Bookbag's Christmas Gift Recommendations 2009

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A carefully chosen book is always a welcome gift, but it's not always easy to know which books are good and which have had the benefit of clever marketing. We've picked out the best books which we've seen this year and we think that you should be able to find something for everyone on your gift list.



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Review of

The Complaints by Ian Rankin

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Our favourite this year was the latest book from Ian Rankin. He's moved away from Rebus and we're hoping that this is the beginning of a new series. Recently we've also enjoyed the new stand alone novel from Jeffery Deaver and Bloody Women by Helen Fitzgerald.

We enjoyed a Canadian police procedural too - it has a very controversial ending. For something more unusual we have a novel set in Paris from a new author and a new publishing house and for another police procedural set in a city that sounds like York you might like to try Palying With Bones by Kate Ellis.

If you'd like a larger choice why not have a look at our Top Ten Crime Novels? Full Review

Fantasy and Science Fiction

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Review of

Before the Gods (Chronicles of Fate and Choice) by K S Turner

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Our favourite fantasy novel this year is an audacious debut novel from K S Turner - and it's also the first novel from a new publishing house. Our reviewer was blown away by the book and can't wait for the next in the series. We've proof too that not all series get rather tired when they get into double figures. If you like your fantasy with humour bubbling through on every page then we can recommend May Contain Traces of Magic by Tom Holt.

If you'd like something a little unusual for your sceince fiction, you might like to try Genesis by Bernard Beckett, but our favourite this year has been Retribution Falls by Chris Wooding. It's a rousing adventure story which doesn't rely too much on world building for its appeal. If you prefer a convincing world then you'll love Night Sessions by Ken MacLeod.

If you'd like more suggestions then have a look at Bookbag's Fantasy Picks and our science fiction picks. Full Review

General Fiction


Review of

Adrian Mole: The Prostrate Years by Sue Townsend

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Our hero struggles on and faces the possibility that he is not immortal. It might be the ninth instalment but Sue Townsend is as hilarious as ever and it's a book for fans old and new. For a book with a real twist in the tail you might enjoy The Crying Tree by Naseem Rakha - it didn't work out at all the way that we expected. The new Audrey Niffenegger looks as though it's been worth the wait and it will appeal to anyone who likes a ghost story about love, loss and identity.

If you're looking for some crisp writing with a slightly eerie feel then there have been some welcome re-issues of some Shirley Jackson books - and for another welcome re-issue you could do a lot worse than Tell No One by Harlan Coben. Full Review

Literary Fiction


Review of

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

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It's been a vintage year for the Man Booker Prize and for once we didn't have a single quibble about the winner. Wolf Hall is quite the best historical fiction which our reviewer has read - and she's read a lot. If you enjoy short stories then we think that you might enjoy Collected Stories by Janice Galloway. We've also got a couple of reworkings of tales from the Mabinogion which drew on pre-Christian Celtic mythology - have a look at The Ninth Wave and White Ravens - both books would make a wonderful present. Fans of Tove Jansson will be delighted to see a translation of The True Deceiver: deception, truth, honour, friendship and self-interest blur in an intriguing tale set in the northern wastes as only Jansson can depict them. Full Review

Women's Fiction


Review of

Christmas at Thrush Green by Miss Read

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Fans of Miss Read will be delighted to see her - and many of the villagers return after a long absence. It's a light-hearted gentle read set in the English countryside, with vibrant characters and an old-fashioned outlook. People who've loved the Shopaholic series will enjoy Confessions of a Reluctant Recessionista by Amy Silver. Our reviewer says that it's a fabulous debut novel, both heart-warming and uplifting, but most importantly a pleasure to read. Fans of Emily Barr will love The Life You Want which takes the reader into the world of Indian orphanages where all may not be what it seems. Here at Bokbag we're always keen to look out for books from Honno Welsh Women's Press - they've yet to disappoint us - and this year's gem was Eating Blackbirds by Lorraine Jenkin.

If you'd like some more suggestions have a look at our Top Ten Books For Your Auntie and Top Ten Books For Your Girlfriend. Full Review

Non Fiction



Review of

Elizabeth's Women: The Hidden Story of the Virgin Queen by Tracy Borman

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Sometimes you wonder if there's anything new that can be written about Elizabeth I, but Tracy Borman has approached from a new angle by writing about the women who surround the queen. There's a vivid portrayal of the colourful Elizabethan court and our reviewer found it a fascinating read. He recommends it not just for those interested in Tudor history but for those who enjoy history in general. Those with an interest in Sherlock Holmes and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle will enjoy Close to Holmes. One of our favourite books of the year is People of the Day 4: The Rich and Famous Caricatured by Peter Wynter Bee and Lucy Clapham - it's not just a good read with some brilliant caricatures - it's to benefit the Cystic Fibrosis Trust. I'm sure you know lots of people who would be delighted to receive a copy.

If we haven't suggested something that you fancy then have a look at at Top Ten Biographies and Autobiographies. Full Review



Review of

The Thrifty Cookbook by Kate Colquhoun

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There can't be all that many people who're not feeling the financial pinch at the moment and whilst you might need to economise on food you really don't want to sacrifice taste and quality. In The Thrifty Cookbook there are all sorts of ways for making good food go that bit further. If it's taste you're looking for then you might be tempted to make your own bread and we have the perfect manual to get you started. If you enjoy Rick Stein then we have a collection of some of his best recipes. It might not be for you if you already have quite a few of his books, but it would be a splendid starting point for a new fan.

If there's nothing here which appeals to you then have a look at our Top Ten Cookery Books. Full Review



Review of

1415: Henry V's Year of Glory by Ian Mortimer

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Ian Mortimer can do no wrong for us here at Bookbag and we loved this latest book about Henry V. It's a detailed, day-by-day account of the year of 1415, its centerpiece being the battle of Agincourt, and in effect almost a biography of King Henry V. We thought that there was little more that could be said about the Kennedy assassination but we were wrong - Steven Gillon looks at the subject from the Lyndon Johnson perspective and it sheds some interesting lights on many of the main participants. Our reviewer stayed up late to find out what happened...

We've also got a brilliant book about Anne Boleyn by the unsurpassable Alison Weir and a history of world through Islamic eyes which our reviewer found to be a real page turner. Full Review

Home and Family and Lifestyle


Review of

How to Drink by Victoria Moore

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It has been said that here at Bookbag we really don't need any lessons in how to drink, but we're delighted that we read How to Drink with advice on every sort of drink and not just the alcoholic. We can now make a perfect gin and tonic - but we keep practicing so that our standards don't drop. Perfumes: The A - Z Guide by Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez is that unusual beast - an A to Z guide which also makes excellent reading. There are places where it's laugh-out-loud funny and all the advice is particularly sound. for those want to do their best by their children we can recommend It's Not Fair! Parenting the Bright and Challenging Child by Gill Hines and Alison Baverstock with its clearly-written great advice for those with challenging children. Those wanting inspiration for interesting things for their children to do will appreciate Ripping Things to Do by Jane Brocket.

If you know of someone who is down-sizing or could do with help to make ends meet then we might have the perfect suggestion. Full Review

Politics and Society


Review of

No Expenses Spared by Robert Winnett and Gordon Rayner

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We did wonder if it would be just a little bit soon to revisit the scandal of the MP's expanses, but this 'story behind the story' is a well-written and as exciting as many a thriller. It's also slightly frightening to realise how close we came to not getting the story. I did wonder if The Country Formerly Known As Great Britain by Ian Jack might a trip down memory lane, but it's actually a collection of thought-provoking and interesting writing. Those with an interest in India will find Listening to Grasshoppers by Arundhati Roy to be a shocking exposé of the India behind the shining Bollywood mask - and the writing is exquisite, as you might expect. Full Review

Popular Science


Review of

Professor Stewart's Hoard of Mathematical Treasures by Ian Stewart

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A wonderful collection of maths puzzles, games, stories and concepts. It's perfectly written, being both accessible yet not dumbed down. Anyone with at least a passing interest in maths will love it. Highly recommended. Ian Stewart was kind enough to be interviewed by Bookbag. For an accessible book about a difficult topic we can recommend Why Does E Equal mc Squared? by Brian Cox and Jeff Forshaw. The scope of the book is huge but anyone with an interest will emerge with a greater understanding of Albert Einstein's famous equation. The more average amongst us will be fascinated by The Average Life of the Average Person by Tadg Farrington. Our reviewer recommends it as a pefect gift.

Need some further suggestions? have a look at our Top Ten Books For Slightly Geeky People. Full Review

Children's Books


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Review of

Eon: Rise of the Dragoneye by Alison Goodman

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Eon: Rose of the Dragoneye is a completely gorgeous fantasy set in an ancient Oriental world, drawing on Chinese myths and tradition. Complex, vivid, and with themes of difference, it's a classy, classy read. Highly recommended. For those who enjoy a creepy and contemporary thriller raising the thorny issues of stalking, internet privacy, and post-traumatic stress we can recommend Deathwatch by Nicola Morgan. It's exceedingly well done, and completely in tune with its readers. Top notch stuff. Dark Angels by Katherine Langrish is an evocative supernatural historical fantasy with a flavour of Alan Garner. It's beautifully written. Jenny Valentine comes right out of left field in her kitchen sink dramas with a twist. Broken Soup has a tremendously sympathetic and engaging central character and huge dollops of intense love and pain. For thos who enjoy black humour, teen angst and family crisis combined with an issue-based thriller we recommend Bedlam by Ally Kennen.

If you'd like to look at some teen books yourself then have a look at our Top Ten Teen Books That Adults Should Read. Full Review

Confident Readers

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Review of

The Battle of the Sun by Jeanette Winterson

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The Battle of the Sun is a beautiful follow up to Tanglewreck that serves almost as well as a standalone novel. Fresh, original and moving, it's the language in this novel that truly delights. Despite its challenge, recommended for keen readers of ten and up. Older tweens coming up to the 'first love' stage will love Love and Kisses by Jean Ure. Younger confident readers of a thoughtful disposition will love A Finder's Magic by Philippa Pearce and Helen Craig - the final story from one of the twentieth century's finest children's writers. Boys are going to love Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days by Jeff Kinney, girls will love another Jean Ure book and both sexes will get a lot out of The Best of Times by Michael Morpurgo and Emma Chichester Clark and What's For Dinner, Mr Gum? by Andy Stanton.

A classic makes a thoughtful Christmas gift so you might like to have a look at Top Ten Classics of Children's Literature. Full Review

For Sharing


Review of

Duck! Rabbit! by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Tom Lichtenheld

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Is it a duck or is it a rabbit? No, it's a fun and quirky picture book that introduces children to a gentle optical illusion. Staying with the ducks, our reviewer loved Duck by Janet A Holmes and Jonathan Bentley - a gloriously sweet and brilliantly simple tale of a young boy looking for his lost toy. Both text and illustrations are packed with emotion, to make it a must-have for any young child. There's another classic from Lynley Dodd, the creator of Hairy McLary, with a gentle message that things are not always what they seem. If you'd like a real bargain then it would be hard to do better than The Extraordinary Adventures of Mr Benn by David McKee with four stories of our intrepid hero. For a modern look at a classic, have a look at Jim, Who Ran Away From His Nurse and Was Eaten By A Lion by Hilaire Belloc and Mini Grey, but if you'd just like a fun book then have a look at Jumpy Jack and Googily by Meg Rosoff and Sophie Blackall. Full Review

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