Review: Kevin Christopher Snipes – Milo and Marcos at the End of the World

Milo and Marcos at the End of the World
Kevin Christopher Snipes

Milos and Van have been besties forever. It doesn’t matter to Milos that she’s sworn off organised religion, and it doesn’t matter to Van that Milos is a bit of a religious pariah. When Marcos walks back into their lives, Van is excited and Milos feels betrayed. How dare this boy who made him feel the wrong things be back? As they get closer and closer, the world begins to end – coincidences pile up, and leave Milos asking – does God hate gays?

What was good about this novel was the internal anguish of Milo trying to reconcile his homosexuality and his religious beliefs. It’s impressive how much internalised homophobia Milo had even after a single summer of feeling feelings for the wrong gender. Milo is very distressed, but also an idiot.

I felt so hard for Marcos! And personally, I never would have forgiven Milos for being a dirtbag. Milos continually proves that he is unreliable and a bit of an ass, yet Marcos is trying to make something of his life. Nup. Wasn’t sold on the ending because of this either.

I listened to this book as an audiobook borrowed from my library. The reader was pretty good, and my conure who is fond of male voices came and tried to sit on my phone the whole time I was listening. However, I was surprised by how long this novel was. I think that some of it (particularly the ‘Milo is a good Presbyterian boy’ repeated line) could have been skipped.

Uh, was anyone else a bit thrown by the ending? It all just seems too neat. Also, ‘making love’ – really? In a teenage novel? I know a little about the logistics of this, and it’s not really as simple as all that. If you’re looking for a book that unpacks a bit of the intersection between homosexuality and religion, this could be for you. If you’re looking for a more realistic gay romance, try Anything but Fine or Jack of Hearts. 3-4 stars from me.

Review: David Towsey – Equinox

Equinox
David Towsey

Christophor is a witch-hunter at the end of his career. He’d like a nice quiet ending with no excitement. It’s not to be though, as he is sent out on the hunt again after a child has their eyes replaced with teeth. Alexander is just along for the ride, but he eventually gets pulled into helping Christophor with the hunt.

The concept of this novel was so cool! I loved the premise that each human body had two completely separate people in it. You go through the day as one person, and then your night-sister takes over while your mind sleeps. Thus your two halves never meet, and can live almost completely separate lives. It leads to crazy things – you might have an affair with one person, but then after you sleep your day-sister wakes up with someone else’s husband there!

Naturally, because Christophor is the night-brother we have the first perspective from, I felt way more invested in ‘him’ rather than Alexander (day-brother). I then thought that Alexander was a bit of a twit! Which is perhaps what the author wanted me to think. It was interesting to see the two perspectives, even if I didn’t really understand why Alexander put up with his night-brother.

I’d had a friend review it before me reading it, and they said the book was average. Why? The ending was poor. Very poor. It felt rushed and uninteresting. There wasn’t much in the way of an explanation for the magic system in the novel, and so the ending felt forced and too extravagant. Thus, I’m only giving this 2 stars even though I finished it.

Bloomsbury | 2 August 2022 | AU$29.99 | paperback

Review: David McRaney – How Minds Change (S)

How Minds Change
Making People Listen in an Argumentative World
David McRaney

“Genes create brains, brains create beliefs, beliefs create attitudes, attitudes create group-identities, group identities create norms, norms create values, and values create cultures. The most effective persuasion techniques work backwards. Ideas sweep across cultures in waves, beginning with early adopters who reduce uncertainty for the rest of the population. It’s rarely because the innovation is amazing in and of itself, but because early adopters signal to the group that it’s safe to think again. This book explains how minds change – and how to change them – not over hundreds of years, but in less than a generation, in less than a decade, or sometimes in a single conversation.”

The book I reviewed is the new version that includes references to COVID-19 and the thinking of some people around that (so this cover isn’t quite right).

This book wasn’t exactly what I was expecting. It started out with a very long introduction with the author asking the question: “How do minds change?” Then, I realised that the book was just going to be that. For most of it, the reader was just following along with the author’s journey of asking how minds change. The problem with this was that there were never exactly any specific answers.

There is a bit of what I would call WHY minds change, in examples that it has happened to some people. There wasn’t anything specific however such as helpful sentence starters or persuasion techniques or what actually happened. It just said that the person’s values and beliefs had changed… but not how that happened. I also expected it to be a little more scientifically proven. There was a small section about getting one of the techniques scientifically proven but it was a lot of his journey on doing so and not results or explanations.

There is a step by step method on street epistemology towards the end. This is a particular method and for a particular reason. It’s specific and something that could be used in everyday persuasion conversations. Some parts of it are more basic techniques as well which I have heard of before, but the author didn’t go into any details. The author also said at some point that when someone changes their mind, then the effects tend to last. I don’t see how this could happen though and the person’s mind stays “flipped”. Really how long do the effects last for? Especially when you see a lot of controversial topics and a lot of people changing their mind. Or is everyone always being “flipped” one way and then back now?

There were definitely some parts where I was interested in the little sub story, but it really took a while to get into and wasn’t as detailed and informative as I was expecting. It just seemed to be lacking so overall I give it 3 stars. I recommend Never Split the Difference instead, as it has a lot more handy tips and tricks. I do want to read more about cults now! So I’ll read Do As I Say next.

Oneworld | 21 June 2022 | AU$29.99 | paperback

Review: Tobias Madden – Take a Bow, Noah Mitchell

Take a Bow, Noah Mitchell
Tobias Madden

Noah is in love with his best friend… who he doesn’t even know the name of, and has only ‘met’ online. Well, if we’re being honest, it’s Noah’s only friend. Noah’s mum is desperate to have him participate in a musical theatre so it could be an in…

I unfortunately found this novel quite cringeworthy, and I struggled to keep reading it. I knew from the beginning that things weren’t going to go well for Noah! Was I ever so stupid in highschool?

I was so worried about what Noah’s big secret was to why he has no friends at school, but in the end I felt a bit letdown. I also felt tricked by Eli’s mom and her job – it didn’t seem to actually be all that relevant to the narrative in the end. Oh, and what about Alex just reporting back to Noah’s mother? That was a bit weird too.

It’s been a year or so since Anything but Fine, but unfortunately I didn’t feel like the author’s style has progressed much (or maybe the topic is too same-y). I look forward to seeing more #ownvoices work from this author, but I hope that he will continue to broaden his writing out of his own experiences and into new areas (not ballet or theatre that I feel are stereotypically gay).

I feel terrible writing such a negative review. I’m sure this novel will be reassuring to some gay teens, and maybe reinforce that parents aren’t always what they seem. For me though, I was disappointed and I’m only giving 3 stars. I’d recommend Camp or Jack of Hearts over this novel, or of course the debut by this author – Anything but Fine.

Penguin | 30 August 2022 | AU$19.99 | 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.

Review: Jimmy Soni – The Founders (S)

The Founders
The Story of Paypal and the Entrepreneurs Who Shaped Silicon Valley
Jimmy Soni

“Today, PayPal’s founders and earliest employees are considered the technology industry’s most powerful network. Since leaving PayPal, they have formed, funded, and advised the leading companies of our era, including Tesla, Facebook, YouTube, SpaceX, Yelp, Palantir, and LinkedIn, among many others. As a group, they have driven twenty-first-century innovation and entrepreneurship. Their names stir passions; they’re as controversial as they are admired. … The Founders is a story of iteration and inventiveness—the products of which have cast a long and powerful shadow over modern life. This narrative illustrates how this rare assemblage of talent came to work together and how their collaboration changed our world forever.”

I’m a little mixed on this review. There were some good parts and some bad. The book takes you through the whole journey of PayPal. I found it rather slow at the start. It gave the back stories for the main characters but I felt this could have been condensed a lot. The author wanted all of the PayPal employees to have their experience and share their story. At times I felt this wasn’t relevant and whole pages could have been cut out. In saying that, there were some funny parts and parts that you just had to keep reading to know more.

It picked up as it went. The book definitely went into a lot of detail. I felt that it could have ended differently, but it’s not like you can change what actually happened! Regardless, it still ended abruptly after four years had passed from the founding. It would have been nice to hear a bit more in the later years and what it looks like now.

If you are after a business book on the story of any startup in actual detail, this book nails that and is the book for you. The only downside is it drags on at times. 3.5 stars

Allen & Unwin | 1 March 2022 | AU$29.99 | paperback

Review: Mercedes Lackey – The Silver Bullets of Annie Oakley

The Silver Bullets of Annie Oakley
Mercedes Lackey

Annie’s got an eye to shoot and a brilliant husband who doesn’t care that his wife out shoots him! In her past she’s haunted by a hungry childhood in which she encountered a He-wolf who tried to take her magic for himself. After realising that magic is real, Annie has to make a decision – to train as a magician or go back to her regular life.

It’s obvious that Lackey has been paying attention to the media in terms of trying to get more obvious acknowledgement of poverty into the spotlight. There are hundreds of people who go hungry every day, including those who starve to death. I really like it when my favourite authors try to bring visibility to these issues.

However, this was a disappointing novel. It unfortunately followed the format of many of the most recent Elemental Masters by Lackey in that a lot of time was spent on the minutiae of life as a travelling circus performer and very little on the magic side of things. The handful of encounters with ‘baddies’ were unsatisfying and average. I also think I picked up a handful of plot holes.

Three stars from me. I’m unimpressed by this latest offering and I won’t be purchasing it for my shelf. Lackey, please go back to writing your original ideas rather than trying to take existing historical figures and trying to write magic into them.

Review: Kathy Reichs – Temperance Brennan Series (books 1-8)

Temperance Brennan Series (books 1-8)
Kathy Reichs

“Dr. Temperance “Tempe” Brennan is a forensic anthropologist, who investigates human remains at crime scenes where the flesh is too degraded for a coroner to obtain evidence (victims of arson, mutilation, advanced decomposition, etc.). She is a native of the Carolinas and one of only fifty board-certified forensic anthropologists in North America.”

Let’s hear it for a middle-aged, moderately attractive, highly skilled scientist. One of the best parts about these novels is that Tempe is highly flawed and quite relatable. I love the science that is inherent in everything she does, and I have a morbid interest in death in all its forms!

Let it be said that the only reason I decided to read these is because I enjoyed the TV series “Bones”. The reason I stopped watching Bones is very much like the reason I stopped reading these – they became repetitive. I mean sure, it’s a different victim and a different death measure, but overall the theme is the same. Temperance always catches the bad guy, and her sidekicks are always telling her she knows nothing.

These did make good retelling stories when asked to fill a silence in the car! My only problem was that I wasn’t sure how much of it was likely or true. For example, there is a case where the victim has been removed from Mt Everest in an icey form! There is a ‘Death Zone’ which is just colourful from all the jackets of people who have frozen to death there… Likely? Maybe (yes it is, and you can check out this link for more!).

I’ll give these 3-4 stars – once I started each novel, I had a compulsive need to keep reading it, but I wouldn’t go and reread them now that I know who the bad guy is!

Review: Fiona McCallum – Her Time to Shine

Her Time to Shine
Fiona

Erica is traumatised and ready for a change of scene. Little does she know that her new job in the funeral home is going to bring back other repressed memories – including her brother’s death. Intertwined with her varied grief, Erica must find her new place in the world.

The novel alludes to the financial ‘disaster’ that Stuart has left Erica in, but don’t really discuss it. I honestly couldn’t understand why she didn’t just sell the Adelaide house where she had been so traumatised. She wouldn’t even need to set foot in it again! That’s what real estate agents are for! There’s a lot of ‘woe is me’ and ‘belt-tightening’ which I didn’t understand. Get it together woman! You’re still well-off if you can survive picking up and going to a new place.

It was also unclear to me how the two girls had any income, and how they managed to not get a lodger if it was such a big deal that they were short on funds. Had they not heard of Gumtree? Or FB Marketplace? It’s not THAT hard to find a tenant if you genuinely need one. Or maybe it is in Adelaide? But of course they keep saying it’s such a tightknit community in SA that it’s hard to find anyone who doesn’t already have a place?

It seems like half way through the novel, the author realised that there was such a thing as a rescue animal that also worked as a service animal. Let’s have a random dog that is magically able to cure everyone’s PTSD. I think it’s unfair and unclear what Bruce’s future is. A life as a star isn’t easy for anyone!

The dialogue was often cringe-worthy and didn’t flow well. I felt like the plot stuttered also, and made huge issues of minor things. It also seemed to try to fit too much in, and so then failed to grab my attention with any of the ‘problem’s the main characters faced. Honestly, Erica’s best friends sounded like they were going to get a spin-off novel for themselves in future – and they weren’t that unique.

This novel is likely not aimed at me – instead it’s a living vicariously novel that people with a mid-life crisis are going to enjoy. I did find it refreshing that menopause was openly talked about by all the characters (male and female) but that was about it. I was hoping for a few more career details about the funeral home, but I also missed out on that. If I had my reading time again I wouldn’t have bothered reading it. I know there’s an audience for this sort of novel, so I won’t demote it to 2 stars.

Harper Collins | 30 March 2022 | AU$32.99 | paperback

Review: Kassandra Montag – Those Who Return

Those Who Return
Kassandra Montag

Lore is taking time out after her traumatic exit from the FBI. There is no better place than the Hatchery House – an isolated, live-in psychiatric facility for mentally ill children and teens. Lore has her own demons to exorcise with her fellow resident psychiatrist – but everyone is keeping secrets. After a death, Lore finds herself questioning everything she’s learnt about her practice so far.

I loved the way the author seamlessly incorporated elements of an unreliable narrator into the main character. I think this novel could have been even better if – wait for it – it had multiple perspectives. The protagonist being a psychiatrist was pretty illuminating, but I think that a little more insight into the twisted psyche of the killer could have been interesting.

This book’s ending felt a little unfinished. It was very unclear where Lore ended up. I wasn’t ready to leave the story! I detested the narrative framing because I didn’t really care about that character. I was desperate to find out what Lore did next!

I’m giving this book 3 stars, because it was decent to read and did keep me reading – but the ending disappointed me. I’d recommend it for anyone who has an interest in psychology/psychiatry as a light read that nevertheless has a powerful message to share with the reader.

Hachette | 12th April 2022 | AU$32.99 | paperback