Books For Christmas Part 7- Fantastic Fiction and where to find it...

As booksellers, we have to have favourites. Part of our job is to curate and select, but of course we have our own favourite authors (and those we simply don't get on with) so we are always selecting books with our customers in mind: and you'd be amazed at how often we have a specific customer in mind when selecting a title: "We think Mr Jones/Ms Smith would really like this title".

But we also have favourite 'genres' of books. Of course, we'll get excited about a great cookbook or history title. But when push comes to shove, it has to be fiction. The novel is the most exciting - and challenging - canvas for any writer, literally (pun intended) anything is possible, and that freedom can be thrilling, terrifying and take years to perfect.

We've already told you about our favourite books for younger readers and middle grade - job number one in the book world is recruiting the readers of the future - but here are our favourite fiction titles for adults. We treat all fiction equally: science fiction, crime and thrillers, literary, popular. These are to inspire - come in for a personalised recommendation and let us find you and your family your next favourite book to read!

Dictator - Robert Harris (£20)
We'll start with one of our very, very favourite authors - and one day we'll manage to entice him to Abingdon for a very special event! In the meantime, ‘Dictator’ is the long-awaited final book in the ‘Cicero’ trilogy. The first two books in the trilogy ('Imperium' and 'Lustrum') were huge achievements - how satisfying to then read the final book which somehow manages to trump the first two?

The great orator Cicero ended ‘Lustrum’ in exile, with his protégé Caesar dominant and Cicero’s life in ruins. Tormented by the knowledge that he has sacrificed power for the sake of principle, his comeback will require wit, skill and courage - and for a brief and glorious period, the legendary orator is once more the supreme senator in Rome. But no statesman is ever safe when supreme power is at stake...

Harris has again used the machinations and power-plays of ancient Rome to make comments about the politics of our own time – it’s a superbly wrought and tumultuous tale, rising to a gripping ending that leaves you in no doubt that Cicero, for all his flaws, is a hero for his time - and ours.

The Gap of Time – Jeanette Winterson (£16.99)
'The Gap of Time' is a rewriting of Shakespeare's 'The Winter Tale', which Winterson has always declared as being 'a personal text for her'. Here, she cleverly updates Shakespeare's tale (which he took from another earlier romance by the 16th century author Robert Greene) and places it in the contemporary world.

Taking 'Time' as a central player, and replacing Siciliy and Bohemia with London and 'New Bohemia' (a storm-ravaged city in the US), her story is one of childhood friendship, money, status, video games and the elliptical nature of time. It tells in a hyper-modern way - full of energy and beauty, and of course Winterson's natural poetry and wit - the consuming power of jealousy on the one hand, and love, redemption and a lost child on the other.

Rewrites of classics don't always deliver - this one does. It's the first in 'The Hogarth Press Shakespeare Project' and we're eager to see whether future books in this series live up to this one.

The Lake House – Kate Morton (£18.99)
Not to be confused with the Sandra Bullock film in the noughties, this is the title of the new novel from the bestselling author of 'The House at Riverton' and 'The Secret Keeper'.

The 'Lake House' in question lies abandoned, surrounded by mystery, rumour...and a missing child. After a particularly troubling case, Sadie Sparrow is sent on an enforced break from her job with the Metropolitan Police and retreats to her beloved grandfather's cottage in Cornwall. There she finds herself at a loose end, until one day she stumbles upon the abandoned house surrounded by overgrown gardens and dense woods, and learns the story of a baby boy who disappeared without a trace. When she puts her cold-case experience to work, concocting an implausible scenario for how the child disappeared, she unexpectedly stirs long-hidden memories, as well as someone who is still keen for the truth to stay hidden. Satisfying and will definitely delight fans.

Slade House – David Mitchell (£12.99)
'The Bone Clocks' was one of our favourite books of last year, and this spooky and compelling short novel inhabits the same universe. It's a beautiful, illustrated small hardback (we love the effort that has gone into its production!) and an idea gift for a book-lover.

"Walk down narrow, clammy Slade Alley. Open the black iron door in the right-hand wall. Enter the sunlit garden of an old house that doesn't exactly make sense. A stranger greets you by name and invites you inside. At first, you won't want to leave. Too late, you find you can't..."

A great twist on the annual Christmas 'Ghost Story' tradition, updated and full of David Mitchell's wonderful storytelling gifts.

Thirteen Ways of Looking – Colum McCann (£16.99)
Another favourite book from last year was Colum McCann's 'TransAtlantic', this novella and four stories contain all McCann's formidable talents of teasing out the connections and multiple perspectives that add depth to ordinary lives. This novel has added poignancy, as McCann explores his own feelings after a a real-life attack and vicious on the streets on Harlem in 2014.

'Thirteen Ways of Looking' explores the varied consequences that can derive from a simple act. Accompanied by three equally powerful stories set in Afghanistan, Galway and London, this is a tribute to humanity's search for meaning and grace, from a writer at the height of his powers.

Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances – Neil Gaiman (£7.99)
Less an author, more a rock star, Gaiman is often at his imperious best rapid-firing short fiction packed with ideas, extrapolations and razor-sharp writing. And following 'Smoke and Mirrors' and 'Fragile Things', Gaiman returns to dazzle and entertain with 'Trigger Warning', which includes a never-before published 'American Gods' story, 'Black Dog'. Horror and ghost stories, science fiction and fairy tales, fabulism and poetry. It will open your eyes to the inexhaustible supply of darkness around you, the magic and the monsters, the myths and the miracles, and to finding truths in the most extraordinary of places. Bow down mortals!

Arcadia – Iain Pears (£18.99)
A story of three worlds. One present (1970s), one future and the third an invention from the mind of a writer called Henry Lytten. When these worlds collide a whole heap of trouble occurs...

A schoolgirl from the nineteen seventies is mistaken for a fairy. Security officers from the future are arrested as Soviet spies and Lytten enters his own story and is worshipped as a deity. This is an eclectic mix of fantasy, history, science fiction and dystopian future which together make an engrossing - and hugely original - read. We love it!

The Winter War – Philip Teir (£7.99)
On the surface, the Paul family are living the liberal, middle-class dream in Helsinki. Max Paul is a renowned sociologist and his wife Katrina has a well-paid government job. They live in a beautiful apartment in the centre of the city. But look closer and the cracks start to show. As he approaches his sixtieth birthday, the certainties of Max's life begin to dissolve. His wife no longer loves him, and his grown-up daughters - one in London, one in Helsinki - have problems of their own. So when a former student turned journalist shows up and offers him a seductive lifeline, Max starts down a dangerous path from which he may never find a way back...

Funny, sharp, and brilliantly truthful, Teir's debut has the feel of a big, contemporary, humane American novel, but with a distinctly Scandinavian edge.

The Well – Catherine Chanter (£7.99)When Ruth Ardingly and her family first drive up from London in their grime-encrusted car and view The Well, they are enchanted by a jewel of a place, a farm that appears to offer everything the family are searching for. An opportunity for Ruth. An escape for Mark. A home for their grandson Lucien. But The Well's unique glory comes at a terrible price.  The locals suspect foul play in its verdant fields and drooping fruit trees, and Ruth becomes increasingly isolated as she struggles to explain why her land flourishes whilst her neighbours' produce withers and dies.

Fearful of envious locals and suspicious of those who seem to be offering help, Ruth is less and less sure who she can trust. As The Well envelops them, Ruth's paradise becomes a prison, Mark's dream a recurring nightmare, and Lucien's playground a grave.

The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy - Rachel Joyce – £7.99
From the author of the 2 million+ copy, worldwide bestseller, 'The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry', an exquisite, funny and heartrending parallel story. 

When Queenie Hennessy discovers that Harold Fry is walking the length of England to save her, and all she has to do is wait, she is shocked. Her note had explained she was dying. How can she wait? A new volunteer at the hospice suggests that Queenie should write again; only this time she must tell Harold everything. In confessing to secrets she has hidden for twenty years, she will find atonement for the past. As the volunteer points out, 'Even though you've done your travelling, you're starting a new journey too.' Queenie thought her first letter would be the end of the story. She was wrong. It was the beginning. 

Told in simple, emotionally-honest prose, with a mischievous bite, this is a novel about the journey we all must take to learn who we are; it is about loving and letting go. And most of all it is about finding joy in unexpected places and at times we least expect.

Sweet Caress – William Boyd (£18.99)Amory's first memory is of her father doing a handstand. She has memories of him returning on leave during the First World War. But his absences, both actual and emotional, are what she chiefly remembers. It is her photographer uncle Greville who supplies the emotional bond she needs, and, when he gives her a camera and some rudimentary lessons in photography, unleashes a passion that will irrevocably shape her future. A spell at boarding school ends abruptly and Amory begins an apprenticeship with Greville in London, living in his flat in Kensington, earning two pounds a week photographing socialites for fashionable magazines.

But Amory is hungry for more and her search for life, love and artistic expression will take her to the demi monde of Berlin of the late 1920s, to New York of the 1930s, to the Blackshirt riots in London and to France in the Second World War where she becomes one of the first women war photographers. Her desire for experience will lead Amory to further wars, to lovers, husbands and children as she continues to pursue her dreams and battle her demons.

In this enthralling story of a life fully lived, William Boyd has created a sweeping panorama of some of the most defining moments of modern history, told through the camera lens of one unforgettable woman,

The Heart Goes Last – Margaret Atwood (£18.99)
In Consilience, Sam and Charmaine share a house with another couple that they have never met. but when their lives begin to overlap things start to become complicated. In an orwellian society where your every move is watched interesting questions are raised about what we might be willing to give up in exchange for comforts like a warm bed and plush towels.

After You – Jojo Moyes (£20)
This is the sequel to the worldwide phenomenon Me Before You. Jojo Moyes says: "I hadn't planned to write a sequel to Me Before You. But working on the movie script, and reading the sheer volume of tweets and emails every day asking what Lou did with her life, meant that the characters never left me.
It has been such a pleasure revisiting Lou and her family, and the Traynors, and confronting them with a whole new set of issues. As ever, they have made me laugh, and cry. I hope readers feel the same way at meeting them again."

The Ninth Life of Louis Drax – Liz Jensen - £8.99
Nine-year-old Louis Drax is a problem child: bright, precocious, deceitful, and dangerously, disturbingly, accident prone. When he falls off a cliff into a ravine, the accident seems almost predestined. Louis miraculously survives - but the family has been shattered. Louis' father has vanished, his mother is paralysed by shock, and Louis lies in a deep coma from which he may never emerge. In a clinic in Provence, Dr Pascal Dannachet tries to coax Louis back to consciousness. But the boy defies medical logic, startling Dannachet out of his safe preconceptions, and drawing him inexorably into the dark heart of Louis' buried world. Only Louis holds the key to the mystery surrounding his fall - and he can't communicate. Or can he?

City on Fire – Garth Risk Hallberg (£18.99)
I think it's fair to say that this book has split opinion in the shop - is it too long? Is it less a novel, more a write-up of a television min-series. What's fair to say is this: Hallberg - a well-established literary critic - shows admirable ambition and incredible scope in one of the most talked-about debuts for years.

It's New Year's Eve, 1976, and New York is a city on the edge. As midnight approaches, a blizzard sets in - and gunshots ring out over Central Park. The search for the shooter will bring together a rich cast of New Yorkers, bound up in a story where history and revolution, love and art, crime and conspiracy are all packed into a single shell, ready to explode. Then, on July 13th, 1977, the lights go out.

We recommend buying this book and 'Spuntino', knocking up some classic New York food, and settling in for a very long evening...

Happy Christmas!

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