79. My True Love Gave To Me: Twelve Holiday Tales edited by Stephanie Perkins (2014)
Length: 336 pages
Genre: Short Stories, Contemporary Fiction, Romance, Young Adult
Started: 18 December 2015
Finished: 21 December 2015
Where did it come from? The library.
Why do I have it? I remember seeing it last year, and was in the mood for something light and fun and Christmas-y.
Even if you don’t
have a sweetheart at Christmas,
this book gives you twelve.
Overall Summary and Review: My True Love Gave To Me is a collection of twelve holiday stories – mostly Christmas, but a few New Year’s Eve, and one Hanukkah story as well. This was not a particularly challenging book – sometimes, I just want a little fun, light, fluffy holiday reading where everyone winds up happy and in love and I don’t have to think too hard for my warm fuzzies. Although there certainly was some variety, a lot of the stories fell into the same general pattern – a protagonist who is carrying around some kind of baggage or past trauma (I was surprised how many dead, divorced, troubled, or otherwise absent parents there were in this collection) meets someone that they wouldn’t usually fall for, but then their defenses are broken down and they wind up falling for them anyways. Within the first page or two of each story, it was pretty clear who was going to end up with whom. They also, for the most part, had fairly similar tones and writing styles – David Levithan’s and Laini Taylor’s stories were the exception, but most of the others were fun and light with a sense of humor that lands somewhere between bubbly and snarky. (David Levithan’s story was also the exception in that it was pretty much the only one that wasn’t a meet-cute, but rather a story featuring an already established (if somewhat newly established) couple). Most of them were contemporary as well – there’s a few that have some fantasy elements (Kelly Link’s story, Jenny Han’s story, Holly Black’s story, and Laini Taylor’s story), but of these, only Laini Taylor’s is set somewhere that isn’t recognizably our world. 4.5 out of 5 stars.
“Midnights” by Rainbow Rowell was a story about a girl who has watched her best friend kiss other girls during their New Year’s Eve parties in years past, and is getting fed up with it. I liked this story a lot – Rowell’s good at writing teen romance, so no surprise there – and part of me understands that you want to have a big name (and a good story) to lead off a collection like this. But it still felt really strange to start off a collection with a New Years’ story and then go “back” to a bunch of Christmas stories.
In “The Lady and the Fox” by Kelly Link, a girl is raised in the household of the large and flamboyant Honeywell family of actors, but when she sees a handsome young man in costume standing out in the snow during a Christmas party, she starts to get curious about his story. I enjoyed it, and thought it set the “winter in the snowy woods” feeling very well, but something about the end, and the explanation of what was going on, didn’t entirely gel for me.
“Angels in the Snow” by Matt de la Peña involves a young man who can’t afford much in the way of food, let alone enough to go home for Christmas, and so he winds up snowbound in the fancy apartment he’s house-sitting for his friend, with the young woman upstairs the only other person in the building. A good story, with some very sweet moments (the muffin scene!), and I liked that it ended on a hopeful note, but not as though romance fixes everything.
In “Polaris is Where You’ll Find Me” by Jenny Han, the only human at the North Pole (Santa’s adopted child) has been pining away for one of the elves for as long as she can remember, but he doesn’t see her in the same way. Probably my least favorite story in the collection; the “romance” angle of the story didn’t really work for me or feel all that romantic, and although I liked the idea of the only human at the North Pole, the worldbuilding wasn’t entirely convincing.
“It’s a Yuletide Miracle, Charlie Brown” by Stephanie Perkins was my favorite story of the collection. (No real surprise there; her novel-length romances are also great.) Marigold has been living with her mom in pretty dire circumstances since her dad left, but when she approaches the young man working at the nearby Christmas tree lot, she winds up with something more than just a holiday decoration. Very sweet, and the dialogue was great: snappy and flirty and funny and believable.
“Your Temporary Santa” by David Levithan involved a young man whose boyfriend asks him to “break into” their house to play Santa for his younger sister. While I liked this story, and the way it slowly let you in to what was really going on, it was very different from the other stories in the collection – the protagonist and the love interest aren’t interacting for most of the story, but instead he’s having to deal with his boyfriend’s family drama that he’s been suddenly put into the middle of. Realistic, and well done, but the shift in tone was a little jarring.
In “Krampuslauf” by Holly Black, when Hanna discovers that one of her friends’ rich boyfriend is cheating on her, they decide to throw a New Year’s Eve party at her grandmother’s trailer and invite his new girlfriend. They also invite a mysterious but attractive stranger, who turns out to be somewhat more than he seemed. That’s a terrible summary, but if you’ve read any of Holly Black’s other books, the idea of magical creatures from Faerie crashing a disastrous NYE party fits right into her milieu. I liked this story a lot, not necessarily because of the romance angle (although that was fun too), but because I appreciated Hanna’s worldview about magic, and will, and creation, and belief.
“What The Hell Have You Done, Sophie Roth?” by Gayle Forman is the lone Hanukkah story in the collection (although the main character of “Your Temporary Santa” was Jewish). It involves a girl from New York City who has gone to college in a tiny Midwestern town and is feeling very out of place, until she meets a guy who might just understand more than she thinks. While the romance in story was sweet, I am originally from the Midwest, and I found Sophie’s initial attitude of “everyone in the Midwest is basically a starry-eyed uncultured Ned Flanders clone who doesn’t understand how sarcasm works” to be clichéd and kind of off-putting.
“Beer Buckets and Baby Jesus” by Myra McEntire involves a teenage troublemaker in a small town who has been sentenced to help with the local church’s Living Nativity play – in which the pastor’s daughter is playing Mary – and he may wind up wrecking it, or save it from itself. This story didn’t quite do it for me – I think there was a little bit too much going on, and I couldn’t get all the relationships straight, and it didn’t quite feel like the emotions had enough time to pan out.
In “Welcome to Christmas, CA” by Kiersten White, Maria works in the Christmas Café in the tiny town of Christmas, CA… and hates it. She can’t wait to leave Christmas forever… until the restaurant gets a new cook who has a knack for making exactly the food that people need, even if they don’t know it. I’ve used the word “sweet” a lot in this review, and this one was too, but I think what touched me most was the evolution of the relationship not between Maria and Ben, but between Maria and her mom and her mom’s boyfriend.
“Star of Bethlehem” by Ally Carter involves a young woman anxious for escape who gives an Icelandic exchange student her airline ticket, and takes her ticket in return… and winds up in the middle of nowhere, Oklahoma, with young man who knows she’s not who she says she is, and his whole family who think she’s someone she’s not. Another very sweet story, and the only story here that had a twist that actually surprised me. Very well built and well written, and I appreciated the main character having to develop a relationship with the family, not just with the guy.
In “The Girl Who Woke the Dreamer” by Laini Taylor, when a young girl of marriageable age starts receiving attentions from the Reverend, who has already buried three young wives, she prays for salvation – and wakes the mythical power that controls the island on which she lives. This one is very very different from the other stories in this collection, but I really enjoyed it. Laini Taylor’s writing is so beautiful, and her worldbuilding so quirky and unique, that I got really immersed in this story very quickly. I did find it a little odd trying to figure out if this was meant to be our world, and if so, where and how, and if not, why are they celebrating Christmas? But the ending was beautiful and powerful and actually felt a lot like the magic and the wonder of Christmas, despite it having almost no “traditional” Christmas elements.
Recommendation: Definitely recommended for some light holiday reading, particularly if you like any of the authors involved, YA romances, or books like Let It Snow.
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First Line: It was cold out on the patio, under the deck.
Vocab: (see the whole list)
- Location 541: “It is quite a coat. A costume? Pilfered from some production. Eighteenth century. Beautifully cut. Not a frock coat. A justacorps.” – a long, knee-length coat worn by men in the latter half of the 17th century.
- Location 1204: “This was Haley’s way of establishing that she was in a relationship, which she believed would lessen the risk of me trying to sneak into the shower with her while she was busy rinsing out her Awapuhi.” – also known as the Shampoo Ginger, a vigorous ginger with leafy stems, commonly used as a shampoo and conditioner for the hair.
- Location 3091: “The kind where people wore long, glittering silver gowns and drank champagne out of coupe glasses and kissed one another at midnight.” – a glass container for serving drinks or desserts, having a stem and a wide, deep bowl.
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