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Non-Fiction Book Review: Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

Title: Power of Habit

Author: Charles Duhigg

Genre: Non-Fiction [Habits]

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

The Overview: A young woman walks into a laboratory. Over the past two years, she has transformed almost every aspect of her life. She has quit smoking, run a marathon, and been promoted at work. The patterns inside her brain, neurologists discover, have fundamentally changed. Marketers at Procter & Gamble study videos of people making their beds. They are desperately trying to figure out how to sell a new product called Febreze, on track to be one of the biggest flops in company history. Suddenly, one of them detects a nearly imperceptible pattern—and with a slight shift in advertising, Febreze goes on to earn a billion dollars a year. An untested CEO takes over one of the largest companies in America. His first order of business is attacking a single pattern among his employees—how they approach worker safety—and soon the firm, Alcoa, becomes the top performer in the Dow Jones. What do all these people have in common? They achieved success by focusing on the patterns that shape every aspect of our lives. They succeeded by transforming habits. -Goodreads

The Review:

On reviewing Non-Fiction: Over the last few years I’ve read more and more non-fiction titles, but haven’t yet incorporated them into my reviewing strategy (until now). I didn’t feel inspired to review them as I would a fiction book, so instead I’m presenting non-fiction reviews as more notes and highlights of my favorite takeaways. It’s my way of journaling my experiences with the books so I have references for myself in the future. Here goes..

The Power of Habit is arguably the most well-written non-fiction book I’ve ever read. It’s a deftly woven exploration of habits through the use of case studies, engaging narrative, and individualistic habit implications. When I read James Clear’s Atomic Habits, I came away thinking, “great, I’m going to try to eat better… work out more, etc.,” but while reading Power of Habit it gave me some profound inspirations that I think I can use to help myself through some serious mental health stuff.. yeah, it’s that cool. There were more valuable takeaways from this book than indicated below, I just didn’t start taking notes until about the halfway point.

Takeaways:

It’s not about just cutting out a bad habit. It’s about finding something else to do in its place. The habit is the entire ritual of being compelled to do something through a trigger then following through for the payoff. If you want to stop eating cookies, don’t try to cold turkey your reach response for them when you’re hungry/stressed/whatever. Instead follow the habit perfectly but put a healthier alternative in the same spot as the cookies. <-Understanding the forces against change here has been super helpful.

After reading the chapter on Target shopping analysts, I’m now much more concerned with how much data retail companies have on me than I am on what the government has. Our destruction will be orchestrated by Target statisticians lol.

The Habit-Change Experiment:

1. Identify the Routines (what are the cues and rewards?)
2. Experiment with Rewards: change up random things to figure out which reward is driving the routines (the cafeteria/friends/cookie example).
3. Identify the Cue. 1. Where are you? 2. What time is it? 3. What’s your emotional state? 4. Who else is around? 5. What action preceded the urge?
4. Have a plan. Plan for the cue and chose a behavior that delivers the reward you are craving.

Doing these diagnosis experiments helps you gain power over habits that can sometimes feel powerless to change.

Overall rating: 4.5/5 stars. It was excellent.

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Book Review: Tyranny of Faith by Richard Swan

Title: Tyranny of Faith

Author: Richard Swan

Series: Empire of the Wolf #2

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

The Overview: A Justice’s work is never done. The Battle of Galen’s Vale is over, but the war for the Empire’s future has just begun. Concerned by rumors that the Magistratum’s authority is waning, Sir Konrad Vonvalt returns to Sova to find the capital city gripped by intrigue and whispers of rebellion. In the Senate, patricians speak openly against the Emperor, while fanatics preach holy vengeance on the streets. Yet facing down these threats to the throne will have to wait, for the Emperor’s grandson has been kidnapped – and Vonvalt is charged with rescuing the missing prince. His quest will lead him – and his allies Helena, Bressinger and Sir Radomir – to the southern frontier, where they will once again face the puritanical fury of Bartholomew Claver and his templar knights – and a dark power far more terrifying than they could have imagined. -Goodreads

The Review:

One of the best books I read last year!

I liked Justice of Kings quite a bit, but wasn’t blown away by it. Even though the unconventional narrative won me over and I enjoyed my experience, I found the main character a bit hard to read and the mystery a bit underwhelming. By grace of the book gods, I picked up the sequel immediately and I’m SO GLAD I DID!

Gone were my problems with the main character – she grew into her own in a way that felt progressive and organic. I found a personal connection to her I was missing in the first book and as a result was 100% invested. In fact, all of the characters were compelling in their own way, their story arcs taking totally different directions than I was predicting – I love that. My favorite thing about the book, easily, was the relationships and bonds between the characters and the overwhelming sense of camaraderie. I usually have to pick up a Greatcoats novel for that.

The mystery element was awesome, involving a lot of moving pieces and gradually revealing answers without being too over-complicated. If I wasn’t in it completely for the characters, I would’ve been compelled to keep reading anyway just to figure out whodunnit. I loved the mash-up of fantasy/mystery (it read like a fantasy) and especially appreciated the legal components included in the book. There was this great debate of morality and justice on the merits of following the letter of the law vs. the spirit of it, which was particularly good food for thought and added a lot of depth. It’s great when authors can present grey-area problems that don’t have a clear right answer. It’s up to the characters to decide which hard decision to make and I find the thought-process fascinating. This is an intelligently written book.

The magic system was also a lot more realized. I usually don’t have patience for metaphysical components, but here it was handled well enough that for once it didn’t bother me.

And to boot: it was funnier.

Overall, I can’t wait for the next one!

Recommendations: pick up this series for great character companionship, an interesting exploration of justice, and an unconventional POV writing style. This series gets better and better as it goes along.

I’d like to thank Richard Swan, Orbit Books, and Netgalley for the chance to read and review an early copy of Tyranny of Faith – I loved it! :D

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Sweep of the Heart by Ilona Andrews

Title: Sweep of the Heart

Author: Ilona Andrews

Series: Innkeeper Chronicles #5

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 4/5 stars

The Overview: Welcome to Gertrude Hunt! We are so happy to see you once again. Your innkeepers, Dina Demille and Sean Evans, will see to your every need. No matter what accommodations you require, the inn will oblige. Physics are not an issue for us. Our Red Cleaver Chef is delighted to impress you with his culinary mastery. Rest assured that your safety is our first priority. Enjoy yourselves, relax, and above all, remember the one rule all visitors must abide by: the humans must never know. Sweep of the Heart is a serial novella set in the Innkeeper Chronicles featuring Sean Evans and Dina Demille. -Goodreads

The Review:

A new book from IA I hadn’t realized was coming out? Sign me up immediately!

These authors are some of the very few who qualify for the “drop everything and pick up on release day” category. As the Innkeeper series is actually a web serial first and only later published into volumes, I suppose I could be even more on the ball and read them as they’re published. As it is, these books are very episodic and wildly entertaining.

My favorite thing about Sweep of the Heart was the alien interactions. Hosting a matchmaking event at the Inn, the main characters had to navigate many off-world politics while keeping their guests from being eaten by other guests. It was loads of fun – the different biological makeups adding even more variety to an already enjoyable read. I also liked the element of competition in the book, as these species were all in attendance seeking the hand of a single ruler in marriage. Now, how the marriage and, er, succession producing would work between two different alien species was a little over my head, but the technicalities of it didn’t seem to take away my enjoyment of the story.

That’s something I can say about all of IA’s works. They’re so much fun and some of the few stories that can take me out of critical mode into just enjoy it mode almost every time. The fun components here were entertaining enough that I think under different circumstances I may have given it a five stars, but it took me a bit longer than it should have to get reacclimated with the story and the characters. It had been so long since I’d read book four that I spend a lot of time at the beginning trying to remember context and who everyone was (yet another reason why I should probably follow the series online instead of waiting for it to go to print). Once I figured it out though, it was smooth sailing to the end.


I consumed this one on audio and would endorse going that route for the series. Most of IA’s works are narrated by Renee Raudman, but this one was performed by Nora Sofyan and honestly I didn’t even notice the shift until researching for this review. I thought she did an excellent job at bringing the story to life and had a good mix of character accents.

Recommendations: the Innkeepers is another delightful series from my ultimate favorite urban fantasy writers. If you want the full effect of everything going on in this series, consider reading the Edge series first, as there is some crossover.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Children of Ruin by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Title: Children of Ruin

Author: Adrian Tchaikovsky

Series: Children of Time #2

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: 2/5 stars

The Overview: Long ago, Earth’s terraforming program sent ships out to build new homes for humanity among the stars and made an unexpected discovery: a planet with life. But the scientists were unaware that the alien ecosystem was more developed than the primitive life forms originally discovered. Now, thousands of years later, the Portiids and their humans have sent an exploration vessel following fragmentary radio signals. They discover a system in crisis, warring factions trying to recover from an apocalyptic catastrophe arising from what the early terraformers awoke all those years before. -Goodreads

The Review:

Children of Time is still my favorite book of 2022. Children of Ruin… not so much.

Truthfully I had a hard time finishing this one. At 80% I was forcing myself through it to the point where I initially called a DNF before deciding to just speed read to the end. I mean, I’d heard it wasn’t as good as the first one, but I wasn’t expecting to be so completely disengaged.

So what changed between books one and two? My theory is character connection. CoT was a brilliantly composed character study that managed to make me care deeply about the creatures involved. It was especially impressive that he managed to evoke that given that it was also a multi-generational story. CoR showed glimmers of good character work at the beginning, but quickly set it aside in favor of extensive theorizing and info dumps. Even the return of some familiar faces didn’t help, and in some ways actually made things worse, as none of them showed any of the depth I remember from the first book.

As you may have heard, CoT focuses on a society of spiders, whereas CoR focuses on cephalopods (octopi). I wouldn’t say spiders are any less alien to human ways of thinking and functioning as a society than cephalopods, but the way Tchaikovsky chose to present both offered wildly different experiences. The spiders came across somewhat relatable, where as the cephalopods’ society and forms of communication were so alien it was hard to form a connection to them. The creatures used complex color patterns to communicate. And the use of general impressions and imagery in place of dialogue was amazing and creative and cool… but it wasn’t engaging in the slightest. My favorite part about CoR was learning more about these creatures, but they weren’t solid, distinct enough “characters” to make me feel more than a curious interest in them.

So without anyone to latch onto, I started to feel disengaged from the story. And then the plot got a bit confusing and I lost even more momentum. So by the time I made it to the end (by the skin of my teeth), I was checked out.

I know this author can dazzle me, and by no means am I finished exploring his works. CoR had a lot of great base elements to it, I just think it lost me on some of the execution choices. I’m still looking forward to Children of Memory, but with perhaps a little less enthusiasm than after CoR.

Recommendations: while the biological components were every bit as cool as the stuff found in CoT, all of the other story elements fell a bit flat. At the moment I’d say consider CoT a stand-alone and don’t bother with this sequel, but that may change after I read the third book.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Gleanings by Neal Schusterman

Title: Gleanings

Author: Neal Schusterman

Series: Arc of the Scythe #3.5

Genre: YA Fantasy

Rating: 3/5 stars

The Overview: There are still countless tales of the Scythedom to tell. Centuries passed between the Thunderhead cradling humanity and Scythe Goddard trying to turn it upside down. For years humans lived in a world without hunger, disease, or death with Scythes as the living instruments of population control. Neal Shusterman—along with collaborators David Yoon, Jarrod Shusterman, Sofía Lapuente, Michael H. Payne, Michelle Knowlden, and Joelle Shusterman—returns to the world throughout the timeline of the Arc of a Scythe series. Discover secrets and histories of characters you’ve followed for three volumes and meet new heroes, new foes, and some figures in between. -Goodreads

The Review:

As someone who generally doesn’t care for short stories (they don’t usually provide me enough time to get invested), I liked Gleanings a lot more than I thought I would.

To boot, it was nothing like I expected. I figured we’d get some familiar perspectives in a timeline shortly after climax events in the Toll. Not the case. Instead it was a collection of individual gleaning stories (hence the title) with a compelling array of circumstances that evoked good food for thought throughout. I was honestly expecting to be bored during the book, forcing myself to finish it for the sake of completionism. But instead I found it compulsively listenable and only struggled with one of the stories. I like it when books make me think, and the exploration of morality in this creative world remains my favorite aspect of the series.

There were one or two backstory segments for familiar characters that I quite enjoyed. Since a few of them took place before the Scythes’ had chosen their new names (which is how I remember them from the trilogy), it took me an embarrassingly long time to figure out who’s story I was reading. The payoff when I DID realize what was going on was particularly satisfying in part because of that delay/build-up though. Sometimes being an idiot works in my favor.

Recommendations: if you liked the concept of the Arc of the Scythe and want more interesting segments dealing with the morality of the Scythedom, this is a great collection. If you want more closure from series-ending events in the Toll, this will not fit the bill. Overall I found it a great supplemental read.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: The Toll by Neal Schusterman

Title: The Toll

Author: Neal Schusterman

Series: Arc of the Scythe

Genre: YA Fantasy

Rating: 3/5 stars

The Overview: It’s been three years since Rowan and Citra disappeared; since Scythe Goddard came into power; since the Thunderhead closed itself off to everyone but Grayson Tolliver. (Shortest Summary Ever) -Goodreads

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The Review:

The Toll was a decent ending to one of the better YA series I’ve read.

The series had a consistent and solid writing voice. It reminded me strongly of James S.A. Corey’s writing style in the popular adult sci-fi series, The Expanse. It’s a way of combining character introspection and broad implications in a way that’s kind of telly vs showy but somehow you don’t care because it’s so fluidly done. It made for a story that was easy to breeze through.

I’ve mentioned this at length in my reviews of the first two books, but I love the concept for this series. Particularly the moral debate each Scythe has to have with themselves when deciding who to “glean” (kill) and why. It was fascinating. Events in the Toll broadened the ideas even more by focusing on the power, corruption, and the mentality of “do I conform even though it’s against my moral compass and maybe survive another day, or do I stand my ground and perish as if my sacrifice has no real meaning in the grand scheme of things?”

Good food for thought.

It’s worth noting that my rating probably would’ve been slightly higher had I started this book sooner, as time and distance from the second book had me forgetting some of the minor characters. When I wait too long, I lose a bit of context and depth, and therefore my connection to the story. And my ratings pay the price. It didn’t suffer much, but it was still a factor.

Overall, I’m glad I read this series and I’m looking forward to the new collection of stories that came out in November (Gleanings).

Recommendations: one of the better YA series I’ve read. Pick this one up for cool concepts, a great writing style, and a distinct lack of the usual YA tropes. This series is worth a looksie.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes