Fantasy, Fiction, Mystery, Non Fiction, Self-Help

Week 1, January 1st, 2024

Posted by Max Bellmann

January 2024 is off to a blazing start with new reads, reviews, and thoughts. And with 2024 comes a new format, weekly updates for whatever I was able to finish in that week. Will also be focusing a lot more on the actual website, layout, design moving forward (which will require a lot of learning on my end… as my detailed website building expertise relys mostly from high school – 20+ years ago, yikes!).

For the first week of 2024, we have quite the bevy of book titles.

  • Dare to Lead by Brené Brown
  • The Woman in Cabin 10, by Ruth Ware
  • Think Again, by Adam Grant
  • The JOLT Effect, by Matthew Dixon & Ted McKenna
  • The Blade Itself, by Joe Abercombie
  • The Time of Contempt, by Andrzej Sapkowski

Yes, that is 6 books under the belt for week 1. Overachiever I know. Going forward, I’ll do less summary of the books and more my thoughts and/or key concepts or points I want to call out. So, without further ado…

Dare to Lead, by Brené Brown

This was my first foray into the cult of Brené Brown. I’ve been aware of her for some time without having ever read anything of hers or really understanding what she’s all about. And I jumped right in. Is this the best place to start with her body of work? I don’t believe it is, as she has quite the body of work prior to Dare to Lead. And my first, and really only issue with that is… she lets you know about her other works. Like, a LOT. I counted at least 12 instances of self-promotion for her other books. I can’t blame her for this, but it got old pretty quickly.

That said, as a business professional by day, I did find some of her advice quite helpful. For starters, when presenting, try to remember that everyone you’re talking to – regardless of stature, rank, position, etc. – that they are just people. They all have regular lives, kids, jobs, hobbies, fears, and more. They are just humans. And while NOT her advice, makes me think of the parallel… everybody poops. Good thoughts to level set the playing field.

She mentions that in business, we often avoid the tough conversations and that is hurting everyone. And we take less risks with radical ideas. No major leaps in technology, process, or life are made without radical ideas and new thinking. We also, generally speaking, have less empanty. It’s good to remind yourself that vulnerability is not a weakness. And that failure is a good and necessary part of life (and business). As part of that, one should attempt to embrance the suck (or eat the frog).

She also calls out how emotions are OK, but certain actions tied to said emotions may not be. Don’t judge someone for how they are feeling… though one might judge with what they do with those emotions. She also mentions how one should have a weak front and strong back, rather than a strong front and weak back. That is, let things in but understand your own convictions and guiding principles.

We also should not celebrate the over workers. The opposite of play is not work, it’s depression (which isn’t funny, but did make me laugh). I happen to agree.

There is also a lot of talk about shame, a feeling we all have (perhaps all too often). That isn’t a bad thing, but we must learn to own it. Perhaps the shame of getting fired when you have your first child on the way (which hit home particulaly hard). The more you ignore shame the more power it has. Everyone has shame… or you are a sociopath (another good laugh).

Leaders should be vulnerable and open to sharing personal stories. People don’t care what you are talking about, unless YOU care what you are talking about. And with your guiding values, you should really hone in on the two that apply to you most. Any more and things gets lost in the weeds. Anything more should support your 2 core values. I also quite liked this. My personal favorite core value (and possibly over-used by many, myself included) is integrity. She had a great quote that “Integrity is choosing what’s right over what’s fun, fast or easy. Practicing your values is what’s important, not just professing them.”

And she also brought another great point on trust. Trust is built slowly but lost quickly. Fair to keep in my across business AND life.

All in, a solid read but not my favorite. Too much self-promotion and not enough new ideas (though did rehash some good old ones). Will I read more of her work? Hard to say. I can’t say I’m now a devout follower of Brown, but nor am I a hater.

The Woman in Cabin 10

Read this one on a whim. Listed as a murder mystery was all I needed to hear. A solid story of Laura (Lo), a travel writer who experienced a recent home burglary, goes on a small Norweigan cruise only to get unintentionally involved in a possible murder/missing person and a nice who-dunnit (or was it even done in the first place!?!).

I’m a sucker for these types of reads, and of course, never am Sherlock Holmes’y enough to crack the case before the big secret reveal. This had a pretty excellent twist to it, and certainly had me guessing throughout. Frankly, I wasn’t sure how things were going to end for Lo herself. Will she survive herself, is she crazy, and of course, what really happened?

I haven’t read anything by Ruth Ware before, but I’ll be looking into her more as this was a really fun read and certainly would recommend to anyone that is a fan of the murder mystery genre.

Think Again

This was my first Adam Grant read. Much like Brené Brown, Grant has quite the body of work and quite the cult following. Unlike my personal thoughts for Brown, I can likely, already, call myself a cult follower of Grant. I should have perhaps done some research before jumping randomly in and started with some of his earlier work, but Think Again was a fabulous book with lots of good insights – both old AND new.

A lot focuses on one’s need not to think and learn, but re-think and re-learn. A skill many adults fail to maintain past childhood. Basically, getting stuck in our old ways of thinking, our comfort zones, preferences, likes/dislikes, and so forth. He calls that the First Instinct Fallacy (hanging on to old views). Which I suppose we are all prone to do. But should consider the comfort of conviction vs. the fear of doubt.

He mentions how scientific thinking should be applied more often in our non-scientific decision/thought processes. Having the ability to pivot and change as hypotheses are tested.

Random thought, really liked the note about how Alan Greenspan had invested with Bernie Madoff while he was also writing a book about how not to get duped. Isn’t it ironic. Don’t you think?

A few other key points from Think Again:

  • The smarter one is, the harder it is to see one’s flaws.
  • It’s important to know what we don’t know.
  • The more you know, the less you probably really know (aka the Dunning Kruger Effect).
  • Over confidence is a problem. Being blind to your own blindness. If we THINK we know, we feel as though we don’t need to reconsider, rethink, or reinvest. Why learn more if we already know everything?
  • One needs confidence AND humility.
  • The goal isn’t to be wrong, it’s to realize we are wrong much more than we think we are right.
  • Don’t fool yourself. You are the easiest person to fool.
  • The more we can make fun of ourselves, the happier we are.
  • People who are right a lot, are wrong a lot. -Jeff Bezoz
  • The more points one has to an argument, the easier it is for your “opponent” to focus on the weakest one and shoot you down. (really liked this).
  • Arguments shouldn’t be about winning or losing, but approached as if it were a dance… with the ability to side step as a potential option.
  • Discrimination limits.
  • Unlearning is good, especially for children. Reject rank and popularity as a sole means for trust.
  • Active learning vs. lecturing. (the former appears to provide greater impact, generally speaking).
  • Best practices vs. better practices. Stagnant vs. continued improvement.
  • The escalation of commitment (much like sunk cost).
  • The more you value happiness the less happy you’ll be. You’ll push for more pleasure (short-term). It’s actions, not surrounding, that have bigger impacts on happiness.

Definitely a good read. I’ll certainly be going back to the well of Adam Grant and consuming, likely, all his other works. I just have to get past the pesky wait times from the library hold list.

The JOLT Effect

A solid book for anyone in the sales profession. If you are not in sales, you can certainly skip this read. But quite fascinating how they break down the 2 major parts of a sale – the decision and the indecision – and how the latter, the indecision actually leads to more losses than the former.

I won’t break down all the steps, but can definitely say that the principles in this book will get put to use in my professional life as a healthcare sales professional. This would be a 5 star book for me IF the last 50 pages didn’t go off topic – they breakdown how to build yoru own AI data model to collect intelligence from sales calls (something I have no personal use for). But the first 3/4 of the book provide really good insight on how to approach complex sales, things to look out for, how to avoid, how to address, and ultimately how to maximize your selling potential. Love it. Mo Money Mo Problems.

The Blade Itself

This was actually my 2nd time reading this book, and my first time rereading a book (at least in recent memory). The first go-round was via audio book and I didn’t quite follow the story as well as I would’ve liked, especially for a story that is universally loved by anyone a fan of fantasy. Round 2 I decided to tackle old school paperback style, and make sure to take copious notes to follow along closely.

All in, a great read. And I already own the remaining 2 books in the trilogy which will be tackled immediately. A killer story as told from several points of view:

  • Logen Ninefingers/The Bloody Nine – a, you guessed it, nine-fingered barbarian who joins a wild Magi, Bayaz on a quest to… well I honestly don’t know yet!
  • Inquisitor Glokta – a crippled ex-military hero now a broken torturer, but with a sharp and cunning mind
  • Jezel dan Luther – the playboy rich son of a nobleman who decides to try to become a fencing champion and climb the ranks of the Union hierarchy
  • Ferro Maljinn – an ex-slave hell bent on revenge
  • The old crew of Logen’s – a ragtag group of Northmen running from death at nearly every corner

This story is so intricate and intertwining. I loved this story from all angles (though admit the start of Jezel’s arc is my least favorite, and always wanted more Logen). Glokta is a fabulous character and I really can’t tell where his story (or frankly any of our heroes) will go.

An absolute must read for fans of fantasy. The hype around Joe Abercombie is legit. I’m pumped to finish The First Law Trilogy, and then promptly explore his other works. A perfect book in what I hope will be a perfect trilogy.

The Time of Contempt

Officially book 2 in the Witcher universe, after Blood of Elves – not counting the collections of short stories from The Last Wish or Sword of Destiny. I much prefer the normal story arc of the regular novels – Blood of Elves and now The Time of Contempt.

While I WAS a fan of the Netflix Witcher series, I gave up after season 2 and it appears The Time of Contempt is pretty much what they attempted to film for Season 3.

While it is tough to follow all the dynamics of the various Kings, cities, clans, guilds, and races… the arc of Geralt, Ciri, and Yennefer is a wild ride in this book. We get snippets of the Wild Hunt, which I’m really excited to hear more of given my love for the Witcher 3 video game.

Ciri has learned a lot while a Kaer Morhen and gets ample opportunities to showcase her Witcher-esque skills throughout this story. Geralt and Yennefer’s love story blossoms (awww). And there is a bevy cast of supporting characters with all kinds of conflicting motives – Rience, Dykstra, Philipa, Foltest, Triss, Vilgefortz… the Rats.

I’m loving how this world continues to build and expand, though sadly miss the monster hunter stories for Geralt. I feel like that is a major part of who he is… though understand how various monster fights may not weave directly into the narrative of the novels and might be more side-questy… but still. Could use more monsters.

The Witcher rules. I’ll for sure read all of the remaining books in the series, and maybe one day get back on the horse and finish The Wild Hunt 3 (which I’ve attempted 2x and never fully finished).

Toss a Coin!


A big week indeed. Safe to assume future weeks won’t be so complex or accomplished. But here we are. Hopefully I can dial in this new format and create something that is worth reading, reviewing, or at least looking at for more than 2 seconds. We shall see. For now I’ll submit this into the void.

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