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.

Interview with Kim Hays

An Interview with Kim Hays, author of Pesticide

Kim Hays lives in Bern, Switzerland. Her police procedural Pesticide, the first mystery in the Polizei Bern series, will be published on April 19 by Seventh Street Books. Award-winning author Deborah Crombie has called it “a stand-out debut for 2022.

What is your favourite dragon in literature?

My favorite dragon was created by a great science fiction and fantasy writer, Ursula K. LeGuin. He appears in the third volume of her Earthsea Trilogy, The Farthest Shore, as the companion of Ged, the Wizard of Earthsea, and his name is Orm Embar.

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 haven’t abandoned a novel—yet—but I have abandoned a non-fiction book I wanted to write about child-raising with my mother; it was going to be full of anecdotes about both own experiences as mothers. I wrote five chapters, we made a little progress, and then it became clear that my mother was developing dementia. That was eighteen years ago, and I can’t imagine going back to the project today.

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

I’d say that I’m not as likely to fall in love with my own words. Now that I’ve done extensive revisions on my manuscripts and seen how much editing improves a book, I’m better at criticizing my work and accepting criticism from others. Part of why I’m less defensive is because I’m more confident in my ability to edit, which means that I can write faster and more assuredly on a first draft, knowing that I’ll be able to identify and work on problems once I’ve gotten the whole story on paper.

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?

Many well-known and very successful mystery writers—including authors whose books I enjoy very much—are able to produce a book a year (or more!). I am awed by this talent. I can’t imagine producing anything worth publishing in less than two years. It’s not so much a question of letting ideas percolate as taking the time to revise drafts.

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)?

In this respect I’m extremely prosaic. I always write at my desk on a keyboard in front of a computer screen; just about the only thing I ever write by hand is a letter of condolence! I can still remember how hard it was during my senior year of college to switch from writing an essay longhand to composing on a typewriter and how proud I was when wrote my senior essay on my little Olivetti.

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?

My sister is a lovingly dedicated reader of my manuscripts and is happy to read several drafts of the same book, which is way above and beyond the call of duty.  The only problem is that she almost never objects to anything.  So she’s terrific for my self-esteem but not necessarily the best person to ask for critical feedback. Luckily, I also have a wonderful writer friend, Clare O’Dea, who is an excellent beta-reader, because she has more distance.

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 have a husband who hates clutter, and an apartment with too many books easily becomes very messy. So I buy 90% of my books from Amazon for my Kindle, and they take up no space at all.  Now it’s easy to bring a selection of books with me in my purse, onto an airplane, or on vacation, and my bookshelves are still full but not spilling over.  Library books are another great solution. My mother was a librarian, so perhaps that’s why I love libraries.

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 think it would be a good thing to be able to say that my tastes have changed as I’ve grown older and wiser, but it wouldn’t be true. I gobbled up mysteries, romances, fantasy, science fiction, and just-plain-novels as a teenager, and that’s what I read today. I even read some contemporary young-adult fiction, since it can be as well-written and gripping as any adult novel. The only difference is that since I have much less reading time as an adult, I’ve become pickier: if I’m not absorbed after fifty pages, I move on to something else. So many books, so little time! [Rose’s note: Yes! So many fabulous books out there, and never enough time to read them all.]

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?

Because I’ve never used Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, or any other social media platform in my private life, I’m having trouble integrating even one of them into my professional life as a mystery writer. I’m happy to have a website with a blog to post on regularly, but writing on these other platforms doesn’t seem meaningful to me. Who exactly am I speaking to and what is my purpose? But I’m hoping to change my mind over the next year or two and get more comfortable with the idea of tweeting. At least I’ve stopped calling it “twittering.”

About the Novel

Murder. Forbidden love. Social upheaval. Kim Hays debut novel Pesticide has it all. . .

Bern, Switzerland—known for its narrow cobblestone streets, decorative fountains, and striking towers. Yet dark currents run through this charming medieval city and beyond, to the idyllic farmlands that surround it.

When a rave on a hot summer night erupts into violent riots, a young man is found the next morning bludgeoned to death with a policeman’s club. Seasoned detective Giuliana Linder is assigned to the case. That same day, an elderly organic farmer turns up dead and drenched with pesticide. Enter Giuliana’s younger—and distractingly attractive—colleague Renzo Donatelli to investigate the second murder. Giuliana’s disappointment that they’re on two different cases is tinged with relief—her home life is complicated enough without the risk of a fling.

But when an unexpected discovery ties the two victims into a single case, Giuliana and Renzo are thrown closer together than ever before. Dangerously close. Will Giuliana be able to handle the threats to her marriage and to her assumptions about the police? If she wants to prevent another murder, she’ll have to put her life on the line—and her principles. Combining suspense and romance, this debut mystery in the Polizei Bern series offers a distinctive picture of the Swiss. An inventive tale, packed with surprises, it will keep readers guessing until the end.

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

The New Strategic Thinking: Pure and Simple
Michael Robert

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

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

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

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

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

Review: Hilde Hinton – A Solitary Walk on the Moon

A Solitary Walk on the Moon by Hilde Hinton

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

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

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

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

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

Hachette | 30 March 2022 | AU$32.99 | paperback

Review: Dolen Perkins-Valdez – Take My Hand

Take My Hand
Dolen Perkins-Valdez

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

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

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

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

Hachette | 12 April 2022 | AU$32.99 | paperback

Review: Kate Thompson – The Little Wartime Library

The Little Wartime Library by Kate Thompson

In a tale stranger than fiction, a wartime library in London was set up in the underground train tracks of the famous Tube. In this fictional retelling, Clara Button is the librarian who is keeping the strange little community together despite being the wrong gender and being supported by the larger-than-life PTSD suffering Ruby.

I really enjoyed this novel! I couldn’t see myself as either of the main characters, but that didn’t mean that I couldn’t sympathize with them. I liked learning about their little quirks, and I was absolutely most invested in Clara’s continued tenure as the librarian. I think the choice to include more than one perspective really worked here, even though I usually complain about it.

I didn’t have any expectation that things would turn out OK. I was fine with the ending maybe not ending up the way that it did. That being said, I would have been devastated if anything had happened to those books. I’m a reader and I love libraries – a library can be the first step to education, and education can be a way out of poverty. How dare the library be bombed in the first place!

I think I’ve learned more about history from reading this fictional novel than I ever have from reading about history or being taught in school.  This novel was an interesting insight into the war. It’s kind of strange to think that such a thing would occur, because it would be unlikely to happen in Australia. Compared to Europe, we’re so spread out and there’s lots of places to go – perhaps everyone would just head to Uluru! For a similar novel, try The Kitchen Front.

Hachette | 14 February 2022 | AU$32.99 | paperback

Review: Chloe Buiting – The Jungle Doctor

The Jungle Doctor by Chloe Buiting

“Explore the majestic, biodiverse world with Australia’s very own ‘jungle doctor’. Fresh from veterinary school, passionate conservationist Dr Chloe Buiting headed for the frontline of Africa’s rhino-poaching crisis, going on to live and work in many other remote corners of the globe. From catching wild giraffes by helicopter in Zimbabwe to meeting elephants with prosthetic legs in Asia, working with Maasai communities in Tanzania and tending to wildlife caught up in the bushfire crisis at home in Australia, Chloe’s compassion for animals in their natural habitat takes her into awe-inspiring locations – and hair-raising situations.”

The Jungle Doctor was really good read as long as you weren’t expecting a James Herriot level of detail about vet life. I could have had more stories here with so much more detail. It contains many stories both fascinating and horrifying – it was amazing how many details this vet was able to fit in about poaching and other culture harmful practices that impact animal welfare.

It seems impossible to think that in a first world country we are putting animals in exhibits in zoos to try to keep them from dying out in the wild! It seems like the whole world doesn’t care so I found that really quite confronting.

I have a sister in law that studies very hard to become a vet. She’s never been a jungle vet but she does specialize in exotics and some of the things that you have to do for exotics are very strange!

I think this is almost of an appropriate level for a teenager – let’s set a somewhat arbitrary age of 13, but it is going to depend on the precociousness of your reader. This book highlights why it’s important for us to look after the environment. I wouldn’t reread it, but I’d recommend it to anyone who loves animals and wants to know a little more about veterinary practice in the wild.

Pantera Press | 4th May 2021 | AU$32.99 | paperback

Guest Post from Dr. Horowitz on Climate Grief

A Guest Post from Dr. Horowitz on Climate Grief

Far north in western Antarctica, sits the widest glacier in the world. Roughly the size of the state of Florida, and contains enough ice to raise the sea levels by 10 feet: The Thwaites Glacier. Pan toward the eastern portion of the Thwaites Glacier, and you’ll find the Thwaites Ice shelf. Until recently, this ice shelf has held Thwaites back from the ocean. But now, it’s melting- and quickly too. The culprit? Climate change, a crisis of which we are approaching with terrifying rapidity.

Climate change is the defining issue of our time, and we are at the defining moment. Currently, we are edging closer to an environmental precipice. It is vital that we act now before we tip over the edge, with potentially irreversible consequences. Not only will this have disastrous effects on our climate, but on the health of our citizens- in this country, and globally. From shifting weather patterns that threaten food production to rising sea levels that increase the risk of catastrophic flooding, the impacts of climate change are global in scope and unprecedented in scale. Further, with the collapse of biodiversity, comes the spread of infectious diseases. Vector-borne infections are already on the rise, and there is evidence that as permafrost melts, we may encounter new infections, triggering another pandemic.

So, what could our world look like if we continue on our current path? That is the future I imagine in my upcoming novel, Starseed R/evolution: The Awakening. The year is 2037, and the Earth is in the midst of a deadly climate crisis, prompting the massive spread of various vector-borne diseases, such as Lyme disease and West Nile virus. Chemical pollutants have left birth rates at an all-time low, and crop destruction has led to massive famines. The world’s only hope lies in the hands of Crown Prince Ian, the last surviving heir of the Royal Arcturian Family of Antwar. He’s a half-human/half-alien with an IQ approaching 200, a penchant for Swiss chocolates, and defending humanity from itself.

I’ll be honest, penning a cli-fi novel wasn’t originally on my bucket list. I have worked as a physician treating individuals with Lyme and tick-borne diseases for over 30 years. My previously published books are purely scientific in nature, and outline how healthcare providers can effectively diagnose and treat resistant chronic illness. However, the worlds of healthcare and climate science are far closer than one might imagine. According to the World Health Organization, “Between 2030 and 2050, climate change is expected to cause approximately 250,000 additional deaths per year, from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhea and heat stress.” As someone who has taken an oath to heal, how could I ignore this quickly impending health crisis?

Further, I began to see the grim effects of climate change in my day-to-day work. A good deal of my patients are young adults. Following treatment, I would ask them, “What do you plan on doing with your life now that you’re healthy”? Quite often, the response was the same, “Nothing, what’s the point”. These young people were struck by what is known as “climate grief”. To them, the state of the planet seemed so hopeless, that what they wanted to do with their lives was irrelevant and meaningless. It was at that point that I knew I needed to do a deep dive into climate science literature, to get a better understanding of my patients’ mentalities. Unfortunately, I found that they were right. The planet was in trouble, and world leaders were ignoring climate science and putting everyone’s futures at risk.

Starseed R/evolution: The Awakening arose primarily out of my desire to combat this “climate grief” in my young patients. I wanted to disseminate vital information in a way that would have the reader laughing and learning simultaneously. The truth is, we do need radical change if we are to avoid a potential climate disaster, but that change is possible. Throughout the novel, I have outlined real-world scientific and cultural solutions. If enough people are truly committed to making a difference, I believe we can use these solutions to make our planet a safer and healthier place for everyone to live. The Earth is in trouble, so let’s all roll up our sleeves and get to work. If you’re interested in joining the “r/evolution”, my book is available for pre-order now!

About the Author

From the mind of acclaimed physician and author, Dr. Richard Horowitz, MD comes a new novel: Starseed R/evolution: The Awakening. Dr. Richard Horowitz, MD is a board-certified internist with 30+ years of experience treating over 13,000 patients for tick-borne disorders and complex autoimmune conditions. He is the author of two national best-selling books on Lyme disease (Why Can’t I Get Better? St Martin’s Press, 2013, NY Times Best Seller; How Can I Get Better? St Martin’s Press, 2017, National Bestseller). After years of treating complex patients, Dr. Horowitz felt called to treat a newer, and much larger patient: Mother Earth.

Review: Carly Nugent – Sugar

Carly Nugent

Persephone (not pronounced like telephone) was diagnosed with diabetes straight after her father’s funeral – she almost fell in the grave! She’s certain that the two events are connected somehow, and if she can solve it, maybe life will make sense.

There is a trend at the moment to have characters off screen who (may) have committed suicide. If this is something that triggers you, you probably should avoid this novel. I found the subject to be treated sensitively and without blame. There is also a physically abusive relationship in the novel.

This author absolutely nailed the book’s atmosphere. I could feel the sweat and heat of the bushfire season, and the sticky sweetness of Persephone’s diabetes. It provided a beautiful counterpoint to Growing Up in Flames, which I hadn’t enjoyed.

I empathized and recognized the teenage angst that leaked out of these pages. I perhaps didn’t understand the c*** word use, and why it’s relevant to Persephone. Since Alexander Manson is in the blurb, you’d think he’s important (he isn’t). Persephone’s complicated other relationships ring very clearly though.

I thought it was very interesting how Persephone contemplated the end of the world and that she’d be one of the first to die – unless it was a zombie scenario, she’d be the first person out there to be bitten. This resonated deeply with me, due to the Holocaust books I have read recently where once the supplies of insulin run out the unfortunate diabetics die quickly.

I’d highly recommend this to teenagers who need to understand someone with diabetes or the sheer unfairness of life. It reminded me a little of A Series of Small Maneuvers. I don’t think I’ll reread it, but I might be surprised. 4 stars from me.

Text Publishing  | 29th March 2022 | AU$19.99 | paperback