Book Reviews

Assorted book reviews, mostly fiction.

A Note About Affiliate Links

Amazon links on this page are affiliate links. That means, if you buy a book using one of these links, I’ll get a small percentage. It won’t cost you anything - it’s just Amazon incentivizing people like me to advertise for them.

The Mythical Man-Month

This book contains a few nuggets of timeless wisdom, although some of its jargon has not aged so well. I found “No Silver Bullet” to be very good, but the other essays I’ve since forgotten.

For example, there’s a relatively famous quote by Fred Brooks:

Show me your flowcharts and conceal your tables, and I shall continue to be mystified. Show me your tables, and I won’t usually need your flowcharts; they’ll be obvious.

In this quote, “tables” means “data” and “flowcharts” means “code”. I think “tables” as jargon has weathered the years a little better than “flowcharts”, but this is a good example of the mix of wisdom and dated jargon that you’ll find.

His Dark Materials

Many years ago I watched the movie adaptation of the first book in this trilogy (The Golden Compass). It’s been long enough that I forgot the details of the movie. This book surprised me. First, for a young adult book, it is kind of heavy. There is quite a lot of peril and some depressing stuff, although maybe that’s normal for YA books.

This book is also a lot deeper than I thought it would be, and touches on elements of actual history and weaves them in with historical fiction aspects to a point where it becomes blurred. A strong critique of organized religion is present especially through the second (The Subtle Knife) and third (The Amber Spyglass) books.

All in all, it was a surprisingly epic and fast-paced read.

Mistborn

These are the first Brandon Sanderson books I’ve read (if you don’t count the ending of Wheel of Time) and I really like his style. Characters are flawed but (mostly) likable, and Sanderson is a true master of cliffhangers and mystery that has just enough clues to reward you for thinking hard about what comes next.

Throughout the books I kept trying to figure out who was behind some event or part of the narrative, and was pleasantly surprised when the answers are eventually revealed.

These books are fun to discuss with friends who’ve also read them, because they’ll have different takes on some parts, and there’s such a memorable cast of characters that you can pick favorites and argue about who’s better.

And this series has such a delightful system of magic that propels the story, it has probably spoiled me for most other fantasy magic.

Skyward

More Brandon Sanderson! This one is firmly in the YA category, but still a fun read. The world itself is rich and fascinating, and little glimpses of worlds beyond keep things interesting. I wasn’t sure what to make of the political system of the world. At first it seems very military-industrial, and reminded me of a kind of cartoony version of current North Korea. But then we get to learn a little more about the people in this militarized society and see many more layers and subtltety. I was not sure if Skyward is offering a critique of this kind of society, or a celebration of it.

But ultimately, the politics are only a minor part of the story. Most is about exciting spaceship fighting and mysterious technology, wrapped around the familiar trope of a young protagonist proving themselves in a boarding-school type environment.