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Bragan reads more books in 2018, Pt. 1

This topic was continued by Bragan reads more books in 2018, Pt. 2.

Club Read 2018

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Jan 1, 2:35am Top

As I write this, we're only just a very little way into 2018, and I'm wearing a shirt that says, "Read More Books," which I figure will do for my New Year's resolution. It's good to pick goals you can actually meet, right?

Anyway. I'm Betty, and I'm reading books in 2018, and that, naturally, is what this thread is about. Unlike a lot of folks here, I'm not a particularly organized reader, making lists of things I want to read or sorting my books into categories. But I do have some reading goals, other than simply "read more books." They're very simple, though. First: to end 2018 with fewer unread books in my house than I started it with. I managed this in 2017, thanks to adopting a system of two books read for every one book purchased. I've actually been really amazed by how well this is working, even if the book ledger I'm using for the purpose is usually running a few books in the red. (Hmm, OK, maybe that does count as organized!)

Secondly, my challenges for the ROOT (Read Our Own Tomes) group are going to be my usual target of reading 100 books I already owned as of the beginning of the year, and to read at least five books I've had since I joined LibraryThing in 2007, but still haven't read.

Otherwise, pretty much everything goes, and you can expect my usual random assortment of books of various kinds in various genres here. I'll be looking forward to seeing what literary rewards the new year brings.

Happy 2018 reading to all!

Jan 2, 4:01am Top

Happy 2018 reading to you too! Just dropped my star here so I can follow your thread more easily.

Jan 2, 1:08pm Top

Edited: Jan 2, 4:48pm Top

>1 bragan: May I steal your goal of having more unread books at the end of the year than at the start? Whoops, genuine Freudian slip there... you know what I mean.

I think it's a great goal and more achievable than my usual 'have huge TBR, must not add anything' resolution which tends to last weeks if not days!

Looking forward to following your reading again this year.

Jan 2, 6:40pm Top

>4 wandering_star: Ha! You know, I almost typed it that way, myself, when I was writing up that post. I had to make a conscious effort to write it the right way around. :)

I wouldn't even try not adding anything as a goal, because I know I wouldn't stick to it, or even particularly want to. But going at least a little way in the right direction with the TBR does seem like it should be achievable. Despite all the years when I haven't achieved it...

Edited: Jan 28, 4:11pm Top

Right. Time to get started on this year's reading!

1. Doctor Who: The Vault by Marcus Hearn

This slick-looking coffee table book, which was put out to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who in 2013, takes us through the history of the series year-by-year. Each year is covered in one chapter (except for the years when the show was off the air, which are mostly lumped together), and each chapter essentially has two different components. First, there's the visual part, which consists of an interesting miscellany of pictures. There are photos taken from the show itself, or from behind the scenes, or released as publicity images. There are pictures of props and models and scraps of production notes. There are images of the covers of publications devoted to the show, and sometimes snippets of articles about it or comics based on it. And there is a rather startling array of Who-themed merchandise.

Then there's the text. Each chapter starts off with a short overview of and commentary on the episodes produced that year. Then there is a short article featuring some subject relevant to (but not necessarily confined to) what was happening with the series that year. Examples of the topics addressed include regeneration, time travel paradoxes, music, profiles of important writers and directors, the reception of the show in the US, and the history of the Doctor Who Appreciation Society. These don't necessarily go into a lot of depth, but they do offer up some odd snippets of trivia and some interesting perspectives from various people involved with the show.

All in all, it's an interesting, nostalgic, visually pleasing walk down memory lane for the Who fan. I thought it might help tide me over here at the start of the long, long wait for the new season, but mostly it's just made me crave it even more by reminding me just how much I love the show.

Rating: 4/5

Jan 3, 5:23pm Top

>6 bragan: A shame there is no updated version

Jan 3, 6:55pm Top

>7 baswood: Maybe for the 100th anniversary. :)

Jan 3, 9:06pm Top

I seemed to have lost you in the shuffle last year. So am going to firmly plant my star here ... and maybe a GPS tracker. :)

Jan 4, 9:59am Top

>9 avidmom: Glad to be on your radar!

Jan 5, 11:46pm Top

Hi Betty. I don’t really use stars, so I guess I’m just posting to hi. Wish you a great year with plenty unread books, and some read ones too.

Jan 6, 11:50am Top

>11 dchaikin: Hi! Plenty of unread books is something I've definitely already got covered! I'm looking forward to finding out how many (and which ones) I can convert into read ones this year.

Jan 6, 12:11pm Top

2. Sourdough by Robin Sloan

Lois is a programmer working for a robotics company that doesn't remotely understand the meaning of "work-life balance." Then she comes into possession of a very weird and special sourdough starter, learns to bake rather than just trying to teach robots to do it, and gets offered a stall in an extremely weird marketplace.

It's hard for me to decide exactly how I feel about this one. The writing is pleasantly breezy and kind of amusing, in a low-key way, while also touching on some fairly complex questions about our relationships to food and technology. And it demonstrates a real sense of wonder about the world of microbes, which is something I can appreciate.

But the whole conceit about the sourdough starter and its seemingly magical, even sentient properties... Well, I wavered back and forth a lot between finding that charmingly whimsical and just thinking it was silly, and I think by halfway through the novel that second feeling had started to dominate. It also eventually gets a little too, well, hipster-ish for me, and I'm not sure the ending is entirely satisfying.

Which isn't to say I didn't enjoy it. I did enjoy it, but with a lot of reservations, and nowhere near as much as I enjoyed Sloan's previous novel, Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore.

Rating: 3.5/5

Jan 6, 4:45pm Top

hmm. The underlying idea of the novel seems a bit soft based on your description. Glad you still enjoyed it.

Jan 6, 6:42pm Top

>14 dchaikin: I really would say "silly" rather than "soft." Which isn't necessarily always a bad thing, but I'm not sure how well it worked in this case.

Jan 7, 8:37pm Top

Just dropping in to make sure I don't lose track of your thread. I'm sure your thread will be expanding my list of books to read as it always does! The Doctor Who book sounds fun. I'm actually looking forward to the new series after having stopped watching for a while before this Christmas.

Jan 7, 8:46pm Top

>16 valkyrdeath: I imagine now (or whenever the new season actually starts, anyway) will be a good place to jump back on to DW.

And I only hope my reading will indeed consist of a lot of books interesting enough to sound worth checking out!

Edited: Jan 8, 12:16pm Top

3. Astray by Emma Donoghue

A collection of short stories about people who are, as the author describes them, "emigrants, immigrants, adventurers, and runaways" of one sort or another. These are all real, but not famous, people from history -- mostly the 19th century, although Donoghue wanders as far back as the 17th century and as far forward as the mid-20th -- or fictional people in real historical circumstances.

I wasn't too sure how I felt about this collection to begin with. The first few stories struck me as decent enough, but not particularly engaging. But the more I read, the better I liked them, and the more affecting I found them. Some more so than others, of course, but the best of them have a subtle poignancy (even, or perhaps especially, when they're dealing with very dark subject matter) that really worked for me, and, taken as a whole, I think it all adds up to something quite interesting.

Rating: 4/5

Jan 8, 12:05pm Top

>18 bragan: That sounds interesting. I seem to have a similar reaction to a lot of collections lately - I find the first stories decent and by the time I finish the book, I found them to have been better than I thought. I am never sure if it is because they were good stories but I needed time to get used to the style or because they were the strongest in the collection...

PS: You may want to fix the touchstone.

Edited: Jan 8, 12:16pm Top

>19 AnnieMod: I was kind of wondering that, myself. I think it may be less that the stories got better as they went along, and more that I figured out the right way to approach them, or the right attitude to take towards them.

And thanks for the heads-up about the touchstone. I swear, nothing I've tried to touchstone so far this year has lead to the right thing the first time, but I forgot to check this one, anyway. Fixing it!

Jan 8, 12:44pm Top

Hi, Betty, are we READY for the glorious Thirteen?! :)

I thought the Christmas story wasn't as strong as the stupendous two-part finale to Series Ten, but I loved every second of Whittaker's introduction, all six or so of them... I'm stoked! :)

Jan 8, 3:33pm Top

>21 LolaWalser: I am, paradoxically, very, very ready for Thirteen, and still not at all ready to give up Twelve. :)

I had a few issues with the Christmas ep, myself. It didn't help, I think, that that amazing two-parter raised my expectations for it entirely too high. But I agree, that tiny glimpse we got of Whittaker was perfect, and I am incredibly impatient to get to see more of her.

Jan 8, 4:51pm Top

Looking forward to following your reading again!

Jan 8, 5:35pm Top

Both 11 and 12 were up there with the best IMO.

Jan 8, 6:01pm Top

>23 mabith: Thanks! I'm hoping it's a good bookish year. :)

>24 baswood: Eleven is probably my personal all-time favorite Doctor, which I almost find a little embarrassing, being the old-school Classic Who fan that I am. On the other hand, I do think Capaldi, with no disrespect to any of the rest of them, is the most flat-out talented actor we've ever had in the part.

Jan 8, 6:28pm Top

>18 bragan: I like the concept of Astray. Think I'll give it a go. I do often find myself enjoying short story collections more as I go along, for single author collections rather than anthologies anyway. It does often feel like the stories build up in impact, even when they're quite different from each other.

Jan 8, 6:50pm Top

>26 valkyrdeath: It's an interesting concept, for sure. I wasn't sure how I felt about at first, either, but I did end up quite favorably disposed.

Jan 10, 2:37pm Top

4. The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get things Right by Atul Gawande

Human beings make mistakes. It's a sad fact of life. Even intelligent, highly-trained people with lots and lots of experience at what they're doing make mistakes, especially in urgent or high-pressure situations. People get distracted at a crucial moment and miss a routine step, or they carry out routine steps on autopilot despite special circumstances that mean those steps should be skipped. Important information sometimes doesn't get to the people who need it most. People who notice problems sometimes don't say anything because they don't feel it's their place to speak up. And so on.

So, how do you deal with this? Well, enter the humble checklist. The airline industry has known about the power of a well-designed checklist for ages, but other areas that can seriously benefit from this practice have been slow to catch on, including Gawande's own field of surgery. But it turns out the introduction of checklists into the operating theater has astonishing, dramatic effects on reducing the rate of surgical complications and death from surgical complications. Of course, it has to be the right kind of checklist, and there's a real art to making them. A good checklist covers things that are important but easily missed, it fits quickly and easily into the natural workflow of the people using it, and, perhaps most critically, it increases communication among people who really need to make sure they're all properly informed and on the same page.

Gawande makes a strong, clear case for all of this, with a mixture of scientific data, case studies, personal anecdotes, and thoughtful examinations of how checklists are (or aren't) used in a variety of fields. You'd think this subject could get a bit dull, but Gawade's writing is vivid and readable, his experiences are relatable (even for those of us who aren't surgeons), and his examples and explorations are always interesting. I'd say this is a good read for anyone who is interested in how people get things done in general or in the practice of medicine in particular, and an essential one for anyone whose job involves making decisions about how to handle complex situations in which the stakes are high.

Rating: I'm going to give it a 4.5/5. Four of those stars are for being a good book, and the extra half-star is for being an important one.

Jan 10, 10:07pm Top

>28 bragan: I had no idea this was a book before it was a podcast! I learned about some of this from the Hidden Brain podcast:

Jan 10, 10:42pm Top

>29 ELiz_M: Looks like an interesting podcast! I may need to check it out.

Gawande tells that story about the surgery where the guy would have bled to death if they hadn't gone through the checklist beforehand at some length in the book. It was a very vivid demonstration of his point.

Edited: Jan 15, 4:52pm Top

5. Woman No. 17 by Edan Lepucki

Lady -- which isn't her real name, but might as well be, since she's been called that most of her life -- has recently separated from her husband but is still living in his fancy house in the hills outside LA. She decides to hire a nanny to watch her two-year-old son while she writes a book about raising her other son, now eighteen, who has never spoken (although he can hear and write just fine). She picks a young woman named Esther -- or, as she's recently decided to be called, S -- an artist who is currently making an ill-advised "art project" out of her life. Together, they are a complicated sort of trainwreck.

It's interesting. I really disliked most of the characters in this novel, especially the two main characters. Both Lady and S are self-absorbed, self-sabotaging, judgmental, and generally not people I would remotely care to know. And their mommy issues... Hoo, boy, do they have some messed-up mommy issues. But the fact that I don't like them doesn't prevent me from sometimes feeling sympathetic towards them (or at least feeling something like pity for them), and they mostly manage to be unlikable in interesting ways. So I fairly quickly found myself surprisingly interested in their lives and their stories.

Actually, it's kind of nice, after reading a number of discussions about how it shouldn't be necessary for characters to be likable in order for them to be worth reading about, and how female characters in particular are too often criticized if they're not likeable, to see this done well.

Rating: 4/5

Jan 14, 3:54am Top

Just dropping in to say hi and that I enjoyed reading your reviews.

Jan 14, 4:06am Top

Jan 17, 7:23pm Top

6. The Regional Office Is Under Attack! by Manuel Gonzales

The so-called Regional Office is an organization that uses young super-powered women and precognitive oracles to combat the amassing forces of darkness, while disguised as a super-fancy travel agency. And the Regional Office is, as the title indicates, under attack: by a different group of young super-powered women, and mercenaries, and alienated employees.

It's a pretty odd book, but not because of the fantastical elements. In fact, those mostly consist of a collection of fun but familiar fantasy/superhero/action movie tropes (albeit with an interestingly original idea here and there). It's more the way those tropes are approached that's odd, as if the novel's focus is constantly just a little to the left of where you'd expect it to be, taking for granted or leaving unexplained things that most stories would make a point of concentrating on, while focusing on details that most stories would largely ignore.

The structure is also odd. Mostly it features the POV of one of two women, each on a different side of the conflict. Within each POV section, very short chapters alternate rapidly between the present action and that character's past, sometimes even featuring flashbacks within the flashbacks. Which maybe isn't too weird, but then there are the sections that are supposedly extracted from a scholarly analysis of the events written many years later, which are full of details that may or may not have happened, presented in a decidedly unobjective style that makes you wonder just who these future scholars are and exactly what they know. Oh, and then there's the interlude that's written largely in first person plural...

Not all of this works equally well, I think, but parts of it work brilliantly. In the end, I'm not entirely sure how I feel about it all, or quite what I make of it, but reading it was an interesting experience, and mostly an enjoyable one. And I kind of have to admire its audacity.

Rating: Oh, let's give it a 4/5.

Jan 19, 5:55am Top

I didn't expect that you'd like it until reading the very end of your review. Sometimes weird works for us even if we're unsure why. :)

Jan 19, 10:32am Top

>35 chlorine: I did debate over whether to rate it as highly as I did. But in the end, even if I don't think he pulled it all off equally well, the fact that he pulled it off at all is impressive -- honestly, I probably gave it a half star for sheer chutzpah -- and overall it was enjoyable enough, if not always entirely satisfying.

But then, I don't necessarily have a problem with weird. Doing something weird and making it work can be quite delightful. :)

Edited: Jan 28, 4:18pm Top

7. Rocket Girl: The Story of Mary Sherman Morgan, America's First Female Rocket Scientist by George D. Morgan

Mary Sherman Morgan grew up dirt-poor in a North Dakota farm family that did not believe in the value of education. Nevertheless, she managed to make it to college, but hadn't even graduated before she was snapped up to work a wartime job as a chemist in a weapons factory. She then went on to become the only female engineer at North American Aviation, although they denied her the actual title of "engineer" due to her lack of a degree. There, she came up with a new rocket fuel mixture that allowed the US to launch its first satellite into space.

Her son, George Morgan, grew up knowing very little about her life, and when he learned about what she'd accomplished, he felt she ought to be given more recognition from the world at large. Hence this book. Here, he lightly sketches his own difficult relationship with his mother and describes some of his researches into her life, as well as how he came to write first a play about her life and then this biography. He also provides fictionalized accounts of various moments in her life, and in the lives of Wernher von Braun and Sergei Korolev, the heads of the US and Soviet rocket programs at the time.

Mary Sherman Morgan's life is certainly a remarkable one, and I am always interested in anything to do with the early days of the space program, so I did find this worth reading, but I can't say I found it entirely satisfying. In the end, one never gets a very good sense of exactly who this woman really was (something that seemed to ultimately elude even her son). And I'm really not a big fan of this particular style of "non-fiction" writing, in which scenes are dramatized complete with dialog and thoughts in people's heads that the author could have no way of actually knowing about. You can never be sure how much of what you're reading is anything like the truth, and how much the author simply invented out of his own mind. And in this case, based on the author's note at the end, it seems like he invented a lot. So, in the end, I'm not at all sure how much more I know now than I did when I started.

Rating: 3.5/5

Jan 20, 7:02pm Top

Too bad about Rocket Girl, as it sounds potentially really nice. Catching up and slightly amazed someone can right a book on making checklists and keep the book interesting. I really liked Guwande's Being Mortal.

Edited: Jan 20, 7:33pm Top

Rocket Girl may have been worth reading, but it's certainly not the book I was hoping for. Well, sometimes it happens.

And I know, the importance of checklists hardly sounds like a gripping subject! But after reading Being Mortal, I had faith in Guwande's ability to write pretty much anything and draw me into it, and I was not disappointed.

Jan 20, 8:31pm Top

>37 bragan: Is there a section on sources? I'm wondering if the author references books/documents about Ms. Morgan which might stick closer to the facts. NASA supports a lot of historical scholarship, or at least they used to.

Jan 20, 8:55pm Top

>40 dukedom_enough: Apparently part of the whole reason he wrote the book is because his mother's contributions were hardly ever referenced, so most of his sources seem to be interviews with people who worked with her. He says he wrote to NASA asking for some documents, but they never got back to him.

Jan 20, 8:57pm Top

>41 bragan: Hmm. Erasing the contributions of women, part 43,596,743,200.

Jan 20, 9:15pm Top

>42 dukedom_enough: Yup. Mind you, she also seem to have been a really private person and not at all interested in making a public name for herself. It's far too easy to see how those two things could have added up to effectively erase her from history. But, according to George Morgan, the people who worked with her did remember her well and wanted her story told. And, whatever I may think of the finished product, all credit to him for taking a stab at doing it.

Jan 21, 8:58am Top

>43 bragan: I think you've summed it all up pretty well there! Yup, being a woman and very private would definitely go a huge way to keeping her far in the background. And sounds like a worthwhile endeavor, even if the end result wasn't quite mind-blowing; good that it was at least done and is out there for people to see her name, now.

Jan 21, 11:40am Top

>44 .Monkey.: Yes, that. And I think that was really the main goal of the book, anyway. So, whatever I may have thought of the details, I guess it succeeded.

Jan 21, 7:16pm Top

>34 bragan: I like the sound of the unusual structure of this one. Another book I'm making a note of.

>37 bragan: I've seen Rocket Girl and was considering whether to read it, but I think I'll give it a miss after your review. It's good that the book exists though since it sounds like she's someone worth knowing about.

Jan 21, 7:44pm Top

>34 bragan: The unusual structure definitely made it more interesting than it would have been otherwise, even if not all of it worked for me equally well. It's a fairly entertaining read, though, if you like that kind of off-kilter thing.

And, yeah, I'd say that's a fair assessment of Rocket Girl.

Jan 22, 7:54pm Top

8. The Matchstick Castle by Keir Graff

Brian is not at all happy when he's sent to spend the summer with his uncle in Boring, Illinois -- which is both the town's name and an accurate description of life there. But then he and his cousin get lost in the woods and come across a family of eccentrics and their strange, sprawling house, and things get a lot more interesting for him.

This was a decent but not particularly memorable kids' book. I do have a bit of a soft spot, perhaps, for weird, dreamlike houses full of secret passages and bizarre rooms. But even so, I'd say this isn't necessarily the kind of kids' novel that holds a whole lot of interest for adults.

Although it did sort of get me thinking. It was a little surprising to me just how much of the quirky family's "adventurousness" seemed to consist of putting themselves in utterly gratuitous danger. There's a kid who sleeps in a hammock hung from a ceiling high enough that he'd probably die if he fell out, for instance, and there aren't any seat belts in the family car. Is being allowed to be pointlessly unsafe a bit of a wish fulfillment fantasy for kids raised by a generation of over-protective helicopter parents? Or am I reading entirely too much into one fairly silly little story?

Rating: 3.5/5, although maybe half a star of that comes from thinking it'd be more fun for its intended audience of kids than it was for me.

Jan 28, 4:06pm Top

9. The Witch Who Came in from the Cold by Lindsay Smith, Max Gladstone, Cassandra Rose Clarke, Ian Tregillis, and Michael Swanwick

The year is 1970, and the city is Prague, where CIA and KGB agents are maneuvering around each other, fighting the Cold War. But, unbeknownst to most of them, there is also another war going on, a war between two magical factions, and people who are on the same side in one of these conflicts may be on opposite sides in the other... as American intelligence agent Gabriel Pritchard finds out when he accidentally gets a supernatural entity half-stuck inside his mind.

This is an unusually constructed book, because it's modeled on the structure of a TV series. This volume is labeled "season one," and it consists of thirteen "episodes," written by five different authors. In principle, I think this is kind of a fun idea. Hey, modern television often has something very much like the structure of a novel, and why shouldn't the borrowing go in both directions? In practice, though, I don't think they've quite made it work. The result, at least for much of the book, feels disjointed, weirdly paced, and sometimes mildly confusing. (More than once, I found myself flipping back to see if I'd missed some important piece of exposition.) And I think that would be true even if you lifted the story from its pages and transferred it to the TV.

This does get better towards the end, at least. The last four or five "episodes" feel like a smoother, more coherent story, and feature a bit of decent suspense and an interesting twist or two. But that's not until something like 400 pages in, and, to be honest, by that time I was already feeling tired of the whole thing, so I was never quite as engaged with it as I should have been. Which is a pity, because I think the spies-and-sorcerers premise is really cool. Although it's never really developed as much as I'd have liked. We're basically given cliched one-line descriptions of what each of these magical factions wants (basically, destruction vs stability), but never get a good sense of exactly who these people are, why they want what they want, or how their world works. Which means that, ultimately, the plot feels like a fairly shallow McGuffin hunt: we want to get our hands on certain things (or, in this case, people) because if our enemies got them instead, that would be bad, because our enemies are bad people who want bad things, and never mind the details. Well, likely the writers are planning to delve a bit more into things if there's a "season 2," as well as picking up some of the ends that are left loose at the end of this one. But I think this was probably enough for me.

Rating: I'm going to be generous and rate this 3/5, giving it a half-star more than I might have, just because it does get a lot better as it goes along, and because the premise is fun.

Jan 28, 8:10pm Top

>49 bragan: This sounds an interesting experiment, though it sounds like it wasn't completely successful. Your review has saved me from being tempted to read it as I probably would have been if I'd come across it myself.

Jan 28, 8:59pm Top

>50 valkyrdeath: I do suspect somebody less bothered than I by the pacing issues and such might have entered into the spirit of it a little more readily and enjoyed it more, so I don't know that I'd warn absolutely everybody away from it. But I definitely can't recommend it, either.

Jan 29, 5:52am Top

>49 bragan: That does sound an intriguing idea, but I don't think I'm really surprised by the less-than-stellar result. Oh well, it was something different to try, and at least it wasn't all bad!

Edited: Jan 29, 2:44pm Top

>52 .Monkey.: Considering how long it was, and my pathological inability to abandon books, I am glad it at least picked up by the end.

But, still, oh, well. Not every good idea pans out, I guess...

Jan 29, 3:59pm Top

Indeed. And I have that same inability, hahaha. I think there's two? books that I've ever actually stopped reading, lol.

Edited: Feb 1, 12:54am Top

10. On the Road with Charles Kuralt by Charles Kuralt

Decades ago, Charles Kuralt used to do this little human-interest news segment where he'd travel around the United States basically talking to random people he found interesting for one reason or another, or who lived in interesting places or did interesting -- if sometimes only mildly interesting -- things. This is a collection of those segments in text form, with black-and-while pictures. It was published in 1985, although some of these pieces seem to date back at least to the 70s.

Each segment is only a few pages long, usually featuring a few words of wisdom from the person in question. Most of them are old people -- now probably all dead, I suppose, which is a slightly odd, slightly sad thing to think about -- and many of them are people who once pursued, or still were pursuing, professions or ways of life that had already effectively disappeared by the 80s. Some of them are just odd characters. And quite a few are people who do nice things for others without reward.

All of which sounds very charming, so I feel kind of bad for not liking this more than I did. But the truth is, these profiles are all so short and shallow that there's not a lot to really get into here. Often there doesn't really seem to be a whole lot to be said, and much of the book, to me, reads more or less like: "Look, here's a guy from rural Kentucky who's a croquet champion. Isn't that funny? You expect only rich people to play croquet. And, hey, this old guy makes kites for kids! Isn't that nice? And now, a town with some pretty butterflies!" There's really not a lot there, and when there is, when it's clear there's some really interesting backstory and details it would be cool to hear a lot more about, that's not forthcoming, either. Which is too bad, as I really would have liked to hear more about, say, the high school class who built an airplane in wood shop. I didn't actually understand that story, to be honest -- was that actually a real, functional airplane? -- but I would have liked to.

Mostly it's all very sweet, in a folksy sort of way, but, well... I feel like a terrible, irredeemable product of 21st century cynicism saying so, but there's really only one word for the overall feel of the writing and the presentation, and that's... corny. Even by the standards of its time, it's corny.

Rating: an apologetic 3/5.

Jan 31, 10:25pm Top

TV interviews shouldn't be turned into books, obviously.

Feb 1, 12:05am Top

>56 janeajones: From what I vaguely remember from the 80s, I don't think they were any less corny and slight as TV segments, but in book form you surely inevitably lose some of the character of the, um, characters he was interviewing.

Feb 3, 1:52am Top

11. Monstress, Volume 1: Awakening by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda.

This graphic novel consists of the first six issues of Monstress, a comic set in a vaguely steampunky fantasy world in which humans and supernatural creatures known as Arcanics have recently fought an extremely ugly war. It focuses on a young Arcanic girl with a painful past, a thirst for revenge, and a monster living inside her.

The artwork in this is absolutely gorgeous, albeit often in a dark, violent kind of way. (Although I do wish I could have seen some of it a bit better: the pages are so glossy that the glare from my reading lamp was bad enough to make it annoyingly difficult at times.) As for the writing, I have to say, the worldbuilding here is so dense, the situations depicted so complex, and the plot so full of twists, that I was so busy trying to understand everything that it was a little hard to get caught up in the story itself, or to emotionally engage with the main character as much as I might have liked. Still, I certainly did find it interesting, and rich worldbuilding and complex plotting is hardly something I'm going to complain about. And the setup here promises some potentially very interesting developments to come. At some point -- hopefully before I've forgotten all the complicated details of this one! -- I am going to have to pick up volume 2.

Rating: 4/5

Feb 5, 1:35am Top

12. Dog On It by Spencer Quinn

This would be a fairly run-of-the-mill detective story about a private investigator on a missing persons case, if it weren't for one thing: the entire story is told from the point of view of the P.I.'s dog. Which, OK, sounds gimmicky and maybe a little silly, but it actually works surprisingly well. Mainly, I think, because while Chet the dog may be considerably smarter than one might expect, and certainly has a better grasp of English than any real-life canine, he's still wonderfully, entertainingly doggy. He does care about what his human is trying to accomplish, really, but he's easily distracted from the progress of the plot by finding a Cheeto on the floor, or catching sight of a lizard. It's all fairly charming, and the subtle, indirect way we learn things about the detective by seeing him through the eyes (or perhaps smelling him through the nose) of his dog is pretty well done.

Apparently this is the first in a series, but while I enjoyed it, I'm not sure I'm going to continue on with the later books. This seems like the sort of idea that's cute once, but might get old pretty quickly.

Rating: 4/5

Feb 5, 6:53pm Top

>58 bragan: I've been looking at Monstress for a while and have been considering reading it. I'm definitely tempted but I'm wary of starting an ongoing series before it's over, as I generally forget what was happening in the previous book by the time the next one is out. Glad to see a positive review of it though.

Feb 5, 9:46pm Top

>50 valkyrdeath: I can totally sympathize with that problem. It seems to be especially an issue for me with comics, too. I basically won't read comics series as individual issues, because I can't stand getting stories in tiny bite-sized installments and then having to wait a month while I forget everything that just happened, but it's an issue on a larger scale with the graphic novel collections, too. I'm still really wishing I'd read Locke & Key all in a lump, for example.

I might not have picked this one up myself yet, for that reason and others, but it was one of my SantaThing books from Christmas, and despite that concern, I certainly can't say it was a bad choice. Although I do think that exactly how I feel about it is going to depend on how later volumes go. I'm hoping they retain all the good points of this one while becoming a little easier to follow.

Feb 8, 8:16pm Top

13. A Life in Parts by Bryan Cranston

Bryan Cranston's memoir takes us through the many, many roles he's played both TV and in real life, from a less-than-ideal childhood up through his unexpected burst of fame in the wake of Breaking Bad. Of course, he also talks about what it was like to play the iconic role of Walter White, including his own insights into Walt's character and how they influenced what we saw on-screen. Cranston's writing is effortlessly readable, even when he's delving into emotionally difficult topics, and he comes across as thoughtful, sincere, and (despite some dubious youthful exploits) generally level-headed, but most of all as deeply passionate about and devoted to the art and craft of acting.

I've always been deeply impressed with his performance on Breaking Bad, and I'm pleased to say that I found him worth hanging around with for two or three hundred pages, as well.

Rating: 4/5

Feb 9, 6:49am Top

>49 bragan: Sounds like an interesting book. Swanwick is the only author of those listed I am familiar with (though haven't read...I know, I know, I should).

Feb 9, 2:24pm Top

>62 bragan: Interesting review. I have to admit, though, that I did not really enjoy Breaking Bad as much as most people did. I just didn't really get into it. It might be all the more interesting what else Bryan Cranston has done.

Feb 9, 6:40pm Top

>63 avaland: Really interesting in concept, even if I wasn't thrilled with the execution. Swanwick was the only author on that one I really knew, either. Well, I'm sure I've heard of Max Gladstone before, but I keep not quite remembering where from.

>64 OscarWilde87: Personally, I thought Breaking Bad was completely worth all the praise and hype it got, but I can totally understand it not being everybody's cup of tea. Other than that, Cranston is best known for playing the dad on Malcolm in the Middle. Which I vaguely remember seeing a few episodes of and thinking was pretty good for a sitcom, but, with a few notable exceptions, I've never been a big fan of sitcoms.

Feb 11, 8:34am Top

>65 bragan: Oh, I completely forgot about Malcom in the Middle. I've seen a couple of episodes. Feels like ages ago!

Feb 11, 12:33pm Top

>66 OscarWilde87: It does seem like a really long time ago.

Feb 11, 6:52pm Top

14. Lincoln in the Bardo by George Suanders

Willie Lincoln, son of Abraham Lincoln, died of typhoid fever at the age of eleven, during the Civil War, while a fancy party took place in the White House downstairs. The president, by all accounts, was inconsolably grief-stricken over the loss, and spent a long time mourning at the child's grave.

George Saunders has imagined poor little Willie Lincoln as a ghost unable to move on in the face of his father's desire for him not to be gone, trapped in the graveyard among a host of other ghosts deep in denial about their deaths and compelled to tell their stories to one another over and over again.

It's a very strangely structured novel. Much of it is told in little snippets of perception and memory from the POV of the various ghosts, with the rest consisting of arrangements of quotes about Lincoln and the real-life events of the time from various historians and contemporary accounts. This works much, much better than you'd think it might, because Saunders is some kind of weird literary genius. The end result is bizarre, sad, profound, and affecting on many, many different levels.

Rating: I debated about this briefly, then decided to just go ahead and give it the full 5/5.

Feb 12, 10:50am Top

I'm about to start Lincoln in the Bardo. Thanks for making me more eager to dive into it!

Feb 12, 11:01am Top

>68 bragan: great to see another great review of Lincoln in the Bardo. I still can't quite get my head around what to expect from this novel, but sounds very interesting!

Feb 12, 12:34pm Top

>69 RidgewayGirl: Glad to help! I hope you end up liking it as much as I did.

>70 AlisonY: Honestly, I'm not sure anything is really going to prepare you for what to expect from it. Probably the best thing is just to dive in and go with it. :)

Feb 12, 3:00pm Top

>68 bragan: Thank you for your review of Lincoln in the Bardo. I was uncertain whether I wanted to read it, but after another five star review it has just made its way on my wishlist.

Feb 13, 12:46am Top

happy to get another nudge toward Lincoln in the Bardo.

Feb 13, 3:50am Top

>72 OscarWilde87: It's a very weird book, and it is entirely possible it's not going to work that well for everyone, but for anyone wondering if they should read it or not, I really do recommend giving it a chance.

>73 mabith: Nudge, nudge! :)

Feb 13, 11:23pm Top

15. Artemis by Andy Weir

This second novel by the author of The Martian focuses on a smuggler living in a moon colony who is hired to perform an act of industrial sabotage for a great deal of money, only to find herself drawn into a much bigger mess than she expected when she took the job.

It's a quick read, the plot is fun (if maybe a little unrealistic towards the end), and there's an entertaining, slightly smartassed humor that runs through it all. But there's also just entirely too much clunky, lecture-y exposition.

Of course, you could say exactly the same thing about The Martian. But I think the science lectures worked better in service of that book's scientific survival story, and certainly made a lot more sense coming from its scientist/astronaut protagonist than they do from this novel's criminal/blue collar worker, no matter how smart she might be.

Overall, I enjoyed it well enough, but I really do wish Weir would learn how to convey the details of his worldbuilding and hard SF plot elements with a little more skill and subtlety.

Rating: 3.5/5

Feb 14, 2:29pm Top

Thanks for the reviews.
I'm leaning closer now towards getting to Lincoln in the Bardo at some point, and further from Artemis, which seems enjoyable but not as much as the great number of books that are on my wishlist.

Feb 14, 3:43pm Top

>74 bragan: I certainly will give it a try. Reading your reviews I find that I usually tend to agree to what you say.

Feb 14, 4:16pm Top

>76 chlorine: Artemis is a fun-enough book when you want something really light, if you don't mind the endless exposition. But, yeah, definitely not something I think anybody really needs to run out grab and make a priority.

>77 OscarWilde87: Aww, I'm flattered you think so!

Feb 17, 2:51am Top

16. The Fevers of Reason: New and Selected Essays by Gerald Weissmann

This collection of essays primarily focuses on medicine and biology (or subjects as least somewhat related to medicine or biology), plus a fair number that are about science or scientists more generally, and few odd pieces that don't necessarily seem to fit in with the rest (such as a slightly snarky one about college football scholarships).

I really wish I liked these more than I did. It seems like I should have liked them more than I did. The subject matter is mostly pretty interesting. I very much appreciate the way Weissmann makes a point of highlighting the contributions of women and immigrants. I even agree with lots of the personal and political opinions he includes. (Yes, homeopathy is bunk! Gay rights are important! I'm with ya, buddy!)

And yet... There's no good way to say this, but Weissmann's prose just really bores me, and I find it remarkably hard to put my finger on why, because it's not actively horrible or anything. Maybe it's just a little too unfocused, not sufficiently unpacking thoughts I'd like to know more about before wandering off after ones I find less interesting. Maybe it's that the writing is a little dry and, at least when he's talking about his own field of rheumatology, sometimes a little too technical. Maybe it's that the occasional bit of humor and word play he indulges in fails to land very well with me and make me feel, perhaps unfairly, that he's trying to substitute cleverness for clarity. Maybe it's just that he includes lengthy quotes from people like Oliver Wendell Holmes and Lewis Thomas whose vivid writing makes his look extra-dull by comparison. Or maybe it's just me; maybe I'm simply not the right audience for this particular book, despite a general appreciation for science writing. Whatever is it, though, I have to admit, it was often hard to keep my mind on the sentences I was reading.

Which certainly isn't to say that I didn't find anything worthwhile here when I did manage to keep my mind on it. For one thing, I've come to the conclusion that I definitely want to read some Oliver Wendell Holmes. And I'm rather glad to have read the essay on the pioneering female physician Elizabeth Blackwell, which I think was quite possibly the best thing in this collection. I guess I was just hoping, overall, for something I'd find a little more lively and engaging.

Rating: I've talked myself into giving this a 3/5, which is a half star higher than I feel like I want to rate it based on how I felt about it, but may be closer to what it objectively deserves, given that I think at least some of my failure to get on with Weissmann's writing probably is as much me as him.

(Note: This was a LibraryThing Early Reviewers book.)

Feb 17, 2:59pm Top

17. The Saturday Big Tent Wedding Party by Alexander McCall Smith

In this twelfth installment of the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series, the ladies investigate a case of cattle mutilation. Meanwhile, Grace Makutsi plans her wedding, Charlie the apprentice seems to have gotten himself into a difficult spot, and Precious Ramotswe is haunted by the ghost of her little white van.

These books always make me feel warm and fuzzy, uplifted and happy, even though they never deny or look away from the sadder and darker aspects of life. This one, if anything, made me feel that even more than most of them. It's like a comforting, friendly hug of a book. And though the plots are never the truly important thing in these novels, I found the main detective case this time genuinely pretty interesting.

Rating: 4/5

Feb 18, 7:27am Top

>79 bragan: Sorry you did not like this one as much as you hoped you would.

Do you read many ER books? I'm curious, do you think your enjoyment of them is the same, or better or worse, than for non ER books?

Feb 18, 4:38pm Top

>81 chlorine: I've been requesting ER books for quite a while, and I usually win one most months (although there've been a couple of months lately when there hasn't been anything I've been interested enough to request, given that I really am trying to limit my book-acquisition some these days).

It's always a bit of a crap shoot with ER books, even if I stick to ones that look like the sort of thing I'm likely to enjoy. I've had a fair number of disappointments, and even a few real stinkers. On the other hand, I've also gotten quite a few that I've really, really liked, including some that probably would never have attracted my attention otherwise, and even a few I hesitated about requesting because I wasn't sure if they'd be my sort of thing.

So, basically, the answer to whether my enjoyment of them is better or worse than for non-ER books is, "yes." :) I'd say the quality is more variable than for non-ER books, but it varies in the right direction often enough to keep me interested in participating.

Feb 18, 4:50pm Top

18. The Pirates! in an Adventure with Communists by Gideon Defoe

This is the third of the Pirates! books, a series of silly little stories about pirates who have adventures with various real and fictional famous 19th century figures. Actually, "silly" doesn't really do these justice. They're ridiculous and absurd, a kind of humor that, now that I think about it, feels more than a little Monty Python-esque. And, as with Monty Python, I often find myself a bit confused about why I'm laughing at this nonsense, but happily laughing at it, anyway.

In this one, the pirates get tangled up with communists (as you could probably guess). It starts when the Pirate Captain gets mistaken for Karl Marx because of his amazing beard, propelling them into an adventure that features philosophy, opera, and art theft, among other interesting elements.

I've enjoyed all of these books so far, in their own bizarre ways, but I do think I liked this one more than the last one, The Pirates! in an Adventure with Ahab. I think maybe it's because the humorous situations feel a little less random and a little more in service of... Well, look, I hesitate to call it a plot, but I'm not sure what else to call it, so let's say in service of a plot. No matter how thin or how crazy it might be.

Rating: 4/5

Feb 18, 6:29pm Top

>75 bragan: I'm still intending to read Artemis, but it's seeming less and less a priority from what I've read about it. The plot still sounds fun though.

>83 bragan: I've read the first couple of The Pirates! books and have really enjoyed them, particularly the original. I've never been sure quite how far that sort of humour will stretch out in a series though, so I've been trying to leave plenty of time before reading another. Glad to hear this one is better than the second.

Feb 18, 11:02pm Top

>84 valkyrdeath: Despite its flaws, Artemis is not bad, if honestly a bit forgettable. But I think it's best read without the kind of high expectations most people had after The Martian.

And the Pirates! books are definitely best read at widely spaced intervals. That sort of humor may be fun, but a little of it at a time goes a long way.

Feb 19, 2:52pm Top

>82 bragan: Good to hear that the overall balance for ER books is good for you!

>83 bragan: The Pirates! series sound really fun! Do they have to be read in order? I'm asking because The pirates! in an adventure with the Communists is a title which really cracks me up.

But the title of the first one with the scientists is fun too...

Feb 19, 3:20pm Top

>86 chlorine: I'd say you really do not have to read the Pirates! books in any kind of order. They're basically just pure ridiculousness, so continuity doesn't exactly matter very much. Come to think of it, most of the previous adventures that one references aren't even things that happened in the earlier books, anyway.

Feb 21, 6:23pm Top

19. Soonish: Ten Emerging Technologies That'll Improve and/or Ruin Everything by Kelly and Zach Weinersmith

Kelly Weinersmith is a scientist (more specifically, a biologist). Zach Weinersmith is the guy behind the hilarious, deeply nerdy webcomic Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal, which, being deeply nerdy myself, I absolutely love.

Together, they've brought us a book about ten fields of science and technology, from cheaper space travel to mind-brain interfaces, that have the potential to, well, improve and/or ruin everything. Or at least to change things a lot. And it's a really fun book. The concepts in it are extremely interesting in themselves, and made more so by the humor that the Weinersmiths bring to them, from Zach's wacky cartoons, to weird and funny footnotes, to some really creative (and yet very clear and useful!) metaphors and analogies for some of the more difficult scientific topics. Definitely recommended for anyone -- or, at least, for anyone with a sense of humor -- who is interested in science and technology and what they might mean for the future of humanity in general.

Rating: 4/5

Feb 22, 12:55pm Top

>88 bragan: I really like SMBC so I was curious about this one. Glad it stands up!

Feb 22, 9:29pm Top

>89 janemarieprice: If you're a fan of SMBC, I can definitely recommend it!

Feb 23, 8:59pm Top

>88 bragan: I don't know much about the webcomic, but this book sounds a fun read that's just the sort of thing I'd like. I'm noting it! (and noting to check out the comic too)

Feb 23, 10:43pm Top

>91 valkyrdeath: I love the comic, but I think you sort of have to be very, very nerdy to appreciate a lot of it. The book, on the other hand, is good for everybody.

Edited: Feb 24, 1:03pm Top

>88 bragan: Thanks for the review, and thanks for reminding me of SMBC which I haven't read in a long time.

Since we're speaking about nerdy comics, do you follow xkcd by Randall Munroe and/or have you read his book What if? Serious scientific answers to absurd hypothetical questions? I thought it was brilliant.

Feb 24, 7:46pm Top

>93 chlorine: Yes, I have to both of those questions! xkcd is my other favorite webcomic. And What If? was delightful.

Feb 25, 2:26am Top

20. Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

This family saga follows four generations of Koreans from Korea under Japanese occupation into Japan itself, where Koreans were treated first as second-class citizens of the Japanese Empire, and then, after WWII, as foreign nationals even if they'd been born in Japan.

It's long -- about 500 pages -- and rather rambly, dipping in and out of the lives of its characters as they experience grinding poverty, impressive success, love, shame, scandal, discrimination, identity issues, multiple tragedies, and the effects of the differing expectations their times and their culture place on men and women.

Shortly after I started this book, I described it to someone as "well-written"... and then, when I opened it back up and started reading again, I found myself questioning that. The prose, really, isn't especially beautiful. If anything, it has a hard-to-describe but perhaps slightly "off" quality that I associate with books in translation, although it was written in English. And the structure is perhaps a bit baggy, with a thread or two that don't really seem to go much of anywhere. And yet, it reads to me as if it's very well-written, if that makes any sense at all. There's a quality to both the writing and the characterization that just easily and effortlessly swept me along. By the end, possibly it was wearing a tiny bit thin, but in general, the novel really didn't feel nearly as long as it actually was. And I was entirely content to just live these people's lives along with them, wherever the author might decide to go with them.

It was also rather interesting to me because it involves places and cultures and bits of history I had only a superficial knowledge of going in, but also ended up saying things about the immigrant experience that felt very familiar to me as an American.

Rating: 4/5

Feb 26, 12:10am Top

21. Sizzling Sixteen by Janet Evanovich

Book sixteen (or maybe twenty, depending on how you count them) in Janet Evanovitch's Stephanie Plum series. This time, Stephanie's cousin/boss gets kidnapped and held hostage by a gangster who's threatening to kill him unless someone pays off his gambling debts. Also, there's an alligator. And people dressed up as hobbits.

At their best, these books can be reasonably funny. At their worst, I find them kind of annoying. This one was neither. It's vaguely amusing in places, maybe, and it's still playing up the interminable love triangle I was tired of three books in. But mostly it was just readable and instantly forgettable, with a possibly even dumber than usual plot.

Honestly, I think I'm just getting tired of this series. And yet, I somehow can't seem to stop reading it. Send help.

Rating: 2.5/5

Feb 26, 1:17am Top

>95 bragan:

Admittedly a slightly confusing review in that I'm not sure if it motivated me or demotivated me but as the book is on my pile, there will always be the possibility of reading. And that "someone" was me. :)

Feb 26, 2:14am Top

>97 lilisin: Heh. I was pretty sure you were the someone, but I have trouble remembering what I said to who. :) And it's odd, because it was one of those books where I feel like I overlooked some flaws and maybe enjoyed it a bit more than I by all rights should have, but I did enjoy it. I'd say that I do recommend it, actually, but with a bit of hedging.

Feb 26, 7:36am Top

>95 bragan: You’ve summed up just about how I felt about Pachinko, too. That clunkiness that I associate with (some) translations (your ‘slightly off’ is spot on), the rambling, the baggy plot with dead-end storylines...but I, too, ended up caring about those characters, and I enjoyed immersing myself in their story.

Feb 26, 8:13am Top

Hi Bragan!

Feb 26, 8:38am Top

>99 rachbxl: It's actually kind of nice to know I'm not the only one! In any case, caring about and feeling immersed in the lives of the characters really does go a long way.

>100 tess_schoolmarm: Hello!

Feb 26, 11:59am Top

95> Interesting review of Pachinko. I think I have it lying around somewhere -- must give a look.

Feb 26, 6:30pm Top

>102 janeajones: It is definitely worth a look, I'd say.

Feb 27, 10:27am Top

Glad to see your generally positive review of Pachinko, I largely enjoyed her first novel Free Food for Millionaires and despite some issues it seemed pretty darn accomplished for a debut novel. I think she's definitely one to watch.

Feb 27, 5:07pm Top

>104 mabith: I've been vaguely wondering if Free Food for Millionaires is worth checking out.

Mar 3, 8:54pm Top

>92 bragan: I think I fall quite well into the very nerdy category so shouldn't have an issues there!

>95 bragan: I also enjoyed Free Food for Millionaires, and I keep meaning to read Pachinko, so I'm glad to see another reminder of it here. I remember thinking the same thing about her first book not feeling as long as it is.

Mar 4, 10:51am Top

>106 valkyrdeath: Very Nerdy Folks unite! :)

Mar 4, 6:16pm Top

22. Leonard Cohen on Leonard Cohen: Interviews and Encounters edited by Jeff Berger

This hefty volume covers nearly Leonard Cohen's entire career, from 1966 through 2012, and includes a few transcripts from TV and radio interviews as well as various magazine pieces. I found some of the earliest interviews a little annoying; the interviewers sometimes come across as trying entirely too hard to sound profound, in a very 60s stoner-philosopher sort of way, and Cohen seems to be humoring them with obscure pronouncements in kind. But fortunately that quickly mostly falls by the wayside, and he starts to sound much more like the person you might expect from listening to his lyrics: thoughtful, poetic, graceful, insightful, and a little strange.

I enjoyed reading some of these a lot. I do have to say, though, that I'm not sure even the biggest Leonard Cohen fan really needs to read 600 pages of interviews with the man. Especially considering that the interviewers usually include essentially the same mini-biography and often ask largely similar questions, and that Cohen has a few jokes and observations and anecdotes he likes to repeat for them fairly often.

I'd say for someone looking to read a bit about Cohen's life and work, I'd first and foremost recommend Sylvie Simmons' biography I'm Your Man. Then, if you finish that and still want more, this is worth picking up, but I'd really recommend dipping in and out of it over time, rather than reading it straight through the way I mostly did.

Rating: 4/5

Edited: Mar 4, 7:07pm Top

Finally catching up with your intimidatingly-long thread, Betty!

>2 OscarWilde87:, Sourdough sounds kind of gonzo, in a good way.

>18 bragan:, I'll definitely have to check out Astray. I have loved Emma Donoghue's other books.

>28 bragan:, I've read about the research on surgical checklists, which is fascinating, and enjoyed Guwande's articles in the New Yorker. This seems like an important practice for anyone who really needs to get things right.

>34 bragan:, Your thread is now officially disastrous for me. The concept of The Regional Office is Under Attack! is intriguing -- I love the idea that it's mostly women working there. :)

>62 bragan:, >64 OscarWilde87:, >65 bragan:, >66 OscarWilde87:, >67 bragan:, I particularly like the fan theory that all of Breaking Bad is just a dream had by the father on Malcolm in the Middle.

>75 bragan:, Hmmmm. Artemis is on my list of holds at the library, but perhaps its one I'll skip for now.

>83 bragan:, Pirates in an adventure with communists? Sign me up! Like others, I find the title alone an enticement.

>88 bragan:, Love it.

I think I've added too many books. I feel hungover. ;)

Mar 4, 8:16pm Top

>109 fannyprice: Hee! I am sorry for overwhelming you, but glad to have potentially introduced you to some fun books. :)

I think The Regional Office Is Under Attack! has a total of two male characters in the whole thing. It feels like a nice reversal of the usual couple of token women in a story populated mostly by men.

The title of the first book in the Pirates! series was The Pirates! in an Adventure with Scientists, which I found even more irresistible than the communists.

Annoyingly, the video that article you linked to with the "alternate ending" Breaking Bad clip isn't available, so I can't see Cranston acting it out, but just reading about it was kind of hilarious, even though I've only ever seen a few episodes of Malcolm.

Mar 8, 9:37pm Top

23. The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill

The Protectorate sits, isolated, in the middle of dark and dangerous woods. And in the woods, there is a witch. The people of the Protectorate fear her, so once a year they sacrifice a baby to her, abandoning it to die in the woods because they believe it will appease her and keep her from destroying them. And every year, the witch picks up the baby, wondering why on Earth they keep leaving them in the woods like that, and takes them somewhere they'll be cared for. Until she accidentally, or perhaps accidentally-on-purpose, imbues one of the babies with powerful magic and decides she needs to keep that one to raise herself.

I've read a fair number of kids' books since the days when I was one myself, and I find I tend to have a couple of possible reactions to the good ones. Either I wish I'd read them when I was young (even if in many cases that would have required me to have access to a time machine), or I decide that they're equally (or very nearly equally) as appealing to adults as to kids. In this particular case, both of those things are true. Kid me would have imprinted on it hard, and adult me liked it very, very much. It's a lovely story, full of magic and darkness and hope and love, with some surprisingly subtle world-building and a really emotionally affecting ending. I definitely recommend it both for kids (at least ones who are old enough to handle something slightly dark and a little bit complicated) and for adults who are willing to read excellent kids' books.

Rating: 4.5/5

Mar 9, 11:26am Top

23> Nice review of The Girl Who Drank the Moon. I'll keep an eye out for it.

Mar 9, 1:32pm Top

>112 janeajones: It's worth keeping an eye out for!

Mar 9, 9:10pm Top

>111 bragan: Glad you liked it, I found it a lil ho-hum.

Mar 10, 4:13pm Top

Mar 10, 4:44pm Top

Just caught up. Always enjoy your reviews, whatever it is your reviewing. Glad you liked Lincoln on the Bardo, You left me more interested in Pachinko, and kind of explained some of the mixed reactions I've read in other reviews. As for the Girl Who Drank the Moon, great review. I thought about suggesting to my daughter...

Mar 10, 4:52pm Top

>115 fannyprice: It's always nice to read a kids' book that's satisfying enough as an adult.

>116 dchaikin: Aww, thank you! I'm glad you got something out of them.

Mar 14, 2:24pm Top

24. The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers

The crew of the spaceship Wayfarer, a motley mixture of humans and other species, punch new wormholes through the fabric of space for a living. It's not the most glamorous job, but it's a life they enjoy. And then they're given an extremely lucrative contract, one that quite literally involves taking the long way to a small, angry planet.

It's interesting: I was at least a hundred pages into this novel, and enjoying it greatly, before I suddenly realized that almost nothing had actually happened in it yet. Which is a trend that mostly continues for the rest of it, too, at least up until the end. We learns lots and lots about the crew and their inter-relationships, and about this universe and how things work in it and what role humans play and what the various other species are and what their cultures are like. But the actual plot stuff is scattered, episodic, and generally quickly resolved.

In most SF novels, a favoring of exposition over story is something I'd probably complain about, possibly fairly loudly. But in this one, by gum, it works. I was deeply interested in the characters (even the one who's basically a carbon copy of Kaylee from Firefly, which was pretty weird), in their lives and relationships with each other, and in the wider universe the author had created. I really liked these people, and liked living in their world with them for a while. And the writing is so breezy and fun and natural-feeling that I never felt like I was being lectured at, even when I was probably being lectured at.

And then, at the end, it gets genuinely quite tense and exciting, and then genuinely really emotional. At least one thing happens that I never would have expected, but ultimately everything comes together in a way that feels satisfying and even heartwarming.

Apparently there's already a sequel out. That one made its way to my wishlist about two minutes after I finished the last page.

Rating: 4.5/5

Mar 14, 5:00pm Top

>111 bragan: >118 bragan: Thank you for two excellent reviews! I'm one of those adult who enjoy good kid books also. :)

Edited: Mar 14, 6:11pm Top

>119 chlorine: Clearly, we have good taste and commendably childlike hearts. ;)

Mar 14, 8:24pm Top

>118 bragan: I've seen this book mentioned a few times and I've been curious about it. I think you've convinced me to give it a go.

Mar 15, 12:16am Top

>121 valkyrdeath: I'd been seeing it mentioned since it came out, I think. I'm a little sorry I didn't get to it sooner.

Mar 15, 10:12am Top

>118 bragan: I loved The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet and I own the sequel. Your review has made me want to get to it soon!

Mar 15, 11:15am Top

>123 wandering_star: I really have been trying to buy fewer books, but I may have to pick up the sequel sooner rather than later, myself.

Mar 19, 3:43pm Top

25. Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann

After being displaced from their traditional lands, members of the Osage tribe settled in Oklahoma, deliberately purchasing undesirable land on the theory that white people would not want to come and take it away from them this time. But they were smart enough to also buy the mineral rights, and when rich fields of oil were found on their property, they became some of the wealthiest people on Earth. Then, in the 1920s, many of them started dying: succumbing to poison, or turning up in ditches with bullet holes in their skulls, or, in one case, having their house blown up with them inside. David Grann tells the story of these murders, the FBI agents who investigated them (some of whom were also murdered), and the people whose lives were affected by them.

I have to say, I think I Grann's writing is best in short form. Some of the pieces in his collection The Devil and Sherlock Holmes are phenomenal. But I found this one a little rambly (something I remember also thinking about his The Lost City of Z, although I liked that one overall), and not as compellingly written as I might have hoped, with some attempts to zazz things up with vivid writing that seem a little overdone to me and not entirely effective. I also had some real trouble keeping track of all the relevant people, their names and their relationships, although that probably has as much to do with the complexity of the events as with Grann's ability to convey them clearly.

I do, however, very much admire the thoroughness of Grann's research. And the story he's telling is a fascinating one, in its own depressing way, full of violence, betrayal, conspiracy, greed, corruption, racism, and loose ends left to dangle for the better part of a century. If it were a novel instead of a true story, you might almost find some of the details too sensational, but truth really is sometimes stranger than fiction.

Rating: I'm giving this a 3.5/5, but I feel a little uncharitable about not rating it higher.

Mar 19, 5:43pm Top

>125 bragan: There is a novel, of course: Mean Spirit.

Mar 19, 6:33pm Top

>126 ELiz_M: Huh. I don't know why that surprises me.

Mar 20, 2:08pm Top

26. Queens of Geek by Jen Wilde

Charlie is a 19-year-old with a successful YouTube channel who's also recently starred in an indie zombie film that's achieved unexpected mainstream popularity. When that gets her invited as a guest at Comicon -- er, excuse me, SupaCon -- she is delighted, and so are her equally geeky BBFs, Taylor and Jamie, who get to join her. It's not all happy, geeky fun, though, as Taylor has to deal with her social anxiety and Charlie with being forced to do events with her douchey ex-boyfriend co-star in front of a public who are far too invested in them as a couple. But in the end, Charlie finds a new chance for love with a fellow vlogger/actress, while Taylor and Jamie may finally find themselves motivated to act on the attraction they've had to each other for ages.

It's a very sweet, pleasant, quick-reading story. I do have a nitpick or two with it... I mean, am I the only person who thinks telling someone you've just met that you've wanted to kiss them for a year because you've been watching them on YouTube is just a little creepy? Or at least a little uncomfortable? And I did find myself thinking from time to time that the author was perhaps trying just a little too hard to Address Important Issues, mostly involving feminist ideas, diversity, and the importance of accepting yourself and others. I have to say, characters lecturing each other about issues tends to make me cringe a little, even when I agree with them. In this case, though, I think that overall it actually works. I could honestly believe these characters saying these things to one another, rather than seeing their speeches as being solely the author talking to the reader. And it's really all just wonderfully good-hearted and affirming.

Ultimately, I enjoyed it, a lot more than I expected to. In one respect, I'm really not the target demographic for this, as it's been a very long time since I was a teenager, and I wasn't really a fan of teen romance even when I was. On the other hand, though, I am, always have been, and always will be very much the geeky fangirl, and on that level, reading this was... Well, it was weird, actually. When I was young, people did not write sweet love stories about people like me, and they certainly didn't get them published. If you were the sort of person who, say, went to Star Trek conventions (as I sometimes did), the world at large, if they thought about you at all, tended to regard you with some combination of mockery and bafflement. And if you were a woman who was into stuff like that, you were effectively invisible, unless maybe you were wearing the Slave Leia outfit. That last thing is actually still a little too true, but the world has changed a lot when it comes to nerds and geeks and how they're depicted, with geek culture now seeping into the mainstream in ways that I honestly find disconcerting. And, given all that, I can't help wondering how much it might have meant to me as a young teen, with all my isolation and social awkwardness and self-image problems, to have been able to read something like this, something telling me, "I see you. You are okay. And you are worthy of love." The situation with youngsters today is very different, of course, if only because they can connect to each other on the internet and never have to be alone in quite the same way I was. But maybe they still need this sort of thing once in a while, too. Especially the ones who, for one reason or other, still feel isolated and different.

Rating: 4/5

Mar 20, 2:56pm Top

Queens of Geek might be something my daughter would like. I'll look out for a copy. Excellent review.

Mar 20, 4:03pm Top

>129 RidgewayGirl: Thanks! I hope she enjoys it, if you do find it for her.

Mar 20, 6:09pm Top

27. Science: Abridged Beyond the Point of Usefulness by Zach Weinersmith

I almost feel a little weird putting this on my "books read" list, just because it's so tiny. It's less than five inches tall and all of 52 little pages, with lots of whitespace. It look me maybe fifteen minutes to read the whole thing. But they were fifteen really fun minutes. I was chuckling out loud to myself the entire time, which was mildly embarrassing since I was in public, but I regret nothing.

Basically, it's exactly what it says on the tin: real science, condensed to the point where it becomes useless, but funny. For instance, here's the first bit, on the history of physics:

Aristotle said a bunch of stuff that was wrong. Galileo and Newton fixed things up. Then Einstein broke everything again. Now, we've basically got it all worked out, except for small stuff, big stuff, hot stuff, cold stuff, fast stuff, heavy stuff, dark stuff, turbulence, and the concept of time.

It's funny because it's true! Actually, "it's funny because it's true!" was my reaction to the whole thing. I have a strong background in science, though, and got pretty much all of the jokes. I have no idea whether it would still be funny to someone who didn't. Possibly it would be funny in entirely different ways.

Basically, it was a tiny nugget of delight for my nerdy, nerdy soul.

Rating: 4.5/5

Mar 21, 2:30am Top

28. The Blue Fox by Sjón

A small Icelandic... Well, I was going to say "novel," but at 115 pages, I think it might actually qualify as a novella. Whatever it is, it's an odd, odd book. We're introduced to a man hunting a blue fox, apparently with something vaguely supernatural going on. Then we jump back in time a few days to meet another man, a man who once took in a young woman with Down's syndrome, despite the fact that this is set during the 19th century, and he'd been exposed to some very ugly ideas about such people. Then it's back to the fox-hunter again, who experiences some very weird things. Through the entire thing I kept wondering why on Earth the author was showing me these things and what the connection was between them. In the end, we're given information that makes sense of it... sort of. It's never remotely clear exactly why what happens happens, or even entirely what it is that happens, which leaves me wondering whether the author was deliberately leaving most of it to our imagination (which would be kind of an interesting choice), or whether there's an allusion here to some Icelandic folklore I'm just not aware of.

The writing is odd, too, although I think mostly in a good way. There's a dreamlike quality to it that seems appropriate, and which did kind of pull me along.

But in the end, I'm left completely unsure how I feel about any of it, and can't even remotely decide whether I actually liked it or not.

Rating: Seriously, I don't know whether this was good or bad. I don't know whether I liked it or not. Um... 3.5/5?

Mar 21, 12:39pm Top

Long live the nerds. Enjoying your reviews as always.

Mar 21, 1:57pm Top

Nerd power forever! :)

And thanks.

Mar 21, 2:06pm Top

>132 bragan:, Some books are like that. You just don't know what to think once you're done.

Mar 21, 2:10pm Top

>135 fannyprice: Indeed. And I don't mind that fact, really. It helps keep my reading life interesting!

Mar 21, 4:51pm Top

>132 bragan: It was nice to revisit The Blue Fox again through your review. I started another Sjon after that I put down...somewhere

Mar 21, 5:03pm Top

Great last few reviews! The Weinersmith book does seem really funny!

Mar 21, 5:09pm Top

>132 bragan: I'm not sure whether I'd be interested in reading more from Sjon after that or not... Well, I'd probably give it a shot! At the very lest, I'm willing to bet it would be interesting.

>138 chlorine: I do recommend it to people who love both science and humor.

Mar 23, 1:35am Top

29. Origins of the Specious: Myths and Misconceptions of the English Language by Patricia T. O'Conner and Stewart Kellerman

As the subtitle says -- or maybe even "like the subtitle says" -- this book explores various myths and misconceptions about English, from "rules" of grammar that are actually nothing of the sort, to stories about the origins of words and phrases that just aren't true, to French words we use in English that don't actually exist in French, to words and phrases that are often misunderstood (sometimes to the point where the "misunderstood" version is becoming standard), to common language nitpicks where it may be the nitpicker in the wrong, either because they're arguing for something that's irrecoverably changed or for something that never made much sense in the first place. Oh, and there's a chapter on dirty words, too.

I enjoyed the grammar parts best, I think, just because I always like an excuse to indulge my righteous anger against those who enjoy sniffing at others for splitting infinitive or dangling prepositions when that is how English actually works. The stuff about etymology was slightly less interesting to me, but I'm pretty sure that's just because I've already read one too many books on that subject, not because there was anything at all wrong with this one.

Indeed, it's a fun, breezy, easy read, full of clever puns and entertaining anecdotes. It also features some decent practical advice about when you might want to embrace or avoid controversial or disputed ways of using words. Much of that's a matter of opinion, of course, and I don't 100% agree with all of it, but it's generally sane and sensible opinion, which is more than you can say for a lot of opinions about language.

Rating: I'm going to give this a slightly generous 4/5.

Mar 23, 2:24am Top

>29 ELiz_M: Seems interesting! I think there's a "rule" that isn't one that you don't put a possessive 's if the possessor is inanimate. A colleague and I were wondering about it the other day. If I I remember correctly I looked it up sometime in the past and was fascinated by the stuff that came out about such a simple subject (I may be mixing it up with another rule, though).

I'm also interested in the fake French words, I wonder how that came about...

Mar 23, 2:39am Top

>141 chlorine: I've never heard of that rule!

Some of the "fake" French words were actually French, but French stopped using them while English held onto them. Some of them are English words that kind of look like French even thought their origins are completely different, so people tend to pronounce them like they're French. And then there are some phrases that apparently were just kind of made up, sometimes by translating an English phrass into French because, I dunno, it sounds fancier. :)

Mar 23, 5:17am Top

>140 bragan: That's a great title. I find that the trouble with popular books about language is that (something like) 80% of what they say is stuff you already know and agree with, 20% is wrong or misleading, and the rest is new and interesting. Sounds as though that was more or less your experience with this one...

>141 chlorine: Think about things like "babyfoot" and "pick-up" in French, or "Handy" in German - English does exactly the same to your language (and others - it's always fun to see the expression on an Italian's face after looking at an English coffee-menu...).

Possibly what you're thinking of with the possessives is the convention (not really a rule, more like style-advice) that it's preferable to avoid using possessive forms for nouns representing inanimate objects, i.e. you would tend to say "the man's coat" rather than "the coat of the man", but "the roof of the house" sounds better than "the house's roof".

Mar 23, 1:15pm Top

>143 thorold: I don't know if that's exactly the percentages I'd hang on it, but, yeah, after you've read enough of them a lot of what's in them starts to be familiar, and even carefully written ones by smart people can unknowingly pass along information that's wrong. As this book indicates, there's a lot of wrong information floating around out there. Still, I find language so perpetually fascinating that I find it worthwhile to keep reading them for the stuff I didn't know before.

And, huh, that "rule" you just spelled out is one of those fascinating things that I never actually noticed my language doing, but which is clearly true once you point it out. See? This is the sort of thing I love to learn!

Mar 24, 9:56am Top

>143 thorold: It's true that French does some strange thing with English words (on top of horribly mispronouncing them ;)!
For this reason, words like table football (or pinball, actually) are some of those I have the hardest time coming up with when I speak English : I always want to use the fake English word instead.

The rule I'd heard was simply skipping the 's for things, so in your example that would have been "the house roof". I think my colleague is just plainly mistaken about that one. ;)

Mar 24, 1:11pm Top

>145 chlorine: Heh. It's almost kind of nice to know the weird borrowing-and-mangling between the two languages is mutual.

And, hmm, you certainly can say things like "the house roof," but it's certainly not a rule that you have to. I think there are certain contexts where something like that would sound natural and maybe some where it would sound weird, and suddenly I'm not at all sure how to tell the difference between them. Talking about your "coat's pockets" rather than your "coat pockets" would almost always sound odd, for sure.

Hmm. Now I'm looking around at the objects on my desk trying to think of other examples... "Cup handle," "notebook pages," "pen cap," "monitor screen," "desk top." Huh. How did I never notice that English does that?!

Weirder still, I'd pretty naturally say, "I grabbed the cup handle," but I'd instead say "this cup's handle." But only if "this" applied to the cup. If I meant this handle I'd say "this cup handle." Indeed, it probably never would have occurred to me that in this context "cup handle" is equivalent to "cup's handle." It's just what the thing is called, almost as if it were all one word. Although I would possibly say "the handle of the cup," which goes along with what thorold was talking about.

OK, now I'm going to have trouble not thinking about this forever... :)

Mar 24, 1:41pm Top

>146 bragan: Fun! I think that’s one of those differences in language that mostly doesn’t matter, but just occasionally allows you to bring in a fine shade of meaning. “I put my hand in my coat pocket” doesn’t care about the coat, it’s just telling you briefly what sort of pocket we’re talking about (coat not trousers). “My coat’s pockets have buttoned flaps” is all about what sort of coat this particular one is.

Mar 24, 1:57pm Top

>147 thorold: That does sound about right to me.

It really is fun to realize that languages have all these little nuances that native speakers mostly don't even consciously think about.

Edited: Mar 24, 4:26pm Top

>148 bragan: Yes, that kind of discussion was one of the things I really enjoyed about working in an international organisation. Of course, the people we were writing letters to never realised that three highly-qualified experts had spent half an hour discussing whether it should be “coat pockets” or “coat’s pockets”, and if so, why...

Mar 25, 7:28am Top

What an amazing thread. There was so much interesting stuff to catch up on here. I shouldn't have been away for the last couple of weeks...

Mar 25, 2:54pm Top

>150 OscarWilde87: Heh. Always glad to provide still more reading material to catch up on!

Mar 25, 9:28pm Top

30. Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore by Matthew Sullivan

Lydia works in a bookstore that's frequented by a number of people she mentally refers to as "the BookFrogs": lonely, eccentric men who seem drawn to the bookstore because they have no place better to be. Then one night, one of the BookFrogs -- a troubled and intelligent young man named Joey -- hangs himself on the upper floor of the store. On his body, Lydia discovers an object with personal meaning for her, and as she tries to make sense of his death, she also finds her own past, in which she survived a horrific crime, coming back to haunt her.

I liked this one much more than I expected to. It's a story that seems like it really could have felt contrived and manipulative, but somehow everything about it just worked for me. The characters feel extremely believable. And while some of the revelations didn't come as much of a surprise, that didn't remotely feel like a problem. In the end, everything seemed to fit together in a very satisfying, if also very sad kind of way.

Rating: a slightly startled 4.5/5

Edited: Apr 1, 6:35pm Top

31. Harvest of Stars by Poul Anderson

I've never been a big fan of Poul Anderson's writing style, with its random archaisms and odd quirks of sentence structure. But I remember reading some of his earlier stuff and finding it entertaining or thought-provoking, at least. I'm afraid, though, that nothing I've read that he wrote after maybe about 1990 has struck me as anything but tedious at best. This novel was published in 1993, and it sadly has not changed my mind.

Which is too bad, because there are some decent ideas in here, and maybe a few moments that might have been kind of moving in a better story. The main plot conflict is between a totalitarian government on Earth and the computer-downloaded consciousness of the head of a space travel company. The bad guys get hold of a copy of the downloaded mind and reprogram him to accept their agenda, which could have led to a really interesting cat and mouse game between two versions of the same person. Instead the plot we get from that is incredibly slow and unengaging, then gets wrapped up ridiculously quickly and mostly off-screen about two thirds of the way through, at which point the whole thing turns into an equally unengaging story about interstellar colonization instead.

Similarly, there's potential in the concept of the totalitarian government. It feels very much like a real-world police state, but with some interestingly science fictional ideology driving it. Does that get explored in any meaningful way? Nope! Instead the whole concept rapidly degenerates into a simplistic "rugged, manly, 'politically incorrect' entrepreneur vs effete intellectual liberal oppressors" narrative, complete with long libertarian rants. Which sort of thing, I guess, has something of a long tradition in certain SF circles, and has even produced some reasonably entertaining novels, but I find that I've pretty much run out of patience for it.

I could go on. I mean, there's the way Anderson imagines his future English as heavily influenced by Spanish -- a decent and reasonable bit of worldbuilding -- and uses it mainly to make his dialog sound clunky and unconvincing in two languages at once. There's the eyeroll-inducing way the female main character falls instantly in lust with every single man she meets. And, oh, yeah, there's the moon elves. Because apparently colonizing the moon turns you into Legolas.

Suffice to say, I really think I need to add Poul Anderson to the list of authors I should just stop giving another chance.

Rating: 2/5

Apr 2, 5:53am Top

Noting the bookstore read - sounds interesting.

Apr 2, 2:09pm Top

>154 AlisonY: I liked it! Although it seems like people who went into it expecting more of a twisty mystery may have been disappointed. For me, it was more about the characters and the story than trying to guess whodunnit. So I'd recommend maybe going into it with that in mind.

Apr 2, 2:21pm Top

>153 bragan: I have not read much Poul Anderson, but I think this is one I did read. I don't remember a thing about it.

Apr 2, 5:06pm Top

>156 avaland: It's not all that memorable, sadly.

Apr 2, 7:46pm Top

Enjoyed catching up with your reviews. The grammar book sounds interesting. I've certainly seen people nitpicking at things that aren't actually wrong before, and some things seem to have become considered rules that have just been made up. It sounds like I'd enjoy this one more than the Lynne Truss type that wound me up the other year. Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore is already on my list to read, so it's good to see another positive review of that too.

Apr 2, 8:23pm Top

>158 valkyrdeath: A lot of supposed "rules" in English were absolutely just made up, generally by people who thought Latin was better than English and English ought to act like Latin, even though it's not even a Romance language.

And, yeah, Patricia O'Connor is way better than Lynn Truss.

Apr 2, 11:46pm Top

Enjoyed catching up here. Geeky-ness is a different kind of thing today then it was when we kids in the 80's.

Apr 3, 12:31am Top

>160 dchaikin: It really is. It's a strange new world we're living in today.

Edited: Apr 4, 11:08pm Top

And that's it for the first quarter of the year. I've continued on with my April reading here.

(And that link should now point to the right post in the right group! I hope.)

Edited: Apr 4, 10:56pm Top

>140 bragan: Uh oh, another book for the TBR list. Grammar was a favorite subject for me in middle school (I kid you not - I looked forward to diagramming sentences) and I loved Eats, Shoots & Leaves.

And I too loved Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore.

By the way, the link your provided in #162 leads to the ROOTS group.

Apr 4, 11:04pm Top

>163 auntmarge64: If you love grammar, I probably recommend that one, and maybe some of Patricia O'Conner's other books, too.

And, oops, I created my new thread in the wrong group! Geez. Thanks for pointing that out for me, or I'm sure both I and any number of other people would have been very confused. I'll do what I should have done in the first place, and use "continue this topic." Hopefully I can delete the other thread...

This topic was continued by Bragan reads more books in 2018, Pt. 2.

Group: Club Read 2018

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