Thursday, January 7, 2021

Wrap Up: December 2020


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Reviews of books I read in December

I started December by reading chunksters. The first chunky book I finished was Doctor Sleep by Stephen King. This is a sequel to The Shining and follows the main character from that book, Dan Torrance. He’s a grown-up now. I enjoyed Doctor Sleep immensely. I actually liked it more than The Shining. It’s about vampires who travel around the US in motorhomes and feed on children who “shine.” One of the vampires wears a fancy hat, so the book automatically gets bonus points from me. I love a good fancy hat. Doctor Sleep is disturbing and faster paced than many of King’s other books. The creepy creatures from The Shining make a comeback. Even the Overlook Hotel makes an appearance. I loved revisiting the familiar spooks from the first book. The plot is intense, as you’d expect. I didn’t know how two old dudes and a child would defeat a vampire clan, but they did it. And not in a way that I saw coming. The ending is clever. Stephen King still has a problem with sexualizing every female character, even when sex scenes and descriptions of boobs and pubic hair don’t add anything to the story. If you can look past that, I recommend this book. I couldn’t put it down and stayed up way past my bedtime to read it.


My second chunkster was Lady Audley’s Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon. People, I started this book on Thanksgiving! It took me 3 weeks to finish it. I usually finish a book every 3 days. Anyway, Lady Audley’s Secret is a classic from the mid-1800s. It stars a lawyer whose best friend goes missing and is presumed murdered. The lawyer sets out to find him. Or his corpse. This book took me forever to read because parts of it are brilliant, and other parts are complete slogs. The plot is twisty and full of scandals, like a Victorian-era soap opera. Everybody is hiding something, and the characters have giant reactions to every bit of news. I enjoyed those parts. They’re fun. I didn’t like the author’s rambling writing style. She’d go on tangents or describe the minutiae of a character’s daily life. That’s when I’d put the book down and not pick it up for a few days. The plot did not need 500 pages. I just wanted to get on with the murder investigation! I’m glad I read it, though. Overall, I enjoyed it. I definitely want to read more from the Victorian sensation novel genre. So . . . recommendations, please!

Then I went back to regular-size books. I read Brooding YA Hero: Becoming A Main Character (Almost) As Awesome As Me by Carrie Ann DiRisio and Linnea Gear. It was . . . not very awesome. It’s repetitive, and there’s not enough material in it to fill a whole book. I used to follow the “Broody” Twitter account, and I feel like everything in the book was already on Twitter. It’s not as funny the second time around. If you’re not familiar with the book or the Twitter account, they’re basically “How to write young adult fiction” instructions, but the lessons are taught by an arrogant, brooding YA character. It’s very meta. If you’re new to writing, this might be a quick, upbeat way to learn the basics, but I didn’t get anything new out of it. Wait, that’s a lie! I did get a cookie recipe! There’s a cookie recipe in the book, which I promptly made, of course. The cookies were delicious. I put M&Ms in them.


After that, I read Flying Lessons & Other Stories edited by Ellen Oh. I liked this book a lot! If you’re searching for a good middlegrade short story anthology, I highly recommend this one. There are a few “meh” stories, and a few stories that try too hard to be profound, but there are none I disliked. A few of them made me smile, especially “Flying Lessons” by Soman Chainani and “Seventy-Six Dollars and Forty-Nine Cents” by Kwame Alexander. “Flying Lessons” is about a kid and his rich, eccentric granny who are trying to make friends on a beach in Spain. “Seventy-Six Dollars and Forty-Nine Cents” is about a kid who’s writing a memoir for English class, but he gives himself psychic mind-reading powers in his memoir. The best story in the anthology is “Secret Samantha” by Tim Federle. It’s about kids doing a Secret Santa gift exchange. The author perfectly captures that awkward preteen age where you feel confused and misunderstood all the time.

Next up was Children Of The Cave by Virve Sammalkorpi. It’s historical science fiction about two scientists who discover a group of feral children living in a cave. It’s a quick read with strong Jules Verne vibes, so if you’re a fan of his stuff, check this book out. The novel is written like a diary. The writing style is extremely realistic for a fake, fantastical journal. The diarist doesn’t explain everything because he’s writing the entries for himself. Then things go wrong, and he can’t always write consistently. Just like with a real diary, the reader is left to piece together what happened between the diary entries. The book also has interesting observations about human behavior and how we destroy things before we can truly understand them. My only complaint is about the character development. There are a lot of characters, and the diary format doesn’t allow for all of them to be fully developed.


Then, it was back to chunky beasts. I read Imaginary Friend by Stephen Chbosky. OMG, people, this book is huge. Luckily, it’s fast paced, so I could happily read a few hundred pages in one sitting without getting bored. It’s a horror story about a kid who goes missing in the forest. When he’s found, he has a dangerous imaginary friend and an obsession with building treehouses. Chaos ensues. The plot and characters are reminiscent of IT by Stephen King. A supernatural creature is threatening a town; a kid is trying to stop it. When Imaginary Friend first came out, I saw it described as “Weird Catholic fanfiction.” I’d agree with that description. There are virgin births, snake women, kids trying to free people from Hell, stuff like that. It’s very bizarre. The weirdness hooked me right away and kept me reading. Overall, I enjoyed Imaginary Friend. I flew through the pages and didn’t see the plot twists coming. My biggest complaint is the length. Watching badass god-children slay deer-demons in a Hell-forest is fun, but after 700+ pages of it, I was ready for it to be over.

On Christmas Eve, I reread A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. You know the plot of this one, right? Scrooge is visited by 3 Christmas ghosts and learns not to be a dick to poor people. It’s a classic! I don’t know how many times I’ve read this book. A lot. I love it. Usually, I’m not a Dickens fan because I can tell he got paid by the word and stuffed as many words into his books as possible, but A Christmas Carol is pretty succinct. I love Christmas, and I love spooky stuff, so this is a perfect “Me” book. It was also the 100th book I read in 2020.


After the high of rediscovering my love of A Christmas Carol, I hit a low. I gave up on Foxlowe by Eleanor Wasserberg. I’m extremely surprised because it’s a “Me” book. The cover is beautiful. The story is about a commune in a crumbling manor house in the English countryside. That sounds perfect for me! Unfortunately, there’s no plot, the characters are bland, and the writing style is . . . weird. I read 1/3 of the book and was mostly just bored and confused. So, I gave up.


The best book I read with baby Brooklyn in December was The Runaway Bunny by Margaret Wise Brown. It’s a classic from the 1940s about an imaginary game of hide-and-seek where a baby bunny runs away and transforms himself into different objects. The mother bunny follows him around the world so they can always be together. It’s comforting and sweet. Brooklyn seemed to like it.


I finished 2020 on a high note. My last book of the year was Finders Keepers by Stephen King. I flew through this one. If you like King’s classic Misery, you need to check this novel out. It’s about bookworms who are so obsessed with a book series that they’re willing to commit robbery and murder to get their hands on the author’s unpublished manuscripts. I like the themes of the novel. King talks about how unnerving it is to see aspects of yourself in evil people. If you share the same obsession with a deranged murderer, does that mean you have the potential to become a murderer, too? Is it okay to love something that causes other people harm? It’s interesting to think about. My only complaint about the book is that it’s part of King’s Bill Hodges series. Bill Hodges is a detective character. I struggle with cops and detectives in fiction because solving crimes doesn’t interest me, especially when I already know who committed the crime. I’m more interested in the criminals and the victims. I was tempted to skim Bill’s chapters. I still thoroughly enjoyed the plot, though.







Best Books Of December


1. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

2. Doctor Sleep by Stephen King

3. Flying Lessons & Other Stories edited by Ellen Oh







Most-Viewed December Blog Posts


1. Top Ten Tuesday: Books Set During Winter

2. Top Ten Tuesday: Best Books Of 2020

3. Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Can’t Stop Thinking About







December Bestsellers


Here are the books that people bought on Amazon or Book Depository last month after seeing them on Read All The Things! (Don’t worry, the link-tracking robots only tell me which books people are buying, not who is buying them. That would be creepy.)

1. Born A Crime: Stories From A South African Childhood by Trevor Noah

2. Stay With Me by Ayobami Adebayo

3. The Stranger In The Woods: The Extraordinary Story Of The Last True Hermit by Michael Finkel







December Life Snapshots

Our outdoor Christmas tree. There's a pumpkin, two squashes, and various other things under it. I don't know how we managed to acquire so many gourds in December. They just followed us home, like stray cats.

Baby Brooklyn had a cute Christmas outfit, but of course she promptly barfed all over it.

My Christmas card collection! Also, I'm very glad to have a fireplace because the furnace broke on Christmas Eve, and nobody could come out to fix it until after the holidays. We spent 5 days being very cold. I'm too modern and fluffy to live on fireplace heat alone!

She's sleeping on the dog's bed with a stone pig that's supposed to be a garden decoration but lives inside the house for mysterious reasons.




Wayward Googlers


Here is an amusing Google search that led people to Read All The Things! last month. I’m sorry to the unfortunate souls who ended up here instead of finding what they were Googling for.


“dare tobe great give things away.” Solid life advice right there.

“Unfortunately, our local library had ____ books on the subject.” I remember sentences like this from Spanish class! I think this sentence wants to be filled in with “no,” but I’d fill it in with “haunted.” That sounds much more dramatic.

“Die in a fantasy.” Rude.







All The Things!


Number of miles I’ve run so far in 2021 = 16.2 (26 K)

Number of unread books on my to-be-read shelf = 60 books

I’m currently reading = Dry by Neal Shusterman and Jarrod Shusterman and The Inexplicable Logic Of My Life by Benjamin Alire Sáenz




What did you do in December?



  1. The Brooklyn pictures are too cute. Little kids really do the funniest things.

  2. Baby Brooklyn looks pretty comfy in that dog bed. I met Stephen Chbosky a couple years ago at a reading and he's a great guy (took a photo with him) .... but I don't plan to read his long long book .... I gave a signed copy to my niece!

  3. Omg, Brooklyn is adorable. I love your outdoor Christmas tree. So pretty!! I'm definitely in awe of your running and yoga - good job!! I wish I had that motivation/committment. LOL


  4. I love that Brooklyn is sleeping on the dog bed with a garden decoration. Sounds just like a kid. It sounds like you had a good month. I liked Imaginary Friend but it was a long book. I really need to read more Stephen King!

  5. I think vampires are really way out of my comfort zone, but I am glad you enjoyed the book! I finally read A Christmas Carol, it was nice to see commonalities and differences with the movies - I actually watched the 1935 version this year!! The actor who plays Scrooge was born in the 19th century, unreal!

  6. Brooklyn is so big, I can't believe. Also those socks/shoes she has on look like heaven.

    I can't wait to read you review on Dry!

  7. ooooh great wrap up!! you read a lot of king!!

  8. I've seen SO many mixed reviews for Imaginary Friend so I'm not surprised you felt it was too long. I want to read it, but I'm definitely intimidated by the size. I adore your wayward Googlers every time! They're always hilarious!

  9. The photo of the little cutie sleeping with the stone pig = JUST PRECIOUS.

  10. I wasn't a big fan of The Shining when I read it but the plot for Doctor Sleep sounds better than the last few King books I looked at. I might try it at some point.

  11. I finished my end of the year post which showed a wonderful 1000 piece puzzle that was completed in my house between Christmas and New Years. I also recapped all reading list for 2020--one of the last books I read of the year was a YA novel which I really enjoyed (Orbiting Jupiter)

  12. I love the sound of Lady Audley's Secret - and thank you for the pics... the one of her asleep on the dog's bed is adorable. I hope January 2021 brings the same range of books - I'm always impressed with your eclectic taste, AJ:)

  13. I loved that you got a new recipe and made the cookies from the writing book. Brooklyn is adorable and I enjoyed the pics. Vampires are not for me, but I'm so glad you enjoyed your reading. Big books kind of frighten me, because what if I spend all that time with the book and it disappoints? The middle grade anthology was fun to read and I picked it up awhile ago just because Kwame Alexander's story was in it--he's one of my favorites.

  14. Nice wrap up! Stephen King has some great books.