Six of Crows

Monday, May 25, 2020

Six of Crows
Leigh Bardugo, 2015

Premise: A mysterious drug that affects people with special abilities could change the world. Young thief and gangster Kaz Brekker takes on an impossible task to change his life and the lives of his crew.

I don't remember why this book was on my library hold list, but it had been there for a while. It's ... good, maybe? Although I was unsatisfied by the end.

Overall, the book has a brisk pace; the world is interesting. The individual characters are mostly neat. The fantasy element of people born with control over matter or weather or the human form is intriguing, if not that special. Their status as a persecuted and enslaved minority made for some uncomfortable passages, particularly around one of the core character relationships.

The book tried to explain the obvious romance growing between Nina (one of the powered people) and Matthias (a soldier trained to believe it was right to commit atrocities and genocide against said powered people), but his redemption came far too late for me. I thought there were also some other character choices that seemed based on where the characters would be at the end of the book or in the next book and not where they were right now.

The plot concerns a caper. It tried to include several unexpected reversals and twists but I thought most of the reveals were poorly handled.

But it was fine. Rather standard modern fantasy, really: grim urban fantasy world, minor LGBT characters, one badass chick and one femme fatale. I don't know. I enjoyed it fine for most of the time.

However.

It ends in a serious cliffhanger, and I just don't have the patience for those right now.

2 Stars - An Okay Book

The Lady's Guide to Celestial Mechanics

Monday, May 18, 2020

The Lady's Guide to Celestial Mechanics
Olivia Waite, 2019

Premise: Lucy Muchelney goes to London out of the desire to work in the science she loves, but also to forget her lover's decision to leave her to get married. She doesn't expect to find the solution to both problems in the person of Catherine St. Day, Countess of Moth.

About halfway through reading this book, I thought, I feel pandered to... and it feels really good. This book was a frothy delight with a powerful heart.

I adored both Lucy and Catherine. Their concerns and attitudes felt both right for their time and inescapably modern. Lucy had been assisting her astronomer father for years, but when he dies, at first she doesn't realize she's lost the only person who believes she can be a scientist. Catherine accompanied her late husband on several research trips, which gives her a somewhat jaded view of scientific pursuits, especially as conducted by "great" men. She has serious skills in embroidery and fabric design, but has never been allowed to think of herself as an artist.

Add to all this Lucy dealing with the emotional fallout after being left by her first lover and Catherine trying to reconcile her fear of remarriage or commitment with her desire for love, and neither the romantic nor the scientific plotline lack depth. It's inspired by the actual women who have always, always worked in the arts and sciences despite disapproval and obstacles, and also stands in its own right as a paean to women (and other marginalized populations) supporting each other.

Just a joy to read.

4 Stars - A Very Good Book

A Bittersweet Garden

Monday, May 11, 2020

A Bittersweet Garden
Caren J. Werlinger, 2019

Premise: Spending the summer connecting with her roots in Ireland is already an adventure for librarian Nora before falling in love... and discovering her rental cottage is haunted.

I've been on a bit of a romance kick. Relatively fluffy and light happy-ever-afters are just what my brain needs right now. This one combines just enough paranormal and historical touches with a lovely sweet story of a young woman who comes seeking to know more about her family history and ends up falling in love with both the place and one particular Irish girl.

Said paranormal element involves an unsolved mystery from the past and a ghost with unfinished business. It isn't the distant past, just a few generations back. There are a few chapters about those characters that give a fuller picture of what life was like during the potato famine.

This is a very women-centric book, which shouldn't be surprising. Nora and her sweetheart Briana are the main characters, but there's also a wise woman with supernatural abilities as well as many supporting female friends and relations.

I really enjoyed both the modern romance and the family drama that played into the ghost story. I thought the elements blended well, and the book was an easy read.

3 Stars - A Good Book

You Look Like a Thing and I Love You

Monday, May 4, 2020

You Look Like a Thing and I Love You: How Artificial Intelligence Works and Why It's Making the World a Weirder Place
Janelle Shane, 2019

Premise: A romp through the foibles of modern AI.

I heard about this book on a podcast and was extremely intrigued. However, I didn't end up getting much more out of reading the whole thing than I did from hearing the initial interview. I am probably an outlier, however, as I read about AI constantly for my job.

This is an extremely accessible explanation of how modern machine learning algorithms work and why we are very far away from anything resembling an actual "intelligent" system in the science-fictional sense. I would have personally preferred something a bit more either in-depth or wide-ranging, but I definitely understand why this book is structured as it is.

It is a lot of fun to read. The examples are funny, there are little humorous cartoons that emphasize some concepts, and the writing is friendly and clear.

Most of the things I learned from the book were very specific interesting quirks. For example, AI researchers have a lot of trouble training an AI system to beat the second level of the original Super Mario Brothers because of one spot where the player needs to move left instead of right. The book is full of fun little factoids like that.

So it's a good, solid read, but not quite what I had wanted.

3 Stars - A Good Book