Books, Reviews, YA Fiction

My True Love Gave To Me: Twelve Holiday Stories


3 stars

This book was a little anthology of Christmas romances authored by a 12 YA writers, from contemporary favorite Rainbow Rowell to the imaginative fantasy writer, Laini Taylor. I was impressed with the amount of interesting ideas penned by not only romance/contemporary authors, but fantasy, science-fiction writes as well. They all each seemed to add a bit of their individual colors to them, and while some of them I simply couldn’t enjoy, those elements surprised me, since I had originally expected these stories to be regular, romance stories set in our own world. I thought the anthology as a whole was slightly above average, but there were definitely a select few that I loved.

Midnights, by Rainbow Rowell – 4/5

This short story follows the countdown to New Year’s Day across several years, focusing on the two main characters, Noel and Mags, as well as their changing relationship and dynamic between their individual lives and past history. I thought this was one of the most unique stories in the entire anthology, and the message incorporated was great as well. Noel and Mags’ are so well-developed as individuals and their relationship is even more heartfelt and real. It definitely shows a realistic view of the tension and doubt involved in having feelings for someone, unknowing of how they feel. The underlying theme of leaving people close to you and entering an unknown future was also wonderfully included, adding a hint of sadness to the usual sweet, gentle nature of the story. Wonderfully done, Rowell.

The Lady And The Fox, by Kelly Link – 1/5

I’ll be honest, I had absolutely no idea what the hell was going on with this one. I knew from the start that this wouldn’t be a 5 star story for me, but the characters, romance, plot was all over the place. The writing felt as though there were… holes (?) in them, as if there were certain segments in the paragraphs that were missing. That aspect and the fact that it was just boring to me made it extremely difficult to push through. It felt as if I couldn’t even identify the protagonist and the set of secondary characters, because of the vague, lifeless storytelling. While the fantasy elements added toward the end were intriguing, I simply did not have enough energy to absorb it all in.

Angels In The Snow, by Matt De La Pena – 5/5

Absolutely loved this one! I adore realistic, relatable stories about young adult lives, and I thought the commentary on racial stereotyping, social pressure, and other issues was a great addition to the easygoing yet adorably awkward feel to the story. Angels In The Snow essentially follows Shy, a college student house-sitting (and cat-sitting) for the apartment’s owner and Shy’s boss, throughout December. As he goes through his own stresses and tries to conserve as much energy as possible (this apartment does’t have food in it, and he’s pretty much dying of starvation), he unexpectedly stumbles into a charming female neighbor, which, obviously turns out to be a happy accident. From here, a friendship develops as the neighbors share their struggles as young adults living in New York. I will say I liked Haley and Shy’s friendship more than the actual romance, but the characters popped out of the page so well in such a short time, there was no way I couldn’t have loved this.

Polaris Is Where You Find Me, by Jenny Han – 2/5

I normally enjoy Jenny Han’s books, even if there isn’t a whole lot of substance to them, but this story didn’t really click with me. Han definitely should have saved this idea for a full-length novel, because the attempt to create a fully developed protagonist, love interest, and romance backfired in the shortest story of the entire anthology. I actually loved the initial concept, it’s about a human girl who was adopted by Santa Claus, and is living in the North Pole with the elves, one of whom she falls in love with. I’m not sure if we can call it “love” or even a liking because while Natalie, the protagonist was going on and on about her crush and his girlfriend, nothing big actually happens! I’m sure I would have enjoyed this one if only it was a tad extended, but the characters and romance felt unfinished and underdeveloped anyway.

It’s A Yuletide Miracle, Charlie Brown, by Stephanie Perkins – 4.25/5

I’ve actually never fully read any of Stephanie Perkins’ novels (if we aren’t counting that one time I started Anna And The French Kiss and had to return it to the library after it was overdue for months and had to pay a fine, but still managed to ignore reading it all those weekends I decided to not go to the library… yeah), but I’ve been rewarded with a plethora of reviews, good and bad. I was pleasantly surprised with the outcome of this sweet, probably the cutest one in the anthology, story. It’s A Yuletide Miracle, Charlie Brown is told in the perspective of Marigold, a college student and animation enthusiast, who goes to a Christmas tree farm and seek out a splendid male voice (and very attractive guy, but the voice caught her attention first ;)) to narrate her new comedy video. Marigold accidentally buys an actual tree to take home, and North, the boy with the wonderful voice, offers to help her carry it to her apartment, unknowing of her true intention. As they arrive, North and Marigold develop the sweetest, most adorable relationship ever as they begin to reveal themselves to each other. Their conversations were funny and relatable, often circulating familial pressures and situations, forcing them to achieve goals they don’t necessarily want to. While these two fall in love over the course of just a few hours, their chemistry was so believable and heartwarming. Claps for Ms. Perkins!

Your Temporary Santa, by David Leviathan – 2/5

When I took a peek at David Leviathan on the author list, I knew I could expect a cute gay romance, just the kind of diversity the anthology needed. I’ve never read Leviathan’s individual books before, but I have enjoyed his writing in Will Grayson, Will Grayson and Dash And Lily’s Book Of Dares, so yes, I was hyped. Unfortunately, the story had a unique concept but never quite delivered due to the condensed and detached nature to it. This was another very short story, and while that is the concept of this whole collection, Leviathan’s characters and plot wasn’t fully developed or particularly grabbing, to me.

Krampuslauf, by Holly Black – 2.75/5

This story started off pretty well to me — there was a young, fresh vibe to it, and the relationships presented throughout were funny, honest, and genuine. I loved the calculative, ambitious nature of the main character, Hanna, and her friends’ plans to get revenge on their other friend’s boyfriend who cheated on her. While that aspect was totally entertaining, the initial story line takes a huge turn to the supernatural with the introduction of the Krampus, a half-man, half-goat, satyr-like creature that randomly shows up. Actually, I guess it’s not random, considering the name of the story itself, but the fact that I was enjoying the story before the fantasy element “cramped” everything up (pun intended, obviously), just annoyed and caused me to dock a star off the rating. It’s kind of petty, but it is what it is.

What The Hell Have You Done, Sophie Roth?, by Gayle Forman – 3.75/5

Stories about young adults trudging through life, figuring themselves out, whilst falling in love are my favorite kind of tales, so there was no doubt that I liked this one. The story follows Sophia Roth, a big city college student forced to attend a small town liberal arts college due to familial situations. While a night out, she randomly bumps into another student, Russell, and they both trudge through the starry night, sharing their thoughts on racial stereotyping, familial pressures, and other stories. I suppose this mini-summary sounds a bit redundant, and it is, but I suppose what makes it different is the humorous, sophisticated but not pretentious air to it. Sophie Roth has a really funny, carefree attitude, and while she was a tad bratty sometimes, it wasn’t hard to push through her narration. Russell was pretty nice too, though I felt like he wasn’t as developed as Sophie. The only things that bothered me was the repetitive plotline of the book (it’s quite similar to Perkins’ story) and the romance. I would have liked a more unique meeting between the two (possibly in different circumstances) and the kiss at the end just felt rushed. Interestingly, I thought there was plenty tension and chemistry between the two, but the suddenness (and cheesiness, haha) of the end startled me a tad. I don’t know what that was about, but overall, great story!

Beer Buckets And Baby Jesus, by Myra McEntire – 3/5

I thought this story had a really different idea behind it and the male perspective was refreshing. This story is about Vaughn, the local teenage bad boy who pulls pranks on the daily, ones that even go to the extremes. Unfortunately, after a prank burns down the barn next to the town church, Vaughn is required to assist in the church’s annual Christmas pageant. Whilst helping out, Vaughn forms a romantic relationship with the pastor’s daughter, Gracie, and goes through the cliche yet cute transition from troublemaker to I-would-consider-giving-up-pranking-for-her. I did like Gracie and Vaughn’s chemistry and the twist at end, but the story overall was average to me. I simply wasn’t invested in it.

Welcome To Christmas, CA, by Kiersten White – 4/5

This story had such a relatable and humorous air to it, I quite enjoyed it! The story follows Maria, a high school senior living with her mother and her mother’s boyfriend, Rick in Christmas, California, waiting to graduate so she can get out of town. Maria also works at the local diner which her mother manages, when she meets a mystery chef (and a quite attractive one at that) cooking up a storm in the kitchen. Obviously, this slick new chef and Maria form a relationship, while realistic familial matters are discussed and resolved. In my opinion, the strongest point of this story was Maria’s voice. I laughed out loud at many points due to the sheer sarcastic, slightly cynical remarks that Maria makes throughout, and it’s pretty clear she’s thinking the same way the rest of us are. The romance itself is actually not my favorite thing, but I liked Ben and Maria’s unanticipated meeting and their friendship in the kitchen. And while the familial problems were realistic themselves, the way it was resolved and Maria’s inner commentary on the change in her family situation, was a little too perfect and convenient for me. Other than that, the story as a whole is pretty entertaining and easy to read.

Star Of Bethlehem, by Ally Carter – 2.5/5

I have substantial experience with Ally Carter’s novels, mainly circulating around her Galleger Girls series (or what I’ve read of the series), and I know for a fact that her stories are quite sweet and heartfelt even if they don’t contain a ton of substance. This particular story is about Lydia, a girl who unintentionally runs away to Oklahoma with a large family, posing as the Icelandic girl who was supposed to arrive to stay with them. There’s a lot to cover if I were to completely summarize it, but this girl falls in love with the host family and a specific boy, and it’s actually pretty cute. I loved the family dynamic, especially since it was about healing together after a tragedy and to celebrate the people and things you love in a time of cheer, even if you want to run away from it all. The holding out on the reveal of Lydia’s identity and reason of her impromptu escape was pretty cool, but I wasn’t fully interested in Lydia, her love interest, and their romance as well as the basic plot. While the concept was unique, this story just didn’t grab my attention like the others.

The Girl Who Woke The Dreamer, by Laini Taylor – 1/5 (DNF)

I’ve heard a number of things about Laini Taylor’s famed books, they’re pretty much regarded as one of the highest forms of YA literature and I was quite excited to read this story despite the mixed bag of reviews. Sadly, I couldn’t push very far and eventually had to DNF it, which is rare for me. While Taylor’s writing is truly imaginative and atmospheric, I couldn’t click with it in the least, leading me to find it very boring and indigestible. And because of this writing, the only things I know about this book are that it is set in a separate fantasy world where Christmas exists, and that it follows a female character named Neve. I like the idea of another world, but the writing and pacing of story couldn’t keep my attention. What’s interesting is that it seems like a good number of Taylor fans weren’t feeling this certain story either. Shame, but I’ll definitely be reading Daughter Of Smoke And Bone soon.

Well, that’s it folks! I would certainly recommend this anthology for anything looking for a light, sweet Christmas-y read.