Bookbag's Christmas Gift Recommendations 2010

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Amazon Kindle

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Are ebooks the future of books? Is it the right time to get an ebook reader? We thought about it long and hard. Yes we did. We don't often think about things this long or this hard, because it hurts. But sometimes, cogitations are necessary. We wouldn't be here at Bookbag if we didn't love books but we knew that more and more people were enjoying ebooks. It was time to find out what it was really like to have up to 3,500 books in your pocket or your bag. 3,500! Yikes! Full review...

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.

Fiction

Crime

The Ice Cream Girls by Dorothy Koomson

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Stunning. Don't be misled by the vanilla-flavoured cover: a chillingly convincing psychological whodunnit with the ice melting unexpectedly at the end.

We enjoyed another look at the witty clever and ultimately moving collection of short stories in The Complete Brigadier Gerard Stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and if you're looking for more historical fiction you mustn't forget Heartstone by C J Sansom. It might be the fifth in the series but it reads well as a standalone novel.

For those who enjoy a little humour with your crime than you'll love The Herring In The Library by L C Tyler

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



Fantasy, Horror and Science Fiction

Mr Shivers by Robert Jackson Bennett

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Revenge Western, Steinbeckian Americana and supernatural horror blend to fantastic effect in this very successful debut novel. Don't miss it.

Sci-Fi fans will love WE by John Dickinson. It's a classy sci-fi thriller about free will, individuality, collectivism and the genetic need to reproduce. It's intense, eerie and absolutely, utterly absorbing. Top notch stuff for older teens and adults alike. We also loved The Restoration Game by Ken MacLeod - a genre-busting piece of speculative fiction that blends political thriller and sci-fi. It's a highly intelligent, exceedingly worrying, and happily witty book that will satisfy sci-fi nerds, political buffs, conspiracy theorists and cybernetic philosophers alike. There should be more writers like Ken MacLeod.

If the idea of an adult ghost story appeals then you should try Dark Matter by Michelle Paver- set in the stark, desolate environment of the Arctic. Subtle and evocative, it's an absorbing and intelligent read.

General Fiction

The Hand That First Held Mine by Maggie O'Farrell

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Two women come to London as adults, some fifty years apart - one from rural Devon, the other from Finland, yet there is a connection between them whih neither could have imagined. An exquisite story of love in all its forms - highly recommended.

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.

We think that Mari Strachan is a promising new writer and can recommend The Earth Hums in B Flat. Growing up among family secrets in Wales in the late 1950's comes alive in this Dylan Thomas-meets-Nina Bawden five star read. Book groups should definitely browse this wise and accessible book.

Tony and Susan by Austin Wright was first published in 1993 but we're hoping that this book within a book will get the recognition it deserves.



Literary Fiction

The Patience Stone by Atiq Rahimi

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While tending to her comatose husband in civil war-torn Afghanistan, a wife begins to address the taboos of her society, confronting issues of female oppression and sexuality in a brief, but beautifully poetic and courageous book with a twist.

Taurus by Joseph Smith is beautiful and cruel, ancient and new, Taurus expands on Smith's previous novella, The Wolf by adding more human cruelty into the mix. As a bull gradually awakens into its true self, its appointment with the corrida grows ever closer. Stunning but uncomfortable - and highly recommended.

Purge by Sofi Oksanen is a harsh but vivid novel of two women equally hiding from troubled pasts. Big themes of the ex-USSR and the sex industry focus on the horrors borne by women inside a subtle thriller narrative. It's a superb and powerful achievement, this novel, and Bookbag recommends it without reservation.



Historical Fiction

The Book of Human Skin by Michelle Lovric

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This wonderfully vivid novel set in eighteenth century Venice and Peru is both utterly addictive and utterly strange. It's witty and wise and horrific and clever. Awesomely researched and with some of the clearest fictional voices we've heard in a long time, this one is highly recommended.

The Master of Bruges by Terence Morgan is a fabulous historical read, taking an artist into courtly intrigue and one of British royalty's biggest secrets. Thoroughly recommended.

For a retelling of the Glencoe massacre you can't do better than Corrag by Susan Fletcher - a sociological study of the time, a geographical study of the area, a reflection of our current pre-occupations, but mostly just a beautifully written tale.

You'll find these three books and some other in our Top Ten Historical Novels of 2010.


Women's Fiction

This Perfect World by Suzanne Bugler

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Laura's perfect but brittle world begins to disintegrate when the past comes back to haunt her. Absorbing and beautifully observed, it's a stunning but dark novel.

For something with a similar theme we can recommend What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty. What Alice has forgotten is the most important ten years of her life after a nasty bump on the head. As she tries to piece it all back together she finds a life distinctly different from the one she had been shaping ten years ago. A brilliant, quirky, and exceptional read, packed full of all the right ingredients.

The Cookie Club by Ann Pearlman is a wonderful book full of festive flavour, this is the tale of twelve women who meet once a year to spill the secrets of their lives to one another.

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.



Non Fiction

Biography

How to Live: A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer by Sarah Bakewell

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Every bit as good as its quirky title suggests, Montaigne's ideas are still relevant half a millennium later. A must-read for those with existential angst or pretensions to erudition. It's also going to be one of the books of 2010.

Music fans will love Syd Barrett: A Very Irregular Head by Rob Chapman - a biography of the 'lost genius', who formed Pink Floyd but left the group within a year of their initial success, and failed to – or perhaps never wanted to – sustain a career for the remaining 38 years of his life.

The Last Resort by Douglas Rogers is a stunning memoir of Zimbabwe under Mugabe as told by the son of two of the last white farmers in the country.

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



Cookery

Eat Me!: The Stupendous, Self-raising World of Cupcakes and Bakes According to Cookie Girl by Xanthe Milton

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The most amazing book of baking recipes we have ever come across. The only disadvantage is that the cover is bright pink... It will also do nothing if you're on a diet.

Unless you're vegetarian or vegan everyone needs Leith's Meat Bible by Max Clark and Susan Spaull. You might not know it, but you do. It's everything you need to know about cooking meat.

It's not necessarily a book for the purist vegetarian but Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi will redress the balance a little. For anyone who enjoys vibrant food where the individual flavours sing out this book is a gold mine.

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



History

Pompeii: The Life of a Roman Town by Mary Beard

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An in-depth investigation of all things Pompeii. This small, rather unremarkable (pre-event) Italian town is gone over by Beard with the proverbial fine tooth comb; how the local people lived, loved, worked and played are examined and also debated here in this book. If you'd like to make this a generousand thoughtful present you can pair it with The Parthenon by the same author published earlier in the year.

Those with an interest in the history of horse racing will enjoy The Masters of Manton: From Alec Taylor to George Todd by Paul Mathieu - a very readable look at the history of the racing stable from 1870 through to the 1960s. It's social as well as racing history and highly recommended.

We Die Alone by David Howarth is a superlative real-life story, of a near-death experience or three for a soldier trapped in enemy territory in the Second World War. Chilling.


Politics and Society

Decline and Fall: Diaries 2005 to 2010 by Chris Mullin

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Excerpts from the Mullin Diaries from 2005 through to the end of the author's time in Parliament and the implosion of the New Labour administration. It's highly recommended and you could pair it with A View from the Foothills which was published at the beginning of the year.

The End of the Party: The Rise and Fall of New Labour by Andrew Rawnsley covers much of the same time frame and is a good read although it's definitely not an easy read. At 912 pages it's for the reader who is enthusiastic about their politics.

Fascinating and thought provoking, The Unwanted Sound of Everything We Want by Garrett Keizer is a 'must read' for anyone who lives with, near, or even as far away as possible from, anything that makes a noise.

Popular Science

Alex's Adventures In Numberland by Alex Bellos

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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.

Why Can't Elephants Jump? by Mick O'Hare is the usual excellent Christmas bestseller from the New Scientist's Last Word column. Everything is as great as it has been in previous years, with no sign of getting stale or unoriginal. It's another highly recommended for all the family.

Look beyonf the quirky title because We Need To Talk About Kelvin by Marcus Chown is a brilliantly written popular science book, showing what everyday things can tell us about the universe. Geeky people will find it fascinating and a particularly enjoyable read. Heartily recommended.

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



Children's Books

Teens

You Against Me by Jenny Downham

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A book about love, loyalty and choices. Beautifully written and tremendously moving, it's a worthy follow up to the phenomenally successful Before I Die. Both books would make a generous present for the teen that likes real life stories. They'll also love Luke and Jon by Robert Williams, a gorgeous tale of grief, friendship and moving on. Moments of great clarity add true depth to this funny, sad, wise and truthful book. It has something for everyone. We can also recommend Losing It by Keith Gray: short stories about virginity by some of our leading writers for teens. Disparate, thoughtful, sweet and funny - they add a great deal to the conversation about teen sex that we all have, most importantly the teens themselves.

The teen that likes fantasy and sci-fi will enjoy Dark Life by Kat Falls and Dark Life by Kat Falls. Ou reviewers have also found much to recommend Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl. It's long, deep, and totally enthralling - a Southern Gothic romantic fantasy to be savoured. If yu're lookng to give two books then you could link it with the sequel which has just been published.

You'll find some of these books in our Top Ten Teen Books of 2010 along with a few other suggestions.

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.



Confident Readers

The Boy Who Climbed Into The Moon by David Almond

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It's the new David Almond for young readers. Do you really need to know any more? With daftness and heart by the bucketload, it's a must read.

Iggy and Me and the Happy Birthday by Jenny Valentine is the second outing for Iggy and Flo and if you're looking to give two books you could pair this book with the first. They're simple tales of family life and brimming with humour and interest. They're also wonderfully readable.

For anyone who loves the old stories The Orchard Book of Swords, Sorcerers and Superheroes by Tony Bradman and Tony Ross is a must have. There's Jason and the Argonauts, King Arthur, Aladdin, William Tell, Hercules, Sinbad, St George, Ali Baba, Theseus and Robin Hood. What more can we say?

Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren is a true classic of children's literature, made all the more wonderful by Lauren Child's sublime illustrations. If the children in your life don't already have a copy of Pippi Longstocking, there's something very very wrong. Highly recommended.

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


For Sharing

Blue Chameleon by Emily Gravett

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Simple, sparse and minimalist it may be, but it's superb, laced with humour and wonderful illustrations. Emily Gravett does it again with an excellent book for the very youngest children. It's gorgeous, as is Apple Pie ABC by Alison Murray - the classic alphabet tale of an apple pie, rejigged, and with a wonderfully lively dog trying to get some of that tasty goodness. Put issues of originality right out of your mind - as alphabet books go, this is up there with the very best.

Me and You by Anthony Browne is the Goldilocks tale from a fresh perspective, but the more you dig, the more Me and You will reveal. It's an utterly gorgeous picture book that works on so so so many levels.

If you're looking for something amusing then have a look at Tortoise vs. Hare - The Rematch! by Preston Rutt and Ben Redlich - a hilarious, thrilling and wonderful look at the rematch between the tortoise and the hare. It's got all the energy of a Bugs Bunny cartoon, transferred perfectly to a picture book.

If you're looking for something seasonal we can recommend The Christmas Eve Ghost by Shirley Hughes and The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg


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