Review: Time and How to Spend It: The 7 Rules for Richer, Happier Days by James Wallman

James Wallman’s Time and How to Spend It is a mixed bag. I found the first half a struggle – trying to overlay a book structure onto your holiday arrangements seems great in theory, but in reality no-one does, or would do, that. Plus, the anecdotes seem shoe-horned into places where they didn’t belong, with a few even seemingly unrelated to the point being make. The writing was wordy and too chummy for describing intelligent lifestyle improvements where a succinct idea economically stated would have a greater impact – it felt as though he wasn’t sure who his audience was. I was on the point of putting the book down, but the second half started resonating with me – topics like status and significance I felt were insightful and helpful. A good read, but you may find like me, some chapters are very skippable.

Book supplied by Netgalley for an honest review.

See review on Goodreads.

Review: Summer Crossing by Truman Capote

Summer Crossing is one of those books that aspiring writers bang out, then, when they re-read it, realise it’s tosh and cast it aside. All great writers have these novels – Stephen King has a few, even J. K. Rowling progressed two novels before abandoning them. Unfortunately for Truman Capote, several years after his death this was found. There is good argument for its release – Capote is an American icon, associated with guys and dolls and rich kids swigging martinis. But there is an even greater reason for it not to be – he didn’t want it published. Yep, there are moments where his creativity and brilliance come through, but the novel is thin – a kind of warm up for Breakfast at Tiffany’s – it’s heavily over-written and he clearly hadn’t heard the phrase “show don’t tell”. An interesting read for historical reasons, but, given it’s shortness, it’s telling that I still skimmed towards the end.

See review on Goodreads.

Review: Because We Say So by Noam Chomsky

Because We Say So is a collection of Noam Chomsky’s essays and speeches from the period roughly from 2011 to 2014. Individually, they’re interesting, considered criticisms of America’s foreign policy in the Middle East. The problem is that collectively, they’re very repetitious – all discussing the same themes of how USA and Israel are the regional troublemakers, and not Iran as those two like to suggest. I would’ve preferred more variety in the essays, as by about two-thirds through, I put this down as I felt this book how little left to teach. But, as individually the essays are informative, unfair to give less that 4 stars.

See review on Goodreads.

Review: Walking to Aldebaran by Adrian Tchaikovsky

I haven’t read science fiction for a while. I used to love Clarke and Asimov as a teenager, chuckled at Douglas Adams then had a lull until I was gifted Dune a few years ago. Having just finished Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Walking to Aldebaran, I can see myself looking for more sci-fi novels, and certainly more of his.

His writing is tight – a strong voice with credible characters (well, mostly just the one) and enough exposition to keep it interesting without hand-feeding the reader. The novella is rather far fetched, even for science fiction – the gateways in the Knossos like labyrinth, unrestricted by time and place, are fine, but the roaming aliens seemed a push too far for me. But, don’t think too hard and just enjoy the quality of the writing.

A very solid 4 stars, and a taster that will definitely get me reading more of the author’s works.

Book supplied by Netgalley for an honest review.

See review on Goodreads.

Review: Wise Guy: Lessons from a Life by Guy Kawasaki

Guy Kawasaki has had an interesting life, from the early days of Apple, having his shoes polished by Richard Branson, through to turning down the role of Yahoo! CEO (in the days when Yahoo! was still relevant), so there are a few rich seams of stories to tell. Wise Guy is effectively an autobiography with a veneer of self-help – each anecdote of his life is followed with a wisdom section, practical takeaways that we, the readers, can apply to our lives.

Some of these are interesting, such as there’s nothing wrong with being shallow – choose any motivation that works for you – his was the desire to own fast cars to impress the women, but if it gets you pushing yourself, keeps you producing your best work, then so be it. These become a little stretched towards the end yet his likeability and enthusiasm carry the book.

An enjoyable, easy read, from a master of his craft!

Book supplied by Netgalley for an honest review.

See review on Goodreads.

Review: Reasons to be Cheerful by Nina Stibbe

“Reasons to be Cheerful” is the first book by Nina Stibbe that I’ve read, It doesn’t start anywhere, or go anywhere even, but it was a fun, light, holiday kind of book. The book follows the dramas of Lizzie – it’s very much fiction, and by the end I wanted her to exist, with her common sense and straightforwardness, someone simple but layered, kind and principled. Nina has an excellent voice and a very readable style. One to enjoy beside the pool.

Book supplied by Netgalley for an honest review.

See review on Goodreads.

Review: The Last by Hanna Jameson

Hanna Jameson’s The Last is an interesting one. The plot follows a group of strangers isolated in a remote Swiss hotel when nuclear bombs destroy the world. Few of the guests have little chance of ever going home -airports were destroyed and society rapidly disintegrates – so they make the most of a bad situation and turn the hotel into a new home for the new world order.

The writing was clean, characters varied and interesting, and most of the cliches of the post-apocalyptic genre were nimbly avoided.

My main issue is with the whodunit mystery aspect – it seemed shoehorned in to give the plot a focus, then didn’t go anywhere, and ended with a very contrived conclusion. Also, the theory that the world could be destroyed by nuclear bombs seemed overplayed – yep, long-term damage would be brutal in an all out exchange, but I’m pretty sure few bombs would land in the southern hemisphere meaning large parts of the world would still be inhabitable. At one point in the novel it’s reported Scotland has been destroyed: no-one would level Scotland – the highlands are so sparsely populated you’d only be killing a handful of people with each bomb!

That said, I did enjoy it, a solid 4 stars, just don’t think about the realities too hard or it’ll break your suspension of disbelief.

Book supplied by Netgalley for an honest review.

See review on Goodreads.

Review: My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite

I really enjoyed Oyinkan Braithwaite’s My Sister, the Serial Killer. The characters were well formed – believable and even meriting sympathy. One sister likes to kill, the other helps her not get caught – blood thicker than water and all that. The narrator, the non-killing sister, shares interesting observations about men, society, and what it means to protect your sister in an oppressive, abusive childhood home.

Very readable, very punchy, a well deserved 5 stars.

Book supplied by Netgalley for an honest review.

See review on Goodreads.

Review: Out of the Maze: An A-Mazing Way to Get Unstuck by Spencer Johnson

Out of the Maze is a tricky book to review. I haven’t read the prequel Who Moved My Cheese, apparently the biggest selling book on Amazon a couple of years after its publication, but I don’t believe that’s necessary – the first book covers embracing change, this book deals with how inflexible belief systems can be detrimental and restrictive. The writing is fine, the messages useful, and the book educates by way of a fable – a style I’m not fond of as I explained in my reviews for Pig Wrestling and the Goal – but that’s not why it’s hard to review.

My problem is the length – it took less than half an hour to read, cover to cover, including the acknowledgements and some details on the author’s battle with cancer. Like Pig Wrestling, the author knocks out a dozen or so short proverbs, punchy little 10 word sentences which sound authoritative, then they get padded into a story, someone designs a cover, and bam, a book is produced. This would’ve been fine as an essay or a magazine article, it just doesn’t have the legs for a self-contained book.

But given I enjoyed it for what it is, and the price isn’t an issue for me (I’m reviewing an ARC), I can only score it on the content, not the package as a whole. So, 4 seems fair to me, but I suspect if you’d paid hard-earned money for it, you would feel differently.

See review on Goodreads.

Book supplied by Netgalley for an honest review.

Review: Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield

It’s doesn’t take long with a new book before you can relax with the knowledge that you’re in safe hands – the manner of narration, simple details expanded to instil curiosity, characters beyond the cliche and the tropes. With Once Upon a River, Diane Setterfield establishes her quality on the first page.

The novel, based in Victorian days and centred around a local’s pub on the Thames, follows the discovery of a young girl – who is she, and where was she from? Several conflicting theories arise, and off goes the plot to investigate each.

There’s a wide array of characters, some solid writing with a strong voice, and enough interest to keep me going – but I did find my initial excitement dull towards the end as the plot threads wrapped up too neatly, and the recurring appearance of Quietly became rather tedious.

Still, I did enjoy it, and would recommend – a solid 4.

Book supplied by Netgalley for an honest review.

See review on Goodreads.