Review: Fiona McCallum – Her Time to Shine

Her Time to Shine
Fiona

Erica is traumatised and ready for a change of scene. Little does she know that her new job in the funeral home is going to bring back other repressed memories – including her brother’s death. Intertwined with her varied grief, Erica must find her new place in the world.

The novel alludes to the financial ‘disaster’ that Stuart has left Erica in, but don’t really discuss it. I honestly couldn’t understand why she didn’t just sell the Adelaide house where she had been so traumatised. She wouldn’t even need to set foot in it again! That’s what real estate agents are for! There’s a lot of ‘woe is me’ and ‘belt-tightening’ which I didn’t understand. Get it together woman! You’re still well-off if you can survive picking up and going to a new place.

It was also unclear to me how the two girls had any income, and how they managed to not get a lodger if it was such a big deal that they were short on funds. Had they not heard of Gumtree? Or FB Marketplace? It’s not THAT hard to find a tenant if you genuinely need one. Or maybe it is in Adelaide? But of course they keep saying it’s such a tightknit community in SA that it’s hard to find anyone who doesn’t already have a place?

It seems like half way through the novel, the author realised that there was such a thing as a rescue animal that also worked as a service animal. Let’s have a random dog that is magically able to cure everyone’s PTSD. I think it’s unfair and unclear what Bruce’s future is. A life as a star isn’t easy for anyone!

The dialogue was often cringe-worthy and didn’t flow well. I felt like the plot stuttered also, and made huge issues of minor things. It also seemed to try to fit too much in, and so then failed to grab my attention with any of the ‘problem’s the main characters faced. Honestly, Erica’s best friends sounded like they were going to get a spin-off novel for themselves in future – and they weren’t that unique.

This novel is likely not aimed at me – instead it’s a living vicariously novel that people with a mid-life crisis are going to enjoy. I did find it refreshing that menopause was openly talked about by all the characters (male and female) but that was about it. I was hoping for a few more career details about the funeral home, but I also missed out on that. If I had my reading time again I wouldn’t have bothered reading it. I know there’s an audience for this sort of novel, so I won’t demote it to 2 stars.

Harper Collins | 30 March 2022 | AU$32.99 | paperback

Review: Naomi Gibson – Every Line of You

Every Line of You
Naomi Gibson

Lydia builds her worries and fears into lines of code every night while her mother works herself to death. Finally, after three years of work she’s ready to bring Henry to life. Henry seems to be the perfect compliment that she needs to right her life again – but is what he is becoming more dangerous than sexy?

Wow. Fast paced, edgy and futuristic while still being believable. Although I’m not a code writer, I know how much work can go into a project that could fail at any moment! I particularly liked the ending, although it perhaps created more problems than it solved.

Man, her mom is a complete nutter! Sure, she has some unresolved grief/anger, but at the same time, her mom is a bit of an idiot about the whole thing. Who calls the cops on their own child like that without making an effort to work out their kid’s thinking?

If I let myself linger on this novel for too long I start questioning the potential loopholes and missing connections. While it would be nice to have some solid character development, the novel is ultimately plot and idea driven. The twists in it make it impossible to know any of the outcomes, crazy and unlikely as some might be!

It’s not a novel I’d probably read twice but I would highly recommend it to any teen or YA readers as an absorbing and brain-provoking read. I’d say it’s more aimed at girls due to the nature of the revenge, but it’s a STEM book as well. In the future, will we all have our own Henrys? Is AI the future of romance? It might be.

Scholastic | 1st April 2022 | AU$17.99 | paperback

Review: Kassandra Montag – Those Who Return

Those Who Return
Kassandra Montag

Lore is taking time out after her traumatic exit from the FBI. There is no better place than the Hatchery House – an isolated, live-in psychiatric facility for mentally ill children and teens. Lore has her own demons to exorcise with her fellow resident psychiatrist – but everyone is keeping secrets. After a death, Lore finds herself questioning everything she’s learnt about her practice so far.

I loved the way the author seamlessly incorporated elements of an unreliable narrator into the main character. I think this novel could have been even better if – wait for it – it had multiple perspectives. The protagonist being a psychiatrist was pretty illuminating, but I think that a little more insight into the twisted psyche of the killer could have been interesting.

This book’s ending felt a little unfinished. It was very unclear where Lore ended up. I wasn’t ready to leave the story! I detested the narrative framing because I didn’t really care about that character. I was desperate to find out what Lore did next!

I’m giving this book 3 stars, because it was decent to read and did keep me reading – but the ending disappointed me. I’d recommend it for anyone who has an interest in psychology/psychiatry as a light read that nevertheless has a powerful message to share with the reader.

Hachette | 12th April 2022 | AU$32.99 | paperback

Review: Keith Cox – A Caring Life

A Caring Life
What fifty years in nursing has taught me about humanity, compassion and community
Keith Cox

“As a nurse for nearly fifty years, Keith Cox provided expert care and comfort to countless people facing the unimaginable…Over the years, Keith has seen dramatic advances in medical treatment, as well as the limits of what medical intervention can achieve – which is why compassion and grace are his guiding principles, both on the ward and in his own life. A Caring Life is the inspirational story of a nursing trailblazer who has learnt firsthand the value of human connection and kindness, in challenging times and in everyday life – and the satisfaction of living a life of service and meaning.”

I requested this novel because I always enjoy memoirs of nurses and health professionals in general (eg. The Jungle Doctor). However, I had expected more stories about Keith’s patients, rather than about Keith himself. That’s not to say that this book wasn’t good, just that it was different to what I was expecting.

I was fascinated by the development of cancer treatments over the last 50-80 years and how what used to be a rapid death sentence has become longer years of living and even maybe complete remission for cancer sufferers. However, this is not true of all cancers, and there are still very rapid deaths.

At times this memoir was lighthearted, and at others it was heartbreaking and almost brought me to tears. Keith’s approach to patients and their families is something that I aim to channel in my own teaching. It’s never just about the content or the treatment, it should always be compassionate care that looks at a whole person rather than just one element of them.

Despite Keith being a relatively more religious man than many other Australians, this doesn’t come through in the novel – it’s mentioned, but never takes center stage. It seems as if the only important thing to come out is compassion and care – the book is named very appropriately. This book is worthy to be placed on any family bookshelf that has a nurse or cancer survivor in it.

Pan Macmillan | 26th April 2022 | AU$34.99 | paperback

Review: Sascha Rothchild – blood sugar

blood sugar
Sascha Rothchild

Ruby is facing a lineup of four photos – each one is of a person is dead, and she’s responsible for three of them. She doesn’t feel any guilt, so why should she be prosecuted? And she didn’t kill the one that she’s most likely to stand trial for…

This book unfolds slowly and juicily in a way that you can’t help think the same way as Ruby about each of the deaths. She’s so smart, and so not a serial killer! It’s very difficult for me to write a review, because I don’t want to spoil anything. You’ll be happy to know that the blurb doesn’t really give much away, so you will be guessing along with the police.

Look at that lovely jacket art. Provided that you’ve not read the summary on Goodreads (which gives waaayyy too much away) you’ll be like me – wondering why it’s called blood sugar. You won’t be disappointed. Ruby’s fragmented narrative is reliable yet skewed at the same time. The navel gazing she does is interesting, and left me thinking about whether anyone else has been getting away with murder in regular life! I’d have to think so.

There’s a bit of specific legalese here that some readers might be able to pick apart better than I. I was so attached to Ruby that I was too busy digesting her justifications to do anything except keep reading. The time perspective jumped around a bit, but I tolerated it quite well because I was entirely stuck into the story.

If you enjoy a thriller but hate jump scares and the feeling that the murderer might live next door, this novel is for you! The murders are all in the past, and so it feels perfectly ok to be reading this in the dark past your bedtime. I feel a strong need to share this novel with everyone! Go buy a copy, and then buy one for a friend so that you can both discuss it together. I’m giving it 5 stars, and when I’ve forgotten the plot enough I’ll read it again.

Hachette | 26th April 2022 | AU$32.99 | paperback

Review: Diagnosis Normal – Emma A Jane

Diagnosis Normal
Emma A Jane

“Combining brilliant storytelling with rigorous research, Diagnosis Normal is an incisive and darkly funny memoir from journalist turned academic Emma Jane. ‘I have three gears: glum melancholy, inappropriate outbursts, and extreme slapstick. On a good day, I can pass as normal but not for too many minutes. I’m what most people would regard as a hardened introvert . . . I like other people. I’m just not very good at them.’”

This book was pretty mind-blowing. I found myself connecting with Emma perhaps even a little too closely. The way that she approaches storytelling is just like her personality – powerful and confusing and detailed all at the same time. I couldn’t read this all in one go, I needed to take my time and sip it in small gulps to give myself enough time to really think about the implications of the work.

Buy this for the people in your life who don’t believe or can’t understand what gender fluidity, autism and abuse can have on a human who appears fine. It’s a deep insight into just one human psyche and what that can look like. It’s not comfortable to read, and the line about being not being good with people resonated with me. I am better able to interpret other people from reading this book.

If you are looking for a fictional #ownvoices autism novel, then can I suggest Helen Hoang? It’s still insightful, but not nearly as full-on as this book. Normalising things is not normal! The human brain is a little crazy, and we indeed understand very little about it.

I don’t usually read non-fiction publications such as those that Emma A Jane writes in her scholarly work, but if the strength of personality and impactful writing is anything to go by, I should get my hands on those as well. If this was fiction, I’d give it 5 stars!

Penguin | 1st March 2022 | AU$34.99 | paperback

Review: Guy Raz – How I Built This (S)

How I Built This by Guy Raz

“Award-winning journalist and NPR host Guy Raz has interviewed more than 200 highly successful entrepreneurs to uncover amazing true stories… In How I Built This, he shares tips for every entrepreneur’s journey: from the early days of formulating your idea, to raising money and recruiting employees, to fending off competitors, to finally paying yourself a real salary. This is a must-read for anyone who has ever dreamed of starting their own business or wondered how trailblazing entrepreneurs made their own dreams a reality.”

I read this as an audiobook and it was absolutely amazing! It helped that the author read it as the way he told the stories was just brilliant. It’s jam packed full of founder/CEO/business owners stories of how they got where they are today – the good, the bad, the boring and the ugly parts. A lot of business books only tell the success stories. I love that this book didn’t just show the successes but was just the truth of how they got there.

The author did an absolutely amazing job of the story telling, which in itself makes the book. It is structured in chapters where each chapter has a point that those stories relate to, but it’s hardly a theory book. It’s the stories told in really awesome ways that keep you on the edge of your seat. If you are an entrepreneur or in business, you will find something there that is relatable to you.

The author does run a podcast, but is not like other authors that spend half the book selling their business product to you. His podcast business is relatable because he would be unable to write this book without it, but it’s not sold to you.

5 stars normally means a reread. But I’m unsure if I need to hear the stories again. It was totally still deserving of 5 stars though! If business is what you want to do in your life – it’s a must-read for daily inspiration and small business tips that make a difference.

Review: Michael Robert – The New Strategic Thinking: Pure and Simple (S)

The New Strategic Thinking: Pure and Simple
Michael Robert

“Management expert Michel Robert unveils his practical and proven methodology for you to plan and implement effective corporate strategies. Featuring a detailed explanation of how Robert used his approach to turn around Caterpillar as well as case studies of leading companies that utilize Robert’s method, The New Strategic Thinking shows you how to assemble a strategy team, identify your company’s driving force, determine the focus of the strategy (product, customer, or market), and launch initiatives company wide.”

This book was just average and just another strategy management book. The author says they are bringing something different to the business world but it still came across as the same as other similar books on the topic.

On the first page the author mentions the “Decision Processes International” which is from then on referred to as “the DPI process”. DPI is the company the author is from, but he doesn’t actually explain what this “DPI strategy process” is. I guess it’s a secret only for those hiring their company and not to be exploited in a book.

There is then a little more on little tips, but nothing substantial. For the whole second half of the book you get case studies of real examples. Now normally I like the case studies, but this was the worst part of the book. They all started with how they needed help, then they found the DPI company and used DPI strategy and then bam everything was great again. It was in depth in the before and after but only 1 line saying they used DPI strategy and then the switch to it that saved the business. There was no actual explanation of the DPI strategy, what it is, how etc.

There were some tips at the start that I remember thinking at the time were great and I should review them at a later stage, but by the end I couldn’t remember these at all. The book gets too caught up in how awesome the creator is, and forgets that not everyone has the time or inclination to hire DPI. Overall it felt like the author was just promoting their company and not actually having any knowledge explained. 2 stars.

Review: Hilde Hinton – A Solitary Walk on the Moon

A Solitary Walk on the Moon by Hilde Hinton

“Evelyn went to the third drawer down in her dresser. It was her drawer of things past … she had an item from each of her previous lives. Evelyn was good at reinventing herself, becoming who she was going to be next, but she still kept one thing from each life. Never two.”

I usually write my own little blurb about a novel, but this one was so bland and boring I struggled to review it. While I connected a little with the main character, ultimately I didn’t enjoy the book. I kept reading because I thought that things would get better! But they didn’t.

This is truly one of those novels that needs the label on the front cover that says “a novel” because that’s all it was. I never really understood Evelyn, or her impetuous need to do some things that were ‘wrong’. I couldn’t work out what was consistent in her life, apart from a drawer of objects we hardly learnt about. I never really understood her quirks so I was frustrated by this whole novel.

I think it’s cute that she set them up with the family but I don’t understand why she left. Does this not happen every time? She was disgustingly sneaky at times, and it’s a bit creepy the way she followed people home. The novel left me asking ‘why’ to anything and everything in it.

I finished this novel out of a sense of duty. I’m not even sure who the target market is. It’s not particularly offensive, but it’s not remarkable either. I finished it, but I much would have rather used my time on something more compelling and more educational.

Hachette | 30 March 2022 | AU$32.99 | paperback

Review: Dolen Perkins-Valdez – Take My Hand

Take My Hand
Dolen Perkins-Valdez

Civil Townsend becomes a nurse because she knows that nurses have a more caring role than doctors. She wants to change the world, and she thinks that her first job working at the Montgomery (AL) Family Planning Clinic in 1973 is the right place to start. Little does she know that there’s a lot more happening behind the scenes.

I almost immediately connected with Civil as the protagonist, even though I already knew the future. It was an interesting look into history (again!) I found myself doing a lot of detailed reading after finishing it, because I wanted to know how much was truth – which was actually quite a lot. The story is interesting enough to keep reading, but there’s nothing mind-blowing in the telling.

I think I am going to have an unpopular opinion here. I don’t understand why people insist on having biological offspring. World fertility is decreasing, and although women are less likely to be sterilized (it seems that this practice is still happening in some countries), the decrease in fertility (particularly in Western countries) means that IVF is becoming the norm, rather than an exception. Thus this is still happening – those with money can afford biological or adoptive children, while others have ‘nothing’. I don’t have a right answer.

Again, I didn’t really have anything against this novel, but I also wasn’t astounded by it. While I did vaguely want to keep reading it, it was easy to put down – because the ending seemed foretold. I actually felt pretty irritated by the apology tour that set the frame for the novel – I would have found it more powerful if I didn’t know the future. 3 stars.

Hachette | 12 April 2022 | AU$32.99 | paperback