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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final chapter, discussing the latest technologies, noticeably lags as a result of being, dear lord, almost two decades out of date.2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.
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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.
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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.

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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.)
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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.’”
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.
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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.

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Review

“Wireless and More Steam-Powered Adventures”

Alex Acks
I was genuinely surprised that I don’t have another review to reference here — I would swear that I wrote one about the book where these characters were first introduced, Murder on the Titania, but apparently not.1
So, the introduction: in the Sherlock Holmes style, very vaguely. Zombies, and steampunk, and all the other internet buzzwords abound, but it works surprisingly well together. The primary arc of the first story can be summed up with the image of a Native American man and a Latina woman rolling their eyes as an elderly white man tries to convince himself he’s the hero because he’s slightly less of an imperialist than the bad guy.
And if that hasn’t sold you on the concept, I’m not sure what will. It’s a fun little read, check it out.


  1. I was actually entirely relying on being able to search in my archives here to find the name of that book, but no dice; I had to look it up on the author’s lovely, exhaustive list of everything they’ve written. 
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Review

“Scourge of the Seas of Time (and Space)”

I do love a good anthology. It’s all the fun of starting a new book, several times over, and with much less of a time commitment each time.
This did have some of the downside, though – about halfway through, I found myself getting rather bored of the concept of pirates. It’s a bit too coherent a theme, I feel; the book had a lot of the variance that makes anthologies fun, but keeping everything tied to ‘pirates’ limited it a bit more than is really healthy for an anthology.
After that midway nadir, though, it recovered nicely, going off into some interesting science fiction bits, and ending on a delightfully weird fantasy (or, possibly, extremely-distant-future?) piece.
So hey, have some fun with a variety of pirate stories.

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Review

“Ghost Garages”

Erin M. Hartshorn
“This feels like an indie novel,” I told one of my friends as I was reading it. “The content is really interesting, but the title says ‘there wasn’t an editor.’” Looking at the cover now, I’m doubling down on that statement. It looks, honestly, ridiculous. But it was also one of the most fun books I’ve read recently.
It also feels like it’s setting up for a series, both in the subtitle and in the amount of world-building it contains, which I’m pretty okay with. That world building was quite interesting, and I’d like to see what Pepper does next. It’s a fascinating blend of little and big stakes — competing for promotion from ‘assistant manager’ to ‘manager’ at work, a bit of relationship drama, and, oh, a serial killer.
Which leads me to the other thing I said to someone about this book as I was just starting to read it. “It feels like the plot is going to be a Scooby Doo episode, just a real estate developer using ghost stories to drop property values… except they’re murdering people so that they’re Actual Ghosts.”
And hey, if that doesn’t sound like a fun book to you, then… you’re reading the wrong blog for book reviews. Give it a read.