Book Reviews

For a book that has sold over 3 million copies, I found it tremendously difficult to infiltrate beyond the hype. Even Paulo Coelho, an author I enjoy, has endowed much praise upon this book. To be frank, I just cannot understand why…

The writing style is simplistic, bouncing like a volleyball between John (the stories narrator), and Julian Mantle, a high powered, driven lawyer who ends up cashing in all the materialistic spoils of his long, successful career for a far more simplistic life.

Although the message of the story is as potent and promising as any self help guide, i.e. achieve balance, simplicity and harmony in your life to achieve happiness, there is something terribly patronizing and repetitive about the telling.

A clash of modern day mania meets fable, Julian confides in John, explaining how and why he gave it all up in order to reach a more personally fulfilling destiny. Julian, living a life of hedonism and extraordinary excess, is fumbled by a heart attack and spiritually, begins to take stock of his life. Julian parts with his wealth and travels to India – long renowned land of mystique and intrigue. Whilst there, he stumbles upon the Sages of Sivana, ageless inhabitants of a rose obscured refuge in the Himalayas. They share with Julian their secrets for a truly prosperous life, which he in turn shares with John, three years after his disappearance from the legal eagle world, which John then narrates for the reader.

Julian’s advice centres of seven particular virtues that expand the enjoyment of one’s life. Such techniques include facing fears rather than bowing to them, exiting the rat race as it exists (as a race against competitors) and race only against yourself, condition your mind to perform in the way you would like, altering the way you respond to setbacks and life occurrences in order to establish your destiny, the idea that all life limitations are self-imposed rather than external and focusing on what you would wish you had done on your deathbed.

He also refers to several symbols such as the rose garden (representative of mental processes and being sure to attend to invasive weeds), the magnificent lighthouse (your purpose in life) and the diamond path (the ability to serve others).
The fable format makes it a little more palatable than a to do list for self-improvement, but I just felt it could have been written in a better and more engaging style, with a little more maturity.

It’s not that the advice isn’t valuable, truthful and ideal for those reading, it’s just that for me, despite its simplicity and structure, it was a bore to read. It felt pompous, false and pretentious, but obviously, over 3 million fans can’t be wrong. As such I would advise that you do read this if you desire to, but perhaps keep your expectations a little low! And if you do have a Ferrari, don’t necessarily be in a rush to sell it!

In today’s climate, being a lady (or indeed, a gentleman), are not high priorities on most peoples lists. Whether you are looking at fashion, television, music or the internet, it seems young ladies are encouraged to emulate the promoted lifestyles of reality TV stars, D list celebrities and stars of sex tapes. It’s hard to find an Audrey, Rita or Marilyn among the crowd (although even these stunning starlets were considered less ladylike during their day). You are more likely to find role models in the shapes of Rihanna, Nicki Minaj and Snooki than anyone of true morals, values, style or class.

Blasberg is revisiting and updating his first best-selling work, Very Classy and this time he has a few new comments…

You might wonder what a man knows about what makes a woman classy, and though your grandmother may know more, Derek has surrounded himself with enough fashionistas to understand both the basics, and the intricacies of what transform a woman into a lady.

Derek begins by stating that a previous car crash (such as Nicole Ricci) can uncover her inner lady, and a lady can revert to, what Derek refers to, as a tramp.

And therein lies the rub with Derek’s narrative style. He is irritatingly unlikeable. I am still unsure, having finished reading, whether Derek is gay or straight. The issue with Derek’s writing style is that it comes across as pompous, patronizing, ‘trying too hard’ and also faintly misogynistic. I don’t believe for a second that Derek is a misogynist, in fact I believe he loves women, but he throws around words like ‘skank’ far too often, despite criticising the fact that girls themselves often refer to each other with these insults. It seems Derek is simply perpetuating very unladylike (and ungentlemanly) behaviour in his depiction of two sharp contrasts of women…ladies and tramps (otherwise known as the Madonna/Whore complex…a woman is either an angel or a prostitute). Derek is not a true gentleman, so why is he telling women how to be ladies?

Derek also belongs to a world of crazy parties, mad money and celebrity friends, meaning that the average girl who wants to be more ladylike might find it difficult to truly take much from Derek’s materialistic, vapid world. The book is littered with pictures of Derek fawning over Hollywood stunners like a drunk deer desperate for attention and most of the women in the pictures don’t particularly look like endearing young ladies, but like posers, with stony, unsmiling faces and ‘over the shoulder’ glances that look practised rather than natural.

That’s not to say that this book does not have its bonuses.

For those looking to brush up on their manners, there are sections dedicated to wardrobe essentials, such as big sunglasses, LBD’s and trench coats, how to host dinner parties, set tables and establish themes, the perfect pictorial poses, and lists of movies and music, as well as artists, poets and theatrical productions, to set the tone of a true lady.

Although there are a few gems located within, I found the book a little too pandering. I think every girl is better when she treats herself like a lady, but we also have to move with the times and understand that if we were all to behave in a truly ladylike fashion, we wouldn’t be doing very much at all! Although Derek discourages this and actively encourages women to intermingle their individuality with their ladylike habits, it begins to feel like being a lady requires too many shallow affectations rather than a true reflection of character. For instance, he decries a woman who would wear casual clothing to an airport (totally negating that a woman might want to fly for comfort or relaxation). He also makes frequent references to celebrity friends who supposedly look like ladies but essentially aren’t which to me defeats the purpose of the book. There’s no point acting like a lady if you aren’t one. Derek seems to focus too much on the frock and the company you keep as well as ridiculous statements like leaving parties at the peak of your enjoyment just to preserve a little mystique, rather than the quality of the character within. What’s the point of being a lady if you are obsessed what others think of you and can have no fun?

If you want to learn how to set a table, wear a scarf in several ways and tackle relationships the ladylike way, this book is useful and a funny, witty read, but for me the author was unlikeable, a little too derogatory and up himself and essentially, most girls know what it means to be a lady, if and when they want to be.

If you really want to know how to turn on the lady like charm, turn to your grandma’s or the screen sirens of yesteryear, but most importantly…be comfortable being who you are, and if that means sitting in your tracksuit bottoms snuggled up on the sofa, well there’s nothing wrong with that!

Derek seems to confuse class with posing, expensive clothes and being seen with the right people always doing the right thing, rather than a true expression of the inner self, and for a supposed expert on class, he is nothing but crass!

Note to Derek; maybe write a book about being a gentleman next time?


“When I was a little kid I thought like a little kid, but now I’m five I know everything” – Jack

Jack has lived in ‘Room’ for all of his five years. He has only existed between a space measuring 11’ x 11’. He has never seen the outside world apart from the brief glimpse offered by the skylight above him. He and his ma live a life of routine; food, games and play time, occasionally interspersed with a ‘gone’ day where mum zones out, despondent in bed, and the nights whereby Nick, the nightly visitor ‘bounces on the bed with mum’ (Jack counts the bounces from his hiding space in the cupboard).

‘Room’ is so uniquely intriguing because it is told from the perspective of five year old Jack, with his limited yet evocative grasp of the English language. He knows nothing of the world beyond his small room, where his mother has been held captive, kidnapped in her nineteenth year, for seven years. Jack’s innocence and acceptance of his plight contrast with his mother’s ability to raise him to be her saviour whilst tolerating the abuse of her abductor.

Donaghy has a very spellbinding ability to capture the language, thoughts, fears, concerns, interpretations and acceptances (as well as the curiosity) of a young child, capturing a very effervescent and gold hearted boy in the character of Jack whilst ma is courageous, a lioness with a game plan.

The language at times, as we learn of Jack and Ma’s fate, can be somewhat alienating. After all, we are used to reading books written from an adult perspective, for adults, but here we are reading young Jack’s interpretations of the world around him. Nonetheless, the simplicity but sheer imagination of the language doubled with the claustrophobic horror of their plight, make a very powerful contrast. If this merely written as an abduction tale, it would be powerful, but also sinister, creepy and eerie. Jack’s cheery innocence manages to make it something more than that – a human tale of survival in unusual odds. Jack’s naivety and simple understanding stop things from getting too dark and dingy.

The suffocation of the mediocrity, repetition and imprisonment of their day to day life’s is also intriguing as we share Jack’s joy of habitual, repetitious, consistent routines, and Ma’s façade, using their play both as a way to pass the day and to raise a possible hero.

Unfortunately, numerous media stories have revealed horrifying occurrences of real individuals locked in basements as powerless amusements for their tormentors. This lends ‘Room’ a powerful relevancy and currency, making it far too relatable, as we suffer Ma’s desperation and bravery, and Jack’s meek and mild comprehension of the situation he has been born into.

Recommended by Richard and Judy’s Book Club, Room is a pleasurable, but not escapist read about the powerful, unbreakable bond between mother and son, and the necessity for tenacity, formidable will and admirable courage that is essential for survival. At its core, it’s a story of love and the connection between a mother and her child and how that love can survive and rise above all evils.

When Pi finds himself the sole survivor of a sunken ship, he is tasked with assisting two Japanese reporters comprehension of how the ship came to sink. The first story he tells includes a Royal Bengal Tiger mistakenly named Richard Parker after his captor, who Pi, initially fearful of, manages to tame. Also inhabiting the sanctuary of the lifeboat are a cowardly, crafty hyena, a graceful Grants Zebra and a peaceful, civilised Orangutan.

The first story, unique fabulous as it is, is unable to placate the reporters incessant questioning, particularly as Pi explains his discovery of a carnivorous floating island the lures prey in by day and devours it by night. Unable to suspend their disbelief sufficiently to accept story 1, Pi tells story number 2, in which the animals from the initial story come to represent human counterparts.

In this story, Pi is the tiger, the hyena is the ships brutal cook, the zebra the gracious sailor isolated by a language barrier and the orangutan is Pi’s mother. This story, brutal, bleak and nihilistic and with no sense of wonder is barbaric, cannibalistic and dismal, contrasting sharply and jarringly with the vivacity and escapism of his previous tale.

Neither story illuminates how the ship came to sink nor sooths or eases Pi’s lengthy, inhumane suffering so Pi asks them which of the two stories they prefer. The reporters conclude that the first of the stories is more appealing, despite its implausibility.

The lure of this book is its inherent mystery and the questions it generates. Which story is true? Did Pi concoct the first story in order to psychologically defend himself and gain an acceptance of the horrific occurrences on the life boat? Or did he fabricate the second story in order to craft a succession of events more in line with the realism demanded of Pi by the reporters?

The author invites readers to decide for themselves which story they personally believe, or want, to be true. There is a difference here, between the prettier and the uglier story, and the story that speaks to your inner sense of the understanding of the world. The first story has a clear connection to religious perspectives and leaps of faith required and the second story correlates to reason and atheism.

Simplistically but stylistically written, Pi’s suffering sharply contrasts the innocence of a young shipwrecked orphaned boy at sea ‘coming of age’ with the merciless assimilation into an animalism necessary for survival.

Vibrant, vivid and memorable, Pi’s misery and wonder slosh and spill from the pages. Life of Pi seems reminiscent of the shipwreck genre (Castaway, Lord of the Flies) and regenerates it with a fresh perspective.


Miranda Kerr is many things; mum, mega model, muse but…author? Miranda’s foray into the world of the written word ‘Treasure Yourself’ was met with some tittering from avid readers. She is always adnorned with a mega watt smile though, so she must be doing something right!

Generally, models are stereotypically pigeon holed to be rather vacuous, superficial and clueless when it comes to deeper matters. Some found it hard to stomach that Miranda had turned out her  own version of a ‘help yourself’ guide for girls wondering what Miranda could possibly comprehend about the struggles of the average girl not ensconced in angel wings and million dollar lingerie.

Secondly, the title ‘Treasure Yourself’ caused yet more to double up in hysterics. Wasn’t it pretty easy for Miranda to advocate treasuring yourself when she has the face of an angel, the body of a goddess and a seamlessly perfect life, from her stellar career which is only broadening from modeling into cosmetics and beauty, an internationally renowned husband in the form of Orlando Bloom and a beautiful, healthy baby boy?

Miranda’s introduction soon puts to rest that her life has simply been a step by step process to success. Instead, she shares professional setbacks from her earlier modeling days and a personal tragedy that reinforced her desire to live for each day.

Miranda’s advice and perceptions are earnest, if unoriginal. She shares a little of her history before outlining what she feels are the essential processes to lead a happy life. Amongst them include a healthy, organic (where possible) diet, regular exercise (Miranda is a particular advocate of yoga), smiling, recognizing and acknowledging your own beauty and the regular use of mantras and affirmations. She then ends the book with some mantras and affirmations of her own, and those from others who have inspired her, including Deepak Chopra.

A kind quirk to Miranda’s short read is that she requested friends and family draw pictures of their favourite flowers to adorn the pages of the book and she also shares some childhood snaps that reveal she has always been a genetically blessed beauty.

Miranda has been accused of inventing a slightly pompous, pretentious mother earth persona, cut from the same ilk as Gwyneth Paltrow, but as she shares her embarrassments and her own personal crutches, it’s hard to dislike her.

I came away with two distinct impressions.

One was that Miranda could have put more into this book. It’s relatively short and reiterates ideology and advice that has become well worn by now, though perhaps that’s because, just like clichés, they echo with truth and require repetition. Miranda doesn’t introduce anything truly unique or miraculous and in a way it could be argued that Miranda was after a quick sell: some pretty pictures of flowers and a few pleasant messages. Her gorgeous face could probably sell used bog roll after all…

HOWEVER, Miranda didn’t have to write this book at all and there is something engaging about her easy, basic prose. Miranda isn’t pretending to be something she isn’t. She’s just sharing what has helped her through her cataclysmic rise and the inevitable pitfalls along the way.

This isn’t a self-help book and shouldn’t be read as such. I think the ideal audience for this book are Miranda fans and young girls who can take a few inspirational messages from a superstar. It’s helpful for young girls on the cusp of adolescence to realize that even the superbly stunning Miranda had bouts of inferiority and insecurity as a child and in her early years as a model.

Miranda has been accused of being a pseudo good girl with a shallow message of peace and love good old fashioned hippy style, but whether the image is a concocted façade or the real deal, promoting a message of treasuring yourself through the food you eat, the water you drink, the energy you exude and the way you should value yourself as a girl and woman can only be beneficial.

This is advice girls need now more than ever, in an entertainment culture that berates women physically and emotionally on a consistent basis, comparing them to impossible, idealized standards and running them through the grinder of the music industries misogynistic music videos and lyrics that reduce women into sexual commodities for the often uninteresting rapper fronting the song. This is a message girls need and so I certainly wouldn’t discourage anyone from supporting Mirandas’s first book!

Deepak Chopra focuses on the mind/body connection; the idea that the mind and body can work together to create optimum health or perilous disease and that by utilizing the forces of both, one can remain youthful, energetic and happy. Chopra declares that health is our natural state of being, but that many of us have lost sight of the importance of keeping ourselves well both physically, and spiritually.

Chopra initiates his work by focusing on the common ailments that he encounters daily. These include cancer, addictions, obesity, chronic fatigue, depression and sexual inadequacy. Though many of these ailments have probably existed since the dawn of time, Chopra explains that our modern day lifestyles, though advanced and evolved, have detached us from our animalistic, intuitive understanding of our well being. A world of immediate gratification and hedonism means that we can indulge ourselves in various bad habits, which in turn for many become addictions or ways of being, rather than pleasurable recreational escapes.

He then explores various case histories, which illustrates the mind/body connection in becoming well, including patients that have given up mentally (and so have their bodies) and others who have decided to fight and miraculously recovered.

Finally, he explains how all of us can create our own well of free-flowing health by incorporating certain strategies into our behaviour.

Many self-help/health books tend to focus on the same factors, but perhaps this is because, like clichéd lines, they are echoed because of the truth they contain. Their repetition is merely a matter of us allowing them to be engrained within our consciousness so that we may alter our own behaviours.

He stresses the importance of awareness of the self, focusing on the positives that we wish to bring into our life’s and not concentrating so much on the ‘tigers’ of depression or anxiety, which will consequently melt away like snow in the sun if we do not obsess about them. The common mantra is ‘what we resist persists’ perhaps until we learn the lesson it is willing to teach us. As such, we cannot resist the parts of us that we dislike. We can only accept them and work on our positives, so that our negatives do not hold so much sway over us.

He moves onto living in the present, without lamenting the past or ruminating over our futures, paying attention to how and where we seek to gratify our egos, gaining job satisfaction (perhaps harder to achieve in today’s economic climate), nourishing our bodies with healthy, delicious diets, paying attention to nature and the bodies conjoined rhythms, approaching life with an open mind, retaining a sense of wonder and belief, living with compassion and generating love.

It is clear that many people naturally operate from a place of openness and trust, particularly when they are raised with love and care. As we grow and endure disappointments, disillusionments, betrayals and hurts, we slowly clam up and close. We aren’t always so willing to give love, nor are we always willing to receive it. We perceive treachery and pain around us and question the intentions and motivations of others. We start to see kindness as weakness, generosity as submission, honesty as foolishness and so on, when really we know that the greatest sense of liberation and transcendence can only come from embracing these qualities and doing away with our sharp and pointy defences, that only seek to make enemies out of potential friends and con-men out of benefactors.

You may be familiar with the ‘law/power of attraction’, the idea that what we give out is what we get back. Chopra expands on this explaining that people that want love should give love first, people that want praise should praise others first, and this will naturally come back on us. The world is a place of abundance simply waiting for us to participate and claim what is rightfully ours. Everyone knows someone who is so positive, generous, compassionate, powerful or calm that others flock to their magnetic appeal, whilst others repel with their sense of entitlement, bitterness, fear, insecurity or anger. It is no coincidence that the healthy attract the healthy and the unhealthy attract the unhealthy, even if their problems are very different. A co-dependent woman may end up with a controlling partner. Both are sick, just in different ways. Their sickness is what draws them to one another. We can change what we attract by concentrating on what we consciously or unconsciously give out to others, and by how we respond.

It may not be easy to incorporate all of these teachings without feeling like you are lowering your defences somewhat, but a person can still operate with boundaries and walk away from any situation or individual that threatens to damage their physical/mental health in any way.

The lessons seem simple, but are much harder to actively do. Nonetheless, I couldn’t help but find Chopra’s thoughts very inspirational and I endeavour to develop these strategies myself.

I’m a big lover of self-help books. It’s not that I perceive myself as a particularly damaged individual in desperate need of guidance and coaching, but I am most definitely an over thinker, and I find such books very calming and ‘stilling’. I enjoy such a book at particularly perilous times; before my first stint to Thailand I got myself straight to Gatwick’s WHSmiths and loaded myself up with ‘feel good’ books or books about individuals triumphing over adversity, anything to make myself feel braver and more competent by osmosis. This time, wandering around Heathrow, I picked up a little book called ‘The Answer’ by Glenn Harrold. The inspiring motif intricately written on the cover urges readers to ‘supercharge the Law of Attraction and find the secret to true happiness’. The back conveniently reminds us ‘the secret to happiness is within you, unlock the secret with the answer’.

Now there’s something tantalizing about a book called ‘The Answer’, especially for someone as curious and into taboo as me. First of all, what’s the question?  Clever marketing strategy there. They know that people like me won’t be able to resist. The aesthetic of the book is also rather desirable. It’s a small book with gold lettering on a red backdrop; red – the colour of lust, anger, passion, volatility –it could almost be a miniature bible. What is it promising? The meaning of life? The way to happiness?

The ‘answer’ if I’m honest is ever so slightly disappointing.

Firstly, the good points.

It’s a short, concise book which means no lengthy reading, no exaggerated, tongue-twisting spiralling sentences that could be boiled down to a meagre five word sentence and no trawling through for specks of nourishing heart and soul feeding advice. The booklet is divided into sections focusing on a different ‘theme’; love, fear, career, wealth etc. and providing to the point advice on how to maximise your positive potential in these areas by harnessing the power of the law of attraction and combining this with thoughtful meditation and hypnosis. The book then provides examples of meditations and exercises that enhance the message of each chapter, enabling the reader to utilise their desires in this area.

It encourages you to think about what you want in each area of your life and then attempt to think/feel it into existence. Of course thinking and feeling alone do not cause miracles to materialise out of thin air, but they are a starting point. Rarely do you hear of positive things happening to negative people. Usually it’s because they wouldn’t recognise a positive occurrence if it smacked into them, but also it’s because negative people rarely attract positive things, and if they do, not consistently. In saying this, a rapist won the lottery once so….

I like the simple, straightforward advice. ‘What do you want? Think positive. Feel positive. Complete this exercise. Meditate’. It’s all about getting you into a good head and heart space so that you can encourage good things into your life and allow your desires to manifest. It also encourages and inspires action and doing.

I definitely agree that it’s true that usually when things aren’t happening for us, it’s because some part of us is resisting it, whether through fear, anxiety or security. This negativity can appear in many guises, from procrastination to inaction to apathy. When we think positively and move
freely, there is something contagious and infectious about this. 9 times out of 10, people will be encouraged, inspired and motivated by your confidence and competency and things will start to happen in some way. When we’re feeling negative and insecure we tend to shy away from opportunities, challenges and experiences that would promote our growth and materialise the things we want. If you aren’t feeling pretty, you won’t want to go on that date, if you don’t think you know what you’re talking about, you’ll mess up the interview if you show up at all.

I’ve read various books that revolve around this subject matter: the power of our thoughts, the importance of understanding them and utilizing positive thinking and hypnosis or meditation to increase our potential and contentment.

Read this book if:

  • You like a short, concise, to the point guide
  • You’re a ‘doer’ prepared to complete exercises
  • You are prepared to combine the law of attraction with hypnosis exercises
  • You’re on the move and need to tuck a little positive self-help away
  • You’re looking forward to the candle exercise for relieving fear. This worked powerfully for me

Leave this book if:

  • You’d rather a more extensive read about the law of attraction and hypnosis
  • You don’t want to use meditation/hypnosis
  • You’re looking for an answer rather than an action plan