January 2015 Reviews

Hello, and welcome to the first review post of 2015. There’s a lot of variety in this month’s post, but I’ll let you get on with reading the actual reviews now.

The Way of Tenderness: Awakening through Race, Sexuality and Gender

Zenju Earthlyn Manuel


Wisdom Publications

17th February 2015

Currency: USD
Edition: Other Format

“What does liberation mean when I have incarnated in a particular body, with a particular shape, color, and sex?”

In The Way of Tenderness, Zen priest Zenju Earthlyn Manuel brings Buddhist philosophies of emptiness and appearance to bear on race, sexuality, and gender, using wisdom forged through personal experience and practice to rethink problems of identity and privilege.
Manuel brings her own experiences as a lesbian black woman into conversation with Buddhism to square our ultimately empty nature with superficial perspectives of everyday life. Her hard-won insights reveal that dry wisdom alone is not sufficient to heal the wounds of the marginalized; an effective practice must embrace the tenderness found where conventional reality and emptiness intersect. Only warmth and compassion can cure hatred and heal the damage it wreaks within us.
This is a book that will teach us all.

My Review

The author wrote this book for a wide audience, and to stir an urgency to attend to our disconnection from each other. I haven’t read much about Buddhism, I freely admit to only a sketchy understanding of the philosophy. I will also admit that this book really touched me; I cried, but I also found new ideas to mull over.


The Magician’s Land
Lev Grossman
Published: 6th October 2014

Quentin Coldwater has lost everything. He has been cast out of the secret magical land of Fillory and now, friendless and broke, he returns to where his story began: Brakebills Preparatory College of Magic. But Quentin’s past soon catches up with him . . .

Meanwhile, Fillory’s magical barriers are failing, and barbarians from the north have invaded. To save their beloved world from extinction, Eliot and Janet, High King and Queen of Fillory, must embark on a final, dangerous quest.

Quentin’s adventure takes him from Antarctica to the enchanted Neitherlands, where he finds old friends. But all roads lead back to Fillory, where Quentin must put things right, or die trying

My Review

Two stories weave around each other, that of the exiled Quentin, trying to make a new life for himself outside of Fillory, and that of Elliot and Janet, High King and Queen of Fillory, who must save the dying kingdom. The two stories converge after a disastrous robbery attempt retrieves a lost diary.

This is an enjoyable and entertaining fantasy, but a difficult and confusing one to read if you haven’t read the earlier books. The characters each have individual stories all wrapped around each other, which is stated explicitly in the thoughts of several characters. I found the writing style engaging but occasionally like listening to an absent minded storyteller who gets distracted easily. The world of Fillory is richly drawn, and imagined in the smallest detail. It reminds me of Narnia, but for grown-ups.






Scout Killers are a five piece alternative rock band from Bath UK, their new album, Stand your ground, was released on 12th December 2014, and I am a very lazy reviewer (sorry guys) who hasn’t had time to review this album before now.


I quite liked this album, the impression I got from it was one of defiance, melancholy and hope.  3/5


Prince Lestat

Anne Rice


Published: 30th October 2014
Chatto & Windus
Hardback: 480 pages
ISBN13: 9780701189433

Anne Rice is back after 11 years with The Vampire Chronicles’s 11th outing; the blood drinkers of the world have multiplied since Akasha’a demise and now they’re squabbling like little children. Armand, Louis and their little coven have taken over in New York, Maharet, Mekare and Khayman have disappeared in to the jungles of South America, and Lestat has gone a-wandering in despair. Eventually the crisis, a Voice that talks ancient vampires in to immolating fledglings, and the begging of much older vampires, calls Lestat back to New York from his castle in France.

A mix of present tense  and flashbacks, this book has a slightly different structure to the other books in the series, most of which are written in the past-tense. The writing style is also different, slightly less elaborate and high flown, but definitely in the Gothic genre, and certainly better than some of the earlier books, except the first three. Having read The Wolf Gift last year, I was aware of the development in Anne Rice’s writing style, and this time it works quite well.

I get the feeling that the author is finishing one series and opening up a new series; the newer characters, with Lestat and his friends as backgound, would make interesting reading, especially the fledglings Viktor and Rose. It was also fairly obvious from the start how this novel would end and who the Voice is.


Words Onscreen

The Fate of Reading in a Digital World
Naomi S. Baron

Oxford University Press
6th February 2015

ISBN: 9780199315765
Price: 24.95
Currency: USD
Edition: Hardcover


People have been reading on computer screens for several decades now, predating popularization of personal computers and widespread use of the internet. But it was the rise of eReaders and tablets that caused digital reading to explode. In 2007, Amazon introduced its first Kindle. Three years later, Apple debuted the iPad. Meanwhile, as mobile phone technology improved and smartphones proliferated, the phone became another vital reading platform.

In Words Onscreen, Naomi Baron, an expert on language and technology, explores how technology is reshaping our understanding of what it means to read. Digital reading is increasingly popular. Reading onscreen has many virtues, including convenience, potential cost-savings, and the opportunity to bring free access to books and other written materials to people around the world. Yet, Baron argues, the virtues of eReading are matched with drawbacks. Users are easily distracted by other temptations on their devices, multitasking is rampant, and screens coax us to skim rather than read in-depth. What is more, if the way we read is changing, so is the way we write. In response to changing reading habits, many authors and publishers are producing shorter works and ones that don’t require reflection or close reading.

In her tour through the new world of eReading, Baron weights the value of reading physical print versus online text, including the question of what long-standing benefits of reading might be lost if we go overwhelmingly digital. She also probes how the internet is shifting reading from being a solitary experience to a social one, and the reasons why eReading has taken off in some countries, especially the United States and United Kingdom, but not others, like France and Japan. Reaching past the hype on both sides of the discussion, Baron draws upon her own cross-cultural studies to offer a clear-eyed and balanced analysis of the ways technology is affecting the ways we read today–and what the future might bring.

My Review
While I found this book interesting, especially in the discussion of cross-cultural reading habits, I also found it unbalanced. There’s a strain of book snobbery running through it, and an underlying assumption that the reader agrees with the writer; there’s a stated bias that if you want to read literature you have to read print, but ‘light’ fiction is fine as ebooks because you’re never going to read it again anyway.

Other than that irritation, and the irony of my reading, in a close fashion, a book who’s main point is that ebooks don’t encourage close reading, it was refreshing to see evidence based discussion of twenty-first century reading habits. The evidence has its short comings – the questions weren’t standardised and changed regularly, the individual sample groups were small and were from a narrow age range – but the picture formed shows that while ebooks are considered to have advantages – the library in my backpack -, print books still hold a special place in many cultures. This is because of the physical nature of books; we like how they feel, how they look and smell.

Certainly a good start if you want to understand modern reading habits.


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