Welcome to 2021, and a very happy New Year to you all!!
I think we can all agree that 2020 has been quite a ride… It certainly wasn’t the year I envisioned having when I wrote last year’s December wrap-up, that’s for sure. But that’s not to say it was all bad! Despite online classes, lockdowns and the rest of this pandemic-inspired weirdness, I had some pretty great moments with my friends and family, finally got my huge exams out of the way, improved enormously at Russian, and read (and slept) way more than I did in 2019. So overall, I’d say this year was still a success, and I’m excited to see what 2021 has in store for us!
And although it started off pretty horribly, December was actually one of my favorite months of the past year. All the Advent spirit never fails to put me in a good mood, and then there’s my birthday and Christmas 🤗 And since apparently some of you thought “I mostly got books” isn’t a good enough description of my presents, here is a quick overview to satisfy your curiosity (and spoil you for what I’ll probably be reading these next months). Please excuse my abysmal photography skills – remember, you asked for this:
So yeah, I hope that was a better description? However, by far the best Christmas present I got was a letter from our Ministry of Education WITH MY EXAM RESULTS! I’ve been agonizing over these for weeks, so knowing I passed is such a relief! And I did amazingly well! Much better than I expected for sure, so I was over the moon the minute I opened that letter… Although I do think the timing was actually a pretty shitty move on the ministry’s part. The letters were sent out on December 23rd and just imagine getting the news that you failed just in time for Christmas… That’s basically the worst present ever 🙈
But thankfully, I didn’t fail, so let’s finally get into what this post is supposed to be about: everything I read in December! And let me tell you – reading-wise, this month could hardly have been better. I read a bunch of books I absolutely loved and nothing I ended up not liking, so I’d say it was definitely a success! Although I did not, as I had hoped, reduce my physical TBR-pile to zero books. There are just too many huge fantasy clonkers still sitting on my bedside table. But that’s okay – I guess I’ll just be reading lots of fantasy in January and February 😊 Now, though, let’s have a look at my December-reads:
Final Draft by Riley Redgate (4/5 Stars)
I knew pretty much nothing going into this book other than it being about a girl who aspired to be an author. But that was more than enough to get me excited! Books like these are always so relatable, and this one was no exception.
We follow a high school senior named Laila – shy, awkward and absolutely obsessed with writing sci-fi stories full of drama, love, robots and action. The only person ever allowed to read them is her very supportive creative writing teacher and fellow The Rest [a sci-fi TV show Laila and her friends watch religiously] fan Mr. Madison. However, just a few months before Laila’s graduation, an accident happens and Mr. Madison is replaced by Nadiya Nazarenko, a Pulitzer Prize winning novelist who gives Lila a big fat F on her first assignment…
Overall, I loved this book! The friend group in this was one of the cutest and most realistic ones I’ve ever read about, the family relationships were equally well done, the writing parts were very relatable, and plus, this book has some pretty great LGBTQ+ and mental health representation. My one complaint is that I felt as though the ending was a bit rushed and that I would have liked to see a bit more of Laila’s writing journey. But I’d still very much recommend this!
The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab (4.5/5 Stars)
I’ve been gushing about this book in almost all of my December posts, so it obviously shouldn’t come as a surprise that I absolutely loved it! In my opinion, the hype surrounding this one is completely justified 😊
If, by some miracle, you haven’t heard about this book yet, The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue is about a young French girl named Adeline, who, back in 1714, makes a desperate bargain with the devil. Thus, Addie gains immortality, but at a price: she cannot be remembered, and she is unable to leave a mark on our world. Until, one day in 2014, something changes.
I thought this book was absolutely wonderful! All the Faustian references, the lyrical writing, and the ensnaring plot have made it my favorite Victoria Schwab book to date. And that’s saying something, because you all know how much I love Vicious…
However, I do also think this book has its flaws. Some of the characters could have been a bit more multidimensional, and I also wouldn’t have minded seeing some of the places Addie visited in a bit more detail. Nevertheless, I loved this book so much that those things seem insignificant in comparison. I’m docking half a star for formality’s sake, but in my heart, this is a five-star read for sure 😍 I highly recommend you go read it! And if you’d like to see more of my in-depth thoughts, you can check out my full review here.
The Secret History by Donna Tartt (4.5/5 Stars)
If you’ve read some of my older posts, you’ll know I’m absolutely obsessed with M.L. Rio’s If We Were Villains. In my opinion, that book is dark academia at its best: It has a prestigious college setting, a complicated friend group, murder, intrigue, and lots and lots of Shakespeare! 😍 However, in about half the reviews I read and watched, people were always saying that it was basically a weaker version of Donna Tartt’s The Secret History. Obviously, my interest was piqued. A book even better than If We Were Villains? Of course I needed to read that! So when my parents gave it to me for Christmas, I just couldn’t resist and immediately started reading.
The Secret History follows a small group of students attending an elite New England college, where they study Ancient Greek with an eccentric but charismatic classics professor. Our narrator Richard Papen, dirt poor and from California, is the newest addition to this group. Entranced by the mystery and elitism surrounding Julian Morrow’s class, he is determined to be part of it, not knowing what he is getting himself into.
This book is dark. It’s interesting. Suspenseful. I mean, the first sentence is “The snow in the mountains was melting and Bunny had been dead for several weeks before we came to understand the gravity of our situation.” Doesn’t that make you want to keep reading?
Still, I think I have an unpopular opinion here when I say that If We Were Villains is better than The Secret History. Of course, that may just be my Shakespeare-bias. But I do think that The Secret History was a bit lacking on the academia side of it all. I would have loved a bit more Ancient Greek obsession, but if you ask me, that was pushed very much into the background in favor of the murder storyline in the second half of the book. And also, If We Were Villains has this really cool frame story that gave it a much more well-rounded feel than the ending of The Secret History did.
However, that’s not to say that The Secret History wasn’t excellent. Because it was! I’ll definitely be reading more Donna Tartt in the future. And I’d highly recommend you check this one (and If We Were Villains) out!
The Empire of Gold (Daevabad Trilogy #3) by S.A. Chakraborty (4.5/5 Stars)
Yes, I finally read it! It certainly took me long enough, considering how much I was anticipating its release 😅 But I wasn’t disappointed!
Since The Empire of Gold is the last book in a series, I obviously can’t say much about it without spoiling anything. So I’m just gonna be extremely vague and say that it is the finale to a Middle Eastern-/Egyptian-/Asian-mythology-inspired high fantasy trilogy that you should definitely read if you’re a fellow fantasy fan. These books have consistently made it into my yearly favorites, and this last one was no exception.
I’m very satisfied with how everything wrapped up – although I do think a bit more death at the end wouldn’t have hurt – and was pleased that I anticipated some plot twists correctly, but not all of them. Predictability in finales is always really annoying, but I do like stroking my ego by guessing at least some things correctly 😁 Plus, the romance I’ve been rooting for since book one finally came to fruition, so my shipper heart was extraordinarily pleased 😊
Apart from the lack of heart-wrenching main character deaths, I only have one small gripe, namely how one of the plot twists in this book was executed. Apparently, S.A. Chakraborty felt the need to take a leaf out of Sarah J. Maas’s books and conveniently not tell us information that the protagonist knew about, just so it could be used as a grand reveal later. Which is something I absolutely hate! Unless your narrator has always been unreliable, don’t to this, authors! It just creates distance between reader and protagonist, and the “plot twist” isn’t even a real twist because you as a reader had no way of guessing it and the protagonists themselves aren’t surprised, either. So yeah, I thought the way that particular plotline was executed was kind of annoying…
Overall, though, I’m very happy with the ending we got, and the Daevabad Trilogy has definitely cemented itself a spot in my all-time fantasy favorites!
Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen (3/5 Stars)
Of course, I couldn’t just leave my beautiful new Jane Austen novels untouched, so I actually read two of them this month. The first was Sense and Sensibility, but since that one was a reread and I never include those in my wrap-ups, it’s not going to get its own entry this time, either. Although I will say that, while I was a bit skeptical the first time I read it, I absolutely adore it now! Seeing a couple of movie adaptations and noticing details I overlooked on my first read-through have made me see some things in a very different light this time around, so I’m very sorry I unjustly rated you 3.5 stars back in July, Sense and Sensibility!
But back to Northanger Abbey. The book follows a young girl named Catherine Morland, who is staying with some family friends in Bath in order to be introduced into society (and find a husband). But some of her new acquaintances turn out to be more tiresome than Catherine bargained for, and she soon finds herself in the middle of all kinds of misunderstandings. And it doesn’t exactly help that Catherine has a very overactive imagination inspired by the gruesome tales she’s read in gothic novels…
Overall, I quite enjoyed this, but I do think you can tell that it’s one of Austen’s earlier novels. The characters in here were a lot more one-dimensional than those in her other books, the first half and the second half felt a bit disconnected, and the ending, if you ask me, happened really fast and was a little bizarre with regards to one character’s motives. Also, Catherine was so overly naive that I sometimes felt like slapping her. But who knows – maybe I’ll completely change my mind about that when I reread this one, too 😅
And one thing I did really appreciate about this book was its humor! The scrapes Catherine got into because of her Udolpho obsession? Hilarious! And boy, Jane Austen sure doesn’t shy away from calling people out. The next time some classicist snob shames you for reading the wrong kinds of books, just confront them with this quote:
[T]hey were still resolute in meeting up in defiance of wet and dirt, and shut themselves up, to read novels together. Yes, novels; for I will not adopt that ungenerous and impolitic custom so common with novel-writers, of degrading by their contemptuous censure the very performances, to the number of which they are themselves adding – joining with their greatest enemies in bestowing the harshest epithets on such works, and scarcely ever permitting them to be read by their own heroine, who, if she accidentally take up a novel, is sure to turn over its insipid pages with disgust. Alas! If the heroine of one novel be not patronized by the heroine of another, from whom can she expect protection and regard? I cannot approve of it. Let us leave it to the reviewers to abuse such effusions of fantasy at their leisure, and over every new novel to talk in threadbare strains of the trash with which the press now groans.Northanger Abbey, p.31-33
Jane has got our back, guys!
Die Längste Nacht by Isabel Abedi (3.5/5 Stars)
(This book has not been translated into English, but, in case you’re curious, the title means ‘The Longest Night’)
It’s been some time since I last read one of Isabel Abedi’s books. She was quite an influential author in my teenage years, but I hadn’t really been keeping track of what she’s published recently. However, when one of my friends mentioned that she was reading and enjoying this one, my interest was piqued, and when she offered to lend me her copy once she was done with it, I obviously said yes!
Die Längste Nacht is about a girl named Vita, who has just finished her Abitur exams and is going on a road-trip through Europe with her two best friends. By chance, Vita and her friends stumble on the small Italian village of Viagello – a name Vita spotted in one of the manuscripts that was sent to her father’s publishing company. A manuscript her father got raving mad about. A manuscript that might have something to do with Vita’s dead sister, a sister she can’t remember and whom no one will tell her anything about.
While I was reading this, I couldn’t put it down. The suspense was surreal, and the writing amazing. However, this is one of those books that are great while you’re reading but kind of mediocre once you really start to think about them. The insta-love in this was off the charts. The whole plot depended on these huge miscommunication issues, that, in retrospect, didn’t really make all that much sense. And it was never fully cleared up how a bestselling author got his hands on that manuscript in the first place.
Still, I had so much fun with this that I’m still going to give it 3.5 stars. As long as you don’t question things too much, this is a pretty decent YA thriller.
And that’s it for this wrap-up! If you’ve read any of these books, feel free to let me know your thoughts on them down below! Do you agree or disagree with what I said? Did you get any interesting Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa/Diwali or any other types of presents this year? I’d love to know!
Also – my favorite and least favorite books of the year posts should be going up sometime in the next few days 😉 So stay tuned for those if you’re interested in all the gushing and tea-spilling coming your way!