Each week our team of book lovers choose a selection of books they have loved and think deserve an extra shout out. Everyone fights to get theirs on the list. Here are this week’s faves…
Fireworks of both the fractious and romantic kind flare and spark through Ruby Basu’s The Twelve Wishes of Christmas, a sure-fire treat for fans of Heidi Swain and Sarah Morgan. Feeling a telling mix of “excitement and slight sense of unease… ever since she found out she’d be spending Christmas in the quintessential small US town of Pineford”, 30-year-old Sharmila has been given a somewhat unusual gift by her late friend Thomas. First up, a free trip to spend the festive season in the picturesque place he grew up in. Secondly, as she only discovers later, the chance to inherit Thomas’ Holly House estate, should she manage to complete the list of festive tasks he’s set her. Enter Zach, Thomas’ nephew, who knows about the inheritance long before Sharmila does, and is doggedly determined to stop it from happening: “Trust me on this, Lucas. She’s an opportunist. She doesn’t know about the inheritance yet, but maybe she was disappointed all Thomas left her was this all expenses-paid trip. I bet she was expecting something more for her efforts”. Then, little by little, as Pineford glows with snow and sparkling lights, so Sharmila and Zach feel the glow of something neither of them were expecting.
If you’re looking for some festive sparkle, teasing romance, and a gorgeous setting then hello, you can stop right here. A fortune teller tells three friends they will meet the love of their life by Christmas, each scoffs and moves on while the prediction lingers in their minds. While I adore a beautifully written romance at any time of the year, there is something really special about cosying up with one at Christmas. Phillipa Ashley takes the beauty of Cornwall, the energy of a rock and roll dance group, and the atmosphere of a boat yard cafe then creates a scrumptious love story. The characters feel entirely real and pop with vitality, friendship also plays an important role. The plot again has that authentic edge, where you remain a firm part of the tale as it sings along. A Special Cornish Christmas is a truly lovely treat and I’ve chosen it as one of my Liz Picks of the Month for December.
This incredibly engaging and entertaining murder mystery set in 1938 just crackles with energy and would make a perfect Christmas read. Josephine Tey and DCI Archie Penrose spend Christmas at St Michael’s Mount in Cornwall, a world famous film star and two deaths throw the festivities into disarray. This is the ninth in the Josephine Tey novels, however you can easily, and quite perfectly read it as standalone. Josephine Tey was a pseudonym used by writer Elizabeth MacKintosh, and just out of interest, her book The Daughter Of Time was named as the greatest crime novel of all time by the Crime Writers’ Association back in 1990. Using the real life crime writer Tey as one of the main characters works incredibly well, so do consider going back and starting at the beginning of the series with An Expert in Murder if you’ve not yet met her. The prologue for The Dead of Winter unsettles and creates intrigue before Nicola Upson sets snippets of information about Hitler and the war free to create a tone that settles over the novel.The characters are introduced with aplomb, St Micheal’s Mount and the weather are rather menacing, while the plot zips and darts along. A couple of maps also help proceedings (I love a good map!). Chosen as a Liz Robinson Pick of the Month, if you love the Golden Age of Crime, and enjoy the thought of a Christmas mystery then I can wholeheartedly recommend The Dead of Winter to you.
Rich with romance, mystery and family drama, Elisabeth Gifford’s A Woman Made of Snow is a delicious treat for readers who like their historic fiction seasoned with haunting atmosphere. It’s 1949 and Caro and Alasdair Gillan are newly married Cambridge graduates living near his Scottish family home. Though elegant, crumbling Kelly Castle has seen better days, and hides many secrets, as Caro discovers when she accepts her mother-in-law’s suggestion that she research the Gillan family history. Her academic career curtailed when she falls pregnant soon after marriage, Caro is glad to have something to occupy her mind, and the mystery of a missing bride is certainly intriguing. The woman in question was married to Alasdair’s great-grandfather, Oliver, whom we meet when the narrative slips back to the late 1800s. As a boy, Oliver resolved to explore the frozen north, and later read medicine at Edinburgh University. Then, as broken-hearted young man, Oliver signs up to board a ship bound for the Arctic. In the present, as a shocking find is made in the castle grounds, there are tensions between Caro and Alasdair’s family - she’s not the kind of woman they’d envisaged him marrying, yet she is the kind of woman who can uncover Oliver’s past, not least when she finds the diary of his voyage aboard the Narwhal whaling ship and pieces together a tragic and beautiful tale of love that exposes abhorrent Western notions of “savages”. With a fine evocation of time, place, and Inuit society, A Woman Made of a Snow is a moving, captivating read.
Always engaging and illuminating, Laura Galloway’s Dálvi is an uplifting ode to doing something different. A testament to how a person can flourish after fleeing the monotony of the work, spend, socialise, show-off-on-social-media cycle of modern life to live by an entirely different kind of cycle - the kind that’s directed by nature’s shifting seasons in a unique environmental and cultural setting. Threaded with themes of flourishing through adversity, and finding home and love in unexpected places, this remarkable memoir is as stirring as it is gripping. The author’s journey began when a genetic test revealed that she shares DNA with the indigenous Sámi people of the Arctic tundra. Having endured a disastrous marriage, and growing increasingly dissatisfied with her life in NYC, Galloway ventures to the Norwegian town of Kautokeino, ostensibly to discover her roots, but in actuality discovering herself and her future way of life. Here, in this remote reindeer-herding region she meets and falls for a herder and decides to stay - even after he leaves her just six months later. With only very limited knowledge of the Sámi language, Galloway lives a largely solitary life with little money, and yet this life is so much better for her: “Now it is simple. There is no noise and no distraction. I have to be with myself, whatever that means, in the silence, listening to nature, being still.” In contrast, “When I left New York, I was exhausted – emotionally, financially and physically, as if I had been on a giant rat wheel.” Galloway is an amiable, amusing companion - never self-indulgent and always honest, not least when writing about her traumatic childhood (the death of her mother when she was only three, and the unrelenting vindictiveness of her father’s second wife). In time, little by little through her six years in the Arctic, she realises, “I’ve moved between two worlds.” And, at the heart of this transition, and a consequence of living in nature, her “endlessly fascinating companion”, is the realisation that “home is inside you and all around you.” Home whispers, “’I am here’, when you are most alone.” What a joyous life-affirming read.
A perfect stocking filler for anyone who likes a little spooky darkness to pay a visit at Christmas time. Twelve short stories are set in and around, or somehow connected to the Essex Witch Museum. If you haven’t yet explored the series, don’t worry, you can most certainly enter here. Can I just say that the cover is absolutely delightful, skulls and snowflakes sit perfectly alongside each other, as if they were always meant to be. Some of the stories tiptoe around Christmas, others stomp into it, all verge on the different though, and all have a certain chill factor. Syd Moore has a wonderfully light touch, humour sits alongside the macabre, and I was never quite sure what was going to come next. Can I just say that Doreen and her demonic Hoover was a particular favourite of mine! The Twelve Strange Days of Christmas really is a fabulous little book, full of the weird and wonderful I adored it!