Category Archives: Book review

QI: The Third Book of General Ignorance

I have already read and reviewed a QI book here, so I’ll keep this review short. Even though it has been a while since I read the last one, I think there was a better job done. The quotes didn’t feel as forced and as it was a bigger book, there was more detail in the answers. The positives are the same. These improvements make the book 8/10 instead of about 7.2/10.

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Girls Will Be Girls: Dressing Up, Playing Parts and Daring to Act Differently

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The fiercest new voice of feminism – Emer O’Toole is the perfect mix of Caitlin Moran, Germaine Greer and Lena Dunham.

Emer O’Toole once caused a media sensation by growing her body hair and singing ‘Get Your Pits Out For The Lads’ on national TV. You might think she’s crazy – but she has lessons for us all. Protesting against the ‘makey-uppy-bulls**t’ of gender conditioning, Emer takes us on a hilarious, honest and probing journey through her life – from cross-dressing and head shaving, to pube growing and full-body waxing – exploring the performance of femininity to which we are confined.

Funny, provocative and underpinned with rigorous academic intelligence, this book shows us why and how we should all begin gently to break out of gender stereotypes. Read this book, open up your mind and, hopefully, free your body. GIRLS WILL BE GIRLS is a must-read wake-up call for all young women (and men)

After reading this book, one question came to mind; do we still live in such a sexist world that the arguments in this book are ‘controversial’ or even ‘new’? I did enjoy O’Toole’s way of relating the issues to her own world, but there was nothing in this book that I haven’t read, heard about or even thought of before. However, it is still a good book for those who are embarking on the scary world of feminism for the first time.

Each topic is a simple one that many women experience on a constant basis; from body hair to the roles around the house. Even if you don’t relate to every single experience, there would probably be one that feels close to home for you. I mean, I don’t have sex so I cannot relate to the concept of male not considering the female’s pleasure during intimacy, I am sure it is an issue that many others can face. There is a reason each chapter is in the book, and I hope it will make at least one person reconsider aspects of their life.

My favourite part of the book is when O’Toole examines a discussion that took place when she was in her teenage years and made an argument that sexism wasn’t an issue anymore. Just be including this scene, she explores how sexual equality is a complicated issue and thoughts can change as we mature. I believe in the good of people. Most people aren’t strongly sexist and think men are far superior to women. We just live in a society where it’s easy to slip into the roles that are expected from us.

There is still a comedic sense to the book. In one section, O’Toole actually uses a direct blog post from a few years and it includes a vernacular that I can only laugh at. This break from the seriousness of the discussion is essential to remind us that we are still talking about a pretty good society compared to others. We’re not talking about a lot of horrific exceptionally sexist situations, but that doesn’t mean the residue of patriarchy has disappeared.

One idea that I found fascinating is that O’Toole is more critical on female authors than she is of male authors. It is the one point where I had to stop and think. Do I do that? Am I like her and think that men are so much smarter than me that I can’t possibly compete with them intellectually but I have a chance with women? I like to think not, but it is something I will need to consider in the future.

Even though I thoroughly enjoyed the book, it didn’t really change the way I viewed life, so I’ll give it 8/10.

To Love A Thief

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Rose Valetta’s father was kidnapped. All she has to do to ensure his safety is steal the kingdom of Zarrenberg’s Pasha Star from the Great Exhibition. When she learns it has already been stolen, she has to team up with her teenage crush Nathan Hawk. This is the plot of Jane Beckenham’s To Love a Thief and honestly, the ‘love’ in the title should have warned me that this fascinating adventure is only secondary to a decent romance.

I was really interested in the plot. Even though Zarrenberg’s customs do appear a bit theatrical, it was still captivating.  It has royalty, thievery, a kidnapped father, action and a strong Victorian era feel to it. Even though I’m not that interested in romance, the romance between Rose and Nathan is a critical plot point and it feels like something romance lovers would be interested in.

Rose Valetta is a great feminist character, but it did feel a little bit forced at times. She’s a caring woman from 1851 who can stand up for herself and has no problem dressing in male’s clothes. This should be enough, but Beckenham constantly needs to remind us of how amazing this is. It just makes the situation a little too preachy for my liking.

Then there’s Nathan. Nathan has a past as a jewel thief, and while it did come in handy, it didn’t live up to the expectation. The first line in the blurb is about his past as ‘the Raven’, yet the story would have worked just as well without it. t could have been very interesting, but of course, the romance had to be more important. Fortunately, this is the first book in a sort of series, so maybe it can go into more detail later on.

There is one graphic sex scene, but it was actually decent. Of course, I would have preferred the story without the sex, but it wasn’t cringe worthy.  There’s clearly a connection between the two and the actions ran smoothly.  This perfectly captures the whole book. Even though the relationship is nice, the story could be more interesting without it.

Objectively, I feel like the book is good. It has fairly strong characters and the plot is solid. It just needs a few minor tweaks to turn it into an amazing book. 7/10.

 

Thugs

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“Without defending or justifying their actions, I simply say that because these thugs pushed the societies over which they ruled –and ruled absolutely – to one extreme, we push our societies to the other extreme. Balance and counterbalance. Thugs deny freedoms; we valiantly protect freedoms. Thugs place little value on human life; we cherish human life. Thugs act to protect their own narrow self-interest; we fight for the interest of others.”

This quote is in the conclusion of Micah D. Halpern’s Thugs: How History’s Most Notorious Despots Transformed the World Through Terror, Tyranny, and Mass Murder, but it is also the most powerful section and it is something we need to remember in today’s political climate. Halpern explains leaders and dictators from Hamurabi to Kim-Jong-Il and the impact they had on their people. It’s a simple introductory book and while most of the writing is solid, there are a few awkward sections.

If you have studied dictators throughout history, this is not the book for you. A few chapters are only three pages long as they give a brief introduction of the individuals. Most of it is just an explanation of where they are born, how they became a leader of their country and what the result of their leadership was. There are a few instances when we are also introduced to their personality, such as with Idi Amin, but that is not the point of this book.

There is a Wikipedia feel to the book, but it is neatly organised and highly convenient. It has chapters on ancient, modern Middle Eastern (which I really need) and Asian history. There are instances where you can read multiple chapters in one go, because the flow actually works. I might have placed Middle Eastern history later on, but that’s about it. The connections between dictators feels natural so I know who they are talking about if they reference someone else. You can read it all the way through, or if you’re picky, just use the index.That would work as well.

The writing is not flashy or clunky in most areas, so it is easy to become invested in the book. Even though the introduction and conclusion does discuss thugs, it isn’t really used enough for it to feel natural. Instead, each time ‘thug’ is used, it takes away the professional tone that has already been established. There are, I think, two other oddly worded sentences. I swear, there is one section where the phrase ‘pooh pooh’ is used. It is not enough to completely destroy the book, but it does lower the standard slightly.

Definitely read this book if you want to grasp a basic understanding of tyranny that has impacted societies today. Just make sure you keep in mind that it is only an introductory guide and it is slightly outdated. According to Thugs, Mummar Gadaffi is the present prime minister of Libya.

6.7/10.

 

No Stamp Available

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The bombing of Darwin in 1942 is an event that is rarely explored, yet surprisingly interesting. Albert James’ explores this event in No Stamp Available  through two different perspectives; Harry and Catherine, who are adults during the bombing and that of their children – primarily the alcoholic Charlie- learning about what their parents experienced sixty three years after the bombing. The idea is interesting and some components were promising, but the language destroyed any hope of me really engaging in the story.

Having the two stories intertwine is great because having only one would have made it even duller. We get to see the impact of a disastrous event on those who weren’t old enough to experience it as well as what the parents were like before the event. There were even letters, which might have been primary sources, that contrasted with the mellow feel of the rest of the story, strengthening their impact.  One of these elements would have been boring on its own, but the integration of all three was a good way to keep interest.

What let the whole story down was the language. It was just so awkward and focused on telling us what was happening instead of showing us. It was bad for most of the story, but atrocious as dialogue. It just felt stinted, which then made it different to connect to the characters. For example. Charlie’s issues with alcohol would have been so much more interesting if we got a feel of it instead of being told that it was a situation. Honestly, the writing made it feel like an early draft where James was still trying to get to know his characters. If he just worked on the writing a little bit more, it would have been a much more enjoyable read.

There was clearly a lot of research done for this story. Unfortunately, this information is provided the same way as the emotions – through telling.  Some inclusions of images made the story in general feel more authentic. If you don’t know anything about Australia during World War II, you will get a solid understanding through Catherine and Harry’s journey. I even got to learn more about Darwin and the rural areas of Australia.

Even though No Stamp Available is an interesting concept, it fails to be mesmerizing. If James explored his ideas even more and strengthened his writing, it would be a much better book.
5.8/10.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

                                                          

Out of all the horrid year of 2016, there is one highlight: the release of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. Yes, I have finally read the play of modern Harry trying to figure out how to parent while his son Albus tries to save Cedric Diggory. It wasn’t spectacular, and it may be disastrous to other. For me, well… It was one of those stories that was so bad and so good at the same time.

The dynamic between Harry, Albus, Scorpius and Draco is the highlight of the book. First, there’s Harry and Albus. It is so interesting and I feel bad for each of them at different points. It’s not a great relationship, but it’s not an awful one either. Watching it develop is awkwardly amazing and it actually feels authentic. This is kind of similar with Scorpius and Draco. It is obvious that Draco loves his son and I love it so much. It’s nice to see this version of Draco and how we get a different perspective of his life as a teenager. And of course, there is the relationship between Albus and Scorpius. I defy anyone that can read/watch it and day that they’re in a purely platonic relationship. That’s right. Even JK herself. These relationships saved me from being truly disappointed from this book.

I’m a bit iffy on the other characters. Hermione is decent and I can see Hermione becoming that, but Ron? Half the time, he acted too much like Fred and not really Ron. He joked around, loved eating, and is apparently a type of person where him showing up and wanting to ‘make babies’ with Hermione is a little weird, but not totally unlike him. It is almost saved in the end after the Hermione/Ron proves itself to be total canon. Ginny was, well, cool and reasonable, but she is still a forgettable character. Apart from Ron, I can see them as having the same essence as to when they were in the original series. They’re not amazing, but I buy it.

The plot is decent, and is similar to a lot of fanfiction I read when I was younger. It’s a good old fashioned time travel story with family angst. The fact that teenagers have written similar stories multiple times before isn’t the worst part. It’s the plot holes. I can’t be the only one who think that (spoiler…ish) people getting into the ministry of magic with the use of the polyjuice potion shows that the ministry’s security system is awful. Especially when one pretends to be the Ministry of Magic. There are a few other instances where something happens and it’s so strange it’s laughable or something that is a big deal happens, but then it is treated casually. Even a twist that seems like it was supposed to be major, was more of a ‘k’ twist. Basically, if you want a story with amazing plot and little to no holes, go to fanfiction.com. Not here.

I’m not sure what it’s actually like to watch, but the dialogue is a mix between warm and touching and so bad it’s good. I’m sorry, but “I’m ingorgimpressed’ is something I’ll be saying from now on. There was one scene between Harry and Albus where I clutched my pearls. If you have read it, you know what I’m talking about. It’s the type of writing where it’s cheesy and ridiculous most of the time, but you have to embrace that to truly appreciate the story.

Do you know what this book feels like? It feels like closure. Harry Potter is still traumatised from his younger years and is trying to deal with everything, but struggles. Hermione and Ron are always meant to be and Draco has family that he loves completely. It may not be the most thrilling book, but it brings comfort to eleven year old me. 6.8/10

Night on the Galactic Railroad

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Have you ever wanted to read a romance between two train signals? Well, here is your chance. This tragic romance is one of three of Kenji Miyazawa’s stories presented in Night on the Galactic Railroad and Other Stories from Ihatov. Even though the stories did have a beautiful feel to them as they connected life to space and the unknown, I cannot get over the fact that we were supposed to ship two train signals. This time, I will review the stories in order, with The Nighthawk Star, Signal and Signal-less and finally, Night on the Galactic Railroad. Even if you don’t get the book, maybe you can keep your eyes open for any of the individual stories you may find interesting.

The Nighthawk Star is honestly my favourite one. It’s the story of an underrated bird that is constantly tortured by the other birds until it escapes and transforms itself into a constellation in the sky. The bird was a nice character and I felt so bad for it. I can really feel the struggle that the bird is going through and the majestic writing adds to connections that Miyazawa aimed for. I will give this short story 8/10.

The second confusing one is Signal and Signal-less, the romance between two inanimate objects that are unable to elope simply because the main signal… Signal.. because he insulted a utility pole. The annoying part about this book is that it would have worked if there was an actual connection between Signal and Signal-less. Signal-less was a very passive character that didn’t do anything except for having a few awkward conversations with Signal. The ending was nice, but it did not do enough to save the almost awkward story. This one is worth 3/10.

The final and main story, Night on the Galactic Railroad had the beauty and depressing nature of The Nighthawk Star, but because it was the longest in the book, I was expecting more. A young boy Giovanni somehow winds up on a galactic railroad with friend Campanella as they explore the beauties of the universe. This one has the prettiest imagery, but the actual characters are only decent. I wanted a little more to them instead of them just traveling. Though, if there was more depth and honest conversation between them, it would have made the end more depressing. Instead, it was just sad but beautiful. I’m giving this one 7.8/10.

Using my amazing mathematical skills (and the help of a calculator), I have discovered that this means the stories 18.8/30. I will increase it to 20 because of a beautiful song that is at the beginning that brings new light to way to look at the stars. It’s a shame that one story ruined a gorgeous collection and dropping it to 6.6/10. However, I’m sure some of you will think opposite to me and might think a romance between two bloody train signals is the most fascinating story in the world.

Question: What romance has pissed you off the most?

 

 

N or M?

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N or M? is a fun tale of coupled detectives Tommy and Tuppence as they struggle to uncover the identity of the fifth column in a small seaside hotel during World War Two.  It brings you what you would expect from an Agatha Christie book with the engaging and charming style that relaxes you into the adventure. The bright energetic characters and fun, almost expected, style of writing almost makes up for the lacklustre plot. Even though the pair have become my new favourite detectives, I hope their other books will be worthy of their personality.

I have already read two stories in the Poriot series and I have to say, Tommy and Tuppence are much more intriguing. They appear to be more active in their stories instead of a character who just appears in the end and explains everything. Tuppence immediately earned my admiration when she showed up to the hotel when she wasn’t supposed to. Throughout the book, she had proven herself to be a strong capable woman with a great relationship with her husband. Tommy, on the other hand, was a nice down to earth character. He balances the relationship really well and is also a loving husband.

My main issue with the book is the reveals towards the end. As it is a mystery, I want to be shocked like I was in The Greenshore Folly. However, both left me disappointed. One of the culprits was such a minor character that the reveal did nothing for me emotionally and I figured the other one out about fifty pages earlier. Maybe the way that there was no actual murder stopped me from being too invested in the story. It was just a story about espionage and they had to stop the culprit before they did anything. But because they didn’t do anything, it lost its impact. Well, apart from one scene that made it kind of obvious as to who the culprit was.

A lot of books during the early 40s were about the evil Germans and how it is the British duty to stop them. This was a theme throughout the story, but it wasn’t as over the top as it has been in other stories. In fact, it only became an issue with the big reveal of German Carl Von Deinim. I don’t want to expose what the reveal was, but I think it would have been even better if Christie did not have it. It just took away a beautiful sub-plot that would have been amazing. However, the rest of it wasn’t so bad, so it didn’t ruin the book. Instead, it was just a little disappointing.

The writing is classic Christie. There may not be a lot of depth, but it is bright and engaging. I really rooted for the characters and it was just a pleasant read. Actually, it’s the type of writing that you can read if you need something to put you in a tip top mental state, so go into it open minded.

This quick read is a fun detective story with likeable leads. Even though the actual mystery was a little disappointing, the bright energy throughout the book is comforting and encourages me to have a look at the other books in the series. Overall, I will give it 7.1/10.

Question: Who is your favourite pair of detectives?

Charlotte’s Web

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E.B White’s Charlotte’s Web is a classic story and even if you haven’t read it, I’m sure you know of the story: a runt pig called Wilbur is saved by human Fern and then spider Charlotte and befriends them while getting along with other farmyard animals. It is a beautiful story about the need to appreciate life and nature. It is a great read for developing children or adults who just need to be reminded of the beauty of the world.

The three distinct characters: Wilbur, Fern, and Charlotte are great as it means you can read the book multiple times throughout your life and identify with a different character. If you’re a child, Wilbur is great. He is unsure of the world and is a baby most of the way through the book. It’s kind of endearing as a child, but the more you grow, it can be a little frustrating. Fern is sure of her beliefs even if no one else understands her, and you get to watch her play her role before going back to her real world away from then there’s Charlotte. She’s an amazing character when you’re a child, but as an adult, it’s easy to feel sorry for her. Even the minor characters were interesting, but the main three had a charming feel that stole the show.

The writing reminds me of an idle afternoon as a child. It has a calming effect most of the time, with little spurts of danger that encourages you to keep reading to find out what will happen. What I am most impressed with, however, is the educational aspect. There’s a lot of information about spiders and quite a few more complex words. They are explained in a pleasant way that doesn’t appear too condescending. It would encourage a lot of children and even adults to learn more about the world as well as the complex language.

Surprisingly, the theme and messages are woven throughout the book delicately and don’t feel too forced. Instead, it just brings a lightness to the situation and encourages us to appreciate every aspect of life, even if it’s cow manure. Friendships are an important aspect of life, and even though it can be difficult, it brings a great joy to life.

I can’t believe I’m writing this, but there’s one aspect of the book that annoys me: the flies. I want you to hear me out. The whole plot of the book is to save Wilbur’s live so he isn’t eaten, right? The whole theme of the friendship between Charlotte and Wilbur (and even Templeton) is that you shouldn’t be prejudice to someone because they live a different way, right? Well, what about the flies? I understand that it is a part of Charlotte’s nature, but it goes against the rest of the book which is saying how life is important. I just don’t get that bit.

Even though I did not read this as a child, I recommend every child and child at heart to take this book and give it a read. It will help with a sense of wonder about the world with delightful characters and a decent story. 8.2/10.

Question: What was your favourite book as a child?

The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat

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The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat is such an eye catching title. As soon as I heard it a few years ago, it placed itself firmly on my ‘To read’ list. I finally got around to reading Oliver Sack’s famous book this year and I have to say, I’m a little disappointed. What I expected to be a mesmerising series of neurological illnesses and explanations turned into basic reflections of the author that were void of either information or sense of importance. There were a few sections, however, that were surprisingly poignant. Many of us believe that just because someone is different, they have a deficit and this one trait consumes their entire being. Slowly and peacefully, he encourages to question this notion, which is the one thing that saves this book.

Overall, the book is rather dry. We read about people with autistic savants, major memory issues (such as Korsakov), proprioception problems and agnosia. It’s funny but the main issue I have with the book is that the way these concepts were presented. They were either too dull or too brief for me, but I ended up not really understanding them. The only thing I remember is that when in doubt, it’s an issue with the temporal lobe. As I struggled with understanding these concepts, it made me question whether the target audience were professions (in which case the information was too brief and superficial) or the average Joe like me (in which case there was not enough). Even though the focus was on how it affected the people, losing a strong understanding of what they are going through lessens the impact.

There is a sense of realism with the patients, but there was also something a little off. The relationship between them and Oliver Sacks was a bit stinted. Even in instances where they communicated such as with the twins, I felt like he was trying too much for the sake of his reputation instead of being genuine. It’s hard to pinpoint the exact reason for this, but something just felt a little clinical throughout the story (which is off for a clinical tales, right?). Perhaps it was the dialogue that was included which didn’t seem natural. It felt like they were saying what Sacks wanted them to say instead of what they really said. Most of the styles of speech were similar to one another, which shouldn’t happen as the individuals were so different.

The way the individuals are presented, however, is nice. Sacks emphasises the point that just because their brain may not function the same way as you or me, it doesn’t mean that they are defected. He even explicitly defends this belief, which is important for many of us to hear every once in a while. This becomes a focus in a chapter discussing how people start hearing music and it can even be a good thing. Honestly, the section about an Irish woman was the most touching part and if anything, I recommend you read that essay. This theme does occur in many other essays, but the one with the music highlights it perfectly.

Even though I don’t love this book or even like it that much, I really do appreciate it. It brings a sense of humanity to what many people may consider problems. I might not have a better understanding of some of the disabilities than when I started, but I’m sure others will get more out of the book depending on their current knowledge. However, some sections are a bit dry, so focus on reading essays instead of the book. Even if you just read two or three parts of the book, it can lead to a better understanding of the individuals who have a neurological issue. 6.8/10

Question: What is the best the best book you have read that explains certain disabilities?