Riveting reads that make perfect presents

Jess Ennis with her book
Jess Ennis with her book
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With Christmas around the corner there will be plenty of book tokens soon to be spent – and there’s still time for a last minute gift. Nick Ahad on the season’s best offerings.

No matter that there’s a single weekend left, there’s always space for another present under the tree – and a book can be the perfect last minute gift. But what to buy? Here’s a round-up of Waterstones’ seasonal favourites.


The Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling: Little Brown £20

A big novel about a small town, The Casual Vacancy is J K Rowling’s first novel for adults. When Barry Fairbrother dies in his early forties, the town of Pagford is left in shock. Pagford is, seemingly, an English idyll, with a cobbled market square and an ancient abbey, but what lies behind the pretty facade is a town at war. Rich at war with poor, teenagers at war with their parents, wives at war with their husbands, teachers at war with their pupils... Pagford is not what it first seems. This is the work of a storyteller like no other.

NW by Zadie Smith: Hamish Hamilton £18.99

North West London comes vividly to life in this new book by the author of the bestselling White Teeth and Man Booker-shortlisted On Beauty. Zadie Smith’s brilliant tragi-comic novel follows four Londoners – Leah, Natalie, Felix and Nathan – as they try to make adult lives outside of Caldwell, the council estate of their childhood. From private houses to public parks, at work and at play, their London is a complicated place, as beautiful as it is brutal, where the thoroughfares hide the back alleys and where taking the high road can sometimes lead you to a dead end.

Mystery of Mercy Close by Marian Keyes: Michael Joseph £18.99

Helen Walsh doesn’t believe in fear – it’s just a thing invented by men to get all 
the money and good jobs – and yet she’s sinking. Her work as a Private Investigator has dried up, her flat has been repossessed and now some old demons have resurfaced. Not least in the form of her charming but dodgy ex-boyfriend Jay Parker, who shows up with a missing person case. Money is tight and Jay is awash with cash, so Helen is forced to take on the task of finding Wayne Diffney, the ‘Wacky One’ from boyband Laddz. Things ended messily with Jay. And she’s never going back there. Besides she has a new boyfriend now, the 
very sexy detective Artie Devlin and it’s all going 
well. But the reappearance of Jay is stirring up all kinds of stuff she thought she’d left behind.

Grimm Tales by Philip Pullman: Penguin £20

In this beautiful book of classic fairy tales, award-winning author Philip Pullman has chosen his fifty favourite stories from the Brothers Grimm and presents them in a ‘clear as water’ retelling, in his unique and brilliant voice. From the quests and romance of classics such as Rapunzel, Snow White and Cinderella to the danger and wit of such lesser-known tales as The Three Snake Leaves, Hans-my-Hedgehog and Godfather Death, Pullman brings the heart of each timeless tale to the fore, following with a brief but fascinating commentary on the story’s background and history.

A Possible Life by Sebastian Faulks: Hutchinson £18.99

Soldiers and lovers, parents and children, scientists and musicians risk their bodies and hearts in search of connection – some key to understanding what makes us the people we become. Provocative and profound, Sebastian Faulks’s dazzling novel journeys across continents and time to explore the chaos created by love, separation and missed opportunities. From the pain and drama of these highly particular lives emerges a mysterious consolation: the chance to feel your heart beat in someone else’s life.

A Week in Winter by Maeve Binchy: Orion £18.99

The Sheedy sisters had lived in Stone House for as long as anyone could remember. Set high on the cliffs on the west coast of Ireland, overlooking the windswept Atlantic ocean, it was falling into disrepair – until one woman, with a past she needed to forget, breathed new life into the place. A Week in Winter is full of Binchy’s trademark warmth and humour and characters you want to spend time with.

A Blink of the Screen by Terry Pratchett: Doubleday £20

In the four decades since his first book appeared in print, Terry Pratchett has become one of the world’s best-selling and best-loved authors. Here for the first time are his short stories and other short form fiction collected into one volume. A Blink of the Screen charts the course of Pratchett’s long writing career: from his school days through to his first writing job on the Bucks Free Press, and the origins of his debut novel, The Carpet People; and on again to the dizzy mastery of the phenomenally successful Discworld series. Here are characters both familiar and yet to be discovered; abandoned worlds and others still expanding; adventure, chickens, death, disco and, actually, some quite disturbing ideas about Christmas, all of it shot through with his inimitable brand of humour. With an introduction by Booker Prize-winning author A S Byatt.

Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan

Jonathan Cape £18.99

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 Healey, a promising young writer. First she loves his stories, 
then she begins to love the man. Can she maintain the fiction of her undercover 

Standing in Another Man’s Grave by Ian Rankin: Orion £18.99

It’s twenty-five years since John Rebus appeared on the scene, and five years since he retired. But 2012 sees his return in Standing in Another Man’s Grave. Not only is Rebus as stubborn and anarchic as ever, but he finds himself in trouble with Rankin’s latest creation, Malcolm Fox of Edinburgh’s internal affairs unit. Added to which, Rebus may be about to derail the career of his ex-colleague Siobhan Clarke, while himself being permanently derailed by mob boss and old adversary Big Ger Cafferty. But all Rebus wants to do is discover the truth about a series of seemingly unconnected disappearances stretching back to the millennium. The problem being, no one else wants to go there.

Books for all the family

Grandad: John Lennon Letters, Weidenfeld & Nicholson.

Grandma: The Chronicles of Downton Abbey by Jessica Fellowes and Matthew Sturgis.

Mum: Nigellissima by Nigella Lawson.

Dad: Standing in Another Man’s Grave by Ian Rankin.

Best for Uncle: Going to Sea in a Sieve by Danny Baker.

Auntie: Is It Just Me by Miranda Hart.

Teenage Son: Dodger by Terry Pratchett.

Teenage Daughter: Unbelievable by Jessica Ennis.

All the books are available from your local Waterstones bookshop and online at www.waterstones.com