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Blog: #recent-reads

Leadership, by Doris Kearns Goodwin (2018). Loved it. So, so good. It’s a study of leadership (no surprise there) through looking at the lives and presidencies of Abraham Lincoln (depression, emancipation), Theodore Roosevelt (loss of mother and wife, coal strike), Franklin D. Roosevelt (paralysis, New Deal), and Lyndon B. Johnson (Senate loss, civil rights). I ate it up. Looking forward to reading more biographies of world leaders; recommendations welcome.

While not entirely unexpected, it was still sad to read that all four men died fairly young — fifty-six (Lincoln), sixty (Teddy), sixty-three (FDR), and sixty-four (LBJ). (Sometime in the last decade, by the way, my sense of what ages are “old” jumped from the sixties up to the eighties.)


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The Devil You Know, by K. J. Parker (2016). Novella. In the same vein as some of his other novellas — in fact, for the first twenty pages I wasn’t sure if I’d already read it without realizing it. Even so, I enjoyed it. The worldbuilding is right up my alley and there were some fun twists.


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Sex Educated: Letters from a Latter-day Saint Therapist to Her Younger Self, by Bonnie Young (2023). It was good! Part of me wishes it had been longer — I read it in a single sitting — but short isn’t bad. (Says the guy constitutionally incapable of writing a long book review.) There’s level-headed wisdom here. I feel that the book is a good, solid step toward helping our relationship with sex (as members of the Church) be more healthy.


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Three Parts Dead, by Max Gladstone (2012). First in the Craft sequence. I liked the legal aspect (and rather wish there were a lot more of it), the magic system was interesting, and I felt that the conclusion pulled all the threads together nicely. Intriguing worldbuilding, too.


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Let’s Talk about Race and Priesthood, by W. Paul Reeve (2023). I think every member of the Church should read this book. It’s important. And heartbreaking. I am very, very glad that we made it through to this side of the racial restriction. The book has a lot of details I’d never heard before on how the restriction came about and evolved over time. Highly recommended.


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Booknotes 2.10

Nonfiction

  • Breath, by James Nestor. I found this fascinating. Had no idea mouthbreathing was so bad, or that people naturally had straight teeth up until a few hundred years ago. Some parts were harder to believe than others — fixing scoliosis with breathing techniques, staying warm in very cold temperatures by breathing differently — but overall it was an interesting book. Worth reading.
  • Spelunky, by Derek Yu, about the development of the titular game. Fun read, enjoyed it a lot. Made me want to write a roguelike.

Fiction

  • Whalefall, by Daniel Kraus. Read it for book group. Whew. Intense and a bit uncomfortable. Lots of concrete detail, though, and I learned a lot about scuba diving and whale anatomy, and the character work was good.
  • Down Among the Sticks and Bones, by Seanan McGuire. Novella. Crackling with danger and a lovely dark fairy tale atmosphere. There were some parts I didn’t like, but the rest was good. It’s been long enough that I’d completely forgotten that these characters were in the first Wayward Children novella as well. Interested to see where the series goes.

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Booknotes 2.9

Nonfiction

  • How Big Things Get Done, by Bent Flyvbjerg and Dan Gardner. This was good. Lots of food for thought here; I’ve been thinking about how to apply these concepts to my day job as a software engineer but also to writing novels, particularly the “think slow, act fast” idea. Speaking of the day job, it was fun to see Planet Labs get a mention in the section on modularity.
  • Eve Bites Back, by Anna Beer, about the lives and achievements of eight women writers: Julian of Norwich, Margery Kempe, Aemilia Lanyer, Anne Bradstreet, Aphra Behn, Mary Wortley Montagu, Jane Austen, and Mary Elizabeth Braddon. Liked it, especially learning about those I’d never heard of. (Like Jane Austen.) (I jest.)

Fiction

  • In the Woods, by Tana French. First book in the Dublin Murder Squad series. I had this one checked out years ago but never got to it. Picked it up again after seeing a positive review of it recently, and I’m glad I did! Really liked it. Page turner, great writing. I haven’t been reading all that many mysteries these days, but I’m looking forward to reading the rest of French’s oeuvre.
  • Blood Over Bright Haven, by M. L. Wang. So good. Liked it even more than The Sword of Kaigen. It tied together several threads that I like seeing in fantasy novels: history of science (people doing research), dark academia, magic that’s loosely like programming, and activism against sexism and racism.
  • The Gone World, by Tom Sweterlitsch. While the science fiction ideas were quite interesting, the book was a bit too dark for me. Not entirely sure why. Still a compelling page turner, though.

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Booknotes 2.8

Nonfiction

  • Indigenous Continent, by Pekka Hämäläinen, an important and fascinating history of North America that shows how much control Indigenous peoples retained over four hundred years of European colonization. Learned a lot — so much I didn’t know. More people should read this. Also: so much bloodshed. I wish it all hadn’t happened that way.
  • When the Heavens Went on Sale, by Ashlee Vance, about the new space economy. Loved it! Utterly enthralling for this (admittedly occasional) space nerd. The Planet Labs section was particularly fun to read, since I now work there, but I also really enjoyed the rest of the book. Recommended if you like reading about people building things or about space.

Fiction

  • The Will of the Many, by James Islington. Oh my goodness, I loved this. A lot. One of my favorite fantasy reads in a while. Really liked the Roman-inspired setting (similar to some of K. J. Parker’s work), even if some of the faux-Latin declensions were wrong. And the twists at the very end! Very much looking forward to the future books in the series, and also to going back and reading his Licanius trilogy even if it isn’t as good. Also, when I came across scoff (in the context of scoffing down food), I totally thought it was a misspelling of scarf. Then I googled it and, well, I was wrong. Ha.
  • The Black God’s Drums, by P. Djèlí Clark. Novella. Really liked the world and characters. I don’t think the ending worked as well for me — the solution didn’t feel as earned as I wanted it to — but I think I’m being overly picky here.

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Booknotes 2.7

Nonfiction

  • The Tipping Point, by Malcolm Gladwell. Read it for book club. I found it so-so — there were some interesting bits, but the overall thesis didn’t really convince me. I love popular science when it’s done well, though.
  • No Filter, by Sarah Frier. A fascinating history of Instagram the company. Seemed fairly well balanced. Interesting being in the middle of reading it when Threads was released. (I like that Instagram is better designed than Facebook, but in general I wish I never had to use either again. Much prefer just posting things here. Maybe one of these days I’ll jump off the bandwagon for good.)

Fiction

  • Stargazy Pie, by Victoria Goddard. Liked it, and planning to read the rest of the series (along with the rest of Goddard’s swiftly expanding collection of books). Somewhat darker than I expected after reading The Hands of the Emperor, but still cozyish.
  • Yellowface, by R. F. Kuang. Pretty quick read. It felt sort of like a literary thriller and sort of like watching a train wreck in slow motion. (Meaning the character’s choices, not that the book was poorly written, because it wasn’t.) Also, I love pandan! Planning to get some extract so I can try pandan pancakes…though hopefully not with the same outcome as what happens in the book.

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Booknotes 2.6

Nonfiction

  • Draft No. 4, by John McPhee, on writing nonfiction. I hadn’t read anything of his before this. Mostly enjoyed it. The Kedit section interested me a lot. And this was fun: “The planet, of course, is covered with demonyms, and after scouring the world in conversations on this topic with Mary Norris I began a severely selective, highly subjective A-list, extending Mancunian and Vallisoletano through thirty-five others at this writing, including Wulfrunian (Wolverhampton), Novocastrian (Newcastle), Trifluvian (Trois-Rivières), Leodensian (Leeds), Minneapolitan (Minneapolis), Hartlepudlian (Hartlepool), Liverpudlian (you knew it), Haligonian (Halifax), Varsovian (Warsaw), Providentian (Providence), and Tridentine (Trent).”
  • Convictions, by John Kroger, about life as a federal prosecutor (an AUSA, more specifically). Really liked it, especially the mafia, 9/11, and Enron parts. Parts of it kind of made me wish that I’d gone to law school. Apparently I really like legal nonfiction. (Less so the illegal stuff, har har.)

Fiction

  • All This Will be Yours, by Adrian Tchaikovsky. Novella about time travel. It’s fairly silly, but there were some interesting ideas, which I think is largely why I read Tchaikovsky. At some point I need to go back and finish the Children of Time series.
  • The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. A reread, for book group. Loved it just as much if not more this time round. So, so good. Epistolary fiction is my jam.

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