When the sparkly cover of a Trisha Ashley book appears on the bookshelves, you know that the festive celebrations are not far away...
And what better way to anticipate the season of cosy fires, twinkling lights and fabulous food than a warm and tasty treat from the Queen of Christmas?
Set in a fictional Lancashire village, this yuletide yarn has all the essential trimmings ... lashings of northern humour, a liberal sprinkling of romance, a feast of mouth-watering recipes and a pantry full of warring cooks.
Ashley has turned enchanting tales of food, fun and folk into her trademark ‘dish’ and serving them up at Christmas gives us the chance to switch off , sit back and enjoy.
Here we have Lizzy Pharamond whose life at Perseverance Cottage in the pretty village of Middlemoss would be idyllic if it wasn’t for her cheating husband Tom who spends most of his time away from home, courting a succession of lovers.
Lizzy is just waiting for her son Jasper to start at university and then she’ll be packing her bags and saying a farewell to Tom that certainly won’t be fond. But then tragedy strikes...
Luckily she has a welcome distraction in the Christmas Pudding Circle, a group of friends who swap seasonal recipes as early as August, and the support of her best friend Annie Vane who seems to have won the heart of the shy young vicar.
There is also the friendly, and sometimes not so friendly, rivalry with Tom’s cousin and noted cookery writer Nick, particularly over who will win Best Mince Pie at the village show.
There are times when Lizzy secretly thinks she married the wrong Pharamond ... her husband Tom is the ‘handsome and unreliable tomcat’ while dependable Nick is ‘just like Jane Eyre’s Mr Rochester would have been.’
But Nick is already married to his French wife Leila, a brittle acid-drop of a woman whose culinary skills are famous.
While excitement mounts in some quarters over the arrival of the rich and charismatic soap actor Ritch Rainford, who has moved into the old vicarage, the whole of Middlemoss gears up for the annual Boxing Day Mystery Play.
But who will play Adam to Lizzy’s Eve? Could it be the handsome Ritch, or will someone closer to home win her heart?
Add to Ashley’s delicious mix some wonderfully dotty locals, the mystery of the disappearing squirrels, a touch of pathos plus a few surprises, and The Magic of Christmas is well and truly here!
(Avon, paperback, £6.99)