What we'd like to read - Christmas 2020

Lucy Nathan
Opinion - Books Friday, 27th November 2020

The BookBrunch team reveal what they hope to find in their Christmas stockings

If you'd like to pop down to your local indie bookshop to support them this Christmas once lockdown lifts, here are some of our top ideas.

In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado (Serpent's Tail) 
I’m told there's nothing quite like this. Carmen tells the story of an abusive relationship she experienced through different narrative tropes and forms; it sounds experimental and heart-breaking. 
Mr Loverman by Bernardine Evaristo (Penguin) After absolutely adoring Girl, Woman, Other - the best book I read this year - I'm like a kid in a candy shop thinking of Evaristo's backlist and the joys that await. This one is particularly loved and recommended. 
In the Kitchen: Essays on Food and Life (Daunt) I'm sure all 13 stories will be delicious morsels. Authors include Ruby Tandoh, whose writing I admire, and Nina Mingya Powles, who wrote the wonderful Tiny Moons (Emma Press). 
The Mountains Sing by Nguyen Phan Que Mai (Oneworld) I often find it too emotional to read stories about the Vietnam war and its aftermath (my family is Vietnamese) but this novel sounds too good to ignore.  

Slough House by Mick Herron (John Murray, February)
and Every Vow You Break by Peter Swanson (Faber, March) I'm bending the premise of this column: while these are the novels I'd most like to read at Christmas, they're already on my bedside table, thanks to Santa John Murray and Santa Faber. Cheating further, I'll probably read both of them before 25 December. The heroine of Every Vow You Break sleeps with a stranger on her hen weekend: I'm pretty sure this is going to turn out to have been a mistake. Right on the first page, Swanson - he loves references to the classics - drops in the names Madeleine and Scottie, so my second assumption is that not everyone will turn out to be who they seem to be. I'll have to read on.
Who Dares Wins by Dominic Sandbrook (Penguin) Another cheat: this was one of my selections last year. But now it's in paperback, I'll be able to hold it without spraining my wrists.
One Two Three Four by Craig Brown (4th Estate) A friend and Beatles fan doesn't rate the Baillie Gifford Prize winner, because he's read it all before. But I haven't read it before, and I'd rather read Brown on the subject than any of his predecessors.

Catherine House by Elizabeth Thomas (Headline).

The New York Times described it as 'a delicious literary gothic debut', and it's been compared to The Secret History - sign me up. Set in an exclusive yet isolated college for the gifted with strange traditions and 'controlled decadence', about a rebellious student who discovers some of the school's secrets. 

The Prophet by Robert Jones Jr (riverrun) Not out until January 5th, but I will accept a pre-order. This book, the story of two enslaved young men on a Deep South plantation who find love and refuge in each other, sounds like it will be gloriously beautiful and heartbreaking. 

The Shape of Darkness by Laura Purcell (Raven Books) Another one that isn't out until January (the 21st, to be precise), but I'm so excited about it. I've loved all of Laura Purcell's books, brilliant gothic mysteries with an edge of the supernatural. This one is about a struggling silhouette artist in Victorian Bath who wants to speak to the dead and identify their killers. 

Murder Maps by Dr Drew Gray (Thames & Hudson) A gorgeous big non-fiction book about murder, which, thinking about it, doesn't sound very Christmassy. Dr Gray, a social historian, examines 19th century murders from around the world. Full of diagrams, photographs and maps, with plenty of information about the history of crime such as the invention of fingerprinting.

Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas (Swoon Reads) I've spent a lot of this year gnashing my teeth in frustration that this YA novel doesn't seem to have a UK publisher despite its rave reviews and being all over social media this year - and despite it being the first novel by a trans author about a trans character to debut on the New York Times bestseller list. It's about Yadriel, whose traditional Latinx family has problems accepting his gender. When he tries to summon the ghost of his murdered cousin, he accidentally brings back the ghost of the school bad boy. What a brilliant hook. If there's a UK indie bookshop out there that has a copy, please let me know so I can buy it!


Piranesi by Susanna Clarke (Bloomsbury) Can publishers make our dreams come true? It's Christmas so the normal rule book goes out the window, right? I've got to have a novel that will embrace and engross me when I plunge into it and keep me immersed until I am thrown out at the end. Susanna Clarke's new novel Piranesi was one of the Costa nominations this week and has had some stand out reviews, so I'll go for that.
Greenlights by Matthew McConaughey (Headline) Next up there has to be a biography to learn how the other half live. Over the holidays I really don’t need politics or worthiness rammed down my throat so I'll go with Greenlights, which is a total wild card for me, and see what Matthew McConaughey has to tell me about living a high life.
Destinations of a Lifetime (National Geographic) It's been a miserable year for travelling so it would be good to get the aspirations and bucket dreams revved up again and I would like Destinations of a Lifetime to dip into and salivate at. It may not lead to any action but isn't the planning and dreaming half the fun?
Deep by James Nestor (Profile Books) I would also like to get back into diving in lovely locations and I have been thinking a lot recently about the freediving qualification that I did a few years ago. I really think I ought to find out more and read around this subject a bit more than watching The Big Blue movie, and Deep by James Nestor has caught my eye.
Viz Annual 2021: The Wizard's Sleeve (Dennis Publishing) Finally, I need something to make me laugh that's not too taxing and can take repeated, short bursts of attention without making you feel guilty when you abandon it for longer periods. A bit of a toss-up with the Private Eye Annual but the one I'd like to find in my stocking is the Viz Annual 2021: The Wizard's Sleeve as I'm missing my trips to Newcastle. Perhaps Roger Mellie, the man on the telly, will be interviewing our Prime Minister - what could possibly go wrong?

Trio by William Boyd (Viking) 
Any Human Heart is one of my top all-time favourite books, so I'm looking forward to reading his latest, which has had very promising reviews ('superbly wry and wise', according to the Guardian) and should see me nicely through the Christmas break.

The Shadow King by Maaza Mengiste (Canongate) I didn't know any of the books shortlisted for the Booker this year, and am not sure that the winner, Shuggie Bain, is one for me. But The Shadow King sounds terrifically interesting, and Ethiopia is a fascinating - though sadly now troubled again - country.

The Mermaid of Black Conch by Monique Roffey (Peepal Tree) Just in time for my list the Costa shortlists are announced, which brings this book to my attention. A writer from Trinidad (along with another shortlisted author, Ingrid Persaud, whose Love after Love I highly recommend), I much enjoyed her earlier Archipelago, and so look forward to reading this. 

Shadowplay by Joseph O'Connor (Vintage) Finally a paperback, winner of last year's Irish Book Awards Novel of the Year (this year's winners were announced on Wednesday), which reimagines the meeting of three extraordinary people, Bram Stocker, Henry Irving and Ellen Terry. Reading this may even prompt me to attempt Dracula for the first time too.

The Oak Papers by James Canton (Canongate) 
To investigate how humans and oaks intertwine Canton spent two years sitting under one. I've always loved oaks, I've planted one in the garden, so he will be preaching to the converted. Pure escapism.  

In Search of Angels: Travels to the Edge of the World by Alistair Moffat (Birlinn) Why did Irish saints turn up in the Western Iles in the Dark Ages and start founding monasteries - and what have they left behind? I can't wait to find out.

Waterways: A thousand miles along Britain's canals by Jasper Winn (Profile) First writer-in-residence for the canals takes the plunge, despite never having been on a narrowboat. But he can write, and this is bound to remind me of happy holidays, cruising from pub to pub at 3mph.

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig (Canongate) Time for some fiction, and this is feel-good stuff set in a library by a strong author, described as the King of Empathy. Well, it is Christmas.

Starve Acre by Andrew Michael Hurley (John Murray) I caught a snippet of this on the radio and I was intrigued. From the author of The Loney, 'an evocative slice of folk horror' and a legendary oak tree also features... perfect for those winter evenings.

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