Mini reviews of short books

So, with Ola out on an extended Christmas break it falls to me to make sure there’s something going on on the blog ๐Ÿ˜‰ There will be a “Re-Enchanted 2021” post soon, prepared by both of us some time before, but today I want to talk about two short pieces I read recently, a novella and a small short stories collection. I acquired a nice Christmas tree yesterday, packaged all the presents already, so I’m getting into the seasonal mood – I’ve chosen stuff I really like for today, I don’t want to spoil it ๐Ÿ˜‰

I tried to catch the size of the thingโ€ฆ it’s huge, taking up a third of our living room. Wife wanted a large one, so I hope she’ll be happy when she sees it tomorrow. Although, perhaps, I overdid it a bitโ€ฆ anyway, I tried to carry it home on my shoulders, from a place that’s normally just a 15-minute walk away, but I had to call for help. A friend came and we tried to fit it into his car, we were not able to close the trunk ๐Ÿ˜‰

Anyway, the books…

Amal El-Mohtar, Max Gladstone This Is How You Lose the Time War

209-page 2019 novella, read on Kindle

I never ready anything by El-Mohtar, but I’ve enjoyed Gladstone’s Craft cycle, and then hated his Empress of Forever, so I wasn’t sure how to approach this one. I got it some time ago, after reading some enthusiastic reviews – several, I think, but I only found Bookforager’s in my archive. Recently, Andreas hated it so much he DNF’ed, and his critique brought the novella to my attention again. I’m also not a fan of romances, and I’ve always thought Gladstone’s worldbuilding much better than his characters, but the novella is short, so I went for it. And for me, it totally worked!

The premise is great, and it was what made me interested in the first place.

Among the ashes of a dying world, an agent of the Commandant finds a letter. It reads: Burn before reading. Thus begins an unlikely correspondence between two rival agents hellbent on securing the best possible future for their warring factions. Now, what began as a taunt, a battlefield boast, grows into something more. Something epic. Something romantic. Something that could change the past and the future.

Except the discovery of their bond would mean death for each of them. There’s still a war going on, after all. And someone has to win that war.

A romance set against an epic time war! Sounds exiting. War and romance is a great (literary) combination, Casablanca, Arch of Triumph, and so many others. It’s also a great way of making a movie accessible for wider audiences, someone likes war movies, someone else romances, great, we can watch together ๐Ÿ˜‰ Pardon the digression, I’m still struggling with my wife’s lack of interest in my favourite genres…

Universe created by the authors for the purpose of this story is one encompassed by a great war between two factions that conquered time, Agency and Garden. Agency wages war on behalf of an advanced, post-scarcity society that seems to remain firmly individualistic and only some of the members are even interested in the struggle, whereas Garden is a sort of conscious entity that transcends individual, its existence distributed throughout the matter in various times and places. At least that’s my impression, in such a short book there’s not enough space to flesh it all out. It might annoy some readers, but I got enough substance to serve as a backdrop of the plot. I’d happily read a novel that goes much deeper, although the rough sketches authors used would be difficult to translate into a fully-fledged universe… or we might end up with something like what we got in the Empress of Forever, and did I mention I hated that?

Anyway, one heroine, Red, is an agent of the Agency, while the other, Blue, works for the Garden. They fight on countless battlefields in many eras and places, on Earth and in other corners of space. Both champions of their sides, they frequently face each other, directly and indirectly. They start communicating, clandestinely, through letters hidden in some very inventive ways. Like, encoded in the flesh of a fish one knows the other will catch years later… being an expert in time travel gives you certain advantages ๐Ÿ˜‰ Fascination turns into a romance, and then things get complicated… not too complicated, though, we only have 200 pages. To tell it all in such a short space, the story moves through very short chapters, depicting either a scene from the war with one of the heroines involved, sometimes so short it’s hard to get where and when it happens, or one of the letters. It perhaps lacks the depth and details, but I find it formally interesting and quite enjoyable.

This is not a masterpiece that every reader will love. This is a curious short thing for people like me, a play with form and language that has its limitations. Still, it won’t take you long to read it, give it a try ๐Ÿ™‚

Benedict Patrick, And They Were Never Heard From Again: A Yarnsworld Tale (2019)

Today’s second dish is a short story you can get for free from the author. Well, the price is joining his mailing list but he’s not too intrusive. Anyway, this is a first taste of Yarnsworld, Patrick’s universe of magic and wonder. It came to my attention through Will’s post in his Beatiful World of Books series. The cover, by Jenny Zemanek, is indeed pretty, I like all the covers she made for this series.

The title story is a simple one, of two brothers in a wood full of malicious faeries, where villagers bar their doors each night and share the knowledge of how to appease monsters with words and rites. Stories have power in this world, and there are various magicks that can by used against – or by – humans. Not all powers are murderous, some might be even helpful, and with others you can bargain. But you have to know how, and when. If you’re, say, a naive, imaginative boy, you might call into being something that will haunt you.

It’s not an entirely new concept, what it reminded me most of is Patricia McKillips books like Winter Rose. But Patrick is darker. More graphic, sometimes cruel. I liked it and I’m quite sure I’ll read more, at some point. The first novel is on my Kindle TBB already. I’ll tell you more when I do, this was just a tiny bite, but a tasty one.

What else… oh, right, a piece of non-fiction. I’ve re-read Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens, this time in a graphic novel version. It translated into this medium… surprisingly well. I’ve read a lot of great comics, some were very sophisticated, but I don’t remember reading such an ambitious non-fiction in that form. And here we have a great Harari primer, suitable for readers young and old. At least twelve, probably, but I’ll try to get my niece interested a bit earlier. Not now, though, she’s only eight.

Ok, that is all for today, please expect our summary of 2021 to be posted around Christmas, and there should be Best Of/Worst Of posts in early January.

44 thoughts on “Mini reviews of short books

    1. piotrek

      Stuff like Friends and European comedies, but from our genres… His Dark Materials, GoT, Tolkien, a bit, and now she might be getting into the Wheel of Time series, but it’s too early to tell ๐Ÿ™‚
      Actually, it seems it’s easier to get her into fantasy than SF… a crisis moment early in our relationship was when she fell asleep watching Star Wars, I’m not sure if she realizes how serious a sin that was ๐Ÿ˜‰

      Liked by 1 person

          1. I’ve convinced her to play some 2-player abstracts once in a while. The GIPF-series by Kris Burm (really fantastic, check it out if you don’t know it, TZAAR, LYNGK, ZERTZ, DVONN, YINSH, PUNCT,…), Hive, Azul, Santorini, Patchwork,…

            Liked by 1 person

                1. (Hive is really easy game to master btw, also for non-gamers, most people I’ve showed it too like it a lot, and it’s a quick game, not a lot of investment. And if you buy the traveller’s version, it’s even better: small enough to play everywhere, but still big enough to enjoy.)

                  Liked by 1 person

    1. piotrek

      I’d normally wait until the Christmas Eve, but this year we’re visiting family most of the Christmas, so we wanted to at least set up the tree before we depart ๐Ÿ™‚

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        1. piotrek

          Interesting question! I asked my colleagues to check if that’s how we all do it, or if maybe my family is lazy, but it seems it was quite common to wait until Christmas Eve, but now kids see all the Christmas trees in shops and around the city early in December and demand to set up one at home earlier ๐Ÿ™‚

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          1. I have to admit that my parents put it up more than a week later in the 80ies, but they always did so at least a week before the 24th. But indeed, thereยดs an amount of social pressure to lenghten the festive season. The Sinterklaas thing works as a nice boundary there though, so these things donยดt bleed into each other. On the other hand, some people (generally without kids) put up their tree even before the 6th. As it is hard to get it to survive in a decent shape until the 6th of january (Three Kings) I wouldnยดt do that. We generally take it down the 7th or so. Is Three Kings a thing in Poland too?

            Liked by 1 person

            1. piotrek

              A thing, but not a huge one… I think. We usually keep the trees longer. Catholics wait at least until the yearly visitation from local priest happens, and often until February

              Liked by 1 person

              1. The priests visit every home? Three Kings is not a huge thing here either – depends a bit on the region, some provinces have children singing from door to door – but we used to put the figurines of the three kings in the stable underneath the tree on that day, so you can’t really break down your tree before that story is complete.

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  1. The Gladstone sounds interesting and, as it’s short, definitely worth investigating. And the cover intrigues! I’m also impressed by your tree — it’s terrifically bushy too! — and your exploits trying to get it home remind me of one of the incidents in the English fairytale ‘Jack the Giant Killer’ when he hoodwink an ogre into carrying a tree all by himself… ๐Ÿ˜

    Let me be the first to wish you and your wife (and Ola as well!) Nadolig Llawen, and I hope you manage to nudge her gradually into appreciating your fave genre! ๐Ÿ™‚

    Liked by 2 people

    1. piotrek

      Yes, cover was one of the things that made me read it, a very good looking one. The tree is a fir, much more bushy – and heavy – than the spruces we usually had, and that might be the reason why I wasn’t expecting it to weigh so much…

      Thank you, and our best wishes as well, Wesoล‚ych ลšwiฤ…t!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. piotrek

      That would be a win-win, I’m sure she would be happy to have more free time ๐Ÿ˜‰ It was definitely fun to write this, after the long break.

      I could pay $10 more and have it delivered, but I wanted to be the brave and strong man of the house and do it myself. I’ll restrict myself to less burdensome tasks in the future ๐Ÿ˜‰

      Liked by 1 person

        1. piotrek

          Thank you, we have trams.

          Seriously, though… if we ever build the house we are sometimes thinking about, maybe, a second car would be needed anyway. Here in my 800K city I’d need it twice a year, not worth it.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. Thatยดs a good tip on the Harari, thanks. Not really for myself, but they might make for good gifts, especially if they would be translated, which I guess they will be.

    Nice tree btw! I like big christmas trees. It looks like our wives share at least two things: love of big christmas trees, and disinterest in about anything I read ๐Ÿ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

    1. piotrek

      I actually read this Harari in Polish, I intend to give it to the young ones when they’re ready ๐Ÿ™‚

      Thanks, it’s good to know I’m not alone in my pain ๐Ÿ˜‰

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I like your Christmas tree. It does look huge to me. Are you going to post a pic of it all decorated too?
    I didn’t know Sapiens was adapted to comic book format. I’ll have to check that out.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. piotrek

      Thanks ๐Ÿ™‚ tree’s final form will be photographed and added to the Christmas post ๐Ÿ˜‰
      Well, the comics are very nice, but they just summarize what was in the book – a refresher, or a great present for someone younger ๐Ÿ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

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