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
Now that we’ve got cracking with the gift guides, I can fully take stock of just how bloody late I am with them again. The sensible person would compile them in early November and have them ready and waiting for the last weeks of the month. Not I. Here I sit, binge-eating Haribo Starmix at some kind of Godforsaken hour (9.45pm), buying as many things as I write about because of these damn sales!
Anyway: women’s gift guide. Basically stuff I’d be thrilled with, so I should really rename it Ruth’s Fantasy Wishlist, though I already have some of the things and have probably featured them in the past. Creature of habit.
Let’s start with the warm and cosy – I don’t know many who wouldn’t want some soft cashmere to see them through the winter. I just bought this dreamboat of a jumper from Boden here*:
It was £150 but Boden currently have 30% off almost everything (see here*) so I’m off to buy a spare one. That’s how lovely it is!
I’d also highly recommend their cashmere socks, here*, which come in gorgeous colourways and last infinitely longer than some of the socks from other brands. They are £45.
That’s the feet sorted then, and for the hands we have these bright and cheery Johnstons of Elgin Fingerless Gloves*. Currently £36 at Liberty* because Liberty (at time of writing) have a huge Christmas event running with up to 30% off lots of stock. Well worth a check seeing as though they always have such beautiful and interesting gifts!
You can shop at Liberty here* – no code necessary.
You can now buy selected items from the wonderful Coco & Wolf at Liberty – they have 20% off here* – including the gorgeous Liberty Print Scalloped bedspreads. For the full range (their silk pillowcases would make the most indulgent homeware gift!) go to the website here.
Want some Liberty Print but short of cash? I’m inexplicably drawn to this little mouse pin cushion. I don’t even sew. It’s £8.76 here*.
Right, people: we’re moving onto the quickfire round because otherwise I won’t fit in all of the present ideas I’ve got lined up! It’s so tempting to explain all of my ideas, in case you think I’m bonkers, but I’m just going to have to take the risk.
Liberty Tana Lawn Wash Bag, £20 here*
Marc de Champagne Truffles, large box because anything else is just wrong; £23 here*.
Chloe Embellished Sunglasses, £436 here* – pretty special. Try not to sit on them.
Aquazzura Heels, £660 here* – pretty special. Try not to break your neck in them.
I wanted to post those iconic Christian Louboutin bow-back sandals but they’ve sold out – they’d almost be worth breaking your neck for! Instead here’s a totally extra lipstick from the same hallowed shoemaker – £70 here*. You could have someone’s eye out with that!
Whilst we’re on envy-inducing lipsticks; Pat McGrath Matt Trance lipstick, £35 here*. Brilliant, brilliant.
Fornasetti Gold Wall Plate – a piece of modern art and absolutely not for cutting up grapes on! £230 here*.
Seletti Love Edition Mouse Lamp, £68 here*. I have this in the original and it’s so cool – this one looks as though it’s had a Banksy makeover.
Made In India, £13 here* for the keen cook. Meera Sodha writes the most delectable cookbooks, Fresh is one of my most-used.
Palette: The Beauty Bible for Women of Colour, £17.49 here*. Packed full of amazing, insightful beauty knowledge. A book that needed to be written.
Shell Seat Pads, £107 here*. Turn any garden seat into a pre-Raphaelite resting place thanks to brilliant luxury brand Garden Glory.
Ultimate GBBO attire: a Nathalie Lete Helena apron. £30 here*.
Zoeva Rose Gold Brush Set, £70 here* – pretty much all of the brushes you’ll ever need. (Stay tuned for a best brush set post coming up soon!)
Farrow & Ball Colour Consultation, from £195 here. I did this a few weeks ago and it was just great. Very helpful and also a lot of fun. One for the indecisive or just those who love decorating!
If you can’t stretch to that then the F&B books are the next best thing – read my post here.
Chanel La Creme Main, £45 here*. This can’t fail to delight – the packaging alone is an absolute triumph. Although…
Bastide Figue d’Ete hand cream has some serious French Painter Oil Paint Tube vibes going on and the cream smells out of this world – £18 here*.
For the makeup junkie, how about Charlotte Tilbury’s Filmstar Bronze & Glow, Limited Edition with brush, £60 here*? This is the benchmark product when it comes to megawatt glow and contour…
Willowberry Mini Skincare Set, £39 here – I love this tiny, independent British brand. Here’s a chance to give it a try!
If it’s a total body treat you’re after then give the gift of ultimate relaxation – oils don’t really get any more effective than the ones from Aromatherapy Associates. The Deep Relax is a perennial favourite, just a capful into a warm bath is totally transforming. £49 here*.
Quirky but luxurious, something svelte and striking for the hair. The Silken Favours Silk Printed Headband is £70 here. Click onto the website and try not to fall in love with the incredible shirts…
Gucci Bloom fragrance, from £45 here*. A trusty crowd-pleaser, included here because the packaging is so spot on. A gift in itself.
Although if you really want to impress then things don’t get much more decadent than McQueen Pure Perfume, £285 here*. Deep, dark and sexy, it’s a riot of nighttime blooms that you won’t smell on many others. A Vampire’s Wife would wear this, surely?
Talking of Vampire’s Wife: it’s also the hot new(ish) brand that everyone wants to be wearing. So covetable. So darkly sexy. So incredibly expensive. One day, my friends, one day… You can find Vampire’s Wife here*. The dress pictured is $2.45m here*.
And on the subject of incredibly expensive things; if you’re after the ultimate cool leather jacket then Acne’s Velocite has been top pick of the bunch for a few years now. I’m hoping that it’s my birthday2019/Christmas2019/birthday2010/Christmas2020/birthday2012 combined present. Find it here* – it’s just £1.2 million plus postage. Goes with everything though, so that’s good.
Not so flush? See this coat at Hush*. Has all the feels but you won’t need to remortgage.
Yes I’ve featured these lovely Alex Monroe alphabet necklaces before, but I think that they make perfect gifts. They look luxurious but don’t cost quite the earth. £108 here* – also in silver.
And for a teeny bit of special beauty? MOR Soapette in a tin – £5.99 here*. Can’t get enough of these. Strictly speaking they should be in stocking fillers, but I might not get around to writing about those at this rate!
Ooph. Champagne Lurex heels, anyone? I’ve always been a fan of the Fern court shoes from LK Bennett but they’ve excelled themselves this year with these sparkly gems. Get 25% off here* with the code BLACK25.
And one last little naughty treat, in case someone is looking to spoil you completely. I had to include this Gucci Flora wallet, it’s just so lush. Don’t look at the price, just try and be very, very good from now until Christmas. It’s online here*.
I’m going to start with the men’s gift guide, this year, so that it doesn’t come across as an afterthought. Don’t you think that a lot of the time men’s gift guides are just far less exciting and inspirational than the women’s ones? I find them so difficult to put together – but then I find buying things for Mr AMR quite complicated, so I suppose it’s not surprising. What I think he might like is always so far from the truth – in my mind, he wants a swanky new Tom Ford wallet, in reality he is in his element going around the garden with his battery-operated leaf-blower.
So here are some ideas for men’s Christmas presents. I’ve tried to cover all bases and price points but let it be known that it is hard not to be drawn into featuring the usual suspects. A shaving set. Novelty socks. Some funky-looking vodka. A soap that looks like a turd…
OK, the first thing I want to talk about is something called Masterclass. Have you seen this advertised? It’s so good. It’s basically a series of video masterclasses from leaders in their fields – so you can have, for example, a film-making masterclass with Jodie Foster, makeup lessons with Bobbi Brown, beat-making classes with Timbaland and high-powered, motivational business classes with some of the world’s highest achievers. It’s such an excellent gift idea and a full access pass, which gives you access to all of the lessons from violin-playing to haute cuisine-cooking, is £170. And it’s currently buy one get one free. One for them, one for you. What’s not to like?
I think that this is the perfect gift whether you’re happy in your career and just want to broaden your interests or dying for some inspiration to turn your life around. I’ve already joined and I think it’s absolutely genius – I’ll be reviewing soon, so watch this space!
Masterclass, £170 for 12 months here.
Mr AMR wouldn’t forgive me if I didn’t talk about his battery-powered leaf-blower, so here it is: the Ego Power Plus blower. Mr AMR would also like it to be known that all of the Ego garden tools are very good, including the lawnmower. You have a rechargeable battery pack that fits into all of them and is interchangeable, so you can go from mowing to blowing at the blink of an eye. He bought all of his many, many, many tools from Ego Power Plus here.
Note that the backpack blower makes whoever’s wearing it look like a character from Ghostbusters. Which is a comedy bonus.
Something else from Mr AMR’s list of favourites; the Samsung Frame TV. In all fairness, this would be on my own favourites list because it has completely changed the look of my living room. I think we have the older model now, but they look pretty much the same; it’s a TV with a wooden bezel (frame) that sits absolutely flush with the wall so that it looks like a gallery-hung picture. The screen displays a picture whenever the TV is off and it looks completely realistic. I can’t recommend this TV enough, especially if you – like me – absolutely detest the look of televisions on walls.
Find the Frame at John Lewis here* – from £999.
One last thing from Mr AMR before we move on to gifting pastures new: the Bed of Nails, which has been featured many times in the past. It’s one of his most prized possessions, this mat-with-spikes and he slides it out from its hiding place beneath the bed whenever he has a headache or can’t sleep properly. I have no idea whether it actually cures headaches or helps you to sleep properly but he swears by it for just about every ailment and sense of discomfort. He says that he enjoys the pain of the spikes – “it’s a nice pain”. Worrying.
Find the Bed of Nails online at Cult Beauty here* – it’s an unusual – but hopefully very useful – present.
Oh, OK, one more idea from Mr AMR because he did spend ages lying in the bath writing his list to help me out… Brace yourselves for this one people… Third on his list? The Bose Frames Audio Sunglasses*. Sunglasses that play your audio through the sunglasses. Sounds weird, doesn’t it? It is totally and utterly weird. But Mr AMR has tried them and can vouch that they do indeed play music via the material of the sunglasses and that it somehow magically ends up inside your ears. Who knows how? Who cares? Surely this is the future! Buy these and he can wear them when he’s riding his hoverboard to work…
Bose Frames are £199 at Amazon here*.
Whilst we’re Back to the Future, let’s take a look at the Apple Air Pods Pro, £249 from Apple here*. Currently with free engraving, which perhaps makes it a bit more of a thoughtful, personalised gift – tech always feels quite sterile to me! Anyway, these noise-cancelling, fully-immersive in-ear pods are the absolute bees knees – even if they do make it look as though you’re talking to yourself when you take a call on them…
If Apple’s enthusiastic pricing is a little too – er – steep, then plump for these noise-cancelling headphones from Sony. They’re comfy, effective and are a comparative snip at £79. Find them at Amazon here*.
And for those who would rather do some downstairs loo learning than look at glossy nudes, there’s I Used To Know That: Stuff You Forgot From School, £5.24 at Amazon here*. He’ll be boring you with academic facts for the entire holiday season…