Ideas for best Christmas reads? We ask writers for their top picks

Looking for a good read this Christmas? Writers including Cecelia Ahern, Martina Devlin and Ian Rankin share their personal picks for what we should be requesting as bookish stocking fillers from our nearest and dearest

Cecelia Ahern – the number one book on her Christmas wish list is Lee Child's Night School


Romantic novelist Ahern, bestselling author of P.S. I Love You, which was made into a movie starring Hilary Swank and Gerard Butler, has recently written her first novel for young adults, called Flawed.

"My favourite genre is crime thrillers, and the number one book on my Christmas wish list is Lee Child's Night School. Six years ago, I went on maternity leave and began by reading Lee Child's first book, and within four months I'd read them all. I'm absolutely addicted. His books usually come out on my birthday so I get them then, but this year I did not. Jack Reacher is such a solid character, he's clever, able to analyse things instantly and very perceptive. I also like the female characters, who are equally intelligent and part of the solution."

Her other choice is fellow Irish native Graham Norton's debut novel Holding, a thriller. "I really like the sound of it, it's a detective story set in Cork."

:: Lyrebird by Cecelia Ahern is out now (HarperCollins)


OMAGH-born journalist and author Devlin chooses the work of fellow journalist and short story writer Maeve Brennan, from Dublin, who became a celebrated New York socialite before her mental decline and death in the 1980s.

“The book I have my eye on is The Long-Winded Lady, a collection of essays from the 1950s and 1960s reissued by The Stinging Fly to coincide with the centenary of her birth on January 6 1917. The setting is New York, vignettes of street life peeled back as the longstanding New Yorker writer eavesdrops on conversations in bars and hotel foyers, reads over commuters’ shoulders on the subway, watches protest marches and looks on as lovers quarrel. In anything I’ve read by her, Brennan emerges – with trademark reticence – as an essentially solitary person; “a traveler in residence”. A sense of belonging seems elusive, even when she announces New York as home. Yet her Irish identity peeks out from time to time, such as her pleasure at finding Benedict Kiely’s Poor Scholar in one of the bookshops where she browses.”

::Martina Devlin’s latest novel is About Sisterland (Ward River Press)


Top thriller-writer Rankin, creator of the Rebus series, recommends The Travelling Bag by Susan Hill.

"This is a brand new collection of ghost stories from the ever-reliable Hill, who knows more than most how to send a shiver up the spine – just right for fire-lit winter nights as the weather rages outside. I also want to read Conclave by Robert Harris. Each Robert Harris thriller is very different but of exemplary consistency. This time round, he's dealing with intrigue and skulduggery in the Vatican, as elections for a new Pope commence." His other selection is Black Widow by Christopher Brookmyre. "Could this be a Celtic Gone Girl, set in Inverness where the husband of a scandal-prone doctor goes missing? Twisty, ingenious and funny, with sharp characterisations. It's guaranteed to keep you guessing."

:: Rather Be The Devil by Ian Rankin is out now (Orion)


Co Tyrone crime novelist Quinn swaps fiction for fact with his top Christmas read recommendation.

"I'm a big fan of literary thrillers but my favourite read of 2016 was the dramatic true-life story of how two journalists from Germany exposed how the rich and powerful stash their cash in tax havens. The Panama Papers: Breaking the Story of How the Rich and Powerful Hide their Money reveals a sobering truth – tax avoidance and offshore systems are the battleground of the rich versus the poor, the ordinary consumer versus corporations. The investigation made headlines around the world, catching in its headlights prime ministers, African dictators and multinational companies. The book has restored my faith in journalism at a time when the profession is being shredded by redundancies and the alarming rise of social media. Also top of my list for Christmas is William Ryan's The Constant Soldier, about a good German taking on the Nazis, Derry writer Neil Hegarty’s debut Inch Levels, and Belfast journalist and raconteur Sean Hillen’s Pretty Ugly."

:: Trespass, Anthony J Quinn's new novel is published by Head of Zeus


Award-winning Portadown author McAlinden's Christmas recommendations are based on having spent some time pondering the US presidential election.

"The more often people described Trump voters as 'bloody rednecks' the more I realised how meaningless that term was to me. JD Vance's excellent memoir Hillbilly Elegy helped me answer that question. It's not even close to the best-written book I read this year, but it's a timely and fascinating insight into the people, once described to me by Miss Genora, a 70-year-old black woman who taught me the arcane art of the chambermaid as 'lazy, poo white trash'. Vance doesn't shrink from agreeing with Miss Genora as he takes a warts-and-all good hard look at the people he loves and despairs for. If you are lucky, like me, and manage to read Vance's coruscating reflection on the hillbilly, before reading the Man Booker long listed My Name Is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout, you'll find your enjoyment of this tiny masterpiece hugely enhanced. These two incredibly disparate books were simply made to be read together.

:: The Accidental Wife by Orla McAlinden is published by Sowilo Press.


Bestselling author of the Alex Rider children's books and The Power Of Five series, plus scriptwriter and creator of TV's award-winning Foyle's War, Horowitz says: "As always, I'll be spending Christmas abroad – this year in Sri Lanka – which means two long flights and hours on the beach. It's a perfect time to catch up with my reading, and high on my list is the first authorised biography of one of my great heroes, Sir Colin Gubbins, the driving force behind the Special Operations Executive during the Second World War. SOE's Mastermind by Brian Lett (Pen & Sword Military) was published earlier this year and it's been by my bed ever since. Another book about the war is East West Street by human rights lawyer Philippe Sands (Weidenfeld & Nicolson). It's a profound and very personal account of the origins of genocide in Nazi Germany, intertwined with the history of his own family during that time, and much more compelling than I've made it sound. Light relief? Probably Nutshell, the latest novel by Ian McEwan (Jonathan Cape); I read pretty much everything he writes."

:: Anthony Horowitz's latest book is Magpie Murders (Orion)


Co Down-born writer and former journalist Conor O’Clery, author of several books including Moscow December 25, 1991, The Last Day of the Soviet Union, recently penned the novel, The Star Man, about a rebel journalist in 1790s Belfast. He will be delving in historical novels this season and says: “I love history. This Christmas Day it will be a 25 years since the fall of the Soviet Union, and as a former Moscow correspondent, my interest in Russia is undiminished. Having just devoured The Romanovs by Simon Sebag Montefiore and I look forward to Douglas Smith’s Rasputin, (Macmillan) which challenges the myths about the bearded holy man. I have recently got into historical detective novels, and my reading list includes the latest in Conor Brady’s Inspector Swallow series, A Hunt in Winter, and Qiu Xiaolong’s A Loyal Character Dancer, the second of his detective stories set in Shanghai and featuring Inspector Chen, whose passions are food and poetry, and whose first novel, Death of a Red Heroine, transported me back to the turbulent China I knew in the 1990s.”

:: The Star Man by Conor O’Clery is published by Somerville Press


Bangor writer Lesley Allen is looking forward to curling up over Christmas and reading The Glass Shore, the new anthology of short stories by Northern Irish women writers – emerging, established and deceased.

"Edited by Sinéad Gleeson, the anthology recently won Best Journal at the Irish Book Awards. I also have Jo Baker's A Country Road A Tree on my bedside table. Jo's novels always blow me away, and I've been wanting to read her latest since its release back in May. A fictional account of Samuel Beckett’s wartime years in France, I know this will be one to savour, in front of a roaring fire with a box of chocolates beside me. Graham Norton's debut novel, Holding, is on my Santa list. I didn't expect to want to read this Irish small-town murder mystery – but I’ve heard so many great things about it, and I honestly can’t wait.

:: The Lonely Life of Biddy Weir by Lesley Allan is published by Twenty7.


Belfast short story writer and playwright Devlin has recently been awarded an MIA award from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland and is working on her latest book, Cornucopia – the first in a new family saga inspired by Belfast in the 1950s.

"I read rock biographies; it started with Patti Smith’s Just Kids, Bob Dylan’s Chronicle, then Pete Townshend, Keith Richards and Neil Young. This year I’ve already bought, wrapped and sent off the mighty Bruce Springsteen’s Born To Run, to make the overseas Christmas post. I need a copy for myself. Closer to home, I'll read Sophia Hillen's new novel, The Way We Danced, and I've asked my son for Sebastian Barry’s, Days Without End."

Her other addiction, she says, is Thrillers. "My grandmother’s preference for George Simenon might be an influence; NYRB Classic paperbacks have reissued his novels, Dirty Snow, The Strangers in The Building and Act of Passion. I would love any of the above."


Known for non-fiction work including his acclaimed biography of Sir David Frost, Frost: That Was the Life that Was and the best-selling The Story of Ireland: A History of The Irish People, Derry-born author Neil Hegarty published his debut novel Inch Levels earlier this year.

"This year, I admired the BBC production of John Le Carré’s The Night Manager, and since then I’ve been munching my way, termite-like, through his books. So I’d also like Santa (I mean, "please") to slip me le Carré’s memoir The Pigeon Tunnel (Viking), to discover more about a fascinating life. I’d also love a copy of This Must Be The Place by Maggie O’Farrell, a fellow Northern Ireland novelist whose writing I’ve always enjoyed. Also, The Tidal Zone (Granta), the new novel by Sarah Moss; a few years ago, I read Names for the Sea, her memoir dealing with life in Iceland, and it left me wanting to read more by Moss (and also to go to Iceland…). One of my favourites this year: My Name is Leon (Viking), Kit de Waal’s absorbing story of family love and loss, which has deservedly been short-listed for this year’s Costa Book Awards.

:: Neil Hegarty's Inch Levels is out now, published by Head of Zeus.

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