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Friends of Bookends reviews ALWAYS, IN DECEMBER

A short while into Always, In December, I wrote down the word ‘nice.’ As I did it, I could feel the ire of English teachers the length and breadth of the nation begin to rise. ‘Nice’ is not an acceptable adjective. ‘Nice’ does no justice to anything. I disagree. Sometimes, you just need to read a nice book with nice characters and a nice story. Nice, nice, nice. So I happily settled in to read, confident I would have a nice experience. However, I underestimated the expertise of author Emily Stone.

Josie lives and works in London, sharing a flat with her madcap friend Bia. Having just broken up with her cheating ex, Oliver, she is ready to spend Christmas alone. Josie has bad memories tied to Christmas as her parents died on Christmas Eve when she was just nine years old. Each year in December, Josie mails a letter to her parents and withdraws from Christmas as much as she can; despite the efforts of her much-loved grandparents. Then Josie meets Max and her life begins to change. The time Josie and Max actually spend together is negligible, but it has a profound effect.

While Always, In December is primarily about the relationship between Josie and Max, Emily Stone fills even minor characters with life. Josie’s grandparents illustrate family relationships perfectly and Josie’s friends are equally well-written. Even the odious Oliver is brought to life through Stone’s descriptions.

So far, so…nice. You could easily see this book being a feel-good movie of the Richard Curtis genre; but then Emily Stone delivers the gut punch. It was so unexpected that I actually flinched and therefore decided that ‘nice’ was definitely not the adjective to describe this book. On behalf of English teachers everywhere, here are some better ones: Surprising, touching, clever…A must-read.

Angela, Friends of Bookends


If you’re thinking why the heck are we hearing about a Christmas book in the middle of summer,  just hang on. Christmas is not just for Christmas, you know! And whilst Christmas does feature it’s not the only season that thirty something Josie and her fragile heart navigates. In fact this is almost the perfect holiday read whether you are ‘staycating’ or perusing the green lists for your destination. With action in London, New York and Edinburgh the places are as varied as the seasons in this heartbreaking debut novel from Emily Stone.

It’s a poignant tale that explores family, friendship, dealing with grief and the capricious nature of amour and how the same heart deals with the two. And you will almost certainly need the tissues.

I was reminded of the film Last Christmas for the mood created. Ooops, we’re back to Christmas again! It won’t be the only film you’re reminded of either in this unashamedly romantic story. I wouldn’t be surprised if this makes its way to the big screen one day. Lovers of romantic, tearjerker fiction will absorb this intravenously.

Yes, there’s plenty of heartbreak but ultimately the book is about Love – Actually.

Gill, Friends of Bookends


If you like Jojo Moyes‘ books, you are sure to enjoy this as it is rather similar to her best sellers. 

You  might also find it rather frustrating as the main characters are destined to suffer  in  silence and one wonders if they will establish a loving relationship. The twists and turns are what makes the reader want to read on and why I was awake at 1am eager to know their fate. 

Josie has been brought up by her grandparents after her parents’ deaths. She dreads Christmas and writes a letter to her parents each year, knowing that it will never be sent or opened by anyone. The novel starts when she is at rock bottom, with a long term romantic relationship failing because of her boyfriend’s infidelity. She literally cannons into Max when she is distracted by her sorrow while out riding her bicycle. He is on his way to New York,but has been forced  to stay in London until his flight is able to leave. They enjoy a wonderful intimate Christmas together until Max leaves abruptly for his flight.

The reader is introduced to both Josie’s and Max’s partners and relatives and there is a build up of tension throughout the novel as we wonder if they will get together again. I won’t spoil it for people, but, safe to say that the ending is quite a shock and not at all what one might have expected. Do they find happiness in the end? You’ll have to read it to find out! 

Jennifer, Friends of Bookends


Josie feels like she has the world on her shoulders, its approaching Christmas, and she has just found out that her boyfriend Oliver who has just finished with her, is going out on a date with a work colleague. Her flatmate Bia is spending Christmas in Argentina and all in all Josie has had it with Christmas and just plans to spend it drowning her sorrows. As she is cycling home from work, her mind is on other things, thoughts of how she misses her parents, who were killed one Christmas Eve years ago when she was a child and ever since then she has sent a letter (just as a child sends one to Santa) saying “Dear Mum and Dad, missing you always. Merry Christmas and lots of love, Josie”.  This was what she intended to do this evening, but emotions and tears clouded her view and “WHAM” a taxi appeared in the cycle lane and before she knew it, she had knocked the passenger flying as he stepped out of it. After taking him for an obligatory drink in a nearby pub, she agrees to meet him at Winter Wonderland the next day. Soon they are attending Christmas Eve events together, and what started as a Christmas meeting will surely be followed over into the new year, or will it? As he exited Josie’s life to attend a business meeting in New York, she thought that their brief relationship was over, his sister Chloe and his ex Erin certainly seem happy to have him there in New York but is he as committed to Josie as she would like or will Erin work her charm on him?  You are left thinking “is this it, the romantic moment Josie has been waiting for or is Erin going to spoil it all again” ?
By the time September comes around Josie and Max seem to be sending out mixed messages to each other, both of them afraid to commit to anything let alone each other and during a friends wedding in the Highlands of Scotland things come to a head but they are still no further forward,  they are both confused with their feelings and end up mutually drifting away from each other. Josies photography, which is a hobby and something that she really excels in then plays a big part in her life and when she is offered a place on a course which will end up with a prestigious exhibition, her mind is full of turmoil and once more decisions have to be made, and she has to trust that she will make the correct one for once. But family life involving her dear grandparents and Max interrupts things and once again more important choices have to be made. Not only that but decisions have to be made and even at a sorrowful time, Josie has to do what is right for her.
This book was certainly a great read, full of Christmas magic and sparkle, from the damp streets of London to the glitzy world of New York, where will Josie be happy? Although you probably think this is a Christmas book, it’s in fact “a two year long book” with all the characters coming together to help each other with friendship and loving moments,  sharing hard times and good times, sad and happy times, throughout the months and years to follow.  It makes this story very readable and one that will stay with you for a long time.  This is the debut novel by Emily Stone, I can’t wait to read more of her work and fans of Jojo Moyes and Cecilia Ahern will absolutely love this book. A truly compelling story and well deserved of being a 5☆ read.

Heather, Friends of Bookends


It’s impossible to believe that Always, in December is a debut novel as it is as close to perfection as it is possible to get in its genre. Emily Stone has created a simply fabulous story that I found totally captivating. I actually don’t really want to write a review or fear of sullying its memory.

The story is gorgeous and if the rights to turn Always, in December into a film aren’t snapped up immediately, there’s no justice. Emily Stone creates a wonderful plot set mostly over one year, with humour, emotion, surprise and the most exquisite skill. The structure is perfect, direct speech entirely naturalistic and settings given a glorious sense of place without snagging the pace at all. It must be said too, that whilst the narrative begins and ends in December, the story is simply wonderful to read at any time of the year. I consumed Always, in December over two of the hottest days of the year and was so entranced I noticed neither the weather nor time passing because I was spellbound. I’m quite an emotional reader, and frequently shed a tear when I read, but in Always, in December, Emily Stone reduced me to huge, wracking sobs because it touched me so much.

The characters are brilliant. Even the most minor person feels realistic and vivid so that it was difficult to remember these are not actual people. Josie is a triumph. Her sense of justice, her strength and her vulnerability are woven into one of the most convincing romantic heroines I’ve encountered. I wanted her to succeed and achieve her happy ever after with every fibre of my being, but you’ll need to read Always, in December to see if I got my wish! I loved the way absent characters help shape both character and plot too, because Emily Stone illustrates how we are the sum of our past as well as our present and possible future.

The themes explored in Always, in December elevate it from an excellent romantic story to a narrative of depth and sensitivity too. Grief, childhood, relationships, friendship, ambition, courage, practicality, family, career and talent are just a few of the aspects to this glorious story that make it so enjoyable, so moving and so enchanting.

I genuinely could not have loved Always, in December more. It’s quite simply wonderful. It’s my favourite read of the year so far – even if it did break me!

Linda H, Friends of Bookends


Josie writes a letter to her parents for Christmas every year.  This year a surprise is in store as she, literally, bumps into someone while going to the post box.  Paths cross at different times through the following year, but can it last?

A romance? Yes.  Slushy? No.  Fun? Yes, but there’s a serious side too.  It’s about love, loss, being let down, taking chances and having fun, memories aren’t the future so live your life in the moment.

I read it in two sittings as it’s a page-turner that I couldn’t put down.  I got involved with the characters as they seem to be ordinary people with problems we all experience and I wanted to know how they fared.  This is a poignant read which will tug at your heartstrings but has lots of smiles on the way.  I loved it.  I look forward to another offering from this author and hope it is as good as this one.

Linda A, Friends of Bookends


Firstly, although there’s some Christmas in this book, it actually takes place across a period of a year or so, so it’s not a festive read as such. Added to that, our protagonist, Josie, doesn’t even like Christmas as her parents both died when she was a child and she hates the memories.
The story starts when Josie, newly dumped just in time for Christmas, and on the verge of redundancy from her job, goes to post a letter, causes an accident and ends up spending a magical few days with the victim, Max. He’s thoughtful, buys amazing presents, and they share a Christmas never to be forgotten, and then he leaves. Over the coming year, their paths cross frequently, and we are left wondering why they aren’t together.
It turns out that Max has a pretty ginormous secret, which he doesn’t want to tell Josie. Can they come clean with each other and be together forever?
I have to say that I did not see the ending coming. I think I might have had a little something in my eye at points. This is a bit of a tearjerker in places and Josie is a likeable character. Max is lovely and there’s a cast of supporting characters who would be a dream in a rom-com. I think that readers of Jojo Moyes might like this.

Nicola, Friends of Bookends


This story revolves around Josie. Josie meets Max when she knocks him over on her bike, and he’s in London because his flight was cancelled. It’s literally like serendipity. Josie doesn’t enjoy Christmas as she lost her parents suddenly when she was younger on Christmas Eve. Josie and Max begin a friendship and end up spending Christmas together. Then, on Boxing Day, Josie wakes up and Max is gone. She has no idea why, and over the next year they keep crossing paths but it always seems as though Max is hiding something, and what needs to happen for the planets to finally  align and they get it together.

This story is one of the most beautifully written stories I’ve read. It should have a warning on the cover to say that tissues are needed.

We see the story build throughout the book, and with that, we also go through lots of emotions with Josie, and was quite hard hitting in places, but felt completely natural. We also read from both perspectives, and that was great, as we got to know Max from our own opinions. I really liked both characters, Max came across as lovely, and with Josie we got to see her many emotions, which was really relatable. Josie was also a strong character, not a damsel in distress, which is the vibe I usually get from this genre, but I likened Max very much to a knight in shining armour.

The story was extremely well written, and I really didn’t see the ending coming. I can’t believe this is the authors debut novel. A five star read!

Natalie, Friends of Bookends


Josie writes a letter to her parents for Christmas every year.  This year a surprise is in store as she, literally, bumps into someone while going to the post box.  Paths cross at different times through the following year, but can it last?

A romance?  Yes.  Slushy?  No.  Fun?  Yes, but there’s a serious side too.  It’s about love, loss, being let down, taking chances and having fun, remembering that memories aren’t the future so live your life in the moment.

I read it in two sittings as it’s a page-turner that I couldn’t put down.  I got involved with the characters as they seem to be ordinary people with problems we all experience and I wanted to know how they fared.  This is a poignant read which will tug at your heartstrings but has lots of smiles on the way.  I look forward to another offering from this author and hope it is as good as this one.

Linda, Friends of Bookends


Would you turn back in time to not meet the love of your life if you knew that you’ll not see them again? I think this is a question that I always wondered, would I try to stop starting a relationship knowing that it will not last? The truth is I don’t know, loving someone is like being in a roller coaster, but missing the chance to live it I think it could be much worse; the question that always remain is “Would my life be different?” This is the story of Josie and Max, a love story; but as a good love story it will have a bittersweet ending… But, it’s not always the start of something else? Maybe this is the way their love will last forever in their hearts, the push they needed to make their lives different. This is a beautiful read, you’ll smile, cry and dream; that’s why this book is so powerful and special. Don’t be afraid of your emotions, because Josie and Max will make you live them in your own skin, don’t forget the tissues when you read this book! But “Always, in December” it’s not only about love, but friendship and family; because they are the ones that are there when the world crumbles around us, and they will make the story between Josie and Max so special, the secondary characters that make it real. I don’t usually read sad stories but this one, even the sad part, was beautiful. The way that makes it real is nicely written, not perfect but touchable and emotive. I’ll have it forever in my heart. Are you ready for “Always, in December”?

Maria, Friends of Bookends


Always, in December isn’t your typical escapist Christmas romance and covers more hard-hitting territory with its focus on living with grief, taking chances and the memories that we hold dear.  Set over the course of a single year, playing out in London, New York and Edinburgh, and taking in drastic changes in the lives of both our main protagonists, the story is sensitively handled and ultimately uplifting.

In the week before Christmas Josie Morgan discovers that she is about to be made redundant from her marketing job and that her boyfriend of two years has cheated on her with a colleague.  It’s not quite the sorted life she envisaged for herself as she heads towards thirty but nothing ever gets in the way of her December tradition of posting a letter to her parents who died in a car accident on Christmas Eve when she was nine years old.  Unable to face returning to the village where she grew up she is spending Christmas Day alone in her London flat, that is until she collides with Max Carter and in an apology for leaving him flat out on the pavement offers to buy him a drink.  The pair end up spending a wonderful Christmas together only for Josie to wake up and find Max gone on Boxing Day with no note or means of contact left behind.  But four months later, a chance second meeting, this time in New York sees Josie and Max come face to face once again…

Rachel, Friends of Bookends


I really enjoyed Always in December, but boy did it hurt my heart.

Emily Stone’s Christmas romance introduces us to Josie, whose long term relationship has recently ended, and her collision with Max, as both spend an unexpectedly lonely Christmas in London together. Only for it to turn out that maybe it’s not as lonely as they each expected. From a first encounter that made their lives collide in physical and emotional ways, over the following few days Josie and Max learn new things about themselves and each other. But Christmas magic doesn’t last forever, and where this book really shines is as it depicts the months following their whirlwind encounter. From art galleries in New York to sumptuous weddings in Edinburgh, Josie and Max seem to be drawn to each other, but something is keeping them apart.

I don’t want to spoil this book because the unfolding story kept me enthralled right the way through. The final third of the book was impossible to put down – as my 2am sleep-deprived brain could attest – with an emotional climax that’s worthy of any Hollywood romance. My only complaint was that the epilogue didn’t do justice to the quality of the story and the writing that came before it, wrapping up story threads in a neat bow, but without the heart that made the first 95% of the book so engaging. Laughs, tears, and dreamy sighs were all present in reading this book, and it will be a good one to curl up with on a winter’s night.

Aislinn, Friends of Bookends