The end a long fantasy saga, some Scottish historical fiction and an average productivity book.
The Pride of Lions (Scotland Trilogy Book 1) by Marsha Canham, 212p: It’s a rich historical fiction set in Scotland in the 18th century. Kinda like Outlander but without time travel. It’s well done in terms of world building with lots of historical references regarding the Jacobite rising of 1745. It’s an exciting book and the rhythm is good. There was one thing that caused me uneasiness in this book: the prevalence of a raping theme. I know it’s historical and you can argue that that’s how things were back then, but it’s a fictional romance novel and I expected less of it. For example, even though it’s not explicit, the “male hero” (Alexander) clearly uses the implicit idea of rape to frighten the heroine (Catherine). Every men on the road that encounters Catherine (or any women for that matter) thinks about “taking advantage” of her. So maybe the setting was too historical/realistic for me?
The Lady of the Lake (The Witcher, #5) by Andrzej Sapkowski, 560p: The last book of The Witcher saga! I loved the first half of the book with its parallel universes and the fact that the story of The Witcher is viewed as a type of “distant land fairy tale”. One thing that this author can do is create complex characters, meaning, no one is ever lawful good, everybody is chaotic (neutral, good or evil). Themes like misogyny, slavery and racial discrimination are all present in the story. Everybody is looking for Ciri because of her extraordinary powers. Elves can be as evil as humans and sorceresses. Ciri is on her own quest to escape what everybody think is her destiny. I think the story is brilliantly written, with varying points of view, snippets of Dandelion’s memoir “Half a Century of Poetry”, a huge battle being described through its actual combatants suffering and the healers in a war field hospital. But people die. Lots of characters die. And that’s what makes this series “dark fantasy” in my opinion. It has the feel of a fairy tale without the happy ending. Or maybe the ending is happy depending on how you interpret it. Excellent series overall with rich world building and interesting characters. It was a nice ride!
Free to Focus: A Total Productivity System to Achieve More by Doing Less by Michael Hyatt , 256p: I was curious to read this book to know a little a bit more about focus. I already use GTD as my productivity system and it’s clear that some sections are a GTD derivative with a different name. I was a little bit annoyed that I had to go to the author’s website to take the initial assessment, leave my e-mail and then I started receiving all these promotional e-mails to buy his planner. That threw me off a little bit. But the message in the book is not unlike any other good productivity system: eliminate non essentials, group similar tasks for efficiency, eliminate distractions and use time blocking to focus.
I re-read two excellent productivity books that made me go back to basics and rethink my whole system. I can say it was a productive month! And I finished the fourth book in The Witcher series, which is excellent!
Making It All Work: Winning at the Game of Work and Business of Life by David Allen, 286p: It’s the second time I read this book. The last time was 6 years ago. It’s a great if you’re already familiar with the GTD method since it connects the 5 steps workflow (capture, clarify, organize, reflect, engage) to the higher horizons (projects, areas of focus, goals, vision, purpose & principles). So it’s the glue between Control and Perspective. I loved re-reading it. It gave me some powerful insights and a deeper understanding of the GTD processes and how it can evolve over time.
New Hope for Sciatica: End Your Pain Now with Solutions Even Your Doctor Won’t Tell You Aboutby Duncan McCollum D.C., 125p: It’s more about the how healing works in 3 parts: physical, chemical and mental. One cannot work without the other. So it gives a high level overview of all the things that might be the cause of the pain. And it’s complicated! It creates awareness about underlying factors causing/worsening the pain, but it’s all about contacting a professional. So, there are no practical answers in this book, it talks about a few strategies but without diving in them too deep. For example: a diet with less inflammatory food suggesting ketogenic meals and intermittent fasting but it doesn’t explain how that can be done.
Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted Worldby Cal Newport, 287p: This was my second read and more than ever I was convinced that we need to decide to do deep work and that means breaking many habits of today’s life. From finding space and time to concentrate to eliminating all that distracts us, the author shows reasons and evidence for all the strategies presented. And the message is simple, albeit not as easy as it seems: disconnect! Simple as that. This one is MUST READ for today’s work life.
The Tower of the Swallow (The Witcher, #4) by Andrzej Sapkowski, 448p: So this book picks up right where the previous left, which ended in a little bit of a cliffhanger. I loved the writing style using different timelines, jumping back and forth, and varying points of view. It gets confusing sometimes but in the end everything clicks together. And the plot focus is Ciri, the last third of the book we don’t even hear about The Witcher anymore. There is lots of violence in this book, people getting killed, tortured, injured in a myriad of ways. I think it’s one of the darkest books in the series so far, and Ciri’s story is definitely harsh and cruel. I caught myself cringing a few times. Now, it’s the first time I ever saw a sword fighting scene on a frozen lake on ice skates! There are some great new characters, like the hermit Vysogota on the good guy side and the spine-chilling bounty hunter Bonhart, on the villain side. As always, I can’t wait to check out the next book in the series.
This was a hard month for reading. Distraction was with me all the time! It was one of the few months that I didn’t enjoy my readings that much. The highlight was “Broken Angels” by Richard Morgan, always a good sci-fi!
How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy by Jenny Odell, 240p: Maybe too philosophical to my taste. Although the title book starts with “How to…” it’s not really a manual. It’s more like an exposition of the author’s memories and her musings about art. Art like a critic of the status quo. There is a lot of talk about art. It was not my cup of tea.
Broken Angels (Takeshi Kovacs, #2) by Richard K. Morgan , 480p: I thought this book had a totally different tone than the first one. It totally feels like military sci-fi. The pace is kinda slow until half of the book and then it’s action-packed till the end. There is a lot of worldbuilding when Takeshi remembers his childhood and the wars he has fought in. There is an interesting group of characters that are put together to fulfill a mission. Alien ruins, old artifacts, soldiers, war, archeology, mental illness.
The 12 Week Year: Get More Done in 12 Weeks than Others Do in 12 Months by Brian P. Moran, Michael Lennington, 208p: I get the concept: treat 12 weeks (3 months) like it’s your year. That way it forces you to set up achievable goals and don’t lose track of them. It makes sense. It brings a systematic way to define vision, goals, projects, plan each week and evaluate progress using a scoring system. I think it works for some people, but for me, at the moment, it felt like too much pressure on myself. The basic concepts of having a productivity system are all there: goals, time blocking, weekly reviews. So, it’s not unlike other systems, like GTD, for example. But there is this added urgency because of the 12 weeks time frame. Not sure it would work for me.
I wish I had read more this month! I think the COVID-19 pandemic has changed my reading habits. I’ve been way too much news articles and updates about. Ugh!
Make Time: How to Focus on What Matters Every Day by Jake Knapp, John Zeratsky, 288p – A fun book about productivity techniques. It has lots of nice ideas on how to focus and achieve goals. One of the main messages is to choose the highlight of the day. It is valuable advice because the highlight can be something as ambitious as “finish that final report” or as simple as “enjoy a cup of tea after work”. It has lots of ideas to experiment with our habits and routines, not all of them will work for everybody. It is a lighthearted book about productivity with no pressure on being highly productive all the time. It’s more about doing what we enjoy 🙂
The Future of Another Timeline by Annalee Newitz, 352p – Time travel, feminism, 90’s riot grrl punk rock scene, murder, abortion rights, geology, wormholes. Yes, all this together to form an exciting story of people wanting to make the world a better place. Lots of imagination and interesting historic facts that creates various alternate histories realities. A great read with lots of historical references related to the 1800’s social movements! I had to stop and do some Wikipedia research here and there. Fascinating!
This month was all about The Witcher books. I will definitely go through all the books in the series because: 1) I love the characters; 2) I like the writing style and 3) It’s classic D&D with a twist.
Baptism of Fire (The Witcher, #3) by Andrzej Sapkowski, 378p: This book has that vibe of a good old Dungeons and Dragons adventure. It has the best group of characters travelling together: Milva (a hunter and bad-ass archer), Dandelion (the curious and talented bard), Regis (a weird druid), Zoltan Chivay and his group (a resourceful dwarf who is leading other dwarves and gnome) and Cahir from Nilfgaard (although he says he isn’t). It was exciting, it had some gore, violence, but also friendship and happy moments.
Blood of Elves (The Witcher, #1) by Andrzej Sapkowski: This the first full length novel of the Witcher series (the previous 2 books are basically a collection of short stories). The story follows the aftermath of the attack on the Kingdom of Cintra by the Nilfgaardian empire. Ciri starts her training as a Witcher but she starts to demonstrate weird powers so Geralt asks for the help of Triss Merigold. They decide that Ciri needs a normal education as well as some magic training, so Yennefer starts training her too. The story and the world building are extremely well done. I couldn’t put it down until the end and then I had to continue reading the next book…
Sword of Destiny (The Witcher, #2) by Andrzej Sapkowski: This one is a darker book where the characters are temporarily separated from each other, and some serious confrontation between the mages/sorceress take place. Everyone is looking for Ciri and she is on the run. And there are donuts in the Witcher’s world! Another read I couldn’t put down that lead me to Book 3 straight away.