Blog Tour: After the Green Withered by Kristin Ward

Genre: Dystopian, YA

Similar to: It had something of a Hunger Games feel

Could be enjoyed by: Fans of environmental disaster dystopias

Publication date: 13th May 2018

 

Book Riot Read Harder Challenge #3 Read a book by a woman and/or author of colour that won a literary award in 2018

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“They tell me the country looked different back then.

They talk of open borders and flowing rivers.

They say the world was green.

But drought swept across the globe and the United States of the past disappeared under a burning sky.”

 

After The Green Withered begins like a hellish version of Silent Spring by Rachel Carson – except instead of warning about the potential devastation of our planet, the worst has already happened. Enora lives in a world post-climate change; a world where the relentless heat has caused desertification of the land and salinization of the oceans. Water is now the global currency and is severely rationed by the shady controllers of this fundamental resource – the DMC. Enora is shocked when she’s picked to join their elite ranks but when the true nature of her “Pathfinder” role becomes clear, she is forced to confront a painful reality. Who are the DMC? What are their true aims? And why do they need Enora?

I have to begin by saying that I’m so glad that I actually enjoyed this book. I am notorious for moaning about how much I don’t like YA fiction but I’m pleased to say that although the characters in the novel were teenagers, the overall tone was fairly grown up. There were some scenes later on in the novel that were quite upsetting so it’s definitely not a book for younger readers.

I loved how the scene was set in the first chapter regarding the state that the world was in. Yes, it was a bit of an info-dump but it was a powerful summary of everything that could (and probably will) go wrong if we continue to ignore climate change. The fact that the world-building was rooted in actual science made it hit home even harder.

The writing was good, even though I felt like the pacing was a little off in places. Some parts were a tiny bit slow, whereas others were heart-in-your-mouth exhilarating. However, I did like how easily I was able to visualise even the most complex, technical parts of the novel, such as Enora’s Pathfinder display or the kit that she used.

I liked Enora as a character but felt a little ambivalent towards some of her male counterparts – a couple of them popped up so infrequently that I struggled to emotionally connect with them. There’s clearly something fishy going on with every single one of them, so hopefully the next book will allow readers to get to know them better.

The book finishes on a total cliff-hanger and I have SOOOO many theories as to what happens next but I’ll keep them to myself for now. I’m absolutely dying to know though!

Overall, I thought that After the Green Withered was a good debut – really thought-provoking and engaging. I had a few issues with pacing and character development but I think that it’s a great set up for the second book in the series. I liked the overall theme of climate change and I hope that it might make people think more seriously about what action we need to take right now to prevent this awful world from becoming our future.

 

Three and a half  “OMG I think I know what happens next!?!”s out of five.

Well written and scarily prescient. A good debut with a fantastic message!

 

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Kristin Ward is on Twitter and has a website – click to follow the links.

After the Green Withered can be purchased from Amazon and Books 2 Read

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Please note that I read this book for free in exchange for an honest review courtesy of  The Write Reads blog tour. Thank you to Kirsten for giving me a copy of her novel and to Dave for putting the tour together!

 

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Review: Lucky Star by Holly Curtis

 

 

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Genre: Young Adult

Similar to: Like a mixture of a grittier Ferris Bueller and a tamer Kidulthood

Could be enjoyed by: I think adults aged 35+ would appreciate the nostalgia

Publication date: 25th April 2018

Book Riot Read Harder Challenge #23 Read a self-published book

Finally – FINALLY – someone has written a realistic portrayal of how teenagers ACTUALLY talk to each other and what they ACTUALLY get up to i.e. drinking, hanging around on street corners, shoplifting and driving too fast in crappy cars. Ahhh, memories.

Lucky Star is the coming-of-age story of Ben, set on the South Coast of England during the 1980’s. Like a lot of teens, Ben has to cope with a number of problems, from raging hormones to peer pressure and an inability to converse with the opposite sex. He also discovers a dark secret from his past regarding the death of his parents that he struggles to come to terms with. Living in Thatcher’s Britain affords Ben and his aunt with few opportunities for money, so he has to make a choice – stand out as a loser or fit in with the cool kids and obtain decent threads by the only method available to him – shoplifting.

I really enjoyed how realistic this novel was. Some of you may remember my previous post called “I Don’t Like YA, Please Don’t Hurt Me” where I bemoaned the fact that all teens in YA books were holier than thou middle class try-hards with money and cars and zero interest in smoking and drinking and sniffing glue. Fortunately,  Lucky Star does not fall into that trap.

I liked the colloquial phrases used throughout the dialogue and I loved the way that Holly Curtis captured the aimlessness of hanging around doing nothing and the weird way that teenage boys interact with each other (basically taking the piss and lightly thumping their friends as a way of expressing emotion). It gave me a real sense of nostalgia for my own teenage years, even though they occurred somewhat later on.

However, I did feel like the plot meandered quite a lot and I thought that there was some surplus fat that could have been trimmed down to make the focus of the novel sharper. For example, I really wanted to know more about the circumstances surrounding the death of Ben’s Mum and Dad and thought that a lot more tension could have been wrung out from those scenes, instead of reading about odd plotline offshoots like Ben going to a club with a random minor character.

Those issues aside, I enjoyed reading Lucky Star for the realistic portrayal of teenage life in the UK pre-2000 (good God – last century – that makes me feel so old!). With a little more revision this could easily go from being a good to a great read.

Three “YOU’RE GONNA GET CA…too late” out of five.

Realistic, good dialogue and characters but the novel’s structure needs some work.


Please note that I was sent a copy of this book for free directly from the author in exchange for an honest review. Thank you to Holly for giving me the opportunity to read her work!

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!

 

Review: The Never Dawn by R. E. Palmer

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Genre: Dystopian sci-fi, YA

Similar to: The Hunger Games mixed with 1984

Could be enjoyed by: Fans of creepy dystopian fiction with a YA feel

Publication date: 5th August 2016

Book Riot Read Harder Challenge #9 Read a book published prior to 1st January 2019 with fewer than 100 reviews on Goodreads.

*Disclaimer: I was approached by the author who gave me a free e-copy of his novel in exchange for an honest review*

Noah lives on the Arc – but not that one. This Noah is stuck in some kind of Orwellian nightmare, where the Arc is actually some kind of vast underground bunker which houses both the factory where he works and his sleeping quarters. Noah has to spend his days in servitude to the omnipresent Mother, toiling away at his menial job in preperation for the promised New Dawn – the day that his people can walk free again upon the Earth. However, Noah begins to notice certain…inconsistencies with Mother’s doctrine. When he meets Rebekah, Noah learns that there’s more going on than he could have ever dreamed possible and together, they attempt to discover the full truth.

The Never Dawn is a very atmospheric book. The world of the Arc is depicted in minute detail and the daily tasks that the workers have to carry out are written about extremely thoroughly. The writing evokes the sheer level of drudgery that Noah and his friends have to go through every day – however, that’s at the expense of the pacing of the storyline. Some parts of the book are quite laborious to get through and I did get a bit bored in the earlier stages of the text.

There are obvious religious themes at play within the novel and I felt that this added to the creepiness and sense of unease that builds as the story goes along. There are quite a lot of odd things left unsaid for the reader to pick up on – the changing reports about the situation on the surface, the lack of adults, the degree of control that Mother had over the worker’s daily lives. As an innocent character, Noah was utterly naive to his surroundings which felt completely authentic and also gave me as a reader the ability to start to form my own opinions about what was really going on.

As the book went on, the tension built beautifully and I had some genuine heart-in-mouth moments where certain rules were being broken. I was utterly on Noah’s side and despite the book being set in a tiny microcosm I liked the way that this added to the sense of claustrophobia.

The ending was something that I struggled with, however. I really couldn’t visualise the situation that the character’s found themselves in – for once the descriptions of the scenery were somewhat lacking. It’s a shame because up until that point I’d been enjoying myself but I couldn’t quite immerse myself in the final scenes.

Despite this, I liked The Never Dawn and would be interested to see what happens in the next instalment.

Three and a half “Who built the Arc… NOAH, NOAH”s out of five.

Intriguing and exciting but with a few issues around pacing and world building.

 


Thank you once again to the author for giving me a free copy of The Never Dawn.

 

Mid-Month Mini Reviews!

Hello bookworms!

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I seem to have created somewhat of a backlog of books to review recently and rather than drown in their vortex I’ve decided I’m going to try a few mini-reviews! This is something I’ve never done before and as someone who does like to waffle on a bit I’m not sure how well they’re going to turn out… but I’m giving them a go anyway.

This month, I’m focusing on three books that I’ve read for the 2019 Read Harder Challenge for Book Riot. They are:

#4 Read a Humour Book

Oh My God, What a Complete Aisling

Oh My God, What a Complete Aisling by Emer McLysaght and Sarah Breen

I wasn’t really looking forwards to this book – to be honest, I thought it would be frothy crap – but I was pleasantly surprised at much I enjoyed it. Aisling is a small town, sensible girl-next-door; the kind of woman with a french manicure, comfortable ballet flats and a swipe of brown mascara. She’s the dependable friend who plans the itinerary, books the tickets and packs a cardigan in her handbag “in case it turns chilly later”. Aisling has her whole life mapped out (steady job, marriage, kids, house, pension, retirement plot) but when her boyfriend refuses to fit in she shocks everyone by ditching him and building a new life for herself – one that’s totally off plan.

I loved seeing the character of Aisling develop and even though at times she was utterly clueless she always remained resolutely herself. I loved how Irish the text was too – the slightly unfamiliar words and cadence added a real authenticity to the characters.  The book reminded me a bit of Bridget Jones’ Diary – it had all the same humour and warmth and it was really good fun.

Four “what on earth are presses?” out of five.

 

#14 Read a cozy mystery

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The Guggenheim Mystery by Robin Stevens and Siobhan Dowd

This was more of a middle grade mystery than a cozy mystery (which I hate with a passion) so again, I cheated a bit – whatcha gonna do? I really enjoyed this book with diverse representation, an autistic mc and some Mums who actually did stuff (even if that was getting arrested and disappearing for a large chunk of the book). The story follows Ted, a twelve year old boy with Aspergers who has to solve the mystery of a missing painting taken from The Guggenheim Museum on the day that he happens to be visiting. I loved how Ted (along with his sister and cousin) worked methodically through their list of suspects, piecing together information and drawing logical conclusions to arrive at the correct answer.

This book is a sequel to The London Eye Mystery (which I now really want to read) but worked fine as a stand-alone. It must have been really difficult for Robin Stevens to take Siobhan Dowd’s idea and turn it into a full novel but I thought she did a great job.

Four “how did I not see that?” out of five

 

#16 Read a historical romance by an author of colour

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The Governess Affair by Courtney Milan

So I thought that OMG What a Complete Aisling was out of my comfort zone but The Governess Affair REALLY wasn’t something that I would ever pick up out of choice (hence why I cheated a tiny bit and chose a novella for this category). The story is somewhat predictable – an uptight, no-time-for-romance, I’ve-been-damaged-by-my-upbringing type falls in love with a headstrong woman and the usual enemies-to-lovers storyline plays out. Despite much eye-rolling from me the writing was actually very good and as a novella I quite enjoyed dipping into it for a bit of escapism. In fact, the only thing that I didn’t enjoy was the description of the tea that they drank. From a hip flask. Urgh. It reminded me of the time that I saw an American couple tip the milk into the teapot before pouring *shudders*. Sort it out Americans!

Three “that sounds like cold tea and a spam sandwich” out of five

 

So, how do you like the mini-review format? Have you read any of these books? Are you doing Read Harder 2019? Let me know in the comments!

 

Review: The Colour of Bee Larkham’s Murder by Sarah J Harris

 

Genre: Adult fiction, Mystery

Similar to: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime

Could be enjoyed by: Fans of quirky characters who don’t mind repetition

Publication date: 27th December 2018

 

Book Riot Read Harder Challenge #13 Read a book by or about someone who identifies as neurodiverse

Jasper is a teenage boy being brought up by his Dad after the death of his Mum some years ago. He’s autistic and also has face blindness (literally doesn’t recognise anyone’s face, only their clothing/jewellery etc.) and synaesthesia (sees colours and patterns when he hears sounds i.e. a barking dog looks like it’s surrounded by yellow french fries). When free spirited Bee Larkham moves into Jasper’s street and starts playing loud “alien” music, disrupting the peace and causing Jasper to see shiny silver shapes, he’s intrigued. When he meets her and finds out that her “colour” is a rare shade of blue (just like his Mum’s) he’s excited. And when he talks to her about his beloved wild parakeets that nest in her tree and she actively encourages them, Jasper thinks he’s made a new best friend. So why is Bee Larkham missing, and why does Jasper think that he’s killed her?

As you can probably already tell, this is a highly original book. Jasper is a great, multi-dimensional character  – an unreliable narrator whose innocent view of the world puts a very different spin on the main narrative. On the other hand, Bee Larkham is a horrible, manipulative individual. She had a terrible childhood and I’d guess that she was mentally ill but she’s literally a paedophile. A lot of people seem to have glossed over this (perhaps because a woman having sex with an underage boy is somehow seen as not as bad as a man having sex with an underage girl?) but as far as I’m concerned abuse is abuse – and there’s a lot of it in the book. However, because of Jasper’s narration, it’s all wrapped up in a kind of cozy, childlike innocence that takes away from some of the horror – but works brilliantly to amplify it when something bad happens to him.

The main plot of the book is fairly straightforward, but with Jasper narrating the action you have to very carefully read between the lines to see what’s really going on. His inability to recognise faces (even those of his parent’s) adds another layer of complexity, although this makes the story somewhat hard to follow in places and the repetition of endless descriptions of colours did get a bit tedious. I also thought that the plot could have been a bit tighter – to me, the book felt overly long and there were some slack parts during the middle chapters where nothing really happened.

I enjoyed the juxtaposition of the light and shade within the novel – the overall tone was lighthearted and amusing despite the dark subject matter. Jasper was totally naive to the situation going on around him but there was just enough information for the reader to be able to guess at what was really happening. There were a few red herrings thrown in for good measure too, which kept me on my toes and meant that I didn’t even begin to guess at what the final conclusion might be.

Overall, I liked The Colour of Bee Larkham’s Murder for it’s charm, complexity and uniqueness but there were times when the writing got a bit tedious and I disengaged from the storyline. I liked the neurodiverse representation and felt that this really added to the intrigue but the novel felt overly long and I sometimes found it hard to follow who was who. It’s a shame because this could have been an absolutely brilliant read – it’s certainly a great idea – but unfortunately the author didn’t quite pull it off.

 

Three and a half “don’t eat that pie!”s out of five.

Quirky, funny but oh-so repetitive and slow in parts.

A good – but sadly not great – read.  

 


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

 

TL;DR December Review

Hello Bookworms!

I can’t believe that’s Christmas over for another year.  As usual, we ate a lot, drank a lot, saw family and friends and even squeezed in a bit of reading (although not as much as I would have liked. We were at my Mum’s this year, which meant the usual Xmas eve crisis (no butter) and as always, one item of food being forgotten about on the big day itself. This year it was the pigs in blankets:

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We had some fun days out over the festive period, including a trip to the magic lantern festival at Birmingham Botanical Gardens:

…as well as a lovely Boxing Day walk round Kenilworth Castle (which was basically me saying LOOK AT THE DOGGIES!)

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We also had a family party and a get together for my friend’s sons birthday, which was nice – he’s three and him and his friends were very cute. We’re out at my friend’s brewery for New Years Eve so that should be fun too!

We’ve done almost nothing to the house this month – Christmas got in the way and it’s no fun doing DIY in an empty house with no central heating! We’ll start again in the New Year. It feels like the jobs will never end but when you consider that this time last year it looked like this:


And now it looks like this:


We’ve not done too badly! (No idea why the non-hubs is always bending over in my pictures, no wonder he has a bad back).

I completed the Read Harder Challenge in early December (which is unheard of – I’m usually finishing off the final few books over Christmas) so I can start afresh next year with the 2019 challenge. You can read my wrap up post here. The 2019 challenge has already been announced and I can’t wait to get started!

As usual, I also took part in the Calendar Girls meme where I chose Let The Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist  as my favourite book that’s set in Winter. I also did a fun Bookish Naughty or Nice tag where I found out that I’d been naughty – oops!

I was so busy with Christmas that I didn’t post many reviews on my blog but I did finally finish Les Miserables which had taken me all year to read (!) I was so pleased that I’d stuck with the novel (even through the boring bits) and I’m looking forwards to a new four-book challenge – more news to come shortly!

The reviews I managed to post were:

Les Miserables by Victor Hugo: An epic, sprawling novel that sometimes drifted off into existential waffle but was nonetheless brilliant. Four-and-a-half out of five.

Dragon Teeth by Michael Crichton: A fun, fast paced adventure that he somehow published from beyond the grave. Not his finest work but still a good book. Four out of five. 

Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie: I didn’t understand the hype around this book at all. It felt disconnected, unrealistic and many of the characters felt underwritten. Not terrible by any means, just not for me! Three out of five.

Of Women by Shami Chakrabharti: A fantastic overview of all the issues facing women but written in a dry, textbook style that loses the impact of the data in the way that it’s presented. A good overview but a thoroughly dull read.

So that’s December wrapped up! Have you had a good Christmas? Have you read any of the books I read last month? Follow the links or let me know in the comments!

 

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!

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.

#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!