Christmas Gift Recommendations 2008

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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

Cold in Hand by John Harvey

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Our favourite this year was the latest D I Charlie Resnick book from John Harvey which has a twist which stuns everyone. This book is as good as Ian Rankin at his best. Talking of Rankin, he's retired John Rebus but you might like to consider his latest book - Doors Open.

If you're a fan of Scandinavian crime then you will almost certainly enjoy The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo but for something a little closer to home we think that Anne Cleves is the most promising newcomer at the moment and we can recommend White Nights. Full Review

Fantasy and Science Fiction

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Review of

No Humans Involved by Kelley Armstrong

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No Humans Involved is a gripping and totally believable murder mystery in which the detectives (who just happen to be werewolves, demi-demons, necromancers) come up against the darkest of ritual sacrifices. Horror and suspense are superbly mingled with gentle humour and a sideswipe at the world as we know it. Ken Macleod's Science Fiction never disappoints and we loved The Execution Channel. It's a near-future catastrophe novel that's tense, well-drawn and sneakily, sneakily clever. The muted SF elements and subtle opinionating give the book a number of levels and made a patsy of our reviewer right up to the very last pages. If you're a fan of Stephenie Meyer then you shouldn't miss The Host. It's a departure from her Twilight series and the change of direction was a risk. Not every author could make the shift from teenage vampire romance to adult science fiction, but Meyer has done it in style. Full Review

General Fiction

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Review of

Portobello by Ruth Rendell

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Portobello begins with a heart attack and the loss of some money and a group of people are brought together. By the end of the book some will be dead, others will be happy. It's an exceptional book by a writer at the height of her powers and highly recommended. It's been a good year for general fiction and The Welsh Girl by Peter Ho Davies and The Northern Clemency by Philip Hensher hardly need a mention but look out for The Dirty South by Alex Wheatle. It has crisp, clean writing with wit and humour which tempers this story of the urban black experience in Britain. It's not angry, but it makes some angry points. It's a book for both teens and adults. Full Review

Literary Fiction


Review of

The Dig by John Preston

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The Dig is one of those special books that only comes every once in a while. In a Britain on the brink of war, a momentous archaeological find comes to light. In spare but tender prose, the author evokes human alliances and conflicts, and the shifting tides of history. It's nearly a quarter of a century since the Union Carbide disaster in Bhopal but the lightly fictionalised account in Animal's People by Indra Sinha will ignite your anger anew. The book was deservedly short-listed for the 2007 Booker prize and is that rare mix of writing excellence and great storytelling. Winner of the Orange Prize for fiction was The Road Home by Rose Tremain comes highly recommended too. Our reviewer said that The writing is subtle, clean and luminous and the whole text doesn't have a single false sentence, a single false tone. Full Review

Women's Fiction


Review of

Gypsy by Lesley Pearse

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Our reviewer was completely bowled over by Gypsy, describing it as an absolutely amazing story of love, loss and wonderful won't be able to put it down. It would be a superb gift for anyone who loves historical fiction. Katies Fforde has come up trumps again with Wedding Season, a pacy and well-researched story of a wedding planner who doesn't believe in love comes highly recommended as a leisurely and fun read. Another unputdownable book is Pandora's Box by Giselle Green, a powerful story of a mother with a terminally ill teenage daughter, and their joint struggle to come to terms with themselves, the past and the future. Full Review

Non Fiction



Review of

For Your Eyes Only: Ian Fleming and James Bond by Ben Macintyre

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What could be more topical than a book about James Bond? This isn't a story though - it's the book about the man and the man behind the man - and looks at the process of Bond's creation as a fantasy in the mind of Fleming. All the goodies - the girls, the cars, the guns and the food are there but as you'd expect in the book to accompany the Imperial War Museum exhibition there's a more serious side too. At the other end of the historical scale we loved A Great and Terrible King: Edward I and the Forging of Britain by Marc Morris and for a more modern political biography we enjoyed The Remarkable Lives of Bill Deedes by Stephen Robinson. (You thought I was going to mention Prezza then, didn't you?) Full Review



Review of

Shark's Fin and Sichuan Pepper: A Sweet-sour Memoir of Eating in China by Fuchsia Dunlop

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For someone who enjoys a cookery book which is more than just food Shark's Fin could be the answer. It's part cookery book, part travelogue and the story of an English girl's discovery of China though its food. For anyone who is interested in making the most of the bounty from their garden Preserves: River Cottage Handbook No 2 by Pam Corbin will become their bible. On the other hand The Kitchen Revolution could be the perfect gift for someone who would love to have delicious recipes which will take them though every day of the year - and even have all the shopping lists prepared for them. Full Review



Review of

History Without the Boring Bits by Ian Crofton

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History Without the Boring Bits is the best value trivia book around – never failing to add detail and the oddball facts of life to one's knowledge. Whether for a newcomer to this style of book, or for the completist collector, this is a must-have volume. If you take your history more seriously then we can recommend King's Mistress, Queen's Servant: Henrietta Howard by Tracy Borman. It's a colourful biography of its subject's life and times, and not the least of its virtues is the author's look at the position of women, seen as second-class citizens in the time, and the inferior treatment meted out to them. Above all it is a good story, sympathetically told. For a more recent history you might enjoy Shadows Of The Workhouse: The Drama Of Life In Postwar London by Jennifer Worth. Our reviewer thought it a wonderful read. The spotlight is on America at the moment and if you're looking for something appropriate to read we were very impressed by One Minute to Midnight: Kennedy, Krushchev and Castro on the Brink of Nuclear War by Michael Dobbs Full Review

Home and Family


Review of

You Can Think Yourself Thin by Ursula James

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You've got to know someone very well before you can buy them a weight loss book but all we would say is that our reviewer is positive that this book changed her life. She lost 10lb without dieting and felt better and more confident in herself. If you're not that brave (and we can understand why you might not be) then how about The Self-sufficientish Bible by Andy Hamilton and Dave Hamilton? It draws together information on all aspects of a modern eco-life, such as travel, the eco-friendly home, renewable energy, clothing, growing fruit and vegetables, ethical shopping and recycling. If you want something a little further off-the-wall then you'll love On Guerrilla Gardening: A Handbook for Gardening Without Boundaries by Richard Reynolds which looks at reclaiming abandoned land and giving it a new purpose. Anyone with an interest in birds will love Garden Birds and Wildlife by Mike Toms and Paul Sterry. Full Review

Politics and Society


Review of

Blood River by Tim Butcher

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With humanitarian disaster striking the Congo yet again we make no apology for repeating a book which was in the Richard and Judy shortlist in 2008. It recreates Stanley's epic expedition through the Congo & along its eponymous river, exploring the modern country and its history. It's an enthralling rendition of what is effectively the rape of a nation. Buy it for everyone you know. We think everyone ought to know what Coca-Cola gets up to too. Belching Out the Devil: Global Adventures with Coca-Cola by Mark Thomas is a coruscating look at the worldwide activities of the company. You might not think they'd like to teach the world to sing after reading it. If you think that there are too many scare stories around then we can recommend Panicology by Simon Briscoe and Hugh Aldersey-Williams. Just over a year on from the death of Alexander Litvinenko, The Terminal Spy by Alan Cowell examines his life – and takes an unnerving look at Russia and London. Full Review

Popular Science


Review of

Bad Science by Ben Goldacre

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A hilarious, useful and essential look at the appalling misuses of science throughout society. Part exposé and part educational tool, Bad Science is as highly recommended as they come for anyone with even half a brain. We're also very impressed by this year's selection of the best questions from New Scientist - Do Polar Bears Get Lonely?. This isn't the usual trivia which floods the shops at Christmas. It's serious science with a friendly face. For a superb collection of writing by scientists we can recommend The Oxford Book of Modern Science Writing edited by Richard Dawkins. Full Review

Children's Books



Review of

Ostrich Boys by Keith Gray

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Ostrich Boys is a wonderful glimpse into the world of the teenage boy. Warm, funny, heartrending and perfectly plotted, it will steal your heart and a great many awards. We loved Sara's Face by Melvin Burgess too - told in a true-crime, reportage style, this is a chilling and satirical look on our obsessions with fame, image, and plastic surgery. Burgess takes the usual risks - gotta love this guy - and whether or not you'll enjoy it boils down to whether or not you appreciate the "written down" style. Double Cross by Malorie Blackman has been eagerly awaited and hasn't disappointed. It's tense, immediate, colloquial, heart-breaking - Blackman's Noughts & Crosses sequence continues to raise the bar with this latest instalment. Full Review

Confident Readers


Review of

Barnaby Grimes: Curse of the Night Wolf by Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell

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Here at The Bookbag we've been impressed by the three Barnaby Grimes books which we've seen with their superb text, excellent illustrations and a plot that would stand up in a novel for adults. There is a horror element but it's not overdone and we think that this is a book which will be read (and reread) by boys of about nine and above. For everything that the junior lover of horror could want we recommend Uncle Montague's Tales of Terror by Chris Priestley. Girls will love Ottoline Goes to School by Chris Riddell – our reviewer thought that it was a book which could quite possibly achieve cult status. For something quirky which will be loved by readers of all ages we think that you should look at The Last Elf by Silvana De Mari. Full Review

For Sharing


Review of

Stick Man by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler

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Our reviewer thinks that Stick Man is Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler's best book yet and that's saying something as she's a long-term fan. She loved the book's story told through rhyme, a gentle rhythm, well chosen words and wonderful illustrations. For a book which will delight children and adults we loved Shine Moon Shine by David Conway. It's an inspirational story about how the moon was persuaded to return to the night sky. For a story which is unashamedly sentimental but which never becomes mawkish, have a look at The Perfect Bear by Gillian Shields. If you'd like a delightful and refreshing story where important ideas are deftly handled check out The Scallywags by David Melling. Children will love the story line, where the wolves try to improve their manners and adults will love the verbal and visual puns which litter every page. For a book to warm the heart try Where Is Home, Little Pip? Full Review

Children's Non-Fiction


Review of

Teach Your Granny To Text by We Are What We Do

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An exciting, interactive book for kids and teens by the global social change movement, We Are What We Do. It's full of activities and ideas to inspire and engage even the most reluctant reader. Buy lots of these as Christmas presents for the kids in your life. You'll be very popular, and help the planet too! For a light fun read and an introduction to history you can't do better than The Comic Strip History of the World. Budding spies on your Christmas list will love Spyology and those with a love of space really shouldn't be without Voyage Across The Cosmos by Giles Sparrow. The younger readers will enjoy What Do People Do All Day? by Richard Scarry. Confident readers will appreciate the detail in The Human Machine by Richard Walker. Full Review

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