Ummm, thanks?

So it seems I’ve reached that magic number of 1337 likes on my blog. What a super weird thing to congratulate me on.

So, ummm, yay me?

I’m slightly suspicious that WordPress has realised they haven’t sent any kind of encouragement to me for quite a while, so now I’ve got a “well done for trying!” badge. Is this the equivalent of a digital wooden spoon award?

Has anyone else had a congratulatory message for a totally random number? Or is it just me?

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Review: The Line Becomes a River by Francisco Cantu

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Picture credit: http://www.netgalley.co.uk

Build a wall! Build a wall! Build a wall!

Erm…. even as an English person with very little knowledge of US politics I know that’s not a good idea. Fortunately, The Line Becomes a River really helped me to understand why.

The book is the real life account of a second generation Mexican American who goes to work for the Border Patrol Agency, stopping illegal immigration from Mexico to the US. As mentioned above I’m British with very little understanding of the situation, so I was totally unprepared for what I was about to read.

I’m not sure how much (unbiased) coverage immigration from Mexico gets in the US but I for one knew very little about it. All I’d seen is Donald Trump saying that Mexicans were rapists and drug dealers, and they were coming to America to expand their criminal operations. Naturally (like literally everything that is spewed forth from the mouth of The Donald) I’d assumed this was nonsense, but I had no concept of the reality. The Line Becomes a River really opened my eyes to what was going on, from the unique position of someone working to keep illegal immigrants out but who was also descended from the same cultural heritage.

I think the thing that struck me most about the entire immigration situation was the sheer danger of trying to cross the border illegally. I didn’t really think about the terrain (mountainous desert), the temperatures (high enough to kill you within a few hours if you don’t have adequate water/shade) or the sheer distance you would need to travel. I also knew nothing of the gangs who were utterly taking advantage of ordinary people by charging them ridiculous fees in exchange for smuggling them into the US – in other words, people trafficking – or the relationship between the gangs themselves and drugs, guns and other types of illegal activity.

What seemed utterly crazy to me was the deportation situation. Cantu describes immigrants who have lived and worked for thirty years in the US, paying taxes, marrying, having kids – who then get deported back to the country some of them haven’t seen since they were children. I couldn’t believe the rudimentary way that families were being ripped apart. Even looking from an economic perspective, the costs for deporting, say, the father of a family of four must be huge when you take into account the social, mental and monetary pressures that the remaining family members would be subjected to. That’s not to mention the ethics of taking away a father, role model, care giver and often primary earner from a young family. For what? And all because the country of birth box on the individual’s passport said “Mexico” and not “USA”. Crazy.

Some of the stories detailed in the book were truly terrifying. There were tales of finding bodies in the desert which had been executed by gangs, groups of immigrants dumped by the people traffickers and left to die, babies who had not survived the crossing, children unable to see their parents because they had made it through but the rest of their family hadn’t, kids visiting their dads in detention centres… there were so many people at risk and so many lives that were being destroyed.

I did appreciate that Cantu didn’t offer his own political opinions on the situation, but instead relied on telling the stories of the people that he encountered without bias. This allowed me the freedom to make my own mind up about what was going on.

It seemed to me that instead of trying to target the individuals trying to enter the US, there should be a crackdown on the illegal gangs and people traffickers. I appreciate this is easier said than done, especially when they live in a country such as Mexico where it seems relatively easy to pay your way out of trouble, but it has to be a better idea than building a wall. Not only would the terrain prohibit the wall from actually being built, the physical difficulties of policing the bloody thing would surely make the entire enterprise cost prohibitive? Couldn’t that money be put to better use?

Despite the shocking nature of the novel, I did struggle with the narrative flow. The first person perspective was interesting but Cantu obviously found his job very difficult, so the whole book was tinged with his own depression. It seemed to jump from one upsetting story to the next, with no hope and no solutions provided. I know that Cantu had to retain a professional distance from the people he encountered, but that lack of emotion in his writing really made the book quite lacklustre in places.

Overall, I’m glad that I read The Line Becomes a River as I feel much more aware of some of the issues that are happening on the border. However, the execution of turning these stories into a cohesive memoir could have been a lot better. In parts the book lacked pace and the writing often failed to grip me. Food for thought, but still quite disappointing.

Rating: 2.5/5 stars.
A great, impartial, own voice viewpoint on a political hot potato let down by a dull narrative style.

Please note that I read this book for free via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Thanks, Netgalley! I also read this book as part of the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge 2017 #4 Read a book set in Central or South America written by a Central or South American author.

Les Mis Read Along

I’ve been meaning to read Les Miserables for such a long time, but never managed to get past the first few chapters. So, when I saw the #LesMisReadalong being publicised on the lovely novels and nonfiction blog I couldn’t wait to sign up!

The read along is being hosted by Nick and his blog has a wealth of information about Les Miserables, including historical background, advice on the different versions available and a downloadable reading schedule.

I’ve shamelessly cut and pasted the rules of the read along from Nicks blog to explain how to join in:

How to Participate

1 Get an unabridged copy of Les Misérables. See below for suggested translations/editions.

2 If you have your own blog, write a welcome post explaining why you are joining the read-along and what you hope to gain from it. Include your past experience with Les Mis in any of its forms. Leave a link to your post in the linkup section at the end of this post. If you don’t have a blog, you can leave your information in the comments section below.

3 Download the Les Miserables Chapter a Day Reading Schedule 2018.

4 Commit to reading a chapter a day. If you get behind or race ahead, no worries. Life happens. My blog posts will stay on track with the reading schedule, and I would ask that you please respect the reading experience of those who may not know the full story. In other words, no spoilers!

5 Please feel free to post the official Les Misérables Chapter-a-Day Read-along graphic on your website or blog to spread the word.

6 Subscribe to One Catholic Life so you don’t miss any read-along posts throughout the year. You can get updates via email by using the form in the right-hand sidebar or you can subscribe via RSS and read them in your favorite blog reader.

So, what are you waiting for? Sign up now!

Review: Dear Amy by Helen Callaghan

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Photo credit: http://www.netgalley.com

This is becoming a bit of a theme recently, but THIS BOOK IS GREAT! Dear Amy absolutely had me gripped from the start and I found it really difficult to put down. The story really drew me in and it was so fast paced I whipped through it in a few days.

In other news, I also finished reading an absolute shocker of a story this week – review on Friday – so this unexpected run of positivity will be short lived. Anyway, I digress…

Dear Amy is the story of a teacher, Margot Lewis, who also freelances as an agony aunt (Amy – hence the title). One of her pupils goes missing, and despite the police thinking that she ran away from home, Margot has her suspicions. At the same time, letters start turning up addressed to the Dear Amy column from Bethan Avery, a local girl who disappeared some years before who had never been found, suggesting that she had been kidnapped and asking for help. At this point, about a million questions are thrown up. Are the letters really from Bethan? How can a girl who has been kidnapped be posting letters? Why doesn’t she just say where she is? Are the two cases linked? Is Margot really as sane as she appears to be? There are so many layers, plot twists and unexpected events that take place in the novel that it really did have me guessing until the very end (if you’re sick of hearing me trot this phrase out, wait until my review on Friday. That book definitely didn’t have me guessing anything for ONE SECOND).

I was completely hooked by the storyline in this novel from the very beginning. I really liked the fact that the main character, Margot, was an unreliable narrator. Her mental health issues and the fact that she had stopped taking her medication made me question everything that she said had happened. I wasn’t sure if she was imagining whole chunks of the story, entire events/characters or if her viewpoint was so altered that the ending would be along the lines of ‘so I imagined the whole thing?’ I subsequently spent a lot of time trying to cross-reference people, situations and timelines to try to ascertain where the truth might lie. This might sound tiresome but I liked the added complexity and depth that this gave the main storyline. 

However, I did find that when it came to sub-plots, especially the quite frankly weird and totally inappropriate love interest, the unreliability of Margot’s story made me second guess everything a bit too much. Was the character a complete figment of Margot’s imagination? Was his interest in her real? Was he who Margot thought he was? I think the story would have been just as interesting without this detail (it wasn’t the most scintillating romance ever) and overall I didn’t feel that it added anything to the book.

I liked the fact that the story wasn’t overly gore laden or too graphic. A lot is left to the imagination when the author describes the kidnappers actions and I think that this allows the reader to either brush over the repulsive events as too awful to think about or fully immerse themselves in their brutality, depending on their own personal preferences. I think that there’s often a fine line between too much and too little detail, but in this instance I think Helen Callaghan got it just right.

I don’t usually read so called kitchen sink thrillers so I approached the story with fairly low expectations, but I really enjoyed the book – it was a total page turner from start to finish. It was a fairly original idea (I think – like I said, I’m not a afficianado of the genre) so I guess fans of something like The Girl on the Train would really like it. I’m not saying that Dear Amy is as good, but it is close. The writing style is quite easy, pacey and isn’t overly descriptive, making it a good beach read if you want something darker than the usual chick lit. Lucinda recommends!

Rating: 8/10.

Please note that I read this book for free via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Thanks, Netgalley! I also read this book as part of the Popsugar Reading Challenge 2017 #12 Read a bestseller from a genre you don’t normally read.

Review: Juliet Takes a Breath by Gabby Rivera

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Photo credit: http://www.netgalley.com

FINALLY- A book with likeable characters, great person of colour representation, queerness, feminism…and it’s brilliantly written with a super heartwarming story that’ll suck you in so you can’t put it down. Brilliant!

Juliet Takes a Breath is the coming-of-age story of Juliet Palante, a Puerto Rican teenager who lives in the Bronx with her madcap family. She discovers feminism through the book ‘Raging Flower: Empowering Your Pussy By Empowering Your Mind’ by Harper Brisbane (which she reads to freak people out on the subway) and, after writing to the author to tell her how much she enjoyed it (despite not really recognising herself in the text) lands an internship to help Harper research her next book. Moving to Portland, Oregon gives Juliet a total culture shock and living with Harper exposes her to a completely different way of life. She uses the opportunity to learn about being gay, being a person of colour, being female and being a feminist, all whilst trying to figure out who she is and trying to get her family to accept her. Nothing major then.

I really loved reading this book. There’s such great, positive representation and a brilliantly written story which taught me so much about other cultures, history, oppression, feminism, my own body… I could go on. It’s really well written, interesting, funny and sweet without being overly saccharine or having a happily ever after ending that ends up in so much current YA literature.   

I loved the main character Juliet, who was bold and strong but also scared and vulnerable at times. She felt very ‘real’ to me and despite our many differences I identified with her as a chubby, queer nerd girl who finds safety in the confines of a library. Her family members were all amazing, especially her brother cousin and aunt and I loved reading about how close they all were and supported each other no matter what.

I initially really liked Harper, the hippy writer who acted as a kind of queer feminist Yoda to aid Juliet in her voyage of discovery, but my opinion of her changed as the book went on. I loved the way that the two characters were so different and the way that Harper exposed Juliet to so many new experiences, but I hated the way that she made so many assumptions about Juliet and in the end I thought she was actually quite self centered.

Through Juliet’s journey (literally and figuratively) the reader gets to learn so much about topics that you were afraid to ask about – from periods to polygamous relationships to white privilege. Every topic is handled sensitively and the writing is never preachy, only informative. 

There is an awful lot in the book about racism and the differences between being a white feminist lesbian and a person of colour feminist lesbian which I hadn’t really considered before. I’m not sure if this is my white privilege or because I’m British but I’m not used to people talking about their race all the time or referring to themselves expressly by their heritage. Some of the ideas discussed made me a little uncomfortable, like a racist slur said about Juliet’s white girlfriend and a POC only party but through the character of Juliet the ideas are often questioned and both the positives and negatives are discussed. 

Because the main character is Latino it was really interesting to view feminism and lesbianism through her eyes – how it fitted in with her religion, her traditional family, her views on men, her experience of privilege, her sense of self etc. This was a viewpoint that I hadn’t read from before and I thought it was executed brilliantly.

My only criticisms of the novel would be that I think it’s a little unrealistic for almost every character that Juliet encounters or knows to be gay and that perhaps a few straight people would have added another dynamic. I also felt that the negative way in which every white person was portrayed was a little unfair – although heaven knows there’s enough books out there where the only black character is a villain/token gesture/non-existent so maybe the author was just trying to redress the balance.

Overall I loved reading this book and would recommend it to anyone looking to explore feminism and queerness from a different perspective, or just anyone looking for some great intersectional YA.

Overall rating: 8/10

Please note that I read this book for free via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Thanks, Netgalley! I also read this book as part of Popsugar Reading Challenge 2017 #14 Read a book involving travel.

 

Guess who’s back…back again

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Hello lovelies!

Just to let you know that I’ve given myself a bit of a blogging holiday lately – I’ve just taken on a new allotment, plus we’re in the middle of refurbishing our other house and life just got in the way a bit. I haven’t finished any books in weeks (highly unusual for me) because I’ve been completely exhausted and wanting to just watch something that requires no brainpower on Netflix. However, I’ve promised myself that I’ll be back on it next week, so look out for new reviews on Mondays and Fridays.

Hope you’ve all had a fab weekend,

Lucinda x

I Wish I Loved My Local Library, But I Don’t.

Confession time – I hate going to my City Centre’s library. I wish I didn’t, but it really is a horrible place.

I have wonderful memories of going to our village hall as a child where there was a small but well stocked library, with a lovely librarian, children’s corner, seating area etc. It could only have been the size of a small storeroom but it had everything I needed as a precocious four year old. As I got older, I obviously had access to my school’s libraries (I read every single book at least twice) which although larger were pretty much static in terms of getting new books in. Our local library was replaced by a mobile one (basically a van full of books) which felt incredibly precarious as you climbed into it up some rickety steps and shook as you walked along it. Again, it wasn’t exactly well stocked (YA hadn’t really been invented so there was just a handful of Judy Blooms and Paula Danzigers in the “teens” section). Luckily, my parents always encouraged me to read and I would pester them to buy me books, so I could continue to be a bookworm throughout my teenage years. Then Amazon happened and books got super cheap, then the Kindle, then Netgalley – so I stopped using the library altogether. It’s only recently that I realised I could download ebooks from them for free that I decided to renew my membership.

That’s when I found that wave after wave of funding cuts have made the library, well, pretty dreadful.

When you walk into our main library (previously a nightclub), you’re presented with a subterranean tunnel which leads to some public toilets. Being pretty much the only public toilets in the city centre, the smell is horrific and they look disgusting (more public services cuts). You can then either take the lift or walk up two flights of stairs to the one main room (the smell permeates all the way to the top of the building). Once there, it’s not immediately obvious where to go. There’s an NHS quit smoking advice centre, a cancer helpdesk, a benefits/asylum area (I think)… but no books. I walked through the security turnstiles and found a small desk at the side of the room. There were people wandering around with lanyards on but it wasn’t immediately obvious if they were librarians, volunteer helpers or people working in the myriad of other services that the library now offers. I assume I’d arrived at the helpdesk (there was no sign) so I picked a lanyard wearer at random and asked if she could renew my membership. I’d previously tried to do this online and it seems that someone had messed it all up, so it took her some time to unpick what they’d done and set me up properly. I made the mistake of leaning on the counter during this process and realised that it was sticky with an unidentified substance (ewwwwwww). I grabbed my new card and got out as fast as I could (but not before two drunk men tried to chat me up).

I’ve used the online services that the library offers – free ebooks and audio books – but I won’t be going back there in a hurry.

So guys, make me jealous – do you have a fabulous local library? Or is yours just as horrible as mine? Do you feel bad for not using it more? Comment below!