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.

TL;DR Nano Reviews – January

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Hey everyone, guess what this post is?

What, Lucinda?

It’s the TL;DR nano wrap up!

WTF?

It’s my monthly wrap up where I write a nano review (three sentences or less) of my own book reviews.

Wow!

I know! So now, I have to trawl through my rambling musings to pick out the essence of my reviews, so you don’t have to. You’re welcome!

I reviewed five books in January which is pretty crap considering I have at least ten unfinished review posts in the pipeline. I need to crack on in February!

The books I reviewed were:

The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn – FIVE FREAKING STARS!!! Really loved everything about it. Settle yourself in because you won’t be able to put this one down.

Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl Written by Herself by Harriet Ann Jacobs – One of those important books that you don’t exactly enjoy (far too harrowing) but tells an amazing story in an own voice about a period of history that’s uncomfortable to learn about. Highly recommended. Four stars.

Everless by Sara Holland – If you named all of the YA fantasy tropes then you’d get the plot of this novel. Fast paced but utterly predictable. Three stars. 

A Streetcat Named Bob by James Bowen – A bit meh. Two-and-a-half stars.

The Confession by Jo Spain – Great premise but sexist writing, horrible characters, a flat storyline and the repetition of the term “Celtic Tiger” drove me insane. Disappointing. Two stars.

I know a lot of you do monthly wrap ups, but I thought that nano reviews would be fun to try. If anyone wants to join in and write their own January TL;DR feel free – just tag back to me!

Lucinda xxx

Review: The Confession by Jo Spain

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Picture courtesy of Netgalley.com

Sadly, my little run of five star reviews is over and its all thanks to one book – the hugely over-hyped “The Confession” by Jo Spain. Not only is this book not really about a confession (the police seem to have worked out what has happened before anyone confesses anything – unless this refers to the character who turns himself in initially, which isn’t a confession from reader’s perspective because we literally see him commit the crime) it’s also nowhere near as good as the blurb makes it out to be.

On first glance, the novel sounds incredibly intriguing. The premise states: “You find out who did it on the very first page. On the last page you’ll find out why”. Oooh, I thought. This will keep me in suspense! Except, this wasn’t a truthful description either. You find out exactly what happened towards the end of the novel (you can work it out for yourself before the characters confirm everything) but it’s definitely not a last page cliff hanger.

At first, you do see a crime being committed (at least this part lives up to the snappy premise) which is unusual but the novel quickly descend towards the formulaic police investigation with a timeslip back so the reader can see how events unfolded from the p.o.v of the victim’s wife and the perpetrator. Folded into this story are the events of the financial crash in Ireland (oooh, exciting) and one of my major bugbears was that the situation wasn’t explained in nearly enough detail. The whole event was discussed through the eyes of Julie, the victim’s wife, who “didn’t understand” banking – despite her husband owning a bloody bank and I felt like this was a bit of a cop out by the author. I was a business student during the early 2000’s so I could vaguely remember the “Celtic Tiger” but for younger readers or those who are non-UK/Irish then the whole boom and bust situation really needed more depth. I also felt that the term “Celtic Tiger” was waaaay overused by the author and by the end of the book had really started to grate on me.

As far as characters go, this book features some of the most unlikeable people ever. There’s Harry, the stereotypical super rich banker – all flash cars, prostitutes and drugs; J.P., the somewhat derranged poor-person-perpetrator and Julie, the totally wet “I’m so in love with my twat of a husband” wife. Of all of them, I found Julie the most frustrating. She was all “I think my husband is cheating! I can’t confront him though!” and “If I leave I’ll have no money and nowhere to go!” despite the fact her husband was so rich she could have easily squirrelled some cash away, she had a full time job and was from a big family who were all on her side. Even when certain allegations about Harry come to light -serious, criminal allegations that potentially put her in danger – she still goes back to him. The explanation given is that “she loves him” and she believes marriage is for life. There’s no suggestion that she’s abused or has any kind of mental health issues (at first) so, personally, I found this pretty hard to stomach.

I was surprised to learn that the author, Jo Spain, was a woman as she just doesn’t write realistic, relatable female characters. For instance, when Julie has a period (pertinent because, of course, Julie wants a baby despite all of the problems in her marriage) she refers to it as “a telltale splash of blood in the toilet each month”. Now, without getting graphic, that’s just not what happens. I genuinely found the way that she depicts women incredibly old fashioned and sexist – the book literally reads like something by Stephen King in the 80’s. All of the women were described by their personal attributes (i.e. size of their boobs), they all threw themselves at Harry and the only female character with any agency was one of the police officers, who was described as obese, with thin flat hair. I’m not saying that you can’t be super hot as an overweight woman with fine hair (because you can) but just to clarify that this woman is not the same as the others (who all have large breasts, pretty faces, skimpy dresses and are slender – because that’s what all men everywhere like) one of the other officers makes some kind of sexual innuendo towards her and she acknowledges that he’s clearly throwing her a bone.

So – pretty girls are sexual playthings of the big strong cocky men, clever girls are fat and ugly. Got it? Then I’ll continue…

I could have forgiven *some* of the above points if the story was actually shocking or exciting – but it kind of wasn’t. Once you work out how everyone relates to everyone else, you expect some kind of super salacious twist – but it just wasn’t there. The ending is actually pretty humdrum. Yawn.

Overall, I really didn’t enjoy this book. I’m not a fan of a crime thriller in general, so perhaps if you really enjoy this genre you may get more from this book than I did. It really wasn’t for me though.

Rating: 2/5
Great premise but annoying characters and a dull ending ruined it.

Please note that I read this book for free via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Thanks, Netgalley!

Review: The Woman in the Window by A. J. Finn

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Picture courtesy of Goodreads

I don’t know what’s happening to me. I am notoriously stingy when it comes to dishing out stars for my book reviews. I’m happy to rant and rave about a novel but still give it four stars because there’s usually some tiny details that I feel could be improved upon. However, I recently gave a five star review (for The Girl in the Tower) and…uh oh….I think it’s happening again! Aargh!

I would define The Woman in the Window as a dark thriller (I just made that category up, I don’t know if it’s real or not). It’s being made into a film (yes, even before it’s release as a book – I think that tells you everything you need to know). Unusually, I am actually looking forwards to the film because the book is so cinematic and has so many other film noir references that I think it could be made to look like a beautiful black and white Hitchcock style movie. I doubt this will actually happen but it would look AMAZING. Just saying, all-the-Hollywood-producers-who-don’t-read-my-blog.

The book stars (do books have stars?) Anna, a psychologist living with agoraphobia which is so severe that she can’t leave the house. Unable to work and with alcohol dependency issues, she finds solace in online communities talking to other people in similar positions. Anna is also an avid watcher of people and knows everything that’s going on in her neighbourhood with the help of her trusty zoom lens camera. Most of the events that she glimpses are fairly mundane, until she spots what she believes to be a crime happening in the house next door. However, Anna’s diet of merlot and anti depressants make her a thoroughly unreliable narrator. Did she see what she thought she did? Is her mind playing tricks on her?

I read this book almost in one go, it was *that* good. Unfortunately, I started it in the bath, which made for one very cold and tired Lucinda so if you do decide to give it a read then please, make yourself comfortable before you begin. I really did find the novel unputdownable, it was so fast paced and there was so many twists and turns that kept me guessing right to the end. I did half work out part of what was going on but there was still enough red herrings included to make the outcome utterly unpredictable.

It’s at this point that I feel I should mention the elephant in the room – the comparison to Gone Girl. I fully expect the advertising for this book to begin with the line “fans of Gone Girl will love…” and it’s true that the overall “domestic drama” tag can be applied to both novels. Despite the similarities (unreliable narrator, female-centric, lots of twists and turns) there are also a lot of differences. Gone Girl is very much a 21st century novel, whereas The Woman in the Window has a much more vintage feel. Gone Girl has a major twist, The Woman in the Window has lots of little twists that help you to gradually build a picture of what’s going on. Gone Girl has a bit of a let down ending, The Woman in the Window finishes with a real bang. I loved both books but it’s important to note that The Woman in the Window is not the next Gone Girl, but a brilliant thriller in its own right.

I loved how beautifully dark and twisted The Woman in the Window was. Anna’s obsession with old black and white films, the restricted setting, the references to old Hollywood actresses all made the book feel like it was a revision of a play or an adaptation of a script from the 1950’s. I thought that the level of violence was just right – enough to provide a shock but not so much that it’s turned into a gore fest. The overall tone was a sense of foreboding dread, something that I think is really hard to maintain throughout an entire novel but which was dealt with brilliantly by the author.

I adored Anna’s character and I thought that her psychological problems were handled really well. It was good to see a middle class, educated person struggling with their mental health whilst also receiving treatment – usually if a character has money their problems are swept under the carpet. It was great that Anna’s character showed that depression and addiction can affect anyone and can be incredibly difficult to treat, regardless of how much you know your behaviour is irrational and self destructive.

The only teeny tiny criticism that I have of this book is the cover. Seriously, who came up with such a dull picture? I’ve also seen one that features the side of a building’s external fire escape (literally nothing to do with the story). I guess there’s been a very limited budget given to the artwork because I’m sure that once the film is released there’ll be a terrible “Now a major motion picture” cover but still, could they not have come up with something more intriguing in the meantime?

Overall, I absolutely loved this book. It had me gripped from the start and kept me in suspense right to the end. I loved the old Hollywood film noir feel juxtaposed with the gritty realism of alcoholism and depression. A great novel to get lost in.

Rating: 5/5
Just one more chapter!

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 2018 #20 Read a book with a cover that you hate.

Me In Characters Book Tag!

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Hello lovelies!

So, a couple of weeks ago, I posted that I was going to have a very Zen approach to 2018 where I was going to read what I wanted when I wanted and not make any hard and fast rules. This newfound freedom led me to go on a Netgalley requesting spree, I signed up to read one chapter per day of  Les Miserables, I’m doing the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge, I’ve added loads of books to my TBR… and now I’m frantically making calendars and tick lists and generally feeling like I’m months behind. I’m a failure!

However, I’m trying not to stress so I’m doing a fun tag post sent to me by the one and only Orangutan Librarian (who is amazing and has the most beautiful blog that I think she illustrates herself with her own clever little monkey paws…or if not she’s excellent at cut and pasting beautiful illustrations from the internet – either way you should go check her out).

THE RULES:

1. Thank the creators of the tag (Us! Ash & Lo @ windowsill books)
2. Thank whoever tagged you!
3. List 5 book characters who you are most like and explain why.
4. Tag your friends!

Here goes!

1. Death from The Sandman graphic novels (and other spin off series).

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I suspect this might be a case of me wanting to be like Death rather than actually being like her, but we do share quite a few personality traits. She’s sarcastic and she believes in tough love but she’s also really loyal, pretty darn perky and a good person to turn to in a crisis. I’m nowhere near as cool as she is though.

2. Severus Snape from Harry Potter

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Oh, poor misunderstood Severus. I totally identified with him on so many levels, not only because he’s awkward and geeky and a bit of a goth (there seems to be a theme here) but also because he’s snarky and grumpy when people don’t meet his high standards (I try not to do this, but I just can’t help it). Oh, and I would also have been majorly pissed off if Harry Potter had been dicking around in one of my lessons too. I think I would have been even less patient with him.

3. Sue Perkins from Spectacles/her own life

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Ok so this is cheating but my love for Sue Perkins knows no bounds, mostly because I just get her. I can totally relate to how she feels about so many things, from being introverted and awkward to being the weird “black sheep” of her family. She’s written so eloquently on being unmarried with no kids when everyone around her is copulating like bunnies (literally my life right now – as I’m writing this I’ve just seen another notification that a friend has had a baby) and if you’ve ever classed yourself as a “dog person” then I defy you not turn into a sobbing mess if you read her Letter to Pickle. She’s basically me but more gay and with more cash.

4. Princess Buttercup from The Princess Bride

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Enough about my beauty.” Buttercup said. “Everybody always talks about how beautiful I am. I’ve got a mind, Westley. Talk about that.”
― William Goldman, The Princess Bride

The Princess Bride is one of my favourite books ever, partly because I completely relate to how pissed off Princess Buttercup gets for constantly being underestimated. That happens to me all the time. I think it’s because I’m small and blonde and wear makeup but people are often shocked if they find out that I’m happiest sitting in the mud planting vegetables or that I know how to use a power tool. One of my friends was even quite surprised that my job was not secretarial but that I was interpreting employment legislation, writing policies and hiring and firing people. He thought I was a typist who sat around filing her nails all day. 

5. Claudia Kishi from The Babysitter’s  Club

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I think a lot of you will be too young to have experienced Ann M. Martin’s seminal series of YA-before-it-was-a-Thing Babysitter’s Club books but for me, they were something of an obsession. The books centered around a group of teenage girls who formed a babysitter’s club, and the adventures that they had whilst babysitting. I know, right? There were literally hundreds of volumes, plus specials, a spin off series and even a TV programme*. Different times.

I can see parts of myself in all of the babysitters (Kristy was bossy, Mary-Ann was an introvert pushover, Stacey was cool and Dawn was a hippy) but I identified most with Claudia, the “quirky” one. Claudia would regularly dress like she was in costume and spent most of her time daydreaming and drawing pictures. I LOVE unusual, often vintage clothing and although this has died down a bit as I’ve got older, I still enjoy looking a little different to everyone else. I’m also a total dreamer and I like to think I’m quite artistic, although in a vague “good at putting things together that look nice” type of way, not as someone with any technical skills. I wish.

*There’s also an excellently funny, sweary, post millennium analysis of all of the BSC books available as a podcast here. If you were a fan of the series when you were younger you should definitely check it out!
      ————————————————–

I tag…. HollyJessMischenkoCasey…and Dani!

Plus, anyone else who wants to get involved!

Review: A Streetcat Named Bob by James Bowen

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Photo courtesy of http://www.goodreads.com

Heartwarming! Touching! Reaffirms your faith in humanity!” said the Goodreads reviews.

“I thought it was rubbish!” said my mother after she read it.

Personally, I can see my mum’s point. Even though I did find the story quite touching, I also found James Bowen’s attitude quite annoying in places. You see, A Streetcat Named Bob is the story of Bowen, a young homeless man living in a hostel in London. He found Bob the Cat outside his apartment and took him in, feeding and caring for him as well as he could. The book is the story of their lives together, busking and selling the Big Issue.

Before anyone thinks I’m a monster, I’d like to clarify that I have every sympathy with homeless people. I know that everyone has different experiences in life, that people sometimes make mistakes or bad decisions and that everyone deserves help when they need it. I can’t imagine sleeping rough or in a homeless shelter or what that would do to your self esteem. However, I also think that if you are offered assistance, you have a duty to try your hardest to also help yourself – and that was my problem with this book.

Despite the fact that Bowen was classed as a vulnerable adult, entitled to benefits and a place in a hostel, he still managed to book himself a holiday to Australia. Throughout the book, his attitude to work seemed to be that he could just busk for a few hours a day to supplement his benefits enough to continue his life in the hostel. I appreciate that he may have some mental health issues as well as poor physical health and that it might be really difficult to get a job with a presumably dodgy employment history, but there was absolutely no attempt to try. I got really annoyed that even after being accepted as a Big Issue seller, he continuously broke their rules and even sold it after they had banned him! Sure, the situation wasn’t entirely Bowen’s fault, but his refusal to try to sort the problem out made me loose quite a lot of sympathy for him. Again, I’m guessing this comes back to poor mental health but it read as though he just wanted to take the easy way out.

Despite this attitude, I did find a lot of what Bowen did quite inspirational. As an ex heroin addict he transitioned to being a methadone user and throughout the course of the book manages to become completely clean, which is obviously an absolutely massive achievement to be applauded. It seemed that Bowen’s love for Bob gave him back some of his self esteem, and as he grew in confidence he managed to tackle a number of his problems, reconciled with family and, obviously, became a published author. It was lovely to see how Bowen was able to start putting his life back on track and what a positive influence a pet can be.

In terms of the way that the book is written, I have to be honest – it’s not great. Some parts were quite repetitive, others got a bit confusing. The dialogue can be a bit literal and whilst it was interesting to see what life for Bowen was like, I wanted to know more about his thoughts and feelings, his back story and his relationships with others. He mentions friends and family but doesn’t go into detail and whilst I understand that he may not want to discuss certain aspects of his life, it may have given the reader a better understanding of his situation.

If I took anything away from this book, it was a better understanding of the amazing work that the Big Issue does. (For those of you who aren’t aware, the Big Issue is a magazine that homeless people are allowed to sell for a small profit.) I do try to buy a copy whenever I see a vendor but I’ll definitely make more of an effort now.

Overall, I found this book to be both inspirational and quite annoying in equal measure. It’s an easy read but it’s not brilliantly written. Maybe see the film instead.

Rating: 2.5/5

Please note that I read this book as part of the Popsugar Reading Challenge 2017 #10 Read a book with a cat on the cover.