Book Review: The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde


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Published: 1891

This was my second time reading this book, and I must say I got a completely different perspective on it reading it now. The first time I read it I was really enamored with Lord Henry Wotton’s sauve attitude and his ability to thrive in any social situation. Or, perhaps a more astute observation would be that he is able to control every social situation he is in.

I feel embarrassed to have ever admitted those feelings towards such a vile, pompous, self-centered character. He is extremely manipulative and selfish, and has no feeling towards anyone else. He associates with people that will serve him a certain purpose and is completely closed-minded. His theories and opinions are treated as fact, even though frequently they are absolutely absurd. I don’t know why I didn’t notice it before, when it’s so clearly starring me in the face during this time’s read.

Then comes the narcissisic Dorian Gray. A man so beautiful that the world just falls at his feet and his beauty allows him to get away with murder. He becomes enthralled with Henry’s suave attitude (I fell for that charm myself the first time around so one could say I completely undertand him) and vows to become just like him. As the reader follows his transformation it becomes quite clear who his main influence has become, however, he does struggle within himself. Especially at the beginning, he has moments of lets just saw “weakness” and he realizes that reason doesn’t always triumph emotion.

I very much enjoyed Basil Hallword, the sensitive and passionate painter that uses Dorian as his muse for much of his art. He is the exact opposite of dear old Henry. He couldn’t care less about attending the most expensive opera’s, associating himself with the most upper of classes and attending lavish parties. He is a lot of more emotional and consumed by his art. His most precious painting, the painting that ends up grasping Dorian’s youth allowing him to remain young while everyone else around him ages, is what destroys Dorian in the end and serves as the major symbol within the story.

Another feature of the novel which is so typically Victorian but also very humanist is Henry’s desire to understand humans. His theories and his social observations are all ways to try and understand how humans work and why. Sort of like early versions of psychology mixed with philosophy. Take his quote for example (there are so many of these it was hard to choose):

“The reason we all like to think so well of others is that we are all afraid of ourselves. The basis of optimism is sheer terror. We think that we are generous because we credit our neighbour with the possession of those virtues that are likely to be a benefit to us.” (72)

Having said all those negative comments about Henry, I still really enjoyed this book and it remains on my top 10. As soon as I finished I couldn’t wait to pick it up again. I think I am most in love with Wilde’s writing. It’s like a beautiful melody and a powerful painting. It’s just so lovely.

Have you read a Wilde book? What did you think?

Book Review: The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton


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Published: 2014

The Miniaturist came into my life thanks to the positive review that Paperback Princess had posted about a few weeks back now. After a rather slow read of Danubia, I was really looking forward to a light, and pleasant read and that is exactly what I got. The story started of rather slowly as were introduced to the characters and surroundings, and I was captured with the characters straight away.

The story is about a girl name Petronella (Nella) Oortman who has just moved to Amsterdam from the countryside after recently being married off to a wealthy merchant named Johannes. Like the reader, Nella is slowly introduced to her new household comprised of her austere sister-in-law, mysterious husband and two servants. Alongside these unfamiliar faces, she has to cope with being thrown into an unfamiliar city lifestyle. From the offset of the novel, there are many unanswered questions pertaining to the characters that we learn of as the plot progresses. Alongside this, Nella and the reader are haunted by the unknown identity of the dubbed Miniaturist who keeps sending Nella odd miniatures that seem to predict the future.

The book took a dramatic turn for me on the 156th page, and from then on it changed pace and I was unable to put it down. I was completely submerged in the book’s plot and I finished the book in 24 hours, during a workday mind you! The author’s writing was very gentle, easy to read and effective.

One of the main themes, and the one that intrigued me most, was the role of women. Cornelia, the maid of the household, makes a rather audacious yet probably accurate statement about the role of women in the year 1686:

 “Men are the makers of this world.”(289)

Nonetheless, it would appear to me that the book tries very hard to demonstrate that it’s just the opposite. It is the men of the novel that appear weak and conniving, while it is the women in the background that make the rational decisions, or at least try and keep the households and life running. Marin for example, is often the practical and reasonable voice in the household, as it becomes evident quite early on she influences the family’s business and financial situation.

The only negative aspect of this novel was the end. The lack of disclosure of who the miniaturist actually is or what happened to them is extremely disappointing, especially because there was such a huge buildup to their identity. I felt it just ended really suddenly. The events that took place in the latter half of the book were overtly dramatic in contrast to the rest of the novel and so felt out of place. It has been pointed out that the point of the miniaturist shouldn’t encapsulate the book as the author is trying to bring to attention other themes. But then what is the point of making women look weak by allowing them to be controlled by this miniaturist in the first place? Since it is only women who fall under it’s spell and need their lives dictated to them in order to carry on.

Verdict: A very refreshing read, loved the setting, the characters, very engaging writing and overall quick read, aside from the rather abrupt ending.

Have you read a book recently with a strong female lead? 

Book Review: Danubia- A Personal History of Habsburg Europe by Simon Winder


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 Published: 2013

I’ve been working through this book for the past two and a half weeks, and to be quite frank I read 75% of the book in three days. Why did it take so long for me to get into it?

I think there are a couple reasons. One, it is non-fiction so it takes a bit more focus on my part, especially when dealing with the Habsburg decades of rule, hence I can’t skim pages. True, Simon Winder makes clear that he is choosing to focus on a handful of monarchs instead of drowning the reader with names and titles spanning over multiple centuries. That I could appreciate. Nonetheless the reader must focus on each phrase to make sure that you don’t miss a key name-drop of a person and then get lost for the next 10 pages (I think this is what happened to the first 25% of the book and the reason it put me off a bit.)

What could have made this book so much easier to read is to have photos of the main monarchs discussed. Aside from a couple of maps at the beginning and the blurry pictures at the beginning of every chapter, the book lacked visual images to compliment the writing. There are several very strong paragraphs by him, that have me really intrigued, yet when he’s discussing artists instead of trying to describe a painting or place for a few pages, he could have just put in a photo.

The biggest reason why it took me so long to get into this was also because I had juxtaposed it with the brilliant One Summer in America 1927 by Bill Bryson. And to be honest, he is no Bill Bryson. This is not to say that it was a boring, draining read. Not at all. And the author did try to add some unconventional person touches into the book to make it lighter, like this passage:

“I realize with a chill that this section could go on almost indefinitely and it would be possible to bludgeon the reader with items from page to page of my notes, which should perhaps just be quietly binned.” (456)

I did really enjoyed the topic, and it was such a relief to come across a book about central Europe instead of always reading about WWI, WWII, French, British and American history. Certainly, I will go further with this, and there are several intriguing characters that I would like to spend some time reading up on thanks to this book.

Verdict: I can’t think of a better book for central European history in English as this, however, not as awestruck as I was with Bill Bryson’s non-fiction writing.

Book Review: Burial Rites by Hannah Kent


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burial rites

Published: 2013

An Australian writing about Iceland?! Say what?! That was my reaction when I read up about Hannah Kent and her inspiration for this novel. She had gone on an exchange to Iceland with the Rotary Club as a teenager where she first heard of the story of Agnes Magnusdottir, a the true tale that inspired her to make it part of her creative component of her PhD she was working towards in Australia.

During her first few weeks in Iceland she noted she felt very socially isolated while living in a small tight-knit community in Northern Iceland who was not used to have foreign exchange students in their small little town; a feeling that definitely juxtaposes Agnes’s feelings throughout the entire book. The feeling of loneliness, cold and isolation are probably one of the main themes of the novel.

Perhaps that is exactly what I struggled with most when reading this book. It’s very dark, but not necessarily an evil kind of darkness. Isolation, cold, nothingness, snow, emptiness; these are the elements that all characters seem to experience throughout the story. There is no warm cozy fireplace on a cold winter’s day, no hot chocolate to help your cheeks flush back to life after being stuck out in the snowstorm.

This is Agnes’ story of her life, of the details leading up to the murder of Natan, of her life before she was sentenced to death in being found guilty of murder. As Hannah’s first novel I must say I was impressed. I felt she really captured the characters’ feelings. At the beginning of the novel it’s established quickly that Agnes has it rough to put it mildly. Hannah drives the point home that Agnes is isolated from society and treated like an animal:

“That dress was my last possession. There is nothing in the world I now own; even the heat my body gives out is taken away by the summer breeze.” (76)

Unfortunately, I felt a little disconnection from the plot for about 75 pages shortly after the beginning, and I felt she was being a bit redundant. Over emphasizing certain points, and not giving enough to the reader in regards to the story. Instead I think she could have easily cut down the size of the book, and would have kept the reader engaged, instead of overemphasizing Agnes’s miserable conditions. It picks up later, and then ends with a real bang.

Verdict: Very interesting read, the geographical location really sets the scene and is a nice variation from the modern books I have read about western societies. A darker read, so might have an effect on your mood. I made the mistake of reading it during a rougher moment, and I must say it did not do me good!

Have you read this book? Has a book in the past make you feel cold and lonely?

Life Update


Ooops I did it again. So sorry that I have missed all of last week and have been on a hiatus for about two. Reason? I have moved to a new town in the UK and I have absolutely no wifi/internet in my new home and won’t until about the 13th of October. On top of all this I have had to commute about 2.5 hours to get to work nearly every morning (nightmare!), I have had very little time for myself, and any free time that I do have I try to invest into getting all settled into our new home. So, I think I can get a get out of jail free card right now.

Our new dig!

Our new dig!

Good news is I was a bit more prepared for this coming week as things are starting to settle down. Hence, I have posted my review for My Promised Land and have updated the new book I am reading. I am looking forward to catching up with all your adventures fellow bookworms, I desperately need new book options!

Book Review: The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini



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Published: 2003

I have no clue how I managed to avoid this book for as long as I have. I do recall seeing it everywhere, especially when the film came out in 2007, but for some reason I didn’t even see the trailer for it.

It is Kahled Hosseini’s, an Afghan-American, first novel. We follow the life of a boy named Amir, living in the the wealthy district of Kabul. He is far from a brave, intelligent and that most protagonist seem to encompass. Instead most of those attributes could be given to his best friend, Hassan, who happens to be his households’ servant. Without a doubt the boys share a beautiful childhood together, far from perfect, but their strong friendship leads them on many adventures, including participating in the annual Kite Race. As all of these novels go, they are torn apart. But not because of an outside source as you would expect. Secrets are revealed and truths discovered.

Really emotionally powerful read. The main protagonist is not someone who I would praise as being worthy and commendable by any means. Especially near the beginning. His occasional teasing of Hassan is completely uncalled for and quite frankly just cruel. It really displays his cowardliness. For example, he refuses to teach him how to read because it allows him to possess an ability over his friend, making Hassan dependent on Amir to hear stories. And even then:

“My favourite part of reading to Hassan was when we came across a big word that he didn’t know. I’d tease him, expose his ignorance.” (30)

Nonetheless, his actions as an adult do redeem him in my opinion and life teaches him some pretty rough lessons as well. He is definitely a man who has made mistakes in the past that he wishes and tries to redeem.

I particularly enjoyed learning about the Afghan culture and history which is impossible to avoid in the novel and does play a major role in the plot. The repercussions of the invasion of the Russians have severe consequences on the main characters. Followed by the taking over of the major cities by the Taliban. Both transformed the lives of the characters. And transformed the landscape.

“A sadness came over me. Returning to Kabul was like running into an old, forgotten friend and seeing that life hadn’t been good to him, that he’d become homeless and destitute.” (258)

Culturally, it explains and details some of the customs of the Afghan people. Hosseini really tries to demonstrate not only how the people behave but also why it might be so different to western culture. I think this paragraph highlights precisely what the author wants to make clear about Afghan people and culture:

“The Hindi kid would soon learn what the British learned earlier in the century, and what the Russians would eventually learn by the late 1980s: that Afghans are an independent people. Afghans cherish custom but abhor rules.” (55)

Verdict: An absolute must read. Another book I just couldn’t put down. The characters are far from being ideal and flawless but that is exactly what I enjoyed about it. Learning about the culture and very, very brief history of Afghanistan was fascinating as well as Hosseini intertwines it into the plot. Stylistically, the author manages to really wrap me into the story.

Review: The Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson


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Published: 2009

It has been purely unintentional but in the past couple of months I keep getting my hands on Swedish authors! Not complaining though, as Jonas Jonasson’s first book The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared was another pleasant read.

Jonasson was a journalist before he decided to settle down and write his first novel in the beautiful village of Ponte Tresa, Switzerland. Perhaps it is that background which explains the heavy political, historic and media presence in his novel.  As a history student, I really enjoyed the historical references to Mao, Kim Il Jung, President Johnson, President Truman, and even Spanish dictator Francisco Franco.

There is a huge sense of internationalism which I really enjoyed. Allan travels from Sweden, to Russia, to North Korea, South Korea, China, Bali, Tibet, Iran, America, and France just to name a few places. He takes on wild professions from physicist, bomb specialist, ambassador, CIA agent and bridge bomber, all which seemingly just arrive on his lap every time. All this with only three years of schooling in his entire life!

Jonasson pokes fun at certain country’s stereotypes, but since he does it with everyone it is accepted and is meant for comedic effect. For example, the Boss, of the secondary characters, wanted to start a dubious gang called Never Again, which he struggles to take off.

“At first, the Boss thought of abandoning the whole idea of Never Again, but Caracas happened to have a Columbian comrade with a flexible conscience and dubious friends, and after one thing and another, Sweden (through Never Again) became the transit country for Eastern Europe for the Colombian narcotics trade.” (53-4)

This quote also highlights how a single small idea, could have drastic affects on history and the world.

The story follows a centenarian named Allan who  escapes from an old-folks home. As the story takes off we learn about his past as well, from his childhood to his adult adventures bringing us eventually back to the present. The chapters rotate from past to present and it allows us to learn more about the main character.

I can’t believe I am pointing this out, but because it has such a strong presence in the novel it is difficult to ignore; vodka. There is a huge presence of vodka, and drinking spirits in general. It is vodka and tequila that allows Allan to bond with President Truman.

“As a child, Allan had been taught to be suspicious of people who didn’t have a drink when the opportunity arose.” (135)

Allan stays true to his father’s advice and really has a drink at any and every occasion.

It was really difficult for me not to compare/contrast this book to Jonasson’s second book, The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden. Without a doubt the picaresque style remains heavily present in both. Also, the humour and sensational plot line is ever present. The heavy presence of internationalism, politics, and money are undeniable, and even the main characters share that rational, calm and intelligent composure under very stressful circumstance. I did feel for some reason that this book had a couple of tedious parts, especially near the end when Allan and his comrades are lying to the police commissioner about what really happened since Allan has escaped. It got a little too sensational for me at that point.

Verdict: Definitely give this one a read if any of the topics above would interest you. Expect nothing less than the picaresque from our author. Funny, filled with interesting historical figures and very sensational novel. Cleverly written.

Have you read any of Jonasson’s books? Any other great Swedish authors you would recommend?

Review: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou


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Published: 1970

Maya Angelou was challenged by her friend, author James Baldwin, and her editor, Robert Loomis, to write a autobiography that was simultaneously a piece of literature. Born was I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Written in the years following the civil rights movement in America, this coming of age story focuses on Marguerite Ann Johnson, Maya Angelou’s name at birth, a young African American girl.

I absolutely adored this book for several reasons. It presented the themes of racism and trauma through a child’s eye. I had a genuine trust of the narrator. The characters were unforgettable and really authentic.  The plot is unbelievable, especially considering this is an autobiography. She really accomplished her goal set out for her.

The story starts off in the little town of Stamps, Arkansas. There Marguerite and her brother Bailey are staying with their paternal grandmother nicknamed Momma. Although the African American is fairly wealthy, as they own a general store in the “Black” part of town, they are not exempt from racism. From Momma being humiliated by little white kids revealing their pubes to her, to Marguerite being repetitively insulted by a white employer who continuously calls her Mary. They encounter racism at every corner of their lives. Later they have to hide Uncle Willie in their shop away from the Klux Klux Klan, and when Marguerite has a severe toothache the dentist refuses to see her purely because of her race.

“It seemed terribly unfair to have a toothache and a headache and have to bear at the same time the heavy burden of Blackness.” (187)

Marguerite’s story takes us from Arkansas, to St.Louis, to California and even on a brief stint to Mexico. Although racism is the prevailing theme, trauma, family, sexuality and homelessness are other significant themes of the novel. That’s not to say that everything she lives through is atrocious. She does manage to drive a car which inspires her to persevere  to become San Francisco’s first ever Black female streetcar driver, and she’s also encouraged to regain her voice after a traumatic event through books and communication. However, there are more negative than good things that happen to her.

Verdict: I am so glad to have read this book and would recommend anyone who has not yet had the opportunity to read this, to go find a copy of it immediately. This is probably my favourite novel about racism in America before the civil right movement. Really raw, authentic and brilliantly written.

Review: One Summer: America 1927 by Bill Bryson


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Published: 2014

“Now suddenly America was dominant in nearly every field- in popular culture, finance and banking, military might, invention and technology.” (562)

The year that Babe Ruth hit 60 home runs. Charles Lindbergh becomes the first man ever to complete a non-stop flight from New York to Paris. Television is created. Al Capone enjoyed his last year of eminence. Mississippi flooded like never before. Countless of absolutely amazing feats were accomplished or born out of the year 1927 for America, that would greatly alter the future for the whole world. Bill Bryson does an incredible job in creating a gripping, enjoyable and delightful read about a period that I personally knew very little about. His writing style is just impeccable and he knows exactly what to reveal and when.

As you may or may not know, besides my degree in English Literature, I also have a minor in History. It was this combination of literary genius, humour and historical fact was what attracted me to this read. I was a bit hesitant; primarily worried by the prospect of reading 600 pages of just facts with little connection. That hesitation disappeared immediately, as I noticed a clear narration of the book being established from the offset. He focuses a lot on aviation, a theme that comes up at every section of the book, but done in such a clever way as to help you understand the grand scheme of things happening in that year. The author does a wonderful job of bringing a variety of sides to every person discussed from the time period: the good, the bad and the ugly. This assures me that I can trust that I am getting multiple sides to one story, something every historian strives toward.

The book gives you a proper snapshot of the season in which America took a big step towards a more modern world. It’s truly a captivating read filled with biographies, lots of humour, and absolutely shocking details about the way of life, while still maintaining integrity. There is a full bibliography spanning many pages that allows you to get more information on the subjects he has discussed and an index at the end, useful for refreshing your memory of anything you may have missed/forgotten.

Vedict: I honestly could not put this book down, no matter how hard I have tried. It made me realize just how far not only America, but also the world has come. His writing style is engaging, and easy to follow making it a great book to read over the summer and fitting for just about any reader that is even remotely interested in history and people in general.

Are there any narrative non-fiction works that you have enjoyed particularly? I want to know 🙂


Review: Risky Issues-A collection of short stories by Lorraine Reguly

It’s been a few weeks since Lorraine Reguly had provided me with a copy of her compilation of short stories and has asked me to write a review on them. I only give honest personal review of this, and the fact that I was provided with the text has no affect over my opinion. *This is a reflection of my personal opinion after reading through them.*

It was a first time that an author has contacted me and asked me to provide a review for their work, and I was extremely humbled and honoured that Lorraine Reguly asked me to do so. The stories are a very quick read, and the entire book is composed of four stories; three main ones and a bonus one. Each other stories deal with very heavy themes, including adoption, narcotics, and sexual abuse. After reading it, I got a sense that the target audience were tweens and/or teenagers and so it wasn’t necessarily the genre of novels that I tend to gravitate toward. But hey, I am not one to discriminate!

I would like to praise the author  for choosing such complex and deep issues. That’s one heavy plate! At the same time, I do feel that the text and themes were simply not expanded to the affect I would have liked. The stories are extremely shorts, to the point where I felt character development was lacking along with plot progression. The reader was not provided with enough information about the main characters to fully appreciate their reactions. I also feel that frequently the reaction of the characters was rushed and very unrealistic (particularly the first adoption story were the entire catastrophic event for the main character is boiled down to a few short paragraphs). I understand that one may not want to read through pages and pages of character descriptions, but I do wish there was a bit of a lead up to climax of the story. I feel like I would be able to emphasize better with the characters.

Having said that, I feel like the writing style itself and diction was appropriate for the audiences. Also, I loved how in the third story, the Lorraine Reguly jumps from one character to another as the plot unfurls. It gave multiple perspectives of the same event which I really enjoyed.

Verdict: Great quick read, good for younger readers. I did feel there was plot fracturing occurring, by which I mean the whole story was too short for the heavy themes it wished to tackle. However, if expanded I can definitely see the stories just being richer.

If you want more information about the author please visit her website:

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