Review of ‘The Girl Who Saved Christmas’ by Matt Haig

157E2264-0100-471F-921C-CCA5EB98C754Thanks to NetGalley and Canongate Books for the ARC of this book.

I wish Matt Haig’s series of kid’s books about the origin and early years of Father Christmas had been around when I was a child. I would have loved them! ‘Santa Claus the Movie’ was my favourite film and these books would have been right up my street. This series would make a fabulous Christmas present for a 9/10 year old. The stories are fun and the illustrations are humourous and enhance the stories well.

I listened to the first book in the series ‘A Boy Called Christmas’ as an audiobook. It’s exquisitely read by Stephen Fry. I thought it was an enjoyable tail but slightly trailed off into a bit too much exposition at the end. This book, the second in the series, is plotted much more tightly and is a great festive adventure. Christmas is in danger because Amelia, the girl who most believed in the magic of Christmas, is losing her faith, and trolls are attacking Father Christmas’s home Elfhelm. On Christmas Eve Father Christmas sets out to Victorian England to save Amelia, the elves and Christmas.

I really enjoyed this book and can’t wait to read it with my daughter when she is old enough, I’m sure she’ll find it a magical experience.

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Review of ‘The Twelve Days of Dash and Lily’ by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan


Thanks to NetGalley and Egmont Publishing for the ARC of this book.

I read the first book in this series, ‘Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares’ a few years ago. I didn’t remember much about it, other than I thought it was OK.  It had a pleasant, if unlikely, book-themed Christmassy romance and I absolutely loved the cover, which is beautiful, perfect for the book and so much better than the sequel’s cover (see above for the contrast). I’m pretty partial to a Christmas-themed romance so I thought I’d give the sequel a whirl.

Unfortunately, this book is not great. It falls into the trap of so many unnecessary romance sequels in that it has to create some drama/conflict between the protagonists but doesn’t want to destroy their relationship or make either fall out of love or do anything bad, so the drama comes from miscommunication. If the two leads just sat down and had an honest, candid conversation, they would realise they are both completely on the same page. That’s one of the most frustrating premises to read and is too thin to sustain a whole book.

The one thing this book does do well is to highlight how as you get older Christmas begins to lose its magic and starts to remind you of the passage of time and the people who are missing from the celebrations. This is obviously true but not really the feeling you are hoping to get from a cosy YA Christmas romance book. You want the magic and escapism. These are missing from most of the book as for the majority of the time Lily, one of the main protagonists, is thoroughly depressed about her life. She mopes and mopes and mopes; moping white, rich, privileged teenagers with loving families has to be one of the most boring thing to read about. Your life is not that bad! You have enough money and influence to organise a private skating rink party with a hot chocolate caterer and ice dancers at a day’s notice a couple of days before Christmas, for goodness sake! Ridiculous.

This book is sadly lacking in sparkle and won’t do much to put you in the Christmas mood.

Review of ‘Little Fires Everywhere’ by Celeste Ng

Thanks to NetGalley and Little, Brown for the ARC of this book.

I’ve been wanting to read this book for ages after I started hearing people raving about it on lots of my favourite podcasts. I’m so glad I finally got around to reading it because this is exactly the kind of book I love.

The highest praise I can give this book is that the voice and style reminded me of Anne Tyler who is probably my favourite author. Just as a Tyler does, Ng is able to describe the small family dramas of suburban life beautifully. She also does a wonderful job of capturing the peculiar heartbreak of longing for a child, losing a child and of actually parenting a child and how the fear of losing that child can impact negatively your ability to parent well. I felt personally touched by the stories of women suffering fertility problems and miscarriages, it’s quite rare to read about this topic in an understated, realistic way which captures this awful but normal pain.

I loved the 90’s setting of this book which meant the teenagers in this book are the same age I was at that time, so I understood all the cultural references perfectly. I could also totally picture Shaker Heights, the Ohio community where the book is set from Ng’s descriptions.

The novel follows the lives of two families living in Shaker Heights, the Richardsons and the Warrens, and how their lives intersect over the course of about a year. There’s also a really thought-provoking sub-plot about the adoption of a Chinese baby and whether she would be better off with a wealthy white family or growing up in her own culture with her struggling single-mother. This sub-plot is treated in an incredibly even-handed way.

I was slightly disappointed by the ending of the book as I hoping for a bit more face to face conflict. The book starts with the Richardson’s youngest daughter burning down their house with her mother inside and then sets out the explain the events which led up to this. I was expecting a more dramatic provocation for this dangerous and irresponsible act and I didn’t really feel that anything that happened in the book warranted this outcome. I wanted a bit more of a showdown between the characters but I suppose it is ultimately realistic and people do just move on from each other’s lives without the having the opportunity to say everything they feel to each other.

I will definitely search out more books by this author as I loved her writing style, voice and the subject matter of this book. It’s structured really well and is thought-provoking about issues without being polemical.

Review of ‘The Lost Man’ by Jane Harper

Thanks to NetGalley and Little, Brown for the ARC of this book.

I’ve really enjoyed Jane Harper’s two previous books, but I think this is my favourite book by her so far. Unlike her other books, this is a standalone self-contained story of a family and the mystery surrounding the death of one of three brothers. It’s an easy, quick, engrossing read with a satisfying, if a little neat, conclusion.

In common with her previous books, this book does a wonderful job of evoking the huge landscapes and isolation of the Australian outback. I’m not sure I’ve read another author who is so good at bringing to life the landscape of a place without resorting to long, boring, florid descriptions which take you out of the story. It is such a skill to bring the landscape to life so well while always writing in service of the narrative. I love reading her books.

I really warmed to Nathan, the main character in this book, who is able to acknowledge his flaws and bad choices while still seeming somehow noble and trustworthy. His son Xander is also a really sweet and likeable character. It is really intriguing following the two of them trying to unravel the mystery of the reason behind Nathan’s brother Cameron’s death and uncovering secrets at the heart of their family.

I’d highly recommend this and Harper’s other books.

Top Ten Tuesday – longest books

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl. This week’s theme is ‘the longest books I’ve read’. I thought this was going to be tricky but then I discovered a nifty filter on Goodreads which let me sort books I’ve read by their number of pages. I don’t think I’ve recorded every book I’ve ever read on Goodreads, but I think this list is probably pretty complete. The page counts come from Goodreads too.

1. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy by JRR Tolkien (1,137 pages)

2. Outlander by Diana Gabaldon (850 pages)

3. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by JK Rowling (766 pages)

4. Breaking Dawn by Stephenie Meyer (756 pages)

5. Brisingr by Christopher Paolini (748 pages)

6. City of Heavenly Fire by Cassandra Clare (733 pages)

=7. Moby Dick by Herman Melville (720 pages) Felt like 7200 pages!

=7. The Given Day by Dennis Lehane (720 pages)

9. A Fraction of the Whole by Steve Toltz (711 pages)

10. The Glass Lake by Maeve Binchy (704 pages)