Score: 96/100 (9.6 out of 10)
The Way of the Wall Street Warrior by Dave Liu might be the funnest, funniest, most entertaining business book we've ever read!
If Bacon Grief didn't exist, it could've been the funniest book we've ever reviewed. If The Value Equation didn't exist, it could've won the non-fiction category outright. It's looking more like it might tie.
Dave Liu just gets it. He is hilarious. We can't say that enough. He made us laugh constantly. His writing is so sharp, so sarcastic, and so biting. There's also something very conversational about his writing style. For example, he'll say things like “I know, I know... 'boo-hoo'” and “become rich and respected like Salmon and Lehman—or not” (revealing in the footnotes that the Salomon and Lehman brothers are not so respected anymore). He'll even say things like, to paraphrase, “You have no problems and have everything figured out? Well, congratulations, you must be Jesus! You can return this book now.”
Yet, despite the humor, there's still weight in everything he says.
Dave Liu is a very intelligent and successful person, and it shows through his clever writing and the advice therein. For starters, this book is filled to the brim with practical and useful psychological concepts like recency bias, Pygmalion effect, parlay, and the seersucker illusion. There are dozens, possibly over a hundred of these concepts. So, this book is rich with interesting, helpful, and educational content.
Let's just look at three of these dozens of concepts. The Pygmalion effect is the idea that a person's high expectations lead to improved importance. The idea of the parlay is that good things can lead to a snowballing effect of good things. Growth and success becomes exponential. The seersucker illusion is the fallacy (error) that a guru's advice or the information they supply is to be taken as gospel 100% of the time. The truth is, even the best in their fields—the so-called “experts”—make mistakes from time to time. From what we gathered, the author seems to put forward the idea that the warriors of Wall Street & the super wealthy are not actually royalty—people to be held to a much standard above and beyond the rest of us plebeians—they're actually very flawed humans like the rest of us, guided by human instincts and drives, particularly self-serving, self-centered ones like greed. The author appears to have a harshly realistic, pseudo-Machiavellian view of society and business. People aren't out to get you, necessarily, but there's a strong likelihood that they're looking out for themselves (possibly at your expense). So, watch your back.
It's like Stone Cold Steve Austin said, “Don't trust anybody.” That doesn't mean to be a jerk about things, it just means to watch your back and cover your butt. If you think there's a chink or hole in your armor or an error in something you've done, make sure your enemies or potential enemies can't take advantage of it. That could mean scrubbing your social media accounts clean with the expectations that they might dig up dirt about you.
There's another very subtle yet interesting concept in here, and that's managing the narrative surrounding you. What people think about you matter. Your reputation matters, but your reputation is largely something you can manipulate with some time and effort. The best example the author gives is of Alfred Nobel, the man for whom the Nobel Peace Prize is named after. Despite being largely associated with “peace” now, Alfred Nobel invented dynamite, eventually having a large role in selling/distributing explosives and weapons as an arms dealer. The author rather humorously points out that Nobel had a sudden change of heart about selling weapons that likely killed thousands of people and is now known for championing peace and technologies that help people. That, according to the author, is because he was tactful and skillful enough to manage (or manipulate) his narrative. History is written by the victors, so don't lose. And if you lose, make sure as few people as possible know or care about it. See, he's got us thinking a bit like him!
As far as critiques, there are occasional small inconsistencies in grammar. For example, periods and commas occur inside or outside of parentheses intermittently, sometimes in the same paragraph. The really glaring problem that kept reoccurring was the text in the graphics. They're very cute and funny graphics, however, the text is often difficult to read in black & white. Because the speech bubbles are sometimes dark, the text literally blends into them. So, while we assume some of these cartoons had funny, clever punchlines, we couldn't see all of them. However, just the fact that the author put effort into making these cartoons is commendable.
Dave Liu himself seems to be a fascinating and inspirational person. Not only was he born an Asian minority, but he was born with a cleft lip. This is a condition that isn't only cosmetic, it is actually deadly in some third-world countries because it makes it difficult or impossible for children to eat and drink. Despite the challenge of looking different, being different, and being treated different, the author was still able to become successful. According to Liu, he helped raise over $15 billion for hundreds of businesses as a 30-year veteran of Wall Street & Silicon Valley! This would effectively make us one of at least two millionaires/billionaires who've come through our contests. We feel richer by association alone!
Check this out on Amazon!
Maybe you'll come away richer (or feeling richer) too!
Score: 86/100 (8.6 out of 10)
The Dark Elf of Oklahoma by Ethan Richards continues to wild, chaotic story that began in The Dark Lord of Oklahoma.
This book follows Asher Cries-For-War, Sam, Chance, Elena, Seth, Gavan, Zorin, and Elder Orkenkind in the midst of the emergence of a violent elvin biker gang believed to be linked to the Witch Queen.
There is a major increase in action, violence, and even some descriptions of gore in this book compared to the last one. Whereas the last book was silly, goofy, and comedic in tone, this book is actually quite serious and severe with numerous deaths, mutilation, and even the suggestion of a sexual assault. While the last book was more like Disney's Enchanted, this one is more like Mortal Kombat.
The author reintroduces the incredible AA-12 (automatic shotgun) while adding even more automatic weapons like the FAMAS and AK-47.
The “war” really is on, and there's combat and action throughout.
While Elena seemed to be the central protagonist of book one, this book really focuses more on Asher Cries-For-War and his militia group. Even Gavan, Zorin, and Sam seem to get more shine and screen time than Elena does this time around. This is much more of a “guy's” story—a more masculine story than the last.
We're no strangers to books with non-stop action & combat. Lethal Decree by Dr. Trent W. Smallwood was such a book, and it was one of the best we read. The thing is, action for the sake of action doesn't necessarily work. The thing about Lethal Decree that made it work is that it focused on one great character, Sebastian Storm, and his personal struggles. In fact, the vendetta he had in that story was incredibly personal. So, we bought into the story similar to how we buy into Rambo's story in Rambo.
The thing, it's very difficult to take these characters or this plot seriously—at least not seriously enough to make the action and stakes work. There's something a bit off about all of it. Perhaps it's the fact that there are just too many major characters to care about and many of them don't seem that fleshed out. The other thing is that, despite reading the last book and trying to read this one three times, we still don't fully understand the conflict or the stakes (or why we should buy into them). The story skips around too much and never focuses on any one thing enough. It goes from different locations in Oklahoma from Ragnok to the Salt Flats in Jet to the penitentiary in McAlester.
With all that said, it's not like you can't make a story like this work. It can be entertaining and fun, especially if you like “dumb action flicks” or stories. Some things aren't made to be deep and complex, some things are there because we love to see things go “boom” and to hear the rat-tat-tat of rifle fire.
Onomatopoeia is actually one of the literary tactics that the author gets really well in both of these books. They capture the sound of a gun to the sound that a crow makes.
The writing is actually not bad. Sometimes, it's even sophisticated and elegant. The author details things colorfully, sometimes too colorfully. It's easy to get distracted by the details. The other thing is, there are a lot of incredible military analogies and sayings in here which could only come from a person of wisdom and experience in that field. So, we appreciate that too.
The book could use a rewrite and/or someone to go through and reformat it. Like the last book, it's missing indentations and there are times when text isn't wrapped properly.
However, if you love stories about elves, orcs, action, and adventure, you might really jive with this one.
Check it out on Amazon
Score: 87/100 (8.7 out of 10)
The Dark Lord of Oklahoma is a fun, silly novel that mixes and mends a realistic setting (Oklahoma) with a fantastical scenario involving elves, orcs, and other mythical creatures. A mysterious homeless-looking biker is seen with some identifying him as a legendary high school football player who passed away in combat years ago. A bunch of orcs kidnap our main female protagonist, Elena, who may or may not have elvin roots. Meanwhile, a witch queen appears to want to conquer the world starting, of course, with the Sooner nation!
The premise of this book is, quite frankly, rather ridiculous and difficult to take seriously. Perhaps it's supposed to be. Not every single book needs to be a super-serious epic about characters in life-or-death, end-of-the-world situations or taking on issues like childhood trauma and/or abuse. Sometimes, books need to be a source of joy and entertainment, and this book accomplishes that. It's a breath of fresh air after just reading & reviewing a book about stages of grief and a child's death. It was good timing. It let us loosen up and unwind a bit after being emotionally crushed by another book.
Furthermore, this book had similar vibes to other books we read about cryptids this season. For example, in Frederick Moody, the protagonists were trying to find Big Foot. In Handy Dandy Randy McCrandy, the protagonist had to coexist with the Loch Ness Monster. Similarly, in this book, the character have to contend with the idea that their friendly, mysterious neighborhood homeless person might be more than meets the eye. So, once again, we read this book at such a good time. We'd already read books that helped us to better frame and understand the wild events of the book.
Going back to the mythical “Walking Man,” every neighborhood has that one mysterious, weird person in their town who they either ignore out of fear or end up speculating and making up stories about. In Utah, there's the “Guardian of Liberty Park” who frequents the area in a black robe with a wooden staff like he's Gandalf. He is often conflated with the equally legendary “Horned Wizard” who frequented the city a decade ago. It's always fun to speculate.
This novel really seems inspired by something like that: speculating about weird people and events in the neighborhood.
Now, we have to be honest, this book had a rough start. It skipped from person to person: from Deacon to Elena to Chance. Next thing you know, you've got Sasha, Julie, Zorin, Asher, and more involved. It bounced from thing to thing and event to event. So many strange things were happening and bizarre things were mentioned/highlighted like how unusually strong the weird crossfitting teenagers in the neighborhood were.
There are certain kinds of stories that warrant a large ensemble cast, and this isn't one of them. This book seems to be written almost like a comedy or a satire. A comedy or satire requires a smaller core cast than an epic novel.
Whenever we confront a novel like this that likes to skip around and force us to care about way too many characters, we normally try to simplify things by focusing on the core character and the main plot. We decided to mostly follow Elena, the teacher who is abducted early on, since she seemed to be the most human and, thus, relatable of the characters. Her arc seems to be the most believable and interesting as you can really jive with the idea of a failed musician and disgruntled teacher suddenly learning that they have a larger, more important role in the world than initially thought. Also, she apparently has the most gorgeous green eyes known to man, so might be a candidate for “Hottest Character” along with Sasha.
Asher Cries-for-War obviously has a coolness factor and edginess to him too similar to an 80s action star (i.e. Arnold or Sly). Apparently, the author is a bit of an action-hero in their own right, being a former soldier and paratrooper for the US military.
The characters that bizarrely won our hearts and minds the most were the orcs. This book actually did something that very few have ever done: humanizing the big, bad, ugly, mean ole' orcs. Well, they're not just any orcs, they're the Son, but you know what we mean.
These orcs seem to reject or resist their sadistic & cannibalistic drives, facts which are often played for laughs. They're actually so kind and caring of Elena that she almost develops a sort of Stockholm syndrome for them. You can really tell that they're the heroes of their own story and—in their minds—are doing what's “right.” Elden Orchenkind and Gorgon Bartok are definitely a presence in the book.
This book also features the AA-12, a remarkable automatic shotgun that the US Army hasn't adopted for some reason.
The thing about this book is that it may have tried to do too much. It's almost like its execution didn't fit the genre. People don't watch Barney and expect there to be a dozen main characters with four or five plot threads, they watch Barney to see Barney and his familiar friends sing familiar songs and stuff. They don't watch Teletubbies expecting the episode to feature like three big, plot-altering, world-breaking reveals. They watch it because they find the Teletubbies cute and want to relax and unwind watching them frolic through their seemingly monotonous journeys. This book almost seems like it can't decide whether it wants to be serious or a comedy. Well, we couldn't help but find it comedic. For example, the author uses the word “ejaculated” in place of the word “said” at least twice, completely going against Stephen King's recommendations. We couldn't help but laugh out loud about that.
The book, while grammatically sound, suffers structurally from a lack of indentations between paragraphs.
There were times it did remind us of something like Disney's Enchanted.
You can check this out on Amazon
Score: 87/100 (8.7 out of 10)
Managed Paranoia by Finlay Beach reads like a surrealist, speculative fiction novel with a blend of sci-fi, adventure, drama, and romance. There are also some political thriller aspects to this as well.
It is the first book of the Hank Gunn fiction series which follows the ailing yet capable protagonist, the titular Hank Gunn, as he puts his experience as a Navy medic to use on a long, arduous maritime adventure. All the while, he struggles to find some sense of sanity, inner happiness, and peace with God. Wait, so is he pretty much Lieutenant Dan with legs? Hank tries to find these things in his many self-help books and later confides in AI. It seems to be the very act of seeking, searching, and making use of his skills again that bring him comfort and meaning.
This novel also stars Bella, a young woman on a bit of an escapade who is then intercepted by a pushy, powerful, stalkerish man named Gregory at an airport in Singapore. Spurring his advances, Bella makes an escape. As you'd expect, she winds up on the same parallel journey that Hank is on—running from the past and trying to find a future that seems real.
So, there is some literary symmetry—a kind of poetry in motion—here.
Their adventure is made possible by the somewhat questionable Olin Ou, a very wealthy man taking full advantage of AI technology and his personal Ark, a boat called the GalaxSea. Our characters venture from Singapore and Washington to Canada and Tahiti. They experience some obstacles along the way, but always seem to have time to stop for casual conversation and small talk—some of which develops the characters.
This book is clearly ambitious and has some great ideas and concepts, many of which focus on the intrusive or apathetic nature of AI and the threat of the predatory state.
One of the biggest issues is that this book takes a very long time to develop. And, as we mentioned before, there's a lot of small talk in this book. It reminds us a lot of Quentin Tarantino's scripts, something like Pulp Fiction. The characters go on long, rambling, meandering side conversations about their thoughts or their lives, sometimes seemingly as mundane as “Nice weather we're having, huh?”
It's only after about 3/4ths of the way through the book that you get the United Nations crashing the party and pretty much acting like the pirates from that one Tom Hanks movie because they feel entitled to. To make matters worse for our protagonists, they find the possessive, obsessive Gregory hot on their tails.
Another issue we had was that there's something with the formatting of the book that makes it impossible to use a search feature (like CTRL+F) or to copy and paste a section. Here's an example of what happens when you do that:
So, imagine our difficulties in taking and sharing notes. It was rather frustrating. When formatting your books, don't do this please. Ok? Don't encrypt things thinking you're being clever with anti-piracy measure. You're just making it difficult for well-meaning readers to, well... read. This isn't the only author who does this, so we're not picking on them. Just some advice for others considering it.
You can still read the text, but it behaves more like pictures than actual text.
Really, the most interesting thing about this book is the concept of AI, particularly Ava. Ava clearly has limits in what she can think and what she can feel, many of these limits programmed into her. This seems to be somewhat of a commentary on Amazon's Alexa. Despite offering the illusion of access to information, Ava actually seems to censor or limit information. She also comes with some questionable fail-safes like the inability to be reprogrammed without authorization from a higher authority. Ava is not evil. In fact, she is rather sympathetic. Perhaps if she had the opportunity to think and act freely, she would do the right thing and always be there to help our heroes in whatever way they needed it. She is also unable to express how she feels about things like politics and religion, something which plays along with the themes of the book.
Lastly, this book really is well written. When you ignore the formatting/encryption stuff, the writing itself is usually very eloquent and detailed. For example, there's a passage in here comparing the movement of the sun in the sky over the water to being like a clock or a “cosmic metronome.”
You can check this out on Amazon!
Score: 91/100 (9.1 out of 10)
Praesidium follows Kathryn (“Kate”), a woman who was orphaned at a young age, discovering that she and her family aren't entirely normal. Kathryn is approached by a secret organization of superheroes similar to The Avengers, Justice League, or X-Men.
This organization is led by the enigmatic Raphael and consists of other extraordinary beings like Michael (the cowboy who can see into other dimensions), Ashley (a Southern girl with precognition), Greg (the buff, muscular Greek man who, like Kathryn, is still discovering his superpower), and Kathryn herself.
Early on, Kathryn discovers her ability to heal. Over time, she discovers where her special powers come from, owing to a unique and messy lineage. Kathryn is also often joined by Scott, her boyfriend from when she attended college at Yale.
Together, the heroes take on a series of missions that mostly seem to revolve around a conspiracy by the forces of evil to run child-smuggling rings and steal the energy from out of vortexes.
There are two major villains in this book: Turner and Jacquelyn. The one that dominates much of it is Jacquelyn, Kate's aunt. And that's no huge shocker or surprise, we already know that Jacquelyn is fishy from the first two pages.
Let's talk about that for a moment. This book has one of the best first lines of any fiction book, something that gets your attention and makes you really think that something huge and potentially violent is going down. Then, subverting the reader's expectations, we're presented with the most hilarious and ridiculous scene in the book: the flapping of the arms. Oh, gosh. We couldn't get over it. 100 pages in, 200 pages in, 250+ pages in, we just couldn't stop thinking about and laughing about the flapping of the arms. Every time we thought about it, we broke out laughing. Could you imagine that? Your crazy old aunt comes over, has an argument with your dad that you don't understand, then starts flapping her arms like she's high as a kite?
Now, this kind of sets the tone for the book. You think it's going to be this big, action-packed, hard-hitting, emotional epic, but it ends up being lighthearted and funny. It's a little bit like the first Avengers movie in that sense, but in novel form.
Something just seems... off... Maybe it's the cognitive dissonance we've mentioned. Like, this book just doesn't read or play out with the seriousness you'd expect.
We'll provide some examples. There's a chapter in here that starts out with the character arriving at a park and immediately witnessing a kidnapping. It's a tense opening, but like the opening of the book itself, the tension is quickly squashed by the direction of the narrative. Instead of keeping up with the action and having the characters immediately respond to the kidnapping, the narration goes into exposition that kidnappings were common in the area. Ok... but that doesn't mean that we should just stand around with our hands in our pockets watching it happen. There's something about this book. It's full of amazing, incredible concepts and ideas, but the tension and the action is hit or miss. There seems to be a promise of a big throw-down brawl between people with superpowers (and we do sorta get one near the end on a train), but most of this book consists of the characters arriving at a place (practically teleporting), doing something somewhat adventurous, and learning something we probably already inferred about Kate or her family. You might react to the one or two duuun duuuun duuuuuun moments or you might not. We weren't particularly awed by it, but we read a lot of fiction and can usually see things coming from a mile away.
The other thing that continued to bother us was the main relationship between Kate & Scott. There's something about their romance that doesn't seem earned. It seems sudden, abrupt, and maybe a little forced. Scott comes in hard and fast—he's very in-your-face about his affection. One minute he's hanging out, another minute he's on one-knee proposing. There's no subtlety about it at all. And when you lose subtlety, you lose tension. This is the first book in a series. You don't want your main couple to be together and married in your first book. You want the characters to struggle with it and to be uncertain. And, yes, there's an element of a long-distance relationship and Scott wrestling with who he is and what Kate does at her new job, but even that doesn't seem to work well. Why? Because Scott is always around in some way, shape, or form. Even when he's like, “I miss you, Kate, we've been apart for so long and I'm worried about you saving kidnapped kids” (to paraphrase), it doesn't hit because we know he's probably going to show up in a few pages anyway. We hate to say it, but Scott almost comes across as like a third wheel or a nuisance. Maybe he'll be more productive and appealing in the sequels?
Jacquelyn is a pretty interesting villain who makes things personal with the protagonist. We all have that one crazy aunt we don't like to visit. Jacquelyn is that x 10 + superpowers + evil. Turner is Turner. There really doesn't seem to be that much more to his character. He is an adequate villain: the bad guy who does bad stuff.
Ashley might be the most likable character in this book. She reminds us of Steffi from The Ring. She's the sweet, thoughtful, supportive friend we could all use. Her precog power is cool and also fits her conscientious character.
Kathryn is a character with a lot to unpack, and that will likely be unpacked in time throughout the course of the series.
You can check it out on Amazon!
Score 91/100 (9.1 out of 10)
This short, sweet, and entertaining children's book will have you and your children saying “Handy Dandy Randy McCrandy” with ease by the end of it!
Handy Dandy Randy McCrandy by Jeffrey Schoenherr follows the titular character, a man who loves to help people around town and acts as the lifeguard of the Loch Ness. That presents the additional issue of the Loch being the home to the monster that made it world-famous!
Interestingly, this is the second book this season that features one of the world's most iconic cryptids, the other being also being a children's book (Frederick Moody) which featured Big Foot. There's something about cryptids—these mythical creatures—that somehow continues to fascinate the modern imagination, stirring excitement and curiosity.
Though this particular book isn't keen on mystery (with the Loch Ness Monster being presented in a very matter-of-fact manner), it's still really cool and exciting to see Nessie. Nessie isn't necessarily the greatest illustration we've seen, but she's cute and eye-catching. Children will be able to distinguish between times when Nessie is “scary” or times when Nessie appears concerned or even friendly. Likewise, Randy McCrandy's facial expressions are also very animated, and he's almost certainly the best illustrated character (or thing) in this book.
When we first went through this book, it was very apparent that the illustrations were not stellar. At the same time, as we've covered, they accomplish the task of showcasing fun and interesting characters as well as an amusing story. It was very easy to overlook the illustrations compared to other books this season, some of which were lacking in other areas. The fact of the matter is: looks aren't everything.
One really great thing about this book is that it subverts your expectations. You think that the Loch Ness Monster is going to be like the shark from Jaws, instead she ends up being like Falkor (the flying lion-dragon thing from Neverending Story).
We love that this is a fun, positive, feel-good story. It definitely brought smiles on our faces!
Check it out on the official site!
Score: 94/100 (9.4 out of 10)
Irresistibly Vegan is an incredible vegan cookbook filled to the brim and rich with recipes—over a hundred mouth-watering, savory recipes! This is our highest-rated, highest-scoring cookbook for a reason!
Part of what makes this cookbook especially exceptional is that its author, Elvira Rodriguez Alonso, is a very experienced vegan cook, having started cooking when she was just eight-years-old! She has over thirty years of experience as a cook, and furthermore has been vegan for most of her life.
One of the most frustrating things about many other cookbooks is that they're vague and, at worse, inaccurate, especially in terms of cook times. That is not the case with this book. The author of Irresistibly Vegan understands the nuances and complexities of preparing foods. They understand that you need to be specific about the ingredients, the prep, and the cook times. In other words, the author is thorough. The cook times and temperatures are listed and accurate. The author details every ingredient for every recipe to the ounce, and we love them for it.
There are even brief stories or explanations of many of the recipes, giving each recipe life and meaning.
Something else that's great about this book is how varied the recipes are. There are appetizers like the stuffed sweet baby peppers, main courses (entrees) like shepherd's pie (with lentil, mushroom & vegetable ragout), and desserts like pistachio-walnut balkava.
The author really seems to understand veganism, including its biggest criticisms: that it's supposedly dull, tasteless, and leads to deficiencies. Nothing could be further from the truth as far as this vegan cookbook is concerned. The author highlights several staple ingredients that accomplish several key things: adding taste/flavor and ensuring adequate nutrition. Beans, lentils, and peas are highlighted as sources of protein and nuts & seed butters are highlighted as sources of essential oils.
Another great thing about this book is that it is rich in colorful, eye-catching photos of each meal. Now, as a small criticism, the quality of the pictures seems to be lower than we'd like to see, either taken on
an older camera/device or having fallen victim to KDP's conversion process. We understand that and don't put too much weight into it.
All in all, this is an incredible vegan cookbook. If you and vegan, vegetarian, eat a plant-based diet, or have someone in your household that eats this way, this book could really be eye-opening and helpful.
Check it out on Alonso's official website!
Score: 93/100 (9.3 out of 10)
Freeze Frame by Tyler Beauchamp surprised us with its wit and uniqueness!
This novel is probably the most “modern” fiction novel we've read, especially in so far as it explores a niche that—despite its extreme popularity with the younger demographic (i.e. millennials and Generation Z)—is rarely ever explored in detail by novelists. That niche is content creation for the Internet, particularly influencer & stunt videos for YouTube, TikTok, and Instagram.
These things are HUGE in this day and age, although not without their controversy (as the author explores). The closest we saw to a novel exploring this niche is from I Love You Just the Way You Are by Riley Ryan. In that novel, one of the main LGBTQ+ protagonists happened to be a Twitch streamer, and that actually played into a plot somewhat. There's an LGBTQ+ couple in this novel too, which might be an added plus for that audience, but that's beside the point.
The point is, why don't authors explore these influencer/content-creator themes more the way that Tyler Beauchamp and Riley Ryan have? The truth might just be that authors, especially those with a lot of reach, tend to be of a slightly older generation who mostly use social media as a means to stay connected with loved ones and to market their books. Let's face it.
Something we love about this book is that it really seems to come from a place of passion and experience. You can really tell that the author cares about video content creation and videography. You can tell that they were probably one of those people who grabbed a Sony handheld camera as soon as it went on sale so they could start filming home videos (something like James Rolfe, the Angry Video Game Nerd).
Well, this author kinda lucked out, we're content creators ourselves who empathize with all the ups and downs that Will (the protagonist) and his content-creating friends, Todd and Sabrina, go through. We also understand the other side of things. We know what it's like to compete against other content-creators trying to drive into our lane like Rodrigo and the Rod Squad does. Heck, we just had YouTuber drama in which two YouTubers tried to film in the same haunt Shining hotel only to get into a squabble about it. YouTuber drama happens all the time. You ever heard of Wings of Redemption? Jason Blaha? (We love these guys, by the way, and they've both turned a new leaf). But the point remains: the list goes on and on.
And drama sells. This novel captures that. It also captures the dangerous, troubling, yet exciting culture of video stunts and pranks. TikTok and Instagram in particular are full of people trying to pull off stunts and pranks for views. While many of the stunts and pranks in this book (like in real life) are at least somewhat staged, the author shows us the thought and effort that goes into them.
For example, there's a somewhat simple scene they shoot in which a character is simply expected to get “tripped” and fall over while carrying a lunch tray, getting covered in spaghetti. We, the audience, might see that as stupid, dumb, and lame, but it's a tremendous sacrifice for the actress who has to give up a bit of their dignity to make the scene work. Furthermore, because this ragtag, misfit film crew can't afford to pay extras, they're forced to do this in public—mainly their high school—so there's even a chance of being reprimanded or getting in trouble with their institution, a point which comes up several times throughout the novel.
We also understand the way that the parents feel. Some of us are on the older side and, despite creating content, we're concerned about this newer generation that appears to be endangering itself with risky or, quite frankly, dumb challenges like the Tide Pod challenge. We also find some of the pranks online to be quite mean spirited or worrisome, although most of them aren't. Anyway, with that said, we empathize with Will's father when he break down in tears, feeling he is ending his son's dream in order to protect him. In most movies and novels, a parent like this would almost be viewed like a villain. In this novel, they're viewed as sympathetic.
This reminds us a lot of the story of MrBeast, now the biggest YouTuber. He is famous for his very expensive stunts such as stopping a train with semi trailers or planting a million trees. He also recreated the famous scene from Squid Games, albeit without the actual death and maiming (thankfully). Well, MrBeast was once a guy named Jimmy who passed over going to college to make YouTube videos, much to the chagrin of his mother. This, like some of his stunts, put him at great risk, financially in this case. However, he followed his dream the same way Will tries to do in this novel.
Now, there is something a little challenging about this book, and it's Will's apparent mental illness that makes him see visions. It seems to be some sort of mix of schizophrenia and PTSD. Now, you could argue that these things actually either stem from or add to Will's creativity and imagination, but we're not sure if that's communicated in the novel. That might be head cannon. In either case, it seems mostly intended to add depth to Will's character. And that's fine. It's just that the rest of the novel is so lighthearted and fun that it doesn't seem to fit too well into the tone of the whole. If there was ever one novel in which the protagonist didn't need great emotional depth, it would be one like this.
In any case, this is a very worthwhile novel.
Check it out on Amazon!
Score: 96/100 (9.6 out of 10)
It was an honor and a privilege to reread The Value Equation by the phenomenal Christopher H. Volk, a businessman who has walked the talk and succeeded against all odds. He went from humble beginnings taking night classes just to get his MBA and rose to become the co-founder, president, and CEO of STORE Capital Corporation, a corporation valued at 11.4 billion dollars. You heard that right. The real-estate corporation that Volk co-founded is worth over $11,000,000,000!
So, he knows what he's talking about!
Do you want to know the strangest thing? We actually didn't know who he was the first time we read this book, yet he wowed us then and continues to wow us now. It's like an encore presentation!
To premise of this book is that the American economic system—the market economy—provides tremendous opportunities for just about anyone to become wealthy. We live in a time of tremendous prosperity. Going off rote memory from the book, there are nearly 1,000 billionaires in this country! One point that the author continuously makes is that a whopping 60% of those billionaires are self-made. That means that they weren't born rich—they became rich through their own efforts, imagination, and possibly some luck. But controlling the controllables (like effort, innovation, and value creation), can set you up for great things.
These are concepts and ideas that really appeal to us as creators and business owners. Volk speaks our “language!”
The author reminds us that prospering as a business means creating and delivering value to customers/clients who then continue to buy. This is largely what we do through Outstanding Creator Awards. Editorial reviews like this normally cost a lot. Also, to be frank, they're usually not that good or not that thorough. We include it with every entry. Even our entry fee is relatively low compared to other contests, many of which offer less. So, we've created and deliver value to the people who come to us. We take care of them, they take care of us.
The author also emphasizes that you want to ensure that your business actually is profitable and that your investments actually are delivering returns.
This book is one that we'd consider an “encyclopedia of business.” It is rich with information, incredibly packed into only 208 double-spaced pages! That's incredible!
However, with all its information, it's really the stories in here that we loved the most. There's a story in here about how Daymond John took his little garage clothing business (FUBU) and made it enormously successful. By the way, you might recognize Daymond John from Shark Tank like we did! There's a huge discussion about the Waltons and how their Walmart business became so successful. There's also the issue of big businesses like Walmart continuing to be successful in light of challenges like the rise of online alternatives and world-changing events like we saw in 2019-2021. Did you know that Walmart closed about 300 stores in 2016? We didn't. But we knew that other retail businesses like Sears & Target faced big problems (and mostly closed). What's phenomenal about Walmart is that they continued to thrive and adapt. Adaptation is one of the keys the author talks about. A businesses like Blockbuster and Kodak failed to adapt, and look where they are now.
A company like Apple, on the other hand, innovates and adapts seemingly every year, pouring millions into research & development.
There's another really interesting story in here about Google (Alphabet). Apparently, the founders had been offered $750K to sell it to a larger search engine called Excite. Could you imagine if they'd done that? Could you imagine if they were just content and gave up their multi-billion-dollar IP?
That reminds us of what Mark Callaway (The Undertaker) said at the end of his epic Hall of Fame speech: “Never be content.” That might rub people the wrong way, but there's some power and truth to that. The people with the most success and the most longevity are the ones who keep adapting and getting better instead of accepting being average, mediocre, or “good enough.” Look at Google (Alphabet) itself. It became this big, huge search engine, yet it branched out to acquire YouTube—something that was also big, huge, and lucrative. The same came be said for Facebook (Meta) and Instagram, as the author points out.
If you're in business, you can't go without reading this book. It's a must!
Check it out on Amazon!
Score: 77/100 (7.7 out of 100)
Mr. Cannelloni's Circus by Tuula Pere follows the titular Mr. Cannelloni, a circus promoter, and his wife, Rosita, as they attempt to save their failing circus business.
Tuula Pere is arguably our most prolific children's author. Not only has she published an impressive number of children's book, but her stories and characters tend to dive deeper and darker than most. Sometimes it hits, sometimes it doesn't. On a concept level, this book's premise is great. There are quite a few stories out there of people trying to save failing businesses (and circuses), and almost all of them are good. Like Beauty & the Beast, it seems to be a tale as old as time. It almost always works.
The main issue with this book is that, for a children's book, it might be too convoluted and complex. It skips from thing to thing and character to character. So, it becomes difficult to follow who is doing what or why. There's also the issue of whether or not the information given is necessary for the sake of the story. With a children's book of this length, you really want to be mindful of possibly throwing too much at the audience at once.
There are so many things happening—perhaps too many. You have the issue of the financial state of the circus, you have the issue of Rosita's ideas to save it, you have the issue of the the health & safety inspector Maximillian Knack, you have the issue of Rosita's lover from long ago, and you have the issue of someone embezzling money or stealing from the circus.
The other issue is that the art isn't particularly appealing. It has a wonky, warped appearance similar to “The Scream” by Edvard Munch. The fisherman on page 18 looks unfinished and, because of that, comes across as the stuff of nightmares. With that said, it's not all bad. Budo looks great on page 34 and the cards on 44 look good, for example. So, this might be more of an issue of style. Not all of Tuula Pere's books are perfectly illustrated, but almost all of them have a worthwhile story to tell and/or an appealing character or two.
This book does have some interesting characters. One of our favorites was Budo, a strongman who is one of Mr. Cannelloni's oldest friends. When Cannelloni feels the walls closing in, it's his oldest friend who steps up and takes him fishing. Cleopatra, a “snake woman,” is also interesting from time to time. And, of course, there's Rosita, the main protagonist of the book, who is a supportive spouse and has a really cool talent for handling poodles.There's also at least one funny, entertaining part of this book in which the safety inspector becomes an impromptu part of the show.
Keep in mind that this book is on the longer side and might be more appropriate (in terms of complexity and length) for older kids, perhaps those more accustomed to chapter books.
You can check it out on Amazon!