November was a strange reading month for me! I was either reading nonfiction or holiday-related books! I never used to be someone who read holiday books, but I have truly embraced them over the last couple of years. They have really put me into the Christmas spirit!
2017: 19 year old Tallulah is going out on a date, leaving her baby with her mother, Kim.
Kim watches her daughter leave and, as late evening turns into night, which turns into early morning, she waits for her return. And waits.
The next morning, Kim phones Tallulah’s friends who tell her that Tallulah was last seen heading to a party at a house in the nearby woods called Dark Place.
She never returns.
2019: Sophie is walking in the woods near the boarding school where her boyfriend has just started work as a head-teacher when she sees a note fixed to a tree.
‘DIG HERE’ . . .
A cold case, an abandoned mansion, family trauma and dark secrets lie at the heart of Lisa Jewell’s remarkable new novel.
I started this month with a thriller from Lisa Jewell, who has quickly become one of my favourite thriller writers. I think she has this special way of writing characters who the reader becomes deeply invested in, which does not happen to me often within this genre. The Night She Disappeared seems like a typical thriller on the surface, but it went to some places I didn’t expect and I will be thinking about that ending for a while. This book was also included in one of my Once Upon a Book Club boxes and I filmed a reading vlog, if you are interested.
What makes “cults” so intriguing and frightening? What makes them powerful? The reason why so many of us binge Manson documentaries by the dozen and fall down rabbit holes researching suburban moms gone QAnon is because we’re looking for a satisfying explanation for what causes people to join—and more importantly, stay in—extreme groups. We secretly want to know: could it happen to me? Amanda Montell’s argument is that, on some level, it already has . . .
Our culture tends to provide pretty flimsy answers to questions of cult influence, mostly having to do with vague talk of “brainwashing.” But the true answer has nothing to do with freaky mind-control wizardry or Kool-Aid. In Cultish, Montell argues that the key to manufacturing intense ideology, community, and us/them attitudes all comes down to language. In both positive ways and shadowy ones, cultish language is something we hear—and are influenced by—every single day.
Through juicy storytelling and cutting original research, Montell exposes the verbal elements that make a wide spectrum of communities “cultish,” revealing how they affect followers of groups as notorious as Heaven’s Gate, but also how they pervade our modern start-ups, Peloton leaderboards, and Instagram feeds. Incisive and darkly funny, this enrapturing take on the curious social science of power and belief will make you hear the fanatical language of “cultish” everywhere.
I have been looking forward to reading Cultish since it came out because I am fascinated with cults and with language, so this felt like a book written for me. While I thought some sections were interesting, I found myself wishing that the author would dig a little deeper. A lot of the cults discussed were ones I was already familiar with, so I found myself skim reading those sections. That said, it did make me think about different societal things that could be considered cult-like, but I also noticed that a lot of the examples used were stereotypically female-focused spaces, which could be a different conversation in itself. I actually think I prefer the author’s podcast, Sounds Like a Cult.
Last year, Rachel Bacharach met the man of her dreams at a Hanukkah party — and then her outgoing best friend Tamara swooped in and “called” Oz Caplan for herself. It’s a typical outcome for the dependable, bookish Rachel, who is never able to extinguish the spark she immediately felt for Oz. But being secretly in love with her best friend’s boyfriend all year hasn’t been easy.
As this year’s party approaches, Oz and Tamara break up. It’s a worst-case scenario when Oz asks Rachel to help him write Tamara love letters to win her back in time for their Hanukkah anniversary. Rachel’s been writing love letters to Oz in her journals for a year; she knows all the words he would need. But will Rachel be able to hide her true feelings from Oz any longer? And might this year’s party finally be Rachel’s chance to trust her heart and put everything on the line for love?
I was nervous going into Eight Winter Nights because I don’t like the trope were the main character is pining for their best friend’s partner (which is why I could not get through One Day in December!), but I thought that it was handled well in this story. This was a sweet friends-to-lovers romance and it was a quick listen. It was the perfect book to kick start my holiday reading and I loved that both main characters are Jewish and that the story takes place around Hanukkah.
The Sackler name adorns the walls of many storied institutions: Harvard, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Oxford, the Louvre. They are one of the richest families in the world, known for their lavish donations to the arts and sciences. The source of the family fortune was vague, however, until it emerged that the Sacklers were responsible for making and marketing OxyContin, a blockbuster painkiller that was a catalyst for the opioid crisis.
I am so glad that I finally took the time to read Empire of Pain. This is a book that deserves all of the attention that it has been getting! Patrick Radden Keefe has a special way of writing nonfiction so that the reader is deeply invested. I knew nothing about the Sackler family and their role in the opioid epidemic but I am certainly informed now! If you are like me and you enjoy books like Bad Blood and Catch and Kill, you need to give Empire of Pain a try.
Riley Kennedy’s emails keep getting crossed with her colleague, Kennedy Riley.
The infuriating man forwards them along with his annoying commentary and unsolicited advice. At least she never has to see him in person since they work in different locations…until they come face to face at the office holiday party. As luck would have it, Kennedy turns out to be gorgeous…though still a jerk. Yet somehow he’s able to charm her out on the dance floor—and convince her to participate in his crazy scheme: He’ll go home with Riley for a Christmas party and pretend to be her boyfriend if Riley agrees to be his date to a wedding.
It sounds easy enough. But little by little, the act they’re putting on starts to feel like so much more than a Christmas pact—and Riley’s about to learn there’s more to Kennedy than she ever imagined.
Have you ever seen the move The Holiday Engagement? The Christmas Pact gives me very similar vibes! I love the fake dating trope, especially in a book set around the holidays! Give me all the movies/books where someone brings a fake partner home for Thanksgiving or Christmas. It always leads to some laughs, which was definitely the case in this book. The ending was absolutely ridiculous, but I was here for it!
When Holly White’s fiance cancels their Christmas Eve wedding with less than two weeks to go, Holly heads home with a broken heart. Lucky for her, home in historic Mistletoe, Maine is magical during Christmastime–exactly what the doctor prescribed. Except her plan to drown her troubles in peppermints and snickerdoodles is upended when local grouch and president of the Mistletoe Historical Society Margaret Fenwick is bludgeoned and left in the sleigh display at Reindeer Games, Holly’s family tree farm.
When the murder weapon is revealed as one of the wooden stakes used to identify trees on the farm, Sheriff Evan Grey turns to Holly’s father, Bud, and the Reindeer Games staff. And it doesn’t help that Bud and the reindeer keeper were each seen arguing with Margaret just before her death. But Holly knows her father, and is determined to exonerate him.The jingle bells are ringing, the clock is ticking, and if Holly doesn’t watch out, she’ll end up on Santa’s naughty list in Twelve Slays of Christmas, Jacqueline Frost’s jolly series debut.
It’s official! I think I am now a fan of cozy mysteries. I had so much fun both Twelves Slays of Christmas and Twas the Knife Before Christmas, which are books one and two in the Christmas Tree Farm Murder series. Great setting, characters, food descriptions, and an entertaining mystery. The audiobook for the third book, Slashing Through the Snow, comes out in December and I am counting down the days!
On the first day of Christmas, my true love… dumped me.
Poppy loves Christmas and always goes all out to make this magical time of the year extra special for her boyfriend George. But George is strangely not in the Christmas spirit this year. As Poppy wrestles him into her Christmas jumper built for two for a holiday snapshot, she finds out why.
He’s leaving her. With only twelve days to spend together before Christmas.
Poppy is heartbroken. Her perfectly planned Christmas lies in tatters. She knows they are meant to be together and she’s not going to give up on their five-year relationship without a fight. She still has twelve days to get her man back and save Christmas…
But festive surprises aren’t only found under the tree. In her quest to make George see they are destined for each other, Poppy might end up finding out the truth about him. And discover the man she is truly meant to spend this Christmas with…
I recently bought my first Kindle, and Twelve Days to Save Christmas is the first book I read on it and I had so much fun. I absolutely devoured this book and it read exactly like the kind of cheesy Hallmark movie that I love this time of year. I loved Poppy’s growth and her journey towards finding her voice. I also loved that it is not really a romance. There are feelings there and definite flirting, but it is really a story of Poppy discovering her true self. So good!
Maximillian von Hansburg, Baron of Laudon and heir to the Duke of Aquilla, is trapped. Under pressure from his domineering father, he must marry a suitable bride before he inherits a title that feels like a prison sentence. In New York to meet a prospective wife, he ditches his responsibilities and appears on Dani Martinez’s doorstep. He’s been intrigued by the no-nonsense professor since he met her at the Eldovian royal wedding and is determined to befriend her.
Newly single Dani is done with love—she even has a list entitled “Things I Will Never Again Do for a Man”—which is why she hits it off with notorious rake Max. He’s trying to escape relationships, and she’s resolved to avoid them at all costs. All they want from each other is friendship and a distraction from their messy lives.
As their bond begins to deepen, so does their attraction, until they end up in bed together. Falling in love was never part of the plan—Max’s family doesn’t see Dani as a perfect match, even as his heart tells him she’s the one, and Dani isn’t sure she can make it in Max’s world. Can they find the courage to live the life they desire, even if it means risking everything?
Duke, Actually was adorable and I loved the subtle references to the movie Love, Actually. I am also a sucker for romances between royalty and a commoner as well as any book set in New York at Christmas time. I will say that this book wasn’t as festive as I was expect, but it was sweet. I also didn’t realize that this is the second book in a series and wish I had read the first book before this one!
What was the best book that you read in December?