Take it as Read: twelve British books that make great Xmas gifts….

By Gabrielle Pantera

Books make great gifts and British books are always a favorite choice. It’s not too late to pop into a bookstore to get a gift for a special someone or for yourself. Let’s look at a dozen great books perfect for the Anglophile (or for any reader) this holiday season.

Historical Fiction

1. Pride and Prejudice: An Annotated Edition

Pride and Prejudice, first published in 1813,was Austen’s most popular novel during her lifetime. It was also her favorite. This version has gorgeous illustrations and is annotated by scholar Patricia Meyer Spacks, who explains the literary and historical contexts, allusions, and outdated language that can be a bit confusing. Spacks helps the reader delve deeper into the story and characters.

Pride and Prejudice: An Annotated Edition . Author Jane Austen, Editor Patricia Meyer Spacks. Hardcover, 464 pages, Publisher: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press; Annotated edition (October 1, 2010), Language: English, ISBN: 9780674049161 $35.00

 2. Persuasion: An Annotated Edition

Persuasion was originally published in 1817, after Austen’s death. Persuasion is quite introspective and more passionate that other Austen novels. The introduction for Persuasion is by scholar Robert Morrison. His notes are about the relationship between Anne Elliot and Frederick Wentworth. He also covers Austen contemporaries such as Lord Byron, Walter Scott, and Maria Edgeworth.

Persuasion: An Annotated Edition. Author Jane Austen, Editor Robert Morrison. Hardcover: 360 pages, Publisher: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press; Annotated edition (November 7, 2011), Language: English, ISBN: 9780674049741 $35.00

3. Madam Tussaud

This story of Madame Marie Tussaud starts just before the French revolution. Tussaud and her family consider themselves survivalists. They work both sides of the revolution to survive the war. Will Marie survive or will her wax figures be her only legacy?

Madam Tussaud by Michelle Moran. Hardback, 464 pages, Publisher: Crown (February 15, 2011), Language: English. ISBN: 9780307588654 $25.00 Paperback comes out Dec 7th, 2011 $15.00

Modern Fiction

4. The Little Women Letters

Donnelly’s novel evokes the love and nurturing nature of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. The trials and tribulations that are inherent with families and sisters in particular are woven beautifully through out the novel. The bond between the sisters in the novel will make even those who don’t have sisters want one or two.

In The Little Women Letters, Lulu Atwater is the middle sister. She’s close to her sisters and parents, but her life isn’t going as planned…if she had a plan. Older sister Emma loves her career and is planning her wedding. Younger sister Sophie is an actress whose career is starting to take off. Fed up with dead-end jobs, Lulu realizes that she needs to get her life together. Lulu finds some old letters written by her great-great-grandmother Josephine March. Lulu gets caught up Jo’s life lesson. Can the words of her great-great-grandmother help Lulu figure out who she wants to be?

The Little Women Letters by Gabrielle Donnelly. Hardcover, 368 pages, Publisher: Touchstone (June 7, 2011), Language: English, ISBN: 9781451617184. $10.20

5. The Mermaid Garden

In Mermaid Garden, ten-year-old Floriana loves the Tuscan villa that overlooks the sea just outside her small village. Sitting on the crumbling wall she looks over the garden imagining she’ll one day live there. Dante, the son of villa owner Beppe Bonfanti, invites Floriana in to look at the mermaid garden. As Floriana and Dante grow up they fall in love, but his powerful and ruthless father has the poor girl from the local village disappear. Dante is devastated. Decades later on the coast in Devon, a beautiful old country house has been turned into a hotel. Marina Turner hires Argentinean artist Rafa Santoro for the summer to teach the guests how to paint. What’s the secret to how Floriana, Dante, Marina and Rafa all connect?

Mermaid Garden, by Santa Montefiore. Hardcover, 432 pages, Publisher: Touchstone; Original edition (May 3, 2011). Language: English, ISBN: 9781451624304 $24.99

Mysteries

6. Naughty in Nice (A Royal Spyness Mystery)

Set in the 1930s, Naughty in Nice presents Lady Georgiana Rannoch, 34th in line to the throne of England. Unfortunately, her branch of the family is flat broke. It’s the Great Depression. She struggles to make her own way in a difficult world. Unwilling to marry or settle for less then love, she is determined to be an independent woman.

Naughty in Nice the fifth book in Bowen’s wonderful the Royal Spyness series. Lady Georgiana takes a trip to Nice to unobtrusively recover a snuffbox missing from Queen Mary’s collection. What more could an unmarried woman want but to escape to a warm climate during the coldest time of year in London? Jean-Paul is a sexy Frenchman who hits on Georgiana. She’s glad for the distraction when she sees her man Darcy O’Mara with another woman and child who looks like him. There are a few surprises for Georgiana in this novel. With each new novel Bowen makes the characters more enchanting. Read this novel alone or read the series in order.

Naughty in Nice (A Royal Spyness Mystery) by Rhys Bowen. Publisher: Berkley Hardcover; 1 edition (September 6, 2011), Language: English. ISBN: 9780425243497 $ 24.96

7. Where Shadows Dance: A Sebastian St. Cyr Mystery

Where Shadows Dance is set in 1812 London.  Sebastian St. Cyr, the only surviving son and heir of the Earl of Hendon, is asked by his friend, surgeon Paul Gibson, to solve a mystery. A body Gibson illegally bought from body snatchers for study has a stab wound at the base of the skull. The man was murdered. The dead man was Alexander Ross, who worked for the Foreign Office. St. Cyr and his wife to be, Hero Jarvis, work together to solve this mystery. With Napoleon invading Russia and the Americans going to war, will they find the answer without creating an international scandal?

The historical facts add to the story, such as deaths compiled by the elderly women in each parish for more than 200 years prior to 1812 called the Bills of Mortality. Harris’ descriptions draw you into 1812. The characters and characteristics of the protagonists, St Cyr and Hero Jarvis, feel a bit modern at times.

Where Shadows Dance: A Sebastian St. Cyr Mystery by C.S. Harris. Hardcover, 352 pages, Publisher: NAL Hardcover; First Edition (March 1, 2011). Language: English, ISBN: 9780451232236 $24.95

Factual

8. Scandalous Women

Scandalous Women provides succinct biographies of some of the most fascinating women in history. Their lives are revealed showing the high and low points in their lives. The chapter titles include Warrior Queens, Scintillating Seductresses, Wild Women of the West and Amazing Adventuresses. A total of 35 different women are in this book. Mohan is entertaining and even humorous at times. Whether it’s less familiar biographies like Vita Sackville-West and Emilie du Chatelet, or the ones everyone knows like Cleopatra and Eleanor of Aquitaine, the women’s lives are fascinating.

Scandalous Women, Trade Paperback, 320 pages, Publisher: Perigee Trade (March 1, 2011), Language: EnglishISBN13: 9780399536458 $15.00

9. George II: King and Elector (Part of the English Monarchs Series)

Raised in Northern Germany, George II was the last British monarch born outside Great Britain. He was also the last British monarch to lead an army in battle, participating at the Battle of Dettingen in 1743. While still the Prince of Wales he quarreled with his father, King George I, and was banned from the palace and from seeing his children. George II became king in 1727 on his father’s death. In 1745, supporters of James Stuart failed to depose the George II in the last of the Jacobite rebellions. The attempt to install a Catholic king was over.

This is not a social book describing parties, clothing or food. It describes family jealousies and gives a deeper understanding of the relationship between George II and his children. For anyone who wants to know more about George II, this is a definite must-read.

George II: King and Elector (Part of the English Monarchs Series) By Andrew Thompson Hardcover, 315 pages, Publisher: Yale University Press (June 28, 2011),Language: English, ISBN: 9780300118926 $40.00

10. The Second World War: A Military History

The Second World War is not controversial, but is thoroughly explored in nearly 700 pages. Despite the length, Corrigan’s writing is easy to read. This book is for anyone who wants to know about the conflict. It is straightforward due to the author’s dry wit and clear writing style. A historian, Corrigan compares WWII with previous wars. He’s not timid about voicing his opinion of actions during the war. Corrigan explores the different ways each country went about dealing with their part of the war. Even though there were alliances, rarely did they work together in accord. Corrigan discusses the different contributions the Americans, British and Russians made. The book presents in chronological order and moves back and forth between countries. A large portion of the book covers fighting in Asia.

The Second World War: A Military History by Gordon Corrigan . Hardcover, 672 pages, Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books (November 8, 2011), Language: English, ISBN: 9780312577094 $35.00.

11. A Thousand Times More Fair: What Shakespeare’s Plays Teach Us About Justice

Kenji Yoshino is a constitutional law professor at NYU. He compares Shakespeare’s justice against law in today’s society. Starting with Titus Andronicus, a very violent play that is all about revenge, he compares the play to America’s wars against terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan. Is America waging a war for safety or is it an act of revenge? Yoshino examines Hamlet, Lear, The Tempest and more. If Yoshino classes are half as good as this book no wonder he’s got students vying to get in his class.

A Thousand Times More Fair: What Shakespeare’s Plays Teach Us About Justice. Kenji Yoshino. Hardcover, 320 pages, Publisher: Ecco (April 12, 2011), Language: English. ISBN: 9780061769108 $26.99

12. The Time Traveler’s Guide to Medieval England

The Time Travelers Guide to Medieval England drops you in the year 1300 to learn all about how people lived, dressed, worked, the difference between the classes and anything else you wanted to know about Medieval times but were afraid to ask.

The Time Travelers Guide to Medieval England is a surprisingly engrossing read even if you don’t care about history. There are facts that will make you think about all you were taught about history and make you re-think it all. Now out in Trade paperbck.

The Time Traveler’s Guide to Medieval England: A Handbook for Visitors to the Fourteenth Century by Ian Mortimer. Hardcover, 352 pages, Publisher: Touchstone (December 29, 2009), Language: English. ISBN-13: 978-1439112892 $26.00