Welcome to this quick review of 40 of the most beautiful books published this year, with the aim of helping you to find appropriate gifts for your nearest and dearest, or – even better – take an opportunity to treat yourself during the holiday season! The books are loosely sorted by genre, and I’ve added links for every book to help you track down the exact edition if you see anything you love.
There’s truly something for everyone. Subcategories if you’d like to jump ahead include picture books, children’s books, pop-ups, teens, fiction, mystery, fantasy & scifi, movie buffs, Harry Potter, art, history and Christmas…
The Worm and the Bird – Coralie Bickford Smith: This stunningly illustrated picture book is a story about searching and hoping, and how the smallest moment can be beautiful. Perfect for adults or children. Coralie’s design work is most recognisable in the Penguin clothbound cover series, and it really shines in her picture book series, the first of which was equally beautiful, The Fox and the Star.
Nibbles: The Dinosaur Guide: and Nibbles: The Book Monster by Emma Yarlett are beautifully engineered books, packed full of peek through holes where Nibbles has eaten through the book, lift the flaps and interesting facts. You can even get a matching plush toy if you’re buying for a little one.
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland illustrated by Charles Santore would be perfect for an Alice collector as this gorgeously illustrated volume has foldout illustrations, and comes with a poster as well.
The Folio Society’s Little Prince is a fabulous edition – it includes the heart-warming famous story, with illustrations that have been lovingly restored to their original beauty along with the authentic French captions, it has delightful printed endpapers and an illustrated slipcase, and also comes with a fascinating companion commentary volume.
► Buy The Little Prince from Folio Society.
MinaLima’s Beauty & the Beast is the third in their interactive fairy tale series. This volume includes fold-out maps, an advent calendar that reveals entertainments available in the palace, and the movable dial from the ring that Beauty uses to return to the beast as well as a myriad of other clever feats of paper engineering. If you don’t have any of these stunning volumes yet, they have also just released a boxed set including this volume along with Peter Pan and the Jungle Book.
The World of Moominvalley by Philip Ardagh is a must buy for anyone who loves the Moomins, the lovely characters in a series of books and comics by Swedish-speaking Finnish illustrator Tove Jansson. It has a die-cut cover with gold foil, and the internal layout is bright and beautifully designed.
This year, Sort of Books has also released their first four special collectors editions of the original Moomin books, using the original 50s and 60s cover artwork, with gorgeous endpapers and foldout maps. They are stunning and very affordable, I am hoping the rest will follow soon. So far they have released Finn Family Moomintroll, Comet in Moominland, Memoirs of Moominpappa (which older British readers will know as The Exploits of Moominpapa) and Moominland Midwinter.
► Buy Finn Family Moomintroll from Book Depository or Amazon (US).
► Buy Comet in Moominland from Book Depository or Amazon (US).
► Buy Memoirs of Moominpappa from Book Depository or Amazon (US).
► Buy Moominland Midwinter from Book Depository or Amazon (US).
A few shops in the UK have also made available a sweet little short story ‘The Invisible Child and the Fir Tree’ for which proceeds go to charity, if you’re looking for an adorable little literary stocking stuffer.
Tales from a Tall Forest by Shaun Micallef is a lovely humorously subversive Australian fairy tale reimagining that has been just beautifully put together, with hidden details under the dust jacket, sewn binding and exquisite black and white illustrations by Jonathan Bentley.
Nevermoor – the first book in the Trials of Morrigan Crow – is by Jessica Townsend, abother Australian author – and it has been touted as the new Harry Potter, with good reason, and it’s a lovely and fun magical tale about a girl who is cursed to die on her eleventh birthday, who discovers she can escape her fate by competing in the trials of the Wundrous Society. It has a lovely hidden illustration under the cover – both sprinkled with gold – and pretty illustrated chapter headings.
► Buy Nevermoor from Book Depository (this is the UK edition with illustrations under the dust jacket).
The Magic Misfits by actor Neil Patrick Harris is another very fun read. This volume features all sorts of trickery not only in the story, but also in the book itself, with secrets and ciphers and codes to find starting from the contents page as well as throughout the book. Excellent fun.
Pop-up / Animation
For the Disney lover, the Disney * Pixar pop-up celebration will be published soon, which features over 30 pop-ups from Matthew Reinhart. Like the Pixar movies, each pop-up has easter eggs referring to other films, so this will be fun for both children and adult animation lovers to peruse and discover.
A Skinful of Shadows by Frances Harding is also beautifully designed, with another lovely hidden cover. This dark historical otherworldly tale is about a girl who can be possessed by the spirits of the dead.
► Buy A Skinful of Shadows from Book Depository (UK edition with illustrations under the dust jacket). The Waterstones signed edition with green sprayed page edges is out of print, but you might get lucky at Abebooks.
Leigh Bardugo’s Language of Thorns is a collection of six stories set in her magical Grisha-verse, each of them richly atmospheric and lavishly illustrated.
There are several collector’s editions of A Darker Shade of Magic, the first book in VE Schwab’s fantastic Shades of Magic series, about magicians who travel between parallel Londons. These editions shine a light on the readers of the book by including beautiful fan art. I have the US versions of the original series so chose to get the UK collector’s edition, but there are multiple options if this one interests you.
The tenth anniversary edition of Cassandra Clare’s City of Bones also features illustrations – this one has over thirty interior motifs, as well as six full-age character portraits. This is the book where Clary Fray first discovers the Shadowhunters, a secret cadre of warriors dedicated to driving demons out of our world and back to their own.
Warcross is a super fun young adult science fiction, for which you want to make sure you get the UK edition, with its fabulous rainbow cover under the dust jacket. This one features a teenage hacker doubling as a bounty hunter for people who bet illegally on a game called Warcross.
► Buy Warcross from Book Depository (UK edition with rainbow under dust jacket).
The Bedlam Stacks by Natasha Pulley tells the tale of a treacherous quest in the magical landscape of nineteenth-century Peru. The hardback cover is a cool die-cut, showing the beautifully illustrated endpapers underneath. Her previous book – The Watchmaker of Filigree Street – is also a blend of historical events with flights of fancy, with this one travelling through Victorian London and Japan.
Murder on the Orient Express is one of Agatha Christie’s most celebrated mysteries (and it’s certainly fun although not my favourite), and with the recent movie release, there are a few lovely editions of this one popping up. The Folio society have a beautifully illustrated edition, with wonderful illustrations by Andrew Davidson. There is also a luxuriously illustrated film-tie in version that was just released – it’s a large format book with artwork and photography from the film adaptation, which has been beautifully laid out with 200 illustrations.
► Buy the Folio Society Murder on the Orient Express edition from The Folio Society
Fantasy & Science Fiction
This year has seen some lovely anniversary editions released as well. The 10th anniversary edition of Patrick Rothfuss’s The Name of the Wind is one of the best – it has red stained page edges, a little hidden debossing on the boards under the dust jacket and more than 20 beautiful illustrations, as well as a host of extra features including appendices discussing the calendar and currency systems, a pronunciation guide, and two expanded maps. It’s really stunning
Centipede Press released a lovely edition of Fritz Lieber’s Swords and Deviltry (somewhat randomly on the ’78thanniversary ‘of the character’s debut) – it has five colour illustrations and a frontispiece, custom illustrated endpapers, and contains a collection of short stories featuring classic fantasy heroes Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser.
► Now out of print. You can find vintage copies of Swords & Deviltry via Abebooks.
The UK editions of Jay Kristoff’s dark fantasy The Nevernight Chronicles have these glorious hidden images embossed on the covers under the dustjackets. The most recent book Godsgrave features a wolf.
► UK hardbacks are unfortunately now out of print, but you can try your luck for Godsgrave (with wolf under the dust jacket) from Abes, and similarly for Nevernight (with the raven under the dust jacket.
La Belle Sauvage is the first book in the Book of Dust trilogy by Philip Pullman, a companion series to his Dark Materials trilogy. It’s a fabulous read, and there are several beautiful editions available – and if you missed out on one of the limited edition ones (which sold out before publication), the UK standard edition is still lovely, with a sprinkling of glittery dust motes hidden under the dust jacket, as well as lovely illustrated chapter headings.
► Find the OOP limited edition at Abebooks.
And for the romantics we have the truly stunning deluxe edition of the classic romantic fantasy adventure comedy The Princess Bride written by William Goldman – or should I say S Morgenstern? This keepsake edition has a foiled and embossed cover, fifty full-page colour illustrations by Michael Manomivibul on rough cut cream paper, full colour chapter openers and a lovely colour map on the endpapers.
For the movie buff, the Ultimate Visual History books are a fantastic series. I have here the one for The Dark Crystal and as you can see, as well as telling the story of the creative journey that led from story to screen. These books are filled with a huge range of visual art – from set photography to storyboards and production notes – but the real fun comes in the removable ephemera, such as script pages, sketches and other delightful treasures to hold.
No gift guide would be complete without mentioning the illustrated versions of JK Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them as well as the glorious History of Magic by the British Museum. They’ve been covered extensively elsewhere, but I just want to say they are every bit as gorgeous as you would hope. (And if you have a lot of spare cash, those fancy deluxe editions are even more special…) Note that the US and US editions of Fantastic Beasts have different covers, but are the same inside.
► Buy Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban from Book Depository or Amazon (US).
► Buy the Deluxe Edition of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban from Book Depository or Amazon (US).
► Buy Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them from Book Depository (UK cover) or Amazon (US).
► Buy the Deluxe Edition of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them from Book Depository or Amazon (US).
► Buy The History of Magic from Book Depository (UK edition), or the later US release from Amazon.
Art lovers should definitely take a look at Benjamin Lacombe’s stunning book Frida, with excerpts from Frida Kahlo’s personal diaries and Sébastian Perez’s poetic musings. It features a series of consecutive die=cut pages, drawing you in to her life, art, and creative process
For the history or mythology lover, I’d highly recommend you take a look at the illustrated version of Shahnameh, the epic of the Persian Kings. This slipcased book is simply stunning, with lavish and spectacular illustrations. It’s a huge volume and offers many hours of enjoyment.
And now let’s finish with some lovely seasonal books. The V&A collector’s editions are quite fun and affordable, and to celebrate the season they have released Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Of course, the main attraction of this series is really the covers, which feature William Morris patterns under the illustrations and look lovely together on the shelf.
And the other is the third Christmas book by Finnish illustrator Sanna Annukka. Sanna may be familiar to you through her collaborations with fashion company Marimekko. Her other Christmas books include Hans Christian Andersen’s The Fir Tree and The Snow Queen, and all three are clothbound and feature stunning illustrations – truly beautiful short reads to enjoy.