What I Read December 2018

Well, the month (and year!) are not over yet and I hate writing these end of month posts until the actual end of the month, even though it causes a backlog of how many posts I want to write. But I just finished my 125th book of the year, so I think I’m going to call it! If I happen to finish any more books in the next two days, they’ll have to roll over into January.

That being said, December was a fantastic reading month! I read NINETEEN books this month!! I’m sure that must be a personal record. Granted, some of them were really short, one was a graphic novel, and two were on audio. But I wanted to make reading a top priority this month and I really followed through. The books I read this month were even so good that I had quite a few 4.5, 5, and 5* (my extra special rating for best of the best) star books! Here they are!

The Christmas Star by Donna VanLiere
Rating: 4 stars

It’s been quite awhile, but I enjoyed going back into this sweet and touching Christmas series. I didn’t have a ton of recollection of the previous books – it’s not necessary, but still nice to have a working knowledge of some of the side characters. But I enjoyed this story of Gabe the custodian, Amy the insurance worker, and the little foster girl Maddie who brought them together. It’s definitely a short and oversimplified story, but a nice fast paced and uplifting read during the Christmas season.

84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff
Rating: 5* stars

I never, ever would have found this book on my own – or picked it up if I had seen it. But in my facebook book club group so many people started recommending it and I was intrigued. It’s a collection of real life letters between Helene, an American script writer in the 1950’s and Frank, an English bookseller. The letters span about 20 years and were shockingly delightful in their celebration of the written word. I read the entire book in about an hour and I LOVED it. I laughed out loud and I cried at the end. It was awesome and the perfect book for anyone who just plain loves books!

A Christmas by the Sea by Melody Carlson
Rating: 4 stars

I really enjoyed this sweet story about a single mom and her 12 year old son who inherit a beach cottage in Maine and visit it around Christmastime to fix it up to get ready to sell. The cottage sounded so lovely, it really made me want to start repainting and changing things up in my own house (if only those things were as easy as the book made it sound!). I did find it a bit unbelievable how eager and helpful Jackson, a 12 year old boy, could be. But it was sweet to see the story of dreams coming true and building a new life that is better for everyone. I just wish the ending hadn’t been so abrupt and unbelievably perfect.

Coming Home to Maple Cottage by Holly Martin
Rating: 3 stars

So my rating does not reflect this, but I made the mistake of assuming this was going to be a Christmasy read because of the snow on the cover and because so many other of Martin’s books take place at Christmastime. But in reality most of this book happens around Halloween and only the epilogue is at Christmas. Just so you know!! I saved it to read in December and was a little disappointed. Anyway, it was a sweet little romance between two very likeable characters and an adorable five year old boy who brings them together. But you have to deal with a lot of frustrating hardship trying to pull them apart just too many times. I read it relatively quickly and enjoyed it, just nothing super special about it.

Verity by Colleen Hoover
Rating: 5* stars

Colleen Hoover never lets me down! Despite straying from her usual genre, this psychological thriller was amazing and unputdownable. I’m so glad I started it on a weekend so I could read it all in a day. So good! But also very twisted and dark. If you have trigger warnings with things happening to children, this might be a book to avoid. But the storyline as a whole was so great. And not without her usual amazingly written romance woven throughout the pages! I loved both Jeremy and Lowen so very much. I don’t want to say too much about the plot so I don’t give anything away – but read this book if you like fast paced thrillers. It was SO GOOD.

Catching Christmas by Terri Blackstock
Rating: 2.5 stars

I was pretty disappointed in this Christmas book. Terri Blackstock has proven to be a pretty great author to me over the many years I’ve been reading her, but this particular story felt like it had such an agenda toward all kinds of random little things and it drove me nuts. The first half of the book was so repetitive and boring. There’s a tiny bit of way too fast to be believable romance. I think the second half was slightly redeeming in its message about putting family and personal connection first. Overall, a pretty fast read, but just not that enjoyable.

Only Love Today by Rachel Macy Stafford
Rating: 5* stars

I’ve been slowly working my way through this book for over a year now. Not because it necessarily takes a long time to read, but because I wanted to savor each nugget of wisdom and inspiration. This book is kind of set up like a devotional with 1-2 pages devoted to each topic for the day. I really loved every page and got so much out of it. This would be an amazing book or gift for any mother, especially mothers of littles. I highly, highly recommend it.

One Day in December by Josie Silver
Rating: 4 stars

I made the mistake of assuming this would be a very light and fluffy Christmas read. I was definitely unprepared for the emotional rollercoaster I’d go through with the main characters over a span of nine years. To be fair, I really wasn’t that interested in it the first one hundred pages. But I read through the rest of it over the course of a day as it got a lot more interesting. The premise of the book was pretty frustrating. You can take a good guess on what will happen, but it didn’t make it any easier to watch happen. But overall, I really rather liked it! The characters and their friendships and love for each other even in the worst of times was so strong and endearing. A great Christmastime read.

No Exit by Taylor Adams
Rating: 4.5 stars

Wow, what a crazy book. You will get about a quarter into it and start wondering what in the world could possibly happen for the rest of this book with five strangers trapped in a rest stop overnight during a blizzard? Well, A LOT. Granted it happened on a day I didn’t have anything else going on, but I read this book practically nonstop for an entire day to its end. It was fast paced and stressful and quite a ride. I definitely recommend if you’re into this genre.

The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street by Helene Hanff
Rating: 4.5 stars

It took me a bit longer than 84, Charing Cross Road to get into it (I missed the letters!), but this little book was every bit as endearing and sweet as the first. Helene’s writing brings so much nostalgia for a time and place that feels magical. A world where people just want to know each other and love books and simply want to experience every bit of life together. This book is basically journal entries of Helene’s trip she finally takes to England. Still so much fun and emotion packed into every entry. I think I would have gotten more out of it if I knew all of the landmarks she visited and there were definitely an overabundance of characters that were hard to keep track of. But it did remind me of my own two trips to Europe and while I wasn’t in England I could easily imagine all the old world charm. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and look forward to getting my hands on the third!

The Noel Stranger by Richard Paul Evans
Rating: 2.5 stars

Richard Paul Evans rarely disappoints me and I always look forward to reading his annual newly released Christmas story. But this one just did not cut it for me. While there was nothing wrong with it, per se, I was just bored by it. I get so annoyed by characters (and people!) who are purposely vague when being open and honest would eliminate so much confusion and strife. I get that without that element there wouldn’t be anything to this story. But it annoyed me. And I just couldn’t find much interest in either character.

Quiet Girl in a Noisy World by Debbie Tung
Rating: 5 stars

I happened to see this book listed on a graphic novel recommendation list and promptly requested it from the library because it looked so fitting. And it was! It’s the PERFECT creative rendering of what it’s like to be an introvert. I’m not entirely sure that all introverts could relate to everything Tung drew and wrote about because it obviously has a lot to do with the rest of her personality type as well. But honestly, basically every page just totally hit it on the head for ME. It’s always nice to see a book like this that validates my own feelings and personality traits, especially with how I could relate to feeling down on myself for being the way that I am. It’s better to learn more about yourself so you can accept the way you are and see the benefits to being a person like that out in the world. I’m never quite sure how to give star ratings to graphic novels, but I’m going with a solid 5 for this one because it was perfect for me. And on the plus side – it only took about half an hour to read and counts as another full book for my end of the year attempts to pile on as many books as possible! 🙂

The Deal of a Lifetime by Fredrik Backman
Rating: 3 stars

This is a short and sweet little story about a dying man who was an absent father that provided his son with all the material goods and comfort he’d need, but none of his time or presence. As he’s facing death he has the opportunity to do something that will save the life of a little girl and has a huge decision to make. I did feel that this was perhaps a bit more abstract that I was looking for – or I was just really, really tired when I read it at the end of a long and stressful day. But it’s valuable in its lesson about what really matters in life and nice for a short read if you have it lying around.

Heart Berries by Terese Marie Mailhot (audiobook)
Rating: 3 stars

If you’re in the market for a unique and short (about 3.5 hours) audiobook, this one fits the bill. I was looking for something to listen to besides podcasts for a few days and this was a new release on my Libby app. I had the book earmarked to read at some point, but knew it was unlikely I’d ever have time for it. Anyway, the book is a memoir about the harsh life of a Native American woman (though she only refers to herself as “Indian.”). I have to admit that audiobooks are really hard for me to concentrate on and I never feel like I got as much out of it as if I would have just read it. This memoir is heavy. And it was very disjointed. Disjointed in a way that somehow works, but it was also hard to really feel quite everything she had to say. I also did not find Mailhot to be a very likeable person at all and I had a hard time finding much sympathy for her. Anyway, I don’t regret listening, but still wish I had gone ahead and read it with my eyeballs instead.

Fortunately, the Milk by Neil Gaiman (audiobook)
Rating: 4 stars

This was a really fun little romp of an audiobook (less than an hour!). This book has been on my radar for awhile as something to possibly get for Caden. I saw someone recommend the audiobook online, so I went ahead and checked it out. It’s read by Gaiman with a really great production value. While I can’t say it was terribly exciting for an adult, I think a middle grade reader or child would really enjoy it. Perhaps as a family listen on a long car ride. I did end up buying the book for Caden and it has a lot of great illustrations, so either method would work well with the right age group.

Bird Box by Josh Malerman
Rating: 5* stars

This is one of the creepiest books I’ve ever read! I probably never would have even considered it since horror is a genre I adamantly avoid, but I saw the trailer for the Netflix adaptation and it looked so good I wanted to read the book first. A small group of survivors band together in a house against unknown creatures that upon sight cause people to go mad, murdering anyone within reach and then killing themselves. While I do wish there was a little more information given about the creatures and they weren’t such a vague unknown throughout the entire book, I was still held in rapt attention through every page. I loved how it went back and forth between the present journey and the events leading up to that desperate day. This was quite the page turner and did not disappoint!

Blind Kiss by Renee Carlino
Rating: 3 stars

This book annoyed me so much. I don’t like stories about missed opportunities and longing for a different life when you could take control of your circumstances and make the changes that would bring you your happiness. Stop being a dormat and letting other people make choices for you. That’s really all this book is. One long lament to the wrong choices that were made and a life filled with the resulting unhappiness. Too much angst and strife to get to that happy ending so much further down the line.

My Life with the Walter Boys by Ali Novak
Rating: 3 stars

I had a lot of mixed feelings about this book. Jackie is a 16 year old who just lost her entire family in a car accident. She is sent to live with her mom’s friend and their 12 kids – 11 of which are boys – 6 of which are in the high school with her. The family itself is just a bit ridiculous and unbelievable. But I found most of the characters to be endearing and I did like her actual “life with the Walter boys.” I just had problems with the total lack of parental involvement that surely would happen if the situation were real. Jackie also finds herself constantly trying to figure out which of two of the boys she truly had feelings for. The one we’re supposed to be rooting for is such an egotistical jerk and I just couldn’t work up any enthusiasm for him. But then the second one starts coming across as so immature and pathetic that you don’t want her to pick him either. I think I would have liked the book more if it had nothing to do with falling in love with one of the boys and was truly just her new life in that family.

Mud Vein by Tarryn Fisher
Rating: 5* stars

I bought this book on a whim because Colleen Hoover (my favorite) is constantly talking about her author best friend Tarryn Fisher and other than their combined series, I haven’t read anything by her. And I’m so glad I did because this book was good. I read it in a day because I was so drawn into the story. Senna, an emotionally complicated and distanced writer is raped in the woods and found by Isaac, an oncologic surgeon. Drawn to help her, he shows up at her door every single night to help her feel safe, despite how she gives him nothing of herself in return. Years later they are both drugged and kidnapped and wake up in a deserted locked cabin in the wilds of Alaska. I was pretty apprehensive about reading this book because the original cover (not the one above) made it seem like the book would be some kind of weird and kinky romance about a woman and her kidnapper. It’s not. At all. It’s about learning to trust and learning to love and opening yourself up to the unexpected. Overall, I found this book incredibly sobering, but I also could not put it down. I highly recommend it.

Audiobook Review: As You Wish by Cary Elwes

As You Wish by Cary Elwes

As You Wish by Cary Elwes (audiobook version)
Rating: 4 stars

If you loved the movie The Princess Bride, you will surely enjoy this book. In As You Wish, Cary Elwes reflects on the preparation, filming, and production of the movie. He tells stories about how he was cast in the role of Wesley, how other cast members were chosen and why they were all so perfect for their parts. He provides plenty of nostalgia about the book the movie is based off of and how much all the cast and crew loved it. Everything about the movie is seen with such love and admiration, which made it feel extra special. I’ve never given a lot of thought to what all goes into making and producing a legendary movie, and it was interesting to learn about all the behind the scenes information.

One of the best parts about this audiobook version is that much of the cast has their own speaking parts. They’ve obviously contributed to the book itself and come on to read their own parts. Not everyone was available, but enough to make it an enjoyable experience. Elwes writes about the epic sword battles and how long it took to prepare them. He shares about how many times he and Robin Wright redid the final kiss of the movie simply because they didn’t want it all to be over. You also learn about how complicated everything in the fire pit was – including parts about the giant rats that I feared so greatly as a child! There was also quite a bit about Andre the Giant and how he fit into everything.

Overall, I think if you liked the movie and have seen it multiple times, you’d truly enjoy this book. Particularly the audiobook version as it brings the characters back to life. It’s interesting, fast paced, and will provide you with insight and trivia you can point out to other people the next time you see the movie (like I did)!