Gift guide 2019

01 December 2019 - 00:00 By jennifer Platt

Published in the Sunday Times (01/12/2019)

For people persons

It seems that there's nothing quite like peeking into someone's life and the memoir has become the most fashionable book this year. Here are a few of our favourites:

Inside Out by Demi Moore (HarperCollins): Moore's life reads like a car crash - the schadenfreude is real. It's fascinating to find out what  happened with Ashton Kutcher and Bruce Willis as well as her recent near suicide after imbibing a drug cocktail.

I am Ndileka: More Than My Surname by Ndileka Mandela (Jacana Media): The name Mandela carries an inordinate amount of weight, expectation and duty, something that Ndileka has struggled with throughout her childhood, trying to find her own way and her own voice. She writes with clarity and forthrightness on how she dealt with death in her family, patriarchy, motherhood, depression, being homeless and surviving rape and abuse.

Beast by Tendai Mtawarira and Andy Capostagno (Pan Macmillan): Why would you not want to read an autobiography from one of our Rugby World Cup Heroes? Beeeaaassssttt!

Catching Tadpoles by Ronnie Kasrils (Jacana Media): In this memoir, Kasrils recounts his childhood against the backdrop of apartheid. Through his memories, he tries to answer: "What made a young white boy give up privilege and join the liberation struggle?"

Home Work: A Memoir of  My Hollywood Years by Julie Andrews (Orion): Her first memoir Home was about her difficult childhood and becoming a theatre star. This is the one to read if you want to hear the good stuff about what happened when she starred in Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music, etcetera. Andrews tells it with her usual charm and sparkling wit.

Scarred: The True Story  of How I Escaped NXIVM, the Cult that Bound My Life by Sarah Edmondson with Kristine Gasbarre (Hardie Grant): This one makes for maddening and scary reading. Maddening because you keep on asking how an intelligent woman like Edmondson became involved in the NXIVM
(NEKS-ee-am) cult, recruited members and stayed there for years. And scary how her search for "enlightenment" overrode her sense of self-preservation.

Other memoirs

Unfollow by Megan Phelps (Quercus), The Education of an Idealist by Samantha Power (William Collins), Acid for the Children by Flea (Headline), Over the Top by Jonathan Van Hess (Simon & Schuster).

For those who like their cocktails with a slice of crime 

Jack Reacher: Blue Moon by Lee Child (Delacourt Press): Child's Reacher is in a nowhere town run by Albanian and Ukranian gangs. He gets himself dragged in to help an old couple who need to borrow money from the loan sharks. This Reacher, however, is experiencing major ennui, with absolutely no mercy for the gangsters. The body count and the level of violence is astounding, but Child still manages to write a lekker skop skiet en donder.

Agent Running in the Field by John le Carré (Viking): Critics are calling Le Carré's new novel, an indictment of Brexit, a masterpiece. At the age of 88, this is no mean feat.

Heaven, My Home by Attica Locke (Serpent's Tail): The second instalment of her Highway 59 series takes the reader to Texas again with Texas Ranger Darren Mathews, where the reader is confronted by the people of the state and their complex race problems. Can be read as a standalone.

Other thrillers

The Last Hunt by Deon Meyer (Hodder & Stoughton), The Shape of Night by Tess Gerritson (Ballantine), The Grid by Nick Cook (Bantam Press), This Dark, Little Place by AS Hatch (Serpent's Tail).

For those who like to use their ears

Sometimes you need to put on your earphones, shut everyone out, take a bath or a walk, or go for a long drive and just LISTEN.

Get revved up by Everything is F*cked! A Book About Hope by Mark Manson (HarperCollins). The man behind the The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F*ck will talk you through your malaise and try to help fix what is hurting, but in a no-bullshit way.

Only Bill Bryson can make biology this lol and in The Body: A Guide for Occupants (Doubleday) he not only breaks down what walking miracles we are but also gives funny snippets, dispels dangerous myths and terrifies one with what we are doing wrong - but in a good way.

Then, if there's anyone who could be the King of Inspiration, it would be the culture/ heart guru from Netflix's Queer Eye. To have Mr Brown read his memoir Karamo: My Story of Embracing Purpose, Healing, and Hope (Simon & Schuster) in his smooth, velvety voice is simply soul food.

It feels like Elton John becomes your best friend when he reads his autobiography Me, with Taron Egerton (who played Elton in the film Rocket Man). The superstar's life is fun, ridiculous, amazing and emotional.

Best known for her hit film Always be my Maybe and stand-up special Baby Cobra, comedian Ali Wong gives advice to her two daughters in Dear Girls: Intimate Tales, Untold Secrets & Advice for Living Your Best Life, covering everything they need to know (how to date men) as well as some TMI stuff (how she trapped their dad). It's hilarious.

Daisy Jones and The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid (Hutchinson) is narrated by Jennifer Beals with an A-List cast that includes Benjamin Bratt and Judy Greer. This is a VHI behind-the-music type book about a fictional band in late-'70s Los Angeles. It's so vivid, you wish they were a real band and that you could listen to their music.

Last, you just might find it easier to listen to The Testaments by Margaret Atwood, narrated by Ann Dowd than to read the Booker Prize winner.

- All available on

Beach reads

For those who like to take it easy.

What Happens in Paradise by Elin Hilderbrand (Hodder & Stoughton): Irene Steele found out when her husband died that he lived a double life - he had another family on the island of St John. She goes to the island to find out the truth about the man she supposedly knew but discovers some truths about herself as well.

Country Lovers by Fiona Walker (Head of Zeus): Horses, the Cotswolds, handsome stud men, passion and humour. Nuff said.

The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes (Penguin Fiction): The Me Before You author has managed to write another bestseller. This time it's about five women in Depression-era America who become part of a team of women who deliver books as part of Eleanor Roosevelt's new travelling library. They become known as the Packhorse Librarians of Kentucky. Based on true stories, Moyes has written an epic and heartwarming tale.

The Family Gift by Cathy Kelly (Orion): It can only get better when the first paragraph of the description on the back makes one laugh: "Freya Abalone has a big, messy, wonderful family, a fantastic career and a new house. But that's on the outside. On the inside, she's got Mildred - the name she's given to that nagging inner critic who tells us all we're not good enough." This is a warm, feel-good bookhug.

Borderline by Marita van der Vyver (Penguin Fiction): The author writes sublime romance with bite. A letter belonging to her dead husband sets Theresa on a journey to Cuba, where she begins to discover what it was like for young men to be conscripted to the Border War in Angola.

Other beach reads: Sun Sister by Lucinda Riley (Pan Macmillan), On Swift Horses by Shannon Pufahl (HarperCollins), Akin by Emma Donoghue (Pan Macmillan).

For those who like big reads

Imaginary Friend by Stephen Chbosky (Orion): It seems that Chbosky fitted in everything he wanted to say for the past 20 years in this 700-page novel. Yes, it has been that long since The Perks of Being a Wallflower was released and he decided to follow that up with some old-school horror.

Deep River by Karl Marlantes (Atlantic): Marlantes's debut novel Matterhorn is lauded as a modern war classic and his new novel will probably become an epic classic. It's an 820-page saga of a Finnish family who emigrate to America in the late 19th century.

The Outlaw Ocean: Crime and Survival in the Last Untamed Frontier by Ian Urbina (The Bodley Head): The New York Times journalist investigates the hidden world of the ocean, where there are no laws and pirates, bandits and mercenaries rule.

Atlas Obscura, 2nd Edition - An Explorer's Guide to the World's Hidden Wonders by Joshua Froer et al (Workman Publishing Company): If you revel in adventure via the armchair or have the need to travel, Atlas Obscura can take you to curious and unusual destinations. When the first edition was published it expanded our sense of the world. This edition includes two special features: 12 city guides and a foldout map with an itinerary for the ultimate round-the-world roadtrip.

Catch and Kill by Ronan Farrow (Little, Brown): Farrow's narrative of how he pursued uncovering the truth about Hollywood predators (Harvey Weinstein and co) reads like a thriller, but these are real-life situations in which the bad dudes have equally bad, powerful friends running news empires and who have entered a conspiracy of silence with each other that is like no other.

Wanderers by Chuck Wendig (Simon & Schuster): Wendig is exceptionally good at spinning social commentary threads into his novels and he does this throughout his new dystopian, apocalyptic tome. He takes science and science fiction, politics and heartwarming personal stories and blends them into a must-read 800-page thriller.