Surely there’s nothing better than a book at Christmas... peeling away the wrapping, sweeping your hand across the jacket, and turning to the first page knowing there are hours of pleasure ahead

Great British Life: John and Mary James, Aldeburgh Bookshop. Photo: Aldeburgh BookshopJohn and Mary James, Aldeburgh Bookshop. Photo: Aldeburgh Bookshop

Aldeburgh Bookshop

Aldeburgh Bookshop has been in business for more than 70 years; Mary and John James took it over in 2000. Two years later they launched the annual Aldeburgh Literary Festival, which always attracts high profile authors who speak to sell-out audiences. Next year the festival takes place March 1-3, 2024.

Mary's Christmas list


'I’ve chosen two. These are both modern takes on old classics, and successful in their own right.'

Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver (9780571376483 £9.99)

'This is the life story of Dickens’ David Copperfield on drugs, set in 1970s Appalachia. One of the most compelling reads of the year.'

Darling by India Knight (9780241955055 £9.99)

'A modern retelling of Nancy Mitford’s The Pursuit of Love, it is pitch perfect.' Abbie Clements at Halesworth Bookshop agrees. ‘One of my favourite reads this year. India Knight was asked by the Mitford estate to re-write Nancy’s classic Pursuit of Love. What an honour and what an incredible job she did. Appealing to a younger audience, same story, same characters but made totally believable to the 21st century. Loved it - made me laugh-out-loud and cry.'


A Small, Stubborn Town: Life, Death and Defiance in Ukraine by Andrew Harding 9781804183793 £12.99

'Imagine that a town the size of, say, Woodbridge was strategically placed in the path of invading Russians. Communications are down, you can’t get in touch with London, what do you do? This is the true story of how one brave Ukrainian farming town full of pensioners mobilised their resources to resist the heavily armed Russian army: restaurants made meals for volunteers on the front line; farmers brought their tractors in to build up the river walls, pensioners hastily formed a Home Guard with only the most rudimentary of weapons. An extraordinary story about ordinary people.


Three Little Monkeys and the Grand Hotel by Quentin Blake and Emma Chichester Clark (9780008413323 £7.99) 'This is the fourth book by this magical combination. Quentin Blake writes the stories and his former pupil, Emma Chichester Clark does the fabulous collage-style pictures. The enchanting three naughty monkeys, Tim, Sam and Lulu, cause chaos wherever they go. In this new adventure, Hilda Stubbs takes them to the Grand Hotel for a relaxing stay. What could possibly go wrong? Pretty much everything, actually.'

Great British Life: Breaking Bread compiled by Sarah ColeBreaking Bread compiled by Sarah Cole

Breaking Bread is a collection of recipes by refugees living in Ipswich. Published by the Suffolk Refugee Support, it has arisen out of cookery exchange sessions, sharing food from around the world. When you’ve lost every possession, food and taste are the most immediate way to connect with your country. Food can provide continuity and security in otherwise insecure situations.

Paperback £10, compiled by Sarah Cole. Profits go to the charity supporting refugees and the book highlights the good work they do.

'I don’t actually have a copy of this book at home as I keep giving it to friends,' says Mary James

John's Christmas list


Everything’s Fine by Cecilia Rabess (9781529083170 £16.99)

'How can a Democrat Trump-hating woman called Jess fall in love with an investment banker called Josh who has probably voted for Trump? The book brilliantly displays the dilemmas and hypocrisies of an American elite.'


The Battle of the Beams by Tom Whipple (9781787634138 £20)

'A page-turner about the use of radar during the Second World War. There are boffins, resistance fighters, high-level arguments. It is a book that is both exciting and fascinating.'


Adventures in Time: The Fall of the Aztecs by Dominic Sandbrook (9780241552193 £14.99)

'This is a series of children’s books by the historian Dominic Sandbrook (of The Rest is History podcast fame) who has made serious subjects really exciting. The Six Wives of Henry VIII, Fury of the Vikings and The Second World War are all now in paperback (£8.99).

Aldeburgh Bookshop, 42 High Street, Aldeburgh IP15 5AB. Tel 01728 452389


Great British Life: Dial Lane Books' Andrew Marsh. Photo: Dial Lane BooksDial Lane Books' Andrew Marsh. Photo: Dial Lane Books

Dial Lane Books

'I’ve wanted to run a bookshop for more than 30 years and opened Dial Lane Ipswich in 2020. This Christmas, I will be doing all I can to entice and delight with beautiful books, an amazing shop, and my quirky, charming and peculiar self.

'I will be open late on all of the Thursdays in December and there will be mince pies and mulled wine aplenty. I am also planning a carol-singing spectacular outside the shop on one of the Thursday evenings.

'I’m looking forward to decorating both The Mothershop (Dial Lane) and our pop-up children’s bookshop Shop Number Two in St Peter’s Street Ipswich.'


In Bloom by Eva Verde (9781398502871 £16.99)

'There is a rawness and beauty to Eva’s writing that is truly something special. This, her second novel, is the story of the unbreakable bond between three generations of women in one family. It is a powerful and beautifully written book that is also full of humour.'

The Rabbit Factor by Antti Tuomainen (9781913193850 £9.99)

'A mathematician inherits an adventure park with it its own host of challenges in this quirky and funny Finnish translation. The first in a trilogy, this is also soon to be on screen in cinemas.'

Great British Life: The Glutton by AK BlakemoreThe Glutton by AK Blakemore

The Glutton by AK Blakemore (9781783789191 £14.99)

'Based on a true story, this is a tale of the well-meaning and hopelessly curious Tarare. When a sudden act of violence sees him cast out and left for dead, his ferocious appetite is ignited, and it's not long before his extraordinary abilities to eat make him a marvel throughout the land.'

The Door-to-Door Bookstore by Carsten Henn (9781786583062 £14.99)

'Seventy-two-year-old Carl goes door to door delivering books to his customers until one day he meets Schascha, a precocious nine-year-old who insists on accompanying him. This is a heart-warming tale of the value of friendship, the magic of reading and the power of books to unite us all.'

Bored Gay Werewolf by Tony Santorella (978838957018 £14.99)

This is a smart take on the doomsday logic of late capitalism and the complicated meeting point of masculinity and sexuality.


Malamander by Thomas Taylor (9781406386288 £7.99)

'And also Gargantis, Shadowghast, Festergrimm, Mermedusa – quite frankly the best children’s fiction books ever! Welcome to Eerie-on-Sea. Home to howling winds and hushed tales of the Malamander; legends of extraordinary secrets buried at sea; Ghastly Night and shadow ghosts; clockwork monsters; the Eerie Hum and the deepest secret of Eerie-on-Sea. Also home to Herbert Lemon and Violet Parma, the two protagonists and heroes of the series, and a whole slew of unforgettable characters. For children aged eight up.'

A Muppet Christmas Carol by Brooke Vitale (9781787418790 £12.99)

A wonderfully illustrated retelling of Dicken’s Christmas classic. Narrated by the Great Gonzo as Charles Dickens - with a little help from Rizzo the Rat - this stars Kermit the Frog as Bob Cratchit, Miss Piggy as Mrs Cratchit and the entire Muppets cast, as they help Scrooge change his fate, open his heart and discover the true meaning of Christmas.

Dial Lane Books, 8 Dial Lane, Ipswich IP1 1DL

Great British Life: Halesworth Bookshop's Abbie Clements with author Polly Crosby. Photo: Halesworth BookshopHalesworth Bookshop's Abbie Clements with author Polly Crosby. Photo: Halesworth Bookshop

The Halesworth Bookshop

'I am the fifth owner of The Halesworth Bookshop and take immense pride in its success. Against the backdrop of challenging times, the bookshop has remained a beloved institution creating a welcoming space that is cherished by locals and visitors alike, serving as a cultural hub for the Halesworth community. I have a monthly book group, book signings and participate in local festivals, connecting local authors with readers.

With the support of our generous customers, we run two heartwarming initiatives,'says Abbie Clements. 'Customers' donations to our School's Fund throughout the year allow us to purchase books for a chosen local school, promoting reading among children.

'Additionally, at Christmas time customers buy books from the shop and these are wrapped and gifted to patients at the James Paget hospital, bringing joy and comfort during the holiday season. These initiatives highlight the bookshop's commitment to the community and the power of books to make a positive impact.'


Vita and the Birds by Polly Crosby (9780008550684 £9.99)

'A beautifully crafted, locally inspired historical fiction. Following a successful launch of the hardback in the bookshop earlier in the year we are delighted it is just out in paperback. We will be supporting Polly again next year at Thomas Mills High School with her first Young Adult novel for World Book Day.'

This Family by Kate Sawyer (9781529340716 £16.99)

'This fabulous family saga is a stunning treat, centred around one important day and nine characters as they hope to put aside their differences. The very clever way Kate writes has us hooked with her individually crafted characters developing through her intriguing plot. After the incredible success of Kate’s debut novel ‘The Stranding’ she has stunned us all, yet again.'

The Locket by Natalie Meg Evans (9781837905256 £10.99)

'It is a great pleasure to promote local author Natalie and her latest work of fiction. It is set in the Second World War following the story of an American serviceman who falls in love with a local girl. Natalie will be with us on Saturday December 9 from 11am signing copies of all her titles.'


An Englishman's Cookery Journey by Richard Freeman (9781527246201 £25)

'An imaginary journey in cookery from Aldeburgh to Aix-en-Provence in the South of France. The illustrator of this stunning book is local artist Tessa Newcomb who has signed copies for the shop.'


The Wild by Yuval Zommer (9780192782625 £12.99)

'We were so thrilled to host a children’s event with award winning author and illustrator Yuval Zommer recently. The Wild is a modern fable and has a hopeful and powerful message about how our environment needs us just as much as we need it.'

The Frog's Kiss by James and Toto (9780702317613 £7.99)

'A super-duper colourful children’s picture book, aimed at ages three to seven by local author duo James Mayhew and Toto. Such a treat this story – with faith and hope we can all find our perfect partner.'

The Halesworth Bookshop, 42 Thoroughfare, Halesworth IP19 8AR. Tel 01986 873840

Great British Life: Kate Harris of Harris & Harris Books in Clare. Photo: Harris & Harris BooksKate Harris of Harris & Harris Books in Clare. Photo: Harris & Harris Books

Harris & Harris Books

'I have just moved my tiny little bookshop of 12 years, five doors up the street, to a much bigger space and it has been very busy ever since, so I needn't have worried if I'd made the right decision. I worked very hard to keep Harris & Harris Books alive during the many lockdowns and, while we may be tired of talking about it, it was certainly pivotal in the growth of the business, due to my #WhatsInTheBoxMrsHarris videos and other social media posts, which confirmed the need for a bigger shop space.

'I have so much room now to showcase all these beautiful books, I am almost giddy with excitement and we have had such a wonderful response from everyone.'

'In addition to running author events throughout the year and pop-up bookshop at festivals, I offer Bookshop Lock-Ins,' says Kate. 'This is where I sweep out any remaining customers at 5pm and lock in whoever has booked the bookshop for an hour.

'I am on hand to offer bookish chatter, recommendations and advice for gifts, all topped off with a homemade fruit-based snifter (similar to sloe gin). They then get the run of the bookshop to themselves.'


Days at the Morisaki Bookshop by Satoshi Yagisawa (9781786583239 £10.99)

'This slim but perfectly formed Japanese novel came out earlier this year and has been a best seller for us at Harris & Harris Books ever since. In a carefully measured way, this book highlights the importance of books, family, friends and just as importantly – bookshops!'

The Winter Spirits: Ghostly Tales for Frosty Nights by 12 award winning authors (9781408727584 £16.99)

'A spellbinding collection of never-before-seen ghostly tales. I was terrifically excited to see this and, being an anthology of 12 stories, this is something we can all dip in and out of it and perhaps make it last the whole wintery season. Graced with a fabulous cover, I'm sure you'll want one for a friend and one for yourself.'


Rural Life by Claire Leighton (9781851246120 £30)

'This is a brand new and sumptuous clothbound gift book of the early 20th century artist's writings and wood engravings. Leighton is one of my favourite artists so I was delighted to see this.'


The Nutcracker: And the Mouse King's Christmas Shenanigans by Alex T. Smith (978-1035028177 £15.99)

'This author is a firm favourite at Harris & Harris and the Christmas gift books are especially wonderful and magical. In this one (with yet another cracking cover), we find Clara and Fritz Strudel who love sweets, but this Christmas their goodies are stolen by the Mouse King. With the help of The Nutcracker, we find out if they can stop his evil plans. This is a gorgeous retelling of the children's Christmas classic.'

Finding Bear by Hannah Gold (9780008582012 £12.99)

'I met Hannah at this year's Bury St Edmunds Literature Festival where I had a pop-up bookstall. She gave such a lively and engaging talk about her books and the plight of the animals in her books, and featured this brand new one. She even managed to get the grown ups in the audience to roar. This book is the follow up to her award-winning book, The Last Bear, and we catch up with April Wood who hears that a polar bear has been injured in Svalbard. She's convinced it's her friend Bear, so she embarks upon an Arctic adventure.

Harris & Harris Books, 3a High Street, Clare CO10 8NY. Tel 01787 277267

More smashing children's books from Kate Harris Juniper's Christmas by Eoin Colfer; Tales From Shakespeare by Michael Morpurgo; The Cat Family Christmas Lift The Flap Jigsaw; and A World Full of Winter Stories by Angela McAllister and Olga Baumert, a stunning gift book anthology of 50 wintery stories. Any of the Milly Molly Mandy books by Joyce Lankester Brisley for the younger readers, because she was one of my absolute favourites when I was a little girl.

Great British Life: Julia Marsen at Ottie and the Bea in Framlingham. Photo: Ottie and the BeaJulia Marsen at Ottie and the Bea in Framlingham. Photo: Ottie and the Bea

Ottie and the Bea

'Welcome to Ottie and the Bea, purveyors of playfulness and creativity. We are an independent children's shop which first opened in London in 2010, but we came back to Suffolk last year. I named the shop after my two daughters.

'Ottie and the Bea offers a curated selection of toys, books, gifts, party supplies and tableware. Everything in the shop is centred around my passion for imaginative play, creativity and stories all of which I believe are key to childhood.

'I love recommending books for all types and ages of readers. There’s nothing better than chatting about books or the excitement when a child discovers a new author.'

Impossible Creatures by Katherine Rundell (9781408897416 £14.99)

'This has to be at the top of my list. It is the start of a fabulous new fantasy series which will take readers aged eight upwards to a world of mythical creatures on a breathtaking adventure. At its core is what it is to be human so if you get to share the bedtime story you’re in for a real treat.'

Begin Again by Oliver Jeffers (9780008579593 £20)

'In his latest book, aimed at an older readership, Oliver Jeffers looks at where we've come from and where we are going, encouraging us to consider what is really important. Fabulous colour palette and wonderful illustrations makes this book one to be treasured.'

The Fossil Hunter: How Mary Anning unearthed the truth about the dinosaurs by Kate Winter (9780241469880 £14.99)

'This book continues the theme of where we’ve come from. It shows how Mary Anning paved the way for modern palaeontology and how incredible it is that 200 years on we are still marvelling over her discoveries. It is beautifully illustrated and perfect for anyone who loves facts, feminists or natural history.'

Curtain Up - Behind the scenes at the Royal Opera House 99780500652510 £12.99)

'A lovely book with stunning illustrations from Lauren O’Hara. We travel backstage and meet all the individuals whose skills are intrinsic to the magic and wonder that we the audience then enjoy when the curtain goes up.'

Letters to Anyone and Everyone by Toon Tellegen (9781914912207 £16.99)

'This is a delightful collection of letters and surprisingly charming conversations between animals facing particular troubles. In the moment they seem insurmountable but by return of post a solution is often forthcoming. This will definitely have you smiling.'

Ottie and the Bea, 10A Market Hill, Framlingham IP13 9AN. Tel 01728 901166

Great British Life: Steph Burridge of Southwold Books. Photo: Southwold BooksSteph Burridge of Southwold Books. Photo: Southwold Books

Southwold Books

'Housed in a beautiful Grade II listed building called The Olde Bank House, which dates back to the late 18th century, Southwold Books is a wonderful destination for book lovers of all ages. Part of the Waterstones family, our aim is to be the local bookshop that residents of Southwold need, want and truly deserve. We will be hosting a Christmas Evening at the shop on Saturday November 25 as part of the Southwold lights switch-on. There will be mulled wine, mince pies and a well stocked shop of best new books, puzzles and Christmas gifts.'


North Woods by Daniel Mason (9781399809283 £16.99)

'This stunning and immersive novel is set over four centuries on a single plot of land deep in the woods of New England. Like The Overstory by Richard Powers and Sebastian Barry’s Days Without End, North Woods is a hymn to the natural world and an extraordinary odyssey through time.

This Other Eden by Paul Harding (9781529152548 £16.99)

'Set in the early 1900s it tells the story of a tiny community of castaways that has made a rocky island off the coast of Maine its home. Looked upon by a world brutally intolerant of difference, they will become victims of its judgement. Based on true events, this is a beautifully written story, suffused with startling imagery.'


The Book at War: Libraries and Readers in an Age of Conflict by Andrew Pettegree (9781800814936 £30)

'Andrew Pettegree brings us a wonderfully readable account of conflict and literature and describes how books, authors and readers have gone to war with the written word put to work as both weapon and instrument of peace.'

Thunderclap by Laura Cumming (9781784744526 £25)

'A love letter to art and the masters of the Dutch golden age and a beautifully told family history. An inviting, hugely readable book, dotted with gorgeous reproductions and one of our picks of the year.'


The Baker by the Sea by Paula White (9781787419186 £7.99)

'This is a very special, stunningly illustrated picture book for children aged four upwards. A story of family and home, fishermen and bakers, all steeped in this special part of the world. A future classic. And it has a recipe for Hot Coconut Buns at the end.'

Jack Joliffe Goes Forth by Henry Chancellor (9781838281304 £14.99)

'A cracking adventure by a local author, set in a palace full of secrets and mythical creatures. Jack is a feisty hero who swaps places with a sickly prince who never wants to be king. Fantastic illustrations help bring the story to life, including a wonderful map. Suitable for eight years upwards.'

Southwold Books, 69 High Street, Southwold, IP18 6DSTel 01502 722873

Great British Life: Susie Keepin and Jess Button at Woodbridge Books. Photo: Woodbridge BooksSusie Keepin and Jess Button at Woodbridge Books. Photo: Woodbridge Books

Woodbridge Books

'We're looking forward to our second Christmas as Woodbridge Books,' says Susie Keepin. 'All the shop staff are big fans of Christmas so we're excited about the Woodbridge Christmas Street Fair on Sunday December 3, and also the late night opening and Christmas lights switch-on, which is planned for Thursday November 30. We've just started a children’s book club and have some wonderful books that will make ideal gifts.'

Great British Life: The Book Nook at Woodbridge Books. Photo: Woodbridge BooksThe Book Nook at Woodbridge Books. Photo: Woodbridge Books The Book Nook is a recently renovated two-bedroom flat above the book shop, which we have been offering to book lovers as a literary retreat since spring 2023,' says Susie Keepin. 'Heavily book themed, with library wallpaper, an arched window with author signatures, and a selection of publisher’s proofs to read. Guests also receive a selection of Woodbridge Books themed gifts and a Woodbridge Books voucher to spend in the shop downstairs.


Light Over Liskeard by Louis de Bernières (9781787303997 £20)

'This much anticipated new novel from the author of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin is expected to be a big hit at Christmas. The heartwarming but also funny novel makes us consider what we should hold precious in our short lives. We are very supportive of this book after we held an event in October to celebrate the launch.'

Nature Tales for Winter Nights edited by Nancy Campbell 99781783967421 £16.99)

'This is a perfect Christmas gift or hibernation companion. A seasonal anthology that perfectly complements the longer nights and colder weather. Contributions come from a variety of authors, including Kenneth Grahame, Virginia Woolf and Dorothy Wordsworth.

Kate at Harris & Harris agrees. 'This is a treasure trove that puts winter – rural, wild and urban – under the microscope and reveals its wonder. The book also has a beautiful cover and endpapers which just gladdens my bookseller's heart.


A History of Women in 101 Objects by Annabelle Hirsch 9781805300878 £25)

'This is a discussion of the hidden history of women through a fascinating collection of ordinary items.'

For children

Starfell Willow Moss and the Lost Day by Dominique Valente (9780008308407 £7.99)

'A wonderful series of gentle magical fantasy novels for children aged eight and over, written by a local Suffolk author. It’s ideal for encouraging children to immerse themselves in a series of magical books.'

The Secret Forest by Sandra Dieckmann (9780702308376 £9.99)

'A stunningly illustrated picture book for children, it educates about wild animals and nature, and also encourages the reader to look for and count the animals.'

Woodbridge Books, 66 Thoroughfare, Woodbridge IP12 1AL. Tel 01394 382382