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Month: February 2019

READING THE TBR, DAY 58: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (1989) by Stephen R. Covey

While I am not a big one for self-improvement, this book has always intrigued me. 7 habits? That’s it? All I need to do to be highly-effective is develop 7 simple habits? I have more habits than that already! I can handle another 7!

So when I saw this book for $1, I figured it was worth the investment. That was 14c per habit! I was in.

And these much-touted 7 habits are:

  1. Be Proactive
  2. Begin with the End in Mind 
  3. Put First Things First 
  4. Think Win-Win
  5. Seek First to Understand, then to be Understood 
  6. Synergize
  7. Sharpen the Saw

So many buzzwords! And “Sharpen the Saw” sounds ominous, doesn’t it? Turns out, most of it is pretty self-explanatory — Be Proactive means to, er, “be proactive” and to Put First Things First is to, well, put first things first, and even Sharpen the Saw is simply that “we must never be to busy sawing to take time to sharpen the saw.” 

I actually like that one.

Look, a lot of it isn’t super relevant to me, a lot is just common sense and a lot, so says Covey, is based on his decent Christian values, which irks me no end. There’s an underlying current, to me, of “Be more Christian and you will be a better person.” Ugh.

Still, there are lessons to take from this book, and some fundamentals of life to be reassessed.

And then I’ll probably forget all about it. 

That’s the eighth habit of highly effective, I reckon. Being able to leave aside anything that isn’t necessary to your life.


TBR DAY 58: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey
GENRE: Self-Help
TIME ON THE TBR: 5 years.  

READING THE TBR, DAY 57: the princess saves herself in this one (2017) by Amanda Lovelace

Rarely do I read poetry. Rarely have I ever. Dickinson. Plath. The Romantics. Shakespeare’s Sonnets. The quotes that kick off your more literary-type novels.

One time I read an e. e. cummings poem at a wedding. It was beautiful. 

So perhaps I am unqualified when I say that this little collection doesn’t feel much like poetry. It’s more stark sentences — some of them profoundly powerful and upsetting, it must be said —
to make
than there is.

In fact, if these poems were not spread across multiple lines, this 99-page book would be a 3-page pamphlet. If it was lucky.

Certainly, there is an art to minimalism. And there can be no doubt that I was affected by more than one of these feminist reflections and/or dark journal entries. Some of it is inspiring. Some is very clever. And doubtless, a talent for economy of words is to be praised. Conveying complex emotions in just one short sentence is difficult, and admirable.

But for the most part, this collection feels less like poetry and more like

e. e. cummings lowercase is employed throughout — or is it just Millennial txtspk lowercase now? And then:

everyone i love leaves.

That is one poem in its entirety. Is that technically a poem? I don’t know.

But it made me feel something, and I suppose that is all that poetry, that art, is supposed to do. So in that regard, this collection mostly succeeds. It made me feel, and many of the things it made me feel were visceral and profound.

But it also made me feel kind of ripped off. And I don’t think that is the purpose of poetry at all.


TBR DAY 57: the princess saves herself in this one by Amanda Lovelace
GENRE: Poetry, Feminism
TIME ON THE TBR: 1 year.  
PURCHASED FROM: It was a Christmas gift.
KEEP: Yes.

READING THE TBR, DAY 56: Captain America vs. Iron Man: Freedom, Security, Psychology (2016), edited by Travis Langley

I love comics for their action and humour and the fact that they force us to figure out, from limited words and images, what the hell is going on. I love them for the relationships they build in their pages, their fantastical elements and their layered, complex characters and arcs spanning decades. But more than anything I love them for their allegory, their ability to echo real life problems and potentials in their colourful, spandex-filled, often child-friendly pages.

I therefore find scholarly analyses of comic books’ deeper meaning fascinating, and a book that examines the psychology employed in Captain America and Iron Man — -the psychology that led them to take opposite sides during Civil War — could almost have been written especially for me.

This collection of essays — headed with a careless Foreword by Stan Lee, who it seems was also required to make cameo appearances even in unauthorised Marvel-related productions, prior to his recent death — is quite well put together, and is often quite thought-provoking. Much is discussed of Freud and Jung and their cohorts, and relates the actions of Tony and Cap to their underlying theories. The most successful essay, , invokes Albert Bandura’s Bobo Doll Experiment, and suggests that asking kids a question like “What would Captain America do?” can help them — and, by extension, also help adults — learn empathy. I entirely agree with that. Empathy is a learned behaviour, and exposure to a wide range of fictional worlds and characters opens one up to its benefits. No question. It doesn’t have to be comics, of course, but there is no doubt that a wide array of viewpoints is encompassed in Marvel’s canon, for example.

For the most part, though, the essays seem somewhat simplistic, somewhat lacking in the deep comic knowledge I might have expected and only one really deals with Civil War at all. Which is fine, the others do delineate the differences between our two leaders, and it is these that lead to their positions on Registration. (I am pro-Registration, by the way. Superheroes are basically weapons. Weapons should be registered and regulated. @me, if you want. Happy to discuss!)

The essays look at their childhoods, their adult traumas and their leadership styles to explain why they are the way they are — but many of the essays differ on how they are, because of course, in the long and storied history of both characters, they have morphed and changed and you can find a quote from some obscure issue to prove any point, only to have someone else use another such to prove the opposite. It is the nature of the collaborative hodgepodge of often half-baked ideas that is any modern comic book hero.

So, no definitive conclusions are made — and nor really can they be, psychology being the imprecise pseudo-science it really, really is. But this book is, nevertheless, an interesting rumination on Tony Stark, Steve Rogers and the conflicts that have bloomed between them over the years, and why that might have been — and that is good enough for me. 


TBR DAY 56: Captain America vs. Iron Man: Freedom, Security, Psychology, edited by Travis Langley
GENRE: Pop Culture, Comics, Non-Fiction, Psychology
TIME ON THE TBR: 2 years.  
PURCHASED FROM: It was a gift.
KEEP: Of course.

READING THE TBR, DAY 55: Star of the Morning (2006) by Lynn Kurland

My friend Kate loves Lynn Kurland. Loves her! I have long meant to follow this most enthusiastic recommendation of this author — romance, fantasy, and romantic fantasy being Kurland’s strong suits, and all favourites of mine — so when I saw five of her books for $2 each on an op shop shelf, two of which kicked off her Nine Kingdoms series, I jumped at them.

And two years later, here we are.

Star of the Morning, the opening novel, introduces us to the Nine Kingdoms, but focuses mostly on Neroche, to which our heroine Morgan, shieldmaiden and swordswoman extraordinaire, must deliver a sword to the realm’s king. 

Along the way, she collects about her a devoted troupe of followers — all men — some sent to her by Lord Nicholas, the venerable teacher who has sent her on this overseas errand,  some chance met along the way, but who happen to be… wait for it… royalty. 

I mean, sure.

As they travel, Morgan teaches the snotty Adhemar (he is, I kid you not, the King of this land, travelling incognito, because again, sure) and his brother Miach (he is, I kid you not, the Archmage of this land, travelling incognito, because… blah blah blah) swordplay, while they teach her magic, for which she has a crazy aptitude, but also, hates it. Overarching all of this, there is a darkness descending upon the world, thanks to an evil mage mentioned but little seen, and, wait, are Morgan and Miach falling in love? 

This book combines so many things that I love. Quests. Hidden talents. Rightful heirs. Kickass women. Magic. Slow-burn romance. Shadowy bad guys. And after a very slow start, it all coalesces so beautifully that it becomes utterly compelling. Addictive. It’s silly, of course. Trope-tastic and so evocative of so much other Fantasy that it is almost actionable. (Except, almost all modern Fantasy is evocative of so much other Fantasy. It’s awesome.)

But I loved this book. LOVED IT. And I am very much looking forward to Book #2.


TBR DAY 55: Star of the Morning (Nine Kingdoms #1) by Lynn Kurland
GENRE: Romantic Fantasy
TIME ON THE TBR: 2 years.  
KEEP: Sure.

READING THE TBR, DAY 54: Saving the World and Other Extreme Sports (2008) by James Patterson

The third installment of the Maximum Ride series is… kinda dumb. In fact, I think I am done with it now. The thrill has most definitely gone.

Mostly because of Thanos.

You see, the Big Reveal — hinted at in the previous installment — is that the purpose of all the genetic experiments done on these kids is that a plot is afoot to reduce the world’s population by half. Those that remain will be healthy, and strong, and if at all possible, super-powered. So it’s Aryan theory and Thanos. An atrocious combination. So children are tortured, cloned, their DNA is spliced, what have you, in order to build a better soldier, a better leader in the proposed brave new world.

As evil plans go, this one is… a lot. And stupid. And that Max and co. manage to even temporarily foil it — after some petty internecine arguments based largely on Max showing mercy to a 7-year-old who has been treated just as badly as they have, and her nascent boyfriend/brother Fang being mad about it — with their pluck and derring do and a heaping helping of social media, is even stupider. Plus, the revelation of Max’s mother is… way too convenient, and I’m not sure I can forgive the level of dumb-luck plot-devicing this requires. Not to mention, telepathic cherub Angel is crazy powerful, and yet so underused she might as well not be. More stupid.

So, yeah. Bye, Maximum Ride! There are six more books of you, but I don’t care enough to seek them out. Hope you save the world, though! I assume you will. 

And, hey. This one has an excellent title, at least.


TBR DAY 54: Saving the World and Other Extreme Sports (Maximum Ride #3) by James Patterson
GENRE: YA, YA Thriller, YA SF
TIME ON THE TBR: 4 years.  
PURCHASED FROM: The Book Grocer.

READING THE TBR, DAY 53: School’s Out — Forever (2006) by James Patterson

I’m honestly not sure if I decided to forge straight ahead into this book because I was desperate to find out what happened after Book 1’s cliffhanger, or if it’s merely that I was pretty sure this would be a book I’d race through, then perhaps the next one, and then could clear all three Maximum Ride novels in my possession from my TBR in one fell swoop.

A little from Column A, a little from Column B, probably.

That cliffhanger wasn’t much of one, it turned out. Our heroine, Max, learned that the man she thought of as a father, and whom she had long thought was dead, was not only alive, but had been testing her and her flock of human-bird hybrids by leaving them to struggle on alone, and then kidnapping Angel, the youngest of their number. And the Eraser she had just killed — Erasers being wolf-human hybrids that acted as bounty hunters for the shadowy genetics organization that created all these hybrids — was probably her brother.


(Never mind, he’s alive again now.)

The flock get captured by the FBI and are sent to a private school, moving in with an agent, Anne, who takes on a motherly role with seeming pleasure. The kids make trouble, but stay put in the house because a) they need a home base from which to research their pasts, their lost families and the reasons for their existence and b) they’ve never been to school, and they’re desperate for a little normal. Our Max and her adoptive brother/crush Fang experiment with dating other people — neither likes to see the other with anyone else — while they try to figure out what is happening, and why. Max acquires an inner-voice who seems to know stuff about her and her intended purpose (she’s supposed to save the world, you know) and after school is indeed out, forever, the kids discover that there is a multinational conglomerate, Itex, involved in their conception/torture, and also that there is a Max clone.

The number of close escapes these kids have is nutty, and yes, they can fly, and flying is cool, but given the speed with which the Erasers constantly find them, and the massive scope of the organization that is hunting them, it can only be an ongoing test of their independence and effectiveness that they are always permitted to get away. Also, the evilness of this corporation — and, especially, the cruelty of former mentor Jeb, who has had his own 7-year-old son artificially aged and turned into an Eraser — is honestly very hard to believe. Not that corporations can’t be evil. But that so many people are on board with the systematic kidnap, imprisonment and torture of children… 

Well, no. I guess that part is believable.

People suck.

Onwards, for more suckage in Book #3!


TBR DAY 53: School’s Out — Forever  (Maximum Ride #2) by James Patterson
GENRE: YA, YA Thriller, YA SF
TIME ON THE TBR: 4 years.  
PURCHASED FROM: The Book Grocer.

READING THE TBR, DAY 52: The Angel Experiment (2005) by James Patterson

This is my first James Patterson novel.

I know, it seems impossible. He is, after all, the million-selling author of seemingly millions of books, one of those name-on-the-cover-is-bigger-than-the-title writers  beloved of airport bookstores and parents the world over. My Mum, for example, is a big fan.

This is not why I have not read any of his books, by the way. My Mum and I have pretty similar fictional tastes, in a lot of ways. Genetics, maybe.

But Patterson just never really came in my way. I’ve seen a few film adaptations of his books. I tried watching that show Women’s Murder Club. But he is just one of those crime authors — like Davids Baldacci and Hewson, like Jonathans Kellerman and Woods — that I haven’t gotten around to yet. There are just so darned many of them.

So when I happened upon a series of James Patterson books in the YA section, all offered as a pretty tempting discount, I figured that was as good a way to assay his manifold purported charms as anything. YA Thriller was definitely a genre I was prepared to get behind. I bought the first three, prepared to give them a red hot go — and now it is five years later. 

Same ol’ same ol’.

I really have to stop stockpiling books. It’s nuts.

The series is called Maximum Ride, and it is named for our heroine, Max — full name, yes, Maximum Ride. Max is fourteen and caretaker of a small band of even younger kids, all of them gifted with extraordinary powers — including, the power of flight. Like, actual retractable wings. They call themselves a “flock” and they don’t know how they came to be or who their parents are or what happened to them. All they know is, vicious hunters are on their trail, and their mentor, the only one who might have had any answers for them, is dead.

And the world needs saving.

It’s all pretty suspend-your-disbelief-hard-ish, but once you do, this book is actually a pretty good time. Certainly, I didn’t once want to start reading, didn’t once want not to find out what this is all about, and what the hell is going on. As the beginning of a clearly already greenlit series, of course many questions are left unanswered, and as the beginning of a YA series, it is pretty clear where events are headed. But it is a well-structured and built world, replete with opaque and frustrating shadowy science types and hunters on their trail, a group of rough-and-tumble hard-knock-life orphans and a snarky-voiced, appealing narrator in the earnest, deceptively fragile Max. 

I’ll be checking out the next in her adventures sooner rather than later, no doubt.

And, darn it. Now I’m really going to have to read James Patterson’s adult crime novels as well.

Like I need more books to read.



TBR DAY 52: The Angel Experiment  (Maximum Ride #1) by James Patterson
GENRE: YA, YA Thriller, YA SF
TIME ON THE TBR: 4 years.  
PURCHASED FROM: The Book Grocer.
KEEP: I liked it, but… nope.

READING THE TBR, DAY 51: In Conclusion, Don’t Worry About It (2018) by Lauren Graham

It’s always odd, reading a book by a performer who does not necessarily have a background in writing. After all, we’ve all heard tales of shadowy ghostwriters actually producing these works, and while those with a background in stand-up comedy  largely get the benefit of the doubt — they have crafted their own work for years, we hope — actors will often be held in some suspicion, regardless of how erudite they may appear on film.

But when Gilmore Girls’ luminous Lauren Graham released the novel Someday, Someday Maybe back in 2013, I didn’t doubt for a second that it was her own work. She just seems so… capable. So effortlessly hilarious. So honest. And the book’s premise, about a young actress trying to make her way in New York, rang very, very true — write what you know, and all that. So I bought it, I liked it a lot, and when she released a memoir, Talking as Fast as I Can, in 2016, I snapped it up and blasted through its chatty pages as fast as I could.

In Conclusion, Don’t Worry About It (Graham is EXCELLENT at titles!) is something different again, a kind of self-help manifesto aimed at high school graduates about to embark on their life journeys in the big bad world. First drafted as a commencement speech for Graham’s alma mater, it has been expanded a little herein, and given an entertaining preface. (Will Ferrell!)

And the title pretty much sums up the content. The main gist: let go of your fears and expectations of what you think you want to be, and just BE.

In conclusion, don’t worry about it.

Easier said than done, of course, but it is a message conveyed via some sprightly anecdotes and is such a speedy read that it’s almost like having a one-sided chat with someone who really wants share something important with you.

And it is important.

Now, I’m not a big one for self-help books, at all, but this is definitely the best one I’ve ever read. (Okay, out of like four, and one of those was Oh, The Places You Will Go, but still…)

It’s lovely.


TBR DAY 51: In Conclusion, Don’t Worry About It  by Lauren Graham
GENRE: Non-Fiction, Self-Improvement
TIME ON THE TBR: 6 months.  
KEEP: Yep! But will pass it onto some needful youngsters, first.

READING THE TBR, DAY 50: Indexing (2014) by Seanan McGuire

Seanan McGuire is one of my favourite authors. I love her October Daye series, her InCryptid series, and especially her latest series, Wayward Children. I am also highly enamoured of her work under the name Mira Grant, the zombie-fied Feed series, in particular. All her books are autobuys, for me.

(And she did some Geek vs Geeks for me a couple of times.)

But this one… let’s just say, it’s not my favourite. 

Part of the problem, I think, is that this book was originally released as a serial novel, so explanations and descriptions are repeated, and it’s annoying. (On the other hand, backstory repetition is something of a McGuire quirk — the InCryptid books are redolent with it.) Still, some casual editing would have eliminated that issue.

 The story itself is intriguing, and largely enjoyable, if utterly surrealist. Fairy tales are real, and the mystical “narrative”, ie. fate, is determined to act them out, using unsuspecting people whose lives make them targets. (Blonde girls who live near the woods might become Goldilockses, gifted musicians might be Pied Pipers, etc.) Entrusted with stopping these “incursions” from manifesting is the ATI Management Bureau, peopled mostly by individuals who are themselves affected by these tales in some way. Our lead agent, Henry Marchen, is a Snow White, and she is our first person protagonist — except, when she’s not.

I’ve always found it disorientating when my book’s perspective shifts from first to third, and this one does that all the damn way through. (The worst is when we see inside the head of hateful, shrill “Wicked Stepsister”, Sloane. Ugh.)

Yeah, so… no, this one is not my favourite. But it does make me want to dive into the five or six other McGuire books I have awaiting me on my shelves (she is very prolific, it’s hard to keep up), because while this tale didn’t entirely capture me — and I will not, unusually for me, be reading its sequel — it is a solid reminder of her immense talent and imagination, and makes me excited to get back to those of her worlds that I do genuinely adore.   


TBR DAY 50: Indexing (Indexing #1) by Seanan McGuire
GENRE: Alternate History, Fantasy
PUBLISHED: 2014 (serialized: 2013)
TIME ON THE TBR: 4 years.  
KEEP: Yep.

READING THE TBR, DAY 49: Whispers Under Ground (2012) by Ben Aaronovitch

My friend Geonn enthusiastically endorsed the first book in the Peter Grant series, Rivers of London, back in 2011, and I bought the first two installments soon thereafter. He was right about their appeal: a London police constable is drawn into a hidden world of magic and spirits and becomes an apprentice wizard while also solving crimes. London’s river spirits are chatty and manipulative, there are all kinds of creatures hiding just below the surface of the city’s winding streets, and moreover, the books are a love letter to their location, which is just fine by me, because I am very, very fond of London.

I read the first two in the series back-to-back, and enjoyed both mightily, especially growing to care for our first person protagonist, the naive but canny Peter. Of mixed heritage, a working class background and a deeply geeky bent, he is attractive in a way that makes you feel weird about it, since he’s an invented person in a book and why do you have a crush on an invented person in a book? But book crushes are real, and Peter is one of mine. Which is probably the reason it took me so long to read this, his third book, even though I found it and the following two titles in the series, all steeply discounted, several years back.

Too many feelings.

Here, Peter is as devastatingly appealing as ever, investigating the murder of a well-connected US citizen who might also have ties to the specialized magical community of which most people know nothing. (Though the rate at which Peter divulges the secret, they’re going to have to come out of the shadows, vampires on True Blood-style, sooner rather than later.) He’s funny, he’s cocky yet self-effacing, he’s witty yet nerdy as hell — he recognizes Tolkien elvish on sight, references Star Trek and Discworld and oh my God, he is my perfect man — and is developing a slow-burn romance with his partner in all things mystic, Leslie, despite the unfortunate accident that has damaged her face beyond repair. The mystery is a bit lacking this time, its various circumlocutions seeming to go through the motions even as Peter’s magical abilities… really don’t progress much, either.

Nevertheless, the book is a good time, and makes me eager to read the next in the series–even if I am a little uncomfortable about being so fond of a fictional character that I wish he was real, and my friend.

I know everyone does this. But I don’t like it, and on the rare occasions it happens to me, I rarely pick up another book about that character ever again. Too much commitment. And I get too sad that they can never truly be in my life.

Tragic, isn’t it? 


TBR DAY 49: Whispers Under Ground (Peter Grant #3) by Ben Aaronovitch
GENRE: Alternate History, Fantasy
TIME ON THE TBR: 3 years.  
PURCHASED FROM: The Book Grocer, Brunswick.
KEEP: Yep.