Author: welloflostplots

Book Review of True North

True North.JPGI’ve been caught up in re-reading school texts for next year, but have really enjoyed making time for Bill George’s leadership treatise, True North, probably the best leadership book I have read in the past year.

What I like most about this book is the genuine assumption that leaders do things for the right reason – and I we understand ourselves, our life stories and what motivates us, we can act in a way that always points our compass to ‘True North’ – that which reflects the best of ourselves and is in line with our beliefs.

Full of stories and examples from real recognisable leaders (Nelson Mandela, Warren Buffett, Ariana Huffington, Sheryl Sandberg, Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates and Jack Ma for example) , True North is incredibly readable.  The stories are the warnings and the instruction, with commentary from George helping us to truly explore and inhabit their meaning.

Overall, George wants us to be the best leaders we can, but also to lead the best lives we can.  This includes living in conjunction with our values and leaving a legacy of a better world behind us.  How many management books truly leave you with permission and encouragement to do this?

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Book Review of One Day In December

one day in decemberIf you want a light, cute romantic read that is guaranteed to please – I’d suggest One Day in December by Josie Silver (so incidentally does Reese Witherspoon).

The premise is simple – one day in 2008 a girl sees a boy waiting for a bus and even though they never speak, they just know there is a connection.  Their names are Laurie and Jack.  Laurie spends the next year gushing over “Bus Boy” and searching for him with her best friend, Sarah.  And then they meet a year later – when Sarah introduces Jack as her new boyfriend.

And so starts 10 years of Laurie and Jack dancing around each other.  The first few years can be a challenge to read, not just because of the post-teenage nature of the pining, but because of the slightly distasteful nature of crushing on your best friend’s boyfriend.  But as the characters attempt to move forward with their lives and leave their connection behind it becomes more interesting and more complex.  There are clearly many people in the world who can make us happy – however, the road not travelled remains the ultimate fantasy – one which neither of them can deny.  The ending is especially cute.

This is a story of love, friendship and hope.   But overall – it is the story of a connection than cannot and will not be denied.  If you believe in true love, second chances or love at first sight – hell, even if you just want to believe in those things – you’ll probably enjoy this.  Likely to find truckloads of female fans all over the world.

bridge of clayWritten 12 years after his breakthrough best-seller The Book Thief, Bridge of Clay is a beautiful and moving novel; but also a very flawed one.

For the first 200 pages I was not at all convinced I could continue reading. Many aspects were overwritten, as if Zusak had spent much too long agonising over each and every word – trying to fill sentences with as much meaning and beauty as possible. The result is a very disjointed beginning. But it leads to quite a poignant ending.

The Dunbar brothers are orphaned – their mother died of cancer years ago, and their father abandoned them not long after. The eldest, Matthew, narrates the novel, but the second-youngest of the five brothers, Clay, is the focus. When their father returns after many years to seek the boys’ help to build a bridge, only Clay looks to reconnect with him. But in doing so, he leaves behind his schooling, his running, his brothers and the girl he loves.

It takes the whole 600-page novel for Clay to be fully developed and realised and to do so, Zusak alternates the narrative between the present and the past, outlining the father’s life before and after his marriage to the boys’ mother, Penny. These flashbacks are clearer and more tender than the elements of the story set in the present, making them the shining light of this novel. Zusak clearly likes the nostalgia.

I’m glad I persevered with this. The ending is powerful and very moving and on the whole, I was satisfied by the narrative. But it’s a good example perhaps of why we cannot spend too long writing anything – sometimes simplicity is the most beautiful thing.

Book Review of Muse of Nightmares

muse nightmaresThis is the second instalment of Laini Taylor’s new fantasy series, that began with the impressive Strange the Dreamer… at the end of which one of the main characters died, but was tethered to the world as a ghost. Another was revealed as a God.

Muse of Nightmares begins just after this, with the characters beginning to adjust to the new realities that have emerged – new friendships and enmities.  Woven through this is the story of two sisters who were separated when tested for powers by the Gods – one because she has a covetable power allowing her to travel astrally, and the other because she has the dangerous power to hijack the gifts and talents of others.  Neither sister is prepared to live without the other, and as the novel continues, it becomes clear to the reader that their narrative is entwined with the story of the lovers Lazslo and Sarai, and the story of Weep.

Although not as powerful as the novel preceding it, Muse of Nightmares is another engaging instalment of a well-realised and beautiful fantasy world.  Full of adventure, love and transformation, this is a series well worth a look to fans of the genre.

Book Review of Cedar Valley

cedar valleyFor my poor holiday brain, reading Holy Throsby’s Cedar Valley was like when Goldilocks encountered the porridge of Baby Bear. It was just right.

The pace, charm and characters of this novel are sublime.  Centred in the small town of Cedar Valley, two plot points emerge on the same day which the reader is invited to surmise a connection to.  Firstly, Benny Miller arrives, looking to connect with the deceased mother she barely knew.  Secondly, a strange man in a vintage suits dies mysteriously outside a Curios store.

Both Benny and the stranger begin to touch the lives of the inhabitants of Cedar Valley, and with each passing chapter the mystery of the missing mother and the dead man are slowly, if not completely revealed.  Joyously we are introduced to more and more characters in the town,  whom we warm to and get to know.  None are quite as they appear.

Cedar Valley was a beautiful novel and one I thoroughly enjoyed reading.  Even better, it is an Australian one.  Definitely recommend.

 

Book Review of The Wife Between Us

wife between usSometimes, your brain needs to read something really unchallenging – especially around holidays.  It acts as a bit of a palate cleanser after a busy year, to prepare you for more reading ahead.  We all have authors in our stockpiles who act as this, and we all – like myself – have more challenging books sitting there for holiday reading. But not yet.

This one I picked up at a library sale and remembered it had had a little press a few months ago.  And it’s an entertaining enough read – although a little too jam picked with twists and turns that it tends to seem a little contrived.  Even the blurb promises this:

You will assume you know the motives, the history and the relationships.  You will be wrong.

It starts with chapters being narrated by two alternating women, Nellie who is a young and naïve girl, and Vanessa, a spurned wife fixated upon her tiny blonde replacement.

I picked the initial twist early on, and read on just to have it confirmed.  But the authors have plenty more tricks up their sleeve and I doubt you will guess them all.  You’ll read on just to see what is coming next.  Over-plotted but good for a certain kind of read.

Book Review of Anna Burns’ Milkman

milkmanEven the Man Booker judges said that reading Anna Burn’s prize-winning Milkman was an uncomfortable experience – but certainly an intriguing one.  For a start, there are no names at all in this novel, with all characters described by uncertain nomenclature such as ‘Something McSomething’, or ‘Chef’ or by their relationship to the narrator, such as ‘First Sister’ or ‘Maybe-Boyfriend’.  There is also shifting and moving narrative, one that feels distant from the action.

Set during The Troubles in an unnamed Irish town, likely something like Belfast, Milkman tells two stories.  The first is of the social cost of the armed resistance to British rule, and the strange impact this has on the community – making it a place of gossip and hearsay, of puzzles and kangaroo courts where there is justice for none and love is the most dangerous commodity of all.  It is a community where you were ostracised for being involved in the resistance, or for not supporting it.  Where innuendo is treated as fact and violence and coercion are second-nature and simply accepted as the cost of life.  In fact, Burns focusses much more on the mental impact of the social milieu rather than the actual violence.  The narrator delivers anecdotes of her existence and those around her that are brutal and threatening in such as non-plussed manner that we are left to question her state of mind (which in fact, many characters in the novel do).  Fascinatingly unique – neither political nor involved – she seems to remain at a distance to the events around her, hiding in her books (19th century only – the 20th century doesn’t suit her). But her distancing of herself is more than just a narrative technique – it’s a survival technique.

The second is the story of this unnamed narrator, who is pursued as a young woman by a senior paramilitary figure known only as ‘Milkman’.  This is a fascinating scenario – she is basically stalked by the much older married man and threatened when she takes up with another young man from across the city.  And although she makes no signs of interest or acquiescence, his very notice of her makes the community believe they are having an affair.  A man of his power and influence – following her in a non-descript white van as she walks down the street reading – are not to be ignored.  Nor is it apparently to be questioned or stopped. Whether she likes it or not, she is his now.

It’s clear that narrator and many of the characters are trapped.  And it’s also clear that the narrative can’t go far – this is a journey you have to take in rather than focus on the destination.  How would I surmise it? Milkman is vivid.  Detailed. Exceptional. But yes – also challenging.