Cogito Advent Calendar

The Nutcracker by E T A Hoffman and illustrated by Sanna Annukka

This is a fairy tale at once charming and sinister, and with a clear nod to those of you with a sweet tooth! The tale involves the nightly battles waged by Marie and Fritz’s toys against the ferocious mouse king, who lives beneath the floor of their house, and the strange ‘nutcracker’ figure given to Marie by her mysterious godfather. Gradually we find out who the Nutcracker really is and see Marie’s growing attachment to him and his sad story. There are also some mouth-watering descriptions of the magical edible kingdom to which the Nutcracker returns: Christmas Wood, Confectionville and Gingerbreadville all sound utterly delicious!

Devotion by Patti Smith

This is a hugely charming book, great for anyone interested in the writing process and the elusive, unexpected nature of inspiration. Patti Smith describes in her own utterly unique way how the most random aspects of life feed into the artistic process, moulded and shaped both consciously and unconsciously by the artist into something (in this case a short story) which goes into the world with a life of its own.

​Christmas Crackers - Candlestick Press

We are delighted to introduce this quirky, independent Nottingham-based publisher. Candlestick Press have produced a whole array of mini anthologies, printed on textured paper and comprising a slim book, an envelope and bookmark wrapped up in one. They all celebrate poetry and are based on a range of diverse themes. Christmas Crackers is filled with fun, contemporary poems by Simon Armitage, Lorraine Mariner, Panya Banjoko and Samantha Wynne-Rhydderch, to name but a few. From Christmas tree Divas to Joseph reading a manual for first time parents, to a bus shelter in Bethlehem and fairtrade chocolates; this is the perfect antidote to the traditional seasonal clichés. And Katie Tooke’s gorgeous illustrated cover makes it a perfect stocking filler!

​A History of Britain in 21 Women by Jenni Murray

An alternative and inspiring history of Britain is here! We all know about warriors, kings, and conflicts. But now this exceptional book defines Britain through its women. In these twenty-one portraits, meet the famous, the exceptional and the legendary women, who bring change, hope and vision to our lands. From artists and writers, fashion designers and physicians, politicians and queens, these are enthralling tales of heroism and revolutionary women who trail-blazed their way into our history.

​The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry

This is the story of Cora Seaborne, a young mother, recently widowed, with a passionate interest in natural history and a yearning to discover who she truly is. It’s a hugely ambitious novel, attempting to deal with the psychology of where we love and why, what forms and shapes our loves, lives and behaviour and what transpires when our desires and motivations are in conflict with those around us. Sarah Perry’s writing is beautiful in its boldness and complexity; her characters feel fresh and alive, and I particularly loved the weaving of gothic and mythical elements into the narrative.

​What We See in the Stars by Kelsey Oseid

This exquisite illustrated guide to the stars is bursting with mythology, art, history, and science. 100 pieces of magical art interweave fact and myth to create a book full of the night skies. Adults and children can revel in the enchantment and beauty of the constellations, the moon, the planets, the northern lights, deep space, and nebulae. It is a delightful ride through outer-space which will make you want to grab a pair of binoculars or simply a pair of boots… and get outside under the stars.

​The Scottish Bothy Bible by Geoff Allan

Mountain refuges, or as the Scots more commonly refer to them, bothies, enable keen walkers to stay overnight in the hills and explore more widely the wilds of the Scottish landscape. These small mountain huts are looked after by the Mountain Bothies Association, but don’t necessarily appear on maps. Here, Geoff Allan has collated a complete guide to their locations and facilities in Scotland. He writes fondly of his own multi-day walking trips, the many happy memories of communal evenings with fellow hikers and the peaceful simplicity of basic amenities. Geoff offers practical tips, helpful advice and inviting photography, along with his infectious enthusiasm is sure to have budding explorers setting out on new outdoor adventures!

​Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari

Homo Deus takes the phrase ‘thought-provoking’ to a new level. Harari assesses how the human race has developed and where it will be in the decades and perhaps centuries ahead, and in doing so he challenges the reader to explore their beliefs, their understanding of human nature and their own vision of the future. There is no doubt that this is deep and at times frightening subject matter, but the discussion is well-constructed and written with a surprising wit. Homo Deus stood out for me as an exceptional study and is a book I expect to return to several times.

​The Dry by Jane Harper

This contemporary thriller, set in a small town in the Australian outback, is a perfect storm of brilliantly realised characters, taut plot and superb atmosphere. Detective Aaron Falk must try and discover whether his old school friend, Luke Hadler, slaughtered his own family before committing suicide; no longer able to cope with the financial strain placed on his farm by a seemingly unending drought. Falk revisits his own past as he investigates and returns to the secrets which forced his own departure from the town many years ago. Jane Harper weaves a wonderfully subtle web of suspicion throughout and makes it an absolute pleasure tracking all of the characters’ apparent motives and past indiscretions.

The Land of the Green Man by Carolyne Larrington

This book is an absolute joy! With its fresh take on British folklore, explored through the land itself and with a myriad of contemporary and historical references; it really is an exciting journey. Carolyne Larrington carves out a new vision of Britain past and present, through myth, legend and geography. As a reader, you are accompanied by familiar elves, fairies and goblins; but as the author takes you deeper into our cultural soil, other fascinating characters emerge like boggarts, land-wights and the very sinister Nuckleavee and Black Shuck. This book was a different choice for me but I was thoroughly enchanted and can’t wait to pass this book on to others.

​Slow Horses by Mick Herron

This is the first of Mick Herron’s spy series featuring a group of disgraced MI5 spooks led by the hilariously offensive Jackson Lamb, the absolute antithesis of James Bond (and none the worse for that!). The ‘slow horses’ become involved in a real ‘op’, when one of their number discovers a video which appears to show terrorists threatening to behead a hostage. But this situation is not as it first appears, and as things spiral further out of control, it looks as though their investigation is leading right back to the portals of Regent’s Park. This is a wonderful book, written with wry humour and a plot that is cleverly subversive and an unalloyed joy to read.

​The Secret Life of Owls by John Lewis-Stempel

I have always been fascinated by owls from being a child, with their otherworldliness and silent hunting, so simply had to read this book! Natural world author, John Lewis-Stempel, unveils the mysterious world of the owl. Through graceful language, the author shines a light on this wise, elusive creature, exploring the mythical legends and history with references to folklore and literature. He includes the relationship between us and owls, quoting some stunning poetry and with line illustrations by Beci Kelly capturing the beautiful anatomy and movement of the owl. This is a short, charming read with a wealth of fascinating facts.

Love of Country: A Hebridean Journey by Madeleine Bunting

I knew that Love of Country, set in the Hebrides, would beautifully describe the natural history that I so enjoy reading about - and it does, wonderfully, but it is so much more than that. Love of County expands far beyond the landscape of this special remote corner of Britain as it charts the pilgrimage of discovery that Madeleine Bunting embarks upon to explore the culture, stories and soul of the individual islands. This is an extremely readable travelogue with fascinating historical extracts interspersed with her findings on island life today. Her writing is incredibly thought-provoking as she considers the meaning of home, the idea of unity and the motivation for pilgrimage. This book is a definite candidate for my best read of the year.

​Aelfred’s Britain by Max Adams

This latest book by Max Adams, looks at the life of polymath Aelfred and his place in the complex history of Viking incursion into Britain. For those of you who have already read The King in the North and In the Land of Giants then you’ll be sure to enjoy this further foray into the Dark Age (early medieval) period. This book looks outward to the northern peoples, the Vikings, who, over generations became a permanent presence in Britain and one which Aelfred had to deal with in order to pursue his own grand ambitions.

​The Body on the Doorstep by AJ Mackenzie

An excellent addition to the historical crime fiction canon, this novel, set in Kent in 1796, features the sleuthing duo of clergyman Reverend Hardcastle and his widowed neighbour Amelia Chaytor. The shocking and apparently motiveless murder of a young man sets in motion an investigation which leads them into a dark world of espionage and shifting allegiances, where everyone wants to hide their real intentions. The novel brilliantly captures the bleak isolation of the Kent marshes and also the paranoia of a country on a war footing, where trust is a most rare commodity.

​Down to Earth by Monty Don

Monty Don brings us a month-by-month guide to gardening, teeming with invaluable tips and wonderful wisdom gathered from a lifetime spent in the garden. There is advice about growing fruit, vegetables and shrubs, as well as musings on nature, seasons, pets, and garden design. There are even photographs from Monty Don’s own garden! From a green-fingered guru, this is a fantastic hands-on book that will help you make the best out of your garden all the year round.

​The Old Tracks through the Cheviots by David Jones

The ‘old tracks’ referred to in this book’s title are the ancient roadways which cross our rugged border country and which, if you know where to look, can still reveal the stories of the people who inhabited the land as far back as the Iron Age. The book gives us fascinating glimpses into many aspects of archaeological history, revealing evidence of the homes people lived in, the industries which employed them, and the land which they farmed. There is a wealth of information here, bringing to life the communities which grew, thrived and then apparently vanished (almost) in this wild, spectacularly beautiful landscape.

​Under A Pole Star by Stef Penney

As soon as you start reading this you’ll feel confident that you’re inhabiting a superbly created world which you’ll be loath to leave. The central character, Flora Mackie, is a woman taking on the male domain of polar exploration at the end of the nineteenth century. It’s a brilliant portrait of someone who knows their own capability and ambitions but is thwarted by the limited expectations of society. Also, I’m unable to resist writers who choose the arctic (in this case northern Greenland) as their setting as it is so irresistibly fascinating, harsh and beautiful, pushing characters to the very extremes of endurance. This heady combination makes this a totally compelling read.

​The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

This is a breathtaking piece of writing which enlightens, horrifies and then breaks your heart just for good measure. The novel tells the story of a slave, Cora, born on a brutal Georgia plantation, who finally escapes intending to travel to the free states via the secret transport network of the novel’s title. Although the description is code and not an actual railroad the network did indeed exist, in operation from the late 1700s up until 1865. Cora’s journey north is a terrifying ordeal replete with appalling incidents which illuminate a shameful period of history and reiterate the strength women like Cora needed just to enable them to survive.

​The Modern Cook's Year by Anna Jones

I love Anna Jones. Her simple yet inventive mouth-watering vegetarian recipes have been a mainstay in our house for the last few years. I don’t know how she’s managed it but she seems to have surpassed herself with this latest collection. Creating dishes perfect for each season of the year adds an extra dimension to this book, which brims with her trademark enthusiasm and laid back style.

​The Robin by Stephen Moss

A recent poll quite convincingly named the robin as Britain’s favourite bird, with the nearest challengers, the barn owl and the blackbird scoring barely a third of the robin’s total. Here, Stephen Moss delves into why this small familiar territorial bird that weighs no more than two £1 coins has established itself so firmly as an “old friend”. Moss follows the robin’s behavioural changes through the seasons, comparing it to other birds in our gardens, towns and wetlands. He weaves into his own vivid and evocative observations, the poetry, art and ornithological research the robin has inspired over centuries. He has a lovely use of language to describe birds’ movements, songs and identities. This is a charming, interesting and soothing read which offers the pleasure of more informed robin spotting.

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