The book cover appeared in my newsfeed on several sites. Facebook. Instagram. Twitter. In a Facebook group, someone mentioned it. 12 Days at Bleakly Manor. As much as I love them, I don’t often buy Christmas books. I just write them. Weird, I know. But the minute I saw the cover, I knew I’d buy it.
Don’t let anyone tell you that you don’t judge books by their covers. That “proverb” died when people started putting pictures and synopses on them.
I wrote it down in my planner. “Buy 12 Days—Bleakly.” I figured it’d be a nice “vacation” for me.
Then, because Murphy is alive and kicking, I discovered that my computer would not download it from Net Galley. I’d have to buy it.
A friend was indignant for me. “But you’re reviewing for them. You shouldn’t have to spend your money on it.”
I’m sharing my response not as an attempt to pat my own back (hard to do when you have short arms, by the way). No, the point is that I’m an author. I write books. I give away a lot of books. And you know what? I love it when people just buy the book. It does more than just reduce my expenses in creating that book. It also says, “Your work has value to me. I’ll trade one thing I value for another—my dollars for your words.”
So, if I like it when people do that for me, why wouldn’t I do it for others? It’s just your basic Matthew 7:12, right?
Yeah. So, I bought that book. I cheerfully forked over ten bucks for a Kindle copy.
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What the Dickens Is So Merry about This Christmas Novel?
Right off the bat… or rather, the balustrade, I give this book five… ten… twenty stars? Can I do that? I’m calling it 35 stars. Why? Because I’m giving these stars “dog years.” Seven times five…
Okay, so why am I piling on the praise for 12 Days at Bleakly Manor?
Well, the first star toward “I loved it” came with a fun plot device—a multi-layered plot that made you recognize characters that could have inspired beloved Dickens characters such as Miss Flite and her flock of birds from Bleak House, Mr. Smallweed, also from Bleak House, and Amy Dorrit from Little Dorrit.
Yes, I know this is Bleakly Manor, but um… sorry. I see more Little Dorrit in Clara than I do Esther Summerson or any of the other characters (except Judy was in there with Mr. Smallweed. I also saw other characters in this one—namely Ben Lane reminds me much of John Harmon from Our Mutual Friend and Arthur Clennam from Little Dorrit. Seeing how Michelle Griep used these characters in this book, I see it as an alternative story for how Dickens could have gotten his ideas—kind of like I did in THIS blog post.
Oh… and if that wasn’t wonderful enough, the plot is more than just a twist on Dickens. Ms. Griep brought in a bit of Agatha Christie, too. And she did it without “over-copying” an already over-used device. And Then There Were None this is not. But it is. Alas, it is not. Squee!
The second star…
Well, that’s for simple and beautiful prose. I deliberately did not say “simply beautiful” because I wanted to emphasize that the prose in this book is lovely. Ms. Griep has taken the time to turn phrases with a careful wielding of perfectly chosen words. And in doing so, she’s ensured that I loved the book.
I have to admit that a tiny part of me dreaded reading it. I was so afraid it would be full of Dickensesque “purple prose.” I mean, it’s what people do when they try to embrace the “genius” of Dickens. Yeah. Whatever. Dickens could have taken a few writing lessons from Michelle Griep. We’d have all been better off for it, too.
So, what about that third star?
The third one came when I guessed a bunch of what would happen—and she still made me turn each page with that kind of excited anticipation of “what’s going to happen next?” Seriously? That’s some awesome writing, folks. I knew. I wasn’t wrong. But man, I wanted to “find out.” She captivated my mind and attention.
Well, that one was the easiest of all. She got me. One plot point totally took me by surprise. Yep, I got all the rest—really! All of it. No, wait. Two spots. I didn’t expect another thing, either. So if you read the book, on the day everyone arrives, Clara does something that I would never have predicted. It fit, but it totally took me by surprise.
Then, of course, there’s star five.
Okay, so let’s see, stunning cover, clever plot idea, fabulous characters, wonderful prose, throw me for a loop, and keep me reading when I’ve figured out most of the book… What else could there possibly be to make me say this book is worth five stars (times 7)?
You know that beautiful prose? Ms. Griep didn’t just write a solid book with beautiful turns of phrases. She also has a great grasp of writing itself. Aside from a few annoying “thens” (my personal dislike because it chops up the narrative), I didn’t find myself thinking, “Ugh… info dumpy” or “ugh… passive.” I’m not saying there weren’t moments where there were things I’d normally be bothered by. There could be!
But here’s the thing. I don’t know it because the writing is so good that I didn’t notice it. And that’s all that matters to me.
Recommended for everyone—Christian or not (although some parts do have a strong faith element). Well, I’ll throw in a caveat. If you hate anything remotely historical, then skip it. But man, you’re missing out.
Easily in my top three books that I read this year.