Review: Cass R. Sunstein & Reid Hastie – Wiser

Wiser
Getting Beyond Groupthink to Make Groups Smarter
Cass R. Sunstein & Reid Hastie

“Since the beginning of human history, people have made decisions in groupsβ€”first in families and villages, and now as part of companies, governments, school boards, religious organizations, or any one of countless other groups. And having more than one person to help decide is good because the group benefits from the collective knowledge of all of its members, and this results in better decisions. Right?”

This book was not for me. Although it’s in the “management” section of the library’s non-fiction, it’s all about theory and there is nothing practical or examples of what to do next. Not only is it theory, but it also doesn’t show “the right answer” at the conclusion of the theories. It basically says this can happen, and this can happen and this can also happen. It has no point or message that the book is conveying.

The message of the book is that group decisions are hard due to a number of reasons. These include: an individual’s bias, and how humans tend to agree with others – this causes a cascade of errors. Although the book is structured in chapters of “how groups fail” and then “how groups succeed”, the chapters didn’t really mean anything. The authorities continued to use examples of how groups fail in the succeeding section. Honestly I still don’t know the “solution” to this problem, and how to succeed.

The authors mentioned the same examples more than once, including writing that they would refer to it again in a later chapter. I don’t know why it couldn’t just be fully explained then and there? By the end of the Introduction I had already been convinced that groups fail in their logical thinking all the time, and I was ready for the solutions. I then fell asleep, lost interest and put the book down several times. The only semi-redeeming factors were the few story examples in the tournaments section and the fact that the authors used references for their work.

I did finish this book, but it’s only getting 2 stars. Don’t bother – there are better things out there. Anything is better than this.

Review: Harvard Business Review – Leading Virtual Teams (S)

Leading Virtual Teams
HBR 20-Minute Manager Series
Harvard Business Review

“Leading any team involves managing people, technical oversight, and project administration, but leaders of virtual teams perform these functions from afar. Don’t have much time? Get up to speed fast on the most essential business skills with HBR’s 20-Minute Manager series. Whether you need a crash course or a brief refresher, each book in the series is a concise, practical primer that will help you brush up on a key management topic.”

This book is a small, short quick read. It’s a nice little pocket size read. Unfortunately, I don’t think I really got anything out of it. It has some nice tips, including exact questions for team surveys or improving in general. However I felt I have already implemented most, if not all, of the things mentioned in it. I guess it’s a nice little reminder that I’m on the right track.

This book was published a few years ago, but would be even more applicable today given COVID-19 and teams being forced to work from home. I think overall it’s a good little read and has a few helpful pointers if you are new to leading virtual teams. Borrow it from the library, don’t bother buying it. You probably won’t want to read it more than once.

Review: Sarah Liu – The World We See (S)

The World We See
Leadership Lessons From Australia’s Iconic Change Makers
Sarah Liu

“The World We See is not just a compilation of leadership insights from 30 iconic Australian leaders, but a collective declaration that we will create a world where gender parity is not a dream, but a reality. In this book, female and male leaders share their life lessons and vision for a better tomorrow where every single one of us, regardless of gender, can rise up to get us one step closer to the world we envision.”

Suzi picked this book up from the library, so the following review is hers. I was after a book that wasn’t theory based for a change, and had more real life examples and stories to learn from. he title misled me, sadly. “Leadership lessons from Australia’s iconic change makers” – from this, I really expected actual lessons, stories and examples. However, what I received was 2-3 pages from each leader of wishy washy, meant to be inspiring and motivating, crap. This was the type of motivating crap that says “lighten up” or “the measure of success must be yours” or “failure isn’t falling down, it’s remaining where you’ve fallen”. This was paired with a quote on a coloured background page in between each leader’s lesson. If I wanted motivational sentences, I’d read ‘The Secret’!

To top it off, the whole book is also about gender inequality, and is aimed to be motivating to women in the workforce. I don’t have a problem with this being mentioned, but it felt like every leader had to say something empowering to women in their 3 page lesson, which was a waste and not necessary. This also included males saying they are open to women in the workforce – I bloody well hope so! I personally don’t feel that women need anymore empowering or motivating than men, and if they do they aren’t going to get it from this book. Everyone is equal, end of discussion. Gender diversity doesn’t need to be made into a big deal. Maybe it’s just my industry, but I work with more women than men, including women in high level roles, so I don’t see it as an issue.

Overall, what I got out of this book was nothing. It was a waste of my time. I felt that the leaders included could have used their few pages better to tell an actual story with a leadership lesson in it. Not fluff with coloured backgrounded quoted pages that can be found on the internet. I didn’t finish reading it. It might be non-fiction and I don’t have to rate it, but it’s hardly worth a single star.

Review: Amy Tintera – Reboot Duology

Reboot and Rebel (Reboot Duology)
Amy Tintera

Wren 178 is the oldest Reboot in the system. She died once, and it took 178 minutes for her body to reboot and become superior to a human one – no emotions, no problems. Wren’s favourite part of the job is training new reboots to kill ‘bad’ humans effortlessly. She always gets her first pick of trainees, and she always picks the ones that took a long time to reboot – only the fittest and hardest can survive. In a fit of confusion, Wren chooses Callum 22 to train, and then finds that she isn’t quite the emotionless monster she thinks she is.

I felt some confusion on why the virus was only in Texas. I didn’t get a sense of anything in the rest of the global landscape. It would have been better, I think, if this had just been set in a new world. I spent a fair amount of time wondering what the other states/cities of the USA were doing about the virus. Is there scope for a sequel where Wren takes on other states that treat reboots like property?

I had some unanswered questions. Why wasn’t HARC looking into why adults that caught KDV went crazy? I feel like since some of the drugs they were testing on the under 60’s (Reboots that revived under 60 minutes) caused craziness rather than obedience, and the adult link could be useful.

This is a successful perversion of the fact that in some countries, war has created ‘child soldiers’. The ‘civilised’ countries can’t believe that someone would do that to an innocent child – but Tintera takes that concept and makes it worse. You only need to be 10 to train to be a Reboot soldier.

There’s a whole lotta kissin’ in these novels. Sure, two of the characters eventually have sex, and sex seems to be a sort of substitute for love/feelings earlier in the series – but it’s not satisfying. It’s not even that obvious, so you could even give this to a teenager who isn’t quite comfortable with the idea of sex yet.

I have to say that I was very disappointed in the ending of this. Riley was dealt with far too calmly, and the escape from HARC unlikely. I guess that it seems quite straight forward that the threat could be contained. This fits the feeling of the Ruina series (reviews here) where the first book was a fantastic 5 stars, but the later ones left me cold with only a 3 star rating. So it’s a 4 star average for this one – fun to read, but not a reread.

Review: Mercedes Lackey & Rosemary Edghill – The Waters and the Wild

The Waters and the Wild
Mercedes Lackey and Rosemary Edghill

Olivia’s summer is looking pretty fine. A family vacation away from her divorcing parents with her super-hot, popular boyfriend? But when her boyfriend pays no more attention to her than he does to his brothers, Olivia is left wondering why he brought her – for himself? Or someone else…

I was surprised that Blake didn’t try to take sexual advantage of Olivia. Olivia was (and is) such a pathetic character with almost no spine (and no self-confidence) that I felt sure Blake would have pushed her into sex, and she’d have justified it. Her best-friend’s concern just seemed to blow right past Olivia, but how can one person be so clueless? Olivia is just plain dumb (perhaps what more can I expect from a vegan who survives on PBJs?).

Olivia’s depression is a grey fog that I almost thought was supernatural – Blake literally pulling the life out of her. She certainly couldn’t think straight about anything that was going on, and her inner voice rang true for me. However, the ending of the novel basically has her curing her clinical depression with a near-death experience and some bonding with her mother – and that reads to me of just being

I found the ending particularly unsatisfying. Blake is essentially able to get off scot-free to continue abusing women. I find that extremely upsetting and although realistic, not a notion that I want to see furthered anywhere. Essential Olivia’s going to go off the college, and the rest of the world will just go on.

This is a return to the Serrated Edge series where elves drive race cars. The novel Silence (my review here) is very similar to this on in plot (young woman/girl in peril is saved by mysterious otherworldly person). Actually, I thought that this series / world / universe was commanded by Mercedes Lackey with co-writers, but it turns out that there are a couple of books by single authors as well that I might bother reading if I can find them at the library. 3 stars from me, but don’t go rush out and buy it.

Review: Brandon Sanderson – Oathbringer (N)

Oathbringer
Brandon Sanderson

The Parshendi of the Shattered Plains have fallen but at terrible cost. The Everstorm has come and irrevocably changed the Parshmen of the world. One success, they have uncovered the lost city of the Radiant Knights, Urithiru. Dalinar realises that his goal of uniting the 10 Highprinces was not enough and sets his sights on uniting the world in the face of the return of the Voidbringers. But to do this Dalinar must confront his past and all the pain therein.

I was lucky enough to basically read the first three books of the Stormlight Archive for the first time, one after the other right before the fourth book came out. So there have been a lot of connections and inklings made as I’ve read the books, much to the delight of the other Sanderson Fan in the house. Having the little details of the past filled in makes for incredible reading. Often my perception of a character got turned on its head as the details were filled in. The small quotes at the beginning of some chapters provide a little bit of insight though usually only in retrospect did I realise that they were offering that insight. It made for the best sort of game when i was able to catch those details.

Just like the previous two books provided backstory details on Kaladin and Shallan repectively. The backstory in this book was about Dalinar. And oh goodness, were there are ton of details. I had a perception of Dalinar before this book. And he wasn’t my favourite character. He still isn’t, but I can relate to him a little more. Some of his flashbacks were heart-rending. Mainly because there is a weight of experience to Dalinar’s memories. It does come to a a head towards the end of the book in the best possible way.

Interestingly, I’m still very on the fence on who my favourite character is. Because there are aspects of a lot of characters that I enjoy. Kaladin’s fierce desire to protect, Shallan’s struggle with her past and her mind, Adolin’s cheerful nature, Navani’s organised approach and scientific rigour. I think at the moment I appreciate Adolin the most because he knows he is only a person in the wake of the return of the Radiant Knights. But he still wants to be the best version of him.

The main part of a Sanderson book that I love the most is that it makes you think. And it give you the chance to catch the Easter eggs. I’ll definitely be re-reading these books again in the future. Because I know I didn’t catch all the hints and I look forward to catching them. If you haven’t read this series, or are on the fence about it definitely give them a try. They won’t disappoint if you are a fan of epic fantasy. These books fit the term in an incredibly satisfying way.

Review: Brandon Sanderson – Words of Radiance (N)

Words of Radiance
Brandon Sanderson

The war on the Shattered Plains continues with no end in sight. Kaladin pushes to keep his people safe, even as he is conflicted between his anger and what is right. Dalinar seeks to end the war with the Parshendi while struggling to understand the path he must take to move forward. Shallan finds herself caught between lies and truth, all the while attempting to ignore the pain of her past. The Everstorm comes and will overtake them all if they cannot unite.

I don’t know where to even start with this book. It was a ride from start to finish. A little slow in places but each story line works parallel to the others. So while one story line might be slow the others may be filling in background knowledge or moving forward. Keeping the reader on the edge of their seat. I had trouble putting the book down at all since I wanted to know what would happen. We get to know each of the characters a little more, as well as getting insight between the characters now that they are in the same place. I couldn’t begin to say who my favourite is, since I love them all for different reasons. Kal is completely bull-headed but has the advantage of being the first character you get to know. Adolin could easily be put into the role of typical privileged noble, but isn’t. Shallan is the back story focus this time around. And I’m beginning to like her more for the twists and turns that her story takes. Her growing more of a spine on her own only helps there.

Sanderson as ever, takes the story line and twists it on its head. You can tell so much planning has gone into these books. Finding out that there was more going on behind the scenes with the Parshendi was a kick to the guts. That perspective makes it hard to totally side with the characters that you have known from The Way of Kings. Sanderson remains top class when it comes to trope breaking and I really cannot get enough of it.

One aspect of these books I adore are the interludes where we get a little bit of extra information about the world of Roshar in general, hints about what may happen with the actual narrative, and what I am sure in some cases are set-up for later books. Given that this is the second book of a planned 10, there is a lot that is only just getting set up to ensure a good flow from start to finish.

This is definitely 5 stars from me. I could not put these books down, and I loved the way these books made me thinks as the characters struggled and came to realisations about themselves and the world. I will definitely be reading them again in the future.

Review: Amelia Mellor – The Grandest Bookshop in the World

The Grandest Bookshop in the World
Amelia Mellor

Pearl Cole is sure that she lives in the greatest place in the world. She stays home, and reads on the topics that make her happy. She looks up to her Pa and loves her siblings. But one sibling has died, leaving a hole in the family that the mysterious Obscurosmith can exploit. Can Pearl and Vally save their arcade, or will it, and their memories, be gone forever?

This novel confused me. My daughter received it for Christmas and I grabbed it up – who wouldn’t want to read a book about a bookstore? I was then informed that it was based on a true location/story/event. However, although I was able to suspend my disbelief for some of the novel, eventually I was left feeling confused and a bit cheated. It might be a real location (as described in the historical note), with some of the games passed down from child to child, but it wasn’t a true ‘based-on’ novel.

I liked the magic system in this book. Magic works based on three things: imagination, articulation and conviction. But apart from that, there are no rules! Each person can shape the magic as they like to, and some are better at it than others. Some people are very successful at it, such as writers like Pa Cole, while others are not so good because they are too practical.

There were some laugh-out-loud moments where I giggled so much my birdie thought the world was shaking! The games were fun, and I got enjoyment out of trying to solve the riddles just from the information the children gave me. As the novel progressed, I had to work harder to keep the magic alive in my mind, and that spoiled the novel for me.

I love the idea of a bookshop where you can read as long as you like – I have some favourite memories of sitting in a bookstore, hidden from the staff, polishing off a novel while my parents shopped. Of course it’s frowned upon – but there aren’t any libraries in most store arcades! As digital books continue to take over, the historical artifact of a brick-and-mortar bookstore will fade. And I will be very sad, even if it’s just the idea that excites me.

I won’t reread it as the games aren’t fascinating enough for that, but I’d highly recommend it to its intended audience of children, say 8 years and older. 3 stars from me for adults, 4 stars for children.

Review: Timothy C Winegard – The Mosquito

The Mosquito
Timothy C Winegard

“Why was gin and tonic the cocktail of choice for British colonists in India and Africa? What does Starbucks have to thank for its global domination? What has protected the lives of popes for millennia? Why did Scotland surrender its sovereignty to England? What was George Washington’s secret weapon during the American Revolution? The answer to all these questions, and many more, is the mosquito.”

It’s that time of year where I try to purge the books that haven’t been read in a year from my shelf. Several have somehow missed by rader – perhaps I couldn’t face this one with another epidemic going on. I can think back to the end of 2019 and remember that I was very grateful that COVID-19 wasn’t vector-borne, because that would make it almost impossible to eradicate. Unfortunately, life a year on suggests that there is still more disease to deal with (as I write this review, the first vaccines are being administered in the USA).

Nevertheless, this is an interesting, if somewhat dense, book about vector-borne diseases – specifically those transmitted by mosquitoes. I somehow didn’t get past the introduction and first chapter, probably because my background as a mosquito scientist. There is a focus on malaria, which is of course the most ‘popular’ disease. My own mosquito-borne disease choice is dengue, so I wasn’t as wrapped in it. Dengue is an emerging epidemic, so it’s not really mentioned in here.

The chapter titles of this book are quite inspired! Unfortunately, for me it eventually turned out that I didn’t finish reading it. It truly was a history rather than a science-filled narrative of the mosquito. I’m just not that keen on history (coming from someone who thought that the ‘cold war’ was cold because it snows in Russian…).

A really cool fact I learn from this book was that malaria was used in the 1920s to treat syphilis! The guy that thought of the idea got a Nobel prize, and so people would line up to be given malaria in order to treat their STI. Then a couple of years later we discovered antibiotics, thank goodness!

You’d be forgiven for thinking that this was a hardback at this price point, but sadly it isn’t. It’s solid book that is going to be the perfect gift for someone who loves history.

Text Publishing | 20 October 2019 | AU$32.99 | paperback

Review: Elisabetta Dami – Thea & Geronimo Stilton Mouse novels

Superstore Surprise
Geronimo Stilton

“It’s the grand opening of Traps new superstore, but nothing is working. The lights won’t turn on, the doors won’t open, and the loudspeaker is broken. Geronimo must figure out who is trying to sabotage the grand opening!”

Scholastic | 1st December 2020 | AU$12.99 | paperback

The Magic of the Mirror
Thea Stilton

“The Thea Sisters are summoned to the Seven Roses Unit by Will Mystery, but when they get there Will is missing! The sisters must follow a trail of clues to the Fantasy Kingdoms on their quest to find Will.”

Scholastic | 1st December 2020 | AU$19.99 | hardback (special edition)

Both these books are children’s fiction which I normally wouldn’t request. In fact, they are weird because they are by the same author, but are written under the pen names of their mice protagonists – Thea and Geronimo Stilton. Thus although these are written in the same universe, a child requesting this book wouldn’t know that they are by the same author! And I personally wouldn’t know how to categorize them in an alphabetical-by-author bookshelf.

These two beginning reader book are quick and quirky to read as an adult, and perfect for their intended age bracket of children in grades 2-4 (reading level 4). The font is large, and interesting/important words are emphasized to give some lightness to the reading.

Obviously I’m not the target audience for this. Upon watching my 11 year old daughter read other books by these mice, she laughed and giggled at multiple points – so I’m taking that as a good sign! I’m not 100% on whether these would suit young male readers as well, but they are short and engaging enough that having them read out loud by a beginning reader wouldn’t be too painful.

Both of these novels have been brought by Scholastic into English reading (they were originally written in Italian), but I imagine that the original novels would be just as good. I wonder whether a case could be made for immersion reading in a foreign language? There are some made-up words though, such as ‘fa-mouse-ly’ and I wonder how that worked in the original Italian. But I digress.

I’d confidently put these on the list for buying as a gift for a beginning reader, and suggest them as staples in a school library. The hardback of The Magic in the Mirror is beautiful with top-notch full-colour images inside. I can’t say anything about their rereadability.

NB: This review will be updated with an 11 year old’s perspective some time in January! I very sneakily asked my daughter which of the Scholastic Trade Parade she was interested in, and then hid them until Christmas!