Book of the Month (November 2018)

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This just in!!

The Ragdoll Reads Book of the Month pick for November 2018 is:

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Pilu of the Woods

by Mai K. Nguyen (2019)

TL;DR – A beautiful story about overcoming your demons

See the full review here: Book Review: Pilu of the Woods (Mai K. Nguyen)

See the full Book of the Month list here: Book of the Month

Reading Challenge Complete (#3)

OK, so far this year I’ve actually completed FIVE reading challenges:

  • 2018 Badass Books Reading Challenge by MeHawkins.com (#1) – see the write up here: Reading Challenge Complete (#1)
  • 2018 Badass Books Reading Challenge by MeHawkins.com (#2) – see the write up here: Reading Challenge Complete (#2)
  • 52 books read in total
  • 80 books read in total, and finally
  • 2018 Badass Books Reading Challenge by MeHawkins.com (#3) which you are now reading about!

The 2018 Badass Books Reading Challenge was from a book blog I found – mehawkins.com18 unique categories. Doing this challenge actually inspired my to write my own challenges for next year (and the Around the World 2018 Reading Challenge you can try out already!!)

So here is the rundown of my progress through the challenge. (Please note: I read these in no particular order)

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Graphic and content from mehawkins.com

The 2018 Badass Books Reading Challenge (Run #3)

A book published in 2018.

ButtonAn Argumentation of Historians by Jodi Taylor (2018)

Think ‘Female Indiana Jones’ + Time Travel and you’re pretty close to the premise of this book. A real fun read.

See the full review here: Book Review: An Argumentation of Historians (Jodi Taylor)

Rating: 4/5 Buttons

 

A book published the year you were born.

ButtonMattimeo by Brian Jacques (1990)

Book 3 in the Redwall series. The young mouse, Mattimeo and his friends are captured by an evil fox, and must be rescued. Exciting fantasy for young and old.

Rating: 5/5 Buttons

 

A classic book or a book published over 100 years ago.

ButtonThe Mysterious Island by Jules Verne (1874)

Four men and a dog find themselves stranded on a deserted island after a mishap with a hot air balloon. This is the story of how they survived.

Rating: 5/5 Buttons

 

A book that you’ve started before and never finished.

ButtonRing for Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse (1953)

The continuing hilarious adventures of everybody’s favourite valet, Jeeves..

Rating: 4/5 Buttons

 

A book you should have read in school, but didn’t.

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The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle (1892)

Another short story collection, featuring the worlds most famous detective duo.

Rating: 5/5 Buttons

 

A Book you’ve already read – time for a re-read!

ButtonStonehenge by Bernard Cornwell (1999)

A tale of war, betrayal, murder and temples. An epic novel worked around the building of stonehenge.

Rating: 5/5

 

A book that you’ve put off reading.

ButtonThe Stonehenge Legacy by Sam Christer (2010)

An ancient cult, and a murderous conspiracy. Can Gideon expose the cult that murdered his father, or will they get to him too!?

Rating: 4/5 Buttons

 

A banned book.

Button1984 by George Orwell (1949)

“Orwell’s nightmare vision of a totalitarian, bureaucratic world and one poor stiff’s attempt to find individuality.” (Goodreads)

Rating: 4/5 Buttons

 

A book by an author you’ve never read.

ButtonFoundryside by Robert Jackson Bennett (2018)

Sancia is offered the job of a lifetime – steal one item for more money than she could ever hope to see in her lifetime. She takes the chance, and then her world falls apart.

See the full review here: Book Review: Foundryside (Robert Jackson Bennett)

Rating: Exceptional (Book of the Month August 2018)

 

A popular author’s first book.

ButtonThe Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum (1900)

“Transported to a surreal landscape, a young girl kills the first person she meets and then teams up with three strangers to kill again.” (Newspaper clipping…do I really need to tell you what this is about?)

Rating: 4/5 Buttons

 

A book turned movie you’ve seen but haven’t read.

ButtonThe Maze Runner by James Dashner (2009)

A group of boys are trapped in a colossal maze, filled with murderous machines. One day, a girl is dumped in their midst and then everything goes wrong, fast!

Rating: 5/5 Buttons

 

A book turned TV show you’ve seen but haven’t read.

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Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death by James Runcie (2012)

 If you like the whole “Sleepy little town has more murders than small countries” genre, and you like priests you’ll probably like this book.

See the full review here: Book Review: The Grantchester Mysteries – Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death (James Runcie)

Rating: 5/5 Buttons (Book of the Month May 2018)

 

A funny book.

ButtonThe Pirates! In an Adventure with Romantics by Gideon Defoe (2012)

The Pirates head off on a quest to find a lost manuscript on how to woo the ladies, with Lord Byron, Percy and Mary Shelly in toe. Hilarity ensues.

See the full review here: Series Review: The Pirates! In an Adventure with… (Gideon Defoe)

Rating: Exceptional (Series)

 

A book that will make you smarter.

ButtonMindfulness in Plain English by Bhante Gunaratana (1992)

A useful guide to the practice of Vipassana (insight) meditation.

See the full review here: Book Review: Mindfulness in Plain English (Bhante Henepola Gunaratana)

Rating: 4/5 buttons

 

An award-winning book.

ButtonAmerican Gods by Neil Gaiman (2001)

A book about Gods, their dwindling power and the coming war. This book is cleverly crafted, brilliantly written and endlessly entertaining. Once again Gaiman delivers a cracking read! A must have for fans of fantasy and myths.

See the full review here: Book Review: American Gods (Neil Gaiman)

Rating: Exceptional

 

A book based on a true story.

ButtonDragon Teeth by Michael Crichton (2017)

A team of pioneering paleontologists set out to discover new and interesting fossils. But William Johnson gets separated from the group and is left to fend for himself in the wilds of the west.

Rating: 5/5 Buttons

 

A book chosen for you by a friend.

ButtonBuddhist Meditation by Kamalashila (2013)

This book is a great guide for any meditation practitioner – from the absolute beginner to the more advanced users

See the full review here: Book Review: Buddhist Meditation: Tranquility, Imagination and Insight (Kamalashila)

Rating: 4.5/5 Buttons

 

A book set during Christmas.

ButtonThe Christmas Mystery by Jostein Gaarder (1992)

A sort of backwards look at the history of Christianity…also a kidnapping…this book made me insanely irritated.

See the full review here: Kwik Review: The Christmas Mystery (Jostein Gaarder)

Rating: 1/5 Buttons

 

So there we have it. Badass Books Reading Challenge #3 is complete. I’m only 8 books away from completing  Reading Challenge: Around the World 2018, and 16 books away from 100 books total, which I reckon I should manage by the end of the month.

Last thing before I go:

Top 3 of the Challenge:

You gotta pick a top three, so here are mine (Drum roll please):

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You should go out and read these books immediately!!

Finally, a big thank you to mehawkins.com for writing the reading challenge in the first place.

Book of the Month (August 2018)

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This just in!!

The Ragdoll Reads Book of the Month pick for August 2018 is:

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Foundryside

by Robert Jackson Bennett (2018)

TL;DR – In a world controlled by magical enchantments, only a small-time sneak thief and her associates can prevent a world-ending catastrophe!

See the full review here: Book Review: Foundryside (Robert Jackson Bennett)

See the full Book of the Month list here: Book of the Month

 

Book Review: The Last Chance Hotel (Nicki Thornton)


Goodreads Link | Author Website

Book of the Month
Book of the Month (July 2018)

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It’s not often I feel compelled insta-tweet when finishing a book.

TL;DR – A twisting, turning magical who-dunnit – a really excellent read!

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RAGDOLL RATING: 5/5 BUTTONS

Why I read it…

I won this book in a twitter giveaway, so it’s been on my reading list.

The Story…

Seth is an ordinary kitchen boy, working in an ordinary hotel, situated in the middle of a not-so-very ordinary forest.

Seth’s world is turned upside down and inside out when a party of magical guests arrive. When one of the guests dies, Seth is accused of the murder and must do everything he can to clear his name.

What follows is a series of twists, turns, surprises and magic!

What I liked…

The thing I liked most about this book was the fact that by the end of the book, almost every guess I made was wrong. But more importantly, even though I was wrong I could pick the clues out all through the book afterwards. It wasn’t one of those murder mysteries where literally everything that happened before the last chapter didn’t matter, because the vital (and indeed only clue) turns up and destroys all previous theories (I’m looking at you Death in Paradise…). No, I had my theories, lots of theories, and while I was close, I was wrong – and that was a lot of fun!

Secondly, I liked Seth. Seth’s a darling. He works hard, despite his horrible bosses, and their scum-of-the-Earth daughter, Tiffany. He’s an orphan, so he’s stuck where he is – but he finds solace in cooking. He’s just a real nice kid. When he gets bullied by Tiffany you really feel his pain. When he’s accused of murder, and every bit of new evidence points to him, you fear for him, I mean it’d be a pretty dark children’s book if he got hauled off to magical jail at the end, but still, you really worry about him.

Thirdly, I liked the buildup. I can best describe this book using the phrase “Nothing is as it seems!” Every time I thought I had a handle on what was going on, something would happen to make me question everything I thought I knew. I still have a question that I want answering about the cat Nightshade, but who knows if I’ll get one! It was well paced, you just got used to things and then something new happened, and it was exciting too.

What I disliked…(but really sort of liked)

I intensely hated Tiffany. Delores Umbridge levels of hate. She is just horrible. Just thinking of how to write this paragraph makes my head spin thinking about the depths of my loathing. Which is obviously what was intended, and I think demonstrates the quality of the writing. Or it triggered some sort of bullying-related PTSD, one or the other. But I can’t put a character I hate as a mark against a book, because it makes the book what it is, which is why I’ve had to change to title of this section.

Final thoughts…

The Last Chance Hotel is a wonderful example of a murder mystery. It is an easy and thoroughly enjoyable read and I recommend it to anyone – especially the youngsters!

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Please note: I am in no way affiliated with the author or publishers. 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!

Book Review: No Mud, No Lotus (Thich Nhat Nanh)


Goodreads Link | Author Website

I can only hope to one day see the world as Thich Nhat Hanh does…

TL;DR – A collection of personal experiences, Buddhist teachings and mindfulness practices to help heal the suffering of the world.

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RAGDOLL RATING: 4/5 BUTTONS

Why I read it…

This was part of my ongoing practice of reading a Buddhism book before meditation. I chose this book because I was so moved by The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching (Thich Nhat Hanh) that I felt I had to read more of Thay’s writings, and I chose this book specifically because I liked the title.

The Book…

(Please note: In the interests of my own sanity and time saving, I will refer to the author by the honorific Thầy – teacher/master, instead of his full name)

“Most people are afraid of suffering. But suffering is a kind of mud to help the lotus flower of happiness grow. There can be no lotus flower without the mud.” ~Thich Nhat Nanh

The tagline for this book is “The art of transforming suffering”, and that is what this book is, a guidebook for turning suffering into – well, not suffering.

The first (and biggest) section of this book is dedicated to discussing suffering, it’s effects on us as individuals, and on society itself. Each chapter is split into little sections that are written with the authors usual somewhat eclectic mix of personal stories, scripture and metaphor.

In the first chapter, Thầy tells us how suffering and happiness are linked – you cannot have one without the other, and suggesting that the causes of suffering and happiness can be the same thing. Here he uses an example of being cold:

“Cold air can be painful if you aren’t wearing enough warm clothes. But when you’re feeling overheated (…) the bracing sensation of cold air can be a source of feeling joy…” Thich Nhat Hanh (p.11)

Thầy also provides useful practices you can try for yourself in times of suffering, to try and provide some relief, either for you or for the people around you. Chapter 5, for example, is dedicated to 5 practices for nurturing happiness, such as letting go of attachment, and simple meditations.

The second section of the book is entitled ‘Practices for Happiness’ and details 8 (relatively) simple things we can all try to do, to help transform our suffering and the suffering of others.

What I liked…

One thing that really appealed to me in this book was that Thầy always provides multiple forms of explanation and example to any point he makes. Nothing is left to chance. You will often find multiple metaphors, personal examples and stories from the Buddhist canon to help aid understanding of what can be difficult points.  Some people might find this annoying and it could be interpreted as unnecessary repetition, but I personally find that it helps me understand each point much better because of it.

On a similar note, the combination of traditional Buddhist stories and personal anecdotes is also refreshing. One problem I often find with guides for personal improvement, is that if often the steps seem impossible – if you tried them, you would fail – and once you feel like it’s too difficult, you stop paying attention. Having examples of how Thầy puts this guidance into practice – is really refreshing. But this book goes one step further. We also have examples where Thầy talks about times he has found himself confused about teachings (for example the section entitled “Did the Buddha suffer”) – which is really reassuring. It’s nice to see someone admit that they didn’t always understand how these things worked, because often I find hearing guidance from people comes across as if the knowledge was inside them from birth, which as an often-confused person, is really quite disheartening.

What I disliked…

I’m not sure this is so much a dislike in the traditional sense – it’s certainly not the authors fault – but at times this book was hard to read. Not in the usual sense, the language is pretty straightforward, it’s written clearly and has lots of examples – it’s not an ‘advanced text’ or anything like that. It’s the concepts addressed in the book.

There is guidance in this book that seems difficult, if not impossible to follow. For example, there is a place in the book (although I can’t find the specific page as my bookmark fell out) where Thầy talks about how to respond to somebody else’s anger. He encourages us not to respond in kind, not to become angry ourselves or to shout or defend ourselves. Instead he tells us to listen, apologise for your part in this persons pain and just hear them out. Then later, when things are calmer you can try to transform this persons view should an opportunity present itself.

Now, I totally see how this could work. In fact I know it works at times because I’ve done it – not on anything particularly important mind you, but it can work. Even if I hadn’t actually put this into practice, I would be able to see the logic behind it because it is all explained in a clear and simple fashion. BUT, this – and other pieces of guidance – can be really, really daunting. I know on several times during this book, I stopped reading and thought to myself;

“How the hell am I supposed to pull that off!?”

I suppose the thing is, it is all very well explained and I can see what to do, and why I should do it and all those nice things that should make it seem like a walk in the park, but in the back of my head something is telling me the whole thing is nuts. The teachings in this book can be hard to process and accept – that’s just conditioned into us I suppose, and something we all need to unlearn. Just be aware of it.

Final thoughts…

This book is well thought out, brilliantly written and no doubt it will prove incredibly useful in the future. I have already attempted to put some of the teachings into practice.

The book is clear, but some of the concepts are hard to digest. Your mind may try and reject them, even though they are really good stuff. My advice is if you find yourself resisting something in the book, put it down, breath deeply for a minute or two, then start reading again. It will be worth it.

This book is now on my re-read pile. I recommend this to everyone.

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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!

Kwik Review: Shadow of the Yangtze (Julian Sedgwick)

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Goodreads Link | Author Website

The continuing adventures of Shanghai Ruby. More action, more folklore, more romance.

TL;DR – The second book in the ‘Ghosts of Shanghai’ series follows Ruby and her best fried / love interest Charlie in their quest to rescue Charlie’s sister, Fei. The pair make a perilous journey from the relative safety of Shanghai into the dangerous and wild interior of China. Action packed from start to finish.

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RAGDOLL RATING: 5/5 BUTTONS

What I thought: 

As I said in my review of the first book, I could read about Ruby’s adventures until the cows, and any other missing farm animals, came home. This book was an excellent, action packed continuation from the first.

As Ruby and Charlie make there way up the Yangtze river into the Chinese interior, they encounter a host of deadly situations – from freedom fighters to hopping vampires – but the brave pair will stop at nothing to rescue Fei.

This book has more action than the first one, which is well written and exciting. But the real push for me is the folklore elements, which I love. I adore Chinese folklore and it was a nice touch to not only include some themes but a folk story as well. There is also more romance in this book than the first – ‘Ghosts’ skirted a romantic theme but ‘Shadow…’ gets right into it – I don’t like romance so this was a bit of a negative to me.

Finally, Sedgwick continues to make up verbs for no apparent reason, which isn’t so much a criticism as it is something that amuses me. All in all an excellent book. Roll on number 3, Return to the City of Ghosts.

See the full review of Ghosts of Shanghai here: Book Review: Ghosts of Shanghai (Julian Sedgwick)

Please note: Although my family do know the author, I have do not. I am reading them because they come recommended by my younger sisters, not because of any connection to the author. The opinions contained within are my own and have not been influenced by any external entity!

Book Review: Ghosts of Shanghai (Julian Sedgwick)


Goodreads Link | Author Website

Ruby is my absolute fave. I could read about her exploits all day.

TL;DR – Follow our little heroes on a dangerous adventure through the underworld of Shanghai. A really exciting book – I can’t wait to read the other 2.

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RAGDOLL RATING: 5/5 BUTTONS

Why I read it…

We’ve had the books sitting around for a while now – my younger sisters have been hounding me to read the series for ages. “You should read Ghosts of Shanghai!” “Have you read it yet?” “Why haven’t you read it?!” “READ IT BEFORE I SET YOU ON FIRE!!” That sort of thing. I was looking for something to read between books of the Maze Runner series (James Dashner) and these happened to be there so I thought I’d finally try it.

The Story…

Ghosts of Shanghai is set, oddly enough, in Shanghai in the 1920’s. It’s a period of unrest, as tensions are growing between the nationalists, the communists, the evil Green Hand gang, and just about everyone else.

Ruby and her little band of ragtag youngsters have found themselves an old book, teaching them how to perform feats of Taoist magic. They find themselves trapping a fox (of the mystical variety, not the little fluffy red dudes) in an old temple, and then there world turns upside down.

What follows is a tale of mythology, espionage, kidnap, betrayal and heroism.

What I liked…

So first off I adore the main character, Ruby. Ignoring the fact that Ruby is my most favouritest name in the whole of ever, she is just a super cool character. She’s been brought up in Shanghai, by English parents who appear to want nothing to do with China at all. They don’t speak a word of Chinese, they aren’t interested in the local culture – they just keep being English. Ruby, by contrast, throws herself into her situation. She speaks the language, she loves the culture, she’s interested in the religions and mythologies of the country. She does everything she can to appreciate what Shanghai has to offer, and that’s a rare treat. I can’t abide English folks who swan off to other countries and insist everything has to be English.

But it’s not just that – we see Ruby start off timid, as a result of an unfortunate incident which led to the death of her little brother. She often alludes to an earlier self – Shanghai Ruby – who was fearless and ready for anything. As the story progresses, we see this personality start to return, and become something more than it was before. Ruby shows bravery and intelligence, and an open heart and mind.

The other characters are less of a focal point, they are important for the plot but less developed during the course of this book.

The plot is really good too. I enjoy a good mythology story as much as anyone, and one of the books key themes is Taoism (or Daoism if you prefer). I can’t speak for the accuracy of any of the themes, I just know I enjoy reading about them, from the foxes, to the martial-artist hermit who arrives spreading wisdom and working his magic.

The plot is full of twists and turns, and it is fun to read about how these kids are thrown into the scary underworld of Shanghai, and how they adapt to the situation and become little heroes!

What I disliked…

I’m at least fairly convinced a handful of the works Sedgwick uses aren’t real words. I’m not talking about the occasional sprinkling of Chinese (of which I understand only a teeny bit), but there are words that are put forward as English and I’m sure they are made up for no apparent reason. It’s not a big complaint, it’s just a bit weird.

Final thoughts…

I loved this book – I’ve already started the second on the series, Shadow of the Yangtze. I love the character Ruby, I love the setting and the plot – it’s all good. It’s a nice, easy read and very entertaining.

Recommended for anybody who likes adventure and mythology stories.

 

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Please note: Although my family do know the author, I have do not. I am reading them because they come recommended by my younger sisters, not because of any connection to the author. The opinions contained within are my own and have not been influenced by any external entity!

Book Review: Buddhist Meditation: Tranquility, Imagination and Insight (Kamalashila)

Goodreads Link |  Author Website

A brilliant meditation guide with something for all learners.

TL;DR – This book is a great guide for any meditation practitioner – from the absolute beginner to the more advanced users

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RAGDOLL RATING: 4.5/5 BUTTONS

Why I read it…

I’ve been meditating for a while now – every day for 200 days, and on-and-off before that – and I’ve been wanting to find a way to deepen my practice at home. A friend recommended this book to me as an excellent meditation guide so I thought I would give it a shot – this also, conveniently, meant that the book counted as my “Book recommended bya friend” for my reading challenge…two birds and all that!

The Book…

This book is described as:

“A comprehensive and practical guide to Buddhist meditation, providing a complete introduction for beginners, as well as detailed advice for experienced meditators seeking to deepen their practice.” (from the blurb)

This seems to be about as good a description as I could possibly give. We start with an introduction to the concept of meditation, what it is and what it’s for, then we have instructions for some basic meditations – mindfulness of breathing, metta bhavana (loving kindness), sitting and walking.

Following these basic meditations, we have instructions on how to take our meditation practice to a deeper level, eventually leading into some much more in-depth and advanced practises.

What I liked…

The first thing I loved about this book is the way instruction is offered for meditations. Instructions are broken down into 3 parts.

  1. Brief instructions: Each stage of the meditation is broken down to a few lines, so you can get a feel for what you are supposed to do.
  2. Table guide – Each stage is broken down into the smallest instruction possible, (i.e “Count just after each out-breath”) and displayed in a handy table for easy memorisation.
  3. Detailed instructions. This gives you the full detail for the practice. From posture, to breath, if you’re supposed to do or think something you will find it clearly stated in the long instructions.

This breakdown provides a brilliant opportunity for people who are learning without the benefit of a teacher or group of experienced meditators. The instructions are clear and easy to follow, and the addition of the table and the brief instruction sections make it easier to remember what you are supposed to be doing so you (hopefully) don’t have to keep looking at the book when you should be concentrating.

The next thing I loved was the inclusion of descriptions of things you might feel or experience as you meditate. As anybody who meditates will no doubt know, probably the biggest barrier stopping people from meditation is that they feel they are doing it wrong. They expect meditation to feel different, maybe they expect perfect calm, or insight or a clear mind – it doesn’t always work like that and this book is very clear on the fact that it could feel amazing, but it could also feel like nothing much was happening. Kamalashila then goes on to explain why feeling nothing isn’t actually a problem.

There are also sections about the hindrances to meditation and the importance of routine. The book identifies the primary hindrances, explains what they are and explains how to counteract them. This, I found, was a really useful section as often these sort of things can be completely overlooked when you are learning.

Finally, I loved how in depth the book got – and it went deep. If you are just starting your meditation journey then I warn you now that the second half of this book is going to come at you like a train and seem completely overwhelming – and I’m right there with you. This book went waaaaaaaay deeper than I expected it to go, and well beyond my level – which is fantastic, because with the best will in the world, it’s all well and good knowing who to practice the metta bhavana and get a routine going, but if that’s where my practice is going to end then I feel like I’m missing something. This book should help make my practice deeper for a long while to come.

What I disliked…

In my notes I have written down 2 things that bothered me about the book. The first note was that there where some untranslated mantras kicking around in there – I am aware that mantras don’t necessarily translate very well (and the book might even mention that, I can’t recall), but it would have been nice to have some idea what the words meant without a google search.

I also have written down, the phrase “Use any method…” I’m not 100% certain what this was referring to any more, I just remember thinking that if I had been a complete beginner then I probably wouldn’t actually know any other methods (of whatever it may be) and that bothered me.

Having said that, neither of those things bothered me enough to knock of a whole star, and to be honest for my own purposes barely warranted a half start reduction – take from that what you will.

Final thoughts…

I can’t decide if it was a mistake to read this book like a novel – a chapter or so a day until I finished. I think reading it like that made the content seem overwhelming and intimidating at times, although it did open my eyes to the scope of meditation practice. I am quite certain I will find myself coming back to this book from time to time, to dip in-and-out of in order to deepen my practice.

My recommendations for this book would be definitely for meditators who want to deepen their practice. Advanced meditators might find it useful, but not being an advanced meditator myself, I wouldn’t like to assume. I would recommend this to beginners, with the proviso that you should take it slowly and get the hang of what you have read before moving on.

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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: Head On (John Scalzi)


Goodreads Link | Author Website

Click to see my review of book #1 in the series: Book Review: Lock In (John Scalzi)

Capitalism, pro sports and disabilities don’t mix!

TL;DR – Another fast paced science fiction crime/conspiracy novel. Scalzi’s work makes for excellent reading.

5Button

RAGDOLL RATING: 5/5 BUTTONS

Why I read it…

This book came in as “A book published this year” as part of my reading challenge.

I originally picked this book out because I love a good science fiction read. I generally hate books with sports themes, but the invented sport ‘Hilketa’ sounded like it would provide some interesting concepts.

The Story…

Hilketa is a brand new sport, designed to be played by Haden’s (people who suffer from Haden’s Syndrome, which causes a state called lock in – conscious and aware but unable to move the body). Two teams battle it out in their specially designed android bodies. The aim – to remove the head from an opponent and score a goal with it.

The league is hoping to expand globally, and all is going well until a player dies on the field. FBI agent Chris Shane and his partner Vann set out to investigate this unexpected death, only to find themselves following a trail of bodies and a conspiracy that could take down the whole league.

This book follows on roughly a year from the events of ‘Lock In’.

What I liked…

I think my favourite part of this book was that a lot of the social and ethical themes from the first book are explored in greater deal in Head On. One such example from the first book was the idea that the things that made life liveable for Haden’s would be taken over by non-Haden’s in the name of profit. Haden’s make up around 1% of the population, and after Abrams-Kettering (a bill that removed financial support for Haden’s sufferers) the markets for Hadens-related products was set to shrink. In Lock In, preparations were being made to chase the non-Haden market by paving the way for non-Hadens to use threeps (the android bodies Haden’s use to have a presence in the physical world. In ‘Head On’, this theme is explored further, and we see able-bodied protesters, whining that the Hilketa leagues only feature Haden players. Drawing obvious parallels to the sort of nonsense protests we see in the real world about ‘safe’ spaces for marginalised and minority groups. It is elements like this that demonstrate both a good understand of disability and minority issues, and it helps make the world both real and engaging.

We also learn a lot more about the world as seen through the eyes of Haden’s. Scalzi has created a really rich culture for Hadens, and we learn a good deal about the etiquette, social norms and the role of the Agora (an ‘online’ world for Hadens).

Our two main characters, Shane and Vann were the leads in ‘Lock In’, and they continue to be interesting individuals with an entertaining partnership. After a year of working together, Shane and Vann have created an effective working relationship which often involves some delightful good cop / bad cop interrogations that are enjoyable to read and often very amusing to boot. In addition we see the return of the supporting characters in the form of Shane’s housemates, who play a bigger role in this book than in ‘Lock In’.

The plot summary makes it sound like this book is heavily centred around the sport of Hilketa – and it is – but this is not a sci-fi sports novel. I was quite worried when I bought this book that it might be mostly about sport…fantastic science fiction sport, but sport none the less, and that wasn’t of great appeal to me. Fortunately this wasn’t the case. It is first and foremost a crime / conspiracy novel, which happens to involve the sport. We do learn quite a bit about how the sport works but it isn’t the primary focus.

Finally, I love the fact that Scalzi made sure to provide quick explanations of the key terms and themes as they arose. If you had read ‘Lock In’ recently then you might consider them superfluous, but it did mean that if you wanted to, you could read ‘Head On’ without having read ‘Lock In’ first, which I thought was pretty neat.

What I disliked…

I can’t exactly put my finger on anything specific that I didn’t like – I just know I enjoyed the first book more (and I read them back to back). Actually that’s not quite true – for some reason, Scalzi switched from using the word “Harness” to describe the apparatus that held a Hadens physical body, and started using “Creche” instead. I don’t know why, and it’s not exactly a problem, I just found it a bit odd.

I don’t think there was anything wrong with the book – in fact a lot of parts I thought were much better, it just overall felt a little less than its counterpart somehow. I couldn’t decide if I should give the book a 4.5 or 5 button rating – I eventually decided on 5 because it seemed unreasonably to give a book I enjoyed so much a lower rating just because of a vague sense that the first one might have been better.

Final thoughts… 

This book is an excellent sequel to ‘Lock In’ and an excellent story in its own right. Scalzi has created rich and full worlds, chock full of detail and careful thought – such careful world-craft deserves high praise.

The book doesn’t just follow a simple murder or conspiracy track, it also tackles a whole bunch of social and ethical issues which made the whole experience a lot more enjoyable for me.

I would recommend this book to anyone who likes solid science fiction, also to any crime fans who don’t mind the futuristic setting.

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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!