The best blockbusters & romances for Christmas

Well-spun yarns from Yorkshire to Hollywood
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The Independent Culture

The moorland romances of the Brontës and Daphne du Maurier are never far away from our vision of the perfect Christmas read. Draw up a chair, then, for debut novelist Diane Setterfield's The Thirteenth Tale (Orion, £12.99). Set in an isolated Yorkshire farmhouse, this literary potboiler relives the secret history of Vida Winter, a reclusive novelist with a past. It's a windswept feast of abandoned babies, incestuous siblings and feral twins. There's Gothic of a more temperate kind in A Family Daughter by Maile Meloy (John Murray, £12.99). In the sequel to her bestselling Liars and Saints, Meloy catches up with the Santerre family - a tightly knit Catholic clan. The flaky heroine sleeps with her uncle; mother finds salvation in the arms of a freckly woman: sun-kissed schlock for the seasonally affected.

Staying in California, Douglas Kennedy's Temptation (Hutchinson, £14.99) gives the Hollywood blockbuster a welcome makeover. Wannabe screenwriter David Armitage wants to be rich. When he finally sells a script, he indulges in every cliché Tinseltown has to offer. His inevitable breakdown owes more to Scott Fitzgerald than Larry David.

Parvenu statesman Cicero tried hard to avoid flying too close to the sun. Robert Harris's Imperium (Hutchinson £17.99) re-tells the earlier life story of this workaholic poet and politician from the point of view of Tiro, his personal assistant, in an epic keen to draw parallels between Rome BC and Washington DC. The students in Marisha Pessl's hit debut Special Topics in Calamity Physics (Viking, £16.99) are well versed in the Classics and internecine intrigue - an American campus novel whose erudite veneer (and whodunit subtext) will appeal to a generation too young to remember Donna Tartt's The Secret History.

Readers who can no longer be bothered with novels about young people and "university nodules" will find a kindred spirit in Marie Sharp, 60-year-old heroine of Viriginia Ironside's comic novel No! I don't want to join a bookclub (Fig Tree £12.99). The babyboomers' answer to Bridget Jones: her fictional diaries grapple with atrophic sex, orthopaedic shoes and seniors with too much hair.

Ian Fleming's favourite seduction technique was sausages in front of the fire. A more gourmet approach is to be found in Geling Yan's The Uninvited (Faber, £10.99). when factory worker Dan Dong is mistaken for a journalist, and enters a new world of free lunches and cash handouts. In this exquisite indictment of corporate China, Dong ends up supping from the breasts of semi-chilled sex workers. Yasmin Crowther's Iranian memorable family epic The Saffron Kitchen (Little, Brown, £14.99) is a more dignified affair. After 40 years in London, Maryam revisits her girlhood village. Memories of an authoritarian father, a general under the Shah, are tempered by the pleasurable shock of the minarets and mountains of home.

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