My final wrap up of the year and it’s a double!
BOOK NOT MENTIONED: Something weird happened – I also read Split by Matthew Dooley and Joe Stone and I remember talking about it, but the footage is MIA! This video was an absolute nightmare to edit as due to storage space issues and battery issues I recorded it in four sections. So I’m not going to go back and do it again. But I read and enjoyed Split, which is a collection of funny mini comics by the two authors on the theme of ‘split’ – banana splits, being split in two, etc.…
Books mentioned and mini-reviews:
The King of Crows by Libba Bray
This is the fourth and final book in the Diviners series. As it’s impossible for me to review this without unleashing tonnes of spoilers, all I will say is that this is possibly my favourite historical urban fantasy series of all time, and the ending is much less frustrating than that of the Gemma Doyle trilogy. Seriously, I love this series and its huge ensemble cast. My only criticism is that it needed more Ling, but I said that about book three as well. I love Ling.
Cat Disco (and sequels) by Rebecca K. Jones
Mogsli is a cat who discovers one evening that there is a secret cat disco where they can go and socialize and do gross cat things! Perfect if you love the Studio Ghibli film The Cat Returns.
Who Can Replace a Man?, an adaptation of a short story by Brian Aldiss, drawn and adapted by Lara Callaghan
I hadn’t read the original story, but all the same I found it really interesting, thoughtful and meaningful. The art perfectly suits the story, giving it a desolate atmosphere and capturing the passage of time.
Purple Hate Balloon by Fraser Geesin and Laurie Rowan
A very strange, surreal, and funny story, about a man who gets a kind of genetically-engineered balloon-shaped pet which absorbs his anger and produces nice smells. But human foibles lead to this simple idea becoming the route to possible world destruction!
Cindy and Biscuit: Year One by Dan White
I love the Cindy and Biscuit series, it’s basically ‘what if Buffy was a small girl and her sidekick was a dog?’. The main Cindy and Biscuit series is set when Cindy’s at primary school and this is a prequel in which meet Cindy when she’s smaller and when Biscuit is a puppy. It’s cute and funny and in this fun mini-newspaper format.
Crazy in Love at the Lonely Hearts Bookshop by Annie Darling, third in the Lonely Hearts Bookshop series
Nina has a reputation for always going for bad boys but has decided that she’s had enough – she’ll date good men or none at all! But the only persistent man in her life who isn’t already taken is the infuriating business analyst who has come to the shop to look at how they do things and improve them… This is probably my favourite of the series, because Nina is such a fun character.
Surge by Jay Bernard
This is a poetry book that explores recent Black British history, particularly the New Cross Massacre of 1981 and the Grenfell Tower fire in 2017, and the situation surrounding both events. I would highly recommend the audiobook, the poems are beautiful to listen to, read by the author so you get the perfect rhythmic delivery which is really exciting and engaging.
Lavender Clouds: Comics about mental health and neurodivergence by Schnumn
This book is the bible of my brain! I feel like I should buy copies of this for everybody I know. It’s a collection of mini comics about particular issues that keep coming up for the author and how she navigates her way through life. It’d be quite easy to dip in to and the book itself is beautifully produced.
How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House by Cherie Jones
This is a kind of literary crime novel set around a beach in Barbados, about various characters who are involved in the death of a baby. It explores their relationships to each other, their backgrounds and how they came to be who they are. It’s really thought provoking, it’s not the easiest read due to the subject matter, but the characters are all really compelling, it’s the kind of book where you crave to know more about the characters from the very beginning, and it delivers elegantly, economically and extremely effectively. It was interesting to see that darker side to what I think a lot of people in the west see as a nice tourist destination, and the contrast between how tourists and locals are treated by police and each other.
The Twelve Dates of Christmas by Lisa Dickinson
This is about a woman who breaks up with her boyfriend right before Christmas and ends up going on a whole bunch of dates – it’s set in London which was nice (I love the escape-to-the-country/seaside Christmas novels, but want to see more city romances!), but unfortunately it wasn’t to my taste as I prefer romances that are a bit meatier and have more B plots.
Buy: Amazon | Bookshop.org (affiliate links)
Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir, first in The Locked Tomb series
This is an extremely weird book – it’s a sci-fi-fantasy locked room mystery with an idiosyncratic narrative style that’s very funny and delightful. It’s also about friendship – especially friendship forged in very very strange circumstances! Basically, I loved it. The main character Gideon is a servant of an aristocratic house of necromancers who kind of worship death. Her life is changed when her latest foiled escape plan leads to the revelation that the mistress of this house, Harrowhark, the heir to this whole situation, has been summoned by the Emperor. Harrow needs a cavalier, basically a fighter, and a swordsperson, to assist her but the official cavalier wimps out of the whole thing so Gideon ends up taking his place. When they arrive, they are presented with a puzzle to solve, which gets scarier when murders start happening which they have to investigate whilst also trying not to get murdered themselves! It’s kind of got this weird decadent gross faded glamour wealth privilege thing going on but also it’s just bizarre! Brilliantly entertaining and very very odd. I feel like you will get it or you won’t, and I very much get it.
A Winter Kiss on Rochester Mews by Annie Darling, fourth in the Lonely Hearts Bookshop series
This is this series’ Christmas novel, featuring Mattie who runs the cafe at the bookshop, and her slow-burn romance with Tom, the grumpy man bookseller who has remained a mystery throughout previous books. I loved this – they’re both really engaging characters. Although it’s set at Christmas, both Mattie and Tom are Christmas haters so if you are not a Christmas person you may still enjoy this, and emphasize with their grumpiness! If you are a Christmas person don’t worry there’s still lots of festive fun. Overall I have really loved this series; it’s been pure escapism and just what I’ve needed over the last few months. I await future Annie Darling books with great interest.
The Christmas Pact by Vi Keeland and Penelope Ward
Fake Dating: The Book. Colleagues pretend to be each other’s date at Christmas – she wants to impress her mother and make her proud, he wants to have a date for his brother’s wedding for various traumatic reasons. I was not the biggest fan of the premise, but the execution was fun and it’s a quick listen on Audible.
The Kindness Method: Changing Habits for Good by Shahroo Izadi
This is a non-fiction book about changing your habits through the power of kindness. The description says that this is equally about installing good habits as tackling bad habits but as the author’s background is in addiction and overcoming compulsive behaviours, this is the subject of the bulk of the book and I ultimately I think it is more useful for bad habits than for good habits. The author’s process is basically to create a series of maps to tackle different issues that may be holding you back from achieving your goals and tackling these bad habits. I liked this idea and I took some notes, so it was still a useful read.
Buy: Amazon | Bookshop.org (affiliate links)
There’s Something about Merry by Codi Hall
This is about Merry, who is struggling to find any romantic prospects in her small town near her family’s Christmas tree farm. She wants to stay there forever as her dream is to take over the farm one day, but her father doesn’t seem keen on it and has hired a new foreman that she’s very jealous of. Said foreman is a single dad, who also wants to meet someone. They both end up going on a dating app and unknowingly getting to know each other through there. It’s very nice and festive but the emotional issues that the characters needed to work through didn’t feel quite enough for the length of the book.
Christmas at the Comfort Food Café by Debbie Johnson
I loved this! Unusually for a Christmas novel, it is written in first person and the narrator captured my attention immediately. Becca hates Christmas, but she’s going to stay with her sister and her family who love Christmas, so she’s decided to put a brave face on it. When she gets there she ends up falling in love with the location – her sister sorted out for her to stay in a room above The Comfort Food Café and she meets lots of people, gets to know them and they bring her out of her shell and get her to talk more about her feelings. Of course there’s also a handsome man that she falls in love with. It’s one of those books where the world and cast surrounding the main characters is just so vivid and developed that you can’t help but fall in love with it all. I am looking forward to reading the rest of this series – I’m part-way through another of the books at the moment!
Hold Me Closer, Toni Danzig by Laura Henry
Toni is DJing karaoke one night when Audrey takes to the stage to sing an f-you song to her ex. They are immediately drawn to each other had have a night of passion, but then it turns out they’re working on a business project together. Meanwhile the ex wants to get in the way. This was just the right amount of fun but non-serious drama for a Christmas romance novella.
Underneath the Christmas Tree by Heidi Swain
Liza Wynter is the co-heir to a Christmas tree farm but hasn’t wanted anything to do with it since her dad’s tragic death. But she is persuaded to make one last trip there, in order to sell her share in the business to the other co-owners’ son. Of course, once she arrives, everything is a lot more complicated, and she gets drawn in to helping to run the farm, because after all, it is her dad’s legacy and she doesn’t want to see it fail. And of course, she struggles to resist falling in love… This was another one with a first person narrator that worked well. I haven’t read any of Heidi Swain’s books before but I know she’s really popular so I will definitely be checking them out!
The Christmas Pawdcast by Emily March
If you think Christmas books are sugary sweet this is like the icing-piled cupcake on the top of the pile! Mary is driving a heavily pregnant dog to her family for Christmas when she gets caught in a snowstorm and has to take refuge with Christmas-hating true crime podcast host Nick. Stuck there for several days, she starts decorating and baking and he ends up confessing to her that the reason he hates Christmas is all to do with his son who isn’t going to be there for Christmas Day. It’s so cute, perfect escapism if you want something short and sweet to listen to.
Christmas at Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons
This was, unfortunately, a disappointment. I have really loved the novels by Stella Gibbons that I’ve read so far, but there was something really basic about a lot of these stories! I enjoyed the Cold Comfort Farm-set story, and there were a few others throughout the collection which I did find thought-provoking, interesting or otherwise enjoyable. However there were an awful lot of stories about a middle-class woman who ends up resolving to be more stereotypically middle class e.g. she’s a career woman, but by the end of the story she decides that what she really wants is a nice man, to move to the countryside, and have babies!
One Christmas Kiss in Notting Hill by Mandy Baggot
Property developer Isla loves her job at Breekers, but her priority is looking after her sister Hannah, who has been disabled since the accident which killed their parents, and she doesn’t have much time for dating. Then along comes American Chase Bryan, a former sportsman and motivational speaker who has now moved into running companies – starting with Breekers. But he has two daughters in tow who are not very pleased about being in London, and when he arrives Isla is told that she has to be his go-to girl. She’s not very keen on this because she feels like she’s being made into a kind of assistant, which sets them off to a bad start! But Christmas is coming, and they both have battles to win and end up working together. Like Mandy Baggot’s other Christmas reads it’s a lovely, warm, delightfully festive story with believably quirky characters. It’s not quite as well-done as her more recent books (I think this is her second novel), but it’s a lot of fun all the same.
Whistle by E. Lockhart and Manuel Preitano
Willow has a lot going on in her life. Her mother has cancer and can’t afford the treatment. She’s also involved in local politics and activism to help save their neighbourhood of Gotham City. Between going to protests, school, and her job at a dog shelter, she’s exhausted. Then, to her rescue, comes her mother’s long-lost friend E. Nigma who offers her a job helping to run his very illegal poker nights. This seems to solve all her problems – but then she ends up finding herself in hot water with various super villains! There are some interesting new takes on these super villains, who you might recognize from Batman. There is also an adorable dog! I don’t really want to say more than that because it’s a graphic novel length book and I could easily spoil the fun, but I loved it. One of my favourite reads of the year.
Eight Winter Nights by Liz Maverick
This is a Hanukkah romance, set during a Hanukkah period that coincides with Christmas, so there’s some background Christmas details throughout. It’s about Rachel, who goes to stay with her best friend’s ex-boyfriend, just after he’s been dumped, to look after him following an accident. She actually met him first and has always had feelings for him, but as he’s her best friend’s ex she feels that she has to try to help him win her back. Like all ‘holiday’ romances there are parties, and there’s also some nice bonding over Hanukkah celebrations. It was really interesting to read a book set around this time of year that featured a different religion and some of the culture around that.
The Garden by Sean Michael Wilson and Fumio Obata
This is a very slow, mindful story about a character who’s burnt out from work and has been signed off sick from stress. After her sister suggests she tries gardening she goes to Japan to learn how they make traditional Japanese gardens. There’s not an exciting plot or twist or lots of information imparted, but I enjoyed it as its own kind of almost-mindfulness experience.
The Cats That Stared by Claire Hubbard
This is a very very short little comic about cats who appear one day in a small town and seem to do nothing more than stare at people and weird them out. I can’t overstate how short this is but it’s really cute!
Golf Girl by Christopher Hazeldine
This is a really silly funny take on superheroes, about a girl who works at a golf course when these weird little alien creatures appear and give her and her friends and enemies powers related to their jobs. She becomes Golf Girl, but finds that her powers aren’t particularly useful, especially when some of her enemies have more substantial abilities! This is the first half of the comic so there’s no ending in this book and I’m looking forward to seeing what happens next!
Buy/read online: Golf Girl website
The Final Girls by Cara Ellison, Sally Cantirino, Gab Contreras, and Joamette Gil
This was originally a five part series but I read it in the collected edition. This is comic about a group of retired or semi-retired superhero women who live in Scotland and are dealing with the fallout from their choices and the choices of the men superheroes they used to work alongside. It deals with various issues including assault and how difficult it is to be a woman in the public eye, but is also really beautiful and imaginative – the powers the different characters have are really interesting and the character design is fabulous.