Book review: Twelve Days of Christmas by Trisha Ashley

A remote house in the wilds of the Lancashire countryside sounds the ideal spot to escape all the madness of Christmas.

For various reasons, the ‘season of joy’ has mostly been a season of sadness in Holly Brown’s 35 years of life so she is looking forward to a spot of house-sitting in splendid isolation.

But the festivities have a way of catching up with you in the most unexpected ways.

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St Helens-born Ashley’s Christmas cracker is as warm as a glass of mulled wine on a cold winter’s night and as full of surprises as Santa’s stocking.

There’s a cast of entertaining and eccentric characters, generous helpings of humour and the author’s Lancashire setting provides the added fun of spotting familiar towns and landmarks.

And it’s not all froth...there’s plenty of substance beneath the sparkle because Ashley does tender just as well as she does funny.

Since Holly’s beloved husband died in December eight years ago, she has been trying to ignore Christmas as a way of shutting out painful memories.

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Holly was brought up by her Baptist grandmother whose religious beliefs outlawed ostentatious celebrations so she is well accustomed to bypassing Christmas.

Her gran died recently, leaving little more than a house and a box full of journals dating back to the war years, and Holly is taking the diaries and heading to the Lancashire moors for a spot of reading and professional house-sitting.

The absent owner is sculptor Jude Martland who is also trying to forget Christmas after his brother ran away with his fiancée a year ago.

It’s all a bit spooky for Holly because her grandmother’s dying words, uttered with a beatific smile, were ‘Ned Martland’. Strangely, that wasn’t the name of Holly’s late grandfather.

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Anyway, the house, Old Place, is magnificent – a Jacobean mansion no less – with acres of land and at the end of a winding and inaccessible road.

There’s just one problem for Holly; the owner’s assorted family live in the neighbourhood and seem to think she’s going to cook Christmas dinner for them all and generally be in charge of the jollities.

There are also the irritating phone calls from Jude Martland who doesn’t seem to have much confidence in her ability to hold the fort while he is away.

And when he turns up out of the blue and finds his family running amok through his house and Holly seemingly encouraging them to do so, temperatures to start to rise.

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Not so outside, however, and when a blanket of snow descends, it looks like the Twelve Days of Christmas are going to be spicier than anyone thought.

Ashley‘s seasonal heart-warmer is an ideal Christmas gift for girls of any age and includes some tasty traditional recipes to get us all in the mood for the big day.

(Avon, paperback, £6.99)

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