Categories
Review

“You Suck at Cooking”

(Unknown Author)1

Seafood is a marketing term that was invented to convince people that ocean creatures are edible, rather than the stuff nightmares are made of.

This is, I think, the best cookbook I’ve ever read. Which, admittedly, doesn’t sound like a ringing endorsement, but I’ve read a frankly alarming number of cookbooks.2 So trust me when I say that this one is well worth the read. And, indeed, is worth actually reading straight through — though, aside from the introductory chapter, you can use it in the more conventional cookbook manner, and flip through the section you’re interested in at any moment.

Because, here’s the thing: not only is it funny — and of course it was going to be funny, it’s by You Suck at Cooking — it’s also smart. Smart, and clever, and… honest. It’s a masterwork of Being A Millennial, is what it is.

It is also, genuinely, an excellent introduction to cooking. I grew up cooking, so the kitchen holds no fear for me.3 In that regard, I’m not the target demographic of this book. The core audience here are the people who didn’t grow up being taught to cook, the people who might want to figure it out but are facing down a pile of unknown unknowns.4

So, if you’re looking for something lighthearted and fun, or if you don’t know anything about cooking and want a good starting point that’ll remind you you can do this, or you’re looking for some interesting new recipes to try — because there are some of those in there, too! — then I highly recommend this book. Check it out.

  1. I mean, there’s probably enough information about the guy online now that you could figure out who he is, but hey. Don’t be creepy.
  2. Listen, my family has a cookbook-buying problem, and at a certain point we needed to downsize the collection. But we couldn’t just give them away, we had to read them first, and maybe copy down our favorite recipes…
  3. Well, unless you own a mandolin, in which case, I fear the mandolin, as should you.
  4. To take a bit of a tangent, it reminds me of the general reaction to Antoni on the first season of Netflix’s Queer Eye. “Some professional chef, all he taught them was to make guacamole? He’s just there to be eye candy.”
    Well, no, Internet Strawman. What, is he gonna take somebody from “only thing in their fridge is a bottle of ketchup” to making a five-course meal in a week? No. He’s going to start with something basic to take away the “oh god I don’t know what I’m doing,” and (I assume) give them some tips on how to continue learning.
Categories
Review

“What Einstein Told His Cook”

Robert L Wolke

In my mind, the term for this genre is “popular science.” Or, possibly, “pop science.” (In this case, that’s also a pun on the subject.) Either way, it feels like a fun piece of beach reading – worth the time to read, which differentiates it from an airplane read,1 but not so heavy that you feel like you should be taking notes or pausing to take time to process.

For the most part, this book stands up pretty well, and the cover is minimal enough that the whole thing feels quite modern. Admittedly, it loses some of this with the occasional dated pop culture reference, and the final chapter, discussing the latest technologies, noticeably lags as a result of being, dear lord, almost two decades out of date.2

Still, though, it’s not like chemistry changes all that rapidly, and a lot of the explanations of how things work were quite neat. Give it a read.

  1. For my own ‘pop science’ injection: despite their pressurized interiors, the amount of oxygen in the cabin of a plane is lower than what your brain is used to, so as the flight goes on, you get a little oxygen-deprived, leaving your thoughts nice and fuzzy. There’s a reason Clive Cussler books are the ideal airplane books – they’re incredibly formulaic, so there’s less cognitive load.
  2. There’s a very serious discussion of the differences between mechanical and digital cooking thermometers, which is downright comical in the age of RFID-tagged disposable cups.
Categories
Review

“Becoming Steve Jobs”

Brent Schlender, Rick Tetzeli

Moving backwards, there were three things about this book that really captured my attention.

Lastly, the discussion of what Steve Jobs was like when he wasn’t being… what everyone thinks of when they think of Steve Jobs. The authors reiterate, many times, that the image of Jobs as alternating between ‘a genius’ and ‘an asshole’ was formed when he was very young, skyrocketing to fame at the helm of Apple. Later in life, he’d softened, become better able to have constructive discussions with people instead of just tearing into them – but, to the detriment of his public image, he’d also gotten very good at keeping out of the public eye when he wasn’t being Steve Jobs On Stage. Nobody was really afforded the chance to publicize that newer version of Steve Jobs.

Secondly, I’d never realized how integral to Pixar he was. At most, I knew he’d been involved in the company, led it for a while at some point; I hadn’t realized that he was the owner, one of the original people who built the company out of an immense talent pool bought wholesale from LucasArts. My mental timeline of Steve Jobs, betraying my tech industry bias, went Apple-NeXT-Apple. Pixar was an immense thing to miss out on, and realizing how much he’d shaped both Pixar and, eventually, Disney has me even more respecting the impact Jobs has had on our society.

And firstly, I found myself, over and over, contemplating the scale of technological change that happened within the lifetime of the company he and Wozniak founded. I think about these comparisons a lot, so here’s some of my favorites:

  • A single AirPod has more onboard processing power than any given Apollo launch.
  • Every Apple Watch, even the glacially slow Series 0, has had more processing power than a Cray-2.1
  • You can fit the entirety of the original version of MS-DOS in the L1 cache of a single core of a modern i9.2
  • I’d have to do a lot more math than I feel like doing to confirm this, but it’s not unreasonable to say that the iPad Pro I’m writing this on probably packs more computing power than every Apple II ever sold, combined.

And, even more than all those “ooh, it can do lots of math even faster” comparisons, the thing that kept striking me – reading this, as I was, on an iPad Pro – was just the staggering technological capacity of everything I do with this device. It’s a multitouch touch screen, with a battery of onboard radios, enough storage space for every book ever written; it’s got a lovely keyboard and stylus, both of which attach using only magnets. This device is a miracle of modern technology, and I’ve gotten very used to it. Reading about the Altair 8800, with its toggle switches and LEDs, gave me just enough decontextualization to look at this magical slab of glass and think, wow. Wow.

After reading this book, I think that sort of moment is something Steve Jobs would’ve loved to see.

All in all, I really enjoyed the book, and I highly recommend it. It was nice to see a more balanced look into Jobs’ life, a more human side of the man who so indelibly shaped the modern world. Give it a read.

  1. Surprisingly difficult to validate this comparison to my own satisfaction – the Cray-2 was in the era of “here’s how many FLOPS this baby can do,” but these days it’s just “what’s the GeekBench score?” and there’s no direct comparison between the two.
  2. I couldn’t find the actual size-on-disk of the original MS-DOS release, but based on the limitations of the file system, I can reasonably assume it’d fit.
Categories
Technology

State of the Apps 2020

I suppose I’m making this a tradition, now, writing up what I have on my phone and what’s changed since last year. And why not? It’s fun, and it helps me a bit with the fact that I’ve let my blog post queue get very near empty.

Screenshot of the iOS 14 'today' view, showing several widgets.
Screenshot of an iPhone home screen, with a mix of widgets and applications.

This year saw the release of iOS 14, and with it, the ability to put widgets directly on your home screen, and to banish apps from your home screen to the App Library. Both of which I have pretty thoroughly taken advantage of – though I’ve only got the one page of apps, I almost certainly have more apps installed this year than I did last year.

Widgets

Let’s do a quick look at my ‘widgets’ screen. I believe the official name is ‘Today View,’ but that’s a piece of information that I’m going to estimate seven people outside of Apple know off the top of their head, so we’ll move right along.

The upper half is a dashboard; at top left, we have a Smart Stack, showing Calendar above, and beneath it are a pair of Timery widgets that show me totals I want to keep an eye on throughout the day.

Top right, batteries; I used to think the idea of the bigger battery widget was ridiculous, but if I do everything precisely wrong, I can overwhelm it – think, phone, watch, AirPods with distinct battery levels, and the AirPods case, to boot. Still, I like that at-a-glance view, and I actually like that it doesn’t show percentages, it feels a lot lighter as a result.

Below that, I’ve got another Stack with a pair of Things widgets, showing my Today and Upcoming lists. I originally had a couple of my Areas displaying, as well, but found I wasn’t really using them.

Finally, I’ve got another Stack, this time a pair of the larger-form Timery widgets. The one you’re seeing is my “my projects” collection – including a deliberately-blank bottom-right, so that with a timer running I’ve still got a way to tap into the app without starting or stopping a timer. 1 The other one, which I won’t be showing for “NDA” reasons, is stuff for work.

Home

Now the home screen, which my mental model has in five segments.

The four apps at top left are the “aspirational” section – Books, as I’m trying to train myself to reach for a book rather than searching the web for Content to keep myself entertained; fitbod, as part of my ongoing fitness routine/goals; Shortcuts, because I want to be free to automate tasks with ease; and Files… doesn’t particularly fit the theme, but I use it often enough for it to have earned that spot.2

Top right is the ‘health’ pile. It is, you guessed it, yet another Smart Stack.3 Topmost is FoodNoms, which I still heartily recommend to anyone who wants to start calorie counting.4 Below FoodNoms we have Streaks, which I’m using less than I did last year, but I still find it helpful. Despite the fact that I’ve been taking the same meds every morning for several years now, I still forget at least once a week, and Streaks is what reminds me. Finally, at the bottom, is Activity, which I think you could call one of the canonical widgets of the new style – a glanceable bit of information, always there.

Below these two we have… an unnamed section.5 It is, once again, a Smart Stack. On top we’ve got my main-use Shortcuts – the bottom two for playing music, ‘Things’ gives me a menu of various Things items/projects that I use semi-often, and ‘Auto’ is a lovely piece of work that does what Siri Suggestions was advertised as doing.6

Below Shortcuts is Weather. Apple’s Weather app still feels a little lacking in accuracy compared to Dark Sky, but I’m hoping they’ll rectify that (and get their display of “amount of rain” lining up with my actual expectations for what it means, a la Dark Sky) before they disappear Dark Sky entirely. The widget, though, makes me want to write a chapter for a UI textbook about how well it contextually displays information.

The final item in this stack is Fluidics. It’s not just shameless self-promotion, it’s also dogfooding! (And I really do think the widget is a beautiful piece of design, if I do say so myself.)

The bottom section is Regular Ol’ Apps.

  • Overcast is holding steady as my podcast app. I’ve finally gotten below 5 gigs of podcasts downloaded to listen to, so in the next month or so I expect Chase to finish convincing me I need to download the entire back archive of Roderick On The Line.
  • Photos has actually grown in how much I’m using it – I decided to go all-in on it this year, and spent some time loading a bunch of the photos from my DSLR archives in, and some more time labeling faces so the ‘people’ album would work. I’ve had mixed results.7
  • Mail. What do you want me to say? It’s Mail, and I wanted the most boring of email apps.
  • Reeder I’ve updated to version 4, and am continuing to drive the actual RSS sync off of TT-RSS/Fever on my Synology. The one addition is RSS-Bridge, which I’m using to scrape a few Twitter feeds into RSS as well. I’ve also finally moved wholesale into Reeder’s Read Later service, leaving Instapaper behind.8
  • Ulysses still fulfills the same use case for me. I’ve found it to be a… reasonable editor for GitLab Wiki articles, and a much better viewer for them than GitLab itself.9
  • Day One has continued to expand the list of things I use it for. I think the most interesting is a pair of journals I’ve got – “Inbox” and “Archive.” “Inbox” is in as dark a theme as I can make it, and is the default journal on my phone; any time I’ve got a midnight idea, I jot it down in there, and once a week or so I’ll go through, processing things from “Inbox” into “Archive.” It’s a nice little workflow.
  • Slack made its way onto my home screen courtesy of MHCID, and remains there because it’s the main way I communicate with some of the friends I made through the program. It’s a much better UI than Teams.10
  • Paprika might belong in the ‘aspirational’ category in place of Files. I’ve got more than a thousand recipes in here, and I’ve made, like, twenty of them. One day…

Finally, we have the dock, which is only a visual distinction given that I’ve only got the one page.

  • Music remains a very important thing to me, and I’m in and out of it all day. Every time I use it, I miss when Apple allowed you to customize the tabs – they have five tabs in there, and I literally never use three of them. Let me have playlists as a top-level tab, Apple, please. Stop trying to make Radio happen.
  • Messages is the only social network I’ve got, these days. It’s nice to see Apple putting effort into it – I am a heavy user of threads and tapbacks.
  • Things is a stalwart as my task management app. Outside of drawing apps, it’s the only iPadOS app that does handwriting recognition correctly – you just start writing, anywhere on screen, and it reads it in.11
  • Safari, because what would an iPhone be without the internet communicator? Admittedly, my Safari is a very different Safari than most peoples’, because I’ve got a mountain of content blocker rules via 1Blocker, and on top of that I have JavaScript disabled.12
  1. You may have noticed that the Timery app icon isn’t present on my home screen – I like this way of getting to it.
  2. I suppose you could call it part of the Automation subcategory, considering that I’ve got a lot of iCloud Drive -> Hazel stuff going on…
  3. I absolutely love the stack mechanic; my only complaint is the little bit of animation-delay between when I finish swiping and when I can tap to interact. Yes, Apple, the little ‘settling into place’ animation is lovely… but I’m trying to do things, so get it out of my way and let me do them.
  4. It’s a beautiful, and very iOS-y piece of work. The food database isn’t as full as MyFitnessPal’s, but that’s honestly a good thing – MFP’s database is full of trash data. FoodNoms starts with the FDA’s database, and has a ‘community-sourced’ database on top of that, where every entry has been manually validated, so it’s solid. If something isn’t in there, tap a button and scan the nutrition label, and the app reads the whole thing in – and then, once you’re done, asks you if you want to submit the resulting data to the community database. It’s an incredibly slick interaction, and I adore it.
  5. I wasn’t really planning on the naming at all when I started writing this, so it makes sense that I’d run out eventually.
  6. The tl;dr version is “it checks the time and some other contextual information and automatically picks from a list of other shortcuts to run based on that.” My morning routine is a series of single taps on that button, and it feels downright magical.
  7. It can identify my grandmother with ease, regardless of if the photo is from this year or a scan of one of her wedding photos; my grandpa, on the other hand, it can’t spot if I give it two of the same photo and manually tag him in one.
  8. I’ve still got Instapaper connected to Reeder, on the off chance that I have to use the Windows machine my work provided, but I’m something like 99.5% on macOS these days, so that’s exceedingly rare.
  9. We’ve got a wiki monorepo kind of thing at work, where we’ve got articles on anything that may be useful. GitLab’s wiki can show something like 15 pages at a time in the list, and makes it rather difficult to find that list at all; they really didn’t expect anyone to use it like this. However, you can sync the whole thing, like any other repo, at which point you’ve got a regular ol’ folder full of Markdown files, and Ulysses handles that pretty well. It does have a bad habit of escaping escape characters, and I know I’ve got at least one file somewhere that opens with something like 30 backslashes before a single tilde. Whoops.
  10. Teams, which we use at work, isn’t on my phone at all. Maintain that work-life balance, folks.
    While I’m talking about Teams: the UI, across the board, feels like exactly as many little “oh, nobody thought about how this interaction would go” and “oh, nobody tested this” moments as I expect from any Microsoft product. Unfortunately for my distaste for Microsoft products, it has one notable advantage over Slack – calling support. Slack’s iOS app still doesn’t support video calls, so for actual workplace purposes it’s effectively useless. (And yes, I am hoping someone at Slack will cite this as evidence to give the iOS app the resources it needs to get that feature.)
  11. This has been a subtweet at Messages, whose support for handwriting recognition consists of “you may write up to two words, and you’ll probably drop the iPad trying to do it.” If iPadOS 15 doesn’t make the entire thread pane a valid handwriting recognition target, I’m going to have to write Tim Cook some very unhappy emails.
  12. And this is a subtweet at every news site that either entirely fails to render without JavaScript, or doesn’t load images without JavaScript. You are weak, and I scoff at you.
Categories
Review

“Catfish Lullaby”

AC Wise

About 2/3 of the way through this book, I wound up texting a friend, “I didn’t want t get invested in this book, because it’s creepy, but here I am, queueing up the nightmares.”

And, really, that’s a great summary of the book. It’s definitely creepy, but it’s also enrapturing. Think of… a swamp. It’s a place of decay, and death – but also, full of so much life. Beautiful, and terrible; ancient, but always changing. That’s how the story feels, all the way through.

In short, it’s excellent. Not too long a read, so not too long a review, but I quite liked it. Check it out.

Categories
Review

“Wayward Son”

Rainbow Rowell

I enjoyed “Carry On” so much that I immediately picked up the sequel and read through it. “Wayward Son” is also a fun read, but not nearly as strong as “Carry On” was; “Carry On” is a conclusion and a beginning, while “Wayward Son” is… the middle book.1 It feels like it’s trying to progress the arc of the story, while still leaving enough un-finished for there to be a properly conclusive sequel — to the degree that the “ending on a cliffhanger” doesn’t actually add much more “well, guess I need to read the next one to see how this ends” than the book already had.

Still, there’s a lot of fun worldbuilding going on — an actual proper treatment of what the United States is like in this magical world, unlike Rowling’s utter disregard for… our entire culture, really.2 It honestly leaves me wanting to see other countries in this world, as well. Anglocentrism fits something that started as a Harry Potter parody, but now that we’ve established that Magical Britain is Britain and Magical America is “America, but more libertarian”, I’d love to see, like, Magical Brazil. Magical China. Fill out the world a bit more — what sort of international laws are there governing magic? How does the rest of the world deal with the fact that the Magical United States has no government, and the only thing keeping magic from going viral is that all the magic-users are secretive by nature? Lord knows that won’t last.

I’ll wrap up my rambling here, though. It’s an alright book; I think my main issue with it is timing. If I’d been able to go through all three in the series in a row, I suspect I would’ve enjoyed it a bit more — there’s a lot of set-up for the next book, but now, instead of getting to carry right on to the pay-off, I’m just stuck waiting. So, y’know, maybe wait until next year, but then read it.

  1. Literally so: there’s a third book in the series, scheduled to be released next year, which is explicitly billed as “the third and final book in the Simon Snow series.”
  2. The Fantastic Beasts film actually did an alright job of portraying my country, it feels like, but every aspect of the magical school she tried to describe as our equivalent to Hogwarts is extremely “I don’t get America.” We don’t do school houses, and you really think we’d have a single school? (I must admit, I really love watching Europeans be utterly unable to grasp just how big the US is.)
Categories
Review

“Carry On”

Rainbow Rowell

I keep going back and forth on whether or not I think this book is a parody of the Harry Potter series. On the one hand, it really obviously is – magic school in Britain, Chosen One, mysterious villain, rival from Old Money.1 But it’s doing so much more than just poking fun at these things that have become tropes; it has its own story to tell, and a system of magic that honestly makes more sense than anything Rowling ever accomplished.2

But a good part of my enjoyment of the book is also in the contrast with Harry Potter. What if Harry and Draco had been roommates? (And yes, it’s magic, so we do get to say “they can’t just strangle each other, the school has magically-enforced rules about that.”) What was Draco thinking when Harry was doing the “I have to keep an eye on him at all times” thing in their whichever-th year?3

The opening couple chapters are a delight to read. It’s the start of the school year, which makes for a very clear narrative beginning point… except it’s the start of Simon’s final school year, and he’s been a Protagonist all along, so we’re coming in very much in medias res. The amount of “as you know, Bob” is kept very low, which makes it a fun puzzle of “what all Insane Bullshit has he survived so far?”, and I’ve always enjoyed a game of “what’s the setting.”

Suffice it to say, I heartily recommend this – I’ve been trying to reduce the number of books in my to-read pile, but the moment I finished the book I immediately ordered the sequel, so here we are. If you at all like Harry Potter, and want something without the… tainted association of Rowling, please do read this delightful book.

  1. For reference, the titular character, and all the adventures that he went through prior to “Carry On,” made their original appearance in a novel centered around someone’s enjoyment of We Can’t Call It Harry Potter Because Rowling Has Lawyers For That, so it’s no surprise that there’s a lot of clear similarities.
  2. There’s rules! Actual rules, explicitly stated, about how spells are created! And they aren’t “yeah there’s an insane AI somewhere running things, it thinks making us make those noises are funny and rewards us with making stuff happen.” It’s all I ever wanted.
  3. For reference, here’s how I summarized that to my friend, while I was reading: “Harry is over there like ‘he’s gotta be up to something!’ Draco, meanwhile, is like ‘please, I am a fifteen year old boy, I need five minutes of Alone Time to deal with a… personal matter.’”
Categories
Review

“The Hollow History of Professor Perfectus”

Ginn Hale

I remain a complete sucker for good worldbuilding, and this is a very fun world that Hale has built. Gilded Age America, but with magic around, things went a bit differently – not least of which being that a magical war cracked the continent in half, leaving California an ocean away. In the meantime, magic has been severely regulated, and oh, don’t forget the automatons everywhere. It’s an interesting place.

And that’s without touching on the protagonists, who have an astonishing amount of backstory for such a short book.

It’s a short read – took me less than an hour, once I’d gotten invested – and I heartily recommend it. Give it a read.

Categories
Review

“Not So Stories”

ed. David Thomas Moore

I haven’t actually read very much Kipling, so reading a collection of stories inspired by — or, possibly, “in reaction to” — his work has me feeling like I’m almost certainly missing some context.

In reading, though, I didn’t find these stories at all lacking. They’re well able to stand on their own, and I’ve picked up enough from cultural osmosis to at least feel the shape of some of the references.

It’s also interesting to see the various storytelling methods and traditions being referenced here. Sometimes it’s a story you’re reading, and other times, you’re being told a story, spoken to directly. In a few of the stories in the book, it switches back and forth between these two approaches, telling two stories at once, one nesting inside the other. Reminiscent of Cloud Atlas, in a way.

The thing that most surprised me, as I read this, was how wrong my expectations were. “Based on Kipling’s Just So Stories” had me expecting everything to be in following the Platonic Ideal of a children’s book, very little conflict, everything easily resolved. Instead, in many of these stories, I found myself enraged and saddened at the injustice of it all. Many of them don’t have a happy ending; many of them don’t have much by way of happiness at all. In that, they feel more real than what I was expecting would’ve, although I so much hate to say it.

But my hatred for saying that is a response to media where that sadness feels like it’s there for sadness’ sake. Looking at you, DC film universe — the whole “grim and gritty” thing is just depressing, and the world is depressing enough already.

But in Not So Stories, for the most part, the unhappiness isn’t there just to be unhappy. It’s there to highlight that things aren’t fair, that the world doesn’t always go right — and to make you mad at that. To make you want to change it.

It is, in retrospect, an enjoyable reading experience, though at times I didn’t feel that way. Go read the book, and get mad at injustice.

Categories
Review

“Cannonbridge”

Jonathan Barnes

I realized, somewhere around a third of the way into this book, that I don’t actually like anyone in it. The protagonist is an astonishingly boring man, for someone living through this upsetting a series of events, and the other main character is a rather good example of what’s wrong with acting like a proper Victorian.

All that said, I did enjoy the book. It was the kind of mystery that I enjoy, less about figuring out who did the thing than it as about what, precisely, they did. That mystery is what carried me through – I had theories, thoughts about what might have been going on with that second main character, and I had a great deal of fun trying to figure out which of them were right, which were wrong, and why. (And, it turns out, I was wrong on all counts – the end was stranger than I expected, and all the more creepy as a result.)

All told, I quite enjoyed this book, and I can recommend it to anyone who likes a creepy mystery. (Bonus points if you like Victorian literature — you’ll probably catch more of the references than I did.) If that’s you, give it a read.

Categories
Technology

How to get a sysdiagnose on iOS 14

Every time I go to file a bug report Feedback with Apple, I have to remember how to gather a sysdiagnose; on macOS, the whole diagnostic process is automatic in the Feedback app, and if you have Feedback installed on iOS, it is there too. I, however, make things difficult on myself, and use Feedback on macOS to submit my iOS bugs.

A sysdiagnose, for those wondering, is a big bundle of diagnostic information that Apple (or the developer of an iOS app) can use to figure out what exactly went wrong when something didn’t work right on your device.

Since Apple’s documentation on how to gather a sysdiagnose leaves out a few key steps (FB8739343, if anyone at Apple is paying attention to this), I figured I’d write up the process for myself for future reference.

Without further ado, here’s how to gather a sysdiagnose on an iPhone X-class device. (Read: ‘no home button’)

  1. Press the volume up, volume down, and lock buttons all at once, and hold them for ~1 second. You’ll feel a little haptic buzz; your phone might also take a screenshot.
  2. Wait. Apple recommends about 10 minutes for iOS to gather everything.
  3. Open Settings and go to Privacy > Analytics & Improvements > Analytics Data
  4. Scroll through the list until you see a file whose name starts with “sysdiagnose_” and then the current date. (Protip: this list is super long, so once you’ve started scrolling, you can tap and drag on the little scroll blob on the right side of the screen to zoom through hit much faster.)
  5. Tap on the file, hit share, and AirDrop it to your Mac. (Or save it to iCloud, but I heartily do not recommend trying to email or send it via iMessage – it’s probably like a quarter of a gigabyte.)

Hopefully this helps you, and as someone who has to try to figure out why software isn’t working right, thank you for taking the time to get all the diagnostic information – it’s very helpful.

Categories
Review

“Relic Guardians Collection”

Victoria DeLuis, Meg Cowley

If you’re a fan of Warehouse 13, you’ll enjoy this book, I suspect. While it’s not as visibly rooted in actual historical fact as Warehouse 13 always was,1 it’s got that same “Indiana Jones, but about saving the world instead of just finding cool stuff for the museum” vibe.

That’s, really, most of the tl;dr of the book, although I’ve left out the magic. It’s a somewhat loosely-defined magic system, which normally I’d be annoyed by, being the “I want to understand the laws of magic” person that I am, but in this case it fits the cinematic feel of the series. The only really solid rule is that magic doesn’t come from people, but is a natural thing — ley lines! — that they channel through a focus of some sort. There’s also a lot of dangerous ancient artifacts around, which is where we get the Warehouse 13 aspect.

Zoe makes for a reasonable protagonist in Ancient Magic and Cursed Magic, but I think Hayley, the protagonist of Hidden Magic, is the one who really makes this collection. Zoe is the seasoned veteran, someone who was raised with magic and made a career out… well, being a badass. Hayley, meanwhile, is a junior museum curator, and spends the first quarter of her story in the perfectly reasonable belief that magic isn’t real. Discovering it with her is a lot more fun, and that “what is happening” mindset makes her a lot more relatable to the reader. Frankly, I’d argue that Hidden Magic should’ve been the first book in the collection, but Ancient Magic dovetails into it so well with the little crossover that it’s hard to be mad.

End result, I quite liked this little collection. It was a pretty quick read, and a fun one; give it a go.2

  1. Well, right up until it wasn’t, but you’ve gotta let the show have its core concept, after all.
  2. Normally, this would be a Bookshop link, but I’m unable to find the collection — or any of the component novellas — on Bookshop, so here’s an Amazon link instead. Strangely, despite being published under the same title, the thing I’m linking to is a 6-novella set, while the one I read only contains the first 3. I, frankly, have no idea where I got this ebook.
Categories
Review

“How to Marry A Werewolf”

Gail Carriger

People say not to judge a book by its cover, but looking at the cover of this book having just read it, I think it does a remarkably good job of explaining the book. The title really covers a lot of it, and the porthole hints at the little bit of steampunk that drifted in around the edges of the ‘werewolf’ bit.

In short, the book is utterly ridiculous. It’s not quite as “empty fluff”-y as you might think, and has some interesting things going on with some of the backstory, but it’s still entirely ridiculous.

But you know what? It’s 2020. The world sucks. Let people enjoy things! Read a ridiculous werewolf-regency-romance novel!

You can judge this book by its cover, but think about what context you’re using to judge it. Does “ridiculous and fluffy” mean bad? Or is it that it’s feminine-coded, and our sociocultural background has spent our entire lives teaching us that we should frown upon that sort of thing?

Thank you for coming to my TED Talk, everybody. Go read this ridiculous, fluffy, delightful book.

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Review

“Knaves”

I was going to start with “it’s been a while since the last anthology I read and reviewed,” but, as it turns out, it hasn’t. I wonder if it’s the variety of stories that makes an anthology feel further away in my memory? No single story has as long to get lodged in my memory, or something. Hmm.

Still, I do like the anthologies – they’re fun in the same way that a 22-minute-long TV show is, a great way to fill a bit of time without getting yourself too invested in something.

Knaves is, admittedly, less fun than some of the other ones, because the focus is on villains. So, by the nature of their stories, it’s a bit of a gloomy topic.

Which isn’t to say the stories aren’t interesting, because they absolutely are. “All Mine” is heartbreaking, as is “Hunger in the Bones”; “The Bloodletter’s Prayer” is a fascinating piece of dark fantasy; “Cat Secret Weapon #1” is a delightful spin on the Bond archetype; “The Hand of Virtue” is sweet and a touch melancholy; and “Old Sol Rises Up” is… well, honestly, mostly confusing. But I suspect that was the intent, so I won’t fault it.

And, of course, there’s an introduction – every anthology has to have one. What caught my eye and, frankly, got me to actually read the introduction was who wrote it – Howard Tayler, the man behind Schlock Mercenary, another delightful piece of media that I’m happy to recommend. Read the intro – it’s weird, and silly, and fun.

In fact, read the whole book. It’s a good use of time.

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Review

“Skin Deep Magic”

Craig Laurance Gidney
This book is… melancholy.
I read it in bits and pieces over the course of a couple of months, which it’s well suited for, as a collection of short stories.
Some of them were creepy, and some were sad. One or two were happy, and hopeful. But overall, the feeling I have is melancholy.
Part of that is the way the last story ends, which is certainly coloring my opinion, as I set the book down and immediately started writing this, but I think the whole thing feels that way, as well.
Melancholy certainly isn’t the best of moods to be in, but sometimes it’s what you need. And, considering that I’m posting this as we’re making our way into autumn, it’s entirely appropriate. Get yourself a seat looking over trees preparing to shed their leaves, a mug of tea, and read this book.