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  As I was saying in the review of Sunreach, the Skyward Flight subseries of the Skyward books by Brandon Sanderson is basically another book of the series, split into three volumes that are each written from the perspective of another character.

  The second volume, ReDawn, it written from the perspective of Allanik, the alien cytonic pilot that crashed on Detritus and which Spensa replaced as a Superiority pilot cadet. I liked that the humans are finally getting new allies and the end of the novella also brings a tragic event which will probably shape the third volume.

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  If you were curious what happened to the rest of the pilot crew during the events of Cytonic, Sunreach tells the story. I expected to get a short story that was independent of the rest of the storyline, but instead this a not so short novella which expands into a subseries (Skyward Flight) of at least three volumes. Written in collaboration with Janci Patterson, it feels just like the other books in the Skyward series: first person perspective of young female pilot fighting the Superiority, light content, only the main character is not Spensa, but Freyia (callsign FM).

  It is just as filled with adventure and easy to read as other books in the series, I've actually finished this and the next volume in the series in about two days. Can't really say anything about the plot because - let's face it - it makes little sense, and it's very similar to Spensa's arc, but it's fun. If you've read and enjoyed any of Brandon Sanderson's Skyward books, this feels just like another entry and I believe you will need to read the subseries volumes to understand things in the next full book.

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  It might sound strange to say this about a book published in 1959, but Mrs. Bridge was a refreshing read. It is made entirely of short chapters - more than 100 of them in a 246 page book - which describe little moments in the life of Mrs. Bridge, the wife of rich lawyer Walter Bridge in the 1930's America. I loved the fact that the chapters were ironic, but remained descriptive, without any judgement. There is nothing to push you in one direction or another; whatever you think of Mrs. Bridge, it's your own verdict, not the author's. The small vignettes are also disjointed, very rarely connected to each other, and although they are told in a chronological order, they shatter any semblance of a story. The book is literally a portrait.

  And as I was reading this, I was constantly thinking about this woman. Is she a victim or an abuser? Is she stupid or just simply stuck in a role she can't get out of? Am I sympathetic to her or do I despise her? Is it a tragedy or a comedy? Could and should anyone love her? I was constantly trying to cast judgement as the book kept reminding me that I don't actually need to.

  The book felt refreshing for presenting the life of a housewife in a world where women are treated more like pets than human beings, but not going into a tirade about how that's good or bad. It talks about the lives of negro servants, but doesn't shove some message down your throat. It happens before and during the first part of World War II, but it doesn't spout the virtue of Allied forces and condemn the evil of Fascism. It was just great writing which doesn't try to jam some conclusion down the throat.

  At first I thought the book was written by a woman and only at the end noticed that it was written by Evan S. Connell. He also wrote a Mr. Bridge book, which I am not sure if I want to read or not. Probably I will, because it completes the tableau. The portrait, you see, is of a couple.

  Personally, I feel  Mrs. Bridge is just trapped by her own superego. She has to look and behave as she was trained to, to maintain appearances regardless the cost to her own desires or personality. She doesn't do it for some end goal, she is not political or malicious, she isn't even two-faced, because she has suppressed any other face than the one she is showing. The few moments where her thoughts or desires come to the surface and quickly buried back are just a sign of how tragic the book is. At first I wanted to quote something from the book in the review, but there are so many quotable bits that I've decided against it.

  Bottom line: Mrs. Bridge makes you aware of how people lived in the '30s. Easy to read, the book's short chapters hide the depth of observation the author used to write them. In short, I loved it.

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  If it weren't a Brandon Sanderson book, I think I would be more critical of the outsider kid turned hero through sheer power of will and reluctantly going towards becoming a minor god plot. I mean, I've seen it before, it sells, it's fun, but it never is good quality. Yet, Sanderson manages to make Cytonic about the characters, and it's hard to not empathize with them, once you get past the "oh, god, what a mess this story has become" feeling.

  And if I had to name one thing only that makes Brandon Sanderson books so good is that he doesn't give a crap about how credible his universes are. He can make emotional phone books having romances work, if he ever chooses to. (Please don't do it, man!)

  Back to Cytonic, Spensa again does things because she feels like it, rationalizing it afterwards as "she had to, despite her feelings", discovering new powers, making new friends and being sweet and aggressive at the same time (told you Sanderson can make anything work). I don't want to spoil anything, although I feel it would be impossible. I've forgotten most of what I've read in the first two books and it didn't matter that much. Ironically, it all happens in "the nowhere", a place where people can live, but slowly lose their memories of the real world (obviously, the somewhere), so maybe I went into the story a bit too much.

  For people who don't know this, Skyward is more of a young adult/children's series of books, where a young girl discovers she has a destiny. It's Harriet Potter in space, kind of, only with more focus on what people are like and how their feelings inform their actions than a world that makes objective sense. So, yeah, like Harry Potter. The tone is light, yet engaging and entertaining, and while it is not Sanderson's best work, it's quite fun.

  Trading for a Living is a pack of four different books, but of similar design:

  • The Best Trading Lessons of Jesse Livermore
    • contains quotes from Jesse Livermore and a short translation/analysis from Frank Marshall for each
  • Expert Trader: 93 Trading Lessons of Richard Wyckoff
    • contains quotes from Richard Wyckoff and a short translation/analysis from Frank Marshall for each
  • Secrets of Trading Performance
    • a list of 10 principles to help you get in the mindset of a day trader
  • Trading Essentials
    • a list of 20 principles to help you get in the mindset of a day trader

On the surface of it, you might say that this is not a book at all, just a collection of random musings from Frank Marshall. However, it does offer a direct and clear entry in the world of trading. As a complete noob in the business, I thought it was useful, if only as a browse-through and a reference book.

While I may have the utmost respect for Livermore and Wyckoff, they were trading a century ago. Their insights, even translated by a modern trader, don't mean much, although the small explaining paragraph from Marshall at the end of each is concise and useful. However, the two small booklets at the end, with the 30 principles in total, are kind of gold. And not gold in the sense of "read those and you will get rich!", but because they are honestly telling you:

  • trading is HARD, because it depends on you finding an edge over everybody else (you only win because someone else loses)
  • trading is discipline, because you need to fight your own urges and emotions and follow an (ever evolving) strategy
  • you need to keep your own mind, body and life in balance (he even recommends meditation and therapy)
  • trading is a job, which needs to be done with the mind, not the heart
  • most people losing big (the 90% that don't make it) usually enter trading with the wrong mindset: trying to prove something, gambling, fear, wanting to get rich fast, etc.
  • trading is hard work: following the trends, interpreting the data, doing math and statistics, etc.
  • you trade because you enjoy it, otherwise you won't make it

Bottom line: Frank Marshall is telling you NOT to pick up trading unless you are really into it. Even these relatively vague advice he gives is prefaced in every book by a disclaimer that you are not to follow it with the expectation that it will automatically make you win money. You need to put in a lot of work to even start making a dent and strong discipline is required to stop yourself from going in too deep and never coming back up.

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  There is an issue with American science fiction, where the stakes have to be raised all the time. Everything has to become different, bigger, flashier, louder, until it becomes so ridiculous that you just have to start over. My greatest regret is that the Expanse series didn't focus more on the Sol world, so carefully crafted in the first books only to be discarded for (cheap?) alien cosmic horror. Perhaps there was never a market for that, but when the series ended, it is the complex interaction between Inners and Belters and the larger than life characters there I missed the most.

  Leviathan Falls doesn't address all of the open threads, loses focus on the world and stays on the crew of the Rocinante: victims, heroes, rebels, guardians of the Universe. It then unequivocally cuts all of those threads and ends the entire series with terrible finality.

  But the book is great, like most of the series, a page turner that I couldn't let go until I had finished it. Stakes were never higher, heroes never this heroic, villains never more terrifying and yet relatable. To me, at this moment, biggest villain(s) is still James S. A. Corey for killing my world.

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  Stranger in a Strange Land is mainly satire. It tries to shake the reader from stasis and make them ask questions and think for themselves. For Robert A. Heinlein, science, freedom of thought and critical thinking were really important and it shows in how he approaches the story. However, the book is also philosophy, pulp fiction, religious experimentation, erotica, science fiction and pure lunacy. Also, if you are one of the social justice people, don't read this book, especially feminists.

  First published in 1961, it both shows its age and is way ahead of its times. The book immensely influenced culture to the point that it added a new word to the English dictionary: "grok", which is used throughout the book as a synonym to "comprehend", although apparently it means a lot more.

  The book is pretty damn large, split into five parts which each felt like a different story. Probably today it would have been published as a pentalogy. The first part is pure science fiction satire. A young man, raised by Martians, returns to Earth, where he has to confront the reality of our culture. Shots are fired towards everything: politics, law, religion, capitalism, culture. 

  The second part is about him finding some allies which protect him and allow him to have the time to evolve. Here it kind of transforms to the normal kind of pulp published at the time (and since).

  From the third part on, Heinlein gives agency to his character. People interact with him, teach him about the world while he starts "spreading his wings". A lot of discussion about how he naively perceives the world. More focus is put on his superpowers: he can not only make stuff (and people) disappear forever, but he can control his body, move things with his mind, is capable of telepathy.

  In the fourth part, Mike the Martian becomes a cult leader. He establishes a church, starts filtering people through a number of "circles" and at the end he has them speaking and thinking in Martian, which gives them the same powers that he has. His church is all about free love, communal ownership (if it even matters), group telepathy and so on. At this point I was reminded of The Center of the Cyclone, which started as a scientist's journal on LSD experimentation and ended as a complete mental breakdown of a person communing with extraterrestrial beings.

  The fifth part just wraps it all up in a biblical allegory, with Mike the God sacrificing himself for his church and humanity as a whole.

  It took me forever to finish the book. Partly because I was focused on other stuff, but also because the book is filled with random stuff. You might think that as Mike is the primary character, he is also the protagonist, but instead this old man Jubal is the carrier of the reader's point of view. The man is cultured, intelligent, arrogant, likes to hear himself speak, condescends to everybody and is generally grumpy - which is presented as being endearing, but in fact it's pretty annoying. He lives in a grand mansion with four young girls, which are his secretaries. When he permits them, they are quite lively and opinionated :) Apparently, many considered Jubal as a stand in for Heinlein himself.

  I admit that I loved the first part of the book. I thought it was humorous and poignant, laying bare the hypocrisy of the modern world. Also it had a good pace, it was presenting new information and there was no Jubal. Then things started to feel a bit weird, but I kept at it. The ending was almost like having to listen to one of those convinced hippies telling everybody how God is love and therefore you should let him fuck you. There are entire chapters about Jubal explaining someone how things truly are and why that person is wrong in their thoughts or beliefs. And then there is the church of love thing, where everybody groks and drinks deep and calls everybody "dear", while smugly announcing that they have the answer to everything.

  As far as I know Heinlein specifically tried to piss off people with the book, to shake things up. It all started from a idea of his wife's to write a Mowgli book, but where the kid has been raised by Martians. more than a decade later, this is the result. I think the Strugatskys did a better and more concise job in Space Mowgli, yet Heinlein managed to inspire whole generations with this book. To this day there is an actual church that follows the principles in the book and a Heinlein Society dedicated to encouraging critical thinking. Who am I to criticize it? But it was damn hard to finish.

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  Mirage is inspired by the "Years of Lead" in Morocco's 1960s history and its underlying message about the terrors of colonialism is quite important. At first I thought it was inspired by the plight of Arabs in Palestine, so it's also very timely. That is why it pains me to say that I couldn't go more than several chapters in. The writing is amateurish, the lead teen character inconsistent and annoying and this is clearly a YA book written by a woman for other women.

  That may sound misogynistic, but everyone who has ever hunted for a good book to read knows what I mean: you get to something that has rave recommendations, raised to the level of masterpiece by a few articles, but then when you start reading and you look closer at those reviews you see that they are mostly from women writing those five star animated GIF capital letter emoji filled things. And all the men give two stars and wonder how did they get to read the book in the first place, just like you.

  I don't want to be unfair to Somaiya Daud - this is her debut novel and I am sure her writing will get better with time - but for me reading through the rest of the book and knowing that it's yet another trilogy in the making, so having to wait even more to even get to the end of the story, was too much. It also addresses issues of personal helplessness, which is probably my Achilles' heel. If I ever want to get to those good books that I want to find, I have to fail fast and cut my losses early.

  Bottom line: I couldn't even begin to start reading the book. A combination of subject, debut writing style and aggressive and misleading advertising made me abandon it immediately.

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  I have heard about Jack Kerouac and his most famous book On the Road for as long as I can remember, but I had never read it until now. I did watch the 2012 movie with the same name, though, and I gave it the highest rating. I still believe Garrett Hedlund was amazing in it and that the guy needs more great roles like that. So, while whole books have been written about the Beat Generation, Jack Kerouac and his friends and about On the Road itself, what did I, greatest book critic ever, think of it?

  I liked it. I can say that parts of it were lovely and parts of it boring. But consider this: Kerouac wrote this as a "scroll", based on a stream of thoughts randomly thrown on whatever paper he could find on his travels, shaped by whatever place he was in and what mood he was having and which people he was with and what substances coursed through his body. The scroll itself is twice as big as the book he eventually published and On the Road is considered part of the Duluoz Legend series, which spans 13 books. The thing to look for in his writing cannot be about specific details, but about the overall philosophy, the experience.

  That is why I can safely and with certainty say: I will not read the scroll version, I liked the book, but I loved the movie. And while this is not a review of the film, I did notice that many of its critics were mainly focused on "it's not like the book". Gentlemen, if the film would have been about other people doing other things, but in the same spirit as the book, it would still have been On the Road and just as entertaining. Because, while this is based on actual people and actual experiences, the specifics are quite irrelevant. Once you capture the spirit of the thing, the rest is just filler.

  So what is the book about? Jack and his buddy Dean spend the entire time moving from New York to San Francisco and back, using their own cars, car sharing, hitching, jumping on trains, buses, or however they could, enjoying each other's company and the feeling of being on the road and meeting interesting people and living life at its fullest. The film has a great female cast, but you will notice that they are barely doing anything. They are there in the background, because while the story contains them, it is not focused on them. It's even more so in the book, where characters jump in and out of the story: travel companions, drink and drug buddies, random sex, true love, marriages, children, people who let them sleep in their houses with or without pleasure. And while everything is told from the perspective of the writer and Dean has the next more important role, even then you cannot say the story is about them.

  The effect that both book and movie had on me was quite an antisocial one. They made me dream of travelling light, experiencing all kinds of adventures while caring about nothing and nobody, just living in the moment. It's a nice fantasy, one that breaks easily under the weight of my own nature and the oppressive organization of the present, but nice nonetheless. On the Road gives us a glimpse of what was gained and what got lost in 70 years from the perspective of people doing the living back then. There is no hero, no villain, no moral to the story and no mystery to solve. Just people being as free as the world lets them to.

Bottom line: not the best book that I have ever read, but also great, fresh, honest, worth reading, with characters worth knowing. It is important to know that in order to get to the curated, safe, stale world we live in, others had to try all kinds of other things, that freedom is something you feel rather than something given to you. This is a fantasy and an autobiography all at once. That's the part that I loved most.

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  A while ago I started looking for books about microbial biology, for whatever reason, and so I also added From Bacteria to Bach and Back, without bothering to look at the description or any of the reviews. And it was a hard to find book, too! So here I am, happy to have gotten it and looking forward to its wisdom. I really try to finish books that I have started, so I did with this one as well, but just couldn't. I had to decide if I want to abandon this and read some other book or just find new reasons to scroll Facebook forever!

  And the reason is not that the book is not saying something interesting and important or that it is not researched. The reason for me being unable to finish reading it is solely based on the style of the writing. Imagine David Attenborough at his most pompous, writing something that has the scope of something Yuval Noah Harari would write and with the condescendence of Richard Dawkins because he wanted to outdo Douglas Hofstadter and you get Daniel C. Dennett writing this book, but without the charisma, conciseness or cleverness of either of the others.

  The book relates exclusively on how evolution leads to intelligence, how our conscious minds can be explained by evolution and mechanistic principles alone and that concepts like free will are not consistent with anything scientific. The problem is that after saying that, it continues to repeat it, more and more smugly, trying to dot every i and cross every t, until reading becomes unbearable. And yes, one could have expected something like this from someone actually named Daniel Clement Dennett the Third, age 75 and having dedicated his life to defining and researching consciousness, but it doesn't make getting through the book any easier. It has nothing to do with bacteria or Bach, other than empty correlations, either.

  Apparently, this should have been the distillation of Dennett's thinking. At almost 500 pages, this is not distilling anything! You don't go into a pub to get a distillate and ask for a pint. And while the subject is interesting and the conclusions iron clad, I do believe that a smart editor could have created a wonderful little book by deleting two thirds of everything written in this.

  Bottom line: sorry, but I couldn't finish it. I couldn't even reach the half point.

 

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  Was I in a mood that I didn't enjoy Revenant Gun or has something changed in Yoon Ha Lee's writing? I can blame it partially on the fact that I didn't remember anything from the previous books, but I do remember I enjoyed them!

  Reading my review of the previous book I see some similarities in feeling: I don't remember much of the story or characters from before and it feels a bit sluggish at the beginning and rushed at the end. But the difference is that I had trouble finishing Revenant Gun and, instead of fondly remembering the situation where the other two books left off and getting closure, I felt like I had difficulty empathizing with any of the characters or caring about the story.

  And it's not like it's a straightforward book. It has two different threads, in one there is a resurrected Jedao reluctantly serving Kujen, the other is another Jedao, inhabiting the body of Cheris. Then there are a zillion officers, hexarhs, servitors, moths, lots of gay love that is unrelated to the story, but may have a place in the culture of this military universe and so on. The writing was decent, but it didn't blow me away.

  Bottom line: Perhaps the lucky ones are those who will read the entire trilogy at once and get both the freshness of the concepts and the closure of the story in one go. As such, I got almost nothing from this.

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  It was very difficult to finish Bad Connections, as it is just a one sided view of the world from a very unsympathetic character. I understand the story was supposed to be a fuller portrait of women as a whole, but damn it makes them look dumb.

  So there is this woman who has to navigate through being the wife, the sexually unsatisfied, the adulteress, the divorcee, the single mother, the mistress, the woman on the side, the compulsive clinger and so on. I guess it was supposed to make the reader understand what it means to be female, yet Molly is emotional, compulsive, egotistic and ultimately weak. The scene at the end it written to provide some sort of feeling of emancipation, but in fact made me think she was even more of a coward than before.

  Bottom line: Joyce Johnson may be a big shot beatnik writer who hung out with Kerouac, but I did not like this book. It was short, yet unentertaining. It was full of meaning, of which I felt none was interesting or educational.

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  In this trilogy, the first two books were filler promising much for the last one, The Saints of Salvation. And I had to force myself to read it, just to get it over with. Most of the book is about these people pointlessly living their lives and daring you to remember all of their names. I couldn't feel a connection with any of them, so all that was left was to bask in the space technology and the battles and the cathartic ending. Which was something brief and unfulfilling.

  I don't want to spoil this, just in case you like it and want to read it, but Peter F. Hamilton's knack for ruining endings is present here as well. Obsessively trying to close all the loose ends (that no one cared about) and make them connect to each other (for no reason whatsoever) after the unsatisfying ending makes things worse.

  If I were to guess, Hamilton searches for a new universe, one that is kind of inspired by the Commonwealth universe, but it is not as technologically advanced so that it can provide new interesting opportunities for story telling. Salvation was an attempt at a new universe, inspired by British history during the Blitz yet set in the future, but it got really fast into portals and exotic wormholes and gravitonic weapons and quantum effects and ineffectual aliens. Meanwhile the storytelling was lacking! I really hope he moves on to something else.

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  I finally pushed myself to finish this book and I feel that reviewing it would not do it justice. Jennifer R. Pournelle really thought this story through, from places and history to biological adaptations and imperial politics, from religion (complete with hymns lyrics and music) to fully fleshed out characters of both genders (so to speak). So when I say that Outies carries out the tradition started by Larry Niven and her father, that's high praise. But did I like the book? That's a no.

  Just like the two books before it, the main character is not really some person or group, but rather the universe of humans and moties taken as a whole. Just like them it is very cerebral, with many facts, discussions, negotiations and considerations. And just like them it is slow as hell and people just come and go and you never know what and who to connect to.

  This sometimes works for me. I adored the Malazan Book of the Fallen series, which was kind of the same in terms of avoiding focusing on any one characters for too long, but those books had a rhythm that you could fall into. Outies, on the other hand, feels written more recently, but its pace is all over the place. And it was a very stressful period for me, too, so again, maybe I am not the best person to review this book right now.

  Bottom line: if you liked the other two books in the Moties series, this is a good continuation. Personally I had to really really push myself to finish it and I almost abandoned reading it a few times.

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  The Moties series is a strange one. Written in collaboration by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, the first book, The Mote in God's Eye, was released in 1975. The second book in the series, The Gripping Hand, was published in 1993, also a collaboration. The third one, Outies, was published in 2010 and it written by Pournelle's daughter. The action in the books is also happening decades apart.

  As I was saying some days ago, I liked the first book quite a lot. It was cerebral and carefully crafted. In a sense, The Gripping Hand is more than the first book, it's more cerebral and grips (heh!) the reader in even more details. But at the same time, they get to the Moties' star system only after two thirds of the book, a part of the story that is only about people discussing things and planning things and arguing things, then the last part is a prolonged space battle between so many parties that nothing is clear. Meanwhile, detailed negotiations and planning take place, so you don't get out of that for the entire length of the story.

  So, yeah, it brings some new ideas, but at the same time it's really boring and hard to follow. And it becomes especially jarring when you realize that the details in which the story is bogged are just a small subset of what could have been: the Motie culture, the way they spend their lives, the way they actually feel as individuals is completely missing. And, spoiler alert, Outies seems to be going in the same direction, although it does appear to want to address the lives of Moties outside the negotiations with the Human Empire. 

  Bottom line: I liked it, but much less than the first book. That doesn't mean it's not well written and that it doesn't add value to the universe created, but it needs significant investment from multiple writers to bring it to a critical mass so that people pay attention to it.