Book Review: Lock In (John Scalzi)


Goodreads Link | Author Website

“Weapons-grade science fiction. Not to be missed.” 

TL;DR – I was hooked the whole way through. It’s clever and really makes you think. Perfect for the sci-fi fan in your life.

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RAGDOLL RATING: 5/5 BUTTONS

Why I read it…

My primary reason for reading this book was that I wanted to read the sequel “Head On” as part of the reading challenge (A book published this year), but since there was only one book that came before it in the series, I thought I ought to read it first.

I chose this series because I love science fiction and sampling authors I haven’t read before, so this seemed like an ideal candidate for reading.

The Story…

Haden’s Syndrome spread across the globe quickly and unexpectedly. Most people recovered, but an unfortunate percentage experienced lock in – fully conscious and aware, but completely unable to control their bodies.

After a great deal of research, a solution of sorts was found to help. Personal transports (or threeps) where created – robotic bodies that could be controlled through a computer, surgically implanted in the brain of a Haden’s sufferer. This provided Haden’s with a way to interact with the world at large. But tensions are running high as the implementation of a new law threatens to make the lives of Haden’s even more difficult.

New FBI recruit Chris Shane, and his partner Leslie Vann set out to solve a Haden related murder at the Watergate hotel, and soon realise the problem is considerably bigger than they could have possibly imagined.

What I liked…

First of all, you have Haden’s Syndrome. I know (or at least think I know) that getting locked into your body, conscious but unable to move is a real thing that happens – although it’s definitely not a contagious disease. But the way this issue was addressed in this book was fascinating. The idea of personal transports and a virtual world (called the Agora) where an inspired response to the lock-in problem. But you also have people who have set out to cure Haden’s Syndrome and effectively unlock the sufferers bodies – one of the most fascinating parts of this book was the way these two solutions are met by Haden’s sufferers. You can see clearly that the premise has been really well thought out and understood.

The story was fast-paced and interesting. The transition from unusual crime to serious conspiracy was very well written and engaging – I was hooked in to the book very quickly and only once did I stop being completely gripped by every page.

The world building was really the key selling point for me. I’ve already spoken about the interesting aspects of Haden’s syndrome, but the book really goes deep into the descriptions of the condition and the way it has affected the world and sufferers alike. There are times when Scalzi talks about the ethics of the way Haden’s sufferers are treated, by the public, the government and members of the medical profession. Scalzi has also created an alternative world inside the ‘real’ world, in the form of the Agora and it’s incredibly interesting to the see the way this world is accessed.

Finally, it was really clear while reading this book that Scalzi had thought good and hard about disability and how disabled people think about themselves. He notes the differences in opinions between people who contracted Haden’s later in life with those who contracted it as children, and how these differences have affected their lives and interactions with threeps and the Agora.

What I disliked…

At one point, I thought the book was about to fall apart completely. I was almost finished – maybe 50 pages or less to go – and everything was falling in to place nicely. The problem was I couldn’t imagine how the book could possibly end in a satisfactory way in the limited space there was left. As it turns out, this was just my lack of imagination. Scalzi brings this story to an exciting and incredibly satisfying conclusion with great skill and artistry.

Final thoughts…

I was hooked on this book from beginning to end. There was nothing about it that I didn’t like. It was well written and clearly had a considerable amount of thought put into the world-craft, which is something I love to see in a book.

I recommend this book to anyone who loves a good science fiction novel. I would also recommend this to crime readers who don’t mind the futuristic setting.

I can’t wait to get stuck into the sequel.

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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: 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: An Argumentation of Historians (Jodi Taylor)

Goodreads Link |  Author Website

“Adventures of the Time Travelling Arsonist” ~Rejected title (probably)

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

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RAGDOLL RATING: 4/5 BUTTONS

Why I read it…

Did you read my “TL;DR”? How was I not gonna read it! Seriously though, I love historical fiction, I love time travel and sci-fi…it was just an obvious move for me.

Also it was in the “A Book Published This Year” category of my reading challenge. One thing I should mention at this point is that this book is part of a series and I wish I had started at the beginning.

The Story…

An Argumentation of Historians is the 9th book in the series The Chronicles of St. Mary’s. Unfortunately I haven’t actually read the rest of the series, so I can’t give a great deal of overview but I’ll do my best.

Historian Max works at St Mary’s, travelling through time in order to document as much of history as possible. After the unexpected appearance of an illegal time traveller during a visit to Tudor England, Max persuades her coworkers to lay a trap to catch the villainous Clive Ronan (who I have to assume is well established as a nemesis in the previous books).

Unfortunately, the trap fails and Max finds herself stuck with no hope of rescue in the year 1399. Despite being stuck in an unfamiliar time, fortune smiles upon Max by dumping her at St Mary’s…or at least, the St Mary’s of 650 years ago. The story follows Max and her attempts to survive in a harsh new environment, and hope for a rescue that might never come…

What I liked…

The premise is perhaps the part I like the most about this book. As I said above, I love time travel and historical fiction, so the combination of the two was never going to be a hugely difficult sell (although it wouldn’t be the first book I’ve read with this premise that I completely hated).

The story itself is fun, the character of Max is entertaining, and the story is written as if Max was telling it to you in person one evening round a camp fire. I personally am I big fan of informal writing, however this isn’t for everyone so be warned.

There were a lot of references to the previous books in the series during this book. Something about different worlds, or possibly different realities; more time travel; an Arch Nemesis and also a whole host of characters who got little interesting teaser lines which would make sense if you had read the rest but made little sense to me…but I enjoyed those because it still fleshed the world out a bit and it made me want to know more about the St Mary’s setting.

It seems a little odd to say this about the final book in a series I haven’t actually read yet, but it left me wanting more. I want to read both the next book, whenever that comes out, and all the previous ones too. The story references the previous books quite a lot, which is a bit of a pain if you haven’t read them, but not so much that it becomes unreadable. You certainly could read this book as a standalone, but unless it turns out that the other books are terrible I wouldn’t necessarily recommend doing so.

What I disliked…

There was nothing about the story I disliked – apart from the fact that I didn’t know who anybody was or what the setting was, but that was entirely my fault for starting at the end of the series.

However, I’ve rated this book 4 buttons out of 5, and the reason for this is presumably more the fault of the publishers than the author, but you never know.

Specifically, this book could have done with another run through by a proof reader (assuming it actually had one) and another look by an editor. The first thing that struck me was that the text was slightly offset on the page – presumably intended to compensate for the binding, but it was too much and it looked really strange. I got used to it, but it really bugged me when I started reading. That in-and-of-itself wouldn’t have lost the book any marks, but then came the spelling and wording errors.

I get it, spelling errors happen. Sometimes you just miss things – I’m sure there are spelling errors on this site! That said, I’m neither a profession author, nor a proof reader, I’m just some mug on the internet with nothing better to do. I can take the odd error here and there, in fact I wasn’t even going to mention it originally, but by the third time I’d seen the word “off” spelt “of” (and this was far from the only problem) it had annoyed me so much I couldn’t not say something.

In addition there was a phrase to the effect of “There is no hard evidence for a sixth sense” which massively irritated me, since I would have thought most people by now where aware the the ‘5 senses’ thing we were taught as children is bunk. There were also a few occasions where it felt like the author had rewritten a sentence, but failed to properly delete the previous attempt and ended up with a garbled mess – a mess which apparently nobody at the publishers caught.

Having said that, I realise these complaints are – despite taking up most of the review space – fairly minor on their own. They just really bugged me. Hence the lost Button in the rating. It’s not something that would stop me reading the series or recommending it to others.

Final thoughts…

When all is said and done, I really enjoyed this book and I intend to read this rest of the series, copy errors be damned.

I would recommend this for historical fiction fans who like a bit of science fiction (because if you hate sci-fi, you probably won’t enjoy reading this much). Just remember to be warned about the writing style – it’s not for 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!

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


Goodreads Link | Author Website

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Book of the Month (May 2018)

“You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy…except in Grantchester apparently…” Obi Wan Kenobi

TL;DR – 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.

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RAGDOLL RATING: 5/5 BUTTONS

Why I read it…

I absolutely adore the TV series Grantchester (Al Weaver’s  Leonard is totes adorbs), and I’ve been wanting to read the books basically since I saw the first episodes. Also, it conveniently falls into the “A book made into a TV show that you’ve seen but haven’t read” category of my reading challenge.

Plus I just generally enjoy the easy-read detective story genre so it just seemed like a good idea for a read.

The Story…

The book focuses on “Canon Sidney Chambers”, man of God, turned amateur detective. It is set in 1950’s Grantchester and Cambridge.

There are 6 different short stories in this book, following the fairly simple theme of “Someone in Grantchester got murdered” (or kidnapped, or what-have-you), and Sidney, together with his police chum Geordie Keating are going to figure out who-dunnit.

The is not just a series of short, disconnected crime stories though (although you could probably read them that way if you chose). The ‘main story’ as it were, follows Sidney Chambers life and struggles with romance, friendship, the church, his housekeeper and his dog.

What I liked…

This book was a nice, easy read – it is absolutely perfect for the casual or time-poor crime fan. The stories and characters and engaging and likeable which goes a long way to making this book a low-stress read.

I like the fact that the book is broken up into 6 different parts, but has a sort of ‘main story’ as I mentioned above. A lot of writers would have been tempted to drag each of the 6 stories in this book out into a whole book so in order to try and find a balance between the crime themes and Sidney’s personal and professional life, but Runcie has done the opposite – finding a good balance by saying less. There is a lot to be said for short-and-sweet.

I enjoy the characters, mainly because I know them from the television programme, however I am particularly enjoy the character of Sidney and his relationship to the Church and Christianity in general. I personally really enjoy reading about peoples interaction with and interpretation of their personal faith, and this book has plenty of it – although I am cautious to add, not so much of it that it detracts from the other themes of the book!

Finally, I enjoy the setting – mainly because Grantchester is only a few miles away and I know most of the place names! It makes things slightly entertaining for me…

What I disliked…

There are a handful of times where I found Runcie’s method of description a little peculiar, but not so much that I can remember exactly what bothered me, and certainly not enough to stop reading.

Also it bothers me the way the characters talk during a discussion about homosexuality, but frankly that’s my bad for reading a book set in the 50’s. Having said that, Sidney is very progressive in this regard which makes these passages easier to digest.

Final thoughts…

This book was an easy and enjoyable read. Each story was entertaining, and due to the format of short stories, the romantic subplots I usually can’t stand were engaging, but not drawn out.

The characters are lovable, although not hugely developed in many cases (again, due to the short-story format) but with 4 further books in the series, there is plenty of room for expansion. That said, the crime plots are the real selling points of this book. They are well thought out and a joy to read.

I strongly recommend this to anybody who enjoys a simple crime read – particularly those who are casual readers, are strapped for time, or struggle with longer stories.

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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 of the Month (April 2018)

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This just in!!

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

questionChildren of Blood and Bone 

by Tomi Adeyemi (2018)

Recommended for: Teens and up. Magic / fantasy lovers.

See the full review here: Book Review: Children of Blood and Bone (Tomi Adeyemi)

Everyone should read this book immediately, it is amazing. A superb book to kick off our Book of the Month series.

Series Review: The Pirates! In an Adventure with… (Gideon Defoe)


Goodreads Link

“Not since Moby-Dick… No, not since Treasure Island… Actually, not since Jonah and the Whale has there been a sea saga to rival The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists…” ~Goodreads

TL;DR – If you like light reading, humour and pirates, give this series a try.

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Series details…

Released: 2004-2012.

“The Pirates…” series is made up of 5 books; The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists (2004); The Pirates! In an Adventure with Whaling (2005); The Pirates! In an Adventure with Communists (2006); The Pirates! In an Adventure with Napoleon (2008); The Pirates! In an Adventure with Romantics (2012).

The story…

“The Pirates!…” books focus on the tales of a typical pirate crew, and their fearless and ruthless captain; The Pirate Captain! With his pleasant open face, stentorian nose and luxuriant beard, the Pirate Captain leads his fearless – and only slightly inept – crew on a series of adventures throughout the globe.

The books contain a host of lovable heroes and contemptible villains, from Number 2 (the only competent pirate on the boat), to the dastardly Black Bellamy (Pirate Captains Arch Enemy / Long Standing Friend) to the cynical, realistic (and therefore much loathed) Pirate in Red.

The Stories all follow a similar format; The Pirate Captain and his crew are bobbing along through the high seas, with no particular aims or goals in mind – they just like being at sea. (Never before has a single group of people more fully embodied that fine old hymn “Yo ho; Yo ho; A pirate’s life for me”.) The crew find themselves embattled in important philosophical debates – such as the best way to cook a ham – when the Pirate Captain himself enters majestically, and settles the matter once and for all, with an observation so wise and logical, you are left wondering why you never realised it before! Then – usually due to the Pirate Captain’s boredom or generalised moping, the crew set off on a wild adventure, featuring a host of famous figures from history. For example:

The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists (2004) – In an attempt to score some major treasure, the Pirates attack a vessel belonging to the Bank of England, transporting oodles of gold and treasures to wherever it is the Bank of England hordes it’s treasures. Unfortunately for the the Pirate Captain, this vessel contains less gold and more brilliant naturalists, in the form of Charles Darwin. Never one to back away from a challenge, The Pirate Captain concocts a scheme to use Darwin to make a fortune in London – leading to an exciting (and utterly bizarre) mystery that only the Pirates can solve.

The Pirates! In an Adventure with Napoleon (2008) sees a depressed Pirate Captain give up the salty world of professional pirating, to follow his life-long (read: half-hour long) dream of being a bee-keeper. He buys an island – which the brochure says is ideal for bee-keeping –  from the devilish Black Bellamy, and (much to the misery of the crew) set’s sail for his new Island – Corsica. Shortly after arriving, a new resident arrives – none other the Napoleon Bonaparte, freshly exiled. The Pirate Captain and Napoleon hit it off badly – two powerful personalities on a small, raggedy island (that is useless for keeping bees on) constantly at each others throats. The pair set about proving once-and-for-all who is the better man, with hilarious results!

Why did I read them…

My first exposure to this series came from the movie adaption – The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists (Movie – 2012) – which remains one of my Top 5 movies of all time. After watching it a few times and looking on the ‘net, I discovered the books and bought them all. The books did not disappoint.

Why I love them…

The main (and most non-specific) reason is because I enjoyed the books so much. “The Pirates!…” books are the only series I can think of that I have read 3 or more times. I enjoyed The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists (2004) so much that it is my go-to book for reading when I’m in a difficult head-space and need something to soothe and give a little spark of joy. It also holds the #1 spot in my Top 5 ‘light reading’ list.

Secondly, the characters. This series has characters I can really picture and enjoy (which was definitely helped by the movie adaption). I love the Pirate Captain most of all.

The Pirate Captain stands out for me because of the way his character reacts to the world around him. He is a Pirate because he loves the idea of being a pirate. He loves the treasure, and the pirate boat and the running people through. He loves the tattoos and the shanties and the roaring. He is married to the sea and is mostly faithful to it. He loves pirating – he just isn’t very good at it.

For starters, he’s really bad with names (so relatable) so he uses descriptions instead – The Pirate in Green, The Albino Pirate, The Pirate Who Likes Kittens And Sunsets. He also doesn’t know how nautical instruments work; be it an astrolabe or an honest-to-goodness map, the Pirate Captain doesn’t know how to use it properly. But he tries his best, and goes out of his way to make it sound like he knows exactly whats going on – even, and indeed especially, when he has absolutely no clue. The Pirate Crew love him in spite – or perhaps because – of this (except the Pirate in Red who tried to undermine the Pirate Captain whenever he can).

The Pirate Captain is not a man with a plan. He prefers to get an outline (catch the white whale) and fill in the details later. This leads to a series of amusing, over-the-top and mostly ineffective schemes as part of a totally bizarre and wonderful adventure.

Things usually work themselves out in the end, in one way or another, and you never stop rooting for the magnificent Pirate Captain and his rag-tag crew of lovable idiots.

Finally, the stories themselves. The plots are silly. The writing is silly. The characters and situations and footnotes are silly – and that is fantastic. These books don’t take themselves seriously – there’s no worrying about realism or historical accuracy or on occasions, common sense. It’s just fun. Fun for adults, and fun teens, fun for all!

Recommended for…

Most ages: Certainly fun for adults and older children. (Probably find for younger children but use your own judgement).

For readers of: Terry Pratchett, Douglas Adams etc. Similar sort of humour and writing. I personally rank my Top 3 ‘humour’ series as #1 Discworld (Pratchett), #2 The Pirates!… (Defoe), #3 The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy (Adams).

Final thoughts…

The Pirates! series is equal parts funny, weird and wonderful. With situations and characters that are easy to love. They are written in a humorous and easy-to read way (complete with interesting and amusing foot-notes).

The stories are short, and sweet and funny. You really can’t ask for more.

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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!

Coming Soon(ish)!! – Watch this space!!

Coming soon – a reading challenge for all.

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Will you take the challenge? 24 individual categories plus a special bonus wildcard category for the holidays!

Sound overwhelming? Perhaps you don’t read much yet, or you don’t have much time. Maybe you read slowly, or just feel like something a little simpler! HAVE NO FEAR! At ragdollreads.co.uk, we’ve got your back! We made a 12 category (plus smaller, but just as special wildcard) challenge JUST FOR YOU!!

Whatever your level, we want to get you reading! So stay tuned, and get ready to take the plunge into reading next year!