And the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge is here again! There’s 24 prompts to encourage you to read harder, and I urge you to check it out if you want to get outside your comfort zone. 🙂

(Click the link to see the challenge, and to download a PDF of the challenge list.)

book riot

To quote the article: “We encourage you to push yourself, to take advantage of this challenge as a way to explore topics or formats or genres that you otherwise wouldn’t try. But this isn’t a test. […] We like books because they allow us to see the world from a new perspective, and sometimes we all need help to even know which perspectives to try out.”

  • Read a book that is set more than 5000 miles from your location.

A Town Like Alice; Nevil Shute.

Set in Malaya and Australia, which are more than 9,000 miles from Texas.

This is a tough, rather sad story, a little slow in places, and told in a flashback so you know how it will end for at least some of the characters. Still, it’s engrossing, drawing you in to the experiences of Jean Paget, a Englishwoman living in Malaya, and the wives she is captured with. The women have nowhere to go, sent to walk from one place to another, supposedly for a camp where they will be kept safely by the invading Japanese, but no such camp exists. Instead, they spend seven months dying of exhaustion and illness, until finally the survivors–Jean included–are freed. Years later, Jean returns to offer a gift to the villagers who saved her life, and there learns something about a man she encountered during her suffering, a truth that sends her on to Australia.

Because of the back and forth nature of the story, there’s no tension in wondering whether Jean will survive, but it’s still engrossing to see how she manages it. It’s a tough job, struggling to get the supplies they need from guards that would rather be elsewhere, and settlements that have little to spare. Whether all the death was intentional is difficult to say, but the neglect and willingness to pass them off as someone else’s problem are painful to see. There’s bright moments of hope and kindness, and the change to Jean’s circumstances sets off a string of much brighter events, with only a few more obstacles in the way of a happy ending.

The setting is well developed in both countries, describing the sounds, sights, and smells of a place, the people who live there, and the way of life in lush detail. It’s not a life for everyone, but the book is a trip without risk of heat stroke or bug-borne fevers.

  • Read a book about books.

The Thirteenth Tale; Diane Setterfield.

About a writer, a particular book she wrote, and her life story, told to a bookseller’s daughter. Books abound.

Stories nestled within stories–the story of Margaret Lea, sometime biographer and bookseller’s daughter, and of Vida Winter, writer, for the most part. Vida’s family also figures into the story, as she recounts her life to Margaret. Vida has lied about her origins to everyone who ever asked, but now, ill and dying, she’s ready to offer the truth. But it’s a twisting, tangled tale, hidden behind the lies and assumptions of the past. Some elements of Margaret;s life echo Vida’s, and she learns some truths about herself as well.

Vida’s life is marked by secrets and loss, but her story has the ability to surprise the reader–and it’s interestingly told, and not too dark for all the death that occurs. Perhaps because it’s told rather beautifully, and at a remove of many years. There’s hope for the future, at least, and that makes the story more bittersweet than truly sad, I suppose–the sense of something being passed on.

As for the thirteenth tale–well, it’s part of the mystery. Recommended for fans of bookstores, writers, and books.

 

 

 

 

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About Caitlin Stern

I have a MA in English, and have so many fantasy/urban fantasy WIPs it's not even funny. I'm an avid reader of science fiction, fantasy, mystery, romance, biography, fiction, and anything else that catches my interest. I collect books, and bookmarks I find that are visually appealing and useful.

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