Sunday 22 November 2015

A Christmas Gift from the Novelistas

It's no secret The Novelistas love books, so I asked them to tell us which book they'd love to give at Christmas - or maybe just keep for themselves!

Trisha Ashley
The Woman in Black and other Ghost Stories
by Susan Hill

The new collected edition from Susan Hill, The Woman in Black and Other Ghost Stories, would make the perfect Christmas present for several people on my list and also has a wonderfully retro binding that makes it look very attractive.  I know my son would love a copy and so, too, would Louise Marley: there’s nothing like having your blood curdled for Christmas, is there?

Valerie-Anne Baglietto
The Butterfly Ball and the Grasshopper’s Feast 
by Alan Aldridge & William Plomer

The Butterfly Ball won the 1973 Whitbread Children’s Book of the Year Award. In spite of all the wonderful books I read as a child, this one hadn’t stuck with me. It was only when it was given as a gift to my own children that I discovered it properly and marvelled at the crazy, magical and fantastical illustrations.

There’s something grotesque and very Alice in Wonderland about it. A summer’s day, all these flamboyantly-dressed creatures having a party... It’s a surreal poem which would especially suit a child who is fond of wildlife. But most children would enjoy it, I think, unless they only like pink glitter, unicorns and perky princesses. This isn’t Disney; or at least, Disney’s latest offerings (which I love, before you assume the contrary).

Although I’m as happy reading fiction on a Kindle as I am with paperbacks, a stunning visual fairy tale like this cries out to be enjoyed as a hardback. It’s as timeless as a favourite nursery rhyme, and deserves to be handled and loved and read over and over again.

Anne Bennett
The Lilac Bus 
by Maeve Binchy

If I am buying a book for someone else, I like to put some thought into it. Often if a book inspires me, or moves me in some particular way, I’d buy that book for someone I knew would stand a good chance of enjoying it as much as I had. So I choose The Lilac Bus by Maeve Binchy, and this is why.

Years ago, I was attending a writing course in Conwy Library and arrived too early, my shopping not taking as long as I thought it would. Feeling bored, I took a book from the shelf to read and touched the magic that all Maeve Binchy’s books induced in me after that. The Lilac Bus was not her first book, that was Light a Penny Candle, but it was the first I had read and I still consider it one of her finest.

The story is simple. Many people who live in in the village of Rathdoon work in Dublin and one of them, Tom Fitzgerald, buys a mini bus, paints it lilac and offers to take everyone from  Rathdoon home for the weekend – Nancy, Dee, Kev, Celia and many more. Each has their own secret story, unknown to their fellow passengers or their families. And as each story unfolds, the reader is drawn into the lives of these very human characters with their own joys and sadness. I really cared about these characters and was aware I was reading the work of a genius.

However, the writing course I had come for was ready to begin. I did not have my library card, so I couldn’t borrow the book and replaced it on the shelf with real regret.

I would buy this book for Christmas for any of my three daughters or daughter-in-law, sure it would be well-received and enjoyed thoroughly. I didn’t wait to be given The Lilac Bus for Christmas, but bought it immediately! Although after that, Santa often wrapped a Maeve Binchy book in my bundle of presents at Christmas! So I have read every book she has written and was upset to hear of her death.

Annie Burrows
The Captain’s Christmas Bride 
by Annie Burrows

As I have a Christmas book out, everyone is getting that one! And I’m going to donate a copy of The Captain’s Christmas Bride to the winner of the Novelistas’ giveaway as well!

Sophie Claire
Apple Tree Yard 
by Louise Doughty

Two books made a mark on me this year: the first was The Fault in Our Stars (John Green), but I’m not sure about gifting that one because, although I loved it, I can imagine others might find the subject matter difficult. (It’s the story of two teenagers, one of whom has cancer, who fall in love). So the novel I’m going to give this Christmas is Apple Tree Yard by Louise Doughty.

Yvonne Carmichael has a high-flying career, a beautiful home and a good marriage. But when she meets a stranger she is drawn into a passionate affair. Keeping the two halves of her life separate seems easy at first. But she can't control what happens next.

I don’t usually read psychological thrillers, but I’d heard a lot about this book and I was researching infidelity for my own writing, so I picked it up out of curiosity. I could hardly put it down, I enjoyed it so much! It was full of tension, with a gripping plot and an intriguing narrator, Yvonne, who’s incredibly intelligent and self-aware, but also very human. It was mostly Yvonne’s character which drew me in, but also the way the story raises so many questions about morality, about our justice system, and about the boundaries of relationships. (If I’m being vague, it’s because I don’t want to give away any plot spoilers!) I had previously read and enjoyed Gone Girl, but this book was even better. It’s the kind of novel which makes me, as a writer, despair because it’s so intelligent and thought-provoking and cleverly crafted.

I hadn’t read any of Louise Doughty’s fiction before, although I had enjoyed her craft book A Novel in a Year for its gently encouraging tone, but I’ll look out for them now. And I’ll be giving Apple Tree Yard to parents and friends, male and female alike, because it really has something for everyone.

Beth Francis
The Snow Child 
by Eowyn Ivey

The book I would like to give as a present for Christmas is The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey –
 the hardback edition, because the cover is so beautiful, and this is a book to keep and dip into again and again.

Inspired by the Russian fairy tale, The Snow Child is a magical story set in 1920s Alaska, where Mabel and Jack are struggling to homestead in the brutal environment, while grieving for their stillborn baby. As the first snow falls they build a snow child, but as it melts away they spy a young girl amongst the trees. Somehow she seems to survive alone in the wilderness. Who is she? What is she?

This is a book to read for the power of the story, then again for the hauntingly beautiful descriptions of the Alaskan landscape. It’s a book to talk about with friends. I reached for my copy before writing this, and started reading it again. It’s a Christmas present you can share, and keep coming back to.

Who would I give it to? I can’t say. It’s a surprise, as all the best Christmas presents are.

Juliet Greenwood
The Poisonwood Bible
by Barbara Kingsolver

The book I would give for Christmas is The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. It’s a book I’ve been meaning to read for years but only finally got around to it a few months ago. I love Barabara Kingsolver’s novels, but this one totally blew me away. It’s one of those few novels when, after I’d finished it, I didn’t want to pick up another book for weeks afterwards, just because I just wanted to keep on savouring it, and I couldn’t imagine another story that could draw me in and hold me quite so fast, and in such a satisfying way.

I love that it’s an intelligent female take on colonialism, folly and the abuse of power, one that balances world events with the microcosm of the domestic world of one missionary family in the Congo. It is warm, funny and sensual, as well as an astute analysis of the dynamics within a family, and of the relationships between human beings of different cultures. Despite the inevitable tragedies, and the utter stupidity of the rigid mind that cannot see beyond itself in the missionary who refuses to bend to his surroundings, I found it an ultimately uplifting book. The image of the missionary persisting in planting crops in his own ‘civilised’ manner, even after a local women has demonstrated how to plant so that they actually survive, is one that will stay with me forever.

There’s one friend I can’t give it to, as she read my copy after I’d raved about it, and is now raving about it too. But this Christmas I’ll be parcelling up plenty more …. 

Cheryl Lang
Iris & Ruby 
by Rosie Thomas

I loved this book. Set in Cairo, it had me interested right away. It tells the story of stroppy teenager, Ruby, who escapes her fraught relationship with her mother in the UK and turns up in Egypt to stay with her elderly grandmother. She writes her grandmother’s autobiography and learns about Iris’s early life in wartime Cairo. In the process, Ruby learns about herself and changes. This was a Cairo that was smothered in heat, dust and deprivation, but Iris’s world was cosmopolitan, full of glittering dances and balls. Memories of Iris’s lost love are sprinkled throughout the book. It is well-written, full of atmosphere and details of the era. You feel drawn into the book.

Louise Marley
The Annotated Brothers Grimm 
edited by Maria Tatar

I've loved fairy stories ever since I was a child, but as I grew older I began to prefer the darker, more twisted tales without the obligatory happy ending. The Brothers Grimm were German academics who collected and recorded folklore during the early part of the 19th Century. The idea was to record these oral stories for other academics before they became lost, but when the brothers realised the stories were being read by children they rewrote them for a ‘PG’ audience, cleaning them up and giving them happy endings.

This book lists forty-six stories. Some are easily recognisable – Rumpelstiltskin, Snow White, Hansel and Gretel – as tales that have been retold and reimagined over the years in both books and films. Others, such as The Seven Ravens, I’d never even heard of. And there are nine stories at the back which are definitely not for children!

But the main appeal of this book to me is in the annotations, which explain all the different versions of the stories and where they originated from. In this adaptation of The Frog King, for instance, the frog is killed, not kissed. And apparently Little Red Riding Hood veered from Fifty Shades of Grey to Silence of the Lambs before the brothers turned it into the story we know today.

So who would like this book for Christmas? Not Valerie-Anne Baglietto, that’s for certain! Some of the more gruesome endings would definitely give her nightmares. Maybe I could give a copy to Haydn Lee, who shares my love of the dark and twisted?

Or maybe I’d keep the book all to myself!

* * Competition now closed! * *

If you'd like to win a fabulous book bundle from the Novelistas, just leave a comment below! One winner will be drawn, in our usual random way, after the closing date. Unfortunately, due to the cost of postage, we're only able to offer this prize to entrants living in the UK.

Closing Date:
Thursday 3rd December 2015

The Prize:

A collection of signed paperback novels as follows:

A Christmas Cracker by Trisha Ashley
The Moon on a Stick by Valerie-Anne Baglietto
Another Man's Child by Anne Bennett
The Captain's Christmas Bride by Annie Burrows
Her Forget-Me-Not Ex by Sophie Claire
The Man Behind the Faรงade by June Francis
We That Are Left by Juliet Greenwood
Why Do Fools Fall in Love? by Louise Marley

Small print!!!
Be sure to use your full name, or post using an account we can contact you on (Facebook, Twitter Blogger, etc). If we don't hear back from the winner within 72 hours of notification, another winner will be drawn.

Good luck!

Trisha drawing the winner
at our Christmas Party
Congratulations to Gurdeep Assi!

Photo copyright:

Book covers: individual publishers
Book bundle: Louise Marley
Trisha Ashley: Juliet Greenwood


  1. Oh Gurrrl, while the prizes are Fantabulous, some of the author selections truly sound blood curdling. Authors truly have an unsurpassable imagination, even their book selections are amazing.
    Happy holidays season from India.

  2. Fab giveaway. I bought A Christmas Cracker for my Gran and she is loving. Lx

  3. I like to give books as Christmas presents, often ones I've read and enjoyed myself. Karen x

  4. Wow, some great reads here, would love to win these and cosy up with a cuppa during the winter months! x

  5. What a great selection of books mentioned here. I loved A Christmas Cracker.

  6. Fabulous giveaway with a great selection of books. Thanks for a chance to win.

  7. WOWZA, what a great bundle of books you are giving away!
    From Sheerie on twitter

  8. Christmas wouldn't be Christmas without some good books - they really get you into the festive spirit. The novelists blog is a great way of finding like minded novel writers and getting into their books - one good book leads to another and another. Vivienne Griffiths

  9. Christmas wouldn't be Christmas without some good books - they really get you into the festive spirit. The novelists blog is a great way of finding like minded novel writers and getting into their books - one good book leads to another and another. Vivienne Griffiths


  11. I loved The Snow Child too such a magical, atmospheric story. Great giveaway, thanks.

  12. Oh wow - would love these books :) Happy Christmas!!

  13. I would love to win these books!

  14. Oh wow...what a prize. I also read The Snow Child which even though it was a slightly unusual story, I really enjoyed it.

  15. What a wonderful selection! Poisonwood Bible sounds great. The lucky winner will be spoiled for choice. Good luck everyone.

  16. Sounds like a great prize! Thanks for the giveaway :)

  17. Ooh great prize - all those books would keep me occupied for quite a while :) (my twitter is @Eramys)

  18. I too had a strong reaction to "The Poisonwood Bible" : the village chief asked to marry the oldest girl to save the family from starving! Blew my mind! Who has the Christian charity? Anyway, I would crawl up the walls if I won these books, I am a rabid booklover ...but no one has given a book as a gift (sob!) annfes@yahoo,com

  19. I'd love to win these please :-)
    Lyndsay Walker @lynds1102

  20. I'd love to win these please :-)
    Lyndsay Walker @lynds1102

  21. My TBR pile is looking very small now so would love to top it up please.

    Lisa Rowsell @Lisa2062 on Twitter

  22. Such an amazing giveaway, I love your selection! I have a UK address :).
    Librarianlavender @ gmail . com

  23. Wow this is such an amazing giveaway. Thanks for the chance.

  24. As a longstanding Georgette Heyer fan and sometime who was introduced to modern RNA authors by one of the novellistas it would be an exciting privilege to win this marvellous bundle; with several books I have read and enjoyed at least one I struggled with and new books too. What a treat such a bundle would be. All arriving together, the smell of new books and the lovely editions of the Brothers Grimm and Susan Hill. Presents for others - perhapsdefinitely for my bedside bookcase!,

  25. Debbieisle Great selection of Books lucky enough to have a signed copy of Christmas Cracker by Trisha Ashley ,can I wait for Christmas

  26. What a lovely gift for Xmas! Would love to win this bundle :) Thank you for the Xmas book reviews :) louise J. Baxter @louisejbaxter1

  27. What a lovely gesture. Thank you so much for the opportunity and a very Happy Christmas to you all .:)

    I'm Jo and my email is jaffareadstoo(at)hotmail(dot)co(dot)uk

  28. What a fantastic selection .. this would make an awesome pressie to me :) Merry Christmas all xxx

  29. This would be a great early birthday present for me. I love books and these would help me get over the trauma of hitting my half century on Christmas Day ๐Ÿ˜‰

  30. Great books to read whilst curled up by the fire with the dogs and drinking hot chocolate. They would make a bookworm very happy
    Merry Christmas!

  31. Can't believe I nearly missed commenting on this!!!! Ah, and there was me, just looking on it because I was interested to see your choices.... :)

  32. A great mixture - I have recently read "The Poisonwood Bible" and it was definitely worth it (despite its length) and "Iris and Ruby" is a favourite of mine as is anything by Rosie Thomas. There are a few here I must add to my "to be bought" list.

  33. oh i would love to win all these fabulous books i have just got a kindle but nothing better than a paper smell and feel in your hands thank you so much xx

  34. oh i would love to win all these fabulous books i have just got a kindle but nothing better than a paper smell and feel in your hands thank you so much xxxx

  35. I'd love to win! It sounds like a good selection of books x

  36. Any escapism most welcome given the sadness of the world in recent weeks. And what wonderful books to escape with. A book, cuppa and a piece of cake has to be one of the bests cure for the soul :)
    Michelle Noble

  37. Would love a chance to win this bundle of books! Rachael Mills (

  38. Very late reading this post, which is a corker :) However, just thought I'd add an interesting tidbit. I studied the Grimms for my degree and Little Red Riding Hood was, as Louise says, a very different story originally. It all makes sense when you discover that 'seeing the wolf' was an old French euphemism for losing virginity!


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