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The Moon is Down

A fascinating piece of war time propaganda

The story behind this short John Steinbeck World War II novel is as fascinating as the book itself. Steinbeck, a world famous author by the start of the war, was deeply concerned about the rise of Fascism in Europe. He’d noticed the Fascists’ clever use of propaganda and urged the precursor to the CIA, for whom he worked, to create their own. In 1941, Steinbeck wrote The Moon is Down, which is largely based on conversations with people who’d fled their occupied countries. The book would become one of the most read underground novels of the war, with thousands of copies printed clandestinely in France, Denmark, Norway, Belgium and the Netherlands. Judging by its success, it must have played a role in mobilising resistance and keeping up morale.

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Books for Christmas

Finding beautiful books to give as presents used to be tricky. Not any longer. The arrival of e-books seemed to have propelled publishers into spending more thought and money on striking book covers. So walking into a well-stocked bookstore these days is no longer only a treat for your mind but a feast for your eyes as well. The bookshops are brimming with temptations: colourful, intelligent, artistic even tactile book covers. Combine that with some clever content and you’re in gift heaven. If there ever was a place you could kill off that Christmas shopping list with one stab, it’s in a bookshop.

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Silence – In the Age of Noise

A peaceful little must-read

Do yourself a favour. Take a moment out from whatever you have to do (now is the perfect time, as we approach the Christmas rush at work, school and home) and read this little book. It’s written by Erling Kagge, a publisher, writer and the first person to reach the North Pole, South Pole and climb Mount Everest. Kagge knows a thing or two about silence, having spent 50 days alone on his trek to the South Pole.

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Alias Grace

A chilling true-life murder mystery

Hot on the heals of a successful TV adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale comes a Netfilx adaptation of Alias Grace, another of Atwood’s best-selling novels. I’d take any excuse to re-read this excellent book, which is still as good today as it was in 1996. It’s based on the true story of Canadian domestic servant Grace Marks who in 1843, at the age of 16, was convicted of murdering her employer Mr Kinnear and fellow housekeeper Nancy Montgomery. Atwood’s interest in the case go beyond the murder, of course, and into the dark depths of women’s, particularly poor women’s, standing in society; the prejudices held against them, the sexual abuse and innuendo, the back-street abortions and the assumption that they are all liars. An absolutely riveting read.

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The Lost Estate (Le Grand Meaulnes)

A poignant evocation of those feverish days of adolescence

Our narrator, François Seurel, is the bookish son of a schoolmaster, residing in a provincial French village in the 1890s. Passive and impressionable, he yearns for adventure, but will never be the architect of his own life. When the charismatic adventurer, Augustin Meaulnes, comes to board at his home, Seurel’s life is changed irrevocably. A French classic, often described as the greatest novel of adolescence in European literature, The Lost Estate deserves to be more widely read on this side of the Channel.

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Bookstoker Young Readers

Book series for kids

Every parent loves a book series. Keep your kids busy with these Bookstoker recommendations.

La Belle Sauvage – The Book of Dust – Volume One

Long awaited prequel continues to push boundaries of children's fiction - Teen/Young Adult

Wonder

Savour this paean to kindness before its big screen release

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Chilling tales…

What better way to spend a dark October evening than reading a spine-chilling ghost story? Or even reading one aloud to your family? Many of them are short so you don’t need to scare yourself for days on end. We have selected our favourites and, if you want to freak out your children too, we have some for them as well…

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The Life of a Song

Anecdotes about 50 of the world's best-loved songs

Did you know that Leonard Cohen’s song ‘Hallelujah’ took him two years, ‘ 50,000 cigarettes and several swimming pools of whiskey’ (to deepen his voice) to make? Or that ‘Amazing Grace’ was not actually written by a slave but  a repenting slave trader. Or that Ronald Reagan used Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Born in the USA’ on his campaign trail, promising that he, just like the song, would make the electorate’s dreams come true, without realising that the song was actually about a Vietnam veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder, unable to find work? Neither did I, until I stumbled upon Cheal and Dalley’s compelling little book The Life of a Song, a compilation of the stories of 50 well-known songs written by music critics. A perfect present to your music loving friend, or even yourself.

The Life of a Song is published by Financial Times and Brewer’s, 208 pages.