Review: Introducing Go: Build Reliable, Scalable Programs

Introducing Go: Build Reliable, Scalable ProgramsIntroducing Go: Build Reliable, Scalable Programs by Caleb Doxsey
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Over my many years as a programmer (and now boss of programmers) I’ve read many of O’Reilly’s series – Learning {language}, Programming {language}, {language} in a Nutshell, {language} Pocket Reference. This is the first time (that I can remember) that I’ve read a book in the “Introducing” series. I’d say this book is great for someone who already knows how to program, but wants to get a feel for the syntax Go uses. That does mean that the early chapters that introduce conditionals and loops are a bit elementary, but I have a hard time feeling that someone who’s never programmed before would really get the later chapters with pointers. Each chapter ends with some questions that makes me wonder if this book was developed to be a textbook for an introduction to programming high school or university class. It would certainly work well for a dev who has the support of a teacher and/or TAs.

I breezed through it because I’m planning on using O’Reilly’s Head First Go book to truly learn go. It’s a lot more comprehensive and I think the Head First philosophy of using visual learning tools will serve my learning style well.

If you want a reference guide this isn’t it. But if you want a quick intro to the Go syntax, it’s read.

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2021 Cherry Blossom Race

After nearly 2 years of training, I finally was able to run the Credit Union Cherry Blossom 10 mile race on 12 Sept. Yeah, last year I ran a virtual race, but that was really no different than a training run. This year we finally had the COVID-19 vaccine and so the race was able to take place in person. It was worth it. 

The starting line when I first arrived to the race.

I’m new to the sport, but in my conversations with others, it’s a well-worn trope that you have to wake up early for race day in order to be there on time to find you spot, line up, and wait for the race to begin. Since I had to make it all the way to Washington DC, I got up at 0445. When I did the 10k, I only had a handful of raisins before the race started. Since I was doing four more miles and waking up about 2.5 hours before the race, I decided to have 1 cup of cereal and milk. It turned out OK – I didn’t feel sick or throw up or have to stop mid-race to use the bathroom.

By the time I arrived at the parking garage and had my bib pinned, I had about an hour before it was time to get into the corral. RunCoach recommended running an easy mile before the race and I saw various people jogging around. I wasn’t 100% sure if that would be a good or bad thing (especially since I didn’t sleep well – I think it was anxiety for the race) so I split the difference and jogged from the parking garage to the race site. 

At the Red Corral/Gate at the Cherry Blossom Race

Once there it was just a waiting game to get into the Red Corral. It was interesting, for a race of this size and prestige (it was an official race with $25k in prize money for the top runners), people essentially entered the corral at the last minute. I got in there as soon as it opened so I got a front position as usual. As I did for the 10k race and my virtual race, I pre-programmed it into my Garmin as a workout so that I could monitor my pace throughout. 

Overall, I was able to keep a nice, steady pace – that made me proud. When I did the virtual race my mile times were all over the place. I was able to pick things up a bit for the last mile and I was able to sprint the last 400 meters to the finish line. Unlike the 10k, I didn’t feel like I was dying as I did that. I felt great and had a good time with the run. Also, when it comes to running, nothing beats that cheering crowd at the finish line.

Because this race had a lot of loops, it was interesting that we kept seeing the yellow group (the professional athletes and those with seeded times) throughout the race. There were definitely a few reds who caught up with them. I wonder why those folks weren’t given yellow bibs if they were that fast. Were the reds doing personal bests? Were those yellows who were lagging? Speaking of that, a few yellows definitely had a bad race since I saw a few result to walking – again, surprising since they were the elite group.

My GPS progress throughout the race
My race rankings

I was happy with my finish time (10 seconds faster, as I mentioned before) and VERY happy with my rankings! For my age group and gender I was in the top 20%. And overall 13%. It makes me proud that the training paid off.

Where do I go from here in running? Well, I didn’t feel exhausted at the end, so I have not hit the ceiling of my abilities yet. I felt more bushed when I did the virtual run last year. That said, to move up from my time of 1:14:38 (ten seconds faster than last year’s virtual race) just to 1:10:00 would require me to go 30 seconds faster on each mile – quite a feat. I’ll be running a 10 mile trail race this December and next year’s Cherry Blossom race in the spring (when it’s supposed to take place). Other than that I’m planning on training for at least a half marathon. Part of me would like to at least get one full marathon checked off my bucket list. But I do know that for my age/fitness level/etc that’ll definitely be a tough one. I didn’t feel exhausted after my run, but my right knee was hurting enough that I took some Ibuprofen when I got home. 

Post-race self-portrait with the medal

Review: After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall

After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the FallAfter the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall by Nancy Kress
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A reminder that I go by Goodread’s tooltips for the star ratings. At the time I’m writing this, 3 stars is “liked it”

This is a very compelling short novel (or maybe novellette? or novella?) That jumps back and forth between 3 time periods, although eventually two of them coalesce into one. In the future (2035) humanity is hanging on by a thread after some kind of world-ending disaster has struck. The best parts of the story focus on the interpersonal conflicts in a “society” that cannot afford them. More than at any time in which you’ve ever hear the platitudes, the group really does need to be put above individual needs.

The earliest timeline has some very interesting potential with the main character that isn’t fully realized, in my opinion. Our main character almost seems to exist simply for a penultimate chapter mini-info-dump. Also to provide tension that (view spoiler)

In order to discuss why this book (which I had a hard time putting down) only early 3 stars, I’m going to get into spoiler territory. On Goodreads it’ll be hidden by the spoiler tag, but I’m pretty sure that when I repost on my blog, it’s going to not be hidden. Last warning……

The most disappointing aspect of this story is (view spoiler)

Should you read this story? I think that as it’s happening there is a lot of compelling story, especially in the future sections. I think the present-day is given slight short shrift (perhaps to keep the story from ballooning). I was a little unsatisfied with the part I mentioned above, but I think that how much you can tolerate what I hated is going to depend on where you sit on the story-telling spectrum of journey<->destination and reveal all<->complete mystery. At any rate, it’s a pretty short read – I think most people could probably knock it out somewhere between a lazy afternoon and a lazy day. Summer’s coming and I know some folks love their beach reads. This could easily fall in there.

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20 Years Ago Today

Twenty years ago today I was a freshman at Cornell University. I’d only been to NYC once before, during my family’s college tour trip in spring of 2000.

It was part of my college visitation trip and it was a surprise that we would get to see NYC. It was a miserable day, but I was ecstatic to see this place I’d only heard of in movies. I begged my mom to let us visit the World Trade Center since I’d seen Kevin go up there in Home Alone 2 and I wanted to stand at the top of the world in the largest city in the world. But there wasn’t time for that. She said we’d see them next time we came to NYC….

I was in class when the attacks happened. Eventually when I got to our creative writing class (or whatever it was called – Cornell made every freshman take this class regardless of major) the professor said he wasn’t sure if he should go on in light of what happened. I’d been in class all day so I had no idea what he was talking about. Later, when I got back to my dorm I had a bunch of emails to check the news. That’s when I saw the smoke coming out of the towers, but I still wasn’t sure what was going on. That day was my first day doing my work study job to update a slideshow that played on TVs throughout the campus. I was told to just listen to the news and update the slides accordingly. My brand new girlfriend at the time (now my wife) was freaked out because sometimes her dad had business at the World Trade Center and the phones weren’t connecting. It was a few days before it all made sense to me and I understood what was happening.

Since a good chunk of the student body was from NYC, the school held a vigil a few days later. I recorded the vigil and, as my coping mechanism, later made the following video, which I submitted to the digital video club showcase later that year.

A video I made around 25 Sept 2001 to cope with how I was feeling about the attacks

According to metadata on the original file (I re-encoded to MP4 to take up less space), I made it somewhere around 25 Sept 2001.

It was such a different world back then when it came to understanding what was going on. There wasn’t Twitter or Youtube. I didn’t even have a blog until 2 years later. (Not this one, which started in 2005, my previous blog)

For a while the 11 Sept attacks made incredibly large ripples throughout society. The Afghan War, which just ended last week. The Iraq War, which led to ISIS. The TSA and all the changes to airplane travel that make it almost hilarious that movies with plots like Home Alone 2 could exist. I became very political in my blogging and thoughts for a long time. Eventually it all faded. To be honest, I was half surprised we were still at war in Afghanistan. I thought we’d trained up their military and left years ago.

In a lot of ways we still live with the legacy of the attacks in various laws and procedures, but it’s mostly faded to the background and we now have adults who have completely grown up in the aftermath – who never knew a world before the attacks. It feels strange to have it have happened so far in the past when it was such a large part of my early adulthood.

Review: Lies of the Beholder

Lies of the Beholder (Legion, #3)Lies of the Beholder by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This novella is a great wrap-up to the story of Stephen Leeds. Now that the trilogy is published as one volume, I think that’s going to be your best way to get into the story. For this final entry, we find that Leeds seems to be losing a grip on his ability to keep himself sane by expanding out into various aspects. It’s such a short story there’s not too much more to be said about it, so I’ll consider the entire story.

I don’t know if there’s any real mental condition that has either the symptoms or cures that Sanderson explores with the Legion series, but I think Sanderson does a good job creating an interesting set of stories around the condition. However, I actually prefer the way he’s handling a similar condition over in his Stormlight series. There the character also has conversations with various aspects, but also (I think slightly more realistically?) can have a particular aspect take control of the body and be the primary aspect for a time. The first two stories in Legion are more like detective stories with a little psychological fantasy laid over top. The ending is less of a detective story than a thriller. I think Sanderson definitely sticks the landing and makes great use of everything he’s been building up in Leeds to great effect. As for the bit of science fiction that makes up the crux of this story, I think Sanderson’s creativity works a bit better in a fantasy world. I guess we already know this is a fantasy world because of the camera from the first story (or second, I can’t remember), but the tech here really blurs the line of whether it’s supposed to be more fantastical or SF and it feel slightly flat for me.

In the end, if you got the novellas individually, I think this entry is a good conclusion. If you haven’t, I think it’s an interesting series that’s worth the price of admission, but don’t consider this to be ultimate Sanderson – check out his Mistborn Series, Warbreaker, or The Stormlight Archive for that.

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Review: The Gryphon’s Skull

The Gryphon's Skull (Hellenic Traders, #2)The Gryphon’s Skull by H.N. Turteltaub
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As per usual, I had a lot of fun with this historical fiction taking place in Ancient Greece. Just like the first book, the story revolves around cousins Menedemos and Sostratos and their journeys around the Aegean during the trading season. Looks like Mr. Turteltaub wanted us to have a different experience than last time – and that makes perfect sense in terms of keeping readers from getting bored. And so while the first book had lots of chapters revolving around various symposia, this time there was none of that. Instead, in addition to the usual bits of haggling, we get to meet Ptolemy who happens to be in one of the cities they stop in for trade. So this book gets to veer a bit into the Ancient Greek version of a military novel as the cousins end up doing a few missions for Ptolemy.

I’m excited that the next book has the cousins going to Phoenicia and Israel. This should keep things from getting stale as well as allowing Turteltaub to explore Phoenician and Israeli culture during the Ancient Greek era.

If you enjoyed the first book, this one’s mostly more of the same. So if you didn’t like the first one or found the dickering boring – you won’t like this one. Note: if you have some precocious history buff minors in your life who enjoy reading fiction – there are a few explicit sex scenes. They aren’t written as an erotica or romance novel, but they are explicit – so be aware of their maturity level/what their parents would think (if you happen to be the cool uncle/aunt/cousin/etc who gets books for the kid).

I’m definitely excited for the next one – it’s going on the TBR list!

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Review: Palpitations: The Highway To Never After

Palpitations: The Highway To Never AfterPalpitations: The Highway To Never After by S.K. Munt
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book gets a few extra points from me for taking place in Australia. All too often we get zombie/vamp tales taking place in the USA, England, or Europe (in that order). In fact, the only other apocalyptic Australian book I can remember reading is Jam.

Anyone who’s read my reviews for a while now knows the following:
– I have lots of books I didn’t specifically buy – they came from Humble Bundles, Story Bundles, or free books from Barnes and Noble or Amazon
– I create my Digital To-Read bookshelf every 1-2 years, setting my reading order

So by the time I got to this book, I had no idea what it was about or where it came from. But I get a bit of a thrill by not reading the equivalent of the back of the book before reading it. It’s like going in to a movie without having seen the trailer. Anyway, most authors write the first few chapters of any book as if you haven’t read the back, so I have more fun that way. From looking at the cover I had no idea what I was in for.

Turns out this is a romance at the end of the world. I’ve been telling my wife about the book as I read it and she was asking me yesterday if I thought it was more romance or more zombie/vamp (more about that in a second). She’s the one who’s into horror, so after talking it out for a while, we came to the conclusion that just like there are comedy horrors (like Shawn of the Dead or that zombie movie with Bill Murray), this one is a romance horror. So it’s got all the usual* romance tropes: will they/won’t they, lots of physical descriptions, eventual graphic sex. (* I say the usual, but I think I’ve read about 3 romance books…so what do I know?) It’s also got all the usual zombie/vamp tropes – namely the enemy always seems to be right around the corner. How well does this combo work? Well, I kept debating with myself just how horny I could be at the end of the world. On the one hand….might as well before you die? On the other hand, can’t focus? And a couple times our main characters get a hold of the idiot ball and decide to make out or more while surrounded by the undead.

OK, let’s get to the undead. Ms. Munt got a couple more points from me here from being creative. I guess SLIGHT spoiler for something that happens in the first two chapters – her monsters in this book act like the usual shambling zombies when they’re first turned or after some time has passed. But if they’ve recently fed, they’re something more akin to a combination of fast zombies/vampires.

Also, in a year in which I keep reading books that seem to be tailor made for 2020/2021 even if they were written a while ago – the zombie virus comes from a purposely tainted HPV vaccine. For future readers, there’s a lot of vaccine hesitancy right now around the COVID-19 vaccines. (With a couple brands causing extremely rare, but devastating if you’re one of the unlucky, blood clots) So, yeah!

We’re in our main character’s head during this story and it’s a mess in there. Her thought processes constantly threatened to derail the story for me and almost knocked things back to 2 stars. I want to say that I’ve had a pretty lucky/blessed life. I haven’t had to deal with abuse of any kind (verbal, physical, emotional, sexual). While acknowledging that men can be victims, it’s not something that goes through my mind like it (may) for women. So keep that in mind when I say that it was distracting to eventually learn that our main character has basically suffered from ALL those categories of abuse. I’m sure there are folks like that. Maybe it rings true for Ms. Munt or someone she knows. But as a reader – it was a lot. And it contributed to an exceptionally fraught will they/won’t they when combined with my least favorite trope –… – very often seen in comics when characters punch first and ask questions later. There were also more twists and turns to the stories our main characters told each other than if it were a 1940s noir story.

Would I recommend it? That’s a tough one.
What’s it got going for it?
– Unique location: Australia
– Unique Monsters: zombie/vamps
– Sexy-time scenes – if that’s what you’re into

– hard to pin down characters’ motivations because they’re all over the place
– probably every single trigger warning needed for this book.

At the end I found out there’s a sequel. I’m done with these characters, so I’m not going on. But I didn’t hate reading this story. It was often quite entertaining. When the main character isn’t oscillating between her two choices of what to do, her inner monologue is sassy and fun to read. The two main characters trade some fun barbs. I think if you’d like to try out some zombie apocalypse romance, give it a shot.

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Review: The Boys, Volume 1: The Name of the Game

The Boys, Volume 1: The Name of the GameThe Boys, Volume 1: The Name of the Game by Garth Ennis
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This is a pretty rough book. I mean, I think it probably wins for most trigger warnings for a commercially released comic. Since Watchmen we’ve had a few different takes on super heroes being less noble than the DC and Marvel heroes we all know. Irredeemable, Vol. 1 has most of the heroes remain good, but their pettiness causes issues. Jupiter’s Legacy, Vol. 1 explores super heroes as a metaphor for pop stars who have a complete lack of accountability. What The Boys does differently (at least in Volume 1) is to provide a a check against the heroes by the group funded by the CIA.

To start off, the book provides us with many examples of what happens to those who are so powerful there is no check on their behavior. However, I found it interesting that Ennis decides to also show power dynamics within the super heroes. At first it seems they’re simply going to pick on the country bumpkin, but the main guy (the Superman analogue) also has a scene in which he shows his dominance over other super heroes.

Although I’ve mostly avoided spoilers to both the comics and the TV show, one thing I knew coming into to this book was that were was also a focus by Ennis on the impact of capitalism and super heroes. I think Marvel has done some slight exploration with this via Tony Stark (moreso in the movies, I think), but this book really pushes it to its most logical conclusion. In one meeting, the members of the equivalent of The Justice League fight over the percentage of money they get for action figures of their likenesses. There are also bands of lawyers that visit Wee Hughie early on to make sure that he’s not going to sue for the death of his girlfriend at super hero hands.

There’s a high level of misogyny running through the book and while it functions well as a metaphor for work sexual harassment and a commentary that even the most powerful have to live it it, it did drag on me a bit.

In fact while I’m generally a sucker for deconstructions and reconstructions of big cultural tropes (like super hero tropes), this book really had me wondering if maybe we’re not better off with the mostly selfless heroes of the DC and Marvel books. The pettiness and meanness of some of the characters in The Boys can be a lot. Of course, one of the huge ironies in those feelings is that many a gallon of ink (real or virtual) has been spilled about how super heroes are our modern mythology. But the gods of Greek and Roman mythology were just as petty and mean as real humans. So maybe it’s The Boys that’s a real return to mythology, not The Avengers.

Stray thought – I wonder if the meeting between Wee Hughie and the put-upon female hero will blossom into anything or if it was merely to allow them to echo their feelings to each other from opposite sides.

If I didn’t already own all these trades (from a Humble Bundle) I don’t think I’d keep going. It seems like it’s going to be too dark for too long. I guess we’ll see where things go from here.

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Review: Wayward Stars

Wayward Stars (Starswept, #2)Wayward Stars by Mary Fan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book picks up right where the previous one left off – Iris Lei and the rest of the abolition are trying to plan out their next steps. From there, the plot goes off into a few twists, but in a fairly expected progression. The end is satisfying on its own, but it seems like Ms. Fan might have been setting up at least a trilogy if not an on-going series.

This book was supposed to be a nice, light book after having finished The Parable of the Talents and The Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler. Both take place in a dystopian America that’s just a little too close to home. Vs, say, Panem, where it’s so far in the future it wasn’t painful to read. Sure, Iris Lei is former slave who is now part of an abolitionist movement, but the book was so much lighter than Ms. Butler’s books. I can’t remember if Starswept is meant to be YA, but it sure seems that way. (At least in terms of violent/sexual content being 99.9% absent). So I figured I’m in for a light dystopian romp. NOPE-TY NOPE NOPE!

Ms. Fan brought out the real emotions (and near-tears) as Iris went through her plan and met with various resistances. The previous book mostly just spoke about mind control and mind wipes. But this book has it in spades. One character’s encounters with it seemed like a metaphor for Alzheimer’s. Another character has everything taken in a way that is just heart-breaking and seemed more of a violation and torture than any scene I’ve seen or read of physical or sexual violence. It was crazy. (And probably would have been even crazier in a non-YA world…. if you can erase memories why not an underground Ka’rasil Red Light District)

Look, this is a YA sequel in which most of the main characters are older teens/young adults who are in the arts and who carry torches for their crushes like they’re on a CW show. This may or may not be your cup of tea. But if you got invested in the main characters in book 1, then I can’t believe you’ll escape this book without having “the feels” really hard for the characters. They go through some stuff. I’m a fan of Ms. Fan’s work (no pun intended), and I think this series continues to do a good job of melding her passions (Music – she has a degree; and the performing arts – her Twitter account is her learning circue-de-solieil-style ropes stuff). I look forward to seeing if this story continues.

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Review: Eric

Eric (Discworld, #9; Rincewind #4)Eric by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is my second time reading the book. Dropped rating from 4 stars to 3 stars

A seemingly novella-length tale featuring the return of Rincewind, unseen since the events of Sourcery. The story is a parody of Faust (my paperback version even has Faust crossed out and replaced with Eric in the header for each page). As such, it’s a return to the earliest Discworld books – a series of pastiches as each of Eric’s wishes goes all malicious genie on him. The B story is a slightly more conventional story involving hell as a parody of office culture. The head demon has made hell incredibly boring with memos and team building and all the things that the movie Office Space made fun of.

It’s fun and it’s a fast read. You almost don’t need to know anything about the Discworld and it’s almost standalone. The only thing you wouldn’t understand is The Luggage that Rincewind inherits from Two-Flower in the first two books.

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Review: Guards! Guards!

Guards! Guards! (Discworld, #8; City Watch #1)Guards! Guards! by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is my second time reading this book

We finally are introduced to The Patrician as he will be portrayed for the rest of the Discworld books. He’s no longer the overweight Patrician we saw in the first two books. He’s infinitely more cunning and frightful, especially because he’s not overly mean or violent. We’re also introduced to my favorite character in Ank-Morpork: Carrot, a human raised by dwarves. His innocence and literal-mindedness remains a wonderful trait throughout the series as Pratchett uses the City Watch as both police procedurals and to explore ideas of diversity in a fantasy world. Colon and Nobby are a fun straight man, fun guy pair – reminds me somewhat of Wax and Wayne (from Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn Era 2) although the class difference isn’t quite as pronounced. I will grow to like Vimes eventually, but not the Vimes from this book. Lady Ramkin is also a great parody of how the confidence of privilege can really skew how you view the world. Of course, it also leans hard on the comedy trope that’s in a lot of British novels – if you act like you *should* be in charge, people will comply.

The plot – as seems to be the case in all the books I’m reading in 2021 – is viewed a little differently in light of the rise in nationalism/fascism around the democratic world. Back when I first read it, it was just a funny detective novel set in a fantasy city. Pratchett’s depiction of the willingness of the mob to oscillate between pro and anti-monarchy is just so prescient in light of what we’ve dealt with over the last 4+ years.

That said, it’s mostly a fun romp through Ankh-Morpork, which we’ve already grown to know quite well over the past 7 books. A power-hungry guy with some power convinces some lower class folks that they’ll all be better off if they help him install a new king. He talks them into it, all the while planning to turn on them and keep the power for himself since he’ll be putting a distant relative on the thrown. How will they get Ankh-Morpork to accept a king? Well, not to dissimilarly from Ozymandias’ plan in Watchmen, they’ll create a crisis that they’ll solve so the folks will turn to them. This being a fantasy comedy world, they’ll summon a dragon to kill. Since they summon it, they have the ability to make sure their man will be able to kill it.

People/Concepts that are continuations from earlier Discworld books:

The librarian from the Unseen University who’s turned into an Orangutang when Rincewind mess with the Octavo in the first book
The idea of Knurd being the opposite of being Drunk – introduced in Sourcery
The Mended Drum – used to be Broken Drum until the owner was introduced to the idea of insurance
The various vices having guilds in Ankh-Morpork. Crime is controlled by limiting it to licenses granted to the various guilds.

As I was telling a coworker this week: this book is often recommended as a first Discworld book and it’s not a bad one. Sure, you won’t know why the Librarian is an orangutang. And you won’t already be familiar with Death. But we’ve already reached the point (if we didn’t before with The Witches) where Pratchett won’t be reconning anything else. And, as I’ve been mentioning during my re-read, those first few books are more pastiches than they are a coherent story. This one is a nice, coherent story that stands on its own and can be a great survey of Discworld without needing too much prior knowledge. I’ve said this for the past 3 reviews, but I expect that in another book or so I won’t be able to say it as much because Pratchett really starts building upon previous books. (Although, if forced, I would say that the other books are probably fine on their own, you’d just be missing about 99% of the Easter Egg jokes).

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Review: InvestiGators: Off the Hook

InvestiGators: Off the Hook (InvestiGators, #3)InvestiGators: Off the Hook by John Patrick Green
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another fun entry in the Investigators to read with the kids. The cast of characters continues to grow and reward re-reads of previous books with lots of references to previous events. It’s evident now that Green has written each book to lead into the next. I wonder if he has an endgame in mind or is just taking it one book at a time. Once COVID is over, if he comes back to Baltimore Comic-Con I’ll be sure to talk to him about it.

By now you should know if you like the dad jokes and verbal and visual puns that make up the Investigators series. I just realized that this is just a kid version of the types of jokes in The Complete Multiple Warheads (BTW – that is a VERY MUCH NOT FOR KIDS series). That’s probably why I enjoy Investigators so much. I like when creators take advantage of the medium to make jokes that only make sense in that medium (another example would be the joke credits in the Deadpool movie). This book is more of the usual jokes while moving along the relationship between Brash and Mango. So, if you like that, grab this book now!

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Review: Princess Academy

Princess Academy (Princess Academy, #1)Princess Academy by Shannon Hale
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My preschool kids have been enjoying Shannon and Dean Hale’s The Princess in Black series (I reviewed a few entries last year). So when I found out that Shannon Hale also does middle grade and young adult books, I recommended them to my oldest, the nine year old. After she read the trilogy, she asked if I could read it with her at night so she could share the books with me. So we began a semi-nightly ritual of reading a chapter a night.

I think Ms. Hale has done an excellent job with the book. Even thought it’s meant for a younger reader, she played with the expected tropes enough to keep me guessing about what the ending would be. In fact, there were about 3 points in the story where it zigged when I was sure it would zag.

If you have any young readers who enjoy stories of falling in love and dealing with the confusion those feelings can bring, I think this is a good book. It seems to be relatively realistic in how it deals with that. It also has boarding school elements – getting along with folks when you’ve been thrown together out of your control. And, since I’m recommending for younger readers: no profanity, characters hold hands – but nothing more sexually explicit, there’s some violence – but nothing gruesome.

Between these two series, it makes me curious to check if Ms. Hale has written any books for adults, because she does a great job plotting out these books when so many authors seem to phone it in when they’re writing for a younger audience.

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Review: Parable of the Talents

Parable of the Talents (Earthseed, #2)Parable of the Talents by Octavia E. Butler
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Welcome back to the crapsack/grimdark world of America in the 2020s as created by Octavia Butler in the 1990s. It is sometimes eerily prophetic. More about that later.

The addition of Lauren’s daughter’s (Larkin) annotations to her mother’s journals provides a very interesting context to the stories. Similar to the chapter openings made up of Encyclopedia entries in Asimov’s original Foundation book, it helps to prove a premise that has been making the rounds on the internet for some five years now – that spoilers aren’t necessarily bad. When we read Larkin’s annotations, we understand something about the future. We know that Larken suvives to adulthood. We know that she resents her mother and Earthseed. We know that Earthseed as a movement lasts. But we still want to read on to learn the details of how we got there. It’s why people went to see Titanic in the 1990s even though they knew the boat was going to sink.

Larkin’s annotations also keep things fresh and give us some hope. The USA (much of the world?) is still a crapsack world. A dystopia no one but the richest person would want to live in. There’s a lot more hope than the first novel, but it’s still baby hope. And boy is it so hard to read about Jarrett’s presidency after what we went through with the last guy. Shoot, what we might still go through, perhaps with someone more competent. It all makes me wonder if Ms. Butler was just such a great student of psychology that she could see the inevitable direction we were all headed in. Even the depictions of Christian America (the religious sect) seem to have parallels in real world sects that have been in the news here and there recently.

The annotations are also interesting near the end of the book with Len and Larkin accusing Lauren of seduction and manipulation. It makes me wonder if Ms. Butler meant for there to be a slight element of unreliable narrator in the journal entries. Not that Lauren is intentionally being misleading, but that maybe she’s unconsciously lying to herself. There’s definitely enough of that to make for some interesting discussion.

As a side note, it’s odd reading this book with its slave collars after reading The Wheel of Time 2 and the damane sul’man. Something in the air in the 90s?

I read this pair of books because NPR’s Throughline was going to be speaking about Octavia Butler and I wanted to have read some of her books first – both to avoid end-of-book spoilers and to have a better understand of what they were going to say about her work. It was interesting to be reading them around the time of the current Mars lander and having them name the landing spot for Ms. Butler. But it has been VERY tough reading this book and seeing how easily we could tip back into it. Just like some of the episodes of The Dollop, it becomes clear that we could tip into a hole like this one where many folks would be crushed, but just enough folks would be making enough money to keep things moving along. Watching the entire world slowly move towards a gig economy without any safety net seems to be getting us back to a possibility of indentured or semi-indentured states for most workers. It’s already been rigged so that you cannot default on your college loans.

I have to leave this review before I get depressed again – something that has been happening a lot while reading these books. They’re great books, but they’re very heavy. Read them, but understand what you’re getting into.

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Review: Pyramids

Pyramids (Discworld, #7)Pyramids by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is my second time reading this book. I have dropped the rating from 5 to 3 stars

This book is all but divorced from all the other Discworld books. There’s at least one other one like this one – Small Gods. In that sense, it makes a sort of nice introduction to Discworld because it can be read on its own and one can understand Pratchett’s Discworld humor. There is some slight continuity – the idea of Ank-Morpok having crime guilds to regulate the amount of crime. Death, of course. But for the most part, it sits fine on its own.

In some ways, the book is very British in that Teppic (our main character) is dealing with an immense and immovable bureaucracy. Even as king, he has his pronouncements reversed from under him by the high priest. It’s also a slight parody of management paradigms in vogue at the time as the scenes where he interacts with the Pyramid builders and embalmers show. Toss in a bit of, “I don’t want this destiny” and there’s your story.

I runs along well and we get Pratchett’s parody of Ancient Greece. I love everyone’s inability to understand Athenian democracy. I believe that becomes a slight running joke throughout the Discworld books.

Based on what I can remember from when I first read through the Discworld, my recommendations to a new reader who wasn’t intending on slogging through the first 5 books just because the other 25 are great, would be:

1. Small Gods
2. Pyramids
3. Guards! Guards! (and then either read The Watch stories [see wikipedia to know which those are] followed by Moist Lipwig books or read sequentially from there on out)
4. Wyrd Sisters (and then read the Witches stories or read sequentially from there out)

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