Most Beautiful Books of 2019 – A Holiday Gift Guide
Welcome to my third holiday gift guide! In this post I review some of the most stunningly designed and physically beautiful books published during 2019, to help you find lovely gifts for your nearest and dearest – or even better, as a treat for yourself!
The books are all listed below, loosely sorted by genre, and any book with a star next to it has been visually reviewed in the video above. Links are also provided if you are interested in buying any of them yourself.
Children and the Young at Heart
★ Anatomicum by Katy Wiedemann and Jennifer Z Paxton | Part of the Welcome to the Museum collection
A curated guide to uncovering the mysteries of anatomy, from the muscles we use to show emotion to the delicate workings of the brain. Oversized, with stunning artwork, fascinating for the whole family.
Alice in Wonderland Paperscapes by Lewis Carroll, paper engineering by Selina Wood, illustrated by John Tenniel
This clever book displays the iconic Alice images in a series of intricate die-cut pages that form layered scenes. A beautiful decorative item.
★ Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll, illustrated by MinaLima | part of the Interactive Children’s Classics series
A stunningly illustrated and interactive edition of this children’s classic, including Alice with extendable legs and arms; the Cheshire cat with a pull tab that removes the cat and leaves the cat’s grin; and a removable map of the Looking Glass world, among other delights for Alice lovers.
★ Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, illustrated by Charles van Sandwyk
The Folio Society have just released this simply stunning edition illustrated by Charles van Sandwyk – it’s based on the limited edition that sells for thousands of dollars, and it has almost all the same gorgeous illustrations in a much more child-friendly size and pocket-friendly price. I have a lot of Alice books, and this is definitely one of my favourites.
★ Guardians of Magic by Chris Riddell | Book 1 of the Cloud Horse Chronicles
A stunningly and profusely illustrated magical quest in which three ordinary children, with extraordinary gifts, come together to defeat the enemies who threaten the mysterious cloud horses.
Guess How Much I Love You (25th Anniversary Slipcase Edition) by Sam McBratney and Anita Jeram
This anniversary edition of the story of Big Nutbrown Hare and Little Nutbrown Hare, who playfully vow a universe of affection, has been released in a lovely slipcased edition that also includes a framable print of the Nutbrown Hares.
Paddington’s Post by Michael Bond, illustrated by R. W. Alley
An interactive novelty book based on the Paddington stories that explores Paddington’s new life in London after travelling all the way from Darkest Peru. It includes six envelopes that can be opened to find Paddington’s first letter to Aunt Lucy, a half-price voucher for his favourite buns, a birthday card and more.
★ Prudence and Her Amazing Adventure by Charlotte Gastaut
This lovely oversized picture book makes clever use of cut-outs and textured papers to create atmosphere as Prudence playfully dances through underwater kingdoms and plays in tropical forests as she goes adventuring.
★ Starfell: Willow Moss and the Lost Day by Dominique Valente, illustrated by Sarah Warburton
The youngest and least powerful sister in a family of witches, who has a magical ability for finding lost things like keys or socks, suddenly has to help the powerful witch in the world of Starfell find a day that has inexplicably gone missing. Beautiful hidden cover under the dust jacket and lovely illustrations throughout the text.
★ The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse by Charlie Macksey.
This gorgeous book is actually my top gift recommendation for the year. It’s the tale of four beloved friends who share a tender bond, with text and illustrations that remind us of what truly matters in the world. I think it will join those wonderfully profound children’s classics like Winnie the Pooh and The Little Prince. It’s a book of hope, a window into the heart, and a simply beautiful piece of art.
★ The House Without Windows by Barbara Newhall Follett, illustrated by Jackie Morris.
This enchanting lost classic was actually written by the author when she was only twelve years old, and it is a lovely fable about the beauty of the natural world – perfect for a middle grade lover of the outdoors. It’s beautifully illustrated in black and white, and is also a sweet read for adults – quite haunting due to the mysterious disappearance of the author in the 1930s at the age of just 25.
★ The Little Mermaid and The Snow Queen by Geraldine McCaughrean, illustrated by Laura Barrett
If you are looking for a few fairy tale classics for a young person’s bookshelf, this new series features foiled covers and magical silhouette artwork by illustrator Laura Barrett. There’s also an interactive ‘pop-up and play’ version available.
The Story Orchestra: Swan Lake by Katy Flint, illustrated by Jessica Courtney Tickle
A retelling of Tchaikovsky’s classic ballet of Swan Lake, where you push the button on each scene to hear the orchestra play a relevant part of the score. This is the fourth volume of a series that has been releasing one book a year since about 2016, the others covering Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, and Tchaikovsky’s other fairy tale ballets Sleeping Beauty and The Nutcracker. Normally I think these types of books are a little gimmicky, but the beautiful double page illustration spreads are lovely, and it’s a wonderful way to introduce classical music to young children, cleverly bringing different musical instruments, techniques and rhythms to life for a young audience.
The Stranger’s Guide to Talliston by John Tarrow
Abandoned and alone, thirteen-year-old Joe’s world is shattered when he enters a deserted council house and becomes trapped within a labyrinth protecting the last magical places on earth. Get a signed copy from the magical house the story is based on, and you can find all sorts of other goodies, like a subscription to ‘letters from the labyrinth’.
★ The Wonders of Nature by Ben Hoare
This gorgeously illustrated storybook contains interesting facts and history along with fascinating myths and legends of of the natural world. The cover is foiled, the page edges are gilded and there is a bound in ribbon bookmark as well. There’s also an earlier companion in the series called An Anthology of Intriguing Animals if you’re looking for more.
Tilly and the Lost Fairy Tales by Anna James | Book 2 of the Pages & Co series
On a wintery visit to Paris, Tilly and her best friend Oskar bravely bookwander into the land of fairytales to find that characters are getting lost, stories are all mixed-up, and mysterious plot holes are opening without warning. Gorgeous hidden cover under the dust jacket.
Fiction & Classics
★ ‘Liberty of London’ Special Editions of Contemporary Classics by Faber
These two special editions feature luxury British designer Liberty’s fabric-covered editions of Faber’s classic and groundbreaking contemporary works. Milkman by Anna Burns is covered in a new fabric design called ‘Small Town’, designed by Duncan Grant, while the cover design for The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath incorporates period fabric from the Liberty archives. These are really beautiful looking classics.
★ Thomas Nelson’s new ‘seasons editions’ classics, featuring their first series focusing on Winter.
This series includes a selection of classics chosen to reflect the season in which the main part of the story occurs, so for winter we have Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte, A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, and Little Women by Louisa May Alcott.
★ Chiltern’s classics, new additions to the series.
These are beautifully crafted hardbacks with embossed and pearlescent covers, they fit really comfortably in the hand to read, and are printed on thick, creamy paper. The most recent books are the Adventures of Sherlock Homes by Arthur Conan Doyle, Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson, Northanger Abbey, Emma, and Mansfield Park by Jane Austen, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley and The Little Prince by Antoine Saint-Exupery.
★ Boy Swallows Universe by Trent Dalton
The pretty sparkly cover is a limited hardback gift edition of the ‘new Australian classic’ novel set in 1980s Brisbane, a dark tale of brotherhood, love and unlikely friendships. Another gorgeous hidden cover, along with decorative endpapers.
The Confession by Jessie Burton
A dual narrative story about three women, Elise, Constance and Rose. Elise and Constance are lovers in the 1980s, while in the present day, Rose seeks answers about her mother Elise, who left when she was a baby. A lovely book about mother hood and friendship. Beautiful cover and endpapers.
The Dutch House by Ann Patchett
A story of love, family, sacrifice, and the power of place, set in small town Pennsylvania. A fascinating decades-long story about family.
The Waterstones exclusive edition is particularly pretty with has delft pottery stencilled edges, patterned endpapers and a bonus essay.
The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux, illustrated by Taylor Dolan
The Folio Society edition of The Phantom of the Opera is perfect for the music lover, telling the story of the famous musical featuring mysterious goings on at a Paris opera house. It has a recent and very readable translation (David Coward’s 2012 translation) along with its gorgeous and bright illustrations.
Fantasy & Science Fiction
★ A Court of Thorns and Roses (Collector’s Edition) by Sarah J Maas
This collector’s edition is covered in generously foiled gilt designs. It comes in a black slipcase with a red ribbon pull, decorative metallic gold endpapers and a map that has been intricately and beautifully updated from the original.
A Game of Thrones (Folio Society Edition) by George R. R. Martin, illustrated by Jonathan Burton | A Song of Ice and Fire series
The Folio Society’s edition of A Game of Thrones is simply spectacular (although so is its price). Bound in three-quarter blocked cloth , spread over two volumes, printed in black & gold, with full page and double spread illustrations, illustrated chapter openers, house sigils, family trees, a separately bound fold-out map, and even the slipcase has a printed illustration inside it.
A Gathering of Shadows and A Conjuring of Light (Collector’s Editions) by VE Schwab | Books 2 and 3 of the Shades of Magic series
The Collector’s Editions of A Conjuring of Light features a ribbon bookmark, fan art, updated glossaries and new original short stories. The US and UK editions have different cover art.
A Hero Born by Jin Yong, illustrated by Ye Luying | Legends of the Condor Heroes
Another Folio Society release on my list, of a fascinating historical fantasy novel set in China, featuring a young hero trained in kung fu who has to face mythical villains and a cunning enemy.
Arkarnae by Lynette Noni
This is a special Australian edition of the first book in the Akarnae series, in which schoolgirl Alex finds herself stranded in a magical fantasy world called Medora.
Assassin’s Apprentice (Illustrated Edition) by Robin Hobb, illustrated by Magali Villeneuve
This special edition was released to celebrate 25 years of Robin Hobb’s classic Assassin’s Apprentice featuring FitzChilvalry Farseer. It includes ten full-colour illustrations by Magali Villeneuve.
★ Darkdawn by Jay Kristoff
The conclusion of the Nevernight Chronicles. Truedark approaches, and Mia, Ashlinn and Jonnen must undertake a perilous journey across the Republic. The UK hardbacks feature beautiful glossy animals hidden on the boards under the dust jacket.
★ Finale by Stephanie Garber
This year saw the final volume in Stephanie Garber’s delightful Caraval series released, aptly called Finale. My favourite edition is the UK one, which has a fantastic hidden cover with a gilt quote in swirling text on the cover.
★ Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir
Honestly, the front cover blurb on this one will let you know if this is for you – it’s billed as “Lesbian necromancers explore a haunted gothic palace in space”. Obviously it’s much more than that – the book tells the story of Gideon Nav, indentured-servant-turned-swordswoman of the Emperor’s Ninth House, and aforementioned necromancer Harrowhark. They have to prove themselves against the other houses by engaging in skeleton battles, solving spooky riddles and engaging in scientific experiments. It sounds like it would have a fairly niche audience, but it’s actually a lot of fun even if you’re not particularly into the genre. Also, the book design is excellent – first printings have black sprayed page edges and an embossed skull hidden on the boards under the dust jacket.
★ Good Omens (The Definitive Occult Edition) by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Paul Kidby.
I really enjoyed the Good Omens TV series, and this is a lovely set of new editions illustrated by the wonderful Paul Kidby. My favourite of the bunch is the limited Occult edition – it’s expensive, but absolutely divine. There are still a few copies available from the illustrator and Discworld website if you’re quick…
★ The Binding by Bridget Collins
A spellbinding story of enchantment, mystery, memory, and forbidden love. Waterstones has recently re-released their lovely purple sprayed edges edition if you like that sort of thing, which obviously I do!
Pan’s Labyrinth: The Labyrinth of the Faun by Guillermo del Toro and Cornelia Funke, illustrated by Allen Williams
Pan’s Labyrinth: The Labyrinth of the Faun is a collaboration between Guillermo de Toro and Cornelia Funke. The book fleshes out the dark fantasy film from 2006, in which a fairy tale clashes with Spanish fascism as an 11-year old girl escapes from a war through a twisted labyrinth. In addition to amazing illustrations by Cornelia, the book also has additional short stories to flesh out the fantasy world. The hidden cover is particularly spectacular.
Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom duology by Leigh Bardugo
A magical fantasy series set in a world loosely inspired by the Dutch Republic of the 17th century.
★ The Deathless Girls by Kiran Millwood Hargrave
Deathless Girls is a gothic and atmospheric feminist retelling about the girls who end up being the brides of Dracula. It’s one of those ageless magical stories that about revenge, loyalty, sisterhood and trust. This is a lovely physical book, with stunning endpapers and a hidden gilded cover.
★ The Secret Commonwealth by Philip Pullman, illustrated by Paul Kidby | Book 2 of The Book of Dust
A sequel of sorts to the His Dark Materials series. Lyra is now a twenty-year-old undergraduate at St. Sophia’s College, her daemon Pantalaimon is witness to a brutal murder, and the dying man entrusts them with secrets that carry echoes from their past. The slipcased edition from Waterstones sold out before publication, but is still available secondhand.
★ The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern
This one is a story of magic and subterranean libraries. The Waterstone’s exclusive is still available with decorative sprayed page edges and a selection of hidden covers under the dust jacket if you’re looking for something out of the ordinary.
★ Wayward Son by Erin Morgenstern
Wayward Son is the delightful sequel to Carry On, and it’s a about ‘what happens to the Chosen One after he saved the day’. Waterstones released a really special edition with fabulous sprayed page edges and hidden cover that match Baz’s suit. It’s sold out now, but they occasionally turn up on the second hand market.
The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings Sketchbooks by Alan Lee
These richly illustrated books celebrate in words and pictures the beautiful work that award-winning artist Alan Lee produced for J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of The Rings, and includes dozens of brand-new paintings and pencil drawings.
Non-Fiction & Reference
1000 Places to See Before You Die (Deluxe Edition) by Patricia Schultz
This photographic journey through some of the most beautiful places to travel around the world was first published in 2003, and revised in 2015, but this latest ‘deluxe edition’ is a large oversized volume that features beautiful new photographs for each of the thousand places listed in the book. Perfect for anyone in your life with wanderlust, or rather ‘wanderlove’ as the author calls it.
Atlas Obscura, 2nd Ed by Joshua Foer, Ella Morton, Dylan Thuras
The second edition of Atlas Obscura was released this year, and it’s another oversized monster filled with unusual, curious, bizarre and mysterious places on Earth. It even has a full-color gatefold road trip map with a dream itinerary to tempt the travellers in your life.
★ Booked by Richard Kreitner
A travel guide for the literarily minded, exploring eighty real-life iconic literary locations around the globe with photographs and maps, ranging from Paris and the Hunchback of Notre Dame, to Central Park and the Catcher in the Rye, to Forks and teen vampire sensation Twilight.
★ Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez
This fascinating book provides a startling perspective on the unseen design bias at work in our everyday lives – from phones that are too big for the average woman’s hands, to the fact that women are almost 50% more likely to be seriously injured in a car accident due to safety features being designed for the average male body. It’s a brilliant analysis of gender bias, filled with a wealth of data. I have the UK hardback edition – currently out on loan, so unfortunately I can’t show it here – but it has a clever hidden cover design based on male and female silhouettes.
★ The Body: A Guide for Occupants by Bill Bryson
Bill Bryson has written many brilliant and hilarious armchair travel books, but this time the journey is through the human body. The book is highly educational and full of fascinating anecdotes and trivia.
★ The Secret Life of Books by Tom Mole
The author of this volume is the director of the Centre for the History of the Book, and it’s a perfect book for bibliophiles – it’s about how books and readers have evolved over time, and how books transform us.
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Illustrated Edition) by JK Rowling, illustrated by Jim Kay
A massive volume, but filled with gorgeous illustrations and a lovely set to keep collecting. There are also the (much more expensive) fabric bound limited editions which come with prints and other goodies for the passionate collector.
→ UK edition from Book Depository
→ UK Limited Edition from Book Depository
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child: The Journey by JK Rowling, illustrated by Jim Kay
For theatre folk who are interested in how the show was developed, this heft tome covers details from crafting the story, to the team of artists and actors who brought the story to life. Lots of photographs and interviews and notes about the production.
A Children’s Literary Christmas anthology by the British Library
My top affordable Christmas pick for the year is the British Library’s Children’s Literary Christmas. This collection of Christmas stories, prose, songs and poetry is arranged into twenty-four seasonal chapters of adventures, festive traditions, tales of elves, snowmen and reindeer, fairytales, folklore and family fun. It includes both Christmas favourits like Charles Dickens Kenneth Grahame, and Ezra Jack Keats, alongside charming, but more edgy, contemporary voices.
Letters from Father Christmas (Deluxe Edition) by J.R.R.R Tolkien
This gorgeous collection of Tolkien’s classic Father Christmas letters written to his children between the 1920s and the 1940s contains brand new high-quality digital reproductions of his amazing letters and pictures, including a number of them that have never been printed before, beautifully bound and encapsulated in a delightfully decorative slipcase.