Winter Tide, the first book of the series, was a refreshing blend of Lovecraftian Mythos and a perspective focused on balance and peace, rather than power problem solving. So, a year and a half ago, while I said I enjoyed reading it, I was also saying that it was a bit slow in the beginning.

  Deep Roots has a few things going against it. The novelty wore off, for once. Then the characters are not reintroduced to the reader, there are no flashbacks or summaries, so I had no idea who everyone was anymore. Finally, it had almost the same structure as the first book, but without introducing new lore elements and instead just popping up new characters, as if keeping track of existing ones wasn't enough work. It starts slow and the pace only picks up towards the end. This made it hard for me to finish the book and maintain interest in the story.

 This time, Aphra and her motley crew need to stop the Outer Ones, ancient creatures with immense power, from saving humanity from extinction. Yes, it is a worthy goal, but they want to do it by enslaving and controlling Earth, treating us like the impetuous children that we are. With such a cosmic threat I would have expected cosmic scenes, powerful emotions, explosive outcomes, but it was all very civilized and ultimately boring.

  Bottom line: Ruthanna Emrys' fresh perspective persists in this second installment of the Innsmouth Legacy series, but it isn't fresh anymore. I am sure the experience is much better if you read Winter Tide just before it. As it stands, Deep Roots reads like a slightly boring detective story with some mystical elements sprayed in. I don't regret reading it, but I don't feel the need for more.

   This is one of those books that when summarized sounds a lot better than the actual story. In The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps, we discover a brutal medieval and magical world, where magic is related to people from the stars who are considered gods, but may just be very technologically advanced humans. Yet this is just a vague backdrop for a two hundred and something pages novel. The main focus is on a guy who alternates between a very rough vernacular Black English and technobabble which one else seems to understand, who has magical powers and is part of a gang of fighters that work as security for caravans. He is a demigod, the blood of the star people courses through his veins, but he hides that part of him from the world. He is also in love with another guy who has the blood and much of the text concerns this gay relationship, which he also hides from the world. There are also some brutal fight scenes, but they don't bring anything to the story other than to make it a fantasy.

  I saw other people just as confused as I am. Maybe there was some subtlety that I missed and that is why so many people praise this first novel of Kai Ashante Wilson, a guy who started writing in 2013. Why are the reviews so wonderful? To me it felt like an above average pulp story, akin to those about cowboys riding dinosaurs. The writing style is also difficult enough to make the book less entertaining that it could have been. It's like Wilson rubs our noses into some intellectual shit that I can't even smell. Or is it that is it just another mediocre book that gets positive political reviews because it promotes Black culture and features gay people?

  So my conclusion is that I did not enjoy the book. It took me ages to finish it and I couldn't relate to any of the characters. I thought the world was very interesting though, which makes this even more frustrating, since it was barely explored.

  It has been a long time since I've finished a book. I just didn't feel like it, instead focusing on stupid things like the news. It's like global neurosis: people glued to their TV screens listening to what is essentially the same thing: "we have no control, we don't know enough and we feel better bitching about it instead of doing anything to change it". I hope that I will be able to change my behavior and instead focus on what really matters: complete fiction! :)

  Anyway, Unfettered is a very nice concept thought up by Shawn Speakman: a contribution based anthology book. Writers provide short stories, complete with a short introduction, as charity. The original Unfettered book was a way by which writers helped Speakman cover some of his medical expenses after a cancer diagnosis and the idea continued, helping others with the same problem. This way of doing things, I believe, promotes a more liberating way of writing. There is no publisher pressure, no common theme, writers are just exploring their own worlds, trying things out.

  Unfettered III contains 28 shorts stories from authors like Brandon Sanderson, Lev Grossman, Mark Lawrence, Terry Brooks, Brian Herbert, Scott Sigler and more. Funny enough, it was Sanderson's own addition to the Wheel of Time literature that I found most tedious to finish, mostly because I couldn't remember what the books were about anymore and who all the characters were. But the stories were good and, even if the book is twice as large as I think it should have been, it was entertaining. Try it out, you might enjoy this format.

  There are a lot of fascinating ideas and anecdotes in this book, especially in the areas which I wouldn't have considered interesting before reading it. Rabid is the type of book that I love, both because the subject is fascinating but also because of the effort the author made to research and write the content in a digestible format.

  In this book Bill Wasik and Monica Murphy describe the history of the rabies virus, how it affected humankind culturally, historically and, of course, medically. We learn in this book that there is a strong possibility that the myths of vampire and werewolf stem from the behaviour of people affected by rabies, the theme of beast biting person and turning them into one of their own proven irresistible even in times where no one understood how diseases work. Was Hector rabid when fighting Achilles? Were berserkers affected by rabies? Then we go into the actual zoonotic origin of the virus, a staggering 60% of infectious diseases affecting humans being of animal original initially. An idea I found extremely interesting is that farmers took over from hunter gatherers in so little time and so thoroughly because raising animals made them get new diseases to which they developed immunity, any contact with non farming populations thus fatally destroying them. Finally, a very nice perspective on Louis Pasteur, who is more popularly renowned for developing pasteurization and thus providing us with better tasting drinks than his final triumph which was a vaccine for rabies and an institute dedicated to studying infectious diseases.

  Bottom line: it might sound like a weird subject to read about or at least one hard to digest. The authors' writing is very good, the research splendid, and the book short enough to not take too much of the reader's time. I recommend it!

  The Book of the Ancestor trilogy consists of Red Sister, Grey Syster, Holy Sister, books that tell the continuous story of Nona, a girl with magical powers who is trained as a warrior nun by the church on a feudal world called Abeth. It feels almost the same as the Harry Potter books: a school for children where they learn only exciting stuff like magic and fighting and where the group of friends that coalesces around the main character has to solve more and more complex and dangerous problems. And it pretty much has the same issues, as any of the actors in the story could have easily handled a little child regardless of her powers because... she's a child! Also, the four "houses" are here replaced with genetic lines that provide the owner with various characteristics.

  Anyway, I liked all three books, although I have to say that I liked them less and less as the ending approached. Tools used to solve some problems were not used for similar issues later on, the girls were learning more and more stuff and become more and more powerful, while all of their opponents seemed to lack the ability to reach their level even with greater numbers and funding and, maybe worse of all, whenever it was inconvenient to detail the evolution of the characters and the story, Mark Lawrence just skips to some point in the future. Thus, each of the last two books is separated from the previous one by two years!

  Another qualm that I have with the series is that the author spent a lot of effort to create a magical world, with a dying sun and with a vague history that may or may not have involved spaceships and an alien race, with various magical tools that can be combined to various and epic effects, with several kingdoms, each different from another. Then the story ends, as if all we could or should ever care about is what happens to Nona.

  Bottom line: if you liked Harry Potter, you might want to read this series. It pushes the same buttons, while getting less and less consistent as more stuff is added, then leaving you wanting more of the world that was described, even if you didn't especially liked the characters or their choices.

  The Broken Ladder is a sociology book that is concise and to the point. I highly recommend it. Keith Payne's thesis is that most of the negative issues we associate with poverty or income are statistically proven to be more correlated with inequality and status. And this is not a human thing, as animal studies show that this is a deeply rooted behavior of social animals like monkeys and has a genetic component that can be demonstrated to as simple creatures as fruit flies.

  There are nine chapters in the book, each focusing on a particular characteristic of effect of social inequality. We learn that just having available a sum of money or a set of resources is meaningless to the individual. Instead, more important is how different those resources are from other people in the same group. Inequality leads to stress, which in turn leads to toxic behaviors, health problems, developmental issues. It leads to risk taking, to polarization in politics, it affects lifespan, it promotes conspiracy theories, religious extremism and racism.

  It is a short enough book that there is no reason for me to summarize it here. I believe it's a very important work to examine, as it touches on many problems that are present, even timeless. Written in 2017, it feels like a explanatory pamphlet to what gets all the media attention in 2020.

  I have to admit this is a strange time for me, in which I struggle with finishing any book. My mind may drift away at a moment's notice, thoughts captured by random things that inflame my interest. And with limited time resources, some things fall through the cracks, like the ability to dedicate myself to books that don't immediately grab my attention. Such a book is The Ten Thousand Doors of January.

  And you know the type. It's one of those where the way the word sounds as you read it is more important that what it says, a sort of magical white poetry that is attempting to evoke rather than tell, feel rather than reason, while also maintaining a rigorous intellectual style. Alix E. Harrow is a good writer and it shows, however she is too caught up in her own writing. This story features a girl with an ability that is manifested when she writes words of power. She is an avid reader and, in order to learn about her capabilities, she receives a book that tells the story of another girl who was similar to her. And the style of that book is, you guessed it, words crafted to evoke rather than tell.

  So at about 40% of the book nothing had happened other than a girl of color living in a house of plenty, but imprisoned by rules and starved of knowledge or power. Her captor and adoptive father is a white and powerful aristocrat, cold as ice and authoritative in every action or word, while she is a good girl caught between her desires and her upbringing. I've read books like this before and I liked some of them a lot. And this may yet evolve into a beautiful story, but as I was saying above, I am not in the mood for paying that much attention before something happens.

  In conclusion, while I get a feeling of being defeated and a desire to continue reading the book, I also have to accept I don't have the resources to struggle with it. I would rather find a more comfortable story for me at this time.

  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.