If November was something of a disappointment to me in terms of the number of books I read, December was an absolute joy. I have no doubt that it had plenty to do with the two weeks off I had; in the run up to Christmas and the following week but I am still feeling pretty impressed with myself.
Not only did I manage to read a decent number of books but I also greatly enjoyed what I chose to read as well.
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Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo
‘Galaxy ‘Alex’ Stern is the most unlikely member of Yale’s freshman class. A dropout and the sole survivor of a horrific, unsolved crime, Alex was hoping for a fresh start. But a free ride to one of the world’s most prestigious universities was bound to come with a catch. Alex has been tasked with monitoring the mysterious activities of Yale’s secret societies – well-known haunts of the rich and powerful. Now there’s a dead girl on campus and Alex seems to be the only person who won’t accept the neat answer the police and campus administration have come up with for her murder. Because Alex knows the secret societies are far more sinister and extraordinary than anyone ever imagined. They tamper with forbidden magic. They raise the dead. And sometimes they prey on the living…’
It is no secret that I am a huge Leigh Bardugo fan. I feel pretty confident that anything she writes I will adore and so I jumped into Ninth House with both feet but in hindsight I should probably have done some minor research on what the book was like. In truth I thought…secret society? Tick. Magic and mystery? Tick. Struggling female protagonist? Tick. What I hadn’t bargained for was how dark this book actually was. I should add a disclaimer that I am a grade A wuss when it comes to horror or anything even marginally spine-tingling but still; this book gave me the creeps.
It is a fantastical book about the secret societies of Yale, and the agency who have been put in place to watch over them and ensure that the dark and gruesome things they get up to don’t become too dark and gruesome. Leigh Bardugo’s writing was once again on point, but this book does sit on the line between thriller and horror and it is much darker than her other works. Something to be aware of before going in.
Comfort & Joy by Kristin Hannah
‘Joy Candellaro once loved Christmas more than any other time of the year. Now, as the holiday approaches, she is at a crossroads in her life; recently divorced and alone, she can’t summon the old enthusiasm for celebrating. So without telling anyone, she buys a ticket and boards a plane bound for the beautiful Pacific Northwest. When an unexpected detour takes her deep into the woods of the Olympic rainforest, Joy makes a bold decision to leave her ordinary life behind–to just walk away–and thus begins an adventure unlike any she could have imagined.’
The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah is a book I have recommended so many times that people are probably bored of hearing me talk about it! It is a firm all-time favourite and so I was excited to jump into this holiday offering from Hannah. Unfortunately it all fell a bit flat. I think if you are willing to suspend belief and read the book as though you are watching a Christmas feel-good movie on Netflix then you’ll probably get along with it just fine. You have to get to the middle to understand one of the seemingly bizarre plot holes but even this twist wasn’t enough to save the book in my eyes. It felt poorly edited and poorly executed; not at all what I was expecting.
That being said, it was quick to read and would actually make a sweet movie.
Seven Days of Us by Francesca Hornak
‘It’s the holidays, and the Birch family is gathering for the first time in years. Olivia, the eldest daughter, has returned from treating an epidemic abroad and must go into quarantine for seven days. Her mother has decided it’s the perfect opportunity to spend some ‘special time’ together, her youngest sister wholeheartedly disagrees, her father isn’t allowed an opinion. When no one can leave the house and no one can enter, quarantine for the Birches feels like an eternity. Especially when they’re all harbouring secrets. One of which is about to come knocking at their door…‘
This was a festive story I was keen to read as the synopsis sounded perfect; just the right amount of family drama mixed with some Christmas spirit. And it did not disappoint. The book was extremely readable and although (as above) you did need to suspend belief just a little bit…I for one find it difficult to accept that every single member of one family would have a massive, life-altering secret they had been keeping from their loved ones…it was worth the read. Beautifully told, moving and just light enough to be a good winter read. Definitely one I’d recommend.
The Toy Makers by Robert Dinsdale
‘It is 1917, and while war wages across Europe, in the heart of London, there is a place of hope and enchantment. The Emporium sells toys that capture the imagination of children and adults alike: patchwork dogs that seem alive, toy boxes that are bigger on the inside, soldiers that can fight battles of their own. Into this family business comes young Cathy Wray, running away from a shameful past. The Emporium takes her in, makes her one of its own. But Cathy is about to discover that the Emporium has secrets of its own..‘
Now here is a book of two halves. About three pages into The Toy Makers I was convinced this was going to be a favourite read of 2020. It was atmospheric, with a hint of magic woven together with wonderful storytelling and I was hooked. We had some interesting characters to connect with and I honestly couldn’t read it slow enough and yet get through it fast enough.
Then we hit a road bump. This was the author’s first time exploring magic in his writing and I think he got a bit side-tracked. There is a storyline which arrives about 2/3 of the way into the book and it simply overwhelmed the rest of the plot. The writing style was so readable, the characters so relatable and the magic so wonderful that this additional storyline was completely unnecessary and it crowded out the rest of what was happening. You almost wanted to sit with the story as it was, for just a while, but the author didn’t allow it. A real shame as otherwise this book would have been a five star read for me.
The Christmas Tin by Roderick J Robison
‘Jesse Maclean is concerned that the commercialism of the holidays has distracted his daughter from the real reason why Christmas is celebrated. He determines to tell his daughter a Christmas story. One that conveys the true meaning of the holiday. And he knows just the story. The year is 1968 and Jesse’s father is serving a tour in Vietnam. Jesse and his mother are struggling to make ends meet. He gives little thought to the approaching holidays. That changes however, when he is befriended by Ardella Calder, an elderly customer on his paper route.’
This was my book club’s choice for December; a self-published short story. We were all excited to jump in and it felt the right length for the busy Christmas period. In fact I read it in one sitting on Christmas Day during a lull in our family festivities. It is a sweet story which felt a tiny bit too short for my liking, and which would benefit from some re-editing but on the whole, a lovely short story that gave me plenty of warm and fuzzy feelings and an injection of Christmas spirit.
Ruin by John Gwynne
I’m leaving this blank as to put the synopsis in would equal many spoilers!
This is the third book in Gwynne’s ‘Faithful and the Fallen’ series so it’s difficult to share too much without giving away spoilers. I also find myself unable to adequately express how much this book dragged my emotions through the wringer. We meet a host of characters in this series, follow multiple POVS with individual story arcs taking place alongside a wider plot which involves a battle between good and evil. There is politics, magic, creatures of old, plenty of battles, coming of age and so much more within the pages of these books.
I really enjoy the story that Gwynne has brought to life and created but I don’t think I can bring myself to pick up the final book. My emotions just can’t handle it*
*A jest…I HAVE to know how it is going to conclude!
I’d love to know what you read in the month of December or what you are reading now?
Happy reading friends x