Les Misérables – Book No. 17

This book review is a part of Reading Week. To read more reviews, click here!

72. Les Misérables by Victor Hugo (1862)

Dates: 6/1/20 – 7/14/20 (43 days)

Plot: A French historical novel that follows the lives of several, seemingly unconnected characters throughout the years following the French Revolution.

Experience Before Reading: I saw the 2012 movie, but didn’t remember too much. Other than Do You Hear the People Sing?.

Takeaway: This is a classic. Forget what I’ve said about most of my other reviews, this is a book that everyone needs to read.

I don’t know what it is either. Maybe it’s because the book is so long (it’s the longest on our list!) that you become so attached to the characters. Maybe it’s because the brilliant intertwining of each character’s journey with another. Maybe it’s the way Hugo spirals and rambles about seemingly nothing to capture the zeitgeist of the French Revolution. But seriously, this book should be read by everyone.

My only criticism – because really, you’ll never love everything – is that Hugo’s tangents can result in chapters of nothing related to the plotline. Histories of the French sewers, practically a full reenactment of the Battle of Waterloo, an aside on slang and linguistics. It’s everything. There’s a rumor Victor Hugo was paid by word – which I couldn’t back up with evidence – but my oh my, does it go on forever. According to Wikipedia alone, nearly a quarter of the novel is spent on digressions. When you consider how long the entire book is, it’s like you’re reading several 30,000 word books within Les Mis.

Which brings me to one of my most important points: listen to it as an audiobook. This was my first ever audiobook. While the audiobook is 60 hours, I promise it’s worth your time. I was hesitant about audiobooks, since I can be a distracted listener, but the experience was heightened from listening to it, I think. Plus, it saves your sanity from some of those digressions.

As much as I’d love to go on and on about the characters, I don’t want to ruin it. What I will say, is I found these characters well-written. Maybe not as much so as Atlas Shrugged, but still so vivid. Especially Jean Valjean. I feel like I understand him as a character and can very clearly delineate his values.

Lastly, I want to talk about the way these characters co-exist together. The way some of these characters foil is remarkable. The way their paths cross and blur the lines of enemy and friend is beautiful. It’s almost Shakespearean at times. Don’t believe me? Read the end of book two and tell me it’s not like a comedy. (Note: There are five “books” within the novel).

I’m looking forward to checking out the musicals this weekend. While personally I’m not a musical fan, I have seen the 2012 movie and did enjoy that – some of those songs are really, really catchy.

Would I Recommend It?: Yes.

Abbey’s Review

Dates: 5/18/20 – 5/31/20 (14 days)

Experience Before Reading: I am very familiar with this work. I have seen the musical multiple times (it’s incredible), I have seen the movies multiple times (skip the 1990s one), I have watched the miniseries once, and last year while working in the office doing mind-numbing paperwork I listened to the entirety of the novel in a week. Since I am currently working from home in a quiet apartment, I decided to make the most of my work hours and listen to Les Mis again!

Takeaway: This is truly such a wonderful work of literature that focuses on the importance of sharing love and spreading goodness to the people around you. This novel and subsequent adaptations have inspired revolutions and songs from the musical can often be heard at protests around the globe. A life changing work of literature.

Would I Recommend It?: I feel like I have rated this lower than it deserves, but I think since I am so familiar with the story, it doesn’t hit me as strongly as it once did. However, I still feel that this is a must-read work – it is so ingrained in our culture. The message of the novel is simple and lovely. But remember to prepare yourself for some long winded descriptions that are mildly infuriating. I find it helps to remember that Victor Hugo was paid per word for his book, so can you really blame the man for that chapter about the sewer system?

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Fahrenheit 451 – Book No. 16

This book review is a part of Reading Week. To read more reviews, click here!

27. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (1953)

Dates: 7/6/20 – 7/12/20 (6 days)

Plot: In a dystopian future where firemen start fires instead of putting them out, one of the firemen becomes cognizant of the horrors of what they’re actually doing: burning books.

Experience Before Reading: I was assigned this book in 10th grade and I detested it. A little strange seeing as I definitely agreed with the themes – but we should never claim to understand high schoolers. It was probably cool to hate it at the time. Either way, I didn’t finish it back then.

Takeaway: This book hits differently years later. I enjoyed it this time around. Ray Bradbury expresses his thoughts so well on abstract issues, I thought it would be most impactful to take some of the themes I noticed and give you some quotes that really resonated with me:

Mass Media and Condensation of Information:

Digest-digests, digest-digest-digests. Politics? One column, two sentences, a headline! Then, in midair, all vanishes! Whirl man’s mind around about so fast under the pumping hands of publishers, exploiters, broadcasters that the centrifuge flings off all unnecessary, time-wasting thought!

p.55

Ignorance is Bliss:

We must all be alike. Not everyone born free and equal, as the Constitution says, but everyone made equal. Each man the image of every other; then all are happy, for there are no mountains to make them cower, to judge themselves against. So! A book is a loaded gun in the house next door. Burn it.

p.58

Impacting and Absorbing the Human Experience:

The difference between the man who just cuts lawns and a real gardener is in the touching, he said. The lawn-cutter might just as well not have been there at all; the gardener will be there a lifetime.

p.157

‘Stuff your eyes with wonder,’ he said, ‘live as if you’d drop dead in ten seconds.’

p.157

He’s so eloquent, it really makes you think. Several of these passages made me stop just to really make sure I felt each and every word. I’m not sure to what extent I believe his messages, surely I find some element of truth – but I want to digest(-digest-digest!) these words before I make a definitive call on what I believe.

However, I do have to criticize this book a little bit because I thought that the world-building and character development was really lacking. This is a crazy dystopian world that could have been unpacked and it wasn’t. It’s just assumed to be normal. The characters aren’t anything to get attached to either. The main character just one day wakes up and sees everything around him. There’s no build-up at all. This was all such a missed opportunity.

This book has had a strange history. A novel that harps on the dangers of censorship, saw censorship itself. Schools have blacklisted the book from English classes. The publisher even made a censored version. In some ways the ironic boycotts may have even fueled popularity for the book. It really does hammer home Bradbury’s point, does it?

Also, just as an aside, I want to really commend Bradbury for predicting so much of the future. In this book, which was written in the 1950s, there’s flat-screen TVs, wireless headphones, and hand-held tablets. Whether he meant to predict or not, I was very surprised at how the technology did mirror present day.

All in all, there’s so much to like here, but it wasn’t wrapped up in a pretty little package. It seemed like an essay of someone’s convictions with a plot line loosely added to make it a “book.” That being said, it is a good essay.

Would I Recommend It?: Yes. In fact, I already did. Maybe I’ll update this post after my boyfriend reads it.

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A Clockwork Orange – Book No. 9

18. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess (1962)

Dates: 4/20/20 – 4/23/20 (3 days)

Basic Plot: In a futuristic society where young gang members are active at night, the narrator, Alex, finds himself indulging in “ultraviolence” which leads to potential reform.

Experience Before Reading: I was technically assigned this book alongside One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest in high school. I didn’t really read either and just read enough Sparknotes to get by. I think my knowledge on the plot was blended with One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, because there were moments I thought were in the other book and moments I expected to turn out differently. Regardless, the one thing I remembered was a feeling of staunch hate for the book.

Takeaway: I didn’t like it. However, I’m not going to completely bash this book because I can see why others would enjoy it. There are certainly good elements to this story. Anthony Burgess is a talented storywriter and I do feel there is a clear theme that could strike people. (Slight spoiler warning) The message that it is our ability to choose that makes us human is very interesting and I do feel it was unpacked in a way that was different from other philosophy books.

A Clockwork Orange is set in a futuristic society where gangs run rampant at night. Many of these gang members use heavy slang known as nadsat talk. I think this is where the book leaves a bad taste in my mouth (or in nadsat: leaves a baddiwad taste in my rot). The slang is so thick it’s often difficult to tell exactly what’s happening. While I recognize that it’s used to hide the graphic scenes and portray his youth – since not all characters use the slang – it was too much for me. For instance, take this scene where he describes a beautiful woman he sees:

O my brothers, to viddy. That is to say, she had real horrorshow groodies all of which you could like viddy, she having on platties which came down down down off her pletchoes. And her nogas were like Bog in His Heaven, and she walked like to make you groan in your keeshkas, and yet her litso was a sweet smiling young like innocent litso.

p.142

While context clues can give you a sense that he likes what he sees, even after reading the entire book, I’m not sure exactly what he’s saying. Personally, this slang created a massive barrier to relating to the narrator, Alex. I couldn’t find much to his personality besides the fact that he likes “ultra-violence” and classical music. Because his personality was centered around, well, bad, I found him forgettable as a character. Maybe there was more, however, I couldn’t decipher it from the nadsat madness.

The slang itself is massively creative and I do want to applaud that. Much of it is Russian-based but other elements are rhyming slang or other linguistic techniques. Basically, each word really does have a reason that it exists which I very much like. I appreciate the effort that went in to creating a cohesive universe.

Lastly, I do want to call attention to the book’s title. I don’t want to spoil the meaning for someone that intends to read the book, but the title is full of symbolism. It was very creative and well-crafted, so again, props where props are due.

Would I Recommend It?: Unfortunately, I think this is a skippable classic. While you may find it entertaining, I think the message of the book is not strong enough in relation to the amount of work you have to put in to decode it.

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Project 5 – The Book

Word Count of the Draft: 1149

Okay, this one was an accident, I swear.

It happened about two weeks ago, when I was reading Atlas Shrugged. I was hit with an idea for a premise to a book. Nothing serious, just a sliver of an idea. Something about art restoration. Not important.

Later that afternoon, I was talking to Abbey. I mentioned the thought I had and she loved it. She started building on it, then I piggy-backed. Nothing major, just brainstorming.

Soon enough it was time to start writing down our ideas. We had spiraled and soon enough we had characters with vibrant personalities and a mystery forming right before our eyes.

For the next eight hours, we did nothing but write the plot to a book.

It was only then, after looking at the completed story, that we had the realization that we were writing a book. It was almost backwards though, the book wrote itself and dragged us along for the ride.

A few days went by and we took a step back. When we returned to look at the idea, we loved it. We thought it was exciting and something we’d read.

On Saturday, we returned to the book idea and started writing. To be honest, this was when it started to feel like work. It was difficult to get the first few words out. We were building details in our story including (but not limited to): floor plans, minor inventions, and fish/coral that can be co-habitable in a fish tank. So yeah, we went a little overboard.

I was hesitant to start this as a project because I wasn’t sure if we’d actually go through with it. If it were just me, I would have started the project here on the blog on day I got the idea. But since this requires both of our participation I had to wait. Also, I realized that if I started it on the blog, Abbey would be guilted into continuing. 🙂

So here we are. I’m not really sure how this project will unfold and whether it’ll take a priority in my life. But now that it’s started, I can’t turn back.

Oh, right. You probably want to know what the book’s about. We really shouldn’t give too much away, we want people to be surprised. It’s Da Vinci Code-esque but revolves around the worlds of art restoration and industrial engineering. As we do research for the book, I’ll likely share my findings. You won’t be completely in the dark, I promise.

The Call of the Wild – Book No. 4

91. The Call of the Wild by Jack London (1903)


Dates: 2/9/20 – 2/11/20 (2 days)

Basic Plot: Buck is a St. Bernard/Scotch Collie mix sold for work in Alaska where he finds himself turning away from his domesticated nature.

Experience Before Reading: Honestly, not much. If you asked me to differentiate Balto, The Call of the Wild, and White Fang, I couldn’t do it. Now, at least I know one of them.

Takeaway: This book took me over this evening. Since it’s so short, it took only a few hours, but was I hypnotized for them. This was also the first book where I was left speechless and quiet when finishing. You know, the whole stare-off-into-the-abyss-contemplating-existence when you finish a really, really good book.

My boyfriend recommended this one and I was a bit hesitant. I’m not exactly a dog person and seeing as he spent last summer Deadliest Catch-style on boats off the coast of Alaska, I knew he was a little biased. But he got me good.

And while I won’t rave on and on about Jack London’s writing because really, writing it for every book review is exhausting, I will give a little passage that spoke to me (don’t worry, still almost entirely spoiler-free):

“There is an ecstasy that marks the summit of life, and beyond which life cannot rise. And such is the paradox of living, this ecstasy comes when one is most alive, and it comes as a complete forgetfulness that one is alive. This ecstasy, this forgetfulness of living, comes to the artist, caught up and out of himself in a sheet of flame; it comes to the soldier, war-mad in a stricken field and refusing quarter; and it came to Buck, leading the pack, sounding the old wolf-cry, straining after the food that was alive and that fled swiftly before him through the moonlight.”

Jack London, The Call of the Wild

As if that all wasn’t enough – there’s a new movie remake of it coming out in just over a week (starring Harrison Ford – a personal favorite). I had no idea and now I have a good date night coming up.

Would I Recommend It?: Absolutely.

Click here to see my full list of classic books

The Prince – Book No. 3

96. The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli (1532)


Dates: 2/1/20 – 2/9/20 (8 days)

Basic Plot: Italian diplomat, Machiavelli, wrote a treatise about how princes ought to rule.

Experience Before Reading: “The end justifies the means.” I took AP European History way back in high school, so I was pretty familiar with the premise of the book. That and when my boyfriend saw the list of books, he got excited about this one. He’s read it many times and let me borrow his personal copy (thank you!)

Takeaway: I think I read this book at the wrong time in my life. At a time when I’m doing a lot of academic reading, this book felt like a chore. I found myself skimming for the main points which is how I read court cases – not painting a picture in my head like these other books.

That being said, the content is interesting. It’s often considered the first political philosophy writing and I enjoyed having something as complex as a prince’s ruling experience codified into right and wrong. I felt like it was a college thesis of someone’s experience exploring European history.

It was also very entertaining to think that this is all true. The stories told and the nobles and the common folk and the importance of religion are so far detached from modern society and sound more Game of Thrones-esque than reality.

But these concepts are not far off. Machiavelli spends a chapter talking about how a prince should focus winning the approval of the people over the nobility because they can protect you if the nobility turn on you. Without getting too political, that’s pretty much how Trump won the presidency in 2016 – he had support of a lot of “common folk”.

These ideas haven’t faded away over time and that’s something to appreciate. Whether he was well beyond his years or not doesn’t take away from the power of the conclusions. I’d love to try these stories again when I’m not in school.

Would I Recommend It?: Maybe. If you have an interest in history and philosophy, I might toss it your way.

Click here to see my full list of 100 classic books

Treasure Island – Book No. 2

34. Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson (1883)


Dates: 1/28/20 – 2/1/20 (4 days)

Basic Plot: A boy finds a treasure map on a faraway island. He goes to find it with some help – but who can he trust?

Experience Before Reading: Honestly, not really any. I didn’t know if it was about castaways or life in the tropics or pirates. But I’ll be damned if I didn’t know about the Vegas hotel.

Takeaway: I have a confession: I actually had to do a bit of research before writing this part. This book contains so many tidbits of modern perceptions on pirates: the parrots, the black spots, the x marks the spot, and of course all with a yo ho ho and a bottle of rum. With the cook on board named Long John Silver, I began to wonder just how much of our stereotypes were directly lifted from this book?

And from my research came the conclusion: So much. So so much.

Honestly, this is such a fun and simple read I just ate it up. Told (mostly) from the perspective of the cabin boy, it maintains a slight coming-of-age story arc that as a student is always relatable to me.

So why then only a 9/10? Well, dear reader, is anything ever perfect? I’m only 2% of the way through my literary journey and there’s plenty of other books that could usurp it as a favorite. (Oh, and also sometimes the seafaring vocabulary got the best of my little imagination and I had no idea what was going on.)

Would I Recommend It?: Each and every day of the week.


Abbey’s Review

Dates: 5/6/20 – 5/8/20 (2 days)

Plot: A young boy uncovered a treasure map to a far away island. He embarks upon a perilous journey to uncover the treasure as the crew begins to turn on each other.

Experience Before Reading: Muppet Treasure Island is something I vaguely remember, but I didn’t really know what to expect. Jacqueline read this one first and told me it was pretty good though.

Takeaway: This was a fun read! The characters were vibrant, and it’s was packed full of so many pirate references that I sometimes had to pause to take stock of what thing meant. I had no idea Long John Silver was a character, and honestly I’m not sure how I missed that. Either way, I still will never eat at the fast food Long John Silvers – regardless of if he was a good cook in the story.

Would I Recommend It?: If you are looking for a fun and easy read I’d definitely recommend this. I don’t think it is a life changing book, but I actively enjoyed reading it. I was a big fan of Doctor Lively, mostly because any man who has a snuff box filled with Parmesan cheese is worth knowing! My only question is, did Ben Gunn ever get to eat that cheese?


Who got it right? Have you read Treasure Island? Share your thoughts with us down in the comments below.

Read our next review: The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli

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Lolita – Book No. 1

19. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov (1955)


Dates: 1/21/20 – 1/28/20 (7 days)

Basic Plot: A man, obsessed with prepubescent girls, becomes sexually involved with one after becoming her stepfather.

Experience Before Reading: I had read about 50 pages a few years ago after borrowing the book from a friend. Sam, I will return it, I promise!

Takeaway: I think the point of this book is to be controversial. It’s written to make you feel uncomfortable and force you to develop your own thoughts not just on the thematic vulgarity, but on other morally-gray issues. In a country so politically divided, this book almost becomes more relevant than ever. 

Besides the fact that your skin crawls during some of these pages, Nabokov writes prose like no other. He spins words into images so brilliantly – it’s elegant, it’s witty, and it’s mesmerizing. The narrator pulls you in with his brutal honesty and eerie (but in his mind, well-founded) justifications. He is endlessly clever with all sorts of wordplay. Since it’s told from the first-person, your heart aches knowing the tale is so one-sided and you never hear the perspective of Lolita herself.

Stylistically, I did find an imbalance between the parts the narrator chose to fixate on and the parts where you craved more. Maybe it was purposeful, but it really bothered me – especially during the second half of the book. Not to mention there were parts when he explained so little I almost didn’t know what happened.

In terms of story, it’s obviously not for the faint of heart. However, once he’s pulled you in, the story comes to a standstill. While it was nice to close out the tale and leave no unfinished plot holes, the ending was not what the narrator had built up so many times prior.

Would I Recommend It?: Only if I wanted to start a conversation, but Sparknotes could probably do.

Click here to see my full list of 100 classic books