Hester & Harriet - 2015 Reading Challenge

You guys, it's mid-October. Actually, more like late-mid-October. I have read and reviewed 32 books, including this one. I have read a lot of other things that I haven't reviewed, but I'm only 18 books away from hitting my goal for the year. Can I do it? We shall see. I do have a flight between the U.S. and Australia coming up on December 22nd, so maybe I can squeeze a few in then. Short ones. Thank you to everyone who has read these reviews. Now, for today's, which is a book set during Christmas.

I've been extremely lucky that all the books Allen & Unwin have sent me to review have somehow or another fit into the categories of Pop Sugar's 2015 reading challenge. There has been so much great new fiction this year, and I'm really glad that I've enjoyed the books they've sent me because there's nothing worse than getting a free book and then having to leave a bad review.

Hester & Harriet two 'unlikely' main characters are middle-aged sisters -- you guessed it -- Hester and Harriet. This delightful pair live in their own little cottage in their own little village, quite happy to eat rich home-cooked meals and sip respectably decent wine, and they're not lonely at all, thank you very much.

Hester and Harriet are charming. While at first I wasn't particularly impressed with the title, the book really is about them, and they're such strong characters that naming the whole novel after them is warranted.

On their begrudging way to their cousin's Christmas party, the sisters come across a young woman and her baby hunkered down at a bus stop -- one that obviously won't be taking passengers on Christmas Day. More than willing to get out of the party (the food is apparently dreadful every year), the sisters take in the young refugee woman and her baby.

The same day, their cousin's teenage son Ben shows up at their door after a fight with his parents, and asks if he can stay with them for a while.

The refugee woman, Daria, soon confesses that there are bad people after her, but she won't tell the sisters why. She also doesn't seem particularly keen to explain how she came to be living on the streets with a newborn baby in the middle of English winter. But Hester and Harriet aren't the matronly old ladies Daria and Ben seem to think they are. In a matter of days, they're confronting a wealthy adulterer, rescuing a rather eloquent homeless man from a hospital, preparing to testify in court against drug dealers -- oh, and solving all of Ben and Daria's problems too.

It only took me about five pages to love Hester and Harriet. Not the book itself (although I love that too), but the two main characters. While their names both start with H and it was confusing for the first chapter or so, their personalities were quickly so concrete that I soon had no trouble keeping them straight.

Hester & Harriet is chock full of witty dialogue, delightful humor, diverse characters, and hilarious coincidences. If I had to point out something negative, it would be two small things.

First, there were a few too many adverbial dialogue tags for my liking (e.g. he said hotly, she said tentatively, he yelled loudly), but the dialogue itself was masterful. As a lesson in how to show a person's character by what they say and how they say it, it was perfect.

Take for example, this gem that I couldn't resist folding down the page for:

"I have absolutely had it with excitement. I'm so bushwhacked I can't even be bothered to knit. I'll be down for the count before my head hits the pillow."

I hope one day to be able to confidently say, "I'm so bushwhacked I can't even be bothered to knit." How wonderful is that?

The second thing was that the book did drag a little in the middle, as (if I'm being honest) many books do. But I certainly never stopped wanting to know how things would all resolve.

Hester & Harriet is full of gems, compassion, warmth, and love -- everything you want from a book set at Christmas. I would highly recommend it.