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Getting into the spirit

Publishers, like any other vendor, need to get all their ducks - or should that be geese? Reindeer? - in a row when it comes to the gift-giving holiday season. Now that the sweets have been well and truly handed out to the all the ghouls and goblins, it's time to turn one's mind toward the big man in the red suit. All this is in the way of saying: "Sorry! I can't even believe I'm writing about Christmas already!"

Please have some sympathy, as I've had these books flying in since July. It's enough to turn anyone into a Scrooge.

This book is a great way to ease oneself in to a course of festive reading (which ought to be prescribed to the Scrooges among us). A series of short stories, they are geared for the young adult audience, but the level of writing is excellent - not that those who write for The Youngs are wanting in quality! It's just that sometimes, story lines suitable for the genre aren't suitable for The Olds. Not the case here: there's a lot of good, old-fashioned romance going.

All anthologies will be hit and miss, in that not all of the stories end up being of same high standard. I'm not sure how or why that happens, and am not laying the blame at Perkins' door entirely, but there were a couple of pieces of coal among the treats.

I personally liked the ones that were 100pc modern, as in the case of Midnights by Rainbow Rowell - a boy and girl don't realise they're made for each other until they finally kiss, after years of misses, at midnight on New Year's Eve (sigh!). I also liked the ones that were magical, like The Lady and The Fox by Kelly Link. And hey, if you're not a fan, then you've got a gift for a tween sorted.

SECRET SANTA

By Scarlett Bailey Ebury (2014) €1.49

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I recently discovered that I have an aversion to men dressed up as Santa, kind of in the same way that other people loathe clowns. So it was with trepidation that I tapped this open, but I needn't have feared. Though more of a novella, and with a crowd of characters that have history thanks to previous books, Bailey's Christmas tale hits the ground running and is tonnes of fun.

Sue Montaigne is the last of the local gentry, a jolly-hockey-sticks kind of gal whose life is falling apart. The final straw is the last-minute retirement of the quaint Cornish village's Santa. She launches a campaign to cast a new Santa for the annual fete by knocking on the million-pound door of Blake Fletcher, a Hollywood movie star.

I know, so far so implausible. Bailey peoples her feel-good tale with a funny, quirky cast and keeps the action moving, right up until the twist that you were sure was going to happen, but didn't. I liked this loads.

IT MUST HAVE BEEN THE MISTLETOE

By Judy Astley Bantam Press (2014) €10

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A big, no-holds-barred, halls-decked, Christmas family blow-out gets rather a strange twist as the parents, Anna and Mike, are divorcing. They go to the trouble of renting a house in Cornwall to mark their family's last holiday as a traditional unit.

The siblings are willing to play along, unhappily - especially Thea, whose own relationship has ended and who is still recovering from a miscarriage. Everyone gathers, old secrets are aired, old rivalries and resentments flare, and if that's not enough, cue a massive snowstorm.

This takes some time to get its rhythm, and several of the characters function on only one note, but one does start pulling for Thea and the hunky landlord who is, of course, on-site and handsome. Formulaic, but fun.

ORIGAMI STARS

By John Montroll Dover (2014) €18

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Feeling crafty? You'll thank me for this one, because you've got loads of time to lay in the coloured papers and get folding. There's nothing like handmade decorations and this book makes it as easy as mince pie to make a slew of beautiful stars in a variety of shapes.

Each style is laid out with step-by-step instructions that are actually step-by-step. I have to say, I'm a bit giddy about this: it's a terrific family-oriented project. You can make these things to decorate home, school or creche.

DYING FOR CHRISTMAS

By Tammy Cohen Random House (2014) €10

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It's all there in the title... so much of the thrill is gone from this holiday thriller. Jessica Gold is taking a break when the handsome Dominic asks if that seat is free and, fairly hot on the heels of that question, asks her if she'll go home with him. She does, and honestly, I wasn't even 10 pages into this and already ticked off. Anyway, unsurprisingly she ends up his captive and it's all downhill from there. It's not very thrilling when the mouse walks straight into the trap. If you are Christmas-averse, though, this might suit your mood.

A CHRISTMAS TREASURY

Clement Clarke Moore, Margaret Evans Price and others Dover (2014) €11.50

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This is a veritable selection box of verse and nostalgic illustrations - or it's a hodge-podge of royalty-free bits cobbled together opportunistically. I wouldn't recommend a digital version of this, as the back-lighting of my device made the late 19th Century pictures look incredibly lurid and lacking in warmth. It starts with a rousing presentation of Moore's The Night Before Christmas and ends with a rather delightful and sadly unattributed Christmas ABC, in which the hand-written text is wedded quite lovingly with the images. The rest seems like filler - a few proper stories and clutch of random poems.


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