• Books

    Sourdough by Robin Sloan

    I found this book when searching for books about sourdough a few months ago. I looked at the reviews and realized that this was the same author as Mr Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore. I did like that book and remember certain unique passages in it even though I don’t remember all the plot details well.

    This was a very enjoyable read and it was fast. I would have finished it one sitting easily too. This is the kind of book that gets me out of a book ruts as I have been in on and off for most of 2017.

    What was personally enjoyable for me were all the bread baking references as I knew all about the techniques, a lot of the science, and even the various allusions to websites and figures in the bread baking movements. I got a lot more of the jokes because I have been exposed to that culture. As a bread baker who does keep an active sourdough starter, this book hit me close to the heart. In fact, I took a break to eat my own sourdough baked bread while reading this book. I did love the little magical realism aspect of the book’s sourdough culture. It sounded wonderful and I love the idea of bread as a unifier as well.

    I liked the female protagonist Lois. I wanted more from her life and reflections in fact. The ending was a bit rushed and felt a bit tacked on. It was on the bombastic side and I would have been more glad of a quiet introspective end to things. Unsurprisingly, like the last of Sloan’s book, the best supporting character was the librarian or researcher. A lot of the other side characters were flatly drawn.

    All in all, I really liked this novel and look forward to reading more from Sloan in the future.

    Read December 29-30, 2017.

  • Books

    Books I Dumped in 2017

    Growing up and up til about five or so years ago, I would rarely dump books. I was often dedicated to finishing series and even slow nonfiction books. As I have gotten older and busier, I have less time nowadays to read and enjoy a book. As a result, I am more discerning when I read and if I try to read a book and it’s not engaging me or if I feel it’s not going well, I will dump it. I have only done a handful of times in the past few years, but I’d like to note them more.

    You May Also Like: Taste in an Age of Endless Choice by Tom Vanderbilt

    I was looking to this as I heard a podcast interview with the author on a podcast. I like exploring taste and preferences. I made it after the introduction and the first chapter before giving up. There didn’t seem to be a cohesive presentation of ideas. The book with this topic does not need to definitely answer questions about taste or preferences, but it seemed to meander all over the place. I also did not find his interviews with experts interesting. After reading some of the first chapter, I stopped and read some online interviews which echoed my views about the disorganized presentation of ideas. I always have many other books to read so I dumped this one. Too bad.

    Dumped January 31, 2017

    Books that were put on hold to be read later so not dumped:

    Père Goriot by Honoré de Balzac

    I think I removed this from my Good Reads Currently Reading sometime in 2016. I own it and classic French novels in French are difficult for me to read. So maybe in the future.

    Possible books to be dumped:

    The City of Dreaming Books by Walter Moers

    I’ve been reading this book mostly off since January 2016. I should give it up but it is so weird. Maybe I will make a dent in it sometime in 2018 but I’m not gambling on it either.

  • Books

    Vacationland by John Hodgman

    John Hodgman is one of my favourite celebrities. This was not always the case; I had read or listened to the audiobook The Areas of my Expertise and liked it alongside his appearances on “The Daily Show”. However, it was not until a few years ago when I started listening to the Judge John Hodgman podcast that I became a true fan. It is hands down, my favourite podcast. He gives funny, sincere, and relatable advise on the show. I find the podcast so soothing yet engaging at the same time. Hodgman is a humanist.

    When I heard he was doing a book of memoirs, I knew I had to read it right away. Some of these stories I know already from listening to his podcast, reading his newsletter, and other media, but some of them were new to me. There was one chapter where I laughed and the next I was on the verge of tears. Good stuff.

    I probably like the book more because I have been so exposed to Hodgman, but I think there are some lovely and self-aware pieces in it. Hodgman has a way of being keenly aware of himself and observant enough to use it in his humor. It’s self-deprecating but there is a level of humility in there that’s genuine.

    Read November 7-15, 2017

  • Books

    The Man in the Brown Suit by Agatha Christie

    Vacation book #2. I had read that this book was one of the most interesting Christie novels alongside The Murder of Royger Ackroyd.

    I generally like the pacing of Christie’s novels and enjoyed Poirot and Miss Marple in the past. This one only had one Christie regular: Colonel Race. He did seem rather dashing in this novel.

    The plot was alright. I do not know how I ended up reading two mystery books related to South Africa in one vacation.

    The protagonist Anne Beddingfield is fun though her origin story seems slap dash. Then again, I think that’s consistent with most of Christie’s protagonists. I was surprised how she hated some woman she never met rather than the actual man who tried to kill her more than once. She couldn’t stand a woman who pretended to love a man especially her own man in the past, but the guy who tried to kill her was A-Ok. Not a great lesson that.

    There is a rather bucolic ending too. All in all, a nice jaunt in Christie’s universe but nothing spectacular.

    Read August 10-12, 2017 on Kindle.

  • Books

    Diamonds are Forever by Ian Flemming

    This was one of my vacation books. I am not sure why I didn’t read Live and Let Die first. I guess it was not on Kindle for some reason.

    I enjoyed Casino Royale well enough. These books should be decent pulp fiction easy for the holidays. When Bond was going to New York, I too was on a plane.

    I didn’t know what to expect, but given this book did not inspire one of the better Connery Bond films, I should have expected the mediocrity. I understand these are older books, but this book had misogyny, racism, and homophobia at various points. Hit the jackpot. Aside from that, the book’s plot and villain are rather weak. Not an awful book, but certainly boring and not the best.

    I debated whether to put this in the Classics club. The series as a whole is a classic and I really did like Casino Royale. This book in the series does not hold up well though. In the end, I put it in.

    I will still continue to read the Flemming books.

    Read August 6-9, 2017 on Kindle.

  • Books

    Prudence & Imprudence by Gail Carriger

    This review covers the first two books of The Custard Protocol series.

    The first book was a nice start. I had to warm up to Rue (Prudence). There was some fun but not enough of the classic characters. I found the plot moved along, but I did not seem to like it as much. I also am not a big fan of the main romance in this series. It’s not bad, but it does not interest me like the romances in previous books. The two lovers main conflict seems to be their misunderstanding of their commitment. Their chemistry is alright but is not as interesting as Soap/Ria or Maccon/Alexia.

    The second book was better. Primarily because there were more characters from the previous books. It ties the knot in a couple of character’s lives. It was further world building. I really looked forward to reading the next book when it finished.

    Read June 29-July 2, 2017 and July 2, 2017.

  • Books

    Manners & Mutiny by Gail Carriger

    I realized the other month that I hadn’t been catching up to the Gail Carriger’s steampunk supernatural series. This is the last book in the Finishing school series.

    Carriger’s books are simply fun if you’re into steampunk, Victorian times, and supernatural creatures. The books do not take themselves too seriously. I liked the ending of these books. I liked Ria as a protagonist and want more. I am glad Carriger never drags her series out and actually focuses on other characters in the universe. I’ll start the Custard series next.

    Read June 20-25, 2017.

  • Books

    Pretty Iconic Things by Sali Hughes

    This is a fun nostalgic our of beauty and skincare products. Each page has one entry on a product that was iconic to the industry and beauty in some way.

    I have been following Sali Hughes’ Guardian coloumn for years and always enjoyed her thoughtful and informative writing about beauty, skincare, and fragrances. It helps we have some similar tastes.

    Some of these items are unknown to me due to generational and geographic reasons. Hughes emphasizes that this is a personal journey and it is. It’s actually part of the charm of this book. She includes most of these entries because of how they remind of her of growing up and the earlier days of her career.

    As a book of products, I noted a few that I have used and liked mostly. I also made a long list of things to try or at least sample in the case of fragrances. One of the fragrances listed in the book is my current winter fragrance and found from Hughes’ coloumn.

    If you have any semblance of interest in personal care products, this is a great little book to explore them.

    Read June 19-18, 2017.

  • Books

    Monstress, Vol 1: The Awakening by Marjorie Liu

    It’s been awhile since I updated this blog and wrote a book review. I’ve read a couple of very small books since then and they weren’t worth the post. My time has become precious and am trying to read more again with difficulty.

    I had to write a review for this graphic novel. I had read reviews about this last year and it sounded intriguing with its dark and Asian inspired themes.

    I loved it. I haven’t been so impressed with a graphic novel in years; it can easily be among my favourite graphic novel series ever which include Alan Moore’s Promethea, Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, and Craig Thompson’s Blankets. I do not read a ton of graphic novels, but I do read a couple every year. For the most part, they are fine and fun, but not memorable or as engaging as the aforementioned novels or Monstress.

    I loved the visuals by Sana Takeda. It is very dark, but for some reason, it never felt sensationalist or violent and gory for its darkness sake. Every panel and piece of dialogue seemed to deliver story points or character development. I found it one of the most well crafted stories I’ve read in a long time.

    It is a novel which has predominantly female characters. Feminism is not about injecting women in the media or giving them prominence for the sake of representation. It’s about real characters who happen to be women and have problems associated with it, who are nuanced and three dimensional. There are so many wonderfully drawn characters in this and I wish more things in popular culture were like this work. It’s a story by women about women but it’s a story for everyone who enjoys dark fantasy.

    There are themes of war, discrimination, genocide, gender, and self-destruction. It is also a story of bravery, friendship, fear, and overcoming it.

    This graphic novel is fantastic. I can’t wait to read more from the series.

    Read May 3, 2017.

  • Books,  Movies

    Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

    This was my first book in awhile. I was doing so well in January and February, but things went to the wayside I guess. The dragging winter has made me more lethargic.

    In any case, I finally read this on a tired Friday evening. It was due soon and I have not read a novel in a little bit. This is Young Adult so I knew it would go quickly.

    I have never read Diana Wynne Jones that I can remember. I love the movie from Studio Ghibli and I’ve been rewatching many of the movies the last couple of months. I wanted to read this novel finally in preparation,

    This started off well and there was some slowness in the middle I think, but the ending was lovely and showed how much the characters loved each other. It was a more clear cut good vs evil fairy tale than the movie one. There are more characters in the book though.

    This is a series, but a friend of mine told me that the other books were more about stories in the same universe. While the book was a nice read and the ending was satisfying, I don’t really feel the need to read more form this universe.

    Coincidentally got the movie a day later from the library and love the movie even more in some ways having read the book.

    Read March 24, 2017

  • Books

    Better than Before by Gretchen Rubin

    This is my third Gretchen Rubin book. I think I like this one less than her last two on happiness, but it’s still a good book. While Rubin’s nature is more extreme than a lot of people, I actually relate a lot to her in a few ways. We both like research, analysis, introspection, and literature. She is a personal writer too and most of the books have a memoirs and reflective nature similar to journaling. Her writing is quite life affirming as well. I do not buy all the things she advocates, but she is very thorough and reflective.

    There were a couple of good tips about habit forming such as starting small, scheduling leisure activities (been trying to do more of this lately), pairing activities/habits, and not giving rewards but giving treats. I have found that when I make a goal, I think the goal itself should be the reward rather than getting myself anything. Rubin’s books often stir my own constant self-awareness and introspection. I like it reflected back to me when I read a book.

    This book also introduced the Four Tendencies. I am a Questioner which doesn’t surprise me. I’m probably a more in depth questioner than most. Rubin will have a new book out exploring these tendencies later in the fall.

    Alright and easy read for me. I do like the use of quotations.

    Read February 14-23, 2017.

  • Books

    Weapons of Math Destruction by Cathy O’Neil

    This book about the dangers of Big Data and algorithms primarily in the US. It is a book discussing ethics in Big Data and the lack thereof.

    For most of the time I was reading this book, I was a bit dejected by work so reading this book made it even more depressing and despairing. Every chapter focused on how Big Data and algorithms are used for profit and as a result, hurts individuals. The premise of the book started with teachers and there is a significant focus on the effects of Big Data algorithms in an already flawed American education system.

    The conclusion chapter is the only one with hope. However it is not enough. I wish the book had given more ideas on how the audience could be aware of new issues in Big Data so that we wouldn’t have to suffer from it. I think the book is an interesting primer for those who know very little about Big Data. However, it also feels like it’s written in some ways for people who know enough of it.

    The book has a lot of data and studies and there are end notes. I am going to recommending the book to my Data Scientist colleague.

    Read January 31 – Feburary 10, 2017.