What do we want from a book to get us in the mood for some early Christmas magic?
A little mystery perhaps, a good dollop of romance, a few ghosts – some good and some bad – and maybe even a serving of delicious tried-and-trusted home recipes.
For those sceptical that such a strange and eclectic book could exist, try dipping into Leah Fleming’s enchanting Winter’s Children, an unusual and spellbinding story set in the heart of the Yorkshire Dales, served up with a delightful sprinkling of traditional recipes.
It’s easy to see why Lancashire-born Fleming has a devoted army of followers. Her warm-hearted stories combine down-to-earth wisdom with compelling storytelling, and here we have both with an added festive flavour.
In 2001, grieving widow Kay Partridge is inexplicably drawn to a cottage at Wintergill House Farm in the Dales when she is looking for a retreat from the Christmas festivities for herself and seven-year-old daughter Evie.
It is nearly a year now since her husband was killed in a car accident and she needs to escape from the stifling kindness and fussing of her in-laws.
A winter let is just what they both need to get through the Christmas season and rethink their future.
Their arrival, however, ruffles a few feathers at the farm where the owners, Nora Snowden and her son Nik, are struggling to come to terms with the slaughter of their animals after the devastation of the summer’s foot-and-mouth epidemic.
Nora is unsettled by the appearance of a child the same age as the daughter she loved and lost, and Nik, still hurting from the failure of his marriage and his farming business, is soon labelled ‘Mr Grumpy’ by Evie.
Nora wants to turn her back on the farm and sell up but Nik sees it as a living, breathing entity which must be kept in the family at all costs.
But far more unsettling for the farm and its residents are the ghosts of the two women who have been haunting the farmhouse and its fields for generations.
The apparitions have an old score to settle and Evie, who has the gift of the ‘third eye,’ may be in danger from Blanche Norton whose restless spirit is bent on revenge.
Wintergill holds other secrets from the past – not least a lost Turner sketch – but can 350 years of history be unravelled in time to save the farm and all those who love it?
Deliciously different, Winter’s Children is the perfect read for the dark nights ahead. Curl up and enjoy!
(Avon, paperback, £6.99)