Yes, it’s what you’ve all been waiting for: this year’s edition of Books and Chocolate, also known as The Ultimate Easy Christmas Gift. If you’re on a tight budget, if you’ve left everything until the last minute, if you’re struggling to think of present ideas but want to buy thoughtful, bespoke gifts: this post is for you.
The “ultimate book gifts” concept is simple and one you’ll be familiar with if you’re a loyal, longterm reader. (If you’re new here: welcome. Plenty of posts to catch up on – 3,645 of them to be precise.) The concept is that you take a very good book with a cover that is beautiful, graphic or otherwise noteworthy and you add to this a bar (or flat box) of chocolate with equally beautiful or graphic wrapping. The important thing here is looks; for this gift to work, for it to look like a little parcel of loveliness, we really must judge the book (and chocolate) by its cover.
(The fact that the contents of the books and chocolates are also very carefully chosen for exceptional quality should not be overlooked, but for the moment I’m just trying to drive home the whole premise of this gift idea which is that the bundle you put together should be pretty or arty or both.)
Let’s recap again – just to drill this home – before I go in with some suggestions.
Good-looking book + equally good-looking chocolate = relatively inexpensive, easy and thoughtful gift that is easy to wrap and post.
I use recycled, recyclable Kraft paper (I buy it here*) but you can also get very plain brown paper in huge rolls and use colourful ribbons or tags to spruce up. No specialist shopping required, you can order it all from your sofa. (I’ve linked to the easiest options, feel free to search around for stockists and alternative retailers.)
Here are this year’s picks. Remember that you can refer to previous years for more ideas; the 2021 Edition is here, the 2020 Edition is here and the 2019 Edition is here. I tend to trawl the big literary prize lists for my books and chocs contenders so that the suggestions are relatively new and the recipient will be less likely to have read the book, but there are obviously endless options. I’m just taking away the hard work!
One massive oversight I made this year: I didn’t have my usual bars of Tony’s Chocolonely to hand when I was shooting my images. Tony’s bars are chunky, colourful, delicious and relatively inexpensive: I cannot recommend them enough as a Book n Choc pairing. You can find most of the flavours online here*.
Tony’s Choc also brings the price-per-bundle down considerably – Tony’s and a paperback can come in at around a fiver if there are offers on, whereas a hardback and a beautiful Liberty print box of truffles might be nearer to twenty-five pounds. But all price points are covered and the majority come in around the £10-£15 bracket, which I think is pretty fair for such a good gift.
Here we go with the 2022 Edit:
Burntcoat + Hip Oat Milk Chocolate
The Book: Wow, what can I say about this little firecracker of a book? It’s perfect holiday reading, short enough to be done with in a day (though you’ll want to go back for a second read almost immediately) but so intense and thoughtful and so brilliantly executed. It may well be my book of the year. It’s like reading poetry, almost, except that it doesn’t make me want to fall asleep. It has love, it has death and it has a pandemic storyline that’s not quite what it seems…
The Chocolate: Hip Oat Milk chocolate. It’s surprisingly good, this chocolate, despite it being dairy-free and my benchmark formula being Cadbury’s Dairy Milk pre-recipe-change. It’s so creamy that you barely notice the lack of milk.
Trust + Luscious Orange
The Book: this, pleasingly, is a proper literary puzzle. Four versions of a person via four contrasting sources, all set in 1920s New York. Who isn’t going to love this as a rip-roaring fireside read over the holidays? It’s clever and it’s beautifully written – longlisted for the Booker Prize this year I think that it’s a book choice that will impress.
The Chocolate: Willie’s Cacao Luscious Orange should come with a warning. It’s so bitter. It turns my mouth inside out. Lots of people love the most bitter chocolates but if you don’t, I’m going to suggest swapping in a big bar of Tony’s Chocolonely – this red one here* to contrast with the book cover. Consider yourself saved.
An American Marriage + Pana Fruit & Nut
The Book: read it as an examination of America’s unjustice system or read it, as I did, as a minute study into the idea of loyalty within a marriage that’s stretched to its limits. I found this a fascinating story with a surprising end; many of the characters’ principles seemed so at-odds with my own.
The Chocolate: Pana make organic, dairy-free gluten-free vegan chocolate that’s genuinely a brilliant alternative to the traditional options. I haven’t quite tried all of the flavours, but the Mylk, Fruit and Nut and Golden Comb are utterly delicious. Delicious.
Circe + El Blanco
The Book: A riskier choice as this was published in 2018 and many will have read it, but equally a very safe choice because every single person I speak to about this book, from every age group and every walk of life, loves it unreservedly. It has history, it has magic and it has myth and whoever lands it won’t be able to put it down.
The Chocolate: good God it’s a hard job taste-testing all of these chocolate bars… El Blanco is a grown-up version of a Milky Bar – without the sickly sweet edge. Usually white chocolate is heavy on the vanilla so you have to get used to the aftertaste of real cacao here but after a few squares the Milky Bar Kid is a distant memory.
The Marriage Portrait + Rococo Rose
The Book: can you go wrong with a book by Maggie O’Farrell? I think not. This one is set in Renaissance Italy and follows the story of sixteen year-old Lucrezia de Medici as she tries to survive marriage and court and all of the associated dramas that I wouldn’t be able to handle at forty-one, so fair play to her and all that. Whenever I read these historical novels with the brutal births and family members being decapitated and so on it always amazes me that the women enduring these things were what we would now consider to be children. This is a rip-roaring read and I think we need to especially appreciate the amazing front cover… If ever a book was made for this feature!
The Chocolate: I get it. Rose-flavoured chocolate is a Marmite choice. (I dislike Marmite FYI.) Personally I love the slightly perfumed taste, as though you’re eating something that’s been sitting around in a flower shop. I love the contrast between dark chocolate and delicate rose – I’m also a fan of Turkish Delight, so there.
Cleopatra & Frankenstein + Charbonnel & Walker
The Book: this is joint-favourite book of the year along with Burntcoat. If I had to choose one I’d go for this, mainly because there’s more of it and I related to the characters more and I also love modern-day New York as a book setting. Nothing makes me want to jump on a plane more than books set in New York. This is an unlikely marriage story (there seems to be lots of marriage going on in this year’s edit!) that is sweet and unsuitable and doomed and yet you can’t stop reading. It’s almost as though the charm is in the undoing. I loved everything about it – the dialogue, the setting, the brilliant humour – even if I found Cleo jaw-clenchingly annoying. I loved to hate her.
The Chocolate: Charbonnel & Walker Salted Caramel truffles are a classic and it’s impossible to just eat one. Obviously a lot more spendy than a singular bar of chocolate, but if you wanted to up the stakes and make your gift extra lovely then this ticks all the (round) boxes. The limited edition packaging makes them even more special and even more suited to Books n Chocs. Liberty print + Charbonnel, a combination made in heaven.
Small Things Like These + El Blanco
The Book: Claire Keegan has written a perfectly formed short novel that leaves you feeling oddly satisfied, despite the grim foundations of the storyline. I read that it was supposed to be about the Madgalene Laundries in Ireland and the widespread, frightening control of the church but in fact it felt like a story of hope and heroism and simple right-and-wrong morals. It’s set at Christmas and it feels like Christmas, like a traditional, warm tale that you might read again and again, year after year. For fans of tenderly-written prose that delves into the lives of others and makes those lives feel real, there couldn’t be a more perfect festive treat. It’s like peering through a snowy window into someone’s candlelit living room.
The Chocolate: El Blanco again. I’ll just have to try it, again…yes it’s still good.
Lessons in Chemistry + Pana Fruit & Nut
The Book: well this is an absolute treat. Tackling sexual inequality in 60s America but in the boldest, wittiest, most colourful kind of way. The book cover couldn’t be more apt: it really does feel like a bright, primary-coloured romp and the writing seems to never stop smiling at you, even when it tackles very serious topics. And the narrative is easily as relevant to today’s world as the decade in which it’s set. It makes you furious but furious with a grin. I love this. Love it. A cheerful gift indeed.
Carnival of Snackery + Rose & Violet Creams
The Book: diehard David Sedaris fan here so it’s little wonder I enjoyed his latest book so much. Brimful with sharp observations about the world and with zero filter. Which is possibly inadvisable in today’s world but it’s a refreshing change to bear witness to someone’s unedited thoughts, even if they reveal the author’s biases and prejudices. It’s supposed to be a kind of brain dump, really, and I like the honesty. Sedaris makes me laugh like no other writer – his diary entries about his book tours and the people he meets along the way are comedy gold.
The Chocolate: oh hello. These are so good they’ve sold out everywhere. Which is unfortunate as the larger box costs the same as a small aeroplane. Again rose chocolate, which is one of life’s great dividers, but this is different: it’s rose cream. In half of them. And violet cream in the other. Before you make sick noises over your phone, I have converted at least half a dozen people to these and all have been pleasantly surprised. I can’t get enough of them, clearly, seeing as though my box is now empty.
Night Crawling + El Blanco
The Book: some will dislike this book, especially those who just like to get on with a story rather than stopping every other sentence to decipher a metaphor or untangle a bit of abstract wordplay. But it’s powerful and interesting and I’ll add a trigger warning: it’s dark and rife with sexual abuse and violence. Written by a teen, based on truth, it’s not a jolly pick for under the Christmas tree but it’s really not supposed to be.
The Chocolate: El Blanco. To be honest I’ve had enough of this now. Why did I feature this so many times? I never want to see this chocolate again.
This Is Going To Hurt + Salted Caramel
The Book: so good, so easy to read, so incredibly funny and so incredibly engaging that I’ve read this book (possibly) more times than any other in the past decade. I love the style, so irreverent and funny – even when it’s dealing with life-destroying medical emergencies – absolutely putting you in the mind and in the place of the Junior Doctor it’s written by. This book throws open the doors on both medical practice and the inner workings of the NHS and it couldn’t have been done in a more brilliant way. It’s laugh out loud, it’s often horrendously gross and it’s possible a really inappropriate present for elderly relatives, but I say….go for it.
Mrs Caliban + Liberty Charbonnel
The Book: courtesy of my friend Tine, who has all of the best book recommendations and spends half her life in Toppings of Bath, arguably the best book shop in the country. Anyway, she couldn’t believe I hadn’t read Mrs Caliban as the storyline is so up my street. Subverted suburban life. Frustrated, sad American housewife with a broken marriage and lost child meets large, amphibious, alien-like creature and begins sexual relations with it/him. I mean. Could a book be more suited to me? I love this barmy stuff. This is short and thought-provoking and there’s nothing else like it. A joyous, unique, off-beat gift that shows you know your literature. Cheers Tine for making me look more knowledgeable than I actually am…
Cooking + Luscious Orange
The Book: could it be Books n Chocs without a cookbook? This year’s choice is simply called Cooking and it’s a wonderful scrapbook of essential recipes with small photos that you can imagine were originally stuck on with bits of tape, and then scatterings of lists throughout instructing on the types of leaves and herbs and what to do with them, or the essentials to keep in your pantry. This isn’t one of those books that relies on amazing photography and food styling – it’s almost all in the words. And it’s fabulous. One to keep out and peruse at every meal time and with every cup of tea. It’ll be dog-eared and stained within the year and this is exactly how it’s meant to be.
And there you have it my friends. Remember to take a look at the suggestions from previous years – there are some excellent combos! Any questions or further suggestions then please drop them into the comments box below.
Looking for the ultimate easy, not-too-expensive, seemingly-thoughtful Christmas present? I have the answer! I had the answer last year too, so this is an updated 2020 version: it’s the books ‘n chocolate gift. Comes in unlimited combinations, is widely available and won’t break the bank.
You may be thinking (if you didn’t read last year’s explanation on this particular gift idea) that I’ve lost the plot a bit. Books and chocolate? Well duh! Next she’ll be suggesting I buy someone a bunch of flowers or something else ridiculously obvious!
But bear with me. There are rules and regulations with this particular type of present. It’s all about a) the quality of the two separate elements and b) how well they sit together visually. The book needs to be an amazing one (I have lots of suggestions) and the chocolate bar needs to not only be of an excellent calibre, it needs to have a wrapper that complements the cover of the book. When the chocolate is placed on top of the book cover to be wrapped up, it should be an absolute graphic designer’s delight of typography, pattern, texture and tone.
Not so easy as throwing together an airport novel and a bar of Dairy Milk, but you can easily – and quickly – get all sorts of brilliant books delivered and the artisan/luxury chocolates won’t be too much of a hard find.
Below I’ve listed some of my favourite book-n-choc combos for 2020, but the complete run-down is in the video at the bottom of the page. You can also refer back to 2019’s edit here and click here for a load of good reads to consider…
Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo (get it here*) and a bar of the chunkiest, heftiest Tony’s Chocolonely (£2.70 here*). Sorry but how good do these look together? I’m the most proud of this particular combo, not least because Evaristo’s novel is one of the best I’ve read in years.
The Handmaid’s Tale (online here*) and a bar of Pana Chocolate’s Coconut & Goji (find here*). Pana Chocolate are a brand worth noting down; their chocolates are vegan, dairy-free, gluten-free, soy-free and something else free that I can’t recall at this particular moment. All of that removed and it still manages to be incredibly tasty – dense, dark, rich and almost a little oily. It’s £4.95 a bar (pretty small bar, too) but it really is quite niche and they do loads of flavours each with a different pattern on the box. Which makes it perfect for my books-n-choc quest!
Hamnet by Maggie O’Farell (here*) and a little round box of the most delectable Charbonnel & Walker Sea Salt Caramel Truffles (here*). Slightly more hefty, this one, price-wise, but you’re getting more weight too – it feels a bit more impressive. Hamnet has been widely praised this year and I love Maggie O’Farell’s writing so it’ll be a sure-fire hit as a present for anyone who’s serious about their reading list.
My Sister The Serial Killer, online here* and Pana Chocolate’s Sour Cherry & Vanilla, online here*. Oyinkan Braithwaite’s debut novel is a punchy, vibrant portrayal of sisterhood with the unusual lean that it involves a female serial killer – I raced through it in no time and thoroughly enjoyed it. Not new, but new to me and a great books-n-chocs addition.
I haven’t yet managed to start Naoise Dolan’s Exciting Times and I’m not ashamed to say that I partly picked it for the graphic, bright and cheerful cover! Of course I’ve read the reviews so I know I’m onto a winner, but just for clarity, I’m planning on starting it next week. Disappointed in my chocolate paring here – with hindsight, I’d have gone for a Tony Chocolonely bar again! Anyway, the book is online here* and the chocolate is here*.
Oh I almost forgot: this is a new twist on my books-n-choc: books-n-food items! I did think that when it comes to giving cookbooks (I bloody love cookbooks, can’t have enough!) that having an accompanying chocolate bar just felt a bit wrong. And so how about some relevant, relatively lightweight and easy-to-flatten-and-package food items? Bags of spice are perfect – Natco do huge bags for around a pound and a few of these with Meera Sodha’s Fresh would make a great foodie gift. You can find Fresh online here* – I buy my spices at Sainsbury’s in the world foods aisle.
Right: all of the other combos are in the video, links below. Get shopping – let me know if you have any other excellent book or chocolate suggestions!
Rococo Rose Dark Chocolate £5.50* : https://bit.ly/3lcjU8y at Liberty
Q & A 5 Year Journal*: https://amzn.to/2Va0M0t
Big Sky by Kate Atkinson*: https://amzn.to/3lbdDKp
Liberty Heritage Milk Chocolate Bar £7.95* : https://bit.ly/2KLqE0R
Dear Joan & Jericha- Why He Turns Away by Joan Damry*: https://amzn.to/2Jfz5ke
We’re revisiting a post that I (kind of) did a few years ago, really, but it’s a good one and so it deserves another airing. Because this post may just save your Christmas Bacon, if you’ve left present-buying until the last minute and/or have no clue what to buy people and/or don’t want to spend a fortune on absolute tat that people will hate and/or re-gift.
It is – quite frankly – a genius idea, this one, but I’m sure I can’t take credit for it because it’s so simple that a million people probably posted about it before me. The fundamental equation behind this gift idea is:
Good Book + Excellent Chocolate = Ultimate Christmas Experience
Give someone a brilliant read and something to munch on whilst they read it and you’ve pretty much sorted their holiday. The bonus for you is that you can order books right up until the last minute (or get them at the supermarket) and the chocolate is reasonably widely available, depending on which of the fancy and niche brands you plump for.
Which is important. Because there are caveats to this genius solve-all gifting idea, after all. The first is that the chocolate must be fine, interesting, artisanal or unusual – to elevate it above the Dairy Milk level – and the second is that the book must have a good cover. Be it vintage Penguin or classic Puffin or whatever other bird you can think of. Luckily publishers put a lot of thought into covers and so your job here is quite easy.
And before you all shout in defence of Dairy Milk, I love Dairy Milk, but for this gift to work then it can’t be just any old normal chocolate bar thrown in to the shopping trolley – the bars in this feature are all exquisitely made with the finest ingredients and truly are, for want of a less cringe term, a taste sensation. (Liberty is a treasure trove of pretty and quirky chocolates – find them all here* – and they helped massively with sourcing good-looking bars for this feature, so thank you Liberty!)
The selection of books I’ve chosen should offer up something for everyone (apart from kids) and there are a few suggestions, such as The Bees, for example, that are relatively obscure and could be a safe bet for those who are hard to please.
I have listed a load of books ‘n’ chocolate combos below, with pictures so that you can admire my supreme books ‘n’ chocolate styling prowess. Hopefully it’ll give you some idea as to what the hell I’m on about. Wrapping these little delightful parcels needn’t be a stress either – get yourself a load of eco-friendly, plain brown paper and you’re sorted. Add nice ribbons that can be reused by the recipient and Bob’s your Uncle.
There’s (believe it or not) a video that goes with this post. Or perhaps this is the post that goes with the video – either way, I’ve managed to eke out an unbelievable amount of content from what it basically the world’s most simple gift idea. It’s a bit Pippa’s Tips (sure I said that last time) but sometimes you need to be reminded of the basic things in life…
Little Women (Puffin in Bloom edition) £9.99 here* + Pana Mint Chocolate (raw, vegan), £3.20 here. A beautiful chunk of a collector’s edition book with a raw and minty bar to chomp on. What a pretty pairing!
Wolf Hall £5.94 here* + Pana Coconut & Goji Chocolate (raw, vegan) £3.20 here. Particularly pleased with this combo, for some reason – and this is the book to buy a voracious reader who hasn’t yet unearthed the delights of Hilary Mantel.
Ooh, I’m starting to feel like Willy Wonka with all of these chocolate descriptions!
The Handmaid’s Tale, £6 here* + Pana Chocolate Rose, £4.95 here* – the brutal modern classic that’s worryingly astute and a rose-oil infused chocolate bar that should hopefully salve the soul somewhat…
Girl, Woman, Other, £10.64 here* + Chocolate Society Salted Caramel, £4.95 here – this year’s well-deserved Booker prize winner and a brightly-wrapped bar that contrasts with the cover. Two knockout gifts for just over fifteen pounds.
(Has my Book + Chocolate messaging sunk in yet?!)
The Bees, £5.84 here* + Love Cocoa Honeycomb Chocolate, £4.50 here* – I won’t lie, I’m thrilled with this combo. Not only is the book really quite unique (a darkly thrilling novel from a bee’s narrative perspective, anyone?) I’ve carried the theme through into the accompanying sweet treat. Feel free to applaud.
Made In India, £12.71 here* + Creighton’s Imperial Chilli, £4.95 here* – Meera Sodha writes the best Indian cook books. The recipes are just so fresh and delicious, I highly recommend. The book covers are also giftworthy in themselves, like art posters!
Any Human Heart, £4.49 here* + Creighton’s Pink Gin Bar, £4.50 here – the cover of William Boyd’s wonderful novel is identical in colour to Creighton’s Pink Gin chocolate bar. I just couldn’t resist putting these together – in fact, I think this was one of the book-n-choc pairs that sparked off my need to revisit the whole idea!
My Thoughts Exactly, £5.64 here* + Creighton’s Maple Bacon, £3.95 here* – a slightly offbeat little hook-up here, but I thought that it was well suited. Lily Allen (author of the autobiography hidden behind the bar!) has never been known for towing the line or fading into the background, so I’ve chosen an appropriately unexpected chocolate flavour. Not for everyone, admittedly, but it would certainly be a conversation starter!
Testaments, £10 here* + Sour Cherries (as before) – another colour-block combo, but oh so pleasing. Don’t you think? Again, a striking cover that is almost a gift in itself and then the sour cherries rising up above the parapet once more. Under his eye!
The Hours, £5.99 here* + Pump Street Gingerbread Chocolate, £7.95 here*. One of the pricier chocolates, but at least I’ve popped it in with one of the cheaper paperback books! And this novel by Michael Cunningham is an absolute literary treat – a Pulitzer winner and a weave of stories that’ll stay with you for life.
I, Robot, £10 here* + Salted Caramel Chocolate (as before) – a book I never thought in a million years I’d be featuring, but I read a sample of it and thought that it was brilliant. Witty, self-deprecating but in all of the right amounts. I genuinely have this on my bedside table on my book pile! I don’t even like football. Plenty do, however, which makes this a bit of a no-brainer. The cover doesn’t quite meet my strict criteria but this is the wildcard…
For more book suggestions there’s a whole category here on the website – just click here and all book posts will come up as a listing!
The post My Ultimate (Thoughtful, Easy and Widely Available) Christmas Gift appeared first on A Model Recommends.
A great decorating book to feast upon, if you’re something of an interiors aficionado; Farrow & Ball’s Recipes for Decorating* by Joa Studholme. It’s an absolute visual delight. Whether you’re a serial re-painter who loves to experiment with colour or a confused starter with no idea how to pick a more flattering shade for the living room (me), it has both practical advice (how to work with the type of light you have, how to complement your architecture) and pure, unadulterated pictorial eye candy. Pages and pages of painted walls in modern houses, in creaky manors, in cosy attics and open spaces.
I should actually pop my hand up here and say that if all of that sounds like your idea of heaven then you need to make sure you’ve already done the first book from Farrow & Ball, which is called How To Decorate*. Again, educational elements sit alongside a total visual bombardment of decorating loveliness, so you can either read it cover to cover, absorbing every word (me) or dip in and out over a cup of nighttime cocoa for months afterwards, ruminating over future projects in the same way you might look to recipe books for a casual appetite whetter (also me).
How To Decorate (I bought mine here*) starts at the very, very beginning – looking at the direction your light comes from into a room, the size of a room, what you’re going to be using a room for – and gently suggests reasons for choosing certain paint shades and finishes. Although it’s very obviously the best possible advert for Farrow & Ball’s own paint range, you don’t really notice that – or, in my case, I don’t really care. Anyone who can impart such good advice in such an engaging way can take my money, quite frankly. But the decorating style advice could feasibly apply to any paint or wallpaper brand so long as you’re willing to ignore F&B’s warnings about pigment and quality and depth of colour.
Recipes for Decorating takes things a step further with proper in-depth case studies in real houses, looking at the way the paint shades change in different light, how they work with architectural features and so on. At the end of each case study there’s a recipe card with all of the shades noted down – and you can see really clearly here how different paints can look when used in practice.
There’s also a brief section on how to be your own colour curator – the colour curation is a service F&B offer to all customers, where a curator comes to your house and helps you to pick paints. Basically. I treated myself to this last week and it was excellent – it’s £195, but you get a £50 voucher to spend on paint so I’m calling it £145.
And it was so helpful – my curator, Jill, just knew all of the shades inside out and how they would look in each room so it made the decision-making process so much quicker and easier. I’m going to do a full review on the service, so if you have any specific questions then let me know – I wanted to get this post out first because it has been sitting in my drafts folder for months, waiting for images!
So: wonderfully curated book of house p*rn + practical decorating advice = book worth having. Find it online here*, it’s currently £15.94, which also makes it prime Christmas gift-giving fodder if it’s not too early to mention the C-word…