Reviews first published 09/12/12
Hello Faithful Readers,
Yep, I’m one of those people who gains a little extra bounce in their step when it comes to Christmas. From the Gingerbread Lattes in the coffee shop to the mulled wine stalls at the European Christmas Markets, from the lights on the trees to the cheesy films which spread messages of joy, hope and yes even lurrrrrrrrrrrrrrrve, I become a serious Christmas Cheesemeister.
So, after writing a blog post for “That Artsy Reader Girl” which will be published on 15th December, I decided to go on a bit of a Xmas read-fest before everything goes into Christmas overdrive. (Partly to let you know about some of the Christmas books that I’ve read and partly to serve as a final push in my reading challenge for this year).
So, here goes…
“Six Geese A-Laying” by Sophie Kinsella
I’ve never read one of Sophie’s Shopaholic series as it didn’t really appeal to me, but I decided to get this free mini-short story.
The basic premise of this book is the final act of “A Christmas Carol” where Scrooge encounters The Ghost (or Spirit) of Christmas Yet To Come. Six expectant mothers who are members of a very exclusive antenatal class are brought together for a final lesson that parenting classes don’t normally teach.
I managed to read this story in the space of time that it took me to wait for a dental appointment – roughly half an hour. The reason that I say this is to give you an idea of how quick a read it is.
Due to the size of the story, you are introduced very quickly to the six expectant mothers who are written with broad brushstroke characterisations. The six mothers are presented as five demanding expectant mothers with various issues and one expectant mother who is unsure that she’ll make a good parent. All of them are given the chance to take a glimpse at their respective futures to see if the actions of the present will affect their destinies and those of their offspring.
I must admit that apart from the mother who is unsure that she’d make a good parent, the remaining characters come across as pretty unlikeable characters who would make you wonder if there shouldn’t be licences for parenting as much as there are for looking after a dog. This is brought into focus when they see their futures along with the device for their redemption. The problem is that given the size of the story there isn’t a sufficient scope to see what is really at stake as a result of their actions in the present. In addition to this, the story is wrapped up too neatly due to the story’s length with people moving on with their new life choices too conveniently.
For me, this story didn’t have the laughs within it to be a comedy or the risk to be a drama. However, in its favour, it doesn’t pretend to be anything more than a fluffy freebie read which can be read within half an hour.
“Dash & Lily’s Book Of Dares” by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan
(Taken from my review on Goodreads)
I had never read a book by David Levithan or Rachel Cohn before, but I have previously seen and enjoyed the film adaptation of “Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist”.
This book is written from the alternating first person perspective of lead characters Dash – a bookish sixteen year old with an attitude that hovers around loner, snarky and borderline cynical but with a romantic enough nature to be drawn to a red notebook which starts off his quest to find out more about the original owner, and Lily – a lonely sixteen year old with a sunny disposition, a reluctance to take bold steps in life and an overprotective family.
As depicted by the snowy setting on the cover, the setting for this novel is the Christmas period and New Year period with the notebook acting as a guide between the two leads to undertake a series of “Dares” which not only send each other criss-crossing around New York but discovering each other daring to ask each other about their innermost secrets. In addition to this, the Christmas theme is shown through both characters throughout by their differing attitudes to the Festive season – Dash is very much take it or leave it in his attitude to Christmas whilst Lily is very much a Christmas-a-holic.
The bookishness of this novel shines through this novel as the opening is set in The Strand bookstore in New York and sets up both Dash and Lily’s love of books and words. It also sets up what I feel sets this book apart from other YA novels I’ve read with the characters getting to know each other slowly through the words they write on the page and their interactions with their respective relatives and friends as opposed to surrendering to their hormones as soon as the will takes them which is, in my mind, more romantic.
My only issue with the book is that of the pacing in the middle segment of the novel which feels a little slow in comparison to the the first and third thirds of the book. That said, you do get a trade off by introducing some romantic tension by bringing in potential additional love interest.
If you’re after a romantic comedy where the teens are represented not only with the typical emotions granted to YA protagonists but also with humour, warmth and intelligence then I am happy to recommend this as a book to add to your reading list.
Granted, this book can be read at any point of the year, but given the story’s Xmas setting, it’d feel better to read it on the run up to Christmas with some hot chocolate whilst you’re underneath your duvet listening to some suitably Festive music.
“Christmas Chaos” by Jennifer Conner
I got this short story as a freebie from Amazon and it took me roughly an hour to read.
Basically, the premise is that a young woman, Josiane, is due to visit her family for Christmas expecting a wee bit of an inquisition as she will not be bringing a boyfriend due to her date for the evening standing her up. As she’s leaving work, she is stuck in an elevator with Carsten who is a builder working on a project within the building.
Basically, I went in with the attitude of giving it a try because it may be a nice little comedy romance. Unfortunately, due to the story’s short span, I was left feeling a little disappointed.
After reading a couple of short stories, I understand that one of the trade offs is a lack of character background or development, certainly in the case of supporting characters, but the same could be said for this story in the treatment of the leads Josiane and Carsten. Even the character twist in the middle of the story didn’t feel so much of a twist, especially if you’re familiar with the slew of romantic made-for-television Christmas films that make their appearance in the Festive season.
The romance element didn’t, in my opinion, didn’t feel that it had enough emotional punch to it to be considered romantic. In my mind there are two reasons for this – firstly, the characters are ushered between several scenes within rapid succession due to the story’s brevity to build an emotional relationship, and secondly, the ending felt like a bit of a non-ending by cutting the scene off and leaving me wondering, “Well, what happens next?”
“Christmas Chaos” was too short a story for me to invest anything in the two leads and I wish that Ms Conner had been allowed more space and room to build more into the story such as a more complete character background and a more leisurely paced storyline.
However, it was a free Kindle book, I don’t feel that I can, or should for that matter, moan about this, but my opinion is reflected in the rating.
“Christmas Runaway” by Mimi Barbour
Another freebie from the lovely peeps at Amazon and the main story for this one starts with lead character Sara being stuck in a snow drift thanks to her dog. When the dog runs away, she literally runs into a teenager by the name of Amy who has recently moved due to her father’s job and who has run away from her father because of said job.
This is a nice little Christmas family drama which is longer than the ten pages advertised on Amazon and took me around four days on and off reading due to work commitments and the like. That said, it’s a nicely paced little story which, apart from a couple of mentions for the festive season, could be set at any point in the Winter season.
The characterisation is well developed, given that this is a short story with brief backgrounds being given to all the characters – most significantly Sara who is presented as a loving mother who is missing her son and who is accident prone to the point of needing hazard signs around her.
Amy is presented as a vulnerable character who feels ignored by her father. However, she is also seen as affectionate and, possibly, a bit bratty at times – something that is shown when Sara has a Skype chat with her son later in the story.
There is another character in the story, who I don’t want to do a reveal on for the sake of spoilers, in more ways than one, but the interaction with Sara has a gentle element of comedy to it.
Like my previous read, “Christmas Chaos”, there is an element of predictability to this story if you’re familiar with made-for-television Christmas films. That said, there is a real cosiness to this tale which was absent in “Christmas Chaos”, plus, despite it being a short story, albeit one with a larger page count, it’s one that tries to fit in some nice character touches.
Another thing that is similar between the two books is the way the ending is very sudden and does leave you wanting more.
Bearing in mind these factors, I would have to say it’s a nice gentle read, but not one that taxes you too much. Nice for getting a book out of the way for your Reading Challenge.
“North Pole High: A Rebel Without A Claus” by Candace Jane Kringle
(Taken from my review on Goodreads)
North Pole High gives the lowdown on the author’s romance with the North Pole’s newest applicant for the Naughty List in Rudi Tutti.
I really enjoyed this book as Candace (aka Candycane Claus) speaks of her romantic misadventures which include disapproving parental figures – most notably her father, the usually jolly Santa Claus who is suffering a severe case of tooth ache combined with overprotective parent in issues, romantic triangles, Christmas tree assignments and elves needing a special… ahem… tonic to curb their more (cough) amorous nature. (Who’d have thought it?)
Ms Kringle describes her home town in Marshmallow World-ing, Fa-la-la-la-la-ing, Twelve Days of Christmas-ing glory… with bells on. There’s elves, humans and talking penguins that would give Gordon Ramsey or Jamie Oliver a run for their money on the culinary stakes.
But, beyond the obvious joys of Christmas that this book ably conveys, it is also a book with a message about what the true nature of Christmas as conveyed through young Mr Tutti’s journey and it’s a book with a good heart throughout.
A great book for the YA reader and the YA reader at heart.
“The Christmas Bake Off” by Abby Clements
(Taken from my review on Goodreads)
Written by the author as a partnering story to her release, Meet Me Under The Mistletoe, this book features one of the lead characters of that book along with a small additional cast.
Set in a bake off competition which is to be judged by a noted celebrity baker (Do I see similarities to programmes like The Great British Bake Off?), the story starts at the competition itself leading up to an act of sabotage. The story then tracks back to the run up to the competition as the reader follows the four lead characters and their reasons to enter the competition.
Given that this story was only roughly thirty pages long, I was glad to see that Ms Clements did not scrimp on characterisation whilst being able to keep the plot moving in a logical, easy to follow fashion yet allow for a nice little plot twist near the end.
After reading this story, I am looking forward to reading Meet Me Under The Mistletoe. If you like “chick-lit” that moves nice and gently, that isn’t mushy and has room for some gentle humour, please give this short story a try.
It doesn’t harm that it’s free on Kindle as well.
Plus, for those of the confectionary disposition, there are some cake recipes at the end of short story. A nice story and recipes – how good is that???
“‘Twas The Night Before Christmas” by Clement C. Moore
(Taken from my review on Goodreads)
Admittedly, putting a book that is a single poem could smack a little of fraud when it comes to a reading challenge, but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity of reading this classic Christmas poem as I’ve never read it before.
Clements C. Moore provided a beautiful and fitting description of the magic of Christmas and of Santa himself… Even down to the “little round belly, that shook when he laughed, like a bowlful of jelly.”
I managed to get an illustrated version of this poem for free for the Kindle, so despite the fact that the illustrations are in black and white, the artistry of Elena Almazova and Vitaly Shvarov perfectly compliments the magic laid out by the author.
Well and truly deserving of the phrase “A Christmas Classic”.
If you’ve not already done so, please check out “A Bookish Little Christmas” on the That Artsy Reader Girl blog hosted by Jana and my guest post on that blog on 15th December.
Enjoy your Christmas Reads.