A Year of Reading Big: First Quarter

One of my personal goals for this year is to read some of the bigger books on my shelf. I never really thought about page count or anything like that (although that obviously comes into it…), it was more about the books I’d deliberately put off due to their size.

Here are the big books that I read during this year’s first quarter!

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I’m going to start with a couple of George Eliot novels that I read. My introduction to Eliot was with Middlemarch. Sitting at a hearty 923 pages, I was a bit intimidated to pick this book up. But I am so incredibly happy that I did. Seriously folks, there’s a reason why everyone raves about this. It’s character driven, complicated, dramatic, romantic… all that good stuff! It was wonderful and real and I recommend this book to everyone. Seriously. Everyone. That includes you!

Having fallen madly in love with that, I immediately went out and bought her first novel, Adam Bede. At 624 pages, it certainly wasn’t the longest novel I read for this challenge, but I still think it’s a fair size. A little slower than Middlemarch, I was initially disappointed with this book. But as I kept reading, I became more and more invested in the story. Although Middlemarch still inches out as the favourite, I did really enjoy Adam Bede.

As part of my Reading Chinese Classics series, I also picked up a few Chinese Classics in the past few months. I started with The Dream of the Red Chamber by Cao Xueqin. Over 2000 pages of it. Yeah, that’s right. I wrote a review on it, even. But the general gist is that even though it started out a little slowly for me, by the end of it all, I really did like it a lot.

Then I picked up Romance of the Three Kingdoms by Lo Kuan-Chung. Both volumes checked in at a whooping 1370 pages combined. And yeah! I wrote a review on that too. I didn’t love this quite as much, but I’m glad that I read it either way.

Overall, I didn’t really read as many ‘bigger’ books as I’d hoped to, but I am really proud of myself for finishing both The Dream of the Red Chamber and Romance of the Three Kingdoms.

Series Review: ‘Girl Online’ by Zoe Sugg [Spoilers!]

Warning, warning! This review contains spoilers!


I’ll admit it. When I found out that Zoe (Zoella) Sugg was releasing a novel, I rolled my eyes a little bit. It just felt like a publicity ploy. But I watched her channel a lot when I was younger and I love seeing how successful she is now, so I didn’t hesitate to buy her books when they were released. As I’m writing this, the series stands at three books: Girl Online, Girl Online: On Tour, and Girl Online: Going Solo.

My honest opinion is that people tend to be either too generous or too harsh in their reviews, usually in response to Zoe herself. If they’re diehard fans, they’re very happy to rate them five stars without even having opened them, and if they’re more skeptical of Zoe and her fame, they’ll a little bit mean. As for the supposed ghost writer drama? I don’t really care. If the ghost writer herself doesn’t care, why should I?

The books follow a teenage girl, Penny. She’s a little awkward, but finds solace on her online blog. Then she meets superstar, Noah, and they fall madly in love. But their relationship is hardly perfect, and they both have a lot of other stuff going on.

After reading the first book, Girl Online, I had one immediate thought. And that thought was simply that I wish that the main character, Peggy, felt a bit further removed than Zoella’s online personality. Like Zoe, Peggy is a blogger. She suffers from anxiety. She lives in Brighton. She’s extremely family-orientated. She has a gay best friend.

I mean, I feel like I have to qualify this a bit. Because you know what? I get it. Representation is important. And it’s great to see that Zoe used her book to represent things that are important to her. Anxiety, I suppose, being the big one here. But it would’ve nice to see more of a distinction between Peggy and Zoe.

And I wish that Zoe hadn’t tried to fit so much into such a short series. Following a fairly standard romance plot, I feel like she didn’t have the opportunity to explore those important matters. Since the books focus so much on the romance, there’s little room for Zoe to really develop Peggy’s relationship with her anxiety. The blogging aspect falls to the wayside. And her bestie, Elliot’s, problems also jump up from time to time with little consistency.

When discussing these with a friend (who has also watched a fair few of Zoe’s videos), I said: I mean, sure, it’s not really my kind of book. But it’s quick. It’s fun. And it’s exactly what a lot of her viewers will want from her.

Having now read all three, I still stand by that. These aren’t the kind of books that are going to make you think deeply about life. The romance is too clichéd, the characters lack depth, and the writing style is far from poetic. But I don’t really think her fans were expecting the next Booker prize winner.

In the end, it’s a simple book. But it has enough of that Zoella charm to make you smile once in a while and has a pretty cute romance to boot. And the anxiety aspect, close to Zoe and many of her fans’ hearts, is likely to win over many a reader.

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I do have to say that the last book, Going Solo, is probably the one that disappointed me the most. Why? Because it fell into one of my least favourite traps: the unnecessary love triangle. In my mind, an unnecessary love triangle is when despite multiple love interests, everyone knows who is going to end up with who. Seriously, with Noah and Penny’s break-up at the end of On Tour, there was a great opportunity to make this all about Penny. Penny and her blog. Penny and her life with anxiety. Penny and her friendship with Elliot. But nope. We had to throw in Callum. We had to throw him in, bring Noah back, and suffocate in the drama.

A lot of books aimed at younger audiences have this kind of love triangle, and I just hate them. I feel like it’s a total waste of time. For me, it’s the kind of device that adds little to the plot and absolutely nothing to character development. And, to be honest, for a book titled Going Solo, the huge focus on romance did seem a bit out of place.

Overall, these are a quick and sweet read. I didn’t love them, but I can see how they’re popular with younger readers. I just thought there were a lot of promising aspects sacrificed in the name of romance. In regards to the possibility of continuation? Well, I think it’s all wrapped up rather nicely now, but I wouldn’t say no to a completely new series.


How did you feel about this little trio? Do you think reviewers are being too harsh or too kind? Would you be happy to see this series continued?

Reading Chinese Classics: ‘The Art of War’ by Sun Tzu

Okay, okay. I’ll admit it. I’m currently making my way through Dream of the Red Chamber by Cao Xueqin. It’s one of those pesky Four Chinese Classics and one of the obvious picks for this personal challenge of mine.

It’s also super long. So I’m working my way through it slowly (very, very slowly) and decided picked up something a little shorter during one of my breaks. And so, I picked up a copy of The Art of War by Sun Tzu.

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The Art of War is undoubtedly a book that I never thought I was going to read. I mean, a book all about battling? That’s not exactly up my alley.

On a non-content based note, I also just want to talk about the copy that I picked up. I picked up Watkins’ The Art of War: The New Illustrated Edition translated by Samuel B. Griffith. Guys, this copy is freakin’ beautiful. The red is this beautiful fabric, the characters are a stunning shiny gold, the pages are thick and glossy… Is it obvious that I’m swooning? It even has one of those fancy bookmark things attached (…what are those called, anyway?).

This edition comes with a great introduction. It includes a brief overview of China at the time and a biography of Sun Tzu. The contents itself is heavily footnoted. It has useful clarifications, references specific characters… I just can’t imagine how it could possibly have been better done.

On to the content! This definitely isn’t like anything else I’ve ever read. Essentially, it’s a list of guidelines on how to successfully win battles. I’ll admit that it didn’t exactly thrill me, but I did genuinely find it super interesting.

I mean, it’s been around a long time. And because of that, there wasn’t exactly anything that I hadn’t heard before. But I can definitely see how something like this was once revolutionary.

Overall, I’m really glad that I looked a lil outside my comfort zone and picked this up. Although I was more than skeptical, I actually really enjoyed this.


Let me know if you’ve read this before! Did you love it? Hate it? And if you haven’t read it, do you think you’ll ever be inclined to do so?