Everything That Remains by Joshua Fields Millburn & Ryan Nicodemus

“Twenty-something, suit-clad, and upwardly mobile, Joshua Fields Millburn thought he had everything anyone could ever want. Until he didn’t anymore.

Blindsided by the loss of his mother and his marriage in the same month, Millburn started questioning every aspect of the life he had built for himself. Then, he accidentally discovered a lifestyle known as minimalism…and everything started to change.

In pursuit of looking for something more substantial than compulsory consumption and the broken American Dream, Millburn jettisoned most of his material possessions and walked away from his six-figure career.

‘Everything That Remains’ is the touching, surprising story of what happened when one young man decided to let go of everything and begin living more deliberately. Heartrending, uplifting, and deeply personal, this engrossing memoir is peppered with insightful (and often hilarious) interruptions by Ryan Nicodemus, Millburn’s best friend of twenty years.”

A few weeks ago I was trawling through Netflix. It was a weekend and I didn’t have much to do (or if I did, I wasn’t in the mood for doing it), and I came across a documentary: ‘Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things’. Watching it through set my head spinning, and made me stop and seriously think about the way I live my life, so much so that I immediately ordered this book, which is written by two of the guys who presented the documentary.

After waiting with great anticipation for the book to arrive through the post, when it was finally delivered a few days ago, I started reading straight away, ignoring my waiting list of over 40 unread books stacked on my shelves.

Before I discovered The Minimalists (Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus), I was under the impression that minimalism only existed in art forms; in paintings and music among a few other things. I had never heard the word ‘minimalism’ in association with a way of life or lifestyle choice, but I found the concept incredibly interesting.  The fundamental idea of minimalist living, is about having more with less; living more purposefully, more deliberately, with fewer material possessions to weigh you down.

Millburn has an incredible voice on the page, it’s clever and clear yet concise, always to the point, with no extra fluff. Nicodemus’ brilliant additions were funny and enlightening, as it gave insight into an additional opinion on the topic. It was occasionally a little difficult to read these interjections at the right time in the book; they were in the form of end-notes at the back of the book, and the reference numbers hidden in the text that linked to these were very small, meaning I sometimes missed them and had to backtrack to search for the teeny digits!

Nevertheless I loved reading ‘Everything that Remains’, and I hope to gradually put what it preaches into practice. I am at a very different stage in my life compared to The Minimalists when they started on their journey. I have no six-figure career to walk away from, so my approach to minimalism will likely be very different.

Last week I came home for the Easter Holidays and spent a few days having a huge clear-out. It was extremely freeing to reorganize my belongings, and I feel happier now that I know what I own, and where everything is.

This brilliant little book has inspired me, and I would 100% recommend it to anyone.

5/5 rating.

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A stack of reviews…

As promised (if a little later than expected), here are a few super short reviews to get back up to date with my reading stack.

(My apologies for the length of these reviews – it’s increasingly difficult to find the time to write them. If anyone is interested in writing the odd review for CreativeThoughtBubble, I am looking for one or two extra writers….)

When God was a Rabbit by Sarah Winman:

“This is a book about a brother and a sister.

It’s a book about childhood and growing up, friendships and families, triumph and tragedy and everything in between.

More than anything, it’s a book about love in all its forms.”

After lending a neighbor my copy of my favourite book ‘A Monster Calls’ by Patrick Ness, she returned the favor and gave me this book to read.

It seems like such a long time ago now that I read this book, and yet I still remember how much I loved it. It was a novel to play with the emotions and tug on the heartstrings, pulling many moral questions to the forefront. As it says in the blurb, it was a book about love, and with love often comes sadness, but also many more emotions.

I’m glad this book was recommended to me, and certainly encourage others to delve in.

4.4/5 rating.

 

The Tea Planter’s Wife by Dinah Jefferies:

“Two newlyweds: practically strangers, deeply in love, and each hiding a secret from the other…

Ninteen-year old Gwendolyn Hooper steps off a steamship in Ceylon eager to begin her new life as a married woman. But the husband who greets her is distant, secretive and brooding. Laurence is forever away working away working, leaving his young English bride to explore the vast tea plantation alone. Wandering into forbidden places, a tiny overgrown grave – clues to a hidden, unspeakable past.

Gwen soon falls pregnant and her husband is overjoyed, but in the delivery room she is faced with a terrible choice – one she must hide from Laurence at all costs. When the time comes to reveal the truth, how will he ever forgive what she has done?”

This was a brilliant novel, I love reading books set in a different era, and this one captured the time perfectly. The writing style entranced me, and the plot was engaging and exciting. I think the book description gives a nice insight into the mystery that shrouds the book, so I won’t say much at all on this one. You can find out for yourself…

5/5 rating.

 

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro:

“In one of the most acclaimed novels of recent years, Kazuo Ishiguro imagines the lives of a group of students growing up in a darkly skewed version of contemporary England. Narrated by Kathy, now thirty-one, ‘Never Let Me Go’ dramatises her attempts to come to terms with her childhood at the seemingly idyllic Hailsham School and with the fate that has always awaited her and her closest friends in the wider world. A story of love, friendship and memory, ‘Never Let Me Go’ is charged throughout with a sense of the fragility of life.”

I wasn’t entirely convinced about this book when I started reading it, I feel like the story took a little while to gather up it’s momentum, but after getting into it I found I couldn’t put it down and read the second half of the book very quickly indeed! It was an incredibly interesting idea for a story, definitely unique, and very thought provoking.

4/5 rating.

 

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath:

“A Girl lives in an out-of-the-way town for nineteen years, so poor she can’t afford a magazine and then she gets a scholarship to college and wins a prize here and there and ends up steering New York like her own private car. Only I wasn’t steering anything. Not even myself.

Working in New York one Summer, Esther Greenwood is on the brink of her future. Yet she is also on the edge of a darkness that makes her world increasingly unreal. In this vivid and unforgettable novel, Esther’s vision of the world shimmers and shifts: day-to-day New York living, her crazed men-friends, and hot dinner dances…”

“The Bell Jar” is actually one of my set texts for English A-level; we are studying it in the context of ‘Women in Literature’. I really, really loved this novel, the language is amazingly exciting and very clever. The main character Esther is incredibly complex, a young lady in a changing world suffering with depression. I think the novel successfully questions certain elements of the modern lifestyle, as well as highlighting the role of women in modern literature.

An incredible read.

5/5 rating.

The Housewife Assassin’s handbook by Josie Brown

The Housewife Assassin's Handbook by Josie Brown | Paperback | Barnes ...

“Every desperate housewife wants an alias. Donna Stone has one…and it happens to be government-sanctioned. She earned it the hard way: her husband was killed the day she delivered her third child. To avenge his death, she leads a secret life – as an assassin. But espionage makes for strange bedfellows – and brings new meaning to that old adage, ‘Honey, I’m home’…”

Wow. What a book! From the very start it was exciting, funny, and enchanting all at the same time. The badass assassin of a mother Donna made for a brilliant protagonist with a bucket-load of personality.

I had a good little chuckle at the start of each chapter thanks to the little tips on how to be a good assassin…or was it mother…..I guess you’ll have to read it yourself to see what you think.

I loved the way Donna’s two lives crossed over constantly, for example the way she worried about being late for picking up her son and his friends whilst simultaneously being in the process of attempting to murder someone was particularly amusing. However, there was a more serious side to the book as Donna paired up with another assassin to try and destroy the organization that killed her husband.

The book was going well; very smoothly with not too many surprises. There was a little romance (ahem a lot of romance *cough cough*) mixed in with some stakeouts and missions and then BAM! PLOT TWIST OF A LIFETIME! I have to admit I did not see it coming although in hindsight I suppose it may have been hinted at somewhere. I won’t give anything away, but will figuratively shake you out of whatever stupor has you in its grasp, so you can go and read this book!

The whole novel was fast paced and filled with dramatic events as well as many heartwarming moments.

An absolute ‘mustread’ (and I can’t believe there are 14 others in the series!)

5/5 rating.

Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberley McCeight

reconstructingamelia

“A stunning debut novel in which a single mother reconstructs her teenage daughter’s life, sifting through her emails, texts, and social media to piece together the shocking truth about the last days of her life.

Litigation lawyer and harried single mother Kate Baron is stunned when her daughter’s exclusive private school in Park Slope, Brooklyn, calls with disturbing news: her intelligent, high-achieving fifteen-year-old daughter, Amelia, has been caught cheating.

Kate can’t believe that Amelia, an ambitious, levelheaded girl who’s never been in trouble would do something like that. But by the time she arrives at Grace Hall, Kate’s faced with far more devastating news. Amelia is dead.

Seemingly unable to cope with what she’d done, a despondent Amelia has jumped from the school’s roof in an act of “spontaneous” suicide. At least that’s the story Grace Hall and the police tell Kate. And overwhelmed as she is by her own guilt and shattered by grief, it is the story that Kate believes until she gets the anonymous text:

She didn’t jump.”

I was immediately grabbed when I read about this as I myself am a teenage girl who has a good relationship with my mother. However my secrets are nothing compared with Amelia’s (so don’t worry about me mum if you’re reading this!)

I was worried that a big proportion of this book would be taken up with Kate’s (Amelia’s mother) grieving, but I was pleasantly surprised. Obviously Kate was devastated by the loss of her child but she managed to channel her grief into investigating the circumstances surrounding Amelia’s apparent suicide.

I liked the way the story was presented; some chapters were narrated by Amelia from before/leading up to her death  and some were narrated by Kate as she figured out what to do after the tragedy. This dual narration worked beautifully as it meant that as the reader I learned more about Amelia as Kate herself was discovering her daughter’s secrets.

As well as the two viewpoints, there were sections of Amelia’s texts, emails and Facebook posts which were a great way of putting me into Kate’s shoes as I felt that I was the one sifting through Amelia’s things. Piecing the evidence together in that way helped me to understand more of what Kate was going through.

It was an extremely emotional book as you can probably expect, and the characters developed well leaving me rather attached to them. It was strange; because of the way the book was written it felt like Amelia had been brought back to life and was living through her story. There was a sort of magic in the way this story was told.

I would strongly recommend this as a superb novel to read; it was fast-paced and exciting with excellent use of foreshadowing. I have heard it been compared to the well known book ‘Gone Girl’, and described as the perfect combination of a crime story and a relationship drama. A brilliant mystery!

4.5/5 rating.

Becoming Human by Eliza Green

becoming-human

“Earth is overcrowded and polluted.
A new planet, Exilon 5, has been located.
But Exilon 5 is already occupied.

In 2163, a polluted and overcrowded Earth forces humans to search for a new home. But the exoplanet they target, Exilon 5, is occupied.

Having already begun a massive relocation programme, the World Government on Earth sends Bill Taggart to monitor the threat level of the Indigenes, the alien race that lives on Exilon 5. Bill is a man on the edge. He believes the Indigenes killed his wife, but he doesn’t know why. Until now.

Stephen has every reason to despise the humans and their attempts to colonise his planet. To protect his species from further harm, he must go against his very nature and become human.

Laura O’Halloran is losing her daily battle with Seasonal Affective Disorder. Her only chance at recovery is leaving the dark Earth for the sunnier climate of Exilon 5. She hopes her credentials as a World Government employee will secure her a one-way trip, but with the ever increasing relocation demand that is not a guarantee.

Her discovery of a deadly secret threatens her life and that of Bill and Stephen. A secret so great it could rip apart both worlds.”

I had very mixed feelings about ‘Becoming Human’. It had a lot of potential based on reading the blurb, but the actual book was a bit of a disappointment. I think one of the main problems was that there were too many characters all narrating the story so every chapter it would be from a different point of view.

This technique can work well in some instances, however usually only two or three different perspective are used. There were so many different characters involved that as well as being a bit confusing, I didn’t have the time to become attached to any of the characters until very late in the book as character development was a little thin on the ground.

On the other hand, I liked the setting – of the future earth – and felt it was covered in some great, carefully thought-out detail. In many ways it was realistic (the idea that the earth had become uninhabitable due to global warming is of course more than plausible) and I did like the detail the author went into when describing the setting. The new types of jobs available and the living conditions were very imaginative. I did feel that perhaps the details were focused on a little too much in favor of plot progression and character development so the book felt quite slow.

I realize that ‘Becoming Human’ is the first book in a series, but I still feel like more could have been achieved in the first book. Despite the book’s length, by the time I reached the last page I felt like the story was only just getting going.

Nevertheless it was a fun and creative idea and a good fantasy novel. I probably won’t continue reading the series myself but who knows – maybe it’s just not ‘my thing’ so to speak.

3/5 rating.

Stone Mattress: Nine Wicked Tales by Margaret Atwood

stone-mattress-by-margaret-atwood

“A recently widowed fantasy writer is guided through a stormy winter evening by the voice of her late husband. An elderly lady with Charles Bonnet syndrome comes to terms with the little people she keeps seeing, while a newly formed populist group gathers to burn down her retirement residence. A woman born with a genetic abnormality is mistaken for a vampire, and a crime committed long ago is revenged in the Arctic via a 1.9 billion-year-old stromatolite.”

Nine Wicked Tales:

  1. Alphinland
  2. Revenant
  3. Dark Lady
  4. Lusus Naturae
  5. The Freeze-Dried Groom
  6. I dream of Zenia with the Bright Red Teeth
  7. The Dead Hand Loves You
  8. Stone Mattress
  9. Torching the Dusties

I don’t normally read short stories, but this book came highly recommended so I thought I’d give it a go. The only other book I’ve read that somewhat resembled this was ’10 sorry tales’ – a selection of (i think) Gothic short stories for children (I read them about 7 or 8 years ago) which I remember enjoying profusely.

The stories in ‘stone mattress bear some resemblance to ’10 sorry tales’ as all of them are based around the topics of death, decay and old age (or something of similar fashion).

The writing style and language choices were so colourful that I regret not discovering Margaret Atwood’s work before now, despite her name appearing in many of the reading lists I’ve come across. One thing I would say about Atwood’s writing is that much of it is explicit and in places quite crass but if you can ignore that and focus on the plot and the characters it doesn’t really affect the book too much.

The first three stories (Alphinland, Revenant and Dark Lady) were all linked together with characters running through all three tales. It was like one longer story told from three different points of view. Because of this I felt the tone of the writing changed with each tale as the speaker in each instant brought new thoughts and feelings into the mix.

The next story (Lusus Naturae) was only 10 pages long and yet it had a lot of personality and didn’t suffer from lack of development like many short stories do.

‘The Freeze-Dried Groom’ and ‘I dream of Zenia with the Bright Red Teeth’ were both entertaining (and moderately gruesome) and I enjoyed whizzing through them even if they were a little….well…strange!

‘The Dead Hand Loved You’ and ‘Stone Mattress’ were my favourite stories; both told tales of planned revenge but with polar opposite outcomes – both of which I loved.

‘Torching the Dusties’ was quite sad in the end, but not in a ‘cry-your-eyes-out’ sort of way. It had a nostalgic feeling to it, and all the characters were gentle and wise. It was a great story for the book to end in as it gave a feeling of closure to the novel as a whole.

I realize that I haven’t exactly gone into much detail here, but I feel that to enjoy this book properly, you have to be unprepared for the wackiness of each tale!

I surprised myself by enjoying this book and would recommend it, however with the warning that it is not a book for everyone, so read it with an open mind!

3.5/5 rating.

On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan

onchesilbeach

“It is June 1962. In a hotel on the Dorset coast, overlooking Chesil Beach, Edward and Florence, who got married that morning, are sitting down to dinner in their room. Neither is entirely able to suppress their anxieties about the wedding night to come…”

Ian McEwan is the author of one of my favourite books (Atonement) so I was very curious to see what his other works are like. ‘On Chesil Beach’ is a beautiful compilation of apprehension and suspense, a case of ‘will they, won’t they?’.

The way the book was set out was nice and clear and worked well; it was written with their wedding night as the present, which was punctuated by Flashbacks from both Edward’s and Florence’s pasts. I liked the way this shaped my understanding of the characters throughout the novel – as the couple’s evening progresses, more was revealed about their relationship and themselves as individuals and I came to understand how they were shaped as individuals to become the people in the present.

The language itself is wonderfully sophisticated (as I would expect of McEwan!) and vibrant, despite being quite explicit in places. Ian McEwan has a way with words that allows him to create charming imagery as well as spin stories with apparent ease.

This book reminded me of ‘If nobody speaks of remarkable things’ by Jon Mcgregor. In both books, everything revolves around one event, one principle moment that has the ability to change everything and in both books the suspense created by the language is magical.

I really enjoyed reading this – Ian McEwan has once again thrilled me and given me yet more reason to hanker after more of his books…

4.5/5 rating.