On Christmas Day 1914 a series of unofficial ceasefires took place on the Western Front. The soldiers stopped shooting at each other and instead showed each other photographs, swapped souvenirs and played football. I loved this story as a child and it only becomes more resonant as I age. It feels very pertinent now when I feel we are being encouraged to hate and feel suspicious of other people: we should always remember that more unites us than divides us. Carol Ann Duffy made the wartime truce the subject of her Christmas poem in 2011, part of her series of tiny beautifully illustrated books that warm the heart.
Cathy Retzenbrink's wonderful celebration of reading, Dear Reader , makes a wonderful gift for a bookish friend.
One might as well start at the beginning with Holmes and Watson. The bonus here is that after a thrilling mystery in which the world’s best-known detective is introduced to the world, you get another story, a heartbreaking one about two doomed lovers, which led up to the 'Study in Scarlet.' Doyle used this very same technique in one of his other stories,
The Valley of Fear, in which he teams up with Inspector MacDonald to solve a gruesome murder in the English countryside.
The irascible Detective Inspector Vera Stanhope is back in action. In this one, on a snowy evening on treacherous roads, she discovers a car with its engine running and an infant all alone inside. The mother is later found murdered near Stanhope’s ancestral home. Stanhope steps back into both her and her family’s past lives, and it is as uncomfortable and revelatory as it sounds. The mystery takes off from there and you’re in wonderful hands with one of the best writers in the business.
Discover all David Baldacci's books in order
Written in 1938, this novel still feels vivid and fresh almost eighty years on. It has wonderful characters and one of the great opening lines that instantly hook you, ‘Within a few hours of arriving in Brighton, Hale knew they meant to murder him . . . ’ and just about the psychologically darkest ending of any novel I’ve read. It is a wonderful read, both warm-hearted and dark at the same time, it is the novel that made me want to become a crime writer, and it changed the landscape of the potential of the crime thriller for myself and countless others.
Discover all of Peter James's Roy Grace books in order.
A wonderfully wintry book is
Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik – this one is for the folklore and fairy tale lovers. As with Novik’s Uprooted, you can look forward to heroic female characters whose lives are sensitively interwoven, and a richly-imagined world that doesn’t shy from discussing issues of social inequality and injustice. Throw in a dark fairy king overshadowing the struggles of ordinary people, and you have a fable for the modern age artfully told.
Sistersong , Lucy Holland's wonderful retelling of the folk ballad 'The Two Sisters', is published on 15 April 2021.
My classic favourite I think has got to be Julian May’s
Saga of the Exiles series. Currently, I can’t choose between Ian McDonald’s Luna series and Alastair Reynolds’s Revenger series, so both of those.
Discover the Saga of the Exiles series.
In the 22nd Century, a group of misfits and mavericks are preparing to leave behind everything they have known. Advanced technology has created a one-way time portal to Earth’s Pliocene Era – six million years ago. Those seeking a better life are drawn to the promise of a simple utopia, far from the civilised Galactic Mileu. But no one could have predicted the dangers on the other side.
Discover all Peter F. Hamilton's books in order.
Kick the Moon is a well-written and exhilarating second novel by Muhammad Khan. It chronicles the coming of age of Ilyas, a British-Pakistani lad with a flair for graphic art.
This high school drama deals with serious matters – fraud, betrayal, bullying and sexting – but is also a celebration of friendship. It features a heroic mother and teacher and a charismatic baddie – all of them Muslim – and manages to portray Islam in a positive but unsentimental way.
Find out more about Julia Donaldson's books.
I am a fan of all of Garth Greenwell's writing. I really was blown away by What Belongs to You and haunted by the story of the Bulgarian hustler Mitko. I think about the characters often, but I really adore his new collection of short stories which is called Cleanness. These are interwoven stories that are told from the perspective of an unnamed narrator who is looking back on his time teaching abroad in Bulgaria.
It is a look at gay connection, sexual desire, encounters, love and loss and Garth’s prose is just really stunning. It casts a real spell and it lulls you with its beautiful rhythm. Although all the stories are really interconnected, the part I really enjoy the most is when he talks about the relationship he has with a character named R, who is a closeted foreign exchange student. As they fall in love and then as they fall out of love through their long-distance relationship it's just some beautiful writing.
Read more about 2020 Booker Prize winner Douglas Stuart's favourite LGBTQIA+ reads.
Wintering by Katherine May Wintering by Katherine May is a book I would recommend to everyone. Part memoir and part other people’s stories, Wintering charts Katherine’s personal winters, both metaphorical and physical, and how she has learned to deal with them. Her investigations lend an insight into how people living in some of the coldest climates, keep their bodies and spirits warm during the long winter months. It is about learning to be kind to yourself during your own winters and accepting that they will eventually pass. With its beautiful, often poetic prose, I am instantly soothed each time open this book.
Jenny Bayliss's sparkling festive feel-good read The Twelve Dates of Christmas is out now.
Spirited by Julie Cohen
These dark nights make me crave supernatural stories, so I’ll be sharing
Spirited by Julie Cohen – gorgeous writing, wonderful period detail and two love stories that are as unexpected as they are full of heartache and joy. It’s a story of spiritualism, early photography and women fighting against society’s expectations. The audiobook – narrated by Gemma Whelan – took me to another world.
Eva Carter's debut novel How to Save a Life publishes on 27 May 2021.
The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse by Charlie Mackesy
The book I’ll be recommending for Christmas is Charlie Mackesy’s
. I’ve been following Charlie on Instagram for several years, initially charmed by his naïve, simple ink-line illustrations and then drawn in further by his gentle characters uttering profound wisdoms. The illustrations have now been collected and made into a book. His message is ultimately one of compassion and kindness which in this day and age – and at Christmas particularly – I think we all need to hear. I’m going to buy it for family, friends and godchildren, as well as for my own bookshelf. The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse
Karen Swan's festive romance Together by Christmas is the perfect Christmas read.
Malgudi Days by R. K. Narayan is one of the great books of all time. Simple, but beautifully observed tales of real India centred around the village of Malgudi. I agree with Graham Greene – R. K. Narayan should have won the Nobel Prize. Malgudi Days
Find out more about Jeffrey Archer's William Warwick series.
If Only They Could Talk by James Herriot. I believe certain books can map out your life. They can take you somewhere – that’s what James Herriot’s books did for me.
Last year was the 100th anniversary of the birth of Alf Wight, who wrote under the pseudonym of James Herriot. Macmillan reprinted the first volume of his memoirs and asked me to write the foreword. I was so honoured. My grandfather had given it to me when I was 12. Herriot’s adventures as a young country vet in Yorkshire spoke to me and I thought, ‘That’s the life for me.’
Amanda Owen's Adventures of the Yorkshire Shepherdess is out now.
Three Against the Wilderness by Eric Collier is my hidden gem. In the late 1930s, Collier, a lawyer’s son from Northampton, sets off for British Columbia to make his fortune fur-trapping. Problem is, his concession – an area of wilderness inherited by his part-Indian wife – had been hunted out decades earlier. Even the trees are dying. In order to restore water to the region he rebuilds, by hand, the old beaver dams, and a miracle happens. Life returns. This astonishing and eloquent tribute to the creative impacts of a keystone species is all the more powerful told by a homesteading pragmatist. Three Against the Wilderness Isabella Tree's Wilding is an astonishing account of the beauty and strength of nature, when it is given as much freedom as possible.