[Daunt Books], my favourite bookshop in London]
Hi all, I returned to London this week, rested and energized after my trip to India [more on that to follow]. Having a few days off before I return to work, I have had the rare pleasure of enjoying my favourite city at my leisure. I pounded the streets of London this week for Christmas decorations whilst delighting in the delicate snow flurries that returning from a sun soaked clime seem novel and magical… for now!
I thought I would kick off my return to the blog with my annual review of Christmas Books for Gifting [see last years list here] – one of my favorite things about this wintry season being the anticipation of snuggling up with a good book.
Here is my pick of the year’s fiction and non-fiction reads that I would love to give and receive…
Sweet Tooth, Ian Mc Ewan
Jonathan Cape, BUY IT HERE
The newest and shiniest copy of an Ian McEwan hardback has Christmas gift perfection written all over it. Serena Frome, the beautiful daughter of an Anglican bishop, has a brief affair with an older man during her final year at Cambridge, and finds herself being groomed for the intelligence services. The year is 1972. Britain, confronting economic disaster, is being torn apart by industrial unrest and terrorism and faces its fifth state of emergency. The Cold War has entered a moribund phase, but the fight goes on, especially in the cultural sphere.
Serena, a compulsive reader of novels, is sent on a ‘secret mission’ which brings her into the literary world of Tom Haley, a promising young writer. First she loves his stories, then she begins to love the man. Can she maintain the fiction of her undercover life? And who is inventing whom? To answer these questions, Serena must abandon the first rule of espionage – trust no one. McEwan’s mastery dazzles us as usual in this superbly deft and witty story of betrayal and intrigue, love, and the invented self.
The Potters Hand, A.N Wilson
Atlantic Books, BUY IT HERE
A hotly anticipated novel for design aficionados, this beautiful hardback by AN Wilson is based on the story of Josiah Wedgewood the great craftsman and industrialist whose factories did so much to transform England in the 18th-century. Wilson is a prolific historian and biographer, with a scope ranging from the Elizabethans to the Victorians, but Wedgwood is a subject particularly close to his heart. Wilson’s father was managing director of Wedgwood, his grandfather a master potter; he and his siblings are the first generation of Wilsons not to be industrial potters since the reign of George III.
A novel of epic scope, rich in warmth, intellect and humanity, The Potter’s Hand explores the lives and loves of one of Britain’s greatest families, whose travails are both ordinary – births, deaths, marriages, opium addiction, depression – and utterly extraordinary. In 1774, Josiah Wedgwood, master craftsman possessed with a burning scientific vision, embarks upon the thousand piece Frog Service for Catherine the Great. Josiah’s nephew Tom journeys to America to buy clay from the Cherokee for this exquisite china. Tom is caught up in the American rebellion, and falls for a Cherokee woman who will come to play a crucial role in Josiah’s late, great creation: the Portland Vase.
As the family fortune is made, and Josiah’s entrepreneurial brilliance creates an empire that will endure for generations, it is his daughter Sukey, future mother of Charles Darwin, who bears clear-eyed witness.
Ashenden, Elizabeth Wilhide
Penguin Books, BUY IT HERE
For fan’s of the BBC popular period drama Downton Abbey and further interest in the machinations and social history of a grand country manor, Ashenden is an evocative and allusive reflection on England and its past.
Spring 2010, and when Charlie and Ros inherit Ashenden from their aunt Reggie a decision must be made. The beautiful eighteenth-century house, set in acres of English countryside, is in need of serious repair. Do they try to keep it in the family, or will they have to sell?
Moving back in time, in an interwoven narrative spanning two and a half centuries, we witness the house from its beginnings through to the present day. Along the way we meet those who have built the house, lived in it and loved it; those who have worked in it, and those who would subvert it to their own ends, including Mrs Trimble, housekeeper to the rackety, spendthrift Mores; the wealthy Henderson family, in their Victorian heyday; six-year-old Pudge; Walter Beckmann, prisoner in its grounds; and Reggie and Hugo, agents of its postwar revival.
The Secret Rooms: A True Gothic Mystery, Catherine Bailey
Viking, BUY IT HERE
Nothing like a Gothic Novel at Christmas! This astonishing book has been spun out of the author’s visits to the Muniments Room at Belvoir Castle, where she stumbled upon a major and unexpected mystery. Catherine Bailey went to Belvoir intending to research a completely different book from the one she wrote. It was to have been about the impact of the First World War on the Duke of Rutland’s estate.
But when Bailey began reading the family papers, she realised they contained inexplicable gaps. In 1940, John, the 9th Duke, had actually died in the archive. He had been anxious to complete a task; and that task, since he refused medical help until it had been finished, may have contributed to his death. It was to destroy all the evidence that related to three key episodes in his life. After John died, the archive was shut up for half a century; nobody knew what he had done, or why he had done it.
The mystery surrounding his death holds the key to a tragic story that is played out on the brutal battlefields of the Western Front and in the exclusive salons of Mayfair and Belgravia in the dying years of la belle époque. Uncovered is a dark and disturbing period in the history of the Rutland family, and one which they were determined to keep hidden for over sixty years.
Sixty years on, The Secret Rooms is the true story of family secrets and one man’s determination to keep the past hidden at any cost.
The Man Who Rained, Ali Shaw
Atlantic Books, BUY IT HERE
Fans of the poetic novels of Alice Hoffman will love this work of lyrical, mercurial magic and imagination, a modern-day fable about the elements of love. When Elsa’s father is killed in a tornado, all she wants is to escape – from New York, her job, her boyfriend – to somewhere new, anonymous, set apart.
For some years she has been haunted by a sight once seen from an aeroplane: a tiny, isolated settlement called Thunderstown. Thunderstown has received many a pilgrim, and young Elsa becomes its latest – drawn to this weather-ravaged backwater, this place rendered otherworldly by the superstitions of its denizens. In Thunderstown, they say, the weather can come to life and when Elsa meets Finn Munro, an outcast living in the mountains above the town, she wonders whether she has witnessed just that. For Finn has an incredible secret: he has a thunderstorm inside of him. Not everyone in town wants happiness for Elsa and Finn. As events turn against them, can they weather the tempest – can they survive at all?
The Cutting Season, Attica Locke
Serpents Tale, BUY IT HERE
A magnificent sweeping thriller set in the Deep South. Caren Gray manages Belle Vie, a sprawling antebellum plantation that sits between Baton Rouge and New Orleans, where the past and the present coexist uneasily.
The estate’s owners have turned the place into an eerie tourist attraction, complete with full-dress re-enactments and carefully restored slave quarters. Outside the gates, a corporation with ambitious plans has been busy snapping up land from struggling families who have been growing sugar cane for generations, and now replacing local employees with illegal laborers. Tensions mount when the body of a female migrant worker is found in a shallow grave on the edge of the property, her throat cut clean.
1912: The Year the World Discovered Antarctica
Random House, BUY IT HERE
1912 was an incredible year, marking the height of the Heroic Age of Exploration. Curiosity about Antarctica was at fever pitch, and between 1910 and 1914 five teams of intrepid explorers embarked on the greatest race of the era, to travel beyond the edges of the known world and conquer this last great frontier.
Pitted against each other were Captain Robert Falcon Scott for Britain, Roald Amundsen for Norway, Sir Douglas Mawson for Australasia, Wilhelm Filchner for Germany and Nobu Shirase for Japan. ‘Conquest of the South Pole!’ trumpeted the world’s newspapers in March 1912. Amundsen had won. But behind all the headlines, there was a much bigger story.
The exploits of these larger-than-life explorers, often narrated in their own words, thrilled and enthralled the world; the limits of our planet were pushed all the way to the South Pole and the door to Antarctica flung wide open. Drawing on his own polar experiences, Chris Turney reveals why 1912 witnessed the dawn of a new age in our understanding of the natural world. The tales of endurance, self-sacrifice and technological innovation that marked 1912 laid the foundation for modern scientific exploration and have continued to inspire future generations.
Polpo: A Venetian Cookbook of Sorts, Russel Norman
Serpents Tale, BUY IT HERE
A perfect cookbook for a lazy weekend, tucked away in a backstreet of London’s edgy Soho district, Polpo is one of the hottest restaurants in town. Critics and food aficionados have been flocking to this understated ‘bàcaro’ where restauranteur Russell Norman has been sharing his love of the floating city of Venice serving up un-fussy and delicious dishes from the magical city’s backstreets. Now this breathtakingly designed cookbook has been published by Bloomsbury. The 140 recipes in the book include caprese stacks; zucchini shoestring fries; asparagus with Parmesan and anchovy butter; butternut risotto; arancini, rabbit cacciatore; warm duck salad with wet walnuts and beets; crispy baby pizzas with prosciutto and rocket; scallops with lemon and peppermint; mackerel tartare; linguine with clams; whole sea bream; warm octopus salad; soft-shell crab in Parmesan batter with fennel salad; walnut and honey semifreddo; tiramisù; fizzy bellinis and glasses of bright bittersweet Negronis.
Author: Rohini Wahi
Rohini is a London based freelance journalist and trend forecaster for the design industries. She has worked for Elle Decoration, Living Etc, Houzz and Design Sponge amongst others.
She loves a period drama and keeps a tidy home. Launched in 2007 The Beat That My Heart Skipped focuses on home inspirations, design trends, lifestyle and food – coupled with an insight into Rohini’s work and home life – from key picks at trade shows to styled weekend soirees. To contact Rohini for queries, work for hire or just to say hi drop her a line at firstname.lastname@example.org