Book reviews for December 2023

Written by Michelle Watson

January 2, 2024

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My book reviews for December 2023 are a mix of Christmas children’s stories, light romances, and one heavy classic.

Will any of these make your TBR? Leave a comment and let me know.

Here’s where you can find me on Goodreads. Connect with me there, so that I can see what you’re reading, too.

Let’s dive in!

The Carver and the Queen

By Emma C. Fox

Deep in the Russian mountains, two peasants discover a magical realm. But will this power bring good fortune or bad?

You’ll love it if cozy fairy tales are your cup of tea

Rating: 4 out of 5.

This book hit the spot. I loved it, and I thought it was even better than The Arrow and the Crown. The dual protagonists were lovable. The villains were mysterious and not made of cardboard. I also loved the supporting cast.

This book is based on a fairy tale that I’m not familiar with, so, for me, it read like a story set in a fairy tale world. It didn’t feel strange or contrived in any way, which sometimes happens with a retelling when you aren’t familiar with the source. You don’t NEED to know the source story to enjoy this one.

This is a sweet romance, too! Perfect for teens who want clean, mature romance. No spice, just heart.

I’m very much looking forward to Emma C. Fox’s next book!

Content warnings: None

Anna Karenina

By Leo Tolstoy

We see how love, loss, and jealousy play out in the lives of an interconnected group of Russians

You’ll love it if you want to grapple with big questions on an intimate level.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I don’t usually go into a book this long on a whim, but I did this time. I thought I’d listen to a little of the audiobook to see if I liked the narration, and then, I thought, maybe I’d start it for real in 2024. Before I knew it, I was through part one and totally invested.

I think the short chapters propelled me on. And it was great listening on audio because the complex names didn’t trip me up. Also, this book has that “train wreck” quality that makes it impossible to NOT gawk. I just zoomed through!

This book probably hits everyone differently, but, for me, the central question of the book is “What do we live for?” Ourselves? Our passions? Our families, work, religion? Do we live for God? Each character grapples with this at some point, and I love that there are no tidy answers.

It was fascinating to watch Anna go from a “good” woman to a “bad” one. To watch her get increasingly self-centered and consequently more unhappy and paranoid. When you look at her, you realize that it can happen to anyone. Easily.

I love how life is portrayed in all its complexity and how everyone’s life seems both good and bad, one way from the outside and another way from the inside. And it’s always changing.

Content warnings: Nothing is portrayed graphically. The book deals heavily with adultery, but there are no bedroom scenes. There are some gristly deaths, one of which is suicide.

I haven’t seen the movie yet—is it good?

Frederica

By Georgette Heyer

What happens when a selfish lord decides to help a poor family get a foothold in London society? Rrrrrrrromance! (Roll the “R.”)

You’ll love it if you just want to keep reading Jane Austen over and over forever and ever

Rating: 4 out of 5.

This was delightful. Georgette Heyer is often described as the inventor of the regency romance genre when she started publishing novels like this one back in the ’20s. This book is like Jane Austen with antics, haha.

Frederica is determined to see her drop-dead gorgeous younger sister, Charis, have one London season. That’s all she needs to make a comfortable match with a gentleman. Since Frederica lost both her parents and has long been in charge of her younger siblings, it’s up to her to make this happen for Charis. Frederica appeals to a distant cousin, Lord Alverstroke, who agrees to help her (at first) only to needle his bothersome sisters. But then, Alverstroke realizes that Frederica might just be his kind of gal. Romance ensues.

This book is CUTE. Clean romance. Regency period. Sparkling morals. Sweet to the bone. But, unlike Jane Austen, this isn’t all quiet action in parlor rooms and gardens and country estates. Here, we mix with people of all classes. We have adventures—barking dogs, hot air balloons, steamers!

The only critique I have (and it’s a small one) is that the writing can be clumsy to read at times. It’s not seamless. I found myself halting through some passages, especially those thick with period slang and colloquialisms. Also, Heyer uses exclamation marks with zero hesitation!!! Haha.

The next time I read a Heyer novel, I’d like to listen on audio. I bet that would be even better.

Side note: I can’t believe that filmmakers haven’t picked up on Heyer yet. Instead of making bad adaptations of Jane Austen, they could pick ANY Georgette Heyer novel and run with it.

Content warnings: None. The romance is as clean as it gets.

A Boy Called Christmas

By Matt Haig

How did Santa Claus get to be Santa Claus? Here’s a cute origin story for ya.

You’ll love it if you want to read a Santa-centric book to your kids.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

This was pure fun. It’s an origin story for Santa Claus, as imagined by Matt Haig, author of The Midnight Library. There’s nothing about Jesus or the reality of Christmas—just the North Pole characters associated with the secular winter holidays. Despite lacking any faith element, it’s a cute, heartwarming story that reinforces the value of life, looking on the bright side, and finding joy in giving to others.

My kids know that Santa isn’t real. Every year, we read Gail Gibbons’s book “Santa Who?” because it discusses all of the different traditions and legends that have contributed to who Santa has become, starting with Jesus Christ, then moving to Saint Nicholas, and then beyond. We treat Santa as a character more than anything—like the Grinch or Scrooge. We visit Santa at the annual Christmas tree lighting. We lay out cookies and milk. I don’t want to deprive them of any childhood magic. But I’m not going to lie and tell them he’s real when he’s not. So, this book provided some Santa fun, and I felt that it helps to reinforce him as a fictional character vs. a reality.

We listened to the audiobook narrated by Stephen Fry, and it was adorable. He reads like Jim Dale, doing all the voices.

Content warnings: Nicholas is mistreated and betrayed, but there is nothing troublingly graphic here. I also want to emphasize that this book is secular and unconnected to any other Santa myths that I know of. There is no mention of religion of any kind, not even St. Nicholas.

I haven’t seen the movie—have you?

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever

By Barbara Robinson

A gang of troublemakers want to be in the church Christmas program. Hilarity ensues.

You’ll love it if you’d like to read hands-down winner for best modern Christmas novel for kids

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Seeing this play with my Brownies Troop was one of the formative events in my childhood. I still remember the girl who played Imogen swinging the baby Jesus doll around and Mrs. Robinson urging her to hold him like he was precious.

Reading this story was just as good as it’s ever been for me. It asks the question: What would happen if the neighborhood hooligans showed up at church and wanted to star in the Christmas pageant? What is a funny romp for kids is quite convicting for the parents who are reading it. At least it is for me.

My boys loved this book and laughed a lot. We read one chapter a day for a week, and it was a great experience.

Content warnings: The Herdman children smoke, steal, lie, and set things on fire, but it’s all melodrama, not real.

Check out ALL my book reviews

Here’s the master list of every book I’ve reviewed since starting The Book Devotions.

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7 Comments

  1. Lynn

    I have never read a Georgette Heyer book. I keep thinking I need to, but I have not picked one up yet. Do you have thoughts about the best one to start with?

    Reply
    • Michelle Watson

      This is my first Georgette Heyer novel, and I think it’s a good entry point, however I don’t have anything to compare it to! Her most famous regency romance is The Grand Sophy, and her most famous regency suspense novel is The Black Moth, so I’m guessing either of those would be a good place to start. I chose Frederica because my library had it available and I liked the plot teaser.

      Reply
  2. Judy Christensen

    How do you find all these various books you refer to?

    Reply
    • Michelle Watson

      Hi Judy! I hear about new books in various ways. I enjoy using Goodreads to see what other people have read and enjoyed. Sometimes, I’ll search for a booklist if I’m interested in something specific. I subscribe to a lot of bookish newsletters and hear about titles that way.

      Reply
  3. Marion

    Hi Michelle;
    I read “Anna Karenina” a few years ago. Among my favorite reads “Anna Karenina is among the best.
    Keep on reading
    Marion

    Reply
    • Michelle Watson

      I am so glad you enjoyed it, too! It’s one of those books that really **should** be boring, but it’s not at all!

      Reply

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