#balisebooks – June 2019

Version française ici : #balisebooks – Juin 2019

Gender Queer: A Memoir – Maia Kobabe

I don’t remember how I became aware of this comic, but I remember seeing a few pages, buying the electronic version, and reading the whole thing in a matter of a couple of hours. It’s the autobiography of Maia, who is non-binary and queer, uses the e/em/eir pronouns; and it’s the story of how e grew up and came to terms with eir identity. I really liked it, because it was sometimes funny, sometimes cute and often touching. Oh, and I liked the drawing style too 🙂

Strangers in Paradise XXV – Terry Moore

Yup, that would be two comic books in a row – for someone who… doesn’t really read comic books (they’re very hard for me to focus on, because I read the text and I forget to look at the images and then I’m lost :/ ), it’s kind of a record 😉 But, oh well, Strangers in Paradise. If you don’t know Strangers in Paradise, well, first, you should read it, and second, it’s the story of Francine and Katchoo, their relationship, their past (which may or may not include darker parts) and its contemporary consequences. And it’s super-good, and the art is wonderful.

In Strangers in Paradise XXV – because it’s been 25 years since the first issue, we get a new part of the adventure, some tie-in to Echo (of which I talked at one point, but only in French), and, well, more Strangers in Paradise, so I’ll take that. There may not have been enough Francine to my taste, but I can live with that, and I’m still super happy I got to spend a bit more time with the characters 🙂

The Goblin Emperor – Katherine Addison

The story of Maia, whose emperor father just died, along with his heirs who were before Maia in the succession line… so Maia becomes emperor. Problem is, he’s half-goblin, in an elf society, so that doesn’t start well. And second, since he was never meant to access the throne, he also kind of doesn’t have the training that comes with it either. Hence: court is complicated, politics are complicated, and we watch Maia do his best with both. I had seen that book compared, in terms of mood and emotions, to Wayfarers (of which I also talked about in French) (for the record, my home computer is called wayfarer), so I probably had way too high expectations for it, and it’s probably why I didn’t enjoy it that much. It wasn’t bad, mind you, far from it, but it didn’t enthuse me.

An Audience of One: Reclaiming Creativity for its Own Sake – Srinivas Rao

Another “wrong expectations lead to disappointment” – I felt this was less “Reclaiming Creativity for Its Own Sake” and more “Life Hacks for People Making A Creative Living”. Since I was on the market more for the first one that the second one, I was a bit disappointed. There was still a number of valuable things in there and it gave me food for thought. I may even get back to it on a couple of points for things that didn’t make sense for me to explore while I was reading, but which may make more sense a posteriori.

Pendulum – Tobias Klausmann

The third installment of Slingshot (about which I also talked in French) – Kim and Co. are set to free all the AIs, and they have multiple plans for that, including large scale industrial production, politics meddling, and military infiltration. And, once again, it works very well: the plot is good, the characters are cool, the universe is believable and well-described, and all the loose ends are tied. A very good conclusion to a very good trilogy. And Tobias is a friend, so y’all should buy his books. I promise you they’re great 🙂

In an Unspoken Voice: How the Body Releases Trauma and Restores Goodness – Peter A. Levine

A book about healing trauma -not something I’m directly interested in, but nonetheless a fascinating read about the strong connection between what would be primarily considered a matter of the mind (dealing with trauma) and the body and its sensations. Levine’s main hypothesis (as I understood it 😉 ) is that PTSD comes from being in a scary situation, and the body not having the opportunity or the possibility to react as it “should”, and that working with body sensations to help regulating the body again apparently helps. The book is visibly primarily aimed at therapists, and it has a fair amount of case studies that read “too clean to be entirely truthful”, but I still found the point of view interesting.

The Last Wish – Andrzej Sapkowski

The Last Wish is the (chronologically) first book of the Witcher’s series. It reads as a book of short stories bound together by being “flashbacks” in a frame story. They’re telling stories about Geralt, who’s a witcher – a mutant with powers and training who gets rid of the various monsters that seem to litter his world. It kind of reads like a series of RPG scenarios – Geralt looks for work, he gets to know the Monster Of The Week’s threat, and he defeats the threat – although not necessarily in the way the GM would have thought 😉 I really liked it, although I’m suspecting I would have enjoyed it even more if I had read it over a longer period of time. Sapkowski does a great job at showing his world, I’m super curious about the main character and the people gravitating around him, and I’ll read some more for sure.

Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience – Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Yet another “does not meet expectations” on this month’s list (I’m starting to thing that June was the month of high expectations, and that the problem is me and not what I read :P). I was hoping either for a theory book that would talk about research on “flow”, or for something actionable/practical. Instead, I thought that this sat in the uncomfortable and not that useful middle between both. Csikszentmihalyi describes “flow” as the confluence between challenge and adequacy of skills, and he explains about activities that tend to encourage more flow, and about personalities that tend to experience more flow. There are a few points that could be considered as practical, but I felt that they have too much generality to be of any use to me. I was also bothered by his stance of Flow As The Only True Way To Happiness, and by the fact that it felt judgmental at times (although Csikszentmihalyi defends himself from being so). All in all: didn’t hit the mark for me.

#balisebooks – April/June 2019

Version française ici : #balisebooks – Avril-Juin 2019

Two #balisebooks in one because of traveling and other adventures!

A Big Ship at the Edge of the Universe – Alex White

Protagonist 1, Nilah, a very pampered racing driver who ends up on the wrong side of a conspiracy. Protagonist 2, Boots, who sells creatively enhanced salvage/treasure maps. Both end up, because reasons, on a wild goose chase for a legendary warship, while being hunted by a Big Bad.

I kind of believe that I would have liked this more at a different time. There’s honestly a lot of good things in there, and a lot of things I’d enjoy normally – I quite liked the characters, and I think the story was pretty good, but…. I don’t know. I think it felt messy and rushed, for some reason, and I really had a hard time finishing it.

Tell Me Three Things – Julie Buxbaum

Jessie’s dad just moved to L.A., so Jessie is the new kid in a very intimidating high school. Luckily for her, she soon starts receiving anonymous e-mails from one of her schoolmates who decided to help her navigate the whole thing. Not hugely believable for a few reasons, but a fun, lighthearted and cute read that put me in a very good mood.

Dear Mrs. Bird – A.J. Pearce

During WW2 in London, Emmy accidentally becomes typist for a woman’s advice column. Said advice column is supposed to stay Proper and to not contain any Unpleasantness – but Emmy starts secretly writing back to the letters that are not to her boss’ liking but that she still feels require an answer.

This felt like a nice premise, but I was a bit disappointed. The story was mostly about Emmy and what would go wrong if she ever got discovered, whereas I was almost expecting an epistolary novel that would be more centered around the people writing to her. I may have liked it better with the right expectations, but I may not have read it with the right expectations 🙂

Bad Astronomy – Philip Plait

I mostly heard of Phil Plait because of his Astronomy Crash Course – which I haven’t taken the time to watch yet. Since books are more “my” medium than video, Bad Astronomy had been on my to-read list for a while too, but I eventually read it 🙂 Plait goes through a number of “myths” surrounding astronomy, from bad explanations of how tides actually work to astrology, and corrects them. I had never heard some of these myths, so it made for a somewhat bizarre read at times 🙂

Generally speaking, a very good pop science book. I would have appreciated a liiiittle BIT more maths/physics. Typical example – at some point he talks about orbital energy, and I ended up looking that up for myself – so, in a sense, good that it gave me the taste for it enough; in another, slightly frustrating that it wasn’t just a little bit more “here’s the equation” content. Still – I learnt stuff, and I want to dig more in the topic – so that’s definitely a good thing 🙂

Except the Dying – Maureen Jennings

I have a huge fondness for the Canadian series Murdoch Mysteries, and the series credits that series of books, so it was kind of a given that I’d end up digging into them. William Murdoch is an acting detective (detective, in the series) in Toronto in the late 1800s and, well, solves crimes. This one has to do with a young woman found dead, naked in the snow – who is she, how did she end up in that situation? While the book version of Murdoch is grittier and apparently far less nice, the book was still quite entertaining and enjoyable.

L’École des soignantes – Martin Winckler

(no English translation yet)

It had been a while since I had read Martin Winckler! L’École des soignantes takes place in 2039, and is essentially a medical utopia (with a touch of sci-fi), following the main character, Hannah, during their training in an unusual medical unit. A number of reviews reproach Winckler to lay it on thick with regards to his agendas (standards of care, feminism, medical training), but to me that’s expected and welcome. So, all in all: exceeded expectations (because I got what I came for, and on top of that I really liked the ending).

Say Yes to the Marquess – Tessa Dare

Clio has been engaged for 8 years, and decided she’s had enough and to break the engagement. Her betrothed is abroad, and left his business with his brother – so that’s the person Clio tries to convince to sign the papers to get her freedom back. Shenanigans ensue, including plans for a brewery.

This was exactly what I needed at that time – a nice story with likable protagonists, the promise of a Happily Ever After, and still enough tension to not be ENTIRELY SURE what the HAE actually will be. Really liked it!

Babylon’s Ashes – James S.A. Corey

6th book of The Expanse, where we deal with the aftermath of the previous book events, try to handle the politics (or lack thereof) of the new faction in play, and generally try to do the Right Thing™ at interplanetary scale.

I thought this one was a bit slow to start, and it took me a little while to warm to it, but eventually it picks up the pace and continues telling the story of the Rocinante, its crew, its friends and foes. (And I really kind of want to ship with these people. Yeah, despite all the unpleasant events.)

The Governess Game – Tessa Dare

Another Tessa Dare – I was in the mood for something lighthearted, and I got that in The Governess Game 🙂 Alexandra sets clocks to Greenwich time, and gets almost accidentally hired as a governess for two little girls that are wards of a duke, into whom she had bumped a few months earlier at the bookshop. This was a super fun read – the children were fun, Alex has somewhat of a Mary Poppins streak to her (and chases comets), but I think it lacked a bit of tension/conflict towards the end. Still, thoroughly enjoyable.

#balisebooks – March 2019

(Version française ici : #balisebooks – Mars 2019)

Wicked Sweet – Chelsea M. Cameron

Dove is a student in business school, and she has A Plan for what happens next – she works at developing her own personal brand, and she works as a media consultant to pay her bills. And then one day, her high school arch-nemesis, Seven, appears in the same college, and they end up needing to cooperate on a school project. Seven also has A Plan: she eventually wants to open a goth-themed bakery, and she needs a bit of help testing her creations. Wicked Sweet is a super cute romance book and I really enjoyed it – it may lack a bit in the “plot” and “tension” department, but I really liked the characters 🙂

Happiness for Humans – P.Z. Reizin

Jen works for a software company: she talks to their star AI, Aiden, to teach it (or him) how to interact with people. Tom is a writer, and he also gets the attention of Aiden. Eventually, they both receive a e-mail from a mysterious “common friend” suggesting they should meet. The whole concept of a rom-com where AIs play a large role is pretty fun, and it’s mostly well-implemented in Happiness for Humans. But I was very disappointed by a couple of clichés that annoyed me to no end (specifically, the fact that software engineers are considered as “not entirely humans”, and referring to women as “the opposite species”… ugh.), making my reading of the book far less enjoyable than it could have been.

The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail – But Some Don’t – Nate Silver

I didn’t finish this one – mostly because I needed to look forward to my commute reading at that time, and I wasn’t looking forward to continue reading this, because it felt fairly dry and the chapters were longer than my attention span. I think this is mostly a timing issue for me.

Nine Perfect Strangers – Liane Moriarty

A story that starts with nine people gathering in a luxury health resort, all with their history and their hope for transformation and a better life. The owner of the health resort is convinced to be able to help them – as long as the customers follow her lead. I liked the setting and most characters (although I had a hard time not conflating a couple of them because I messed up the name/character associations in my head), some parts made me chuckle, and some parts got a tear. I’m not necessarily convinced by the major plot point, but generally speaking it was a very pleasant read, and probably exactly what I needed then. Also: I actually missed my train stop the other day because I was distracted by my reading, which is probably a good sign for the book.

Nemesis Games – James S.A. Corey

Fifth book of The Expanse, the series that keeps delivering, even after 2800+ pages. The book starts with the Rocinante crew all getting on their merry way for various (temporary) reasons, and all ending up getting involved in various adventures and catastrophes. Nemesis Games is more centered on the “original cast” than the previous book, which I liked, because it was nice to have a bit more familiarity with the characters considering the large dramatic scale of the plot. To me, this series of books stays very solid; not necessarily very original or mind-blowing, but consistently good and worth reading, which is a feat in itself.

Geek Girl – Holly Smale

Harriet is a (very) geeky/nerdy highschooler who gets unexpectedly hired to be a fashion model. This is not the kind of premise where you expect a very believable book – and even under this assumption, I found myself requiring a higher effort than usual at suspension of disbelief. It was still pretty fun, and there were a few funny moments and a few touching moments, but there was definitely too much eye-rolling from my side to consider reading the second one any time soon.

La Papeterie Tsubaki – Ito Ogawa

This one is a Japanese book, that I read in French translation (there’s no English translation that I know of). The narrator, Hatoko, is a young woman who runs a stationary shop and who works as a public writer/calligrapher for people who have a hard time expressing what they want to say on paper. Most of the book, over the span of a year, is about the encounters between Hatoko and her customers, and the relationship of Hatoko with her trade – how she chooses her paper, ink, writing style to make the written word come to life. It’s a very contemplative and slow book, and it’s quiet and soothing. On a slightly negative standpoint, I was surprised by a few turns of sentences and choices of words, and dialogues sometimes felt weird. But generally speaking I really, really loved this book.

#balisebooks – February 2019

(Version française ici : #balisebooks – Février 2019)

Short month, short #balisebooks!

Slayer – Kiersten White

I’m a huge fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer… the TV series, that is. I could never quite get into the comics – to my great dismay, because I really want to know the story, but comics are definitely not my medium of choice. So you’ll understand my excitement when I heard “this is a novel set in the canon timeline of BTVS, although with a different cast of characters”. The hype was real, and I was in the mood for a lighter read, so I picked Slayer pretty close to its publication date.

Besides the initial premise, we meet Nina and her twin sister Artemis, both part of a larger “Watcher Academy” that aims at training Watchers for Slayers, as well as providing some infrastructure and services. The plot then loosely follows the structure of a long BTVS episode, or maybe a long multi-episode arc. I had initial misgivings at the beginning of the book: Nina hates Buffy and Slayers in general, and I think that, if the tone there and the amount of repetitive brooding had stayed the same, it would have been a problem. But the pace eventually picked up, and gave way to what really felt like a multi-episode arc story, with demons, villains, libraries, family and friendly relationships, and a non-zero amount of wit.

All in all, I enjoyed Slayer, and I think it’s a good addition to the BTVS canon. Looking forward to the next one! (Also: in the meantime, I started re-watching Buffy :P)

Cork Dork: A Wine-Fueled Adventure Among the Obsessive Sommeliers, Big Bottle Hunters, and Rogue Scientists Who Taught Me to Live for Taste – Bianca Bosker

Cork Dork is a memoir about the journey of Bianca Bosker, initially a tech reporter, who made her way through the world of wine tasting and wine serving. She recounts how she came to that idea, the people she met, all the things she learnt about wine, and how she went from basically “yup, that’s wine, and I think it’s white wine” to taking a Master Sommelier exam within a bit more than a year.

Bosker makes her journey memorable – she’s not afraid to show how clueless and clumsy she may have been, but she shows tremendous grit and a real passion for her topic. I’m thoroughly impressed and a little bit jealous 🙂 She also gives some actionable information about how to get better at smelling and tasting things, and I’m intrigued enough that I may give some of them a try. (Hell, I went to the restaurant the other day and I did choose the wine glass I really didn’t know on the menu, so there’s that 😉 ). Her writing is very engaging, although I found myself slightly distracted at times when I literally heard a few “transition questions” read in my mind by Carrie Bradshaw 😛

I thoroughly enjoyed Cork Dork: it opened the door to a world I do not know, and made me want to hazard a foot through it 🙂

Meet Me at the Museum – Anne Youngson

Tina, a farmer’s wife in England, writes a letter to a museum in Denmark, and the curator of the museum, Anders, answers her letter. It’s the start of a long correspondance that constitutes the whole book.

I haven’t read that many epistolary novels, but I seem to enjoy the form a lot – maybe I should read more of them 🙂 In this one, I liked the fact that the people involved are complete strangers at the beginning of the book and in pretty different places, which is a perfect justification for very vivid descriptions as the writers explain their environment to each other. Generally speaking, the writing is beautiful and the voices of Tina and Anders are pretty distinct. The first 80% felt very sweet and very restful to me, although by no mean boring. I was, however, not happy with the developments of the last 20% of the book (although I liked the very end), because I felt that the tone became suddenly more judgmental and I didn’t care for that; that part also felt more rushed and I didn’t care for that either.

Everything considered, it was still a “more than 80% positive read”, but I’m sad that the part I didn’t like really didn’t work for me.

Cibola Burn – James S.A. Corey

The titles of the Expanse books’ series are somewhat cryptic, and Cibola Burn is not an exception – and on top of that, I cannot read that and not think “cinnamon buns”. There, you’re welcome.

This is the fourth book of The Expanse, and the premise of it is very much a spoiler on the previous book – I don’t see how I can avoid that if I want to explain the premise. So, beware:


The Ring from the previous book ended up being an inter-solar system traveling gate, so we’re going to (larger) space today! I must admit I was a bit disappointed by that development in the previous book – I really liked, in the first three books, that the plot stayed in our solar system. Hence, I was afraid to not like this one as much as the previous ones. I shouldn’t have feared: I actually liked it better than the third one.

So, a bunch of people have rushed through the gate and started a colony on Ilus / New Earth; since the planet is rich in lithium, it is also very relevant to corporate interests. Said corporate interests are RCE, and they have a Proper Colonization Charter, and they’re not going to get stopped by a bunch of squatters on The Planet That’s Rightfully Theirs. The situation escalates, and Jim Holden and his crew are sent to try to de-escalate.


We get a fair amount of what made the first books memorable: the mix of old friends and new characters, the multiple point of views narration, the drama and action (although the scale seems reduced here). The setting is basically “frontier, but IN SPACE and with SCIENTISTS”, and it was very enjoyable. Cibola Burn was hard to put down (I may or may not have made the VERY BAD DECISION to finish it last night and to continue reading past midnight) and managed the transition to the larger setting flawlessly. It can feel somewhat formulaic at times, but the formula definitely works for me, so everything’s shiny.

#balisebooks – January 2019

Ce post est traduit en français ici : #balisebooks – Janvier 2019

Let’s try a new format where I try to write a #balisebooks a month (and to write it as I go so that I can publish it on the last day of the month 🙂 ).

Un Cowboy à Paris – Achdé and Jul (in English: A Cowboy in Paris) – the latest Lucky Luke album, where Luke meets Bartholdi and Eiffel (and, indeed, travels to Paris). A very entertaining read: I laughed out loud more than a couple of times 🙂

Glamour in Glass – Mary Robinette Kowal – second book of the Glamourist series. It’s in the direct continuity of the first one, so the general mood and characters are the same. I liked it more than the first one: there’s more exciting stuff happening around the magic system, there’s more action, there’s less “will they/won’t they”. And there’s a couple of tough decisions and tough situations that are, in my opinion, very well handled.

Factfulness – Hans Rosling, Ola Rosling, Anna Rosling Rönnlund – I wanted to start 2019 with an optimistic read, so I picked Factfulness just after midnight on January 1st. I had put Factfulness on my “to-read” list after reading Bill Gates writing about it (Why I want to stop talking about the “developing” world) – did I already mention that I quite enjoy Bill Gates book reviews? Factfulness is a nice, short read about “facts about the world you probably have wrong”. The main thesis of the book is “the world is actually getting better; it’s also been getting better for a while, and in particular since you’ve been taught about it in school.” Rosling is very careful to not say that things are not bad, but as he mentions several times, “being bad and getting better are not contradictory”. He also explains a number of biases and ways people react to things that can make them see the world as worse than it is, and getting worse. I did like that book, and it fulfilled its goal of “starting 2019 on an optimistic note”; it’s however probably a fairly short-lived book, because the data and facts that it relies on are probably getting old fairly quickly as well.

Caliban’s War – James S.A. Corey – the second book of the Expanse series. I watched the first season on Netflix, I read the first book, I watched the second season a while ago, I read the second book… and I started the third one just after that (note: this typically doesn’t happen, I usually like a small break between two books of a series, if only as a palate cleanser). The Expanse is a series of books that take place in a few hundreds of years: humanity has conquered the solar system and put bases in a fair amount of places. There’s basically three “factions”: Earth, Mars, and the Belters – who, for the most part, were born in low-gravity and can’t really expect to ever go planet-side. In that universe, we follow among others a team of people led by Jim Holden, idealistic to the point of clumsiness, who ends up at the core of a number of large-scale incidents involving events way beyond his pay grade. In Caliban’s War, he’s mostly busy with finding the kid daughter of a scientist, who disappeared during one of those large-scale incidents. I really, really liked Caliban’s War – for me it’s just the sweet spot between world building, politics and action; the writing is very engaging, and I like the multiple point-of-views structure. Highly recommended (but start with the first one – Leviathan Wakes).

Abaddon’s Gate – James S.A. Corey – the third book of the Expanse series. It starts a few months after the end of the second one, and a mysterious ring appeared somewhere on the orbit of Uranus. And circumstances conspire such that the Rocinante and its crew end up being part of a flotilla of ships that go study it – and get into unforeseen problems. This was still good, but I liked it somewhat less than the previous one. I liked the newly introduced characters, but I missed a few from the previous books. The plot rhythm stayed on par with the previous one, even if the plot itself was less to my liking – I was bothered by the “mysticism” that shrouded parts of the plot, and I literally flinched at some unpleasant parts of the it. The latest chapters did make me raise an interested eyebrow and I’m looking forward to the fourth book (I’ll have a break before I start with the fourth one, though 🙂 ).

Harry’s Trees – Jon Cohen – Harry is an employee of the US Forest Service – a job that, to his deep regret, doesn’t have much to do with trees. And his wife dies in a very sad freak accident. Amanda is a nurse who lives in a forest house – and her husband dies with a very sad aneurysm. Her daughter, Oriana, is still hoping that her dad will come back, and retreats in a world of fairy tales. Until Harry and Oriana meet – and the fairy tale becomes a little more real. This was such a beautiful book – I loved it. First, it has a lot of trees, and a lot of love for trees, and I like trees. Then, it has just enough magic to be magic enough without being completely unrealistic. And there are books, and a library (and its librarian), and fairy tales… and more trees.

And if you were to read only one of these… Harry’s Trees.

#balisebooks from the end of the year

(Ce billet est traduit en français ici : #balisebooks de fin d’année)

I’m so behind on my #balisebooks reporting that it’s not even funny. So, the plan: remove the backlog before new year, and start 2019 on a reasonably clean slate. Let’s go!

Crazy Rich Asians / China Rich Girlfriend / Rich People Problems – Kevin Kwan – the story starts with Rachel, whose boyfriend invites her to meet his family in Singapore, without even hinting that his family (and the people who gravitate around it) is richer than rich – and not necessarily behaving in a “not richer than rich” way. Drama ensues, and continues for two more books. I liked it way (way) more than I thought I would – it does have a Downton Abbey meets Gossip Girl in Singapore kind of feel, it’s generally pretty funny, many characters are likeable (and you love to hate the ones you do), the sprinkling of Malay and Chinese expressions in the dialogs is pretty well done, and that series made me SO HUNGRY, there is SO MUCH FOOD!

Site Reliability Engineering – How Google Runs Production Systems – edited by Betsy Beyer, Chris Jones, Jennifer Petoff and Niall Richard Murphy – a very nice collection of essays around the SRE theme, on topics that range from “how to organize on-call in your team” to “how to handle consensus in a distributed system” via “what’s a cascading failure and how to deal with it”, with an interesting mix of “organisational” topics and “highly technical” topics.

Ivy and Abe – Elizabeth Enfield – a book where Ivy and Abe, as soulmates as people can be, meet for the first time at different points in their lives, which makes their common story vastly different depending on the timeline and circumstances of their meeting. I really liked the idea, and the characters, and the whole view that the moment at which people meet and what they’ve lived through so far is at least as important as who they are. I am however a bit sad that there’s so many timelines in which things don’t work out, and that some of these timelines kind of lack closure.

Altered Carbon / Broken Angels – Richard K. Morgan – the first two books in the Takeshi Kovacs series, happening in a universe where people can store their consciousness into “stacks” and be revived in new bodies, borrowed or grown. In the first book, Takeshi Kovacs is hired from a (very) rich guy to investigate his own murder (the rich guy’s, not Tak’s); in the second one, he’s gathering a team to go explore a seemingly lucrative alien archaeological find. I had read Altered Carbon a while ago, hadn’t been convinced; but I liked the TV series a lot, so I was wondering if I had missed something in the book. I did like it a lot more on the second read; moreover, the few things that had bothered me in the series were actually different in the book, which is quite funny. I did dislike the second book, though – I’m not sure if it was me or the book or the moment, but I got so, so bored :/

Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup – John Carreyou – the story of Theranos, a startup that wanted to revolutionize the biological testing industry, and its CEO, Elizabeth Holmes. Spoiler: it did not end well – the product never quite worked, and the whole thing went from embarrassing failure to something described as a full-blown scam. Fascinating story, great storytelling – a very interesting and entertaining read. A novel with that plot would seem barely believable… and yet 🙂 Highly recommended.

Romancing the Duke – Tessa Dare – I was very pleasantly surprised by this one. I’ll admit that I have a fair amount of prejudice towards the romance genre, but this prejudice is chipping away one book at a time 😉 Izzy Goodnight inherits a castle, which is a good thing for her, because other than that, she has basically nothing (except an ermine). Problem: said castle is currently inhabited by the Duke of Rothbury, who a/ is not aware the castle has been sold b/ as current owner, would actually have something to say about it. Stuff ensues. Including a bunch of cosplayers. (No, really.) And it’s funny, and it’s cute as hell, and it’s entertaining, and I just loved that thing.

When a Scot Ties the Knot – Tessa Dare – technically in the same series as the previous one, but with unrelated stories and characters. Madeline is shy to the point of social anxiety, so when the time comes for her to make her débuts in London, instead, she invents a fake Scottish fiancé who tragically dies after a bunch of letters. Until the day where said fake invented fiancé arrives on her doorstep, with a bunch of letters addressed to him. I did like it less than the previous one, but it was still a damn entertaining read.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone – J.K. Rowling – yup, I started re-reading Harry Potter. Still great 🙂

The Calculating Stars / The Fated Sky – Mary Robinette Kowal – a series where the premise is that, in 1952, a huge meteorite fell to Earth, and made things very awkward climate-wise. It completely changes the timeline of the space conquest (“we need to go to Mars, and we need to do that sooner than later”), and in that context we follow Elma, mathematician and Lady Astronaut.
On the one hand, there’s two points I do have an issue with:

  • I’m not sure I’m buying the premises (of “moving the hell out of here” vs “finding a way to make things work on Earth” – because in any case the environment on the Moon or on Mars is not going to be much better, is it?)
  • I’m not often bothered by sex scenes, but I was in the first book (the second one is better in that regard). They feel kind of awkward, too numerous, and either too long or too short (but then that would probably be marketed differently 😉 ).

Buuuuuuuuuuut. First, it was VERY, VERY hard to put down, and that’s a major factor. Second, it made me audibly chuckle AND drop a few tears here and there, and I’m a sucker for emotional reaction. Third – the anxiety depiction is so fucking spot on I can’t even, and I couldn’t help rooting for Elma – more than I would for myself 😉 – so it’s kind of therapeutic, in a way. All in all: definitely something for which I’m looking forward to the third book.

I’d Rather Be Reading: The Delights and Dilemmas of the Reading Life – Anne Bogel – That was very neat, in a meta sort of way. What do we read, why do we read, how do we read? Nobody is unique in their reading (or non-reading) habits, which makes this small book very relatable – and funny. And I even snagged a few titles that I’ll have to put on my “to read” list 🙂 Also, it made me discover Anne Bogel’s blog, Modern Mrs Darcy, which I quite like 🙂 (And which eventually made me start journaling, sooo.)

The Great Gatsby – Scott F. Fitzgerald – this one counts as a classic, and there’s been a movie recently (which I haven’t seen) that made me want to read it. And honestly? I don’t know. I did like it, but I have no idea why. Probably mostly because of the mood and the writing (which are not necessarily what catch my attention usually, they’re more “nice to have”s, as far as I’m concerned). I don’t know.

The Technological Singularity – Murray Shanahan – “The singularity” is a term that any science-fiction fan and/or computer scientist will have heard. I will confess that the definition and implications of it weren’t that clear to me before starting this book. Shanahan does a very good job at defining it, considering how artificial general intelligence could possibly be achieved, how it can lead to singularity, and what could be the impact of this, considering both technical and philosophical questions, at a very accessible and pretty engaging level. A thoroughly interesting read – although it definitely adds to the general sense of World Anxiety instead of alleviating it 😉

The Consuming Fire – John Scalzi – a great sequel to The Collapsing Empire. Still very entertaining characters (same ones, so if you didn’t like them in the first book, don’t expect to like them more here), a fair amount of smartassness and kickassery, cloak&dagger&treason, and IS THE THIRD BOOK AVAILABLE ALREADY? 😛

Shades of Milk and Honey – Mary Robinette Kowal – apparently, Pride and Prejudice with magic. I haven’t read Pride and Prejudice (yet, it’s on my list for next year 😉 ), but I still enjoyed this one a lot (I’m, at the time of writing this, reading the second book in the series, and it’s even better). It’s an historical romance where the characters are able to manipulate “glamour”, basically magical visual illusions. That was a very pleasant read.

Happier – Tal Ben-Shahar – an intro book about positive psychology. Nothing mind-blowing, but ties a few things together neatly. Pretty good, all considered.

A Semi-Definitive List of Worst Nightmares – Krystal Sutherland – Esther is convinced that her family is cursed, and that every member of her family has One Great Fear that will eventually kill them. Esther has escaped it so far, by keeping a list of “possible fears”, and carefully avoiding getting exposed to all of them – until her friend Jonah challenges her to tackle these fears, one at a time. Funny and heart-breaking and great and generally wow.

Wool – Hugh Howey – stories from the Silo, where a small community of people live, sheltered from a very dangerous Outside, to which occasionally someone gets sent (and dies quite quickly). Really loved the beginning, was less convinced by the “late middle”. Still, a very good read, and I’m looking forward to the other installments of the series.

Wild Hunger – Chloe Neill – first book of Chicagoland, The Next Generation, following Elisa, related to the vampires from the first series, coming back from Paris to Chicago after her training. Scratched the UF itch, but I got slightly bored – and rolled my eyes more than usual, at least in the beginning. The ending was somewhat better.

An Absolutely Remarkable Thing – Hank Green – Gigantic Transformer statues appear all around the world, and April May is the first one to document their appearance on YouTube, and becomes Internet-famous because of it while the whole story about the Carls (after the name April gave “hers” on a whim) and their mysteries unfolds. A very entertaining read with a quite believable protagonist and an interesting depiction of “social network fame”.

The Kiss Quotient – Helen Hoang – Stella, a brilliant 30-something econometrician, is still single, at least partly because of her Asperger. She decides to hire an escort to teach her sex and relationships. Basically a gender-swapped Pretty Woman; nothing much surprising, but very cute.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society – Ann Mary Shaffer and Annie Barrows – an epistolary novel set in 1946 where Juliet, writer, starts corresponding with a man from Guernsey – who is part of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Juliet is intrigued and ends up visiting her new-found friend. This was at times fun/lighthearted, poignant and moving. Really (really) liked it 🙂

Altered Traits – Daniel Goleman and Richard Davidson – a short book that aims at distinguishing scientifically validated facts from hypotheses that may not be (not necessarily wrong, but “more research required”) when it comes to meditation and the brain, particularly when it comes to long-term practitioners. It’s a very interesting summary of the research around meditation effects and it’s history, but it sometimes feels a bit messy/meandering.

And if you were to read only one of these… The Calculating Stars.