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Welsh mountain communes and pagan festivals make for the perfect rom-com setting

The Christmas Invitation by Trisha Ashley

Raised on an isolated Welsh mountain commune, Meg Harkness has never experienced a ‘proper’ Christmas… but this year looks set to be a cracker in more ways than one!

The run-up to the festive season just got an extra injection of sparkle with an invitation to cosy up with a witty and wonderful winter warmer from Lancashire-born author Trisha Ashley, the much-loved queen of funny, feel-good rom-coms.

A beguiling blend of dark Lancashire humour, heartwarming romance, the finest foods, and characters so quirky, lovable and exquisitely portrayed that they become your own friends (or enemies!), are just some of the many reasons why Ashley’s clever comedies have won her an army of fans.

And this Christmas, we return to the bracing moorland air and rural charms around Ashley’s home town of St Helens for a tasty confection of love games, mystery and intrigue – and a side helping of skulduggery to spice up the Yuletide drama.

Portrait painter Meg is definitely not in the Christmas mood. After years spent with her adopted ‘spiritual’ grandfather, River, who only observes pagan festivals at his commune in the remote Black Mountains of Wales, Meg has never gone in for tinsel, baubles and mistletoe.

This Christmas she is feeling particularly low after a spell in hospital with pneumonia… but when she is invited to spend the run-up to Christmas in the snowy countryside of Lancashire, rather than her home in wet and dreary London, she can’t refuse.

Eccentric crime novelist Clara Mayhem Doome and her husband Henry, a renowned poet, have commissioned Meg to paint their portraits and are keen to have her stay at their home, which is perched on an isolated hilltop.

Arriving at the warm and cosy Red House, which Clara and Henry share with their great nephew Teddy, Meg soon falls under its spell and begins to wonder what a real Christmas might be like. But just as she is beginning to settle in, she spots a familiar and unwelcome face… Lex Mariner, Clara’s nephew and Meg’s ex-boyfriend from college days.

Meg and Lex share ‘old wounds’ that are still raw for both of them, and the animosity is almost visible. Despite the festive cheer, Meg suddenly wants nothing more than to get as far away from him, and their past secrets, as she can.

But if she stays, could this be the year she finally discovers the magic of Christmas…

Ashley certainly knows how to please her audience and there are some unforgettable, larger-than-life characters – not least the irrepressible, avuncular Clara – and lots of show-stealing moments in this joyous Christmas package of reading delights.

With some familiar names from past novels, a storyline brimming with warm insight and wry observations on human frailties and foibles, and delicious recipes to tickle everyone’s taste buds, this is the perfect starter to the festive season.

The Christmas Invitation by Trisha Ashley Black Swan, paperback, £7.99

Pam Norfolk
Pam Norfolk has been writing book reviews for over ten years, including for the Wordsworth Trust. She has also worked as a reporter and sub-editor on regional and national newspapers.

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