Review: Anne Fine – Shades of Scarlet

Shades of Scarlet
Anne Fine

Scarlet’s parents have split up, they’re divorcing and Scarlet finds herself caught in the middle. While Scarlet tries to navigate school, friends and homework she somehow has to find time to also placate her parents – who want to know what the other one is doing, even if it isn’t Scarlet’s job to pass that on! It seems like her mom is at fault – but is her dad a problem too?

Another day, another book with a main character named Scarlet (see Skin Deep)! I wonder if it’s a common name at the moment. I’m sure that the author had some deeper meaning in mind when she named her protagonist, or perhaps she just thought of the colour red

You know what I also like about this novel? Scarlet isn’t automatically looking for a boyfriend/girlfriend to get herself out of the situation. I personally felt that her best friend was a bit off, but Scarlett herself was spot-on in her emotions and approach to life.

I like how this captured the side-conversations that adults sometimes have that kids aren’t meant to know about. So for example, Alice’s parents have some really inappropriate conversations that one/both girls see/overhear. In my experience, kids know when parents are being sneaky (I mean, not 100% of the time)! So holding conversations in the open is far more helpful for building trust.

I received this book very late compared to the publication date, so there are plenty of reviews around for it now. That being said, I feel like it’s a suitable Christmas gift for a 9-13 year old who has divorcing parents or just struggles to feel heard and understood. Scarlet has a lot of rage, anger and emotions to get out, just like the average teenager.

I’m going to give this one 4 stars. I think it would have appeal to a wide range of audiences, but would be most suitable as middle grade or young teenage fiction. I think that this is a worthy addition to school libraries.

Scholastic | 1st July 2021 | AU$24.99 | hardback

Review: Alicia Jasinska – The Midnight Girls

The Midnight Girls
Alicia Jasinska

Marynka has never been good enough for her Jaga. She’s always been too short, too slow and altogether unimpressive. The thing that keeps her going is her rivalry with Zosia. They clash frequently, looking to steal the hearts of princes for power. Finally a prince appears that has a pure heart, and they ride together to go to the capital – both with only one thing on their mind. Instead the girls find themselves falling for each other and they can’t let the other win.

First, the book title. There is only one Midnight girl. There’s also a Morning girl and a Midday girl. Technically they are all ‘monsters’, but to me they were more minions of their Jagas (witches). There’s a whole lot of alliteration going on there. Then again look at that glorious saturated colour in the cover.

Ok, my major question about this novel is – where are all the Princes coming from? It seems like Wack-a-Mole, as soon as a new prince appears one of the girls is after his heart. If all the princes keep getting killed, where are the new princes coming from? I can imagine them getting married and having their parents abdicate the throne sooner so that they can become king and survive, but I don’t think that’s quite how this works.

The implication is that there were many servants before Zosia and Marynka – what happened to them? Did they all get eaten by the Jagas? I need a little more detail! What is going to happen next? The original Jagas are sisters, what happens when one dies? How long have they actually been living for? How did they get to be witches? I’d read a prequel of that!

Can I get a drool about the delicious Polish delicacies showcased here? Maybe you are thinking at this point that I hated the novel – I didn’t! I actually really enjoyed it and kept thinking about it when I had to put it down to life. I loved the way that both protagonists refused to admit they were in love, rather than the usual trope of the main characters falling in insta-love at first sight. There was the backstory that at least showed their previous relationship.

I’m so sorry. I would have given this 4 stars, except once again Jasinska disappoints with the ending. Lesbian protagonists in a whole where being queer isn’t even mentioned (because it’s so normal)? Sign me up. But I don’t think I’ll be reading more from this author – The Dark Tide has the same ending problem, so I can’t expect it to change.

Penguin Random House | 30th November 2021 | AU$19.99 | paperback

Juliet Marillier – The Bridei Chronicles 2 – Blade of Fortriu (N)

The Blade of Fortriu

Juliet Marillier

Ana of the Light Isles is to be sent to make a strategic alliance for King Bridei with the Caitt in the North. Little does she know not everything is as it seems in Lord Alpin’s domain and the one person she will have to rely on is someone she cannot stand. Bridei’s right-hand man, Faolan.

Again there is a very clear romance throughout this book. However this time we have a love triangle set up between Ana, Faolan, and Drustan. Though it’s clear relatively early that the partnership will be Ana and Drustan. Again the threads of romance are wonderfully woven between the characters with enough time spent on each that we have an excellent understanding of the characters motivations and the growth that occur. Even with the new character on the scene in Drustan. Honestly, even with how wonderful Ana and Drustan are together, my heart ached for Faolan. His character growth was the best of all – even though it is clear he has more growing to do later.

Early on when Ana was being courted by Alpin it was a bit nerve wracking. But the more that the story progressed the clearer it was that he wasn’t ending up with him, snake that he was. An immense relief really.

The other part I liked about the romance, because that really was a focus of this story, was how even though Faolan had Feelings for Ana there was always a clear line of respect Faolan had both for Ana and Drustan. A respect that was reciprocated. The way Ana and Drustan loved each other didn’t preclude other ties. Even though it wasn’t the bond that Faolan wanted, he saw and respect the bond they shared in return. the complexity of those interactions towards the end of the books were marvelous and enthralling. It’s not a wonder I went on a binge of reading this author when this is the level of interaction the characters have throughout her books. Another 5-stars.

 

Review: Barry Schwartz – Why We Work (S)

Why We Work
Barry Schwartz

“An eye-opening, groundbreaking tour of the purpose of work in our lives, showing how work operates in our culture and how you can find your own path to happiness in the workplace. Why do we work? The question seems so simple. But Professor Barry Schwartz proves that the answer is surprising, complex, and urgent… How did we get to this tangled place? How do we change the way we work? With great insight and wisdom, Schwartz shows us how to take our first steps toward understanding, and empowering us all to find great work.”

This was the book I was trying to get, when I ended up getting The Paradox of Choice as this one wasn’t there. I put this one on reserve and hence read it next. Unfortunately, it’s still not that great. It was better than The Paradox of Choice, but not great. It’s also a lot smaller then The Paradox of Choice which is good as at least it got to the point a lot quicker. But it still didn’t have much in it or much of a point.

The sub-stories in each chapter are ok, but basically only relate back to the point of “people don’t work just for money”. This is ok, but really I was expecting more interesting stories but instead these were just flat. I was also expecting additional ideas, solutions and actionable items that can be taken away from the book, to provide a meaningful workplace. But it seemed to just rant about “people don’t work just for money” for the whole book.

The action items were only very briefly touched on in the last chapter which is only 5 pages and is basically a conclusion. Thus it’s only a 2-3 stars from me.

Review: Juliet Marillier – The Bridei Chronicles 1 – The Dark Mirror (N)

The Dark Mirror
Juliet Marillier
Bridei is being raised for great things, but he doesn’t know enough about them yet. When he rescues the foundling Tuala, he doesn’t know how this will change the course of his destiny. There is a very strong and clear romance to this book. Some of the moments you don’t see coming, and others you do, but all of them blend into each other in a gripping tale.
There is just enough information from the various perspectives to allow insight into the important characters. Enough for you to see how their actions reflect their motivations. Granted there are some you know far better than others Bridei and Tuala for instance get plenty of insight into how they feel and why the actions they take make sense.
I went into this knowing that its a trilogy so when I got to the end and it didn’t feel like an ending I wasn’t too surprised. Thankfully I had the next two books to dive right into. The ending pace feels urgent – not too surprising given the events that are unfolding. That urgency communicates to the reader effortlessly. During that last section of the book I could not put it down at all. I just needed to know!
I also loved all the small details into Pictish history. Granted this is historical fiction not fact but it was clear that Marillier do her due diligence. It left me with a desire to dive into the history to learn more. The only reason I didn’t is because I had the next two books to read! 5-stars from me

Review: David J. Schwartz – The Magic of Thinking Big (S)

The Magic of Thinking Big
David J. Schwartz

“The Magic of Thinking Big gives you useful methods, not empty promises. Dr. Schwartz presents a carefully designed program for getting the most out of your job, your marriage and family life, and your community. He proves that you don’t need to be an intellectual or have innate talent to attain great success and satisfaction, but you do need to learn and understand the habit of thinking and behaving in ways that will get you there.”

Despite being first published in 1959, it’s not bad! Most of the book’s ideas are still relevant today. Obviously with older books such as this, you can tell that is is older from the style of writing and examples being used. However the principles and overall message is still the same. I think it would have been really good for it’s time. It has aged a little but not as much as you would think.

I read this book on and off and took quite a while to read it. I felt like you needed to be in the mood for it. Most of the “magic secrets of success” are things such as believing you can succeed, setting yourself up, managing your environment etc. For me tp enjoy and take it in, I needed to take breaks in between these chapters and not read a lot of it at once.

The author’s writing style was good and draws on his personal experience for short stories and examples. For a self help book which I don’t normally like, it is pretty good. I would recommend it for anyone who likes self help books, or needs to think more positive or stop procrastinating. I wouldn’t read it again; overall it was average. 3 stars from me.

Guest Post from Clark Burbidge on Advice to Budding Authors

Guest Post from Clark Burbidge – His advice to budding authors and what he’s learnt from writing!

Clark Burbidge was born and raised in the high mountain valleys of the Rockies. He earned an MBA from the University of Southern California and a BS from the University of Utah. Clark and his wife, Leah, live near Salt Lake City, Utah, where they enjoy their blended family of ten children and nine grandchildren.

Clark’s award-winning works include the Star Passage series, Giants in the Land trilogy, the acclaimed Christmas book,
A Piece of Silver: A Story of Christ
and a nonfiction work, Living in the Family Blender: 10 Principles of a Successful Blended Family.

What is your best advice for aspiring novelists (based off your own experience or what advice you’ve been given by other writers!)

  1. Just write. You will get better over time.
  2. Test your writing against both fan-type readers as well as editor-type readers.
  3. o to a bookstore, pick out books in your chosen genre, look at the acknowledgements, and write them down. These are people who have supported the kind of book you want to write. Read those books and figure out what they liked about it. Then, give them a call or text. You will be surprised how often you hear back. Most authors are very approachable, but their gatekeepers can be difficult. Persevere.
  4. Do not be intimidated by big agent companies. If they say no, that’s fine. Try to learn from each interaction.
  5. You will get turned down. Remember, you just need one person that likes it, not a dozen.
  6. Good editors will make lots of corrections, but never try to steal your voice. Edits have always made my books better and helped me learn a lot about myself. Those who try to steal your voice and make your work into theirs are not editors.

What did writing your books teach you?

  1. How to be patient with the process. It takes a long time.
  2. How to learn from those who make comments or provide critical advice and behumble.
  3. Your book needs to catch the imagination of strangers to sell. Anyone can sell to their family and friends.
  4. When you are looking for a publisher, you must remember that anyone can print a book, but a publisher should do so much more. Look for those extras.
  5. Love what you do.

Clark is with us today mainly to promote his newest book, Star Passage
buy links: Amazon | B&N | Bookshop

Mike Hernandez and the Coleman twins return, but just when the friends think they have the Star of Passage, it’s riddles, and Orion’s Belt figured out, they discover a new relic.

All of Tim and Martie’s rules are tossed aside when Tocho, a member of the Native American Shoshoni tribe which roamed the Rocky Mountains, knocks on Callie and Courtney’s Astoria, Oregon door with the mysterious Star of Hope. The new relic has the shocking ability to transport the teens forward in time, where cartels and gangs are a rising threat and technology has advanced so far that computer viruses affect humans. As Mike, Callie, Courtney, and Tocho struggle to remain free of the virus, they also have to dodge the shadowy Trackers, those wicked souls who are doomed to haunt history and desire the relics to free themselves from their eternal prison.

The teens find themselves racing to save a possible future, but can they change it for the better?

You can find out more about Clark on a number of platforms including

Review: Juliet Marillier – Blackthorn & Grim series (Dreamer’s Pool, Tower of Thorns, Den of Wolves) (N)

Blackthorn & Grim series (Dreamer’s Pool, Tower of Thorns, Den of Wolves)

Juliet Marillier

Dreamer’s Pool

If you were given a second chance at life from an executioner, even if it meant putting aside the one thing you were surviving for and abiding by rules that go against the grain of who you are for seven years, would you take it? This is the choice given to Blackthorn. She chooses life, bitter and regretful with the only thought of getting through those seven years to come right back to the same place to fight for justice. In return for her freedom from an unjust imprisonment by her enemy, Blackthorn has promised the Fae noble Conmael to use her healers gifts for good, answer all calls for help she hears, and seek no vengence. It honestly seems a little random that this comes at the beginning and its clear that Blackthorn will struggle to adhere to the restrictions set.

Once she gets to a place where she will be safe from re-imprisonment and sets up shop so to speak with her cell-mate Grim who was the first to ask her help without words no less. She is presented with a puzzle in the form of the Prince Oran’s betrothed, Flidais, who has recently arrived and appears to be so completely different from the maiden the Oran courted.

Overall the book was an excellent read to me. I liked how there was a deep platonic support between Blackthorn and Grim. That while it was clear she was frustrated she was bound to help him from her promise, his presence gave her someone who understood that hellscape of a prison they both escaped. Together they unravel the mystery of Flidais and the connection to the Dreamer’s Pool. Throughout the book there are enough hints that you can figure out the mystery right along with Blackthorn and Grim and the PoV switches between them both allowing a good insight into how their thoughts work.

Tower of Thorns

The second entry in the Blackthorn & Grim series. Both Blackthorn and Grim have settled into their life at Winterfells and have the support and goodwill of Prince Oran and his wife Flidais.

Now its an outside mystery that comes calling and ends up taking Blackthorn and Grim along for the ride. A noblewoman from the west comes looking for help and while Blackthorn is reluctant, the appearance of a friend from her past sways her decision to help. Again this book has hints of a standard fairytale. You can see how the threads are progressing as the story develops but as ever there is a slight twist away from the expected that just makes for a satisfying ending all around.

This book gives us more details into both Blackthorn and Grim’s past before they ended up in that prison together. Those details are a heart-rending as you would expect for two people who basically deemed themselves irredeemable. Together they seem to slowly get through their pain together. But there were some instances where I just which someone would give one or the other a shake to wake them up to what they were doing. It’s so clear throughout that Blackthorn and Grim rely and support each other in equal partnership. There isn’t romance in the traditional expected way but that level of support just shows how deeply important they have become to each other that they really would be a little lost without the other there.

Den of Wolves

The final book of the Blackthorn and Grim series. Again they are drawn into solving a mystery but unlike the previous mystery this time they are left having to solve the different part of the mystery separately. It makes for additional strain on their relationship but in the end the distance makes it so very clear that they what they share together is more precious then they ever would have thought.

This time we have a young woman caught up in a mystery of her birth and a man who has been returned from the fae realm. Again it’s up to Blackthorn and Grim to solve the mystery. But this time they are having to do it separately. The most frustrating part of this as the reader is because we get both viewpoints we know the information that would be so useful for them to share if they could just a get a moment to indeed share it. It made for a much more thrilling read than I would expect. And it demonstrated that both Blackthorn and Grim are very clever in that they can get most of the way through a mystery on their own. But there were key details that they each needed from each other for the whole story to become clear.

Overall it was an excellent read and I loved the development between Blackthorn and Grim in how they supported each other and so clearly wanted each other. This was seen in the little moments rather than the big events. In how they left unintended messages for each other when they kept just missing the time they needed together. Those moments and their reflections on those moments were poignant. Because it happened alongside this mystery rather than separate from it. Often this is missed in fiction is that the big events are the focus and the small detail that build a relationship and let it grow aren’t shown at all. Not so here, the small details a woven in wonderfully.

 

This series was my second exposure to Juliet Mariller and they were all so very satisfying. I loved Tamora Pierce as a teenager and Marillier hits the same notes that I loved then as an adult. It was a complete pleasure to read the Blackthorn and Grim series. The slow development of their friendship and partnership was just enjoyable between their adventures and problem solving. More than that the solid depiction that just being there together helped them made me happy. Solid 5-stars and I will no doubt come back to these books in the future when I’m craving a read that plunges me into another world so thoroughly.

Review: Juliet Marillier – Shadowfell series (Shadowfell, Ravenflight, The Caller) (N)

Shadowfell series (Shadowfell, Raven Flight, The Caller)

Juliet Marillier

Shadowfell

Neryn has always been able to see the Good Folk and in her world this has always been dangerous. Once alone and in danger it becomes the only reason she survives. More than that it becomes key to discovering her little ability is more than she ever thought.

Shadowfell starts off quick, plunging us into the world from Neryn’s PoV. This remains consistent throughout the series that we work from Neryn’s view. There are brief interludes in the form of letters to from another character Flint, that provide extra information for the reader and layer extra world-building so that we as the reader have just a tiny bit of extra information to work with.

The journey to the titular Shadowfell feels perilous and honestly is an excellent example that not everyone is a camping/survival expert. Particularly not 15 year old girls. No matter how often they have had to forage before. This alone make it unique in the troubles Neryn has in just getting to her destination. The struggles feel realistic. There isn’t always a deus ex machina to get her out of the problem she stumbles into. Often it’s Flint who manages to find her then do the requisite nursing back to health. A bit of a turn around from the standard trope of the boy who gets injured/sick and is nursed back to health by the girl.

There is enough early set-up for Neryn’s journey and the reasoning for why going to Shadowfell makes sense. I would have liked a little more detail on why or how the kingdom has gotten to this point but given that it’s a young adult target that is probably too much to expect.

Raven Flight

Neryn has made it to Shadowfell and become a critical part of the rebel’s plan to free the country from the tyrannical King. She need to master her abilities, proving that she can indeed become a Caller.

Alot of Raven Flight is anchored in Neryn helping the rebels set up an early system and working relationship with the Good Folk. Demonstrating that a Caller is less a commander and more a intermediary that allows these conversations to happen in the first place.

This book also starts Neryn’s intentional learning in how to be a Caller with what are called the Guardians. Embodiment’s of the four cardinal directions and four elements. We saw the first, The Master of Shadows, in the first book though we didn’t really know it at the time. This book sees Neryn finding the Hag of the Isles and Lord of the North to continue her training. We also see more of Flint and Neryn’s romance that is not. Since they really don’t want to become entangled while trying to overthrow the Kind. Sensible if difficult, since feelings don’t listen.

Bit more of a struggle with this book since the pacing is a little choppy with the traveling and stopping to learn. The emotions that Neryn and more importantly Flint deal with are achingly real to read more than make up for that choppy pacing. We get to see a little more of what Flint deals with too in his spy role and how much that weighs on him. Again I wish we would could read more of the other side of this rather than the stock tyrant king.

The Caller

Neryn has one more Guardian to find to complete her training as a Caller. The White Lady, who is the most elusive. There also appears another who has a similar gift to Neryn as a Caller but no where near her level of ethics.

Time is running out and the presence of the other Caller makes it even harder for Neryn to reconcile that those she Calls will be in danger in a fight that they would otherwise abstain from.

The lack of ethics in the other Caller was less a complete absence and just a lack of understanding. It was hard to comprehend he couldn’t see the Good Folk as actually people. But by the time he had come forth we’ve already had Neryn’s considerate approach as a standard expectation. The last book tied up a lot of the loose ends nicely in the story. We even get a little more detail on the other side even if it is just from direct observation. The queen and her adviser appear to be pieces of work. And the so called tyrant king appears to be more weak-willed than I would have expected given how the state of the world is attributed mainly to the king and not the royals in general. In the end we have a solid resolution to the story that is satisfying and show’s Neryn’s growth as a Caller and her considerate nature aligning well.

I read these 3 novels all in rapid succession. Marillier’s work has that tendency for me to be gripping enough that I want to read the next installment rather than wait. However even if i didn’t read them one after another they still would have been excellent reads to wait for. My main qualm with them was the one-sidedness of the story, there were clear instances of how the world got to this point. And the last book gave some excellent details about how it wasn’t always this way. But gosh I wanted more – to be fair Marillier does present multiple sides in her other book excellently which possibly set that expectation. That said, excellent young adult novels and they made for a relaxing set of evenings between reading other adult targeted works by Marillier. Solid 4-stars from me.

Review: David Vise – The Google Story (S)

The Google Story: Inside the Hottest Business, Media and Technology Success of Our Time
David A Vise

The Google Story is the definitive account of one of the most remarkable organizations of our time. Every day over sixty-four million people use Google in more than one hundred languages, running billions of searches for information on everything and anything. Through the creative use of cutting-edge technology and a series of groundbreaking business ideas, Google’s thirty-five year old founders, Sergey Brin and Larry Page, have in ten years taken Google from being just another internet start-up to a company with a market value of over US$80 billion. Based on scrupulous research and extraordinary access to the inner workings of Google, this book takes you inside the creation and growth of a company that has become so familiar its name is used as a verb around the world.”

2 stars? I mean, I finished it, so it’s more than 1 star right? But really I skimmed for the last while, so it  should be 1 star. I honestly don’t think it had anything good in it. I was expecting some insights, including ups and downs of the journey along the way. Yes it was a journey I guess, but it was written by someone else and it had no insights at all. It was like the author had found a bunch of people that knew The Google Guys and interviewed them, and then mashed it together. He didn’t have any knowledge or access to Google Inc….

Even more terribly, because they were all raging fans of The Google Guys already, they gushed over them or ideas. There were no “hard” moments in the journey of the business or even anyone that disliked The Google Guys. There is always controversy and hard decisions to be made, but none of these were mentioned at all. It was very one sided towards the things that were being done well.

Even the good parts of business that the author advised The Google Guys were doing right, were glossed over and had no depth or insight. It was just like “now they made $x profit or share price” with no detail of how that happened. It also went into the origins or backstory a lot more than needed. We seemed to spend a lot of the book there, languishing in the past of a business that is actually relatively futuristic.

The back of the book clearly tells us that the book was not created, authorised or endorsed by Google, Inc – and you can see why. I only picked it up thinking that everyone should know a little about Google and some stories to tell, but after I finished I don’t think I have any, and as a book it didn’t do it for me. I have had more insights into Google from other books who have done short 1 chapter or so case studies on Google, such as Simplify, then this whole book just on Google was. I really didn’t get anything out of it at all and I do NOT recommend it to anyone.