Review: Meshel Laurie – CSI Told You Lies

CSI Told You Lies
Meshel Laurie

“CSI Told You Lies is a gripping account of the work of the forensic scientists on the frontline of Australia’s major crime and disaster investigations. They are part of the team at the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine (VIFM), a state-of-the-art facility in Melbourne… Join Meshel Laurie as she goes ‘behind the curtain’ at VIFM, interviewing the Institute’s talented roster of forensic experts about their daily work. Her subjects also include others touched by Australia’s major crime and disaster investigations, including homicide detectives, defense barristers and families of victims as they confront their darkest moments.”

I felt quite conflicted about this book. While I enjoyed some of the history of forensics in Australia, I wasn’t actually that satisfied. I kept pressing through in the hopes that I would get something really interesting from the book (a bit like I did with On a Wing and a Prayer) but I was ultimately disappointed.

Promising me that it’s a book that will give ‘victims a voice through forensics’ makes me think that the forensic scientists will be recreating the picture of what happened when someone died – but not really. It’s not even a complete book of victims who were identified only by forensics – many of the stories are about victims who had already been identified and forensics had very little to do with giving information.

This author may have had an agenda. Later in the book she spends quite a lot of time discussing murders that didn’t need to be solved forensically that are mainly about women who are murdered, the language around their marital status (or job)  and the killers who just needed to kill someone. While I found those stories interesting (and valuable) the forensics involved weren’t key to solving the crime.

The most interesting fact that I learnt was that cruise ships have morgues! That of course then lead me to google it, and it turns out it’s a legal requirement that cruise ships have a morgue (although if they run out of space they put the bodies in a food freezer emptied of icecream).

Reading this sort of book makes me wonder whether I should have gone into a forensics career – and then I realise it’s a lot of anatomy and man, I hate anatomy! I’m going to pass it on to a friend that is also totally into reading about this topic, and hopefully he enjoys it more than I did.

Penguin Random House | 3 August 2021 | AU$34.99 | paperback

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

Interview with Brett Salter

An Interview with Brett Salter – author of “The Search For Synergy”

Before we just jump into the interview, let’s hear a little about Brett himself…

My background in writing stems mostly from the inspiration I found as a kid when I read Fantasy and Sci-Fi books. These include The Chronicles of Narnia, The Xanth Novels, The Time Quintet, The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, and everything from Shakespeare to Dr. Seuss. In my formative years, I joined several punk rock bands and wrote songs, poetry, and short stories aplenty. As an adult (?) I took on a dare and wrote the first book in my Talisman Series. I loved the feeling it gave me and the idea of inspiring others so much that I kept writing until I had an entire series.  I am currently working to finish The Talisman Series. I have self-published 4 of the books which can be found on Amazon. At this very moment, I am on book 11 of the 12 I have planned. I also have plans for a series which will take influence from the portal fiction genre about a girl and 6 others that travel to another dimension to fulfill a destiny by saving a planet from cruel overseers. Keep a wary eye out for portals. Stay cool!

What is your favourite dragon in literature?

Great question!  So many to choose from.  I would have to go with either The Gap Dragon (Stanley Steamer) from the Xanth Series or Falkor from “The Never-ending Story”

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?

I would say that my favcorite of the published books is the newest one, unfortunately.  By this time in the series, we’ve met pretty much the entire character roster and learned all their abilities.  Also, most of the Talismans are known and the plans for the big bad are very well documented.  However, the fifth installment (coming out this winter) will be my personal favourite because of all the cliffhangers and character growth of our favorite Master Dragons and Synergist Knights.

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?

Actually, I do have one.  It’s a short story about Death in a physical form coming to visit those before they die and WHO plays the part of the harbinger itself.  I wrote it about a year before I started “The Search For Synergy”.  I had planned to return and extend it to novel length because I really like the idea, but I think now it’s a little dark for me.  I prefer inspiring and giving kids adventure rather than scaring them and giving them nightmares.

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

I feel like my character development has gotten better.  That’s a pretty lame answer (I know), but I really think it’s true.  Most feedback I get from my readers is that they LOVE the main two protagonists, but that the secondary characters are even better.  That goes to show that as I’ve added characters to the series, I’ve gotten better at making them more believable, relatable, or even just plain bonkers enough to stand out as a fan favourite!  I find this to be quite a compliment to the way my writing has changed.  It’s fun to go back and see it progress too!

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?

Well, I wrote the first 3 books in my series in the first year (2017-2018).  Then, I waited to write 4-6 which took about another year.  Then, I took a break.  Once 2020 hit, I had a little more free time so I started books 7-11 which I finished by the beginning of this year.  I’ve spent the majority of this year promoting and editing book 5 which I want to release in Winter of 2021/2022.  All that to say that I can average 1-2 books per year when you finally do all the math, but I technically write spurts directly reflected by the amount of free time I have available.  LOL.

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)?

Oh!  It’s ALWAYS digital.  My penmanship is equal to that of blindfolded chicken scratch.  It always has been.  I felt bad for my teachers growing up.  As far as WHERE I write, it is mostly at my house surrounded by my barking dog, and ringing phones, and neighborhood kids running through the house like herds of gazelles, and televisions blaring cacophonies of cartoons, and abrasive, punk-rock music, and all the things that make my house the zoo we’ve grown to love.  That’s probably why editing is, for me,  a total nightmare!

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?

Ah!  Interesting seque.   So, my Beta-reader is my son.  Almost everything goes by him to see if it is cool or not for the middle-grade crowd.  He’s read through book 10, but don’t ask him for spoilers.  He is tight lipped about it.  And, I use family to edit as well.  My aunt does it for every book I self-publish, and I am very appreciative of her expertise.  Everything I do is DIY.  My cousin even designs my covers!

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?

I flat out refuse to read unless I can physically hold the book and turn the pages.  I am in agreement with you that there is something about the smell or touch of a book that makes it more intimate.   There is something to be said for the old adage “The book was better”.  I feel like if I watch something, I am basically TOLD what and how the work plays out.  The setting, the characters, the sounds.  Everything is dictated to me by the director’s vision.  When I read,  it can be MY vision which is way more personal….And self-absorbed.

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?

I would say my favorite genre to read is probably Fantasy.  I grew up on it. (Xanth, Lord of the Rings, Narnia, etc) As I attended high school, the curriculum dictated different genres and classics which I certainly appreciated. And in college, where my major was English, I really got my eyes on some different stuff including poetry (my soft spot) and all that comes with a liberal education.  So although I own and have a fondness for the classics and almost every sub-genres of fiction, my mainstay is definitely Fantasy.

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

Lightning round.  Here we go!

I manage my own social media.  I’d love to hire someone, but it just comes down to my non-negotiable hiring rate of $0 per hour.

I do not enjoy being my own social media social mediator.  That is probably why I have such a tiny social media footprint.  All jokes aside, I hope to grow if I can though.  For now, check out @talismanbrett on “The Gram” and The Talisman Series on FB.

In lieu of a large social media presence, I prefer to bother people like Rose at The Cosy Dragon to do all my promoting for me!  Smiley face.  Seriously though, I am very appreciative of the work and assistance that The Cosy Dragon provides.  It really helps a ton for people like me that are not the most active on social media.

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

Great question!  So many to choose from.  I would have to go with either The Gap Dragon (Stanley Steamer) from the Xanth Series or Falkor from “The Never-ending Story”

Haha.  I’m kidding, of course.  The temptation is there, but I treat each interview like meeting a new, potential fan for the first time.  It’s got to be original if you want to make a lasting impression on them.  I think it’s all about making your audience feel like they are part of something bigger.  Part of my stories!

And to wrap up, a bit of a left-field question: which superpower is the most over-powered/broken and why? My personal answer to this one might be the ability to transform – if you can become anything, you can theoretically become another super hero and get their powers!

I would say in the realm of fiction, I would say that invulnerability is the most broken power.  Especially if you have an evil despot in a position of authority that is invulnerable, that makes defeating them nigh impossible.  I would say in MY series, The Talisman Series, one of the most broken powers is Mr. Jones’s spell Transportation incantation that basically allows him to teleport groups of people anywhere he wants.  I even had to set some limitations on it because I was like, “That’s not really fair! What’s to stop him from using this for nefarious purposes.”  I guess we should be happy Mr. Jones is on OUR side!

Thanks Brett for your time today and your energetic answers! If you’d like to hear more from Brett, please do visit his FB pages or the Wiki about his books! You can also find his books on a range of platforms:

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.

Interview with Larry Goldsmith

An interview with Larry Goldsmith, author of Marc Marci

Larry G. Goldsmith is a financial forensic sleuth. He is a career licensed Illinois attorney, certified public accountant and financial forensic accountant. Being a financial detective led him to pursue writing fiction in his off-hour. Historical fiction is his passion as he revisits times forgotten while telling a romantic tale.

What is your favourite dragon in literature?

Norberta is my favorite from Harry Potter otherwise it is Puff the Magic Dragon from Peter, Paul and Mary.

Do you have a favourite part of the novels you have written?

I have another novel being published in August: ‘Bashert’. There is something special writing your first novel. One must overcome the inadequacies of actually writing that many words and pages. There is a unique sense of accomplishment once that first draft has been completed.

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? Has your writing improved significantly?

I have five novels that need to be rewritten and hopefully that they will be worthy of being published.

Over the years my writing has improved because I’ve learned from my editors. I’ve made my own corrections of their handwritten changes. Every time I edit a manuscript it gets better and I learn from the experience.

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?

In my writing, details matters, I spend a month or so researching a topic. For instance I knew very little of transgender before I spent countless hours and time performing research. To authenticate the time and place of the novel requires an additional research. I need to rewrite and edit my works between 6-to ten times until it is worthy. So the answer to your question is, it took me at least two years to produce a novel.

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 sit in front of my computer to write my text but it is those sleepless nights is where my ideas come to life. Then I have a mad dash at 3 a.m. to write down the notes of my inspiration.

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 have two standby editors. A retired professor and my wife. Both are thankfully very critical. I edit my own book several times and then I ask my wife to edit again. The publish then finds things that we all missed. For instance I had the character drink a Diet Coke, however a Diet Coke wasn’t a product for three years after the fact.

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?

I’m old school like you. I can read some things online (News, short articles, and correspondences) but to enjoy the flavor of what I read I enjoy the feel of paper between my fingers.

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?

My favorite genres are history and spiritual awareness. Learning from the past enlightens me as to the future. Mystery was previously my favorite.

Is it acceptable for a straight person to write about a character that is transgender?

Great question: Writers have since the beginning of time written about time periods before they were born and have written about characters from different lands or genders.

A woman author can write a novel with male characters the same way an American can write about a European character. However, it takes research. Many hours of research is required if you incorporate different cultures and lifestyles.

What did you want to say to the reader when writing Marc Marci?

The takeaways that I’d like the reader to come away with are:

  1. We all have hardships in life and we can overcome them
  2. People are people. Sexual orientation has no bearing of what’s in one’s heart.
  3. We were placed on this earth to perform good deeds to make the world a better place.

About the novel

Devastated by the sudden death of his parents, eighteen-year-old Marc is suddenly alone in the world. To cope with his grief, he travels to Europe where he hopes to find himself. His road to self-discovery, however, is not how he envisaged it. Twists and turns throughout the next decade add dimension and character to a passage he never imagined.

Initially, new friends, the nightlife of London and sudden trauma lead him to his biggest discovery; that he is happier as a she. As Marc becomes Marci, she adjusts to living as a woman while embracing all the highs and lows that life flings at her.

Marc Marci is an inspirational story of a young person’s journey, achieving happiness against the odds.

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).