Your guide to turning over a new leaf this Christmas
Pick up a book and forget the stress of the festive season. Hannah Stephenson gives her top pick of this year's literary offerings.
FOOD AND DRINK
The Oxford Companion To Wine, edited by Jancis Robinson and Julia Harding (Oxford University Press, £40)
This giant tome is a must for wine aficionados, combining meticulously-researched fact with refreshing opinion and wit. It's the fourth edition, completely revised since its 2006 predecessor, presenting almost 4,000 entries on every wine-related topic imaginable, from regions and grape varieties to the owners, connoisseurs, growers, trends and tasters.
A Year Of Good Eating: The Kitchen Diaries III by Nigel Slater (Fourth Estate, £30)
Mouthwatering dishes abound in the third instalment of this impressive almanac, featuring such delicious offerings as chicken, haricot beans and lemon, quick fish chowder or simple fare like baked eggs with tomatoes. There are more than 250 recipes, moments and ideas for good eating, with seasonal sections for quick, weeknight eats. It'll keep the taste buds tingling well into the New Year.
The Road To Little Dribbling: More Notes From A Small Island by Bill Bryson (Doubleday, £20):
This amiable author guides us gently and humorously around his adopted country, some 20 years after his first trip around Britain led to his first bestseller. Travelling from Bognor Regis to Cape Wrath, through places that many never get to at all, Bryson rediscovers the beautiful, eccentric and endearingly unique county. Uplifting and funny, it's perfect during an hour or two of peace and quiet.
The Daily Telegraph History Of The World, Edited by Gavin Fuller (Aurum Press, £20)
If you want to know how the news has hit the headlines in the last 160 years, this fascinating book holds the answers. The paper sent Stanley to Africa; 22-year-old Churchill wrote from the North-West frontier for £5 a column, and Kipling from the front in the First World War. As well as wars, banking crises, terrorist attacks and elections, reporters of the day covered royal births and weddings, plus political scandal. Edited by the head of the Daily Telegraph library, it's perfect for recalling news events for relatives, long after the Queen's Speech.
Snowed In For Christmas by Claire Sandy (Pan, £7.99)
A feelgood festive story about a woman who fled her village years ago, to return for Yuletide in Ireland with her eccentric family and her long-kept secret - a 16-year-old daughter keen to meet her relatives. And there's romance in the air when she meets a man in the snow.
The Christmas Surprise by Jenny Colgan (Sphere, £7.99)
Centring on Rosie, a newly-engaged woman whose world is torn apart when fate strikes a terrible blow to her and her boyfriend, Stephen, threatening everything they hold dear. It's going to take all their strength and the support of their families and friends to hold them together.
Ladybird Books For Grown-Ups by Jason Hazeley and Joel Morris (choice of eight, £6.99 each)
These are ideal stocking-fillers from two successful radio and TV comedy writers, presented in the traditional Ladybird hardback format but taking an amusing look at adult subjects, including dating, mindfulness, the hangover, the mid-life crisis, the husband and the wife. Featuring original Ladybird artwork, they offer hilarious tongue-in-cheek advice on how to help grown-ups cope with the everyday stresses and strains of life.
The Movie Doctors by Simon Mayo and Mark Kermode (Canongate, £20)
Movie buffs will love this light-hearted but knowledgeable collaboration between these two experts in their first book together. It collates their movie knowledge to give advice to anyone and everyone who watches films - prescribing movies for any ailments you may have and dissecting "sick" movies to see how they could be transformed with a little cosmetic surgery. The book also contains their trademark bickering and humour.
Tennison by Lynda La Plante (Simon & Schuster, £20)
This gritty prequel sees the young WPC Jane Tennison - brought to life by Helen Mirren in the Prime Suspect TV series - on her first murder case in the Seventies, when sexism was rife and the Met was dominated by males, political correctness was in short supply, and the fashions? Well, let's not go there. To be followed by a TV series next year.
Call Me Dave by Michael Ashcroft and Isabel Oakeshott (Biteback, £20)
This biography of our Prime Minister needs little introduction, as it's been the source of so much news coverage in the past couple of months. The former deputy chairman of the Tory Party and the award-winning political journalist scrutinise Cameron's rise to the top, from Eton and Oxford to Downing Street.
Absolute Pandemonium by Brian Blessed (Macmillan, £20)
The beauty about actor, adventurer and Everest climber Brian Blessed's uproarious memoir is that his huge voice leaps out at you from every page, booming anecdotes from his stellar career on stage, screen and mountain. Not told in chronological order, he spouts entertaining snippets about his relationship with the likes of Peter O'Toole, Oliver Reed and Kenneth Branagh, as well as his close friendship - which remained platonic - with Hollywood star Katharine Hepburn. It's a rumbustious, rollicking good read from this larger-than-life character who is still living life to the full - and knows how to shout about it.
As the trend continues, you have novelty books such as the mickey-taking Crap Colouring-In by Joe Summer (Boxtree, £5.99), or the more serious hit Millie Marotta books, including Tropical Wonderland and Animal Kingdom (Batsford, £9.99 each), vying against Johanna Basford's latest offering Lost Ocean (Laurence King, £12.99). If you're looking something really stylish, go for The Gift of Colouring For Grown-Ups collection, a slick limited edition three-book shrink-wrapped pack, featuring Creative Christmas, Winter Wonderland and Gold, available exclusively from Amazon (Michael O'Mara, £24).
A Boy Called Christmas by Matt Haig (Canongate, £9.99)
Brought to life with enchanting illustrations by Chris Mould, this story recalls the early life of Father Christmas. Set in 18th-century Finland, it features elves, reindeer, a kidnapping, and an 11-year-old boy called Nikolas, who isn't afraid to believe in magic. Just the job to get the kids into the festive mood.
The Chronicles Of Narnia Box Set by C S Lewis with original artwork by Pauline Baynes (HarperCollins, £90)
This year marks the 65th anniversary of the publication of The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe, the first of Belfast-born Lewis' Chronicles Of Narnia. This impressive box set comprises all seven chronicles in a beautifully presented slipcase.
The Folio Society has just launched a new series of books called Folio Collectables, featuring beautifully coloured soft-bound covers and bold new designs of best-loved classics. The first four titles are The Hound Of The Baskervilles, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Frankenstein and A Christmas Carol, with more to follow next year. Ideal for anyone starting a library of classics (£19.99 each from www.foliosociety.com).
AND FOR SOMETHING
Rare books, first or sometimes signed editions of famous titles can make a fabulous gift for book fans. From Ian Fleming and Dick Francis to Roald Dahl and J K Rowling, there are a plethora of books available for a Christmas gift from leading rare book seller Peter Harrington (www.peterharrington.co.uk), such as Alice In Wonderland titles (starting from £65) to mark the 150th anniversary since this children's favourite was first published, including a charming, 1922 limited edition, rarely found in its jacket and complete with the original pictorial box.