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Literary Friday: Books to Read By Your Christmas Tree

Friday, December 8, 2023





Happy Literary Friday, My Lovelies!  In this post I'll share four books I've read lately that you might like, and they would make nice Christmas presents for the reader in your life.



I'll keep these reviews fairly short since I'm reviewing four books in one post.




The Rachel Incident by Caroline O'Donoghue is an enjoyable read which is surprising considering I didn't like Rachel at all at the beginning of the book.


According to Goodreads:

A brilliantly funny novel about friends, lovers, Ireland in chaos, and a young woman desperately trying to manage all three

Rachel is a student working at a bookstore when she meets James, and it’s love at first sight. Effervescent and insistently heterosexual, James soon invites Rachel to be his roommate and the two begin a friendship that changes the course of both their lives forever. Together, they run riot through the streets of Cork city, trying to maintain a bohemian existence while the threat of the financial crash looms before them.

When Rachel falls in love with her married professor, Dr. Fred Byrne, James helps her devise a reading at their local bookstore, with the goal that she might seduce him afterwards. But Fred has other desires. So begins a series of secrets and compromises that intertwine the fates of James, Rachel, Fred, and Fred’s glamorous, well-connected, bourgeois wife. Aching with unrequited love, shot through with delicious, sparkling humor, The Rachel Incident is a triumph.

My Review:

Almost everything that happened to Rachel at the beginning of the novel is a direct result of the terrible financial crisis that devastated Ireland in 2008.  Rachel's parents owned a cosmetic dentistry business that went bankrupt, and their lifestyle was drastically affected.  She couldn't ask her parents to help her as a "starving student" because the money wasn't there, so most of her poor, rash decisions were due to lack of funds...and her situation only gets progressively worse.

Eventually, though, Rachel does grow-up, and she takes responsibility for her poor choices.  Her roommate James is an even more interesting character study himself.  He becomes super-famous, and if I have one hard criticism about the novel it's that I don't get enough of James' story once Rachel leaves school.  I recommend this book if you like outrageous characters, surprising plot twists, and books set in Ireland.





I've had The Library at the Edge of the World by Felicity Hayes-McCoy on my TBR cart for the longest time, and I finally read it over Thanksgiving weekend.

According to Goodreads:

A warm, feel-good novel about the importance of finding a place where you belong - perfect for fans of Maeve Binchy.

Local librarian Hanna Casey is wondering where it all went wrong ... Driving her mobile library van through Finfarran's farms and villages, she tries not to think of the sophisticated London life she abandoned when she left her cheating husband. Or that she's now stuck in her crotchety mum's spare bedroom.

With her daughter Jazz travelling the world and her relationship with her mother growing increasingly fraught, Hanna decides to reclaim her independence. Then, when the threatened closure of her library puts her plans in jeopardy, she finds herself leading a battle to restore the heart and soul of the fragmented community. Will she also find the new life she's been searching for?

My Review:

Hanna is another character I did not like at first, either.  Her first mistake was leaving her beautiful home in London she shared with her cheating, wealthy attorney husband.  She should have kicked him out and cleaned his plow (as we say in the South), but she didn't.  She gave up her dream to finish her advanced degree as an art librarian for motherhood and her marriage, so when things fall apart, she takes their teenage daughter home to her mother's house in Ireland where she gets a job in a rural library.  

Although had she taken my advice, there wouldn't have been much of a plot.  Her involvement in local politics, for example, never would've happened.  Hanna is a natural born leader, and she does develop a strategy to save rural programs that are threatened by a proposed marina/tourist complex in a nearby hamlet.  Hanna is not the stoic, aloof librarian her neighbors think she is, nor is she flighty like I thought.  She actually has a lot of grit and stamina.  One plot point I love is that Hanna has inherited a ramshackle cottage by the sea from her crotchety aunt, and she's determined to renovate it and move out of her overbearing mother's home.  This is where her grit and stamina come into play because a local enigmatic builder has completely taken over the renovation, and their interactions are extremely funny!  If you like strong female characters, plenty of family intrigue, well-drawn, quirky characters, and books set in Ireland, you'll love The Library at the Edge of the World.

Reader's Note:  The Irish like to curse.  A lot.  You've been forewarned about both of these books, especially The Rachel Incident.



If you're a nerd and enjoy etymology and are a fan of the OED (Oxford English Dictionary), then you should love The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams.

According to Goodreads:

In 1901, the word ‘Bondmaid’ was discovered missing from the Oxford English Dictionary. This is the story of the girl who stole it.

Esme is born into a world of words. Motherless and irrepressibly curious, she spends her childhood in the ‘Scriptorium’, a garden shed in Oxford where her father and a team of dedicated lexicographers are collecting words for the very first Oxford English Dictionary. Esme’s place is beneath the sorting table, unseen and unheard. One day a slip of paper containing the word ‘bondmaid’ flutters to the floor. Esme rescues the slip and stashes it in an old wooden case that belongs to her friend, Lizzie, a young servant in the big house. Esme begins to collect other words from the Scriptorium that are misplaced, discarded or have been neglected by the dictionary men. They help her make sense of the world.

Over time, Esme realises that some words are considered more important than others, and that words and meanings relating to women’s experiences often go unrecorded. While she dedicates her life to the Oxford English Dictionary, secretly, she begins to collect words for another dictionary: The Dictionary of Lost Words.

Set when the women’s suffrage movement was at its height and the Great War loomed, The Dictionary of Lost Words reveals a lost narrative, hidden between the lines of a history written by men. It’s a delightful, lyrical and deeply thought-provoking celebration of words, and the power of language to shape the world and our experience of it.

My Review:

The book blurb does a remarkable job describing this novel.  It's well researched about the process of compiling the OED, and I found that part fascinating.  I also enjoyed a few of the secondary characters including an actress cum suffragette and Esme's independently wealthy godmother who also contributes to the dictionary.  This book not only depicts the very real process of organizing the English language, it also highlights the few options women had during this time in English history.  Oh, the irony of the omission of "bondservant" from the OED!  This is not only ironic, it's also historically accurate.  If you enjoy historical fiction and you're a grammar nerd, then you will enjoy this book.




The Minuscule Mansion of Myra Malone by Audrey Burges is one of the most interesting and unique novels I've read in a very long time.

According to Goodreads:

A woman learns to expand the boundaries of her small world and let love inside it in this sparkling and unforgettable novel by Audrey Burges.

From her attic in the Arizona mountains, thirty-four-year-old Myra Malone blogs about a dollhouse mansion that captivates thousands of readers worldwide. Myra’s stories have created legions of fans who breathlessly await every blog post, trade photographs of Mansion-modeled rooms, and swap theories about the enigmatic and reclusive author. Myra herself is tethered to the Mansion by mysteries she can’t understand—rooms that appear and disappear overnight, music that plays in its corridors.

Across the country, Alex Rakes, the scion of a custom furniture business, encounters two Mansion fans trying to recreate a room. The pair show him the Minuscule Mansion, and Alex is shocked to recognize a reflection of his own life mirrored back to him in minute scale. The room is his own bedroom, and the Mansion is his family’s home, handed down from the grandmother who disappeared mysteriously when Alex was a child. Searching for answers, Alex begins corresponding with Myra. Together, the two unwind the lonely paths of their twin worlds—big and small—and trace the stories that entwine them, setting the stage for a meeting rooted in loss, but defined by love.




My Review:

This is a book to savor.  I highly recommend you read it slowly for the exquisite details and lovely prose.  For those of you who've followed me for a little while know that I love magical realism.  Add an artist with a tremendous Instagram following who intricately styles a minuscule mansion with the tiniest of details (people literally design their homes based on Myra's feed), then I'm in literary heaven.  The small mansion is sentient in that it can change rooms, furnishings, and other features.  Myra never knows what it's going to do.  And when across the country Alex is told about the minuscule mansion and he sees his real bedroom in miniature online, he thinks he's being punked.  The two develop an online friendship, and eventually they realize that there's a connection between them that is fantastical.  Some of the history of Alex's home (the big mansion) is a little sketchy, and I didn't get all the answers I wanted in the plot, but I was riveted nevertheless.  If you like magical realism, stories about eccentric artists, and contemporary fairy tales, then you will love this book.  






Could you see yourself reading one of these novels by your Christmas tree?  Let me know which one in comments!


Until next time...

Blessings!
Ricki Jill


6 comments

  1. Mmm...fabulous list!! My daughter has asked me to surprise her again this season with some fun books. I believe I chose some from your shares last year and she loved them all. The last two are definitely on the list! Santa thanks you!

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  2. Last weekend, I chose to reread a book that you recommended in the past: Christmas by the book. The one with a Westie named Merry on the front. I think it’s going to be an annual tradition. m in hi

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  3. Thanks! I added two more books to my HAVE TO READ list. Have a wonderful week, Ricki! xo Diana

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  4. These all sound wonderful. I have a neighbor that is all Irish and a retire professor and his last name is Byrne. Too Funny. Might have to read this just to see if Fred is anything like my neighbor. Happy New Week. Hugs. Kris

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  5. I’m inclined to read The Miniscule Mansion. Thanks for the review!

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  6. I've heard a lot about "Lost Words" and that intrigues me, as do the others here. Especially those related to Ireland. You probably know this, but when your newsletter arrived it had no English, just that Latin-like gobbledygook that printers sometimes use when determining a layout. I wasn't sure if you were hacked or spammed so I didn't forward it back to you but I can if you want. Let me know.

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Hello!

I'm Ricki Jill. Welcome! I'm an artist and an avid reader, and I also enjoy decorating for the seasons. For more information about my blog, please read the Start Here page. Thank-you for reading The Bookish Dilettante!

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