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 😉 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 😉

I tried to catch the size of the thing… 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 bit… 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 😉

Anyway, the books…

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

209-page 2019 novella, read on Kindle

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The Worst of 2020

Oh, 2020. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times… And here we’ll focus on the worst 😉 Or, to be more fair, just on the most disappointing for us personally, for as you will see, most of the works mentioned below enjoyed quite a lot of acclaim and following.

To be true to our title, we should probably start and stop this post at COVID-19, the wellspring of our woes (though there are a few hopeful signs along the way, from the evidence of effective and efficient trust-based cooperation above the national level to the human-caused limitation of greenhouse gases emissions). But as this is predominantly a book blog, with a small but significant addition of comics, TV series and movies, we feel we need to elaborate a bit and avoid easy finger-pointing.

As in the previous summary post, we wanted to divide our choices into a few categories: Fiction, Non-fiction, Comics, TV Series; but as Non-fiction this year proved to be a major hit without any misses (YAY!), we’ll omit this category.

Ola’s Worst of 2020 in Fiction

Here the choices are easy, at least for me – though for many might seem quite controversial, as some of these books seem to have become fan favorites ;). But what can I say? By now you really shouldn’t be surprised by any of this 😛 So without further ado, here it is:

R. F. Kuang, The Poppy War (2018)

That’s the only book on this list that I wrote a review of; I felt this instant favorite of the bookish community deserved a critique, and whether I achieved the goal of making it measured and not just scathing, it’s for you to judge. So let me just quote the crux of my review here:

Nanking Massacre was a truly horrible event, an atrocity for which there can be no excuse. The world should learn more about it, so that it stops being a footnote in history books. But using it in a fantasy book as a plot device designed to further the main character’s evolution into a vessel for a demonic/demigod entity and as a rationale for her own acts of genocide seems beyond bad taste.

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Max Gladstone, Empress of Forever (2019)

I’m a fan of Max Gladstone’s Craft Sequence novels. They are not perfect, but they have incredible worldbuilding. He created an amazing system that connects religion, magic and economy that make his world go round in a way that is imaginative, entertaining, but also, I believe, tells us something interesting about our world. One of the definitions of great genre fiction…

So, when the time came to spend one of my Audible credits, and I learned that Gladstone’s new novel is available, I decided to go for it. It’s not part of the Craft Sequence, but it was long (I always try to get a long listen for my credit 😉 ) and I was in a mood for a nice space opera.

Author: Max Gladstone

Title: Empress of Forever

Format: Audiobook

Narrator: Natalie Naudus

Length: 19 hrs and 38 mins

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Some thoughts on summer reading and “Craft Sequence” by Max Gladstone

Two different topics (unless we make Gladstone’s excellent series our designated Summer Reading this year… why not 🙂 )

First… the more I think about it, the less I like the idea of “summer reading” as almost a subgenre of its own. Every magazine, every bookshop feels obliged to create a special list of books you should buy and read on the beach. With implication that people read “serious” books all year, and need some pointers for lightweight books they can relax with on vacation. Lay down your Kafka and Dostojewski, get some Arthur Conan Doyle and Agata Christie 😉 Well, nobody reads any more, and if they do, there are no special books for beach. Or, rather, there are, but they are shit.

If one doesn’t read at all during the working year… I’d recommend re-reading his/her favourites from long ago, be they Narnia, Watership Down or Clancy. And after vacation continue with good books of any kind, maybe in audio, long drives got some of the people I know back into reading.

Ola’s choice in the previous post is excellent and I can recommend every one of the books there, but they will be equally good for winter commuting.

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