Burn Our Bodies Down Sparked Plenty of Intrigue

***Received from Netgalley in exchange for review- but any spicy takes are all me!***

burn our bodies downThere’s no two ways about it: this is an unusual book. At its heart a mystery- yet with its heavy dose of the supernatural and its hints of horror, this isn’t you run-of-the-mill YA. It’s surreal, speculative and a little out there. But what can you expect from the author who gave us Wilder Girls? And yes, I feel it’s necessary to compare it to the Wilder Girls, because I’m beginning to feel like this author is doing so much of her own thing, she’s only truly comparable with herself… and that’s rather thrilling.

Despite a somewhat meandering (but still intriguing) start, the plot has potency. The author has a real gift for drawing you into her world and vividly set the scene. Not to mention the characters she casts to bring the story to life- they are all fractured in their own way, yet reflect back parts of reality. They carry the oddness and the moody tone. Again, it doesn’t quite remind me of anything else.

Then there’s the mystery itself. Full of those kind of jump scares that keep you on your toes and creepy realisations that set your hair on end. The mash-up of genres is interesting, giving answers and raising more questions still. I got a sense of a mythic elements, threading through the narrative. I did see some of the outcomes coming- though that hardly matters. It’s the kind of story that enjoys giving you bits and pieces- just so the slow-dawning terror of what is really going on can freak you out all the more. Plus, this does give you a more tangible ending than Wilder Girls (though I can’t actually decide which one is ultimately more unsettling).

And that’s really all I can say about it without getting into spoilers. I wrote a lot of things down in my notes that make no sense out of context (which is unfortunate, because it’s quite funny reading them back and seeing how my brain coped with the all the *whoas* this book delivered 😉).

I easily burned through this in a day and got more than a few chills along the way. And it definitely stands out as something a little bit different. (Also I have to mention how incredible I think that cover is!!)

Rating: 4/5 bananas

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So, have you read this? Do you plan to? Or have you read the author’s other work? Let me know in the comments!

An Honest Report on Code Name Verity: It Soars Above Expectations!

code name verity20th January, 2020

Report #CodeNameVerity

Truly, this is one of the best WW2 books I’ve ever read. Saying that this reveals the realities of being a war time spy and pilot fails to do it justice- for what this story really manages to record is the untold depths of real friendship.

audiobook2The first thing I need to state for the record is that the audiobook was excellent. Both performers were *on point*. I felt they captured the voicey nature of the writing and gave a strong sense of setting through their acting. They brought the vivid characters to life with their delivery- capturing every little piece of their personalities, from Verity’s wry humour to Maddy’s goodness. I also really appreciated their regional accents! (actually, that’s just one example of the authenticity here)

Second on the agenda: this was an exceptionally well written novel. I loved how it was structured- giving us clues and then decoding the narrative. I also really liked the construct of confessions and reports- complete with interjections. It added so many layers to the story, showing that the truth is not always so straightforward. Annnd I have to be careful with my words, because I don’t want to spoil anything.

Plot-wise, this was terrifically thrilling. It flew from intense descriptions and emotional moments, right into action. Employing all kinds of tricks and turns- so you never knew what was going to hit you next. While it was possible to predict the ending, you were only given a glimpse from a bird’s eye view. By the time it was upon me, my heart was already freewheeling towards the ground.

Most of all, however, I wasn’t expecting this book to have quite as much depth as it did. For it didn’t just make me feel, it made me think as well. It dealt with complex issues in a way I rarely see in YA.

This was honestly wonderful. I just can’t keep my feelings for this book a secret; I love everything about it (even the author’s afterword!) And that’s all there is to say about it.

“Kiss me Hardy!”

– O. L.

Rating: 5/5 bananas

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So, have you read Code Name Verity? Do you plan to? Let me know in the comments!

Why I Didn’t Like Girl Woman Other

okay, if you’re looking for another glowing review, this isn’t going to be it

you’ll have to find someone else to tell you what a “seminal piece of fiction” it is

because I hated this so much I had to bite the inside of my cheek to keep from screaming

and look, I can fail at using punctuation too

it’s not exactly a challenge

Okay enough of that. I’m going to write this properly because I’m not a total wanker. I wouldn’t, say, write an entire book this way. That would be insufferable. That would be basically unreadable. That would make you think you’d lost your mind if you read it knowing it had won the Booker Prize… Oh wait, this book did all of those things.

Look, usually I try to soften the blow with negative reviews, but there’s no way around how much I hated this book. For me, this is just another in a long line of prizewinning books that I pored over trying to find *something* of merit. I picked it up, put it down, picked it up again, persisted once more… and still found it wanting. Despite all the praise that’s heaped on this book, I couldn’t see any hidden quality to it. I know I’m in the minority with this, but I’ve just got to come out and say it: THE EMPEROR HAS NO CLOTHES!

With a million run on sentences and no punctuation, the book is near unintelligible. It comes across as mindless rambling. The style is much like listening to half a conversation a stranger is having on the phone- you vaguely know it’s important to them… but you also don’t care and wish they’d shut up because this is the quiet carriage dammit and you’re trying to mind your own business. Amazingly, on top of being pointlessly bloated, the writing also manages to be stodgy and flat at the same time. It’s almost impressive how it’s been gutted of any life. There’s no delicacy to the wording or vibrancy to the imagery (ha, what imagery?) It’s just stripped bare and a little awkward for it. Naturally this somewhat dents the reading experience, leaving very little emotional impact, despite (what little there is of) the narrative being very graphic.

Structurally, it’s all over the place. Each story is attempting to do something like Gyasi, linking individual stories into one overarching narrative. Except this can’t pull that off. Coming across as a completely disparate narrative, the strands between stories stretch thin. And this was made worse by the knowledge that they’re *supposed* to be close (friends and even family). But the way it was written meant the impression was overly fragmented and I could barely tell them apart in my head. Particularly as there was no differentiation in voice and they all used the same “lexicon”. The way they all sounded the same (and felt the same) resembled a hive mind.

Apparently, the reason I had to suffer through this is because it’s “experimental”. Though that’s not much of an excuse. Because, you see, we already have this thing called short stories and we even have this thing called short story collections! I know- incredible! It’s less original, more irritating. It’s just doing what other people have done before, but badly. It kinda reminds me of when sound sculpture was a thing (which just amounted to off-key singing).

This also managed to commit the cardinal sin of being boring on top of infuriatingly written. That’s because it’s full of political diatribes. Unless you love being lectured to by most of the “characters” in this book, you’re not likely to enjoy this read.

And, of course, as I’ve come to expect from political manifestos masquerading as literature, a lot of the opinions are logically incoherent. My favourite example was when a character insists she’s “not a victim”, after chewing our ear off for pages about how she is in fact a victim. The book was basically gaslighting me at that point. I did, however, find it amusing how it ribs Derrida (whilst basically being 99% based on his philosophy). If I didn’t hate everything else about this book, I’d give it points for that.

So, there you go. I believe this has managed to knock even my least favourite books off their pedestal. Most of the time I like to be gentle when I break up with a book, but in this case all I can say is “nah, it’s not me, IT’S YOU!” I don’t think there’s anything redeemable about it. It was insipid, sneering and stupid.

Rating: banana peel

So, dare I ask, do you plan to read this one? Or have you read it already? Let me know in the comments!

The Invisible Life of Addie Larue is Unforgettable

invisible life of addie larueThere’s something exquisitely mysterious about this book. It’s the kind of novel that slips into your periphery as you read, so that you feel it following you around, haunting your every step. It’s the kind of novel you think you’ve witnessed before- and yet I can guarantee you’ve never seen it play out quite like this. Because, while V E Schwab has always been a very clever writer, this is the cleverest of her works.

The story, on the surface, appears to be simple: girl makes a dangerous wish and is cursed with unforeseen circumstances. However, there’s nothing straightforward about this from the start. You see, the deal itself is a curious affair. Yes, in the typical fairy tale tradition the catch costs her everything. Yes, the consequences fit the request. Yes, the devilish antagonist behind all this pulls the strings to torment her throughout. Still, there’s a part of this particular curse that ties the darkness to her, making the binds a little more complex. Unlike any other story of this nature, the deal touches both parties.

And a lot of this comes down to the fact that Addie Larue is an entirely enigmatic character. She’s a complicated protagonist, brought to life with memorable details, from the constellation of freckles on her face to the dreams she holds close to her harrowing suffering. And still, I haven’t come close to covering who she is.

Twining her life with art, we see that she is the ultimate muse. Wherever she walks she brings inspiration. Though she is frozen in time, unable to change, she does develop over the course of the narrative. It’s a subtle change, keeping the core of the character intact, but shifting her attitudes so she’s a better, bolder version of herself. I loved this expansion of confidence. And I admired how it showed her creative streak in more ways than one. And I liked how it twined with her constantly budding relationships.

Speaking of relationships, there are many that were powerfully explored. Not just romantic relationships. Friendships were given space to bloom. Romance is often featured in the book- and yet for me it was the friendships that will stand the test of time.

Even better, there is a plot worth selling your soul for. I glided through the book, unable to put it down, though I thought the path it was taking was clear. Of course, in typical Schwab fashion, she pulled a blinder at the end. Unusual, unexpected and an absolute stroke of brilliance, the ending is *perfection*. The more I think about it, the better it becomes. And I would love to talk about this in more depth- but I won’t for fear of *spoilers*. It’s the kind of story you have to watch out for yourself. One thing’s for certain: I won’t be forgetting this book in a hurry.

Rating: 5/5 bananas

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So, have you read The Invisible Life of Addie Larue? Can you see yourself picking it up? Let me know in the comments!

Alias Grace was a Gem Hidden in Plain Sight

I committed a cardinal sin with this book: I started watching the TV show first. I know, I know, that’s a crime as a bookaholic! Truth be told, I did it because I was on the fence over whether I wanted to try more Atwood. While I was impressed with her writing in Handmaid’s Tale, the actual story wasn’t for me. But then Netflix went and tempted me with this beauty.

Telling of a notorious murderess, this is an intriguing historical murder mystery. Pacey and languid in equal parts, I found myself racing to the end of the book and the show at the same time! (such that the two are blurred together in my mind). The lilting tone of the writing and the specificity of the imagery took me on a journey. My only issue is that Atwood has an aversion to speech marks for some indecipherable reason- the only consequence of which is to blur the words on the page. But otherwise, I was captivated.

Twining real life events with hints of the supernatural twists the tale into a unique patchwork-puzzle. Even with all the pieces, it’s impossible to solve… and for me that makes it a little bit special. The text never fully commits to vindicating or condemning Grace- and for me that is the perfect solution. I am sure there are feminist interpretations (indeed I’ve seen a few) that blame all the negative male behaviour for everything bad the women do… and yet neither the book nor the show fully commits to that argument. Which is a good thing- not least because this would take away the responsibility (and therefore power) of its female cast.

And, because of this ambiguity, I can’t stop thinking about it. I confess after finishing, I fell down an (unsatisfactory) research rabbithole, trying to get to the bottom of the true story! One thing’s for certain, Grace has been haunting me ever since I first caught her eye.

Rating: 4/5 bananas

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So, have you read this? Do you plan to? And what Atwood (other than the Handmaid’s Tale) would you recommend? Let me know in the comments!

Settling in for Home Before Dark was… Unsettling!

***Received from Netgalley in exchange for review, but I’m the one trembling with excitement about this book!***

home before darkWelcome, welcome! Today I have a treat for you if you like something a little tricksy- let me show you around. Here we enter into a story that has all the hallmarks of a spinechilling thriller: a haunted house vibe, a tensely told plot and even hints of creepy children in the flashbacks.

Step over the threshold and this is a multi-storied narrative. It contains a story within a story in a unique way. For this is a story that takes place over two timelines- a mystery that unfolded twenty-five years earlier and led to a family fleeing in the middle of the night… and the present day where the daughter tries to uncover what the hell happened. Problem is, the main clue she has her (now deceased) father’s bestselling, “true” account… which she’s a little sceptical about.

And it’s this motivation that makes it such a compelling read. Not only is she clearly haunted by what happened in this house, she’s also troubled by her father’s runaway success story. Thrusting her into the spotlight, it made me think of the troubling trend of child stars. Her foundational motivation for getting involved in this case is unshakeable. Even better, her character is intrinsically built around resolving her childhood trauma. It really strengthens the story.

Of course, it’s not a cut and dry situation. Unlocking what happened uncovers revelation after revelation. The key is elusive. I kept feeling like I had all the pieces to the puzzle… yet couldn’t quite put it together. To complicate the matter even further, Sager proves that memory is not always to be trusted. The narrative becomes lost in the labyrinthine passages of Baneberry Hall. Then- suddenly- the answer pounces on you and throws you into a frenzy of “aha”s. This is, after all, the kind of thriller that makes perfect sense when you think about it.

So, needless to say my visit was an experience… one I won’t forget in a hurry! 😉 I hope you enjoyed that quick open house and got a taste for what’s inside! Do come back and visit any time! Please take some bananas for the road…

Rating: 5/5 bananas

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And let me know: do you plan on coming to stay?

The Divinity of the Diviners – Series Review!

audiobook2What a devilishly delightful series! Amazingly atmospheric and pos-i-tutely petrifying at times, this 1920s New York ghost story will give you a run for your money. I listened to the audiobooks for this series and every step of the way was a real showstopper. January Lavoy did an unbelievable job bringing the world, characters and writing to life! It’s the best performance I’ve heard in a while!

While this does carry a lot of the hallmarks of YA- which we’ll get to later- this certainly stands out from the crowd. Taking countless twists and turns, these books are jam packed with plots and subplots. Admittedly that’s because these are hefty tomes, so if you pick them up, you’ll be in it for the long haul (especially if you go with the audiobook version- which I’ll push forever 😉).

However, given this is such a character driven story, a lot of the time is spent getting to know the stars of the show inside and out. For me, what makes these books special is how much each of the personalities shine in turn. I especially loved book 2, Lair of Dreams, with its focus shifting to my favourites, the adorably debonair Henry and the lovely Ling! Even my least favourite heroine, the rather sanctimonious Mabel, had a real crisis of personality, realising she couldn’t just believe in her own goodness to win out. And that’s just one example of the brilliant multi-faceted complexity! 

I also loved that these books were brimming with romantic subplots. And, I can’t believe I’m saying this, it even had a love triangle that really works! Not only was it done in a believable way, it also doesn’t contain cheating! (it doesn’t hurt that my ship sailed!) And if that trope doesn’t tempt you (which I get) then have no fear- this also has forbidden love, hate to love, fake dating, slow burn and more!

Now, for me, there were a few downsides. As much as I appreciated the general idea that history rises from the grave and that we have to learn to hear the ghosts of our past, I did think the messaging took over from time to time. Once again, this was a case of me not enjoying the insertion (of what was ostensibly modern) politics into fiction. Granted, I believe there was an attempt at rousing people into being better… but when there are passages on the tragedy of massacred buffalo, I had to come to the conclusion that this was not about taking the good with the bad. This was the story of a nation that has fallen out of love with itself. Perhaps it is witnessing the fires burning from across the pond, but I personally find that rather depressing.

Then there was the ending. Though I divined bits and pieces, I didn’t entirely see where it was heading. There was betrayal, heartbreak and horror. I thought victory would come at a high cost indeed… until a last second change that robbed me of that emotional impact. Now, entering *spoiler territory*, so highlight to read on… I personally felt like it made sense to have Isaiah defeat the King of Crows. When he realised that there was no story in the coat, it was reminiscent of the boy in Emperor’s New Clothes. But to have Isaiah come back from the dead just felt cheap. Yes, it was in the spirit of the story, yet it would have been better for the story to have him defeat the villain purely for the good of his family and move on. Dark as that might have been, the story would have been more beautiful for it.

Still, even if it wasn’t perfect, I enjoyed the hell out of this series! It delivered every emotion, from genuine *chills* to romantic *feels*. The perfect YA series for Spooktober that’s for sure. And I really can recommend the audiobook version- it was ab-so-lutely the cats pyjamas!

Rating: 4/5 bananas

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So, have you read the Diviners series? Do you plan to? Let me know in the comments!

Once and Future Witches was Beautifully Crafted!

***I SOLD MY SOUL TO NETGALLEY FOR THIS COPY AND WOULD DO IT AGAIN***

***Received from Netgalley in exchange for review- but the blessings I will bestow on this beauteous offering are all from me***

once and future witchesCast your mind back to January. Before we all fell under the corona curse, I was blessed to read a wondrous book called Ten Thousand Doors of January. Such was the enchantment of the narrative, I was sure that no other book I read this year could surpass it… Until now. For, Once and Future Witches has utterly bewitched me.

Before we get started, I must confess I lost my notes for this review. No matter how much I hunted for them, those devilish scribblings couldn’t be found. Never fear, however- I shall scry my memories to tell you why you should read this wickedly clever twist on Arthurian legends and fairy tales. With legendary skill, Harrow roots this story in the oral tradition, telling of ancient tales resurrected and revived into something new (actually, given all that, it’s kind of fitting that my notes vanished into the aether).

Masterfully written, this has the kind of charm you cannot put into words. Dressed in darkness and showing off its witchy wares, this captivated me from the start. Weaving its magic steadily through the pages, I was cloaked in its mystifying atmosphere. Hinting at history, yet entirely made up- this ties threads together that don’t really belong in one story. It shouldn’t really work- and yet, as if by magic, they all blend together in a remarkable tapestry. In fact, the story snaps so many conventions in its crooked fingers, pointing us in a dazzling new direction… which I suppose just shows that some rules were made to be broken 😉

witchy monkey2I’ll admit, I’ve always had a soft spot for witches. Unconventional and with pinch of dubious intent, they feed my need for anti-heroines. And these were no exception! They weren’t your average “good girls” nor were they cackling caricatures- they were entirely fleshed out as individuals. Mirroring archetypes, they came to life thanks to their distinct personalities, steady development and most importantly their relationship with each other. Beyond the romances and friendships, my favourite part of this story was how it explored the complexities of sisterhood. Evil brews throughout the story- yet they learn to stand together in the face of it.

The plot was quite something to behold. For a spell, I did wonder where the story was heading. But ultimately, it comes full circle, setting a blaze of drama and thrilling me to the core. And there are real costs at the end of it. The results were haunting; it left a shadow in its wake.

Stories are layered atop of stories here. While some of these will be familiar, others are utterly unique. Covering the woman’s suffrage movement and more, this delved into areas I usually prefer not to see in my fiction… but given Harrow’s talent I can’t pretend to have been all that bothered by it. Whether I agreed with every bit of its themes or not, this was a tale that held a great deal of power. It enthralled me even in its gloom. It conjured more beauty than I ever could have imagined possible. And you really can’t ask for more than that.

Rating: one eye of newt, three dead mans toes, some serpents teeth…

Just kidding: 5/5 bananas of course!

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So, have you read either of Alix E Harrow’s books? Do you plan to? Let me know in the comments!

Aurora Burning *BREATHED FIRE* Into the Series!

aurora burningHoly Cake! That was incredible! After the *astronomical* success of Aurora Rising, I had a feeling I would enjoy the heck out of the sequel… but I had no idea what a truly wild ride it would be. This launched the series into a whole other dimension of awesome!

A blast from the opening, we were given a quick recap from friendly robot Magellan and then we have lift off. Thrown right back into the action from the off! This time around, listening to the audiobook, I found the pace and tone even more intense.

Because what a plot that was! Tumbling, turning, freewheeling through space! This gives “space opera” a terrific new timbre. I loved that it was a more fantastical kind of sci fi- it’s the kind that really appeals to me! More than that, these two authors really know how to take traditional tropes and give them a fun twist.

Speaking of twists, this had more than a few hidden in its folds. While I guessed one, it was such an excellent plot point that the anticipation of its reveal made it all the more exciting. I was waiting for the other shoe to drop… and when it did it changed everything. So much so that I didn’t see all the other shocks coming. Just as I thought I was in safe territory, everything exploded. Dramageddon hit in ways I couldn’t believe!

Suffice to say, it was an ending to die for… And yet, for all that, it’s a surprisingly human story. Full of budding romances and deep relationships. Journeying through trauma and grief in a heartfelt way. Watching the characters grow in beautiful ways.

… And I cannot wait to see where they all end up! I LOVE the direction they took with this sequel- it certainly builds on everything that came before. By far one of the most fun reads of the year!

Rating: 5/5 bananas

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So, have you tried the Aurora Cycle? Do you plan to? Let me know in the comments!

My Battle with War of Art

war of artOof this was a painful one for me to read. If you liked it, then more power to you, but for me this was an uphill battle from the start. Look elsewhere for positive reviews, because I’m going to go all in on this one. I don’t want any fights to break out, I just found this book ridiculous. Something (well a lot of things) really rubbed me the wrong way here.

My issues started with the childish personification of “Resistance”. And, no, that’s not my capitalisation. The author does that to make it seem Oh So Very Important. To me, this idea that “People have Resistance” didn’t come across as especially profound. It just seemed like a rather juvenile way to say sometimes people procrastinate. Well, that’s how the idea starts out- it gets a lot more ludicrous.

Within a short amount of time, the author proceeds to call *EVERYTHING* “Resistance”. If you’re out walking your dog, that’s Resistance. If you’re having sex, that’s Resistance. And if you’ve got a mental health problem, well guess what? That’s Resistance. Thankfully he does acknowledge some mental health problems are real (and not marketing ploys like other issues)… buuut also calls them Resistance. Great expert analysis there.

Who am I kidding? This guy knows jack shit about anything. Look, I get it, self help books tend to be light on facts- however this takes it to a whole other level! He plucks statistics like “70% of doctors think there’s nothing wrong with their patients” out of his arse and I’m over here thinking WORKS CITED?! I mean, even if that wasn’t an opinion, I’d like to know where he got that figure from. I also don’t think opinions should be stated as facts by the way- for instance I get that he hates critics, yet sadly for him it’s not true that no one successful ever critiques anything. Still, my favourite of his hilariously wrong “facts” was this:

“You know, Hitler wanted to be an artist. At eighteen he took his inheritance, seven hundred kronen, and moved to Vienna to live and study. He applied to the Academy of Fine Arts and later to the School of Architecture. Ever see one of his paintings? Neither have I. Resistance beat him. Call it an overstatement, but I’ll say it anyway: it was easier for Hitler to start World War II than it was for him to face a blank square of canvas.”

I hate to burst his bubble about Hitler, but a quick google search could have corrected this assumption. Hitler painted plenty- although, as is typical of narcissists, they’re not up to much. Perhaps- and you can call this an overstatement if you like- if Hitler hadn’t been a raging psychopathic narcissist he wouldn’t have started WWII. Or maybe Hitler was resisting his Resistance and following his dreams- after all, according to this author, foisting your opinions onto the world could also be living up to your potential 😉 And if all that sounds silly, that’s because it is. I’m taking this book as seriously as that paragraph deserves.

What makes this even more ludicrous is how so often the ideas put forward are later contradicted. For instance, you know how I mentioned that he called sex Resistance? Well you can also be Resisting having sex (so I suppose that’s resisting resistance?) Early in the book, he says not to worry about what you’re writing, as long as you do it (BTW that’s how you end up with books like this in the world). He feeds into one of my pet peeves of favouring money over fulfilment; he talks about obsessing with craft over writing… BUT THEN decides to go full-on kooky in the final part. Look, I may not agree with being purely practical, yet you can hardly call people precious when you invoke the Muses. That’s about as flighty an idea as you can get. It’s just so unbelievably hypocritical.

Would I say there’s nothing of value in it? No, but frankly I don’t want to go digging through mud, looking for the occasional (cheap) gem. Even if I agreed with one or two of the ideas (like not giving into victimhood and continuing on after success) I’m afraid it’s too little, too late. Frankly, if I’d never heard those ideas before (which, obviously I have cos they’re not very original) I wouldn’t have taken them to heart coming from this terrible book.

I found this so lazy that I’d guess it was far more effort for me to read than it was to write. It was grandiose and pompous, while at the same time being utterly mundane. It may not be the worst book in the world, but I can’t give it more than:

A banana peel!

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Yeah that was a little harsh- I’m sorry! Some books just wind me up! Have you read this? Did you get more out of it than me? Do you (still) plan to read it after my review? Let me know in the comments!