Monday 16 September 2019

Eight seasonal book treats to get you into the spirit of Christmas

Get into the holiday spirit early with Christmas-inspired prose. Deirdre Conroy selects eight seasonal treats

Among the popular festive reads this year is the Sherlock Holmes adventure 'Unquiet Spirits'
Among the popular festive reads this year is the Sherlock Holmes adventure 'Unquiet Spirits'
Deirdre Conroy

Deirdre Conroy

Some of our bestselling authors have put the 'C' word in their book titles. It's hard to avoid 'Nollaig' with fairy lights festooned across shopping malls eight weeks in advance, while Messrs Douglas Fir, Norway Spruce and Scots Pine stand erect, draped in glittery baubles.

If you'd rather not defer your fictional pleasure until party time is over, there are some great winter thrillers just published.

Hollywood producer Bonnie MacBird's second Sherlock Holmes adventure, Unquiet Spirits (Harper Collins €18) is out. It is December 1889 and Sherlock is the target of a deadly vendetta in London.

His brother Mycroft dispatches him on an urgent assignment to the Riviera, where Holmes and Watson encounter treachery and the typical, terrible discovery. The duo escapes to the snowy Scottish Highlands, where, in a haunted castle, they and their beautiful client continuously face mortal danger.

In a classic moment of Holmesian enlightenment, he realises that three deadly cases are one fatal conundrum. MacBird has done Sherlock fans another good favour.

Not since Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol have there been so many haunting stories set in the last week of December. In Ghosts of Christmas Past, edited by Tim Martin (John Murray €11) are seasonal chillers that poke beneath the festive cheer, uncovering the dark spirit of Christmas, mixing contemporary horror with spooky tales by masters of the macabre including medieval historian MR James, Edith Nesbit, author of The Railway Children, and Jerome K Jerome who wrote Three Men in a Boat.

A supernatural story by Louis de Bernieres is an oddity, more melancholy than horror, while Muriel Spark retains her austere approach in The Leaf Keeper.

For a bit of British wit,in Seven Days of Us (Little, Brown €15) by Francesca Hornak, the Birch family is in claustrophobic confinement, due to the eldest child being in quarantine, having battled an epidemic in Liberia.

For seven days, no one can leave the Norfolk ancestral home and no one can enter. Can you imagine? Family conflict is dredged from the past to the present; characters are full of intrigue, in a very filmic style, making it a great debut.

The tragic impact of World War I is well known, but Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb, co-authors of Last Christmas in Paris (Harper Collins €18) narrate a searingly romantic crisis of the Great War and its destruction of family and lovers.

When Evie's brother, Will, and his best friend, Thomas, depart for the front, Evie believes - as everyone does - that it will be over by Christmas, when they plan to celebrate the holiday in the chic cafes of Paris.

The tale runs to Christmas 1968. With failing health, Thomas returns to Paris - a cherished packet of letters in hand - determined to lay to rest the ghosts of his past. But one final letter is waiting for him. Hold your breath.....

If you'd like to indulge in 'oh what fun it is to ride' before the bells jingle, then there's The Mistletoe Matchmaker by Felicity Hayes McCoy (Hachette €16) set in the wild west of Ireland.

Cassie Fitzgerald, just landed from Toronto, encounters a huge cast of characters in a place cloaked in mystery. But one man, the handsome, humorous Shay, is intent on making her visit an exciting one. This book is one for the female diaspora, unveiling the thrill of coming home.

Deirdre Purcell's The Christmas Voyage (Hachette €16) is the alternative to a grey Christmas in Ireland with the glamour of a cruise liner setting off under the blue skies of Barcelona.

On board is New York ex-model Kitty Golden and her millionaire husband, the picture of cool, and classically deceptive. A boisterous Irish family of eight - how odd! - has also taken to sea.

A young writer, Roxy, is intent on finding inspiration for her second novel by observing them all, only to end up embroiled in the action.

Sheila O'Flanagan's Christmas With You (Hachette €10) is set in the Sugar Loaf Lodge. With snow-covered mountains outside and fires roaring inside, the lodge is an ideal venue to celebrate a winter break, but what about heartbreak? Or a lying husband, and a secret past that haunts you.

Each character's story is interlinked full of twists and the odd bit of love.

For the youth brigade, for whom Christmas is full of promise, particularly when the boyfriend pops the question, Falling Softly (Hachette €10) by Maria Duffy, brings a touch of reality to the small world we live in.

Holly and David are just engaged, and have new neighbours, parents-to-be, Josh and Stephanie.

Holly and Josh have history. Gosh, fiction is full of lies, some people are too, and Falling Softly reveals that shallow sort.

Happy holiday reading.

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