The Authenticity Project is one of those books that got great marketing and so I got to read, so there is a little feeling of getting tricked to read it, but it's not a bad book. It is, however, terribly naive. It almost begs for the Brit-com makeover transition to the big screen with its physically perfect characters that feel their lives had lost meaning, but have all the resources to change them, the courage of telling the truth leading to strong friendships and not people taking advantage of them and the serendipity for all of them to meet each other and fit together. But it is a feel good book, so why not enjoy it?

  Clare Pooley graduated from a blog turned book about her own struggle with posh alcohol addiction to fiction with this book, after feeling inspired by the power of being truthful. In the book, someone decides to write their most personal truth in a notebook and leave it around so other people can read it and maybe also write in it. This brings together these people who have been living financially rewarding lives, but spiritually empty existences. The writing is decent, the story is obvious and lacking much subtlety, so if you want to read an uplifting fantasy about people getting everything right in their lives, this is the one for you.

  However, despite the book's premise that underneath the facade people are really different, the characters are quite cardboard. Instead of them having layer over layer of complexity, which would have made the story worth reading, it's like they hold party masks over their faces and when they drop them, you get to see all they are, vulnerable and normal while being amazing. There is a twist at the end that was kind of unexpected and a good opportunity to add more dimensions to the whole thing, only it fizzled immediately after the initial shock value.

  Bottom line: it feels as real as a fairy tale. The princesses get the princes, the dragons live happily ever after and everybody gets to keep the gold. It was not unpleasant to read, but I wouldn't recommend it, either.

  A few days ago I was stumbling upon a global pandemic book that I couldn't finish because it was avoiding the exact parts that would interest me in the scenario: the disease, the cause, the immediate aftermath. Instead it used the disease as a prop to describe a world in which only children survived. Disappointed, I randomly picked another book, this time one from Liu Cixin, the author of Three Body Problem, which I liked. Lo and behold, it was about a global catastrophe that kills all the adults, too! And while it started great, I have to say that it ultimately was also a disappointment.

  In Liu's defense, it is a story he wrote in 1989, only published in China in 2003 and translated to English in 2019 because of his success with other works.

  Supernova Era has a very interesting premise: a nearby star, occluded from us by a dust cloud, goes supernova, bathing the Earth in deadly radiation. People quickly realize that the genetic damage has affected everybody and only children under the age of 13 will be able to shrug it off, while all the adults will die. Children will have finally inherited the planet. What will the outcome be?

  Unfortunately, this is where the nice part ends. The genetic damage on animals and plants is swept under the rug, logistic issues such as how children would be fed and countries run are only touched upon, the actual effects of radiation damage, its long time effects, the way it would have affected people are completely ignored. And this, also, because the supernova was only a prop to describe a world in which only children survived.

  Liu had a really weird outlook on children back then. In his mind, children are lacking empathy, are only interested in games and even after a ten month training period from adults, they can only superficially grasp the nature of the world. And even if they are as old as 13 year old, they have no sexual drives. To be fair, I doubt that part would have passed by the Chinese censors, but not even mentioning it and portraying prepubescent teens as asexual feels even creepier than mentioning it too much.

  And I remember myself at 12: I was reading five books at the same time, was interested in natural sciences and was avid for knowledge. If people would have said "Now we will teach you how to do what we do", I would have been immensely happy, at least for a little while. But one thing is certain, I loved my friends without reservation and I was always thinking of how I would change the world when I would grow up.

  Not these children. They are written more as psychopathic caricatures of their nationalities. American kids start shooting each other for fun, Brazilians play games of soccer with a hundred thousand players and one ball and the Chinese succumb to fear when they find themselves under no authority and have to resort to a quantum computer to tell them what to do. They play war games that kill hundreds of thousands, but they are emotionally unaffected. They nuke their opponents for laughs. The ending is even more confusing, as it involves switching populations between the countries of the U.S. and China, for no apparent reason and ignoring transport issues and the immediate famine that would lead to.

  Bottom line: an interesting premise that fails miserably at the end, even though the author did make the effort to finish the book. But that's exactly the feeling one gets: someone struggled to finish this, changing direction, bringing in random ideas that are never explored and ignoring the obvious.

  Station Eleven started really well. It had the fresh scene setup, the internal thoughts of a complex character, a dissection of actual motivations and emotions, rather than cardboard cliches. Because I have a bunch of books to read and when I start reading I just pick one at random, I didn't know what it was about, and so I had that feeling of "Oh well, it's not sci-fi or fantasy, but I like the writing!". I was convinced I was going to like the book.

  A chapter later and there is a killer epidemic starting. One chapter later twenty years have passed and everybody except young people are alive in a post apocalyptic non technological world. I just couldn't go on. The complex character at the beginning and the interesting setup had been completely obliterated and replaced with tired formulaic ideas. I couldn't care less about any of the new characters or what was going to happen. I don't know what Emily St. John Mandel was thinking when she started writing the book, but it is clearly not for me.

  One of the main reasons to put the book down and not continue reading was the lazy and unscientific treatment of the killer pandemic. We are talking about a flu virus that infects just by breathing for a few seconds next to someone, then disabled those people within a day. Viruses like this do not spread! Moreover, there is no way that a flu virus kills everybody. There are always exceptions, whether due to immunity, isolation or other factors. I love pandemic stories, I read them all with glee, and I did that way before the current situation, and when I see one that teaches nothing, because the epidemic is just a prop in an otherwise unrelated story, I get frustrated.

  A few years ago I was watching a movie with my wife. We both didn't quite enjoy it, but were curious on how it ended, so I told her to skip scenes to get to the end. She was skipping all the scenes I was interested in and watching the ones I couldn't care less about. This book is the same. I understand why people would like it, as I said, the writing was good, but the focus of the story and the characters were in complete opposition to my own interests.

  Almost a year ago I was reading Vaccinated, by Paul A. Offit, an ode to vaccines and their de facto promoter in modern medicine, Maurice Hilleman. Offit was angry in the book when talking about the vaccine craze started by Andrew Wakefield, a self interested psychopath that gained money and fame while feeding on the fear and desperation of parents. Yet, he is not even close to how angry Seth Mnookin is in The Panic Virus, a book dedicated solely to exposing the roots and mechanisms of the industry of fear towards vaccines.

  The author systematically dissects, with proof and careful analysis, the entire argument of harmful vaccines causing autism, mercury poisoning or damaging immunity. Let me be as blunt as he is: the theory that vaccines cause autism has been thoroughly debunked and whoever continues to spout such nonsense has not read anything about the subject other than Facebook. Mnookin talks about Wakefield, David Kirby, Jenny McCarthy, Oprah Winfrey, exposing them for the profiteering promoters of deadly lies that they are. He talks about law trials and medical trials and research papers as they destroy any leg these theories stand on, but which never reach the news. He talks about devastated families, tricked into wasting their lives and money championing harmful ideas just for the tiny hope their child might get better.  

  However it is ironic that this book suffers from the same problems that made the vaccine argument lean so much towards the emotional, dramatic, sound-bite sized bullshit: it is technical, precise, verbose, intellectual. It is difficult to read the book because it engages with your brain, assaulting it with educated language and loads of information. Meanwhile, the opponents of the Mnookin's views use animated gifs with large colorful font texts and the occasional kitten. But it is a book that needs reading.

  Consider The Panic Virus as a form of vaccine itself. You need to read it so you don't fall prey to soulless predators that would use targeted well crafted yet completely misleading arguments to sway you to their side for their own profit. I am warning you, though, this is not a happy book. It made me question the worth of the human race as a whole. If such cheap techniques can be so effective in brainwashing so many people into believing absurd lies, then don't we deserve it, all the death and suffering? Aren't we failing at... I don't know, evolution? And the sad part is that most of the affected are fairly educated people, who start to rebel against "the establishment" and branch out into alternative theories without actually employing any technique of differentiating between fact and fallacy.

  Bottom line: I will rate this book the maximum value, because it is important to be read, but it is not a perfectly written piece of literature, nor it is easy to finish. But give it a try.

   You may have heard of Richard Feynman from several sources: he was a Nobel winning physicist, he worked in the team creating the first atomic bomb, he said many a smart thing that turned into memes at one time or another and is generally considered a genius. This book is a collection of short anecdotal stories put on paper from recorded interviews with the man, in which you will be surprised to see that he didn't really consider himself very smart. Instead, he was looking at situations where the solution seemed perfectly obvious and did not understand why other can't see it.

   I found the short tales pretty amusing, but also incredibly inspiring. Here is a physicist who makes a bet with an artist to makes one the teacher of the other, so that he learns to draw - something he feels to be impossible, and the artist understands more about science. In the end, Feynman sells paintings for money and the artist is none the wiser. Here is this person who at one time started fiddling with the safes in Los Alamos holding the secrets of the atomic bomb and found how easy it is to crack them. No one else thought it was easy. And above everything, he is always pranking people, making them believe he was smarter or more capable than he really was. But the joke was on him, because every time he did something, he really became good at it.

  The title says it all: "Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!": Adventures of a Curious Character. If anything, he was very curious and kept his mind open to any experience. It's people like these that I admire and, of course, envy with all my being. Feynman seems not only to be a complete man, in both work, fun and personal life, but also get more from the same experience than anyone around him. I found that fascinating and therefore I invite you to read the book yourselves.

  A Cavern of Black Ice is a huge 769 page long book, but only the beginning of a story that happens in a fictional realm of feudalism and magic. You just have to have the classic hero journey, starting with a young man torn from the world he knew and was comfortable to him, partially mentored by a wise and hitherto unknown relative, given a reason to trek on a perilous journey and beset by powerful, yet strangely ineffectual enemies. Of course, Deus ex Machina abilities that help him and his quarry escape tight situations are also there.

  But there is more: various clans living in a cold inhospitable North, the ambitious ruler of a city coveting the resources of said clans, a mysterious and powerful entity chained by the ruler, a strange and magical race of people even further north, a secret sorcerous society, female assassins that you can't quite remember what they look like, a dark realm where dangerous creatures await release and so on and so on.

  The thing to understand here is that J. V. Jones set to create a vast universe in which multiple interests clash to create a captivating story. The writing is good, the characters are decent, but there is something missing and while I can't quite put my finger on it, I suspect it involves editing. There is too much text for what the story wants to say and when characterisation is concerned, some actions or even complete characters are just pulled out of a hat. And remember, this is just one of at least four books in the Sword of Shadows series and it barely scratched the surface of it all.

  Bottom line: I liked the book, but not so much as to be absolutely certain I will continue to read the rest of the series. When I finished reading it I felt actual relief. If you want to spend some time immersed in a fantastic fantasy universe, this might be a good fit for you.

  It's very rare for me to have such a strong reaction to a book as I has to The Shallows. A combination of high expectations from the people who recommended it and the ironically poor quality of the book almost forced me to stop reading it. It gives me a great and perverse pleasure to summarize this book into a single paragraph: the Internet is bombarding us with information and stimuli, therefore training our brains to skim the surface of things and depriving us of the ability to "deep read", meaning slowly digesting large blocks of text and fully processing what we read is now difficult to impossible for most people. That is it! There is nothing else in this book. And the reason why this book was bad is that it brings nothing more to the original idea explored by the author in an Atlantic Monthly cover story than quotes from other people who agree.

  Nicholas Carr decries (and cries and cries) the way the medium of the information we digest is changing the way we process that information. He uses page long paragraphs filled with big words meant only to make him look well read to repeat the same things over and over again, all the while complaining about people skipping to the juicy parts. I mean, I've been known to use a few pompous words myself, but I don't think I've ever went out of my way to use complicated expressions when simpler ones would do.

  The multitude of citations from people ranging from ancient Greek philosophers to Artificial Intelligence scientists are cherry-picked to make his case of the demise of the "deep read" in favor of meaningless web skimming. Carr makes the correct case that too much information trains us to not completely absorb the content of the things we read, but he completely misses the mark on why that happens, ironically made evident by his style of writing: boring, pompous, long, verbose. In a classic (by now) bubble effect, he writes a book about his fears that no one but people who share those fears would actually be able to read.

  Also ironic is that he makes some predictions (in 2010) about artificial intelligence and how people will use the various (and nefarious) web services like Google Wave that now make one laugh out loud.

  The point, Carr, is that people who are bombarded with lots of information learn to quickly categorize that information, then send it in the correct bin. You skim an article, see that it is mostly word filling around a central idea, you extract that idea, then move on. There is no deep reading because there is no deep writing. It happens with books, too. One is quick to determine when one book is captivating, engaging and well researched rather than repetitive, single-sided and written for the pleasure of reading oneself and looking smug rather than for knowledge sharing or the pleasure of others. The point (made clearer by research in how AI systems designed after brains function) is that this is how brains have always worked: filtered out as much as possible of the meaningless and tried to absorb as quickly as possible the meaningful. It is literally a search for meaning, you buffoon!

  So, yes, no one finds the time to laboriously study a book, annotate it, keeping well received paragraphs and quips in notebooks they carry with them. But that is because there is more information out there that brings more value through its diversity. In a very sad way, The Shallows reminds me of those religious people who complained about how laic books made people not study the Bible and absorb its teachings.

  Now, the book is not completely without merit. It's just very annoying. The way we use our brains does change the abilities we later have. It's what brains are meant to do: adapt.

  Would it hurt to regularly take a break from distraction, reading something that we have decided is important and high quality, then taking the time to think and absorb and maybe reread what we thought was valuable? No, of course not. I am intimately familiar with the restlessness that comes when trying to spend more than an hour doing the same thing or keeping my attention focused on one thing only. In this, Carr is not wrong. But in assuming that slowly and carefully navigating an avalanche of information is possible, he is definitely going too far.

  Instead of complaining about how we don't absorb meaning because we are too busy filtering out noise, one could be optimistic about the ability of people, helped by technology and not despite it, to improve the way they separate chaff from wheat. Instead of decrying the size and complexity of the information that one must use, making it impossible to hold it all in one brain, why not enjoy the ability to collaborate, network and share that makes it possible for that information to be well processed by groups of people?

  Bottom line: the ideas explored in this book are conservative in nature, fearful of change, focused on what drives that change yet blind on where it takes us. It is the intellectual pompous version of the old man wagging his cane in the air, shouting in anger at young people. It is a book that examines one phenomenon without bringing one any closer to an understanding of it. Woe betide things will change! Well, duh!

  It was more than two years ago when I was reading the first four books in the series and not being very impressed. Then there was a long break in which I wasn't really interested in reading the fifth and last: The Dark Talent. But I am a big fan of Brandon Sanderson so I finally read it. It's very short, pretty pointless and ends badly. And by badly I mean written in a bad way, which is quite unexpected, but even worse, it ends in a cliffhanger, pending a sixth book.

  The entire series is tonally all over the place, but I remember for the first books it kind of grew on me, even if it was funny one moment, tense the next, breaking the fourth wall immediately after. The Dark Talent, though, I hated! I couldn't empathise with any of the characters, I found the jokes elaborate yet dull and the twists were obvious chapters before.

  I guess Sanderson can't do only good. He has to vent the silly and the bad and the weird in order to write the good ones like The Reckoners and Elantris. I am pretty sure I will not read any of the books in this series.

  The first 20% of Gods of Jade and Shadow has nothing to do with anything fantastic. Since I have a large collection of books and choosing which to read more or less at random, I was afraid that I chose one of those young girl coming of age stories, because basically the first fifth of the book is a Cinderella story. Nothing wrong with that, just I didn't feel like reading such a story then and I almost stopped reading it. But a few days later I kept going.

  And the book picked up, with the introduction of Mayan gods, only that afterwards it all turned into one of the watered down episodes of American Gods from the TV show (not the book, which was great!). It's a big road trip, with enough information to basically know where the characters will end up and in what state they will get there. The only unknowns were the bits of Mayan mythology, which were nice, but not nearly comprehensive, and the final chapter. And the final chapter is full of symbolism, only I felt that it didn't have a lot to do with the rest of the book. Worse, a lot of the characters introduced in that first 20% were basically abandoned for the rest of the story. It was like Silvia Moreno-Garcia started to write something, then she thought of a cool ending and then she abruptly veered off and filled in the space to get to that ending.

  Bottom line: it was decent writing and perhaps in a more receptive mood I would have "got it", but as it is, I didn't. It seemed an attempt for something that the book never got to be, instead I got something fractured that didn't feel neither original nor magical.

  I don't remember why I thought this would be a good book to read. Perhaps because it was one of those "gothic novels" and I had just read one that I liked a lot. The Owl Service is a short novel, but it took me ages to finish it. Whenever I had the time to read/listen to it I always found something else to do. I think Alan Garner wanted to do right by the story, which is a reimagining of a traditional Welsh legend, but it ended up an opaque and pretentious mess with characters that you cannot stand. If at least the writing had called to me. Garner is not a bad writer, but the style of writing didn't capture my attention. I had to make efforts to stay in the story and not let my mind wander.

  The plot revolves around a valley in Wales where a British family owns property and where the locals are treated as uneducated peasants. The family comes to spend the summer and weird things start to happen. But they are either completely random or, when it comes to be some sort of possession or empowerment, there is always someone near to break the spell or destroy things in fear and righteous anger, which made it all rather boring. At no point there was anyone saying "Oh, that's peculiar, let's dig into it!" or "Hey, I can make books fly by themselves, let's see if I can solve world hunger or space exploration".

  The worst part was the characters, all entitled twats. Every single one of them believes he can order other around, force things upon them or do and say whatever the hell they want. And I mean everyone, including the Welsh help. If they don't insult you, force things upon you or treat you like scum just because you are different, they smack you upon the head with indignation for not having done what was rudely ordered to you. And that's the maid doing it!

  Bottom line: as a scholar of Welsh legend and the literary interpretation of myth in British literature I... hell, no! Just leave this book be! It's just bad.

  We are all racists. We belittle dinosaurs for getting extinct, we pump our chests and declare we are the highest pinnacle of evolution and they are inferior, failed experiments of nature, we, mammals, are clearly the superior product. Yet they existed and flourished and ruled every ecosystem on Earth for hundreds of millions of years. Even today the number of species of birds, the direct ancestors of dinosaurs, is more than double the number of species of mammals. Kenneth Lacovara starts his book with a similar assumption: Einstein was a schmuck! Every one of his great achievements means nothing because, in the end, Einstein died. If that idea is ridiculous for him, how come we still use it for dinosaurs?

  Why Dinosaurs Matter is a short book, one in the TED Books series, and it pretty much adds detail to Lacovara's TED talk, like all of the TED books. Frankly, I am not very happy with the series, as it often adds little to the ideas summarised in the talks themselves. Some people are spending a lot of effort to summarize existing books into 15 minutes bite size media and TED books do the opposite, adding fat onto already fleshed out ideas. That doesn't mean this book is bad. It is well written, it has a lot of useful information, but it felt disjointed, like a combination of an opinion piece and a history book of discovered fossils. It gets its point across, but that's about it.

  And the point is that we can learn a lot from dinosaurs, from how they spread around the world, adapted to all kinds of environments and the biological innovations they brought on with this. We can learn from their apparently absolute dominion and their immediate and humiliating downfall. Being at the top of the food chain is not only a matter of prideful boasting, but also a fragile spot with multiple dependencies. Once the natural order is disrupted, the top of the pyramid is the first to topple.

  Bottom line: it is a nice introductory book in the world of dinosaurs, but not more than that. It's short enough to read on a long train ride or plane flight and it can be easily read by a child or teenager.

  One Word Kill starts off like an episode of Stranger Things. You've got the weird kid, his weird friends and the mysterious girl who is both beautiful, smart and hangs out with them to play D&D, all set in the 80's. Then the main character gets cancer and his future self comes to save... the girl. There is also a school boy psycho after them. But that's where the similarities end... the rest of the story is just... nothing. People explain things that needed little explaining and make no sense, good kids and their parents run around from a school boy, as psychotic as he could possibly be, without involving police or gang member allies and, in the middle of all the drama: cancer, psycho killer, future self, time travel... they play Dungeons and Dragons, a game that promotes imagination and creativity that then the protagonists fail to use in any amount in their real life.

  Having just read Prince of Thorns, I really expected a lot more from Mark Lawrence. Instead I get a derivative and boring story that brings absolutely nothing new to the table. It's reasonably well written, I guess, but nothing Wow!, which is exactly the reaction reviewers seem to have about this book. Have I read a different story somehow?

  Bottom line: I am tempted to rate this average, on account of other raving reviews and on the fact that I liked another Mark Lawrence book, but I have to be honest with me and rate this book alone, which I am sorry to say, is sub par.

  While on the road with his mother and baby brother, a ten year old prince is attacked by an enemy armed group. Thrown into a patch of thorns from where he could not move, only watch, he sees his mother defiled and killed and his brother smashed on a rock like a toy. He vows vengeance. Such a classic story, right? Only we see him a few years later, leading a band of brigands, murdering and looting and raping, his vengeance all but forgotten and replaced by a desire to unite all the hundred little states warring against each other. Well, more interesting, but still pretty classic, right? Nope, stuff still happens that makes the lead character (and you) doubt his thoughts and the true nature of reality and retroactively explains some of the more incredulous questions that the reader is asking.

  I would say Prince of Thorns is all about revealing layers of this world that Mark Lawrence is still shaping. I quite liked that. The first book sets things up, but it is not a setup book. It is filled with action. Nor does it tell us everything, leaving a lot to be explored in the next books in the series. That's something that is sorely missing in many modern stories. In order to enjoy the book, though, you have to suspend your disbelief when it tells of an eleven year old boy smashing heads, swinging swords and leading men. Yes, in feudal times being 11 is the time to have a midlife crisis, but it is all a little bit too much for a child.

  It is a game of thrones kind of book, but mercifully from the standpoint of a single character. There is not a lot of lore, but there is magic and a mysterious connection to an advanced but now dead civilisation, plenty of violence and strategy. I will probably read the next books in the series.

  The Grace of Kings feels long from the very start. Ken Liu is starting off from a fictional empire of seven islands, but it might as well have been a historical book. Everything is mostly realistic, with very human characters that do what human characters do: harm and kill other people and find rationalizations for it. Some of them are heroic and occasionally think of other people, too.

  Half way through the book (which is one of a trilogy, of course) I couldn't keep up with all the characters that kind of did the same thing, the long expositions of why people did stupid or horrible things to others and the various anecdotes that made some of the characters heroes or villains. And I call them anecdotes because that's what they feel like: short moments that disrupt rather than enforce the long and unfortunately boring history of the realm.

  Bottom line, it feels like a Chinese Game of Thrones, with less interesting characters and no magic as of yet. It's not badly written, quite the contrary, but its subject is long winding and doesn't interest me. I will therefore abandon reading it.

  Wakenhyrst is very well written, but where it excels is the dissection of the hypocrisy of people. Michelle Paver is telling the story from the viewpoint of a young girl who must navigate the world and her own adolescence in the house of a father that has no love for her or for her mother, finds every reason to blame others for his shortcomings and deeds, and yet is untouchable because he is a man and the lord of the manor. What legions of screeching feminists could not do, Paver manages with her subdued, yet defiant description of how women are used and ignored and pretty much treated as glorified pets. It is impossible to not hate the father figure in the book, even as the main character is torn between wanting to forgive him and dealing with the creepy and sometimes evil shit he pulls. The ending is powerful, as the daughter finds the strength to sublimate her hate into an even more appropriate emotion: pity.

  But the story's power is not limited to the detailed analysis of the human psyche. It binds together Anglican folklore, medieval beliefs about devils and angels and art, whitewashed (in the actual sense of the term) by Puritans and systematically destroyed by Victorians, the power of untamed nature and the horror of the human complacency. How refreshing to have a very young girl be the rational and intelligent agent that fends for herself in a world of mystical belief and societal poppycock, so that we can identify with her and see it as it was. How wonderful to have Paver describe it all without any trace of anachronism, as if she has lived in that world herself.

  The story starts slow and the pace almost never picks up, yet the tension and the level of details are constantly increasing, managing to somehow convey at the same time two distinct and contrary feelings: one of slow burn and the other of untamed power rising to a crescendo. It brilliantly mingles the oppressive hot wet feel of subconscious fear and superstition with cold analytical reason as its adversary. In the beginning I wanted to rate it above average only, but now, the more I think about it the more I admire the writing and the way the book tells the story. Good job, Michelle Paver!

  Bottom line: move past the slower start, it is certainly worth reading. A gothic tale of subliminal supernatural horror and a very human and real one at the same time.