A distinct aroma of Christmastime this week
There’s a distinct aroma of Christmastime from this week’s fiction, so if you’re already tired of the crowds and the awful ‘Creeping Christmas’ that starts so stupidly early every year, relax. Grab a book. Live Christmas vicariously!
The Love Department, Ally Bunbury, Hachette, €14.99
If luxury is your thing (vicarious or otherwise), you’ll love Ally Bunbury’s latest saga, set in Dublin’s fictional luxury department store of Shillingtons. (Think Switzers before Brown Thomas). This family-owned empire is dwindling unless heir apparent, Lando Shillington, can reverse its fortunes. He seeks the assistance of Parisian retail magnate Charles le Croix, who happens to have a gorgeous adult daughter. Before meeting the gorgeous daughter, Lando had had an encounter with Immy, Shillingtons’ personal shopper. It had looked promising until Little Miss Paris showed up. What to do? Sacré bleu! Humour, designer labels and 24-carat jingles all the way.
Christmas by Candlelight, Karen Swan, Pan, €9.99
Remember the movie Peter’s Friends? What about The Big Chill? If you liked them both (who didn’t?), this novel will appeal, involving a college friends’ reunion, just before Christmas, at the stately country pile of Archie Templeton somewhere in Yorkshire. Libby has brought her new beau along, just to add to the sizzle. It snows heavily and the old friends find themselves stranded in the old country manor. Then there’s a power cut. They’ve got no choice but to stay, reminisce on their salad days, and see if they emerge with stronger bonds or broken ones. Charming and seasonal.
Hercule Poirot’s Silent Night, Sophie Hannah, Harper Collins, €19.99
Sophie Hannah has rescued Poirot from obscurity (as if! He’s on at least one TV channel almost every night) and written a new Poirot a’ la Ms Christie, which is no mean feat. Poirot is summoned to the home of the dying Arnold Laurier, who has inherited the crumbling Frellingsloe House in Norfolk but won’t live to enjoy it. It’s Christmas week 1931 and Laurier seeks Poirot’s help in solving a recent murder. Poirot quickly deems the culprit to be within Laurier’s family. But after another murder, Poirot finds himself in danger. He also may have to re-evaluate his initial findings. Will Poirot himself live long enough to expose the blackguard? Sophie Hannah’s fifth Poirot novel is delicious.
Is it Love Actually for Lexie Byrne?, Caroline Grace-Cassidy, Bonnier, €13.99
It’s five days to Christmas and Lexie is joining her new man in England for his ex-wife’s wedding. Her plan is to remain in England and start her new life in the Cotswolds. But everything and everyone she knows and loves is here in Dublin. What to do? Take a road trip, of course. On Christmas week. To the mishty and mountainy wild west of Ireland. That’ll fix it. Full of Grace-Cassidy’s trademark wit (it’s very funny) but also full of the warmth of true friendship, it’s another hit for the flawed but adorable Lexie.
A December to Remember, Jenny Bayliss, Pan, €11.70
In a plot eerily similar to Faith Hogan’s novel, The Gin Sisters’ Promise, three half-sisters are bequeathed their father’s considerable estate. The trio in this novel are very different, as Faith Hogan’s sisters also are, and they have fallen out of touch. Their father’s will contains a stipulation, however. These disparate women, Maggie, Simone and Star, have to work together to complete various challenges their father has set them. All three need the money, so they reluctantly agree. Old family secrets and rivalries are uncovered as the sisters spend December in their father’s village of Rowan Thorp, bustling with Christmas preparations. Can they overcome their respective pasts and hope for healing? A comfy, cosy read for dark December nights.
A Winter in New York, Josie Silver, Penguin, €9.99
Iris has left her home and her controlling partner and moved to New York. She’s a chef and quickly finds work in her landlord’s restaurant. Bobby, her landlord-cum-best friend, is anxious that Iris get out a bit more; New York has so much to offer. Iris’s idea of New York is one she inherited from her mother, along with her mother’s secret ice-cream recipe, which she keeps safely locked away. And after a time, Iris meets Gio, owner of a gelateria in the city. Iris recognises the gelateria’s shopfront from a photo her mother had and is intent on finding out what the connection is. And as Christmas approaches, Iris finds herself falling in love. Witty and well-written, this will particularly appeal to fans of Jojo Moyes.
The Christmas Guest, Peter Swanson, Faber, €10.99
In this short novel, American author Swanson packs more of a punch than most of his contemporaries’ 400-page packages. And it’s such a remarkable piece of onyx-black noir, you simply cannot guess where it’s going. In 1989, young Ashley, an American student spending Christmas far from home in England, is invited to her friend’s stately manor house in the Cotswolds. Ashley is delighted, and even more delighted when she meets her friend’s handsome brother. They seem to hit it off. But then some strange and horrible things begin happening in the village and Ashley is in grave danger. I’m a fan of Swanson, he’s a classy, clever writer and if you’ve not yet discovered him, now’s your chance.
A Winter to Remember, Roisin Meaney, Hachette, €15.99
Roisin Meaney re-introduces the reader to some characters we’ve met before in previous novels, characters who had found their happy ever after. But life is ever changing and the happy never really lasts forever after. Instead, we either bend with the winds of change or snap. Restaurant owner Emily lets her upstairs flat out to a couple new to the neighbourhood. Her own relationship with Bill and his grandson Pip is flourishing. Until Bill’s daughter (Pip’s mother) returns to claim her child. Lil and Tom, the couple who moved into the flat, have their own troubles and Emily’s friend Heather gets an intriguing blast from the past, while being lumbered with an unwelcome mother-in-law. Set in the days approaching Christmas, this is another slice of Roisin Meaney’s inventive imagination, humane and compassionate.
The annual RDS craft fair, Gifted, takes place at the RDS on December 6-10, if you’re looking for a special gift for a special person. You’ll also be supporting Irish artists, designers and makers, and not everything costs the earth. It’s always worth a peek.