Review: Alexis Ohanian – Without Their Permission (S)

Without Their Permission
The Story of Reddit and a Blueprint for How to Change the World
Alexis Ohanian

“As Alexis Ohanian learned when he helped to co-found the immensely popular reddit.com, the internet is the most powerful and democratic tool for disseminating information in human history. And when that power is harnessed to create new communities, technologies, businesses or charities, the results can be absolutely stunning. In this book, Alexis will share his ideas, tips and even his own doodles about harnessing the power of the web for good, and along the way, he will share his philosophy with young entrepreneurs all over the globe.”

I absolutely loved reading this book. It hooked me right from the start and kept me engaged throughout. Alexis writes just like I do, saying what’s on his mind and giving us a raw account of events. I have to admit, he does go a bit overboard with the use of brackets (but hey, I’m guilty of that too!)

The book wasn’t exactly what I expected, though. I thought it would be a straightforward chronological story of how Reddit came to be. Instead, the story of Reddit is brief and not presented in order. But once I got past that initial surprise and understood the book’s style, it was all good. Alexis takes us on a journey beyond Reddit, sharing his experiences with other companies and providing what he calls “the blueprint” for creating your own successful internet startup. So, if you’re looking for insights and inspiration in the world of internet startups, this book has got you covered.

I should mention that this book is very focused on internet startups, so it might not be as applicable to other types of businesses. Don’t let that discourage you. It’s still a fascinating and entertaining read. I genuinely enjoyed it from start to finish. I’d give it a solid 4 stars.

Review: Abra Pressler – Love and Other Scores

Love and Other Scores
Abra Pressler

Noah’s just drifting from place to place in Melbourne – the best part about his life is his older adult housemate and the drag queen who drops in to visit him at his job. Gabriel is driven from country to country in pursuit of a Grand Slam tennis title – barely thinking about anything other than his sport. A chance meeting at a bar starts some heat between them – but what secrets are each of them hiding?

The blurb promised me twists and turns, but it really was exactly what I expected it to be (including Noah’s delay at various crucial points). I think it still counts as a ‘meet-cute’, and apart from the sex scenes (pretty tastefully written, nothing too racy) it doesn’t have that much new to offer. I did read it pretty quickly, just to see if it would turn out as expected. It did.

This book is good in that it presents monogamy, but not in a boring or ‘they settled for it’ way. I’ve read a LOT of books with sex happening all over the place, and it’s refreshing to have two men (rather than teenagers) interacting and not having it all about sex or teenage hormones. I also liked the individual charm that was included in the scenery, and I could see them sneaking (both huge men!!) through the backstreets of Melbourne.

I HATE TENNIS. I find it super boring, I don’t understand the rules and I can’t think anything too positive about a sport that regularly leaves people vomiting on the court from heat exhaustion. Oh, and don’t mention the huge amount of traffic the Australian Open causes in Melbourne. I associate tennis with hot summer nights and a lack of sleep.

If you are looking for an Australian novel with a gay sporting protagonist, this is it! It gave me echoes of Anything But Fine and Take a Bow, Noah Mitchell, but for an adult audience rather than a teenager one. I’m not excited by tennis, but this book was still a good solid read.

Pan Macmillan | 28 November 2023 | AU$26.99 | paperback

Review: Patrick Lencioni – Getting Naked (S)

Getting Naked
A Business Fable about Shedding the Three Fears That Sabotage Client Loyalty
Patrick Lencioni

“Another extraordinary business fable from the New York Times bestselling author Patrick Lencioni Written in the same dynamic style as his previous bestsellers including The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Lencioni illustrates the principles of inspiring client loyalty through a fascinating business fable. He explains the theory of vulnerability in depth and presents concrete steps for putting it to work in any organization. The story follows a small consulting firm, Lighthouse Partners, which often beats out big-name competitors for top clients. One such competitor buys out Lighthouse and learns important lessons about what it means to provide value to its clients.”

I am a fan of this particular author, having delved into several of his captivating works. As I embarked upon “Getting Naked,” I found myself comforted by the familiar cadence and structure that I had come to associate with his novels. This book also adheres to his trademark style of weaving a fable throughout the narrative, imparting invaluable lessons to the characters and, by extension, the readers.

Lencioni expounds upon the concept of vulnerability, urging us to embrace it both in our interactions with employees and clients alike. While this book didn’t quite achieve the same level of gripping suspense that some of his other works possess, perhaps my familiarity with his narrative structure contributed to my ability to predict the end. Nevertheless, it remains an engaging read, with the author skillfully interweaving his principles within the fable.

The Three Fears:

  1. Fear of losing the business
  2. Fear of being embarrassed
  3. Fear of feeling inferior

The core principles presented in this book, particularly those surrounding vulnerability and the 3 fears, hold significant value, particularly for those in the service industry. It is rare to find a book that caters specifically to businesses that offer services as their primary product. In this regard, the author excels, providing practical insights and guidance for service businesses.

Overall, “Getting Naked” is a commendable addition to the author’s repertoire, although it may not stand out as his most exceptional work. Admittedly, the topic at hand is not new, as other authors such as Brené Brown have also explored the importance of vulnerability. The fact that multiple authors have tackled this subject underscores its significance and relevance in our lives. Taking into account its strengths and its place in the broader literary landscape, I give this book 4 stars.

Review: John C. Maxwell – Developing the Leader Within You (S)

Developing the Leader Within You
John C. Maxwell

“In this repackaged bestseller John Maxwell examines the differences between leadership styles, outlines principles for inspiring, motivating, and influencing others. These principles can be used in any organization to foster integrity and self-discipline and bring a positive change. Developing the Leader Within You also allows readers to examine how to be effective in the highest calling of leadership by understanding the five characteristics that set “leader managers” apart from “run-of-the-mill managers.” In this John Maxwell classic, he shows readers how to develop the vision, value, influence, and motivation required of successful leaders.”

In this book, there are both commendable and average aspects. Some sections can be skimmed through, while others provide valuable insights. Unfortunately, the author’s frequent use of poems, motivational and self-help language didn’t resonate with me.

I was captivated by the first portion of the book. However, it then went downhill and didn’t improve for the rest of the book. Although there is a wealth of valuable content within these pages, locating it can be challenging due to poor organization and vagueness. Certain sections suffer from being overly general, and much of the information presented seems to rely on common sense rather than groundbreaking ideas. Examples and stories would have enhanced the reading experience. It’s worth noting that the book does incorporate thought-provoking questions and self-evaluations regarding one’s leadership abilities.

Overall, I rate this book 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Quick Reviews of Non-Fiction Business Books #3 (S)

The Conversation Yearbook 2017: 50 Standout Articles from Australia’s Top Thinkers – John Watson

I was really hoping this book would be all about fascinating individuals or businesses considered as “top thinkers.” Instead, it’s filled with essays covering topics like climate change, same-sex marriage, public school education, Indigenous issues, and Australian politics – and all of them are from 2017, which makes them feel pretty out-of-date now. A bunch of these essays are just plain boring and hard to get through. I managed to read most of them, but there were a few that I had to skip. Plus, the way the book is organized feels a bit messy. The themed chapters don’t flow together smoothly. If these essays are supposed to represent the best thinking from our top minds, I’m not feeling very optimistic. I’d give it a 2-star rating.

The Golden Passport: Harvard Business School, the Limits of Capitalism, and the Moral Failure of the MBA Elite – Duff McDonald

Who would be interested in reading this? It’s essentially a history of Harvard Business School (HBS). It comes across as quite dry and unengaging, and I fail to see its purpose. I initially expected more content related to prominent business figures, akin to a textbook, but even those sections fell short. For instance, when I saw the discussion of Frederick Taylor in Chapter 3, I hoped to have fond memories of his accomplishments for that era. However, this book somehow managed to render his historical contributions as mundane and uninteresting, not reflecting Taylors true significance. I would rate it with only one star, as I was unable to finish it, but I do acknowledge that it might appeal to a different audience, warranting a two-star rating.

Flying Solo: How To Go It Alone in Business Revisited – Robert Gerrish, Sam Leader, Peter Crocker

I found this book to be quite good. It’s an enjoyable read that covers all the basics, so don’t expect groundbreaking insights. Nevertheless, it’s definitely worth checking out, especially if you’re looking to embark on your journey into self-employment. The book provides essential tools for planning and starting a solo venture, offering a mix of motivational advice and practical strategies. Despite being released a few years ago, the content remains surprisingly relevant. It challenges the old assumptions of the 9-to-5 grind, introducing concepts that are increasingly gaining popularity. The book not only gives you the basics but also includes some practical examples, making it a valuable resource for those considering or already navigating the world of self-employment. 3 stars.

Review: Jeffrey Hull – Flex (S)

Flex
The Art and Science of Leadership in a Changing World
Jeffrey Hull

“Based on his popular classes with Harvard Medical School physicians and New York University business students, Hull has identified the six key elements that leaders in this new workplace need to succeed, known as Flexibility, Intentionality, Emotional Intelligence, Realness, Collaboration, and Engagement. From start-ups to universities to Fortune 500 companies, he’s been able to help leaders across the board develop the skill sets that have advanced their careers and won them accolades.”

This book is a thought-provoking book that truly inspires its readers to become better leaders. The author introduces the concept of beta leaders, a unique approach to leadership that challenges conventional thinking and encourages introverted collaborative leaders in an ever-changing world.

While the concept of beta leaders is interesting I found myself occasionally distracted by the abundance of case studies within the book. These real-world examples provide valuable insights, but their sheer quantity made it somewhat challenging to keep track of each individual and their unique circumstances. I often wished for more in-depth exploration of a single character’s leadership journey and the theory that goes with it. Then I could have been following the character through various scenarios to see how they evolved.

The book excels in presenting a collection of coaching tips, each bundled with profound leadership insights tailored for the modern workplace. It highlights numerous areas where anyone can enhance their leadership skills. I found myself particularly engrossed in the sections that resonated with my own leadership style, while some other sections didn’t capture my attention as strongly.

One of the book’s strong points is the well-crafted summaries and practical takeaways at the end of each chapter. I will re-read these again later. These sections offer a concise and valuable outline of the key ideas, making it easy for readers to reflect on and apply what they’ve learned.

In conclusion, “Flex” is an inspiring book that challenges traditional leadership paradigms and equips readers with the tools to adapt and excel in today’s work environment. The overall impact of the book is undeniably positive. It’s a valuable resource for those looking to enhance their leadership skills and navigate the complexities of a changing world. Especially in an inspiring way! I rate it 4 out of 5 stars.

Spotlight: Chopped Scene from The Trillias Gambit by J. V. Hilliard

Today we welcome back Joe Hilliard, a prolific writer who has previously been showcased here! There’s an interview with Joe here, and a previous chopped scene from The Last Keeper here.

This time I’m sharing a deleted scene from Joe’s newest work in The Warminster Series, The Trillias Gambit. 

“Don’t bite your thumb at the vermilion,
for to survive would be one in a million.”

– The Ballad of Eldwal

IT WAS MIDDAY, and King Godwin had been summoned to the walls by his guards amidst a great fanfare and ringing of bells, as was customary to greet a notable arrival to the city. Godwin saw them first from the battlements of the great castle, approaching at speed across the plains. For a brief instant, he worried that it was a military unit, but the numbers were too small and they flew the white flag of peace, as well as their own colors.

He recognized them immediately. They were flying the crimson banner of the Vermilion elves, a recluse race whose eyes and hair matched the hue of their standards. They were riding their signature horses, powder white stallions that had well-earned reputations as the finest mounts in the whole of Warminster.

Godwin was already in a sour, gruff mood from court the day before, and the sight of the Vermilion banners flying high in the wind threatened to push him over the edge. He paced the battlements for several minutes, his brow furrowed and his footsteps heavy as he retraced the same path backwards and forwards while the horsemen grew ever closer. And then, as though he’d arrived at an important and irreversible decision, he leaned over the battlements and spat on the grass far below. He hustled back inside and rang the bell for his servants before examining his surly visage in a looking glass. His face bore the telltale signs of fatigue, but it still projected the calm, regal authority for which he was known.

There was a sound and some movement from the hallway, and Godwin noted the arrival of Meeks Crowley, his personal butler. Crowley was a skinny human, standing over six feet with brown hair, brown eyes and a closely managed moustache. His bony frame was hidden by his servant’s tunic, thick boots and gloves.

“Sire?” Crowley said.

“Ah, Crowley,” Godwin replied, offhandedly. “Please arrange for a welcoming party to receive the Vermilion contingent at the gates.”

“Of course, sire.”

“Damned Vermilion.” Godwin shook his head, anticipating ill omen from them. “A visit from them is never good.”

“Quite, sire,” Crowley simpered. His eyes were watery, as though he’d just received devastating news, and he seemed to hang on to every word that the king spoke as though it was some sort of holy decree that had to be taken down for the benefit of future generations. “They rarely bother with any race, let alone humans.”

“Remind me,” King Godwin asked, “when was the last time that we had dealings with the Vermilion?”

“It’s been a generation, sire” Meeks replied. “Back when your father was on the throne. “The last time they were seen in this part of the realm, it was to help Sir Hertzog Valkeneer to prepare to defend the Bridge against a great alliance of trollborn tribes.”

“Ah, the Battle of the Bridge,” King Godwin remembered. “You’re correct, of course. The attack was repelled through an alliance between the Valkeneer and the Raven elves. We must make the Vermilion feel welcome. Go, send the welcoming party. And have my wife and the nobles summoned to court.”

“Of course, sire.”

Quick Reviews of Non-Fiction Business Books #2 (S)

SMART Time Investment for Business: 128 ways the best in business use their time – Kate Christie

I’m sorry but I didn’t love it. The 128 ways to best use time felt very basic and repetitive, some were also not explained enough. The book is meant to be short and to the point, and “time saving” which was fine. It then had a bunch of quotes from each business person after each point. I don’t mind a few quotes, but that many seemed to lose its point with not enough context. I find that quotes can be very contradictory, there seems to be a quote for every situation. There were a few short case study examples but again not enough context to really get the point across. The 128 ways to save time were not new tips. Maybe you’ll pick up a handful of new tips by the end but that about it. I recommend it for anyone who is not an organised person. 2 stars.

Superminds: The Surprising Power of People and Computers Thinking Together – Thomas W. Malone

This is an intriguing book that explores the concept of collective intelligence. While not aligning with my typical reading preferences, it managed to capture my attention to some extent. The beginning of the book was challenging to get through, but it improved as I progressed. Some sections stood out as particularly engaging, shedding light on the possibilities and implications of collaboration between people and machines. However, I found it lacking in substantial takeaways and not engaging throughout. It was very general and referred to already fairly outdated technology. I felt this book was much longer than it needed to be, with lots of repetition and multiple examples illustrating the same issue. Overall I give it 2 stars. It was not intriguing to continue to read it.

So Now You’re a Leader: 10 Precepts of Practical Leadership – Peter Stokes and John James

Since the book is quite old, it’s hard for me to give it a proper review. I guess it was okay back in the day, but in today’s world, it feels pretty outdated. The principles it presents are still relevant, but the stories and writing style feel old-fashioned. It’s written in a very textbook-like manner, and it even throws in theories like “SMART” goals and Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. It’s a bit dense and dry, but the points it makes about being a better leader are valid and serve as good reminders. However, there’s nothing really new or groundbreaking here, just the basics. I’d give it two stars.

Interview with Jackson Simiana, author of “Starfall”

An interview with Jackson Simiana, author of “Starfall”

What/who is your favourite dragon in literature?

Definitely Caraxes the Blood Wyrm from Fire & Blood / House of the Dragon. In fact, I have a big tattoo of him up my arm. I think he’s phenomenal and so uniquely designed. I also love Drogon, Daenerys’s big, loveable boy, for his raw power.

I use an ‘egg rating’ system here on The Cosy Dragon when I rate books. Do you have a favourite way of eating eggs? I’m partial to fried eggs, with a base of rice and some spicy sauce.

I’m vegan, so that makes answering tough… There are great scrambled egg substitutes however!

I’m not going to be reviewing your newest novel, but from your other published novels, is there one that is your own personal favourite?

Probably my first novel, Starfall. It is sort of my brain baby. And while there is a lot now that I would change if I had the chance, given I have learned so much more and would adjust the story arcs etc, I am really proud of it given how expansive and detailed it is. I did heaps of research back in the day on advice for first-time writers, and so many people and authors said “don’t start with a sprawling epic fantasy!” And what did I do? Exactly what they told me not to do. But I think it paid off because it gave me the chance to create what I always wanted to and get my name out there a little bit!

Everyone has a ‘first novel’, even if many of them are a rough draft relegated to the bottom and back of your desk drawer (or your external harddrive!). Have you been able to reshape yours, or have you abandoned it for good?

I started writing when I was like 9 years old! So I don’t even know if the stories from back then are capable of being salvaged, mostly because they are blatant Lord of the Rings rip-offs.

Over the years, what would you say has improved significantly in your writing?

Reading more fantasy opens up my eyes to how other authors write, which I feel has been hugely influential. I think practice has helped me avoid the mistakes I used to make, like repeated words, too many adverbs, etc. I have also found that where I used to write much more as a “Gardener,” I am more of an “Architect” now. I plan the outline and scenes before I begin, and I do allow for creative freedom as it arises… but that way I can always ensure I get to include all the story beats that I want.

Some authors are able to pump out a novel a year and still be filled with inspiration. Is this the case for you, or do you like to let an idea percolate for a couple of years in order to get a beautiful novel?

Gosh, I wish I could do that. My first novella, Little Sparrow, was significantly shorter than my other works, but still took a good 6 months at least to write. I do too much editing on the fly and rewriting to be able to pump out novels so quickly! Plus, you have to let it stew. Writing and publishing so quickly must take some sort of toll on quality, I feel. I mean, look at Stephen King and R.L. Stine. 

I have heard of writers that could only write in one place – then that cafe closed down and they could no longer write! Where do you find yourself writing most often, and on what medium (pen/paper or digital)? 

I always write on my laptop, and that makes it easier to write where I want because it changes daily. Sometimes it’s in bed, other times I grab a chair and sit in the sun. I don’t have any exciting place where I write unfortunately, like the top of a volcano or something.

Before going on to hire an editor, most authors use beta-readers. How do you recruit your beta-readers, and choose an editor? Are you lucky enough to have loving family members who can read and comment on your novel?

I edit myself because I think editors aren’t always necessary, especially in self-publishing and if you have decent knowledge of things like grammar, punctuation, story beats, arcs, pacing, etc. Thankfully, I feel I do, and so never felt the need for one (plus, I’m a full-time student; there’s no way I’d ever be able to afford it!) I’ve found some great beta-readers through Reddit. I have some friends who also like to read my stuff before it’s released, plus some other self-published authors who I’ve gotten to know over the years and who help me out too.  My family basically all hate fantasy! I don’t know if any of them have even read my books *wipes tear*.

 I walk past bookshops and am drawn in by the smell of the books – ebooks simply don’t have the same attraction for me. Does this happen to you, and do you have a favourite bookshop? Or perhaps you are an e-reader fan… where do you source most of your material from?

This definitely happens to me! Nothing beats a new book smell. Unfortunately, I do soooooo much reading for uni that I never have the brain capacity to read paperbacks anymore. I usually only listen to audiobooks now on my way to and from work. I’ve actually come to love it, because some narrators are amazing and breathe so much life into the characters.

 I used to find myself buying books in only one genre (fantasy) before I started writing this blog. What is your favourite genre, and have your tastes changed over time?

Definitely grimdark fantasy, my own genre of writing. I have always loved fantasy and horror, and authors such as Martin and Abercrombie have made me fall in love with the darker, more depraved aspects of humanity. I don’t necessarily enjoy the heinousness of it, rather how characters react to it. We live in a world surrounded by cruelty and malice, and I think that many creative works brush over this most of the time with fairy tale happy endings and good guys always winning, when in actual fact it is far from true! I also love reading horror, true crime, and science books, particularly on biology, palaeontology, and evolution.

Social media is a big thing, much to my disgust! I never have enough time myself to do what I feel is a good job. What do you do?

I manage my social media all by myself. It can be a bit draining, especially when it feels like you do a lot of work for zero result. But it is what it is- we are a crowded market, and it takes a lot to break through. So I am just happy that I get to share my works with some rather than none. I spend perhaps only an hour or two a week doing social media, whether it’s adding stuff to Instagram, author updates on my website, sharing sales, etc. Nothing too special, really.

 Answering interview questions can often take a long time! Tell me, are you ever tempted to recycle your answers from one to the next? 

Never! Gotta stay true to it.

About the book

“Alyria is a land in turmoil. Corrupt kings and cutthroat courtiers in the south, disease and turmoil in the middle kingdoms, and a violent invasion along the Broken Coast. Peasant superstitions blame the chaos on the return of the bleeding star, but the ramblings of the lower classes are of little concern to the cold rulers of Alyria and their political games.

A series of childhood traumas keep disgraced princess Katryna Bower away from home for years until a plot to assassinate her parents comes to fruition. Peasant boy Tomas is confronted with the true horrors of war when he and his best friend are conscripted by a dangerous captain to fight against savage invaders from across the sea. King Emery Blacktree will do anything to avoid civil war, but will his sickly wife be able to accept marrying off their only daughter to a descpicable prince, all in the name of peace?

As the tapestry of the world is torn apart, complex and intriguing characters are forced to make tough decisions and survive the unthinkable in a fully-realised grimdark world. The Final Ruin is coming.”

Find it on Amazon and GoodReads

Review: Carl J. Schramm – Burn the Business Plan (S)

Burn the Business Plan
What Great Entrepreneurs Really Do
Carl J. Schramm

“Schramm explains that the importance of a business plan is only one of the many misconceptions about starting a company. Another is the myth of the kid genius—that all entrepreneurs are young software prodigies. In fact, the average entrepreneur is thirty-nine years old and has worked in corporate America for at least a decade. Schramm discusses why people with work experience in corporate America have an advantage as entrepreneurs. For one thing, they often have important contacts in the business world who may be customers for their new service or product. For another, they often have the opportunity to strategize with knowledgeable people and get valuable advice.”

I quite enjoyed this book and I’m giving it a solid 4 stars. It provides a refreshing take on business and entrepreneurship, shedding light on the real struggles in a down-to-earth way. The stories are cool, especially the ones about businesses hitting the skids after years of hustling – kind of a bummer but definitely eye-opening.

Now, let’s talk real talk – the book had a bit of a slow start. The “why start a company” section? Meh. I could’ve used less of that. But hey, it rallied and got awesome towards the end. It’s a gem for anyone in the business game, especially if you’re just starting out. Forget the textbook stuff; this is some more realistic ideas of building a business from scratch. It is a reflective and impactful piece that can dispel numerous misconceptions about entrepreneurship, the pleasures of managing a business, and various other aspects.

If the idea of an MBA ever creeps into my mind, I’ll flip through this book again for a reality check. If you’re hustling in business or dipping your toes, this book’s got your back. If you love entrepreneurship, this is definitely the book for you! It’s not a perfect five, but it’s damn close and definitely worth a read. 4 stars.