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Holiday books for adults

Contents

Top 10 Best Summer Holiday Books for Kids

Hooray – school’s out for summer! But with so much free time on their hands, it can be a challenge to keep the kids busy, especially on rainy days. But not to worry; we’ve put together a list of the best summer holiday books for kids to ensure they’re engrossed for hours.

1. Puzzle Adventure Stories Collection

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These brilliant books are perfect for keeping your kids busy on a flight or road trip this summer. Each book tells an exciting interactive adventure story about Ned, Ruby and Mungo the dog. From a Mummy’s tomb to a creepy castle, kids can complete puzzles to progress through these engaging activity books.

2. The Famous Five Stories

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Enid Blyton

Join the intrepid Famous Five – Dick, Anne, Julian, George and Timmy the dog – throughout their exciting summer holidays, as they have adventures in caves, castles, secret passageways and more! The gang must outsmart thieves, hunt for hidden treasure, and unravel all sorts of mysteries in these riveting classic tales.

3. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

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Lewis Carroll

This summer holiday, take a trip to Wonderland and immerse yourself in a dreamlike world. Follow the white rabbit down the rabbit hole and tumble into a world where all your normal worries disappear, and you must instead contend with the grinning Cheshire Cat, the nonsensical Mad Hatter and the cruel Queen of Hearts. Full of wonderful wordplay and perplexing puzzles, children will love this riveting read.

4. Roald Dahl Collection

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Roald Dahl

Discover the bizarre, hilarious and phizz-whizzing tales of the wonderful Roald Dahl, including The Twits, Matilda, Fantastic Mr. Fox, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and many more. Explore his wondrous worlds and quirky characters in these truly gloriumptious stories, featuring Roald Dahl’s distinctive wit and spellbinding storytelling. This is the perfect selection of stories for the long summer holiday.

5. National Trust: Who’s Hiding at the Seaside?

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Little learners will love finding out all the fun facts in this lovely seaside book for toddlers. They can uncover facts about nature’s favourite shore-dwelling animals by lifting the flaps. Created in partnership with The National Trust, this is a great book to bring along on a trip to the beach.

6. National Trust: Ned the Nature Nut’s Nutty Nature Facts and Jokes

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Andy Seed

Summer is the best time to be exploring the great outdoors and this absolutely nutty book on nature is perfect for getting kids enthusiastic about spending time outside, away from a screen. Filled with facts and jokes, this is an easy read that will help kids develop a love and appreciations for the animals and plants that live beyond their front door.

7. His Dark Materials Series

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Philip Pullman

Featuring three books – Northern Lights, The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass – this captivating fantasy trilogy follows Lyra and her ‘daemon’, the animal embodiment of her inner self. This summer holiday, kids can travel with Lyra to amazing fantastical settings, through snowy hills, to an otherworldly city, and even to the Land of the Dead, on all sorts of daring and dangerous quests, accompanied by armoured bears, witches and plenty of strange magic…

8. Diary of a Wimpy Kid Series

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Jeff Kinney

This hilarious worldwide bestseller is beloved by kids from New York to Newcastle! It stars Greg, who finds himself thrust into a new school, where scrawny little weaklings like him must share the corridors with bigger, meaner, tougher kids who are already shaving. Greg decides he must try to become cool, and attempts to do so through his popular friend, Rowley. But what will happen when their friendship is tested to the limits? These books are the perfect light-hearted reads for summer.

9. Journey to the River Sea

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Eva Ibbotson

It is 1910 and Maia, tragically orphaned at just thirteen, is sent from England to faraway Manaus, to live with relatives hundreds of miles up the Amazon. She is accompanied by an enigmatic and eccentric governess who has her own mysterious reasons for making the journey. Before long, both will discover a lush, exotic world, filled with new experiences that will enchant and challenge them both. Young readers will be captivated by this mesmerising tale.

10. Yoga For Kids

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Susannah Hoffman

The calming and health-boosting art of yoga has been embraced by millions of adults worldwide – so why not encourage your kids to take part, too? With this appealing and friendly guide, specially designed for kids, children can explore a wide range of yoga poses as well as build up their confidence and de-stress. In-between learning these poses, they can also discover how to make their own mindfulness jar which is a great way to encourage self-care in any household.

The 16 Best Christmas Books to Read This Holiday Season

There’s nothing quite as cozy as curling up with hot cocoa and a festive book on a winter night. This holiday season, rediscover classic Christmas books along with modern reads that can help any Grinch join the celebration. From classic Christmas stories like A Christmas Carol and The Night Before Christmas, to poetry by Maya Angelou and children’s books like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, there are options for everyone. Whether you’re interested in Christmas books for adults or kids, here are the 16 best Christmas books to read this holiday season.

A Christmas Story, Jean Shepherd

Be warned: A Christmas Story is funny enough to make any Scrooge laugh out loud. The classic 1983 comedy movie A Christmas Story draws inspiration from anecdotes you can find in Jean Shepherd’s 1966 and 1971 essay collections to tell a story for the ages. Retold in full in this collection, A Christmas Story is perfect for anyone looking for a good chuckle this winter. The semi-autobiographical tale focuses on nine-year-old Ralphie Parker’s shenanigans—and scheming to receive grown-up gifts like an air rifle—during one Christmas.

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Robert L. May

The iconic song isn’t the only way to share the story of the world’s most beloved reindeer this holiday season. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer started as a book in 1939 when Robert L. May, a copywriter, was tasked with writing a new story for Christmas. Now, more than half a century later, the story of Rudolph is inextricable from seasonal celebrations. This edition of the book features the original 1939 illustrations by Denver Gillen, which paved the way for how we see the famous red-nosed reindeer.

The Tailor of Gloucester, Beatrix Potter

One of the best children’s Christmas books is The Tale of Peter Rabbit author Beatrix Potter’s iconic Christmas tale, The Tailor of Gloucester. The book’s premise is a bit distressing — a poor tailor works hard to make it through a cold and long winter — but the story brightens up early on, as the tailor discovers a group of mice who want to help him do his work.

The Greatest Gift, Philip Van Doren Stern

Pretty much everyone has seen the Oscar-winning classic Christmas movie It’s a Wonderful Life. But it’s worth cracking open the text that inspired the film. Philip Van Doren Stern’s The Greatest Gift, written and originally published in 1943, offers a chance to see the world through new eyes. As protagonist George Pratt contemplates suicide on Christmas Eve, a stranger approaches him and grants his wish: that he’d never been born in the first place. After George gets to see how life for his loved ones would be without him — including some striking realities — he realizes what life’s “greatest gift” truly is.

The Polar Express, Chris Van Allsburg

In the realm of Christmas books for children, The Polar Express is hard to beat. The 1985 book, which inspired the 2004 animated movie starring Tom Hanks, tells the story of a young boy woken up by a train waiting outside his house on Christmas Eve. The boy goes on a wild Christmas adventure that any child would envy, befriending elves and even Santa Claus along the way — with plenty of teachable moments sprinkled throughout.

The Nutcracker, E.T.A. Hoffmann

Originally written in 1816, the story of German author E.T.A. Hoffmann’s The Nutcracker has become a holiday icon in its own right. Most notably remembered through George Balanchine’s ballet, this tale begins on Christmas Eve. Hoffmann’s book centers on young Marie, for whom the evening takes a fanciful turn after the discovery of a Nutcracker toy. When the clock strikes midnight, every toy becomes alive, a mouse with multiple heads emerges and the holiday is forever changed for Marie.

Amazing Peace: A Christmas Poem, Maya Angelou

Any Maya Angelou writing can have a warming effect on a reader, and she shines on Christmas poetry. Amazing Peace encourages and inspires readers to experience togetherness and serenity. “It is Christmas time, a halting of hate time,” Angelou writes in the illuminating, spiritual poem.

A Christmas Carol and Other Stories, Charles Dickens

A Christmas Carol has been the quintessential classic Christmas book for generations. Charles Dickens’ story follows the embittered Ebenezer Scrooge, a man who hates Christmas and all that it represents. But everything changes for Scrooge when three ghosts visit to retell the stories of his past, present and future. This edition of the story also reprints four other lesser-known Christmas tales by Dickens.

Hercule Poirot’s Christmas, Agatha Christie

From one of our most celebrated mystery writers comes this intense and spooky story for the holidays. Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot’s Christmas is not for the faint of heart. The page-turning detective story focuses on a murder that happens in the Lee family home on Christmas Eve. When Hercule Poirot, who is visiting a friend for the holiday, offers to help the family solve the murder, he finds himself entangled in a web of suspicion.

Letters From Father Christmas, J.R.R. Tolkien

Though J.R.R. Tolkien is known for his prolific Lord of the Rings series, the author wrote about more than just hobbits and wizards. Each Christmas, Tolkien wrote letters to his children that detailed stories of adventures on the North Pole. But for these four kids, the letters weren’t from their father — they were from Father Christmas. Letters From Father Christmas is an inventive and kid-friendly collection of stories from one of our greatest fantasy writers.

Little Women, Louisa May Alcott

Though Little Women needs no introduction, it may not always be considered a Christmas classic. However, Louisa May Alcott’s iconic 19th-century coming-of-age novel, in which four sisters share the stories of their adolescence, is ideal for a re-read this time of year — and delivers memorable Christmas elements.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas!, Dr. Seuss

After there was Ebenezer Scrooge, there was the Grinch — not the Jim Carrey movie version, but Dr. Seuss’ classic children’s book. The Grinch is an angry creature living on a mountain overlooking Whoville, a fictional town with a Christmas obsession. The Grinch decides to take his hatred for the holiday to a new level by stealing all the gifts in town. Written in rhymed verse with Seuss’ famous illustrations, How the Grinch Stole Christmas is an all-time favorite.

The Night Before Christmas, Clement Clarke Moore

‘Twas there ever a night before Christmas on which this poem’s iconic opening line was forgotten? Though there are many adaptations of Clement Clarke Moore’s rhyming lines, the original still reigns as one of the best classic Christmas poems of all time. This edition features beautiful illustrations by Tasha Tudor, making it a captivating read to share with children.

Afterward: A Ghost Story for Christmas, Edith Wharton

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Edith Wharton has published a plethora of acclaimed novels, short stories and poems, but this lesser-known work is ideal for the holiday season. Wharton’s story Afterward: A Ghost Story for Christmas is the perfect hybrid of Halloween and Christmas. Afterward may frighten more than it will inspire with holiday joy, but what’s Christmas without a little excitement?

A Christmas Memory, Truman Capote

Truman Capote, the man behind Breakfast at Tiffany’s, also wrote the classic short story A Christmas Memory, which was first published in 1956. The story centers on a young boy named Buddy whose best friend is his cousin, an older woman, with whom he makes fruitcakes from scratch in the beloved tale. This Christmas classic is actually a semi-fictionalized account of Capote’s own childhood.

Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte

Though Wuthering Heights is the only book by Emily Bronte, both the novel and its enduring fame speak for themselves. This classic work of gothic fiction, featuring scenes set during Christmas, is perfect to read by candlelight and teaches its reader about passion, morality and humanity.

Write to Rachel E. Greenspan at [email protected]

Christmas is, to many, the most magical time of the year. I count myself among these enthusiasts. From sometime in mid-November to Boxing Day, I subsist on a diet of holiday cheer. Books, movies, music…half of the entertainment I consume is Christmas-themed. I start making up a new list sometime around August. This may seem obsessive (and all right, it is), but it’s also practical. Christmas books for adults are the exception, rather than the rule. While classics and romance novels are a staple of my holiday reading, this year I tried to branch out to some contemporary literary fiction and nonfiction.

Last Christmas in Paris: A Novel of World War I by Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb

“August 1914. England is at war. As Evie Elliott watches her brother, Will, and his best friend, Thomas Harding, depart for the front, she believes—as everyone does—that it will be over by Christmas, when the trio plan to celebrate the holiday among the romantic cafes of Paris.

But as history tells us, it all happened so differently…

Evie and Thomas experience a very different war. Frustrated by life as a privileged young lady, Evie longs to play a greater part in the conflict—but how?—and as Thomas struggles with the unimaginable realities of war he also faces personal battles back home where War Office regulations on press reporting cause trouble at his father’s newspaper business. Through their letters, Evie and Thomas share their greatest hopes and fears—and grow ever fonder from afar. Can love flourish amid the horror of the First World War, or will fate intervene?

Christmas 1968. With failing health, Thomas returns to Paris—a cherished packet of letters in hand—determined to lay to rest the ghosts of his past. But one final letter is waiting for him…”

Hercules Poirot’s Christmas by Agatha Christie

“In Hercule Poirot’s Christmas, the holidays are anything but merry when a family reunion is marred by murder—and the notoriously fastidious investigator is quickly on the case. The wealthy Simeon Lee has demanded that all four of his sons—one faithful, one prodigal, one impecunious, one sensitive—and their wives return home for Christmas. But a heartwarming family holiday is not exactly what he has in mind. He bedevils each of his sons with barbed insults and finally announces that he is cutting off their allowances and changing his will. Poirot is called in the aftermath of Simeon Lee’s announcement.”

A Treasury of African-American Christmas Stories by Bettye-Collier Thomas

“The perfect Christmas gift, Bettye Collier-Thomas’ second landmark collection of historic African-American Christmas Stories includes pieces from such literary giants as John Henrik Clarke and Langston Hughes, as well as gems from rediscovered writers.”

Mr. Dickens and His Carol by Samantha Silva

“For Charles Dickens, each Christmas has been better than the last. His novels are literary blockbusters, and he is famous on the streets of London, where avid fans sneak up on him to snip off pieces of his hair. He and his wife have five happy children, a sixth on the way, and a home filled with every comfort they could imagine. But when Dickens’ newest book is a flop, the glorious life he has built for himself threatens to collapse around him. His publishers offer an ultimatum: either he writes a Christmas book in a month, or they will call in his debts, and he could lose everything. Grudgingly, he accepts, but with relatives hounding him for loans, his wife and children planning an excessively lavish holiday party, and jealous critics going in for the kill, he is hardly feeling the Christmas spirit.

Increasingly frazzled and filled with self-doubt, Dickens seeks solace and inspiration in London itself, his great palace of thinking. And on one of his long walks, in a once-beloved square, he meets a young woman in a purple cloak, who might be just the muse he needs. Eleanor Lovejoy and her young son, Timothy, propel Dickens on a Scrooge-like journey through his Christmases past and present—but with time running out, will he find the perfect new story to save him?

In prose laced with humor, sumptuous Victorian detail, and charming winks to A Christmas Carol, Samantha Silva breathes new life into an adored classic. Perfect for fans of Dickens, for readers of immersive historical fiction, and for anyone looking for a dose of Christmas cheer, Mr. Dickens and His Carol is destined to become a perennial holiday favorite.”

Kwanzaa: A Celebration of Family, Community and Culture by Dr. Maulana Karenga

“Written by the creator of Kwanzaa, Dr. Maulana Karenga, Kwanzaa: A Celebration of Family, Community and Culture provides a thorough understanding of the views and values of Kwanzaa, its historic origins and cultural background and its cultural meaning to millions of Africans who celebrate it throughout the world African community.”

Better At Weddings Than You by Mina V. Esguerra

“Daphne Cardenas is the best wedding planner around, and everyone knows it. That’s why her friend Greg hired her as an emergency replacement one month before his wedding—because he fears his fiancée Helen is falling for the guy they first hired for the job.

Aaron Trinidad is new to the wedding industry but years of conference planning and loads of charm make him good at it. Really good at it. Planning the wedding of his friend Helen should be easy, and it is. To be unceremoniously fired isn’t good for his new career, but the chance to learn from the best might be the silver lining.

Aaron and Daphne have chemistry, but there’s history with Helen that at least one other person considers a threat. Who’s the planner who can fix this impending disaster?

(Part of the Chic Manila series, but can be read as a standalone.)”

A Tiara Under the Tree by Carolyn Hector

“The ultimate prize this Christmas…

Former beauty queen Waverly Leverve can barely show her face in public after an embarrassing meme goes viral. But now fate and a misdelivered pizza have brought her dreams back to life. Gorgeous bad boy turned business mogul Dominic Crowne wants to sponsor Waverly in a pageant scheduled for Christmas Eve. Waverly vows to keep their arrangement purely professional — but soon their arrangement quickly takes a sensual turn…

Dominic knows that his golden touch can fix almost anything — including Waverly’s tilted tiara. Against his own will, Dominic is mesmerized with his stunning new client. He’s falling for the pageant princess and the vulnerable yet sexy woman within. But when Waverly’s ultimate goal finally comes within reach, can he help her achieve professional redemption and find his Princess Charming under the mistletoe?”

Seven Days of Us by Francesca Hornak

“It’s Christmas, and for the first time in years the entire Birch family will be under one roof. Even Emma and Andrew’s elder daughter—who is usually off saving the world—will be joining them at Weyfield Hall, their aging country estate. But Olivia, a doctor, is only coming home because she has to. Having just returned from treating an epidemic abroad, she’s been told she must stay in quarantine for a week…and so too should her family.

For the next seven days, the Birches are locked down, cut off from the rest of humanity—and even decent Wi-Fi—and forced into each other’s orbits. Younger, unabashedly frivolous daughter Phoebe is fixated on her upcoming wedding, while Olivia deals with the culture shock of being immersed in first-world problems.

As Andrew sequesters himself in his study writing scathing restaurant reviews and remembering his glory days as a war correspondent, Emma hides a secret that will turn the whole family upside down.

In close proximity, not much can stay hidden for long, and as revelations and long-held tensions come to light, nothing is more shocking than the unexpected guest who’s about to arrive…”

The Christmas Sisters by Sarah Morgan

“In the snowy Highlands of Scotland, Suzanne McBride is dreaming of the perfect cozy Christmas. Her three adopted daughters are coming home for the holidays and she can’t wait to see them. But tensions are running high…

Workaholic Hannah knows she can’t avoid spending the holidays with her family two years in a row. But it’s not the weight of their expectations that’s panicking her—it’s the life-changing secret she’s hiding. Stay-at-home mom Beth is having a personal crisis. All she wants for Christmas is time to decide if she’s ready to return to work—seeing everyone was supposed to help her stress levels, not increase them! Posy isn’t sure she’s living her best life, but with her parents depending on her, making a change seems risky. But not as risky as falling for gorgeous new neighbor Luke…

As Suzanne’s dreams of the perfect McBride Christmas unravel, she must rely on the magic of the season to bring her daughters together. But will this new togetherness teach the sisters that their close-knit bond is strong enough to withstand anything—including a family Christmas?”

A Hanukkah Present by Mark Binder

“Finalist for the National Jewish Book Award for Family Literature, “A Hanukkah Present” is a collection of eleven multigenerational tales and a novella. Whether you spell it with an H or a Ch, these stories will be enjoyed by families of every background. Learn the origin of “The Chanukah Present” Written by award-winning author and storyteller Mark Binder, these stories include “The Lethal Latkes” (mentioned in the New York Times), the Challah that Ate Chelm, and many more.”

Merry Inkmas by Talia Hibbert

“‘There’s a beast inside of me. I keep it caged. You drive it wild.’

Cash Evans has come a long way since his troubled childhood, but all the wealth he’s earned as a tattoo artist can’t fix the hole in his heart. He knows that the sweet barista who haunts his dreams is off-limits… But life doesn’t always go to plan.

‘There isn’t a man on earth who could ruin me.’

Bailey Cooper is determined to learn from her mother’s mistakes. She’s seen how cruel love can be, and she’s not about to sacrifice her self-respect for a relationship. But when a bad boy with a heart of gold comes to her rescue, she finds herself wondering if this beast might just be her Prince Charming.

Will these two lost souls find a happy ending under the tree this Christmas?

Or is their love doomed to wither with the mistletoe?

Merry Inkmas is a steamy Christmas romance starring a brooding, bad boy hero and a Black, BBW heroine. Be warned: this love is hot enough to melt any winter frost!”

Chrismakkuh: Everything You Need to Know to Celebrate the Hybrid Holiday by Ron Gompertz

“Christmas meets Hanukkah for millions of mixed-faith families—who deck their trees with Stars of David and spin the dreidel under mistletoe. Here is a one-of-a-kind, amusingly illustrated and endlessly entertaining guide to the joys—and oys—of celebrating Chrismukkah, the hybrid holiday.

A veritable cornucopia of seasonal delights, this handy (and often hilarious) lifestyle guide walks us through all the Chrismukkah events, history, and lore. You’ll learn about hybrid holiday traditions in decorating (ornaments, wreaths, menorahs, dreidels); innovative tchotchkes (Chrismukkah cards, stockings, lights); and a plethora of menorah options (Godzilla or snowman, anyone?). Plus, the book includes rollicking games to play and songs to sing, along with easy-to-follow recipes for Latkes with Sugar Plum Fairy Sauce, General Saul’s Chicken, Mama Mia Matzah Pizza!, Blitzen’s Blintzes, and other Noel Noshes. Your yuletide happy hours will never be the same once you start mixing a Yule Plotz, Meshugga Nog, or Manishewitz Mulled Wine.

Rounding out the mix are chapters on snazzy holiday hats and caps, interfaith dog and cat gift suggestions, and office-party dos and don’ts. It’s beginning to look a lot like Chrismukkah, and now we’ll all be ready to celebrate with style!”

Wrapped: A Fit Adjacent Christmas Novella by Rebekah Weatherspoon

“Following a painful divorce, all pastry chef Shae Kenney wants for Christmas is one good date that doesn’t end in disaster. When Aidan Meyer, a smoking hot hunk from her past, matches with her on a dating app, Shae asks Santa for the strength not to screw it up. But when one perfect date with Aidan rolls into a second date, then a third and a fourth, Shae’s fear of heartbreak might just sabotage one of the best gifts she’s ever received—real love.

*This sweet Christmas novella features a slightly anxious plus-size beauty who is a master of all things cupcakes and tarts, and a bespectacled tech guy who just wants to sweep her off her feet.*”

And there you have it. Regardless of what, or if, you celebrate any holiday in December, these Christmas books for adults should keep you covered for the season. Happy holidays!

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The 30 Best Christmas Books of All Time

1 A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

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“You are fettered,” said Scrooge, trembling. “Tell me why?”

“I wear the chain I forged in life,” replied the Ghost. “I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it.”

―Charles Dickens

A Christmas Carol was written in 1843 by Charles Dickens. Short on time and obligated to produce a piece for his editor, Dickens wrote this story using many details from his own life. In the story, he tells the tale of an old, bitter man named Ebenezer Scrooge. Scrooge is visited by three ghosts who take him on a journey through Christmases past, present, and future.

2 Letters From Father Christmas by J.R.R. Tolkien

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“I hope you will like the little things I have sent you. You seem to be most interested in Railways just now, so I am sending you mostly things of that sort. I send as much love as ever, in fact more. We have both, the old Polar Bear and I, enjoyed having so many nice letters from you and your pets. If you think we have not read them you are wrong; but if you find that not many of the things you asked for have come, and not perhaps quite as many as sometimes, remember that this Christmas all over the world there are a terrible number of poor and starving people. I (and also my Green Brother) have had to do some collecting of food and clothes, and toys too, for the children whose fathers and mothers and friends cannot give them anything, sometimes not even dinner. I know yours won’t forget you. So, my dears, I hope you will be happy this Christmas and not quarrel, and will have some good games with your Railway all together. Don’t forget old Father Christmas, when you light your tree.”

― J.R.R. Tolkien

Every December, J.R.R. Tolkien’s children would receive a letter from ‘Father Christmas’. These letters shared Father Christmas’s experiences that year — from an accident-prone polar bear to goblin wars in caves beneath the house — and are riddled with life lessons. In Letters from Father Christmas, Tolkien has compiled all these short stories into one book for you to enjoy with your children.

3 The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey by Susan Wojciechowski

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“The village people didn’t know it, but there was a reason for his gloom, a reason for his grumbling, a reason he walked hunched over, as if he were carrying a great weight on his shoulders…” -Susan Wojciechowski

The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey is a story about loss, love, and healing. It’s a gentle reminder to love all, even those who appear unwelcoming, because you may not know their struggle.

4 The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry

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“The magi, as you know, were wise men — wonderfully wise men — who brought gifts to the newborn Christ-child. They were the first to give Christmas gifts. Being wise, their gifts were doubtless wise ones. And here I have told you the story of two children who were not wise. Each sold the most valuable thing he owned in order to buy a gift for the other. But let me speak a last word to the wise of these days: Of all who give gifts, these two were the most wise. Of all who give and receive gifts, such as they are the most wise. Everywhere they are the wise ones. They are the magi.” -O. Henry

A Gift of the Magi is a beautiful short story about the personal sacrifices we are willing to make for the ones we love.

5 A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote

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“My, how foolish I am! You know what I’ve always thought? I’ve always thought a body would have to be sick and dying before they saw the Lord. And I imagined that when He came it would be like looking at the Baptist window: pretty as colored glass with the sun pouring through, such a shine you don’t know it’s getting dark. And it’s been a comfort: to think of that shine taking away all the spooky feeling. But I’ll wager it never happens. I’ll wager at the very end a body realizes the Lord has already shown Himself. That things as they are, just what they’ve always seen, was seeing Him. As for me, I could leave the world with today in my eyes.” ―Truman Capote

A Christmas Memory is a collection of autobiographical stories by Truman Capote. Originally published in 1956, it’s become a Christmas classic riddled with gems like the quote above.

6 The Nutcracker and the Mouse King by E.T.A. Hoffmann

“Kind reader, or listener, whatever may be your name, whether Frank, Robert, Henry, — Anna or Maria, I beg you to call to mind the table covered with your last Christmas gifts, as in their newest gloss they first appeared to your delighted vision. You will then “be able to imagine the astonishment of the children, as they stood with sparkling eyes, unable to utter a word, for joy at the sight before them.” -E.T.A. Hoffmann

The Nutcracker and The Mouse King is a novel written in 1816 by the German author E.T.A. Hoffmann. Although we highly recommend the book, if reading ain’t your style, then check out The Nutcracker Ballet or Disney’s short film (my personal favorite).

7 Silent Night: The Story of the WWI Christmas Truce by Stanley Weintraub

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“On both sides in 1915 there would be more dead on any single day than yards gained in the entire year. And there would be nearly four more years of attrition — not to determine who was right, but who was left.”―Stanley Weintraub

In 1914 during World War 1, a Christmas truce spontaneously broke out in the trenches. In Silent Night, Stanley Weintraub provides an in-depth analysis of this forgotten Christmas story.

8 The Battered Bastards of Bastogne: The 101st Airborne and the Battle of the Bulge by George Koskimaki

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“December 22nd 1944

To the U.S.A. Commander of the encircled town of Bastogne.

The fortune of war is changing. This time the U.S.A. forces in and near Bastogne have been encircled by strong German armored units. More German armored units have crossed the river Ourthe near Ortheuville, have taken Marche and reached St. Hubert by passing through Hompre-Sibret-Tillet. Libramont is in German hands. There is only one possibility to save the encircled U.S.A troops from total annihilation: that is the honorable surrender of the encircled town. In order to think it over a term of two hours will be granted beginning with the presentation of this note. If this proposal should be rejected one German Artillery Corps and six heavy A. A. Battalions are ready to annihilate the U.S.A. troops in and near Bastogne. The order for firing will be given immediately after this two hours’ term. All the serious civilian losses caused by this artillery fire would not correspond with the wellknown American humanity.

The German Commander.”

“December 22, 1944

To the German Commander,

N U T S !

The American Commander”

Although not strictly a ‘Christmas story’, this book covers the Battle of the Bulge, which took place during WWII from December 19, 1944, to January 17, 1945. It was the bloodiest battle of the war, and as many of the soldiers lacked basic cold gear, it was also one of the most physically testing. The Battered Bastards of Bastogne is comprised of 530 soldiers’ accounts of the battle. It’s definitely not a light read.

9 The Elves and the Shoemaker by Jacob Grimm and Wilhelm Grimm

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“As soon as it was midnight, there came in two little naked dwarfs; and they sat themselves upon the shoemaker’s bench, took up all the work that was cut out, and began to ply with their little fingers, stitching and rapping and tapping away at such a rate, that the shoemaker was all wonder, and could not take his eyes off them. And on they went, till the job was quite done, and the shoes stood ready for use upon the table.”

The Elves and the Shoemaker is a classic fairy tale by the Grimm brothers. One morning, a shoemaker comes into his shop to find a beautiful pair of shoes has been made for him to sell. Astonished, he determines to find out who he should thank for the service.

10 The Steadfast Tin Soldier by Hans Christian Andersen

Source

“There were once five-and-twenty tin soldiers. They were all brothers, born of the same old tin spoon. They shouldered their muskets and looked straight ahead of them, splendid in their uniforms, all red and blue…. All the soldiers looked exactly alike except one. He looked a little different as he had been cast last of all. The tin was short, so he had only one leg. But there he stood, as steady on one leg as any of the other soldiers on their two. But just you see, he’ll be the remarkable one.” -Hans Christian Andersen

In The Steadfast Tin Soldier, Hans Christian Andersen tells the tale of a tin soldier’s many adventures.

11 Twas The Night Before Christmas by Clement Clarke Moore

Source

“Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house

Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;

The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,

In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there”

Although commonly referred to as ’Twas The Night Before Christmas,’ this children’s Christmas poem is actually titled A visit from St. Nicholas. Like many of you I’m sure, reading this on Christmas Eve is a family tradition.

12 A Letter from Santa Claus by Mark Twain

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“I have received and read all the letters which you and your little sister have written me…I can read your and your baby sister’s jagged and fantastic marks without any trouble at all. But I had trouble with those letters which you dictated through your mother and the nurses, for I am a foreigner and cannot read English writing well. You will find that I made no mistakes about the things which you and the baby ordered in your own letters — I went down your chimney at midnight when you were asleep and delivered them all myself — and kissed both of you, too…But…there were…one or two small orders which I could not fill because we ran out of stock…”

Similar to Tolkien’s Letters From Father Christmas, Mark Twain’s A Letter from Santa Claus is a letter that was sent from ‘Santa Claus’ to Twain’s 3-year old daughter.

13 The Fir-Tree by Hans Christian Andersen

Source

“‘Rejoice in thy youth,’ said the sunbeam; ‘rejoice in thy fresh growth and in the young life that is in thee.’”

-Hans Christian Andersen

The Fir Tree is a fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen. It tells the story of a young tree that wants nothing more than to grow up. In focusing so much on the future, the tree forgets to truly appreciate the present.

14 What Christmas is as We Grow Older by Charles Dickens

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“Time was, with most of us, when Christmas Day encircling all our limited world like a magic ring, left nothing out for us to miss or seek; bound together all our home enjoyments, affections, and hopes; grouped everything and everyone around the Christmas fire; and made the little picture shining in our bright young eyes, complete.”-Charles Dickens

In this essay, Charles Dickens discusses what we need to remember about Christmas time as we grow older.

15 The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus by Frank Baum

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“It is possible for any man, by good deeds, to enshrine himself as a Saint in the hearts of the people.”

― L. Frank Baum

Two years after publishing Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Frank Baum wrote this story about the life of Santa Claus. Baum follows Santa as he learns to make toys, picks out his reindeer, and visits every child in one night.

16 Christmas Trees by Robert Frost

Source

“He proved to be the city come again

To look for something it had left behind

And could not do without and keep its Christmas.

He asked if I would sell my Christmas trees;

My woods — the young fir balsams like a place

Where houses all are churches and have spires.

I hadn’t thought of them as Christmas Trees.

I doubt if I was tempted for a moment

To sell them off their feet to go in cars

And leave the slope behind the house all bare,

Where the sun shines now no warmer than the moon.” -Robert Frost

Christmas Trees is a poem by Robert Frost that “encapsulates the wisdom of a Vermont farmer and the beauty of his country.”

17 Christmas Day in the Morning by Pearl S. Buck

Source

“Ah, that was the true joy of life, the ability to love. Love was still alive in him, it still was.

It occurred to him suddenly that it was alive because long ago it had been born in him when he knew his father loved him. That was it: Love alone could awaken love. And he could give the gift again and again.” -Pearl S. Buck

A boy surprises his father be getting up very early in the morning to take care of the work on the farm. A cute short story about love and family.

18 The Little Match Girl by Hans Christian Andersen

Source

“The matches glowed with a light that was brighter than the noon-day, and her grandmother had never appeared so large or so beautiful. She took the little girl in her arms, and they both flew upwards in brightness and joy far above the earth, where there was neither cold nor hunger nor pain, for they were with God.” -Hans Christian Andersen

Another story from Hans Christian Andersen. In The Little Match Girl, a young girl spends her New Year’s Eve on the streets trying to sell matches. She is poorly dressed for the cold and no one is interested in the matches, but she’s afraid to return home having not sold anything. She seeks shelter in an alley where she imagines herself in Heaven with her grandmother.

19 Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer by Robert L. May

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“Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

had a very shiny nose

and if you ever saw him

you would even say it glows.

All of the other reindeer

used to laugh and call him names.

They never let poor Rudolph

join in any reindeer games.” -Johnny Marks, songwriter

Robert L. May wrote Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer at the request of the department store company Montgomery Ward. The story was given out for free to over 2 million children who visited the stores during Christmas time of 1939. Robert’s brother-in-law, Johnny Marks, saw the popularity of the story and wrote the song we all know and love. From there, the story took off and now we can’t imagine Christmas without our best bud, Rudolph.

20 How the Grinch Stole Christmas! by Dr. Seuss

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“Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before! What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas…perhaps…means a little bit more!” ―Dr. Seuss

How The Grinch Stole Christmas! is a children’s story that, even as adults, we enjoy reading every year. Dr. Seuss is great at sneaking deep life lessons into his stories, and in this tale, he demonstrates that Christmas is a spiritual experience, not a material one.

21 The Cricket on the Hearth by Charles Dickens

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“Caleb was no sorcerer, but in the only magic art that still remains to us, the magic of devoted, deathless love, Nature had been the mistress of his study; and from her teaching, all the wonder came.” ―Charles Dickens

This is the third book in Charles Dickens’s series of five Christmas novels. The story is about a cricket who serves as a guardian angel to a young family.

22 The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle — Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

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“My name is Sherlock Holmes. It is my business to know what other people do not know.” ―Arthur Conan Doyle

For you Sherlock Holmes fans out there, here is a Christmas mystery.

23 The Snowman — Raymond Briggs

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“I remember that winter because it had brought the heaviest snows I had ever seen. Snow had fallen steadily all night long and in the morning I woke in a room filled with light and silence, the whole world seemed to be held in a dream-like stillness. It was a magical day… and it was on that day I made the Snowman.” -Raymond Briggs

This is another one of those books that we read every Christmas when we were little. A little boy makes a snowman and it magically comes to life. Then the snowman takes the boy on a great adventure to the North Pole.

24 The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg

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“Seeing is believing, but sometimes the most real things in the world are the things we can’t see.” -Chris Van Allsburg

In the middle of the night, a young boy is woken by a train pulling up outside his house. The train is full of children and it takes them to the North Pole where he gets to meet Santa Claus. This book was turned into a fantastic film that we also recommend checking out.

25 The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson

Source

“The Herdmans were absolutely the worst kids in the history of the world. They lied and stole and smoked cigars (even the girls) and talked dirty and hit little kids and cussed their teachers and took the name of the Lord in vain and set fire to Fred Shoemaker’s old broken-down toolhouse.” ―Barbara Robinson

This is a hilarious Christmas story about how the Herdman children learn the Christmas story in their own… uh, unique… way. If you are looking for some laughs, definitely give this one a read.

26 The Chimes by Charles Dickens

“It seems as if we can’t go right, or do right, or be righted,’ said Toby. ‘I hadn’t much schooling, myself, when I was young; and I can’t make out whether we have any business on the face of the earth, or not. Sometimes I think we must have a little; and sometimes I think we must be intruding. I get so puzzled sometimes that I am not even able to make up my mind whether there is any good at all in us, or whether we are born bad. We seem to do dreadful things; we seem to give a deal of trouble; we are always being complained of and guarded against. One way or another, we fill the papers. Talk of a New Year!’ said Toby, mournfully.” ―Charles Dickens

The Chimes is Dickens’s second Christmas short story. The story is about a discouraged elderly messenger who has lost faith in humanity. He is drawn to the belltower of a church where he finds the spirits of the bells and goblin attendants. Through a series of visions, he learns why he must not give up hope in man’s ability to improve.

27 Amazing Peace by Maya Angelou

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“Angels and Mortals, Believers and Nonbelievers, look heavenward and speak the word aloud. Peace.” -Maya Angelou

In this deeply inspiring poem, Maya Angelou calls on us to embrace one another despite differing beliefs, seek peace, and enjoy life.

28 The Greatest Gift by Philip Van Doren Stern

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“Change me back,” George pleaded. “Change me back — please. Not just for my sake but for others too. You don’t know what a mess this town is in. You don’t understand. I’ve got to get back. They need me here.”

“I understand right enough,” the stranger said slowly. “I just wanted to make sure you did. You had the greatest gift of all conferred upon you — the gift of life, of being a part of this world and taking a part in it. Yet you denied that gift.”

-Philip Van Doren Stern

The Greatest Gift is a short story written by Philip Van Doren Stern in 1943. A suicidal man named George Pratt stands on a bridge on Christmas Eve, ready to jump. Before he can, an odd man approaches him and strikes up a conversation. George admits to the man that he wishes he had never been born. The man tells George that his wish has been granted, and upon returning to his town, George finds that no one recognizes him. After the initial shock, he realizes just how much he values his life and learns that to throw it all away would be a waste.

Fun Fact: This story became the basis for the classic film It’s a Wonderful Life (my all time favorite movie).

29 Miracle on 34th Street by Valentine Davies

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“Do you know what the imagination is, Susan?”

The child nodded sagely. “That’s when you see things that aren’t really there.”

“Well, not exactly,” said Kris with a smile. “No — to me the imagination is a place all by itself. A very wonderful country. You’ve heard of the British Nation and the French Nation?”

Susan nodded again.

“Well, this is the Imagination. And once you get there you can do almost anything you want.”

―Valentine Davies

This is the best-selling book adaptation of the famous movie.

30 The True Meaning of Christmas as recited by Linus

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One of my favorite Christmas movies is A Charlie Brown Christmas. A memorable scene from this film is when Linus tells Charlie Brown what ‘Christmas is all about.’ He then recites the following passage from The Bible:

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding

in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.

And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them,

and the glory of the Lord shone round about them:

and they were sore afraid.

And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold,

I bring you good tidings of great joy,

which shall be to all people.

For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour,

which is Christ the Lord.

And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe

wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the

heavenly host praising God, and saying,

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace,

good will toward men.

— Book 42, Luke (002:08–14)

The Bible, King James Version

Struggling to find your Christmas spirit? Well, what better place to look than in The Bible itself?

One of our favourite activities at Christmas is curling up by the fire with a good book and whiling away a few happy hours reading.

From novels to autobiographies, Christmas is the perfect time to catch up with your reading list, but what makes the ultimate festive book?

Here are some of our favourite Christmas books, from short stories to novels and books for Children that grown ups will still love.

Christmas Pudding – Nancy Mitford

Formidable matriarch, Lady Bobbin is hosting Christmas at her home in Compton Bobbin and has assembled an eclectic mix of houseguests.

Meanwhile her daughter, Philadelphia, must choose between two suitors – the down on his luck writer Paul or the straight laced aristocrat, Michael.

It’s early Mitford (her second book) but it’s still fun in a PJ Wodehouse fashion. Enjoyably light, festive reading

Christmas Pudding by Nancy Mitford Amazon

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Children of Green Knowe – Lucy M Boston

Children who grew up in the 80s will remember the BBC adaptation of Lucy M Boston’s evocative novel in which boarding school pupil Tolly spends Christmas with his great grandmother at the mysterious Green Knowe.

The ancient manor is occupied by ghosts of Tolly’s ancestors from the 17th century, as well as a more sinister presence, which he must eventually face up to. Spooky and atmospheric this is a children’s book to enjoy in the run up to the festive season, preferably in front of a crackling fire.

The Children of Green Knowe by Lucy M Boston Amazon

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Moominland Midwinter – Tove Jansson

Finnish author and illustrator Tove Jansson is arguably at the top of her game in the fifth instalment of the Moomin series.

While not about Christmas (in fact this story takes place just after New Year), the premise sees the Moomins hibernating through the winter, all except Moomin who wakes up all alone. He discovers his home, unrecognisable and covered in snow, populated by a cast of strange creatures and old friends.

The illustrations of deep drifts of snow, midwinter campfires and ice storms are beautiful, the prose melancholy but hopeful with the promise of spring.

Moominland Midwinter by Tove Jansson Amazon

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A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens

We all know The Muppets version or Bill Murray’s 80s spin based at a TV network, but returning to the source material is a treat to be indulged in each Christmas.

In short, Ebeneezer Scrooge is visited by three ghosts (ok, four if we’re counting Jacob Marley) who will change the course of his life. There is nothing more Christmassy than Dickens’ prose depicting festive dances, games and food. Dickens’ point is still as pertinent as ever. Who can forget the ghosts outside Scrooge’s window and the line: ‘The misery with them all was, clearly, that they sought to interfere, for good, in human matters, and had lost the power for ever.’ Words to remember at this time of year.

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens Amazon

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Collected Ghost Stories – M.R. James

Scholar MR James would write ghost stories and read them to pupils by the fireside in the run up to Christmas.

Many of the stories are deeply chilling, usually involving priggish clergymen who come to a nasty end through supernatural means.

Highlights include the Mezzotint, about a picture that moves when the viewer isn’t watching – with horrifying consequences naturally, and Oh Whistle and I’ll Come to You My Lad where a dry academic unearths an ancient whistle and summons evil forces.

Complete Ghost Stories by M.R James Amazon

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Little Women – Louisa May Alcott

Second only to A Christmas Carol for Christmas feels, Little Women tells the story of the selfless and complex March sisters growing up in 19th century America.

Starting during the festive season (“Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents,” grumbled Jo) this is an emotional and timeless coming of age novel.

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott Amazon

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The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe – CS Lewis

In Narnia it is ‘always winter and never Christmas’ thanks to the White Witch who has taken over the land.

The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe isn’t necessarily a Christmas book (although Father Christmas does make a random cameo) but it’s good versus evil set against a snowy backdrop featuring fauns and talking lions.

The start of the story, four children finding a secret world at the back of a wardrobe in a spare room, is irresistible. This is the second in CS Lewis’ rich and detailed Chronicles of Narnia series.

Amazon

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The Box of Delights – John Masefield

A strange children’s book but still beloved by many who remember the spectacular 1986 TV adaptation starring Doctor Who’s Patrick Troughton as Cole Hawlings – the mysterious time traveller with a magical box.

The evil sorcerer, Abner Brown, wants the box and also wants to stop Christmas from happening. Only boarding school pupil Kay Harker, and his plucky band of friends, stands in his way.

The Box of Delights – John Masefield Amazon

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Christmas at Cold Comfort Farm – Stella Gibbons

Christmas at Cold Comfort Farm is a short story in a collection by the masterful Stella Gibbons. And who wouldn’t want a second (third if you count Conference at Cold Comfort Farm) opportunity to revisit the Starkadders at their comically depressing country home?

Most of us could do with a copy of Flora Poste’s The Higher Common Sense by the fictional Abbe Fausse-Maigre at Christmas time. This will have to do instead.

Christmas at Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons Amazon

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8 Books to Read on Your Next Vacation


  • Under the Tuscan Sun

    Frances Mayes

    Warning: if you read this memoir during your trip, you might just be inspired to swap your current life for one as an expat living in an adorably cozy villa in the Italian countryside. Mayes’s tale of doing just that is told through lyrical prose that’s meant to be read while sipping a morning cappuccino on the veranda. But the best part of Mayes’s story is that it’s both dreamlike and real; settling into her perfect Italian lifestyle after a heartbreaking divorce requires enduring loneliness, plenty of hard work, and self-discovery. Even if you don’t put the book aside to buy your own Tuscan home, her story will stick with you for many future trips to come.


  • The Vacationers

    Emma Straub

    The next best thing to reading a coming-of-age story about a family with lots of drama? Reading a coming-of-age-story about a family with lots of drama—set in a sparkling beach-town. Straub’s novel takes place in the Balearic island of Mallorca off the coast of Spain, where we meet the Post family. There are parents halfheartedly trying to save their marriage, a daughter who falls for her Spanish tutor, and a son with a less-than-liked, much-older girlfriend. If that’s not enough to draw you in, the author’s descriptions of sunny beaches and delicious post-swim Mallorcan meals will.


  • The Signature of All Things

    Elizabeth Gilbert

    When you think of Liz Gilbert and travel, you probably think of her Italy-India-Indonesia travel memoir Eat Pray Love. But her oft-overlooked novel shouldn’t be missed. It tells the tale of Alma Whitaker, an intrepid young scholar whose passion for adventure and fierce determination were unique for a woman during the 19th century. We won’t give away too much, but know that this book is brimming with rich descriptions of botany, breathless explorations in South American jungles, and the familiar, fervent search for the meaning of love and family.


  • Dreaming in Cuban

    Cristina García

    Now that it’s a little bit easier to visit this gorgeous island, it’s time to go ahead and book your ticket—and if you do, tuck this novel into your suitcase. García’s multigenerational tale begins in the 1930s with matriarch Celia del Pino, and continues through to 1980 as her family struggles with Communism, idealism, and poverty in one of the world’s most beautiful yet complex countries. And if that’s not gripping enough for you, the author includes her own unique touches of magical realism throughout the novel. The only thing that might get you to put down this book is an icy mojito.


  • Death in Venice and Other Stories

    Thomas Mann

    This novella is often acclaimed as one of the best of the 20th century, and for good reason. It’s so twisted and haunting, it’s hard to summarize without any plot spoilers, but a quick overview: the protagonist is an aging German author searching for inspiration. He heads to Venice to find it but instead discovers a young Polish boy who changes his life. The backdrop is the cold, mysterious, and ethereal Venice, dark yet somehow so alluring that you’ll sigh whenever you finish a chapter.


  • Seating Arrangements

    Maggie Shipstead

    Some of the best relaxing vacation reads center on the stressful challenges of family. Go figure! Shipstead’s novel about the Van Meter clan is no different, beginning on the eve of daughter Daphne’s nuptials on the Nantucket-like fictional island of Waskeke. The story is mostly told through the eyes of the father of the bride, with a little help from his wife, his younger daughter, and an escaped lobster, resulting in a fast-paced drama that ends with one memorable wedding. Don’t dog-ear this one too hard—you’ll want to pass it on to your traveling partner when you’re finished.


  • The Beach

    Alex Garland

    Richard is a wide-eyed traveler backpacking his way around Thailand. An encounter with a strange man leads him to search for an idyllic island in the Gulf, using nothing more than a hand-drawn map as a guide. On his journey, he meets a host of interesting characters and—after some jungle treks and harrowing adventures—ends up at the sought-after island. The story morphs into the tale of a self-sufficient community that has built itself up on “The Beach”—and how this completely unexpected discovery changes the once-naïve British traveler, for better or for worse.


  • All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes

    Maya Angelou

    Many people remember Dr. Angelou as a brilliant writer and prolific poet, but what some tend to forget is that she was also an intrepid traveler, picking up in her early 30s and moving to Africa. This seventh volume in her collection of autobiographies begins when Dr. Angelou is 33 and has recently moved to Accra, Ghana. She narrates her encounters with romantic prospects, adjusting to life on an entirely different continent, and searching for connections between herself and her ancestors. In the end, she returns to America, as will the reader—but like Angelou, you’ll likely never forget this magical land.

15 best books of 2019 to read now

This year has been a bumper year for novels so whether you like gripping page-turners or literary novels that give you something to discuss over the dinner table, there’s something for everyone.

Our main stipulations were that the novels should be original, compelling and superbly written – the kind of books you’ll want to recommend to your friends.

We’ve chosen a mix of established writers and debut novelists. Kate Atkinson and David Nicholls are two of the UK’s most successful authors and they both released highly anticipated books this summer – Big Sky by Atkinson, which continues the story of private investigator Jackson Brodie, and Sweet Sorrow by Nicholls, the account of a boy’s first love affair.

Debut novelists are represented by writers like Alex Michaelides, whose The Silent Patient topped the New York Times Best Seller list earlier this year, and Beth O’Leary, who wrote The Flatshare on her train journey to and from work.

The subjects covered in this year’s crop of novels are wide-ranging too – from Clare Mackintosh’s thought-provoking story of a couple faced with an impossible choice about their terminally ill child to Elizabeth Gilbert’s vibrant account of showgirl life in 1940s New York.

So what are you waiting for? Settle back and enjoy these novels.

You can trust our independent reviews. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world and expert advice. This revenue helps us to fund journalism across The Independent.

‘Big Sky’ by Kate Atkinson, published by Doubleday: £20, Amazon

Jackson Brodie’s back. Fans have been counting the days to read the fifth instalment in Kate Atkinson’s literary crime series about the tough ex-soldier turned private investigator, and Big Sky is well worth the wait. This time round Brodie has moved to a quiet seaside village in the northeast, occasionally joined by his tricky teenage son and his ex-partner’s ageing labrador. But once again he gets drawn into a sinister investigation and old secrets come to the fore. Superbly written and utterly readable, this novel is a delight from start to finish.

Buy now

‘Sweet Sorrow’ by David Nicholls, published by Hodder & Stoughton: £20, Amazon

Sweet Sorrow is another of this summer’s most eagerly awaited novels. David Nicholls, who recently won a Bafta for his TV adaptation of the Patrick Melrose novels, made his name with One Day and excels at writing tender, funny books about love and friendship. This coming-of-age novel tells the story of 16-year-old Charlie Lewis and his love affair with a girl he meets when he reluctantly gets involved in a production of Romeo and Juliet. It’s poignant and insightful but the most affecting scenes focus on Charlie’s relationship with his dad, whose life has imploded in a disastrous way.

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‘Machines Like Me’ by Ian McEwan, published by Jonathan Cape: £12.17, Amazon

From the case of a young boy who refuses medical treatment on religious grounds (The Children Act) to the angst of a young couple honeymooning on the Dorset coast (On Chesil Beach), Ian McEwan’s choice of subjects is never predictable. Machines Like Me, his 15th novel, is set in an alternative 1980s London.

Charlie, who’s drifting through life and avoiding full-time employment, is in love with Miranda, a clever student with a terrible secret. When Charlie suddenly comes into money he decides to buy Adam, one of the first-ever synthetic humans – and a love triangle begins. Original, and as always with McEwan’s novels, beautifully written.

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‘Normal People’ by Sally Rooney, published by Faber & Faber: £8.99, Foyles​

Sally Rooney’s Normal People has won a host of awards, including both the top prize and fiction book of the year at this year’s British Book Awards, the Costa novel award and Waterstones Book of the Year. The 28-year-old Irish novelist has been described as “a millennial writer with millennial concerns” but readers of all ages will enjoy her story of two college friends who try to stay apart but find they can’t. We can’t wait to see what she does next.

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‘The Silent Patient’ by Alex Michaelides, published by Orion: £12.99, Foyles​

Alex Michaelides was inspired to write his debut novel while he was doing a postgraduate course in psychotherapy and working part-time at a secure psychiatric unit. It’s the tale of Alicia Berenson, a painter who lives with her fashion photographer husband Gabriel on the edge of Hampstead Heath. But when Gabriel returns late one night from a fashion shoot Alicia shoots him dead. Psychotherapist Theo Faber is fascinated by the fact that Alicia has never spoken since the shooting and five years on is determined to discover exactly what happened. A smart, sophisticated psychological thriller.

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‘Those People’ by Louise Candlish, published by Simon & Schuster: £10.99, Waterstones​

Louise Candlish won the crime and thriller book of the year for Our House and her latest novel is equally gripping. Lowland Way in south London is a suburban paradise, with friendly neighbours, convivial chat and children playing in the street. Everything seems perfect till Darren and Jodie move in and cause havoc and upset with their loud music, multiple cars and disruptive building work. A clever, pacey novel that will keep you guessing right until the end.

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‘The Sleepwalker’ by Joseph Knox, published by Doubleday: £9.35, Amazon

Former bookseller Joseph Knox is an exciting new name in crime fiction. The Sleepwalker is the third of his series about Aidan Watts, a flawed Manchester detective with a complex family background. As the novel opens, Waits is on duty in an abandoned hospital ward, sitting with a dying murderer and hoping he’ll reveal the location of his final victim before he dies. Dark, gritty and compelling, this will have you turning the pages until the early hours of the morning.

Buy now

‘No Way Out’ by Cara Hunter, published by Penguin: £6.32, Wordery​

From Brideshead Revisited to the Inspector Morse books, Oxford is the setting for some remarkable novels. Cara Hunter is the latest novelist to set her books in the city – to striking effect. No Way Out is her third novel about detective inspector Adam Fawley and it’s a cracking read. It’s the Christmas holidays and two children have just been pulled from the wreckage of their home in upmarket north Oxford. The toddler is dead and his elder brother is fighting for his life – but why were they left alone? Switch off your phone and settle down on the sofa. You won’t be able to put this book down until you’ve found out what happened – and who’s responsible.

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‘The Garden of Lost and Found’ by Harriet Evans, published by Headline: £16.99, Waterstones​

In 1919 Liddy Horner discovers her celebrated artist husband, Ned, burning his best-known painting. Known as The Garden of Lost and Found, the picture depicts his two children on an idyllic day, playing in the garden of Nightingale House, the family’s Cotswolds home. Almost a century later, the couple’s granddaughter Juliet is sent the key to Nightingale House out of the blue and starts to unravel the tragic secrets of the past. Harriet Evans’s 11th novel is a spellbinding story, brimming with flowers and paintings, loss and courage.

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‘After the End’ by Clare Mackintosh, published by Sphere: £9.33, Amazon

Ex-police officer Clare Mackintosh has won legions of fans for her clever crime novels, I Let You Go, I See You and Let Me Lie. Her new book, After the End, is a radical departure, but just as powerful. Max and Pip are devoted to each other but when their young son Dylan is diagnosed with a brain tumour they face an impossible choice – and they can’t agree. This moving and thought-provoking theme is one that’s close to Mackintosh’s heart. As she explains in a note at the end of the book, in 2006 she and her husband had to decide whether to keep their critically ill son alive or remove his life support.

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‘The Flatshare’ by Beth O’Leary, published by Quercus: £7.99, Waterstones

Beth O’Leary’s first novel is feel-good fiction at its best. The two protagonists, Tiffy Moore and Leon Twomey, are immensely likeable and the comic situation they find themselves in is entirely believable. Tiffy works in publishing and needs a cheap flat while palliative nurse Leon works nights and needs extra cash. The pair agree to share a one-bed flat, with Tiffy sleeping there at nights and weekends and Leon using it by day. It sounds simple, but with Tiffy’s horrible ex-boyfriend, demanding clients at work, Leon’s wrongly imprisoned brother and the fact that they still haven’t met, the situation gets more complicated by the day.

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‘Queenie’ by Candice Carty-Williams, published by Orion: £10.99, Foyles​

Candice Carty-Williams wrote her debut novel after bestselling author Jojo Moyes offered her the use of her rural cottage to finish the book, choosing her from more than 600 applicants. Queenie Jenkins is a young black woman who’s just broken up with her long-term boyfriend, Tom. Her boss at the newspaper where she works doesn’t appreciate her and her family never listens (they’re not interested unless the conversation is about Jesus or water rates). A fresh, funny and at times painful read.

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‘The Doll Factory’ by Elizabeth Macneal, published by Picador: £9.99, Foyles​

It’s astonishing to discover that this accomplished book is Elizabeth Macneal’s debut novel. Macneal is a writer and potter and worked in the City for several years before completing a creative writing MA at the University of East Anglia. Set amid the squalor and chaos of Victorian London, The Doll Factory is the tale of aspiring artist Iris, who becomes a model for Pre-Raphaelite artist Louis Frost on the condition that he teaches her to paint. But she’s also been noticed by Silas Reed, a sinister collector who is obsessed by strange and beautiful things. An atmospheric book that will stay with you long after you’ve finished reading.

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‘City of Girls’ by Elizabeth Gilbert, published by Bloomsbury: £14.99, Waterstones​

Elizabeth Gilbert is best-known for Eat Pray Love, the 2006 memoir that chronicled her journey across Italy, India and Indonesia. In City of Girls, her third novel, she turns her attention to 1940s New York and a rundown, midtown theatre called The Lily. Nineteen-year-old Vivian Morris has dropped out of her sophomore year at Vassar and her despairing parents send her to stay with her unconventional Aunt Peg, who owns The Lily. Once there, Vivian makes firm friends with the showgirls, throws herself into their hedonistic lifestyle and learns some tough lessons. Glamorous and vivid, with fascinating historical detail.

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‘Circe’ by Madeline Miller, published by Bloomsbury: £5.59, Wordery​

Madeline Miller won the Orange prize in 2012 for her first novel, A Song for Achilles and earlier this year Circe, her long-awaited second novel, was one of the six shortlisted contenders for the Women’s Prize for Fiction (previously the Orange prize). Miller takes the legendary story of Circe, who appeared in ancient Greek texts like Homer’s The Odyssey, and brings it alive for a 21st century audience. A captivating book that races along with verve and panache.

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The verdict: Books of 2019

Kate Atkinson never disappoints and Big Sky, her fifth Jackson Brodie novel, is the standout read of the summer. It’s a masterclass in brilliant writing and whether you’ve read the earlier books in the series (Case Histories, One Good Turn, When Will There Be Good News? and Started Early, Took My Dog) or not you’ll enjoy it. Our other top reads are David Nicholls’s Sweet Sorrow, a nostalgic coming-of-age story, and Elizabeth Macneal’s dazzling debut, The Doll Factory.

IndyBest product reviews are unbiased, independent advice you can trust. On some occasions, we earn revenue if you click the links and buy the products, but we never allow this to bias our coverage. The reviews are compiled through a mix of expert opinion and real-world testing.

Coloring books are stressful.

You know the ones—the coloring books that are made-for-grown-up-people, the ones with page after page of line drawings with intricate patterns and hand-drawn details and lots of little tiny bits for meditative coloring. Those ones.

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I picked up a couple of wintery ones to try in December, thinking that anti-stress holiday coloring sounded BRILLIANT. I was going to be blissed-out all season long. This was anti-stress-planning genius!

Things did not turn out quite that way.

First of all, pine needles do not look very pine needle-y all colored lime green, even if that is the only green you can find.

Then some of the little patterns are so small, there’s no such thing as “coloring inside the lines.” How would you even do that? What do you color with, a toothpick? And there are so many teensy shapes that you NEVER FINISH COLORING.

I probably just have the wrong colored pencils.

(I am conveniently overlooking the fact that this is not my first go-round with Coloring Stress. There was, for example, that time I went to my friend Bonnie’s house to listen to a podcast together, and picked up one of the spare coloring books she’d set out. I wound up hunched over my paper, desperately trying to color all the curlicues yellow before the podcast ended. I have no idea what the podcast was about, I forgot to listen to any of it.)

For a recovering perfectionist…

For a recovering perfectionist, all those swirls and crisscrosses and leafy shapes are not an invitation to be meditative, they are an invitation to be obsessive.

Are my triangles colored evenly, not sketchily? Am I even supposed to color this edge piece? I didn’t put a bunch of clashing colors next to each other, did I? OH WAIT I DID. And now there’s too much red everywhere! What happened to my carefully planned color scheme?

At some point you have to admit the problem is not that you have the wrong markers or the wrong colored pencils or the wrong book. At some point you have to face the fact that this is not soothing or meditative or even particularly holiday-related.

But. Good news!

You don’t have to keep doing things that are supposed to be good if they actually aren’t.

You don’t have to keep doing the things that are supposed to help but don’t actually help.

You don’t have to keep doing the things that you’re supposed to enjoy but don’t.

(Though maybe I can find a crumb of gratitude for becoming aware of the thing that bothers me, and for the chance to practice letting go of it. Again. MAYBE.)

So I am going to practice letting go and also coloring less.

Instead, for the next few weeks, I am going to do something that actually makes me feel refreshed and refueled.

I am going to read all the books.

I’m going for books that will help me think about old things in new ways, that will give me insight into my own mess, and that will make me feel hopeful about all the things. (Or at least an occasional thing. Some things. I will take hope about some things.)

What I’m reading to refuel

Love Warrior

Glennon Doyle Melton’s Love Warrior, because we need more love warriors in the world. I think love is meant to be our full-time job, guys.

How to Be Here

Rob Bell’s How to Be Here, because here is where I want to be. It’s the only place we can find each other—and the only place we can really find ourselves.

Still Writing

Dani Shapiro’s Still Writing, because I want to soak up ideas about creativity and craft. (And because I read Dani’s spiritual memoir, Devotion, a few months ago, and I am already ready to invite her voice back into my head.)

Year of Yes

Shonda Rhimes’s Year of Yes, because I have been practicing saying yes to the things that make me feel like I’m going to throw up and I could use some literary encouragement.

Commonwealth & Today Will Be Different

Ann Patchett’s Commonwealth (because: Ann Patchett) and Maria Semple’s Today Will Be Different (because: who didn’t love Where’d You Go, Bernadette?). And because sometimes fiction tells us the truth about real life.

More reading, less stress

This is basically my formula for making things better. Deep breaths and good books. I stand by that. And I’m going to go ahead and put away the colored pencils now.

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