#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:

SPOILERS ON ABADDON’S GATE, THE THIRD BOOK OF THE EXPANSE, AHEAD!

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.

LESS SPOILERY CONTENT AHEAD

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.