It’s the Best Christmas Gift: Books and Chocolate 2023 Edition. I write this post every year and – despite always preparing it at the start of November – it never gets published until a couple of weeks before Christmas. I sort of like it that way – it’s my very own Christmas tradition and quite in keeping with my own festive timeline. Because we don’t start thinking about presents at our house until ten or so days before Christmas and even then we just tend to order it all online! (I rarely meet anyone else who has such a relaxed, last-minute approach so do let me know if you’re a kindred spirit – drop me a note in the comments.)
This is the only Christmas shopping guide you really need. If you’re after the best Christmas present but don’t have ridiculous amounts of cash to spend then this ticks all of the boxes. Because imagine if you could buy someone the ultimate bespoke Christmas present – something that was thoughtful and looked exquisite – and bring it in for under twenty quid? A Christmas gift that was simple to order, easy to wrap, cheap to post and that made you – the giver – look learned, cultured and – dare I say it – ever so slightly debonair?
If you’ve never done a books and chocolates Christmas present before then you’ll be so pleased you read this post. You’ll be known forever, quietly, as the person who gives stylish gifts. And if you’re dubious as to whether this will work then take my birthday present from one of my oldest best friends; I unwrapped it on the train home from London and it was a simple notebook with a beautiful cover and a bar of Pump Street chocolate. I was genuinely overjoyed. It was just so chic and lovely.
So get stuck in – there are just a couple of rules: for the “books and chocs” present to truly work, the pairing needs to be a) quality and b) stylish. This isn’t a slab of Galaxy and the latest throwaway romance book from the shelf next to the tills at the Co-Op: we’re looking for literary gems with striking, graphic or immensely photogenic covers and then equally attractive bars of chocolate.
There’s nothing wrong with the slab of Galaxy, it’s just not really the vibe we’re going for here. We’re trying to create a Christmas present that looks and feels utterly delectable, despite its humble contents. We’re trying to gift something that seems thoughtful, carefully considered and tailored to the recipient. We want them to open the parcel and notice how pretty everything looks inside, how visually pleasing.
And if this all sounds too much like hard work then fear not: I’ve done the picking for you. You can either buy the exact books-and-chocs combinations below, or take inspiration from the pairings from previous years:
I try to pick new releases when it comes to the books, but sometimes the choices are just the best books I’ve read that year regardless of release date. They all have something in common, though; fine, enjoyable writing and lovely-looking jackets. Chocolates with pretty enough packaging are more difficult to source (and can be crazily expensive); I’ve listed all of my favourites at the bottom of the post, including the crow-pleasing budget options.
Right: without further ado, let’s get on with this year’s Best Christmas Gift: Books and Chocolate 2023.
(AD info: no paid or sponsored content. Books and chocolates all purchased. Affiliate links marked *.)
I think that this is my book of the year; it was just so fabulously written, with not a word out of place and such brilliant attention to timing, that it could have been about paint drying and I’d have still enjoyed it. It wasn’t about paint drying, though, it was about three different women in varying stages of leaving a religious cult. So the subject matter couldn’t have been more fascinating. I couldn’t wait to get into bed every night to start where I’d left off…
If ever there was a book for the modern-day mother… This is wild. Quite literally. A fast and furious read that perfectly encapsulates what it is to become a mum and completely lose your identity. It’s punchy, bold and leaves your jaw hanging open for at least the first third. (Also, how well does the cover
I devoured Colson Whitehead’s Harlem Shuffle on my summer holidays and immediately ordered the second from the trilogy, pictured below. It has the exciting pace and plot of a crime novel, but at the same time it’s an extraordinary character study of an ordinary man who’s trying to stay on the right side of the law. Which is easier said than done in the Harlem of the early sixties. Absolutely cracking – it was like reading a film.
Ouch, went over-budget by 81p here but I promise you it’s worth it – what a gift! Whitehead’s genius in hefty hardback form and then the most delectable chocolate to enjoy whilst reading.
The Bee Sting by Paul Murray, £16.99 here* + Pana Organic Golden Comb, £2.70 here – Total Spend: £19.69
The Bee Sting is a book of brilliance. Set in Ireland, it’s a hefty un-telling of a family’s story, unwinding dark secrets and comic twists as the novel progresses. It really teaches you not to judge a book by its cover (HA!) for want of a better, less time-worn phrase, because the judgements you make about characters at the start almost always turn out to be wrong.
I’ve paired this Booker Shortlist novel with Pana Organic’s finest Golden Comb plant-based chocolate. I love Pana – it’s squidgier than traditional chocolate, almost like eating ganache, but no less satisfying.
Read this last year, but I forgot to put it in. This has a surprising twist – and it’s not at the end of the novel, either. This is a thoroughly heartwarming novel and the characters immediately reel you, sit you down right in the middle of the story and surround you with their riotous noise. If you loved Girl, Woman, Other then you’ll know how vividly Bernadine Evaristo uses her words to paint London in all ; it’s just joyful.
Yellowface by Rebecca F. Kuang, £8.49 here* + Tony’s Chocolonely, £1.40 at Ocado – Total Spend: £9.89
Honestly? I didn’t love the last third of Yellowface but only because the first two thirds had been so completely mad. A novel about a girl who steals her best friend’s book and passes it off as her own, it made me cringe so hard in parts that I actually thought my body was going to turn inside out. There are “cancellation” scenes and bits about social media that’ll give me nightmares for years.
Oh and you cannot – I repeat cannot – go wrong with Tony Chocolonely in this whole “books n chocs” game. It’s graphic, looks slightly retro and cool and is really tasty. And easy to get hold of (any supermarket) and relatively inexpensive.
Oh for flip’s sake, I did again – my maths is shocking! Just over the line on my budget but again, so worth it. What a novel. A glorious, moving, gently-written fictional tribute to the love four sisters have for one another and how quickly this love can be pulled apart. I found this very soothing, despite its quite heavy emotional load. Absolutely a must-read of the year.
Good grief this is a good-looking little package. Who wouldn’t be simply delighted to unwrap this? I’ve featured Claire Keegan before; she’s officially master of the short story. Reading them is like shaking a snowglobe and watching the flakes settle with your nose to the glass. None of them take long to finish, but you feel bereft when they do and the temptation to shake the globe and read again is almost overwhelming. The little books make perfect stocking fillers.
A grim story of war-torn Sarajevo but lifted, all the way through, by the hope and joy for life of the main character. There’s nothing dramatic or overblown about this novel – the horrors of war are almost underplayed – but it drives home how easily one part of the world can be suffering catastrophic conditions while the rest of the globe lives on.
That’s my shortlist for 2023. I hope that it gives you some good ideas – just click the links in each pairing title to buy online. Remember you can always cut the price of the chocolate to reduce total spend – the Tony’s and HiP bars are easily available and relatively inexpensive – but if you want to amp things up a bit and make the present extra-special, you can always whack in some fancy truffles. I always think that Charbonnel & Walker look incredibly pretty.
Let me know which Book & Choc pairing you like the look of the most. I think that the Nightbitch with the lips chocolate is, quite frankly, unbeatable.
[Little Women pictured in post is a special Puffin edition – it’s £9.99 and the best value for a pretty, very hefty hardback book. You can find it online here*.)