They must eat, sleep, breathe and go to the lavatory as near together as possible. They should be given no baths except once or twice a year and running water from a pump in the back wynd. Their hot water they should get from a copper in the kitchen when they’ve got the money for the coal to heat it. After this the slum smell will stay near them even in the freshest air, the odd thing being that by the end of that week they won’t even notice they’ve got it.
Slums didn’t stop the people being happy.
The Bookstore, by Deborah Meyler
The Bookstore is a celebration of books, of the shops where they are sold, and of the people who work, read, and live in them. The Bookstore is also a story about emotional discovery, the complex choices we all face, and the accidental inspirations that make a life worth the reading. This novel has had a wonderful reception from bloggers, including:
“A deeply satisfying novel you will keep close to your heart, written in a style by turns witty and poetic.”
“The Bookstore” is a quirky delight! Deborah Meyler has crafted an exquisite novel of friendship and how the most unlikely people sometimes become the most important people in our lives. “The Bookstore” draws you in from the first page and never disappoints. “
“This book was not at all what I was expecting. I was expecting some sort of chick lit or romance novel. Instead, I got a kind of heavy literary fiction novel that broke my heart. And I loved every page of it.” (I don’t think it’s heavy! Well, only underneath!) “
“This book encapsulates the emotions I feel for reading; the passion it evokes deep in my soul”
“One warning: Once the story really kicks in, you might find yourself reading until 2 a.m., as I did one night when I was desperate to find out what happened to Esme. Curl up somewhere cozy and comfy, prepare to make some new fictional friends, and escape to The Bookstore.”
We hope you find something you love to read amongst the shelves of Bloomsbury Reader books.
Happy Holidays from all of us at Bloomsbury Reader!