Review: Pig Wrestling by Pete Lindsay and Mark Bawden

Pete Lindsay’s and Mark Bawden’s Pig Wrestling is an interesting book about how to analyse and resolve problems. You could blast through it in a single sitting (1-2 hours) but it still contains concepts worth taking away (cleaning the problem, for example). I’m not convinced by the Fable approach to self-help books. I first encountered this approach with Eliyahu Goldratt’s The Goal – and with that book it seems like the story just added padding, and it does seem the same here. Without the fiction, this could’ve been either a short essay, or, my preference would be instead of spending the time introducing characters which are all business stereotypes, use that effort to illustrate with examples and case studies. A good non-fiction author doesn’t necessarily convert to a good fiction author, the prose just ends up being distracting. Still, enjoyable, so a solid 4 stars.

Book kindly supplied by Netgalley for an honest review.

See review on Goodreads.

Review: The Labyrinth of the Spirits (The Cemetery of Forgotten Books, #4) by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

An interesting aspects of the four books in the The Cemetery of Forgotten Books series is that they can be read in any order. This one, the last, is my first. It’s hard to say whether plot points were missed or nuances lost, but I did feel I was reading a standalone book. This is a complex book, weaving many characters and times together, and though some were laboured, that could be because the importance was set in the earlier novels.

This isn’t a book for the faint-hearted – it’s colossal, with enough characters and plots to fill multiple books. I turned the last page today, and it feels like I’ve been reading this since the summer. Some parts are a slog: I found Fermin irritating (possibly an overly exuberant translator) and some of the lengthier passages could have done with a trim, but this is an excellent achievement. An intricate story, spanning genres, full of treats.

Book kindly supplied by Netgalley for an honest review.

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Review: Open by Andre Agassi

My rating: 5 out of 5

I used to watch tennis in the days of Becker and Conners and Agassi, so this semi-autobiography (actually penned by J.R. Moehringer) was a trip down memory lane. A real page turner, I don’t tend to read sports books generally, but this kept me going and reading fast. Well worth a read – superbly written and hugely entertaining.

See review on Goodreads.

Review: The Psychology of Time Travel by Kate Mascarenhas

My first thought when reading Kate Mascarenhas’s The Psychology of Time Travel was I bet this is her first novel. Then, as this is a published work, why wasn’t the editor harsher? The amount of telling, not showing, became a real stinker for me. Likewise the jumps in PoV. Both mistakes are easily made, but they should also be mistakes easily corrected.

That said, this was a good book. Most time travel books have a predictable set of characters – predominately male with the odd women for a love interest. This was the opposite – almost entirely a female cast (IMHO a bit too much so – varying the cast adds dimension that can create story arcs).

I think the strength of this book is the thought given to what a world with time travel would look like – how it should be controlled, policed, financed, salaried, etc, and how time travel would affect the attitudes of those involved, seeing yourself in different stages of your life, knowing how and when you would die. What would death mean at all if you could chat with the departed the day after their funeral? This was all very well done (with a few exceptions – the trial being the biggest oddity).

Still, better than a 4, not quite a 5…

Book kindly supplied by Netgalley for an honest review.

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Review: Eat That Frog!: Get More of the Important Things Done – Today! by Brian Tracy

A lot of self-help books go into great depth on a specific topic – Steven Pressfield’s War of Art, for example, going into great length about how to beat procrastination – Brian Tracy’s Eat That Frog takes a different approach. 21 topics are skimmed over (procrastination, task selection, planning, etc) in 4-5 page chapters (this isn’t a thick book, you can do the maths) – just giving common sense but worthwhile suggestions on how to be more effective and efficient. It’s a fast read, you can go cover-to-cover in a couple of hours, but well worthwhile.

See review on Goodreads.

Review: Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

I couldn’t help thinking Lincoln in the Bardo was a mash-up of an adult version of Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book (the relationships between the ghosts), blended with Juan Rulfo’s Pedro Paramo (ghosts not understanding why they’re there, or where there is!), with a traditional historical account of the death of Willie Lincoln (and how it affected Lincoln’s mood at a crucial point of the Civil War).

This is a wonderful, innovative novel, worthy of the Man Booker award. Sentimental, in an emotive way, silly, in a funny way, yet undeniably brilliant. A clever, sensitive novel, that belongs on the shelves of anyone appreciative of quality fiction.

Book kindly supplied by Netgalley for an honest review.

See review on Goodreads.

Review: Paris Echo by Sebastian Faulks

An odd quirk of fiction centred around a historical researcher where the prose bounces about in time, is that it doesn’t feel like you’re reading fiction. The modern day aspect feels like a plot device, and with the historical, is it fiction or non-fiction – you end unsure of what you’re reading.

The writing is very Sebastian Faulks – clean, crisp, and a master of his craft – but I felt the plot was a little wobbly. There were some nice ideas, but it felt like everything was a heavy-handed mechanism to relate two acts of extreme violence where locals were complicit and saboteurs (German occupation of France and the Algerian conflict). Also, there was too much effort on wrapping up plot points and to make everything lovely at the end – the ending carried on several chapters more than necessary, and I found myself skimming much of the final sections.

Still, a solid 4 for a decent holiday read.

Book kindly supplied by Netgalley for an honest review.

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Review: F*** You Very Much (The surprising truth about why people are so rude) by Danny Wallace

Rudeness seems to be everywhere these days – from aggressive driving on our streets, to reality TV where producers intentionally generate antagonism to garner a response (and viewing figures), all the way to the White House. Obama led with thoughtfulness and inclusiveness, Trump took a different route, he’s given presidential support to rudeness. He’s taken a hostile path, showing that rudeness and intimidation is a viable way to get what you want; if the electorate thinks it’s fine for the leader of the free world to mimic a disabled person (while he was in the room), to brag about misogynism, to insult opponents rather than debate with them – have us polite people already lost the war?

Danny Wallace, in his very readable book, take a humorous and broad look at rudeness. After his eureka moment, well, more of a hotdog moment, he embarks on a journey of rudeness exploration to see whether he’s too meek, or whether the world is too hostile, or, are there just too many assholes in this world right now.

A funny book, some of the ‘case studies’ had me chortling away, and informative, this is well worth a read!

Book kindly supplied by Netgalley for an honest review.

See review on Goodreads.

Review: If Cats Disappeared from the World by Genki Kawamura (translated by Eric Selland)

“If Cats Disappeared from the World” has sold millions of copies in Kawamura’s native Japan, and I can see why. It’s a charming story of a dying man who becomes embroiled in a wager between God and the Devil – what would the man sacrifice from this world for extra days of life? The Devil chooses cleverly – phones, movies, clocks – nostalgic things which urges the man to make amends or find closure for incidents in his past. A wonderful, magical, short story, readable in one session.

Book kindly supplied by Netgalley for an honest review.

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Review: Give People Money: How Universal Basic Income could change the Future — for the Rich, the Poor, and Everyone in Between by Annie Lowrey

Annie Lowrey fully supports UBIs (Universal Basic Income) – amongst other ideas, she poses convincing arguments on how it would end poverty, fight racism and gender inequality, make our society able to tackle the pending robotic workforce upheaval, and how it could prevent Trumps and other populist political disasters from reoccurring.

This book comes across like a life mission, it’s very well researched and very passionate about the benefits that UBIs could provide. I’m not convinced it had the legs for a book of this size – it would make a good essay but contains too many case studies and facts that aren’t needed (though the Forbes review said the opposite – they prefer case studies and wanted less facts – guess you can’t please everyone!). For example, there’s a chapter about carers: Yep, carers, mostly women, are uncompensated, but it didn’t need that many pages labouring on the justification – it’s undeniable and didn’t need that level of expansion. Also, end of chapter conclusions tend to repeat ideas, as though the book is a collection of essays gelled together into a whole.

Annie’s ideas are compelling but the arguments are very one-sided, she fleetingly dabbles with opposing views, but they’re quickly dismissed. I would’ve liked to have seen a chapter or two detailing the critics’ biggest concerns, with as much thought given to their arguments as to hers.

Book kindly supplied by Netgalley for an honest review.

See review on Goodreads.