Giving books as gifts is a special pleasure, particularly at Christmas. The story, for starters, must be just right for the season. It needn’t feature snow or mince pies (sometimes it’s nice to give the gift of a reprieve from the frenzy of festivities) but it must transport the reader, a story to curl up with at the end of a hectic day or savour by the side of a dying fire. The cover must be striking, of course.
Emily Noble’s Disgrace ticks every box, from its beautiful face to its very last page. Intricate, ingenious and utterly absorbing.
Read Sarah's new gothic thriller Fragile .
The Matzah Ball by Jean Meltzer
Rachel Rubenstein-Goldblatt is a chronically ill, Jewish novelist who secretly writes Christmas romances. When an old flame reappears, Rachel hides her illness from him, whilst continuing to keep her career from her family, and not letting her publishers know how sick she is. When her secrets threaten her health, Rachel must make some big decisions. Jean Meltzer weaves this story of imperfect characters, complicated families, religion, illness and love with great tenderness and wit. It is by turns funny and serious as it deals with issues you don’t often find in romance novels but really should. Good life-affirming stuff.
Discover Jenny's new Christmassy romance, The Winter of Second Chances .
Christmas Fireside Stories is my much-loved go-to book every year.
I can still feel the pride that I felt when asked to join Pan Macmillan’s great saga authors – Diane Allan, Rita Bradshaw, Margaret Dickenson, Annie Murray, and Pam Weaver, an honour that revisits me every Christmas when I get my copy out to peruse.
This is a book that just keeps giving: wonderful Christmassy stories, favourite Christmas recipes, Christmas moments from each authors’ memory, and a chapter and bio to give the reader an insight into the authors’ lives and a taste of their work – A real curl up on the sofa Christmassy read that I highly recommend.
Read Mary's pre-WWI, heartwarming saga The Jam Factory Girls.
Takekurabe (Growing Up) by Ichiyō Higuchi
Ichiyō Higuchi (1872-1896) emerged in the late eighteen- hundreds, shortly before the genbun-itchi movement fundamentally changed the world of Japanese writing. Ichiyō was among the first women in the country to become a professional writer. She wrote 11 of her best-known stories over a period of “14 miraculous months” not long before dying at 24.
Takekurabe, Ichiyō describes the end of innocence among children whose lives intersect with a massive red-light district, and does so in an exquisite, flowing, rhythmic style. While oppressed as a woman, Ichiyō was also the head of her own family. From this twisted position, Ichiyō observed the absurdities of the world around her—poverty, sexism, and more—capturing the streets of nineteenth-century Japan as her elite male contemporaries could not. Takekurabe was written almost 130 years ago, but it sheds greater light on today’s social problems than the novels of our own age. It’s full of joy, sadness, and nostalgia—a human story that I believe resonates across time and language.
Explore Breasts and Eggs , Mieko's radical and intimate portrait of contemporary womanhood in Japan.
Mrs England by Stacey Halls
I’m always drawn to reading about isolated, weather-beaten houses and the mysterious families who dwell in them, and never more so than at Christmas. Mrs England is a shining example of intelligent, captivating historical fiction, as nurse Ruby May is dispatched to Hardcastle House to care for the enigmatic England children. With shades of du Maurier but a panache all her own, Halls brilliantly evokes Edwardian Yorkshire and the secrets of a troubled family. Deeply atmospheric, gripping and moving, with sparkling dialogue and superb period detail, it’s the perfect book to curl up with by the fire on chilly winter nights.
The Lamplighters is Emma's intoxicating mystery novel, and a Sunday Times 2021 bestseller.
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.
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.
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.