As 2017 draws to a close, there’s just time for one last monthly wrap up. Throughout December, I finished 10 books (bringing my final total for the year up to 126). Here are a few thoughts on each of them, in the order I read them.
The Santa Klaus Murder by Mavis Doriel Hay
[ ⭐ ⭐ ] Though it had the cosy old-school vibes I was craving at the time, and it was somewhat fun to read some crime set at Christmas, I have to say I found this book largely underwhelming, sadly. The pacing wasn’t great, with little in the way of an attempt to build tension or a sense of climax. Moreover, the ‘reveals’ came about through a succession of conversations in which characters revealed information they’d known all along but inexplicably hadn’t thought to mention before, rather than clever twists or misdirection, which felt lazy and frustrating. ‘Meh’ at best, I’m afraid.
The Creakers by Tom Fletcher
[ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ] A fun adventure story suitable for kids (and those who are kids at heart), this is an exciting and transporting read with a great young heroine that touches on some good themes, like acceptance of those who are different, the importance of friendship, and not being afraid to go against the grain. I knocked off a star because there had been some great allegory about absent parents which I thought was wonderful for young readers with parents who had separated, but this theme was undone at the end, potentially alienating those readers. Still, it was thoroughly enjoyable and had a lovely nostalgic feel, perfect for the festive season.
Christmas Stories by various (edited by Diana Secker Tesdell)
[ ⭐ ⭐ ] This is (supposedly) an anthology of Christmas themed short stories by various well-known writers. Therein lies my trouble with the book, however, as my major problem was simply that most of the stories included had little or no real relation to the festive season. There were a few gems that made it worth while though, notably the contributions from Willa Cather and John Cheever, which focused on the ideas of a mother’s undying love, and the notion that no matter how bad things may seem, there is always someone worse off than yourself, respectively.
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
[ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ] I was, of course, very familiar with the story of A Christmas Carol, having seen some of its various adaptations, but as far as I can recall, this was my first time actually reading the original text, which was fun to do! Having not picked up any Dickens for a long time, I was also pleasantly surprised by his prose, which I found both evocative and highly readable.
The Nutcracker by E.T.A. Hoffmann, illustrated by Robert Ingpen
[ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ] Again, this is one that I was at least somewhat familiar with in terms of the main concept, having seen the famous ballet it inspired, but was reading for the first time in its original form. The tale is, as you’d probably expect, considerably more developed in the novel, with a whole flashback sequence that shows how the Prince came to be The Nutcracker. It was timeless, charming and whimsical, and was enhanced greatly by Robert Ingpen’s beautiful illustrations.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (illustrated edition) by J.K. Rowling, with art by Jim Kay
[ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ] Jim Kay’s incredible artwork manages to make the return to the magical word feel fresh and exciting, which coupled with the nostalgia for the story and characters themselves, makes for a truly wonderful and enchanting reading experience.
The Testament of Mary by Colm Tóibín
[ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ] This reads like a dramatic monologue from the perspective of an aged Virgin Mary, reflecting on her son’s life and death. At its core, I suppose it’s about how stories are twisted with time, as all Mary really wants is to state her version of the truth, and to have had the chance to be a ‘normal’ mother. As a concept, I thought it was fascinating, and the writing itself was very nice, I just found it a little lacking somehow, and wish Tóibín had pushed things a little further in terms of its themes and emotional impact.
Another Night Before Christmas by Carol Ann Duffy, illustrated by Rob Ryan
[ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ] This festive poem is essentially a retelling of the classic story, The Night Before Christmas, but set in the modern day, and as such, it’s a little more tongue-in-cheek. It’s very charming, and Rob Ryan’s beautiful paper cut-out artwork was the ideal accompaniment.
The Night Before Christmas by Clement C. Moore, illustrated by Robert Ingpen
[ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ] Having read a retelling, I felt it only right to read the original and chose to do so, well… on the night before Christmas. It’s a very sweet, timeless tale for any age, and this edition also has lovely artwork by Robert Ingpen, one of my favourite illustrators of children’s classics.
Well-Read Women: Portraits of Fiction’s Most Beloved Heroines by Samantha Hahn
[ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ] In beautiful watercolour artwork, Hahn brings to life iconic heroines from literature and accompanies them with a handwritten quote by the character that gives you a sense of their personality. It’s a great concept and is very well executed, though I would say that since she drew from Western classics, there’s not a huge amount of diversity in here; it’s almost exclusively a POC-free zone.
There we have it – a thoroughly enjoyable reading month, full of (mostly) festive delights, and a great way to round off the year. I look forward to seeing what books 2018 will bring my way!
What was your favourite read in December?