Books are always welcomed as a gift at any time of the year but this year many of us have happily embraced reading as an escape. I have selected a few books that would make, either great books for Christmas or would help you while away the winter months and long, dark evenings.
The Promised Land | Barack Obama
I am sure many people are looking forward to receiving this first volume of Barack Obama’s autobiography, The Promised Land, under the Christmas tree. I am listening to this on Audible because it is read by the author and Barack’s voice is so calming. I have to admit to listening to it when I can’t sleep and I doze off very quickly which causes problems the next day as I cannot remember where I am up to. Apart from its sleep inducing abilities it is a brilliant book. I haven’t finished it as it is long. My husband is reading it at the same time in the hardcover version (be warned the hardcover is a weight so a workout for your arms) so we chat about some of the stories.
As with Michelle Obama’s own autobiography it is full of personal anecdotes. It also fills one in on his own emotional feelings on situations and events during his presidential campaign and first term as President. He is quick to give praise to others. During his campaign for both the Democratic nomination and then for the Presidency he often credits his staff or Michelle for his success and lays very little at his own feet.
Often these sorts of books are dry and filled with dull facts but with Barack there is a good balance with the personal so that one never gets bored. A book that will be discussed long into next year and then of course there will be Volume 2.
The Thursday Murder Club | Richard Osman
Grace recommended this one. Richard Osman is an author, producer and television presenter. The Thursday Murder Club is his first novel. He is well known for TV shows including Pointless and Richard Osman’s House of Games. This is a laugh-out-loud book.
The story goes: in a peaceful retirement village, four unlikely friends meet up once a week to investigate unsolved murders. But when a brutal killing takes place on their very doorstep, the Thursday Murder Club find themselves in the middle of their first live case. Elizabeth, Joyce, Ibrahim and Ron might be pushing eighty but they still have a few tricks up their sleeves.
Can our unorthodox but brilliant gang catch the killer before it’s too late?
Two Lives | Vikram Seth
This book was recommended to me by my younger sister and I loved it. Vikram Seth’s second non-fiction work, Two Lives, is the story of a century and of a love affair across an ethnic divide. As the name suggests, it is a story of two extraordinary lives, that of his great uncle, Shanti Behari Seth, and of his German Jewish great aunt, Hennerle Gerda Caro.
Two Lives is divided into five parts, beginning with the teenage author going to live with his uncle and aunt in England for higher studies at the Tonbridge School. His first year is followed by intense travel in Europe. After completing his A-levels, Seth moves on to continue his education at Oxford and Stanford, all the while remaining in contact with his guardian uncle and aunt.
The story delves intricately into the ups and downs of the lives of his uncle and aunt. The text is frequently interspersed with photographs, letters, anecdotes based on Shanti’s interviews with the author, and other sources.
Between the Covers | Jilly Cooper on sex, socialising and survival
Someone described this book, Between the Covers, as a great time killer during lockdown. It is a re-hash of many of the articles she wrote as a much-loved newspaper columnist covering everything to do with sex, socialising and survival – from marriage, friendship and the minutiae of family life, to the tedium of going to visit people for the weekend, the stress of hosting dinner parties and the descent of middle age.
Jilly Cooper never fails to make you laugh and this may be a bit of light relief over the Christmas period. It is a short book so won’t take you long to read. It will take you back to a bygone period which our young would not be able to understand.
Small Pleasures | Clare Chambers
The novel, Small Pleasures, centres on Jean Swinney, a woman approaching 40 whose prospects of fulfilment have begun to fade. Jean cares for a neurotic, suffocatingly dependent mother, while dealing with the mundanities of her job at the local newspaper. There she is relied upon to pen housekeeping tips and dutiful celebrations of National Salad Week.
A more promising commission arises when Jean’s editor suggests that she interview “Our Lady of Sidcup”, a Swiss-German seamstress named Gretchen Tilbury who claims to have given birth to a daughter without the involvement of a man. Jean is instantly charmed by Gretchen’s congeniality, which is shared by that of the supposed miracle, her 10-year-old daughter, Margaret. She is less immediately taken with Gretchen’s dour and significantly older husband, Howard, whose insistence that he had no hand in Margaret’s conception appears to be borne out by the fact that the couple maintain separate beds.
The narrative follows Jean as she attempts to substantiate Gretchen’s claim that, at the time of her daughter’s conception, she was suffering from severe rheumatoid arthritis and was confined to a women’s ward in a convent-run nursing home.
Chambers’ novel is set in a period before DNA testing could have provided conclusive proof and manages to keep the reader guessing to the end, although the chances of Gretchen being impregnated by an angel are admittedly remote. One can appreciate the novel for its quiet humour and compassionate consideration of the everyday, unfashionable and unloved. But in terms of revelation, it is probably too much to expect miracles.
The Midnight Library | Matt Haig
This book, The Midnight Library, has been a Number 1 Sunday Times bestseller.
When Nora Seed finds herself in the Midnight Library, she has a chance to make things right. Up until now, her life has been full of misery and regret. She feels she has let everyone down, including herself. But things are about to change.
The books in the Midnight Library enable Nora to live as if she had done things differently. With the help of an old friend, she can now undo every one of her regrets as she tries to work out her perfect life. But things aren’t always what she imagined they’d be, and soon her choices place the library and herself in extreme danger.
Before time runs out, she must answer the ultimate question: what is the best way to live?
Hamnet | Maggie O’Farrell
Hamnet has recently declared winner of the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2020. This is the story of Shakespeare’s son who died when he was 11 yrs old. As with all of Maggie O’Farrell’s books it is rich with description and even though you know the outcome of the story in the opening chapter you are still pulled in, willingly, to the scene and its ripple effects.
If you love historical fiction then you will love this one as the Elizabethan period is effectively described throughout. A well-deserved award winner.