Review: Les Miserables by Victor Hugo

C’est finis.

Apologies for not updating last week, I fell a little behind but by god I did it. I read Les Miserables in one month and can now put it away as soon as this review is written.

The Good:

I love Jean Valjean and the Bishop and the friends of the A B C (though we barely see them) (also RIP) and Cosette(ish) and Gavroche. The writing is beautiful. Many of the characters are compelling. There are many salient points made that strike a chord over two hundred years later. I’m genuinely glad I read it and it will be in my thoughts for some time. I felt almost sad when I finished it simply because it’s been something I did every day for a whole month and feel a weird kind of bond with it now. Call it appreciating literature or call it stockholm syndrome, some combination of the both is probably apt.

The Not So Good:

Oh Victor. Victor Victor Victor. In all my years of reading I have never yelled at an author like this. I was rooting for you. We were all rooting for you. You showed promise in how you wrote Fantine and then Cosette came and the ball has never been dropped harder.

Cosette essentially has no voice until after she marries Marius and even then it’s to note that she is being excluded. The relationship between her and Marius is bad from literally its first moment when he identifies her as a child and then suddenly becomes obsessed with her and literally stalks her. Victor does a lot of hand waving with that relationship telling us “they’re in love because that’s how it is for youths.” When I was ranting to my fiance about my disappointment in the relationship that is regarded as The Love Story in the novel, he suggested it may have been intentional to make a point about love being silly but I don’t think that’s it. I have not read any biographies of Victor Hugo so please don’t come for me if there’s some Vast Tragic Context but I just don’t think he understands romance or relationships. I am not expecting this to be a romance novel by any means but if you are going to write in a couple and declare that they are In Love… that’s just not enough. I need them to speak to each other first. I need them to consent to meeting. I need them to not make practically every single choice Marius makes. And while we’ve got Marius here…

Marius Pontmercy is one of my least favorite literary characters of all time. The few times he grows a spine it’s to support the most ridiculous and self-righteous standards he inherited from a man he never met based on stories from another man he only met by chance. He “adores” Cosette but he also lies to her until he makes the judgment that Valjean is worthy of associating with. He goes to the Cafe Musain once, spouts bullshit and has his ass handed to him and then doesn’t return until he decides to use the revolution as a convenient tool to die by suicide. I will never forgive him for parting Cosette and Jean Valjean and in short he is dead to me.

Final Thoughts:

This book was both better than and as bad as I anticipated. I’d heard about the meandering and the sewers. I wish he’d swapped some ancient history of sites for more interactions with the Friends of the A B C who are grievously underutilized. I wish Cosette had been given more of a voice. I wish he hadn’t slapped in a dash of the ol’ antisemitism near the end. I wish many things but I was also surprised by how much the book did move me. I got teary towards the end as Valjean was dying and I was genuinely sad when Gavroche died and my heart ached when he was taking care of his (unbeknownst to him) little brothers. I’m glad that I read it.

I have a bit of a book hangover but next up for the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge I’ll be reading Fatal Invention by Dorothy Roberts and I’m still working my way through A Daring Arrangement by Joanna Shupe for the Heaving Bosoms Reading Embrace. See you next week!

Review: The Obsession by Nora Roberts

The Obsession was my first Nora Roberts read and while it’s not going to be my last, I have complicated feelings with this one. But first – synopsis time!

“Naomi Bowes lost her innocence the night she followed her father into the woods. In freeing the girl trapped in the root cellar, Naomi revealed the horrible extent of her father’s crimes and made him infamous. No matter how close she gets to happiness, she can’t outrun the sins of Thomas David Bowes.

Now a successful photographer living under the name Naomi Carson, she has found a place that calls to her, a rambling old house in need of repair, thousands of miles away from everything she’s ever known. Naomi wants to embrace the solitude, but the kindly residents of Sunrise Cove keep forcing her to open up—especially the determined Xander Keaton.

Naomi can feel her defenses failing, and knows that the connection her new life offers is something she’s always secretly craved. But the sins of her father can become an obsession, and, as she’s learned time and again, her past is never more than a nightmare away. “

The first thing that struck me about this book is how beautifully Roberts writes. The imagery was vivid and the characters had unique voices and I cared about the heroine and her family. I appreciated the way Roberts depicted the viciousness of the crimes committed without it turning into something gratuitous for the sake of gratuity. I never felt like it was being used for shock factor. Granted, I say this as someone who listens to a lot of true crime podcasts so please do consider the trigger warnings listed below before picking this one up. Now onto the complicated parts.

The pacing was rough. It starts off with a bang and there’s a pretty steady flow for awhile. I echo many other reviews in citing the start of the trouble being when we catch up to grown up Naomi who is remodeling a house she bought. We go through many little mini trips to antique stores and paint swatch contemplations and furniture shopping and I kept waiting for any of those moments to have an impact on the story… without the payoff. I believe some of it is to give us a sense of the way she begins to bond with the characters and perhaps to lull us into a false sense of safety that the heroine herself experiences, but there was just so much of it that it grew tedious. There were times I felt as though I were overhearing shop talk and wished I could wander off to someplace more interesting.

I predicted the killer but I didn’t mind that too terribly much. I felt the justification or reasoning behind the killer was a little weak but not impossible by any means. I appreciated that the dog (spoiler) does not die but could have done without the melodramatic and completely unrealistic scene involving him towards the end. I felt that the brother’s career was a bit of a stretch, considering his age, but I’m not an expert on criminal forensics or the FBI or anything like that. My biggest issue with the book, and the reason I nearly DNF’d, is a consistent one for me and romance novels.

I hated the hero.

He was arrogant and Cool(tm) and abrasive. His supposed “tough love” struck me more like cruel invalidation. I didn’t like his persistence in pursuing her despite acknowledging that she was intentionally placing barriers. His insistence that he was justified because he could tell she wanted him holds no water with me because she said no and that should be the end of it until/unless she indicates otherwise. I’ve never believed “I can tell you want me” is a meaningful justification or excuse for pursuing someone. Their first interaction set the scene and their first kiss continued the theme of Hot Cool Dude Gets What He Wants Because You Want Him And He Knows It. I don’t mind an assertive guy. I don’t even mind one who might be a little emotionally clueless. But I just did not like him no matter how hard I tried and did not want them together.

Like I said, I intend to read more Nora Roberts in the future because her catalogue is immense and part of my dislike may just be that romantic thriller is a new subgenre for me. I’d like to give both another shot.

Trigger warnings: Rape, depictions of torture, wounded animal, suicide

Review: Les Miserables by Victor Hugo – Volume II. Cosette

I don’t fuck with ouija boards but reading the first Book of Volume II, Waterloo, made me want to summon Hugo just so I could make him defend his decision to spend an entire book rehashing Napoleon’s defeat purely to introduce us in the last moments to Cosette’s future love interest’s father. I’m sure there are other important French history reasons for this, but I remain bitter.

The second, surprisingly short book covers how Jean Valjean was taken back into imprisonment but escaped after saving someone’s life and faking his own death.

The third is where we finally bring Cosette into the main narrative. Cosette and Jean Valjean find each other in the dark woods. She feels safe with him and he feels drawn to protect her even before he figures out who she is, and it reinforced that this is a story about many things, most of all family. I love a good found family trope and while I suspect I won’t be too invested in her and Marius’s relationship later on, I have many feelings about Jean Valjean and Cosette. In the words of Victor Hugo:

“One, in fact, completed the other. Cosette’s instinct sought a father, as Jean Valjean’s instinct sought a child. To meet was to find each other.”

A modern equivalent in many ways is probably Hopper and Eleven in Stranger Things, down to the whole ‘reuniting in the woods’ and ‘running from the law’ stuff. Oh man, there’s a whole essay waiting right there.

Through the rest of Cosette’s volume it covers their narrow escape from Javert into a horrifying convent (with a detailed history of the convent of course) which includes some graverobbing. For a volume named after Cosette I was surprised by how little she appeared. Granted, all of the action going on is propelled by Jean Valjean’s fervent effort to protect her and give them both a better life. In many ways she’s been present from the beginning and will be throughout.

The next volume is Marius which I’m currently about halfway through and I have a lot of feelings about him and his whole family history and his flirtation practices. I also have many feelings about the Friends of the A B C, especially my Beloved Enjolras. Look forward to that next week and take care.

Review: Twice Tempted by Jeaniene Frost

Twice Tempted is the second of four books in Jeaniene Frost’s Night Prince series. I read and reviewed its predecessor, Once Burned, last year. I genuinely enjoyed it and I enjoyed this one too for the most part! Quick summary time!

“Leila’s psychic abilities have been failing her, and now she isn’t sure what the future holds. If that weren’t enough, her lover, Vlad, has been acting distant. Though Leila is a mere mortal, she’s also a modern woman who refuses to accept the cold shoulder treatment forever–especially from the darkly handsome vampire who still won’t admit that he loves her.

Soon circumstances send Leila back to the carnival circuit, where tragedy strikes. And when she finds herself in the crosshairs of a killer who may be closer than she realizes, Leila must decide who to trust– the fiery vampire who arouses her passions like no other or the tortured knight who longs to be more than a friend? With danger stalking her every step of the way, all it takes is one wrong move to damn her for eternity.”

Vlad continues to be an alpha who doesn’t slide into alpha-hole territory. Leila remains independently powerful. The sex remains just ok – save for a moment where he literally pierces her clit with his fang which was a step too far for me. The primary conflict between the couple surprised me a little bit.

If they’d been together for years and he still didn’t acknowledge or verbalize that he loved her I would have understood her disappointment more, but as Vlad fairly states, they’ve been together for what’s essentially a blink of the eye for him and still a short time for her. There’s a scene where he makes a public proposal – of vampirism. I understand her being upset about that, especially since she believed he was maybe proposing marriage, but I empathized with Vlad who shows her repeatedly how much she means to him.

A lot of big relationship things happened in this book and I wonder if it would have been worth pacing that out a bit more because one of the things I enjoy about romance is seeing how the relationship grows and changes, especially when following one couple through a series. There’s definitely still room to grow, but I wish we’d had a bit more time before some of those big changes happened.

I still enjoyed it, though, and will likely find a way for the third book to fit into the 2022 reading embrace.

Les Miserables by Victor Hugo – Volume I. Fantine

I decided to do my reviewing of The Brick by volume to keep me on track and to make it easier to remember what I felt about it. I feel like most people know Les Miserables to some extent, if only by the musical. I’ve wanted to read it since I got into the musical years ago, especially with the 2012 adaptation by Tom Hooper.

Volume I is titled Fantine but most of it is spent with the Bishop of D_ and Jean ValJean. The Bishop is a fascinating character. I don’t fault the adaptors for cutting his part way down, there are many parts where I feel like I would only understand what’s happening if I had a better knowledge of French history. He was in a family that narrowly escaped the Revolution (his only souvenir of that time of his life are his silverware and silver candlesticks) and he becomes this humble, benevolent Bishop who is considered pious to a fault but still beloved. He has an interesting experience with a man who had supported the execution of King Louis XVI. He is uncharacteristically severe and angry with him but is forced to acknowledge that it isn’t as black and white as “killing people is bad” when the people in question are the direct source of death and suffering for many others. The Bishop allows himself to be changed by this experience, something we don’t often see religious figures in novels do.

Jean ValJean’s story is much the same as in the book. Hugo does an excellent job illustrating how horribly broken the “justice” system was (and in many ways still is) and how damned people are through poverty and merciless systems. There are many sentences or phrases I’ve highlighted in my copy because through the dense prose there are some really beautifully descriptive pieces. Hugo is a genuinely good writer. He is a good writer who was clearly being paid by the word, but I can’t fault him for making his money.

When we meet Fantine it actually offers a small backstory for how she gets pregnant with Cosette. Novels I read from this time period in lit classes were always pretty severe with women who “fell from grace” or “ruined” themselves so it was interesting reading a contemporary of Dickens, Hardy, and Trollope write about a woman who has premarital sex and doesn’t describe her resulting circumstances as a reflection of her poor morals but rather the way society has failed her. He is critical of her lover who intentionally abandons her and the many people who continue this abandonment and debasement. He definitely has a bit of an infantilizing eye on women, and we do see some Madonna/Whore stuff going on as he writes pretty stark characterizations of women, but I still found this noteworthy.

Javert was another very interesting character and for once I wished Hugo would write more than he did. He describes the character being born and raised among the same miserables that the rest of the story is dedicated to. Unlike ValJean who views mercy as a kindness and a duty of humanity, Javert views mercy as an unfair farce and his only redeeming(?) quality is that he is as severe with himself as he is with others. There is no hypocrisy in this character, but there is also no charity. I pity him but also I would have dismissed him ASAP if I were Jean ValJean.

I am currently in Volume II. Cosette which began with a thorough description of the battle of Waterloo but we have finally reached the titular character and things are already picking up speed. If I keep reading 50 pages a day as planned, I should be done by the end of the month. I’m going to plan to keep a weekly review of whatever volumes I get through and then give an overall impression at the end.

This volume was pretty appropriately miserable but it sets the foundation for where all of these next characters are coming from/escaping and I’m looking forward to getting into more about the rebels. Other than Les Mis, I am currently reading Twice Tempted, the sequel to the Dracula romance I read last year, so be on the lookout for that review next week!

Review: Never Seduce a Scot by Maya Banks

Never Seduce a Scot is about as cliched HIghlander romance as you can get. It has a frail, petite, virginal heroine and a stoic, warrior hero. It also has a refreshingly consent positive throughline and a well handled enemies to lovers approach.

The plot is a familiar one. Two rival clans are forced into peace via marriage and the two who are chosen – Eveline Armstrong and Graeme Montgomery – are resistant but eventually fall in love. I hesitate to call it enemies to lovers because the tension that’s usually aligned with that is resolved pretty quickly and easily, at least on Eveline’s part.

I like the concept of the enemies to lovers trope but struggle to find reads that feature it which I enjoy because I really need a solid reason for the enemies part and I also don’t like how usually “enemy” is just an excuse for either character to be a flagrant asshole. You can be angry and bitter and vengeful – but don’t be a dick about it. The reasoning in this story is that the hero’s father was killed by the heroine’s father in a battle over a grudge that has lasted for a long time, somewhat like Romeo and Juliet where no one can really remember THE reason and it’s just how things are. Both characters are loathe to wed each other right up till the moment Eveline first “hears” Graeme and then she’s totally on board. Graeme, though recognizing her as a beautiful angel of gorgeousness, is still reluctant because he believes they cannot be together sexually because she is “touched” and he simply refuses to either initiate something with her that she might not fully understand or be able to consent to OR go sleep around with someone else. You love to see it.

Eveline is not mentally altered in any way however – she’s deaf. She can hear some things sometimes, specifically she can somewhat hear Graeme’s voice, but otherwise goes through life by reading people’s lips. This is the result of a horse riding accident and ensuing sickness and she allows people to think she is “simple” to avoid a marriage with a truly disgusting person. I spent half of this book thinking Graeme was just an idiot because he kept asking her questions and getting upset when she wouldn’t answer but in truth it was I who was the idiot as I fell prey to the most common reading mistake ever, forgetting that I knew things other characters did not. When she explains her deafness to Graeme they are able to establish a steadier form of communication. I kept waiting for her to be “cured” by true love or some doctor to have a miracle suddenly but it never happened. Banks actually allowed her heroine to have a disability and showed her find ways to adapt and have her loved ones adapt with her and she gets her happily ever after without having to change.

There are some things that gave me pause. The sex scenes were ok but the hero kept referring to her “woman’s release” and her “woman’s parts” and I feel like the author was going for “this is historical and they use historical phrases” but it took me out of the scenes. So did some of the “historically accurate” sexism like them chiding their little sister for wanting to learn to read (though they do finally allow it).

Overall I appreciated how the families clearly care about each other and the event that leads to the families agreeing to move beyond their feuding past was reasonable. I like that these characters could have been one-note but had conflicting feelings and loyalties and I know I’ll be going back to read the other two in the series when I need a break from my reading challenges. If you’re looking for a classic Highlander romance without the unfortunately common rape heavy plots or stoic to the point of not feeling heroes, this is a good one to try out.

Trigger warning: Eveline does describe being molested and abused by her betrothed (before Graeme) but this is not done graphically and it is brief. Their first time together is also painful for Eveline but she offers repeated, clear consent and the hero is careful to be attentive and gentle.

Heaving Bosoms Reading Embrace 2021

My final reading list for the year is the Heaving Bosoms Reading Embrace! You may remember (or read) that I planned on completing it last year but 2020 happened all over the place and here we are, trying again!

  1. Darkness Button – Twice Tempted, Jeaniene Frost
  2. Defcon Most Extreme – The Obsession, Nora Roberts
  3. Englandtimes America – A Daring Arrangement, Joanna Shupe
  4. Furrrrrr – Moonrise, Ines Johnson
  5. Ghost Boner – Highlander in Her Bed, Allie Mackay
  6. HB Author – What Comes After, Blair Leigh
  7. Holy Cats That’s A Nice Nipple! – Get A Life, Chloe Brown, Talia Hibbert
  8. Keep Being A Badass- First Grave on the Right, Darynda Jones
  9. Lady Love – Sunsets and Shades, Erica Lee
  10. Morality Boner – Rafe, Rebekah Weatherspoon
  11. Murder Smolder – Big Bad Wolf, Suleikha Snyder
  12. Never Seen Snow Before – Love at First Snow, Jami Davenport
  13. Orgasms and Waffles – The Waffle House on the Pier, Tilly Tennant
  14. Remembering Things in 2021 – The Wallflower Wager, Tessa Dare
  15. Roll Butter – The Widow of Rose House, Diana Biller
  16. Royal Boner – A Duke By Default, Alyssa Cole
  17. The Seven Seas – Savage of the Sea, Eliza Knight
  18. The Sheriff of My Vagina – Dance Upon the Air, Nora Roberts
  19. Traditional Naperville Tree Lightings – A Lake House Holiday, Megan Squires
  20. War Horniness – A Heart of Blood and Ashes, Milla Vane

*All books subject to change

Therapist Reading List

Creator: FilippoBacci | Credit: Getty Images

Last year I read Van Der Kolk’s The Body Keeps the Score and it was brilliant and fascinating and spurred a brand new reading project. This year, I have chosen six books related to mental health and counseling that I’ve either been meaning to read or are Foundational Texts in the field. Just like any other challenge I’ve chosen, the books are subject to change but currently my plan is to read:

Building a Life Worth Living: A Memoir, Marsha M. Linehan
Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle, Dr. Emily Nagoski and Amelia Nagoski
Maybe You Should Talk To Someone, Lori Gottlieb
Man’s Search For Meaning, Viktor E. Frankl
Reason and Emotion in Psychotherapy, Dr. Albert Ellis
My Grandmother’s Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies, Resmaa Menakem

Book Riot Read Harder Challenge 2021

Creator: Elijah Forbes

Oh hello there.

I disappeared shortly after The Troubles began because I simply stopped reading. Some of my friends coped with this year by reading even more, I delved into writing fanfiction. We all find our way.

I made a pretty decent dent in the BRRHC for 2020 but I am here with a new syllabus and new determination for BRRHC 2021:

  1. Read a book you’ve been intimidated to read – Les Miserables, Victor Hugo
  2. Read a nonfiction book about anti-racism – Fatal Invention, Dorothy Roberts
  3. Read a non-European novel in translation – Our Lady of the Nile, Scholastique Mukasonga
  4. Read an LGBTQ+ history book – Bisexuality in the Ancient World, Eva Cantarella
  5. Read a genre novel by an Indigenous, First Nations, or Native American author – The Only Good Indians, Stephen Graham Jones
  6. Read a fanfic – TBD
  7. Read a fat-positive romance – Spoiler Alert, Olivia Dade
  8. Read a romance by a trans or nonbinary author – Reverb, Anna Zabo
  9. Read a middle grade mystery – A Spy in the House, Y.S. Lee
  10. Read an SFF anthology edited by a person of color – Dark Matter: A Century of Speculative Fiction from the African Diaspora, ed. Sheree R. Thomas
  11. Read a food memoir by an author of color – The Cooking Gene: A Journey Through African American Culinary History in the Old South, Michael W. Twitty
  12. Read a work of investigative nonfiction by an author of color – Explaining Humans, Camilla Pang
  13. Read a book with a cover you don’t like – Kissing the Witch: Old Tales in New Skins, Emma Donoghue
  14. Read a realistic YA book not set in the U.S., UK, or Canada – A Girl Like That, Tanaz Bhathena
  15. Read a memoir by a Latinx author – My Time Among the Whites: Notes from an Unfinished Education, Jennine Capó Crucet
  16. Read an own voices book about disability – Run, Kody Keplinger
  17. Read an own voices YA book with a Black main character that isn’t about Black pain – If It Makes You Happy, Claire Kann
  18. Read a book by/about a non-Western world leader – Cleopatra: A Life, Stacy Schiff
  19. Read a historical fiction with a POC or LGBTQ+ protagonist – Tipping the Velvet, Sarah Waters
  20. Read a book of nature poems – A Thousand Mornings: Poems, Mary Oliver
  21. Read a children’s book that centers a disabled character but not their disability – Hands & Hearts, Donna Jo Napoli
  22. Read a book set in the Midwest – Gilead, Marilynne Robinson
  23. Read a book that demystifies a common mental illness – Everything is Horrible and Wonderful: A Tragicomic Memoir of Genius, Heroin, Love, and Loss, Stephanie Wittels Wachs
  24. Read a book featuring a beloved pet where the pet doesn’t die – The Familiars, Stacy Halls

All books are subject to change via DNFing or difficulty accessing them.


	

Review: Blood of Elves by Andrzej Sapkowski (trans. Danusia Stok)

I read Blood of Elves  by Andrzej Sapkowski (trans. Danusia Stok) because for the last month and a half instead of doing anything remotely productive like reading or writing reviews here, I’ve been writing fanfiction for Netflix’s The Witcher. For COVID-19 reasons.

Quick Note: I hope that all of you reading this are doing well and able to take the necessary measures to be safe. I know some of you will be essential workers. I hope that your employees are ensuring your safety by providing you with the proper PPE and that you’re doing a lot of self-care. For those of us who are quarantined and either working from home or (in my case) just kind of trying to hang in there, my thoughts are with you as well.

I’ve heard a lot of mixed things about Sapkowski’s series but frankly I really enjoyed this. I appreciated that the male figures aren’t just a bunch of stoic heroes but have feelings and concerns. There was a sense of humor that I also wasn’t expecting because in my admittedly limited experience in reading Fantasy, that isn’t usually a thing. I’m invested in the characters and looking forward to reading on in the series.