Book Review: ‘Miss Mabel’s School For Girls’ by Katie Cross

It is a rare thing to find a series of books for Young Adult readers  that ticks all your favourite boxes: mystery and magic underscored with macabre and gothic elements, strong female characters, quirky twists, and themes and ideas that are universally compelling and interesting for teen and adult readers alike.

Just as it exists in the world-famous Harry Potter series, it exists in The Network Series by Katie Cross. This first book in The Network Series delivers a well-paced, expertly constructed story that ticks all of those boxes and more. 

Make no mistake, though: This is no mere imitation. ‘Miss Mabel’s School For Girls’ is original and unique, and the story is thoroughly engaging. The book ends with sufficient resolution to bring the story to a satisfying conclusion while dangling enough magical carrots to leave the reader wanting to just keep reading. 

The writing is excellent, creating an environment and atmosphere that is vivid and almost tangible, and propelling the reader into a story full of mystery, suspense and foreboding. 

Readers of all ages will find this book hard to put down, and should expect to be left wanting more. Thankfully, there is an entire nine book series, and another fantasy series featuring dragons by the same author, to look forward to. 

Book Review: ‘A Queer Old Christmas ‘ by CH Clepitt

Heartwarming and heartbreaking at the same time, this excellent story explores the devastating consequences of bigotry and hatred within families, and the healing power of acceptance and love.

Infused with humour and warmth that serves as a very effective contrast to the bitterness of the antagonist, the story immerses the reader in the lives of Linda, Tim and Ani as they navigate their way through quite significant challenges. It is a positive and uplifting book that helps those who have the privilege of being comfortable in their situations to understand what it is like for others who experience discrimination and prejudice, and how to appropriately respond to differences in others. 

The writing is excellent, the story is expertly crafted, and the characters are delightful. All in all, it’s a very entertaining read that comes highly recommended for YA and older. It’s a story that everyone should read. 

Book Review: ‘Beast Navidad’ by Camilla Ochlan and Bonita Gutierrez

A Christmas-themed novella in The Werewolf Whisperer Series, this is a paranormal suspense story that will please readers looking for something darker than Jingle Bells and Winter Wonderland for their December fare. 

It’s a great story, full of twists and turns that keep the reader guessing. It’s easily read in about an hour, which makes it the perfect length for reading on busy December days. 

Christmas Reading Recommendations

Ranging from children’s books to Yuletide horror and everything in between, I’ve squirrelled away the best in Indie Christmas Reads for you.

The books presented here have all been reviewed on this blog either last Christmas or this year.

Clicking on a book cover will take you to the review and its relevant links.

Christmas also features heavily in R.M. Gauthier’s Christmas Miracle series, in which the stories take place in Christmas Town, USA at different times of the year.

Book Review: ‘Christmas Australis: A Frighteningly Festive Collection of Spine Jingling Tales’

‘Christmas Australis’ is not your usual Christmas reading fare. Instead of fairy lights and tinsel, you’ll find shadows and dark corners, disreputable people, food that is not to be trusted and family secrets that are even darker than most. 

Introducing each story by means of a letter from The Epica adds another layer of mystery and darkness to the collection, while the distinctly Australian flavour of the stories adds a unique quality to the anthology that sets it apart from other Christmas collections.

This excellent anthology will certainly add a delicious dash of darkness to your Christmas reading.

‘Twelve Tales of Christmas’ by Cathleen Townsend

‘Twelve Tales of Christmas’ is a collection of fantasy and contemporary short stories with Christmas themes. Some of the stories are poignant, while others are lighthearted. The stories offer a good variety of themes, settings and characters, and each one delivers its own unique message to ponder. 

As with any collection, there were some stories I preferred over others, but I found them all to be enjoyable and interesting at the very least. 

This book would make great family or individual reading during December. 

Book Review: ‘The Grunch Who Stole Winter Solstice’ by Michael W. Huard

A dark fantasy short story set in a small island community, this can be read — like most fairy tales — as a as a story of heroism and commitment that enables one to face their fears for the greater good, but also on another level as a cautionary tale about the importance of following instructions and meeting one’s responsibilities.

The story is quite well written, although the language seemed a little stilted in places. This may well have been an intentional choice by the author in keeping with the old-fashioned narrative style of the fairy tale genre, but as Huard is an author that is new to this reader, it is hard to tell. It may simply be a matter of not yet being used to his writing style. 

The story is enjoyable and the challenges encountered by the characters certainly encourage the reader to engage in the action and hope for a positive outcome. The fact that not all characters survive is realistic in terms of both the fairy tale genre and real life. 

This book makes great December reading primarily for YA and older children, or for families to enjoy together. 

Book Review: ‘Spells and Jinglebells’ Anthology

This is a fun collection of paranormal stories with a Christmas theme, each one highly original and well-written. 

The variety in the collection adds to the reader’s enjoyment by heightening the anticipation, because one never knows what is coming next. 

From a magical fruitcake to ghosts to a clowder of talking cats, from mystery to romance, there is something for everyone in this very entertaining anthology. 

Book Review: ‘Coming Home For Christmas’ by Helen Pryke

Although the subtitle is ‘A Haunting Christmas Tale’, this is far from being scary or spooky. Instead, is it a positive and inspirational story full of Christmas Eve spirit. 

Without being overly sentimental, this story is heartwarming and heartbreaking at the same time. The reader is invited to witness a very special moment through the thoughts and memories of the central character, and is encouraged to reflect on what makes a particular date or a relationship unique and memorable. 

The story is beautifully told, wistful rather than morbid, and imbued with love and devotion. It is a short story, read in less than 15 minutes, but one that lingers in the thoughts of the reader long beyond that. 

Book Review: ‘Midnight Lasagne and Other Stories’ by Maria R. Riegger

‘Midnight Lasagne’ is a very enjoyable collection of varied and original Christmas-themed stories that make relaxing reading for the holiday season. 

Each story offers a different perspective or experience of Christmas, from that of a single mother to a ten-year old kid whose first love is video games. 

These stories are perfect for filling in quiet moments in the busy lead-up to Christmas.