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City bookseller’s guide to Cambridge-inspired books for Christmas 2022





Cambridge has inspired a sleighful of books this Christmas - whether it’s as a literary backdrop or the home of the author behind the book, writes Amy Crawford, events co-ordinator at Waterstones in the city.

There are so many books coming out of the city this winter that it seemed liked a natural idea to make my Christmas gift recommendations Cambridge-themed this year, and there is something to suit everyone.

Some of the books recommended by Waterstones
Some of the books recommended by Waterstones

I’m hoping that Cambridge will embrace the Icelandic tradition of Jolabokaflod, which roughly translates as ‘Christmas book flood’ and describes how people there give books as presents on Christmas Eve and then read them right away in front of the fire while drinking hot chocolate or an alcohol-free ale called ‘jólabland. Count me in!

Whether you celebrate Jolabokaflod, have readers on your shopping list or are a book lover yourself, there are some really great books out this year with a Cambridge connection.

We’ve been extremely lucky in the world of books this year, and Cambridge has had some cameos in contemporary fiction. Bonnie Garmus – who won the Waterstones Author of the Year Award – wrote the brilliant and compelling Lessons in Chemistry (hardback, £16.99, Transworld Publishers). Set in the 1960s, this début novel features a female scientist Elizabeth Zott who becomes a reluctant star of a hit cooking shop Supper at Six. While our protagonist is fighting the status quo in California, we glimpse her partner Calvin rowing the Cam back in his university days.

Jo Browning Wroe’s tender novel A Terrible Kindness (paperback, £8.99, Faber&Faber) follows the life of an undertaker, William Lavery who responds to the Aberfan tragedy. The reader finds a young William signing, his voice ringing out among our city’s spires. He even has a meal with his mother at the Copper Kettle. Wroe teaches at Institute of Continuing Education on their post graduate certificate of creative writing and you may well spot her cycling along Sidney Street.

For those interested in the lessons of the past, grab a copy of Clare Jackson’s Devil-Land: England Under Siege, 1588-1688 (hardback, £14.99, Penguin Books). This incisive text exploring a turbulent era won the 2022 Wolfson History Prize. Historian, author, and broadcaster, Jackson is a senior tutor at Trinity Hall, University of Cambridge.

Cambridge Christmas reads: 21% Monster (61231054)
Cambridge Christmas reads: 21% Monster (61231054)

Crime at Christmas is one of the least expected features of British reading culture that I have come across since I’ve settled on this side of the pond, though one I’ve certainly embraced. If you’re ready to get cosy, curl up with a Golden age series with crime writer Josephine Tey as its lead. Nicola Upson, a Cambridge resident, has set the seventh book Nine Lessons (paperback, £8.99, Faber&Faber) in the days leading up to Christmas where murder lurking in the shadow of King’s College Chapel. Whether you start the series from the beginning or from her most recent book Dear Little Corpses (hardback, £14.99, Faber&Faber), you’re in for a treat.

For those wishing to travel far in their books, check out C J Farrington’s Blood on the Siberian Snow (hardback £16.99, Little, Brown) – the wonderful new wintry mystery featuring Olga Pushkin, an aspiring writer and Railway Engineer. Previously, Farrington was a Senior Research Associate and Affiliated Lecturer at the University of Cambridge. He now divides his writing time between crime novels set on the Trans-Siberian Railway, articles on British politics, political theory and technology, and running comms for a tech company in town.

For the younger readers, there are great books available. Inquisitive youngsters will enjoy The Bedtime Book of Impossible Questions by Isabel Thomas (hardback, £12.99, Bloomsbury) – science writer and children’s author living in Cambridge. It's a great gift for the curious, full fascinating facts. For the science-action-adventure readers, look no further than 21% Monster by P. J. Canning (paperback, £7.99, Usborne). Canning's science fiction thriller sets two teenage mutants on the trail of the secret organisation that created them. Canning, who has a background in chemistry and lives and works in Cambridge, has the next book in the series Ice Giant coming out on January 5.

Cambridge Christmas reads: Nine Lessons (61231056)
Cambridge Christmas reads: Nine Lessons (61231056)

If historical fiction is your thing, I recommend Suffolk resident A M Howell’s The Secret of the Treasure Keepers (paperback, £7.99, Usborne). Aimed at readers 9-12, this novel is a mystery of stolen treasure, friendship and courage set in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War.

And last but not least – for an absolute Christmas cracker of a read – I recommend Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan (paperback, £7.49, Faber&Faber). Keegan is an international award-winning short-story writer who held a fellowship at Pembroke College, Cambridge, as part of an exchange with Trinity, Dublin in 2021. Set in a small Irish Town in 1985, this novella follows a coal-miner on the cusp of Christmas faced with an unexpected choice. With surprising hope and tenderness, this is a Christmas read in every sense.

Happy reading!

  • Amy Crawford is the events co-ordinator at Waterstones Cambridge. Originally from the US, she moved to Cambridge in January 2011 to study at Anglia Ruskin University. She has worked as an associate lecturer in English literature and critical theory and editor of an academic journal.


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