It was my idea of heaven yesterday when I joined Lesley Dolphin on the Afternoon Programme at BBC Radio Suffolk to present my recommendations for books for Christmas!
And this year I think the selection of titles is exceptional. There were too many to mention, of course, so I hope people will get in touch if they want to know more. But Lesley dedicated lots of time for me to chatter on about my shortlist of 12 and I hope I gave a broad enough spread for listeners to have some of their Christmas gifts sorted.
So here's top of my list: 'The Poetry Pharmacy' by William Sieghart. A beautiful, bright orange, cloth bound pocket book with a short essay about a 'complaint' on one side and a remedial poem on the other. It's just wonderful!
'Secret Gardens of East Anglia' by Barbara Segall is the most glorious coffee table gardening book! There are 22 houses and gardens here and accompanying the beautiful photography are accounts of the owners, the designers and the histories of these properties and grounds. Beautiful!
'Another Year with Plumdog' by Emma Chichester Clark is a year in the life of a children's illustrator with her beloved dog, Plum. This is such a lovely book. I'm not a dog-owner but I can pore over the pages of this book for hours - the detail of the drawings, the colours, the designs, and the adventures of lovable, mischievous Plum.
'50 Things to do with a Penknife' by Matt Collins. A beguiling bright hardback packed with ideas outlined in clear instructions and illustrations. Lots to keep you busy if you feel like doing some whittling!
'The Secret Life of Cows' by Rosamund Young is a surprise hit. Beautifully written, first explaining the pros and cons of different types of farming livestock, and then relating delightful anecdotes about the funny goings on of cows on Rosamund's family farm. I giggled when I read about a cow playing hide and seek, darting behind trees as she spotted Rosamund walking through her field!
'This is Going to Hurt' by Adam Kay. I have to confess that I haven't yet read this book, but I've heard such good things about it that it's currently top of my list. It's about life as a junior doctor. It's a funny but also shocking account, and has proved a bestseller.
'Moonrise' by Sarah Crossan is something for young adult readers, and particularly something to try for those who struggle to invest the time in reading a novel. It's a stunningly packaged small hardback about a young man on death row in America. He's been estranged from his family but his younger brother moves to the town nearby to be able to visit in the prisoner's last days. Sounds grim but it's amazing! And not least because the story is told in free verse! So quick and easy to read, but so powerful. Everyone should read this book!!
For young children, there are so many books I could mention, but I opted to highlight the titles illustrated by Emily Sutton, because I love her work. In picture paperback there is 'The Christmas Eve Tree' by Delia Huddy, and in hardback, new out is 'One Christmas Wish' by Katherine Rundell. Adults will love them too!
A couple of novels would make lovely gifts this year. 'The Maid's Room' by Fiona Mitchell is set in Singapore it looks at the ex-pat community and their maids. It's rather like 'The Help'. It has a beautiful cover and is a great read but is also quite disturbing as this is based on the author's experience. And 'The Music Room' by Rachel Joyce - the author of 'The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry' has written another delightful saga, this time set in a record shop!
'WTF' by Robert Peston. As I'm looking forward to hosting the author, the tv journalist Robert Peston when he speaks to us in Woodbridge in the new year I can't miss this book off my list. It's his interpretation of the events that have led to our current turbulent political situation in the west, and how he sees things looking forward. It's very readable, and fascinating. Each time I read a chapter I bombard friends and family with all I've learned!
So many other books I could mention, but that's all for now. But get in touch if you have a specific request!
The Browsers Book Group made quite a splash in the local newspaper on the last day of the year.
Our recommendations evening held earlier in the month was noted by the books editor on the East Anglian Daily Times, and he requested that we provide him with an account of the occasion and a list of our favourite titles.
The resulting double page spread provided a great reminder of what is a very popular annual event, and we've all added to our 'must read' booklists after hearing so many passionate and fascinating recommendations.
For most of us, there's nothing better than giving and receiving a book for Christmas. Visiting Lesley Dolphin on the Afternoon Programme yesterday we had lots of excitement debating the perfect presents for friends and family. These are the titles we discussed...
For children, aged four upwards, a beautiful picture book telling an inspiring story. 'Ada's Ideas: The Story of Ada Lovelace, the World's First Computer Programmer' by Fiona Robinson £9.99. Also take a look at 'Fantastically Great Women Who Changed the World' by Kate Pankhurst, and brilliant rhyming stories from Andrea Beaty illustrated by the wonderful David Roberts, 'Rosie Revere, Engineer' and 'Iggy Peck Architect'.
An adventure story for readers aged 9-12, inspired by the Suffolk countryside is Fenn Halflin and the Fearzero by Francesca Armour-Chelu £6.99. The descriptions of a watery world are vivid and atmospheric.
Spoofs of favourite children's books have been all the rage in the past year. There are new Ladybirds for Grown Ups titles, including The Ladybird Book of Red Tape and The Ladybird Book of Boxing Day, but new for Christmas 2016 are Enid Blyton for Grown Ups. If you loved the Famous Five stories, take a look at Five on Brexit Island or Five Go Gluten Free among other titles!
Also still proving popular is last year's surprise bestseller 'Norwegian Wood - Chopping, Stacking and Drying Wood the Scandinavian Way'. It's £20 and packed with fascinating and intriguing information about fires, wood, and woodpiles!
But this year's big 'thing' is Hygge. Pronounce it as you will, the word stands for all that is associated with the Danish way of life, and there are lots of books telling you more about it. My favourite is 'The Little Book of Hygge' by Meik Wiking £9.99. It's full of information and tips so that you too might find happiness, warmth and contentment in the winter months. A great book to give or to keep!
My book of the year for 2016 is the novel by Jill Dawson called 'The Crime Writer'. It's got a beautiful retro cover, and a very clever plot which reveals something new each time you read it. The story tells of Patricia Highsmith, the famous American author who spent a short time living in a Suffolk village. Jill Dawson weaves biographical facts and Highsmith plotlines to create a moody, sinister and intriguing novel. It was this year's winner of the East Anglian Book Award. It's a great read and would make a lovely present.
Loving good design, I've found the adage 'never judge a book by its cover' hard to follow when selecting my reading material, and whenever I discover a marketing team that thinks creatively in sending out proof copies of new books, I'm especially excited.
This is how I received Rose Tremain's new book 'The Gustav Sonata' in the post today.
No impersonal Jiffy bag (though a book in a bag, in the post, is undeniably a treat), but a parcel wrapped in a sheet of music! Wonderful!
Few people give me a book these days. I'm known among my friends for my prolific reading of modern fiction and, working in a bookshop and regularly reviewing forthcoming titles, they understandably feel that it is too much of a challenge to find something I haven't read and might enjoy.
This year, though, I was delighted to find two book-shaped parcels among the gifts under my tree; two good friends had discovered two very different titles that proved perfect finds, and great inspiration for the coming year.
The first was a writer's journal. The cover is reminiscent of Emma Bridgewater in design, and the interior is full of exercises and prompts to challenge the writer's mind in plotting, description and characterisation. The key of course will be setting aside time to approach these stimulating ideas.
The second was a non-fiction title, 'Think like an engineer' and was not something I would have been drawn to, mainly because I don't think I have ever understood what an engineer does. Having read this book, I confess I'm still not entirely sure - how do people train to be an engineer as they seem to be essential to any situation.
The examples of the achievements of engineers' vision and application to problem-solving in so many different fields was truly inspiring. I was in tears as I read about David Koon. The murder of his daughter led him to introduce the GPS system for tracking mobile phone calls, first identifying its application and then becoming a politician in order to implement it. An astonishing man of insight and persistence who turned a horrific experience for good.
How wonderful that the writer could share such an inspiring and moving story.