arkadi cloud

tech, teaching, and books

Woman at Point Zero by Nawal El Saadawi

A powerful account of a murderer, prostitute, and just a woman taking back her freedom and dignity in the world. This is a true story of a woman in Cairo, Egypt sentenced to death for killing her pimp. She tells her story to a psychiatrist the night before she's executed.

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The Good People by Hannah Kent

This is the sort of historical fiction that I enjoy. It's well researched enough that you are learning a lot about the time-period but the story is also compelling enough that you want to keep reading; you don't always get both of these in every historical fiction.

The setting is 1825, Ireland. The story is primarily about Nance Roche, who is a herb woman, and about Irish folk beliefs, more specifically, fairies. The way of life in Ireland at this time is well detailed and the details of 19th century village life really draw you into the story. Kent uses lots of Irish phrases which you can look up to learn more about them but I'm not sure I'll be able to ever pronounce them properly!

At the heart of the story, this is a story about superstitions but sometimes superstition is so rooted in everyday life, it is hard to see it as such. Superstition in this story gives a poor widow, Nora, hope that her child can be changed back to normal with the knowledge of The Good People (fairies) that Nance possesses.

Rating: ★★★★ Book #61 in my My 2019 Reading Challenge

#Books #HistoricalFiction #HannahKent #Ireland #fairies

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John le Carré

It's the oldest question of all, George, Who can spy on the spies? Who can smell out the fox without running with him?

This is an intense, slow burn of a thriller. You are taken on a journey through the history of the Circus, the British intelligence service, by Smiley. Smiley is someone who has been retired. He along with some others are going through the past and present to try to find out who is the mole.

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The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi

You can see where the plot is going from the moment you pick this up. Does that mean it's not a fun read? Hell no! This is a summer movie. This is eating ice cream in bed. This is well-done, fun sci-fi. It's a perfect beach read.

Scalzi is great at world building but his characters are pretty one-dimensional. I didn't even realize this was a series until I picked it up. I generally dislike reading series because they leave you hanging at the end. This book does exactly that. You will have to read the next 2 books of The Interdependency to see where this goes.

One thing that bothered me a bit was how Scalzi tries to give his spaceships witty names like Iain M. Banks does in The Culture series. When Scalzi does it, it just seems lame and like he's ripping off Banks.

Rating: ★★★★ Book #59 in my My 2019 Reading Challenge

#Books #BookReview #JohnScalzi #scifi

The Buried Giant – Kazuo Ishiguro

I had heard a lot about this author, and this book before reading it. Kazuo Ishiguro won the Nobel prize in literature recently too.

So coming into this book you could say I had high hopes. The first 90 pages were boring. I didn't want to press on, but I really dislike abandoning books. I soldiered on, eventhough I wasn't really enjoying the story.

Alas I was finally rewarded with some joy about 100 pages in. This is far too slow an opening for a book that is only 355 pages long.

That being said, I did enjoy the book once it was finished. The story was interesting and does have sort of a fable-like quality to it but unfortunately it takes far too long to get there. I fear many readers won't get past the 100 page hurdle of a boring married couple walking around being rather dull.

A better book by this author is Never Let Me Go. Do not watch the movie first! The book is far more interesting and the movie spoils all the surprises entirely too quickly.

Rating: ★★★ Book #56 in my My 2019 Reading Challenge

#Books #BookReview #fantasy

The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See

Lisa See writes about what she knows and wants to learn more about. She's has a Chinese American background and most of her books explore themes of being a Chinese immigrant. Her books usually have a woman as the protagonist who has to deal with a difficult tradition of their culture.

This book is no different. It has all the ingredients that Lisa See is known for and make for an enjoyable read:

  • historical setting in China
  • tea culture (growing tea, processing tea)
  • Chinese culture (Ahka hill tribe people marriage culture)
  • Chinese American kid looking for their roots

It was a good read. It brought me sorrow, pain, happiness, and taught me a lot about Pu'er tea and the whole system of tea cultivation from growing, picking, selling, and even drinking.

Ms. See's books are always very well researched and it shows in her books. I appreciate that in her acknowledgments she's very specific with things she researched, or people that helped her and how these elements shaped the story. It gives you insight into how she develops her stories.

Other books I enjoyed from Lisa See were: Snow Flower and the Secret Fan and China Dolls.

Rating: ★★★★★ Book #57 in my My 2019 Reading Challenge #BookReview #LisaSee #tea #HistoricalFiction

Ken Liu is maybe most well-known for his stellar translations of other superstars like Ci Lixin (Three Body Problem) but he also is a great writer in his own right.

This collection of stories are varied. Some are about: historical fiction, alternative histories, evolution of humans, robot ghosts, and even musings on the book making habits of fictional alien races.

In each story Liu can blend elements from Chinese folklore, history, and culture into all his work. He puts a piece of himself into all these stories along with his fantastic imagination. I also appreciate how he often leaves a note at the end of his stories to a link to the idea that sparked the story.

Stories in this collection:

  • The Bookmaking Habits of Select Species
  • State Change
  • The Perfect Match
  • Good Hunting
  • The Literomancer
  • Simulacrum
  • The Regular
  • The Paper Menagerie
  • An Advanced Readers' Picture Book of Comparative Cognition
  • The Waves
  • Mono No Aware
  • All the Flavors
  • A Brief History of the Trans-Pacific Tunnel
  • The Litigation Master and the Monkey King
  • The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary

NOTE: The short-story “Good Hunting” has been adapted into an episode of Netflix's “Love, Death + Robots”. It's episode 8 in the series.

Rating: ★★★★★ Book #58 in my My 2019 Reading Challenge #BookReview #KenLiu #scifi #ShortStory

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Coming into this book I already had a bit of a negative feeling about it. I dislike over-hyped books and movies; normies gushing over books usually gets me running the opposite direction.

Why did I read this book? My friend kindly lent it to me and it was sitting on my desk. It's the summer so I haven't been in the mood to really read any 'heavy' books, so I gave it a try.

Now everything you've heard about this book is correct, he name drops so many culture references that is tends to get annoying. Usually these things he talks about doesn't really add to the story except to give the reader some nostalgia. I'm currently listening to the 80s Ready Player One movie soundtrack, so I guess it's working?

The story is a trope we've seen before: misfit boy saves the world against evil corporation and gets the girl. It's not a complicated plot and it moves along quickly. Are the characters cardboard cut-outs? Yes but it's still a perfect summer read; the chapters are short, and it's like eating junk food – it makes you feel good.

There are lots of nerd and gamer references that I, as a former gamer growing up in the 80s, appreciated. In my opinion, I'd label this a YA novel in the same vein as The Maze Runner. It's fun to read. I'll probably forget the plot in a few days but hey, what are you expecting? This is not an award winning book for its writing. This is a summer movie. You know what will happen just a few pages in but you still want to go along for the ride.

I was expecting to hate this book but I actually enjoyed it. I was expecting to 'hate read' it then, write a nasty review but lookey what I wrote. It wasn't all that bad. I guess sometimes the normies can hype up books that are pretty good, but, for the record, I still hate Harry Potter.

Rating: ★★★★ Book #55 in my My 2019 Reading Challenge

#Books #BookReview #YA

Close Call for my Server – Always Keep Backups!

I had a close call this week with my Yunohost server which hosts all my essential services including WriteFreely, and Nextcloud. I had a few days of downtime before 'resolving' the problem.

Being the summer break, I attempted to try self-hosting a few more services on my Yunohost server.

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The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein

Ok so the moon is a penal colony. Not again right? But wait, this novel was written in 1967, so this concept must've been unique at the time. Well this is a novel about revolution in space. One of the main characters is Mike, a super powerful computer that has gained 'consciousness and builds up a friendship with the non-stupid computer technician Manuel. It's about politics as much as it is 'sci-fi'. It moves very fast and is written in a fast-moving style and you have little chance to admire the scenery. Heinlein is about the action!

I really enjoyed this book. I have read many books about the moon being a penal colony and how their is friction between the earthworms (people from Earth) and the Loonies (people from the Moon), but this is the 1st one I've read that takes you through a revolution of independence.

Also, look at these awards: * Hugo Award for Best Novel (1967) * Nebula Award Nominee for Best Novel (1966) * Prometheus Hall of Fame Award (1983)

I've read a few of these SF Masterworks but so far this is the most engaging one, compared to The Doomed City, and The Gods Themselves. I really enjoy the title too. I think this was one of the main reasons I initially was drawn to this book; never underestimate the power of a catchy title.

Rating: ★★★★★ Book #54 in my My 2019 Reading Challenge

#BookReview #books #moon #SciFi