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Booknotes 3.7

Nonfiction

  • Becoming, by Michelle Obama (2018). So good. Loved it. Very human and down to earth, and an enjoyable read throughout. Easily one of my favorites this year.
  • No Ordinary Assignment, by Jane Ferguson (2023). Also really good, though more harrowing in places (the Yazidi genocide, etc.). A strong reminder of why journalism is important — and of how awful war is.

Fiction

  • And Put Away Childish Things, by Adrian Tchaikovsky (2023, fantasy). Grown-up Narnia of sorts, set during Covid. Really liked the first half, less sure about the second half. Read it in a single day.
  • Lone Women, by Victor LaValle (2023, horror). I don’t know — I wanted it to be something different. (I don’t want to spoil anything.) Still interesting, though.
  • The Cunning Man, by D. J. Butler and Aaron Michael Ritchey (2019, fantasy/horror). Folk fantasy is something I don’t come across as often. Liked that part of it, though I think I would have liked it more if it hadn’t had any Mormon connection at all.

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Booknotes 3.6

Nonfiction

  • Chip War, by Chris Miller (2022), about semiconductors. A fascinating read, particularly (for me) the history of the early days of semiconductors. Learned a lot.

Fiction

  • Blackwing, by Ed McDonald (2017, fantasy). Maybe a tad too edgelord grimdark and crass for me. Trying to be sophisticated but failing, perhaps; I’m not sure. The voice grated on me a bit, too, though not enough to stop me from reading. And oh how I wish fantasy novels would stop overusing capitalization. (In this book, for example, darlings and spinners didn’t need to be capitalized.) Hi, this is me being obnoxiously pedantic. Anyway, I have no idea if I’ll keep reading the series.
  • System Collapse, by Martha Wells (2023, science fiction). Latest entry in the Murderbot series. Loved the voice as usual. I also continue to enjoy the archaeological(ish) part of the worldbuilding. Looking forward to however many more of these there are.
  • A Local Habitation, by Seanan McGuire (2010, fantasy). The second October Daye novel. It had been long enough since I read the first that I remembered almost nothing, but this was easy to pick up. Basically a murder mystery. Enjoyed it, even though I picked up on one of the twists pretty early on.

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Booknotes 3.5

Nonfiction

  • Super-Infinite, by Katherine Rundell (2022), a biography of John Donne. Quite good. I think biographies might be my favorite genre of nonfiction. (Recommendations welcome!)

Fiction

  • The Tyranny of Faith, by Richard Swan (2023, fantasy). Second in the Empire of the Wolf series. I rather liked it, though it was darker and more like horror than the first. Looking forward to the third, which comes out Tuesday.
  • Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel (2014, science fiction). I don’t normally like post-apocalyptic all that much, as I’ve mentioned before, but this was good! (The flashbacks kept it from feeling overly dreary, I think.) While Covid was (and is) bad, books like this remind me how much worse it could have been. There’s your chipper thought for the day.
  • A Study in Drowning, by Ava Reid (2023, fantasy). Generally liked it, particularly the atmosphere and the literary research, though I didn’t care much for the earthy bits and or the parts that got a tad too intense for me. And now I want to read a fantasy book that’s all about architecture and constructing buildings.

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Booknotes 3.4

Nonfiction

  • Number Go Up, by Zeke Faux (2023). Crypto culture is a big bucket of crazy. Quote from the book: “From the beginning, I thought that crypto was pretty dumb. And it turned out to be even dumber than I imagined.” Yup. Good read.

Fiction

  • Guards! Guards!, by Terry Pratchett (1989, fantasy). Enjoyed it. I’m struggling to come up with anything more to say about it.
  • Murder at Spindle Manor, by Morgan Stang (2022, fantasy). Darker and more disturbing than I was expecting, and boy do things get cray cray. (Agatha Christie this is not.) Good writing. Liked it, looking forward to Murder on the Lamplight Express.
  • Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982, by Cho Nam-Joo (2016, fiction). I read it for book group. A short read, basically one sitting. I wish things were more equal (sexism is frustrating), but I’m glad we’ve seen some progress in some areas and can’t wait for more. On an unimportant note, the frame story — which had nothing to do with the rest of the book (unless I’m too dense to get it, which is entirely likely; as is no doubt all too clear to anyone who reads these paltry reviews, literary criticism is not my forte) — intrigued me and I want to read a speculative fiction extension of that.

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Booknotes 3.3

Nonfiction

  • SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome, by Mary Beard (2015). Quite good, learned a lot. In particular, I really liked the historiographical aspect, where she talks about the historical evidence (or lack thereof) for various things. Also, I want to note for posterity that I don’t think about Rome other than when I’m reading books about it.
  • What Can a Body Do?: How We Meet the Built World, by Sara Hendren (2020), about disability and the design of the world around us (think curb cuts for wheelchairs). Good book, worth reading. Several different angles on disability, including mental health. This book made me want to be a designer again.

Fiction

  • Made Things, by Adrian Tchaikovsky (2019, fantasy). Liked it a lot, especially the overall feel. I wouldn’t mind seeing more in this universe.
  • Mightier than the Sword, by K. J. Parker (2017, fantasy). Also liked it a lot. Classic Parker, with faux antiquity and wit.
  • Legends & Lattes, by Travis Baldree (2022, fantasy). I don’t drink coffee (don’t even like the smell of it), but this was an enjoyable, cozy read. Especially liked the mundane bits like the carpentry and adding new items to the menu.

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Booknotes 3.2

Nonfiction

  • Inside the Publishing Revolution: The Adobe Story, by Pamela Pfiffner (2003). I don’t particularly care about Adobe as it is now, but it was interesting reading the history of PostScript, digital typefaces, Illustrator, Photoshop, PDF, PageMaker, and InDesign. Particularly how uncertain PDF’s future was then, compared to how ubiquitous it has become.
  • In the Garden of Beasts, by Erik Larson (2011). About Berlin in 1933–1934 (roughly). I read it for book group. Fascinating book, compelling and interesting throughout. I wasn’t well versed in that time period, so the Night of the Long Knives came as a bit of a shock. Whew. The potential parallels to today are admittedly frightening. Looking forward to reading Larson’s other books. (I’ve also read Isaac’s Storm.)

Fiction

  • Whispers Under Ground, by Ben Aaronovitch (2012, fantasy). Gritty, but other than that I liked it. Quite funny (much more than I remembered the series being), and I also enjoyed the London slang and the worldbuilding. Looking forward to the rest.
  • Priest of Bones, by Peter McLean (2018, fantasy). Quite gritty. Outside of that, though, I liked it, tragic though it is (in my view, anyway). Interested to see where the series arc goes.

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Booknotes 3.1

Nonfiction

  • Writing into the Dark, by Dean Wesley Smith (2015). A reread (though apparently I never added it to my reading log). Some useful techniques. While I want to be an outliner, lately I only seem to be able to finish stories when I write them into the dark this way (cycling, etc.).
  • Reflections on the Psalms, by C. S. Lewis (1958). One of the few by CSL that I’d never read before. Short and fairly interesting. There’s a bit near the end about wanting a more clearly defined, systematic, nigh mathematical theology, but that maybe that’s not what’s best for us, and that what we really need is a Personality instead (Christ). Also liked this: “For we are so little reconciled to time that we are even astonished at it. ‘How he’s grown!’ we exclaim, ‘How time flies!’ as though the universal form of our experience were again and again a novelty. It is as strange as if a fish were repeatedly surprised at the wetness of water. And that would be strange indeed; unless of course the fish were destined to become, one day, a land animal.”
  • Biomimicry, by Janine Benyus (1997). A fascinating book, lots of interesting ideas, similar in some respects to Ways of Being. Quite liked it. Found myself wondering how many of these innovations have gone mainstream since 1997 and I’ve just not been aware of them. Also, I had no idea 3D printing started so early.

Fiction

  • Beneath the Sugar Sky, by Seanan McGuire (2018, fantasy). Novella, Wayward Children book 3. Some earthy bits, but outside of that there’s great worldbuilding and great writing. The dark fairy tale vibe is right up my alley, too.
  • Chosen, by Benedict Jacka (2013, fantasy). Alex Verus book 4. I’m enjoying the series more and more as I get further into it. At this point it feels kind of like Dresden but without the awkward parts.

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The Return of Fitzroy Angursell, by Victoria Goddard (2020, fantasy). Oh my goodness, I loved this. So, so good, and tremendously satisfying. It ties together several threads from The Hands of the Emperor in a delightful, rewarding way. (Also glad I happened to read Stargazy Pie before this, though I’m sure it would have been fine either way.) Looking forward to reading all the rest of Goddard’s many books.


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Anxious People, by Fredrik Backman (2019, fiction). I read this for book group. It’s a little batty. Liked it, especially the humanity that comes through, and the fourth wall breakage was fun. This was my first time reading anything by Backman, though years ago I watched the 2015 film adaptation of A Man Called Ove, and a few days ago I saw and loved A Man Called Otto. Noting here that suicide is a recurring theme in both Backman stories, which of course made me think about my dad.

My tastes in film have shifted, by the way. Where I used to prefer sf&f and action, now those almost always feel silly and cringey to me; instead I find myself craving realism, where it seems easier to find good writing and acting. (Whether that’s actually true, I don’t know. I may be biased here by having recently watched Moneyball and now A Man Called Otto.)


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The Great Divorce, by C. S. Lewis (1945, fantasy). Reread. In fact, according to my log I’ve read it at least three other times, which is a relatively rare thing for me. (I prefer to read books I haven’t read before.) I wasn’t sure how this one would hold up given that it had been seventeen years since I last read it, but it was still good. A little weird here and there, but mostly good. I still love the idea of heaven being more solid and real than this world, and the core message — learn to love God above all else — is still as relevant as ever.


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