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  • Barbara Copperthwaite

Christmas crackers!

The festive season has now well and truly arrived, so what better way to get yourself in the mood than to read some books that revolve around this time of year? I’ve chosen three of my personal favourites, each with something very different to offer, plus the best of the rest…

Best Christmas crime: 12 DAYS OF WINTER, Stuart MacBride

“Ingenious, imaginative, and featuring MacBride’s signature dark humour”


A collection of interlinked tales of crime and retribution laced with dark humour, set around the festive season – from the No. 1 bestseller Stuart MacBride

Thieves, drug dealers, lap-dancers, gangsters and even the odd good guy populate these twelve tales exploring the seedier side of life in North East Scotland.


I like crime, I like Christmas, so this was bound to be a hit with me. Plus, I am a huge fan of MacBride’s Logan McRae series. This time the talented crime writer takes the theme of the twelve days of Christmas to create twelve short stories which not only involve the festive season but a lot of murder, gore and tension. What is clever is the way each chapter works not just as a stand-alone story, but also has implications for the tale that follows. Ingenious, imaginative, and featuring MacBride’s signature dark, gritty humour, this is a fantastic book for this time of year – and it’s only 99p, too, so is a real bargain.

Best real inspiration: A GIFT FROM BOB, James Bowen

“Poignant and heartfelt, this is an incredible tale that will have you reaching for the tissues”


From the day James rescued a street cat abandoned in the hallway of his sheltered accommodation, they began a friendship which has transformed both their lives and, through the bestselling books A STREET CAT NAMED BOB and THE WORLD ACCORDING TO BOB, touched millions around the world. In this new story from their journey together, James looks back at the last Christmas they spent scraping a living on the streets and how Bob helped him through one of his toughest times - providing strength, friendship and inspiration but also teaching him important lessons about the true meaning of Christmas along the way.


Don’t be fooled by the schmaltzy cover, which reminds me of one of those bad Disney films from the 70s. This is not a sickly-sweet imagining –instead it is the real and truly inspiring account of someone whose life was teetering on the edge. It is honest, sometimes raw, and often laugh-out-loud funny. When author James Bowen rescued an abandoned and injured street cat and nursed him back to health, he could have had no idea that the creature would save his life and completely transform it. The tale reads like a Christmas miracle – but it’s all absolutely true.

“It was no exaggeration to say that Bob had saved my life. When I’d met him six years earlier he’d been a stray, lying injured,” Bowen recalls in his new book. “His arrival marked a huge turning point in my troubled life. At the time I’d been a recovering heroin addict, struggling to complete a methadone programme.

“I was 28 years old and had spent the best part of a decade sleeping rough and in homeless shelters or sheltered accommodation. I was lost. Caring for Bob had given me the impetus and incentive I needed to turn my life around. “

In ‘A Gift From Bob’ Bowen recalls how his last festive season there had been the toughest time of all – but that his ginger cat provided strength, friendship and inspiration.

“Our time together on the streets of London had been eventful but also hugely cathartic. Each day it seemed like he gave me direction, purpose, companionship and, well, a reason to smile.”

How much Bowen’s life has changed thanks to his cat is apparent at the beginning of ‘A Gift From Bob’. The pair are at a swanky Christmas party for authors, held in a posh London hotel. It’s something Bowen still has to pinch himself to accept.

“A part of me felt little bit like a gatecrasher,” he admits, adding: “[Partygoers] would congratulate me on my success and ask about my future plans. For the first time in my life I actually had some and I shared them happily.”

Bowen and Bob now work for various homeless and animal charities. But it was coming out of the party and spotting a Big Issue seller which inspired James to write this latest book.

“He was really feeling the cold,” Bowen describes. “He was repeatedly stamping his feet to try to keep the blood flowing and kept blowing into his hands to try to get some warmth into his wind-chilled body.”

Bowen gave him £20. “It stirred up a whole array of emotions and memories.” He adds: “It hadn’t been so long ago that I had been in exactly the same boat. For more than a decade I too had been an invisible face in the crowd, relying on the kindness of strangers.”

He started to think about just how far he’d come – and vividly remember how tough that last Christmas on the streets had been for him.

“Yet I remembered how it had also been filled with important lessons; lessons that, as I dwell on them again now, suddenly seemed even more precious given the unexpected turn my life had taken.

“They were the type of lessons that no amount of money or success could have bought. And, as I prepared for another, very different type of Christmas, I knew they were lessons I must never forget.”

Now he shares those lessons with his readers. Poignant and heartfelt, this is an incredible tale that will have you reaching for the tissues – and thanking your lucky stars that this Christmas you are safe at home, not on the streets.

Best innocent fun: DASH & LILY’S BOOK OF DARES, Rachel Cohn and David Levithan

“This sweet, simple little tale is beautifully told”


I’ve left some clues for you. If you want them, turn the page. If you don’t, put the book back on the shelf, please.

At the urge of her lucky-in-love brother, sixteen-year-old Lily has left a red notebook full of dares on her favourite bookshop shelf, waiting for just the right guy to come along and accept. Curious, snarky Dash isn’t one to back down from a challenge – and the Book of Dares is the perfect distraction he’s been looking for.

As they send each other on a scavenger hunt across Manhattan, they’re falling for each other on paper. But finding out if their real selves share their on-page chemistry could be their biggest dare yet….


This sweet, simple little tale is beautifully told, and it is the detail which really brings it to life to make it something special. I soon found myself rooting for both Dash and Lily, who are both at that incredible point in their lives where they are edging fearfully towards first love. Whether or not they will find it in the pages of a book they swap between themselves, whilst being careful to never meet, is another matter. Immerse yourself in the Manhattan at Christmas, and keep your fingers crossed for a merry ending. This is a great fast read that will give you a warm glow at the end of it.

Best of the rest

  • Home for Christmas, by Debbie Macomber – Two well-written short stories that hold no surprises, but are full of Christmas spirit.

  • The Christmas Party, by Carole Matthews – Just what fans would expect of Matthews, this is a heart-warming tale with enough fun twists and turns along the way to keep you engaged.

  • Christmas in the Snow, by Karen Swan – Crime in the boardroom was never so festive in this story which weaves several strands (from an avalanche to a family abandoned on Christmas Day) together to create a well-rounded, absorbing read.

  • A Cornish Carol, by Fern Britton – This take on the Dickens’ classic, A Christmas Carol, won’t have you gasping aloud at its clever plot, but it does beautifully evoke Cornwall at this time of year, and will leave you with a warm, fuzzy feeling at the end of it.

  • It Must Have Been the Mistletoe, by Judy Astley – The worst weather in living memory leaves a family snowed in, but inevitably things are complicated by the fact Mum and Dad are splitting up…and their new partners are stuck in the house too. A farce-like, fun tale for all romantics.

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