August 23, 2015

Review: The Princess Bride: An Illustrated Edition of S. Morgenstern's Classic Tale of True Love and High Adventure

The Princess Bride: An Illustrated Edition of S. Morgenstern's Classic Tale of True Love and High Adventure The Princess Bride: An Illustrated Edition of S. Morgenstern's Classic Tale of True Love and High Adventure by William Goldman
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

* This review may contain spoilers, please proceed with caution... *

I am probably the one and only who did not like this book, and NOT because it had been boring or worse than the film. I haven't seen the film yet and I'm not sure I want to. I read the 2013 edition with the two lengthy introductions, and even though I couldn't wait for the real story to begin, I quite enjoyed the introductions and Goldman's satire/humour. Once the story began, I grow very fond of Inigo and Fezzik, although I didn't really care for Buttercup, the heroine, who is an empty-headed Barbie doll. (I have yet to find a male writer who is able to write a strong female character, all of my favourite female characters were penned by women...) Still, up until page 247 I rather enjoyed the book, though there were some disturbing moments, such as the death of a character who wasn't a really bad villain, just a petty criminal. I didn't understand why it was necessary to kill him off. But back to page 247, which is when all the torture began. I DID NOT enjoy it and it came as a shock that in the middle of a "fairy tale" I had to read very detailed descriptions of such a cruel torture. Up until a certain point I was able to continue reading, but when a completely innocent dog was tortured to death in order to test a torture machine, I gave up. I DID not read the scene how the machine was used for torturing the human being. The rest of the book I just skimmed, so as to find out how this awful story ends. Regrettably, even the ending was just as bad, because there was no real happy ending, but what is more, one of the major villains hasn't even been punished!!! After that, I had no interest whatsoever to read the first part of the planned sequel "Buttercup's Baby", especially as its title is "Fezzik Dies". No need to read that. William Goldman may be a wonderful writer, but he has definitely no idea about the genre FAIRY TALE. He keeps repeating that "life is not fair" and that's reason enough to kill off innocent people and animals. He is of course right, life isn't fair, and if I had wanted to read a book on the Holocaust, Kosovo, or Rwanda, I wouldn't have been surprised by the torture. But for goodness sake, I was reading a book which had been characterised by the New York Times as a "funny fairy tale" (see dust jacket)! According to "My Encyclopaedia of Fairy Tales", fairy tales have at least three defining features, namely: (1) Happy Ending, (2) Good Conquering Evil, and (3) Suitable for Children to read. Goldman failed all of these, I'm afraid. I would never ever give this book to a child, because of the cruelty to animals/people it depicts. The whole concept of the Zoo of Death is awful and out of place in a fairy tale for children. Even though I'm an adult and regularly watch TV series containing cruel scenes, such as the CSI, upon reading this book, I will have some nightmares I'm sure. Imagine what a child would feel! As I've mentioned, I haven't watched the film yet, and lots of people say it's better than the book. I can only hope that the torture scenes are less naturalistic on the screen...

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January 28, 2015

Review: The Teashop on the Corner


The Teashop on the Corner
The Teashop on the Corner by Milly Johnson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars



This was such a charming little book. I'd never read anything by and never heard of Milly Johnson before, so I didn't know what to expect. I assumed it would be a light and fluffy romance. It was much more than that: yes it is a romance, but it also has some dramatic elements to it. Even though there are some happy endings, they're not cheesy at all; they're quite realistic. And not everyone is fortunate to get a 'happily ever after' ending. The book totally reminds me of the movie Love Actually. Several characters are introduced at the beginning, and the chapters alternate between the different plots. But then, some way or another all the characters find their ways to the Teashop on the Corner, so their stories intertwine. New friendships and love relationships develop. And at this point, the book started to make me think about what I call the Facebook phenomenon. I have always thought that Facebook is actually a "Fakebook", meaning that everyone on it pretends to have a perfect life, even though everybody has lots of skeletons in their closets. But online you can pretend not to have any. By contrast, in real life you can only hide your skeletons temporarily. But real friendship/love is about loving each other with/despite our skeletons. All the characters have their skeletons, and of course they try to hide them, but life forces them to reveal their secrets. But thankfully they have people around them who don't mind their skeletons at all. And those are the moments when highly sensitive people (like me) start crying, and then cry and cry... (And then the book becomes a favourite...)

What I also liked about the book that there are lots of literary references (especially to Jane Austen), which I totally enjoyed. And the teashop is the teashop of my dreams. A teashop where there are some fantastic desserts and you can buy stationery (bags, bookmarks, notebooks etc.) related to classics. (If I won the lottery, I'd totally open a teashop like this.)

But most important, I loved each and every character (except of course the villains). However, my favourites were (whose not, I wonder) Molly and Harvey, who were apparently based on real characters. So, let me finish of this little review with my favourite quote (attributed to Harvey), which is also the last sentence of the book: "It’s never too late to have a happy ending".



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January 19, 2015

Review: The One Plus One


The One Plus One
The One Plus One by Jojo Moyes

My rating: 4 of 5 stars



18.01.2015: Ugh. This book was so hard to read and it is so hard to rate it. Jojo Moyes is clearly a wonderful author, and I will probably read more books by her. But this book was very depressing most of the time. Sometimes I even had to put it down and read something lighter (compared to this book, a crime by Agatha Christie with lots of people dying is light), because I couldn't cope with the depression it made me feel. The worst thing about it was that I couldn't even cry, as I often do. I just had this heavy feelings in my chest and couldn't let them out. I kept thinking that there are indeed women who live in this kind of wretchedness with their children, who and whose children have no hope, and whose Prince Charming will never come. I was prepared for reading a fluffy, light, and funny romance, upon reading the reviews on Goodreads. However, what I got was a heavy drama, even though this is a Cinderella story and there's a happy ending. The heroine and her little family, together with the hero experience almost every kind of problems you could imagine. Even at moments where you think it can't get worse, it just does. There were some moments where I had a moment of happy feeling and found myself laughing out loud. (Moyes clearly has a good sense of humour.) But in the next second, something bad happens, and your feeling of happiness disappears by the "speed of light". Only in the last 4-5 chapters can you enjoy lasting happiness, if you refrain from thinking - what I was thinking - that in real life things definitely wouldn't turn out like this. Of course, I too believe in the "the kindness of strangers" and "forgiveness", but very often, if you make a mistake, you have to live with it, and won't get back what you have lost. So actually, the happy ending felt somewhat odd in light of the whole book. All in all, if you are not as highly emotional as me, or if you don't mind feeling depressed all the time, you will very much love this book, because it is well written and the characters are all very likable. You may also want to re-read it. As for me, I'm not sure when/if I'll ever be able to re-read it.

Update 19.01.2015: One day later, I'm having a major book hangover. I've never thought I would miss these characters so much. Jojo Moyes is clearly a magician. Maybe I'm going to re-read it rather sooner than later...



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January 18, 2015

Review: The One Plus One


The One Plus One
The One Plus One by Jojo Moyes

My rating: 4 of 5 stars



I listened to this audiobook while I was reading my hard copy. You can read my thoughts on the book itself here: My Thoughts. As far as the audiobook is concerned, I liked that they used four different narrators. Each chapter of the book is told from the point of view of one of the four main characters, and the audiobook emphasizes this aspect and also helps you a lot to follow the story and to better understand the feelings/personality of the different characters. I truly liked Ed's voice, but didn't really like Jess's first. However, after a while I got used to it and could even enjoy it. And, the reading speed was just perfect for me.



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Review: The One Plus One


The One Plus One
The One Plus One by Jojo Moyes

My rating: 4 of 5 stars



Ugh. This book was so hard to read and it is so hard to rate it. Jojo Moyes is clearly a wonderful author, and I will probably read more books by her. But this book was very depressing most of the time. Sometimes I even had to put it down and read something lighter (compared to this book, a crime by Agatha Christie with lots of people dying is light), because I couldn't cope with the depression it made me feel. The worst thing about it was that I couldn't even cry, as I often do. I just had this heavy feelings in my chest and couldn't let them out. I kept thinking that there are indeed women who live in this kind of wretchedness with their children, who and whose children have no hope, and whose Prince Charming will never come. I was prepared for reading a fluffy, light, and funny romance, upon reading the reviews on Goodreads. However, what I got was a heavy drama, even though this is a Cinderella story and there's a happy ending. The heroine and her little family, together with the hero experience almost every kind of problems you could imagine. Even at moments where you think it can't get worse, it just does. There were some moments where I had a moment of happy feeling and found myself laughing out loud. (Moyes clearly has a good sense of humour.) But in the next second, something bad happens, and your feeling of happiness disappears by the "speed of light". Only in the last 4-5 chapters can you enjoy lasting happiness, if you refrain from thinking - what I was thinking - that in real life things definitely wouldn't turn out like this. Of course, I too believe in the "the kindness of strangers" and "forgiveness", but very often, if you make a mistake, you have to live with it, and won't get back what you have lost. So actually, the happy ending felt somewhat odd in light of the whole book. All in all, if you are not as highly emotional as me, or if you don't mind feeling depressed all the time, you will very much love this book, because it is well written and the characters are all very likable. You may also want to re-read it. As for me, I'm not sure when/if I'll ever be able to re-read it.



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Review: New English File: Intermediate Teacher's Book


New English File: Intermediate Teacher's Book
New English File: Intermediate Teacher's Book by Clive Oxenden

My rating: 3 of 5 stars



As I mentioned in my review of the Student's Book, this edition has some flaws. My problem with the Teacher's Book consists mainly in the following things: Firstly, the communicative activities are not very innovative and regrettably, you can only copy the materials; they are not available for download as PDF, even for teachers not. Secondly, I wish there was a section with exercises (gap fill, sentence completion) for each lesson's vocabulary. There are some good exercises for grammar practice and vocabulary recycling, but I think that after teaching/learning new words, students should do a controlled practice with those very words. Thirdly, I wish there was some information on the time frame of the lessons / exercises. I've got the impression that the material this book suggest covering in one lesson is too much for the usual 90-minute-lesson. Finally, I wish some publisher would recognize that what really would help teachers' work were a Student's Book for Teachers, i.e. a Student's Book that looks like the book that the students use, but with filled-in answers and comments. Of course, as a teacher you would know the correct answers to the exercises, if you had time to think. But you don't have time during a lesson. I to carry both books with you, is not really practicable. Hence, I usually copy the answers and comments from the Teacher's Book into the Student's Book before the lesson, so that I'm able to concentrate on the students and their problems during the lesson. I'm afraid, even the new, third edition [b:English File: Intermediate Teacher's Book with Test and Assessment CD-ROM|24558963|English File Intermediate Teacher's Book with Test and Assessment CD-ROM|Clive Oxenden|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1421577430s/24558963.jpg|44162911] is not better in this respect, but at least, there seem to be more digital resources to that one.



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Review: New English File: Intermediate Student's Book


New English File: Intermediate Student's Book
New English File: Intermediate Student's Book by Clive Oxenden

My rating: 3 of 5 stars



As a language teacher I must say, this coursebook is good, but has some weaknesses. First of all, the speaking activities are quite underdeveloped. Usually, there are some questions that students should ask each other in pairs. My students feel totally bored by such activities. Hence, I had to invest a lot of time into developing games and other speaking exercises to each topic. Also, I don't know how the authors could possibly think that it would be possible to teach 30-40 words in a lesson. In my experience, one can teach approximately 10-12 words per lesson. The Vocabulary Bank is full of words and exercises, but they can't be used in the lesson, as we have no time for that. Hence, I always had to assign those exercises and learning the words as homework, which is sub-optimal. Also, it would have been nice, if there had been a downloadable Picture Bank with the pictures of the Vocabulary Bank for teachers, so that I could have used the pictures for making flashcards. Instead, I had to browse the internet for ages in order to find some suitable pictures. My students also disliked the Practical English lessons and the love story of Allie and Mark. They found the story stupid, predictable, and clich├ęd. I found them OK, but once again, there were usually no speaking activities focusing on the use/practice of the functions that these Practical English lessons were intended to teach. Now, there is a fully revised new edition of this book ([b:English File: Intermediate Student's Book with iTutor|23023858|English File Intermediate Student's Book with iTutor|Clive Oxenden|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1421576605s/23023858.jpg|42594304]) which hopefully doesn't repeat the mistakes of this edition. I'm looking forward to teaching from that.



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January 13, 2015

Review: Nowhere but Home: A Novel


Nowhere but Home: A Novel
Nowhere but Home: A Novel by Liza Palmer

My rating: 4 of 5 stars



It took me some time to get into this book but in the end I really liked it. I just wish the romance between the heroine and the love of her life had been developed more fully. But what I really liked about the book was that it made me think a lot about the death penalty. Up until now I would have said that the death penalty is clearly a big NO, but reading this book exactly at the time when in Paris some very bad things were happening, made me realize that nothing is clearly white or black. I can see now why some people would argue in favor of the death penalty, even if I'm still against it. I also thought a lot about the people whose job is to carry out the sentence and how they can cope with these situations. In sum, if you're looking for a book that makes you do a lot of thinking and at the same time provides you with some beautiful family feelings and nice romances, don't look further! Grab this one!



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August 18, 2013

Mansfield Park by Jane Austen

Mansfield Park encompasses not only Jane Austen’s great comedic gifts and her genius as a historian of the human animal, but her personal credo as well—her faith in a social order that combats chaos through civil grace, decency, and wit.

At the novel’s center is Fanny Price, the classic “poor cousin,” brought as a child to Mansfield Park by the rich Sir Thomas Bertram and his wife as an act of charity. Over time, Fanny comes to demonstrate forcibly those virtues Austen most admired: modesty, firm principles, and a loving heart. As Fanny watches her cousins Maria and Julia cast aside their scruples in dangerous flirtations (and worse), and as she herself resolutely resists the advantages of marriage to the fascinating but morally unsteady Henry Crawford, her seeming austerity grows in appeal and makes clear to us why she was Austen’s own favorite among her heroines.

/Source: Goodreads/

My Thoughts
I am a Jane Austen addict, there’s no doubt about that. And, it is a well-known theory of mine that everybody will find something in at least one of her works. The situations and characters depicted in Jane Austen’s books are absolutely natural – that is to say, everything looks true to life. She had a thorough knowledge of the human nature, which is why her books, her ideas are timeless and boundless. Someone who read her oeuvre will be able to recognize the Mr Collinses, Mr and Mrs Bennets, Mrs Jenningses, Mr Woodhouses, etc, etc among his/her relatives, friends, or acquaintances, and laugh at them heartily, if he/she has a good sense of humour. This is what the magic of Jane Austen consists in, and the primary reason why I adore Jane Austen.

Having said this, I must admit that Mansfield Park was a major disappointment to me. It wasn’t the writing or the plot that I disliked. There were lots of readers who emphasized in their reviews that the book had dragged. I don’t share this view. Even though there was something in the plot that I rather disliked – those long chapters in which the young people wanted to put on a play, and in the end, it was busted –, I didn’t find the story/book boring. That was no problem for me. What I had a problem with was the romance. . .

July 25, 2013

Beauty, Bookmarks & Branch

Today, I am going to reveal my obsession with all things beautiful in general and Susan Branch’s illustrations in particular, as well as to share with you some photos of my bookmark collection.

What constitutes beauty? Nobody knows. The same thing can be perceived both beautiful and ugly, depending on the beholder. There are certainly lots of people who find beauty in Francis Bacon’s paintings, but I truly dislike them. By contrast, I’m a huge fan of Gainsborough or Monet. Also, even though it is considered stylish and modern, and costs a fortune, I would never ever live in a concrete cube, such as this. But, I would love to live in a charming Georgian mansion house, such as this, even if I would be deemed old-fashioned. Likewise, I prefer pretty dresses to jeans, silk and lace to cotton, roses to daises, nail polish and make up to bare face and nails etc. etc. I am very Anneish in this respect . . .

This is also the reason why it is and has always been very important to me how my books and bookmarks look like. There is nothing more disappointing than a book printed on a rough and stinky paper. I don’t like to touch such books and can’t even fancy reading them. Likewise, I always need some pretty bookmarks to accompany my readings; otherwise, I would feel uncomfortable. Hence, I always looking and searching for stylish bookmarks when I go shopping. Here is a picture of some of the many bookmarks, I have collected over the years.



However, about two years ago, when I used to live in Switzerland, I somehow wasn’t able to find any “decent” bookmarks. So, I went online and searched, and searched, and searched. And, after many hours I came across Susan Branch’s website and blog, and, as it was one of the most beautiful websites I had ever seen, I fell in love with it immediately. If you haven’t heard of her yet, you should go and check out her site (don’t forget to subscribe to Willard, the best newsletter you’ve ever received), because besides being a highly talented illustrator, she IS a kindred spirit.

Susan’s works seem to be inspired by her adoration of Beatrix Potter, but they are nevertheless highly original. She is also an avid fan of Jane Austen, L.M. Montgomery, and all things British. And she is, of course, a passionate cook and gardener, and a bookworm. Susan is also the author of several cookbooks and books about housekeeping, all of which she has written and illustrated by hand. Her newest book, A Fine Romance, is about to be published and recounts the events of her visit to England last summer. This book is highly recommended to readers who love the English countryside, would like to read a rather extraordinary travel book, and prefer watercolour illustrations to fancy high-gloss photos.

So, back in 2011, I discovered Susan Branch’s world and have stalked followed her ever since. And, I have happily printed, cut out, and added the bookmarks provided by her for free to my collection. Aren’t they just beautiful?



On June 26, 2013 then, Susan told her followers in a post that she would give away a Beatrix Potter bookmark to someone lucky. This bookmark wasn’t meant to be a bookmark; originally, it was planned to be an illustration for the new book, but Susan was somehow unhappy with it. So, she had used it as a scrap paper, before deciding to cut it up and making bookmarks from the strips. And, guess who was the lucky one who won the Beatrix Potter bookmark? Yeah right, it’s ME! When I got the email from Susan, I just went crazy . . . And, a couple of weeks later, one of the most stylish and beautiful envelopes ever arrived in Hungary, containing a short note by Susan and the bookmark. This is how it looked like:



As you may see, the bookmark is also signed and personalised by her! Can you imagine how excited and happy I was and have been since? And, because I’m so glad, I wanted to thank her publicly. Which is why this post came into being . . . So, thank you indeed, Susan!

PS: In case you are wondering how you could have your own Susan Branch bookmarks, be sure to check out these posts over on her blog: The Wonderful Magical Moon . . . Bella Luna; Hearts and Flowers; Went to a Garden Party . . .; Blessings; Critters, Springtime and YOU!; Here Comes Summer . . .; Minutia (of the best kind); as well as the "free stuff section" of her shop.

July 18, 2013

The Passing Bells by Phillip Rock

The guns of August are rumbling throughout Europe in the summer of 1914, but war has not yet touched Abingdon Pryory. Here, at the grand home of the Greville family, the parties, dances, and romances play on. Alexandra Greville embarks on her debutante season while brother Charles remains hopelessly in love with the beautiful, untitled Lydia Foxe, knowing that his father, the Earl of Stanmore, will never approve of the match. Downstairs the new servant, Ivy, struggles to adjust to the routines of the well-oiled household staff, as the arrival of American cousin Martin Rilke, a Chicago newspaperman, causes a stir. But, ultimately, the Great War will not be denied, as what begins for the high-bred Grevilles as a glorious adventure soon takes its toll—shattering the household's tranquillity, crumbling class barriers, and bringing its myriad horrors home. (Source: Goodreads)

My Thoughts
This book has repeatedly been recommended to Downton Abbey fans; also the front cover of the new edition says: "Before Downton Abbey, there was Abingdon Pryory..." As I am a hardcore Downton Abbey fan and upon reading Laurel Ann's review, I knew I must read this trilogy. And, I ordered all three books without hesitation, because I prefer reading all parts of a series, even if it's very likely that I won't love all parts equally. Anyway, I am currently reading the third instalment; so, I don't have an opinion of the whole series yet. Nevertheless, I wanted to share my thoughts about the first part as soon as possible. Also, I thought that this review would be just perfect for me to return to my neglected blog and to you.

July 01, 2013

Austen in August: A Reading Event Hosted by Adam


Oh my... It's ages since my last post, and I truly wish I had more time to blog and to socialise. I haven't even been on Twitter for God knows how long. Work has been so crazy lately!!! And, I am missing my blogosphere friends. :-(

Despite being so busy with work, I have not neglected reading. So far I have read 10 classics, which is what I aimed at this year, and I've also read 13 other books. That means that I have read 23 books until now, and my goal for this year was to read 30 books at least. So, I'm on schedule...

Originally, I planned to read all major works by Jane Austen in spring, but I got tempted by other books, which is why I still have to (re)read Emma. I'm also participating in the What Would Jane Do?, The Romance, and the 2013 Women challenges, and have some Austenish books on my TBR list. Hence, when I got an invitation to the Austen in August reading event, which is hosted by Adam from Roof Beam Reader, I couldn't say no. So, thanks for the invitation and for hosting the event, Adam. My answer is: YES!

For this event I'm planning to read:

1. Emma by Jane Austen (for the obvious reason)
2. Austenland by Shannon Hale (because many people say it's one of the best reimaginations)
3. Sanditon, The Watsons, and Lady Susan by Jane Austen (if I still have time, after finishing the above two, and because I've never read these)

So, that's that. My sign-up post for the Austen in August reading event. If you'd like to join, just hop over to Adam's blog, read the details and sign-up too!

See you in August, when, hopefully, I will have more time to write reviews and chat!

April 02, 2013

Top Ten Tuesday: Guys I Would Crush On If I Were A Heroine

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday is about characters we'd crush on if we were fictional characters. Even though I've always wanted to be very clever and sensible in my love relationships, I must confess that for a very long time I used to closely resemble Marianne Dashwood in this regard.

I was not only hyper-romantic but also mega naive; hence, I trusted in many a man who were charming and loved by everybody but who turned out to be such a disappointment to me. Hence, I'm sure that even if I were a fictional character, I would have a crush on some bad boys. At the same time, I hope that, after one or more of those bad boys would have broken my heart, I would have the good fortune to meet at least one of the good guys, one who would really be worthy of my attention and feelings. :-D For all these reasons, it should come as no surprise that my Top Ten List today doesn't consist of positive characters only...

March 12, 2013

Top Ten Tuesday: Books at the Top of My Spring 2013 TBR List

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday is about books that we'd like to read this spring. Some days ago I finished Tom Jones by Henry Fielding at last. Even though it's one of my favourite classics, it's a chunkster and a rather difficult read, especially if you're a non-native English speaker. Thus, it took me a long time to finish it. But now I'm done reading it and can devote myself to reading other books.

This year, I finished five classics from my Classics Club list and am going to read five or six more. But, I also want to read some contemporary fictions—adult and young adult. The Top Ten Books at the Top of My Spring 2013 TBR Pile reflect these plans:

March 11, 2013

Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild

Pauline, Petrova and Posy are orphans determined to help out their new family by joining the Children's Academy of Dancing and Stage Training. But when they vow to make a name for themselves, they have no idea it's going to be such hard work! They launch themselves into the world of show business, complete with working papers, the glare of the spotlight, and practice, practice, practice! Pauline is destined for the movies. Posy is a born dancer. But practical Petrova finds she'd rather pilot a plane than perform a pirouette. Each girl must find the courage to follow her dream. (Source: Goodreads)

My Thoughts
To be honest, even though I spent my childhood and young adulthood with reading children’s classics, I had never heard of Noel Streatfield until I saw the movie You’ve Got Mail (1998), by which time I had attained full age already. Nevertheless, Meg Ryan’s enthusing about Streatfield’s Ballet Shoes made me want to read it, but somehow life prevented me from reading it. Several years later, a good friend of mine presented me with this book, but I still wasn’t able to read it, because I was writing on my doctoral thesis at that time. But last year, upon joining the Classics Club, I decided that this novel will be among the first classics, which had been sitting on my shelf unread, that I will read for the Classics Club challenge. I had been looking forward to reading it for so long, and was so sure that I will love it. But I didn't. I am very sorry to admit that this book was really disappointing.