Review: Wendy Mass and Rebecca Stead – The Lost Library

The Lost Library
Wendy Mass and Rebecca Stead

Evan’s dad rescues mice rather than killing them. Evan eats apples that look a bit odd. One day, a little free library appears, triggering a mystery hunt for Evan and the truth about the lost library of Martinville.

This is such a cute, quick read. I’m not its intended audience (middle-grade fiction) but I really enjoyed it anyway. Who wouldn’t love a cat, a lost library and a ghost? The writing is lovely and light, and it was easy to get lost in Martinville. Although I could eventually guess the ending, I was happy just to float along.

Initially I was really worried that it was going to skip between perspectives to many times for me to follow. Nope! It did it just enough that the reader feels confused and then reassured. The concept of a Little Free Library is awesome, even if I did worry about the books left in the potential rain!

If you enjoyed The Cat Who Saved Books, then you’ll also love this one. I’d highly recommend this for any of the young readers in your life. It touches on trickier topics such as not fitting in, and the transistion to higher levels of school (in a USA context), but ultimately it’s a feel-good mystery solved satisfactorially. 4-5 stars from me.

Text Publishing | 3 October 2023 | AU$16.99 | paperback

Review: Brandon Sanderson โ€“ Secret Project #2

The Frugal Wizardโ€™s Handbook for Surviving Medieval England
Brandon Sanderson

“A man awakes in a clearing in what appears to be medieval England with no memory of who he is, where he came from, or why he is there. Chased by a group from his own time, his sole hope for survival lies in regaining his missing memories, making allies among the locals, and perhaps even trusting in their superstitious boasts. His only help from the โ€œreal worldโ€ should have been a guidebook entitled The Frugal Wizardโ€™s Handbook for Surviving Medieval England, except his copy exploded during transit. The few fragments he managed to save provide clues to his situation, but can he figure them out in time to survive?”

This is fun in some ways, but pretty stupid in others. I’m ok with carp diem! Ie. Fish the day. It’s not seize the fish, which is what John thinks/pretends it. One of the best things about these Secret Projects is that this one and Tress are filled with plenty of odd metaphors and random puns. My favourite!

What else positive can I say about this book? Well, Sanderson definitely seemed to have fun writing it. It still has his lyrical prose and multi-faceted characters. I mostly just feel sorry for John since he isn’t the brightest, but he does try to be likeable at times. I’d certainly lose my temper a bit if I ended up in his original home situation (which is gradually pulled out of the text slowly). He’s just too ‘meh’, and I couldn’t care enough in it or the premise of travelling down different dimensions to ‘time travel’.

Go on and bite me, but I didn’t like this novel. That’s not to say that I love everything in The Cosmere equally and was influenced by the fact that this is NOT a Cosmere novel. I just didn’t care for the topic or the narrator. Yes, I’ve read it twice now, but even just trying to explain the plot to my wife made me think ‘Woah, why am I reading this again?’ I don’t think I’m going to revisit it, unless I’m looking for a happily-ever-after that can be knocked over quickly.

Review: Sarah Kessler – Gigged (S)

Gigged
The End of the Job and the Future of Work
Sarah Kessler

“In Gigged, Sarah Kessler meets the people forging this new world of unorthodox employment: from the computer programmer who chooses exactly which hours he works each week, via the Uber driver who is trying to convince his peers to unionise, to the charity worker who thinks freelance gigs might just transform the fortunes of a declining rural town. Their stories raise crucial questions about the future of work. What happens when job security, holidays and benefits become a thing of the past? How can freelancers find meaningful, well-paid employment? And could the gig economy really change the world of work for ever?”

The book titled “Gigged” introduces the author’s concept of freelancing and the autonomy it offers in choosing one’s own jobs. Despite its publication a few years ago, the book is still relevant. The author frequently references Uber as an illustrative example, highlighting the freelance contractors of Uber drivers. Various anecdotes from other companies are included creating a comprehensive narrative.
I found the examples to be quite enjoyable. Initially, the author seems to diverge from the main topic, giving the impression of going off on tangents. However, as one progresses through the book, a rhythmic pattern emerges, allowing for a better understanding of the author’s style. The book manages to deliver a wealth of information in an easily digestible manner.

One aspect that detracted from my overall experience was the book’s heavy emphasis on American contexts, including examples and specific currency amounts. This limited scope is irrelevant to readers from other parts of the world and hampers the ability to connect with the provided examples.

Overall 4 stars. What will the future look like?

Quick Reviews of Fiction eBooks #1

Big Boned
Jo Watson

Lori has been the fat girl, with an odd brother, for a long while. But she used to fit in with her artistic talents – then her mom went and uprooted their lives to find the best place for her brother. Can Lori swim? I liked this novel. Go fat girls who end up being ok with being fat. The evolution from fat girl to fat girl with a better attitude towards herself was nice! I love the claimback by Lori of being fat and being healthy not being mutually exclusive. The novel reminded me to some extent of The Learning Curves of Vanessa Partridge. The ending was pretty much as I expected but it was cute anyway.

Please Don’t Hug Me
Kay Kerr

I received this as an ARC eBook copy a long time ago but never got into it. I read the first chaper or so, and then got distracted by other physical books. In transperancy though, I did finally read it as an ebook from my local library! I didn’t find it particularly riviting again the second time either. I struggled with Erin just having a single goal of Schoolies and her writing letters to her brother who could be in jail? We don’t even know? Until we do know, and then, oh, I hate Erin’s psychologist. I much preferred Social Queue and the non-fiction Love and Autism (I read them in very quick succession).

Social Queue
Kay Kerr

Zoe’s made it out of highschool with only a few quirks in behaviour that are the direct result of bullying – most is ‘just’ her autism. Or actually, she’s still trying to get used to being a teenager with autism, but she knows that she wants to be a writer. I enjoyed this novel much more than Please Don’t Hug Me because autism is less of a disability and more of a character trait that makes Zoe really good at some things, and not others (just like non-disabled people). Zoe reasonated with me as a character who wasn’t sure of her attraction to other people, but was willing to try going on five new dates! Even if the results weren’t what we/she expected. I think this is a great novel to add to any teenager’s shelf who struggles with being their authentic self, and learning how to love as a neurodivergent human.

Review: Alexandra Rowland – A Taste of Gold and Iron

A Taste of Gold and Iron
Alexandra Rowland

Arasht is known for its pure currency that is determined by touchtasters. A plot with counterfeit coins could threaten the whole realm, and Kadou needs to solve it. Kadou is a bit of a mess, so it’s a good thing that he has a beefy bodyguard to keep him out of trouble. Will there ever be something more between them?

It took me ages to read this novel because 1) I thought it was the first in a series and I didn’t want to commit and 2) I didn’t notice that it had gay protagonists. Unfortunately the plot was lacking. I’m not sure why I kept reading it – maybe I got too attached to poor Kadou and his panic attacks? Then again, I hated Kadou’s ex- who was just a comical steriotype of a gay man calling everyone ‘darling’ and ‘sweetheart’. Evemer tries to be the hard counterpoint to the ex- but never really becomes a 3D character.

The plot of this novel was quite weak, and it was very easy to see where the book would end up. It was obvious who the villians were from the start, and it was clear that it didn’t actually matter if they were caught! I mean, there was a moment where they couldn’t trust anyone, but it was all good! They just pulled in a truth-seeker.

What I loved most was the use of another non-binary gender in a way that the author just created a new term. The author just rolled with it and didn’t give the reader a chance to be transphobic. The role of male partners was also curtailed by body-father (basically sperm donor) and women only giving another person law/love control over the offspring if they wanted to. Seliha is a bit dopey, but gets there in the end I guess.

This reminded me a bit of Ash Princessย in the way that it had a (to me) traditional feel of bodyguard falling for a princess/prince/whoever. It was inevitable that they would fall in love, because why else would the book exist? I’m giving this a generous 4 stars since I did keep reading it, but the plot was just pathetic.

Pan Macmillan | 30 August 2022 | AU$34.99 | paperback

Review: Amanda Woody – They Hate Each Other

They Hate Each Other
Amanda Woody

Jonah and Dylan have nothing in common. Nothing. Never. It’s why their friends are so determined that they will end up together – enemies to lovers. When they end up accidentally sleeping in the same bed, they decide to fake it until their friends get over it. But will Jonah and Dylan discover that they have more in common than they thought?

Is this too neat? I mean, it’s gonna be a teenage romance, so OF COURSE they will end up together. The author digs a little more deeply though into each of the boy’s home lives, and deals with some difficult topics including sexual harrassment, abuse, trauma and body image. It could be triggering for some people – don’t believe what TikTok tells you about the book, go and actually read the publisher’s website to be sure that it’s a book for you.

Reminicent of Lose You to Find Me, this book is a worthy additional to #ownvoices Queer novels. I’d put this near the top of my recommendation pile for someone with a young gay in their lives. It’s not always a comforting or comfortable read, but it is pretty good fun in parts. I couldn’t decide if I was on Team Dylan or Team Jonah – I love a great baked good, so I guess Dylan wins. Both are well-rounded characters that have been given unique quirks and flaws rather than being one-dimensional standins for “best practice gay boys”.

I ate this book up in a single afternoon, so it must have been good! On a couple of occasions I almost found myself crying for the characters. 5 stars from me, with a thought that after the storyline fades nicely in my head, I will want to reread it. Only time will tell.

Hachette | 9 May 2023 | AU$22.99 | paperback

Review: Baba Prasad – Nimble (S)

Nimble
Make Yourself and Your Company Resilient in the Age of Constant Change
Baba Prasad

“Today’s world is best described by one word: turbulence. Every leader today knows they need to be nimble, agile and resilient–but how? In this engaging and insightful new book, management strategist and Wharton Fellow Baba Prasad sheds new light on the subject, and offers practical advice for executives, entrepreneurs, and anyone else who’ll need the skills to face the unpredictability, risk, and deep uncertainty that lies ahead.ย Filled with vivid examples and insights from around the world and throughout history – from the Brazilian rainforest and the “frugal innovation” of 19th century Indian engineers to Ericsson, Lego, Burt’s Bees, and Zara–Nimble reveals what sets the most nimble leaders and organizations apart from the competition, presenting five types of agility that help individuals and companies not just survive but thrive in times of great change”

This book gives readers a guide to becoming more agile in today’s fast-paced business environment. The 5 agilities discussed in the book are:

  1. Analytical agility โ€“ allows a company to change the means and methods of analysis.
  2. Operational agility โ€“ helps the company gain dynamism through its operational resources.
  3. Inventive agility โ€“ enables the generation of new ideas, creative solutions, and alternate uses of resources to solve problems the company has not seen before or to take advantage of new opportunities the company faces.
  4. Communicative agility โ€“ is the skill a company has to persuade its audiences and to convey the value of its ideas through words and speech.
  5. Visionary agility โ€“ allows the company to recognize the long-term impact of the decisions it is making.

Each chapter of the book focuses on one of these agilities, offering a detailed explanation of what it is and why it matters, as well as real-world examples of companies that have successfully developed and leveraged that agility. The author’s use of business examples helps bring these concepts to life, making them more tangible and easier to understand.

The author also includes exercises and activities that readers can use to help them develop their own agility in each of the five areas. These practical exercises help readers apply the concepts to their own lives and businesses.

I recommend this book to anyone looking to succeed in a world that is constantly changing, this book is sure to be a valuable resource for leaders and professionals across all industries. If anything, it’s a great reminder to be agile in business. 3.5 stars

Review: Erik J. Brown – Lose You to Find Me

Lose You to Find Me
Erik J. Brown

Tommy has been working as a server in a Retirement Village in the hopes of getting a decent reference letter to enrol at the culinary school of his dreams. He’s got his head down despite his sadistic boss and has a good chance of success. But then Gabe shows up – the boy that Tommy realised he was gay for – but Gabe doesn’t remember Tommy…

You just have to laugh at the puns in the blurb. Go on, I’ll wait while you go look. On this occasion, the blurb doesn’t give too much away! Phew. I remembered how much I enjoyed All That’s Left at the World, and the swift shift by this author to a new area was just fine with me. I read it the moment it came in the door.

Tommy! Yes! Go you! Don’t stand for that crappy behaviour. I mean, watch what you are doing with the knives, but don’t tolerate mixed-signals from someone who isn’t right for you. This resonated back to me with Take a Bow, Noah Mitchell where we see the catfisher’s side (is that even a term?).

I particularly liked the sidestory of Tommy’s best friend too. I did wonder what part of the USA this was in, since they seemed to be getting drunk pretty often, and I had a feeling that was a bit of a no-no in most places / hard to organise before college? Ah well, the drinking definitely reminded me of the Australian culture.

This is a fantastic addition to #ownvoices fiction. Ok, so the premise could be a little more exciting, but I still loved it and couldn’t put it down. I’m giving it 4 stars because I don’t think it’s a reread for me. It was still great fun though – even if I could have gone a few more puns!

Hachette | 9 April 2023 | AU$19.99 | paperback

Review: Adam Silvera – The First to Die at the End

The First to Die at the End
Adam Silvera

Orion has been waiting to die his whole life from a heart condition, surrounded by people who love him. Valentino has been waiting his whole life to live and love free. A chance meeting in Times Square, and the two are suddenly End Day buddies but only one of them gets a fateful call. Thereโ€™s one question: Can Death-Cast actually predict when someone will die, or is it just an elaborate hoax?

That twist! At the end! Woah! Not what I was expecting (even if I harboured a little hope in my head). I can’t say anything about it otherwise it’ll all be ruined. Is it creepy to want to know more about the Heralds? Now I vaguely want to reread the original (They Both Die at the End) in this series to see if I’ll learn anything extra about how long Heralds last etc.

I could have done without the perspectives of Matteo and Rufus, honestly. I get that this is a prequel, but it didn’t need to link together! Just hearing about the beginning of Death Cast was awesome. Does the author even know how Death Cast works? Will the Silvera’s readers ever find out?

I can’t speak for the authenticity of the Puerto Rican perspective, but from what other readers have been saying, it’s lovely to have some more gay boys of colour! More representation in Queer literature? Sign me up.

I requested this from the publisher, but wasn’t selected as a reviewer this time. I instead requested both the audiobook and the ebook from my local library. Neither is my preferred format, but I was very keen to read it! I received access to the audiobook first, and listened to it while I put dirt in gardenbeds (don’t let anyone tell you that growing your own veggies is cheap, not even The Smart Veggie Patch!). I enjoyed that it had three different readers and it made it extremely easy for even a distracted reader like me to follow along.

I’ll continue along enjoying Silvera’s excellent novels that include the What if it’s Us duology. I’ll give this one four stars – I’m not convinced it’s an immediate re-read for me, but it was still pretty good!

Simon & Schuster | 4 October 2022 | AU$19.99 | paperback

Review: Jodi McAlister – Can I Steal You for a Second?

Can I Steal You for a Second?
Jodi McAlister

Amanda is keen to get over her last relationship – surely a break in a house full of other women and a single Romeo is the way to go? She has nothing to lose and everything to gain from a potential relationship. Or maybe she’ll find love? There’s two Dylans to choose from after all!

Mandie is such a sympathetic character. She has low self-esteem and her list of things that she is good at does at least get a little longer during the course of the book. Unfortunately, I didn’t really feel like she had made real progress. She’s definitely just fallen for a person too quickly. Being trapped with someone during COVID lockdowns in Melbourne forces quick relationships (a great example is 56 days if you are looking for a psychological thriller).

I think that the author creates understandable characters but I am left wanting more substance. I know it’s just ‘fluffy romance’ and I should be grateful for non-Caucasian, non-heteronormative relationships at all, but I wanted to see more convincing character growth in general. The marketing brief is so proud that the author is a Lecturer, rather than ‘just’ a romance writing – but I still expected more.

This book is to be read in parallel with Here for the Right Reasons. I actually think you should read this one first, as there would be less spoilers that way (but of course there’s still a happily ever after). I’ve read another romance book from this author (Valentine), and it’s clear the author has a ‘type’. But the end of this one promises that there will also be a Lily and Murray book. WHY? Move on, deliver me a new story!

I’m giving this four stars, which is perhaps a bit generous. I did definitely have some real laugh out loud moments (not a spelt-out lol) and there were several bits where I needed to share the text with someone else! Worth reading, but perhaps not worth owning unless you want to relive reality TV during a lockdown more than once.

Simon and Schuster | 5th April 2023 | AU$22.99 | paperback