6 Books I’d like Under My Tree Santa, if you Please

Any insights into the anthems to which an entire generation grew up is to be welcomed and here are those insights, straight from the horse’s mouth.  (I happen to know that Santa is bringing this one!)

The Lyrics: 1956 to the Present by Paul Mccartney.

The Lyrics: 1956 to the Present (Hardback)


A new Amor Towles catches my attention. The Lincoln Highway.  It sounds nothing like his last book which a million of us loved, as did Kenneth Brannagh who is making the film of A Gentleman in Moscow. 

The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles

The blurb:

“In June 1954, eighteen year old Emmett Watson is driven home to Nebraska by the warden of the juvenile work farm where he has just served fifteen months for the only mistake he’s ever made.  With his mother long gone, his father recently deceased, and the family farm foreclosed by the bank, Emmett plans to pick up his eight year old brother Billy and head to California to start a new life.

But when the warden drives off, Emmett discovers that two friends from the work farm have stowed away in the trunk of the warden’s car. They have a very different plan for the future, one that will take the four of them on a journey to New York City.”


An English Pastoral, James Rebanks.  A new book from the author of The Shepherd’s Life charts the way farming has changed, not only in method, but the landscape of the Lake District in the north of freezing England, and the ways of life that went before.  I have to say his first book dealt with similar themes but who cares, he’s so readable.


English Pastoral: An Inheritance by James Rebanks

The blurb:

James Rebanks was taught by his grandfather to work the land the old way. Their family farm in the Lake District hills was part of an ancient agricultural landscape: a patchwork of crops and meadows, of pastures grazed with livestock, and hedgerows teeming with wildlife. And yet, by the time James inherited the farm, that landscape had profoundly changed. The men and women had vanished from the fields; the old stone barns had crumbled; the skies had emptied of birds and their wind-blown song.

English Pastoral is the story of an inheritance: one that affects us all. It tells of how rural landscapes around the world were brought close to collapse, and how the age-old rhythms of work, weather, community and wild things were lost. But this elegy from the northern fells is also a song of hope: of how, guided by the past, one farmer began to salvage a tiny corner of England that was now his, doing his best to restore the life that had vanished and to leave a legacy for the future.

This is a book about what it means to have love and pride in a place, and how, against the odds, it may still be possible to build a new pastoral: not a utopia, but somewhere decent for us all.


I’m fascinated by war journalism.  The sheer courage it must take. Marie Colvin’s life and death (2012, Homs, Syria) is documented in Lindsey Hilsum’s book In Extremis.   

Colvin’s life has also been made into a film starring Rosamond Pike. Her journalism is collected here:


On the Front Line: The Collected Journalism of Marie Colvin by Marie Colvin

The blurb:

On the Front Line is an Orwell Special Prize winning journalism collection from veteran war correspondent Marie Colvin, who is the subject of the movie A Private War, starring Rosamund Pike and Jamie Dornan.

Marie Colvin held a profound belief in the pursuit of truth, and the courage and humanity of her work was deeply admired. On the Front Line includes her various interviews with Yasser Arafat and Colonel Gadaffi; reports from East Timor in 1999 where she shamed the UN into protecting its refugees; accounts of her terrifying escape from the Russian army in Chechnya; and reports from the strongholds of the Sri Lankan Tamil Tigers where she was hit by shrapnel, leaving her blind in one eye.

Typically, however, her new eye-patch only reinforced Colvin’s sense of humour and selfless conviction. She returned quickly to the front line, reporting on 9/11, Afghanistan, Iraq, Gaza and, lately, the Arab Spring.

Immediate and compelling, On the Front Line is a street-view of the historic events that have shaped the last 25 years, from an award-winning foreign correspondent and the outstanding journalist of her generation.


Another story of female courage and endurance:

It's What I Do: A Photographer's Life of Love and War by Lynsey Addario

The blurb:

Lynsey Addario was just finding her way as a young photographer when September 11 changed the world. One of the few photojournalists with experience in Afghanistan, she gets the call to return and cover the American invasion. She makes a decision she would often find herself making—not to stay home, not to lead a quiet or predictable life, but to set out across the world, face the chaos of crisis, and make a name for herself.

Addario finds a way to travel with a purpose. She photographs the Afghan people before and after the Taliban reign, the civilian casualties and misunderstood insurgents of the Iraq War, as well as the burned villages and countless dead in Darfur. She exposes a culture of violence against women in the Congo and tells the riveting story of her headline-making kidnapping by pro-Qaddafi forces in the Libyan civil war.

Addario takes bravery for granted but she is not fearless. She uses her fear and it creates empathy; it is that feeling, that empathy, that is essential to her work. We see this clearly on display as she interviews rape victims in the Congo, or photographs a fallen soldier with whom she had been embedded in Iraq, or documents the tragic lives of starving Somali children. Lynsey takes us there and we begin to understand how getting to the hard truth trumps fear.


A reminder that not everyone is worried about the turkey and sprouts at this time of year.  YA graphic novel on the refugee crisis in Syria.

The Unwanted: Stories of the Syrian Refugees by Don Brown

Sibert Honor Medalist ∙ New York Public Library Best Of 2018 ∙ The Horn Book’s Fanfare 2018 list ∙ Kirkus Best Books of 2018 ∙ YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction Winner

In the tradition of two-time Sibert honor winner Don Brown’s critically acclaimed, full-color nonfiction graphic novels The Great American Dust Bowl and Drowned City, The Unwanted is an important, timely, and eye-opening exploration of the ongoing Syrian refugee crisis, exposing the harsh realities of living in, and trying to escape, a war zone.

Starting in 2011, refugees flood out of war-torn Syria in Exodus-like proportions. The surprising flood of victims overwhelms neighboring countries, and chaos follows. Resentment in host nations heightens as disruption and the cost of aid grows. By 2017, many want to turn their backs on the victims. The refugees are the unwanted.
Don Brown depicts moments of both heartbreaking horror and hope in the ongoing Syrian refugee crisis. Shining a light on the stories of the survivors, The Unwanted is a testament to the courage and resilience of the refugees and a call to action for all those who read.


Up next:  I’ve just finished reading Frank Herbert’s Dune.  It’s 50 years since it was first published.  Has it stood the test of time?  How does it fare in our post Star Wars epoch? My review next week.


Currently reading:  My Antonia, by Willa Cather

8 thoughts on “6 Books I’d like Under My Tree Santa, if you Please

  1. On the Front Line sounds very interesting! I’m very much hoping that Santa does bring you a copy because if your thoughts on it are favorable, I might have to pick it up myself 😉
    And I’m also planning on reading Dune soon!

  2. I read Dune a LONG time ago – it was the only book on a houseboat I was staying on, pre-Kindle, not near any bookshops, when I ran out of my own books. Four volumes of Dune, actually … I just bought the Rebanks book, I am not normally allowed to buy books at this time of year but a good friend had given me a “voucher” (a handwritten note) for our tiny local indie bookshop and it was one of the three I picked up.

      1. Dune was, what, 30 or so years ago? I still remember being freaked out by the sandworms and something gross that happens to Paul Atreides’ eyes, and trying to work out and understand some of the stuff in it! Not sure when I’ll get to the Rebanks but it will be reviewed and I’m keen to read it!