Claire Tomalin's biography Charles Dickens: a Life (Viking, £30) cracks along like a postillion powered by lightning and is by far the most
humane and imaginatively sympathetic account yet for the general reader, besides containing the intriguing hint that Dickens might just have been Sheridan's grandson.
Meg Rosoff's There Is No Dog (Puffin, £12.99) puts forward the plausible theory that God is an eternal teenager - oversexed, impatient, lazy, careless, occasionally inspired - in one of the funniest and most elegantly written novels of the year. It pretty much explains everything, from global warming to the coalition, especially once God falls in love.
Carol Ann Duffy's The Bees (Picador, £14.99) is a golden honeycomb of a collection, buzzing with energy, pity, passion and perceptiveness about what makes us human despite the appalling things we do
to nature and each other. It is clearly the work of the great poet of our time and so exquisitely produced in blue and gold that it makes
an ideal gift.
Lastly, for children of eight and older, the late Eva Ibbotson's One Dog and His Boy (Marion Lloyd Books, £10.99) is an adventure classic on a par with The Hundred and One Dalmatians. Be warned, however - your next Christmas present to a child who reads it will have to be a puppy.