It’s my last monthly reading wrap-up of 2021!
At the beginning of December, I went on vacation with my family for Hanukkah and got a bunch of reading done at the beach. When I got back, though, I was really struggling to finish books, particularly towards the end of the year. I did, however, manage to sneak in one more 5-star read in December, and read 3 holiday romances, despite never having read one previously.
Books finished: 9
The Atlas Six by Olivie Blake (5 stars) – OK, I get it now. I get the BookTok hype, and I get why this indie book was picked up by Tor. I loved it so much. Like a lot of my 5-star reads, I also totally get why it might not be everyone’s cup of tea–it’s very character-focused, and not at all plot-heavy. If that doesn’t bother you, and if you like dark academia, read this book. The Atlas Six has so many things I love in a book: dark academia, a group of misfits forced to band together by circumstance, alliances and strategic machinations. It’s about six people with different magical abilities and backgrounds who are tapped to enter the Alexandrian society, a secret magical organization that holds the knowledge of the supposedly lost Library of Alexandria–except only five of them will actually be able to join, after a year-long trial period. I absolutely can’t wait for the sequel, which comes out in October 2022.
What We Don’t Talk About When We Talk About Fat by Aubrey Gordon (4 stars) – An excellent nonfiction book that combines the author’s personal experiences with statistics and broader information that I think is a very beneficial read for people of all sizes. I heard of Aubrey Gordon through her podcast Maintenance Phase, which debunks myths about health and wellness, and her book is a great extension of that.
Comfort Me With Apples by Catherynne M. Valente (4 stars) – I was really excited for this novella from one of my favorite authors, and although it was good, it didn’t quite live up to my expectations. This novella seemed less creative and less intricately written than Valente’s works that I’ve read previously, although it did have very interesting themes.
The Wolf and the Woodsman by Ava Reid (4 stars) – I’ve seen mixed reviews of this historical fantasy, but personally I really enjoyed it. The Wolf and the Woodsman is set in a world heavily influenced by Hungarian and Jewish history and mythology; it’s a world that contains several different and competing forms of magic, and one that is battling civil unrest primarily stoked by prejudice. Although it’s inspired by history, this world is very relevant to the issues our society still faces today, including xenophobia, misogyny, and anti-Semitism.
Our protagonist Evike is an outsider in a small pagan village, and she’s forcibly removed by the feared Woodsmen who believe her to be a seer. She’s not–to her continual shame and frustration, she’s the only wolf-girl in her village born without magical gifts, and although the Woodsman who takes her eventually discovers her secret, she discovers his as well–he’s not merely a Woodsman, but the country’s crown prince, himself an outsider as his mother is from the country they’re currently at war with. They’re natural enemies and both hold prejudices against the other’s people, but they’re forced into a reluctant alliance and eventually begin to develop romantic feelings for one another while striving to somehow save their torn-apart land.
I really enjoyed Evike, who’s an “unlikable” heroine with her prickly attitude, impulsiveness, and bad temper; she’s scrappy and feisty, and never perfect, which I like in a protagonist. I also liked the enemies-to-allies-to-lovers relationship that developed between her and the prince, which never felt rushed, and was built on working towards a common goal and eventually to mutual understanding. The writing of this book is very strong, with visceral descriptions that may be too graphic for sensitive readers; it’s a dark and difficult world that our characters inhabit, and the grittiness of the writing reflects that. At times I did feel that the pacing was slower than it could have been, and that certain concepts and images tended to feel repetitive, particularly when Evike is talking out decisions in her own mind and reviewing what she thinks different people she knows would do in her situation and why. However, I really enjoyed the read overall, and will look to pick up more from Ava Reid in the future.
I received a free copy of The Wolf and the Woodsman from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Wrapped Up in You by Talia Hibbert (4 stars) – I’m on a mission to read through Talia Hibbert’s backlist, and even though I’m not typically a holiday romance reader, this one was very cute and I’m glad I picked it up. It’s a childhood friends-to-lovers romance featuring a Chris Evans-esque famous actor love interest and a very guarded protagonist who reunite at her grandmother’s isolated house for Christmas and finally realize that they’ve both been harboring feelings for each other.
Payback’s a Witch by Lana Harper (3.5 stars) – I really enjoyed this F/F contemporary paranormal romance set in a small magical town and featuring a magical competition between the scions of rival witch families. I thought that the plot and romance were both well-crafted, and it was a nice surprise to see a protagonist with the same name as me (Emmy!). I’ll look forward to picking up more from this author.
The Matzah Ball by Jean Meltzer (3.5 stars) – As a Jewish woman who celebrates both Hanukkah and Christmas, I was so glad to be able to read a Hanukkah romance this year featuring a Jewish, Christmas-loving romance novelist protagonist with a chronic illness. I really liked this one overall, although the enemies-to-lovers romance was a bit too enemies-focused at the beginning, considering that its roots were in a childhood romance that took place many years ago at summer camp and it seemed as though both protagonists should have matured beyond their grudges as adults.
The Mistletoe Motive by Chloe Liese (3.5 stars) – A cute holiday romance set in an indie bookstore and featuring a Hating Game-esque enemies-to-lovers romance with an autistic protagonist. I liked the premise of this one a lot and thought it was a very sweet novella overall, but it got a bit too cutesy for me towards the end. Still, I’m definitely interested to pick up more from new-to-me author Chloe Liese.
Murder Most Actual by Alexis Hall (3 stars) – Although I LOVED Alexis Hall’s Boyfriend Material and Rosaline Palmer Takes the Cake, this cozy mystery with elements of parody and references to other classic whodunits was a bit too silly for me; I also didn’t find myself at all invested in the murder plot. I did really like Liza, our true crime podcaster main character, and I thought that her relationship with her wife and their efforts to revive their marriage were the most compelling parts of the book.