December in Review

I read 9 books last month (10 if you count the super, super short one). To be fair, several of them were pretty short books; apparently it’s a bit of a trend amongst Christmas books. Still, I’m happy to have picked up the pace since such a slow November (thanks mostly to NaNoWriMo), even with the holidays eating up my reading time.

I’m also going to do a look back at the past year of reading, which is more like the past 6 months, since I started reading and writing reviews in July.

Here are the books I read in December:
The End of the Magi by Patrick W. Carr (4 / 5)
Catching Christmas by Terri Blackstock (2 / 5)
Skipping Christmas by John Grishom (3.5 / 5)
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, adapted by Lucia Monfried (4.5 / 5)
The Christmas Box by Richard Paul Evans (3.5 / 5)
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling (3.5 / 5)
A Plain and Simple Christmas by Amy Clipston (2 / 5)
12 Days at Bleakly Manor by Michelle Griep (4 / 5)
Cape Light by Thomas Kinkade & Katherine Spencer (review pending) (3 / 5)

This list includes 1 ARC and 0 re-reads. My favorite book from December was The End of the Magi (not counting Little Women, which I read with my daughter, so the rating was partially influenced by her). I finished 0 series, continued 1 series, and started 3 series. My ever-changing short list of to-be-reads, as well as a flag for the book I’m currently reading and an ongoing list of those I’ve read and posted about can be found here.

I’m also keeping my Goodreads page updated with a more extensive list of to-be-reads, if anyone is interested in that. Despite my almost too-long TBR list, I’m always looking for more to add. Feel free to offer suggestions of your favorites or just recent reads you enjoyed.

Book Review: A Plain and Simple Christmas

A Plain and Simple Christmas
by Amy Clipston

My rating: 2 / 5
Genre: Christmas drama

Anna Mae has been out of the Amish community for 3 years, shunned by her family for marrying an “Englisher” (non-Amish). Expecting her first child at Christmas time, she reaches out to her sister-in-law Kathryn in the hopes that she might be able to return home for Christmas. Though it won’t be easy, Anna Mae and Kathryn hatch a plot that ends in a way neither of them expected.

A quick read, this novella left me with a lot of problems. I didn’t care for most of the characters, felt that very little happened overall, and found the plot to be all too predictable.

I’ll start with that last one first, because the synopsis for this book literally says that this story is “an inspiring page-turner that will keep you guessing what happens next…right to the very last page.” That is a tall order for any story, be it book, movie, or television show. Christmas stories especially tend to be a bit more predictable, generally speaking, because we expect them to end on a good note. And this book in particular…well, I can’t really think of anything that happened that I couldn’t predict. Maybe one thing:

Though Anna Mae is the one wishing for a family Christmas, I’d say Kathryn really becomes the main character, as she was Anna Mae’s contact in the Amish community, and her partner-in-crime, so to speak. Not that there was anything criminal about it. And in fact, I have to go on a tangent here and explain that I know little to nothing about Amish ways, but this book eventually explained that those who are shunned were, indeed, allowed to visit, but simply had to stay apart from the others during meals and church services. Yet Anna Mae’s dad, bishop of the community, treated her as if shunning meant she didn’t exist at all. It was harsh and yet explained and dissolved all too easily.

Now back to Kathryn…she grated on my nerves. For one thing, the narration tells us that she’s not a proud person, but we sure do see a lot of her thinking how Anna Mae’s family will have her to thank for their reunion. Plus, her husband–Anna Mae’s brother–insists that she not bring Anna Mae there for Christmas for various legitimate reasons, but she does it anyway, betraying his trust and involving other family members, including her own daughter. For a Christian family, and moreso, one where it’s clear the man is usually the head of the household, it really bugged me that in the end, she was seen to be right, and there were no real consequences to their relationship. I also disliked Anna Mae’s father and strongly disagreed with some of his beliefs and traditions.

And finally, what made this short novel really drag on for me was that everything that happened in the book was basically repeated. By this I mean that we’d see something happen, and then the next scene would be a character recounting what had just happened for another character. But where most of us would condense that with a line like, “She explained the events to her mother,” we see the entire conversation rehashing the event we’d just seen happen. This happened multiple times, which led me to start scanning to get through it more quickly.

I know that Amish fiction is an entire sub-genre within the genre of Christian fiction, and I’ve wondered what the appeal is for a long time. I realize that this might not have been the example to base my opinion on, but there were some things that came up that weren’t part of what I didn’t like about this particular book that lead me to think it won’t be my cup of tea as a whole. I don’t really think I could recommend this book to readers of Amish fiction either though. It just didn’t have much substance.

Find out more about A Plain and Simple Christmas

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If you’ve read this book, or read it in the future, feel free to let me know what you think!

Top Ten Tuesday: Christmas TBR

It’s time for another Top Ten list from That Artsy Reader Girl. The topic this week is “Holiday Reads.” The intention was to list books that you love reading during the holiday season, so presumably books you’ve read before. However, until July of this year, I’ve barely read a book per year since my heavy reading days of the past (over 10 years ago). I do, however, love immersing myself in Christmas-related things during the holiday season, so I have already picked up some Christmas books to read over the next few weeks. I figured I’d just make today’s TTT about my Christmas season TBR then. Here are the 5 I’m currently planning to read (probably about all I’ll have time for before Christmas):

1. The End of the Magi by Patrick W. Carr
I’m currently reading this book. It is an interesting take on the “Christmas story” from the perspective of the magi and definitely doesn’t have a Christmas atmosphere like the others will, but I have been really enjoying it so far.

2. The Christmas Box by Richard Paul Evans
I got a paperback of The Christmas Box Trilogy, but I don’t know if I’ll have time to read all 3 before Christmas, so the first one is officially on the list, and the others are there if I get to them.

3. Catching Christmas by Terri Blackstock
I read my first Terri Blackstock book a couple months ago and enjoyed it, so when I saw this at Half Price Books, I didn’t hesitate to grab it.

4. A Plain and Simple Christmas by Amy Clipston
There are actually 2 novellas in the book I have collectively titled A Kauffman Amish Christmas Collection, but I only expect to have time to read the first of the 2 for now. Amish romances are apparently pretty big in Christian fiction. This is me dipping my toe in to see what the big fuss is about.

5. A Christmas Star by Thomas Kinkade & Katherine Spencer
My husband knew about my quest to find some feel-good Christmas books to read this season, so he picked this up in the used book sale section of our library recently. He also knows that I like Thomas Kinkade’s art.

Have you read any of these books? What’s on your Christmas TBR?