Category Archives: Book reviews

Book review (& Giveaway): The Signature of All Things

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The Signature of All Things from Elizabeth Gilbert….I loved it, I hated it. I threw it down several times. Always picked it back up again. It didn’t keep me awake at night, eager to trundle on with it, but it whispered to me to pick it  back up during the day.

It’s entertaining, has some wonderful characters (who wouldn’t want to sit at Alma’s Father’s table?!), is beautifully written in parts…but it’s about 250 pages too long. I found myself being really frustrated reading about all the dull bits of Alma’s life (Gilbert’s attempt at some Victorian titillation – ’50 shades of Grey’ marketing moments? – as Alma ducks in to her secret library chamber were, actually, just really boring and, on the whole, really unnecessary….Alma’s as asexual as the mosses she studies and those bits of the book just weren’t fun to read…..just as that part of the book wasn’t fun to read, in any way shape or form).

[I realise it’s weird discussing a spoiler I obviously can’t reveal, but I’m so annoyed about it, I will continue….The fact that she feels compelled to do that to Tomorrow Morning kind of grated with me; Alma is, if nothing else, a pioneer of feminism, a strong-willed woman. That Gilbert made the pinnacle of her experiences up until that point in her life a pretty debasing act was really disappointing for me, personally. I held Alma in higher esteem and she disappointed me].

So, anyway….once you’re past the difficult middle sections of the book, past where Gilbert takes what feels like a million pages to establish Alma’s character, the book opens out to something quite fine.

loved the section where Alma meets Alfred Russell Wallace (he’s a hero of mine; the co-discoverer of the theory of evolution by natural selection) and Gilbert’s description of the meeting of the two of them is pretty much how I’ve always imagined a meeting with him would go (yes, I have – many times – imagined meeting and conversing with him; he’s a source of fascination for me! Gilbert herself admits to falling a little in love with him during her research!).

I also loved the overall message of the book: don’t live in the shadow of missed opportunities. Many of the characters seem to live their lives in waiting…waiting for something to happen, waiting for each other to change, waiting for circumstances to change….waiting, waiting, waiting….and when Alma decides to move, to make something happen, to take risks, that’s when she finds her own brand of confidence and, through this, contentment.

It’s a book that’ll frustrate you as much as, or probably more than, it charms you, but sometimes frustration is good in a book, especially when the bits that make you want to throw the book down in frustration are balanced by the beauty of some of the passages.

Feel like reading it?

I’m giving my copy away!

Leave a comment….we’ll hand-draw a winner next Saturday (21st March) and I’ll send the book out to you when I can get to the Post Office…..please be aware that post is often slow from where I am….

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Book review: Manuscript found in Accra

I’m on a bit of a reading roll, it seems, in the first few weeks of 2015, having already read three non-work related books. As I love reading and haven’t been doing enough of it the last few years, I’m one really happy bunny!

I feel I should preface this post with the disclaimer that I’m a recent reader of Paulo Coelho’s work. I purchased The Alchemist about twenty years ago now but, for many years, something stopped me starting it. A sort of general feeling that I somehow wasn’t ready and so wouldn’t be able to take in its messages.

I eventually read it around Christmas time and was amazed. Such deceptively simple yet deeply profound messages written in such a beautiful manner.

I then received Manuscript found in Accra for Christmas and couldn’t wait to start it.

[The book, set in 1099, is essentially a series of proclamations by a Greek wise man (the Copt) to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the night before the crusaders arrived in the city].

I opened it eagerly, making special times during my day to ‘turn off and tune in’ to the book, focusing on only the book. I wanted to be able to savour it in all it’s glory.

And it does have glorious moments. Moments of true wisdom. How he manages to write so consistently profoundly, in such a seemingly nonchalantly simple style is a source of wonder to me. Case in point:

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As with The Alchemist I found myself realising that he seems to have a knack for taking Biblical messages and making them easily understood. He’s kind of like a layman’s filter for scripture, as it were: making Biblical passages, and teachings, more easily accessible than reading them direct from source.

In Manuscript Found In Accra, I found his use of the Bible rather too liberal, however. Similarities in some of the wording/ideas to Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet also jarred a little bit, but the work as a whole is so breathtaking in its scope and originality, I found myself – after a while – instantly forgiving Coelho before I even had a chance to get annoyed.

Manuscript is a book I know I’ll be dipping in and out of for years to come. It’s one of those books that speak to you so directly that you want to highlight pretty much everything. I resisted, however, as I know I will be re-reading and didn’t want to cloud the wisdom my future self might be able to gain from the words.

It’s a book I’d recommend if you’re at any sort of crossroads in your life, or you’re anxious, as you will find yourself firstly being soothed by the words, and the pace of the writing, and then being inspired by the words you’re digesting (Coelho’s writing style is kind of like a rich port; the anticipation is as important as the actual savouring, with the savouring being accompanied by instant sighs of delight/satisfaction because it makes you suddenly realise that things in life can be wondrous and delicious and fulfilling all at once!).

I was literally stopped in my tracks, for example, by the following:

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How can one simple sentence encapsulate everything I needed to know in that precise moment?

I now see why Coelho’s print runs number in to the multi-millions across tens of languages: his books speak directly to that part of us that identifies with the power that books have over us, through our belief that books have the power to change us and our willingness to be changed by the books we read.

When we read a good book, after all, we’re never the same person again. It’s a submission we voluntarily enter in to because we know we’ll be made better by the interaction (with a good book, it is an interaction, as the characters come to life so much so that we feel they’re real).

We’re changed by reading in ways that are often imperceptible even to ourselves, but its usually a change for the better. Our perspective shifts. The wisdom of the other speaks to us so deeply that we’re somehow freed: to change our thoughts, to cement our thinking. To accommodate a new reality.

And that’s what I love about Manuscript so much: it has so many opportunities for the reader to experience shifts in perceptions, to strengthen resolves. It drips with opportunities to be encouraged to think differently.

It’s a powerful reading experience. For me (perhaps because of my personal situation), its a much more powerful experience than The Alchemist.

I’m moving on to Aleph next, and have high hopes for it. I’m so glad he’s such a writing machine (producing a new book every two years; now that’s a writing work ethic to admire!)!

Book review: The Fault in Our Stars

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I have a confession to make. I’m pretty much in love with Augustus Waters which, were he real, would make me a total cougar as, in the book, he’s just seventeen.

I also love everything about the book. Well, pretty much everything, as there are a few things I didn’t like (but we’ll get to those in a minute).

It grabbed me from the first line and held me, quite literally captivated, until the very end (and I had to read the very end at least a dozen times, as it’s just so bloody perfect).

The writing’s stellar. It makes you smile, chuckle, laugh out loud. Makes you love the characters, most of the characters – even Patrick, poor Patrick – pretty much instantly. Even the characters you don’t love instantly – actually downright pretty much dislike instantly, such as Peter – you find yourself stopping and pausing, just to drink in the quality of the writing.

I’ve not enjoyed reading a writer as much as this since Andrew Miller (and, from me, that’s a major compliment; I am definitely in love with Andrew Miller’s writing).

The book deals with some major issues (cancer, death) but in such a charming way. A way that keeps the characters accessible and their viewpoints – and trials – understandable and relatable (even for someone who’s not facing either cancer or death but who does wake up some nights, in a panic, because I fear I’m not doing enough with my one wild and precious life).

It’s a book that celebrates life and love and being good.

It made me happy, even when I was crying sad, sad, tears.

It made me happy because – and, yes, I realise this sounds weird, as he’s a fictional character – I’m so happy people like Augustus Waters exist. Because people like Augustus Waters do indeed exist and it’s one of the first books I’ve read that champions people like him (and Hazel Grace). Intelligent, smart, inherently good and kind human beings.

Yeah, bad things happen in the book but, you know, we get a glimpse of the characters’ humanity and that glimpse – it made me feel hope, feel hopeful, and there’s not many fiction books that do that nowadays.

I even felt hopeful for Peter, despite initially despising him (when he was first presented ‘in the flesh’, as it were). Somehow, you just know his world’s going to be turned around after meeting Augustus and Hazel Grace and that just gives you, the reader, even more hope.

I can’t stress how much I loved this book.

Go and buy it as soon as you can and read it as fast as you humanly can (it won’t be that fast, as you will want to stop, often, and savour the words). [It’s worth the cost of the book just to read the line from Michael, Hazel’s father, which will grab you, haunt you and not let you go].

[Note: I’d seen the film before I read the book – I was put off the book by all the hype surrounding it, thinking it was one of those books that had great marketing but little substance. It’s one of those instances where the film is as good as the book and you won’t regret reading the book if you’ve already seen the film: the hype is backed up by a great deal of substance!].