Archive for July, 2015

The most common complaint I’ve heard about this book is people going into it expecting a little girl with some kind of superpowers. To be fair, the description is a little vague:

Every morning, Melanie waits in her cell to be collected for class. When they come for her, Sergeant Parks keeps his gun pointing at her while two of his people strap her into the wheelchair. She thinks they don’t like her. She jokes that she won’t bite, but they don’t laugh.

Don’t think superpowers. Minor spoiler in brackets: (zombies).

It’s not that big a spoiler. The author lays on the hints thick pretty early. I twigged from the description (there is a hint in there if you look).

My favorite part of this book has to be the science. Many people have tried sciencing this condition before, but this author comes at it from an angle I haven’t seen before. Fungus. It was very interesting. Also very disturbing since the pov we get most of the science information from is a very nasty lady. Very very nasty. Do not like at all.

Our other povs are Melanie herself, her teacher Miss Justineau, a soldier Sergeant Parks who at first I hated, then he grew on me, and a younger soldier. I kind of wonder whether it would’ve been better with fewer povs. It worked as it is, but the structure seemed a bit odd. At first we have Melanie’s pov, and then a little from evil science lady, and then it’s like all the other povs just dropped in together. If they’d been spaced out better it would’ve seemed a bit less clunky.

Aside from sudden Pov overload, the story flowed well. Nice pacing which made for a thrilling read. Definitely a ‘must turn page to find out what happens next’ kind of book.

No sooner do we start to know our way around Melanie’s small world, than everything explodes. We find ourselves travelling across the desolate Britain, avoiding wild humans ‘Junkers’ and the infected ‘Hungries’ who earn their name.

The characters develop well. Melanie grows up fast in this new world. Her teacher finds her backbone and learns to stand up for what she believes. Other characters I started off hating, and ending up loving. Not evil science lady though. I hated her until the end, but by the end I understood why she believed so strongly in what she was doing. I even felt the teeny tinniest bit sorry for her.

The author remembers well that every villain is the hero in their own story. I rarely see that crafted so well into the characters. Here we have only heroes, each with their own agendas. Some of those agendas cross and make conflict. Others start off crossed and line up through the course of the story.

There’s this interesting theme of morality running through the book. Which course is the right one to take? What sacrifice is worth the goal you have in mind? It results in an ending that some people were mad about. And sure, it wasn’t the ending you might expect, but I think it fit the book well.

Good plot, great characters (with awesome development and lots of work put into motivations), edge of your seat pacing, fascinating world, good writing. Four stars. It would’ve been five, but there’s something about that pov onslaught at the beginning that unsettled me. Good book overall.

One warning. While this is a good book, it’s not a happy one. So don’t expect sunshine and rainbows.

For more reviews about this book go to: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/17235026-the-girl-with-all-the-gifts

 

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Most people have heard this book mentioned somewhere. For those not in the know, it’s about a five year old called Danny with a gift called the shine. Basically he’s psychic. He hears and sees snatches of people’s thoughts, and he can see beyond things to events that might happen, and events that have happened.

Cue his deeply flawed, but loving father getting a job as caretaker for a remote hotel with a deeply bloody past. With the weather coming they’re going to be trapped up there for the whole winter. Not a problem, except of course this is stephen king, so there is a problem. The hotel starts coming alive, and dead things come to say hello, not just to Danny but to his parents too.

I’ve gone through quite a bit of stephen king by now, but this one is up there with the favorites. The characters are interesting. Danny’s pov was interesting. I do like how stephen king writes children. Danny’s thought patterns are childish at times, but he doesn’t come across as stupid like some writers portray children. He comes across as a very bright kid with unique access to knowledge about the world around him, which with his gifts he would be.

The father was one of the most interesting characters. He was oh so deeply flawed, but he loved his family. He knew he hadn’t always been good to them, and he wanted to do better. The mother was ok, but a bit more two dimensional than the male characters.

For those that have watched the film, there are some major changes compared to the book. I’m not sure which version I liked better.

There was plenty of tension in this book. Lots of chilling moments I’ve come to expect from this author. More than that, there was one moment near the end that was genuinely heartbreaking. That was more unexpected. His books always have tension, always elements of horror, but while you usually connect with the characters on some level, it’s not always so deep.

So definite five stars from me. Good story. Good characters. Good horror. Unexpected but excellent heartbreak bonus.

For more reviews on this book go to: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/11588.The_Shining

This was actually suggested to me during one of my writing craft classes. As a kind of extra credit thing my teacher suggested I analyse this book looking at things such as pov character selection and scene layout.

So on the 9th of September 2013, I did just that. And on the 21st of January 2015 I finished.

What did I learn from this experience? A lot. This book is worth the hype. Not only is it fun and engrossing to read, on a structural level the scenes are so pretty. They stick exactly to the traditional scene structure. I found like two slightly convoluted elements to scene structure in the whole book. And this is a BIG book.

That made the logical side of my brain very happy. For the more emotional side of things, it was interesting looking at how the writer helped the reader connect with each character. In the first half of the book, every pov character choice was spot on. He tends to choose the most vulnerable character, the one who knows the least, or the one with the most to lose. I had some questions about one or two pov choices after that, but they were tiny little doubts. I still think he made the right choice.

‘I don’t want to analyse the thing,’ you say. ‘I just want to know whether I’ll enjoy reading it.’

The answer to this from my point of view is a resounding YES. Analyzing this was made difficult because I kept on wanting to read the next scene, not stop and analyse the one I’d just read. I ended up having to compromise with myself and read a few scenes before going back to analyse, read a few more, and so on. If I didn’t have to analyse I would’ve whizzed through this in a few days (as I did with the next books in the series).

If you like fantasy, go read this book. Even if you’re just curious, go read it. It’s awesome. Definite five stars from me.  The plot keeps pulling you forward, the characters are so flawed and engaging. The world they live in is rich and interesting. I don’t tend to like epic fantasies, but this one won me over.

For more reviews on this book go to: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/13496.A_Game_of_Thrones

Oh, and as a by the way. Did anyone else notice the parallels with roman britain? Maybe it’s because I’m a bit of a fan of celtic britain and the two are often best studied together, but I kept having flashbacks to that wall the romans built in the north to keep the ‘barbarians’ out. Hadrian’s wall. Of course, that was nothing like the scale of the wall in the book, but it felt like it had the same essence to it.

Dweck is awesome, and here she’s written an awesome book.

If you’re a parent, an educator, or just someone who wants to be a success at something one day, you need to read this book. How’s that for a recommendation?

This book goes hand in hand with one of my favorite productivity / success books ever: Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers.  In that book he talks about the idea that it takes about ten thousand hours of practice before we become a world class expert at a skill. Say for example you want to become a world class expert at playing the piano, you need to log ten thousand hours of practice. That’s about three hours a day for ten years.

Now, it’s not like every minute of practice up until then is going to be useless. Far from it. Somewhere between twenty to a hundred hours in you’ve gone from ‘I haven’t a clue’ to ‘I know the bare basics.’ Reach four thousand and to most people you’re an expert. You know about enough to teach about the skill. Eight thousand hours and you’re better than everyone except those few coveted world class experts.

What this tells us is that everyone can learn how to be good at something if they put enough work into it. So why are there so few world class experts around? Why are there people who reach adulthood and don’t seem to be skilled at much?

This is where Dweck’s book comes in. You see, to be motivated enough to put that work in, you need to have the right mindset.

There are two mindsets. The fixed mindset believes that everything comes from nature. That math genius is born a math genius. That athlete was just born that good. If I join a karate class and suck at it, I will always suck at it and might as well drop out now. Kids are either smart at something, or not smart. You can’t do anything to turn a dumb kid into a smart kid, and vice versa.

Children are told to go away and do their own thing. They’re not signed up for sports or music classes, and if they are they’re allowed to drop out the moment they start to struggle or get bored. It’s obviously not their thing. One day they’ll find that magical skill they have hidden inside them and they’ll become good at something. Until then, let them do as they want.

The second mindset is the growth mindset. This focuses on effort instead of innate skill. This one goes hand in hand with Gladwell’s findings. Every minute practicing something improves your skill in that area. Children are signed up for classes. Parents tend to take more of an interest in their progress at school and whatever other skills they’re working on.

The second group performs better, tends to be happier, and spends longer trying at hard tasks before giving up. They also tend to choose harder tasks to get more of challenge, and enjoy these tasks more than those with a fixed mindset. The difference is so extreme that in one experiment, the situations the two groups were put in differed by only one sentence. For one group the sentence was from a fixed mindset ‘you’re so smart’ the other from a growth mindset ‘you must’ve worked really hard.’

Needless to say, the growth mindset improved a lot more on further tests than the fixed mindset. They chose to take on a further more challenging test more often than the fixed mindset who opted for an easier test. And most surprising of all, when later given a test of the same level as the first one, the growth mindset performed better than they had before, while the fixed mindset children performed worse than their previous score.

I found this book really interesting.  There’s a lot in here I think everyone should know about. And it’s all very well written and easily accessible to a wide range of readers. The examples were equal amounts of entertaining and fascinating. This is a must read for anyone with any interest in the subject.

It would’ve got a five star rating from me, but by the end it got a little repetitive. Good. Definitely interesting and entertaining. But once the idea is explained and you’ve read a few examples, it’s a simple concept to grasp. And then there’s the rest of the book to get through, which is still entertaining, but you can pretty much guess what’s going to be said. So four stars. 

For more reviews on this book go to: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/40745.Mindset?from_search=true&search_version=service

I loved reading this book. I found it so interesting, but I didn’t walk away from it with anything I can use.

I’d say if you’re a productivity junkie like me then this book is definitely worth a read. The writing style in engaging, the use of anecdotes kept me glued from start to finish. But the most I walked away with is ‘habits are really good. I need to make more of the things I need to do habits.’ And I already knew that.

So, four stars for interesting topic and engaging style. Not five stars because this is more a read for enjoyment book than something that will help you be more productive.

Still, enjoyment is good. Right?

The best productivity booster of a book is still ‘how to be an A star student’ (even for non students like me). But there are a few more on here I’ve researched, and most of them give you a bit more meat than this one.

So decide from this what you will. For more reviews on this book go to: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/12609433-the-power-of-habit?from_search=true&search_version=service