Review: Vic James – Bright Ruin

Bright Ruin
Vic James

Abi has run from being set free, but she hasn’t set free her heart. Luke has made it off the island, but not out of Crovan’s reach. With their small world in upheaval, who should Abi and Luke trust? And can they trust anyone – Equal or not…

I don’t know where to start with how disappointed I was in this ‘finale’. There were too many perspectives and it became difficult to work out whose side I should be on. Betrayals and side-plots seemed to be the norm, with no sense of continuity.

Luke. What has happened to that boy? Or perhaps, what hasn’t happened? Am I expected to think that everything else played out happily ever after? That you-know-who would just be ok with giving up power? That a dalmation (not Dog) can change its spots?

Let’s talk about character development. We get to see a bit of Silyen, but it doesn’t seem to be authentic or consistent with the previous two novels. He seems to have ‘grown up’, yet at the same time his wonder and questions are still child-like and simple. Does he have a mental condition? What’s with him in general?

It seemed like the author herself got sick of having so many characters that she decided to just kill them off in order to finish up the novel quickly. I didn’t have even an ounce of remorse for any of them dying. More could have died in fact, and I would have been happier!

I really enjoyed Gilded Cage, mostly enjoyed Tarnished City and this one? Well this one didn’t do the series any justice. I would have originally promoted this series as a modern take on slavery, but I just couldn’t justify it given all of the other problems. I’ll give it 3 stars, because I did finish it and enjoy some parts, but it wasn’t the killer ending it could have been.

Review: Rainbow Rowell – Carry On

Carry On
Rainbow Rowell

Simon Snow is destined to be the hero, even though he catches himself on fire pretty often and is useless at language (key for the type of magic involved). He’s going to fight off the Humdrum this year once and for all, but he’s missing his room-mate too badly to really care.

This book is filled with references to the past. It’s jumps straight into Simon’s last year at Watford School of Magicks (a boarding school of course), and the background of battling the Humdrum is just tossed in there. I couldn’t work out why I was reading it – there seemed to be no real plot at all. Thus it’s a DNF for me – I gave up and went and read something else.

Can you believe I bought this with my own money? I tolerated my way through Wayward Son because I received it as a review copy, and I had enjoyed Fangirl. I also enjoyed Eleanor and Park. This novel was such a disappointment though that I don’t think I can bring myself to read Rainbow Rowell’s work again.

I remain unfortunately convinced that fan-fic is poorer fic. Please stop essentially taking over someone else’s characters for your own desires. I can’t decide what exactly feels wrong about it to me, but it’s not right! Perhaps I view paper/published fiction as something holy, even though I’ve enjoyed online novels before. Maybe it’s that a rewrite of someone else’s work implies to me that the original wasn’t good enough. I’ll happily read a sequel if the original author has no intentions of going into that space, but even with that I feel like I’m making a compromise. Years and years ago I read Tales of MU, which seems to have somehow died on the wayside – ‘Carry On’ reminds me of it, if it had less queer characters and less sex.

Anyway, I didn’t finish this novel and I’m not sure I would recommend it for anyone. It’s a bit of queer-baiting, a bit of pathetic and a bit of self-pity. If you’re dying for a boarding school mystery there are plenty out there better than this one. 1 star.

Review: Adam Ferrier – Stop Listening to the Customer (S)

Stop Listening to the Customer: Try Hearing your Brand Instead
Adam Ferrier

“The customer is not always right. Far from it. What the customer wants is often at odds with what is best for the business or brand. Adam draws on his years of creative agency experience, the wisdom of other voices, as well as marketing science to outline the dangers of listening to the customer too much and reveals what you can do about it. This book will show you how to build a strong brand or business.”

Overall the concept of the book is that the customer is not always correct. The customer doesn’t always know what they want, and even if they do, it might not be the correct thing for your company. The premise of the book is to put your brand and what your company stands for above everything else, including the customer.

I do agree with this premise. However, the book didn’t execute this the best it could have been. The author seemed to jump around a lot and it didn’t have a focus of what each chapter was about. The author also jumped around with short stories, some of which were good but some which could have been removed.

A good half of the book was convincing the reader that the customer is not always right. As the reader I was convinced of this rather early on! I wanted to know more about the author’s point of why the business should be hearing the brand instead. There was hardly any of this section of the book.

The author didn’t seem to explain their point and their side enough. It kind of felt like it ended abruptly and I wanted to hear more of how to actually listen to your brand. At what stages of the business life cycle should you be listening to brand and how much? The author doesn’t actually answer this question.

Overall there was not enough actionable material to take away from the book.  Unless you are particularly interested in short stories or the author, I wouldn’t recommend reading this book. 2 stars from Suzanne.

Review: Zoe Sugg & Amy McCulloch – One For Sorrow

One for Sorrow
Magpie Society #1
Zoe Sugg and Amy McCulloch

Audrey is fleeing something and Ivy is trying to move on with her life after a death. Audrey is confused by the rules and other stuff and Ivy has no time for her. There seems to be a mystery – but does anyone know the truth?

This reads as a novel with two authors – Zoe wrote the chapters from one character perspective and Amy wrote the chapters from the second character perspective. I’m not sure that this really works. Somehow Ivy has it stuck in her head that Audrey is a complete prat, but at the same time Audrey seems to unreasonably hate Ivy? Even more so, the staff seem to either be cute, or completely unreasonable. There’s no consistent characterisation or actions.

I was personally unmoved by Audrey’s final big reveal. It made 100% sense that she would be creeped out by drownings, but I didn’t really get it. There’s frequent mentions of the school therapist getting plenty of work, but we never actually see any of them attending a counselling session – and some of these girls really need help. I felt like therapy was belittled when it could have actually been a useful tool.

I found it disgusting that Teddy just presumed things about both Ivy and Audrey. Getting a creepy teacher to leave school is one thing, but being a creep as a teenager can lead/suggest bad behaviour in adulthood. Just like in Foul is Fair, being rich seems to excuse you for a lot. People need to be able to report problems and feel like they are being heard and that there is action.

I was wary of this novel from the beginning because I knew it was part of a series. However, in the end although some have identified it as a cliff-hanger, I was pretty bored by that point. There’s no resolution.

As an Australian, I figured I knew what a magpie was. Imagine to my surprise that what we call a magpie is not a magpie to the rest of the world! Pretty typical of Australia, really. Anyway, these magpies are closely related to crows, and they’ve always had some superstition around them, which the authors take advantage of as a springboard for a secret society.

Another day, another boarding school drama. Are people this lucky just going to boarding school? Sounds like hell to me, particularly if you don’t happen to get along with your room-mate. I get going to a boarding school if your local school is truly horrible or your parents don’t have time for you. Surely the majority of readers can’t be boarding school students… It reminds me of my childhood where boarding school sounded cool because I didn’t go to school – Enid Blyton’s “The Naughtiest Girl in the School” anyone?

The more I write this review, the less impressed I am in this novel. There could have been so much more! And I’m still not sure if ‘magic’ is involved or not. Let’s go with 3 stars, and I MIGHT read the next (or at least a summary of it).

Penguin Random House | 29th October 2020 | AU$24.99 | paperback

Review: Flynn Meaney – Bad Habits

Bad Habits
Flynee Meaney

Alex (she/her) doesn’t want to be at a Catholic boarding school. She wants nothing of gender traditions, boyfriends and study. In the spirit of getting kicked out, she decides to put on “The Vagina Monologues” to really shock the school into expulsion!

Alex is a badass young woman who speaks her mind and isn’t afraid to teach sexual education and action it. That being said, as the point-of-view is only hers, it was difficult to work out how much was her internal attitude and how much was her outer persona. At times, it seemed as if it was all a front – inside she’s just as scared about growing up as other kids.

There’s some lighthearted lol moments, yet this novel manages to get some important messages out. Sexual health? Tick. (ir)Responsible parenthood? Tick (and how I wish Australia had something like Planned Parenthood). Tampons? Yep, it has those too. Alex is a vehicle for change within her school and also somehow ignorant of the types of feminism that are equally valid. It’s a far better example of feminism than Juliet Takes a Breath, but it is still missing the trans* element that needs to be added to the feminist ‘agenda’.

What fell flat for me was a lack of actual action! Things seemed to be happening basically in a vacuum, with study and classes taking a back seat. That’s fine and all, but it seemed to me like all they did was plan extra-curricular activities. The play is supposed to be the highlight of the novel, but it never really happens. I also didn’t buy into the ‘best friends forever’ theme.

I’ve just realised that this is the third book in a row that had the setting of a boarding school. Now, maybe it’s just me, but boarding school always seemed to just be for rich people, and magicians! This novel doesn’t break the mold either. Still, it was a decent enough read that although I was somewhat embarrassed to read it (bright pink and yellow cover, anyone?) I did polish it off in a single sitting. For that, I’m going to give it 4 stars, and recommend it to teenage girls who need a strong female protagonist that isn’t afraid to say ‘vagina’.

Penguin Random House | 16th February 2021| AU$16.99 | paperback

Review: Shivaun Plozza – The Boy, the Wolf, and the Stars

The Boy, the Wolf, and the Stars
Shivaun Plozza

Bo’s best friend is Nix, the fox – but that’s all he has in the world. His guardian Mads doesn’t really love him, and the nearby villagers think that he brought the Shadow creatures. When Mads dies, Bo has to decide for himself what he wants to do – follow the adventure he had no intention of beginning, or just try to stay out of trouble.

Bo is lied to and abused by almost everyone in his life. In fact, even the people he trusts lie to him – even if sometimes it is to protect him. The underlying theme of this novel is that sometimes life is unfair – but you don’t need to let the anger grow too much.

Something I didn’t understand was why Bo always needed to hide his face in his hood. In the village it seemed to make some sense, since he was recognisable to everyone. After he got into the main world though, I couldn’t understand how people knew he was different.

I put off reading this novel because I had forgotten that it was middle grade, and I thought it might follow the pattern of Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. I was pleasantly surprised that it was an entry fantasy novel that was light and quick to read – nothing like the YA offerings of this author of Frankie and Tin Heart.

I’m not the target audience, so with that in mind I would still recommend this book. It has a blatant message that it is bad to lie, and that forgiveness is hard to properly give, but it’s also fantasy so it is enjoyable to read. 4 stars from me.

Penguin Random House | 20th October 2020 | AU$16.99 | paperback

Review: Phil Stamper – As Far As You’ll Take Me

As Far As You’ll Take Me
Phil Stamper

Marty has always been the shy kid in the background, and he’s been happy like that. Being gay in Kentucky with a conservative community and Bible throwing parents isn’t exactly the best place to make waves. Marty decides to make the life he wants happen – he’s flying to London in order to play his beloved oboe and find a place to belong.

Did someone say that we needed more diversity in queer fiction? Even if they didn’t, this novel is a worthy addition to any gay teen’s bookshelf. It’s an accessible, friendly novel about Marty finally getting to live the openly-queer life he has always wanted since age six. The romance is a bit ugh, but I liked that it didn’t come to an obvious conclusion. Thank you, Marty, for not being a complete idiot.

I have suffered from anxiety in the past, and I could completely empathise with Marty that crowded spaces and new places freaked him out. However, the couple of times where he seemed to have a panic attack, and then had his new friends calm him down didn’t ring true to me. Thus, the ending to the novel seemed too neat.

Did I read this too fast, or something? I barely even picked up Marty’s disordered eating before his friends did. Yes, he seemed a bit obsessed about foods, but at the same time I felt like maybe it was harmless. I think that my sense of timing was off. The twelve weeks of summer seemed to go past faster than I realised. This was a complaint I had about The Gravity of Us as well.

I think that the blurb on this novel lets it down. I don’t think that Marty’s homesickness ever gets that bad, and he seems to be coping with his anxiety mostly ok. Also, I didn’t really get a sense of him running through his savings. And again, if it was so expensive to live in London, doesn’t that just mean that he should live at home with his aunt a bit longer? Certainly in Australia you are often expected to (or expect to) live with your parents for a while after you graduate high school.

I was very keen for this novel to come and I started reading it in short order. However, I took breaks in reading it because some parts just seemed too real and upsetting. I’m not sure that’s a complaint – just a comment that this book could potentially be triggering for some people. I won’t read it again, but I’d highly recommend it for any musically inclined travel-hungry teenager, gay or not. 4 stars from me.

Bloomsbury | 9th February 2021 | AU$15.99 | paperback

Review: Miller, Davis & Roos-Olsson – Everyone Deserves a Great Manager (S)

Everyone Deserves a Great Manager: The 6 Critical Practices for Leading a Team
Scott Jeffrey Miller, Todd Davis, Victoria Roos-Olsson

“A practical must-read, FranklinCovey’s Everyone Deserves a Great Manager is the essential guide for the millions of people all over the world making the challenging and rewarding leap to manager. Organized under four main roles every manager is expected to fill, Everyone Deserves a Great Manager focuses on how to lead yourself, people, teams, and change. Readers can start anywhere and go everywhere with this guide—depending on their current problem or time constraint. They can pick up a helpful tip in ten minutes or glean an entire skillset with deeper reading. With skill-based chapters that cover managerial skills like one-on-ones, giving feedback, delegating, hiring, building team culture, and leading remote teams, the book also includes more than thirty unique tools, such as a prep worksheets and a list of behavioral questions for your next interview.”

I picked up this book as I was after some actual practical ways to improve myself as a leader and manager. That was exactly what I got! I loved that it had practices to do including a chart of “common mindset” and “effective mindset” for you as a leader to compare yourself in the areas and see where you can improve.

The book was written by three authors and the writing flowed really well. Each of the authors added little bits here and there throughout, including short stories or examples which helped explain that given chapter. The book had practical exercises to do in each chapter, as well as an end of chapter notes section where you can write your personal action items.

These were not like other books where they provide general advice and no solid goal. This book included in the practical sections the exact wording of coaching questions and practices to use. That gave it a full 5 stars in my eyes.

This is the kind of book you can’t read all at once. Like I did, you need to read a single section or chapter. Then, go away and do the exercises and put your new learning in place. It’s a lot of doing and you definitely need to refer to the book again as reference or to re-read it. I would definitely recommend this book for anyone who has direct reports under them. I think it’s a must-read for the leadership team of any business, small or large.

Review: Jacqueline Carey – Phèdre’s Trilogy

Phèdre’s Trilogy
Jacqueline Carey

Phèdre is Naamah’s servant, laying down with people she does not love for her master. Unlike her companion, she looks forward to being tormented by her patrons. She was taught intrigue and spycraft, and no matter what else happens she will help the true Queen hold the throne.

I feel some confusion about these novels. Yes, they are on an epic scale, but somehow I can’t bring myself to care about most of the characters. Delaunay was nice and all, but I didn’t feel sorrow when he died. Thus the power grabs are secondary to my interest in Phedre’s character. I felt this way when I read Kushiel’s Dart nine years ago (review here).

Perhaps part of the problem is that I couldn’t get a real understanding of why Phedre is so special. She could have gone to Valerian House, and I’m not sure it would have mattered! If she can get excited by a sewing needle going in an inch on her spine, I don’t see why ‘punishing her’ would get such a rise out of people. Or perhaps there are more people into bondage and pain during sex than I would expect? Update after reading Kushiel’s Chosen: I think it is more that she can have endless sex, and pain makes it somehow better? Or maybe it’s pure humiliation.

I slogged through Kushiel’s Chosen, but I couldn’t make myself read the final book in the trilogy. I feel guilty that I’ve not finished reading them (especially as I own all 9 books!) but I also don’t want to waste more of my reading time. I need to let them go and make more room on my shelves for the epic fantasy that fills me with joy (The Way of Kings, anyone?).

I find it difficult to suggest an audience for these books – maybe those who enjoy non-historical / alternative-historical novels, who aren’t afraid to invest in a short-sighted character who shows little growth. Part of the problem was that it was written in past tense, with hints as to future events, and so I had no fear of the main characters dying. I demand more from my fantasy.

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 groups—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.