Reviews: Unfinished Novels #5

I have a series of novels that I have never finished reading and in some cases, couldn’t face reading at all. In the interests of freeing up space on my bookshelves, and letting other people have a chance to read them, I have released these novels into the wild – either by giving them to people who might enjoy them, or attempting to sell them on eBay.

The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner

I was so theoretically excited for this novel! I saw in when in a physical bookstore and I found both the cover and the context interesting. When I was looking for an audiobook, I saw it! So I downloaded it and was ready to settle in for some engrossing reading. Unfortunately it wasn’t to be. The reader sounded in pain, and the perspective of the “aspiring historian Caroline Parcewell” sounded self-absorbed and boring. I tried to listen to it on two separate occasions but I just couldn’t bare it. Maybe it would have been better if I had read it myself? Anyway, there are a lot more great novels out there waiting for me, so I’ll be passing on this one.

Believe – Sam Frost

Ugh, is there such a thing as too much positivity? I’m all about thinking in a positive way about negative environments and people, but at the same time, I’m not sure I need that much of it poured into a book. I picked this up and found myself rolling my eyes at the over-the-top nature of the book from the very first page. I also read out some snippets mockingly. Rather than continuing to read, I just returned it to the shelf and haven’t had any desire to pick it back up again. Give me a medical memoir any day.

Hachette | 30 March 2022 | AU$32.99 | paperback

Angel Mage – Garth Nix

I can hardly believe that I’m putting a Nix book in a DNF post. However, this book is really average. I picked it as a talking book for the whole family because I know Sanderson isn’t to everyone’s taste (takes too long to get into, too many characters etc). It was just so boring! Only one of the four young people is of interest, and she sounds so dopey I couldn’t enjoy it. I didn’t even hang around long enough to learn about the ending. I was vaguely interested in how Lilith was going to get the guy, but in the end I didn’t care enough to finish listening.

Review: Robert Iger – The Ride of a Lifetime (S)

The Ride of a Lifetime
Lessons Learned from 15 Years as CEO of the Walt Disney Company
Robert Iger

“In 2005, Robert Iger became CEO of The Walt Disney Company during a difficult time. Morale had deteriorated, competition was more intense, and technology was changing faster than at any time in the company’s history. “I knew there was nothing to be gained from arguing over the past,” Iger writes. “The only thing that mattered was the future, and I believed I had a clear idea of the direction Disney needed to go.” It came down to three clear ideas: 1) Create the highest quality content Disney could produce. 2) Embrace and adopt technology instead of fighting it. And 3) Think bigger–think global–and turn Disney into a stronger brand in international markets.”

I picked up this book as an audiobook to listen to in the car. I didn’t get to it for a while as I had some other books to listen to first. By the time I got up to it I didn’t remember the synopsis of what it was about and had no expectations. As soon as I started listening, I loved it straight away and couldn’t stop listening! The whole book is structured like a memoir of the story of the authors life. I don’t normally like memoirs but this book was amazing. The story was told really well and kept you listening for more.

I’m glad I didn’t have any expectations going into the book as that would have given away a lot of the story. The insights and knowledge gained from this book was through the one long story. It’s not a theory based book, it just lists all the theories and little stories here and there. The business lessons and journey were fascinating and had me wanting more.

I’d recommend it to anyone who wants some detailed insights of the journey of being a CEO or just to leave you inspired. Overall, this book is amazing! I might even read it again! 5 Stars.

Review: Shirley Marr – All Four Quarters of the Moon

All Four Quarters of the Moon
Shirley Marr

Peijing is not that sure about moving to Australia, but she knows that as long as her family is together it’ll be ok. She’s the dependable (and responsible) big sister for Biju and she’s determined to keep things steady. There’s a couple of problems though – Ma Ma is no longer dressing well, Ah Ma (grandmother) is forgetful and Ba Ba doesn’t know what to do when not working.

Interspersed with storytelling from Biju, the narrative moves smoothly through the first year of Peojing’s time in Australia. The prose is lyrical, and you can only hope that it’s an easy and enjoyable read for younger readers. It certainly was for me! I enjoyed it as something light and refreshing inbetween all the non-fiction I’ve been enjoying at the moment.

The novel reminded me of Tiger Daughter – but with a more satisfying ending! Also, although some themes are similar, to me, All Four Quarters of the Moon was more detailed and accessible. The transistion of moving to Australia, not fitting in well with the culture, and finding it difficult to let go of old traditions is compelling and meaningful. However, you can’t think that that’s it for the novel – it also touches on alcohol abuse and bullying.

I actually received an ARC for this novel, but somehow it slipped past my radar. I’d recommend it as suitable for any primary school-aged young person or as a read-aloud for parents. It’s not just about cultural differences, it’s also about friendships and family relationships. 4 stars from me.

Penguin Tina Gumnior | 5th July 2022 | AU$16.99 | paperback

Review: Chip Heath & Dan Heath – Made to Stick (S)

Made to Stick
Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die
Chip Heath & Dan Heath

“In Made to Stick, Chip and Dan Heath reveal the anatomy of ideas that stick and explain ways to make ideas stickier, such as applying the human scale principle, using the Velcro Theory of Memory, and creating curiosity gaps. Along the way, we discover that sticky messages of all kinds–from the infamous “kidney theft ring” hoax to a coach’s lessons on sportsmanship to a vision for a new product at Sony–draw their power from the same six traits.”

For a book on how to make ideas stick, and be remembered, I don’t think I remember much at all. It probably didn’t help that I listened to it on and off in the car over a period of time. In saying that, there were only 1 or 2 times when I really just wanted to keep listening to it, so clearly it didn’t hook me in much either.

It wasn’t too bad, there were good pointers, tips and points throughout. Unfortunately, I think nothing is exceptionally great either. The core idea is that: in order for a message to be ‘sticky’ it has to combine these 6 characteristics:

  1. Simple
  2. Unexpected
  3. Credibe
  4. Concrete
  5. Emotional
  6. Story

There were some really great in depth sub story case studies in it which I loved. Sadly, not all of them were great and I don’t think they linked well to the overall messages. The message ended up being repetitive but also lost in what the point was. I’m still unsure on who the target market is. Maybe professionals in marketing/advertising?

I don’t think it had a lasting impact for me. A lot of things mentioned here are common sense and repeated in other books. I don’t think there is any extra knowledge in this book that sticks. 3 stars.

Guest Post by Lynne Howard ‘Building an Animated Book Trailer’

‘Building an Animated Book Trailer’
Lynne Howard

Lynne Howard, author of Dylan Dover: Into the Vortex series, is a writer, lawyer, and teacher. Passionate about serving her community and dedicated to social justice, she lives in Toronto, Canada with her husband, Andrew, their children, Matthew, Jessie, and Dylan, and their two dogs, Halle and Oliver. Regardless of your preferred social media platform, you can find the animated trailer of the novel here on… Youtube, Instagram, Facebook and/or TikTok! Now, about the process of actually designing and developing the book trailer…

When I sat down a few years ago to begin writing the first novel in the Dylan Dover series, I had an idea, a laptop and a carved out workspace in my bedroom. I did not have a game plan, or in this case, chapter outlines. I did not have a plot summary, I did not have any idea of what I would write beyond the first chapter. Fortunately, I quickly discovered that my long-buried interest in creative writing which began when I was child, immediately returned. I found the words flowed easily from my mind onto the computer screen. Sure; there were times when I was stuck or grappling with internal dilemmas about where to go next, but for the most part, writing was pure, unadulterated joy. I was also fortunate to have the support of my family who gave me the time to write without interruptions and who managed to figure out meals and carpools without me! The first draft of Dylan Dover: Into the Vortex was finished in just a few months, and then I began editing.

Finally, I felt it was ready for an audience.

Then the hard work began.

As most aspiring authors know, finding an agent can be daunting and incredibly humbling. You think you have the next bestseller but finding an agent to even look at your manuscript can be extremely difficult. It took me about a year before I found mine. From there, the agent had to find a publisher willing to take the risk to publish the book. Another extraordinarily difficult task, that also took a lot of time… and a lot of rejections. But after approximately two and a half years after beginning to look for an agent and publisher, we were in business. We had a publisher, a contract, and we were ready to go.

The next hurdle to surpass was how to market the book. After all, there is little point in having the book published if nobody except me is going to read it! On the advice of my agent, I hired a private publicist. In my view, it would be well worth the money to have an expert help me navigate the world of social media, of bloggers and influencers, vendors, school boards, and librarians. When it comes to marketing, I am not just a “fish out of water…” that would be far too generous a description. It is more like I’m a fish on an alien planet somewhere in the universe that doesn’t even have water at all.

So I hired my publicist. She has been amazing, patiently walking me through the labyrinth of Instagram, TikTok, Facebook, and more. It was Roxy’s recommendation to have an animated trailer created to promote the book. I thought that was a great idea… the targeted age group for my novel would likely love watching an animated teaser of the novel, and the prospect of seeing these characters come to life was exciting to me as well.

Finding an animator to do the work was difficult. I needed to find someone who was talented and could do the animation at a professional level, but I was also working on a tight budget. I had already paid money for professional editing, the publicist, and now an animator, without seeing any return on my investment. But I also realized that the trailer could be a very effective marketing strategy and sometimes, you have to make a personal investment whether that be time or money or both in order to reap the rewards later.

So I started asking around. I asked colleagues, friends, friends of friends, relatives, anyone who could possibly refer me to an animator who would have the time and the skills to take on this job. I was so lucky to have found Samantha Duckworth who was referred to me by an artist friend of mine.

Of course, Samantha’s first question after I provided her with the general idea that I wanted her to create an animated trailer for my soon-to-be published fantasy fiction novel, was what specifically did I want the trailer to include?

Once again, I found myself floundering in a sea of hopeless uncertainty. I knew that the trailer was only going to be one minute maximum in length. I knew the target audience. I knew the purpose of the trailer was to spark potential interest, to make people excited to read the book. But how to design the actual trailer, frame by frame? Once more I found myself feeling out of my league!

So I reached out for help again. This time, I knew exactly who to contact. As a high school teacher for over 20 years, I am so fortunate to have worked with hundreds of young people who have gone off to do amazing things with their lives. One of those former students is someone who I have stayed in touch with since he graduated five or six years ago. His name is Jordan Erdman and I knew that Jordan had finished an undergraduate degree in history at university and had gone on to film school after that. I got in touch directly with Jordan and he offered to help me with this project.

Jordan and I sat at my kitchen table for hours talking about the novel. He wanted to know about the plot, the settings, the characters, the themes… I tried my best to give him the truncated version as I described in vivid detail the images that had been in mind for so long. Once Jordan had a good idea of the highlights of the book, together we started mapping out the frames one at a time that we wanted to be included in the animation. You can’t include everything in a one minute trailer, so we had to focus on what we thought was most important to highlight for prospective readers. Jordan created a chart that provided specific details for Samantha to work from, including the visual aspects of each frame and the text that should be included as well. We even included photographs of people and places, even colors, that we thought would help translate our vision to the screen.

Once the chart was completed, I sent it to Samantha, who replied with more questions and comments. Some ideas we had originally envisioned were not feasible, and so we came up with alternatives. Working with someone who understood the process of filmmaking was extremely helpful. Jordan knew exactly how to map out each second of the animated trailer, considering all aspects such as timing, graphics, and sound.

Our amazing animator Samantha kept me informed each step of the way. First, she sent me sketches of the characters that would be included for my comments and approval. I think she appreciated all the details we had sent to her, and I know that I appreciated her ability to create images that matched precisely the descriptions I had provided. Any frame that was not exactly as I wanted it, Samantha was willing to change until after a few weeks, we had the final animated trailer… almost.

Samantha’s job was done, and I couldn’t have been more thrilled! But next, it needed sound. Jordan again stepped up. He found the music, and the sound effects, all of which had to be free to download without copywriting restrictions. I asked a colleague from work to do the narration, and he emailed his voice recording to Jordan. From there, Jordan had to make all the sounds line up with the visuals. I don’t know how he did this, but the end result was absolutely amazing!

In total, it probably took about six weeks for the trailer to be fully completed and ready to share. As an author, seeing characters who have lived in my mind for several years suddenly come to life through the magic of animation is an experience that defies words. I literally cried tears of joy the first dozen times that I watched it. I kept the file on my cell phone and would show everyone that I met, at work, at the grocery store, at the bank…

All that being said, the animated characters perfectly match how I envision these characters to look, but that is not necessarily how other readers may see them in their own mind. I hope that the trailer is generic enough that people will still be able to use their own imagination as they read the novel. In my mind, Dylan Dover looks exactly like my youngest son, also named Dylan (no coincidence) and the animated trailer truly made my son into a cartoon, which is awesome for me! But I’m sure that people who read the novel will picture a different face for that character, and I would not want the animation to detract from that aspect of reading the book.

For other authors who may be thinking of following this path, I would absolutely recommend it, so long as you are working with the right people. You have to have great communication with your animator and others on your team, and you have to have realistic expectations about what can be accomplished working within your budget of money and time. Then you have to know what to do with the finished product…or if you’re like me, you have someone you trust and can rely upon who knows what to do with the finished product!

Will I ever make back the money I spent to have the animated trailer created? I have no idea. Time will tell, but I know that this was a risk that I was willing to take and do not regret. Because at the end of the day, I know that I have done absolutely everything I could to effectively share Dylan Dover with the world.

About the Novel

Dylan believes he is a typical twelve-year-old until he stumbles into a vortex that miraculously transports him to the immortal dimension, a parallel universe. Dylan not only learns that he is a warlock, but he also discovers a twin brother, extraordinary powers, and a secret prophecy that seems to have Dylan and his family at its crux.

Dylan, along with his brother and their new-found wizard friend Thea, begin to unravel the mystery that surrounds their birth and the danger that threatens immortals and humans alike.

Get your copy of Dylan Dover in print or e-book edition HERE

Review: Terry Memory – The Smart Veggie Patch

The Smart Veggie Patch
Terry Memory

“Terry Memory built his veggie patch for his family of eight after surviving the Black Saturday bushfires. Determined to become more self-reliant in this era of unpredictable weather events and worsening health caused by highly processed food, he designed a system that combines ancient agrarian traditions with the latest in science and technology to deliver massively increased yields while radically reducing workload. Terry’s overview of the deteriorating state of our food supply will inspire you to take a step towards self-reliance, while his practical tips and how to’s offer the tools you need to get going.”

I was really excited for this book because we have just installed nine raised gardenbeds in our front yard instead of lawn! They all have dirt in them, and are just waiting for compost to be created and summer to come. I thought that the Smart Veggie Patch would tell me how to best plant them. It does, sort of, but I guess I expected more growing guides rather than infrastructure.

I think this book is supposed to make gardening seem accessible to everyone, but I found it to do the opposite. I felt demoralised that I’d already filled my beds with dirt. Then, I felt a bit ashamed that I hadn’t immediately built them a cover or any sort of inbuilt and responsible watering system. I hadn’t planned! I hadn’t put enough effort in! I’d never get fantastic crops!

I am determined to continue gardening because I like the thought of growing my own produce. I think I need to be realistic however, and the garden I create will take years to get to a point where I only need to check it for 2 hours a week. You need to be extremely handy or have funds to set up the garden in the way Terry suggests. The step-by-step process seems foolproof… as long as you don’t have anything done yet.

This is a potentially great book for people who have no idea how to garden, but have the room to grow one. It could be the great starter for people who have just moved into a home with a lawn and want to turn it into something good! Unfortunately, more and more land is being turned into townhomes and apartments, so I don’t know how many people this book will suit. I remain hopeful however that everyone will be just a little bit more conscious of their food waste after reading.

Pan Macmillan | 26 July 2022 | AU$29.99 | paperback

Interview with James Michels

An Interview with James Michels, author of Icebox, Ice Rising and The Ballad of Jonny Carlo

My name is James Michels, and I’m a crime fiction writer from Michigan in the United States. To date, I have two published novels and one that will be published soon. I’ve always had an interest in the world of crime fiction and true crime and have worked for seven years as a corrections officer in state prison.

What is your favourite dragon in literature?

My favorite dragon in literature would have to be the three dragons from Game of Thrones, Drogon, Rhaegal, and Viserion.

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’m not sure if I have a personal favorite book that I’ve wrote. I’d say that The Ballad of Johnny Carlo would have the most appeal to a wider audience.

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 actually started writing a story when I was in high school once, but that story is pretty much shelved indefinitely because I didn’t follow through on it back then, and that was when my mentality was different. I wasn’t devoted to becoming an author back then. I didn’t even knew I’d like writing.

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

I’d say that the ability to use different words and expressions has improved. I’m working more on my showing/telling ratio.

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?

I try to get at least one book out a year. My goal is to have at least four by the time I’m thirty. I write as the idea comes to me, so even I don’t know how long it will take me to write a book. Ice Rising took a year to write, The Ballad of Johnny Carlo took maybe a year and a half, and Icebox was less than a year.

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 write on my phone, so I can pretty much write anywhere except at my day job. I prefer to write on my recliner at home in the morning on my days off or in the evening during a work day since I work mornings. With three kids, my writing schedule is not always consistent.

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 am lucky enough to have people close to me who will give honest opinions. My betas are usually my wife, my mom, and a good friend which also edits my work. He’s never steered me wrong on my editing, so I trust his judgment.

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?

There is a local book store that I enjoy going to, but I absolutely love Barnes and Noble. I could spend a whole day there. I do read eBook from time to time, but I prefer paperback.

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 reading genres have to be true crime and crime fiction. I have picked up urban fiction, romance, some more fantasy, dystopian, and classics over the recent years. Also enjoy horror and dark fantasy. As of right now, the only two genres I have not ventured into are erotica and western.

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 do manage my own social media. My preferred platforms are Twitter and Facebook. I only spend maybe an hour on them a day, usually to keep up to date on some Facebook groups that have helped me out, post some content to Facebook and Twitter for my followers, and to connect with readers and other writers.

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

I think it depends on the question being asked if I recycle my answers. I tend to find out more about myself as I answer them, so there is usually a different variation of answer even if the question is the same.

Thanks for your time today, James. I find it so inspiring that you are able to bust out a book a year as well as a day job and kids! Keep up the writing. ~ Rose

Review: Donald Miller – Building a StoryBrand (S)

Building a StoryBrand
Clarify Your Message So Customers Will Listen
Donald Miller

“Donald Miller’s StoryBrand process is a proven solution to the struggle business leaders face when talking about their businesses… Building a StoryBrand does this by teaching readers the seven universal story points all humans respond to; the real reason customers make purchases; how to simplify a brand message so people understand it; and how to create the most effective messaging for websites, brochures, and social media. Whether you are the marketing director of a multibillion dollar company, the owner of a small business, a politician running for office, or the lead singer of a rock band, Building a StoryBrand will forever transform the way you talk about who you are, what you do, and the unique value you bring to your customers.”

I listened to this book as an audio book. It seemed to take quite a while to get into it. For a book on building a story and getting you hooked into it, it really didn’t at all! It took a bit over an hour before it started picking up. Lucky for it, I was in the car on a long trip so I kept listening to it. The rest of the book was pretty good. There were a few slow points but overall it was really great.

It’s good to take a step back and look at your business and the story you are in with your clients. It helps define roles, where you are the guide and your clients are the heros. It does annoy me though when authors quote their website and market themselves within the book, which he does. This also goes against his own advice, of not making the reader the hero and flogging himself.

Looking beyond this though, the author does have some good points that you can take away and use for your business. It’s nice and short and didn’t drag on too much either. I recommend it to anyone who deals with customers/clients or is in business. 4 stars.

Review: Dan Pronk – The Combat Doctor

The Combat Doctor
Dan Pronk

“Dr Dan Pronk served on over 100 combat missions in Afghanistan as a frontline special forces combat doctor, where the casualties he treated were his fellow SAS soldiers and commandos, local civilians and even the enemy. The thrill of adventure and the challenges of battlefield medicine brought out the very best in Dan; he discovered a sense of purpose in pushing his medical skills and courage to the limits. But there was a cost. The Combat Doctor is an extraordinary story of resilience and growth, and a tribute to the doctors and medics working behind the scenes in conflict around the world.”

How can someone so bright, be so dumb? If you are smart enough to get into medical school, surely you are smart enough to realise that military retaliation isn’t actually a bright idea most of the time. I understand the incredible and exciting challenge that you need to undertake to get into the special forces, but at the same time uh, isn’t creating long term medical problems like a bung knee a problem? It seems like a bit of a boys’ club, and that was always going to put my back up.

I find it extraordinary and rather depressing that millions of dollars are pumped into the military. If we are looking at the number of lives saved by an intervention, surely something like the medical problems described in Frontline Midwife would be a better use of funding. The more I think about it, the more upset I feel.

Oh dear. I saw that Hamish Blake had read and given a review and I was seriously worried about the book from then onwards. I guess I was hoping that this would have juicy details on how combat medicine actually works in terms of common injuries or treatments. What I got was a fresh face on the deaths that have occurred in the Australian military in quite recent history. It’s pointless! We live in Australia, I’m pretty sure that noone wants to invade here. The worst threat we’ve had are fires that needed the Navy to evacuate people.

I wouldn’t recommend this as reading. However, if someone else is super keen on the military and you want them to read SOMETHING then perhaps this is a good pick. It’s not badly written, it’s quite a good read, I guess I just disagree with the need for it.

Pan Macmillan | 30 August 2022 | AU$36.99 | paperback

Review: M. Buckingham – First, Break All The Rules

First, Break All The Rules
What the world’s greatest managers do differently
M. Buckingham

“The greatest managers in the world seem to have little in common. They differ in sex, age, and race. They employ vastly different styles and focus on different goals. Yet despite their differences, great managers share one common trait: They do not hesitate to break virtually every rule held sacred by conventional wisdom. They do not believe that, with enough training, a person can achieve anything he sets his mind to. They do not try to help people overcome their weaknesses. They consistently disregard the golden rule. And, yes, they even play favorites. This amazing book explains why.”

I picked up this book from the opp shop. It clearly came out quite a while ago but it is a good solid book on being the best manager. Unfortunately I read it over a long period of time, putting it down and picking it up again so it’s hard to review. It’s one of those books that need this though. You need to read a small section and then go away and think about it. I even found myself thinking about it while reading and required pausing a lot. The only issue with this is I need to read it again before I even finished reading it as I don’t remember the start already!

What I do remember is that it had a lot of good practice tips and tricks. The part I most enjoyed was on hiring “for talent”, you can teach skills and knowledge, but hire for their talent. This is something I have always resonated with when hiring staff. This book gives very practical examples and questions to ask in interviews and what answers you should be looking for. I loved the focusing on your strengths section as well.

I highly recommend this book for anyone who is a manager, leader, or in a hiring team member’s role. I definitely need to re-read it. 5 stars.