Buddhism for Dummies Jonathan Landaw: Book Review

This is an excellent introduction to Buddhism. It is written in a simple style making some complex ideas very accessible. It is packed with information about the life of the Buddha, different styles of Buddhism, basic tenets and historical information. I found it fascinating and enjoyable. It has made me want to delve deeper into the subject and to start to practise more seriously. I feel incorporating Buddhist practices with my pre-existing shaky Christian beliefs could solve a lot of my problems. I would recommend this book to anyone with an interest in spirituality.51id0U2rgDL._SX394_BO1,204,203,200_

Book Review: The English Girl Katherine Webb

This was an unul248843sual book someone bought for me as a present.  Set in the 1950’s a young Joan Seabrook gets the chance to leave dreary England and have an adventure in Oman, fulfilling a dream of visiting mysterious, romantic Arabia. While there she gets to meet a childhood hero, the female explorer Maude Vickery. Strange events unfold as Joan is caught up in the local politics of the region and has her own journey into the desert with some unexpected twists and turns along the way.

There is a dual narrative jumping back and forth between Joan’s story and Maude’s earlier Edwardian adventure which keeps the novel interesting.

I quite enjoyed the book and it is very well written with beautiful descriptions of the desert, a landscape I have long struggled to see the appeal of. It was interesting to see it through the eyes of someone who loved it. At points the pace of  the novel is very slow and it could have benefited from being a good deal shorter. It is a thoughtful book dealing with feminist issues, women torn between love and domesticity and a longing for adventure and excitement and those themes touched me. I would be interested to read more from this author.

 

Book Review: A Street Cat Named Bob James Bowen

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This book was bought for me as a Christmas present and I left it lying around for a while. When finally I opened it up I had a pleasant surprise. It is the story of a young Australian guy living in London. It opens with him leaving his sheltered accommodation for recovering drug addicts in Tottenham.  The protaganist is down on his luck. He has been homeless and a heroin addict after his failure to succeed in the music business. Into this dark world steps Bob, a cat he discovers hanging around at the bottom of  the stairs. They srike up a friendship and a close bond develops. We share their adventures as James gets his life together and comes off methadone. Busking in Covent Garden as a source of income Bob is a lucky charm. Everyone stops to pet him and the money rolls in enabling the pair to recover from street life. The book is simply written and hopeful. The mood is not black in spite of the  inauspicious start and we see the goodness in so many people. This is a story of redemption and love. It was quite lovely.

New Back Cover blurb for my novel

Orla is slipping out of her life. She has become disillusioned with her work as a teacher. She’s having an affair with a married man. She’s beginning to have inappropriate feelings for one of her high school students. Her life is headed on a path of destruction.

This haunting portrait of a woman’s struggle with depression and forbidden desires is not for the faint-hearted. Orla certainly isn’t the sunny, optimistic protagonist of a traditional romantic comedy. She’s more complicated than that. Her choices are her own, and she follows her heart without thought to the collateral damage.

Pearlcasting is an intricately plotted study of one woman’s desperation and the devastating effects her actions have on her life. But it also considers how the bleakness of loss can lead to redemption. This dark novel will challenge your preconceptions about life and ultimately leave you with more questions than answers.

Summary of my first novel – Pearlcasting

In this meditation on Nabokov’s Lolita, author Lynn Matheson updates the famous story to fit the modern-day controversies of female teacher/male student relationships. There have been arrests all over the United States and the United Kingdom, and in this day and age, you can’t turn on the news without seeing a woman arrested for abusing her power over children.

In this daring novel, Matheson examines the mentality of such a woman. What would drive someone to do such a thing?

Orla is a teacher at an English boarding school. She hates her job and often thinks to herself that she, like so many of her ancestors, has just become another servant to the rich and their offspring. When she meets Elijah, a fifteen-year-old student, feelings stir deep inside her. Can she fight these urges, or will Orla begin a series of events that will have devastating consequences for everyone involved?

From cold and dreary England to tropical Jamaica, Orla will run from her demons and try to escape her depression once and for all. This controversial novel will spark discussions about the nature of gender, sexuality, power, and consent.

 

Book Review The Blazing World Siri Hustvedt

 

This is the life and death of Harry, a struggling New York artist who never gains the recognition she craves. Married to a rich art dealer with two children Harry still yearns for more. She feels that it is her status as a woman that is holding her back and embarks on a hoax where she persuades young, good looking male artists to pass her work off as their own.

This is not a straightforward book. The plot unfolds through a jigsaw of different perceptions of different people: interviews, notebooks, letter, diary entries… It is very erudite with many references to philosophy with footnotes that may or may not be erroneous. I enjoyed it overall but sometimes it was hard going. It took me a long time to read. It was clever but perhaps too clever for its own good.

If you live heavy literary fiction which makes you think this is for you.

Book Review Berlin Rory MacLean

I loved this book. Berlin is a city that has always had a strong hold on my imagination. I finally managed to visit recently and was not disappointed in its noir atmosphere and contrasting neighbourhoods. This book takes us through the history of Berlin from its origins in medieval times to the present day. Each chapter is the story of someone. You see the city as they see it. I particularly enjoyed the Berlin of the 20s and 30s before the War, the Berlin of Cabaret and Isherwood. MacLean writes very well with great sensitivity. Berlin is dark, tragic and brooding. I very much recommend you read this.

Book Review Max Hastings The Secret War

I was really looking forward to this book as I love things about the Second World War and the world of espionage is endlessly fascinating. The book is vast and well researched. It covers the work of spies in Britain, the US, the Soviet Union, Nazi Germany and Japan. Hastings is at pains to play down the glamour of spy work and describes how dull most of it was. He seems to have a predudice against the Soviet Union which he regards as a greater evil than Nazism. Many people at the time did not share this view. The upshot of Hastings’ argument is that spy work did not contribute a great deal to winning the war and has been over-glamourised since.

In spite of this there is a vast array of flamboyant and eccentric characters who are described in snippets. I found this intensely annoying as I was reading as I wanted to know more about each person, have their tales fleshed out. It became like reading the telephone book and I started to lose interest about half way through. Perhaps the fault is within me as I usually read fiction. I could so easily have been enthralled but I just wasn’t.

History nerds will probably enjoy this but for me it needed more skill in the writing and I found Hastings’ patrician, condescending tone irritating.

Book Review: The Man in the High Castle Philip K Dick

I love Philip K Dick. This novel did not disappoint. The future is dystopian. The Nazis and the Japanese won the Second World War and have carved up the world between them. The characters are adrift, trying to make sense of their lives in this cruel, barbaric world. The details are chilling. Everyone is obsessed with using the I Ching to help them make decisions. They are also all reading The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, a novel which describes an alternate reality in which the Allies won the War rather than the Axis powers. It becomes increasingly unclear which is the true reality. I loved reading about the alternative history and the details were convincing though horrifying. The ending was somehow unsatisfying and I was left wanting to know more. Most sci fi leaves me cold but Philip K Dick gets me every time.