The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie

Throughout her career, Agatha Christie wrote an enormous number of novels and today her name is synonymous with detective fiction. Strangely, even though I have a fondness for detective fiction and for classics in general, I somehow never got around to reading anything by her. Recently, I decided to change that and read her first novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, with a view to reading all of them in order.

So what can I say about this, other than that it’s great? In addition to being Agatha Christie’s first novel, it’s also the first appearance of Hercule Poirot, an eccentric former police officer who is a refugee from Belgium. The story is told from the perspective of Arthur Hastings, who seeks out Poirot to help him with an investigation into the death of a woman named Emily Inglethorpe who died under mysterious circumstance.

It really has all the staples of the genre. A stately home with several people in it, multiple suspects with their own motivations and a trail of clues for you to follow at your own rate. Poirot works to piece it together, witholding many of his suspicions from Hastings, but following different lines of investigations and dropping cryptic clues as to his suspicions. In the context of all that came later, this novel was a real trend setter.

Though I didn’t do it myself (I was more than happy to just come along for the ride), I think the way the story is told means that a reader could figure out what happened if they really tried to. As for the ultimate reveal of the murderer, I was quite surprised, but I loved how everything fit together in the explanation at the end.

The most appealing aspect of the novel is Poirot himself. I suppose I’m always drawn to charming eccentrics, but I particularly like the way that he’s so personable and jolly all the time. He’s quite a contrast to my other favourite detective, Sherlock Holmes – who nicely enough, gets mentioned near the start, with someone comparing Poirot to him. I enjoyed this reference quite a lot, particularly as it reminded me how Holmes being compared to C. Auguste Dupin (an even earlier detective) in A Study in Scarlet. It’s also refreshing to have a heroic protagonist who’s a refugee as well.

It’s a relatively short novel and it makes for pleasant, easy reading. I quite enjoyed Christie’s writing style and, frankly, I’m excited to see what happens in the rest of her books. If you enjoy a mystery, I think you’ll enjoy this.

Rating: 8.5/10

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The Adventures of Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi

Thanks in part, to Disney, everybody has heard of Pinocchio. The character is such a huge part of our culture that his name is regularly used to describe somebody who lies a lot. Considering the book has had such a long-lasting impact, I couldn’t resist giving it a try. Not that I don’t enjoy classical children’s literature anyway.

So, anyway, a wood carver called Geppetto somehow gets his hands on some living, intelligent wood and so, when he carves it into a marionette of a boy, the boy comes to life and is capable of talking and moving around. I do enjoy things that are generally quite absurd, so for me, this was a solid start.

Once he’s been created though, Pinocchio really is a nasty little creature. He soon causes Geppetto to be wrongly imprisoned for child abuse, then before long, he murders an intelligent, sentient being mid-conversation with him. Throughout the book, Pinocchio is a brat, treating people awfully and generally misbehaving, then consequently crying out for his father when things turn against him.

I don’t know if we’re supposed view Pinocchio as a evil menace, or as an ignorant being who doesn’t yet understand how one is supposed to behave within society, but having him murder somebody so early on does make it rather hard to warm to him. Having said that, the person Pinocchio murders comes back as a ghost a little later, then later still, is just alive again with no explanation, so that does negate the seriousness of his actions somewhat.

As I’m sure you can tell from what I’ve said already, it’s quite a weird book. It’s intentionally written in the style of a fairy tale, but as somebody who has read quite a lot of fairy tales, I feel like they’re generally a little more structured, or at least have more logic behind them than this bizarre sequence of events does. I have to admit, I did rather enjoy this aspect of it.

Although, what I didn’t enjoy was it’s very clumsy attempt at moralising. Now, I love me some morals in my stories, but only when it’s done well (and even if it’s not done well, sometimes, if I think the message is important enough, I still like), but the morals in Pinocchio are so badly done and often no at all agreeable (but, hey, it was the nineteenth century).

On it surface, the book is telling children to behave themselves, tell the truth and listen to their parents. Okay, That’s reasonable – a good take-away for kids. But on the flip side of that, it kind of has the message of “people who are bad deserve to have a terrible fate”. There’s a particularly silly bit towards the end where Geppetto tells Pinocchio “Remember to always show kindness to everybody you meet, no matter what” then they meet a couple of people who had tricked Pinocchio earlier on and who are now on the brink of death and in need of help – Pinocchio coldly looks the other way and refuses to help and Geppetto doesn’t have anything to say about it. The implication is that they got what they deserved and it wouldn’t even have so much of a problem with that on its own, but coming straight after “always show kindness to others” makes the whole thing a bit ridiculous. Was it intentional? Maybe, I don’t know. It gave me a good laugh, either way.

I think the two aspects that surprised me the most were its silliness and its darkness. I mentioned above that it has a message about bad people getting what they deserve, well, that extends to include children. There’s one trouble-making boy (who’s no worse than Pinocchio) and he ends up dying in slavery. Poor boy. Pinocchio himself faces death on a number of occasions too, but that sneaky little weasel always manages to get out of it in the end.

All in all, I did enjoy this book, but I do see that it has a lot of flaws, worst of all is the fact that the writing style seems quite bland a lot of the time. It could have generated a lot of humour around its absurdity, but it never really does. It’s a very base-level writing style that never really does more than tell you what’s happening or what you’re supposed to think. I guess this is a side effect of it having been written for children originally and me reading it as an adult, but it did leave me feeling unengaged a lot of the time, even if I did enjoy the overall journey. (Worth noting is that some of these problems may be limited to the translation that I read, but unfortunately, my version does not credit the translator, so I am not able to specify which version I read).

Rating: 5.9/10

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The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

This is a book that should need no introduction, but for the very few who don’t know: Anne Frank was a young Jewish girl living in Amsterdam during the Second World War. She and her family had to go into hiding in a secret annex and Anne kept a diary about her life there. Very sadly, Anne would go on to become a victim of the Holocaust, along with the majority of her family.

Anne expressed several times throughout the book that she wants to be a writer and that she would like to turn her diary into a published record of her experiences and it’s good to know that her word actually got out and became such a huge success, though of course the circumstances under which it happened were heart-breaking.

I’ve seen some people claim that Anne’s diary is ‘boring’ and that it’s just about teenage angst and the day to day squabbles and tensions of the families who found themselves thrust together. I never found it boring myself, but I think that these people are kind of missing point. I feel that what this book does a superb job of highlighting is that the victims of the Holocaust were regular people just like you or I.

Indeed, even though Anne Frank and I are very different people who have lead enormously different lives, as I was reading, I related to her. She dealt with the same frustrations and reflections that we all do and where she succeeded as a writer was in capturing the very essence of her personality in words. Often I thought she had some very intelligent reflections to make about herself and the world, especially for her age.

Sometimes she writes about the horrible realities of life in hiding, while other times she writes her thoughts about the people she’s living with and highlights things that she likes or dislikes. It just goes to show how the human spirit can preserver and get used to even the most horrible of circumstances.

I was particularly surprised by the chapters where she talks about her sexuality. At one point, she mentions that she finds herself drawn to the naked female body and says that she wishes that she had a girlfriend. I have never seen Anne Frank described as an historic queer figure before and I think that that’s a shame, because I think that’s pretty significant. It highlights that the LGBT community were also victims of the Holocaust and is valuable as an historic account of a queer person’s experiences, which I don’t believe we see enough of.

At times, the book could be difficult to read. From time to time, Anne begins to wonder about what her life will be like once the Nazis have been defeated. Despite moments of despair, she remains quite optimistic throughout and holds on to a vision of her future and it’s upsetting to know that she was never allowed to fulfil her dreams or live her life to its natural end. I think the most difficult part of all was just when it suddenly ends – I found myself unable to stop imagining what must have happened next and what must have been going through her mind. It was horrible – but it’s something everybody should read. It’s a cliché to say, but if history is forgotten, we are doomed to repeat it.

As this book is a diary, and therefore very intimately written, I found myself growing very fond of Anne. It genuinely felt like I knew her and I admired her for her optimism, progressive attitudes and her desire to write. Ultimately, I think of her as a very inspirational figure and her murder at the hands of the Nazis robbed the world of a truly wonderful person and robbed an innocent girl of her bright future.

Before reading this, I had learned in school that some people question the legitimacy of this book, claiming that Anne didn’t really write it, that it was written after the fact etc. I didn’t think it was that likely, but since it was taught in school, I thought I’d so a bit of research before reading. As it happens, the source of these claims are holocaust deniers and in actuality the Netherlands Institute for War Documentation did a forensic investigation into the original documents in 1980 in order to determine whether or not they were legitimate and found that, yes, it was all real. I felt it was important to mention that here, because in comment sections around the internet, I find people even now who think that this was faked and it’s a shame that people with harmful intentions have successfully damaged the impact of this book to some extent.

The only real criticism of the book that I really agree with, is those who claim that it is somewhat exploitive. I think it’s good that the book has been published and Anne does say herself that she hopes for it to be published in future. However, some of it is very obviously private stuff – for example, at one point she explores her genitals and describes her impressions. I’m not so sure that she’d have liked that to have been published. Reading this made me slightly uncomfortable – having said that, I can understand why it was kept it]n. Without the sections like these, the text less successfully captures every aspect of Anne. It does make her feel more ‘whole’ within the writing (if that makes sense), which then helps the book to more successfully achieve its goal, but I’m torn. I’m not saying that this then makes the whole book bad or unethical, but at very least, it is a bit dodgy.

My version of the book was translated by Susan Massotty and of course, every translation will be a little different, but I think it’s important that everybody try to read at least one version of it. We mustn’t forget the evil done to the Jewish people (and others) in the Holocaust. I know I usually like to give books a score out of ten when I review them, but it feels a little tasteless to do so here. This book stands for something that’s too important to be arbitrarily rated against other books – all I’ll say is that it has my highest recommendation. Anne Frank will always be a hero of mine – a symbol of hope and optimism, even in the darkest times.

Buy it here.

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Mistborn: The Hero of Ages by Brandon Sanderson

The third book in the first Mistborn trilogy is very different to the first two. While the first was a fairly clear-cut case of a ragtag group coming together to overthrow an evil regime and the second was a nuanced book about how to bring peace and stability in the power vacuum that follows the fall of an evil dictator, the third was more about everyone facing the end of the world. Their goals and the course of action they could take to resolve things was much less obvious. For these reasons, the book could feel like it had less direction and overall felt a bit slower than the other two, but it was more than made up for with its fantastic ending.

For me, Vin and Sazed remained the most enjoyable characters throughout. Vin is very much a figure of hope for the world (like Kelsier was, to some extent), while Sazed has changed a lot following the death of Tindwyl at the end of the previous novel. He’s lost his enthusiasm for learning about the world’s religion and has kind of lost all enjoyment in life whatsoever, including his faith in any religion. Going believing all religions, to not caring about any of them creates a fascinating spiritual dilemma for him. Throughout the whole series, Sazed and Vin have been my favourite characters and I found that their ultimate fates brought their character arcs to a fantastic close. I won’t spoil what happens, but it was incredible.

Vin’s own optimism and the way that she keeps working to find solutions to their seemingly unsolvable problems, contrasts nicely against her husband, Elend, who doesn’t give up, but seems very defeatist. While Elend had never been one of my favourite characters, it is interesting to see what ultimately happens; he goes from an idealistic youth with no power, to an in-experienced leader who makes a lot of mistakes, to a much more wary man who puts on a brave face in front of what he might privately consider insurmountable odds. In some ways, his gloominess and cynicism can be a bit annoying, but I do appreciate the evolution the character has undergone. It’s interesting to see him acting as a Mistborn now too – it adds a nice change to his dynamic with Vin.

Speaking of ultimate fates, the fantastic ending that I mentioned is one which provides lots of information about the ways in which Brandon Sanderson’s Cosmere works. There are some pretty mindblowing occurrences and revelations – there’s no way anybody could predict the way that it ends (probably), but it’s very out there. However, unlike other fantasy novels which opt for very out-of-this-world resolutions, this one is easy to follow and makes a lot of sense.

I suppose another aspect that I like about this novel is that it tells the story of a civilisation that’s on the brink of collapse, facing an apocalyptic event that is likely going to bring about the end of the human race. It’s a bleak situation which, to some extent, readers will be able to compare against the state of the world, but the optimistic way in which things are ultimately handled is refreshing.

Another positive to this book was the fact that Spook, as a character, finally comes into his own. While he’s initially the young side character who doesn’t quite fit in, here he starts to become a lot like Kelsier (much more than Vin does), including adopting some of his flaws. Spook was a character who I was kind of indifferent to throughout the first two books, so I was impressed to see the extent to which he grew and developed here, becoming one of my favourite characters for the final book.

All in all, I think I’d say that the second book in the series was my favourite one, but the strength of the ending here was extremely satisfying – much moreso than the endings of the first two novels. If the entire thing had been as good as that, it would easily have been my favourite, but as it happens, chunks of it do feel a bit slow, so I think the second book was my favourite, but if you read the first two, I strongly recommend investing in the second.

Rating: 9.1/10

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One Small Mistake by Dandy Smith

Gosh, this book is going to be hard to review because I have so many conflicting feelings about it. But, anyway, here’s my attempt.

One Small Mistake tells the story of a young writer named Elodie who’s desperate to get a book deal, her possessive friend Jack, and her sister Ada. I don’t want to spoil any of the developments, as there are a lot of big surprises, but it essentially explores the lengths to which Elodie will go to achieve her dream of getting a book deal… and the very serious consequences that follow.

Elodie herself was someone that it’s hard for me to have a clear opinion of. In the early days of the novel, I saw her as somebody who was very single minded and always assumed that everybody in her life was out to get her. Her attitudes about others are often quite negative, but then, her family are often very unfair towards her, so it’s easy to see why somebody might start to think in this way. For some time, I felt actively negatively towards her, because she makes a decision that will cause huge amounts of emotional trauma to the people who are in her life… we later learn that she didn’t actually have a choice here, but the fact remains, that she did make a decision to harm lots of people for her own gain and it’s hard to root for somebody like that… but then, so many awful and terrible things happen to her, that I actually just found myself feeling sorry for her for the majority of the novel. Other times, she came across as extremely naïve and I’ll get to that in a moment.

Then there’s Jack. Gosh. Pretty much as soon as I read this character’s first scenes, I felt uncomfortable. He’s a ridiculously manipulative and possessive person and this, to me, was clear all the way from the start. Elodie, however, never seems to question any of this behaviour, which factors into her naivety, but then, this happens a lot in reality, so it’s not a fault. Having said that, once Jack decides to become more overtly sinister, I felt that he became almost a parody of himself – almost an over-the-top villain, which is a shame because he felt more true to life at first. There was one aspect of him that I also found particularly problematic.

Jack does some terrible, unforgivable things in this book. Most of this is seen through Elodie’s point of view and her opinion is very much “Jack has mental health problems and that’s why he did these bad things” indeed, she has a conversation at one point, where she essentially says that mental health problems are the only reason that somebody would do something really terrible to somebody else. This was another area where Elodie seemed naïve. To me, this seems quite disrespectful to people with mental health conditions and I think it ignores something important: if somebody does something terrible to somebody else, it’s often because the culture they’ve been raised in and the values that have been imposed upon them have lead them to believe that those actions are justifiable – I felt this was particularly true of Jack. To write it off as “mental health” issues stigmatises mental health problems and, here, seems to diminish Jack’s accountability to some extent.

But, anyway, let’s move on to Ada. At first, Ada seems somewhat antagonistic towards Elodie, but she becomes a lot more sympathetic as the novel unfolds – especially once we start to get chapters written from her point of view. Ada is someone who married into what seemed to be an idealistic life, but soon found herself questioning her path in life. She undergoes a great deal of character development and, I would say, becomes a better person throughout the course of the novel. She was definitely my favourite character overall and at each new chapter, I was hoping for it to be from her perspective, rather than Elodie’s. I genuinely liked her.

Next is another controversial point. The book goes out of its way to point out that there is a lot of pressure on women to have babies and that not all women want to do that. For this, I applaud it. There is absolutely too much pressure on women to become mothers and it’s refreshing to have a story where the female characters don’t see parenthood as the overall goal in life. It’s an important issue that needed to be tackled… however, it almost goes in the opposite direction. By this, I mean that it sometimes felt quite spiteful towards mothers and there were even a few snide comments about the changes that a woman’s body undergoes when she has a child, which felt regressive and unnecessary. Of course, it’s reasonable to point out that somebody might not want to go through a process that will cause them to have significant physical changes – but it feels wrong to then cast those changes in a negative light. It felt a little superficial.

Which brings me to another point. One of the morals of the story seems to be that “just because somebody is physically attractive, doesn’t mean that they are a good person” which is a revelation Elodie herself comes to at one point. Of course, this is completely true and something I 100% agree with, but it felt odd for this to be a revelation for a woman in her late twenties. It was another one of those factors which made Elodie seem very naïve – this is the kind of revelation people have when they’re little children, surely?

I realise a lot of what I’ve said here might sound negative, but also, I loved reading this book. I was always looking forward to the next chapter and very keen to see how everything worked out for the characters. In fact, it has also been a book that has caused me to have a lot of discussions with people, making it quite thought-provoking… but then, the majority of my discussions were me saying to people “I disagree with this thing in this book” or “the character in this book seems flawed in this way”. Although then, doesn’t that just show that the author has successfully created nuanced and flawed characters who’s failings and motivations are fun to discuss?

So, in conclusion, this was an enjoyable thriller. I was always keen to see what was going to happen next, it prompted a lot of discussion between me and my friends, it highlights the pressure women have on them to have babies and it also has important things to say about rape and consent. At the same time, it has characters who are flawed in ways that aren’t always properly addressed, it can come across as quite anti-motherhood at times and some of the events that unfold push suspension of disbelief just a little bit too far. Does this make the book good or bad? Well, at the end of the book, Elodie asks a similar question about Jack, weighing up his good deeds with his bad and concludes that instead of calling him good or bad, she’d just say that he was a person. Likewise, I will sum this up by saying that this is a book, a book with all the strengths, virtues and weaknesses you might find in a human being, and a book you should read yourself to form your own opinion.

Rating: 7.7/10

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No One Is Too Small to Make a Difference by Greta Thunberg

Greta Thunberg has been campaigning to raise awareness for the climate crisis since 2018. This book gathers together a selection of her most important and influential speeches on the subject.

For those who don’t know about her message, she’s essentially doing all she can to highlight the fact that the climate crisis poses as existential threat to all human beings. Her speeches rightly calls out world leaders and business owners who are responsible for the largest contributions of carbon into our atmosphere. She draws attention to the fact that while many businesses and governments claim that they are being environmentally friendly, or taking steps to tackle the crisis, the reality is that they are doing very little indeed. She highlights that the rate of change is not nearly enough to save humanity from disaster and depends too much on future technological developments which might not even happen.

It’s bleak and depressing reading, but it is enormously important. Everyone needs to be aware of the reality of the situation and to push back against governments and businesses who are essentially lying to everybody. The fact that she is doing such a good job of getting her message out there does give me a bit of hope, but there’s so much more that needs to be done.

The only real criticism that I have of this book is that because it is a collection of speeches that Thunberg gave to different audiences, occasionally they can be a bit repetitive. Still, perhaps that helps to reinforce her message. Ultimately, I have the utmost respect for her and if the world can change the way things work to combat a pandemic, then we can and should be taking equally drastic measures to combat climate change.

Rating: 9/10

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Moby Dick by Herman Melville

As I’m sure you already know, Moby Dick is widely regarded as one of the best pieces of American literature ever written. I love the classics and I also have a particular soft spot for American literature, so, of course, I was keen to read this book. Unfortunately, it was an experience I found very disappointing.

It starts out well enough, with the main character (Ishmael), narrating how he came to meet Captain Ahab and ultimately ended up joining him for a whaling voyage. This lasts for approximately the first fifth of the book and if the whole thing was written like this, I’d actually think it was an alright sort of book. Unfortunately, once their journey across the ocean began, my enjoyment of the book dropped dramatically.

The problem was that this is a really long book, but not very much happens while they travel across the sea. Chapters are filled with Herman Melville’s knowledge of whales and whaling and I’ll admit that occasionally I’d get to a bit that was kind of interesting, but the problem is that Melville’s knowledge of whales is not 100% accurate. This may be because I have the luxury of modern understanding, but a lot of stuff that he says is just wrong. Are whales mammals or fish? Practically everybody today knows that they are mammals… but Melville spends quite a lot of time talking about how they are fish and not mammals. Other times he just starts talking about non-whale related subjects and trying to make them whale-related, for example, arguing that the dragon in the story of St. George was actually a whale.

But, you know what, I love whales. They’re fascinating and beautiful creatures. If it was just a bunch of longwinded and inaccurate essays about them, I think I’d still have gotten a reasonable amount of enjoyment from the book. Probably the most frustrating thing of all was that he goes to great lengths to try and convince the reader that whaling is a very noble and respectable line of work. Whaling is cruel and barbaric and it almost caused whales to go extinct. This is something Melville would have been surprised by because one of his little essays is about how human beings could never over-hunt whales because there’s just so many of them. Melville himself was a whaler and at times he genuinely seemed to have forgotten he was writing this book in the first person as Ishmael and just slips into talking about his own life and opinions. It comes across quite badly at times.

That aside, there’s the character Queequeg, a Polynesian man. I believe that Melville probably included him in order to try and be progressive and I respect that intent, but it does come across as very patronising and not very well thought out. Ishmael and Queequeg do form a genuinely strong friendship and I liked this a lot. They sleep in the same bed with their arms wrapped around one another and even get married to each other in a tradition that comes from Queequeg’s people. I don’t know if we were supposed to read them as gay, or if this was more to highlight the strength of their friendship (I really like either option), but it’s interesting and refreshing to read. However, throughout the book, Queequeg is referred to a ‘cannibal’ and genuinely treated as someone of lower intelligence. At one point, Ishmael says something along the lines of “of course I respect Queequeg’s religion, even if to me it is the equivalent of an ant worshipping a mushroom.” which I think nicely sums up the patronising way that Queequeg is treated throughout the book, and I don’t think that this is an intentional way of highlighting the prejudice of the time either.

So, as with any book, there were bits that I liked and appreciated. But, gosh, this book felt like a huge chore. Sadly, there was more that I didn’t like than what I did like. It just reads like unstructured rambling a lot of time, with Melville trying to show off that he knows a lot about whales, (when really he actually doesn’t) and only the loosest story to tie it all together. I did kind of like how it ended, at very least, but I have to say, if I were editing it, I’d have cut out so much that I’d turn this really long novel into little more than a short story – it’s just so full of things that did nothing for me.

Rating: 4.4/10

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The Comte de St. Germain by Isabel Cooper-Oakley

While browsing the pages of Wikipedia, I found myself looking at the page of a bizarre historic figure called the Count of St. Germain. While reading his page, I thought that he seemed a very bizarre and enigmatic person, so I decided I’d try a biography about him. I chose the one written by Isabel Cooper-Oakley (the best known option) and I’m really glad I did, because this book was absolutely fascinating.

What makes the Count of St. Germain so interesting? Well, where should I begin? There’s the fact that nobody knows what his real name was. The fact that he claimed to have found the secrets to immortality. The fact that people who knew him claimed that he always appeared to be physically exactly the same (never aging), even after decades. The fact that he claimed to have knowledge of the future and seemingly tried to warn people about it. The fact that he appeared to be able to speak ‘every’ language fluently… I could go on.

The Count of St. Germain is an absolutely fascinating figure and Isabel Cooper-Oakley has gathered together a nice selection of historic texts that refer to him or shed light on the story of his life. You’ll find correspondence between him and government officials, personal accounts from members of royal families about his visits and more. I found the sections about his visits to the French Monarchy ahead of the revolution particularly engaging reads.

A lot of the time, I found myself feeling like I was reading a piece of sci-fi or fantasy, like all of these documents were just part of a story about a time traveller or a vampire, or something like that. I love that it’s all real and I can’t help but wonder what exactly was really going on with him.

Cooper-Oakley explains that because the Count had a bit of a reputation for being somewhat otherworldly, people began to make up exaggerated tales about him. Some people even used to go around pretending to be him in order to try and discredit him, which makes sense. Plus, some of the more outlandish accounts (for example, one where he gives somebody a description of life in the twentieth century centuries before) have at least a shadow of a doubt against their integrity.

Still, most of the strange and outlandish things about him are reported by reliable sources. A lot of very important people seemed to genuinely believe that this man didn’t age, or that he was potentially hundreds of years old. Was he a genius conman who was manipulating the leaders of the world towards his own ends? If so, what was his goal? There are so many unanswered questions.

I loved this book and am so glad to have had a chance to learn about this historic oddity. He instantly became my favourite historic mystery too. We may never have a rational explanation for all of these accounts, but it’s certainly fun to just take them all at face value and imagine that they’re all completely true.

Rating: 9/10

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Assassination Classroom, Volume 10 by Yusei Matsui

In Volume 10 of Assassination Classroon, things are now back to normal for the class following the drama that unfolded for them while they were on the tropical island. As such, things are fairly light-hearted at first. Kayano finally gets to take a turn in the spotlight with her own unique assassination attempt involving a giant cake and then the class gets involved in some free-running based training. Standard Assassination Classroom stuff – not boring by any means, but not as interesting as some of the more recent events.

However, things really do start to pick up when certain allegations are raised against Koro-sensei. Various women in the area have had underwear stolen from them and based on the descriptions they give, the children can only conclude that Koro-sensei is responsible. However, as he denies that this is the case, the class begins to investigate the matter, keen to find out the truth one way or another.

I won’t spoil the outcome of that investigation, but this volume also sees the return of Itona. I was already interested in Koro-sensei’s “brother” but he’s written really interestingly here and has some great character development, including a look at his backstory.

All in all a satisfying volume. As always, I’m left looking forward to the next volume and still strongly recommend this superb manga!

Rating: 8.7/10

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Reflecting on 2021

It’s become a kind of tradition for me to write a blog post reflecting on the year on New Year’s Eve/New Year’s Day, so I thought I’d do that again this year, especially as I write on my blog much less often than I used to.

For me, this year has largely been defined by the fact that I contracted COVID-19. That was an unpleasant experience. I still don’t feel quite the same since going through that – but it is nice that it’s now largely behind me. I was one of the unlucky people who found themselves having to be hospitalised as a consequence of the virus, even getting hooked up to an oxygen machine at one point.

The pain in my chest was so intense that I couldn’t really move and any time I tried to breathe in, it hurt me a lot. The pain seemed to come in waves and I was so completely exhausted that it was difficult to remain conscious. As everything started to flare up and I found myself on the brink of passing out, I was mentally asking the question: could this be the end of life? I certainly couldn’t imagine being a state worse than that, where just lying half-conscious on a bed was extremely difficult. This thought didn’t really make me sad – I was in agony and so I didn’t really care about anything. Besides thinking absently to myself that I’d had a good life, the only real thought I had was that if anything happened I hoped it wouldn’t be too hard for my house friend to find another cohabiter.

Of course, I was fine, but the recovery period was very slow. At times, I wondered if I’d ever be well enough to work full time again, but at this point in time, I’ve started a new, much better job and am working full time once more. In fact, I’m leading a pretty happy and stress-free life these days and it’s nice to consider how much of a turn around I’ve had. It’s reassuring to think that even when things were as bad as that, it was all okay again in the end, and that’s something valuable for me to keep in mind for future.

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