Always in December by Emily Stone – Book Review

Title: Always in December (review copy)

Author: Emily Stone

Genre: Adult Contemporary, Romantic drama, Seasonal

Blurb from Goodreads

Every December, Josie posts a letter to the parents she lost one Christmas night, many years ago. She always writes the same three words: Missing you, always.

When Josie accidentally collides with a stranger at the postbox, she is unaware that Max has his own reasons for trying to avoid the season…or that their chance encounter is set to alter both their lives – and their hearts – in the most unexpected and beautiful of ways…

My Review

I’m so freaking annoyed.

‘Always in December’ at first glance looked to be a romantic novel whereby a mysterious handsome man would help the heroine heal her broken heart.

So we have main character Josie who still grieves the loss of her parents who died in an accident when she was still a child… and to add insult to injury they died on Christmas Eve which just makes the festive season incredibly difficult for her. So difficult that she chooses to spend the holiday away from the village where the grandparents who reared her still live as it’s also the location of where the accident that killed her parents occurred.

The book opens in the days running up to Christmas Day where we find Josie newly single because her boyfriend cheated on her and thusly is about to spend the holidays alone.

But in an interesting spin on the meet cute trope Josie literally runs into the man of her dreams, Max. Literally because she runs into him with her bike as he’s exiting a taxi. Things happen and they hit it off and they spend all this time together doing cute Christmassy stuff and it’s obvious that they’re head over heels bonkers in love with each other. He encourages her to be more brave with her life choices, gives her advice about her career, tells her she’s deserves so much more than the snivelling weasel her cheating ex could ever give her etc etc etc.

But then Josie wakes up on December 26th to find Max gone with no trace. Well he left a note but no address, number etc etc. and Josie somehow has to pick herself up from all of this.

And up until this point of the novel I was quite enjoying it. It was romantic. The leads were likeable. And even though I’m reading this at very much not Christmas time (as I write this review it’s April 29th!) it gave me lovely warm feelings.

But then the novel decided to switch perspective from Josie and it flashed forward to following Max during springtime in New York.

And I hated it.

The plot felt supremely calculated and almost disingenuous. There was this huuuuge unnamed event that all of the characters surrounding Max kept hinting at but he would refuse to engage with them. Btw I 100% called it at this stage as I’m sure many other readers will do / have done.

The sweet and romantic tone of the first part of the novel was no more and I honestly felt bored. I toyed with the idea of abandoning the book completely at this stage and didn’t pick it up for a good few days… but then decided to see if my suspicions about the plot were right and finished the novel.

I suppose at this point in my review I’m going to have to say beware of spoilers. Because there’s no way I can honestly review this novel without revealing key aspects of the plot.

So throughout the rest of the book Max and Josie kept having these ridiculously melodramatic run ins with each other where it was blatantly obvious that they loved each other but neither of them could be honest about their feelings … it was supremely frustrating to read because it wasn’t that sort of exciting chemistry that you get between two characters who you know are going to end up together, there was no playful teasing… none of the good stuff you get when you read a romantic novel.

Instead there was this ominous air that this book was only going to end a certain way.

Look okay, maybe it was only ominous because I knew in my heart how this book would end and how it would annoy me but I stand by my interpretation as it’s how I felt.

Anyway, the theme throughout their run ins was Max encouraging Josie to do more with her life eg him supporting her photography aspirations and introducing her to some sort of typically grumpy photography heavyweight who of course saw the raw talent that Josie had and all his grumpiness disappeared *eye roll*

And so we get to the end of another year and hello Christmas and a convenient family crisis for Josie *cough lazy plot device cough cough* and boom! Max shows up at Josie’s door swearing his undying love and telling her there’s something I have been trying to tell you all year, but oh no another crisis that must immediately be attended to so Max telling Josie his big secret is again put on the long finger and before you could say bibbidi-bobbidi-boo Max collapses and dies.

Was I shocked? Heartbroken? Devastated?

Absolutely not.

It was so glaringly obvious that he had a terminal illness (a brain tumour in this instance) and was struggling with his own self worth and internalised ableism for the whole of the year that he knew Josie. Now if only the author had decided to actually use the novel to explore what it’s like to fall in love knowing that you have a finite amount of time with your person then maybe this could’ve been a worthwhile novel. Explore the complexities of emotions that a terminally ill person feels.

But nope.

Instead we got Josie being mad he didn’t tell her… okay the anger wasn’t long lasting but it’s not as if she let him tell her either as earlier in the year she very much shut him down when he tried to open up to her.

But then, ah the pièce de résistance, my FAVOURITE ableist trope … the inspiration porn trope whereby Josie learns her valuable life lessons to reach for the stars, live her dreams, treat life as an adventure, grasp with both hands all opportunities that fall in your lap, say you’re in love when you’re in love etc etc all because Max died.

*glares*

Can we stop using sick and/or terminally ill people as some sort of sanctimonious and inspirational twaddle?

Why was the book all about Josie when really it should’ve been all about Max? If the author wanted to focus on Josie’s grief and how she carried it from childhood all the way through to adulthood then great. Do that. But not by making a character with a terminal illness your sacrificial lamb.

Max was Josie’s manic pixie sick boy who only served to tell her storyline. Even when we got those few chapters that were from his perspective we weren’t truly allowed into his psyche to see how emotionally affected he was following his cancer diagnosis.

So very, very disappointing.

This book could’ve been beautifully bittersweet and romantic if it had handled the terminal illness storyline in a manner that was less about dramatic plot twist and more about sensitivity and authenticity, but nope. Max’s illness and death was purely a manipulative plot device and I’m not here for that type of storytelling.

An incredibly infuriating read.

*An e-copy was kindly provided to me by the publisher via NetGalley for honest review*

  • Publication Date: 14th October 2021
  • Publisher: Headline

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