Business Model Generation by Alexander Osterwalder & Yves Pigneur

Rating: *** (3 out of 5)

Review: A book on business model innovation and how important that is for businesses n today’s economic and technological climate.

I was torn between giving this book 3 or 4 stars. On one hand, it’s a visually beautiful book which introduces some thought-provoking and useful tools, like the Business Model Canvas. On the other hand, for most subsequent chapters I felt like I was reading the same thing over and over again, with slight changes in the details. In the end, it was useful but not as informative as I would like it to be.

Still, it’s a good book for beginners, and a gorgeous one at that, and one can’t help getting caught up in the genuine excitement the authors seem to have for business model innovation.

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Moab is My Washpot by Stephen Fry

Rating: **** (4 out of 5)

Review: I am ambivalent about this book. On one hand it is an extremely well-written account of Mr. Fry’s early life and old-style English education, that manages to be both extremely funny and tragic in its sincerity. On the other hand, the author goes off on tangents a lot, and his love for words meant that his writing was either beautiful and poignant or rather painful to read.

Still, I don’t think I’ve ever seen such an honest and spot-on account of what it feels like to be a child, or rather, how it felt to be a child for me. Of course my life was completely different from Mr. Fry’s (being a girl, from another country and thirty years younger) but I recognized the feelings of shame, humiliation, inadequacy, fierce love, confusion, the need to be brilliant and at the same time wanting to fit in… The looking back at our former selves and to try and understand the completely different person I was. It’s amazing how absolutely honest he manages to be, and how he finds the right words to translate highly complex situations and feelings to paper.

I look forward to reading “The Fry Chronicles”, as I’m pretty sure the best part is still to come.

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

Rating: ***** (5 out of 5)

Review: Warning: SPOILERS AHEAD.

I admit, this book surprised me. It didn’t leave me feeling pleasant, or hopeful, or happy. It’s by no means a happy ending, and I understand now all those bad reviews I’d seen on Goodreads (I didn’t read them before to avoid spoilers, but couldn’t help looking at the number of stars). Honestly, the only complaint you can have about this book is that it’s too realistic. In real life, not everyone who is important to you gets away unhurt. Wonderful, talented and special people die everyday in the most useless, worthless kinds of ways. People try to control you, and succeed, in a myriad of ways, specially if you happen to be important or famous. Sometimes there is no way to break free without causing even more damage to others and yourself. And in real life, war never leads to happy endings. That’s just the way it is. It’s complicated, this life thing.

And Katniss? I admit she annoyed me in the other books, but on this one, she is so fleshed out that she becomes one of the most realistic characters I’ve ever read about. I’ve seen people complain she is whiny and can’t seem to do anything without being pushed to do it. But let’s face it. She’s a sixteen year-old girl. A teenager. She’s still growing up and hasn’t had time to learn how to deal with anything she’s been through. And she goes through a lot. It’s all very nice and well to complain about her, but how many of you would go even through a fraction of what she did and come out ok? Make an effort to imagine it, to feel it. What kind of person would you be if you had lost a parent and gone hungry with a depressed mother at the age of 11? If you had been forced to kill other teenagers at the age of 16 for the pleasure of others? If you had seen your city reduced to rubble? If you had had your body burned by acid, pierced by arrows, etc.? If you had seen your friends beaten to a pulp while trying to protect you? If you had seen all your efforts to wrestle back control of your life thwarted by people with more power than you, who seem to control the fate of everyone around you? I could go on, but really? At sixteen, there’s no way you can deal with it and come out unscathed. Hell, maybe not even as an adult, but definitely not while you’re still trying to figure out who you are.

So even though this book was rather painful to read, it was one of the most honest and raw accounts of first-hand war (even a futuristic one) I’ve read in fiction. Highly recommended.

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

Rating: **** (4 out of 5)

Review: Warning: Contains spoilers for the first book.

After managing to win the Hunger Games, save Peeta’s life and strike a symbolic blow to the Capitol’s totalitarian strength, Katniss returns home a victor, rich beyond anything she ever needed and more damaged than before. As the story progresses, she begins to realize the implications of her actions go far beyond herself, Peeta and their families, and that she unwittingly started a rebellion in the Districts against the Capitol. What will the all-powerful President Snow do to quell the flames of revolution, and can Katniss do anything to save herself, her loved ones and the Districts?

This was a great read. Suzanne Collins’ writing kept me glued to the pages, even if the story was a bit predictable – for me, at least. I could pretty much see all the twists coming, even though Katniss herself seemed totally oblivious to all the signs around her. That’s the only thing about the book that irked me – Katniss is at times absolutely annoying and you wish you could reach into the book and slap some sense into her. She needs to be told absolutely everything as she can’t seem to put two and two together, ever, or when she does try she reaches the most ridiculous conclusions. It gets a little better toward half-way through the book, and she has her heart in the right place, I guess; but I still liked practically all the other characters better than her.

Still, this is an interesting story that touches upon many political and social issues that are relevant nowadays. And the ending left such an impression on me that I started reading the third book right away. Let’s see how this plays out!

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick

Rating: ***** (5 out of 5)

Review: I’ve seen many movies that were inspired by Philip K. Dick’s stories, but had never actually read one of them. That will definitely change now that I’ve read this book. Once I finished I immediately felt like getting into another story like this, one that defies and faces the future and presents its possibilities in a chillingly believable way.

It’s sometime in the future and Earth has been ravaged by nuclear war. The animals are all but extinct, and most humans have emigrated to other worlds to escape the radioactive air that eats away at them and turns them into “specials” (aka, degenerates). Androids that are virtually indistinguishable from humans are made for slave labour, despised and given no rights because they are machines, even though they are programmed to act and “feel” like human beings. The only thing they cannot feel is empathy, which has become so important that a religion has been founded on it. Humans are empathic to each other, and specially animals – everyone is expected to care for a real animal, but those who cannot afford it buy an electric replica. Yet this empathy isn’t extended to androids, who are promptly killed if they escape the colonies and try to come to Earth. This job is done by the bounty hunters.

So that’s the story. But this book delves deep into many issues. What is empathy, and why do humans show it to each other and to animals (and even to electric animals!) but not to electric humans, aka androids? What’s the difference between a human brain and a brain programmed to work like a human’s? What is a human being, then?

This is an amazing book, one I can hardly believe was written so long ago. I recommend it to everyone.

The Boys Vol.1: The Name of the Game by Garth Ennis

Rating: *** (3 out of 5)

Review: That was… Interesting, I suppose.

A story about a CIA-backed brigade of people who are supposed to keep superheroes in check, because apparently all superheroes are vicious, murderous rapists, and just all-around horrible human beings. And the only way to fight them is to get an equally vicious group of regular humans who hate them, give them a compound that effectively turns them into superheroes as well (the irony of the situation!), and unleash them upon the “supes” to remind them who’s boss.

I guess I just don’t see the appeal of extremely gratuitous revenge stories like this, where most of the characters end up acting like caricatures of themselves, with only a couple of them being believably human. I’ll still read the second volume to see if it gets any better, as some of the characters have potential… But I’m not keeping my hopes up.

American Vampire Vol.1 by Scott Snyder

Rating: **** (4 out of 5)

Review: “American Vampire” follows the appearance of a new breed of vampire, an “evolution” that happens when the vampires from Europe travel to America to further their wealth, and one of them accidentally turns a local criminal. This new breed is a little different – they can walk in the sun, are immune to wood, their strength wanes during the new moon… The story follows Skinner Sweet, the first American vampire, from the wild west to 1920s Los Angeles, where we also meet Pearl Jones, an aspiring young actress. It was written by Scott Snyder and Stephen King, and illustrated by Rafael Albuquerque.

It’s strange to see all the blurbs and comments saying that this is an original portrayal of vampires. While it’s nice to get a break from all the stories where vampires are just bad boys with feelings, I wouldn’t consider this an entirely new approach, but instead a return to how things should be. These vampires are vicious, vengeful and violent, but still manage to be strangely charming.

The story is compelling and the artwork, gritty and rough, lends itself well to the book’s atmosphere. The dialogues sometimes felt flat to me, specially when it involved the Old World vampires, who seemed rather corny and cliche. Still, this was an enjoyable read and I’ll be looking forward to the next volume.