Off the Shelf: Top books to read and games to play this Twixmas
In her first column for Velvet, Janet Gordon, a writer and book reviewer from Bishop’s Stortford, shares the best books to read and games to play this Twixmas
The Case of the Michaelmas Goose by Clifford Witting (Galileo Publishers, £10.99)
Not only is Cambridge alive with brilliant indie bookstores, but it’s also home to the brilliant indie publisher Galileo. Specialising in what’s known as the Golden Age of detective fiction, one of their latest offerings is The Case of the Michaelmas Goose.
It opens with the discovery of a body - wearing an excellent false beard - at the foot of Etchworth Tower and Inspector Charlton is called upon to investigate. With Etchworth Tower built in 1782 as a copy of the Monument to the Great Fire of London, the Downshire Council have been keeping the monument open to visitors upon payment of threepence to Old Tom Lee, keeper of the turnstiles.
We meet all manner of local people - and author Clifford Witting (1907-1968) is adept at packing his pages with pithy descriptions of the suspects investigated with language redolent of the Thirties.
It’s a real throwback to the way in which villagers went about their lives and how they would stop at a little thatched cottage, where the owner was always obliging enough to serve them a cream tea.
Galileo was established in 1996 and specialises in reviving great crime novels – they currently publish about 12 titles a year. With specially commissioned illustrations by Charlotte Patton, these novels are such a lovely glimpse of yesteryear. Incidentally nobody seems to know why Witting called this novel The Case of the Michaelmas Goose - if anybody can shed any light on why, please do let us know.
It Always Snows on Mistletoe Square by Ali McNamara (Sphere, £8.99)
This is the 14th novel from best-selling Cambridge author Ali McNamara, but it’s her very first Christmas read. And oh my goodness, it’s absolutely magical.
I’m a sucker for an old-fashioned Christmas card – British Heart Foundation seems to have cornered the market in those “Dickens” style cards - and the cover of Mistletoe Square is so appealing.
Elle is in despair: no home, no job and no boyfriend. She sits on a bench gazing across the Thames wondering, just wondering, what to do next, when a bowler-hatted gent sits beside her, engages her in trivial conversation and disappears, leaving behind his newspaper. And there is a green-circled advertisement that somehow seems meant for Elle.
It’s very near to Christmas Day and Elle - who loathes Christmas – figures she has nothing to lose by turning up at the house in Mistletoe Square, whose advertisement doesn’t even carry a phone number. It turns out that she is expected, and her room is ready in this most beautiful of houses in one of those gorgeous London squares in Fitzrovia.
She is joined by Ben, who’s helping bring a giant Christmas tree into the house, and who – it turns out - has also replied to a similar mysterious advertisement.
The house is owned by Estelle with her companion Angela and that evening they all sit down to dinner together. And then the magic begins. . .
I really don’t quite know how to describe this; it’s romantic, it’s magical, it’s historical and mystical – and it’s an absolutely wonderful read. Just park yourself in front of the fire, with a glass of wine/mug of hot chocolate, and indulge in this truly heartwarming Christmas read.
It’s a festive-season saviour: a great board game that all the family can play. Velvet rounds up four of this year’s best. . .
Hurry Up Chicken Butt, age 4+, £19.99, explodingkittens.com
Shake the Chicken to reveal your activity and perform it quick-smart before passing to the next player. . . and before the timer goes off! It’s fast, funny and gives everyone, including little ones, equal chance to win.
Throw Throw Burrito, age 7+, £15.99, Waterstones, Cambridge
It’s a game of cards - and also dodgeball! Try to collect matching sets of cards faster than your opponents while dodging and throwing squishy burritos. Even the grumpiest teen can’t fail to get into the spirit.
Go Genius World, age 7+, £19.99, smarttoysandgames.co.uk
An invitation to travel the world without leaving your living room, this one’s educational as well as entertaining. Can you name the longest river in the world? Or which country Komodo dragons come from? Every correct (multiple-choice) answer wins a passport stamp.
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