Review: Stephen Covey – The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (S)

Powerful Lessons in Personal Change
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
Stephen R. Covey

“One of the most inspiring and impactful books ever written, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People has captivated readers for 25 years. It has transformed the lives of presidents and CEOs, educators and parents—in short, millions of people of all ages and occupations across the world. This twenty-fifth anniversary edition of Stephen Covey’s cherished classic commemorates his timeless wisdom, and encourages us to live a life of great and enduring purpose.”

This book was pretty much as I expected. It’s thick, large, and long, which is good for stopping and starting and sinking into. I liked some parts of it, I think more of the good parts were at the start than the end – this is different from most of the business books I read.

Overall it was fairly good. The downside was its length because you never know when a good bit might come up. So you could be reading a patch of average or just felt like this part could be edited out and condensed and then suddenly be hit with something insightful. A lot of the book at the start dragged out, including the Introduction before even getting to habit one.

The 7 Habits are as follows:

  1. Be proactive
  2. Begin with the End in Mind
  3. Put First Things First
  4. Think Win-Win
  5. Seek First to Understand, then to be understood
  6. Synergize
  7. Sharpen the Saw

The 7 habits aren’t particularly new or anything different. But the author does have some different perspectives, points and tips under each one. I found some of these hidden gems and stories under each. But overall the habits are nothing new.

I would recommend it for anyone who is in sales or a leadership role. However the principles could be applied to anyone’s personal life who wants to foster continual learning. I wouldn’t re-read it again but it was good. 4 stars.

Review: Lyndall Clipstone – Lakesedge

Lakesedge
Lyndall Clipstone

Violetta holds a lot of secrets, ones that might be important for her survival. Violetta doesn’t care much about herself though – she only cares for her brother and protecting him from his dark shadows. She is limited though – the Lord of Lake’s Edge gets what he wants – and he wants her brother. Violetta tags along to see if she too can fight the Corruption.

Oh no! He’s feeding the Lake Monster! Oh no, he is the Monster. Oh well, we all know that the main characters in books like these will fall in love. In fact, we can predict pretty much the whole storyline despite them pretending that everything is a huge secret.

Isn’t the cover gorgeous? Ultimately it’s not the forest that is even relevant, or the lake. The interior of the house and the garden get the most attention, but maybe Violetta’s mind is the main attraction? I had such high hopes when I requested it, but it was hopeless. I felt like I’d wasted my time reading in.

Look, I’ve categorized it as teen fiction, only because there are some racy scenes there. My hunch is that the Lord of Under is going to be nursing a baby in 9 months time! Unfortunately the storyline is too simple and there isn’t enough character growth to truly belong to the teenage category – I think it could even be an advanced middle grade fiction except for the sexual elements. There’s also a hint of LGTBIQA* relationships, but these aren’t convincing or deep.

I got to the end of this novel, and I discovered that it’s only the first in a series! Honestly, it felt like half a book. There was a whole lot of telling rather than showing going on, and the ending wasn’t complete. I tried retelling this as a oral story at bedtime, and my audience was very unimpressed with the ending. I personally felt that I hated the characters enough that I would have been perfectly happy (even overjoyed!) that one or more of them died. 3 begrudging stars from me.

Pan Macmillan | 31 August 2021| AU$24.99 | paperback

Review: Emma Isaacs – The New Hustle (S)

The New Hustle
Don’t work harder, just work better
Emma Isaacs

“What if we’ve been served a big, fat lie about what it takes to be successful at work? Pro-hustlers will tell you living in a work-more, sleep-less world is how we get ahead. But on the back of the pandemic, entrepreneur and Business Chicks founder Emma Isaacs believes the hustle is now dead. Moreover, traditional ways of working – long commutes, unproductive meetings and outdated systems of bureaucracy – actually don’t work at all.”

I liked the ideas behind this book, but I don’t think I liked how it’s structured or how it’s written. I completely agree that a lot of people “hustle” and work for work’s sake when it really should be looking at your output and what’s working best for you. I also liked that it’s new and relevant to life in the COVID-19 pandemic.

Things I didn’t like about it: ‘the stories’ or examples were very short and not in any detail. It seemed to gloss over and be wishy washy and fluffy. Out of the stories that were there, most of them were about the author and not in a vulnerable way but in a way that’s talking herself up and comes across as bragging. What a reader really wants are stories where the author has made mistakes, or from a range of different businesses as examples.

A lot of the ‘rules’ seemed obvious and common sense to me, eg “learn how to say no”, “stand for something”, “stop making excuses”. It’s like the author is trying to empower and motivate you but with no facts and just in a cheerleading way. It also felt like the author was all for girl power, women rights etc, one of the ‘rules’ being “normalise pregnancy” and mentioned throughout. Although I don’t disagree with the principles here, I just don’t feel the need to mention it. I personally haven’t seen this issue in the workplace and never even thought of it as an issue.

Overall you can stop and start it as it doesn’t have much continuity throughout. It’s also a nice easy light read. In saying that though, I don’t think you’ll get much out of it. I’m not exactly sure who its target audience is. Perhaps women who work and have a ‘busy’ (full) life and need to take a step back, or women who need to feel a little more motivated for changes. I recommend Permission to Screw Up instead of this book. 2.5-3 stars.

Pan Macmillan | 31 August 2021 | AU$34.99 | paperback

Review: Sosuke Natsukawa – The Cat Who Saved Books

The Cat Who Saved Books
Sosuke Natsukawa

The death of Rintaro Natsuki’s grandfather only strengthens Rintaro’s determination to stay at home, in the bookshop that holds fond memories for him. Yet, the bookshops are perhaps a dying trade – and Rintaro doesn’t feel strongly enough about anything to protect it from his loving aunt. But perhaps the cat can save the bookshop, and him too.

Some of the ideas in this novel were just too foreign to work with my understanding of the world. There’s no such thing as a ‘class rep’ and there is no chance that a teenager would be left in charge of a bookshop. Also, students generally aren’t allow to miss that much school without serious consequences in Australia.

I think that unfortunately this book loses a lot of its charm in the translation. Maybe I’m just not its target audience? I think that the audience it would suit are teenagers who are slightly more immersed in Japanese culture or literature, who are of the bookish inclination.

I loved the idea of a cat that cares about books, and I found the three labyrinths quite engaging. Hopefully other readers also find these ideas thought provoking. My favourite was perhaps the man trying to cut books down to a single word to compress the meaning of them. This is so true, and you see it in abridged audio books! Why would you cut out the best bits?

I think it’s somewhat unfair of me to assign this book a star rating as it just wasn’t aimed at me. Maybe I’ll give a 3 stars, but I’d consider 4 stars for the right audience. It’s a thin volume that can be knocked over in a short reading period (it took me around 2 hours). It’s probably great to borrow from a library or buy online to give as a gift, but I wouldn’t necessarily advocate for you to rush out to buy your own copy.

Pan Macmillan | 14th September 2021 | AU$19.99 | paperback

Review: Tobias Madden – Anything But Fine

Anything But Fine
Tobias Madden

Lucas’ life is wrapped up in ballet. Ballet is his whole life – he practices and practices and lets his schoolwork slide. Terrifyingly he slips and suffers a potentially career ending injury that also causes him to suffer the teenage fear of changing schools and losing his scholarship.

I’m not sure how I felt about Lucas’ relationship with his OT (occupational therapist). I also wasn’t 100% sure why he wasn’t seeing a physiotherapist? And honestly, it sounded like he would have also benefitted from seeing a psychologist. As many Australians would know though, mental health isn’t a ‘done thing’ and finding appointments is hard. Lucas’ dad is lovely and supportive though.

Starting at a new school is hard for anyone, but try being gay and on crutches in a small rural school. I think this novel is quite a realistic view of high school and homophobic people. Also, Lucas’ new friend is Muslim, and we also see some horrible Islamophobia. Oh! And don’t forget parental expectations for medical school. There’s a lot packed into this novel, and you won’t be disappointed.

The teenage love story is cute, but also filled with respectful relationships and understanding parents. There’s a few ‘racy’ scenes here, but nothing too blushworthy to a teenage male (from what I know about being a hormonal teenager, anyway). You’ll find it slightly less, um, provocative than Jack of Hearts (and other parts) for example.

This is a worthy addition to teenage queer fiction. It hits all the right notes about consent and waiting until you are ready, while also sensitively exploring the problems of high-school and jock culture. I’m giving this 5 stars, and giving it a pride of place on my shelf. I look forward to seeing more from this author.

Penguin Random House | 31st August 2021| AU$19.99 | paperback

Review: Mercedes Lackey – Mage Storms Trilogy

Mage Storms Trilogy
Mercedes Lackey

“Karse and Valdemar have long been enemy kingdoms, until they are forced into an uneasy alliance to defend their lands from the armies of Eastern Empire, which is ruled by a monarch whose magical tactics may be beyond any sorcery known to the Western kingdoms. Forced to combat this dire foe, the Companions of Valdemar may, at last, have to reveal secrets which they have kept hidden for centuries… even from their beloved Heralds.

It had been a while since I read the later novels in Lackey’s (in)famous Valdemar world, so I picked this one up as an easy read. I actually didn’t even finish reading the Mage Winds series before doing so. I found it interesting that perhaps my distaste of non-Herald protagonists or my dislike of multiple perspectives in a novel set me up to view this one unfavorably.

While I enjoyed the novelty of having Karal’s perspective, I found it difficult to relate to him because he was truly a priestly type. I much preferred An’desha as being more relatable and showing some really decent character growth. Something I really didn’t ‘get’ was Florian’s role, and why Karal was convinced he was important (and why didn’t Florian just bond with him, huh?)

This is very slow as well, which doesn’t help. Every movement of Karal is detailed, from lighting candles through to taking notes. I needed a little more action! And the epilogue is a bit of a joke, given the HUGE leadup. Perhaps I found it a let-down compared to Brandon Sanderson’s novels, because there was very little chance that my favourite (or indeed any) characters would be killed off.

Obviously I’ve reread these, but probably with a span of at least 7 years between reads. Although that should qualify this series of novels as an automatic 5 stars, I think I’ll just give them 4. They just aren’t as good as my favourites such as the original trilogy (Talia, Arrows of the Queen) or Alberich/Skif (Exile’s Honor/Valor, Take a Thief). However, they are excellent compared to the most recent Foundation Chronicles!

Review: Paul Whang – Operating Room Confidential

Operating Room Confidential
Paul Whang

“An anesthetist reveals operating room curses and superstitions, the characteristics of a good surgeon, and the patients that doctors fear, in this insider’s view of the fascinating protocols of the operating room and the people who work there.”

This was a medical type non-fiction that was interesting but not riveting. I somehow didn’t realise that anesthesiologists are medical doctors first! I’m not sure how I didn’t know that. Imagine using all of your training to gas people under each day! No, that is a complete disservice. As this book sets out to accomplish, I came out the other end knowing that an anesthetist’s job is actually quite complicated and essential for smooth surgery.

What I wanted were gruesome stories of anesthetics going wrong or interesting horror stories of operations that had gone right from an anesthetics point of view, but very very wrong from the operation (eg. removing the wrong leg!). instead I got a run-down of the different types of surgeon and the types of decisions that are sometimes made when preparing for surgery. Also, an appreciation for how difficult it is to do surgery on some people. If I was in a position where I was going to need surgery, I now know that they can do something for the nausea (easily the worst part for me) and shivers! I just have to make sure to get a very knowledgeable anesthetist…

I definitely wouldn’t buy this book, there is nothing particularly amazing about it that tells me to read it again. I’m not even sure I’d recommend it as reading for anyone unless 1. they are from the USA (many of the medical facts are only relevant to those particular North Americans, and 2. have a keen interest in finding out about all facets of medicine via non-fiction reading.

Review: Mercedes Lackey & Larry Dixon – Owl Mage Trilogy

Owl Mage Trilogy
Mercedes Lackey & Larry Dixon

Darian’s parents were lost to the forest some years ago, forcing Darian into apprenticeship with the local mage. Darian can’t see the point of magic – why would he lift a apple with his mind when he can do it with his hands? However, after his village is invaded, he accidentally flees into Hawkbrother territory – this sets him on a path where magic might be important.

These books, particularly the first one, require a suspension of disbelief. It’s so unlikely that Justin would suddenly want to change the way he deals with Darian in the first book – just before we get a sudden jolt of energy into the plot. Many of the outcomes for Darian also don’t make sense given that he’s just a man and doesn’t seem to actually have that much useful to offer society (apart from being a politician).

Man, these books are sllooooowww. I remembered from the last time that I read them that I largely skim read the first novel because it was very, very slow. The climax comes very late in the book (which would be fine) but the main character is largely self-absorbed and honestly quite irritating and unlikely.

The first novel is ok, pretty good really, but then the second book isn’t memorable at all. I honestly can’t remember it at all. The best of the three is the the finale – but I still had problems with it. Looking at the different cultures with a critical eye, I found the treatment of the Northern Barbarians to be frankly insulting. It’s implied that the Hawkbrothers are just so much smarter and well prepared by the tribes – even though as far as I can tell they are all human. There’s always going to be a mix of ‘smart’ and ‘dumb’ people, but that’s not what it seems like at all.

I’ve obviously reread these, so that’s kinda an automatic 5 stars, but I wouldn’t recommend these for someone just starting out on discovering Mercedes Lackey’s Valdemar novels. I wouldn’t even let you read them as a capping to the very successful Valdemar series. Maybe just toss them in for a light read if you want to be inside a fictional and unlikely teenager’s head.

Interview with Lillian Brummet

An Interview with Lillian and Dave Brummet, authors of One Small Garden

Lillian and her husband Dave are the team behind Brummet Media Group, high-fiving cheerfully as they pass each other on the way from checking off one item or other from their long to-do list. After moving to their dream location (in the Kootenay Region of BC, Canada), they have been methodically converting the abused lot over to the little park it has become – and in doing so have gained certification with bee, pollinator and wildlife organizations. Their home, too, has become energy efficient via the many upgrades they have done. Their business includes Dave’s music studio and percussion accessory products and graphic design work as well as numerous award-winning non-fiction books and popular blogs. Today we help them celebrate their latest book release – From One Small Garden, with over 300 delicious, nutritious recipes!

How many books or short stories have you written?

L: I’ve only written a couple non-fiction short stories, numerous non-fiction articles, bn oth product and book reviews, and a total of 7 published books, if you count an e-book (Jump Start For Writers) that no longer exists. Currently we have a 2-book series on green living (Trash Talk), 2 books of poetry (Towards Understanding; Rhythm & Rhyme) and there’s marketing advice for writers (Purple Snowflake Marketing). Our most recent release is a cookbook: From One Small Garden that, as you might derive from the name, focuses on recipes that help people take advantage of garden harvests and reduce food waste.

Where did you find all the sources for your research?

D: I do most of my learning online, for instance when it comes to understanding a new program for vector graphics I will comb YouTube for tutorial videos. Somewhere online there is a video explaining everything you need – and more usually. I would never have attempted repairs to household appliances or automobiles if I didn’t have access to tutorial videos. Learning how to do things yourself can save you a bunch of money as an entrepreneur too. However it also means that you have to be able to learn, have the patience and then actually apply that new skill. Not as easy as it sounds, believe me.

What do you do when you are not writing?

D: I play drums in a rock band when ever possible. I also teach both drum kit and hand drum lessons. I have an active repair shop in which I build, fix and tune djembe drums (among others) and manufacture a few percussion accessories as well. I enjoy doing the graphic design work for all our marketing and that is a never-ending learning journey in itself, but certainly an enjoyable one.

Who, or what, inspired you to pursue a career in writing?

L: The first writer I ever knew was my mother, who dabbled at the craft for a short time. Later, teachers would comment about my writing, truly moved by what I wrote. These were the earliest influences, slowly pointing me in this direction. Some of my poetry was published, then I won some writing awards… later I took some career evaluation tests and writing kept coming up as a career option. Dave’s emotional support and strategic skills have been of great value; having that strength, someone to mull over challenges with, split the work with, and just share the experience in general.

What have you learned about while working with your spouse?

We do some of our best creative work when we are just discussing stuff together over a cup of coffee during a break. And, we always have a note pad to jot down the ideas that come bursting out because, sure enough, the best ideas are the ones that slip your memory if you don’t.

Describe a typical writing day.

L: There is no real typical day for us; 2-3 days per month are dedicated to managing the blogs, about 16 hours are spent networking, advertising, sending out queries to media and following up on marketing opportunities every week, a few hours per week are spent managing social media. Any one day can also involve cleaning the office, workshop, studio… assisting Dave where I can. However, I’ll share an example of a ‘behind the scenes’ look at one day: upon waking, we have breakfast and coffee and deal with the fur kids, get some house duties done, check emails/messenger/text messages for any important communications, and after a brief discussion about what each other’s goals are for that day, split off in our different directions. I’m in the office responding to interview questions while Dave is in his office working on images and ad creations for our cookbook (From One Small Garden). After this interview, I plan to complete a few touchups to some articles we wrote last week. We always take a break to make lunch and clean up after. Depending on what Dave might need from me, I may take on the task of going through the emails etc. one more time, responding and dealing with what I can… or I might start some seeds for the garden and do some laundry. Perhaps I’ll be dealing with garden harvests or taking an online course during the afternoon hours.

How do you manage social media, what social media have you used, which do you like to use the most and why?

D: I personally use Facebook for networking with specific groups and for general announcements, YouTube for posting video content and blogging for building a presence and sharing information with followers. Lillian is the one that handles the blogs and a majority of the social media and I am happy for that as she is very good at it and knows the ins and outs. She has a lot of relevant connections already from over 20 years experience of promoting our business and books.

How do you go about choosing a book title?

D: For me the title almost always comes near or at the end of the writing process. If ever I have had an idea of the title first it was usually changed by the time the book was done. A title for me has to explain the book’s purpose or intent in some way. I like it to be catchy and not too wordy. Like a good melody that you can easily whistle, a good title should be memorable, appropriate and roll off the tongue easily.

What is your contribution to society?

D: As a drum teacher I hope to help the next generation of drummers by passing on the knowledge of drums and percussion I have accumulated in my career. I run a program called Drum it Forward that I was inspired to create years ago. I go to the schools and offer my services as a drum doctor armed with all the spare parts I have amassed along the way and fix their gear. The schools don’t have the budget to pay for this and the poor teachers don’t necessarily have the time or knowledge, so I do it as a donation. All I ask is that if they have any spare parts or pieces laying around that they consider donating it to the cause to perpetuate the program.

Tell us the process of creating the cover for your book.

D: From One Small Garden’s cover was a process that evolved over the years. By the time the final title was decided on the concept of what we wanted to portray was clear – How to cook with fresh produce. If you look at the front cover closely, in the background is an image of our actual garden ghosted out with dishes of prepared food in the foreground – from the garden to plate in a sense. The back cover concept is similar but with images of our freshly harvested produce in place of the food dishes. All from one small garden – is what we have lived for the past 30+ years as a life style and a health choice and we know it saves a bunch of money while having you eat like royalty.

Are you looking about more information about these authors? Here’s some social links for you to check out!

Reviews: Unfinished Novels #4

I have a series of novels that I have never finished reading and in some cases, couldn’t face reading at all. In the interests of freeing up space on my bookshelves, and letting other people have a chance to read them, I have released these novels into the wild – either by giving them to people who might enjoy them, or releasing them to the community at large.

Once Upon a Crime
Robin Stevens

Um, where did this novel come from? This is set in the 1900s and is the tales of some child detectives (age 15?). I did attempt to read it, but I just couldn’t work out who the novel was for. There wasn’t enough information given that I would be able to work out the motive / killer by myself, and I didn’t enjoy the exchanges between the rival detectives. I’m going to pass this on to my 12 year old reader and see if she enjoys it. Maybe it’s a Famous Five type novel that will be ‘cool’ to the younger reading set.

Penguin Random House | 3 August 2021 | AU$14.99 | paperback

The Golden Tower
Belinda Murrell

I think I actually requested this one, to my shame. I thought that it could be a really great middle grade fiction! However when I started to read it I found the text to be information dense and uninteresting. The characters showed absolutely no depth which was very disappointing – I know it’s for younger readers, but have a little more respect for what they might enjoy reading? Again, I passed this on the the 12 year old a couple of months ago, but she hasn’t read it. Why read something that is an unknown when you can devour something by Tamora Pierce in the same age group?

Penguin Random House | 2 March 2021 | AU$16.99 | paperback