arkadi cloud

tech, teaching, and books

Expert System Series by Adrian Tchaikovsky

I have read lots of books by Tchaikovsky. They have been amazing, intellectually demanding experiences and very, very long books. This book is good, not as difficult to get into, but for me, a bit less rewarding than his Children of Time series.

The Expert System's Brother

This is where we are introduced to the world. For quite a lot of the book, I was wondering if I had accidentally starting reading a book by a different author. This was a slow burn and took awhile to get interesting. I enjoyed the bit of confusion I had reading until things started to reveal themselves. It's a strange story. It's about a planet with people who live in close symbiosis with a tree and wasp hive. They care for each other. They are human, but not quite. It's an odd planet.

Rating: ★★★ Book #58 in my #ReadingChallenge2021

The Expert System's Champion

This one jumps ahead 10 years from the first one, and continues the story of the brother and his sister with their tribe. There is almost continuous conflict in this book. The revelation of what the planet is, and some of the things that inhabit the planet reminded me that I was reading a Tchaikovsky book. I enjoyed this book a bit more than the first one, but the first one needed to be read to enjoy the second.

Both these books were excellent but I would say they are Tchaikovsky's lighter works. I imagine his publisher might have pushed him a bit to make some more accessible books for readers. These certainly were accessible, and short. They were a fun ride but really left me wanting more...well more of his Children of Time series.

Rating: ★★★★ Book #59 in my #ReadingChallenge2021 #AdrianTchaikovsky #SciFi #ScienceFiction

Asterix and the Actress by Albert Uderzo

(Astérix #31)

I had fond memories of Asterix from my childhood. I used to go to the library with my parents and leave with a huge bag of books to devour at home. Sadly, this is not as good as the earlier Asterix books that I remember.

The plot is quite ridiculous, and it goes from here to there so quickly you can't understand what's happening (or just don't care).

After poking around in the comments on Goodreads, it seems the books by the creator, Rene Goscinny, are much better than the ones made by Albert Uderzo. This means you should only read Asterix #1-24. So the next time I'm thinking of buying an Asterix book from the used bookstore, I will make sure it is by Goscinny, not Uderzo.

You have been warned!

Rating: ★★ Book #57 in my #ReadingChallenge2021 #Asterix #AlbertUderzo #GraphicNovel #Comic

The Eighth Life by Nino Haratischwili

'And why did she die?' 'Because the world is a dung heap and most people are pieces of cow shit.'

A sprawling, epic, look at a family from 1900 to the present. A deep look at the lives at 7 women through war, love, communism, boyfriends, husbands, lovers, and chocolate. Yes, a secretive chocolate recipe plays a large role in this family's history.

The story moves from one character to the next, with grace. There are many, many characters but I never felt lost. I felt I knew these women by the end of this book. At first this book seems like a lovely historical fiction novel about Russian & Georgian history, but ¾ through, you see how the narrator is telling this story to someone in the present. This book is for Brillka.

Get ready to spend many long nights working through this novel. It is 944 pages, but I didn't feel like I was slogging through such a long novel. Every chapter opens with a little quote that is relevant to the chapter. It's a beautiful touch. I have so many highlights made in this book on my Kobo.

There has been war for two thousand years. A war without reason or sense. War is a thing of youth. A medicine for wrinkles. ZOI

I will need to spend time researching all the historical events that happen in this book now. I realize I know very, very little about Russian history, especially the Russian Revolution.

We decide what we want to remember and what we don't. Time has nothing to do with it. Time doesn't care.

A touching book about memory, our family history, and the trauma of love, war, friendships, and just living.

Rating: ★★★★★ Book #56 in my #ReadingChallenge2021 #TranslatedFiction #Nino Haratischwili #Fiction #RussianHistory #HistoricalFiction #Georgia #Russia

Hench by Natalie Zina Walscots

A book that defies classification; is it a superhero book? a love story? a book about work? I really enjoyed this strange novel. I'll try to describe it.

It starts off as a book about a woman working at a temp agency. She is working at a special temp agency, one that specializes in working with villains. That's right! In this world, there are superheroes, and villains. The villains need temps (henchmen) to do all sorts of things like, payroll, data entry, and more specialized jobs too.

”...the idea that forcing anyone with powers to choose superheroism or be labeled a villain is deeply flawed.”

Then the main character has a run-in with a hero and her life changes. Her opinion of superheroes changes too. She goes deeper into the hench world.

“To seek vengeance and power instead of cowering when the world punishes you. That’s what they think evil is, do they not?”

I was rooting for the villains throughout the whole book. This book is funny, sarcastic, and full of expletives. Vengeance is at the core of this book, but along the way heroes and villains fall in love, and relationships are made and broken.

“Anna, we’re the bad guys.” “That doesn’t mean we’re inconsiderate dicks.”

Rating: ★★★★★ Book #55 in my #ReadingChallenge2021 #Books #BookReview #NatalieZinaWalscots #superheroes #Fiction #Villains #comicbook

The Atlas of Flags by Federico Silvestri

Flags excite me. They are so full of meaning, and history. I bought this 'for my kids', but of course it's really for me. This book doesn't cover all the flags in the world because that would be impossible. It does go through the history of flags, and the terminology. Then it discusses important flags and flag families. Some flags are related to others because of how they were created, and/or of the color schemes they use.

If you enjoy history and flags, you will like this book. It's aimed at the elementary school student, but any curious adult will get lots of knowledge out of it.

I appreciate that they authors also included Taiwan's flag in the book, albeit on the China page.

I bought this book at the Big Bad Wolf Book Fair. That fair has been cancelled for the past 2 years because of the virus. I really, really hope it comes back so I can find other gems like this to fill my bookshelf.

Rating: ★★★★★ Book #54 in my #ReadingChallenge2021 #Books #BookReview #flags #history #NonFiction

The Colosseum by Keith Hopkins, Mary Beard

I am a big fan of Roman & Greek ancient history, so this is an automatic must-read for me. It's interesting how she tells the story of such an iconic building from thousands of years ago right up to the present. It has been neglected, used for gladiator battles, and even for bull fights. Reading this book gave me the feeling I had when walking around Rome – the feeling that my humble feet are walking the same streets that emperors and gladiators walked on. There is history all around us.

The next Mary Beard book I have in my reading queue is The Parthenon which is another iconic historical building I have visited. Judging from the reviews, that book should be even better than this one.

Recently, I've been diving into history books to escape the nightmare the present has become. I shall soon run out of Mary Beard books to read!

Rating: ★★★★ Book #53 in my #ReadingChallenge2021 #Books #BookReview #MaryBeard #KeithHopkins #rome #history

Step Aside, Pops by Kate Beaton

(Hark! A Vagrant #2)

More bookish comics from Beaton. Sadly, this collection didn't make me laugh out loud as much as her first book, hence the 3 star review. Was it still worth a read? Of course.

I really liked the Wonder Woman comics. I am on a sort of comic kick at the moment. I am currently eyeing the Complete Far Side collection, but the price of the hardcover is staggering. I shall have to keep lusting after it from afar.

Rating: ★★★ Book #52 in my #ReadingChallenge2021 #Books #BookReview #KateBeaton #comic #HarkAVagrant

How to Feed a Dictator: Saddam Hussein, Idi Amin, Enver Hoxha, Fidel Castro, and Pol Pot Through the Eyes of Their Cooks by Witold Szabłowski,

Wonderful exploration of the memory of some of the most brutal dictators the world has ever encountered, as told by their personal chefs. All that genocide, and torture sure makes those men hungry, and sometimes we often forget that these terrible humans are still humans.

The stories are quite incredible. Some of the chefs still adore the former dictator they worked for while others feared him. It was interesting hearing these intimate stories of the behind the scenes daily life of these terrible people.

For example, I loved the tales of how Saddam Hussein was a jokester with his chef. He would yell at the chef if the food was not to his liking and make him pay 50 dinars to him for the food he wasted. Of course, on other days where he loved the food, he might tip him 150 dinars.

Witold is great at packaging these stories in a readable narrative. I liked how his chapter titles were all related to the the favorite food of the dictator and laid out to resemble a menu.

I was first introduced to this author through his book “Dancing Bears: True Stories of People Nostalgic for Life Under Tyranny”. Witold has a real knack for this sort of historical/ethnographic journalism.

This book really reminded me to a bunch of other books about dictators by another Polish journalist, Ryszard Kapuściński. If you liked this book, I bet you'd probaby enjoy Kapuscinski's “Shah of Shahs” and “The Emperor”.

Rating: ★★★★★ Book #49 in my #ReadingChallenge2021 #Books #BookReview #WitoldSzablowski #dictator #cooking #journalism #FidelCastro #SaddamHussein #NonFiction

Total Reading time: 3hr17min

My Work is Not Yet Done: Three Tales of Corporate Horror by Thomas Ligotti

A dark, and hilarious set of horror stories about office life. There are 3 short stories in this, but the first one is the best.

The first story is about a disgruntled office worker that takes out his revenge in a bloody, and satisfying manner after being fired.

“The company that employed me strived only to serve up the cheapest fare that the customer would tolerate, churn it out as fast as possible, and charge as much as they could get away with. If it were possible to do so, the company would sell what all businesses of its kind dream about selling, creating that which all of our efforts were tacitly supposed to achieve: the ultimate product — Nothing. And for this product they would command the ultimate price — Everything.”

What the heck genre is this? Corporate horror? Whatever it is, it is gruesome, and bloody satisfying.

All you swineys sitting there at the office trying to out swine your office mates to get promoted; YOU.NEED.TO.READ.THIS.

With COVID and all this crap going on in the world, we need a dark indulgence to satisfy our primal urges of revenge and murder.

Rating: ★★★★ Book #48 in my #ReadingChallenge2021 #Books #BookReview #ThomasLigotti #work #horror #ShortStory

Total Reading Time: 2hr53min

Palace of Dreams by Ismail Kadare

This one has a very Kafkaesque feel to it. A massive bureaucratic apparatus setup to harvest/monitor the dreams of the populace. They are searching for the 'master dream' that will predict the future of the Empire.

“Who can say it’s not what we see with our eyes open that is distorted, and that what’s described here isn’t the true essence of things?” He slowed down outside a door. “Haven’t you ever heard old men sigh that life’s a dream?”

Some of the metaphors of Albania are lost on me, but most of the truths about oppressive governments are universal.

I like Kadare's writing style. His stories feel like fables but with no happy endings.

I bought this book while browsing Bookman Bookstore in Taipei. I always make a point to buy books from local booksellers to support them.

Rating: ★★★★ Book #47 in my #ReadingChallenge2021 #Books #BookReview #IsmailKadare #Albania #dystopian