Fargate from the Madding Crowd

Anna Caig
Anna Caig
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From All Quiet On The Western Bank, to Firshill Among Equals, Sheffield is getting into the festive spirit.

As the holiday season gets under way, I have a heartwarming Christmas read for you – A Boy Called Christmas. Again, this book is suitable for children from around eight, but published only last year it has become an instant classic with adults too. Why not make your reader review (deadline December 15) a family affair?

Get in touch via twitter @AnnaCaig or email copydesk.southyorks@jpress.co.uk.

The next read of the fortnight will be Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot’s Christmas on December 22.

Deadline: December 29.

Read of the fortnight:

A Boy Called Christmas, by Matt Haig

This book is wonderful. Not going to mince my words about this one.

It tells the story of a boy called Nikolas who was born on Christmas Day, and is so poor that his only toy is a doll made out of an old turnip. Nikolas goes on the ultimate adventure, discovers the legendary village of elves, and so comprehensively reaffirms the magic of Christmas that this is a story to melt even the least festive of hearts.

It feels like this generation’s A Christmas Carol, even dare I say it this generation’s nativity story. It is at once bang up to date and incisively political, while also feeling utterly timeless. Fewer and fewer of us are going to church, even at Christmas, and it is a long time since Dickens taught us about the importance of kindness to others. So now Haig is here to show us how to find inner peace, fulfilment and the joy in compassion, in a world that often feels broken. This is the Christmas story for the Oprah generation, and beyond.

I absolutely love Christmas. But there is no denying that the inescapable orgy of festive advertising from September onwards has become pretty obscene. There have always been stories that pierce through all the commercialism to show us a deeper, and much lovelier, truth about what Christmas means. And Haig joins an esteemed company of writers that have pulled this off magnificently.

Maybe not quite the meaning of life, but the next best thing: the meaning of Christmas, has been inside you all along. I realise I am making this book sound hugely cheesy, and it is important to stress that it is much less annoying than this implies.

At times the story does become unapologetically sentimental, but Haig pulls it back from the saccharine with his searing portrayal, and indictment, of the dangers of a corrupt political system and media. And also with brilliantly scatological scenes involving an exploding troll head, and the aerial bombardment of a baddie with reindeer poo. I would say these scenes are there to keep the children happy, but to be honest they are among my favourites too.

It is illustrated beautifully by Chris Mould, who captures perfectly the humour and magic occasionally tinged with a sinister edge.

A Boy Called Christmas is often hilarious, and even more often very moving indeed. Turn on those fairy lights, listen to some carols and curl up to read this book with a glass of eggnog.

Readers’ Review:

The Nowhere Emporium by Ross MacKenzie

Elsie, aged 10, in Bradwell, Hope Valley, says: I liked this book a lot because it has lots of adventure and I really liked the characters.

Some parts were hard to understand, but as you get further into the book they become clear and often these were the most interesting parts.

For example I wasn’t sure who or what two of the characters were, and I wasn’t sure if you were supposed to know or not!

But I found out soon (although it was quite sad).

The story goes up and down a lot; sometimes there is a really happy bit but then before you know it something really sad is happening.

This meant you never want to skip pages or paragraphs, and while I was reading this book I never got bored if I had it with me.

I couldn’t wait to get home from school and find out what happened next.

As I said before, I really like the characters but Ellie is my favourite.

She is kind, loving and loyal but also mysterious and misunderstood.

I really liked this book and I would recommend it to all children ages eight to 163!

Especially if you like adventure, magic and a bit of comedy now and then!

Reyt as Rain Reads - books to make it better

Ellen in Hunter’s Bar says: I’ve just returned from honeymoon and with all the extra time on my hands am getting through books as quickly as I can buy them! What would you recommend for a long, but not tedious, read?

Anna says: What a nice problem to have. I am very jealous of all your extra time to read. I have chosen a couple of recommendations for you that are not only superbly good, but they will repay a closer, more leisurely read.

The first is one of my favourite books of all time.

Many people are put off by the size of The Count Of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas.

At 117 chapters, it is a beast of a book, but by 50 pages in you will be so gripped and immersed in the world Dumas has created, that you will never want it to end.

It tells the story of Edmond Dantes, a young sailor who inspires such jealousy in the unscrupulous people around him that they frame him for treason, and on the day he is due to be married he is instead arrested.

We follow Dantes over the following decades as he takes cold and patient revenge on the men who conspired against him.

This is a stunning tale of adventure and retribution told by one of the greatest storytellers of all time.

I remember vivdly the feeling of completely abandoning myself to quite what a good story this is, and the mastery of Dumas’s writing.

Never mind recommending it to you, I’m off to read it again myself.

My second choice is very different in style, but I wanted to recommend something appropriate for a newlywed.

American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld is a more subtle book, and gripping in an almost hypnotic way.

It is a barely fictionalised account of the life of Laura Bush, named Alice Blackwell for the purposes of the story.

Sittenfeld sheds light on how a sensible, liberal-minded and level-headed woman marries, and more interestingly stays married to, a privileged playboy party animal who ends us as one of the most heavily criticised presidents in US history.

It is beautifully written, in Alice’s simple but compelling first-person voice.

And as well as being a riveting read, it acts as a useful reminder when you face the inevitable challenges of married life that however frustrating things may get as you leave the confetti and cake far behind, it could always be worse.

What book would you recommend for Ellen?