A Christmas Cornucopia

Now that Advent Sunday has passed, I am transitioning well and truly into Christmas mode. Trees are being trimmed, jollity abounds, and the strains of Christmas music can be heard as I busy myself writing cards, running errands, and planning fun. I truly adore this season, as Advent moves towards Christmas proper, and have been accused more than once of being a little bit of a Christmas geek.

How perfect, then, that Penguin sent me a copy of Mark Forsyth's A Christmas Cornucopia to review in the lead up to the festive season. I'm a big fan of Forsyth's other books (being an English teacher I've been gifted other books of his in the past and particularly enjoyed The Etymologicon) and was happy to hear he'd turned his talents to the delights of Christmas.

Forsyth's tone is a unique one - it always reminds me of a brilliant professor holding forth on a subject they know well. Whatever twists and turns the narrative may take, you never doubt that you are in expert hands and are quite happy to follow along with Forsyth as he traverses eras, traditions and cultures. Rather than employing a dull list format, this is a book where the prose flows, taking you on a journey, and the whole book is suffused with humour. It really was a treat to sit down and read a chapter or two after lunch or before bed.

The content of the book is fascinating. Despite being a bit of a Christmas nut I was delighted to discover that there was much contained within that I did not know already. Each chapter brings plenty of information and charm, but I think chapter 5 (entitled Santa Claus: The Biography) is my favourite; I feel I am quite the expert on Saint Nick now.

This is a sweet and illuminating book and I think it would make a lovely gift. I think I'll be sending copies to a couple of friends who love this season too, and I think it would be appreciated by fans of Christmas, history and culture alike.

Disclaimer: As mentioned above, I was gifted a copy of the book. All opinions and Christmassy glee are my own.
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Swing Time

Many moons ago, back in the hot, hot summer of 2016, I popped over to Penguin. As an aside, my inner-bookworm-child still gets very excited by the fact that I know people at publishers, for what it's worth. While I was there I was given a couple of books to review, because I love to keep reading. One of the books was Swing Time, the new novel from the national treasure that is Zadie Smith.

Swing Time is a book about so many things - class, race, dance, friendship - and it feels specific and universal, all at once. Incredibly readable with vivid, interesting, flawed characters, this is Smith writing at the top of her game. I love how she's unafraid to write real characters and how she shies away from casting heroes and villains. The complexity and richness of the human experience and how we all react to and interact with one another fills each part and chapter.

The narrator of the book is never named, and this distance is fitting - as a character she always seems a little detached, a little distant. The other characters - Tracey, her erstwhile childhood friend; the villagers she encounters in Africa; Aimee, the popstar she works for - are all boldly drawn and described; the narrator is more shadowy and indistinct.

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The Nightmare Before Christmas

One of my favourite treats in the run up to Christmas is curling up in front of the Christmas tree with a hot beverage (or a cheeky cocktail) and watching a Christmas movie. I am properly into films at this time of the year, and in addition to the ten I listed in my post last year, there are several others that get trotted out ever December. Gone With the Wind. The Sound of Music. Mary Poppins. And The Nightmare Before Christmas.

The Nightmare Before Christmas is such a wonderful, heartwarming tale, as Jack Skellington tries to bring his own special magic to Christmas. Inventive, silly, creepy and heartwarming, it's a sweet and cosy tale with just enough darkness to avoid the saccharine-ness of some festive fare. I was delighted, then, when I learned that Penguin was publishing a picture book of the story on the Picture Puffin imprint, with words and illustrations by Tim Burton, the film's auteur.

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The Year of Yes

The Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes

Every year, it seems the market is flooded with books by celebrities. Autobiographies, stories, cookbooks - there could be a whole section of the bookstore devoted to books by that guy from.../the lady who.../the star of.... as with any genre or group of books, it's a mixed bag of quality, but there are gems to be found, and I always sit up and take notice when an actor, singer, or other creative I admire releases a book (same goes for great sportspeople, journalists, bloggers, businesspeople, and chefs). Some of my favorite books of recent years have sprung from the pens (or perhaps the keyboards?) of folk I knew for something else entirely.

Aside: if you haven't yet read Bossypants or Yes Please, please considering doing so. Fey and Poehler both give *excellent* book.

But back to The Year of Yes. Shonda Rhimes is the uber-famous creator/showrunner of the Shondaland stable of programmes- Grey's Anatomy, How To Get Away With Murder, and my personal favourite, Scandal. Hugely professionally successful, she has a come to Jesus moment over just how she's living her life over thanksgiving meal prep with her sister. Spurred on by this, Shonda resolves to change things up and embrace the power of YES, and this book is all about this journey. 

And what a journey it is. Rhimes is a gifted writer, as her hugely successful TV career would suggest, but in this autobiographical setting it's a great tone she sets - charming, conversational, deep, with just enough silly to lighten the mood when necessary. This is a book about saying yes to yourself, yes to life, and Rhimes emerges happier, healthier, and more at peace with herself than ever.

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I'm Claire, a thirty-something teacher, writer and blogger living in London.

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