40 Best Books To Give and Receive This Christmas - The Gloss Magazine

40 Best Books To Give and Receive This Christmas

Edel Coffey picks the best books to gift or for you to curl up with over the Christmas period…

“In my experience, Christmas is the last bastion of uninterrupted reading time. The days between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Day remain miraculously insulated from outside intrusions. I use this time to greedily go back to comfort reads – Maeve Brennan’s Christmas Eve, James Joyce’s The Dead and latterly, Claire Keegan’s modern classic Small Things Like These – but also to gorge on new books.” @edelcoffey

Some of the best books I’ve read this year are by American women. In ABSOLUTION (Bloomsbury, €23.80), Alice McDermott, the thrice-Pulitzer-nominated writer and winner of the National Book Award, explores the lives of American military wives living in Saigon in 1963. Told from the perspective of Tricia, now elderly and looking back on her life, it is beautifully written and a reflection on the misogyny of the era.

I MEANT IT ONCE (Corsair, €20.99) is a debut collection of short stories by young American writer Kate Doyle. I was enraptured by these stories, many of which explore the difficult-to-articulate emotional terrain of early womanhood. (Bonus points for some of the stories being set in Dublin.) Doyle forces us to question why we dismiss young women of this age so readily and at what cost. A brilliant new voice and a subtle inquirer of society. Perfect for fans of Greta Gerwig.

A new edition of THE ALLURE OF CHANEL (Pushkin Press, €18.20) by Paul Morand is one of the few biographies of Chanel that offers a glimpse of her multifaceted character. Morand, born in Paris in 1888, was a lifelong friend of Chanel. He worked in the diplomatic corps and also wrote novels and stories, including a collection with a preface from Proust. When Chanel invited Morand to take refuge with her in St Moritz after the Second World War, he interviewed her with the intention of writing her life story but he put it aside until Chanel died in 1975. The Allure of Chanel was published in Paris the following year, the same year Morand himself died. The book is told in the strikingly singular voice of Chanel and is an unusually revealing look at an eternally mysterious icon.

During the pandemic, many of us rediscovered both nature and poetry. WINDFALL: IRISH NATURE POEMS TO INSPIRE AND CONNECT (Hachette, €20.99) is a new collection curated by the brilliant poet Jane Clarke, with a foreword by Olivia O’Leary. Comprising Irish poets old and new, it’s profoundly moving. A gorgeous gift.

One of my guilty pleasures at Christmas, apart from the brandy butter, is a self-help book. It feels like a good way to get ahead of the “new year, new you” madness that awaits. I particularly enjoy artist and psychotherapist Philippa Perry’s no-nonsense advice and her latest book, THE BOOK YOU WANT EVERYONE YOU LOVE TO READ (Cornerstone Press, €16.99) is an incredibly useful as well as entertaining guide on how to improve your life. It comes with an index so you can quickly access topics like “partners’ families”, “people-pleasing” or “conflict” – which might come in handy over the festive season. The book is a deeply researched font of knowledge but each page is also dotted with bite-sized panels of everyday wisdom, which offer mini-shots of advice, meaning the book can be read as a deep dive or can be dipped into for 30 seconds at a time. Either way, you will learn something useful.

For crime fans, New Jersey attorney-turned-author Robyn Gigl’s legal thriller, SURVIVOR’S GUILT (Verve, €22.39) was chosen as a New York Times’ best crime novel of the year and one of Time magazine’s top 100 thrillers of all time. Survivor’s Guilt is the second in Gigl’s Erin McCabe series but can be read as a standalone. In a sea of generic legal protagonists, Gigl’s character McCabe stands out as a singular voice – a transgender criminal defence attorney who illuminates the complexities of power and gender. In Survivor’s Guilt, McCabe is defending Ann, who has confessed to killing her millionaire adopted father. But McCabe uncovers inconsistencies in the case, which suggest Ann is hiding something so terrifying that she is willing to take a life sentence. 

I love to read a really meaty non-fiction book at Christmastime and three Irish books should be top of your non-fiction list this year. Justine McCarthy is one of Ireland’s best-known and respected journalists, and has reported for four decades on everything from sex abuse scandals to the Troubles. In AN EYE ON IRELAND (Hachette Ireland, €19.99), she collects her most defining and illuminating work from the past 40 years and in doing so offers a compelling and comprehensive social history of how far Ireland has come and how far we have yet to go.

Martin Doyle is better known as the books editor of The Irish Times but here he flexes his own writerly skills with this hybrid memoir/oral history of growing up in The Troubles. DIRTY LINEN (Merrion Press, €24.99) offers an immaculately researched and highly personal account of the Troubles from the perspective of Doyle’s home parish of Tullylish, in rural Co Down. This area also happened to be the heartland of the linen industry and part of the area that became known as the murder triangle. This is a highly readable, polyphonic work that skilfully places personal experience and memory in a broader historical context. While the message about the Troubles has often been to forget, Doyle points out how important it is to remember: “To be forgotten is to die a second time”.

Finally, it would not be Christmas without a festive sentimental read and this has almost become a genre of its own. Irish author Caroline Grace-Cassidy’s IS IT ACTUALLY LOVE FOR LEXIE BYRNE? (Black and White Publishing, €13.99) sees Lexie praying for a Christmas miracle as she is due to attend her partner’s ex-wife’s wedding in the Cotswolds before starting her new life there … but her life in Dublin requires her presence. 

Meanwhile, fellow Irish writer Emma Heatherington’s THIS CHRISTMAS (Century, €10.99) sees two lonely strangers double-book the same holiday cottage in rural Donegal. A hug in the form of a book.

MISTLETOE MALICE by Kathleen Farrell (Faber and Faber, €14). If you prefer your Christmas reading a little on the dark side, the recently reissued Mistletoe Malice might be just the book for you. After 70 years out of print, Faber and Faber has reissued Kathleen Farrell’s wicked Christmas novel. Farrell was born in London in 1912 and published her first novel in 1942, while she was working for the wartime secretary-general of the Labour party. She went on to write fi ve more novels and also founded a literary agency, which she eventually sold to a rival fi rm. She lived in London with her partner, journalist and author, Kay Dick. Despite critical acclaim in her lifetime, by the time she died in 1999, Farrell’s work had declined into obscurity. Mistletoe Malice is a deliciously enjoyable tale of a dysfunctional family’s Christmas. The story begins on Christmas Eve, as Rachel, a sniping and domineering mother, welcomes her grown-up family back to her seaside cottage for the holiday. There is a fight (of course!), an exploding Christmas tree, and many home truths and secrets laid bare over the course of the trip. Just the thing to cut through the saccharine sentiment of Christmas.

When Hilary Mantel died unexpectedly in September 2022, she and her husband were in the process of moving to Kinsale, Co Cork, both as a way of escaping Brexit and of reconnecting with Mantel’s Irish Catholic roots. But alas it was not to be. Mantel is best known for her staggering literary achievement, the Wolf Hall trilogy, but she also wrote journalism, from literary criticism for the London Review of Books (as selected in the 2020 collection Mantel Pieces) to film reviews, lectures and essays. This latest collection, A MEMOIR OF MY FORMER SELF (John Murray, €16.99), features various journalism, critical essays and her excellent Reith Lectures for the BBC. It can be read episodically in no particular order or straight through in chronological order but it is uniformly witty and clever, full of Mantel’s trademark intellectual mischief and humour. A wonderful gift that gives us the opportunity to savour Mantel’s brilliance a little longer.

One suspects that Mantel would have enjoyed the Wagatha Christie trial and the star of that show, Coleen Rooney, will publish her autobiography, MY ACCOUNT (Penguin Michael Joseph, €21), this month, detailing not only her side of the legal saga with Rebekah Vardy but also her life to date, including her marriage to footballer Wayne Rooney and her life as a mother to their four sons. In the public eye since the age of 16, Rooney has a unique perspective on fame, love and marriage, but it is likely most people will read this for the inside track on the High Court case that was the culmination of Rooney’s now-famous Instagram sleuthing to discover who was leaking her private stories to the press.

Dolly Alderton is best known as a former dating columnist and agony aunt for The Sunday Times. Her 2019 memoir, Everything I Know About Love, was a hit with millennial readers and was later adapted into a TV drama starring Emma Appleton, while her 2020 debut novel Ghosts was a Sunday Times bestseller. Her second novel, GOOD MATERIAL (Penguin Fig Tree, €15.99), follows a similar vein of life, love and relationships. As Andy’s girlfriend Jen has dumped him, he finds himself once more living with his mother and wondering where it all went wrong. But there are always two sides to every break-up. If you like Nick Hornby and David Nicholls, you’ll love this.

John Boyne’s WATER (Doubleday, €13.99) is the first in a planned quartet of novellas to be released every six months for the next two years. Water is the first in the series and tells the story of Vanessa, who has left her suburban life in Dublin seeking seclusion on an island. There she meets and gets to know the locals, while slowly revealing the story of her marriage, why her daughter is not talking to her and what happened to her other daughter, all of which made her flee her life back in Dublin. An intriguing story that resonates with details of contemporary life and Irish news.

Julianne Pachico’s JUNGLE HOUSE (Serpent’s Tail, €16.99) is one of the most talked-about releases this month and it’s easy to see why. Described as somewhere between Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go and William Golding’s Lord Of The Flies, this is an inventive story set in a gated community in the jungle in Colombia, where Lena lives with Mother. But Mother is not quite like other mothers, and Pachico slowly reveals how Lena has come to live here and what happened to her family. A highly imaginative concept novel for our AI age.

Marie Cassidy became a household name in Ireland as the state pathologist for 15 years. Over a 30-year career, Cassidy has performed post-mortems and observed the advancement of forensic science and the role it plays in criminal investigations. Who better then to write a crime novel? Her debut novel BODY OF TRUTH (Hachette Ireland, €15.99) tells the story of a Scottish state pathologist Dr Terry O’Brien who has moved to Ireland to work as the state pathologist, much like Cassidy did. The book opens with a detailed post-mortem scene: Cassidy’s vivid descriptions of these procedures add veracity to her story, while her colourful characters sets the reader wondering whether they bear any resemblance to real-life ones. The story follows the fate of true crime podcaster Rachel Reese, who had been investigating the unsolved murder of an Irish woman, when she is found dead in the Phoenix Park. Dr O’Brien, dissatisfied with the investigation, starts digging into the case herself in an attempt to uncover who might have wanted to silence the podcaster and who might be next on the murderer’s list. A refreshingly pacy and lean debut.

In my opinion, Michael Connelly is one of the best authors writing today. Categorised as a crime writer for his police procedurals and legal thrillers, he writes with the informed eye of the former investigative journalist and Pulitzer Prize nominee he is, so that his books read as commentaries on contemporary society as well as gripping crime stories. Connelly has written 38 novels, selling 80 million copies worldwide, and his Harry Bosch series and Lincoln Lawyer series have both been adapted for TV. His latest novel, RESURRECTION WALK (Orion, €16.99), sees him return to these two characters. Lincoln Lawyer Mickey Haller is back, taking lost-cause cases that he has very little chance of winning. When he agrees to represent a woman who claims she has been wrongly convicted for killing her deputy sheriff husband four years earlier, Haller drafts in former LAPD detective Harry Bosch to investigate the case for him. If anyone can find the flaw in the case, Bosch can, and Connelly uses this story to address the ongoing issue of police corruption in America.

Sometimes a book can act as analgesic and I tend to read Jilly Cooper in that way because I first started reading her books when I was sick in bed as a young woman and ever since have associated her novels with comfort. Now in her 80s, Cooper is still writing novels and this month she returns to her beloved/despised protagonist Rupert Campbell-Black, the showjumping cad who first appeared in Riders. In TACKLE! (Bantam, €16.99) Rupert is now in his 60s and looking after his wife Taggie who is being treated for cancer, when his daughter Bianca starts pressuring him to buy a football club so that she and her footballer husband can move home to England. As always with Cooper’s novels, an enormous cast of characters with delightfully Dickensian names (Midas Channing, Genghis Tong) takes you on a wild journey that guarantees pure enjoyment and escape for these dark winter evenings.

INVISIBLE THREADS (Beehive Books, €19.99) by travel writer and broadcaster Marguerite MacCurtin is a collection of essays on MacCurtin’s extraordinary trips across the seven continents. The essays are as much geographical journeys as they are explorations of the human condition and the “invisible threads” that connect us all – “The underlying impulse to reach out and connect transcends the barriers of race, language and geographical location.”

Galway writer Mike McCormack was longlisted for the Booker Prize and won the Dublin Literary Award, among others, with his 2016 novel Solar Bones. This month he returns with his first novel since that one, THIS PLAGUE OF SOULS (Tramp Press, €20). It tells the story of Nealon, who returns to his home after a long stint away only to discover the house abandoned, his wife and child nowhere to be found. What follows is a noirish literary mystery as McCormack performs stylistic acrobatics with an existential voice. As with Solar Bones, no matter how high the artistic watermark rises, McCormack never forgets about his reader.

JULIA by Sandra Newman (Granta, €17.99) has been the talk of the internet for some time now. Billed as a feminist re-telling of George Orwell’s 1984, it tells the story of Julia, the woman who Orwell’s protagonist Winston Smith was in a relationship with. In Julia, we see life from her point of view, which opens Orwell’s book up to a delicious and provocative alternative telling.

American author Jesmyn Ward comes highly garlanded – two-time National Book Award winner (the only woman and the only African American woman to ever have won the prize twice), youngest winner of the Library of Congress Prize for Fiction and a MacArthur Fellow (often referred to as the “genius grant”). A highly political writer, she writes equally wonderful personal essays as she does fiction. LET US DESCEND (Bloomsbury, €19.57), her fourth novel, takes on American slavery through the story of an enslaved teenage girl called Annis who is sold into the South by her owner (and father), on whose harrowing journey to New Orleans we learn her and her ancestors’ stories.

Two charming Japanese novels currently in translation by Doubleday are WHAT YOU ARE LOOKING FOR IS IN THE LIBRARY by Michiko Aoyama (€18.19)…

and THE GOODBYE CAT by Hiro Arikawa (€18.20); both authors are bestsellers in Japan. Aoyama’s book is the story of Komoachi, a librarian who has the power to change the lives of her borrowers and has a special gift of being able to “read” the souls of people. So she is always able to recommend exactly the right book to help them through their dilemmas. The Goodbye Cat meanwhile is from the same author as The Travelling Cat Chronicles and tells the story of different characters through the observations of the cats in their lives. But of course this is not a book about cats, but about human nature.

In 1991, John Grisham launched onto the legal thriller scene with his debut blockbuster The Firm. Ever since, he has produced a number one bestseller every single year, but he’s never written a sequel to The Firm … until now. THE EXCHANGE (Hodder and Stoughton, €21.99) returns to Mitch and Abby McDeere, now living in Manhattan, 15 years after we first met them. An old friend calls in a favour from Mitch, which leads to a high-stakes, edge-of-your-seat ride.

Scottish crime queen Val McDermid is one of the most revered crime writers at work today and each new novel from the former news journalist brings with it both a gripping plot as well as astute social commentary. PAST LYING (Sphere, €22.40) sees cold case detective Karen Pirie discover an author’s manuscript that appears to have many similarities to a real-life case she is working on, the unsolved case of a university student who disappeared from her home. The novel manuscript might just solve the mystery. The only problem is it’s unfinished and the author is dead.

Anyone still missing the TV show White Lotus might enjoy Catherine Cooper’s THE ISLAND (HarperCollins, €9.68). A former travel journalist, Cooper knows her luxury resorts and has carved out a niche writing murder mysteries set in exotic locations. This time, she sets her story in a high-end hotel in the Maldives. When a group of journalists and influencers are invited to cover the resort’s launch, someone is out for revenge. This one definitely keeps the pages turning.

Sophie Kinsella’s new novel THE BURNOUT (Bantam, €22.40) feels a little close for comfort as many of us are still recovering from the effects of the pandemic. Sasha is feeling burnout in her work, her relationship and her friendships and so decides to take a trip to Devon to decompress. Instead of rebooting and unwinding, she finds she must share the beach with a grumpy man. But all is not as it seems. Kinsella wrote the Confessions of a Shopaholic series so if you’re looking for something light and fizzy, this is it.

Finally, if, like me, you are enjoying Arnold Schwarzenegger’s current renaissance, you will want to read his motivational book BE USEFUL: SEVEN TOOLS FOR LIFE (Ebury Edge, €17.99). The title comes from his father’s advice to him as a child. On the back of his recent Netflix documentary, Arnold, his Pump Club podcast and newsletter focused on positivity and wellbeing, this book expands on his knowledge and expertise about achieving goals, creating community, and paying it forward by being helpful to others. The unconverted might wonder what advice Mr Universe, Hollywood legend and former California governor might have to offer the average Irishwoman, but Schwarzenegger’s advice is unexpectedly relatable and sage and easily adapted to any lifestyle. Who knew!

Independent UK publisher Daunt Books is a great champion of forgotten classics and original contemporary fiction books and this month, they republish LORD JIM AT HOME (€9.99) by British author Dinah Brooke, which has been out of print for almost 50 years. Brooke wrote four critically acclaimed novels in the 1970s before renouncing all material desires and moving to India for six years. She still lives in London today. First published in 1973, Lord Jim At Home tells the story of Giles Trenchard, a privileged but unloved child who grew up into a troubled young man before going to war. On his return home, something dreadful happens. Brookes uses her shocking climax to condemn the British upper classes. This new edition comes with an introduction by the cool American writer Otesha Mossfegh (Eileen, My Year Of Rest and Relaxation). Her take: “It is an accurate portrayal of how fucked-up people behave, artfully conveyed in a way that nice people are too polite to admit they understand.”

Nobody writes quite like Zadie Smith, which is why each new publication from the British author is a major literary event. With THE FRAUD (Hamish Hamilton, €20.30), Smith makes her first foray into historical fiction. The story here is inspired by a reallife historical trial that took place in London in 1873 and came to be known as the Tichborne Trial. The case was based on a butcher from Wapping who claimed to be Sir Roger Tichborne, the long-missing heir to the Tichborne estate. The Jamaican-born former slave Andrew Bogle is the star witness on whose testimony the trial will turn. Told through the eyes of Scottish housekeeper Eliza Touchet, who is as obsessed with the case as any modern-day true-crime podcast fan, Smith has written a book Dickens would be proud of, right down to the protagnist’s name, Touchet. It’s an absolute page-turner that asks a question so relevant to our times – what is truth?

Birdsong author Sebastian Faulks is back with his 16th novel, THE SEVENTH SON (Hutchinson Heinemann, €16.99), which cuts to the heart of one of the biggest legislative dilemmas and moral grey areas of our times – surrogacy and genetic manipulation. Set in the very near future of 2030, a young academic desperate to fund her research offers to act as surrogate for a couple. What she doesn’t know is that the tech entrepreneur who runs the IVF clinic wants to carry out some very secret and very unethical research. The book deftly explores the moral dilemmas that our increasing scientific knowledge raises and just how far people will go for power. Absolutely riveting.

Irish author Paul Lynch has been a literary sensation in France since the publication of his debut novel Red Sky In Morning, and he won the Kerry Group Irish Novel of the Year with his third novel Grace. He has been longlisted in the Booker Prize 2023 for his fifth novel, PROPHET SONG (Oneworld, €15.99), which might well make him a sensation everywhere else as well. Lynch writes wonderful female characters – his eponymous child heroine in Grace was unforgettable – and readers are likely to fall just as hard for Eilish, the anxious wife and mother at the heart of Prophet Song. When Eilish’s husband, a trade unionist, disappears during a protest against the government, Eilish is forced to discover her own strength in order to save her family. Perfect for fans of Margaret Atwood.

Fans of Atwood will also enjoy Mona Awad’s new novel ROUGE (Scribner, €17.25). When Belle’s mother dies in strange circumstances, Belle meets a mysterious stranger at the funeral who entices Belle into the same cult-like spa her mother frequented. What follows is a dark satire on our obsession with youth, beauty and image and how much we are willing to trade for perfection.

Irish author Emily Hourican has been delighting readers with her Guinness Girls series and now she turns her attention to another glamorous and adored family – the Kennedys. AN INVITATION TO THE KENNEDYS (Hachette Books Ireland, €14.99) dramatises a weeklong trip to Kelvedon Hall, the home of Chips Cannon and Lady Honor Guinness. Kick Kennedy is hoping her love for William Cavendish will not be discovered and forbidden by her staunchly Catholic family, while Lady Brigid Guinness has no intentions of marrying anyone at all. Set against the backdrop of the beginnings of the second world war, the Guinness and Kennedy dynasties and the political unrest of the era, this is another absorbing and glamorous page-turner from Hourican

Anyone who watched and loved Slow Horses starring Kristin Scott-Thomas and Gary Oldman on Apple TV will enjoy its creator Mick Herron’s new standalone novel, THE SECRET HOURS (Baskerville, €17.99). With all the contemporary wit and humour that fans have come to love, as well as his deeply flawed and believable characters, Herron weaves another unputdownable tale as he follows two civil servants tasked with investigating misconduct in the British secret service. A perfect cat-and-mouse chase from this very modern master of the espionage thriller. It’s easy to see why Herron is often called the heir to John Le Carré.

Across the water, American author Lauren Groff, the threetime National Book Award finalist, has built a reputation for writing compelling literary fiction as political commentary. Groff’s latest novel, her fifth, is THE VASTER WILDS (Cornerstone, €21.50), the second in a loose trilogy about female power and the end of empire that began with her last novel, Matrix. The Vaster Wilds is set in the1600s and tells the story of a young servant girl who embarks on an adventure of inner and outer discovery that is both heartbreaking and unputdownable.

Heather Morris became one of the bestselling authors of the 21st century with her book The Tattooist of Auschwitz. Her latest novel, SISTERS UNDER THE RISING SUN (Manilla, €14.99), takes another true story of the second world war as its subject matter, this time Norah and Nesta, who are both prisoners in a Japanese prisoner of war camp. Through the women’s stories, Morris explores the extraordinary suffering the human spirit can endure and the things that sustain it through the worst experiences.

And finally, for Claire Keegan completists, the author’s latest perfect short story, SO LATE IN THE DAY (Faber & Faber, €8.99), which first appeared in The New Yorker last year, is now available to buy in book format.

Edel Coffey is The Gloss Magazine’s Books Editor. Journalist, novelist and editor, radio presenter and reporter, Edel’s debut novel Breaking Point was An Post Irish Book Award crime fiction book of the year 2022. 


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