Book Review: When the Chocolate Runs Out (Lama Thubten Yeshe)

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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: 3.5/5 Buttons

Recommended For: People with a little Buddhist experience

About the Book…

When the Chocolate Runs Out is a million-mile-an-hour run through some of the fundamental concepts in Buddhism. In it, Lama Yeshe provides instruction on a wide variety of topics, from Karma, attachment and ego.

What I thought…

Up until the very end, my primary thought about this book was: “Thank god I already know about this!” Somewhere in this book, Lama Yeshe explains that the point of Buddhism and the dharma, isn’t to learn everything but to put things into practice and test ideas against your own experience. This philosophy is obvious throughout the book as Lama Yeshe provides a lot of “What to do?” and very little How or Why. As such, if you weren’t already familiar with some of the concepts, I can imagine this book could be quite frustrating at times, finding yourself unsure of how to do something or why it’s worth it in the first place. Of course the Why is because Lama Yeshe has found it helpful in his own experience, but that can be a difficult position to start from. It’s certainly one I struggle with.

That said, there was a lot of material covered and if you do already have some background knowledge of Buddhism’s workings, then it’s quite a good reminder and a fresh perspective on a number of fairly key concepts.

My favourite part about this book is actually at the end, where Lama Yeshe – very – briefly, runs the reader through a number of simple meditations. This section actually turned the whole book around for me, as the instructions were very clear and and offered additional guidance about our expectations. Good meditation instructions can be difficult to find, either being overly simplistic or complicated, but Lama Yeshe manages to find a good balance between the two that allows the concepts to be delivered and understood without taxing the mind one way or the other.

I think this is a book that perhaps would be best treated as a coffee-table read, the kind of book you dip in and out of frequently. The chapters are short and sweet, and the format throughout lends itself much better to frequent short bursts, compared to long period of reading (which is what I just did, and I finished it in just over an hour).

Final Thoughts…

Overall, my opinions on this book are a little all over the place. It is certainly something I would happily come back to, as I’m sure there is more wisdom contained within than I have taken in during this read-through.

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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: The Lady in the Cellar (Sinclair McKay)

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


Goodreads Link

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Ragdoll Rating: 3.5/5 Buttons

Recommended For: Crime fans, Victorian history fans.

About the Book…

A body is discovered in the coal cellar of a boarding house, and the lives of the Bastendorff family are thrust into the national press to be critiqued, analysed and slandered. Who was the mysterious corpse, what had happened to her, and who hid her body in the cellar?

What I thought…

I think this is probably the first ‘True Crime’ book I’ve ever read, and I’m not gonna lie, it took some serious work to get into it. Presumably if you’re big in to True Crime you are used to the line between fact and fiction being trod, the narrative reading like it came from a really good documentary. But I’m not, and it took some adjustment. Having said that, once I switched my internal voice to that of Tony Robinson (of Time Team and Blackadder fame) I found this book to be both enjoyable, and easy to read.

 

The book provides you with the facts of the case, alongside a smattering of Victorian history, which actually proved to be almost as interesting as the plot itself, but then I’m a bit of a history geek so…

The big problem I had with this book was the ending. There’s no spoilers here, it’s an unsolved case so there is nothing to ruin. Since the case is unsolved, the last part of the book is dedicated to what the investigating officer might have thought, if he even thought about it at all. It’s pure fantasy. I have nothing against pure fantasy, but I do have a problem with the only scenarios explored where ones where mentally ill characters committed a gruesome murder. It doesn’t sit right with me that out of the million and one ways the murder could have been carried out, only these two were selected for examination. In great detail I might add. It really spoiled the book for me if I’m honest.

Final Thoughts…

It took work to get into it, and I hated the ending, but I still think it’s worth a read.

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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: The True History of the Strange Brigade (Short Story Collection)

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


Goodreads Link

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Ragdoll Rating: 3.5/5 Buttons

Recommended For: People who have bought, or intend to by the game. People who like short adventure stories.

About the Book

This book is a short story collection about the Strange Brigade and how its various members came to join it. The Strange Brigade is – if I’ve understood correctly – a secret branch of the British Empire that fights demons and investigates the paranormal.

What I thought

Overall, I quite like this book. More often than not I found myself wishing the stories were longer, sometimes wishing I could have a whole book dedicated to one character – the stories of Anjali (Peccavi, Or If Thy Father by Mimi Mondal) and Nalangu (Nalangu’s Trials by Gaie Sebold) spring to mind.

Since this is a short story collection, I will try and briefly give my thoughts on each story.

Was Jerusalem Builded Here (Cassandra Khaw) – this may be my least favourite reading experience ever, and I am including the time I dropped a book in the bath. The story jumped all over the place, and I just barely finished it with an understanding of what the plot was. It also included some seriously weird writing…for example:

“…hair the hue of menstrual tissue…” and “Agatha snapped, quick as a crime”.

The first is just gross and the second doesn’t make any sense at all, and these are not the only examples to be found.

If I had to sum up this story using a quote from the story itself, it would be this:

“You’re still not making any sense. Gracie ventured closer, feeling out of her depth. “What are you talking about?”

Ripples in a Polluted Pool (Johnathon L. Howard) – This story follows Captain Fairburne from an ambush in Marseille to an outbreak of pacifism in India. It’s actually a shame this one was a short story. The first part was alright, and I lost track of things during the transition from British Army Captain to member of the Strange Brigade in India, but the second half was great and deserved to be told properly.

The Professor’s Dilemma (Tauriq Moosa) – This story has a hint of Indiana Jones about it, and I love it. A professor is all set up to go on an archaeological dig when his father goes missing and he is attacked by a vicious beast! This one was well written and definitely left me wanting more.

Nalangu’s Trials (Gaie Sebold) – This story follows Nalangu, a girl who becomes a demon hunter, and sets off on a quest to rescue a child from Leopard people. Some of the writing seemed a bit off to me at times, but the story itself was really good. Definitely wanted to know more.

Where You Bury Things (Guy Adams)  – A man on the run from British law finds himself seeking his fortune in Australia. We learn about his past ask he follows a group of strangers into a mysterious cave. The story started off interesting, and I liked the idea of it, but it sort of lost steam towards the end. It built itself up to be really interesting and then just sort of ended.

Peccavi, Or If Thy Father (Mimi Mondal) – Anjali is cursed – her whole family is cursed, and it’s her fathers fault. She is destined to be killed – her brothers have both just died, and her father is on deaths door. Reading that back I realise how terrible I’ve made this story sound, and I sincerely apologise to the author – but this story is actually my favourite one so far. I would really like to find out what happens to Anjali (and her other not-dead secret brother Mahesh) after this story ended, which I suppose is exactly what this book is supposed to be doing…

The Island of Nightmares (Patrick Lofgren) – Lieutenant-Commander Hachiro Shimizu and his squadron were sent on a mission – to capture a mysterious island and establish a base to help Japan run the Europeans out of Asia. But they’ve been captured by the cannibalistic inhabitants of the island. Just when Hachiro thinks things couldn’t get any worse, he learns that the ruler of the island plans to unleash the terrible monsters that live there on the rest of the world, killing everybody. Hachiro must find a way to stop this from happening. This story was pretty cool. It was well written and an interesting story, although I am left with one considerable query about just how the Bad Guys were supposed to carry  out their plans since you are not supposed to be able to sail out from where their ship is. But maybe I missed something. It also mentioned a cowboy member of the Brigade I have no memory of, which either I’ve forgotten or was never told about, either way I feel like I’m missing out.

Tessie’s Song (Joespeh Guthrie) – Tessie, pilot extraordinaire, is attacked by the undead in a bar, and promptly recruited to the Strange Brigade as a pilot. On her first mission she finds herself struggling to extract the Brigade from an island infested with undead and dinosaurs! This story was the only one that had the main character join the Brigade within the first few pages, it also felt like very little happened. I realise its a short story and you can’t cram too much into it, but in comparison to say, The Island of Nightmares which I had just finished, it just felt sort of hollow. It was fun, don’t get me wrong, was just a bit underwhelming.

Final Thoughts

I nearly stopped reading this book after the first story – and I’m glad I didn’t because the rest of it was enjoyable. Actually it seems quite odd to me that the first and last stories were the ones I enjoyed least, which is unfortunate, but then very few people enjoy every story in a collection of shorts by different authors.

I get the feeling that reading this book would be a lot better if you had literally any clue about the game it was written to accompany – which I don’t. That said, reading this book has persuaded me to look up the game and see what it’s about so I suppose it did it’s job quite well.

This book lost a few points in my ratings because of how much I disliked the first story, and a bit more because it felt a bit rushed. Please note, I am not saying it felt ‘short’. It’s a book of short stories, they are supposed to be short. What I mean is that many of the stories felt like the authors had a whole book in mind, and then were forced to condense it into a half-hour read, which led to a lot of things that weren’t explored in the way it felt they needed to be. I would have preferred to read a series of short books, or even a collection of slightly longer stories, just so the characters could have been done justice.

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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: Pirate Lattitudes (Michael Crichton)


Goodreads Link | Author Website

“A fun read, but not his best.” – me, post-book

TL;DR – Most of the story was really good, and with a few small changes could have been amazing. Still recommended.

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RAGDOLL RATING: 3.5/5 BUTTONS

Why I read it…

My brother recommended this to me. We are both big fans of pirates (both fact and fiction), always have been. He listened to the audio book and couldn’t recommend it highly enough – “A Book recommended by a friend/family” was a category in my reading challenge conveniently too. Also I like Crichton’s work, so I thought it had a lot going for it.

The Story…

Port Royal is either a paradise or a scum hole, depending on your outlook. One of the few English colonies in the midst of Spanish territories, it’s economy relies on the work of privateers – sort of ‘legal’ pirates – to bring home the bacon.

Captain Hunter is one such Privateer. Hunter, and a band of picked men set out upon a dangerous quest – to raid the stronghold of Matanceros and make off with a Spanish treasure ship. Only one crew ever attempted a raid on Matanceros, and only one man returned! The risk is great – many would call it suicide – but the reward is greater…

Meanwhile, Robert Hacklett, a devious and ambitious young man, seeks to clean up the streets of Port Royal and make it a respectable town, with disastrous results.

Please note: This book was apparently found as a full manuscript and published post-posthumously, so it is difficult to gauge how polished and finished it really is.

What I liked…

I freely admit that anything to do with pirates is likely to land more favourably with me than most other themes – I really love pirates. The book didn’t disappoint in that regard. Crichton adds lots of little details, such as pirate superstitions, codes and rules and explanations about how a ship was organised and run – this really helps flesh out the world and make it interesting and engaging. It’s not so heavy on details that it would be boring for people who weren’t that interested, but it has enough to keep pirate fans happy.

I liked the plot for the most part. The daring raid, the sea battles and the political machinations of Hacklett all mixed together to make an exciting narrative. I was really hooked into the story within a few chapters, and my interest was maintained the whole way through.

I like the fact that Crichton has written his pirate world with a leaning towards reality. The pirates are presented in all their ugly glory – violent, scheming and often unpleasant. That said, the characters are not so made to be so abhorrent that you find yourself unable to root for them entirely.

There is some diversity among the characters which is probably closer to the reality of a pirate crew than the usual white-washed crews we are usually exposed to. This is both a strength and a significant issue, but more on that in a minute.

What I disliked…

I struggled to give this book a rating at first – and I admit I’m still not 100% sure I got it right. 3.5 buttons seems to suggest the book was terrible, which it most definitely wasn’t. It did, however, have a few things that really got to me and ultimately caused me to slash the rating quite drastically.

Trigger Warning – R*pe mention, racist content

As I said above, the pirates in this book are not presented as the dashing heroes we often find in movies – they are unpleasant and at least fairly close to what you would expect form actually pirates. In fact it’s not just the pirates – everyone in this book is pretty unpleasant. As such, it’s not hugely surprising that pirates (and anybody else apparently) might not be above a bit of rape. You definitely could write a pirate story where nobody gets raped, but that probably wouldn’t be considered ‘gritty’ enough.

The rape thing, which to my best recollection comes up three, maybe four times is unpleasant and seems unnecessary – even if it is realistic. That said, I’m no stranger to unpleasant material in books and it wouldn’t kick a whole button and a half of the rating on its own. No, the real kicker in this was the fact that for reasons known only to himself, Crichton went to great pains to point out that the most raped person in the book is a child of 14 or 15. What’s worse is the fact that he presents it as totally consensual…and I know, ‘sign of the times’ and all that but there was literally no reason what-so-ever for his to keep mentioning that this girl was a child. The characters acknowledge she is a child, and even call her a child. It’s super skeevy and massively unpleasant to read. I’m not trying to suggest that the rape of an adult is somehow better or more acceptable, but I can’t think of a way to end this sentence.

Moving away from that and onto some of the characters. I said earlier that the crew had some diversity. I also said this was a problem. There are two characters I have in mind specifically.

  1. Don Diego a.k.a. Black Eye a.k.a. the Jew
  2. Bassa a.k.a. The Moor

Don Diego, got his nickname for being Jewish. Bassa, we are told, somehow ended up with the nickname, despite “not beeing Moorish” (I believe the book says he is Nubian, but don’t quote me on it), and nobody knows how he ended up with it – well it’s obvious how he got it, someone saw a black man and called him a Moor.

Thing is, I understand why he mentions the nicknames – they might be unpleasant but it does flesh out the characters slightly and it’s believable. Unnecessary, but believable. This was made more annoying in the epilogue by suggesting that the characters were real people – which would have explained why you would mention these nicknames in the first place, but it turns out they are all fiction.

A big problem is the fact that despite giving these characters actual human names, he keeps referring to them by these racial epithets. It’s not even when the characters speak. The characters called Don Diego Don Diego. Crichton as narrator calls him ‘the Jew’. It is massively jarring because there doesn’t seem to be any reason for it. Sometimes he even uses both the name and the racial epithet at the same time – it’s just mindless. So points lost for that.

Triggers end.

Finally, there are a couple of appearances of the Kraken. Don’t get me wrong, I like the Kraken. The Kraken is cool. But it just seemed out of place. The book felt realistic – like real life, and I enjoyed that. The first time it appears, you could have assumed it was a whale or something as it appeared briefly and had ‘a suspicion of tentacles’ or some such. The second time it was glowing green and attacked the ship, but it came right out of left field and through a random element of fantasy into what had previously been a gritty, realistic pirate story. It was just weird.

Final thoughts…

I liked the story. I wanted to love it.

As noted above, this book was printed posthumously and discovered as a ‘complete manuscript’. Perhaps Crichton intended to work on it some more – there are a couple of places where the transition between elements is a bit janky, and it feels unfinished at times. That said, you can hardly blame the man for unfortunately dying before publication so I wasn’t about to dock points for it.

It does seem unlikely, however, that the issues I highlighted above would have been removed had the book been published within Crichton’s lifetime.

I would recommend this book to anyone who likes gritty historical fiction. If you don’t like grit and realism to the point of fault, don’t bother with it.

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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 Yiddish Policemen’s Union (Michael Chabon)


Goodreads Link | Michael Chabon Website

“Maybe I missed something somewhere…” ~Me, post-book

TL;DR – I liked this book enough to finish it, but not enough to read it again. Recommended for crime fans.

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RAGDOLL RATING: 3.5/5 BUTTONS

Why I read it…

It won the Hugo for Best Novel -2008  (Reading challenge category)

I wouldn’t say I’m ‘big’ into crime novels – I enjoy them, but it’s not my usual area. Having said that, I’m a sucker for alternate history, so I thought I’d give it a shot.

The Story…

Alternate History – The state of Israel collapsed in 1948, and for the Jewish people in diaspora moved  to (and thrived in) a temporary new homeland – The Federal District of Sitka, Alaska. The district is due to revert to Alaskan control.

Alcoholic cop, Meyer Landsman is woken one morning in his flea-bag hotel room and informed of a murder in another room. Together with his partner Berko Shemets, Landsman sets about solving the case – and gets much more than he bargained for!

What I liked…

My first impression was the setting. As I say, I’m a sucker for alternate history, so this gave me something to sink my teeth into right from the start. It was, admittedly, quite a culture shock, what with me knowing very little about Jewish cultures, and even less about Yiddish terminology, but once I got my head around the basics everything settled nicely.

Secondly, the plot. It’s difficult to say what I particularly liked about it without giving away more than I am comfortable about the story itself. I enjoyed how the story progressed – it was entertaining, and kept the air of mystery about it as the case slowly unfolded – needless to say I absolutely did not guess ‘who dunnit’.

What I disliked…

The ending. I’m not going to say what happens and ruin it for anyone. I’ll also say right now that the ending wasn’t necessarily bad. As I said in my quote at the top, I feel like I must have missed something because I was left feeling like the story had just lost steam by the end.

The case was progressing, and I was enjoying it. Things were escalating and it was exciting. Discoveries were being made and everything looked great. Then it just sort of ended. This is why I think I missed something. As far as the plot goes, it makes sense to have ended where it did – I guess I just expected it to go another way. I could read the last few chapters again – and indeed I might – but for the moment, the vague sense of disappointment.

Another minor thing – the case had a chess theme, and often there were descriptions of chess moves, or terminology that admittedly flew right over my head. This isn’t a criticism of the writing itself – I’m quite sure if you’re slightly more familiar with chess than I am those parts would make perfect sense – it was just something that made little bits harder to follow.

Final thoughts…

When I started reading, I was having fun – and I really wanted to enjoy this book more than I did. Frankly, if it wasn’t for the ending – which I remind you, wasn’t necessarily bad, it just wasn’t what I was expecting – then this would have got a solid four buttons. Unfortunately, the fact the I got to the end with my interest waning knocked off some points.

One final point. When I started writing this review, I gave the book a 3 button rating. However, as I was writing, bits of the book I had enjoyed kept coming back to me and the rating seemed unfit – it didn’t do it justice. This book isn’t a bad book – I would recommend it to a crime fan – it just didn’t hit the right buttons for me!

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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!