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!”

5 Button

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.

___________________________________________
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!

Reading Challenge Complete (#2)

Technically speaking, that’s three reading challenges complete so far this year. 52 total books and two different runs of the Badass Books Reading Challenge detailed here.

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)

Pinterest-Graphic-1
Graphic and content from mehawkins.com

The 2018 Badass Books Reading Challenge (Run #2)

A book published in 2018.

ButtonHead On by John Scalzi(2018)

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

See the full review here: Book Review: Head On (John Scalzi)

Rating: 5/5 Buttons

 

A book published the year you were born.

ButtonGood Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman (1990)

Two of my absolute favourite authors writing a book about the end of the world. What could be finer? Funny, clever and entertaining.

Rating: 5/5 Buttons

 

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

ButtonRound the Moon by Jules Verne (1865)

After being blasted into orbit around the moon in Journey to the Moon, our intrepid heroes find themselves stuck – never to hit the moon, never to fall back to Earth. To orbit until their death. It sounds far more dull than it actually is.

Rating: 5/5 Buttons

 

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

ButtonThief of Time by Terry Pratchett (2001)

“The construction of the world’s first truly accurate clock starts a race against, well, time, for Lu Tze and his apprentice Lobsang Ludd. Because it will stop time. And that will only be the start of everyone’s problems.” (from Goodreads). Probably my least favourite Pratchett book – it’s telling that I remember so little that I had to steal a summary rather than write my own – I may owe it a re-read.

Rating: 2/5 Buttons
A book you should have read in school, but didn’t.

Button

The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arther Conan Doyle (1902)

After the suspicious death of land-owner, Holmes and Watson must solve the case of the mysterious devil-dog that has been reported to curse the Baskerville family, before the last of the great line meets a grizzly end. One of my favourite Holmes stories.

Rating: 4/5 Buttons

 

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

ButtonThe Pirates! In an Adventure with Napoleon by Gideon Defoe (2004)

This story finds the Pirate Captain giving up piracy and going to become a beekeeper on the island of Corsica, which he bought from the dastardly Black Bellamy. But PC’s dreams are shattered with the arrival of Napoleon, which sees the pair become locked in a battle for supremacy – and popularity – over the Island and it’s inhabitants.

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

Rating: Exceptional (Series)

 

A book that you’ve put off reading.

ButtonThe Bodhisattva Ideal by Sangharakshita (2000)

A brief introduction into what it means to be a Bodhisattva – someone who strives to attain enlightenment for all beings . A fascinating read. Don’t read this unless you have at least some idea about Buddhism beforehand.

Rating: 4.5/5 Buttons

See the full review here: Book Review: Bodhisattva Ideal: Wisdom and Compassion in Buddhism (Sangharakshita)

 

A banned book.

ButtonAnimal Farm by George Orwell (1945)

The animals take over the farmyard in the interests of seizing the means of production so they can all live a better life. Until the pigs take over. A weird, but enjoyable read.

Rating: 4/5 Buttons

 

A book by an author you’ve never read.

ButtonElla Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn

The very strange tale of the land of Nollop, where words are treasured and linguists are deified. A weird but brilliant look into the world of religious totalitarianism. A word lovers dream (or indeed nightmare).

Rating: 5/5 Buttons

See the full review here: Book Review: Ella Minnow Pea: A Novel in Letters (Mark Dunn)

 

A popular author’s first book.

ButtonThe Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury (1950)

A collection of tales about the colonization of Mars. I tried SO hard to like this book. Bits of it were interesting but mostly it just bored me. If you’re not a serious Sci-fi fan, give it a miss.

Rating: 2/5 Buttons

 

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

ButtonAround the World in 80 Days by Jules Verne (1872)

Phileas Fogg sets off on an impossible journey, in order to win a wager. A delightful tale of round the world travel in the shortest possible time. Well worth a read.

Rating: 5/5 Buttons

 

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

Button

Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne (1864)

When an ancient clue, written in runes, is discovered and translated a journey is made to discover what lies beneath the Earth’s surface. A tale of peril and adventures – fanciful and wonderful.

Rating: 5/5 Buttons

 

A funny book.

ButtonThe Pirates! In an Adventure with Communists by Gideon Defoe (2006)

The Pirates – for reasons that escape me – find themselves in London and have to solve a mystery involving the Opera, and see’s the Pirate Captain mistaken for Karl Marx, and become a Philosopher himself. Probably my least favourite of the series – it’s a great book, but the story doesn’t stand out in my mind as well as the rest.

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

Rating: 4/5 Buttons

 

A book that will make you smarter.

ButtonThe Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching by Thich Nhat Nanh (1998)

This book is a basic introduction to the foundations of Buddhism, taught from the point of view of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh. Absolutely recommended. This is definitely one of the most important books I have ever read.

See the full review here: Book Review: The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching (Thich Nhat Hanh)

Rating: Exceptional (Book of the Month June 2018)

 

An award-winning book.

ButtonThe Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (1979)

The unlikely, and indeed impossible, tale of Arthur Dent – sole survivor of the destruction of Earth. What can you do when you discover your best friends an alien, your planet has been destroyed to make an interstellar bypass and you’ll never get a decent cup of tea ever again? Hilarious – one of my all time favourite books.

Rating: 5/5 Buttons

 

A book based on a true story.

ButtonBuddha by Osamu Tezuka (1972)

This is the first book on a graphic novel series detailing the events of the life of the Buddha. It’s interesting, but I can’t help but feel that if you didn’t already know the story you would be completely lost almost immediately.

Rating: 4.5/5 Buttons

 

A book chosen for you by a friend.

ButtonPirate Lattitudes by Michael Crichton (2009)

Most of the story was really good, and with a few small changes could have been amazing. Still recommended. It’s exciting and entertaining and a little bit racist which is super annoying.

See the full review here: Book Review: Pirate Lattitudes (Michael Crichton)

Rating: 3.5/5 Buttons

 

A book set during Christmas.

ButtonLost Christmas by David Logan (2011)

This is the story of the boy whose life falls apart on Christmas eve. The book reads like that list of ‘really bad metaphors’ that surfaces on the net every now and then – and I LOVE it.

See the full review here: Kwik Review: Lost Christmas (David Logan)

Rating: 4/5 Buttons

 

 

So there we have it. Badass Books Reading Challenge #2 is complete. Only a handful of books left to read before I make run #3 and the second total books challenge (80 books).

Last thing before I go:

Top 3 of the Challenge:

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

sketch-1530655616642

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 and getting me reading again!

Kwik Review: Shadow of the Yangtze (Julian Sedgwick)

sketch-1529442960484

 
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.

5Button

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!

Reading Challenge Complete (#1)

Progress has been made – it’s getting towards the end of June and I’m 2 – that’s right – TWO reading challenges down already. It’s a good year for reading.

First I completed challenge #452 books in a year. But I’m not about to pointlessly list 52 books, if you’re that desperate to know what I read you can check my challenge page on Goodreads.

I will talk about #1 though.

Reading challenge #1 was from a book blog I found – mehawkins.com. It was titled, 2018 Badass Books Reading Challenge18 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)

Pinterest-Graphic-1
Graphic and content from mehawkins.com

The 2018 Badass Books Reading Challenge

 

A book published in 2018.

ButtonChildren of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi (2018)

Fantastic magic and fantasy read. Well written, engaging and really exciting. Left me wanting so much more.

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

Rating: Exceptional (Book of the Month, April 2018)

 

A book published the year you were born.

ButtonJurassic Park by Michael Crichton (1990)

Who are you kidding, you know what Jurassic Park is about – and if you don’t, it’s about dinosaurs and being chased and possibly eaten by dinosaurs. What more could you possibly want. I loved it. Definitely one of the top reads of the challenge.

Rating: 5/5 Buttons

 

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

ButtonFrom Earth to the Moon by Jules Verne (1865)

American artillery makers find themselves bored after the war. Not content with the theory of making big guns, they set out to make the biggest gun ever –  a gun that will launch a shell to the moon! It was great to see some really old science fiction, and how it differs from modern stuff·

Rating: 5/5 Buttons

 

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

ButtonA Guide to the Bodhisattvas by Vessantara (2008)

An introduction to some of the key bodhisattvas. Very descriptive and detailed, if a bit heavy going at times.

Rating: 3.5/5 Buttons
A book you should have read in school, but didn’t.

ButtonA Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle (1887)

The first collection of Sherlock Holmes novels. I like the Holmes stories. They aren’t necessarily the most exciting books in the world, or the most clever or beautifully written, but they are fun and that’s worth something on its own.

Rating: 5/5 Buttons

 

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

ButtonThe Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists by Gideon Defoe (2004)

The first book in ‘The Pirates!’ series. This story follows the pirates as the try to solve a mystery and find some serious gold in the midst of London. This book is just pure and funny. It’s silly and doesn’t take itself to seriously, and it’s about pirates. It’s everything I want in a book. It’s just a lovely, fun read.

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

Rating: Exceptional (Series)

 

A book that you’ve put off reading.

ButtonTwenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne (1869)

The tales of Captain Nemo and his submarine, Nautilus. This book is a round-the-world trip of adventures. It’s fairly dated at times, but if you like classic books and you like adventure stories as I do, then you can’t go far wrong.

Rating: 5/5 Buttons

 

A banned book.

ButtonFahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (1953)

In a world where books and readers are burned without a care, it takes a brave soul to keep reading alive. An interesting read that has left almost nothing in my memory to assure me I actually read it. Take from that what you will.

Rating: 3.5/5 Buttons

 

A book by an author you’ve never read.

ButtonFive Weeks in a Balloon by Jules Verne (1863)

3 men set off on an adventure to cross Africa in a balloon. The book is exciting, interesting and exceedingly racist. It is very “of it’s time”. But if you can see your way past that particular element, the story itself is very enjoyable, full of peril and thrills.

Rating: 4.5/5 Buttons

 

A popular author’s first book.

Button10 Years in an Open Necked Shirt by Dr. John Cooper Clarke (1983)

I’m not 100% sure whether this is a first book, or a popular author, but it’s the only book of his I could find evidence of and I like him so I read it. It’s a collection of poems – I don’t do poetry as a rule, but i quite like JCC – unfortunately performance poetry does not translate so well into written poetry and quite a lot of the magic was lost.

Rating: 3/5 Buttons

 

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

ButtonThe Lost World by Michael Crichton (1995)

Another book all about dinosaurs, and being chased and possibly eaten by dinosaurs. Once again, Crichton’s writing style is – how should I put it – weird, but very readable, exciting and enjoyable. Another ‘top read’ contender.

Rating: 5/5 Buttons

 

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

ButtonThe World of Blandings by P.G. Wodehouse (1981)

This wasn’t written in 1981, just this collection of stories was released in a nice big omnibus. It’s great fun. The collection is a series of long and short comedic tales all centered around Blandings Castle. Wodehouse writes excellent comedy and I enjoyed it immensely.

Rating: 5/5 Buttons

 

A funny book.

ButtonThe Pirates! In an Adventure with Moby Dick by Gideon Defoe (2005)

This is the second book in ‘The Pirates!’ series. This one has the pirates attempting to capture Moby Dick in order to collect a reward with which to pay for the expensive new boat the Pirate Captain was suckered into buying. It is hilarious and silly.

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

Rating: 5/5 Buttons

 

A book that will make you smarter.

ButtonCoding Unlocked: Scratch and Python: the basic by Hywel Carver (2015)

This book is a fun introduction to computer coding aimed at children, but suitable for anybody who wants to try it out. It focuses on using Scratch to teach basic coding concepts, and then Python to do ‘proper’ text-based coding. It’s a lot of fun and by the end of it you’ll have made a couple of really simple games.

See the full review here: Book Review: Coding Unlocked: Scratch and Python: the basics (Hywel Carver)

Rating: 5/5 Buttons

 

An award-winning book.

ButtonThe Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon (2007)

This was a pretty good detective story with some exciting elements but I thought it pretty much died out towards the end, which was fairly disappointing.

See the full review here: Book Review: The Yiddish Policemen’s Union (Michael Chabon)

Rating: 3.5/5 Buttons

 

A book based on a true story.

ButtonPersepolis by Marjane Satrapi (2003)

An autobiographical graphic novel. I don’t like biographies, auto or otherwise, but I do like graphic novels, especially the ‘alternative’ (as in, not superheroes) ones (although I love superheroes too). Someone recommended this book while I was studying my degree as a bit of an insight into the Iranian Revolution, and it was a very interesting read. I recommend it, but only if you like the medium of graphic novels.

Rating: 4.5/5 Buttons

 

A book chosen for you by a friend.

ButtonNorse Mythology by Neil Gaiman (2017)

In this book, Neil Gaiman retells a selection of Norse myths in his own style. The book was better than good, but less than excellent. I enjoyed it, and it was a pleasure to read some mythology aimed at someone other than children and academics – I’m not on a mission to find similar books about other pantheons and cultures.

Rating: 4/5 Buttons

 

A book set during Christmas.

ButtonHogfather by Terry Pratchett (1996)

It’s Hogswatch Eve on the Discworld and the Hogfather is on his rounds – or at least something like the Hogfather. A hilarious tale of how to kill a God, and the real meaning of Hogswatch! I’ve never read a Pratchett book I didn’t like so perhaps I’m biased, but still…

Rating: 5/5 Buttons

 

So that’s what I read for this challenge. I’m most of the way through a second and third run of this Badass Books Reading Challenge, so hopefully I’ll finish both before the end of the year.

This was the first time I’ve ever done a reading challenge like this and succeeded. I’ve done X number of books a few times, and they’ve been OK, but the last time I tried with specific categories I got stuck real quick and gave up.

It was a real good experience for me – I read a lot of things I’ve been meaning to read, things that have been on my shelf for ages that I’ve never got around to before. I also read some things I never would have picked up in the past which was fun too. It was a lot of fun.

Last things before I go:

Top 3 of the Challenge:

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

sketch-1529883198820.png

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 and getting me reading again!

Book Review: The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching (Thich Nhat Hanh)


Goodreads Link | Author Website

Book of the Month
Book of the Month (June 2018)

“This is definitely one of the most important books I have ever read.” ~Me

TL;DR – This book is a basic introduction to the foundations of Buddhism, taught from the point of view of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh. Absolutely recommended.

EBBanner

RAGDOLL RATING: Exceptional

The Book…

The book covers the absolute fundamentals of Buddhism. Thầy introduces us to the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path and a handful of other concepts he considers to be the bedrock of the Buddhist faith.

The writing style is quite unusual – I have no idea of this a trait of Zen masters, poets, Vietnamese folks or just a personal quirk but it seems quite unique. Specifically, the writing seems to flow quite rapidly from one thing to another, usually from explanation to metaphor and back again. I don’t personally find it difficult to read because my mind tends to wander a lot anyway and I found it actually helped me take things in, but some people my find it a little tricky to deal with.

Thich Nhat Hanh (Who I will refer to as Thầy (teacher) from now on) is not only a Zen master but a poet too and this look is laced with sections of poetry on related topics. It’s a nice touch although I confess I am far to ignorant of poetry to be able to suggest how good it is.

The book is well referenced, linking to canonical texts, other Buddhist teachers works, and other books Thầy has written. It also includes, in the final section, a small selection of translated discourses which had been mentioned in the text.

Why I read it…

I’ve been trying to read a Buddhist text before my evening meditation and I just happened to buy this book not so long ago. I had listened to a guided meditation by Thich Nhat Hanh and found his insights really struck a chord with me.

Conveniently, this book also took up a position in my reading challenge in the “A book that will make you smarter” category.

Thầy has devoted a considerable amount of word-space to the teachings of the Four Nobel Truths and the Noble Eightfold path – 16 chapters in fact. He breaks down the teachings into their component parts, explains these parts, often with the use of poetry, metaphor and canonical sources. Then he explains how all these elements are connected, how the interplay and are how the ‘inter-are’ – when you truly focus on one element, you will be practicing all the elements automatically.

The third section of the book is dedicated to what I hesitate to call lesser known teachings. Perhaps if you have a good background in Buddhism then you would probably at least know what they were (I knew a handful) but if you are new to Buddhism then the chances are you wouldn’t know them. These teachings are well explained and most importantly linked in to the other elements. It was really good to read about these other important teachings.

Why I love It…

Firstly I have to mention the use of metaphor. This book is full of metaphorical explanations to aid the reader in their understanding. They help make the teachings easier to digest – and some of these teachings can be confusing at the best of times. One thing that really stuck in my mind was a metaphor about waves:

“When we look at the ocean, we see that each wave has a beginning and an end. A wave can be compared with other waves, and we can call it more or less beautiful, higher or lower, longer lasting or less long lasting. But if we look more deeply, we see that a wave is made of water. While living the life of a wave, the wave also lives the life of water. It would be sad if the wave did not know that it is water. It would think, ‘Some day I will have to die. This period of time is my life span, and when I arrive at the shore, I will return to nonbeing.’

These notions will cause the wave fear and anguish. A wave can be recognized by signs — beginning or ending, high or low, beautiful or ugly. In the world of the wave, the world of relative truth, the wave feels happy as she swells, and she feels sad as she falls. She may think, ‘I am high!’ or ‘I am low!’ and develop superiority or inferiority complexes, but in the world of the water there are no signs, and when the wave touches her true nature — which is water — all of her complexes will cease, and she will transcend birth and death,” (p.124/5)

While I was reading this passage (and many others), suddenly the ideas behind impermanence, rebirth and all sorts of other things started to make a bit more sense. The book is full of useful metaphors like these and by the end I felt like my understanding of the fundamental concepts was improved.

All the way through I found myself learning new things, and understanding concepts I already knew about much more clearly than I ever have before. I’m sure I missed more than I took in, and this book will definitely become a book I will re-read over and over.

The main reason this book is ranked ‘exceptional’ rather than just 5 buttons is basically because of my emotional reaction to text. With every chapter my understanding grew and I had clear guidance to help me understand some difficult concepts and encouragement to apply these things to me own life. I really strongly felt motivated to make improvements in my life and to follow the teachings of the Buddha more closely. I felt a really strong emotion of loving kindness in my heart as I read this book and that feeling continued after I put the book down each night. It was a rare experience and one I feel very happy to have gone through. I genuinely feel this may be one of the most important books I have ever, or indeed will ever read.

 

Recommended For…

Everyone with an interest in Buddhism, from the absolute beginner to the advanced practitioner.

Everyone generally. I would recommend this book to everyone actually – the contents are very Buddhism-centric (obviously) but there are lessons to be learned from this book that everyone from all works of life could make use of.

Final thoughts…

This book is probably one of the best books on Buddhism that I have read for a beginners view. The concepts can be difficult but Thầy offers excellent guidance and explanation to help you understand.

The book also contains a good deal that would be of value to a more experienced practitioner. Yes, it’s good as a reminder of the basic teachings but the poetry and imagery of this work make it well worth reading as a guide to deeper understanding and encouragement to deeper practice.

Everyone should read this book.

___________________________________________
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: American Gods (Neil Gaiman)


Goodreads Link | Author Website

Funny, clever and entertaining. Gaiman is the king!

TL;DR – 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.

EBBanner

RAGDOLL RATING: Exceptional

Why I read it…

adore Neil Gaiman – he’s one of my fave authors (I met him once at a book signing, it was tres hoopy). I’ll read basically anything he’s written and this has been on my list for a long while.

Conveniently this happened to fit under the heading of “An award winning novel” for my reading  challenge – it won the Hugo, the Nebula and the Bram Stoker awards for Best Novel and the Locus award for Best Fantasy Novel.

The Story…

Shadow is finally getting out of prison. He’ has a plane ticket home to his loving wife, a job lined up and things will finally start getting back to normal. Then his world falls apart.

His wife and future boss both dead in the same car accident. Now he has a ticket to nothing, no future and no hope. Then he meets a man on a plane. This man, Wednesday, offers Shadow a job – it pays well, it’s mostly legal and very important. With nothing else to do with himself, Shadow takes the job and is thrown head first into a world of Gods old and new, and a war for that could change the mythological world forever.

The book is gripping and funny – it managed to win a fantasy, science fiction and horror award, which should give you some idea as to the quality of the writing. The version I read was the full ~700 page behemoth. I accidentally bought a French version which was less than half that size – I don’t know what was removed from that version, but I’m certain it was missing out on some gold.

The book is full of fantasy, gods and mythology, with twists and turns abound.

What I liked…

When I picked up this book, I didn’t really know what it was about – I assumed American Gods was just a title, but as it turns out this book is brimming with Gods and awesome stories about how they came to America and what has happened since. That was a really awesome discovery.

Gaiman weaves in elements of global mythology into his storytelling, and it is both fascinating and enjoyable to experience. Those of you who have read his book “Norse Mythology” will already be aware of how well Gaiman writes mythology, and for those of you that haven’t, read it and this because both are superb examples of how to write about gods.

The plot is extremely clever. It feels like it several stories, broken up with bonus short stories as a bonus. Gaiman leaves clues about the plot all the way through, but disguises them beautifully – by the end I was left wondering how I hadn’t worked things out sooner and loving that the fact that I had been so blind. It is there for those with the eyes to see.

I was hooked from beginning to end. It’s a long book, and I read it in a few days because I couldn’t put it down.

What I disliked…

Nothing stands out. It was excellent.

Final thoughts…

This book is outstanding, and also totally typical of Neil Gaiman. You know when you read a Gaiman novel it’s going to be great, and this book did not disappoint.

I would recommend this book to anybody who likes fantasy fiction especially – but also to literally anyone and everyone because it’s great.

___________________________________________
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.

4Button

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!

___________________________________________

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

BOTM
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.

5Button

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.

___________________________________________
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)

sketch-1523985472721

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.

ESBanner

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.

___________________________________________
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!