We’ve just got time to squeeze one more wrap up out of the year before we head into 2020. I read 9 books throughout December, bringing my total number of reads for 2019 up to 124. Here are some brief thoughts on each of them, with links to my full reviews if you’d like to know more.
Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk
[ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ] The thriller-esque framing of this unconventional novel about a woman at odds with her community – convinced that animals are murdering people – didn’t quite work for me. The obvious nature of whodunnit (and why) led to a climax and payoff that sadly underwhelmed. On the other hand, I very much enjoyed its strong evocation of setting and atmosphere, the singular narrative voice, and its themes of animal welfare, fate versus free will, the line between defiance and madness, the lamentations of life in an aging body, and society’s dismissal of women.
The Tiger’s Wife by Téa Obreht
[ ⭐ ⭐ ] I was left feeling frustratingly apathetic towards this. Whilst I enjoyed the striking imagery, decent prose, and interesting ideas, I was held at too much of a distance by the disjointed narrative structure, heavy use of magical realism, and lack of closure.
Twas the Nightshift Before Christmas by Adam Kay
[ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ] The real-life diaries of a former doctor, kept during the 7 consecutive festive periods he worked within the NHS. Kay’s trademark sarcasm brings much-needed levity to what could otherwise be a very upsetting read. With equal poignancy and humour, he highlights the level of personal sacrifice required to work as a junior doctor in times of budget cuts and unfathomable hours; reminding us all why we cannot afford to take frontline staff for granted.
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling (illustrated by Jim Kay)
[ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ] It’s always a nostalgic delight to revisit the wizarding world, flaws and all – especially at this time of year. Kay’s stunning illustrations add another layer of immersion, making this re-read feel both fresh and familiar all at once. I’ve always loved that Prisoner of Azkaban represented a turning point in the overall tone of the series, whilst Voldemort’s return in Goblet of Fire served as an equivalent turning point in the narrative.
Miss Marley by Vanessa Lafaye
[ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ] This prequel to Dickens’ A Christmas Carol chronicles the downfall of Scrooge’s business partner, Jacob Marley, told from the perspective of his sister, Clara. It builds on key themes from the original (like fate versus free will, and the trappings of poverty), whilst also touching on historical female agency. Poignant and charming, this is a very successful tie-in novel that pays homage to the source material, enhancing rather than diminishing its legacy.
The Christmasaurus and the Winter Witch by Tom Fletcher
[ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ] As with its predecessor, this is full of fun, festive loveliness. It touches on some good themes without ever distracting from the magic or adventure of the narrative. Christmas joy for any age.
The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Andersen
[ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ] This isn’t my favourite of Andersen’s fairy tales, but there is some memorable imagery, and I like that it’s the boy who is helpless and the girl who gets to save the day. This particular edition is greatly enhanced by Sanna Annukka’s gorgeous illustrations.
Wenceslas by Carol Ann Duffy
[ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ] This festive poem from Duffy reminds us to extend the hand of human kindness to those less fortunate than ourselves. I love this sentiment, and think Stuart Kolakovic’s accompanying artwork is beautiful, but the poem itself (in terms of language, structure, flow, etc.) didn’t do a huge amount for me.
Waves by Ingrid Chabbert & Carole Maurel, translated from the French by Edward Gauvin
[ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ] A suitably poignant look at parental grief, this graphic novel cleverly uses colour as a visual representation of loss and the journey to rekindle hope. It also has fantastic normalized queer representation, with the two women at the heart of the story never presented as anything other than a normal, loving couple.
There we have it! My favourite new reads of the month were Miss Marley and Waves, but I also loved revisiting Harry Potter. What was your favourite pick for December?
Here’s hoping we all have a wonderful reading year in 2020.