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  Strange the Dreamer was a book that, while not perfect, was well written and showing a lot of promise. If anything, I was surprised to see that Muse of Nightmares will be the second and final book of the series, because I couldn't understand how everything begun or hinted at in the first book could be wrapped up. And indeed it wasn't, which doesn't mean that I didn't enjoy reading the book. I feel the series lost a lot of unrealized potential, though. By focusing on the main characters, now starstruck lovers that would do anything for each other, Laini Taylor left all the others behind, without a growth arc or closure. Not only that, but she also brings in another antagonist, from the past of one of the slain gods, so she has even less space to work in.

  Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed the first book so much that I immediately started on the sequel and I've read this one really fast, too. It was entertaining, it was exciting and it was intense in places. But it wasn't better than the first book and the way it ended, with everything nice and cozy and people realizing their dreams and resolving their inner conflicts and helping each other and so on and son on, made have a feeling of jarring fakeness.

  In short, it's a decent book to finish the story, but it went by too fast, paying no attention to characters dragged along from the beginning and left in the dust, focusing too much on love scenes and less on consequential events, using McGuffins all over the place and making people not think of solutions that were employed just pages later by the antagonist using their own powers.

  Like Minya using her powers to force ghosts to do her bidding, regardless of their own desires, so did Taylor corral her characters through the narrow confines of her planned storyline.

  When we connect to SQL we usually copy/paste some connection string and change the values we need and rarely consider what we could change in it. That is mostly because of the arcane looking syntax and the rarely read documentation for it. You want to connect to a database, give it the server, instance and credentials and be done with it. However, there are some parameters that, when set, can save us a lot of grief later on.

  Application Name is something that identifies the code executing SQL commands to SQL Server, which can then be seen in profilers and DMVs or used in SQL queries. It has a maximum length of 128 characters. Let's consider the often met situation when your application is large enough to be segregated into different domains, each having their own data access layer, business rules and user interface. In this case, each domain can have its own connection string and it makes sense to specify a different Application Name for each. Later on, one can use SQL Profiler, for example, and filter on the specific area of interest.

 

  The application name can also be seen in some queries to SQL Server's Dynamic Management Views (quite normal, considering DMVs are used by SQL Profiler) like sys.dm_exec_sessions. Inside your own queries you can also get the value of the application name by simply calling APP_NAME(). For example, running SELECT APP_NAME(); in SQL Management Studio returns a nice "Microsoft SQL Server Management Studio - Query" value. In SQL Server Profiler the column is ApplicationName while in DMVs like sys.dm_exec_sessions the column is program_name.

  Example connection string: Server=localhost;Database=MyDatabase;User Id=Siderite;Password=P4ssword; Application Name=Greatest App Ever

  Hope it helps!

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  Strange the Dreamer is a fantasy book with good writing, characters and story. I will probably start reading the second book in the series immediately. The style reminded me of Brandon Sanderson a bit: beautiful and imaginative world, empathetic and compelling characters who are mostly good at heart, even when they are villainous and a bright spirit that celebrates love, curiosity and exploration.

  More than that, this is a normal book, one that is focused on the plot and characters and has no agenda other than telling a good story. I had feared the worst when I saw Laini Taylor is a writer of Young Adult fiction, has bright magenta hair and started with comics. Glad to see my fears so unfounded.

  The main characters are Lazlo, an orphan boy with a love for knowledge and myths, obsessed by the existence of a mythical city of the desert, and Sarai, a half goddess with blue skin and a rather sad existence. But there is more: libraries full of mystery, alchemy, magic, gods, desert warriors, young love, explosions, a sky fortress and more.

  What I felt was the biggest issue with the book is the introduction of so many characters that had an episodic effect on the story or even none at all. There is a part of the story where there are hints of rivalry and intrigue with another character, then it escalates and then... months pass, on the road, and those two characters don't interact at all. The desert trip itself is less than fulfilling, after reading so much about how cruel and difficult the desert is. And then there are characters like the warriors or the girl who climbs things for fun. I hope they will have more of a role in the second book, because otherwise why introduce them at all?

  Bottom line: I feel great promise from Laini Taylor. I liked this book a lot and it's her second, but I expect even greater things from her in the future.

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  Four months and a half in my equities trading experiment and this is how the market looks. If you are not familiar with this kind of chart, it's the day's full chart of US companies from FinWiz. Red means that a square goes down, green that it goes up. My "portfolio", meaning my assorted stock that I created buying every month since the beginning of the year, is now 20% less valuable. This sounds bad, but it is even worse, since at the beginning of April it had not lost any value.

  I did not invest much, so I can only imagine the pain people feel when their portfolio is actually their savings and this happens. To me it's a game, to others it's life and death. And I know that in theory if you put all your money in stock, then you did it wrong, but it can't feel good. And now it's almost certain that a recession is coming, possibly a "stagflation", which is the finance sector's version of "Everything Everywhere All at Once". Sorry, I couldn't help it, since I've just watched that film. It was good. Also, very on point, I now realize.

  So what do you do when everything seems stacked against you? Well, why ask me? Haven't you read above? I am playing at trading and watching movies instead of learning to do it better. But I will tell you anyway, because that's the kind of person I am.

  Here is what has been going on the last few months.

First, the market started to lose steam from its heights in November, mostly because the United States stopped the "money printing" they used to handle Covid. Typical Americans, right? First try to blow it up, then they throw money at it. If you don't know what that means, the Biden administration pushed for trillions of dollars to be poured into the economy as the country was at a viral standstill. It may have been a bad choice, but I believe it wasn't the worse and possibly it was the only one they had. But now that the Covid pandemic is "gone", the money went away and it basically burst a bubble. In the U.S. there is the lowest unemployment since forever, but also the highest inflation. So their Federal Reserve started to increase interest rates, taking the steam from the growth of the country, basically.

Secondly, Covid itself did some damage to the global economy, rising tensions, making people crazier than usual - and that's saying something, but also disrupting the supply chains. These are the connections that countries, corporations and people have created over the decades in order to keep functioning. All this on the basis of past experience, where circulation of people and produce was relatively cheap and easy all over the planet. Not anymore! Every day we now hear of shortages of material and people. What that means is that you have a producer of something, be it material or service, and you have a buyer that is interested in it. When you have both demand and offer, you make money. Not this time! Because the producer can't produce things fast enough to cope with demand. They've "streamlined" their business for so long they can only do it one way and that way is gone.

Then, some Russian decided Ukraine was a nice toy and went for it. I don't know if you've heard of that. And everybody else decided they didn't want to have anything to do with Russia. It so happens that Russia and Ukraine are the main suppliers of raw material in a lot of economic sectors, including grain and natural gas. I guess it is an important moment to take stock (pun not intended) at how important these countries are for the planet (as well as many others that we've ignored because they are not in the spotlight). What that leads to is more shortages, which leads to price increases for the remaining sources of material. A minor thing to add here is that one of the supporters of Russia, at least partially, is China, a great supplier of work and material.

It's the perfect storm, yet most people still cling to the status quo they've had for possibly the entirety of their lives. Every low in the market is now a dip to buy even when the market keeps going lower. And lower. And lower. Every temporary high of the market is a bullish rally that will get us out of the situation. In case you didn't know the financial industry is at balance with nature, so everything is named after some animal: bulls, bears, hawks. It's like King-Fu, but with money! Every new startup is the savior of the market with their technology that will solve everything. And then there are the charts. People love to read the charts, like leaves in tea, and predict the future. They give pet names to patterns in the charts, they make analogies to things past, they criticize others and delight in their own perfect strategy for the future.

Only it's not that easy. There are money in the world, but they can't move. There are people in the world, but they are sick, at war or falling prey to opportunistic governments that use this moment of weakness to get the worst out of people. Old strategies (well, not that old, but an eternity from the viewpoint of a day trader) don't work anymore because the situation is different. This time, I am afraid, it really is very different.

Let's look at some investing strategies

First of all, everybody knows, when the market starts to fall, you sell the "growth stocks", meaning you stop betting that some companies will have a sudden growth spurt like tech companies and "disruptors", and you buy more stable things, like bonds. Perhaps you still want to keep stock, but you choose the safer ones: oil, retail, real estate. A lot of people did that and were wallowing in schadenfreude watching other still cling to their belief this was a temporary lull in the market. But then major retail companies like Target and Costco fell 12% in one day. Why? Because money is losing value (inflation), products are shit (supply chain disruption) and there is no energy to improve on them (stagnation).

Because of the Russian conflict, oil is through the roof right now. Oil is still good, if you bought it early, but if you buy it now it will keep at the same price for a while, then drop. Funny enough, this will lead to an explosion of renewables, but not immediately because they don't have the rare and specialized material they need to build it. As for real estate, that still works for now, but for how long? People will start losing jobs, their money lose value and with the entire economy down, they will not find estate buyers or renters either.

What about bonds, then? As I was saying, the Fed is increasing borrowing interest rates to stave off inflation. Bonds have an inverse relationship with interest rates. There.

What about utilities?! What about energy? What about Big Pharma?!

I could write on and on, but first of all I am not that good (have you read this far?!) and second it's simple: if there is less energy in the system, the system will slow. Probably pharmaceuticals are a good bet, because no matter how poor you are, health is important. But watch out, because a lot of companies rose to prominence lately on their work against Covid. With less Covid, these companies will still do well, but they will lose from their overall value. So you get in a situation where you kind of wish everybody has Covid except you... I personally think that's very funny, but I have a weird sense of humor.

What about money, then? Just keep the money in the bank. That's safe, right? Well, yes. It's safe, but during rampant inflation, what you see is that money is losing value. Same thing as with house renting. You maybe get enough to counteract inflation, but just that. Gold would work, but it's cumbersome, unsafe to hold and it's already pretty high because for a while everybody wanted to have it just in case the war expands. It might still do. You buy it now, it might deflate later.

There are things one can do, like "alternative investing". I couldn't tell you exactly what that means. Being alternative means they are like plan B when everything else fails. It sounds the right direction, but what should you choose? There are for example some platforms that allow you to invest in art, like you buy 10% of a painting. Or stuff like hedge funds, which is an entirely different can of worms. Or even private equity, which makes you more of a company partner than just buying publicly traded stock because only a few people have access to it, like the founders.

The end of investing?

Best strategy: sell your investments and start drinking it away! No. That doesn't really work, either, as fun as it sounds. In fact, investing is a good strategy at any moment. Yes, those are bold letters. Investing is the opposite of spending or, at best, doing absolutely nothing. For example learning new skills is investing, too, and maybe the best possible kind. But I am not here to tell you to grow up, so let that go for now. Spending some money, though, is not a bad idea. For example one could use some money to go on some cheap vacation or buy something that makes them happy. When nothing has value, everything does, right?

The problem with stagflation is that value goes down and then there is a plateau where nothing happens. If that is coming next, then you can buy stock at any time during the plateau and you see no result for years. If you buy too early, the market can still go lower and you lose. And we're not even sure a stagflation is coming, which means you don't know exactly when to find that sweet spot to buy, either.

But the silver lining is that you don't have to. The fact that companies went down is actually an opportunity. The only problem is that it's long term. No matter when you buy: now or further down the line, their value is guaranteed to come up. At some time. Four months and a half is not long term, decades is long term. That is why you don't keep all your savings in stock, either. You have cash for short term.

Does this period hurt investors? Hell, yeah. Especially if you started in November and not in January like me... Suckers! It is even more painful when you started somewhere in 2020 and you saw everything explode and go up and up and up, just to see it all crashing down again. And it all feels hopeless and you had dreams and you got just a little too greedy and if you had just exited at the right time and so on and so on. It's all bullshit. No one could have predicted this with any significant accuracy. Unless it's your job, losing money on the stock market is just normal. It's all chaos. What is not chaos is finding some companies that you trust (to not implode and disappear, like Blockbuster or Nokia, and to continue growing) and stick with it. Investing is not about winning, but about growing. Winning implies a moment in which it happens, but growing is a continuous process.

So no, it's not the end of investing, it's barely the start. These things happen and in the large scheme of things they are merely blips. The general principle remains: you either trust humanity goes forward or you don't. In the first case, you're an optimist, life is always ahead of you and investing is the rational thing to do. On the average it just goes up. In the second case, you're a grouch! Why continue living if the best of everything is behind you? On a more metaphorical level, every second of life is a compound investment.

What I wanted to convey in this post is that you have to thread carefully because there is a lot of shit happening, but it certainly not the end of the world... or is it? Ta da daaaaaam!

  As always, everything that is on this blog is free, including my ideas. If anyone wants to implement it, I am not asking for anything, although a little credit would be nice. It might already be out there, for all I know.

  This is a game idea. It's a multiplayer game of chess, assisted by computer engines. The interface is a chess board and a number of button choices holding the best N moves as found by a chess engine. Possibly the choice of opening should be slightly different, but the MVP product is just that: computer suggests N moves and player choses one. Making a choice will show the move on the screen, tapping the button again will send it to the server.

  It would be a more casual way of playing chess. Moreover, it would train players to choose between candidate moves, which is a secondary skill. The more difficult part of playing chess is finding candidate moves and usually most effort goes into it. This way, the computer takes care of that and lets the player focus on learning how to spot the better move.

  The advantage for the game builder is that they get a database of how humans (at specific levels) select the moves. Next step is to create an AI that can consistently choose between candidates just as a human would. This can then be added to any existing chess game to provide a more human feel, regardless of the underlying chess engine.

  The game could be played against the computer from the very beginning, by altering the probability to choose between top moves based on the supposed chess level. At maximum level the best move will always get selected, while at lowest level the choice will be completely random (but still pretty good, because it will only choose between top N moves).

  Choosing the opening from a list by name could also be interesting, and showing the player the most common replies and what the plan is. Perhaps the number of candidate moves could be a game parameter, so both players agree to play six candidate move game, but others would go for three.

  The interface is simple enough for people to play it on any device, including with a remote on a Smart TVs or on small screen devices.

  Implementation should be relatively trivial. Open source chess engines like Stockfish are available for most major programming languages, including JavaScript. It is the interface that requires most work. Perhaps the possibilities for optimization are the most interesting, as development goes, having a cache of common positions and the top moves, for example.

  Drawbacks include not being able to follow a plan, assuming the computer doesn't give you the choice to move in a direction you worked for. Also, the computer analysis should be consistent over devices, not giving an advantage to more powerful ones. That means both players waiting for the amount of time that analysis takes on the slowest device on the same number of plys.

  There are single player game modes (training) that can be added:

  • play the best move - choose the best move from the four presented
  • find the top moves - a position is presented and the player must make the top moves. When a move is found, points are given. When a move is wrong, points are removed.
    • yes, this requires actually moving pieces, which would not be "on brand"
  • find the best pieces - pick the best piece for either player in equal positions 

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  Dave Grohl sounds like a very nice person. He says only good things about people, he is passionate and goofy and everybody seems to like him. The Storyteller: Tales of Life and Music has a whooping rating of 4.5 on Goodreads with many stellar reviews, especially the audio version that Grohl is narrating himself. But I only read the book, which to me seemed to lack a lot of the strong emotions I am used to associate with well written autobiographies. And a book called "The Storyteller" should feel well written.

  It's not like I didn't enjoy the book, but it never goes deeply into anything. Made out of disjointed chapters that factually focus on various events in Dave's life, it merely describes Grohl's feelings, but doesn't make the reader empathize and feel them. There is a scene (I call it a scene, because it really does feel like a PG-rated movie rather than reading an honest self reflection) where the band is playing in Sweden, Dave falls and breaks his leg. He doesn't feel the pain, because of all of the excitement and adrenaline (ahem!) and gets back on stage and plays from a chair while a doctor is holding his leg in position. After the concert he starts feeling the pain but the chapter ends. The whole thing is related just as deadpan as I did here. You don't get to experience being on stage, singing with a broken leg in front of so many people, the concern of other people washing over you, the pain, the fear or even the effect of having to play the guitar and sing from a sitting down position. It all feels remote, curated, antiseptic.

  You know when actors talk about their involvement in a movie and they praise everybody and everything, making it sound all great and perfect? That's what The Storyteller felt like to me.

  And I did check out the comments and reviews for the book and, while others feel like me, most people seem to have emotionally connected with Dave Grohl and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Is it because they were already fans and loved any piece of lore they could get about their favorite performer? Is it because I didn't get it? The book told stories, but I didn't feel them true. A better title would have been: "A Birdseye View of Dave Grohl's life: Random Scenes Seen From Afar"

  Bottom line: an informative yet ineffectual biography.

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  I was watching a chess game that started with e4 and Black responded with the Modern Defense. Black challenges the center with a c-pawn push, but then delays the capture and develops the knight, prompting White to chase it across the board. By the time the knight retreats to c6, there have been only three chess games that reached the position on Lichess, but none of them continued with the move recommended by Stockfish: Bxf7+

  The only reasonable move for Black is to take the bishop with the king, and after dxc5 from White, the Black knight is trapped! Only squares not covered by the White queen are either occupied by Black pieces or leading into a direct fork at Qd5+.

  I found this interesting because the computer suggested continuations are quite unintuitive, while the things that feel natural to me (not an expert, mind you) lead to huge gains for White. Also, it's a move that has never been played AFAIK.

  So, a long overdue chess post and some PGN: 

1. e4 g6 2. d4 Bg7 3. c3 c5 4. Be3 Nf6 5. e5 Nd5 6. Bc4 Nb6 (6. .. Nxe3 7. fxe3 d6 (7. .. O-O) 8. exd6 exd6 9. Nf3 d5 10. Bb3 O-O 11. O-O) 7. Bxf7+ Kxf7 8. dxc5 {Knight on b6 is now trapped. The only escape squares are covered by the White queen or leading to a fork at d5.} d6 (8. .. Nc4 9. Qd5+ Ke8 (9. .. e6 10. Qxc4 Rf8 11. h4) 10. Qxc4) (8. .. d5 9. cxb6 Bxe5 10. Nf3 Bf6 11. bxa7 Nc6) 9. cxb6 dxe5 10. Qf3+ Bf6 11. bxa7 Nc6 {It's not a huge advantage, but Black can't castle, has double pawns and the fianchetto bishop is a glorified pawn. White develops either knight and is just fine without both center pawns.} *

In my previous trading post I was recommending taking your savings and investing them in stocks. And to minimize risk and effort, just put them in a so called "index fund", which is an aggregation of top stock. History shows that this strategy outperforms the market and any bank savings interest in the long run. But why?

Common sense would say that if a strategy to beat the market exists, then everybody would do it, pulling the market to the same level. The definition of "top" is also something nebulous that doesn't mean anything unless clearly defined. So here is a video that explains some of the shortcomings of the index fund. Basically:

  • "top X" syndrome, where the items accepted as top are more discoverable, therefore performing better from sheer demand size
  • wrong criteria for stock inclusion, where fundamentals lose to market demand and trading size
  • fake diversity, where the X seems large, but most funds are based on a much smaller subset of stocks, with the rest having no impact
  • exaggerated past, where a fund may have been defined a century ago, but came in actual use a lot more recently

[youtube:95OR1ZNj3iY]

Index Funds Are The Biggest Bubble Of Our Time (Hypothesis)

Also, there is a very interesting link that shows the constantly updated index funds may have performed worse than just investing once in a fixed number of companies, even if some of them have long disappeared.

Personally, I think that the gain in time you get by investing in a fund is worth the loss of efficiency. And there might not even be a loss, since until you create a diverse enough portfolio, chances are you are going to lose money, not make any. Keeping all of your savings in a bank is stupid, I am convinced of that! But that doesn't mean you should keep them all in stock (or in any one financial instrument). At this moment don't take my word for anything, but as soon as I gain more knowledge and confidence, I will post about trading and investing. At least it keeps things interesting.

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  I was expecting a deep dive into the fascinating biological realm of the fungi - I even postponed reading it until I could give it my full attention. Instead, I got a long string of tiny chapters, each telling some story related to fungi, but never going anywhere. A book that is part journal, part cook book and part history anecdotes and has the compelling title The Secret Life of Fungi cannot say so little about fungi and be so shallow.

  It's not even a long book, it's a one evening read, but it never explains enough to shed light on the subject, it brings in unrelated ideas from too many other directions and has no continuity or narrative thread. It's just a series of episodes that might be interesting, but most of the time are completely forgettable. I don't know what Aliya Whiteley thought when deciding on this format, but I personally loathe it. She doesn't love fungi, she loves hearing herself say things.

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  While it happens after Alien: The Cold Forge and features one of its characters, Alien: Into Charybdis is standalone enough to not feel like a sequel. It can be read by itself with no problems. That being said, you should start with The Cold Forge, also by Alex White as it brings not only extra context, but is a very decent book.

  Into Charybdis tells the story of human sacrifice on the altar of corporate/military greed, with the aliens as a trigger and then used more like a backdrop. In that sense, it's very similar to Cold Forge. While there is plenty of creature action, the focus is never on them, but on psychotic humans who are the true monsters. That's both interesting and frustrating, but there are plenty of new features that subvert expectations and expand the Alien universe even if, as curious as this sounds, both novels are set in the Prometheus timeline of Alien and even features black goo. That someone can write a decent story in the universe corrupted by that stupid movie is a testament to White's talent.

  Now, without spoiling stuff too much, there is an idea that I really want explored further, the one of the human alien hybrid. While the book ends things pretty definitively, there is some wiggle room left so that that idea could be continued in a third book. It would be a terrible loss to have reached this point and not go a little further.

  Bottom line: I liked The Cold Forge and I liked Into Charybdis, which managed to outdo the first book without just making things bigger and exploding more and instead bringing new ideas, building on the old ones and even subverting expectations. I don't know about other Alien books, but I will follow what Alex White writes next in this universe.

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  I've read several fantasy satires before and some of them were absolutely brilliant. Now, I am not saying that Dark Lord of Derkholm is not good, for it is competently written and complex in both plot and characters. What I am saying is that it is not that funny. Reading the book is like hearing a corporate colleague make fun of what happens at the office, which should be entertaining and humorous, but comes off as sad and frustrating. The trigger for change in the magical land is a conspiracy of women who couldn't bother to consider the emotional consequences of their actions to the people they supposedly love. And the ending was terrible as well, with a slap over the head moral that lacks any subtlety.

  I didn't know Diana Wynne Jones was famous. She wrote Howl's Moving Castle, which I had no idea was a book, on which Ghibli's anime was based, among many other works. Anyway, I had no expectations, but still I stand disappointed. First published in 1998, Dark Lord of Derkholm is quite prescient with its very interesting premise: corporate psychos from Earth (or something similar) manage to find a doorway to a magical land which they immediately proceed to exploit for their own gain. The inhabitants of said magical land need to find a way to protect it.

  The book is a not so subtle satire of our own magically beautiful land that we, through inaction, let it be despoiled by greedy idiots who can't think further than the length of their noses. But that's all that it is. There are a lot of inconsequential characters, a lot of setup and world building that leads nowhere and a final act in which so many new characters and races and lands are added for no good reason. The ending neatly closes all story lines, but in a blunt and narrated way that I felt very dissatisfying.

  Bottom line: interesting premise, competent writing, but a rather bland and inconsistent story.

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  Oh, wow! I vaguely remember Sven Hassel as an author of war novels, written with irony and humor, because this is how I remember people referring to his books. I might have even read some of them, but I was a child and if I did I don't remember and clearly they made the wrong impression on me. Because reading Legion of the Damned, especially now, in times of war in Ukraine threatening to spill over, was an amazing experience. I think this is one of the most anti war books I know about and one of the best I've read. One thing is for sure: Vladimir Putin did not read this book.

  Apparently Sven Hassel himself asked that this book be considered a documentary and in it there is a scene where a few German soldiers, unwillingly fighting for the Nazi regime, swear that whoever survives must write a book to expose to the world the horror and hell they went through. Well, he did write the book and thirteen others after. I don't know if I will have the courage to go through them all.

  The book starts with Hassel being tried for desertion and, because of a woman sacrificing herself to say she seduced him into it, his life is "spared" and he is sent to a concentration camp. He survives the atrocities there only to be "pardoned" and sent to the war, as part of a battalion of convicts. More horror follows, only for him to be captured by the Russian army and send to a prison camp. Again, pain and pointless suffering ensues, but he survives and escapes, only to be sent to fight again in a war he and all of his comrades consider pointless, barbaric and inhumane. He suffers personal loss, he almost goes mad, but he has his friends and together they keep each other alive, mentally and physically. Then he is wounded and has to go through the horror of military hospital, where people are actually competent and kind, but death and suffering is inevitable. And after all of this, the ending might be the most heartbreaking of it all.

  The traditional portrayal of hell is a place where devils take great pleasure torturing sinners in perpetuity. You read this book and you realize how childishly optimistic that vision is. Try to imagine something similar, but where devils are educated, kind and compassionate and punishing sinners is just as much a punishment for them, forced to do it and loathing the pointlessness and brutality of it all. Yet one cannot escape the system Satan implemented, himself too far removed to be witnessing the horror and pain he architected and immune to retribution.

  Sven Hassel is a very good writer, perhaps because he is writing from his heart and it just pours out of him, and the subject is terrible and captivating at the same time. Yet the best part of the book, for me, was the feeling of joy in the little things, the things we take for granted and these damned people enjoyed every single one of them, whenever rarely afforded, to the fullest. Stripped of the complacent veneer of civilization that most humans live under, they lived every moment as if it were the best and last of them all. At no time is there an accusation or bitterness towards another people or group, or attempts to vilify anyone other than the bourgeois and generals that started and perpetuated war, from both sides, to appease unknowable urges that no ordinary person understands or supports.

Bottom line: a very strongly recommended book, one that I think is so apropos of these times, not only because it applies to war in general, but also because (from pure coincidence) the war locations described are places like Donetsk and Kharkiv (which is razed to the ground in the book, as the Germans retreat). The writing is both sweet and personal, educated and educational. It's a heart laid bare and printed into words. A must read.

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  Imagine if the fairy godmother would teach Cinderella the very basics of magic, warned her to not do it, then promptly vanished forever. Then imagine Cinderella was French right around the time of the French Revolution. That's the plot in a nutshell.

  All That Glitters has the hallmarks of greatness: good writing, a very interesting world and a character that grows with the reader. However, I found it really difficult to finish it. I believe the reason was the telegraphing of the protagonist's suffering, making me think of all the horrid things that were going to happen to her, only for her to actually find rather convenient and facile ways of getting out of trouble. 

  And I have to tell you that it was a weird feeling throughout. Made me feel guilty for fearing of all the bad things that were predictably going to happen to the heroine and then resentful of Gita Trelease for letting her off the hook. I mean, this girl and her sister have to deal with the death of their parents, systemic classism, being disconsidered for being women, having a violent addict and gambler of a brother that leeches from them even the money for food and rent, nobles, sorcerers and, of course, the worse of it all, romantic triangles! We can't miss those. And the only solution, a form of magic that feeds on one's sorrow and actual blood and only gives illusions in return.

  Now, of course, this is the first book in a bloody series, luckily a duology, at least for now. There are no standalone books anymore. Therefore the author has all the opportunity to grow as a writer, torture her protagonist to her and the readers' content and determine the most important thing of them all: who is Camille going to marry? Can you imagine being able to turn anything iron into coins for a limited time and not once considering what (or who) else can you turn into what? Maybe that will happen in the next books, but I won't be reading them.

  Bottom line: a definite success of a debut and full of potential and value. However it seems the author and myself are focusing on different things in life and even if we witness the same story, we only want to see the parts the other doesn't. I guess the book appeals more to the feminine side of the reader.

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  You've seen this before, either as a book or as a TV series or something similar: the hidden world of magic, the gatekeepers tasked to keep the veil on the eyes of the common folk, the particular technique that they use (in spite of many others in existence), the ethnic flavor of the inspiration, even the formulaic definitions of good and evil. As it stands, Ink & Sigil is a rather bland book, with very little original content and the little that is being inspired by other cultures than the one of the author.

  You see, it all happens in Scotland, where everybody speaks with a strong Scottish accent, even the goth lesbian battle seer girl who is Indian. And there is a magical world of the fae, separated from ours by ... legal bindings, enforced by only five people in the whole world who work for no particular reason, with little resources and themselves bound by inexplicable moral qualms. Every fae described is a horrid caricature, an average of the most common clichés. Every fight is fought exclusively with the particular magical trinkets specific to the gatekeepers and nothing else.

  So forgive me when I am not impressed by Ink & Sigil, another uninspired fantasy millionology which translates to a classic detective story with a little bit of magic and locale sprinkled for taste. It's as authentic as a Margarita in a Ruby Tuesday or a single malt whisky made in Texas.

  As for Kevin Hearne, I didn't know who he was, but I could feel he was not Scottish in any way or form. Not because I am an expert in the culture of Scotland, mind you, but because it was obvious. It was funny how American the world view was, even when bad mouthing Americans, people who leer when they see an attractive girl or, God forbid, are racist. The author tried to be subtle and not stink up his writing with politics, but he couldn't help being a raging progressive from time to time.

  Bottom line: it was partly fun, but it was a chore finishing the book while knowing exactly what was going to happen and trudging through the flood of clichés that made up this story. I would not recommend it.

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  Sorcery of Thorns starts with an interesting idea that made me curious and involved: a library like a prison of Necronomicon-like books, bound in flesh, partly alive, trying to manipulate people in various ways, fighting amongst each other, destroying minds and bodies of unguarded people and able to transform into murderous demonic beasts when damaged.

  Then, almost immediately, Margaret Rogerson turns away from that premise and proceeds to write a very young adult fantasy romance where a Mary Sue orphan girl who has lived all her life in one of these libraries leaves it and falls in love with a young very eligible sorcerer while battling an old sorcerer in authority and patriarchy in general. Gad!

  The writing is not bad, but nothing spectacular either. It's the way the author fails to put her character in even the slightest challenge that makes this book average at most. Whenever something bad happens, or rather about to happen, she immediately finds a new ability or a new friend to save her. Her "best friend" is there just to be used in various occasions and then forgot for the rest of the book. Men dismiss her opinions, not because she is a shut-in orphan and poor and uneducated and doesn't know anything, but because she is a woman. Only then to do 360s and completely believe and support her when the actual need arises.

  And that ending! There is one thing that feels like a consequence, like it all wasn't some sort of bed game to spice up Elisabeth's romance, then it goes poof!

  In conclusion I can't recommend this book. It's not bad, but certainly not good. Somehow I got duped again by the legions of horny girls using fantasy to scratch their itch and then rating books in droves. The only good thing I can say about the book is that it's standalone and not part of some misbegotten series.