The Best Books To Read Over The Christmas Break - The Gloss Magazine

The Best Books To Read Over The Christmas Break

Edel Coffey picks the best books 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.


All the usual great, glossy content of our large-format magazine in a neater style delivered to your door.


Pin It on Pinterest

Share This