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November was, in short, an insane month on my end. I took the last week off to “catch-up” with “life things” (such as going to Belgium and doing NaNoWriMo and reading), which was when I managed to read these books (few as they are). Anyway, books!

50. Antony Miall and David Milsted – The Xenophobe’s Guide to the English (23 Nov)

This started off as a desperate loltastic attempt to get an “X” title for my Alphabet Soup Challenge, but I’m so glad I decided to go for it!

50 - Xenophobes-EnglishDescription: Because the English do not like being told what to do, any order has to be given with a degree of politeness which many other nations find incomprehensible.

Should you follow custom and express an order as a request, you will achieve the desired effect. Express it simply as an order, with no hint of personal choice, and the English will invariably break for tea.

Overall thoughts: This was an utterly hilarious book that quite accurately describes English “quirks” while also providing a few rather logical explanations for such behaviour/preferences/endearing little bits and bobs. I laughed out loud several times, and could really relate to the contents—everything just rings so true here! This would be a great read for anyone who has English friends and who has experienced the “English way”—and maybe for someone who’s actually English, and who isn’t easily offended. I’m actually really looking forward to reading more books from the series—if this is anything to go by, I’m sure the rest will be equally hilarious!

For those who like numbers: 4.5/5

51. Alexandre Dumas – The Black Tulip (Oxford World Classics) (27 Nov)

I read this while in Belgium, and all the Dutch and Belgian references were just super amazing and made me squeal like no tomorrow. Very topical book for that particular holiday!

51 - Black Tulip Blurb: Alexandre Dumas’s novels are notable for their suspense and excitement, their foul deeds, hairsbreadth escapes, and glorious victories. In The Black Tulip (1850), the shortest of Dumas’s most famous tales, the real hero is no Musketeer, but a flower. The novel—a deceptively simple story—is set in Holland in 1672, and waves the historical events surrounding the brutal murder of John de Witte and his brother Cornelius into a tale of romantic love. The novel is also a timeless political allegory in which Dumas, drawing on the violence and crimes of history, makes his case against tyranny and puts all his energies into creating a symbol of justice and tolerance: the fateful tulipa negra.

This new edition reprints the first classic English translation. David Coward sets the novel in the context of the author’s life, the turbulent history of the Dutch Republic, and the amazing “tulipmania” of the seventeenth century which brought wealth to some and ruin to many.

Plot: The story’s rather simple but still very lovely and engaging, which made the novel an excellent read. In terms of action and events, the novel is split up into two sections, with the first four chapters setting up the historical context and creating the political tension, and the rest of the novel dealing with the “repercussions” that are, well…repercussion-y. I don’t want to say any more due to spoilers, but I certainly enjoyed the way the plot was executed!

Characters: I didn’t adore any of the characters, but I didn’t find fault with any of them. I cared enough about their personal struggles and the overall outcome, but I wouldn’t have been devastated or anything if things hadn’t turned out the way I’d wanted/expected.

Themes: I loved the historical/political aspect of the novel—I think that I just generally like intimate stories of individuals set against a large, sweeping background. Admittedly, I don’t know all that much about Dutch history (or horticulture), but my appreciation has certainly grown after reading this!

Language: I don’t feel there’s much I can say here, the book being a translation, but I did enjoy the writing, though nothing stands out for me.

Overall: A solid little book, which I’m really glad I read. Yay for discovering lovely thugs through reading challenges!

For those who like numbers: 4/5

52. Cathy Lamb – Julia’s Chocolates (28 Nov)

I suppose this is the second novel of the chick lit genre I’ve read (after A Very a Accidental Love Story), and, uh, let’s just say that I really don’t seem to be cut out for that genre in general…

52 - Julia's ChocolatesBlurb: When Julia Bennett leaves her abusive fiancé at the altar, she knows life will never be the same again. Seeking comfort, she heads to her Aunt Lydia’s rambling farmhouse when she is welcomed by an eccentric, warm and wise group of women. Meeting once a week for drinks and the baring of souls, it becomes clear that every woman holds secrets that keep her from happiness.

What will it take for them to become their true selves? For Julia, it’s chocolate. All her life, baking has been her therapy and her refuge, a way to heal wounds and make friends. But it can’t keep her safe. As Julia gradually opens her heart to a new life, with new friendships, and a new love, the past is catching up with her. And this time, she’ll have to face it head on.

Plot: I just…didn’t really care about the story, mostly because it felt super predictable, and there was no point in me being invested in it cause it was pretty obvious what would happen… Also, I was hoping for a greater focus on chocolates and chocolate-making, and was sorely disappointed at the lack!

Characters: I didn’t mind some of the characters, which is a good thing, I guess… But I also didn’t like how some of the “bad people” were so obviously villainised, without any subtlety.

Themes: Uh, I don’t know, and I kinda stopped caring after a bit. Wanted more chocolate, though!

Language: Fortunately, this was a really easy read, and I got through it rather quickly. The writing certainly facilitated speed-reading and skimming, which was yay for me!

Overall: Uh, unless I receive a really strong recommendation in the future (or am simply desperate for titles to fit book challenges), I don’t think I’ll be venturing into any more chick lit… As for my copy, let’s just say that I ended up “donating” mine to a cafe near Utrecht Centraal station—maybe someone else would find some pleasure from it!

For those who like numbers: 1.5/5

I’ve got five more books to finish before I complete both my 2014 reading challenges, so here’s to hoping for a December with some time for reading!