Darkwood (Gabby Hutchinson Crouch)

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I received an e-book copy in exchange for an honest review.


Goodreads Link

Completely fabulous, can’t wait for the rest of the series. A strong contender for Book of the Month

TL;DR – A funny, clever and wonderful fairytale re-telling.

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Ragdoll Rating: 5/5 Buttons

Recommended For: Fans of fairytales, fantasy and female characters who kick butt!

About the Book…

Darkwood is a sort of fairytale retelling and variety pack. The lead character is Gretel, of Hansel and Gretel fame, driven out of her home by villainous Huntsmen who (wrongly) accuse her of being a witch! Gretel finds herself in the Darkwood, and soon winds up as part of a band of witches, featuring such wonderful characters as The White Knight (Snow White), Jack (of the Beanstalk fame) and my personal favourite, Trevor the Talking Spider. What follows is a hilarious adventure to fight back against the forces of evil!

What I thought…

I flat out adore this book. There are 2 things I didn’t like about it, and I’m gonna start the review with them because then I can gush about how good it was uninterrupted.

  1. The word ‘cowl’ is used to describe clothing with sleeves, which confused me.
  2. It’s written in the present tense, which I’m generally not a fan of. HOWEVER, I will come back to this point in a moment.

OK, where to begin. Let’s start with the setting. I’m a big fan of fairytales and folklore, and combining so many stories into one setting was a real treat for me. Each story has been turned on its head and reimagined, and then blended into something better than the sum of its parts. It’s really clever, well executed and extremely good fun.

And it’s funny! Oh man. I mentioned Trevor the talking spider in the intro and I’m gonna talk about him here. Trevor is *exactly* the type of character I love to read about. He’s small and apparently useless, but he dreams big. He wants to be useful. He wants to be a spy! And every time he gets the chance he does something daft. Like disguises. It’s silly, and playful and I love it.

Now I’m going to return to point 2 of my complaints. Present tense. I don’t like it, it annoys me and I’ve never been able to get over it. Until now. I really love how this book was written. I’m turned around on the use of present tense in writing, which is a big thing for me to admit.

Final Thoughts…

I love this book. I can’t wait for the rest of the series. I suppose the biggest compliment I can give to this book is that it made me want to write the book I’ve been planning for so long. It’s encouraged me to get up and give it a shot!

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Please Note: I received a copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The opinions contained within are my own and have not been influenced by any external entity!

A Quick & Easy Guide to They/Them Pronouns (Archie Bongiovanni; Tristan Jimerson)

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I received an e-book copy in exchange for an honest review.


Goodreads Link

A cute and useful guide.

TL;DR – A whistlestop tour of They/Them pronouns and their use

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Ragdoll Rating: 4.5/5 Buttons

Recommended For: Everyone. Seriously, everyone needs to know about this stuff.

About the Book…

This book provides a very fast, bare-bones look at the usage of they/them pronouns and language. Lots of people (including me) use these gender-neutral pronouns, and it can be massively frustrating when people are either ignorant of gender-neutral language and pronouns, or worse, just refuse to use them. This book aims to remedy this by making they/them pronouns simple and easy to use.

What I thought…

I really liked this book, not just because it’s a subject close to my heart, but because it was really well executed. The book contains several pages of easy-to-use diagrams and tables to help make the concepts introduced as simple as humanly possible.

The book covers a lot of important areas, such as; How to use they/them pronouns, Miscellaneous gender-neutral language, WHY you should use gender-neutral language and so on. The content is presented by the authors in comic form, a non-binary hunkbabe, Archie, and a cis man, Tristan. Archie, who uses they/them pronouns allows the reader a real-life look at misgendering, and how it feels to not have your pronouns respected, while Tristan provides a look from the perspective of someone still learning about pronouns and non-binary folk. Tristan even admits at one stage to learning something new as the result of a mistake he made while writing the book, which I thought was a really good thing to include.

The book also briefly mentions other gender-neutral pronouns and demonstrates their use.

Final Thoughts…

This book breaks down a subject which a lot of people consider to be ‘too difficult to bother with’ into bite-size chunks, and demonstrates that gender-neutral language and pronouns are actually not that hard. Buy this book, give it to your friends. ❤

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Please Note: I received a copy of this book via netgalley in exchange for an honest review. The opinions contained within are my own and have not been influenced by any external entity!

Book Review: A Quick & Easy Guide to Queer & Trans Identities (Mady G)

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I received an e-book copy in exchange for an honest review.


Goodreads Link | Author Website

The book I wish I’d had a decade ago.

TL;DR – A cute, fun tour through the world of queerness

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Ragdoll Rating: 5/5 Buttons

Recommended For: Everyone. Especially anybody questions or recently out.

About the Book…

This book is very brief, but very informative tour through the world of identities, labels and relationships. The comics focus on the wisdom of a snail, who teaches a bunch of snail buddies about all the beautiful humans.

The book is broken into sections, each dealing with a different aspect of the queer experience. Each chapter is ended with a little summary comic featuring an adorable set of creatures known as Sproutlings.

What I thought…

As I said above, I wish I had had this book a decade or more ago. Transitioning was the result of years of questioning my sexuality and gender identity, and the whole period was a very difficult time. I still – 5+ years later – struggle with some aspects, and this book would have helped me a great deal.

Obviously I can’t speak for every queer person, but I personally feel that the content of this book is brilliant. It’s really inclusive, covering a wider variety of topics (albeit very briefly in some cases).

The book starts by discussing sexual orientation, and (correctly) declares it to be distinct from gender identity. Then there is a section on gender identity itself, including non-binary identities and the differences between identity and expression. It’s a really good chapter. Then we have a section on asexuality, something I find is often ignored in by a lot of people. The book finishes itself off with sections of advice, covering healthy relationships and coming out. Mady G makes great efforts to point out the fluid nature of identity, talks a lot about spectrums and how labels and concepts can differ from person to person. I think it’s really well done, and you can definitely tell it’s been written by someone with experience of what they are writing about.

I also love the illustrations, courtesy of J.R. Zuckerberg. I admit I’m slightly biased in this regard. If you want me to love anything, make it cute and I’m basically sold – and this book is CUTE. I love the Sproutlings, they are all my best friends and I want to live in their cute little forest. But ignoring my obvious bias, the illustrations are really lovely, they make what can feel like a difficult subject feel easier.

Finally, I want to mention the very last pages. Tucked away at the end of this book are a series of little activities – I assume aimed at the younger audience. Their inclusion is a really nice touch. The activities include, among other things, a section to write a letter to your younger self (something I know a lot of queer folk have found really helpful) and an invitation to design your own Sproutling. I just thought that was really cool.

Final Thoughts…

If I ever get hold of a time machine, I’m sending this book back to my teenage self. This is definitely a must read for anybody who needs a gentle guide into our big queer world.

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Please Note: I received a copy of this book via netgalley in exchange for an honest review. The opinions contained within are my own and have not been influenced by any external entity!

Book Review: We Are Mars (Cheryl Lawson)


Goodreads Link | Author Website

A city on mars! What could possibly go wrong…

TL;DR – A super space thriller, full of excitement and wonderful characters.

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RAGDOLL RATING: 5/5 BUTTONS

Why I read it…

I originally bought this book as a sort of weak thank you after Cheryl very kindly offered me some excellent advice on kicking writers block. Though I would have bought it either way, because it sounded exciting and I love a good sci-fi novel!

The Story…

Rubicon was once the pinnacle of human achievement. A city on Mars with with best technology and brightest minds all in one place. But that was years ago. After the expedition failed to discover evidence of life on Mars, funding dried up and Rubicon began to stagnate.

After a biological contagion is discovered in the drinking water, Rubicon descends into chaos – and that’s only the beginning.

We Are Mars is an wonderful science-fiction thriller.

What I liked…

We Are Mars explores a side of space exploration that often gets neglected in the sci-fi genre. Rubicon was once a technological marvel, but it’s systems are now becoming antiquated, and the supply ships that arrive every six years are more inclined to bring branded drinks dispensers than vital mission supplies to the Red planet. Rubicon is thrown into complete disarray when the aging water filtration system fails to prevent an outbreak of an unknown toxin to the drinking water, made worse by the completely unforeseen medical problems in genetically engineered humans.

The numerous tragedies that unfold during the course of the book, provide a wonderful backdrop to the interrelationships of the books main characters. One particularly interesting relationship builds between Jaxon and Dana, who prior to the outbreak constantly butted heads as Jaxon did all he could to rebel against the authority Dana represented, and Dana tried desperately to reign Jaxon in and maintain order. But as the pair find themselves forced into an impossible situation, they find themselves showing qualities that were hidden or ignored, and their working relationship becomes strong, building throughout the book. I enjoyed the way the characters evolved as the book went on, and the gravity of their situation hit them in unique and interesting ways.

Finally, I loved the world building. Rubicon has clearly undergone a considerable level of thought, avoiding the ‘generic space city’ vibe and instead becoming a believable and fascinating location. The rules and regulations imposed upon the inhabitants are infuriating, but completely understandable given the mission parameters. It is, as the book says, more scientific experiment than living city, something that Jaxon and his cohorts find themselves desperate to change.

What I disliked…

Each chapter focuses on one (or more) characters, and it took me some time to wrap my head around who was who. Each time the narrative switched to someone I hadn’t heard of, I got a bit confused, and then when it switched back to someone I did know, I couldn’t remember who they were – although this became easier as the book went on, and I would chalk this up to an issue with my comprehension ability than the book itself.

Final thoughts…

We Are Mars is a really fun and exciting read, that sets itself up nicely for the sequel (which I cannot wait to read). The plot and characters are excellent, and the world building is top-notch.

SUPER SPECIAL BONUS: AUTHOR INTERVIEW!!!

Twitter is an awesome place sometimes. This time it’s awesome because I managed to get We Are Mars author Cheryl Lawson (@WeAreMarsBook) to answer some questions about her work, which I’m super excited to present to you here!

Cheryl Lawson

1) What inspired you to write about disasters on a Martian colony?

I decided on a Mars drama because of two things: 1. The isolation of a Mars colony makes it vulnerable and 2. Mars is such a hostile place, I felt there was already a lot to work with. I’ve realized, while writing both books, that there are dozens of ways to die on Mars and it provides a lot of opportunity for an exciting and dramatic narrative.

2) If you had to pick two parts of We Are Mars you like more than any other, what would they be and why?

Firstly, the characters stories are my favourite part of the book. They are complex and the pressure of they are put under reveals unexpected traits and behaviours. Second, the ending – which is more of an opening to Storm at Dawn – is my next favourite part. It gives a clue for the coming crisis.

3) I see from twitter you have recently completed your first draft of Storm at Dawn, the second book in the Rubicon Saga. Is there anything in it that you a really excited for people to read?

Yes! The characters relationships are severely tested and the threats abound in Storm at Dawn. There’s a significant plot twist towards the end that opens the plot for the next, as yet untitled, third installment of the Rubicon Saga. It’s going to be a cracking read!

4) Finally, is there anything you’d like to tell my readers?

We Are Mars is not all about the science. It’s about the people and the character cast is richly diverse. The science sets the stage for some amazing interpersonal drama and if your readers enjoy complex, layered characters, they will love the Rubicon Saga.

Thank you so much Cheryl, for answering my questions.

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Please note: I know the author on twitter, however I bought this book with my own money for my own reasons. The opinions contained within are my own and have not been influenced by any external entity!

Book Review: Interconnected (HH. The 17th Karmapa)

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I received an e-book copy in exchange for an honest review.


Goodreads Link | Author Website

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Ragdoll Rating: 5/5 Buttons

Recommended For: Anybody with an interest in Buddhism, self improvement and global fellowship.

About the Book…

In Interconnected, His Holiness invites us to explore the fundamental connections that bind us to everything else. The book explores all manner of themes, from our environmental impact to our interpersonal relationships. Through a mixture of personal anecdotes, musings and philosophy, His Holiness paints an insightful picture of our place in the world, and how we can improve it by switching our focus to the things that connect us, rather than those that divide us.

This book continues on many of the themes raised in The Heart is Noble. (Book Review: The Heart Is Noble (HH. The 17th Karmapa))

What I thought…

Interconnected is clearly a labour of love. These are the words of a man who truly believes the advice he gives, and follows that advice to the letter. As I have come to expect from His Holiness, this book is wonderfully written, in an insightful, wise and friendly manner.

Probably my favourite element of this book, among it’s many admirable qualities, is the way His Holiness speaks quite candidly about his own life experiences. We are treated, not just to tales from his childhood, but also to difficulties that arise from his position as a spiritual leader. Personal anecdotes are provided often as a demonstration of some of the more difficult elements contained within the book. For example, there is a wonderful passage about how freedom and responsibility are linked, which on the surface could be a difficult concept to grasp, as it appears to be quite a contrast to the common western notion of freedom. His Holiness illustrates this point by imagining he wished to exercise personal freedom, and start a game of basketball in the monastery – an act which would cause many others a great deal of problems, and not just those in the immediate vicinity.

Final Thoughts…

Some elements of this book will be easier to digest if you are a practicing Buddhist, since His Holiness is obviously heavily influenced by Buddhist thinking and refers to it frequently. Having said that, everything in this book could easily be understood and acted upon by anybody, and you certainly would not need to be a Buddhist to take a great deal of positive ideas from this book.

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Please Note: I received a copy of this book via netgalley in exchange for an honest review. The opinions contained within are my own and have not been influenced by any external entity!

Book Review: Changing Ways (Julia Tannenbaum)

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I received an e-book copy in exchange for an honest review.


Goodreads Link | Author Website

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Ragdoll Rating: 5/5 Buttons

Recommended For: Anybody who wants to take a gut-punch to the feels (in a good way).

About the Book…

TW: This book contains details of self harm, anorexia and other mental health issues, psychiatric wards and hospitals.

For Grace Edwards, life is a bit of an emotional storm. Her father left after her mother had an affair. That, combined with the usual high school horrors would make anyone miserable. But it’s not all bad. Her dream of playing varsity soccer has just come true, and things are starting to look up. Then it all falls apart.

Grace finds herself hauled off to a psychiatric ward and gets hit with a scary diagnosis. Anorexia.

Changing Ways follows Grace through the early stages of her battle with her mental health demons.

What I thought…

I’ll start this section with a warning. I had to stop reading after a few chapters as I was in a bad mental health place myself, and if I’m honest, this book cut pretty close to the bone. Having now completed the book, I’m really glad I waited until I felt better. The content of this book is obviously emotionally complex and if you’ve been through something similar, can be difficult, even triggering to read. But it’s worth it, when you’re in a better head space.

My first impressions of this book were primarily curiosity. This book is set in the US, the land of private health care, and I’m in the UK where we have the NHS. I was really amazed at the difference in mental health provision between the two countries. I even took to twitter to ask for confirmation that this as an accurate representation of how things worked over there. Apparently it is! For those of you who are interested, I’ve been in a psychiatric ward twice in my life for various reasons, and it took an incredible amount of effort and problems to get there. Grace goes from being caught self-harming to a psychiatric facility in a matter of hours, which is apparently standard practice. It was quite the culture shock, but as it turns out this disconnect in experience really opened up the rest of the book for me.

Since Grace is whisked off immediately for observation, she really doesn’t want to be in the facility. She doesn’t see the point and she resists at every turn. The idea of the controlled environment and treatment plans makes her feel infantlized and robbed of her independence. Her diagnosis makes her feel broken, and it’s heartbreaking, but also infuriating because from the outside you can see how damaging it is. From my point of view, it was a really insightful look at how mental illness affects those around us which is so difficult to consider when you’re in the throws of your own crisis.

Eventually Grace is moved on to an outpatient program, and it would have been easy at this point, to want Grace to just get better and stay that way, especially considering how terrified Grace is about being forced back into hospital. But she doesn’t. As Tannenbaum so rightly suggests, recovery takes time, a lot of time, and you don’t just leave the hospital feeling fine. Grace finds herself in a program for people with eating disorders, and her struggles increase when she start comparing herself to other, thinner patients.

Throughout the book, Grace’s ability to cope and follow her treatment plan fluctuates. Sometimes she struggles, other times it’s a little easier. Grace’s recovery isn’t just a steady climb back to normal, and actually at the end of the book (If you want to avoid the spoiler, skip the rest of this paragraph) Grace finds herself back in hospital over Christmas, her worst fears realised, and obviously, she hates it. It sounds like a miserable ending, but actually it’s beautiful.

My favourite part of this book, I think, comes towards the end, when Grace is having one of her better periods, and she is sitting round the table waiting for another girl to finish her small meal for over an hour. This is something Grace has struggled with herself throughout the book, but she is infuriated. She wants to grab the girl by her shoulders and shake her back to sense. It’s a beautiful moment, because this was how I’d been feeling for most of the book, and Grace has the clarity of mind to notice that this is something she has found difficult.

“I wanted to shake her bony shoulders and exclaim, “Just eat already! Why can’t you just eat!?”
But I didn’t. Instead, I played with the new admission bracelet around my wrist and reminded myself that not too long ago, I was her; petrified of every bite, every calorie that entered my body.”

It was a wonderful moment, because this is such a difficult thing to come to terms with, and it made me hopeful that this knowledge would fortify Grace in her difficult periods.

Final Thoughts…

Changing Ways is a story of complex and difficult concepts, written in a way that is incredibly easy to read. It is emotionally draining at times, and beautiful throughout. I love it when I read something that makes me feel like the author understands a bit of my world, and that is exactly how I felt reading this book. I’m so glad I read it.

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Please Note: I received a copy of this book via netgalley in exchange for an honest review. The opinions contained within are my own and have not been influenced by any external entity!

Drawn to Sex: The Basics (Erika Moen)

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I received an e-book copy in exchange for an honest review.


Goodreads Link | Author Website

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Ragdoll Rating: 5/5 Buttons

Recommended For: Everybody and anybody, whether you’ve never had sex or you do it all the time.

About the Book…

Drawn to Sex: The Basics is a brief (but extensive) look into the world of Sex Education. Wise and clever advise on a whole host of important topics is presented with a wonderful array of cute illustrations.

The book is broken up into four sections; Sex the Concept, Doin’ it Safely, Doin’ it With Yourself, and, Doin’ It with Other People. The first section starts with what sex is, consent and so on, and the following sections build from that starting point.

This would be an ideal starting point for getting a deeper understanding of the world of sex.

What I thought…

My first impression of this book came from the introduction, and it caused me to do something I haven’t actually bothered doing so far in the reviewing career. I made a list of positives and negatives! The trigger for this was literally the first line of the book, which read:

“Hello my Dearest Perverts!”

Now, this phrase appears several times in the book, and is only ever used as a term of endearment. Perhaps it is also intended as a way of reclaiming the word, to help put some distance between the ideas that sex is perverted, and that perverts are bad, therefore sex is bad. Whatever the reason, it unsettled me a little…actually quite a lot.

Fortunately, on reading the rest of the book, I completely abandoned the list because there was nothing to properly dislike.

There are so many things to like about this book. I’ll briefly break down the book, then talk about some extras I loved. Obviously am not an expert on sex education (or sex generally) in any sense of the word, so I can’t I just have to assume that the information in this book is factually correct. Having said that, I learned just a ridiculous amount by reading it.

Section 1, Sex the Concept, starts by taking a look at what sex actually is, the various forms of sexual acts, consent and sex positivity. It also tries to advise the reader on how to answer the question Am I ready to have sex? It’s a really interesting chapter, and I was really pleased to see how reassuring the whole thing was. It is made absolutely clear that sex is good, if that’s something you want, and that it’s totally valid and normal if you don’t want sex now, or ever! It also talks about how being sex-positive doesn’t mean you have to be crazy in to kinks fetishes, and the finer points of what constitutes consent.

Section 2, Doin’ it Safely, is all about protection, barriers and contraception. We get a little bit of information about STI’s and the importance of getting tested regularly, including some details about what sort of things testing actually involves. Then it moves on to contraception, starting with condoms. This is probably the best condom related information I’ve read, especially considered the nightmare we were given in school (and if you’ve never heard of the Johnny Condom song, then think yourself lucky…). We also get taught about internal condoms – note, internal, not female, this book is super good at not using gendered terms for things, it’s really trans inclusive which I love. We also get told about things like dental dams and finger cots. Then we get loads of information about forms of birth control, all of which have a list of positives, negatives and some side effects, which I thought was a really good idea. To round off this section there is a chapter on sexting, which I assume is put in the Safely section because it points out that there is always a chance that a sexy pic will be seen by someone other than its intended recipient (and it gives ways to lessen the chance it gets linked back to you), a warning about the legal implications of sexting while under age, and a bit about not how consent extends to pictures as well. Actually the way consent and not sharing other peoples nudes was brought up was really nice to see and well put.

Section 3, Doin’ it with Yourself, is all about healthy exploration of your body, your likes and dislikes and masturbation. This chapter talks about fantasies and how they are normal and healthy, and examining them can help you understand your needs better. But it also talks about how not everything in your head is an actual desire you need to act on, and it says in a non-judgemental way that you can and should find help if you find yourself worried about fantasies. It was a good chapter. Then it talks a bit about the Sexual Response cycle, which I had never heard of but which is basically about how there is more to sex than the orgasm. This section concludes with some advice on masturbation for people with vulvas and people with penises (note that again, there was careful use of inclusive language. This section involves tips on exploring your body, diagrams – both external and internal – of the sexual organs, and a brief look at how sex toys can help with self pleasure.

Section 4, Doin’ it with Others, is all about how sex works with other people. This section takes a look what I suppose are the main forms of sexual contact with others. It breaks down what is involved, how to do it safely,  what to do if things go wrong and all sorts of other good stuff. It includes more diagrams and cartoons, tips and advice and even covers things such as safe and sensible threesomes!

So that’s the content covered, now on to the extra bits I liked.

First off,  is the cartoons throughout. The visual representation of content makes it so easy to absorb and remember. It doesn’t feel cold or clinical or judgemental, it is warm and friendly and  reassuring. The characters featured are really diverse, different races, genders and sexualities. It also includes characters in wheelchairs and with other disabilities, which is something I have not seen in…well in anything if I’m honest. The language in the book is also really carefully selected. I’ve already mentioned how it is trans inclusive, but the book also reminds you from time to time that it’s OK to not want sex, or have a low sex drive.

Ideas such as safe sex, consent and ‘sex should feel good for all involved’ are brought in throughout the book. Each section builds on what came before, providing what I feel is a really well-rounded and detailed look at the subject. Sources are provided whenever statistics are used and wherever the author feels there is more to be said, but not enough space, the reader is provided with websites to look at for further information.

One word of warning, the language in this book is not clinical or…professional seems like the wrong word…it uses a lot of slang words as well as technical terms. As such, this book contains a lot of instances of ‘swear words’, and also cartoons of people engaged in various sexual positions. So this is probably more of a teen+ book…

Final Thoughts…

This book is excellent. I learned a huge amount from this book – I’m not likely to need it, but it’s good to be informed. The comic style of presentation means that this is a book you can easily read in a day and would find it easy to come back to if you needed a reminder. It’s excellent. Read it, give it to your teens and your buddies and your partners. Get informed, bub!

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Please Note: I received a copy of this book via netgalley in exchange for an honest review. The opinions contained within are my own and have not been influenced by any external entity!

Kwik Review: Amelia Fang and the Barbaric Ball (Laura Ellen Anderson)

Kwik Reads


Goodreads Link | Author Website

This is the book I wish had been around back when I taught primary kids.

TL;DR – A gross and funny tale of vampires, yetis and obnoxious princes, with sublime illustrations.

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RAGDOLL RATING: 5/5 BUTTONS (Fang-tastsic)

What I thought…

I read this book because of the cover art. I adore the art style. It’s so cute and fun. I wanted to see if the story was as good as the art. (It is).

It’s time for the annual Barbaric Ball, and Amelia is dreading it. Prince Tangine, an insufferable little twerp, has just started at Amelia’s school and Amelia is stuck showing him around. The prince is selfish and spoiled, and his father, the King gives him anything he asks for. When the King and Prince Tangine visit Amelia’s home, the prince starts demanding their property, first a statute, then a valuable heirloom chair. The King grants these requests much to Amelia’s fury – but the the prince demands Amelia’s pet pumpkin, Squashy! Amelia and her friends hatch a plan to rescue Squashy from the Prince during the Barbaric Ball, but in the process Amelia learns a terrible secret!

This book is charming, and super gross. It’s the kind of book I would love to have read to my classes when I was a teaching assistant, because oh boy would they have loved it.

The world is turned on it’s head. Amelia is a vampire, her friends are ‘monsters’, Grimaldi is a young Grim Reaper, Florence is a rare breed of yeti – they are creatures of the Dark. As such, their worldview is different. Calling someone a lovely little armpit hair could be a compliment, glitter is terrifying. It’s a small thing that makes the world fun and believable, but also opens the gates for all manner of gross ideas, from compliments to food.

The story is simple, but engaging. The characters are wonderful – and there is a particularly nice 2-page spread introducing them all. But the my favourite thing about this book is that every page has some form of illustration.  Sometimes a whole page worth. The illustrations are absolutely adorable. I think having read this book, that Laura Ellen Anderson is probably now my favourite illustrator, and that is absolutely not an exaggeration.

I’m 28 years old, and I really enjoyed this book. It was funny and gross and weird and silly. It was heartwarming, and sad, it made me angry and it made me smile. It is exactly the sort of thing I wish I could write, and I recommend it to anyone.

Give this to the weird kid in your life. (Reviewers note: All kids are weird, give this book to all of them.)

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Please note: I am in no way affiliated with the author or publishers. I bought this book with my own money for my own reasons. The opinions contained within are my own and have not been influenced by any external entity!

Book Review: The Heart Is Noble (HH. The 17th Karmapa)


Goodreads Link | Author Website

Life advice for anybody – not just Buddhists!

TL;DR – Advice and thoughts from a Buddhist monk to the rest of the world. Not just for Buddhists.

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RAGDOLL RATING: 5/5 BUTTONS

Why I read it…

I’ve read lots of snippets from His Holiness around the internet in the course of my day-to-day ramblings, and have found those snippets to be insightful and useful to me, so I have been keen to read a book by His Holiness for some time – this just happened to be the first one I bought.

The Book…

This book is intended as personal thoughts and advice from His Holiness the 17th Karmapa, to anybody who is interested. It is based in Buddhist thought – as you would no doubt expect from a Buddhist monk – but it is not just for Buddhists, it’s good advice for anybody.

The book is split into chapters covering a number of themes, ranging from Healthy Relationships to Food Justice / Vegetarianism to Gender Identity. His Holiness provides his own thoughts on a range of subjects he sees as problematic in the world and offers his own ideas as to how we all can work to combat these problems.

What I liked…

I found this book to be insightful, and very interesting. There is nothing dogmatic about this book – you aren’t supposed to just agree ‘because the Karmapa said so’, or even because it seems like the Buddhist thing to do. His Holiness provides his thoughts in a clear manner, and invites you to test them against your own experiences to determine their validity.

I found the chapter on vegetarianism particularly interesting. I personally find this a difficult subject because of two parts of my personality. First, I love eating meat, secondly, I believe it is ethically wrong of me to do so. I expected this chapter to make me feel worse about it – to go on and on about how terrible I am for eating meat, like so many others have done in the past. But it didn’t. What I got was a story from His Holiness about how things were in Tibet, and how they are now. We start by learning that His Holiness ate a lot of meat when he lived in Tibet – because that’s what was available. He then explains how this changed once he escaped to India. He tells us he became vegetarian after watching a documentary about the meat industry and feeling a surge of compassion for the emotions of the animals. But it wasn’t heavy handed, there was no sense that you must agree with his assessment, it was just stated plainly that this was how he felt and from that he turned to vegetarianism. His Holiness even admits that he still occasionally craves a certain kind of meat he remembers from his childhood. He then goes on to explain all sorts of things about why he thinks vegetarianism is would be a good thing for everyone to adopt, but it never feels pushy or aggressive. But it is persuasive. It has led me personally to make a move towards vegetarianism I felt poorly equipped to make before.

The whole book is like this. In a friendly, approachable style, His Holiness provides anecdotes and the occasional piece of Buddhist wisdom or storytelling to illustrate his points and reminds us constantly about the important of compassion and loving kindness.

What I disliked…

There is nothing about the book I really disliked, but I do have to mention one thing because it may upset some readers.

Buddhism calls for universal compassion, and when I say universal I mean it. Compassion for everyone. In the last chapter we are taught how far this actually goes. It specifically mentions rapists, child abusers and murderers as people who deserve compassion. It states that we are quick to be compassionate to the victims (as indeed we should be) but that we are all too quick to withhold compassion from the perpetrators (which is true). This is hard to read – and His Holiness admits right at the start of the chapter that it is easier read than put into practice. It is a fairly simple concept to grasp, but can be quite difficult to read – especially if you have ever been the victim of something like this.

Just be aware of that.

Final thoughts…

I really enjoyed reading this book. It has been quite the treat for me to sit down every night before meditating and read a chapter of this book. I can’t wait to read some more by His Holiness, and I hope you will consider reading it, whether you are Buddhist or not.

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Please note: I am in no way affiliated with the author or publishers. I bought this book with my own money for my own reasons. The opinions contained within are my own and have not been influenced by any external entity!

Book Review: Notes on a Nervous Planet (Matt Haig)


Goodreads Link | Author Website

Insightful, thought provoking, and very, very real.

TL;DR – This book takes a good, hard look at anxiety, grabs it by the collar and yells “Not today!”

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RAGDOLL RATING: 5/5 BUTTONS

Why I read it…

My mum used to read my chapters of “Reasons to Stay Alive” at night, during one of my worst periods of mental ill-health, I’m not sure how much of it I took in, but it just seemed that reading Haig’s latest offering would be a good idea during my most recent mental health crisis.

The Book…

I suppose you could call this book a self help book, but that doesn’t cover it. More accurately, I supposed it is a collection of ‘anxiety things’, bunched together into a really helpful little manual.

The purpose of the book is to take a good hard look at anxiety, it’s effects on society, and societies effects on it. Through personal stories, quotations, lists and data, Haig takes us through the world of anxiety and offers us things we can do to combat it.

I suppose the big take-away from this book is that modern society is a breeding ground for stress and anxiety, and human beings have not had time to adapt to it. BUT, there are ways to make things feel that little bit better.

This book isn’t going to be a one-stop cure for anxiety disorders, and it isn’t supposed to be. It’s just a collection of useful information and tips, to make something really bad, a little easier.

What I liked…

I suppose the thing I like most about this book (and “Reasons to Stay Alive”) is the fact that Matt Haig doesn’t hold back on his personal experience. He’s not afraid to stand up and talk about his mental health, and to talk about it in detail. One of the parts that stuck out most for me, was when Matt talks about having a panic attack in a shopping center – being surrounded by crowds, being in tears and feeling like the worst has happened. It stuck out for me because I’ve been there, but also because outside of a group therapy session I’ve never heard anyone talk about that before. It’s one of those things that are really hard for people to understand, because they don’t necessarily make sense. These stories of his personal struggles – and the distinct lack of pointless psycho-babble and other rubbish – make the book really relatable, and help to make the rest of the book easier to engage with.

The problem with a lot of books on anything mental health related, is the tendency for them to be written by people who have never personally experienced the things they are talking about, written using a whole bunch of technical sounding terms that tend to just come off as annoying. THIS BOOK DOES NOT DO THIS. The whole book is written in really simple language – as if Haig was sitting in the room telling you his story, instead of you reading it. It’s comforting, and much more approachable. But he also only gives you advice he has tried, and more importantly, he admits the bits of advice he finds hard to follow himself, or that he isn’t very good at doing. It is infinitely easier to follow the advice of someone you  just know understands how overwhelming the advice seems. Someone who freely admits they should be doing something, but they aren’t good at it. Stuff they are trying to get better at.

I also love the way that the book puts focus on the way modern society affects us and can cause us considerable stress and anxiety. Haig explains how elements of society, for example shops or social media or news rely completely on people not feeling content. Feeling they need more, or that something isn’t ‘quite right’. How social media is designed to reward extremes of opinion. Or how the constant stream of camera-phone footage of horrible things happening, can make us feel more involved but also more scared of current events than we ever have been before. He also talks about how many of the things we do day-to-day, are like an addiction. Compulsively checking social media, or taking quick email breaks instead of focusing on one thing at a time. It’s hard to take in frankly. But it is true – I didn’t realise how many random marketing emails I saw every single day until I started unsubscribing from them as a result of reading this book.

Obviously Haig isn’t the only person ever to have spoken about this kind of thing, but he is the only person I’ve come across who managed to put it so clearly, and so obviously that I felt compelled to do something about it.

One final thing I loved about this book was the format. This book has no consistent structure. It is, as Haig puts it, ‘intentionally disorganised’. Each chapter starts with a quote or two, and then the chapter is broken up into seemingly random segments. There are lists, personal stories, data from psychological studies, advice, analysis of society, anxiety and stress…and so on. The reason I love this formatless format so much, is because it makes the whole thing so much easier to take in. You don’t get pages and pages and pages of advice from someone who doesn’t care if you follow it or not. You don’t get long explanations of complex quotations from someone who cares more about coming across intellectual than a ‘real’ person. You get little bits and pieces. Here a story about panic attacks, there a list of things that have gotten faster in recent years, here a bit about addiction and social media, there a little happy thought or bright idea. Mental health is hard to read about, especially when every story can trigger memories of your own – but this quirky little format experiment breaks it all up, and makes for a peculiar, but brilliant read.

What I disliked…

I didn’t dislike anything about the book. I disliked how I felt reading it at times, but that is obviously not Matt Haig’s fault.

One thing you should note, is that Matt does talk about suicide at times so if that’s a trigger for you, be aware.

Final thoughts…

This book made me feel a little less alone. I think everyone should read it, just to get a real, pure look into mental health problems.

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Please note: I am in no way affiliated with the author or publishers. I bought this book with my own money for my own reasons. The opinions contained within are my own and have not been influenced by any external entity!