As soon as the dark begins creeping in around 4 o’clock here in the Shires, there’s nothing we like more than to settle by the fire with a glass in one hand and a book in the other. Whether you’re in need of an antidote to the Christmas rush, a book or two to provide a little gift inspiration or something to usher in the festive mood – here’s our little list to bring you much cheer, all from the comfort of your own armchair.
Welcome to 2023’s Are You Sitting Comfortably Christmas reads.
SJ Axelby’s Painted Travels
We loved SJ’s first book, Interior Portraits: An Artist’s View of Designers’ Living Spaces and her latest book couldn’t be more gorgeous. Join SJ as she takes you on a painted tour of remarkable places around the world. It’s a personal invitation to visit over 60 of the world’s best destinations without having to leave home. From the San Domenico hotel featured in cult drama, White Lotus, the dizzying heights of a treehouse in Bahia, Pitts River Museum via the Shell Grotto in Margate and the most beautiful dairy in the world, it’s a Grand Tour of sumptuous and characterful interiors through the lens of an artist’s eye. Some with a very personal connection, some SJ’s visited in person, others she has explored in paint. History, design, there are even a few signature cocktail recipes to add a touch of good old-fashioned glamour – Painted Travels is an inspirational collection of beautiful interiors and their stories. A delight to the senses and perfect for art and travel lovers.
A festive murder mystery to solve
The Christmas Murder Game by Alexandra Benedict
Twelve clues. Twelve keys. Twelve days of Christmas. But who will survive until Twelfth Night? Lured back to her grand family home, Lily Armitage ends up taking part in an annual tradition – the Christmas game. When her aunt makes her a promise that playing the game will help her discover what happened 21 Christmases ago, Lily is desperate to unravel the truth. Could the riddles reveal her mother’s killer? As she plays alongside her estranged cousins, it becomes clear that all have their own agenda. Let the games begin.
A warming read
Jenny Bayliss’ A December to Remember
Half-sisters Maggie, Simone and Star have hardly seen each other since idyllic summers spent with Augustus, their eccentric father, in the charming village of Rowan Thorp. Reunited by the reading of their father’s will, it seems that Augustus was loved by all and known by none, not even his daughters. Shocked to find that Augustus has engineered a series of hoops through which each must jump to unlock their inheritance – it’s the last thing any of them want to do, especially when they all desperately need the money. Winter at Rowan Thorp stirs up feelings with forgotten flames and the sisters are forced to confront the lives they’ve left behind. Can the sisters learn to work together? Sometimes the only way to move forward is to go back to where it all began . . .
All the LOLs
And So This is Christmas: 51 Seasonally Adjusted Poems by Brian Bilston
If you haven’t discovered Brian Bilston, Twitter’s (or should that be X’s) unofficial Poet Laureate and all round brilliant funny man (oh yes he is), then you are in for a real Christmas treat with this latest collection of festive poems. Looking for the perfect Christmas gift for that impossible to buy family member? This is it. 51 supremely witty observations and musings on Christmas and all that Yuletide jazz from bizarre family traditions to the office party via voting day for turkeys – a cracker on every page.
Janice Hallett’s The Christmas Appeal
Only Queen of Crime, Janice Hallett, could bring us a panto and a dead Santa. It’s Christmas in Lower Lockwood, and the Fairway Players are busy rehearsing Jack and the Beanstalk to raise money for the church roof appeal. But despite the season, goodwill is distinctly lacking amongst the amateur dramatics enthusiasts. Sarah-Jane is fending off threats to her new position as Chair, the fibreglass beanstalk might be full of asbestos, and a someone is intent on ruining the panto even before the curtain goes up. There’s also the matter of the dead body. Who could possibly have had the victim on their naughty list? Join lawyers Femi and Charlotte as they read the round robins, examine the emails and pore over the police transcripts. Will the show go on?
Christmas by Candlelight by Karen Swan
A cosy escapist festive read from Karen Swan, Sunday Times bestselling author of twenty-five books. It’s three days before Christmas and starting to snow when corporate lawyer Libby and her new boyfriend reluctantly attend a university reunion in Yorkshire. Hosted at the grand family estate of the heartbreaker of their group, Archie Templeton, everything goes well until it’s time to leave and the roads are blocked with snow. At first, being snowed in together is fun. But as hours pass everyone grows restless. Then the power goes out . . . Hunkered down together by candlelight, they reminisce about old times – and tensions soon start to rise. Secrets from the past begin to unravel and Libby is confronted with a truth she has long tried to deny. Plenty of romance and drama in this one.
Style and Substance: Why What We Wear Matters edited by Bay Garnett
A perfect fit for the fashionista, Bay’s collection of meditations on fashion and style offers an eclectic celebration of self-expression, curated by one of the UK’s most respected experts on fashion, Style and Substance combines original, contemplative, vintage and contemporary pieces alongside trailblazers from history. With over sixty pieces on everything from thrifting to modesty dressing, drag to vintage sportswear where Bernardine Evaristo, Davina McCall, Jarvis Cocker, AJ Tracey and Virginia Woolf sit alongside each other – it’s the ultimate accessory.
Striking a rural note
Elspeth Barker’s Notes from the Henhouse
This one had me at Gothic castle, a draughty Norfolk farmhouse and a malevolent Aga. Collated by her daughter and novelist, Raffaela Barker, Notes from the Henhouse is a delicious collection of autobiographical essays from Elspeth Barker, author of dark and funny Gothic coming of age novel, O Caledonia. From pet pigs and bouncing babies to life with husband and poet George and the ecstasy of writing and dither of procrastination, I couldn’t have loved this one more. A fabulous collection of short stories which offer a delightful portrait of Elspeth’s eccentric and remarkable way of life. An absolute pleasure to sink into the armchair with.
Under winter’s spell
The Winter Spirits – Ghostly Tales for Frosty Nights
The Winter Spirits brings together twelve stories from some of our most loved and lauded authors of gothic fiction – Kiran Millwood Hargrave, Laura Purcell, Elizabeth Macneal, Laura Shepherd-Robinson, Stuart Turton and Imogen Hermes Gowar to name just a few. The perfect companion on a winter’s eve, each one centres around the festive season and honours the long-held tradition of a haunted tale at Christmas. Light a candle and curl up with this one – all are beautifully woven stories to read on those dark wintry evenings to come.
Diana Henry’s Roast Figs, Sugar Snow
Christmas just wouldn’t be Christmas for me without this one. This is a cookbook that really feeds the soul. Even if you never cook anything from it (which of course you must not least because the Swedish Cardamom Apple and Marzipan Cake is INSANELY good), then please just enjoy reading it and luxuriating in the best of food writing. Diana Henry is undoubtedly one of the most gifted food writers and this book can often be found on my bedside table in the winter months. Nearly 20 years after its first publication, it’s been revisited, revised and refreshed with a new foreword by Nigel Slater and there are seven new recipes waiting inside its new version. Comfort food which is nourishing for body and mind – just what we all need to get through winter.
Rebecca Fletcher @margotgoodlife
A huge thank you to our sponsors for this month The Beautiful Book Company : your book advent calendar is an absolute joy, we have both trembled with excitement opening these bookish treats. There is a new craze sweeping the bookish world called “Blind date with a book” where instead of judging a book by its cover you buy a pre wrapped book and surprise yourself. This is a truly wonderful idea and there is no better gift than a book you had never heard of and fall in love with completely. The Beautiful Book Company offer a super exciting Secret Santa box but they also offer a more personal service to ensure that the recipient will receive books that they will actually love! They offer a bespoke service to tailor the subscription or hamper to the person that you are surprising. I adore the idea of a book blind date but I am too fearful of receiving “North West trains throughout the 1900’s” (although my Father would whoop with delight) to buy a brown paper wrapped book!!!
The Beautiful Book Company Personalised Gift Subscription
Thank you so much for joining us this year with Are You Sitting Comfortably, we can’t believe the guest authors who have popped on to chat about their incredible novels over the last 12 months. It is a true joy to share our love of books with so many amazing people. Thank you. Rebecca F and I hope that you have a truly wonderful Christmas filled with bookish delights and crumbly mince pies. Happy Christmas dear readers xxxxxxxxx