Review: Brandon Sanderson – The Final Empire (K)

The Final Empire
Brandon Sanderson

This is an extraordinary book. I already had high expectations, as it was a Sanderson, but this truly reminded me of just how immersive and wonderful books truly can be.

This book – at least in the first half – has very few major plot elements; the book is focused mostly on introducing the characters and the world. This is something that would usually cause me to put down a book quite early on, as I often get bored when not much seems to happen. However, this was absolutely not the case in this book. The characters and their interactions were so interesting that I quickly found myself immersed.

This book was able to Riot my emotions in an extremely powerful way – there were many times when I had to put the book down, just to pace and think about what was happening. Although it may seem like a criticism that I was capable of putting the book down, it is far from it. The events in the book pulled at my emotions so much that I simply needed to take a break to calm down and think about them.

I have nothing negative to say about this book. The characters were amazing, their arcs felt realistic, and the world immersive. I’m already making plans to start the second book.

Review: Richard Koch & Greg Lockwood- Simplify (S)

Simplify: How the Best Businesses in the World Succeed
Richard Koch & Greg Lockwood

“Are you ready to become the next market leader? Investor and successful entrepreneur Richard Koch and venture capitalist Greg Lockwood have spent years researching what makes successful companies—such as IKEA, Apple, Uber, and Airbnb—achieve game-changing who status. The answer is simple: They Simplify. Take Your Business from Startup to Game Changer. Start simplifying today.”

This book talks you through two different ways of simplifying your business in terms of your businesses market share and target customers. The two ways are either price or proposition simplifying. I liked the authors’ methods and reasoning, as well as how they explained the two simplifying techniques. They gave in depth examples of 12 businesses which they continued to refer to throughout the book. At some points I wanted to hear an example of another business not the same 12, but at other times it was good to have consistency.

It was great to read an in-depth case study about each business. I always enjoy those parts of the real examples (although I also like allegories – eg. Death by Meeting). However the final chapters in this book seemed quite repetitive. The position that was largely presented was that the authors preferred price simplifying even though their examples were balanced of 6 businesses of each type. Perhaps I just wanted to hear more about the proposition simplifying. Also a lot of the examples or even explanations were on products, where I would have liked to have more service businesses. That being said, a lot of business books are geared more to products in general, so perhaps I set my expectations too high.

I recommend it for anyone in business. At any stage in business you should know what market you are focusing on – this will give you a pertinent reminder to keep it simple. I don’t feel any need to read it again, partly because the authors covered everything well. So 4 out of 5 stars for me.

Review: Phillip Maisel – The Keeper of Miracles

The Keeper of Miracles
Phillip Maisel

“For more than 30 years, Phillip Maisel has worked selflessly to record the harrowing stories of Holocaust survivors. Volunteering at Melbourne’s Jewish Holocaust Centre, Phillip has listened tirelessly to their memories, preserved their voices and proven, time and time again, just how healing storytelling can be. Each testimony of survival is a miracle in itself – earning Phillip the nickname ‘the Keeper of Miracles’… Published as Phillip turns 99, this deeply moving, healing and inspiring memoir shows us the cathartic power of storytelling and reminds us never to underestimate the impact of human kindness.”

I cannot wrap my mind around the thought that some people try to deny that the Holocaust occurred. There are thousands of people who were affected – not just those that died but those like Phillip who lived through traumatic times and yet came out the other end still as a human. Phillip speaks of this in the book, and the reader is struck by his compassion even to those who are in my own words, ‘idiots’.

This is an intimate look into how Maisel kept himself together and survived the Holocaust, but also how he had paid forward that privilege to help tell the stories of others. As he said, and this sticks with me, it is the fact that all the different memories are recalled differently that adds realism to the picture. I am horrified by the loss of stories and people that has occurred.

I don’t care for history, and I am certainly not an avid reader of World War II history. However I found this book a very moving and thoughtful examination of the Holocaust and a somewhat gentle introduction to the atrocities of the time. I certainly did not realise the extent of Jewish persecution – I admit that in my ignorance I kind of just assumed that Hitler took over Germany and thoroughly persecuted people there, and then not much else – just that it was invaded.

Pan Macmillan | 27th July 2021 | AU$32.99 | hardback

Review: Hayley Lawrence – Skin Deep

Skin Deep
Hayley Lawrence

Scarlett went from being a beautiful, graceful dancer to a scarred outcast in the space of an afternoon. She’s desperate to get away from people’s expectations – and her dad is willing to take her up into the mountains to get away. But there she finds she can’t be alone – and maybe she doesn’t want to be.

I confess that I found this novel somewhat unrealistic and underwhelming. I didn’t find it thought-provoking because I didn’t think that the overall treatment of Scarlett’s scars was reasonable. I wanted to be fair to this novel, so I went to do a little digging on what research the author did before/during writing it. I couldn’t find much.

Yes, girls are definitely treated differently in terms of ‘pretty’, ‘cute’, ‘beautiful’ and ‘ugly’, but it’s also true of guys to an extent. There are definitely the ugly guys who also get picked on by the ‘jock’ types. This book makes it seem like only women have the problem! And that only shallow women only think about looks, which is also untrue.

It seemed like a low technique to have the secondary character Eamon just accept Scarlett – because it seemed as if his sister was the pure reason that he felt that way. The abrupt turn-around of Scarlett’s friends also seemed shallow and unlikely. Finally, I didn’t care for the romance that sprung up – how convenient that Scarlett and Eamon might spend some more time together! I also had a Bridge to Terabithia moment which honestly could have made the novel more poignant for me.

If you have an overactive imagination like mine, please note that there should be a trigger warning for skin peeling. I can’t get a particular phrase out of my mind! However, the majority of references to her scars are that they are ugly and really that way because of the muscle loss.

I’m giving this 3 stars – hopefully it’s thought-provoking for younger readers, but if you really want to get inside someone’s mind who has been badly scarred, Brent Runyon’s Burn Journals remains the gold standard in my mind (I appear to have not reviewed that novel in particular, but I have reviewed his Surface Tension).

Scholastic | 1st July 2021 | AU$15.99 | paperback

Review: Daniel Coyle – The Culture Code (S)

The Culture Code
The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups
Daniel Coyle

“Where does great culture come from? How do you build and sustain it in your group, or strengthen a culture that needs fixing? … Culture is not something you are–it’s something you do. The Culture Code puts the power in your hands. No matter the size of your group or your goal, this book can teach you the principles of cultural chemistry that transform individuals into teams that can accomplish amazing things together.

This book is jam packed with stories from a variety of different businesses and groups. They all work differently yet overall are sharing the same underlying messages. The stories left me giggling at times or wondering more, and were very interesting.

Most of what I learnt from this book wasn’t anything new. But the examples, stories and how it’s told was amazing. The overall messages will be remembered as they are linked through the stories. Each of the 3 main chapter/authors points has a section of “ideas for action” as takeaways for you to apply the knowledge you’ve just learnt. It gives you actionable questions and ways to apply it. Unfortunately, as do a lot of similar books, the actionable items are more so in person and can’t be used in a virtual or work from home environment.

It was still good regardless and basically just for the interesting stories I loved it. [Rose’s note: I can definitely attest to the fact this this was a great book – Suzi giggled her way through the book, and stopped reading multiple times in order to make the reading experience last longer.] 4 stars.

Review: Guillermo del Toro, Cornelia Funke – Pan’s Labyrinth (K)

Pan’s Labyrinth
Guillermo del Toro & Cornelia Funke

 

A year after her father’s death, Ofelia and her mother move in with her new Stepfather. The dense forest surrounding her new home provides a perfect hiding place, both for the resistance fighters her stepfather is trying to defeat, and fairies, Fauns, and a magnificent labyrinth.

This was a beautiful book. One of this book’s best features was its ability to inscribe wonder in my heart with the fantasy element, where it captured both the beauty and the danger of magic. I find there’s a big difference between fantasy which is simply ‘there are fairies and magic’ and the atmosphere and aura that a well-written fantasy novel can provide, and this book provided that perfectly. Part of the reason I think this is done so well was that the main character in the story is a child. This is the first time reading a book where the main character is significantly younger than I am, but I found that, far from being frustrated by annoying childlike decisions, the childlike innocence added to the atmosphere of the book.

The juxtaposition between the cruelty of Ofelia’s stepfather and the wonder of her secret world was outstanding. Both aspects of the book entranced me, and I never found myself trying to get through one part faster to move on to a more interesting story.

The worldbuilding of this book was beautifully done. The characters were vibrant and 3-dimensional, and the book pulled me in and refused to let me go until the very last page. I would definitely recommend this book, with a note of warning that there are some pretty extreme descriptions of violence, so it would not be ideal for younger readers.

Review: Natasha Ngan – Girls of Paper and Fire

Girls of Paper and Fire
Natasha Ngan

Lei has been blissfully unaware of the wider society – apart from a raid that took her mother 7 years ago. When she is selected to become one of the king’s eight concubines she doesn’t feel it’s an honour and dreads serving a king brutal enough to order the complete destruction of villages. Lei doesn’t know how she will survive – but when she finds herself falling in love, she realises that there is more to life than serving and hating.

In a beautifully realized fantasy setting, it’s a love story, and yet at the same time other things are going on. To start with Lei isn’t that keen on being chosen – but decides to make the most of things to protect her family. I loved her fiery spirit, even if the early pages of the book were all a bit boring as they focused on the concubines getting to know one another.

I found the ending a little disappointing. Honestly, it would have been better if that particular character had died, because I could see where a power gap could still occur. For example, the mysterious shamans. What was their reasoning for keeping the balance of power stable? What did they get out of it?

Many reviewers have said this should come with a trigger warning for rape and abuse. I think it’s fair to say it did come with a bit of notice about that, as the beginning pages of the novel (at least in my copy) were links to rape and abuse hotlines for people who were in such terrible situations.

I picked this up at the library because I was pretty sure I’d seen other bloggers raving over it! I saw that there were the first two books on the shelf and promptly googled it to check how many books it was going to be. Unfortunately for me, it’s a trilogy and the third book isn’t published yet! I’ll give it four stars, and worry about reading the third when it comes out (probably again borrowed from the library).

Review: Jan Cavelle – Scale for Success (S)

Scale for Success: Expert Insights into Growing Your Business
Jan Cavelle

“All it takes to start a business is a great idea and initial funding. But when it comes to growing and scaling a business – turning it into an enduring success – it becomes much more difficult to manage and sustain the various elements that are involved. You need to set out a clear plan, sustain funding, optimise marketing opportunities and develop an effective team. There are many opportunities to fail but, with Scale for Success, readers will gain valuable insights and practical advice from a global array of entrepreneurs and business leaders who have paved the way to their own versions of commercial success.”

This is a review by Suzanne, who specialises in reading and reviewing business books. I can tell you that she really enjoyed this book! She was either reading it because it was so good, or trying not to read it because she didn’t want it to end!

This book is a lot of short stories and lessons from entrepreneurs and CEOs sharing their experiences with scaling a business. I really enjoyed it! The book follows in a logical order with different sections on different topics. Each chapter has one or two stories from different entrepreneurs regarding that topic and providing advice. I love hearing the engaging stories from different business experts. The book still flows well overall as it’s all written from the same author, and not a collaboration of authors.

There are key take away tips, inspiration and advice from each entrepreneur. There is also their own personal definition of success which I found interesting. In similar style books with lots of stories there is normally some I’m uninterested in. However with this book, I loved all the stories and struggled to put the book down.

This book is aimed for businesses that have already started, mainly those that are larger and looking at growing further. It includes raising venture capital and other funding but isn’t only on these points. I think it was great to see not just scaling up, but how to exit and move on from a business as well. There are not many business books discussing how to exit. I don’t think I learnt any particular pieces of advice to implement right now, but it was a great enjoyable read and I do recommend it, even if you are not scaling up.

Bloomsbury | 2nd July 2021 | AU$34.99 | paperback

Review: Bella Green – Happy Endings

Happy Endings
Bella Green

“Bella Green is a Sunday-afternoon sex worker. Divorced dads, IT nerds, international students – she’s here for the idiosyncrasies of human behaviour, for soothing the lonely. But really for the cash… Taking us on a funny, candid, can’t-look-away journey through brothels, strip clubs, peep shows and dominatrix dungeons, Happy Endings is a hilarious and compelling memoir from a bright and bold new Australian voice.”

This isn’t the first memoir by a sex worker I have read (see my reviews of: Come and The Brothel). I liked this one in particular because it showed the way mental health can impact someone’s work life. And it’s not that Bella doesn’t work hard – she seems to work her butt off! It’s just that her work is different from the old boring 9-5er.

It was refreshing to see how Bella addressed the relationships she has with both binary and non-binary people. To her, her attraction is based on their personality and approachability. The self-insight she shows (no doubt through quite a lot of therapy) speaks a lot for what a fantastic person she must be.

What I’d like to see next is the reflection of a male sex worker – and whether they have some of the same complaints and commentary on their clients. Who knows? I’ll keep an eye out for this approach and review it if I find one…

I resisted the urge to google the author because I don’t really need sex worker ads popping up on my Facebook (no offense to sex workers, but I do work with underage persons so it is really inappropriate for me to have those ads come up). I like that Bella’s two professional lives and selves eventually came together – a real happy ending!

Pan Macmillan | 29 June 2021 | AU$34.99 | paperback

Review: Kalynn Bayron – This Poison Heart

This Poison Heart
Kalynn Bayron

Briseis has a gift that is held in check by Brooklyn lack of green spaces. Her ability is to cause plants to thrive – even the deadly poisonous ones. After a rough year at school (trying not to cause the plants in her teacher’s windows to grow vigorously), Briseis is hoping to spend the summer helping her moms run their flower shop. Instead, she finds that she has inherited a rambling estate and garden from her birth mother.

I was a little hesitant to read this novel, because I had enjoyed Cinderella is Dead right until the disappointing ending! Once I picked it up though, I was hooked. Bri’s character was fleshed out and her feelings obvious. I didn’t mind the so-called ‘slow burn’, I liked getting to know Bri’s family, circumstances and normal behaviors before she was tossed into a new world of plants, poisons and family secrets. Add in some Greek mythology and there was a tale I wanted to keep reading.

Other reviewers have complained that the author doesn’t use words such as lesbian to refer to Bri’s moms. I actually appreciated that! It’s not like every straight couple in other novels are said to be straight! Equally, it’s not stated that Bri and her moms are people of colour – it’s up to the reader to pay attention to the little nuances in physical appearance and habits to realize this (although this is probably given away by the beautiful, luscious cover art).

Let’s talk about the ending in general terms at least. Did I like it? No, no I did not. I honestly felt as if the publishers had told the author “Hey, we think this will be a big hit, make sure you prepare to write a sequel.” So then Bayron was required to leave it open! In the end, I didn’t like the way the antagonists showed up as there were too many holes in the reasoning.

Ultimately my take on this novel is to go buy it! But without knowing when the sequel will come out (or whether this is a duology/trilogy etc.) try to go into it realising that you’ll have to be patient to see the next installment. I’m not patient! So it’s four stars from me (to be updated if the second book is as fantastic as the first).

Bloomsbury | 29th June 2021 | AU$16.99 | paperback