Book Review: The Road to Little Dribbling by Bill Bryson

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Published: 2015

As you might already know, I am an avid fan of Bill Bryson. I reviewed his book One Summer and since then have read three of his other books (during my hiatus period) which were all equally as good. I love how he’s able to make even the most science and technical books (such as The History of Nearly Everything) fun and engaging. I couldn’t stop laughing throughout and he makes things that I never thought I would be interested in, very fun to read about.

You could therefore appreciate my excitement when I decided to treat myself to this book. I loved the premise of it; Bill Bryson traveling around the UK stopping at different locations throughout the country and reviewing those places, along with a few rambles about the current affairs, some random unknown infamous people and just his general thoughts. I already appreciated his humour and I was curious to know where he would stop on his journey and get his musings on life in the UK. Likewise, I was hoping to use this as inspiration for any future road trips throughout the UK, thinking he might stumble upon and highlight some little gems that aren’t as obvious.

The book started off in Bryson’s usual happy-go-lucky attitude and humour. We first covered the south of England, and it included a few interesting points about London. The one thing I absolutely loved was the foreign perspective he had on the UK – felt right at home to me. He’s actually born and raised in Iowa, of all places, but has lived and worked in the UK for over twenty years. I loved how he pointed out the oddities that he encountered in the UK about it’s culture, because these mirrored me feelings and thoughts about the UK too. Take this quote for example:

“The most dismaying loss, I think, is of front gardens. People seem strangely intent on getting their cars as close to their living rooms as possible, and to that end have been ripping out their little front gardens and replacing them with service areas so that there is always a place for their cars and wheels bins. I don’t quite understand why they are permitted to do this since nothing more obviously ruins a street.” (88)

I totally agree with him, and since reading this bit have brought this up with my friends and have just noticed it more in real life which is really neat for a book to resonate with you like that.

Likewise, throughout the book, he highlighted some shocking and poignant aspects about British culture as well as the changing attitudes. For example, he highlights the importance of keeping green belts instead of building semi-faster trains between late cities:

“The first and most dangerous charge routinely laid against the green belt is that it isn’t actually all that special, that much of the land is scrubby and degraded. Well, you decide. According to a study by the Campaign to Protect Rural England, green belts in England contain 30,000 kilometres of footpaths and other rights of way, 220,000 hectares of woodland, 250,000 hectares of top quality farmland, and 89,000 hectares of Sites of Special Scientific Interest. That sounds to me like things worth keeping.” (164)

This rant is great because he not only highlights his opinion but also provides supplementary facts to back up his thoughts. I always appreciate when authors do this as it makes it much more poignant, instead of an author just going on about what they think. So this explains why this book has earned the 2 stars that I had given it.

Unfortunately, things take a turn for the worse for Bryson as the book goes on.

His rants stop being well thought out, and rather turn a bit pessimistic and confusing. He visits some towns and complains how devoid of people and tourist they are and how sad that is, but then also complains about the “thriving” towns for being overpopulated and too crowded. He doesn’t really express what the happy medium is for him which makes him just sound grumpy and irritable.

There is also a lot of repetition and I feel like he just rushed the second half of the book. He provided little interesting facts about the town and kept just repeating himself. He also described the types of shops that the town had open, i.e. cafes, restaurants, pubs, grocery stores etc, in great length, which was fine as the high street is reflective of how “well” a town is doing, but he could have been more creative about talking about other elements as well. This way they all blended into one for me and he failed to provide any interesting insight.

He also completely dismisses some towns and cities as being not worth his time without giving them a chance which I found a bit annoying. For example, when he arrives into Manchester all he can manage to do is grumble about having to pay 30p to use the loo (interestingly he doesn’t highlight that the same principle applies throughout many central stations such as London Euston). He literally dedicated an entire paragraph about that. From that paragraph he just launches into a another rant, this time about the food tax which he happen to experience when at Manchester Piccadilly. That lasts about 5 paragraphs. The only other thing he mentions about Manchester:

“I had decided already not to stay in Manchester. It was a Sunday and I couldn’t face spending a Sunday evening wandering around a dead city centre town.” (390)

I found this to be very dismissive and parochial view on England’s second biggest city.

Lastly, based on his extensive rants and “thoughts”, he doesn’t sound like the person I envisioned him being. He comes across pompous at times, and is often irritated. He has a handful of outbursts when things don’t seem to go his way, or he privately thinks some pretty awful things about people. The first few times it’s funny, but because of how often he does it, it comes across as pompous to me, for example:

“I had a sandwich and a cup of tea in the cafe and was feeling so benignly pleased with the whole experience that I didn’t bitch even privately to myself that the sandwich was a little dry and cost roughly double what, in a reasonable world, it should have. Well, maybe I did bitch inwardly just a little, but I didn’t say anything grumbly to anyone and that is surely a mark of progress.” (273)

I don’t really see the point of highlighting that repeatedly throughout the book. It made him sound like an awful person, whether someone deserved it or not. This alongside his other behaviour actually made him sound quite pretentious and it did ruin the book for me.

It’s a bit of a shame because I was really looking forward to reading this book. I’m not sure if his first Notes from a Small Island book is any better, but I felt this one didn’t live up to my expectations so I am in no hurry to find out. I also feel like I know the author better, but not sure it does him any favours for me. By the end of the book, he sounded like an old grumpy man that wanted a platform to rant about how terrible the country is and how it’s going to the dogs. Not really the type of read I particularly choose to read! The only other positive thing I could say about this book, is that I got in on offer so only wasted about £2.95 and half a day of my life reading it. I think that’s a loss I am willing to take.

 

Q: Have you ever been disappointed by one of your favourite authors? If so, who were they and what disappointed you?

 

 

Book Review: East of Eden by John Steinbeck

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Published: 1952

This book came into my life quite randomly. I was back in Canada for Christmas and I saw my brother reading it, and just asked him what he thought of it. He said it was a good book, and one day when I had a couple of hours spare I thought I’d just read the first chapter to get a sense of the book. About 5 chapters later I was completely hooked on this book and couldn’t put it down. I knew I had to have this in my life!

The story is set in Salinas Valley, California, but throughout the novel we do bounce around to different areas in the states as well as time periods, at one point we de get taken back to the American Civil War. The story follows several generations of two families and their lives, the Trasks and the Hamiltons as the author explores themes such as identity, love, evil, and paternal rejection, just to name a few.

It’s a decent sized book, and I felt like it was some sort of a psychological experiment, to see how people’s identity is shaped by nature (genetics/family genealogy) and nurture (events and people). I re-read that last sentence and it makes it sound a bit boring, but with the author’s incredibly captivating writing style it’s anything but boring.  We follow a number of different characters with different traits so it’s easy to relate to at least one of them. The characters themselves are anything but stock, and  they feel very relatable as they make mistakes and bad decisions as we all know we call can make in life.

As the book is based in America, the author also explores America’s identity. I found this especially poignant given the release and popularity of Childish Gambino’s song “This is America” where he explored the nature of America and it’s downfalls, through the perspective of African-Americans. There is one quote in particular that really drove home the tumultuous character of America home for me:

” ‘We all have heritage, no matter what old land our fathers left. All colors and blends of Americans have somewhat the same tendencies. It’s a breed – selected out by accident. And so we’ve over-brave and over-fearful – we’ve kind and cruel as children. We’re over-friendly and at the same time frightened of strangers. We boast and are impressed. We’re over sentimental and realistic. We are mundane and materialistic – and do you know of any other nation that acts for ideals? We eat too much. We have no taste, no no sense of proportion. We throw our energy about like waste. In the old lands they say of us that we go from barbarism to decadence without an intervening culture.’ ” (689)

We can’t talk about America without talking about freedom of course, as they go hand in hand. That’s why the author’s exploration of the power of free will. Early on, the author preaches this idea that we all have the right to choose between good and evil, even if our lives up until then were dictated by one or another. This is particularly poignant as all the characters will battle with this issue of choosing between good and evil:

” ‘And this I believe: that the free, exploring mind of the individual human is the most valuable thing in the world. And this I would fight for: the freedom of the mind to take any direction it wishes, undirected.’ ” (161)

After reading up on the author you can’t help but feel like this is semi-autobiographical, as reading about John Steinbeck’s life draws many similarities to the book. He was born and grew up in Salinas, California, and has a mixed heritage upbringing.

Steinbeck was also highly conscious of religion in his work, and you feel it permeating throughout the novel – although he himself would become agnostic, which is interesting in itself. The story of Cain and Abel is the most prevalent one, with Adam and Charles being parallels to this story and then later Adam’s twins would be opposites. The large Task fortune becomes a symbol of “original sin” which is a Christian belief that sin has been passed down from through every human generation since the fall of the biblical Adam and Even, which would be another Christian motif.

In conclusion, I absolutely loved this book. The complex characters made it a joy to read and also made this a book one that you can read over and over again and always find something new it in to appreciate and admire.

Q: Have you read a book by John Steinbeck? Which one and what did you think?

 

 

Book Review: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

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Published: 2011

 

This was a bit of a tricky read to write a review on, to be perfectly honest, as it’s such a strange amalgamation of themes, feelings, and characters. I had to look online for some inspiration as to how best describe this book. I came across it being referenced as a phantasmagorical fairy tale. Confused? So was I. So I had to Google what “phantasmagorical” even meant (*super embarrassing, please tell me I’m not the only one*), and as soon as I read the definition I smiled because it was bang on what how I would describe the book.

For those of you who likewise have no idea what “phantasmagorical” has a few meanings:

adjective
1. having a fantastic or deceptive appearance, as something in a dream or created by the imagination.
2. having the appearance of an optical illusion, especially one produced by a magic lantern.
3. changing or shifting, as a scene made up of many elements.

All three of these are EXACTLY what the book feels like as you read it (minus the lantern bit…)! It’s got elements of reality, which allows you to be able to picture it and relate to the characters, but then as you keep reading the novel tricks you and most of the time I felt a bit dazed and confused as to why things where happening the way they were. To top of it of course it was NOT in chronological order which aided the illusion as you never quite knew what lay around the bend or if things were really how they appeared.

It was a relatively easy read, you did have to pay attention to characters and timelines because it wasn’t in proper order, so you had to keep reminding yourself of what the characters were or weren’t aware of at the beginning of each chapter which was a tad annoying, but not impossible to follow through.

Set primarily in ahistorical London, we follow a magical circus called Le Cirque des Rêves that is only open dawn until dusk, and has no set schedule (it just appears randomly around the world). It’s atypical to a regular circus as it has tents such a blooming garden made of ice and vertical cloud maze. The two main acts are that of the illusionist that transform her jacket into a raven and a fortune teller that actually reads the uncertain future. This enchanting circus has a more sinister element, as two powerful magicians place a bet on who can train a “better” or more powerful protege, with the circus being their main ring where both their proteges display their talents.

I found the characters to be slightly “safe” and none of them really took me by surprise or resonated with me. Having said that, there was a nice variety of stock characters and they are quite easy to imagine, which I think goes down to author’s good descriptions and overall writing style.

I do think that the real gem of this book, and the main reason why I gave it the stars I did was because the book did what it set out to do. You feel like you are in a dream or part of some strange illusion, trick of the eye and brain. It feels quite light and

Overall, I think that the story is a pleasant quick read, but I can’t say it’s anything revolutionary. Reading the whole book through, there weren’t any pages that I marked because there weren’t any particular quotes or lines that really stood out for me. The author’s writing style is definitely the main driver of the book for me, as you felt the mystery, the magic and the illusion throughout the whole book.

 

Q: Have you ever loved an element of a novel, but was not struck by the plot or overall book?

 

 

Book Review: Elon Musk by Ashlee Vance

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Published: 2015

 

I must confess, I was not really expecting this book, Elon Musk: How the Billionaire CEO of SpaceX and Tesla is Shaping Our Future by Ashlee Vance, to be so engaging and fascinating when I first got my hands on it. I had seen that it got rated high on Amazon, from where I purchased it, but to be honest I only take those ratings with a pinch of salt as most things average out to be 4 stars anyway. I also don’t have the best experience with biographies, as I often find they are written in a bit of tedious manner – reporting facts as opposed to making it engaging. That’s sort of what I thought about the biography I read on Queen Elizabeth the II, by Andrew Marr, for which I never bothered to even write a review.

I didn’t know very much about Elon Musk before reading this book about his life and visions. All I knew is that he founded Tesla and SpaceX and was somehow revolutionising how we view space exploration/travel, with him selling seats to the first human shuttle into space. What I found out after reading this book is that he is a genius and a revolutionary. Everything he does isn’t really about the money (he’s invested a lot of his own money in all his companies and is happy to sell them off to work on his visions of the future), but rather about exploring and pushing our human boundaries. For him, there are no boundaries. He’s a powerful force of will power and vision, that our planet needs.

“In July 2002, Musk was gripped by excitement of this daring enterprise, and eBay made it’s aggressive move to buy PayPal for $1.5 billion. This deal gave Musk some liquidity and supplied him with more than $100 million to throw at SpaceX.” (116)

I was completely taken aback by the entire biography. His life is so fascinating, and he’s such an interesting human being. His quirky personality is highlighted throughout his upbringing so you get a better understanding of who he is a person, a visionary and explorer. He’s also got an incredible work ethic. That’s the reason why he’s got as far as he had, no lucky streaks, wealthy parents or being at the right place at the right time. It’s the his own discipline and drive, that he continues to have despite all his successes, that has allowed him to get where he is. That’s why I find him so inspirational.

“He saw a man who arrived in the United States with nothing, who had lost a child, who was being pilloried in the press by reporters and his ex-wife and who verged on having his life’s work destroyed. ‘He has the ability to work harder and endure more stress that anyone I’ve ever met,’ Gracias said.” (211)

This is not to say that he’s a perfect human being. What I love about this biography, is that it doesn’t try to sugar coat things about the man featured on it’s front cover. Although it highlights how Elon Musk is doing some extraordinary, and inspiring things, it also highlights his downfalls (we all have them, even the greatest people!). Instead of making up excuses for him, the author isn’t afraid to point out that it is just how he is. I realised that although Elon is a amazing visionary, he’s a terrible people-person. He fires people left, right and centre, often for quite trivial reasons. You can see in the videos or interviews with him, that he’s quite socially awkward. But then again, he’s not trying to become a socialite. He’s got other priorities.

The author sections the book according to Elon Musk’s milestones in his life and big ventures, rather than being written in a purely chronological way. It’s hard to tell whether it’s the author’s engaging way of storytelling, by skipping around the timeline a little bit, or if it’s just fascinating to read about Elon Musk’s life. Either way it works, and I kid you not, I could not book this book down once I started reading it. Knowing that this is about a real person, there were many sections of the book that left me speechless. I would often run upstairs to tell my boyfriend about what I just read, or what Elon has accomplished. I cleared my entire day and finished the book in 24 hours.

 

Q: Have you recently read a very good biography? Please do share in the comment section below!

 

 

Book review: Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

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Published: 1961

So I know already I am going to get a lot of hate for this rating, and I have thought long and hard about it and just accepted it!

I’ll start focusing on the positives before I delve into the areas that I really struggled to appreciate. Firstly, it’s obvious a sensitive subject, the Second World War, and the author tries to discuss this subject with more humorous undertones than many other novels would, and for that I appreciate it.

The basic synopsis is, the book following a group of airmen stationed on an island off the coast of Italy during the latter half of the Second World War. We primarily follow the main protagonist, Captain Joseph Yossarian, and his disillusionment with the war and military in general. Throughout we dip into the other soldier’s lives at the base and we get to understand where they have come from and their hopes from the war. There are definitely moments when the author is trying to nail the theme and idea home, and it’s at these points where I get interested and want to listen, like this scene for example:

” Nately was instantly up in arms again. ‘ There is nothing so absurd about risking your life for your own country!’ he declared.

‘Isn’t there?’ asked the old man. ‘What is a country? A country is a piece of land surrounded on all sides by boundaries, usually unnatural. Englishmen are dying for England, Americans are dying for America, Germans are dying for Germany, Russians are dying for Russia. There are now fifty or sixty countries fighting in this war. Surely so many countries can’t all be worth fighting for.’ ” (283)

This is a soldier questioning the whole purpose of war, and questioning his own participation in it.

As you keep reading, the book reveals how corrupt, selfish and ineffective the military officials are and how the war is completely insane. I think that the theme of “catch-22” and how soldiers are made vulnerable by the war (like a prison sentence for them really!) are very poignant however, and there is a big however, I couldn’t get into the author’s writing style and humour at all, so although I understood what he was getting at, I did NOT enjoy the journey of getting there.

I also really struggled to relate or to feel any appreciation toward any of the characters, even the main protagonist I only really started to appreciate him when we got to the latter half of the book and by then it was too late to save it for me. Near the end the author was trying to tie in all his themes of the novel and a number did stand out for me. For example, the scene where Yossarian tries to escape to Rome because he realises how twisted the war and and world is, even in the glorious country he’s fighting for:

“What a lousy earth! He wondered how many people were destitute that same night even in his own prosperous country, how many homes were shanties, how many husbands were drunk and wives were socked, and how many children were bullied, abused and abandoned. “(472)

The rest of the characters are too similar, there are only a couple that stand out for me (Milo, Major Major, Chaplain and Nately). The rest have very similar characteristics and blend into one for me. The author does invest into the characters stories (or at least tries to) and this forms the bulk of the book. Nonetheless, when the characters described are so similar and quite frankly detestable in nature it’s challenging to find interest in the book. After a period of time, I did realise that the whole point WAS to make the reader not like most of the characters, but that doesn’t mean I enjoyed this knowledge.

Lastly, and this permeated through his writing, it’s all very chaotic. I understand this is what it’s meant to be to show how confused and dumbfounded the war makes people, however it was quite challenging and frustrating to keep track. The chaos permeated the chronology of the book, the character’s thought processing as well as the character’s conversations so it felt like much ado about nothing in the end.

It was definitely hard because I had such high hopes for this novel, but in the end it wasn’t an enjoyable read and at times it quite annoyed me. Maybe it will be better the second time around, but I think I will have to wait a bit longer to find that out.

Book Review: The Silver Brumby by Elyne Mitchell

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Published: 1958

So I thought that I would start off my reading blog on a positive note, an old classic, and a book that brings me back…wayyy back! In fact, I knew first of the film, when I was just 5 years old I used to watch the film and play along to it with my toy horses. Yes, I was such a cool child!

I was immediately attracted to the “real” portrayal of the horses in the wild, Australian bush. At this point in my life I was living in Slovakia so I literally couldn’t be farther from the place, but for some reason it felt so familiar.

Imagine my delight, when I realised a few years later, thanks to some research in my local library, that there was actually a book that the filmed was based on. And I have to say the book was AMAZING! I devoured the book when I was a child, enthralled with the wilderness that the author, Elyne Mitchell, described and captivated by the story of the silver brumby. I also loved the realness, this wasn’t any silly My Little Pony tale and neither did it have the teen drama that say the Saddle Club series had. It was just about free and wild horses versus man.

I’m delighted to say that many decades after I read the book, nothing has changed. The magic still remains. It’s not a complex book by any means, and it’s very short compared to a lot of the books I’ve been reading but it’s got substance without having to even try. The main theme is nature versus the man, and that couldn’t be more relevant in todays age.

The story is about a wild, silver stallion that lives in the wild Australian bush. Early on we discover that “he would be hunted…by man, since they were so strange looking in the wild herds” (14) and also he would be badgered by other stallions on the mountains as well, due to his colour. We follow his life as he develops and learns the tricks from his mother of how to remain invisible and be like a ghost of the mountains.

The plot is simple and rather predictable, but it’s hard not to fall in love with Thowra, the name of the silver brumby, and other mountain range that he resides in. By the end of the book you can’t help but shed tears against the selfishness and evil of mankind.

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review: The Real Elizabeth by Andrew Marr

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Published: 2012

For a few years now I have wanted to read a biography about Queen Elizabeth II. I find her an extremely intriguing person, who is frequently misrepresented in the media in my mind. Previous biographies of the Queen that I have come across have been rather lengthy volumes so I was looking for something a little bit more general, that would give me a good overview of her life and what she has been through. Plus, it’s hard to tell which author has the access to actually know the Queen.

Before reading the book I’ve had some exposure to the Queen’s past, as I have watched a documentary detailed her love and passion for horses (as you may already know I am an avid horse aficionado). That one was very interesting and is what prompted me to pick up this book. It’s a very condensed version of her life, and did give me a good general overview of the Queen, which was what I was looking for in this case.

There were a few elements to this book that I thought were nicely done. Again, I liked that it was short and to the point. I don’t recall ever being overwhelmed or bored by minute details, which is something I do do find occurs in biographies.

Another good feature was that Andrew Marr made sure to bring in the context, so I was able to better envision the period and struggles she may have been experiencing at that point in history. He was also sure to always give background on significant people in her life, wether positive or negative, to again refresh a person’s memory or just understand the context. I am forever grateful for that!

There were aspects of the book that I didn’t quite enjoy. There seems to be this very obvious bias against Canadians. Now I am not sure if the author is aware of this, but I couldn’t help but note that every instance a Canadian person or Canada as a whole was mentioned there was always a negative connotation attached that quite frankly got on my nerves a bit. I don’t mind hearing something bad about Canada, I know we aren’t perfect by any standard, but when I couldn’t find a single positive association to Canada that really displeased me. I think even the fact that I became aware of it should demonstrate that it was very prevalent in the book.

I also felt that Andrew Marr tended to stray from the point. I bought this book to read and know more about Queen Elizabeth II, the real Elizabeth as he alludes in the title. Frequently though I am not sure that the book really accomplishes this, instead he often gets caught up in detail and his opinions. It’s great to get context, but that shouldn’t be the whole point on a chapter. Often, I felt he drifted and didn’t really give any interesting details about the Queen, nothing that I have never heard of.

Overall, I will say if you know very little about the British monarchy, this is definitely a good first time read. Especially since he does focus quite a bit on explaining what the monarchy does in the first place. If you are looking for more in-depth account of the Queens life I am not sure you will find this here.

Any biographies or autobiographies that you have been reading? Anything on your bucket list? Very curious to know!

Book Review: The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

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Published: 2015

My co-worker mentioned that she was reading The Girl on the Train during one of our conversations and it sounded interesting so I thought I would look into it. I did some research on it before I bought it and I was quite surprised at how much attention it’s been getting. In fact, apparently it’s been top of USA’s bestseller chart for over 13 weeks and Dreamworks has bought the rights to produce a movie.

The similarities between this book and Gillian Flynn’s novel Gone Girl are undeniable, both are psychological thrillers that not only keep you on the edge of your seat but also allow you to observe how people cope in difficult situations. I think the reason why they felt so similar is because the authors made the characters sound so real and relatable. They were far from perfect, instead the main characters were fraught with many psychological issues, but they lived in very realistic conditions that I am sure many people could relate to. The fact that it was based in London was particularly interesting to me, as it’s a place I’ve been to several times so I can image the setting well.

I think the similarities end there between the two books though (Paula Hawkins has stated that she actually used The Girl on the Train as a working title long before reading Gone Girl). I say this because the main characters are very different, and therefore, handle each problem and event very differently. Amy from Gone Girl is a very astute and crafty woman. She’s highly intelligent, and the planning and masterminding that she took the time to plot out was quite astonishing. Rachel, on the other hand, is very much a polar opposite. She’s a divorced, unemployed, unhappy alcoholic who defies planning and thinking in general. Instead she feels unmotivated, sporadic and depressed. When we meet her she is a shattered woman, who has given up on her life completely.

The plot of the book I think could have been a little bit better. I found the build-up/intro to the main characters took a little too long. Also, I really struggled to sympathize with Rachel. What happened in her life was sad, but seeing her throw her life away and just drink alcohol on every page got a little repetitive. I think it could have moved a bit quicker. Also, despite her problems, I didn’t like how she was handling her life and so wasn’t as attracted to her character.

The other flaw in the novel, was the man hating that was going on. It safe to say that 90% of the men in the book had either anger management issues, psychotic behaviour or were cheaters. I supposed only the red-haired man that help Rachel was the beacon of light, but even he seemed to have a drinking problem and didn’t actually help her in the end. Thought that was very negative and the fact that I became aware of it wasn’t a positive.

Lastly, it was interesting how the many of the main characters had similar qualities, but to me they seemed like the same person. I suppose this may have been because they all had very similar men in their lives, but I wasn’t quite convinced by it.

In conclusion, I found the book very thrilling and I was desperate to know what happened next. I would definitely recommend reading it, especially if you have enjoyed Gone Girl. Also, I found this interesting article written about the book that I would recommend reading through if you are interested in the book!

Did you read this book yet? If so what did you think? Send over links to your reviews!

Book Review: Empress Dowager Cixi by Jung Chang

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Published: 2013

I came by this book when I was looking for a biography to read about an important historical figure. I was keen to stay away from any American or European people because I feel like I was taught a decent amount about those two continents in my education. I wanted to find someone fascinating from a part of the world I knew very little about. So I narrowed it down to East-Asia. Well at least we made progress right?

What intrigued me about his book right away is that it was based in the Victorian Era, a period I feel I had grasped well in school, and it was about an important woman of power. Pardon my naivety, but I didn’t know that women could easily gain influence and power in China during this period. As I began to read the book, I realised just how amazing thing woman was. It was indeed very rare for a women to not only make political and economical decisions in a country, not to mention also rule for such a long period of time (nearly 50 years)!

Empress Dowager Cixi started off as a concubine to Emperor Xianfeng, as the author explains, “a Chinese emperor was entitled to one empress and as many concubines as he pleased” (3). Her role as concubine came with no real power, she was merely meant to please her emperor. So how did this incredible woman manage to become Empress and bring China from a medieval empire into the modern age? Well you are going to have to read the book to find out!

As someone who has studied History in school, I must say that there are many authors out there that can make an exciting period sound awfully tedious and can drown you with facts and figures as an attempt to impress you with their knowledge. Little attempts are made to make historical fiction engaging as well as educational. I think this book does an amazing job with this. Jung Chang manages to tell a story in such an engaging way, I couldn’t put down the book the same way I couldn’t put down the heart-racing The Maze series by David Dashner. Without a second thought, I could pick up the book even now and start re-reading it!

I marvelled at every page at how incredible this woman was and what a tumultuous time she ruled in (through many attacks from the Japanese, Russians and the West to multiple assassination attempts on herself). She was a very shrewd individual who was able to push aside her own feelings and opinions in order to find ways to ways to make China a strong empire. This means introducing then controversial and Western tactics such as building up a military and railway system to better transport it’s people and produce.

If you are interested in Chinese history, but may be a little bit overwhelmed as to where to start I would recommend this book. As someone with nearly zero prior knowledge about China I was able to follow everything without any issues, probably because Jung Chang does such a great job explaining everything! A definite must-read!

Have you read up about an amazing person in history? Let me know the title and author so I can add it to my list!

Book Review: The Death Cure by James Dashner

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Published: 2011

I had no idea what to expect from the series after I had read the second book, The Scorch Trials. There seemed to have been a pattern in the first two books, with them facing new and more gruelling challenges that WICKED, an organisation trying to find a cure for the Flare (a disease that has destroyed much of man-kind and threatens to completely annihilate the population), set out for them. I enjoyed the ride but I was a bit worried that the third book would be just as predictable. And I was left thinking, ‘will they finally find the cure that they have been looking for all along’?

James Dashner has left me pleasantly surprised, when I found out that the novel would not take the predicable pattern of the first two books. I won’t lie though, a lot more happens in a short amount of time and some of it’s pretty brutal (probably Thomas’ biggest tests). The book did feel a bit rushed to me. A lot does happen, and the series does come to a close at the end of this book but I think it would have been better if the series progressed at the pace it had in the first two books, maybe split the last book into two and give more detail.

In terms of plot, the story definitely changed. We are introduced to some new and important characters, but Dashner makes sure not to exclude the reader by also making characters the reader would already know play a significant role in the ending. As for the ending, I am not going to reveal it, but I was pleasantly surprised. After the whole ride I was pleased with how the series concluded.

The diction and prose mimics the previous two books. In my opinion, it’s not a Nobel Peace Prize for Literature contender, but it was a super easy and fun book to read on vacation. I don’t think Dashner brings about a new theme in the dystopian genre, but I can appreciate the ride that he took me on. If there is one other criticism that I have for this book is for the characters development of Thomas. I was a little disappointed in his lack of growth, I don’t consider him deciding between Theresa and Brenda as character growth. Also, I was a little bit disappointed with him the in café scene, when he stays behind despite his friends telling him to go, and then gets caught by the Red Guard. It not only seems insanely stupid but also completely out of his character. Overall, I must say I was quite pleased with how the series ended and enjoyed the book, although not as much as the previous two.

Did you finish the series? What were your thoughts on the ending of the book?