Short Book Reviews for September 2021


The Scribe of Siena ⭐⭐⭐⭐☆


The Tailored Brain ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐


The Last of the Moon Girls ⭐⭐⭐⭐☆


Barking Up the Wrong Tree by Eric Barker


⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐


I am always interested in nonfiction books about brain science and performance improvement. Ever since I have been wondering why some people are more successful than others.  The Barking Up the Wrong Tree by Eric Barker has the answers to my question. 


The book is not only a thought-provoking read but also a manual about success. It dismantles the concept of success constructed by what we see on TV, movies, and social media. Through stories of people from different walks of life- CEOs, mathematicians, athletes, drug dealers, and pirates, for example, Barker delves into the real essence of success and articulates well his observations and conclusions that are worth pondering. 



The Seekers’ Garden by Isa Pearl Ritchie


⭐⭐☆☆☆


The Seekers' Garden is a new-age fiction story that explores the spiritual journey of five characters who are strangers to each other but are connected with one common thing -- the search for authenticity and truth.  Using multiple perspectives,  Author Isa Pearl Ritchie was able to describe the inner workings of their minds, explaining their past and future choices that led to uncovering a life-changing secret. 


Questioning the status quo and being unsatisfied with how their lives were going, Marcia, Iris, and Zane made a big decision to go to a town in New Zealand.  Marcia returned to her childhood home that needed a major house overhaul and created a spiritual workshop after she settled in; Iris left her job to write a book and she attended Marcia's workshop;   Zane decided to see Iris after more than a decade of being apart. On the other hand, Mrs. Everdale and Lea found the important things in their lives as they faced their fears.


The Seekers' Garden is the first novel I read that is about new-age spirituality.  It's interesting to read how people go through a personal transformation using chakra meditation, inner child healing, and tarot reading. However, the reading experience is not memorable.  While the author's message is clear, the storyline is muddled with too much reflection by the characters. As the story goes on,  the characters detail what they think about the world and life in general. These lengthy paragraphs of contemplations make me feel I am reading a spiritual book, not a fictional narrative.  The chapters of the book are like puzzles that don't fit with each other, and the story is rushed towards the end.


Personal growth, spiritual journey, and inner transformation are topics I am curious about, but the way this book presents these things doesn't work for me.


Thank you to NetGalley and BooksGoSocial for the ARC of The Seekers Garden in exchange for an honest review.



H3 Leadership: Be Humble. Stay Hungry. Always Hustle. by Brad Lomenick


⭐⭐⭐⭐☆


    H3 Leadership was the only e-book I found interesting among the discount e-books offered by Kindle Deals last November 22, 2020 (so specific! I rechecked when I purchased this book). 


    After reading the description, I knew that it's for leaders running organizations but I took a risk in getting it.  As I am not leadership material,  I thought I could learn what it takes to be a good leader. When I became a mother, I was scared of fulfilling the most challenging role in my life, and being a mother is like being a leader to a child. 


    H3 Leadership is written by Brad Lomenick  who was the president of "one of the largest movements of Christian leaders in America, Catalyst." When his leadership went rusty, he went on sabbatical.  During this time,  he rekindled his relationship with God, revisited the whats, the whys, and the hows of true leadership, and realized that it was time for him to pass the baton to other leaders.  He also included the insights of leaders from different organizations.



Some Golden Nuggets


    Knowing yourself is the first step to become a successful leader. Your strengths and weaknesses foretell the degree of your influence.  The habits to cultivate to know who you are -- self-discovery, openness, meekness, conviction, faith, and assignment.


    With the habit of ambition, curiosity, passion, innovation, inspiration, and bravery, a leader can bring an organization to a greater future.


    There are eight habits that can help a leader reach the organization's goals-- excellence, stick-with-it-ness, execution, team building, partnership, margin, generosity and succession.


The three most important things I learned from this book are to know and to be true to myself, to dream and create an exciting future, and to work hard for myself and for my family. 


"Be humble, stay hungry, always hustle."


After reading  H3 Leadership, I was glad I didn't pass up the chance to grab this book. 



Radical Candor  by Kim Scott


⭐⭐⭐⭐☆


After years of experience as the head of operations teams for AdSense, YouTube, and DoubleClick at Google, CEO coach at tech companies such as Dropbox and Twitter,  a member of the faculty at Apple University, Kim Scott accumulated the tools of the trade of a leader and condensed them in Radical Candor, which is about how to be an effective boss without compromising excellence and growth of the team and the organization.  Scott calls all bosses to "Challenge directly, care personally".  


The book is divided into two parts: the first part is about the new management philosophy wherein Scott explains radically candid relationships,  a culture of open communication, and helping people to reach their dreams.  The second part is all about the tools and techniques of leadership. Scott itemizes the ideas on giving and receiving praise and criticism, ways to avoid burnout, and things to do to get things done as a team faster. 


The bits that I found most interesting are the personal experiences of Scott when she worked at Google and Apple. Having different working and leadership styles, each of these big companies created a unique company culture that fosters life-changing innovations. Radical Candor conveys that it's possible to run huge companies with pressure to keep on innovating and growing without losing the humanity of the bosses and their subordinates.  It takes a lot of courage, level-headedness, and humility to achieve this. 




The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath


⭐⭐⭐⭐🌠 4.5


The Bell Jar is an intimidating book for me. If it wasn't for the novel, Belzhar, I wouldn't have included this in my TBR list this month. I thought I should read Sylvia Plath first before diving into it. In Belzhar, a group of teenagers studied The Bell Jar in their special English class. 


I wasn't expecting that Sylvia Plath would bring me to an emotional and incredible journey of Esther Greenwood, the main character of The Bell Jar. Plath described Esther's psychological mechanisms in a way that made me empathize and sympathize with her. However, Esther's madness manifested in her thoughts and actions elicits terror and agony that's why one must be careful about reading it.  Her sinking into despair displays how rejection, uncertainty, and incomplete grief can affect mental health. 


I will never forget Esther Greenwood. Her story is beautifully written but dark and distressing for me. 


Trigger Warning: suicide, self-harm, depression, death of a father



Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer


⭐⭐⭐🌠☆


Belzhar is about loss and overcoming loss. Meg Wolitzer writes about five emotionally vulnerable but highly intelligent teenagers who either lost someone or something. They go to The Wooden Barn, a reformative boarding school in Vermont. They are chosen by Mrs. Q to be part of the Special Topics in English, a class that is offered only to a few students every year to discuss one writer. For this particular group, they learn about Sylvia Plath and her novel, The Bell Jar. Aside from the book, each of the students receives a leather journal where they are required to fill with their thoughts and experiences and submit to Mrs. Q every week.


Something happens every time the five teenagers write in their journals. They are transported to a place where they can find the person or the thing that they lost in the real world. They named this place Belzhar where problems don't exist. But as the pages of the journal are used up, the fear of losing again the important people and things in their lives intensifies. They have to do something to save themselves from another great loss.


I read Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar first to get prior knowledge before reading Belzhar. Much to my dismay,  the characters did not delve into her writings. There are only a few scenes where Plath's life story and poem were touched slightly. Well, the book is about Belzhar, not Bell Jar.  What was  I thinking?


Belzhar is a satisfactory story.  It is told from the point of view of the main character, Jam, which limits the in-depth characterization of other characters because they are described through her eyes. She is an unreliable narrator in the beginning especially when she talks about Reeve but, eventually, she becomes honest and tells her true story that I didn't expect at all.


I like the message of the book-- journaling is a powerful tool that helps us get a better understanding of the whole situation we are in and see the things that we can change and can't change. It's up to us, to be honest, and to take appropriate steps to make our circumstances better.



The Art of X-Ray Reading by Roy Peter Clark


⭐⭐⭐⭐☆


This book changed the way I think about reading. Apart from enjoying a story, it teaches me to take notice of the words, phrases, or sentences and find the meaning behind the sound of the letters, the placement of the word in a sentence, and the words chosen to appear in that sentence. Clark also provided helpful tips to writers.


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