Books to Help You Through Brexit

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Now I know we are all sick to death of Brexit so I wondered what could help us all to weather the inevitable shitshow *ahem* adjustment period that is nearly upon us… and as always, the answer is BOOKS! No, not any of the plethora of highly biased texts that either drone on about MAKING BRITAIN GREAT AGAIN or EVERYONE IS GOING TO HELL IN A HANDCART but some lovely novels that will distract, amuse or come in handy.

So, whatever happens: keep calm, brew some tea and check out my book recommendations!

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Read something to take your mind off it…

If you feel like you see more of Laura Kuenssberg in her lovely pink coat than you do of your immediate family then it’s probably time to turn off the TV and lose yourself in a great book. I recently read The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton and it was sooooo addictive I couldn’t put it down. It’s so intricately layered that it should distract you from whatever excruciatingly dull bit of legislative change has been painfully negotiated with the EU. There’s also any number of thrillers out there that would also serve to provide a bit of distraction from the political chaos – my favourites include The Woman in the Window by A.J.Finn and Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough.

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Read something funny

If the merest suggestion of the Question Time music raises your blood pressure several millimetres of mercury (no, I didn’t know that was the unit of measurement either) then why not turn that frown upside down with some comedic books instead. I will never stop recommending The Tent, The Bucket and Me by Emma Kennedy which is properly laugh-out-loud hilarious or Bad Science by Ben Goldacre which is similarly spit-out-your-tea amusing. Or, if you’re a pervert, there’s always good old Belinda Blinked by Rocky Flinstone – the podcast My Dad Wrote a Porno (where Rocky’s son reads out his Dad’s erotic literature to his friends) is incredible and the books are so-bad-they’re-good comedy gold.

Read something boring

If you’re lying down at night with the sound of John Bercow shouting “ORDERRRRR” ringing in your ears and all the sheep you’re trying to count are bleating “will of the peeeeeple” then try reading something boring to get you off to the land of nod. There’s tons of books out there that seem to have been published sans storyline – I personally found Atonement by Ian McEwen extremely dull; ditto The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy and Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie.

Who Moved My Cheese?

Read something inspiring

Whatever happens with Brexit, change is a-coming and with any change, inevitably, comes opportunity. There are lots of books that can help you to deal with tumultuous situations but a classic (and one I’ve read several times) is Who Moved My Cheese? by Spencer Johnson.

(answer:

a) no-one, because all of the ferry ports are jammed or don’t actually have any ferries/ a usable dock/ terms and conditions that haven’t been stolen from a local takeaway

b) Bloody *choose one* David Cameron/ Theresa May/ Jean-Claude Juncker/ Boris Johnson/ Jeremy Corbyn/ Anna Soubry/ Nigel Farrage/ whoever wrote £350 million on the side of a bus etc.

c) Young people who don’t know what they’re talking about/ old people who don’t know what they’re talking about

d) It hasn’t moved it’s been BANNED by VEGANS

e) IMMIGRANTS

Take your pick depending on how left-wing/right-wing/prejudiced/racist you might be.)

How To Stop Brexit - And Make Britain Great Again

Read (or not) something practical

I hesitate to recommend books that I haven’t yet read, but The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon is literally everywhere right now, looks like an amazing read and judging by the sheer size of the thing could also come in handy as a weapon, should things take a turn for the worse in your local Wetherspoons.

Also, I see Nick Clegg has published a long-awaited book called (I’m not kidding) “How to Stop Brexit and Make Britain Great Again” which looks like it could have a variety of uses – TV prop, cat litter tray liner, kindling… obviously I’m joking, I haven’t read it but I thought it was a bit rich coming from a man who couldn’t even deliver his key election pledge!

 

So, what will you be reading over the next few weeks? Let me know in the comments!

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Review: Circe by Madeline Miller

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Genre: Fantasy

Similar to: Well, it’s a retelling, so…

Could be enjoyed by: Greek myth nerds (there seems to be a lot of you out there)

Publication date: 10th April 2018

 

Book Riot Read Harder Challenge #15 Read a book of mythology or folklore

These are my uneducated thoughts on Greek Myths:

The Minotaur (big scary sheep thing that lives in a maze)… Poseidon (was he in the Little Mermaid? God of the sea, held a big fork)… Morpheus (know him from Neil Gaiman’s  Sandman)… the muses (Salma Hayek in Dogma). Ummmm…

So, I’m probably not the ideal target audience for a Greek myth retelling.

HOWEVER

If you’re like me, don’t be put off from reading Circe. Sure, it would have added to my reading experience if I’d been familiar with some of the characters who popped up in the book (I occasionally had trouble keeping track of who was who – Telemachus and Telegonus, come on…) but it’s a great book nevertheless.

Circe is a kind of neglected middle child (despite being first-born), standing in the shadows of her cleverer, more beautiful siblings. After a few hundred years of largely avoiding her family, being ignored and low-key bullied in her father Helios’ halls, she engages in a spot of rule breaking, gets herself banished to a remote island and starts working on finding her own power. After several mortal lifetimes worth of quietly observing the Gods, Circe realises that it is their vanity, their deceptions and their dismissal of her as nothing more than an irritating child that she can use to her advantage. She explores the land that will hold her captive and uses her infinite exile to enhance her burgeoning skills in witchcraft, finding her power in the lowly domestic setting to which she has been relegated. Along the way, Circe encounters a range of other Gods and powerful mortals, plays them at their own games and forges a life for herself, despite their incessant power plays.

I loved seeing Circe coming into her own. At first, she’s a clueless child, quietly trying to fit in with the other Gods and desperate to find her place within the family. Very slowly, she begins to wake up to her family’s scheming ways and starts to question their behaviour. But it’s her discovery of witchcraft that really sees Circe finally obtain some power. As a gardening nerd I was familiar with many of the plants that she used in her potions and was pleased to see the level of research that Madeline Miller had put into discovering their natural properties.

I was really pleased to see a female protagonist who wasn’t perfect – despite being a Goddess Circe was seen by the Gods as ugly, with a high thin voice and very little power. I loved seeing her find her strength in areas other than her looks and forging ahead with her own plans. However, I did find that the middle of the book rambled a bit. I felt like there was a very loose narrative arc and honestly, in some places I got a bit bored. But then the storyline picked back up and I was a happy little reader again.

Overall, I really enjoyed Circe. I loved the beautifully written prose, the flawed main character and the cleverly interwoven myths. I just wish she had found something more interesting to do than have a casual love affair for 100 pages!

Four “THAT’S why it’s called Hermes!” out of five.

Epic, meticulously researched fantasy. Highly recommended!

 

Sorting Out the Shelves #4

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Hello Bookworms!

Welcome to another edition of sorting out the shelves! Today, I’m looking at my “popular” books from the 90’s/00’s

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(I imagine this is how I would look if I won some kind of popularity contest)

So, lets begin by looking at some of the most popular books of all time and then move on to some pop psychology/sociology…

It’s time for Own or Re-Home!

Own

Harry Potter. Need I say more?

You might recognise these covers…

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I have a complete set of the paperback versions of the HP books, some of which are first editions (but worth precisely zilch because the print run will have been so huge). This took supreme effort from me – when the final book was released I waited a whole year to read the paperback so that I didn’t mess up my bookshelves with a random hardback. They take pride of place in the middle of my bookshelves along with some other HP paraphernalia (like my picture of me on a broomstick flying over Hogwarts). I love these books so much that I’ll never part with them.

Re-home

A selection of pop psychology/sociology/anthropology mostly written by TV media types…

It was just a phase…

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I still love books that teach me about other cultures (including my own) or people, especially if they’re written in a humorous way. There seemed to be loads of them out in the mid 2000’s  – I bought most of these for my train journey to and from work from WHSmiths on New Street Station. However, as interesting as they were I don’t treasure them or feel like I’ll ever return to reading them again (I can still pretty much remember what they said) so off to the library used bookshop they go!

Do you have a selection of similar books from a specific period in your life? Do you have any bookish phases that you’ve been through? What do your Harry Potter books look like? Let me know in the comments!

 

Review: The Martian by Andy Weir

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Genre: Sci-fi, dark comedy

Similar to: A tiny bit like Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff, or The Revenant but set in space

Could be enjoyed by: Everyone, even people who don’t think sci-fi is for them

Publication date: 27th December 2012

 

LOG ENTRY: SOL 6

I’m wandering round Poundland (gotta love a bargain) looking for a cheap notebook to, well, make notes in when I come across the “re:cover” section of books. Basically: secondhand books for a quid. And The Martian was there. So I picked it up because of the hype I’d seen surrounding it and bought it because of the blurb – essentially a man (Mark Watney) gets stranded on Mars after he has an accident evacuating the planet and his crew think he’s dead. He has to survive on his own with broken equipment, broken comms and a limited stock of food. No wonder the first line is

“I’m pretty much fucked”.

 

LOG ENTRY: SOL 14

I start reading.

Mark you really are fucked, you absolute spanner. There is NO WAY that potatoes would grow in such shallow soil PLUS I’m pretty sure that “compost” would need to have well rotted manure in it. Trust me, I’m a gardener.

Trusted Amazon review:

 Incorrect advice

Read book about potato growing. Potatoes don’t grow in shallow soil, even on Mars. 0/10.

 

LOG ENTRY: SOL 57

Ok so I’ve suspended my disbelief and now I’m hooked on the story. Like, totally hooked. I could do without some of those massive number info dumps but that’s a minor criticism. Thank god for the black humour because without it this book would be pretty dry.

 

LOG ENTRY: SOL 134

LOVING how pacey this storyline is. Every page is:

“I’m probably going to die!”

“So I thought about it and…science!”

“I’ll just try to use radiation/deadly gasses/fire/duct tape”

“I nearly died but it sort of worked so I did some more science and now it really works! I’ll live to fight another chapter!”

Yay duct tape indeed.

LOG ENTRY: SOL 254

Mark is such a juvenile idiot but I can’t help but love him. I’ve suspended my knowledge of plants, I may as well suspend my feminist principals too.

Hehe, boobs (.Y.)

 

LOG ENTRY: SOL 345

The scientific research in this book is astounding. I mean, I have literally no idea if any of it checks out but it seems totally plausible so I’m going with it. If I’m honest, I don’t really care. It’s making up one hell of a story.

 

LOG ENTRY: SOL 405

Speaking of feminist principals, there’s pretty good representation of women working in science (as you would hope for a book set in the future). I feel better now about the 80085 thing earlier.

 

LOG ENTRY: SOL 467

Mark Watney, why aren’t you just a tiny bit depressed about what’s going on? There’s no way you can survive this. I love how chipper you’re being but you’re not really that believable as a character. Then again, it’s a lot more fun reading about an upbeat engineering genius than Marvin the Paranoid Android.

 

LOG ENTRY: SOL 504

I am so excited about the conclusion to Mark’s little issuettes. Yes it’s far fetched and yes I’m sure that in real life NASA would have to cut the funding but I love how this has all panned out. Brilliant stuff.

 

LOG ENTRY: SOL 549

I guess this is the end. What a ride! I loved every second of reading this book.

Premise: Go!

Pacing: Go!

Characters: Go!

Representation: Go!

Humour: Go!

Research: Go!

Gardening advice: Houston, we have a problem.

 

Five inconceivably home grown potatoes out of five.

Compelling, engaging, funny and ingenious; I loved everything about this book!

 

Review: Lullaby by Leila Slimani

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“The baby is dead, It only took a few seconds.”

Genre: Domestic thriller

Similar to: The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

Could be enjoyed by: The happily child free (the book hits very close to home)

Publication date: 18th August 2016

Book Riot Read Harder Challenge #10 Read a translated book written by and/or translated by a woman.

I’d heard a lot about Lullaby from various different sources; what with it being the genre-du-jour (domestic thriller) and the winner of the Prix Goncourt there seemed to be a lot of buzz about it. So when I saw it in the library I couldn’t wait to start reading it – and I can honestly say that the book is well deserving of the hype.

Myriam, a French-Moroccan lawyer, is the mother of two children. Her and her husband Paul vowed not to let the kids dictate their lives but since becoming a parent Myriam has struggled with her role as stay-at-home-mum. She decides to return to work and employs Louise, a seemingly Mary-Poppins-perfect nanny. Louise is all the things that Myriam isnt; a great cook, a calm and efficient caregiver, a neat and tidy individual who leaves the apartment looking better than it ever has. But as Louise works her way further and further into Myriam and Paul’s lives, they slowly realise that no-one is perfect…

I’ve just finished reading Lullaby and I honestly couldn’t put it down. The book is super tense – claustrophobic even, written in an unusual style (you know what happens in the first few pages; the narrative then goes back to examine the events that led up to it). Even though the characters are all horrible people, you get completely drawn into their lives and I spent the whole book trying to psychologically profile them and even apportioning blame (which is a terrible, judgemental thing to do, even to fictional characters). But that’s part of the book’s charm – it forces you to look at the judgement surrounding child-rearing and it magnifies each and every lazy stereotype that we have of the clueless father, the selfish career woman, the stay-at-home mum, the immigrant domestic help, the borgeoise children, the educated liberal elite… I could go on.

I loved the different cultural norms that were explored, especially in relation to race and social status and I think that perspective could have only been written so sensitively by an author of colour. For example, at one point Myriam states that she doesn’t want to hire a nanny with the same heritage as her because their shared culture and language would create an uncomfortable intimacy. Whilst I can understand this on some level – I guess it’s a bit like employing your friends – I would never have considered the tension that this could create and blithely assumed that Myriam would want her children to be as entrenched in their dual heritage as possible. That’s another of my lazy assumptions challenged!

I listened to a podcast where Lullaby was being discussed and one of the contributors said that she had to DNF the book because it hit too close to home. I can completely understand that – the book is an exploration of imperfect family life, guilt about not being a good enough mother and having the worst thing that can happen to you actually happen – in graphic detail – so it obviously hits quite a lot of sensitive areas. There’s no doubting that it’s a disturbing read. Several scenes made my skin crawl and as Myriam starts to see Louise in a new light I could viscerally feel her revulsion.

The ending is not for everyone but I enjoyed the open-ended finish. Again, you’re left to draw your own conclusions and I appreciated not having any kind of moral judgement or explanation foisted upon me.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading Lullaby and would recommend it to anyone looking for a fast paced domestic thriller – as long as they had a strong stomach.

 

Four “The chicken carcass scene will haunt me forever”s out of five.

Thrillingly fast paced, enthralling but with just the right amount of disturbing imagery, Lullaby is a fantastic read.   

 

 

 

Review: Once Upon A River by Diane Setterfield

 

Genre: Literary fiction

Similar to: A slower version of The Essex Serpent

Could be enjoyed by: Fans of literary fiction who don’t mind a dash of magical realism

Publication date: 17th January 2018

 

This is an awkward post to write. Initially, I LOVED Once Upon A River – like, sent out a tweet that the author liked about how much I was enjoying it – but once I got into the book…well… I got a little bogged down.

Let me explain…

It’s midwinter in England, in the old Swan Inn on the banks of the Thames. Stories are being told by candlelight by the village locals. Suddenly, a man bursts through the doors, heavily beaten and holding what appears to be a doll. But when the villagers try to help him, they realise that he’s holding the body of a drowned girl. They lay her to rest in a room on her own but hours later – a miracle! – she stirs and seems to come back to life. So starts a tale of intrigue, deception and magic, heavily laden with folklore.

So far so good.

But when the entire book is based around who is the girl  in an age when no-one could tell for sure, I felt like I was literally getting caught in the weeds.

Luckily, Once Upon A River is beautifully, magically written. The prose is lyrical, flowing, well… like a river. However, it also meanders about, with a huge cast of characters forming a number of slower moving tributaries that feed into the main narrative flow. The symbolism wasn’t lost on me but it took a while to understand. It also made the pace of the book s-l-o-w… really slow. Occasionally, the storyline was so stagnant I thought we’d veered off course into an oxbow lake. The gorgeous writing just about managed to pull me through the silt though.

The book is also incredibly atmospheric. I could literally see the characters (there’s pages and pages of descriptive text) even though they’re numerous and somewhat similar. Combined with the writing style this made the novel far more engaging but after a while, instead of gliding effortlessly through the prose I felt like I was drowning in it. I got somewhat swamped by the side stories and exhausted by the sense that I was treading water, waiting for the next thing to happen.

Oddly, the narrative picked up pace towards the end – to the point of feeling a little rushed – which I found quite jarring. I didn’t fully understand the ending (I sensed some kind of moral message but couldn’t quite decipher it) although I appreciated how the author tied all of the narrative threads together. I hated the idea that getting married and having a baby would make everything better though.

Overall, this was a very difficult book to review. I can completely see why some people (a lot of people) have given it five stars – it’s an easy book to immerse yourself in. However, I struggled with the slow pace and the lack of action. Whilst I quite enjoyed reading Once Upon A River, I didn’t love it – but I’m sure plenty of other people will.

Three “the words LITERALLY washed over me”s out of five.

Beautifully written and highly original but a little slow for my taste.

 

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Please note that I read this book for free in exchange for an honest review courtesy of NetGalley. Thanks NetGalley!

 

Review: The Map of Us by Jules Preston

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Genre: Fiction

Similar to: A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

Could be enjoyed by: Quirky fiction lovers

Publication date: 4th May 2018

In keeping with my highly focused and organised lifestyle, I’ve FINALLY got round to reading and reviewing The Map of Us which I requested one whole year ago on Netgalley. Better late than never!

You see, the reason that I delayed…and delayed…and delayed reading the book was that I simply had no idea why I requested it. I think I got sucked in by all of the “next Eleanor Oliphant” hype but in reality it’s nothing like that.

The Map of Us is a complicated story of one family across the generations. There’s Violet, physically disabled and seemingly disowned by her family, growing up at a time when that kind of treatment was somewhat socially acceptable; Tilly, her granddaughter who likes statistics, analyses her relationships with quantitative data and creates a Compatibility Index to prove where her and her ex went wrong; her father who is a professional sand sculptor; her sister who is addicted to buying designer handbags she can’t afford and her brother who is leading world authority on the colour blue. There’s also a whole host of other odd people who crop up along the way, adding to the narrative of the numerous main characters. And – hahaha – they’re all super quirky too! Hahahaha…ha. Oh.

To me, it felt like the characters were all a bit, well, weird purely for the sake of it. Don’t get me wrong, I love an oddball but when literally everyone in the book has their own thing going on that is nothing whatsoever to do with the main narrative then it gets a bit tedious. It’s even harder when the novel is character driven and the plot is wafer thin. For example, Tilly’s Dad refuses to sculpt dolphins, even though they always win the competitions that he enters. Fine – that’s a nicely observed bit of humour but the point was repeated so many times it felt utterly laboured.

My other issue was with the structure of the book. The chapters are written from a first person perspective but it takes a while for you to work out who is actually speaking and that there’s more than one narrator. This stops being a problem once you’ve got to know the family a bit – the chapters are short so it doesn’t take too long – but it is quite hard to get into at first. I don’t know why you’d deliberately make it awkward for the reader?

Overall, I think my main issue was that I just couldn’t engage with the characters and as such, wasn’t really bothered about what happened to them. The book was described as being charming and quirky and I can see why but for me it needed more action and a stronger narrative thread. I didn’t hate the book – it was a nice enough read but unfortunately I got bored with it all.

Two and a half “Oh, do grow up”s out of five.

Cute and quirky but kinda dull. Not for me!

 

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Please note that I read this book for free in exchange for an honest review courtesy of NetGalley. Thanks NetGalley!

 

 

New Year’s Resolutions

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Hello Bookworms!

Happy New Year everyone! I hope you all had a fantastic time last night drinking, dancing… going to bed early with a good book. However you celebrated, it’s time to push those hangovers/novels aside and think about priorities for the New Year.

Last year, I was incredibly laissez-faire about setting out plans for my blog and yet it grew far more than expected, so this year I’m going to be a bit more targeted in my approach to see if I can keep that momentum going. I’ve outlined ten (!) objectives that I’m hoping to achieve during 2019 which, as a thoroughly non-ambitious person is already making me feel queasy but I’m feeling the fear and doing it anyway. Well, for January anyway…

  1. Make my peace with Goodreads and use it properly. I dislike everything about the site but it’s a fantastic resource that I only semi-engage in. I want to at least log and give a star rating to every book that I read. I’m even going to set a reading target of 100 books – wish me luck!
  2. Smash my NetGalley backlog out of the park. Oh, book that I requested three years ago and still haven’t even started, I will get to you this year, I promise.
  3. Consistency is key, Lucinda. Basically, stop f#*king about with your “unintentional hiatuses” and post according to a proper schedule. Have the blogging equivalent of an emergency frozen pizza in your drafts so that you don’t get caught out.
  4. Keep going with the varied content. I published far more discussion style posts in the last half of 2018 and really enjoyed writing them, so…yeah. Keep it up.
  5. Branch out into other forms of social media. I’m now on Twitter but I also have a fun idea for Pinterest that I want to try out.
  6.  Get more involved in other people’s stuff. I’ve tailed off with the blog hopping recently so I need to get back on it.
  7. Complete Read Harder 2019. I’ve done the last three so this shouldn’t be a problem – it equates to reading two books per month so it should be easy.
  8. Complete the Chapter-a-day Read-along. This is hosted by Nick at nicksenger.com and as I had so much fun reading Les Miserables last year I’m taking part in the new FOUR BOOK challenge!
  9. Just…try to make a dent in your physical TBR. Now that I’ve got all of my unread books together I can see how many I have to get through. Oops. I’m determined to get the pile down. It’s currently 26 so should be achievable (this is just my physical TBR, I’m not even going to attempt to get my digital one down).
  10. Mumbles *something about getting 500 followers*. I’ve always been very much against the idea of counting followers but it is more fun when lots of people respond to what you’ve written. So, 500 is the nominal target. Wish me luck.

Here’s to a happy and prosperous New Year to you all!

What are your plans for 2019? How did you do with your 2018 resolutions? Let me know in the comments!

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: 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).