Well, here we are, in the home stretch of the most bizarre year we’ve seen in a while. Thank goodness we’ve had books!
Here’s my round-up of British books hot off the press. If you’re wanting a gift for an avid reader, these are a good bet, because chances are they haven’t had time to find out about them yet, let alone read them.
Another great gift for an avid reader is a Libro.fm audiobook subscription. It’s a gift that keeps on giving; they can choose their own books; and Libro.fm supports both independent bookshops, and, when you use this link, it supports this blog, too.
Where to buy the books:
- UK links are mostly to the new British arm of Bookshop.org, the online platform for buying books that profit shares with independent bookshops. Not only are you supporting independent bookshops when you buy from them — and those bookshops really need our help right now — you’re also supporting the podcasts, since I get a generous commission through the links without adding any costs to you.
- US links, where the book is available there, are to Bookshop.org in the US.
- Where the book is not available in the US, and for other countries, I have linked to Blackwells.com, which is a small and excellent bookshop chain which ships inexpensively worldwide. I’ve searched high and low for reliable, non-Amazon ways to get British books in the US reliably and with inexpensive postage costs and Blackwell’s is the best thing I’ve found. These are also affiliate links, so you’ll be sending a few pennies my way, too.
If Only, by Jennie Pollock (UK, US, 1st November, Christian/non-fiction)
Life doesn’t always go the way we hope it will. Whether it’s singleness, childlessness or some other big disappointment, it’s hard to be content when life lets us down.
For many years, author Jennie Pollock has struggled to feel content. With warmth and honesty, she answers common doubts that arise when life doesn’t go the way we had hoped: Is God good? Is he enough? Is he worth it?
She walks readers through the process of taking our eyes off the things we wish we had and instead enjoying the character of the God we do have–a God who is good, who meets all our needs, and whose promises are worth the wait.
The Snowman in Scots, by Raymond Briggs, transl. Matthew Fitt (UK, 3rd November)
Spend Christmas with everyone’s favourite Snowman! Now available in Scots for the very first time, Matthew Fitt brings this classic tale to life in a new way which is sure to delight Scots readers both new and old. The Snowman is the perfect festive read for ALL the family!
When the snow falls, magic fills the air. One snowy day a boy builds a Snowman and in the middle of the night the Snowman comes to life.
Featuring artwork from the original animated film of The Snowman, this delightful book will take you on a magical journey to the North Pole and back again.
Seven Kinds of People You Meet in Bookshops, by Shaun Blythell (UK, 5th November, US, 24th November, non-fiction)
In twenty years behind the till in The Bookshop, Wigtown, Shaun Bythell has met pretty much every kind of customer there is – from the charming, erudite and deep-pocketed to the eccentric, flatulent and possibly larcenous.
In Seven Kinds of People You Find in Bookshops he distils the essence of his experience into a warm, witty and quirky taxonomy of the book-loving public. So, step inside to meet the crafty Antiquarian, the shy and retiring Erotica Browser and gormless yet strangely likeable shop assistant Student Hugo – along with much loved bookseller favourites like the passionate Sci-Fi Fan, the voracious Railway Collector and the ever-elusive Perfect Customer.
Mr Wilder & Me, by Jonathan Coe (UK, 5th November, literary fiction)
In the heady summer of 1977, a naive young woman called Calista sets out from Athens to venture into the wider world. On a Greek island that has been turned into a film set, she finds herself working for the famed Hollywood director Billy Wilder, about whom she knows almost nothing. But the time she spends in this glamorous, unfamiliar new life will change her for good.
While Calista is thrilled with her new adventure, Wilder himself is living with the realisation that his star may be on the wane. Rebuffed by Hollywood, he has financed his new film with German money, and when Calista follows him to Munich for the shooting of further scenes, she finds herself joining him on a journey of memory into the dark heart of his family history.
In a novel that is at once a tender coming-of-age story and an intimate portrait of one of cinema’s most intriguing figures, Jonathan Coe turns his gaze on the nature of time and fame, of family and the treacherous lure of nostalgia. When the world is catapulting towards change, do you hold on for dear life or decide it’s time to let go?
The Shipping Forecast Puzzle Book, by Alan Connor (UK, 5th November, US, 29th December, quiz book)
Each day, millions tune in to hear the Shipping Forecast ‘s unique cadence and poetry, words thatturn our island landscape into something strangeand magical. It’s almost like a puzzle to be solved…
The Shipping Forecast Puzzle Book tests your general knowledge and lateral thinking through a series of fiendish puzzles, in which all the answers can be found on a map as place names on the coasts or in the seas. For example:
* An eagle’s under this
* What a Komodo Dragon really is
* Near where someone was horribly cruel to 343 felines
And because your voyages trace the shapes of letters of the alphabet, that’s just the beginning…
Windrush Generation, by Benjamin Zephaniah (UK, 5th November, young adult fiction)
Leonard is shocked when he arrives with his mother in the port of Southampton. His father is a stranger to him, it’s cold and even the Jamaican food doesn’t taste the same as it did back home in Maroon Town. But his parents have brought him here to try to make a better life, so Leonard does his best not to complain, to make new friends, to do well at school – even when people hurt him with their words and with their fists.
How can a boy so far from home learn to enjoy his new life when so many things count against him?
The Interest: How the British Establishment Resisted the Abolition of Slavery, by Michael Taylor (UK, 5th November, non-fiction)
Drawing on major new research, this long-overdue and ground-breaking history provides a gripping narrative account of the tumultuous and often violent battle – between rebels and planters, between abolitionists and the pro-slavery establishment – that divided and scarred the nation during these years of upheaval. The Interest reveals the lengths to which British leaders went to defend the indefensible in the name of profit, showing that the ultimate triumph of abolition came at a bitter cost and was one of the darkest and most dramatic episodes in British history.
Poor, by Caleb Femi (UK, 5th November, poetry)
In Poor, Caleb Femi combines poetry and original photography to explore the trials, tribulations, dreams and joys of young Black boys in twenty-first century Peckham. He contemplates the ways in which they are informed by the built environment of concrete walls and gentrifying neighbourhoods that form their stage, writes a coded, near-mythical history of the personalities and sagas of his South London youth, and pays tribute to the rappers and artists who spoke to their lives.
Above all, this is a tribute to the world that shaped a poet, and to the people forging difficult lives and finding magic within it. As Femi writes in one of the final poems of this book: ‘I have never loved anything the way I love the endz.’
The Book Lover’s Quiz Book: Novel Conundrums, by Gary Wigglesworth (UK, 5th November, quiz book)
This is a literary quiz book with a difference. Rather than basic sets of questions, The Book Lover’s Quiz Book mirrors the format of Gary’s live quizzes, at the Betsey Trotwood in London and elsewhere. So, there are lots of multiple-choice questions, some amusing answers, clever red herrings, little-known facts about authors and some of the much-loved Say What You See picture round.
Also, there are fixed and variable rounds – fixed ones include ‘Blankety Books’ (one word missing from the title – always with a theme), ‘Literary Links and lists’ (what connects/next in the list etc.) and ‘2 of a Kind’ (name the character and the author that share the same initials). The changeable rounds keep the quizzes fresh and include ‘What the Dickens?’ (real or made-up Dickens names), ‘RomeNo or JuliYess’ (real or made-up Shakespearian insults) and ‘Book Bingo!’ (identify the correct number). There are also more standard rounds such as ‘First Lines’, ‘Working Titles’ and ‘Banned Books’.
The aim of all Gary’s quizzes, and this book, is that people should have fun and be able to guess (if they don’t know) as much as possible.
Three Women in a Boat, by Anne Youngson (UK, 12th November, US, 7th January, literary fiction)
Inexperienced and ill-equipped, Sally and Eve embark upon a journey through the canals of England, guided by the remote and unsympathetic Anastasia. As they glide gently – and not so gently – through the countryside, the eccentricities and challenges of canalboat life draw them inexorably together, and a tender and unforgettable story unfolds.
Disarmingly truthful and narrated with a rare, surprising wit, THREE WOMEN AND A BOAT is a journey over the glorious waterways of England and into the unfathomable depths of the human heart.
When the Lights Go Out, by Carys Bray (UK, 12th November, literary fiction)
Emma is beginning to wonder whether relationships, like mortgages, should be conducted in five-year increments. She might laugh if Chris had bought a motorbike or started dyeing his hair. Instead he’s buying off-label medicines and stockpiling food.
Chris finds Emma’s relentless optimism exasperating. A tot of dread, a nip of horror, a shot of anger – he isn’t asking much. If she would only join him in a measure of something.
The family’s precarious eco-system is further disrupted by torrential rains, power cuts and the unexpected arrival of Chris’s mother. Emma longs to lower a rope and winch Chris from the pit of his worries. But he doesn’t want to be rescued or reassured – he wants to pull her in after him.
Erin’s Diary, by Lisa McGee (UK, 12th November, US, 20th April, fiction/TV tie in)
In the manner of the very best TV comedy books, Erin’s Diary is a hilarious ‘in world’ publication that extends the laugh-out-loud humour of Derry Girls onto the page. With Erin’s inner take on everything that has happened so far, this book will both dive deeper into the events we have seen unfold on the screen and unveil brand new stories and never-before-revealed details about characters. Complete with newspaper clippings, doodles, poetry, school reports, handwritten notes from her friends, and much much more, Erin’s Diary is as warm, funny and brilliantly observed as the TV; a must-have for fans this Christmas.
The result is a work of many things: a brisk guide to the canon of Western literature; an intimate engagement with writers from Shakespeare to JK Rowling, Marcel Proust to Zora Neale Hurston; a wise and funny celebration of the power of words; and a meditation on mental unrest and how to tackle it. It will help you discover new books to love, give you the confidence to give up on those that you don’t, and remind you of ones that you already do.
The Twelve Dates of Christmas, by Jenny Bayliss (US, 13th October, UK, 12th November)
Kate Turner is happily single – a bit too happily, in fact. Since returning to her hometown of Blexford, a sleepy village where everybody knows each other, and between catching up with her oldest friends Laura and Matt, a flourishing career as a fabric designer, and taking care of her beloved dad, love hasn’t really had a look in.
But Kate does love Christmas. So when Laura insists she signs up to the Twelve Dates of Christmas, a brand new dating app service, she doesn’t need too much persuading. Twelve perfect festive dates with the area’s most eligible men – who could say no?
As the big day approaches, Kate’s left wondering – is it really the season for true love, or will this Christmas be the coldest yet?
The Flip Side, by Jonathan Coe (US, 17th November, UK, 26th November, rom com)
When Josh proposes in a pod on the London Eye at New Years’ Eve, he thinks it’s perfect.
Until she says no. And they have to spend the next 29 excruciating minutes alone together.
Realising he can’t trust his own judgment, Josh decides from now on he will make every decision through the flip of a coin.
Maybe the coin will change his life forever.