Review: Rachael Casella – Mackenzie’s Mission

Mackenzie’s Mission
How One Mother Turned Tragedy into Hope and Love
Rachael Casella

“Rachael Casella is one of the bravest, kindest people you could ever meet… This book is the story of her daughters, her struggles with conception, pregnancy, genetic defects and ultimately death. But it is also the story of triumph over adversity, the strength that can be found in kindness and the power of one woman to affect positive change.”

I requested this book because I’m a geneticist and I’m always excited about genetic disorders (remind me at our next dinner party if you want to hear about my mechanic’s son’s disorder). Unfortunately for me, this book had less about the science and some inaccuracies in it. Fortunately, that’s not really what this book is about.

Casella brings out her story and intertwines it with moments of both hope and horrible pain. She and her husband didn’t really know anything about genetic testing before having their severely disabled child, Mackenzie. Since then, Casella has overcome or equalled her grief with the powerful need to promote more widespread genetic testing.

If you are a family that has suffered from the loss of a child, this book could remind you that you aren’t alone. Anything that promotes discussion of still births and miscarriages, and acknowledges family grief, is a worthy read. I’m not sure that you necessarily need to reread it, but it’s worth a single read.

This book reminds me how fortunate we are in Australia that women can have access to medical abortions if they need them. Also, that people are slightly more open about miscarriage and IVF journeys without ever reaching their destination. My personal opinion however is that there are other options than having your own biological children, and there are lots of kids out there that need a loving home. But I digress…

Somehow this book escaped my rigorous recording of when it came in the door and who the publicist was. In addition, I could swear that I had reviewed it, but alas, my beginning thoughts were lost. Fortunately for this book, I don’t have to give it stars (yay, non-fiction!) but I wouldn’t necessarily go for this book as a gift in time for Christmas anyway.

Allen & Unwin | 1st June 2020 | AU$29.99 | paperback

Review: Megan Campisi – The Sin Eater

The Sin Eater
Megan Campisi

May is thinking only of where her next meal is coming from, but she gets caught stealing a loaf of bread (how stereotypical!). The next thing she knows, she’s the town’s resident Sin Eater – bound to eat the sins of others on their deathbed. While her stomach might be full, her heart and life seem empty.

This novel initially had a lot going for it. I read ‘The Sin Eater’s Daughter‘ originally, and I actually first thought that this was a reprint of it. However, the longer the novel went on, the more painful it became. I couldn’t understand the purpose behind it.

What this novel did spark interest in me about was tongue tattooing. Is it really done? How much does it hurt? How accurate is the healing process? A quick google tells me that yes – people do it, no – it doesn’t really hurt that much and it should only take 3 weeks to heal up. In fact, a tongue tattoo isn’t a forever tattoo – it will eventually wear away. It can also damage your tastebuds. Hawaiian women used to have this done as part of tribal practices. Fascinating!

Maybe I’m not the target audience? I can’t say that English history (or history in general) excites me, and the theoretical wrong-doing of Queen Elizabeth I left me cold. Also, I didn’t even make that connection between the Bethany in the story and Queen Elizabeth – I had to go hunting through GoodReads reviews to find this interesting fact out.

I’m going to give this 2 stars from me. It didn’t seem that interesting, and as I wrote the review I felt more ambivalent about it. I’d recommend it for someone who enjoys historical fiction, and perhaps Elizabethan history in particular.

Pan Macmillan | 1st April 2020 | AU$29.99 | paperback

Review: Tui T Sutherland – The Winglets Quartet

The Winglets Quartet
Tui T Sutherland

“Fiercetooth, a NightWing obsessed with what could have — and should have — been. Deathbringer, desperate to prove himself as the next great NightWing assassin. Six-Claws, a loyal SandWing, who will soon find that loyalty comes with a price. Foeslayer the NightWing, a dragon in love turned kidnapper, and Prince Arctic of the IceWings, a runaway turned captive.”

This is a combined review from my daughter (11 years) and myself. She’s still getting the hang of book reviews, but I have great hopes for the future! Her comments:

This book was Wonderful, I enjoyed reading immensely. I think it’s one of the best books in the Wings of Fire series [Rose notes here that she has spent most of her pocket money buying these books, despite finding free copies online]. There are several different stories and I liked that the dragons then had some back story. The second and third short stories go together, which was pretty awesome.

The fourth was my favourite because I really like the ice kingdom and it’s really cool. [Rose: No pun intended!]. The third one was pretty good two because we met the Nightmare Assassin’s mother (the one that Glory met). The second one was a let down, the ending wasn’t as good.

Rose: From my adult standing, and the fact that I generally hate short stories, I felt frustrated by this book. It also didn’t help that I felt somewhat rushed into reading it because I needed to deliver it to my daughter (the new COVID-normal, apparently). I had finished reading the first three books of the Wings of Fire, but hadn’t started the next ones. I think it’s essential to finish reading those first five books to enjoy this one to its fullest.

Thanks for Scholastic for sending this one for my review! I’m not going to reread it (but I’m not its major audience), but my daughter would go out and buy it herself if she hadn’t gotten a copy. She’s also rereading all of these to the exclusion of other books – so they must be good. 4 combined stars. I’d recommend it to any book buyer who has a crazy dragon-fancier in their house. I don’t think you could go wrong buying this for budding dragonologists!

Scholastic | October 2020 | AU$6.99 | paperback

Review: Patrick Lencioni – The Advantage (S)

The Advantage:
Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business
Patrick Lencioni

“There is a competitive advantage out there, arguably more powerful than any other. Is it superior strategy? Faster innovation? Smarter employees? No, New York Times best-selling author, Patrick Lencioni, argues that the seminal difference between successful companies and mediocre ones has little to do with what they know and how smart they are and more to do with how healthy they are.”

This book is a bit of a disappointment from this author. The way it comes across is as a kind of summary of his 5 other books. His other 5 books are fables and go into each item in more detail. The idea of this book was to put each thing in context, however I felt that was lost. He said at the start that you didn’t have to have read his 5 other books first before this one.

I had read 3/5 at the time so I continued reading. He ended up providing a summary of each as he went, whereas it could have been better if he said read the 5 books first before reading this one, because he repeated parts of those books.

It had some good take away things, as in 6 questions that you go away and answer about your business.
1. Why do we exist?
2. How do we behave?
3. What do we do?
4. How will we succeed?
5. What is most important, now?
6. Who must do what?

Overall, it’s just not as good as his other books at all. There are some good parts, but disappointingly it’s written in the normal business type style book not in a fable sense like his others. The start was good as I was hooked early on, but I felt it went down hill at the end (and felt a bit rushed, honestly). It’s not a re-read, or a buy (I borrowed it through Scribd), but I still want to read the rest of his books.

Review: Anita Vandyke – A Zero Waste Family in Thirty Days

A Zero Waste Family in Thirty Days
Anita Vandyke

“As parents we are constantly juggling the needs of children, work, chores and money. This book is not designed to add to the guilt that we already feel. It’s about showing how, by applying zero waste and minimalist principles, being an eco-parent doesn’t have to be difficult, and that by making small changes as a family we can make a big difference to our world for our children and future generations.”

This nugget of a book takes each element of family life and breaks it down into how you can change the way you think about waste. It is basically essential that you have children to be thought of as a ‘family’ here. I think this book is best aimed at families with young(er) children, although it does have some hints about waste for teenagers. I think that if you actually sat down and tried to turn into a zero waste family in only 30 days, you’re going to feel overwhelmed by it all, despite Anita’s book being “gentle”.

It’s hard not to be intimidated by Anita’s qualifications – she’s literally a rocket scientist (read: engineer) and medical doctor (read: GP). It’s enlightening then that someone so smart could struggle with waste too, and that might be the thing that gets some people into thinking about waste. I think that being zero waste is very hard to do in the current climate, particularly if you are someone who relies on life-saving medications (like me!). We should all be aiming for minimal waste, and this book is going to give some suggestions that might be new to all but the hardest hard-core zero wasters out there.

I’ve been marking Masters of Public Health essays on the impact of climate change on health. They’re all fascinating and thought-provoking so maybe I wasn’t reading this book in the right context. I mainly skimmed this book because I’d like to hope that I do many of these things already.

Are you feeling inspired to take on your waste? Or maybe you need a little more encouragement – you might look for a personal story in Our House is on Fire or more practical suggestions in Quitting Plastic. I also received What a Waste (DK) almost a year ago, but I can’t seem to find the review I did…

Anyway, plenty of quality reading out there, and if you’re hesitant to buy a real paper book (I just can’t give them up, personally), A Zero Waste Family is available in an ebook copy. I also did a bit of research into what the FSC logo next to the ISBN means – “the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) logo… [assures] that… it is made with, or contains, forest-based materials from FSC-certified forests or reclaimed sources.” The four largest UK book publishers, Hachette, Penguin Random House, HarperCollins and Pan Macmillan all hold FSC Chain of Custody certification.

This book is being released just in time for Christmas, and at $19.99 it’s going to fit right into a Kris-Kringle or Secret Santa present draw. I probably wouldn’t just hand it to any family member – they might think you are judging their waste habits. But if there’s someone who has expressed interest in the past (or even just takes a KeepCup with them for coffee), this could be a great gift to give.

Penguin Random House | 1st December 2020 | AU$19.99 | paperback

Spotlight with Opa Hysea Wise

A Spotlight on No Place to Hide by Opa Hysea Wise

Opa Hysea Wise is an American author, born to mixed race parents. Like so many people of color, she came to experience a sense of “otherness,” which fueled her desire to discuss diversity as the woven fabric within the American tapestry. She worked as a Training and Development specialist and manager in Government and Corporate organizations. Often tasked to develop and deliver diversity courses, Opa brought a sense of understanding, compassion and a call to action to her audience, with the firm knowledge that returning to the connection we all have would be but one step to returning to love. As both a Jack Canfield Success Coach and an author, Opa Hysea Wise looks to set a fire within the hearts of both her students and her readers. Her book No Place to Hide releases on Nov. 3 2020. You can find out more about this author from her website.

About the Book

Written by a highly acclaimed motivational speaker and success coach, the book offers profound life lessons, wrapped in an engaging, fictional story that presents an opportunity for the audience to grow alongside the protagonist, without even realizing that it has happened. Whether you want to embark on a personal quest for self discovery or just want to curl up with an action-packed mystery, “No Place to Hide” has something in it for everyone. The story is easily consumable and can be appreciated on many levels. It’s a gripping novel that also has the ability to leave a lasting impression.

Synopsis:

Against hope, Smythe Windwalker Daniels anonymity is compromised and a threat has been made against her life. The danger impacts not only her life but the lives of those around her. She reluctantly accepts the FBI’s protection, hoping to testify and bring a promise of justice to a community.

Smythe is a woman with vision in her eyes and fire in her soul. From a young age, Smythe was discriminated against as a mixed race girl in a predominantly white neighborhood. She travels to Hawaii to escape the corporate rat race, only to get entangled in a pesticide poisoning cover-up attempt by a mega corporation. While on the run, she seeks to find meaning in events that now threaten her life. Through a series of misadventures she discovers how all events are all woven together in this tapestry called “life.”

As she uses her past experience to find meaning in her present, she begins to see beauty in the midst of chaos. But the harder she tries to hide, the more difficult it is to survive.

You can find out more about this book from this website.

Genres: Mystery, Fiction, Suspense Thriller, Crime, Self-Help, LGBTQ Fiction, African American Women’s Fiction

No Place to Hide” is available for pre-order on Amazon, Indiebound, Bookshop, Walmart, and Barnes & Noble for a grand total of US$14.99.

Review: Brandon Sanderson – The Way of Kings (N)

The Way of Kings

Brandon Sanderson

Roshar is a world of stone and storms. Everything has grown or develop ways to handle those storms. Ten consecrated orders existed once, now long gone but their weapons and armour persist. The Shardblades and Shardplate of the Radiant Knights, capable of transforming men into near invincible warriors. Linchpins of wars.

This book has a three main characters, plus a few extra characters that provide context and world building. The three main characters are Kaladin – an apprentice surgeon turned soldier turned slave; Dalinar – a highprince and skilled general, fearing for his sanity; and Shallan – an unskilled girl with a love of learning, planning a daring theft.

Most of the other extra characters provide information in the interludes between parts of the book. Though Dalinar’s son Adolin sometimes features during the main parts – most often during Dalinar’s section providing context and extra information regarding the war camps that Dalinar has a role in commanding.

I’ve never minded having multiple viewpoints in a book but Sanderson in particular has a distinct skill for each character possessing a distinct personality and motivations. It’s always clear which character you are with and what section of the story is the current focus. There is a focus for whose background you are getting the most information from though. In this book the focus of back story is Kaladin. There are various chapters throughout where we learn of Kaladin’s past. How he becomes and soldier and how he ends up a slave. As ever struggling to protect the people he claims as his own. Despite the length of this book (which is divided into two no less) it was a quick read, and I was able to jump into it so very easily. Even though I didn’t want to put it down (sleep? what is sleep?) I never had any trouble reorienting where I was in the novel. As I got to the end of the second book there were small hints of information, this is an epic world-building in every sense. There are small scraps of information woven throughout that you might not notice fulling on the first reading.

You could read this book as its separate parts quite easily, the selected break point makes sense for the story and still leaves you with a completed feeling for the novel, but finishing the first part left me and an overwhelming desire to dive straight into the second part. But if you aren’t sure, or have less time then you do have that option. Overall, definitely a 5-star read for me and I’m looking forward to an eventual reread to catch small details that I missed the first time around. There are quite a few that I caught. but others that I obviously missed.

Review: Juliet Marillier – A Dance of Fate (N)

A Dance of Fate

Juliet Marillier

This novel follows on from the previous book, with of course a minor time skip. The last book ended on Liobhan and Dau going to tell Liobhan’s parents about Broccs decision. We join them again at the very end of their Swan Island training, having a display bout to determine which of them finishes the training as first or second pick. A formality that goes wrong in all the worst ways when Dau is injured by freak accident. What follows is the discovery of Dau’s background and all the horrible things that lie at the heart of his past.

I dove into this book right after finishing the first, eager to see what the next story would show. I was a little disappointed we didn’t get the see the visit with Liobhan’s parents but I can’t be too sad since it means we jump straight into the meat of this book. It is another gripping tale even when the focus is more on Dau overcoming the pain of the past as opposed to completing a specific task. We also get to see more of the Otherworld as Brocc now lives there. For Brocc, it seems like he is a bit caught between how he was raised and where he now finds himself. Which is not helped by the fact that the Fae Queen is not entirely sure how to be in a relationship either. These parts of the book were not as gripping as the rest of the story but it did provide some important hints and set up some things for the ending. This books’ theme almost seems to be miscommunication. Since there are many instances where if the characters spoke up about their thoughts maybe things would go a little better. But much like in real life people don’t share those inner most thoughts like that.

Again Marillier stuns with complex characters and realistic responses to the situations. We see more of Liobhan’s stubbornness to stick out hardship, even in a role where she needs to keep her head down. Dau’s injury was well handled – I thoroughly wanted to thump him upside the head for his stubbornness. But even feeling that I also understood that I probably wouldn’t have handled suddenly being blind with any more grace. It did make me glad that I live in a day and age where medicine is a little more reliable. All the potential hate I had towards Dau in the first book was well saved for Dau’s oldest brother. All I can say is damn there were some messed up things that happened there. But again there was a surprise by the Dau’s other brother. Once again reminding me that refreshingly complex characters seem to be a standard from this author.

An outstanding read and solid 5-stars, as I’ll want to read it again. The most disappointing part was reaching the end and realising I’d have to wait for the release of the third book.

Review: Juliet Marillier – The Harp of Kings (N)

The Harp of Kings

Juliet Marillier

Liobhan and Brocc are brother and sister in training to join the elite Swan Island warriors. They are selected to go on an undercover mission during their training due to their musical abilities. To find the magical Harp of Kings that has been stolen and return it so that the new King can be coronated. However, there is more going on than they realise. 

This book pretty much grabbed me at the start and didn’t let me go until I finished the story. The overall story line was recover the king selection mcguffin to allow the Crown Prince to be formally crowned king. The details are always more involved, a crown prince who doesn’t want what’s best for his kingdom, druids who know more than they wish to tell, and a child who gave Liobhan the hints of what is really going on. The Celtic air of this novel is really engaging. The inclusion of the Fae, not in their all powerful, mess with humankind selves is woven in masterfully. A dwindling race that are fighting to keep themselves safe, their presence slowly fading from the world.

The 3 main characters are Liobhan and Brocc, as mentioned. the third is another warrior candidate on the island Dau. At the start of the book I was all set to hate Dau, and perhaps in any other novel I would have. But the sections where Dau was the PoV character gave such an insight into him that I couldn’t really dislike him. The character complexity for all the characters was something that not only surprised me but was also the reason I couldn’t put the book down while reading. Nor was it just Dau, each character was fleshed out with strengths and flaws. One of the my favourite scenes was Liobhan’s self-awareness. She has a temper, and she could recognise when that would do more harm than good to her goals was wonderfully refreshing. It would have been harder to not connect to the characters given the realistic take. The last character Brocc it was clear there is so much more to his back story as well.

The ending comes with Liobhan completing the tasks set for her, and the group ensuring that the harp of kings is found and that the king is crowned. It sounds like a very straight-forward story. But the way the characters interact are what really drives the reader. I just wanted to know what happened next. The final notes of the book were heartbreaking in the best way possible. I honestly couldn’t have given this anything other than 5-stars.

Review: Michael E. Gerber – The E-Myth Revisited (S)

Michael E. Gerber
The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Busines ses Don’t Work and What to Do About It

“An instant classic, this revised and updated edition of the phenomenal bestseller dispels the myths about starting your own business. Small business consultant and author Michael E. Gerber, with sharp insight gained from years of experience, points out how common assumptions, expectations, and even technical expertise can get in the way of running a successful business.”

This is a review by my wife, who is my resident non-fiction and business book reviewer. She got quite a bit of enjoyment out of this one I think, since she kept going back to read it, and was laughing at times. We borrowed it via Scribd, but it’s not good enough to justify a paperback copy for a reread.

Let’s start from the beginning. I like to read everything in order, including the Foreword. Sometimes the Foreword in these types of books really set the scene, but the one in this book was pretty much useless. Jumping into the Introduction then – it was good because it outlined what was going to be covered in the book quite well.

Thankfully, the book then got into the meaty bits of information that I was there to read. The first Part of the book: The Emyth and American Small Businesses included the phases of business, which I found interesting. I much enjoyed the first half, although at times it seemed repetitive.

The main takeaway from this book is that you need to work on your business, rather than in it. The author refers to working in it as being a technician; you’re already an expert in the industry, and it’s simple to deal with each problem that comes up by yourself, rather than delegating or training your staff. It’s easy to fall into this trap of ‘I can fix this problem’ and then get distracted from working on the actual business. While other books I’ve read describe this phenomenon, this book was much more helpful because it gave specific guidance of how to work on your business. eg. having a Standard Operations Procedure (SOP) or an Operating Manual.

However, some of the strategic direction and aim was kinda useless. eg. ‘make sure you have a clear primary aim’. That’s great, most business books have this, so it’s nothing new.

The Part towards the end of the book talked about systems processes. Which was fine, it covered a number of good systems, but the problem was that it was sales focussed (a major drawback of most business books). It asked questions such as “What’s your numbers?” meaning new business numbers / how many appointments have been booked. Unfortunately that’s useless to someone who doesn’t work in sales. Not everything is about sales! Honestly I lost interest in the sales section. Some ideas about other benchmarks to help manage your current business would have been useful.

Who should read this? Anyone who has a small business. The take home message was that just because you’re an expert in your industry, but don’t always work in it, you need to step back and work on it. You need to train your staff for how you want things to run, and how you see the business. You need a vision and a plan, and your staff need to know it as well. I’m not going to read it again, so 4 stars from me.