I read 29 books in total during 2021, believe it or not. Smashing my Goodreads challenge of 25. There were a couple of short little novellas in there, but it’s sure been another year for the book.
It had been a weird ol’ year, a bit like the previous really. Not just meaning I had plenty of time to read but, reading was more of an escape than usual. When other means of entertainment were limited.
Although I was seeing more people in person, and having the odd Christmas get together with my chosen few, I wasn’t feeling the festive vibes this year. No snow, no Christmas markets, no pushing around in shops or stopping for a gingerbread latte.
So I decided to fill my December with wintery, Christmas themed books. I would live my best Christmas through them.
Here it is. The final instalment of My Year In Books 2021. Catch you on the other side, in 2022!
The One That Made Me Want To Be A Child Again
A Boy Called Christmas – Matt Haig
I went all in and started December with the most Christmassy book I could find!
You’ll know I’m quite the fan of Matt Haig’s writing from my previous reviews. I’d never read one of his books aimed at the younger generation, though, and when I saw it had become a film, I thought it was about time.
‘What was Father Christmas like as a boy?’
It’s something I’d never really considered before, and nor had Matt Haig until he was asked it one night by his 6 year old son. Sparking him to write this story.
I went audiobook for this one, wanting that fairytale storytelling experience. And when I saw that it was narrated by Stephen Fry, I knew it was the right decision. He had the prefect voice, jovial, wholesome and ageless, magically bringing the characters to life.
With a sleigh his father carved, and a turnip doll made by his mother before she died, as his only toys, Nikolas lived a small life in Norway.
“Now, Nikolas was a happy boy. Well, actually, no. He would have told you he was happy, if you asked him, and he certainly tried to be happy, but sometimes being happy is quite tricky. I suppose what I am saying is that Nikolas was a boy who believed in happiness, the way he believed in elves and trolls and pixies, but he had never actually seen an elf or a troll or a pixie, and he hadn’t really seen proper happiness either. At least, not for a very long time. He didn’t have it easy.”
One day his woodcutter father goes on a quest in the hope to make a better life for them, leaving Nikolas in the care of his horrible, cruel aunt.
After months pass, Nikolas banished outside to sleep, his father still not returned, Nikolas (accompanied by a little mouse) decides to go on a mission to find his father.
He comes across the magical town of Elfhelm.
“Believing is as good as knowing”
An adventure filled with loyalty, friendship, elves and one feisty little truth pixie, we discover how Father Christmas came to be.
Along with this is the explanation of all the familiar traditions like, stockings, the signature outfit, Christmas crackers, gift giving, and the naughty or nice list.
Oh, and why Father Christmas now is always the same age. 62 in case you wondered.
“Sometimes,’ she said, as her eyes shone wide and bright, ‘people look up to people not for who they have been, but for what they could become. For what they know they could be. They see in you something special.”
It wasn’t all lovely lovely, that’s what I admired about A Boy Called Christmas. There were bad times, sad times, and times where all seemed impossible. But Nikolas had guts, he didn’t stand for any nonsense. He wanted what was right. What should be.
As Nikolas is surrounded by the smell of gingerbread, there I sit munching on some, listening to the book and watching the twinkling lights on Terrance my living tree. It was the perfect start to the season.
I saved watching the film for Christmas Day. It was to be a quiet one in my house, and I wanted something new to watch. It made for the perfect afternoon, giving warm and fuzzy feelings (possibly increased by the mulled wine), and couldn’t really get much more Christmassy. There are slight differences between book and film, with a little added surprise that I quite liked. Nothing is ever like the book and the world created in your imagination. But this did pretty good.
“So when someone is good, or kind, it’s a magic in itself, it gives people hope. And hope is the most wonderful thing there is.”
The One With Less Christmas Than The Title Suggests
Christmas Every Day – Beth Moran
After really enjoying One Day In December a couple of years back, I wanted to find something a little romantic.
Although this wasn’t a patch on those feels, and nowhere near as Christmassy as I expected (going by the cover I was expecting a made for tv Christmas film in a book!), I did really enjoy it. There were some great characters that I really warmed to, and laugh out load funny moments.
I opted for audiobook again here. Firstly because that’s where I found it, on my hunt through audible (it was one of those ‘Plus’ free books), and secondly I just really felt like chilling. Not even pressing the turn page area.
Looking for a new path in life, and wanting to prove she can look out for herself, Jenny moves to Sherwood Forest when she inherits her estranged grandmothers cottage.
On a mission to sort out her life, as well as the neglected, crumbling cottage full of belongings, Jenny starts the process of clearing the house, while simultaneously clearing her mind.
Next door lives Mack, the mysterious, secretive stranger that although always seems a bit grumpy and put out, repeatedly comes to her rescue.
Jenny quickly makes friends in this small community where everyone knows everyone and everything. Helping out in a local café in return for food and coffee (I mean shouldn’t that be how the world works?!), landing a job as a childminder, and joining the local book club.
This book club though, is different. Rather than talking about books they never get around to reading, this year they have set themselves individually a year long challenge. A year to make life interesting, and will discuss it along the way Jenny’s chalk is to make a home.
Alongside this, Jenny has a side mission. To find out more about her grandmother and family history.
Although as I said, this wasn’t really as Christmas centred as I’d expected, I still enjoyed the read. The writing style, and especially because I was listening to it I imagine, was fun and quirky. There was an internal monologue/battle going on with Jenny throughout. The bitterness and sarcastic thoughts in her head ran alongside those she was actually speaking.
It was a story of friendship, community and coming together.
I’ve discovered the need to read (or listen to) more romcoms. To not be a genre snob. My go to has always been thrillers. But maybe I need more lightheartedness in my life.
“I realised love is the person who knows you at your worst, while hoping for the best. It’s wanting to know everything, but having all the time in the world to find that out.”
The One That Surprised Me
The Night Of Many Endings – Melissa Payne
When looking for Christmassy reads I didn’t really know where to start. Mostly what came up in searches were what I imagined to be like a predictable, cheesy, made for tv kinda book. I didn’t want all my December books to be the same. Variety is the spice of life and all that.
When I saw The Night Of Many Things pop up I liked the idea of something set in a library. I do love books, and this is a post all about them.
When she was six years old, a winter storm took everything from Nina.
“Nora understood guilt and how it had long arms that circled and squeezed and made it hard to breathe. But she also knew that guilt had a purpose too. And it was a driving force that shaped her life, gave it dimension and meaning. She had survived the accident, but in many ways, Mario had not.”
Unable to save her brother from his guilt and addiction, Nora has spent her life trying to rescue others. Helping at the local homeless shelter, delivering food parcels and even learning how to save someone from an overdose. In the hope that someone was doing the same for her brother, if she cannot.
Since the tragedy in Nora’s childhood she formed a fondness for books and now works as a librarian in Silver Ridge, Colorado. When a severe snowstorm hits leaving her trapped with and trying her best to look after fellow colleagues and patrons.
“…libraries were one of the last places someone could go where they didn’t have to buy or believe in anything to come in.”
Finding activities and conversation to pass the time, these five individuals realise that they are not as alone in life as they feel.
As walls physically caved in around them, the metaphorical walls they’d each built up to protect themselves, crumbled. We learn of the battles each of them face to move on from their past. Not only are they trapped in the library, but they are trapped by their fears of change.
“The thought of leaving felt strange, like the end of something she knew would be gone forever, and it gave her a start to realize she didn’t want it to end. They’d all shared something, been through something together, and for a moment moment she thought the experience had changed her.”
I loved this character driven novel. The quirks of each individual made me warm to them and root for a better life to come.
More wintery than Christmassy, I’d still suggest this a great for the season of coming together, making peace and starting fresh.
I actually missed this book for a bit. And maybe still do.
The Night Of Many Endings is a book that will stay with me for a long time, it’s characters in my heart. It was so much more than I ever expected. It had soul. I shall definitely be adding more Melissa Payne books to my reading list.
“The library had been like finding cool water in the midst of a desert, a refuge, and the books inside, her escape.”
The One That Was Short But Sweet. And Poignant
The Deal Of A Lifetime – Fredrik Backman
I had planned on reading this Christmas Eve, as that’s when it’s set. But you know, life happens and I always think there are more hours in a day than there are. I read it Christmas Day, though and it worked well for a day when I’m often filled with thoughts.
I discovered Backman a couple years ago, and he quickly secured his place on my favourite authors list. I just love his writing style, quirky, real, poignant, funny and heartbreaking. It’s like he’s talking only to me. The words just flow.
And although this is a short novella, it hit me no differently.
“That’s not how fairy tales usually begin, I know. But I took a life. Does it make a difference if you know whose it was?”
The book starts with an introduction from Backman giving a little context to the writing of The Deal Of A Lifetime.
“This is a short story about what you would be prepared to sacrifice in order to save a life. If it was not only your future on the line, but also your past. Not only the places you are going, but the footprints you have left behind. If it was all of it, all of you, who would you give yourself up for?”
I don’t want to give too much away about this little story, but not many writers can make you feel so much in so few pages, and with not even a character name.
“One night, I was hidden around a corner in the corridor and I heard her say: “I’m going to die soon, Babbit. Everyone dies, it’s just that most people will die in maybe a hundred thousand years but I might die already tomorrow.” She added, in a whisper: “I hope it’s not tomorrow.””
I often reread paragraphs just to taste them again. Savour them. This has become a bit of a thing with me and Backman. The poetic writing that so perfectly captures what it is to be human.
“The only thing of value on Earth is time. One second will always be a second, there’s no negotiating with that.”
The One That Was Easy Reading With a Twist
The Christmas Train – David Baldacci
My final book of December was the months book club read. One I hadn’t actually heard of before, and probably wouldn’t have caught my eye if I had.
Tom Langdon (recently banned from travelling by plane) needs to get to LA to meet his girlfriend for Christmas.
“Yet now, because he could no longer fly in the Lower Forty-eight unless he was fingerprinted and shackled, he was finally going to take that trip for his old man, and maybe for himself too. Over almost three thousand miles of America, he was going to see if he could find himself.”
As a journalist and ex war correspondent, Tom hopes to write about this grand journey. And let me tell you, he isn’t short for storylines either! A wedding, a mystery thief, a celebrity and the appearance of someone from his past.
The train brings together an eclectic bunch of people, who when confined to such a small space seem willing to share their life story and deepest secrets.
“Oh, let me tell you, I’ve seen some stuff. People come on a train, man, it’s like they lose some inhibition gene or something. Now, I know all the crazy stuff that goes on in airplanes, when people get drunk and stuff, but those folks got nothing on crazy train people.”
Being set at Christmas definitely added a little magic to the tale. Christmas brings a sense of community, a common interest and goal to the passengers.
“For them it’s the journey itself and the people they meet along the way. You see, at every stop this train makes, a little bit of America, a little bit of your country, gets on and says hello. That’s why trains are so popular at Christmas. People get on to meet their country over the holidays. They’re looking for some friendship, a warm body to talk to. People don’t rush on a train, because that’s not what trains are for.”
I’ve always enjoyed travelling by train (even though there can be stresses that come with travelling in a wheelchair), it feels like an adventure or experience in itself. More than just a means to get from one destination to another.
“But no matter how fast we feel we have to go, shouldn’t there be room for a train, where you can just sit back, take a breath, and be human for a little while? Just for a little while?”
I liked The Christmas Train, but I didn’t love it. I didn’t feel it flowed as well as it could, and some of the historical and geographical information felt kind of in my way.
Although rooting for Tom, I didn’t really warm to him, I found him a little irritating at times. A bit arrogant. But there’s something in me that always wants a happy ending, and to me that meant reuniting with his true love.
There were some great characters met along the way, my favourites being Regina and Agnes Joe. And quite a surprising twist at the end. I didn’t have a clue that one was coming!
“It’s that pioneer spirit. You don’t take a train because you want to get somewhere fast. You take it for the journey itself. To be surprised.”
It wasn’t until writing up this post that I realised The Christmas Train has been made into a Hallmark movie. I must add it to my cheesy Christmas films watch list!