Tiny Leaps Big Changes – Gregg Clunis

tiny leaps big changes cover

“Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes.”

Reading this straight off the back of Burnout really flagged to me the different approaches self-help books can take. Burnout felt supportive, wanting you to have a happier life, helping you tackle some of life’s obstacles to achieve that. This, on the other hand, felt like it was castigating you for being such a lazy loser, and if you really wanted something you can have it simply by applying yourself enough.

I have serious concerns about the advice in the book. The example given is Dave, a dad who wants to make more money so that his daughter can (eventually) go to college without a big debt hanging over her. So he puts in extra hours and stresses himself out and argues with his family because he’s exhausted. But oh, he’d be a horrible person if he let himself slack – how could he look his daughter in the eye if she had to take out loans for college?

Wow. Just… no. How about enjoying life, not being a shitty parent who’s never there, or finding other ways than becoming a monster?

I think my main issue with this book is that the author is in his mid-20s. I am turning into an old grump, but quite frankly I don’t think Clunis has the life experience needed to write a book like this – at least, not for people outside his own age group. He talks dismissively of people who never take risks, are never willing to lose everything to gain something better, and uses the example of Jim Carey’s father from a talk the actor gave once. Urm, right. ‘Cos a sane, responsible parent can afford to take that kind of gamble o.O

There are snippets of good advice, but that can’t mitigate the awful, smug tone, and quite frankly dreadful suggestions at times. Avoid.

NetGalley eARC: 224 pages / 12 chapters
First published: 2019
Series: none
Read from 3rd-17th April 2019

My rating: 3/10

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Grey Sister – Mark Lawrence

grey sister cover

“The dissolution of any monastery or convent is not something to be lightly undertaken.”

Red Sister was one of my favourite fantasy novels in years, so much so that when the final installment (Holy Sister) fell into my little paws I didn’t hesitate to go back for a reread before this middle installment.

Following the events from that first book, the surviving novices and sisters have returned to the convent of Sweet Mercy. But politics abound in the Empire, and Nona Grey has to face not only the trials of Mystic classes, but the hatred of a wealthy lord, the schemings of an emperor’s sister, and the horror of the Inquisition.

One of the things I loved about the first book was the world building, and the hints that things were more than they seem. Where are the four races from? Who are the Missing? We get a little more information about the shiphearts and the Arks here, but no real answers. More questions, of course! Foremost of those would be: who the heck is this Keot? The author even pre-warns us before starting the story that we’re not meant to know who he is, he has just ‘appeared’ since the first volume.

We also seem to have jumped forward a fair bit of time which felt a little jarring. Given the amount that happens in book 1, especially at the ending, it doesn’t feel right that the span from then to ‘now’ was so quiet – Keot aside. And to skip over all of his introduction… argh!

Some of the characters have changed, too, in ways that might have made more sense if the passage of time wasn’t so truncated. Kettle, for instance, is almost more friend than teacher now, which doesn’t not make sense, but still.

But, that all soon falls by the wayside as we are once again caught up in the politics and scheming of a world that is slowly being consumed by ice. Nona’s self-discover has led to much great confidence and some new fighting techniques, and if that at times felt a little Logan-esque to me the action still stays high and the intrigue abounds.

Of course there is an element of middle book syndrome, with most things already explored to an extent but no resolution. Still, book three is in my hands and started, so I won’t complain too much! It’s still very well written, intriguing fantasy, and I cannot wait to see where it’s going to end.

NetGalley eARC: 417 pages / 47 chapters
First published: 2018
Series: Book of the Ancestor book 2
Read from 26th March – 15th April 2019

My rating: 8.5/10

Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle – Emily & Amelia Nagoski

burnout cover

“This is a book for any woman who has felt overwhelmed and exhausted by everything she had to do, and yet still worried she was not doing ‘enough’.”

I’m not sure I’d go so far as to say this book has made me a better person (maybe a bit?) but I do think it’s made me a better feminist. I am so guilty of proudly feeling that I can ‘play with the boys’ at their own game, swearing and telling bawdy jokes, that being faced with a book about stressors faced by women, and how we marginalise ourselves, was something of an eye opener.

I shouldn’t feel so happy about someone pointing out how much more stress there is in my life than I knew about, but actually, the sense of relief, the nodding along – yes! Yes, it does stress me that (insert ton of stuff here). And that it isn’t acknowledged, and that I’m ‘delusional’ or hormonal or whatever if I try to point it out. There’s a whole chapter called ‘the Game is Rigged’ which summed up so much of what I feel, but hadn’t articulated. The underlying premise that boys are taught to be human ‘beings’, and girls more often expected to be human ‘givers’ – wow.

That said, the book is not just a long rant. It points out that we’re all holding on to a lot of stress without realising it, and that’s just never going to end well.

On a practical level, the opening chapter talks us through the difference between stressors – like the jerk in the BMW on the drive home, or the late request for a report at work – and stress. Often we deal with or at least move away from the stressor but we’re not actually dealing with the stress. The authors talk about ‘completing the cycle’ – letting our primitive brain acknowledge that we’re now safe. I want to reread this part already: I’m getting ‘dance around the living room’, but think there are other subtleties to pick up on here.

The rest of the book covers a lot of familiar ground with a fresh eye. The ‘Bikini Industrial Complex’, for instance, questions why we allow ourselves to be *so* obsessed with looks (even over health). There is some interesting discussion about the falseness of the fat/unhealthy message – did you know that it’s worse for your health to be slightly underweight than quite a bit overweight? Mind blown.

The only bit I didn’t really like was the whole ‘smash the patriarchy’. Not that I disagree (especially the way it’s described here – definitely not ‘anti man’ in any way, just pointing out how, yup – the game is rigged!) but just that I felt weary even thinking about it. Is life not hard enough without me having to be so proactive on this, too?! o_O

I’m hardly scratching the surface of just how much YES there was for me in this book. I said it’s almost certainly made me a better feminist – for myself and for others. But as it points out, if I’m nodding along with this for me, it’s an excellent way to see how much more the game is rigged if you’re not just female, but of colour, or not CIS/hetero-normative, or ‘able’ in the way that’s taken for granted. I hope I’ll do better for all of these categories now, not just stand up for myself more as a woman.

All of which is fine, but am I less stressed? It did help, really. I’ve spent my life pushing back on the role society seems to want for me – and yes, in little ways that includes ‘smashing the patriarchy’ (it is not, for instance, my role in life to get out of a man’s way on a pavement. I’m not talking politeness, just standing up to that inbred sense of entitlement that no one ever seems to realise they own. I don’t automatically tidy in the office any more, either, even when it’s my default). To get a bit of a ‘yes, that’s right’ was something of a relief. The caveman brain stress stuff makes a lot of sense, too. I have a ways to go, and I do think I’ll be rereading this before too long.

Recommended for women everywhere – and any man who has the balls to accept that the playing field is not, in fact, as level as we’d all like to think.

NetGalley eARC: 304 pages / 8 chapters
First published: 2019
Series: none
Read from 11th-26th March 2019

My rating: 9/10

Book Learnin’ – John McNamee

book learnin cover

I’m not familiar with Pie Comics, but author John McNamee apparently contributes to the Onion and the New Yorker. His style is relatively simple, but with a biting wit – both aspects I find myself rather liking.

six panel comic from book learnin

The book is split into several topics, including The Arts, Social Sciences, Zoology, Science and Technology, and Business. It’s a lot more fun than the school timetable that would make, though 😉

4 panel comic from book learnin

I’d say the topics range from the surreal, to the rather more profound than you’d expect from a simple comic. Not all of the ideas made me laugh – either not hitting my sense of humour, or I just didn’t get them – but most provoke at least a wry chuckle. Which might not sound like much, but in this day and age, every moment of “yeah, that’s how my brain and/or the world works” is not to be sniffed at.

I did like the collection format allowing for some multi-page continuations of a few themes, rather than limiting things to 4- or 6- panels. Overall, what’s not to like? 🙂

example of comic strip involving angel and devil on shoulders

(panels ‘quoted’ as examples of style and humour, which I believe is acceptable for review purposes).

NetGalley eARC: 130 pages
First published: 2019
Series: Pie Comics
Read from 16th-21st March 2019

My rating: 8/10

Daisy Jones and the Six – Taylor Jenkins Reid

daisy jones cover

“This book is an attempt to piece together a clear portrait of how the renowned 1970s rock band Daisy Jones & The Six rose to fame – as well as what led to their abrupt and infamous split while on tour in Chicago on July 12, 1979.”

Where to start with this review? How about how much it caught my imagination, how keen I was to curl up with the intertwined interviews of various band members, to find out just why Daisy Jones & the Six broke up after the most amazing show of their sell-out tour?

The interview-reportage style is oddly catchy – I thought it would be annoying after a while, but it’s handled perfectly. We switch back and forth between (labelled) character’s answers to off-book questions, rearranged by some unnamed interviewer to tell a cohesive story. The story of a fledgling band and a gifted but damaged singer. Their highs and lows, fame and fortune and booze and drugs, and of course, their relationships.

I absolutely loved the juxtaposition of answers from ‘different’ interviews. How two people could say the exact opposite about the same event. The reminder that even the most amazing or devastating events in one person’s life can be a “they seemed fine” to another.

Through it all is the story of the making of an album – an amazing, seminal, sadly fictitious album. It’s like getting a behind the curtain peek into the creative process, in a way I haven’t seen done so well before. Love love loved it!

If I’m knocking one mark off it’s for the ending – which is great, don’t get me wrong, but very much made me realise this book was a journey not a destination, and about people and love more than I usually go for. Still, what a ride! Recommended.

NetGalley eARC: 368 pages
First published: 2019
Series: none
Read from 3rd-9th March 2019

My rating: 9/10

How I Motivated Myself to Succeed – Shelley Wilson

how i motivated myself to succeed cover

Shelley Wilson previously wrote a book called How I Changed My Life in a Year, in which she set herself 52 challenges and did what it says on the cover. With this new book she tries to look behind the challenges and cover some of the methods she used to make those changes – so, rather than a memoir that may have had some self-help value, this one sets out to be self-help from the get-go.

I’ve not read the first book, which maybe would have helped, although this is meant to be readable as a standalone. And the advice in it is pretty good. The tone is also quite accessible, with a few stories in the ilk of “I’m not perfect, I have such difficulties too, but look – if I can do it so can you” which are fine.

And yet… I dunno. I’d hoped a couple of days thinking about this book would help me formulate my review, but instead I find very little from the read has stuck in my brain other than the author’s obsession with vision boards. I know as I as reading it I nodded a few times, thinking, yup that’d be useful, very sensible (planning, self-care, etc), but… obviously not inspiring enough for me to actually have started with any of the advice!

So. Nice. Good, practical advice. Wouldn’t not recommend, but didn’t quite click for me.

NetGalley eARC: 193 pages / 13 chapters
First published: 2019
Series: none
Read from 2nd February – 6th March 2019

My rating: 6/10

Book Love – Debbie Tung

book love cover

“Books can take you to magical places.”

How to review 130-odd pages of sweet cartoon drawings, on the subject of being a true bibliophile? Urm, it’s really good! Can I share a picture? Yes, as this is a review, that seems to be allowed (plus, you can find plenty online if you need another few panels to persuade).

cartoon strip "What're you thinking about? How life is so short and there's just not enough time. To do all the things you always wanted to do? To read all the books I always wanted to read.

Simple drawings, many truisms about being a book lover. There is nothing not to love about this book. It’s cute more than funny – although some of the bookish situations are so true to (my) life that they did make me laugh – but that’s more than fine. This is a huge warm cosy blanket of a book that says “I’m a bookdragon, too, let’s bond over our love of books.” Not crime novels or fantasy books, but the sheer pleasure of reading.

NetGalley eARC: 137 pages
First published: 2018
Series: none
Read: 17th-26th February 2019

My rating: 9/10