Christmas: The best new books to give as presents, from Michelle Obama to George RR Martin and Stephen Fry

Man Booker and Waterstones awards winners up against high-profile memoirs and favourite pulp writers in battle for festive sales

Joe Sommerlad
Monday 10 December 2018 13:49 GMT
Michelle Obama launches memoir in London: 'My opinions were meaningful, and my anger and frustrations were real'

As Neil Gaiman said, “Books make great gifts, because they have whole worlds inside of them. And it’s much cheaper to buy somebody a book than it is to buy them the whole world.”

If you’re looking for a nice hardback to give to a loved one this Christmas, but are unsure where to start, we’ve got you covered.

Here’s our selection of some of the best new books on sale now.

Becoming by Michelle Obama (Penguin)

The former First Lady reflects on her eight years in the White House, her childhood growing up on the South Side of Chicago and her hopes for women in a rapidly changing world.

Michelle Obama offers a powerful opposition voice in the age of Trump, and her new memoir is the ideal antidote to the overriding pessimism of the current political moment.

Blowing the Bloody Doors Off by Michael Caine (Hodder & Stoughton)

The popular Cockney actor, loved for his roles in Alfie (1966), The Italian Job (1969) and Get Carter (1971), is in a reflective mood at 85, recently hosting the documentary My Generation on the legacy of the Swinging Sixties.

Here, the artist formerly known as Maurice Micklewhite looks back on his long career, from his Rotherhithe roots to his late period work with Christopher Nolan. A tome packed with wit and wisdom.

Cunk on Everything by Philomena Cunk (Hodder & Stoughton)

Bolton stand-up Diane Morgan began playing the vacuous talking head Philomena Cunk on the satirical comedy show Charlie Brooker’s Weekly Wipe in 2013.

The break-out star of that show, Cunk has since fronted her own documentaries on Christmas and Shakespeare, and now finally arrives in print, recording her decidedly confused opinions on all manner of subjects for the ages.

The Fall of Gondolin by JRR Tolkien (HarperCollins)

A story commenced by the Oxford don in 1917 while he was serving in the First World War, this tale from the First Age of Middle-earth about the founding of the titular elven city was previously included in an edited version in the posthumous work The Silmarillion (1977).

Now released as a fuller, stand-alone novella, The Fall of Gondolin is a must for Tolkien completists.

Fear by Bob Woodward (Simon & Schuster)

In the two short years since he was elected, we have already seen a deluge of books about Donald Trump, and can expect many more before his extraordinary presidency comes to an end.

While Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury drew more headlines, this examination of the inner workings of the West Wing from legendary Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward is the more methodical and quietly insightful work.

Fire and Blood by George RR Martin (HarperCollins)

As Game of Thrones fans continue the wait for the The Winds of Winter, George RR Martin takes time out from his world-conquering Song of Fire and Ice sequence to offer a prequel: a history of House Targaryen.

The first of a two-volume chronicle, this entry details the reign of Aegon the Conqueror, who first forged the Iron Throne, to Aegon III and is told by Archmaester Gyldayn, who may or may not be a reliable narrator.

A Song of Ice and Fire author George RR Martin

Heroes by Stephen Fry (Penguin)

The beloved broadcaster follows Mythos (2017), his retelling of the myths of Ancient Greece, with this new instalment, recounting Jason’s quest for the Golden Fleece aboard the Argo, Oedipus solving the riddle of the Sphinx and Pegasus helping Bellerophon slay the Chimera.

An accessible and lively history of some fascinating subjects.

The Holy Vible by John Robins and Elis James (Orion)

These stand-ups – one a shame-riddled Queen obsessive and pub frequenter, the other a breezy Welsh football nut determined to stay “sexy and relevant” despite dawning middle age - enjoy a huge cult following thanks to their Radio X show and podcast.

PCDs and retro-oners will know all about their infectious idiolect and catalogue of obsessions, and here they are in book form. Essential reading for hammer legends and Vibe Train season ticket holders.

How to Be a Footballer by Peter Crouch (Ebury)

The affable Stoke City striker promises plenty of lively anecdotes from behind-the-scenes of the Premier League as his long and well-travelled career draws to a close.

Peter Crouch: expect tall tales (Getty)

How to Be Invisible by Kate Bush (Faber & Faber)

Not all pop stars’ collected lyrics stand up to close inspection, but Kate Bush has always been an exception to the rule.

A supremely gifted artist known for her profound love of literature, Bush’s songs deserve to be examined in the same detail as those of Leonard Cohen and Nick Cave.

Milkman by Anna Burns (Faber & Faber)

This year’s Man Booker Prize winner is a vivid account of an 18-year-old girl forced into a marriage with an older man set against the backdrop of the Troubles in Northern Ireland.

My Name’s Doddie by Doddie Weir (Black & White)

One of the most moving sports memoirs of the year is surely this, from Scottish rugby union great Doddie Weir, currently battling motor neurone disease after a career facing off against such giants as Jonah Lomu, Brian O’Driscoll and Jonny Wilkinson.

Already a cult favourite among the tartan faithful, Weir’s heroic good humour and huge fundraising efforts in the face of his condition have won him legions of new admirers.

Normal People by Sally Rooney (Faber & Faber)

Waterstones’ Book of the Year is this impressive second novel from Irish author Sally Rooney about a friendship between two teenagers growing up in County Sligo before attending Trinity College Dublin.

Past Tense by Lee Child (Transworld)

The latest Jack Reacher adventure from the prolific Lee Child is the free-roaming military veteran’s 23rd since making his debut in 1997’s Killing Floor. Child claims to sell a novel a second around the world, which is a staggering thought.

Taking a detour to his father’s New England hometown on a whim, Reacher finds no record of his old man ever having lived there. Naturally, he can’t leave it at that. So begins another high-octane mystery.

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The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris (Zaffre)

Inspired by the incredible true story of Lale Sokolov, a Jew from Slovakia assigned to brand prisoners with serial numbers on arrival at Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1942, Heather Morris’s novel has received huge acclaim.

Recounting his falling in love with Gita Furman during the administration of his duties, The Tattooist of Auschwitz focuses on a moment of pure humanity amid unthinkable atrocity.

The Tour According to G by Geraint Thomas (Quercus)

The inside story of how Geraint Thomas became the the first Welshman, and only the third Brit, to win the Tour de France this summer. You don’t have to be a cycling fanatic to be swept up by an extraordinary story of attrition, self-denial and drive against the odds.

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