With all the blog tours out of the way, I’ve now started my mission to read as many Christmassy books as I possibly can before I take my January break – although I doubt I’m going to get through anything like as many as I really want to. After the way so many friends reacted when they saw it on my Christmas reading list, I couldn’t think of a better book to start off with than Always, in December by Emily Stone. Published by Headline Review, it’s now available as an ebook (and, I notice, just 99p for kindle), in paperback and as an audiobook.
Now, I will admit that I’d stumbled across enough reviews of this book to know that the publishers’ strap line of “gorgeous, heart-tugging and uplifting” wasn’t telling quite the full story – so I did put a box of tissues on the table beside me when I started to read (and had certainly used rather more than I’d expected before I reached the end). Linda at Linda’s Book Bag said “I genuinely could not have loved (it) more” and called it “quite simply wonderful” (you’ll find her full review here) – so I was expecting something rather special.
Heartbreaking. Life-affirming. Truly unforgettable. Always, in December is the timeless, stay-up-all-night love story you’ll take straight to your heart.
If you loved One Day, Me Before You and the hit movie Last Christmas, this is the perfect book for you.
Josie Morgan never looks forward to December. It’s always a reminder of the life she lost, twenty years ago. Now, she always switches off the radio when Christmas music comes on. She always wants to tear down the tinsel her flatmate insists on pinning up. And she always posts a letter she knows will never be read.
Max Carter never expected to find himself stranded in London just days before Christmas. He never expected it would be so hard to say goodbye to a woman he hardly knows. Then again, he never expected to fall in love.
But, this December, when Josie’s letter leads her to Max, a chance encounter will change their lives in the most remarkable way. And their story is only just beginning…
I guess we’re all on a bit of an emotional edge with the approach of Christmas. Josie certainly is – having lost her parents on Christmas Day twenty years ago, she’d prefer to ignore it altogether, fending off any notion of going home to spend it with her grandparents, marking it only by sending an annual letter that will never be received or read. But on the way to the post box on her bicycle, blinded by tears, she collides with Max – his flight to the US to spend time with his parents cancelled, he’s stuck in a hotel in London for the festive season. Reluctantly at first, Josie agrees to them spending time together – doing everything Christmassy she’s always tried to avoid – and they both slowly begin to realise that they might have found something special. Until she wakes on Boxing Day morning to find him gone – and she’s plunged into sadness again, and alone.
The story spans a year, December to December, and follows their separate lives – and the times when their paths cross again, when it’s clear that these are two people who are meant to be together. But there’s something going on in the background – cleverly hidden, but the clues are there if you choose to pick up on them – that gives you the feeling that there just might not be a happy ending for these two damaged people that you can’t help but take to your heart. I shed a lot of tears through this book – it’s filled with some such special moments, the chemistry between them sizzling but also dipping into family-focused issues and the ups and downs of life. But I must admit the ending totally broke me – there’s no argument about whether it’s uplifting and life affirming (it most certainly is, when you wipe away the tears and step back a little), but it’s desperately sad and left me in pieces.
One of the strengths of this book is certainly its characters. I immediately loved Josie, and will admit I found it a bit of a wrench when her story was left behind for a while to follow Max spending time in New York with his friends and family. Although we’d spent a lot of time with him over that special Christmas in London, he had some ground to make up in terms of sympathy and engagement – but that does steadily grow as his character is fleshed out and we share his sense of loss having walked away from something rather special. The supporting characters are quite wonderful too – Max’s sister and his other friends and family, Josie’s flaky flatmate Bia, her grandparents and aunt – and the well-drawn relationships between them all only enhance the story and give it extra depth. The emotional content – and there’s rather a lot of that – is sensitively handled and has a particular authenticity, which I think might be why every low point hurts so much, as you feel what the characters feel. But there is plenty of lightness and humour and joy too – and gorgeous romantic moments that make you ache and glow from within.
The writing is incredibly accomplished – it’s difficult to believe that this is the author’s debut, and there’s bound to be even better to come. Those comparisons with One Day, Me Before You and the film Last Christmas are spot on – and while I’m not always a fan of comparisons, I could see echoes of Dani Atkins in there too, with a smidgeon of Katie Marsh. But the author’s style really is all her own – and while it’s hard to forgive her for my red-rimmed eyes, she can certainly tell a wonderful story. And despite the emotional wringer she put me through, seeing Josie blossom, finding that she’s braver and stronger than she ever thought was possible, left me with a feeling of warmth around my heart and with a (slightly watery) smile on my face.
Would I recommend this book to others? Yes, of course I would, it’s wonderful – but just don’t approach it expecting a light story filled with tinsel and sparkle because it’s so much more than that, remember to have those tissues ready, and definitely don’t read it in public. Josie and Max will have a place in my heart for some time to come – I really loved it.
About the author
Emily Stone lives and works in Chepstow and wrote Always, in December in an old Victorian manor house with an impressive literary heritage. Her debut novel was partly inspired by the death of her mother, when Emily was seven, and wanting to write something that reflected the fact that you carry this grief into adulthood, long after you supposedly move on from the event itself.
For more information, follow Emily on Twitter.