Husband-Wife Book Club Reads “A Tale of Two Cities”

As part of our New Year’s Resolutions, Jason and I decided to start a husband-wife book club. Here are our reviews about the second book on our list: A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. This time again the book was the wife’s pick.

What the wife says:

I’ve had a mixed bag of experiences with reading Charles Dickens over the years. I read Great Expectations as a teen and enjoyed it, although I found the language rather dense at times, and sometimes hard to follow. Funnily enough, I can’t remember anything about reading Hard Times as a university student (although not for a class), except that I enjoyed it. Oliver Twist, however, was another story. Hated the book, but loved the musical. Go figure.

However, I figured A Tale of Two Cities would be a sure success. Unlike Oliver Twist, it was written towards the end of Dickens’ career. And it’s about the French Revolution, so it’s bound to be exciting. And everyone goes around quoting “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” the beginning of the first sentence of the novel.

Well, I have to say “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” accurately expresses my experience of reading A Tale of Two Cities. Except, I’d reverse the sentence to read “It was the worst of times, it was the best of times.”

First, the worst of times:

The beginning is so slow. There are chapters with no characters whatsoever where Dickens writes in pure historical metaphor, quoting past events in flowery language, with subtle allusions to changes in legislation, or minor murders, or what-have-you. Without the trusty notes at the back of the book, I wouldn’t have had a clue as to what the hell was going on.

When characters are introduced, the scenes jump around so frequently it is hard to keep track of them all. Sometimes we are following a touching father-daughter reunion. Other times we are listening in on the banter between a drunk and a banker. Other times we are in a wine shop in Paris, trying to grasp at some subversive activity. And through it all, I often thought, “So what?”

The transition between the scenes was jarring and the hints at intrigue that were probably supposed to propel the reader through the several hundred pages, such as “Why was the father imprisoned before the book started?” or “What is Mr. Darnay’s true identity?” or “How will this family be connected to the French Revolution?” really didn’t get resolved until the third act. Which means as a reader you have to wade through dense, archaic, indirect prose and choppy scenes for approximately 500 pages.

I am a very fast reader. This book took me over two weeks to finish. This is saying something. I considered abandoning it many times.

Sometimes, I’d be thinking along the lines, “Wow. They got married. That was quick. I never realised there was any love there because instead of following their love story we were stuck following that banker for a million years.”

Or later, I’d think, “Seriously? Sidney Carton? Wow. He came out of nowhere.”

Or “When will this revolution just start already and turn from knitting needles to knives?”

In fact, I mostly read this novel to prove I could. However, it wasn’t all bad. There was some humour in a particular graveyard scene. And sometimes how Dickens conveys the mood and atmosphere is brilliantly cinematic.

Still. Around 500 pages of introductory material. That. Is. A. Lot.

It almost drove me to make shoes.

The best of times:

Finally, in the third act, the pacing improves drastically. I read the third act in one night. It was just over 250 pages. And Dickens does actually tie all the characters together in the final plot points. He definitely pulled a fast one on me. There were twists I didn’t see coming.

The mob mentality, the moral discussions, the character development in several key characters, as well as the parallelism with the beginning and the end showed why Dickens is considered a master.

Even though his characters achieve such lofty ideals their actions become implausible, as a reader you are left wishing that humans did act that way and wondering if they ever will.

So… if you can endure 500 pages of introduction for this small but stirring conclusion, A Tale of Two Cities might be worth the endurance. If not, well, there are classics that are much easier to read.

What the husband says:

I’ve always had mixed experiences with classic novels. Either I enjoy them and manage to finish them like them like Pride and Prejudice or Wuthering Heights, or I lose interest and leave them unfinished, like War and Peace.

A Tale of Two Cities falls into the latter category. Emily actually read it but alas, I do not have her patience. She told me it got interesting by Part 3!

I can say that my first encounter with this book was probably about twenty years ago, when I was just a kid. Back then, I thought the opening paragraph about the best of times and the worst of times was pretty cool and I memorized that paragraph. When I tried to read it a couple of weeks ago, I couldn’t get past the first couple of pages and went back to reading about public-key cryptography.


“Warcross” by Marie Lu

“Warcross” has been showing up a lot in my Twitter feed, so when I saw it on the shelf at my local library, I was super excited. And when I entered the futurist world of Emika Chen, well, I was hooked. I didn’t put this thing down for two days, reading long into the night.

Emika Chen is a pretty badass bounty hunter, and the opening sequence in the first chapter is to die for. I learned a lot about good writing by reading the beginning. Not only do we sympathise with Emika as a struggling teen whose just trying to pay her bills, we also are faced with very high stakes. If Emika doesn’t turn in this criminal to the police for the reward, she will be evicted from her apartment by the end of the week. And of course, the action scene where she chases around the criminal around New York City on an electric skateboard is super exciting. By the end of the first chapter, I was committed to the story.

Then, the story gets more involved when Emika tunes into the opening game of the Warcross Championships. Still desperate for cash, she decides to hack into the opening game, but a glitch pushes her into the action and she is viewed by everyone–the competitors, the audience–everyone.

After her failed stunt and sudden fame, it isn’t surprising that the game’s creator, the super rich and famous Hideo Tanaka wants to meet Emika. Hideo flies Emika to Tokyo and makes her a deal. Emika isn’t the game’s only security problem. And Hideo thinks with her help, he can finally get this other security problem under control.

This novel is really stunning with its depiction of the future. The virtual reality is flawlessly described. And the description of the Warcross games were believable and pulled upon various video game tropes. I have to admit though, however good these descriptions were, I’d rather play a video game in real time than read a second-hand description in a novel. It’s sort of the difference between watching and playing sports.

Still, the future that Marie Lu creates is pretty credible. Sometimes I read sci fi where the coding, virtual worlds, etc, are all too fantastical and not grounded in probable technology. Not in “Warcross.” This is the real deal.

Also, the characterisation was really good. I loved Emika. I loved Hideo. Their personalities shone in the plot.

In fact, the only true beef I have about “Warcross” is the ending. It made me mad. Without spoiling too much, there are tons of loose ends you have to discover the answers to in the sequel. After such a great ride, the ending felt like a huge letdown. I felt like, “I read 353 pages for this!!!” Which just goes to show how invested I was in the characters and their story, but still.

Cliff hangers. I think they’re for the end of chapters. Not for the end of stories. Grump, grump, grump.

I guess I’ll have to be patient and wait for the sequel to discover what happens next.

Husband-Wife Book Club Reads “My Man Jeeves”

As part of our New Year’s Resolutions, Jason and I decided to start a husband-wife book club. Here are our reviews about the first book on our list: My Man Jeeves by PJ Wodehouse. This time the book was the wife’s pick.

What the wife says:

I chose PJ Wodehouse’s My Man Jeeves because I realised in our entire Husband-Wife Book Club List, we didn’t propose any humour books. This seemed to be a strange omission on our part, so I decided to include one.

Now Jason and I tend to have similar senses of humour. Trying to describe our shared sense of humour is like trying to describe the punchline of a joke. I will say, however, that we can be quite silly, sarcastic, and enjoy good wordplay. We don’t tend to laugh at that random humour that appears in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

Now sometimes Jason’s and my humour diverges. I find that Bloggess post about the giant metal chicken hilarious. And I think any sort of musical humour is great from Weird Al’s Ebay song, to that glorious scene in Back to the Future involving Marty, a tape-player, a space suit, and Marty’s dad.

Jason does not find these things particularly funny.

The big question I had when we were reading My Man Jeeves was: Will Jason find this humour funny or not?

So did he? I’ll let him tell you himself. Stay tuned to hear Jason’s opinion in his own words in his section of the post.

My Man Jeeves is a compilation of eight short stories. Of these, only four involve the boring aristocrat, Wooster, and his clever manservant, the unstoppable Jeeves. These stories were very funny and British.

I don’t want to spoil the stories, but let’s just say when I talked about them with Jason, I was laughing so hard. I particularly enjoyed the story about the girl trying to impress her boyfriend’s ornithologist dad. Jeeves’ solutions to his employer’s problems are unexpected and quirky and usually quite funny too. Usually.

At least, I thought so. What did Jason think? Stay tuned.

Also, I tried to give these Wooster-Jeeves stories a modern interpretation and see if they worked with any homoerotic undertones. When I took arts classes at McGill University, this was all the rage. Superficially, it seems to work since Jeeves does get rather stressed about Wooster’s appearance and fashion sense. On a deeper level, however, it seems to be clear that there isn’t anything going on there. The romance between Wooster and Jeeves is dead, folks.

However, this doesn’t matter in the slightest. These stories don’t require any deeper social commentary. Their purpose really is to amuse.

Now the other four stories in the compilation did not involve Jeeves. Cry. Instead, they described another bloke, Reggie. These stories had predictable plots and weren’t as funny. They relied overused comedy tropes, such as the fat kid who eats too many sweets. Also, the women in these stories really grated on my nerves.

My conclusion: Read the stories featuring Jeeves, skip the rest.

What the husband says:

My Man Jeeves reminds me of Sherlock Holmes with crime replaced by annoying relatives and Sherlock Holmes replaced by Mr. Wooster’s butler, Jeeves.

Emily kept asking whether I found this book funny. Mostly, I didn’t. I did find it amusing in return for his solutions, Jeeves pressures his master not to make supposedly poor wardrobe choices. Amusing isn’t hilarious, however. Jeeves solutions also don’t involve much ingenuity, so when I didn’t find them funny, there was little else in the story to keep me entertained.

The worst stories were those not about Jeeves and Wooster. Although these other stories are told in the style of the rest of the book replete with British slang, I found myself struggling to get through them because the dynamic between Wooster and Jeeves is absent and not replaced by anything comparable.

While I did enjoy parts of the Jeeves stories, and while I’m glad that I finally learned where that now defunct ‘Ask Jeeves’ search engine came from, I won’t be reading any more of them. My suggestion is just to read the first story in the book, and if you find it funny, keep reading. Or keep reading if it’s part of the book club, and hope it’s the last humour book on the list.

Introducing Husband-Wife Book Club!

My husband, Jason, and I were trying to think of a project we could do in the New Year.

Last year, he tried to teach me how to code in Python and I tried to teach him French (we’d each learn a new language, you see), but it turned out to be a bit more involved than we expected. We needed something that didn’t require us both to do copious amounts of homework and teaching preparation. Mainly because I have no motivation to do my homework since Jason will always love me regardless.

Jason had a brainwave. We’re always reading. We should start the Husband-Wife Book Club!

The structure of our Husband-Wife Book Club is as follows:

1) We will read 10 books in 2018. One book a month for 10 months along with a 2 month break, since this year at some point, we will move.

2) All of these 10 books, neither of us has ever read before.

3) Jason will pick 5 books. I will pick 5 books. These books can be anything that is intended to be read cover to cover (i.e. no reference books for identifying Australian reptiles, but a nonfiction book such as a biography or a true story about a parrot is okay). They can be fiction or nonfiction, in any genre. Also, both Jason and I have to agree that we should read the book. Both Jason and I have the power to veto a proposed novel.

In this choosing process, Jason exercised his power of veto quite liberally. I learned that Jason prefers not to read works written in epic verse. Or ancient works translated from Latin about Roman society. Or an entire three hundred page book of fairy tales. The latter, admittedly, was an epic fail. As much as I like fairy tales, even I cannot read three hundred pages of them.

4) Each month, we will review the chosen books on my blog.

So, which books did we pick? (The pink is my choice, the blue Jason’s, hooray for traditional genre roles!)

1) My Man Jeeves by PJ Wodehouse

2) Tau Zero by Poul Anderson (sci fi)

3) Paradise Lost by John Milton (The only epic poem permitted!)

4) The Mystery of the Blue Train by Agatha Christie

5) A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

6) A Graveyard for Lunatics (Another Tale of Two Cities) by Ray Bradbury

7) A novel that the wife still has to choose. (Why haven’t I done this yet? What’s wrong with me? I don’t know!)

8) Arslan by MJ Engh (More sci fi)

9) All the Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater (This is me, of course I want to read Stiefvater!)

10) A Winter of Our Discontent by John Steinbeck

You can read along with us if you like! You don’t have to be a husband or wife or married to us to join! 😀

“A Jigsaw of Fire and Stars” by Yaba Badoe

I haven’t read a magical realism book since Isabelle Allende’s “House of Spirits” in high school, which was a fan favourite with our grade eleven class due to the copious amounts of sex in it. Well, sorry to disappoint, but “A Jigsaw of Fire and Stars” is a magical realism novel without copious amounts of sex. But you should totally read it anyway, because it deals with some heavy themes and the writing is gorgeous. (How’s this for an intro? Sorry, I did really like this book.)

“A Jigsaw of Fire and Stars” starts with a shipwreck of migrants and refugees from Ghana. The sole survivor is Sante, a baby, who is found floating ashore in a treasure chest of her people. Fourteen years later, the story then follows Sante’s life as a member of a circus containing people of all races and nationalities. Despite being orphaned, she’s managed to find her family. However, the dead from the shipwreck are calling on Sante to avenge her people.

This novel deals with a lot of tough issues, such as sex trafficking and murder of refugees in a pretty matter of fact way. And despite the matter of factness, there is a lyrical quality to the writing with symbolism, dreams, and strange magic from the spirit world. There are universal themes of identity and family and belonging running through the entire plot line. In addition, the relationships between Sante and her adopted siblings Cobra and Cat are fleshed out and feel real. Essentially, “Jigsaw of Fire and Stars” is chock full of good stuff and has a unique voice.

Even a few weeks after reading it, I’m still wrapping my head around the fact that people sank a ton of ships containing many, many people and their families just to collect some insurance. It is both horrific and tragic. Even a few weeks after reading it, I’m still wondering how Badoe managed to write so beautifully about something so terrible. Amazing and thought-provoking.


“The Last Namsara” by Kristen Ciccarelli

Asha is convinced she is morally corrupted. Not from killing dragons, but from telling forbidden stories. Ever since her childhood, she’s killed the creatures to protect her father’s kingdom, trying to redeem herself for a mistake she made when she was young that harmed the city. But now dragons are hard to find, and Asha is forced to tell the old stories to lure them out. Old stories that result in sickness and death and destruction of those who tell them.

Despite her service to the kingdom, her people still hate her. And with her upcoming wedding to her father’s cruel commandant, Asha hopes for an escape. Her father offers a trade: the head of the king of dragons for her freedom from the marriage.

However, when Asha starts the hunt, a slave boy challenges everything that she believed to be true about herself, about her relationship with dragons, and about her kingdom.

This novel describes a rigid society with unusual customs and tensions between traditional values and the new regime. It also contains many beautiful short folktales interspersed throughout the chapters. These stories contribute to building Asha’s world and help to understand the present of the novel in context with its past.

It has a beautiful message about how in order to find your true self, you have to look beyond society, beyond your family, and beyond whatever toxic truths you’ve been told and internalised about your character. In Asha’s world, there is prejudice and racism, and the younger generation must work to break these barriers down and fight against injustice. Asha is a strong heroine and the conflicts she deals with in her fantastical society apply to today’s world as well.

“The Potion Diaries” by Amy Alward

I fell in love with this book the minute the princess of Nova’s love potion turned indigo instead of pink. There’s a lighthearted, whimsical feeling in the details right from the get-go. The princess poisons herself with said indigo potion instead of her crush, and causes a national crisis by falling in love with herself. And now Samantha (Sam) Kemi, an alchemist’s apprentice, is summoned with the rest of the kingdom’s alchemists to compete to find a cure.

Sam has to travel the world to find ingredients for this cure, from the deepest jungles to the highest mountaintops. The world-building in exotic locals and the mythical ingredients from plants to animals always felt well-developed and real. In fact, after reading this book before bed, I sank into a dream full of unusual pink-tinged winged creatures in the forest where Sam found the eluvian ivy. The settings stick with you for awhile.

I also enjoyed the competition between Sam, an alchemist trained in the old ways, and the ZoroAster megapharma company with their synthetic, modern compounds. It reminded me of “Witchworld” by Emma Fischel, which has a similar conflict between ancient and modern magical technology. Of course, in “The Potion Diaries” the conflict wasn’t black and white, mainly because of Sam’s wish to try out the modern laboratory of her rivals and the CEO of ZoroAster’s hot teenage son who greatly admires Sam himself.

“The Potion Diaries” blends magic and romance in a competition that lets one girl try to prove her abilities and help her country. It’s a great read.

“The Problem with Forever” by Jennifer L. Armentrout

Mallory Dodge has difficulty speaking up. In fact, Mallory has trouble speaking at all. Her early childhood experiences in foster care conditioned her to stay quiet, unnoticed, and out of sight. Now Mallory has been living with loving and understanding parents for years where she has been homeschooled. However, she wants to go to college. And to test whether or not she is ready for the crowds and noise and people at college, she is trying out her senior year at the local high school.

This would be hard enough for anyone, but it gets harder. On Mallory’s first day of class, she encounters Rider Stark, her friend and protector from foster care. All the memories Mallory’s suppressed start coming back and she feels drawn to Rider immediately because of their shared past. Can Mallory cope in the challenging high school environment? Can she learn to speak up and face her past? And will Rider help her or hold her back?

This is a book that deals with a lot of sensitive, tough issues. It takes a hard look at the failings of the foster care system, child abuse, and the disparity between the rich and the poor. And yet it is hopeful. The book starts with Mallory in a pretty good place. She’s escaped the abuse, she’s living in a place of privilege, and she has a second chance to rewrite her story and grow. Of course, her scars remain. Why wouldn’t they?

Also, a strong current of attraction between Mallory and Rider drives the plot. Will they become romantically involved or won’t they? Will Rider also manage to escape poverty and believe in himself?

This novel reminded me strongly of Rainbow Rowell’s “Eleanor and Park” because it deals with very similar issues. It also shares a central conflict, telling a story of a romance between two teens with families in very different classes and how their families respond to their relationship.

It made me consider: Why are people (including me, obviously) attracted to these stories? They are difficult reads. They aren’t escapist. They take a hard look at the problems in the world around us, and some of these problems undoubtedly the reader will have faced or are facing, or people close to them have faced or are facing.

Basically, the conflict and issues in this story gets up close and personal. It doesn’t matter where in the novel the reader sees themself. They may relate to the privileged house of Mallory’s adoptive family, or the meets-the-basic-needs-but-still-full-of-love house of Rider’s current foster family, or the worst case scenario house of the foster family from Mallory and Rider’s past (I sincerely hope not). The reader will see themself in the story somewhere. And yet, no matter which class the reader relates to, everyone has the opportunity to fall in love. It’s human. Love conquers borders, classes, races, everything. Love conquers all.

Because in the end, it’s what everyone wants the most: to love and be loved. And, as Armentrout quotes from “The Velveteen Rabbit,” everyone wants to be real as well.

Stories that deal with this message and show that despite all the troubles in the world that love can still exist, well. Those are powerful stories. And somehow they are the most hopeful.

Kiersten White’s “Paranormalcy” Series

I really enjoyed “And I Darken” and “Now I Rise” from Kiersten White’s recent series, “The Conqueror’s Saga.” In fact, I needed more of White’s writing now. I couldn’t wait for book 3 of “The Conqueror’s Saga” to come out.

Fortunately for me, White has written more books. I gravitated towards her “Paranormalcy” series and read all three books ridiculously fast. Since I read her newest series first, I expected the characters in “Paranormalcy” to be dark and disturbing and the world to be immensely detailed and historical. However, “Paranormalcy” is a completely different beast. Actually, I was glad to read something lighthearted and bubbly for once. Sometimes the darkness in the books I read gets to me and it was a great contrast to meet Evie, the star of this series, who loves boys, pink, and kicking paranormal butt with her taser.

The dialogue throughout the series was hilarious. Evie is both girly and awesome. Too often I meet the female character who is determined to be so tough that she loses her femininity. This is such a common trope these days, it gets tiring. Evie is a great example of how there is nothing wrong with being a girl and liking girl things. She shows that being a girl does not contradict being strong.

Even though the “Paranormalcy” series is cheerful and pokes fun at common paranormal tropes in YA (cough, cough, vampires, cough, cough), it still deals with serious themes. Evie’s faerie ex-boyfriend definitely has some issues with consent and boundaries. These themes play throughout the books, but don’t get too heavy and in-your-face. And, although the evil, sexy faerie trope has definitely made its mark on the YA shelves, “Paranormalcy” is different enough to enjoy. I thoroughly did.

“Witchworld” by Emma Fischel

I’ve had a soft spot for middle grade novels about witches ever since I was eight. At that age, I read “The Witch Family” by Eleanor Estes and decided the witch life was for me. Now that I’m older, nothing has changed. I love witches with their unusual potions, and tendency to veer towards evil, and pride in ugly appearances. They’re great. So when I saw “Witchworld” on the shelves of my local library, I knew it was my kind of book.

“Witchworld” describes a modern family of witches: a single mum and her two daughters. The story follows the youngest daughter Flo. The world of witches has evolved from the last time I visited, and now has modern devices like a spellstick instead of a magic wand, and a skyrider instead of a broomstick. However, when Flo’s grandma comes to stay with her ancient techology and cooks up a potion in Flo’s mum’s spotless kitchen, well, things are bound to get interesting. Flo’s grandma is convinced Witchworld is in danger from ghouls.

Only one problem: everyone in Witchworld knows ghouls are extinct.

Or are they?

“Witchworld” is hilarious. I loved the intragenerational familial bantering. I loved the parallels with young people and technology in our world. And the main character Flo with her obsession with pixies and concern about doing the right thing is a relatable and fun  voice to follow. This is a great read for younger readers.