Bookbag's Christmas Gift Recommendations 2011

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Review of

The Track of Sand by Andrea Camilleri

4.5star.jpg Crime

It's the twelfth of Camilleri's Inspector Montalbano novels but reads well as a standalone and you might be introducing someone to an author with a great back catalogue to explore.

We keep saying that Ian Rankin doesn't need our help to sell books but that could well be because he's hard to beat. His latest is the second in a new series (no need to have read the first but that's good too) and promises well for the future.

Domestic Violence and obsession feature in Into The Darkest Corner by Elizabeth Haynes. It's a book with a rather dull cover - but what's inside is superb.

When we mention 'Swedish Crime Novel' and the name 'Larsson' you might well jump to conclusions about who we mean, but we've been impressed by Asa Larsson and we think you will be too. Full Review

Fantasy, Horror and Science Fiction


Review of

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

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You think people have had enough of paranormal romances? We thought so too, but make room for one more as this is the first part of a very promising trilogy.

Sci-Fi fans will love Surface Detail by Iain M Banks the latest in his Culture series. No previous knowledge of the series is required: this is Sci-Fi at its best. Zero History by William Gibson is on the literary side of Science Fiction but it's a fast-moving and entertaining thriller.

Horror fans, whether adult or young adult, will love Mister Creecher by Chris Priestley, an interlude in the story of Frankenstein's monster. Chris Priestley just gets better and better! Full Review

General Fiction

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Review of

Fated by S G Browne

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Clever, funny and astute, this satire of humanity in all its shapes is a real winner. We loved it. It's a book which will set bells of recognition clanging in your head - and, as a present, it's just that little but different, isn't it?

We've yet to meet anyone - male or female - who hasn't enjoyed The Help by Kathryn Stockett. The lives of three women - two coloured maids and a white woman collide in nineteen-sixties Mississippi. Brilliant characters, excellent plot and highly recommended - we think it will become a modern classic. It's also a big film in 2011.

And now for something completely different: The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson. It's for everyone who ever thought their parents were embarrassing.. or pretentious... or inconsiderate... or able to break your heart. In fact, anyone who ever had a parent is likely to love this book.

If you'd like a couple of other suggestions then you might like to look at The Secrets of Pain by Phil Rickman and The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. Full Review

Literary Fiction


Review of

The Barbarian Nurseries by Hector Tobar

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It's been the year with a very contentious shortlist for the Booker Prize. Any of the books on the longlist would make a good present, but you might want something a little different.

In The Barbarian Nurseries Hector Tobar looks at a middle-class American family who have struggled hard to live the American dream. Their two young sons go missing with their surly Mexican maid and the situation soon turns into a nightmarish media circus.

For a big book (in all senses of the word) have a look at A Man in Full by Tom Wolfe or for a slim volume which packs in half a dozen literary prizes we recommend Accabadora by Michela Murgia and Silvester Mazzarella (Translator).

It's 50 years (how did that happen?) since Catch 22 by Joseph Heller was first published and there's an anniversary edition which will delight first-time readers or bring back memories for those who were there at the time. Another timely reissue is The Silent Cry by Kenzaburo Oe. Full Review

Historical Fiction


Review of

The Taker by Alma Katsu

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A dark and fantastic story spanning two hundred years, a story that is captivating, intriguing and downright brilliant and just that little bit different!

We loved Ben Kane's Forgotten Legion trilogy and had great hopes for Hannibal: Enemy of Rome: we weren't disappointed!

Our reviewer loved The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman - an exquisite blend of history and fiction set in the last desperate days before the Roman siege on Masada in 70CE. It's an unforgettable journey through the human spirit.

When you mention the name 'John Buchan' most people think of The Thirty-nine Steps but we'd like to suggest A Lost Lady of Old Years set in the Jacobite Rising of 1745-6. It's a book to work at but it's tremendously rewarding. Full Review

Women's Fiction


Review of

The Red Thread by Ann Hood

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An exceptional book, well written and beautifully crafted, that looks at how adopting from China can tug the heartstrings of parents on both sides. The prose is lyrical and it's a fresh, realistic story.

The trials and tribulations of teen love and friendships told through the eyes of a watchful mother in Night Road by Kristin Hannah. It's an extremely emotional read and one you won't forget in a hurry.

Love and Freedom by Sue Moorcroft won the Romance Reader Awards: Best Romantic Read 2011 and we can see why. It's thought-provoking as well as being a relaxing and entertaining read.

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

How to Survive the Titanic or the Sinking of J. Bruce Ismay by Frances Wilson

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Within a matter of months it will be the centenary of the sinking of the Titanic. There will be a slew of books to commemorate the event, but this one looks at what happened from a slightly different perspective and we found it readable and informative.

For fans of political biographies we can recommend Supermac: The Life of Harold Macmillan by D R Thorpe. It's the fruit of over thirty years research and gives a balanced look at the man with an aristocratic background who was also the great-grandson of a crofter.

For another impartial biography, this time of a pop legend, we can recommend John Lennon: The Life by Philip Norman. It will tell you everything you want to know about the man who had premonitions that he would come to a bad end.

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



Review of

Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi

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Not necessarily a book for the purist vegetarian, but for those who enjoy vibrant food where the individual flavours sing out this book is a gold mine. It was the Best Cookbook in the Observer Food Monthly Awards 2011.

Still on the vegetarian theme High Fearnley- Whittingstall had a brief spell as a vegetarian in 2011 and he shares his recipes with you in River Cottage Veg Every Day!. We can tell you that it was a mackerel which tempted him back to the sins of the flesh!

It's not strictly a cookery book, more a history, but if you're interested in food then we think that you'll enjoy A History of English Food by Clarissa Dickson Wright. She always knew that she would write this book - and we always knew that we would read it!

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



Review of

Tower by Nigel Jones

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If you had to choose a building which encapsulates English history then it would pobably be the Tower Of London and here we have a vivid account of the Tower, from its Norman beginnings as a prestigious fortress and palace, to its years of service as prison and torture chamber, and eventually premier tourist attraction.

For more of English history you might like to consider A History of England in 100 Places: From Stonehenge to the Gherkin by John Julius Norwich

For some American history we can recommend American Caesars: Lives of the US Presidents, from Franklin D Roosevelt to George W Bush by Nigel Hamilton. We've read it through from cover to cover and we've dipped into it to illustrate a point. It's one of those books you'd hate to be without. Full Review

Politics and Society


Review of

A Walk-on Part: Diaries 1994 - 1999 by Chris Mullin

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Another irreverent look at the life of an MP. This volume - the last to be published, but the first chronologically - covers the election of the first Labour government for nearly two decades. Highly recommended.

Nothing but the Truth: Selected Dispatches by Anna Politkovskaya is a selection from the later writings of the campaigning Russian journalist who was murdered in 2006. It's a tribute to someone who should not be forgotten.

In Join the Club: How Peer Pressure Can Transform the World Tnia Rosenberg illustrates how peer pressure can be used for good. It's a sprawling book but it's very readable. Full Review

Popular Science


Review of

The Story Of English In 100 Words by David Crystal

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David Crystal is a god when it comes to language and with 100 carefully selected words he tells us an awful lot about the English we speak today. It's a fun and fascinating book that would make a great gift.

Alex's Adventures In Numberland by Alex Bellos is a perfect look at all the cool, amazing and fascinating things going on in the world of maths. Part history of maths, part general trivia, it works perfectly for anyone with even a vague interest in maths. Highly recommended.

Free Radicals by Michael Brooks might sound very geeky, but it's a history of those scientists who have broken the rules, played things their own way, and challenged the perception of scientists and quiet, methodical and logical. Michael Brooks' writing is as clear and engaging as ever.

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

Children's Books



Review of

Rot & Ruin by Jonathan Maberry

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It's a super-duper post-apocalyptic zombie novel in the style of a revenge Western. It's tense and exciting, full of action, and has a great cast of characters. It ticked all Bookbag's boxes and we loved it.

Mister Creecher by Chris Priestley isn't a retelling, a sequel or a prequel in Mary Shelley's story of Frankenstein but an interlude. It's truly classy horror for the teen market - a genre which is flooded with some truly mediocre offerings.

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead is easy to read and about time travel, friendship, and redemption - age old themes, but we never tire of their retelling.

For an engrossing and intense look at London during the punk explosion in the 1970s have a look at Naked by Kevin Brooks. We say our obsession with image is something new, but is it? As ever with Brooks, this one comes recommended.

For fans of paranormal romance the best ongoing series is probably the Beautiful Creatures series by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl. The third book was published this year but all three books would make a great present.

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


Review of

Neversuch House by Elliott Skell

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Omnia Halibut, aged twelve and a quarter, has lived her whole life on a vast estate which has been separated from the outside for generations by a huge wall with only one gate. She believes she knows every corner of her world, until a chance event sets her on a dangerous, enthralling adventure which uncovers a web of corruption and menace at the heart of Neversuch House.

Spindlewood: Pip and the Wood Witch Curse by Chris Mould is the tale of an orphan who escapes a terrible fate as a cabin boy. Young readers will gallop through this book, loving the excitement and the menace, and will soon be begging for the next book in the series.

Slightly Jones is a Victorian detective-in-training and in Slightly Jones Mystery: The Case of the Glasgow Ghoul by Joan Lennon she travels to Glasgow to investigate thefts from a museum. It's a great book for the history buff and the crime fan.

For more detective stories we can recommend Laura Marlin Mysteries: Kidnap in the Caribbean by Lauren St John - it's a thoroughly good read from a highly-respected athor.

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

Claude in the City by Alex T Smith

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It's a fun story and a little bit whacky and we think that it's one that parents will love as much as children. It's simple enough for older pre-schoolers to enjoy as a shared book and silly enough for older children to enjoy reading for themselves. It's a book with shelf life.

Educators are concerned about the number of children starting school who don't know any of the traditional fairy tales. We loved Rapunzel by Sarah Gibb. Absolutely gorgeous artwork makes this story a joy to read. Perfect for princess-loving little girls!

In Susan Laughs by Jeanne Willis and Tony Ross we watch as Susan does a lot of things that normal children do. She laughs, rides a pony, paints a picture, plays on a roundabout and scares her granny with a jack-in-a-box. She is just a normal child, but Susan needs a wheelchair. It's a lovely, non-preachy message that we can all appreciate.

Who would believe that Kipper is twenty one? This is a lovely anniversary edition of the classic book but with a ten-episode DVD as a bonus. Full Review

We have advice if you're looking for The Best Gift for a Gamer.

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