Review: Dinesh Palipana – Stronger

Stronger
Dinesh Palipana

“A puddle of water on a highway changed Dinesh Palipana’s life forever. Halfway through medical school, Dinesh was involved in a catastrophic car accident that caused a cervical spinal cord injury. After his accident, his strength and determination saw him return to complete medical school – now with quadriplegia. Dinesh was the first quadriplegic medical intern in Queensland, and the second person with quadriplegia to graduate medical school in Australia.”

I didn’t really expect to enjoy this book, but Dr Palipana brings a hint of humour into everything. You’d think reading a book about someone who lost almost all his physical abilities would be quite depressing. Instead, this book is a tribute to the author’s resiliance and persistance. To some extent, it also exposes some of the negative aspects of living across different countries and having family that you aren’t sure how to work with.

This was quite easy reading, despite being a potentially tough subject. I finished it off in two sittings, and didn’t really need a brain-break in between. I wasn’t rushed to finish it, but I did want to know the ending. I still don’t know how he manages to get enough sleep!

The fact that the Australian medical system can change even a little to prepare an excellent Dr is amazing, and I hope to see more evidence from the author creating change from his experiences. I meet many doctors in my work, and I know that they are scarily smart! But, as Dr. Palipana says, it’s less about smarts, and more about the emotional connection that you can form with patients. Being a doctor isn’t about being ‘able-bodied’, being a doctor is a vocation and needs someone with compassion. Let’s hope for more of that in the future.

Pan Macmillan | 26 July 2022 | AU$32.99 | paperback

Review: Lindsey Stirling – The Only Pirate at the Party

The Only Pirate at the Party
Lindsey Stirling

“Electronic and dancing violinist Lindsey Stirling shares her unconventional journey in an inspiring memoir filled with the energy, persistence, and humor that have helped her successfully pursue a passion outside the box.”

I had wanted this book for a long time! Finally, I remember that eBay exists and that I should be able to pick up a second-hand copy for a lot less than what it was on Amazon. It appeared on my doorstep faster than I expected and I abandoned my other reading to dive in.

I knew nothing about Lindsey’s background and it was a delight to go into this book with no preconceived ideas on what ‘should be’ covered. Thus I enjoyed it with a lighthearted joy and found myself laughing and quoting parts out-loud at times. It will likely be read by another family member, then passed onto the teenage Lindsey fan I know.

I was so devastated when I found out that Gavi died of a heart attack before the book being published. Gavi is/was such an important figure and support in Lindsey’s personal and professional life. I checked the wikipedia page for them both, but didn’t really discover very much new.

Obviously this memoir is quite old now, and I hope for an updated one at some point from Lindsey! Not however, if it’s going to delay her release of further music. 2020 was the year I was finally going to see her in concert – but the tour has been indefinitely postponed. Sad face 🙁

An enjoyable and uplifting memoir for anyone who loves Lindsey Stirling. If you don’t know who Lindsey is, go listen on YouTube right now!

Review: Deborah Cadbury – The School that Escaped the Nazis

The School that Escaped the Nazis
Deborah Cadbury

“The extraordinary true story of a courageous school principal who saw the dangers of Nazi Germany and took drastic steps to save those in harm’s way. In 1933, the same year Hitler came to power, schoolteacher Anna Essinger saved her small, progressive school from Nazi Germany. Anna had read Mein Kampf and knew the terrible danger that Hitler’s hate-fueled ideologies posed to her pupils, so she hatched a courageous and daring plan: to smuggle her school to the safety of England.”

This book is again a tribute to all of the children and their families murdered during the rise and fall of Nazi Germany. I found myself again horrified at the sheer number of children murdered in the Holocaust. This book flips between the school as it is established in Britain, and then into its students’ origins as well. There are some children who survived largely in the ‘wild’ of Germany, and we also see their perspective.

This is not nearly as confronting as Always Remember your Name, thankfully. It’s an interesting read, and I’d recommend it to anyone interested in alternative schooling perspectives as well as those who would like to further broaden their understanding of the traumas visited on children during the wars.

It is becoming more and more obvious and acknowledged in society today that children often suffer from trauma that has repercussions throughout their lifetimes – and which may never be resolved. It is the same for the adults who managed to survive and that may never be able to recover. This can also be seen in the novel The Little Wartime Library, which briefly narrates what one of the incarcerated adults looked like after the freeing of POWs.

Reading this book was heavy going at times and it took me a number of sittings to digest it. I’m normally not interested in history, but I’m not sure that can be said of me any more! I have read quite a few books about the Holocaust now, including Always Remember Your Name, The Dressmakers of Auschwitz and The Keeper of Miracles. I have yet another waiting on my bedside table for me to read.

Hachette | 10 May 2022 | AU$32.99 | paperback

Review: Ben Bravery – The Patient Doctor

The Patient Doctor
Ben Bravery

“At the age of twenty-eight, with his Beijing-based science communications business doing well and a new relationship blossoming, Ben Bravery woke from a colonoscopy to be told he had stage 3 colorectal cancer…. Now, driven by his experience on both sides of the healthcare system, this patient-turned-doctor gives a no-holes-barred account of how he overcame the trauma of his illness to study medicine and shares what he believes student doctors, doctors, patients and their families need to do to ensure that the medical system puts the patient at the very heart of healthcare every day.”

Hmm, this was an interesting book, but not an outstanding one. While it was interesting to see the way that Ben-as-a-patient affected Ben-as-a-medical-student, it wasn’t anything particularly new to me. I also already had some pretty in-depth knowledge about how broken the medical system is in Australia.

The medical training provided to doctors in Australia is good in some ways (covers a lot of important information, very physiology/anatomy based) but bad in others. It seems to pay lip service to making compassionate great communicators out of doctors. As Ben exposes again in his book, there’s just so much crammed in and an idea that providing patient-centred care will take longer in a workplace where doctors are already overwhelmed.

It was fascinating to me that I saw the changing hospital/specialist centre size from both a patient (this book) and a nurse (A Caring Life) perspective. I also find it of interest because we usually assume that larger medical clinics will be better specialised to help people, even if this isn’t necessarily accurate. I felt that Ben’s attitude and understanding of his condition (and the humour he had to offer) was impacted by doctors the most. Now I’ll be waiting for a fully-fledged doctor’s thoughts on the system at the time!

I’d love to see a memoir or non-fiction from a higher up hospital administrator who is responsible for some of the funding and why student doctors / specialists / surgeons / every medical professional in the system are so overworked. I’m all for making sure doctors aren’t unemployed, but being underemployer or overworked is not good enough.

I am grateful that I live in Australia and healthcare is free. That’s reason enough that I might just be happiest with whoever I see in a hospital. What Ben advocates and encourages through his book is for patients and their families to feel confident speaking up for themselves. That’s something easier said than done, but I think it could be done.

I’d recommend this for readers interested in what it looks like to be a complicated cancer patient and the beginning trials of medical school. There’s some humour to keep it light, even if overall I think the book is a picture of the complicated nature of healthcare in Australia.

Hachette | 29 June 2022 | AU$32.99 | paperback

Review: Patrick Radden Keefe – Rogues

Rogues: True stories of grifters, killers, rebels and crooks
Patrick Radden Keefe

“Keefe explores the intricacies of forging $150,000 vintage wines; examines whether a whistleblower who dared to expose money laundering at a Swiss bank is a hero or a fabulist; spends time in Vietnam with Anthony Bourdain; chronicles the quest to bring down a cheerful international black-market arms merchant; and profiles a passionate death-penalty attorney who represents the ‘worst of the worst’, among other bravura works of literary journalism. The appearance of his byline in the New Yorker is always an event; collected here for the first time readers can see how his work forms an always enthralling yet also deeply human portrait of criminals and rascals, as well as those who stand up to them.”

Once this book arrived, I wasn’t sure if I would be interested in a series of academic essays about ‘rogues’. That being said, I actually found myself quite eagerly diving into the stories, and it helped that the first was about wine fraud! After each one I needed to take a breather to really absorb what I had read and I ended up reading the book over two major sittings. By the end, my brain was feeling a bit overused and I would have said that the last 40% was a slog. I’m not certain that the last story really covered a ‘rogue’ (Anthony Bourdain – more of a sad ending than anything else) but none-the-less it was a good point to end the book.

I wondered whether the author had become self-realised after profiling defense attorney Judy Clarke — who represents “the worst of the worst” – and realising that what he has done in this series of essays is very much alike to what Judy does with her clients. In each case, I felt that Keefe had eventually become quite sympathetic to the person involved which went a little against what I believed was supposed to be a journalistic neutral position.

Be aware that some of the language, particularly regarding legal circumstances, can be quite impenetrable for the average reader. I occasionally felt quite stupid while reading because I didn’t know anything about the political context or any of the major players. I don’t think this is deliberate by the author, and it’s probably just a side effect of me avoiding anything that looks like news/media.

I think that this book is great for anyone who has an interest in law and international crime. Also, anyone keen on knowing more about journalism in the ‘old days’ would enjoy it. I feel as if ‘true journalism’ is a dying art – social media now allows, and even encourages, people to write their own narratives (which we see to some extent for the criminals discussed). However, if someone is already an avid reader of Keefe’s work this probably isn’t a great buy as this isn’t new content just reprints.

Pan Macmillan | 28 June 2022 | AU$36.99 | paperback

Review: Anna Kent – Frontline Midwife

Frontline Midwife
My Story of Survival and Keeping Others Safe
Anna Kent

“Anna Kent has delivered babies in war zones, caring for the most vulnerable women in the most vulnerable places in the world… In Frontline Midwife, Kent shares her extraordinary experiences as a nurse, midwife and mother, illuminating the lives of women that are irreparably affected by compromised access to healthcare. This is at once an astonishing story of the realities of frontline humanitarian work, and a powerful reminder of the critical, life-giving work of nurses and doctors at home and around the world.”

Nurses work bloody hard. Every novel, every book I read, I know that nurses work very hard for sometimes very little reward. My mother was a nurse in aged care and I understood how hard it was for her to deal with patients dying every shift. For Anna to be able to keep her head above water and to keep working as a midwife even with all the avoidable deaths is amazing all by itself.

Anna’s storytelling is spot on, and it makes for compulsive reading even if you know what the ending is. She manages to personalise all of the women she meets even as you know she is protecting their identities. It’s unsurprising that Anna suffers from PTSD and I am grateful and humbled by Anna’s willingness to share it with the world.

I would swear to you that I reviewed this book, but perhaps I did it only in my head. I certainly felt quite strongly positive about it while reading it, even if I found some of the messages to be mixed.

My problem with this book is that it is assumed that all women will want to have children. Kent recounts the story of triplets being born and wonders what their mother will do when she learns she can’t have more children. Um, isn’t three enough? Or, you know, she might like to do something else with her life rather than just produce children – she’s not going to die in childbirth at least. Perhaps she will be able to get an education? Perhaps she can be a local midwife.

I felt the same way about the woman who had had multiple miscarriages and then lost her husband right before successfully birthing a child. How will she provide for herself? How can you bare to bring up a person in poverty like that? Of course, it’s not the woman’s fault, or Anna’s fault – it’s a humanitarian crisis that shouldn’t exist but does because of the wealth disparity in the world. Please don’t interpret this review as a critique of who should be ‘allowed’ to have children – that’s another whole problem in itself.

Australians should feel blessed that Anna Kent has told this raw, honest story and also given a careful look into what Doctors without Borders can look like in practice. We don’t all need to be midwives, but we can all use more compassion. Buy this book for anyone who needs their eyes opened to the horrific realities that we still face in 2022. Buy it because you’re curious to know what it looks like in the war torn countries of the world. buy it because it’s ultimately a human story that we have all been part of.

Bloomsbury | 31st May 2022 | AU$29.99 | 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: 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.