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The Birthday Buyer by Adolfo García Ortega

How to even review a book like this? It was painful reading it but also cathartic. This is the fictional account of a 3-year old boy, Hurbinek, mentioned in the memoir of an Auschwitz survivor.

I've never read a book like this. The author imagines the pain of the boy. He invents stories of his life that might've been. He was actually traveling to Auschwitz but had a major car accident on the way. This left his leg(s) broken and his stuck in a hospital in Germany. He seems to have written this book while in the hospital. He being temporarily crippled, and relating the imagined story of Hurbinek who was actually crippled and unable to speak.

Rating: ★★★★★ Book #16 in my My 2020 Reading Challenge

#Books #BookReview #WW2 #Auschwitz #Fiction #TranslatedFiction

Sword of Destiny by Andrzej Sapkowski

Witcher #0.75

“Doubts. Only evil, sir, never has any. But no one can escape his destiny.”

The second anthology of Witcher stories brings the Witcher character, Geralt, into better focus. The first anthology was light-hearted, even humorous at times, but this one felt a lot more serious. In this collection of stories we learn more about Geralt's 'destiny' and two women who are tied to his life – Yennefer, and Ciri.

I briefly met these characters while watching the first two episodes of the NETFLIX adaptation of The Witcher, but only fleetingly. After finishing both Last Wish and Sword of Destiny I feel I have a better grasp on The Witcher world and am now prepared to tackle watching The Witcher Season 1.

In Sword of Destiny, Geralt kills monsters of course, but also shows us the other side of himself. He after all is still human at heart. He is dealing with his love of Yennefer, his destiny that keeps leading him to the girl Ciri.

Rating: ★★★★★ Book #15 in my My 2020 Reading Challenge

#Books #BookReview #Fantasy #Witcher #AndrzejSapkowski #ShortStory

Recursion by Blake Crouch

What if you could go back in 'time' and fix something in your life – would you do it? To save your child? To become wealthy?

This book is about a scientist who invents such a machine to go back in 'time' and how this utterly fucks up our world. Why do I keep typing 'time' in quotes? This machine actually transplants the consciousness of the person into an earlier memory. Of course this sort of 'time' travel is not without its side effects.

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Chinese Spies: From Chairman Mao to Xi Jinping by Roger Faligot

Incredible book about the secret world of Chinese spies. The author has been researching the secret security service in China for decades and the depth of his knowledge is on display in this novel.

I am well versed in the history of China, but it's really interesting to hear about the history behind the history. For example, there is a chapter on Tiananmen Square where he describes the discussions and role of the security service behind the scenes and everything that led to the decision to attack the students.

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The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski

Witcher 0.5

I have heard a lot of good things about this series from my Polish friend. This book series has also been turned into a video game, and most recently a NETFLIX series.

This led me to start watching the TV series. It was interesting, but it felt hollow. It felt like it was only scratching the surface of the world Sapkowski has created. I only watched 2 episodes then stopped for fear I was missing out on a richer experience from reading the book.

So I picked up the 'first' book in the series, The Last Wish, [more on this below]. The book is far, far better than the series. You understand much more about the world, and the motivations behind the main character, Geralt, from the books. In the books he has far better, and wittier dialogue than the TV series where he mostly just grunts. Two of the episodes I watched are based on stories from this book; they were both better in the short stories. The TV series seems to skip important dialogue and interactions with other characters to focus more on Geralt and the fighting scenes.

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Old Man's War by John Scalzi

(Old Man's War #1)

Whenever I read Scalzi's books, I feel like I'm reading a movie script; the books are easy to read, the dialogue feels like movie lines, and the premise of the stories is interesting but never fleshed out all that much.

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Mighty Jack by Ben Hatke

(Mighty Jack #1)

A playful re-telling of the Jack and the Beanstalk story. I enjoyed this new series that Hatke has started. It has a trio of different characters, fun vegetation/aliens. I had a good feeling reading this, just like when I read Zita the Spacegirl #1.

I am curious to see where he'll take this story in the future. I noticed that Mighty Jack #2 and 3 team up with some characters he's made in the past including the Goblin King and even my beloved Zita the Spacegirl.

PS if you look carefully you might spot some characters from Hatke's other books!

Rating: ★★★★ Book #10 in my My 2020 Reading Challenge

#Books #BookReview #BenHatke #GraphicNovel #SciFi

The Return of Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke

(Zita the Spacegirl #3)

The conclusion to the Zita series follows the conventions of most sequels, in that each subsequent sequel is a little bit worse than the one before it. It still has the fun graphics, playful aliens, and characters you love but the story in this one isn't as strong as Zita the Spacegirl #1, or even #2.

I understand an artist needs to publish to make money, but I hope Hatke can come up with some new exciting characters and keep things fresh. As I've said before, I hope he tries doing some more children's books because my daughter and I enjoyed Nobody Likes a Goblin and Julia's House for Lost Creatures immensely.

Rating: ★★★ Book #9 in my My 2020 Reading Challenge

#Books #BookReview #BenHatke #GraphicNovel #SciFi

The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick

“Can anyone alter fate? All of us combined... or one great figure... or someone strategically placed, who happens to be in the right spot. Chance. Accident. And our lives, our world, hanging on it.”

I'm amazed again at another great story by Dick that I hadn't read before. I admit I have seen some of the first season of the Amazon adaptation of this novel but the novel is far better than the TV show.

This story takes place in an alternate history where Roosevelt is assassinated and the Axis wins World War 2. Japan and Germany win the war and slice America up between themselves.

The plot is an interesting one. There is intrigue between Japan and the Nazis with the Americans stuck in the middle.

In typical Dick style, he moves between characters easily and uses their situations to shine light on the larger world of the novel. Some of the characters we follow are Mr. Baynes, a Swedish businessman in plastics, Mr. Tagomi, Japan's Trade Minister in San Francisco, Frank Frink, a metal worker, Juliana, Frank's (ex)wife, and the art dealer, Mr. Childan.

  • American art and culture before the loss in the war is very popular – Civil war guns etc.
  • Slavery is legal again.
  • Nazis have rocket travel, and have started traveling to Mars
  • The book The Grasshopper Lies Heavy is a banned book in Nazi areas – it is an alternate fiction book where the Axis loses WW2. Many characters in this book are reading this novel. In the TV series, they have a banned film instead of this book. Some of the characters are amazed that there could be a world where the Axis loses WW2, it's unfathomable to them.
  • The I Ching is very popular. People use it to help them make decisions.

When a book is so good, I am always vague about the plot in my reviews. I certainly don't want to spoil this amazing book for you.

Rating: ★★★★★ Book #8 in my My 2020 Reading Challenge

#SciFi #SpeculativeFiction #WW2 #Books #BookReview #AlternativeHistory

Minoan and Mycenaean Art by Reynold Higgins

I am fascinated by history and especially Greek history. I am a proud Greek-Canadian. In fact, I'm Cretan (not a cretin!), so the Minoan civilization is of particular interest to me. I've visited the palace of Knossos and other sites around Crete, but I also am eager for some 'book' knowledge of Minoan civilization too.

I enjoyed this book, but it is academic in tone, so this book is not particularly exciting. It is a very informative book though. There are many color pictures with detailed descriptions. Most of the art they talk about is pottery. I'm not sure if that's only what has survived, or it was a conscious choice.

A few interesting things from the book:

  • Minoan potters influenced the Mycenaean potters even after being conquered by the Mycenaean's ~1450 BC
  • Minoan pottery can be seen in frescoes in the Egyptian city of Thebes. This means that the Minoans were doing trade with them.
  • The famous Minoan 'bull sculpture' is actually a pottery vessel for liquid. The filling hole is one of the ears and the liquid can be poured out of the mouth.
  • The 'double axe' symbol may have been an offering for the Goddess Athena. They found many gold double axes in a temple on Crete. This symbol is dear to me because I inherited a double cross gold necklace from my father. It's amazing that the symbols from ancient Minoan civilization live on in modern Crete.

I should probably read the modern history of Crete. I bought a very large book about the history of Crete when I last visited. So many books, so little time!

Rating: ★★★★ Book #7 in my My 2020 Reading Challenge

#Crete #Minoan #Books #BookReview #NonFiction #Art #Greek #BronzeAge