Culture Writers come together to recommend books to gift friends and family for Christmas based on their niche interests
For those who are hopeless romantics…
To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before has everything for any hopeless cheesy romantic out there including the fake to real dating trope, the sweet family bonds between the Covey sisters and their father and the handsome character the main character falls in love with, Peter Kavinsky. The hit Netflix adaptation of the book signifies its fame and puts the romance into play through the famous actors and actresses including Lana Condor who plays Lara-Jean Covey. The novel follows the story of Lara-Jean who writes letters to each of her crushes about her feelings and hides it in a box under her bed. Until one day, the letters get mailed causing all her past crushes to confront her about their letters. However, she discovers that something good may come out of it after all. The book is diverse with the main character and her family being Korean so it is great for those being represented. Lara-Jean’s character development will make any reader fall in love with her as she showcases her vulnerabilities.
And those who love retellings
The Wrath and The Dawn is a retelling of A Thousand and One Nights. The story follows Shahrazad who vows vengeance when her dearest friend falls victim to the Caliph of Khorasan’s murderous ways as she volunteers to be his next bride. Khalid, the Caliph, is deemed to be a monster. Each night he takes a new bride only to have a silk cord wrapped around her throat come morning. Shahrazad vows to change this as she beguiles Khalid every night through her enchanting stories even though she knows that one of these nights could be her last. However, Shazi soon finds herself falling in love with the Caliph as he turns out nothing what she imagined him to be. She comes to understand that all is not as it seems in this palace of marble and stone. This book showcases the enemies to lovers trope fantastically, the diversity of South Asian characters and the whole aesthetic were very appealing to me.
For those who love a good saga
When you think of a saga, you think Harry Potter, Twilight or Lord of the Rings. But one book that I firmly believe should be on any saga lovers’ shelf is Pachinko, by Min Jin Lee. Following four generations of one Korean family and their navigation through a colonising Japan. Lee creates a saga in which love is found and lost, with grief, wealth, ambition, and success over the course of nearly 100 years.
Pachinko is a triumph, not only for its length, but for its richness of language. His characterisation means someone will always be relatable, likeable, or dislikeable, but ultimately, will have you so deeply invested in their life that you have no choice but to keep reading. The history within the novel is pivotal in its plot development. The Japanese Occupation of Korea has a significant influence on the characters and their perspective on what this meant for them and their community. Pachinko is not a novel that will give you gratification immediately. It is a plot that, like any saga should, develops with you as it is read. This saga is one of the best books I have ever read and is a triumph and joy.
For those who want to feel empowered
Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo beautifully tells the story of twelve (predominantly) black British women, effortlessly linked through the past, present, and future. Each chapter follows a different story, creating images of characters that feel almost life like in their relatability and relationships with others. Each protagonist is trying to create their own identity and understanding of the world they live in and anyone who reads this will find a lesson that resonates with them. While not the most light-hearted of reads, I think that is what makes it so real and heart-breaking, and the struggle of each woman will resonate in some way with everyone.
What makes this book especially unforgettable is Evaristo’s writing style. Almost like poetry, the lack of punctuation creates a story that is impossible to stop reading as all the lines flow into one. It is also full of female, POC and LGBTQ+ representation which is rare to find altogether. If you are looking for a gift that will make someone in your life feel empowered and seen, this is the book for you!
For those who study English or love Classics
Throughout our school careers we have all studied Shakespeare at some point. Some loved him, some hated him, those who do English degrees will have studied him to death. But what do we actually know about him, and his life before the fame?
Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell is a fictional retelling of the short life of Shakespeare’s son, who later inspired his most famous work, Hamlet. Dying at aged 11 in 1596 in Stratford-upon-Avon, Hamnet is little-known and often overlooked in the biography of Shakespeare’s life. The novel takes the reader into Shakespeare’s early days, his domestic family life and the struggles they faced.
Despite the title, the main focus of the novel is Agnes, Shakespeare’s wife, who is a local celebrity and a woman of great myth and magical power. O’Farrell’s powerful descriptions of the home they shared and the streets they walked creates this mystical but all-absorbing plot, as we see Shakespeare not as a writer and famed playwright, but as a Latin tutor, whose family have a story of their own to tell. Despite all the knowledge we have of him, there is always a new story to tell, a new perspective to see; making this book a great gift for any Shakespeare or history fan.
Anna Emmerson Robinson
For those who love murder mysteries
Societal fascination with murder seems to be a ubiquitous reoccurrence. Continuous documentaries, fictionalised series and films present a widespread obsession with the idea of mystery and detection. Thirteen by Steve Cavanagh is my favourite crime thriller for its ingenuity in blending the classic murder mystery alongside an innovative dual narrative of both the criminal and lawyer.
The book tells the story of a high-profile murder trial, where a Hollywood star has been accused of double homicide, with compelling evidence stacked against him. Defending him is ex-con man turned lawyer, Eddie Flynn who has a deep understanding of the justice system and criminal behaviour because of his past. The catch? The reader already knows who the serial killer is, and he is sitting on the jury, manipulating the trial.
Unbeknown to the defence, the serial killer has his own agenda and reasons for the murder, as well as a complex relationship with Flynn. As the novel is told from both the perspective of Flynn and the murderer, the insights and clues are especially intriguing as the case progresses; by the end the reasons and patterns in the murders can be mapped onto the plot, giving readers an unusual understanding of the serial killer, who has a deep-rooted resentment that stems from his disenfranchisement with the idea of the ‘American Dream.’
The courtroom drama becomes intensified as Flynn realises that the only way to achieve a ‘Not Guilty’ verdict is by catching the real killer, turning the novel into a detective chase, as well as murder mystery. I found the novel completely gripping, scattered with clues and plot twists that made me feel as though I was working out the mystery alongside the characters. The psychological depth of all the characters was unique, and the switching of narrative perspectives truly allows the reader to holistically consider the murders, not just simply solving them but understanding the events and conditions that brought on the acts of violence.
For those who cannot stop dreaming
We all know that one person who spend all day with their head in the clouds, whose thoughts are worlds away, who wishes life were more like a fairy-tale. For this person there is no book I could recommend more than Stardust by Neil Gaiman. This book is short and easy to read, transporting you from beginning to end into the most beautiful of fantasy worlds.
It follows the protagonist Tristan as he travels over the wall in his town into a fantastical world of kings, fallen stars, epic quests and unicorns, forging his own destiny as he goes. Although the plot differs from the film adaptation, the feelings it evokes is the same, leaving the reader enthralled and full of childlike wonder, it’s a difficult book to put down and crossing back over the wall in your own head from this fantasy world back to reality will prove even more difficult. The book is light-hearted, full of love, and plenty of adventure and will have you wishing entering your daydream world was as easy as crossing a wall.
For those who love history books
I would definitely recommend that anybody who loves history reads the book called Magnificent Women and Flying Machines by Sally Smith. It would be the absolute best present for historical reading. I have had my copy of the book about a week, and it is one of my absolute favourite books and I cannot put it down! I read the book three days in a row to finish it as I loved it that much.
The book showcases women’s contributions to aviation history and each woman in the book is provided with a short chapter about her unique contribution to aviation. 40 women over 16 chapters are explored in this wonderful book. The book brings to light contributions that have previously been unspoken and provides these women with the glory they deserve. The book will definitely leave you wanting to conduct more research into these outstanding women! The book is also a relatively new read as it was only published this year.
For those who cannot stop talking about politics
Do you have a friend who won’t stop talking about politics? Do you have a friend whose political beliefs are too set in stone? If so, then I have the perfect holiday gift recommendation for you.
Andrew Yang ran for President in 2020 and then Mayor of New York City in 2021 and has now released a new book called Forward: Notes on the Future of Our Democracy. This book strikes a perfect balance between interesting insights into his Presidential campaign whilst also setting out how to bring about fundamental change to the American political system. This mix keeps the book intriguing, adding a much-needed personal touch whilst outlining his views.
Political books can often be dry, but the personal touch Yang offers is very welcome and refreshing. Yang uses the book to discuss his new political party The Forward Party, detailing what they stand for, one of these things being the need for more grace and tolerance in politics. So, if you have a friend who could do with being more tolerant in the political realm and more understanding of others’ views, look no further.
For those who spend all their time on TikTok
Christmas is coming up. You have no idea what to buy for your friend. Their hobbies are reading and TikTok: you ask yourself, how can I combine these to create the perfect present? Well, do not worry, I have the answer for you. Go to your nearest (preferably independent) bookstore and pick up a copy of The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins-Reid. Reid’s novel has gone viral on the social media platform in the past year, those on ‘Book Tok’ (including myself) were inundated with videos heaping praise on the novel.
Although, the fact that the novel is placed in the category of historical fiction may put people off, I would urge them to not judge a book by its genre. The novel is enticing, scandalous and gripping; readers will struggle to put the book down. Personally, I have never read anything quite like it. The novel is split into sections which each detailing a specific point in the life of protagonist Evelyn Hugo, specifically the events leading up to each of her seven marriages. Reid intersperses the novel with celebrity reviews of Hugo at the time (proving how merciless tabloids can be) and often switches to the present where Hugo is being interviewed by Monique Grant.
This book will surprisingly provide you with an insight to the struggle of LGBTQ people in the late nineteenth century (with many poignant moments), the over-sexualisation of female movie stars, and the lengths people will go to to protect the ones they love. Refreshingly, alongside the discussion of true love and ‘love’ fuelled by sexual desire, platonic love is also greatly focused on.
Not only is the novel contrasted with celebrity scandals and more serious moments, but its seemingly far-fetched plot twist will leave you reeling.
For those who love to search for deeper meanings
For some, trying to find the hidden meaning behind an author’s words enriches the reading experience, and for these people who enjoy pondering over the metaphors and underlying symbolism in books, I would recommend buying Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro. Klara and the Sun is a short book and the premise of a robot protecting a child that was assigned to them is simple to follow, making it a relaxing read for the holidays. However, the story itself has the complexity of a poem and leaves the reader to interpret the events that unfold for themselves.
Despite it being a speculative fiction novel, at times it feels closer to a fairy tale, since we discover the story through Klara, who is a robot and therefore has unusual interpretations of the world and often makes odd decisions to help the people around her. As with other books by Kazuo Ishiguro, this novel explores ideas of humanity, love, and spirituality while commenting on modern society and where it is potentially heading. Klara and the Sun can be easily read in one sitting, but it is likely to linger in your thoughts forever.
For those who who cry whilst watching Taylor Swift’s All Too Well: The Short Film on repeat
Ah, this is a scene I can picture all too well — between all the tears and the tissues, that is. It’s Sad Girl Autumn and the leaves are falling down (but not like pieces into place, much more like a tumble down the stairs at a Christmas party from one too many glasses of ‘champagne problems’). Oops.
Anywho, ‘tis the damn season’ for a hopeless romantic Christmas rendezvous. And what’s better than a Christmas fling? Well, I’m glad you asked — a heart-shattering breakup of course, duh.
But no fear, alas, Colleen Hoover is here. From her oh-so-merry titles at the likes of Ugly Love, Maybe Someday and It Ends With Us heartbreak is but a pretty bow on a present with Hoover’s acclaimed (and rightfully so) novels. Whilst her novels may be considered ‘trashy,’ she weaves the brutal and beautiful and it is bound to make any cynic cry. But it is a truth universally acknowledged Colleen Hoover will tear down all your emotional walls and rebuild them anew again just in sweet time for ‘new year, new me.’
From past trauma weaving its way into a new relationship, forbidden love (but Romeo and Juliet gone absolutely right) and the unexpected pitfalls of despair, Hoover is the creme-de-la-creme of Sad Girl Autumn novels — the hopeless romantic with a twist of the heart shattering. If you liked the All Too Well short film in all its Easter egg glory, you’ll love the stories and hidden gems of heartwarming moments amongst the heartbreak in Colleen Hoover’s books. Truth be warned, the novels may leave you in tears, emotionally scarred and possibly with a new set of commitment issues — but you enter at your own risk.
For those who are feminists
Dedicated to her own favourite feminist, The Princess and the Prick is hilarious and thought-provoking take on classic fairy tales, myths, movies and nursery rhymes written by Walburga Appleseed. Appleseed reinvents what once seemed innocent, childlike tales into short, snappy poems that question the problematic morals and practices enacted. From questioning consent in Sleeping Beauty, the reality of patriarchy in Alice in Wonderland and the lack of responsibility taken by men at the fall of Troy, this collection forces you to reconsider the roles of men and women in both fictional and real worlds; if these are morals and lessons, we still want children to learn.
But in the midst of this poignant message, there is an adult humour that will not fail to make you laugh out loud. You are sure to be sniggering at the Prince’s foot fetish in Cinderella and Rapunzel throwing her pants down the tower. They are only made funnier by the Seobhan Hope’s fittingly humorous illustrations, one for every poem of the book, making The Princess and the Prick the perfect gift for your favourite feminist.
Enjoyed this? Read more on Redbrick Culture!