12 Books Twixmas

Twixmas? Yes, that’s a thing these days. More specifically, it’s the period between Christmas and New Year when most people are off work and don’t know what to do with themselves. And when businesses and brands, who are not retailers, are at a loss as to how to attract your attention or shout above the noise of the Boxing Day sales.

Naturally, we’d highly recommend a Twixmas holiday at this time. That way, you avoid Christmas anticlimax, reams of sales ads on the TV and reheated turkey. And the benefits, especially if you were host(ess) with the most(est) on Christmas Day, are invaluable. It’s an opportunity to recover (literally). But also, if you feel so inclined, it’s an opportunity to have a second Christmas. Nowadays, lots of holiday cottages are decorated for Christmas and some even come with a little something for guests wrapped under the tree.

But if you’re avoiding all of the stereotypical associations with this time of year, what do you do? Pack, or buy, or borrow books – we think you’ll need at least two. Find a cottage with a log fire. Load your bag with snuggly jumpers and woolly socks and plan to relax – there’s really nothing wrong with some proper downtime once in a while.

So without further ado, here are our top picks for books to buy that special person who’s off on a Twixmas holiday. Or if that special person is you, books you might want to leave open on your laptop browser for no-one in particular to find. Even better, head to the local bookshop and get them to write them down on something carrying their branding and leave that lying around.

Tricky? No. That’s what we call good planning so that the post-unwrapping smile is a genuine one. Plus, it takes the stress out of gift buying for everyone else!

Books for all the family this Christmas

Once upon an alphabet, Oliver Jeffers

Let’s start with the little’uns. Although, the capers in these short tales will have mummy and daddy enraptured too. If you’re looking for E for Elephant, you won’t find it in this mega alphabet book. This is a picture book with stories that’ll also stand out on the shelf for its more than ample size.

Whether the control freak in you requires you to start at A and work through to Z, or if you’re happy to pick any of the 26 letters at random, you’ll be met with an inventive story to follow.

Jeffers is no ordinary picture book author or artist. And that’s how he produces such beautiful books with such deftly handled yet weighty themes. The result: a book befitting a preschooler’s requirements to learn to read, that you might just want to steal for your coffee table.

The Girl on the Train, Waterstones special edition, Paula Hawkins

This is for the book cynic who’ll think a hardback gift is as much a cop-out as a pair of socks. This is a beautiful book to hold (maybe even caress), to be seen reading, to grace your coffee or bedside table. Just look at those red-edged pages. By all accounts, it’s a darn good read too – it sat in The New York Times Fiction Best Sellers list for 13 weeks at the start of 2015.

A psychological thriller that has made its way to Hollywood under the auspices of its quality storytelling, who will you believe, who will you pity…?

And so what if you’ve seen the movie. We all know that the book is better.

If this is the novel to tick off a certain someone on your list, just remember we’re in love with it as much for the story as for the special dressing of this particular edition by Waterstones.

The Ladybird Book of The Hangover, Jason Hazeley

In true 21st century retro style, the Ladybird books of 1970s and 1980s fame are back on bookshop shelves albeit with some modern titles slipping into the collection.

This has to be a tongue in cheek gift for the lad (or gad)-about-town in your life.

The font is large for those frequently blurry-eyed mornings. The copy is laced with a humour that when sober may trigger a belly aching chuckle, but whilst inebriated may merely raise an ‘I know you told me so’ roll of the eyes.

This is just one in a series of eight Ladybird books published with the adult reader in mind. Well, Penguin books got you through childhood, so who better to turn to in your 30s and 40s…

Grandpa’s Great Escape, David Walliams

So there’s a kid on your Christmas shopping list whose gift is causing you much anxiety. What do kids do these days? Fear not, devices aside they do still read. And Walliams’ latest offering is hot off the December presses.

Don’t be too fooled by the heartwarmingly tight relationship between grandfather and grandson in this tale. This is typical Walliams and it’s not always a happy ending for the good guys.

When You Dead, You Dead, Guy Martin

Is there a more apt book title out there? This second autobiography from mechanic-cum-speed demon, Guy Martin, covers just a 12 month period. And boy what a year he lived and nearly died. Hailed as the Fred Dibnah of modern times, if he’s not cycling a 40 mile round trip to his day job as a mechanic, he’s attempting some speed related feat, or producing fascinating docos for the more sedentary partakers of mechanical engineering.

But be prepared: he doesn’t skimp on detail or honesty. Amidst his wry humour and blunt talking, there are a handful of TMI moments in this read.

Norwegian Wood Chopping, Stacking – Drying Wood the Scandinavian Way, Lars Mytting

If the ‘man about the house’ in your life likes to craft a good fire and imagines themselves out there with the axe, chopping à la Kurt Russell. Then this is the reality check for them.

Described by the Daily Mail as “the year’s most unlikely – yet utterly gripping – bestseller”, this slab of non-fiction will have you longing to be at one with nature. It’ll also have you rethinking your fire piling in no time. Like most things in life, there is even history and, some would have it called, protocol when it comes building fires that last.

Forget what you thought you knew about a great wood fire and read this. Warning: you may find yourself sobbing into your brandy butter over the state of that thing you call a fire currently dwindling in the log burner.

A Year of Good Eating, Nigel Slater

In our oh so humble opinion, there is no greater recipe read than a Nigel Slater cook book. Rarely does a recipe book have you thumbing every page corner, glued to the tales of the season, the forage findings, the allotment rewards and still leave you confident in the manageable instructions and ingredient list.

This is un-put-down-able storytelling with benefits – if it leaves you hungry, you’ll be primed to respond to that from the remnants of your pantry.

Somehow Nigel makes polenta sound everyday. He restores faith in store cupboard friends of your grandparents (pearl barley). He revives 70s throwbacks in a swallowable fashion (baked eggs and tomatoes). And always, always considers that you may not have all the time in the world to cook.

You can tell we’re a bit of a fan. Now what’s that weighty, book-shaped gift parked neatly under the tree…

Make Me, Lee Child

Well we’ve given you psychological thriller. Now it’s time for action and drama. If your only experience of Lee Child’s output is watching Tom Cruise in Jack Reacher, we apologise. Jack Reacher is 6’4” of solid muscle with no stunt double in sight. He’s not a man to be messed with, but if he’s on your side you can breathe that sigh of relief right about now.

In this tale, like many others, Reacher’s curiosity gets the better of him when he should really be taking advantage of some downtime. In teaming up with the only other visitor to a remote town, they embark on an investigation that points Reacher to events and actions that his military prowess has not previously encountered.

It’s all a little fantastical at times. But this is also pure hard hitting Child. If you’ve experienced assassins you’ll likely gaffaw at some of the antics, but otherwise these are reliable reads that’ll keep you page turning. Child has a knack like Grisham: a nose for a good plot and a flair for suspense.

Seven Brief Lessons on Physics, Carlo Rovelli

Let us introduce you to the Brian Cox of physics (before you question us, Mr Cox is an astrophysicist). Rovelli brings us the simple, top level science behind seven of life’s greatest things we take for granted – from particles to the prospects for human existence.

The critics question the brevity of this book, but who needs 500 pages to understand the basics. This book is designed to provide basic general knowledge (with a physics leaning) that the very well educated (or particularly interested) assume we all know. And from a title with the word ‘brief’ in it, what were they expecting?!

If you’re ashamed of your uncertainty on the cosmos, don’t be. Wind your way through the almost poetic turn of phrase of this novella and you’ll come out smarter, just without the ‘told you so’ mindset.

Thing Explainer, Randall Munroe

We didn’t feel we could talk simple physics without also giving a nod to this, another of the year’s great satisfiers of knowledge curiosities. If you’re abashed to raise your hand and ask, read this instead.

The ethos is simple: if you can’t explain things simply, you don’t know them well enough to explain them at all.

Depending on your view, this is either genius or dumbing down. The book’s subtitle ‘complicated stuff in simple words’ reflects not the author’s confidence that he can get you to understand this stuff better than anyone else. Rather it refers to the “ten hundred” (that’s one thousand in every day lingo) most common words that have solely been used to write the explanations in the book. Finally, you’ll get some context for scientific stuff: cells are “the little bags of water you’re made of”.

If you’re coming at this with an open mind, you’ll appreciate the humour too.

The Lady in the Van, Alan Bennett

Yet more finery from the man of monologue. This tale is, typically, told from the heart as much as from the front lawn of his home in 1974.

Who knew that Alan Bennett, the unlikely landlord, had allowed a homeless Miss Shepherd to park her van on his driveway and stay there for 15 years! If you know Bennett’s talent well, you’ll be amply rewarded with the ease of his weaved in wit. And probably not surprised by the emotive twists and turns that this odd and generous of offers left him feeling and reeling as time went by.

It’s recently made it to the big screen. So read it quick before Hollywood dashes its purity!

A Baby at the Beach Café, Lucy Diamond

No, this is not a quirky variation on the nativity. It’s a bargain £1 short story follow-up to bestselling novel The Beach Café. Price and size make it the perfect stocking filler for the lady in your life who has nowhere near enough time to read.

This light hearted battle of the wills set in dreamy Cornwall might just drag the beleaguered reader back to the bookshop for more me time in 2016.

And that’s a wrap!

(Most bookshops also sell wrapping paper these days, in case you need to keep your purchase secret from the most ardent of bookworms lurking around your tree).