Reading is my oldest and favorite hobby. I literally can’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t love to curl up with a good book. Here are my reads for December, 2022.
The Almanac: A Seasonal Guide to 2023, by Lia Leendertz – I’ve been buying and reading Leendertz’s almanacs every year since they first began, in 2018, and they are always a total joy. In addition to the usuals – seasonal recipes and garden tasks, sunrise/sunset and tide tables, etc. – Leendertz sprinkles in different themes and ideas each year. This year, her theme was myths and legends and each month included a “myth of the month.” I absolutely love these almanacs and will keep reading them as long as Leendertz keeps writing them. (Pro tip: Leendertz also has a podcast, As the Season Turns, which is released on the first of every month, and is a delight to listen to especially in conjunction with reading the monthly chapter in The Almanac.)
The Christmas Hirelings, by Mary Elizabeth Braddon – Pretty classic Victorian Christmas fare from the author of Lady Audley’s Secret. There are poor but genteel children, a curmudgeonly old gentleman, a pudding, disguised identities, you know the drill. It’s fine but not spectacular and I guessed the big twist about a third of the way through the book. But if you are looking for something light and not at all taxing in the lead-up to Christmas, this will do the job – and a nice bonus, if you get the audiobook: the great Richard Armitage reads it. As you know, I adore Richard Armitage and would listen to him read the phone book.
The Professor, by Charlotte Bronte – Bronte’s first novel is a fictionalized account of an English teacher in Brussels, based on Bronte’s own tutor from her time in the Belgian capital. It’s no Jane Eyre or Shirley. Give it a read if you’re in a completionist mood or want to trace Bronte’s evolution as a writer. Full review to come for The Classics Club.
The Franchise Affair (Inspector Alan Grant #3), by Josephine Tey – A young girl goes missing for a month, before turning up with a surprising story – she was picked up by two women and held hostage in an attic, starved and beaten, before making a thrilling escape. Suspicion immediately falls on a mother and daughter pair who making a thrilling escape. Suspicion immediately falls on a mother and daughter, who live on the outskirts of town and somewhat on the fringes of society. The women call upon a local barrister to help clear their names. After being underwhelmed by Miss Pym Disposes, I was considerably relieved to enjoy The Franchise Affair so much. I blazed through it in a day, partly because I was trying to finish it in time to listen to a podcast episode with spoilers on a flight, but also because I just couldn’t put it down. Based on the real-life case of the kidnap of Elizabeth Canning, and featuring Tey’s famous Scotland Yard inspector only in a couple of cameos, it’s a fun and fast read.
God Rest Ye, Royal Gentlemen (Her Royal Spyness #15), by Rhys Bowen – Another fun Georgie mystery, and one that takes place at Christmas! How could I resist? Georgie and Darcy are looking forward to their first married Christmas and planning to host a house party, when an invitation comes in, instead, to join Darcy’s aunt Ermintrude, who lives in a grace and favor house on the grounds of Sandringham Estate. It turns out Wallis Simpson is staying there, too, and then to make matters worse, dead bodies start showing up. Figures! This was a fun mystery for the festive season, and I really enjoyed the audiobook format.
Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the Women who Created Her, by Melanie Rehak – Just a quick read on my kindle while I was on a business trip, but a really interesting one. Rehak explores the history of the Stratemeyer Syndicate, a juvenile adventure book mill that created the Hardy Boys, the Bobbesey Twins, and best of all – Nancy Drew. Tracking Nancy’s history and the different lenses through which her original and replacement ghostwriters approached her, Rehak explores Nancy’s significance throughout the decades. A great read for anyone who grew up on the O.G. girl sleuth – like I did.
The Swallow: A Biography, by Stephen Moss – I really enjoy Moss’s bird biographies and this was a fun entry into the series. Moss follows the swallow from its summer residences to its winter travels and has poignant words to say about climate change and the challenges all of our favorite birds are facing in the coming years.
Dear Mrs Bird (The Emmy Lake Chronicles #1), by A.J. Pearce – This was a fun and mostly light read – although it did get poignant. Emmy Lake strives to be a journalist reporting from the front lines of World War II. When she sees an add for a “junior” at what she believes to be a newspaper, she thinks it’s her big break. Turns out, she is to be a junior typist to an “agony aunt” at a women’s magazine – and her boss, despite running an advice column, is not very helpful. Emmy decides to take matters into her own hands and write back to the readers, and she’ll change more lives than just her own before the book is over.
Calm Christmas and a Happy New Year, by Beth Kempton – If you’re like me, you can get easily overwhelmed with all the added to-dos around the winter holidays. I appreciated Kempton’s wise and reassuring words about slowing down and celebrating the season in ways that are personally meaningful.
Midwinter Murder, by Agatha Christie – A little crime at Christmas is always fun, right? At least when it’s between the pages of a book. I really enjoyed this collection of winter- and holiday-themed mysteries from Agatha Christie. Five of the stories featured Poirot and two featured Marple, so you know you’re getting a good volume!
Sister of the Angels (Torminster #2), by Elizabeth Goudge – I read the first Torminster book, The City of Bells, ages ago, and this slim volume – set at Christmas – is the second. The action revolves around Henrietta and her father, Gabriel Ferranti, as they unravel the mystery of a sad and lonely stranger who appears in Grandfather’s cathedral. This was a fast read, but as delightful as any Goudge, and I enjoyed it.
No Holly for Miss Quinn, by Miss Read – I read No Holly for Miss Quinn every year, usually on Christmas Eve. At this point, it’s as familiar as my favorite Christmas ornaments. I love this story of reserved, quiet Miss Quinn and her struggles when family responsibilities upend her plans to paint her house over Christmas. It was as lovely this year as always.
The Country Doctor’s Commonplace Book, by Philip Rhys Evans – Another tradition – A Country Doctor’s Commonplace Book has been my Christmas Day reading since 2017 (or was it 2018?) when I unwrapped the book under the Christmas Tree. Dr. Evans never fails to have been cackling with laughter at his witty and delightful clippings. This year, I am thinking of starting my own commonplace book – so I read it with extra interest.
The Christmas Card Crime and Other Stories, ed. Martin Edwards – While I sometimes struggle with short story collections, that wasn’t the case with The Christmas Card Crime and Other Stories. I enjoyed every entry and some of the stories were real gems. I can definitely see myself returning to this collection in future years.
Whew! Quite a December in books – what a way to wrap up the year, huh? I’m always looking for the right balance of holiday and non-holiday reading in December, after one year when I only read Christmas books and burned out bigtime. This year, I think I could have started earlier on the Christmas reading – but I really enjoyed everything I read this month, so maybe not. On the non-holiday front, “The Franchise Affrair” was the highlight of the month. Whenh it came to holiday reading – setting aside my repeats, which are repeats for a reason; they’re old favorites – I absolutely loved “The Christmas Card Crime.” And now – onward! I have a big stack of January reads, including a bunch themed around a big adventure I have coming up later this winter. (About which: more soon.) Can’t stop, won’t stop!