Long, cold nights are for falling in love…
3.625 Stars (Rounded to 4)
Yes, 3.625 stars is a rather specific rating for a book. That is as it is a mean average, determined by adding up the scores I gave each of the twelve short stories, then dividing that total by twelve. Yes, twelve, as this book is an anthology of twelve short stories by popular YA authors, all about the festive season and romance. I know what some of you are thinking; no, I am not a romance fan in the slightest. However, some of my favourite YA authors (Rainbow Rowell, Holly Black, Laini Taylor and David Levithan) all contributed to this book, and I found myself waiting to read a festive book, so I put this on my Christmas wishlist, and subsequently received it as a gift from my mother. I have now read all twelve stories, and I am going to give you a brief review of each of them, finishing with my overall feelings on this book.
‘Midnights’ by Rainbow Rowell
I have previously read two Rainbow Rowell books, ‘Fangirl’ and ‘Eleanor and Park’, and loved ‘Fangirl’, yet hated ‘Eleanor and Park’, so I knew that Rowell’s work could swing either way for me. Thankfully, she got the anthology off to a high with a superb short story about a girl named Mags and her best friend Noel celebrating New Year’s over the course of four years. This read was my second favourite of the twelve stories, and probably my favourite of the relationships featured in the anthology. Mags and Noel had a lot of chemistry, and the fact that we saw them every New Year’s from 2011 to 2014 meant that had the opportunity to see the characters grow, unlike in many of the insta-love, two-hour-long romances which followed. I finished this short story wishing that there was a novella – if not a whole book – about these characters.
‘The Lady and the Fox’ by Kelly Link
It was always going to be hard to follow the work of the brilliant Rainbow Rowell, however I think that Link’s story would be hard-pressed for stories in the anthology that it could follow and look good. I think that this was the weakest of the stories in the collection. It felt very forced and was incredibly hard to read. The story was really confusing, and the characters were one-dimensional and incredibly drab. I struggled through this one, and it did not make me want to pick up any of Link’s other work, which is a shame.
‘Angels in the Snow’ by Matt de la Pena
This was a story that started weak, but improved every step of the way. I really wasn’t keen on the very beginning of this story, as the writing style did not seem to suit me and the main character, Shy, was rather infuriating. However, as the story progressed, there was actually a good bit of chemistry between Shy and Haley (despite the insta-love and their ‘little white lies’ being rather laughable), and I steadily found myself enjoying it more and more. Unfortunately, when there are limited pages, it has to be consistently good to leave a massive impression, and I feel that this tale did not achieve that.
‘Polaris is Where You’ll Find Me’ by Jenny Han
This story claims third place in my ranking. I have actually heard rather negative things about Jenny Han’s writing prior to this, so I had this labelled as one that I would not enjoy as much. I actually really liked it. It felt a little more juvenile than the other tales, partly due to the immature voice of Natty, but I do not think that this was a bad thing at all. It made the story seem more light-hearted than it would have been had it had the same tone as the other stories, which I feel is necessary given that it wasn’t the happiest of tales. I know that a lot of people hate how open the end is, but I love that we can draw our own conclusions from it, so that ending gets a thumbs up from me.
‘It’s a Yuletide Miracle, Charlie Brown’ by Stephanie Perkins
This was my first venture into Perkins’ writing, as her popular ‘Anna and the French Kiss’ books are firmly of the YA Romance genre, which is a genre I tread about carefully. I was actually slightly reluctant to read ‘Anna and the French Kiss‘, although it is looking more likely now. I do not think that this story is nearly as good as everyone else seems to drum it up to be, and I would rank it 5th or 6th of the stories in this anthology. However, it did take me by surprise. Despite the insta-love and the reasoning that I could not accept (the girl wanted to talk to the boy for the first time so that she could ask him to do a voiceover in her YouTube video), once the story got rolling it was actually rather pleasant. I did not find North attractive, however he and Marigold did have good chemistry, and the scenes where he rearranged her flat to fit in a tree were actually rather amusing.
‘Your Temporary Santa’ by David Levithan
I knew that Levithan would not disappoint me. I just found the concept of dressing up as Father Christmas to please his boyfriend’s six-year-old sister so sweet. The story switched seamlessly from light-hearted and cute to more serious and philosophical, which is something that I have a soft spot for. I’m left desperate to find out more about Connor’s family, and wish that this was a full-length book. This was my favourite of the stories.
‘Krampuslauf’ by Holly Black
I have always loved the wackiness of Holly Black’s stories. Whilst being a little predictable, I thoroughly enjoyed the fantastical elements incorporated into the modern-day. Despite the surrealism aspect, I think that the three female best friends are probably three of the most identifiable characters in the entire anthology, which was nice to see.
‘What the Hell Have You Done, Sophie Roth?’ by Gayle Forman
I did not hugely enjoy the story of this one; it felt a little static to me, as if it had little purpose. It was predominantly made up of two people having a conversation in many indistinguishable settings. What redeemed this story for me was the chemistry between Sophie and Russell; I think that they were one of the best-matched pairs in the anthology. It’s just a shame that I didn’t really like the route the story took. It was nice to see a story where the primary focus was not Christmas, but Hanukkah, however.
‘Beer Buckets and Baby Jesus’ by Myra McEntire
I had no strong opinions on this story. It started a bit odd, but I grew to like it. The main character, Vaughn, was entertaining, and the love interest, Gracie, created a nice equilibrium between the pair. The plot was rather amusing but very conventional, and you really had to stretch your boundaries of belief at some of the behaviour. It was just really forgettable; I have the feeling that this story will drift under the radar for me, which tells me that there was nothing astounding about it.
‘Welcome to Christmas, CA’ by Kiersten White
I think I enjoyed this one a little more than the score gives credit for. The plot was strong, and paced surprisingly well given how short the story is. The part with the protagonist’s mother’s boyfriend learning Spanish so he can fit in was really cute. However, I did not really identify with White’s writing style, for reasons that I cannot explain. It just didn’t suit me. Also, I think that Maria and Ben had the least chemistry of any of the couples, and while I liked Ben’s personality, the whole rubbish about being able to sense what meal each person would like the most was rather laughable.
‘Star of Bethlehem’ by Ally Carter
This story was a bit of a mess really. The concept of swapping plane tickets with a stranger and pretending to be an Icelandic exchange student… It was far too awkward for my liking. I was hoping that Lydia’s story would be a lot more poignant and identifiable than it actually was. The story had very little message, apart from ‘do not steal someone else’s identity’, and it really did not work for me at all.
‘The Girl Who Woke the Dreamer’ by Laini Taylor
As with all of Taylor’s work, the story was slow to get into, but once you do, it is a marvellous fantasy with fairytale qualities and a well-conceived magical concept. Taylor’s writing is truly beautiful. And yes, there was barely any dialogue, but I actually really liked that fact. I do think it was brave to create such a complex idea in such a short story, but if anyone could make it work, it was Laini Taylor. I think that you have to persevere through the beginning a tad, but the rest is completely worth it.
For someone who does not like romance, I thoroughly enjoyed this anthology. On the whole, the band of contributing authors did a fantastic job, each story was distinct and different, and there are some authors who I am now desperate to try more work from. I would definitely recommend this for a light festive read, even if there are a couple of stories in there that just didn’t suit me, as there is definitely a story here that would work for anyone.