Book Riot #Read Harder 2018 Wrap Up

Hello bookworms!

As you may know, every year I take part in the Read Harder Challenge by Book Riot and as I’ve just completed it for 2018, I thought I’d share my thoughts. I bang on a lot about this scheme but it really is one of the best ways that I’ve found to expand my reading horizons. If you’re not signed up to Read Harder 2019, what are you even doing with your life? Get involved!

Read Harder consists of 24 categories and you simply read a book that fits into the given parameters. Some are easy  (a book with a cover that you hate – loads of those around!) and some are really difficult (an essay anthology, a Western etc.). Here’s the full 2018 list with links to my choices:

  1. A book published posthumously – The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
  2. A book of true crime – The Feather Thief by Kirk Wallace Johnson
  3. A classic of genre fiction (i.e. mystery, sci fi/fantasy, romance) – The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
  4. A comic written and drawn by the same person – Tetris by Box Brown
  5. A book set in or about one of the five BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China, or South Africa) – The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan
  6. A book about nature – Fingers in the Sparkle Jar by Chris Packham
  7. A western – Dragon Teeth by Michael Crichton
  8. A comic written or drawn by a person of color – The Kite Runner Graphic Novel by Khaled Hosseini
  9. A book of colonial or postcolonial literature – Home​ Fire by Kamila Shamsie 
  10. A romance novel by or about a person of color – Love, Hate and Other Filters by Samira Ahmed
  11. A children’s classic published before 1980 – The Letter for the King by Tonke Dragt
  12. A celebrity memoir – Dolly: My Life and Other Unfinished Business by Dolly Parton
  13. An Oprah Book Club selection – Wild by Cheryl Strayed
  14. A book of social science – A Good Time to be a Girl by Helena Morissey
  15. A one-sitting book – Women by Chloe Caldwell
  16. The first book in a new-to-you YA or middle grade series – Everless by Sara Holland
  17. A sci fi novel with a female protagonist by a female author – The Power by Naomi Alderman
  18. A comic that isn’t published by Marvel, DC, or Image – Giant Days by John Allison
  19. A book of genre fiction in translation – 1Q84 Book Three by Haruki Murakami:
  20. A book with a cover you hate – The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn
  21. A mystery by a person of color or LGBTQ+ author – The Night Listener by Armistead Maupin
  22. An essay anthology – Not That Bad ed. Roxane Gay
  23. A book with a female protagonist over the age of 60 – The Lido by Libby Page
  24. An assigned book you hated (or never finished) – Les Miserables by Victor Hugo

Out of this fairly random assortment of books, five really stood out. In no particular order, they were:

The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank  

Anne’s diary detailed her life in hiding during the Second World War from the Nazis. It wasn’t what I expected but I found it completely engaging and terribly affecting. 

The Feather Thief by Kirk Wallace Johnson

This under-the-radar book had me completely spellbound from the first page to the last. It’s the true story of the theft of several highly valuable bird specimens from a museum and leads to the bizzare world of competitive fishing fly tying, organised crime and orchestral music. Unexpectedly brilliant, if you come across this book I’d urge you to read it.

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

The story of a dystopian future where women are kept in servitude, this felt weirdly prescient for a book published in the 80’s. I loved it. 

Women by Chloe Caldwell

Another under-the-radar book, this novella had me completely addicted. It’s the very simple story of a lesbian relationship but it’s beautifully written and utterly compelling.

The Woman in the Window by A.J. Flynn

I loved everything about this domestic noir thriller, from the characterisation to the plot twists to the dark, Hitchcock-esque atmosphere. Fantastic.

Every year, Read Harder throws up some brilliant books that I wouldn’t have otherwise read and this year has been no exception. I think that overall, the two books that really left a lasting impression on me were The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank and Not That Bad ed. by Roxane Gay. Both were really powerful own voices novels of women struggling through adversity and both have haunted me ever since reading them.

The books that really surprised me were The Feather Thief by Kirk Wallace Johnson for it’s portrayal of a strange little world that I knew nothing about; The Lido by Libby Page which I’d assumed would be fluffy chick lit but turned out to be a very moving portrayal of lonliness, grief, ageing and community; Women by Chloe Caldwell which was a tiny little novella that massively drew me in to the portrayal of a relationship between two women and Tetris by Box Brown which was a fascinating story of the history of the game Tetris told in graphic novel form. All of these books looked like they weren’t really my thing but they all completely surpassed my expectations.

The books that I achieved the most satisfaction from reading were 1Q84 Book Three by Haruki Murakami and Les Miserables by Victor Hugo. Both were long, complicated tales that took dedication to get through but they were both utterly worth it.

The funniest book that I read was My Life and Other Unfinished Business by the legend that is Dolly Parton. The woman is an untapped well of positivity and compassion and her life story is incredible (at one point she gets abducted by aliens – it gets mentioned almost as a footnote on one single page. That’s how jam packed her life has been). 

I was introduced to a completely new genre with Tetris by Box Brown and The Kite Runner graphic novel by Khaled Hosseini. Graphic novels have really expanded from their comic book origins and they’re definitely a genre that I’d like to read more from. In saying that, Giant Days by John Allison was a more traditional comic and that was amazing too!

Overall, I loved taking part in Read Harder 2018 and I can’t wait to get involved in Read Harder 2019!

Did you take part in the Read Harder Challenge this year? What were the best books that you read? Let me know in the comments!

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Review: Les Miserables by Victor Hugo


Genre: Classic

Similar to: In a weird way, the Bible? 

Could be enjoyed by: Fans of heavy lifting

Publication date: 1862

Ok, I lied. This isn’t a review.

There is simply no way to summarise a book that is over 1200 pages long and covers almost every topic that you can think of without it turning into a dissertation (or a parody review – I could use massively flowery language and insert a big chunk of text about Waterloo somewhere in the middle…) but it’s Christmas and whilst I’m ideas rich I’m time poor (although that is a suitably massive sentence – stop it Lucinda!) So instead, I’m going to attempt to talk about some of the main points that struck me about the book-that-has-taken-me-a-year-to-read. Wish me luck.

Les Miserables is a vast, epic novel written in the about what life in France was like for it’s ordinary citizens during the first half of the nineteenth century. Jean Valjean is a prisoner, put to work on the galleys (prison ships) for stealing a loaf of bread. He escapes, reinvents himself and goes about trying to live his life as the best person he can be, helping everyone he meets as and when he can. He sacrifices himself numerous times for his ethics but continues to live selflessly. He encounters Fantine, a woman doing everything she can to ensure a good life for her daughter Cosette. Through a series of events, Jean Valjean discovers that Cosette is being worked like a slave by the unscrupulous Thénardier family and buys her from them, bringing her up as his own daughter. He escapes the clutches of the law numerous times and ensures Cosette is given a the happiest life possible. (This is a hugely simplified summary with many events and characters missing but it’s the best I’ve got).

I think the first thing to do is a shout out to whoever invented e-readers. I read Les Miserables on a Kindle and it’s a good job too – this is a BEHEMOTH of a book. As much as I would have liked to slam it down on a train table, or perhaps carry it in my arms whilst looking wistful in a Breton striped top, I simply don’t have the upper body strength for that sort of show-offy nonsense. If you’re into that kind of aesthetic though, this is the book for you.

In order to deal with the sheer length of the book, I signed up to a read-along where you read one of the 365 chapters a day for a year. I would guess that the book was written with that in mind, although the chapters themselves vary wildly in length with some less than a page long and some taking half an hour to get through. I quickly found that reading just one chapter was never going to work for me, so I tended to save up a week’s worth of reading and have an omnibus binge instead.

The novel, apart from being massive, is amazing. And very…French. It’s political and idealistic and raw and gritty and factual and endlessly quotable and brilliant and sad and funny and despite being written nearly 200 years ago it’s still (sadly) relevant to society today. I imagine that it was controversial in it’s day for the portrayal of ordinary people struggling through their ordinary lives; living in poverty, going hungry, doing everything they can to make ends meet. There are some truly tragic characters but through Jean Valjean there’s a sense of hope and an overall redemptive arc that lifts the narrative from depressing to inspiring.

There are literally SO MANY life lessons to be learned from Les Miserables. I’ve just read another review where someone said that this book makes you want to be a better person and I think that’s right. One of the central ideas is that by treating everyone – even a convict or a prostitute – with respect, that person will not only use that kindness, they’ll pay it forwards. If we could all see each other as human beings, rather than putting them into boxes full of made up assumptions, wouldn’t the world be a better place?

There’s also huge questions around ethics; what is legally right and what is morally right. Jean Valjean learns that whilst the state can punish him, abuse him and take away his freedom, they can’t harm his soul. He consistently does what he feels is right, even when this is often the hardest (and sometimes the illegal) option to take. In contrast, we see Javert the police officer bound by the letter of the law, acting entirely within the boundaries of legality even when this causes abject human suffering. The compassion that Jean Valjean is able to show eventually becomes Javert’s undoing (written, I have to say, in an extraordinarily beautiful way).

Despite the heavy moral overtones, Les Miserables never comes across as preachy or judgemental. There is so much light and shade within the novel that despite it’s length, you’re compelled to keep reading. True, the language used is often excessively flowery but somehow I didn’t mind it. I was concerned that the book was going to stray into the realms of poverty porn, romanticizing the misery that many of the characters faced but I needed have worried – there are scenes of children going hungry, homelessness, torture…the parts that stayed with me the most were the treatment of prisoners being moved across the country and the slow demise of poor Fantine. These scenes were truly upsetting but again, beautifully written.

Occasionally, there were parts that dragged – I almost gave up when I got to the part about the battle of Waterloo – but the short chapters and interspersing philosophical/historical/cultural asides into the main narrative really worked for me. I felt like I learnt so much about that period of history and my new found knowledge keeps rearing it’s head in the weirdest of places – like when I was on holiday in Devon and found out that 19th Century French prisoners of war had been moved from galley ships to Dartmoor prison and had built the church there by hand.

In contrast, there were parts that I absolutely flew through – the Thénardier heist, the barricade scenes and the sewers were some of the best bits of literature that I’ve ever read. Truly amazing prose.

Overall, Les Miserables is an incredible book. I found the portrayal of ordinary people a particularly fascinating topic and I loved learning about the real world events that took place during the same period. Yes, it takes time and dedication to read – and you will have a truly epic book hangover when you’re done – but it’s well worth it.

Rating: Four and a half “this can’t be right…96% complete, 4 hours 37 minutes left – WTF?” out of five.

Exhausting, occasionally waffley but overall brilliant. Plus, you’ll have arms like Michelle Obama if you read it in hardback. 

Please note that I read this novel as part of the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge 2018 #24 Read an assigned book that you hated or never finished.

Review: Of Women by Shami Chakrabarti

Genre: Non-fiction, feminist literature

Similar to: A Good Time to be a Girl

Could be enjoyed by: People looking for a broad overview of feminist issues

Publication date: 26th October 2017 

*puffs out cheeks, blows out through pursed lips* 

Yeah.

This book was so close to being a DNF multiple times but I was just about interested enough to keep going. 

JUST.

Of Women in the 21st Century (to give it it’s full title) is a series of essay-like chapters regarding the treatment of women in various different areas of life (education, faith, healthcare etc.) highlighting the myriad of injustices that they face. Light bedtime reading it ain’t.

As the description suggests, the book is, well…it’s pretty depressing. There are SO MANY issues facing women and Shami Chakrabarti has detailed them all, with credible stats and references, eleventy billion times throughout the text. My main takeaway is that women are basically f*cked.

And that’s my problem, because I’m generally a positive little sunflower and I like to think that the world is ever so slowly changing for the better. I know that all these problems exist but there are lots of people working very hard to tackle them. It would have been great if they had got a mention – or if Chakrabarti has proposed her own solutions in a more concrete fashion.

I’m not knocking the inclusion of facts and figures in the book – far from it, Of Women is impeccably researched – but that doesn’t make for an enjoyable reading experience. The endless stats became meaningless when read as large chunks of text and the whole thing felt highly impersonal. I didn’t disagree with anything that she said but I wasn’t fired up by her arguments either.

I also felt that the book was highly, highly biased. There was no interrogation of the data presented and no consideration for any counter-arguments. I also got the impression (even though it’s not overtly stated) that it’s those bloody Conservatives who have caused/failed to solve some of the problems detailed – remembering of course that Chakrabarti is a Labour Party politician. Again, I didn’t necessarily disagree with what she was saying but it was all very one sided.

However, there were some parts of the book that were genuinely enjoyable. In particular, the section on faith was really interesting and well researched. I think this area is often overlooked in feminist discussions so it felt like Chakrabarti was bringing something new to the table, instead of summarising the main points of old ground.

Overall, I felt like the book was a fantastic overview, a starting point, an introduction to some of these issues but the tone of the piece was so dry and heavygoing that I could only really recommend it as a reference book for the basics of gender studies.

Rating: Two and a half stars out of five.

A good overview of the main issues facing women but written in such a dry, uninspiring fashion that what should be a hard-hitting account became meaningless.

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

#Read Harder 2019 Is Here!

Hello Bookworms!

Today is a red letter day for me here at Casa Lucinda because the 2019 Read Harder Challenge from Book Riot is here! I am SOOOOOO EXCITED!

In case you don’t know, Read Harder is a reading challenge designed to push you out of your bookish comfort zone. There’s 24 categories and you simply read a book that you think fits each of the criteria. There’s no hard and fast rules, you can be as abstract or rigid as you like!

There’s plenty of online support for the challenge including a dedicated Goodreads group, the hashtag #readharder and the Book Riot website, where they post suggestions and recommendations. If you want to learn more (and maybe even join in) you can visit the Read Harder page here

So, without further ado, here’s the list for Read Harder 2019! 

  1. A epistolary novel or collection of letters
  2. An alternate history novel
  3. A book by a woman and/or AOC that won a literary award in 2018
  4. A humor book
  5. A book by a journalist or about journalism
  6. A book by an AOC set in or about space
  7. An #ownvoices book set in Mexico or Central America
  8. An #ownvoices book set in Oceania
  9. A book published prior to January 1, 2019, with fewer than 100 reviews on Goodreads
  10. A translated book written by and/or translated by a woman
  11. A book of manga
  12. A book in which an animal or inanimate object is a point-of-view character
  13. A book by or about someone that identifies as neurodiverse
  14. A cozy mystery
  15. A book of mythology or folklore
  16. An historical romance by an AOC
  17. A business book
  18. A novel by a trans or nonbinary author
  19. A book of nonviolent true crime
  20. A book written in prison
  21. A comic by an LGBTQIA creator
  22. A children’s or middle grade book (not YA) that has won a diversity award since 2009
  23. A self-published book
  24. A collection of poetry published since 201


I’m already flicking through my TBR and NetGalley backlog to see what books I can possibly assign to each category…a self published book should be easy, a book of mythology or folklore – Norse Gods by Neil Gaiman, been meaning to read that for ages…I literally came across a book about a sham doctor pushing ridiculous dieting methods yesterday, that would fit the true crime category… a cozy mystery though (yuck, not my thing)…and where TF is Oceania? 

So…to Google! *points and states into middle distance*

Are you thinking of doing this reading challenge? Do you have any recommendations for any of the categories? Let me know in the comnents!

Review: Dragon Teeth by Michael Crichton

Genre: Western

Similar to: A more fun version of The Revenant

Could be enjoyed by: Men? This is very much a boy’s book (although I liked it too)

Publication date: 22nd May 2017

I have to say, I really like Michael Crichton books. They’re never going to win any awards for being outstanding examples of literary fiction but they’re easy to read, fast paced page turners and at a time when I’m still ploughing through the final few chapters of Les Mis, it was great to have a bit of light relief.

https://binged.it/2Sy5SjO

Yes, THAT Michael Crichton.

Set in 1876, Dragon Teeth is about William Johnson, a privileged Yale student with very little in the way of life experience. As a bet, he volunteers to go fossil hunting with the University’s resident paelentologist to the badlands of the Wild West. He endures a number of trials (including being caught up in the schemes of two warring professors) meets a host of real historical figures and gets stuck in the lawless town of Deadwood whilst attempting to get his important finds home – hopefully without dying in the process, of course.

As you can tell from the storyline, this is a really fun book. I loved how the author added in so many different crazy characters and awkward/dangerous situations which really brought the whole thing to life. Unfortunately, there were only a couple of female characters (who were mostly horrible) but that felt quite authentic for the period and setting (the lack of women, not their manipulative nature) so I won’t complain too much. The writing was fast paced, with tons of action and adventure. Again, it wasn’t great literature but it was highly compelling.

I really liked how Crichton blurred the lines between fiction and reality. Many of the characters and scenarios in the book were real and although much of the story is made up, it felt extremely authentic. The descriptions of people and places were really well written and I had a vivid idea of what it was like to live in Deadwood at that time.

Even though the novel was published posthumously after it was found as a draft on a computer, it still felt like a completed manuscript. I’m sure that if he’s been alive, Crichton would have spent more time working on it before sending it off to be published – it’s certainly not his best work, by any means – but it was obviously something that was near enough completion to still be a good read.

So, even though Westerns are really not my thing, I thought that Dragon Teeth was a really fun, compelling romp. I loved the vivid descriptions, the action and the inclusion of real historical figures. It made a great alternative to the trials of Javert and Jean Valjean!

Rating: Four out of five stars

A fun, easy book to read with surprising historic accuracy. A good option if you’re in a reading slump or as an alternative to a heavier novel.

Please note that I read this novel as part of the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge 2018 #7 Read a Western.

Review: Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie

Genre: Fiction

Similar to: Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Could be enjoyed by: Everyone apart from me

Publication date: 15th August 2017

After seeing the rave reviews of this book aaaand having it personally recommended to me aaaand seeing it win the Wome’s Prize for Fiction I knew I just had to read this book. 

After reading the first few chapters I was thinking “hmmm, slow start but ok…” . Then after a few more chapters I was thinking “woah, majorly disjointed storyline but ok…” . Then after reading a bit more I seriously began to doubt whether I’d picked up the right book. Was this really the new novel that everyone’s talking about? 

Home Fire is the story of a British Muslim family struggling to come to terms with the legacy of their Jihadist father. The son, Parvaiz, becomes a member of ISIS and it’s left to his two sisters to pick up the pieces and get him home. The story is a reimagining of Sophocles’s Antigone which frankly went way over my head so please bear in mind that there might be lots of clever references used that I simply didn’t pick up on. 

Anyway…

The story felt extremely clunky to me. The novel was set in five different locations and frankly the first location (and character) seemed entirely superfluous to the rest of the book. It felt like the author was trying to be faithful to the original Greek Tragedy and in doing so had to shoehorn in bits of text that would otherwise have been cut. This made the book meander about to the extent that it felt like a good short story surrounded with a lot of filler. 

The other problem that I had was that not a lot happened – especially in the first half of the novel. Let’s not forget, this book won the Women’s Prize for Fiction and yet weirdly, the two main female characters in it felt woefully underwritten. Isma was the stereotypical ” dutiful daughter”, taking care of the family finances by working abroad.I didn’t get a feel for any personality beyond that. Aneeka felt like an utter missed opportunity of a character. Her behaviour in the first half of the book was entirely based around having sex and yet I was never sure of her motivations. Was she in love? Lust? Or was she using her lover to get to his influential father? There didn’t seem to be any scheming, plotting or tactics employed except for the occasional bit of acting distant and again I had no idea why. In contrast, their brother, Parvaiz, was far more well rounded and had a much more interesting storyline. I definitely enjoyed the parts of the novel that focused on him the most.

There are a number of different ideas explored within the text about identity, belonging and sacrifice and in fairness, this is done rather well. The clash between what you feel you should be doing, what you want to do and what it would benefit you to do is replicated numerous times throughout the narrative, often so subtly that you almost don’t notice it. For example, one of the characters who we meet later on (called Karamat Lone) is a British Muslim politician trying to balance his public persona with his private beliefs. This manifests itself in big, obvious ways (he talks about his tough stance on immigration and the prosecution of individuals who go to fight for ISIS – to the extent that the Muslim community have openly criticised him) but also almost invisibly – his son is called Eamonn spelled the traditional Irish way rather than the Pakistani Ayman.I loved the way that these complexities were woven so deftly throughout the text without feeling obvious or unnatural.

I’m going to guess that the ending of the book is somewhat faithful to the original Antigone text but let’s think about that for a second. I’m woefully under-educated when it comes to classic literature but I’d stick a fiver on my guess that the Greek Tragedies are all about the high drama. Now imagine that being played out by an ordinary girl from suburban London. It doesn’t quite fit, does it? And using the good old she’s gone crazy trope didn’t work for me at all.

Overall, I have completely mixed feeling about this book. The Antigone reference went over my head, the storyline felt clunky and I felt like the female characters in particular needed fleshing out. However, the writing in parts was brilliant, the depiction of a radicalized young British man was really interesting and the overall narrative was, on the whole, compelling. That ending was a step too far for me though.

Rating: Three out of five stars

Great writing but trying to fit the modern storyline around an ancient Greek Tragedy didn’t work for me. I’m clearly in the minority though

Please note that I read this novel as part of the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge 2018 #9 Read a book of colonial or post-colonial literature.

Calendar Girls December: Best Book Set in Winter

Hello friends!

Welcome to another edition of the Calendar Girls!

Calendar Girls was a monthly blog event created by Melanie at MNBernard Books and Flavia the Bibliophile and will now be hosted by Katie at Never Not Reading and Adrienne at Darque Dreamer ReadsIt is designed to ignite bookish discussions among readers and was inspired by the 1961 Neil Sedaka song Calendar Girl.

Just like the song, each month has a different theme. Each blogger picks their favorite book from the theme and on the first Monday of the month reveals their pick in a Calendar Girls post. 

So without further ado, this month’s theme is…


My initial reaction was TheBearandtheNightingaleTheBearand theNightingaleTheBearandtheNightingale!!!! (I really do love that book). However, I mentioned it in my previous Calendar Girls post when I chose the sequel, The Girl in the Tower, as my favourite book in the middle of a series so I thought I’d go for something completely different. Like, completely different.

So, my December pick is…

Let The Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist

I have to say – this book is not for the faint hearted. It takes it’s title from the Morissey song “Let the Right One Slip In” and if you thought that was bleak…this probably isn’t the book for you.

Let The Right One In is one of the most creepily atmospheric books I’ve ever read. Set in a run down suburb of 1980’s Sweeden, it’s main character Oskar is a bullied twelve year old with dreams of violent retribution. The arrival of a new neighbour called Eli gives Oskar his first real friend, but there’s something a bit…off about her. Who is the weird guy that she lives with? Why does she only come out at night? And does she have anything to do with the murder of a local teenager who was found drained of his blood?

Everything about the book is creepy, weird and just a bit off-kilter. The characters all seen to be depressed, angry or filled with self loathing. Seeing the book in the Sweedish Winter adds to the bleak atmosphere. There are a series of horrible twists and turns that lead to some really disturbing scenes – none of that sparkly vampire nonsense. It really is graphic and I’m sure a lot of readers will be turned off by that.

HOWEVER…

This isn’t just a cheap shock horror novel. At it’s heart is a slightly twisted but nonetheless sweet, kind friendship between Oskar and Eli – and it’s their relationship that compelled me to keep reading. This isn’t so much a vampire novel as a story of two outcasts finding a mutual bond in the most difficult of circumstances. It’s brilliantly written, well paced and complex and it invoked pretty much every emotion that I possess. I wouldn’t even call myself a horror fan but I absolutely loved it – my friend called it a horror book for people who don’t like horror which I think is pretty accurate. 

So, have you read Let the Right One In? What would be your Calendar Girls pick? Let me know in the comments! 

TL;DR November Review

Hello Bookworms!

I am currently sat watching the remnants of Storm Diana thrashing the branches of the tree outside and listening to the sound of my neighbours wheelie bin tumbling down the entry behind out house. November is decidedly with us!

I really hope at least one of you will understand where this picture of Slash is from.

November now seems to be the month that Christmas starts – the shops (and some of my neighbours) have their decorations up, my Mum is constantly pestering me for a Christmas list and Coventry City Centre has erected what the locals are calling “The Festive Cone” instead of a Christmas tree. Merry austerity everyone!

Apart from the obligatory fireworks display, I’ve been out for quite a few meals this month – a group curry, dinner and drinks with the bestie and a family lunch out in Birmingham. I even wore a skirt and proper eyeliner!

We’ve done quite a lot of boring jobs in the house this month like fitting plug sockets, grouting tiles, sealing in bits of trim…all quite dull, massively time consuming and you don’t get a lot to show for it. 😢

I’ve almost completed the Read Harder Challenge (just 31 chapters of Les Mis left) which will also see me complete the Les Mis read-along challenge. Hurrah! I’m quite proud of myself because I usually get to this time of year and have to panic read/review the five or so books I’ve usually got left. I also got sent my first hard copy ARC (for The Winter of the Witch by Katherine Arden, no less) which was incredibly exciting! I’m literally winning at life 😆😆😆.

For some reason I’ve focused more on discussions this month, with three separate posts: Overused Phrases in Book BloggingRating Systems for Books and I Don’t Like YA, Please Don’t Hurt Me. I also took part in the Calendar Girls meme where I chose The Girl in the Tower as my favourite middle book in a series. 

I had another meh reading month this month, although I did have one five star review. I think it’s because I subconsciously push all the books I don’t want to read for Read Harder to the end of the year (even though I think December will be decidedly better). The books I read were:

Skyward by Brandon Sanderson: Amazing! Absolutely loved everything about this book 🌟 Five out of five 🌟

Not That Bad ed. Roxane Gay: Such a moving, important book. Hard going but well worth a read. Four and a half out of five.

The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan: A bit of a weird one, some lovely vignettes in here but the whole thing felt utterly disjointed. Two and a half out of five.

The Secret Loves of Geek Girls by Hope Nicholson: Another weird one, I felt like this book was written for a very small section of geek society. I’m sure that if you got it you’d absolutely love it. A classic example of “great for you, but not for me”. Two and a half stars.

The Cows by Dawn O’Porter: I hated almost everything about this book. Urgh. Two stars.

So that’s November wrapped up! How was it for you? Have you read any of the books I read last month? Are you a Calendar Girl? Follow the links or let me know in the comments!

Review: The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan

Genre: Fiction

Similar to: ??? *Resists urge to write Memoirs of a Geisha, which is a totally different culture* 

Could be enjoyed by: People who are interested in the experiences of first generation immigrants.

Publication date: 22nd March 1989

I’m going to let you in to a little secret here. Usually, I start my book reviews by assessing what emotions the novel has stirred up in me and allow them to set the tone for the review. Was it a super exciting story? If so, my review will have lots of exclamation marks and short, punchy sentences. Was it deeply moving? I’ll crack out longer paragraphs, throw in some half remembered A-Level psychology and feature the word “ohhhhh” a lot. But when I think of The Joy Luck Club I just think…meh.

So this probably won’t be a very good review (you’ve been warned).

I really wanted to like this book but I felt like I failed to miss the point. And upon reading the Wikipedia page for it, it seems that I absolutely had. You see, the novel features seven different characters – three mothers, three of their respective daughters plus one daughter whose mother has just died. The mothers are all part of the Joy Luck Club (a mahjong playing group) and are all Chinese immigrants, whilst their daughters are all Chinese-American. The book reads like a series of short stories from each of the characters. Occasionally these stories overlap but they’re often stand-alone vignettes. 

Apparently, the book is structured into four sections and the stories are themed for each as an allegory for the way that mahjong is played (?) Well, that went straight over my head. As far as I could see, the characters were picked at random to tell a story about their life. There seemed to be hardly any narrative thread holding it together. I immediately forgot who was related to who and couldn’t find the family tree explaining the genealogy using the ebook version. There was very little in the way of introducing the characters so in my head they became interchangeable – the “mothers” and the “daughters”. 

I have to say, some of the writing about what I’m going to call “old China” i.e. the lives that the mothers had before moving to America was really beautiful and felt totally authentic. I could have got completely lost in the stories if they’d perhaps been expanded to a longer form or if the book was just a collection of the experiences of those three characters. Unfortunately, they were interspersed with the stories of the younger generation, which I didn’t enjoy at all.

The main problem for me was that the characters – all of them – were horrible. The mothers and daughters didn’t get on. The daughters were petty and bitchy to each other. The mothers were petty and bitchy to everyone. The men were either nasty or useless. I would have loved to see at least one family work it out but there was such a disconnect between them all that it wasn’t to be 😢.

I thought this was a real shame. I loved the stories set in China but with such confusing, similar characters, a cast of horrible adults and no redemptive arc (actually that’s not true – one of the daughters ends up connecting with her extended Chinese family but we don’t get to find out how that plays out) I found The Joy Luck Club to be totally underwhelming.

Rating: Two and a half stars out of five.

One word: meh. Some parts were great, some parts were dull /horrible /annoying.

Please note that I read this novel as part of the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge 2018 #5 Read a book set in or about one of the five BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa).

Viewpoint: I Don’t Like YA, Please Don’t Hurt Me


I’m going to come right out and say it – I’m not a fan of Young Adult (YA) literature. That’s not to say that I don’t read it at all – I do; or that I hate every YA book ever written – I don’t. However, I find that overall, YA isn’t my bag. Am I just too old to relate? 
You see, I view all novels through my world weary, cynical adult eyes and I find that a lot of YA books are too perfect, too cute, too schmaltzy for my tastes (looking at you, John Green). From what I remember, teenagers do not talk like that. There’s far more swearing, boasting, lewd references and aggression than is ever portrayed. A lot of the YA books that I’ve read have teenagers talking like characters from Dawson’s Creek whereas I remember boys only being able to communicate in grunts, mumbles and the occasional “my mate wants to go out with you, yeah?”. 

Maybe it’s because I’m British and a lot of the YA I’ve read is written by Americans. My senior (high) school was all girls and was light years away from anything I’ve ever read about. We were all rolled up skirts, smoking on the school bus, mascara clad brats who obsessed over our weight, our favourite boy band member and who might be a lesbian (which was total social suicide). I’d like to think that the morals of teenagers (not to mention societal attitudes) have improved somewhat but that still leaves me with a feeling of disconnect. Where are the boys driving their girlfriends round too fast in shit cars with terrible music blasting out? Where’s the terrible snogging and awkward groping? Why isn’t anyone drunk? 

It seems like I’m in the minority. A five minute bit of “research” (googling) brought me to a survey which found that the largest age range of YA readers (28%) was between 30-44 years old. I’m 35. So what is it I’m not getting?

I tend to find that many YA stories lack the complexities of adult fiction. Sure, lots of the characters have issues -sometimes huge, life changing issues – but often they’re dealt with in a very black and white fashion. Many characters tend to be stereotypes (One of Us is Lying) and are either good, bad or misunderstood with little scope for moral ambiguity. And oh God, the morals. Just for once, I want to see a character do something ethically questionable and get away with it – without the author shoving their political/ideological viewpoint forwards to explain why THIS IS WRONG (Beartown anyone?) Isn’t it better to allow teenagers – not to mention all the other readers – the space to make their own minds up?

In defense of the genre, I will say that I enjoy the diversity that many YA authors include in their stories. The sheer scope of experiences covered – everything from disability to gender expression to racism – is often talked about in a way that you just don’t get in adult fiction books. Many of the novels are own voices, meaning that the author has personal experience of the topic that they’re writing about which again is great. However, as much as I’ve seen complex issues done well (Juno Dawson with Clean) there are some topics that get oversimplified to the point of being totally unrealistic or even end up becoming glamorized (Thirteen Reasons Why) which I think is frankly dangerous. 

I’m not claiming to be an expert on YA and I’m sure there’s lots of good examples within the genre of well written, interesting, thoughtful novels (The Hate U Give looks pretty good, as does Dumplin’) but so far I’ve really struggled to find them. I find it hard to relate to a high school experience that was so different to my own, I don’t like the trope-heavy writing (oh look, more insta-love) and I can make my own mind up about right and wrong without having it spelled out to me. If you like YA – whatever age you are – then that’s great for you but it’s just not for me. 

So, what do you think? Am I bring overly critical? Have I missed any nuanced, brilliantly written YA novels? Let me know in the comments!