December 2020 Reading Wrap-up

Finally 2020 is over! I look forward to starting 2021 with a positive outlook and hope for the future. December was a good reading month for me, since I was off over school for most of the month and so I could dive a lot into reading. I read a total of 21 books last month, and a good chunk of them revolved around Christmas. I also found a few new favorites this month and even though I found some bad ones too, I feel like I finished this year pretty strongly.

Without further chat, let’s get into the books I read last month!

1 Star

  • The Twelve Dates of Christmas by Jenny Bayliss (published Sep. 2020)
    • I went into this book with very low expectations. I was looking for a fun, humorous romance centered around Christmas. But this book even failed my low expectations. Kate is a ridiculously horrible protagonist, hypocritical to a ridiculous amount. She is constantly objectifying men, but when men do the same to her she feels personally offended. All the men (the twelve dates) are absolutely horrible. As in they are both horrible people and horribly developed characters in general. The ending was painfully obvious, but for me I went in expecting a cookie cutter ending so I didn’t mind this too much. However, I was also expecting humor, and I never cracked a smile once. If you’re looking for a cute Christmas romance, keep looking.
  • Alaskan Holiday by Debbie Macomber (published 2018)
    • There are so many reasons this book failed for me. First, the entire romance is summed up in the first two chapters in a massive info dump and then the rest of the book is about the characters being indecisive for no reason. Second, after the first two chapters, the book feels so slow moving. Third, only the first half of the book is even set in Alaska, and I felt like Hobo was not in the book half as much as he should have been (the dog was definitely the best part). Also, random plot twists kept coming in which added nothing to the overall plot and felt more like padding. Finally, there was a surprising lack of Christmas in the entire book. By the cover, title, and setting, I was expecting more of a Christmas (or at least winter) theme, but this book was mostly absent of either. I went into this book hoping for a cute holiday romance, and I felt extremely let down.

2 Star

  • Moonflower Murders (Susan Ryland #2) by Anthony Horowitz (published Aug. 2020)
    • It’s probably my own fault for coming into this series in the second book, but I found this book pretty boring. The book within a book idea didn’t work for me though I’m not adverse to the formatting idea in general, and I never really felt the tension rise. The premise is interesting, but I also didn’t feel like Susan had any high stakes in the mystery, which made it feel like the reader didn’t have any stakes in it either. For being a mystery, it’s pretty slow, and I never really felt drawn in by the mystery.
  • Secret Santa by Andrew Shaffer (published Nov. 2020)
    • I absolutely love the idea of combining Christmas with horror, but this book gave me pretty mixed emotions. I loved the creepy atmosphere of the publishing house, and the mystery of what was really going on. However, a lot of the plot twists were either predictable or totally made no sense. Even by the end, I was scratching my head asking what exactly these office workers were. Also, for being such a short book, it felt slow moving to me. Certain things, like Fabian’s character, were hilarious and fun, but then certain scenes (like office pettiness) went on for way too long. The opening few chapters did pull me into the book, and I mostly enjoyed the ending, but the middle just felt like a collection of scenes where only a handful were important to the plot.

3 Star

  • Silence for the Dead by Simone St. James (published 2014)
    • I loved the beginning of the book! Kitty herself was a mysterious character, running from her past and getting a job at a mental institution. I also found the patients, like Jack Yates, to be interesting when introduced. I even liked the more possibly supernatural elements and the creepy atmosphere was excellently done. But the ending…was such a mess. I was going to give this book 5 stars until the last fifty pages or so. There were way to many plot twists. The focus on the book was too separated between several different elements to focus on something well. Even though I loved Simone St. James book released this year, The Sun Down Motel, I did see similar elements in the ending. But where those twists and turns didn’t bother me in that book, it didn’t really fit in this one. But I still enjoyed most of the book.
  • Killing Jesus: A History by Bill O’Reilly & Martin Dugard (published 2013)
    • This is the sixth book I’ve read in the “Killing” series, and honestly my least favorite so far. I have trouble putting my finger on exactly what I didn’t like about it. It was filled with some interesting historical detail, though most of it I already knew (from either studying the Bible or reading history). But it just feels disjointed. Perhaps it’s because there are so many times we are forced into more of a narrative scene and immediately spend many pages getting exposition dropped on us before going back to the scene. Maybe it’s that the first fifth of the book is spent on Julius Caesar, especially his assassination, which added nothing to the book and felt like filler. This was disappointing, because a lot of the things I was more curious with (like Jewish law and how Jesus differed in his teaching for the Jews), was glossed over mostly in the book. It also felt more fictionalized, because we know so little about Jesus’s life outside of the Bible and rare mentions by historians like Philo and Josephus. Most of the other “Killing” books seem more set within actual historical documentation.
  • Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi (published 2016)
    • This novel follows two sisters from Ghana’s descendants, one who remains in Ghana, Africa, while the other becomes a slave in America. I had mixed feelings about this book. I loved the historical commentary and examination of the differences of life for people in America and Africa. However, each chapter covers a new character’s perspective (the first is for one sister, the second for the other sister, the third for the one sister’s child, the fourth for the other sister’s child, etc.) all the way up to the present day. Because the characters were always changing, it was hard to get attached to any of them. I would just be getting to know one and then they would be gone the next chapter. And a whole new array of characters would be introduced in each chapter. It was just a lot to keep track off. However, I did love the ending of how Gyasi brings the story back around (no spoilers).
  • White Fang by Jack London (published 1906)
    • Like all of London’s books, this one is filled with themes of natural hardships and men’s cruelty. In fact, this book is kind of the inverse plot of The Call of the Wild, published just three years before this one. I loved the beginning of this book and the ending was just perfect (even if I might have cried a little bit). However, my main criticism with this book is that the middle is pretty much the same as The Call of the Wild. I found so many paralleled scenes, just with slight differences, and the middle was pretty predictable. Saying that, it is a moving story and one with a happy ending (I hope that’s not too much of a spoiler…)!
  • City of Devils: The Two Men Who Ruled the Underground of Old Shanghai by Paul French (published 2018)
    • I know aesthetics don’t make a great book, but this book has the most beautiful maps of Shanghai on the front and back pages of the book! I did enjoy a lot of the tidbits about Shanghai which this book contains from the 1920s to 1940s mostly. However, I’m always cautious when a nonfiction history book doesn’t have any sort of references like footnotes or endnotes. It tells me this is a less than scholarly book, and makes me cautious of all the claims it contains. Saying that, it is well-organized and interesting, showing Shanghai during high days and low ones.
  • The Christmas Star (Christmas Hope #9) by Donna VanLiere (published 2018)
    • It’s nearly the Christmas season and I’m definitely in the mood to pick up some sweet Christmas stories. This book centers around an afterschool house for foster children, where many are brought together, including a janitor studying to be a teacher, a new volunteer who used to be his ex-wife, and a sweet orphan girl. I did enjoy it for the most part, but I also thought it was too…perfect. I felt like there was little conflict in the book. The Christmas stories which touch me the most are those which see the characters struggle before achieving their happy endings, or the endings don’t feel as meaningful to me. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed this sweet story. I just wanted a bit more.
  • The Afterlife of Holly Chase by Cynthia Hand (published 2017)
    • There are a lot of things I loved about this book. I loved the play on the Christmas Carol in such a creative way I’ve never seen before. I enjoyed learning about Project Scrooge, the company trying to create a new life for Scrooges every year. Holly herself was a fascinating character, bordering between a typical Scrooge and a decent, kind person. I liked learning to understand the team, and Holly developing her relationship with different coworkers. Saying that, there were a lot of things I thought this book failed on. I never really cared about the romance, so when the twist at the end happened, it wasn’t of emotional impact. Also, the whole time traveling thing was a massive mess of contradictions with rules which bended with how the author wanted them to bend, making me really dislike the ending. Overall, I enjoyed the book, but I also wanted so much more from the story, especially the ending.

4 Star

  • The Christmas Box by Richard Paul Evans (published 1993)
    • I’m pretty sure this story is a quintessential Christmas story…how have I never read this before? It’s a quick read, sweet, and imparts the meaningful message of valuing family. It’s so Christmasy, and I can see why it’s such a well-known book, though I’ve never heard of it before. The plot follows a couple struggling to pay the bills who move into an old house to help a lonely old women right before Christmas and have their lives changed forever.
  • The Death of Mrs. Westaway by Ruth War (published 2018)
    • I really enjoyed this book! My main criticism is the middle is quite slow, but the suspense does grow very well. I did figure out the ending by halfway through the book, but not all the details and I still enjoyed seeing the mystery all come together. Hal was an interesting character, and most of the book spends its time firmly in her perspective, in the company of her intimate thoughts. All the other characters, while less developed, were no less interesting. I thought some of the red herrings were obviously fake, but I really enjoyed how the ending concluded so many of the questions I had throughout the book. A great suspenseful mystery, and I look forward to reading more of Ware’s novels.
  • Dragonflight (Dragonriders of Pern #1) by Anne McCaffrey (published 1968)
    • I was surprised just how engaging this book is. Lessa is a great, stubborn protagonist, always getting herself into trouble. Equally, F’lar was a bit of a basic love interest but also fun. I loved the world, and how the dragons are developed. I will definitely be looking to read the sequels of this book.
  • Eclipse of the Body: How We Lost the Meaning of Sex, Gender, Marriage, & Family (And How to Reclaim It) by Christopher West (published 2018)
    • This is a short book which examines John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, examining how the culture is falling away from the sacredness of marriage and towards merely superficial pleasure, which has led to less happiness in the world. It is a fascinating and short read, though it doesn’t exactly take a deep dive into these topics and instead just gives a main overview.

5 Star

  • The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly by Sun-Mi Hwang (published 2000)
  • Save the Cat! Writes a Novel by Jessica Brody (published 2018)
    • I’ve read so many books about writing that I’ve lost count. And honestly, they say all the same saccharine sweet, but impractical things. But this one really blew me out of the water (I do love clichés). Not only does it break down complex plots into simple, connected points, but it also gives examples of how different “beats” work in actual novels. I will definitely be incorporating so many of these tips into my own writing! If I could recommend one “how to write” book to anyone, it would probably be this one.
  • Rubaiyat by Omar Khayyam (published 1120)
    • I was really impressed by this book. I don’t know much about Persian poetry from the 12th century, so to dive into Khayyam’s poetry was quite interesting. Not only does he address meaningful topics like religion, the meaning of life, material possessions, happiness, and selfishness, but he does it in very simplistic poems. For some reason his writing reminded me of Lao Tzu’s writing. All of them are four lines, with an AABA rhyming scheme. I will say, a lot of the references he made to historical/religious figures were unknown to me, but for the most part I could understand and appreciate the poems without understanding all the references.
  • Lady Clementine by Marie Benedict (published Jan. 2020)
    • I honestly didn’t know much about Clementine Churchill’s life going into this book, but I’m a huge Winston Churchill fan so I was excited to finally get a chance to read it. And I absolutely loved it! It combines a moving narrative with accurate history seamlessly. Starting in 1906 with the marriage of Clementine and Winston, it follows Clem’s life up until the end of WWII. It shows how much Clem balanced Winston’s work, giving him political and war advice when necessary and running their house and family despite hardships. It’s a moving book, and jampacked with history and character-driven plot.
  • Blood Letters: The Untold Story of Lin Zhao, a Martyr in Mao’s China by Lian Xi (published 2018)
    • This book tells the life story of Lin Zhao, a poet who spoke out against Mao during the Cultural Revolution and was imprisoned and later killed for it. This is a beautifully written book, filled with details both of China in general and of the changing times of the country with the takeover of Communism. There are also pictures dotted through the book, which really helped me visualize the people. Lin Zhao was imprisoned for nearly a decade until she was finally executed. It was interesting to learn about her life from childhood being educated in an English school, to joining the Communist party, to finally renouncing its evil and writing avidly against the party until her death. She never agreed to just bow her head, but instead always stood up for what she believed. Even in jail when she had no ink with which to write her poetry, she would prick her fingers and use blood to write (thus the title).
  • Across Many Mountains: A Tibetan Family’s Epic Journey from Oppression to Freedom by Yangzom Brauen (published 2009)
    • I will admit to not knowing a lot of Tibet during the 20th century, so I adored reading this book! It is a memoir following three generations of woman. Yangzom Brauen’s grandmother and mother (who was six at the time) escaped Tibet during the early 1960s when Mao’s Chinese government took over, destroying much of the culture and religion in Tibet. The book follows their survival and growth up until the modern day. Yangzom herself is an actress and activist heavily involved in trying to help the effort to free Tibet. It’s really sad that most people don’t even realize how heavily Tibet is controlled by the Chinese government even in the modern day, and yet you never hear anything about it. But for people like Yangzom’s mother and grandmother who are still alive, there is a desire to return to a free Tibet. I hope I see that freedom achieved in my lifetime, and I look forward to reading more books like this one which bring awareness to this issue.

I read so many great books this month, and I hope I find some new great literary favorites in 2021. Have you read any of these books? Do any of them look interesting to you? Let me know your thoughts down in the comments, follow my blog for more musings and, as always,

Best wishes in your life full of adventure,

Madame Writer

9 thoughts on “December 2020 Reading Wrap-up

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