Inspiring Winter Reads



December is upon us and here at Inspired HQ we love a good book recommendation. It is the perfect time to curl up with a winter read and these are books that inspire the festive spirit and could also be muse for your office secret Santa gift!


The Nutcracker by E. T. A Hoffman – Joe’s pick

As a child, Christmas was always been a time of excitement and magic - a time when even from a young age it was clear that something mystical and special was happening. Every year, along with the tree and decorations, food and celebrations, there were stories told. No story ever captured my imagination at Christmas - and still doesn’t - like The Nutcracker by E. T. A Hoffman. Christmas is always a time for Dreams, imagination and possibilities, and The Nutcracker’s sugar and icing towns would always set my mind racing. Whilst most of us are more familiar with the ballet, it’s the book, best spoken with the kids in the family gathered around and the illustrations to match, that for me best captures the feel of Christmas in the written word.


Winter in Madrid by C.J. Sansom – Verity’s pick

A vivid and haunting depiction of wartime Spain, Winter in Madrid is an intimate and riveting tale that offers a remarkable sense of history unfolding and the profound impact of impossible choices.

Set in the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War, Winter in Madrid is about three British citizens already scarred by their experiences of life and warfare when they come to Madrid.

Not since Robert Harris, have I come across a writer who captures the mood of an era so succinctly and graphically. It's as if Winter in Madrid were written in sepia...Winter in Madrid is not only a crash course in the politics of the era but serves as a marvellous primer on the duplicity and treacherousness of our species and yet gives us hope that there are exceptions to these terrible generalisations. Highly recommended.


The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey – Helen’s pick

The Snow Child remains an alluring and magical winter read for me. It was published back in 2012 and is a mesmerising winter re-read. Set in the harsh cold Alaskan wilderness, an isolated old childless couple conjure up a snow child. Inspired by a Russian fairy tale, Eowyn Ivey breathes new life into this timeless tale blending fantasy and reality. The child is born out of the magic and beauty of the Alaskan wilderness and cannot be tamed or kept inside. It is a tearjerker and explores the themes of loss and sorrow, isolation and solitude, love and grief. The carelessness of nature and survival in a brutal and unforgiving landscape. This is set in the 1920s and highlights the difficulties and demands for a traditional family structure and the grief this can bring. The Snow Child has a quiet sadness to it but is a captivating story set in stunning winter landscapes. I read this book by Eowyn Ivey a couple of years ago and would like wholeheartedly recommend this to go back onto your holiday reads list.


Ivy & Abe by Elizabeth Enfield – Chloe Daniell’s pick

Seventy Years – two people. As children, Ivy and Abe were inseparable until an accident ripped them apart. Several decades later, when they were both in their seventies, they are reunited by a chance encounter - but unfortunately time isn’t on their side anymore. In another life, Ivy and Abe meet in their forties and are both already married. Unable to resist the attraction, they embark on a passionate affair. But in yet another, they marry young with a bright future ahead of them  - though all is not what it seems when a dark shadow impends their happiness. It seems that Ivy & Abe were always supposed to meet. In every universe they find each other, fall in and out of love – but are they meant to be?


The Lost Words by Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris – Abigail’s pick

Buying Christmas gifts for people can be hard. You want to find something both rich with meaning and also beautiful. This year’s ‘beautiful book of the year’ and explicit discovery of the English language - Macfarlane’s The Lost Words  - will leave you hard pressed to find a competitor for ‘best gift’ under such criteria. It’s an absolutely stunning display of words now rarely used by today’s children, incredibly illustrated not only by Morris’ artwork but also by Macfarlane’s poetry around each word.

Macfarlane was a lecturer of mine at university and his passion for how landscape and literature intertwine has been mapped onto me. From Dickensian marshes, to Austen’s gardens to Zadie Smith’s cities, I am now constantly aware as a reader of how the landscape of a book gives inescapable contours to its characters’ lives.  In this non-fiction exposure of those natural words that are becoming lost to us, we are reminded of the reality of how out of touch our children now are with nature. Acorn, Conker and Kingfisher are among the words presented in the book and each one is gifted to us with an acrostic poem that brings, with language, the word and its concept to life.

Without the language to describe natural landscapes, children will find it harder to protect the natural world. Macfarlane’s book firstly gives us a gift for our bookshelves and coffee tables and secondly for our future as it reconnects our children with nature.


The Elf on the Shelf, a Christmas Tradition. Author Carol v. Aebersold and Chanda A.Bell

Illustrated by Coe Steinwart – Jennie’s pick


This mischievous Elf has taken the nation by storm over the last two Christmases, becoming a little star in many households. I love to snuggle with my little boy on a cold dark December evening with the Christmas lights twinkling and read about the Elf on the shelf, especially when you have your own stories to tell of your very own mischievous Elf.

The Elf's presence is sent from the big man himself - Santa! This little fellow is sent to a family with a beautifully illustrated story book of almost rhyming instructions of the Elf’s mission .....he is to report back to Mr. Claus to whether the children of the house have been good or not!! and take their wishes and messages to Santa.

He flies each night, while you sleep, with Christmas magic to make him quick so he will always be back before you wake... of course he is hiding and you have to find him. (Great way of getting the children out of bed in the morning )... This tradition has been going on for quite a few years now and has been adapted in so many ways. The excitement that this book and Elf brings to both children and adults is interesting to see and how we now see an array of elves on a mission every night of December, some are even naughty themselves and get up to lots of different things whilst you are all sleeping!!... It’s not until the 24th of the 12th month that he returns to the North Pole to where he stays another year - before returning in the 1st of December to do it all again.

Lovely book, lovely concept… and lots of creative minded mummies and daddies out there too.


Step Up: Confidence, success and your stellar career in 10 minutes a day by Phanella Mayall; The Glass Wall: Success strategies for women at work – and businesses that mean business by Sue Unerman; Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg – Suzy’s picks

Empowerment, girl power and confidence. Something we all aspire to have but do we really have it?

A lot of this year I have been commenting and coaching people to get the most from their careers including speaking on a panel on “climbing the ladder” at the Annual SYP Conference in Oxford.

Giving someone a really fantastic gift at Christmas, which you know is going to make that next year a game changer for them surely can be no bad thing, in fact I would say you might, unknowingly, be giving them a gift that will change their life!

So these are my top three books I would give to empower a family member, friend or colleague to change their story and boost their confidence.


Call Me By Your Name by André Aciman – Chloe Rhys’ pick

You may have seen the film ‘Call Me By Your Name’ in cinemas recently. I enjoyed the film so much I immediately bought the novel and read it in just a few sittings. Elio is the son of a professor in Classics, and the product of a relaxed and liberal family. It is summer in Italy and Elio’s dreamy days spent transcribing music, dancing at the local discotheque and reading are disrupted by the arrival of Oliver, the latest student in a long line of summer guests at the house. Elio is immediately drawn to him, and is in awe of his self-acceptance and confidence. But though he is well-versed in a diverse number of subjects for his age, Elio is unable to express himself in the things that really matter. Aciman perfectly evokes the painful transition from childhood to adulthood with sensuous language and an unflinching approach. I particularly enjoyed the way Aciman depicts the developing romance between Elio and Oliver; not by telling the incidents that occur between them in order but through the mind games they play as navigated clumsily by Elio. This novel is also welcome escapism to Italy in summer; the perfect foil to December in England!