"Water?"" cried Toad, turning and turning about in his distress. ""What can water do against the awful might of Mrs Ffleshe? Niagara Falls would not trouble her nor a regiment of Hussars subdue her! Arsenic would be as ambrosia to such a one as she, and a stake in the heart would merely be taken as encouragement."" It's coming up to Christmas on the River Bank, and that domesticated culinary supremo, Mr. Mole of Mole End is disturbed by the absence of anything resembling festive spirit in the environs. He's sure that there's a deep dark reason behind the decision of his friends Ratty, Badger, Otter and the aristocratic Toad of Toad Hall to turn down his invitation for Christmas at Mole End. He's almost right. ""It"" is a shallow, plump reason--Mrs Ffleshe, Toad's tyrannical and thoroughly imposed Christmas house guest, who casts her terrible shadow over Toad Hall, the Riverbank and the Village, forcing animals and humans alike into a state of misery from which only the vicious and untrustworthy weasels and stoats benefit. The Willows at Christmas is the tale of the Mole's heroic fight, against the odds, for a merry Christmas, in which he's valiantly assisted by the other River bankers, Toad's dedicated and resourceful housekeeper Mrs Bugle, and a selection of downtrodden villagers. Lots of nastiness,(including an extraordinary variety of torture instruments and a generous range of mother-in-law jokes), lots of inventiveness (see extraordinary variety of torture instruments again) and ultimately redemptive. Gorgeously illustrated (including full-page colour pix) by Patrick Benson, this is holiday reading for the young- and-nostalgic at heart. -- Lisa Gee "