Noisy Deadlines


💾For a complete summary list of my blog posts grouped by year, click here.

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🎨 #NoisyMusings: a little bit of everything 📂 #Productivity: organization, methods, apps, GTD 📚 #Books: everything book related

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"The Poppy War" by R.F.

“The Poppy War” by R.F. Kuang is a grim dark fantasy with war as a background. But the beginning of the book almost feels like a YA-Harry-Potter type of story. Until it isn't. It's definitely not young adult, although we follow a young war-orphan peasant joining a military school and going through all the discoveries and pains of growing up.

Rin, the main character, is goal driven and works hard to achieve what she wants: basically pass the hardest test of the Empire to join a prestigious military academy: Sinegard. She is smart. She is tough. She is focused. She is a quick learner. She becomes one of the few students to follow the path of Lore: an ancient skill that enables a connection with the Gods' powers. And she is thrown into a merciless ongoing war between two Federations (Nikan and Mugen).

The writing is awesome and there are excellent dialogues between the students and the teachers about war strategy, logic and philosophy. There are references to Buddhism, Sun Tzu's “Art of War”, meditation, shamans, martial arts. Also, the ugly brutality of war is there. War is not romanticized at all. There are gory descriptions of the aftermath of war. The decisions the characters have to make are not easy, there is no right or wrong, only what needs to be done to cause the less amount of damage.

The war described in the book was strongly influenced by the Second Sino-Japanese War during the Republican era (when Japan invaded China in the 1930s) and specifically the Nanjing Massacre (also known as the Rape of Nanking). It's ugly. There is no better way of saying it. The third part of the book contains disturbing scenes that work as a reality check into humanity's war history.

There is a passage when Rin tries to understand War:

“A rational explanation eluded her. Because the answer could not be rational. It was not founded in military strategy. It was not because of a shortage of food rations, or because of the risk of insurgency or backlash. It was, simply, what happened when one race decided the other was insignificant.” ― R.F. Kuang, The Poppy War

The magic being derived from the power of the Pantheon of Gods was an interesting take on fantasy magic systems. It's hard, drug ingestion is involved in the process and the shaman can't always control it. It's like a raw force that is channeled. It seems like all shamans go insane one way or the other.

It's an excellent dark fantasy-military historical read that defies what is fantasy and what is a hero. Rin is a fleshed out strong character with her flaws, fears and strengths. The narrative is not worried about our pre-established notions of what is a hero. The world building is fascinating. Reality is tough and there are not shortcuts to solve complex problems. Only hard work and difficult choices.

“War doesn't determine who's right. War determines who remains.”
― R.F. Kuang, The Poppy War

Book info:


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By Noisy Deadlines Minimalist in progress, nerdy, introvert, skeptic. I don't leave without my e-reader.

Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay

Tigana was written by the Canadian author Guy Gavriel Kay in 1990. It was the first time I read one of his books. Kay is known for his fantasy fiction that resembles real historic places and even historical events, but transformed into fantasy. It seems like alternate history with fantasy elements in it. Tigana has lots of fantasy elements but I read that Kay's earlier books gravitate more towards alternate history.

Tigana is a stand alone fantasy novel which is extremely rare these days. It tells the tale of a people that lost their identity since their kingdom was conquered by two powerful tyrant Wizards. It's a story about lost names and culture and how a group of brave rebels prepared themselves over years to overthrow the tyrants and reclaim their homeland. The two tyrants split the kingdom into two and one of the provinces was put under a spell to basically transform it into another place and make its past forgotten.

It's a slow burn story that develops leisurely and in an almost dream like state. The writing is poetic, almost to the point where it is too flowery, but then it isn't. Some chapters are a deep dive into the characters memories and emotions that later helps us understand their motivations and their actions. The characters are not good nor bad. There is ambiguity in their actions. Even the tyrant wizard Brandin is portrayed as a conflicted villain and at times he seems unsure about his decisions. But for me, he is evil.

There is a lot of world building and it almost feels like the world he created could exist on its own and many other tales could be told about it. The newest editions of the book have a foreword in which the author explains his Italian inspiration for the Peninsula of the Palm. The author was inspired by the Italian Renaissance history. The powerful wizard Brandin of Ygrath was inspired by a proud and arrogant Borgia or Medici of the 1500's.

Best and worst characters:

  • Best character: I loved Catriana, the red head woman who is brave and basically makes the story less boring.
  • Second best character: Devin, the bard/singer.
  • Worst character: Dianora, who lived in the saishan (kind of a harem) with the wizard Brandon. She wanted to defeat him but Stockholm's Syndrome got her and she just couldn't do anything against him.

My thoughts

I enjoyed it but it's not on my “best books of the year list”. I thought the pace was too slow. Until 40% of the book we just get background story and not much action. Not really my cup of tea. But the writing is beautiful. Not sure if I'm going to read another book from this author.

The book

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By Noisy Deadlines Minimalist in progress, nerdy, introvert, skeptic. I don't leave without my e-reader.

"Notes on a Nervous Planet" by Matt Haig book cover

I really enjoyed this book by Matt Haig. It's part memoir, part essay, part blog post.

First of all, the author does a great job at narrating it. It felt like I was having a conversation as I nodded and sighed at various passages. His personal stories add a lot of depth to the discussion: how can we be sane in a world that bombards us with information.

It's a call to quieter lifestyle and makes us think about our standard behaviors. And it's all in the little things: watch the stars, observe the clouds, listen to the birds, read a book, appreciate music, have a conversation in person without looking at your phone. Beautiful writing!

I loved a chapter where he talks about books and reading:

“Reading isn’t important because it helps to get you a job. It’s important because it gives you room to exist beyond the reality you’re given. It is how humans merge. How minds connect. Dreams. Empathy. Understanding. Escape. Reading is love in action.” ― Matt Haig, Notes on a Nervous Planet

And there is a look of talk about self image which is particularly relevant in today's Instagram's selfies:

“Remember no one really cares what you look like. They care what they look like. You are the only person in the world to have worried about your face.” ― Matt Haig, Notes on a Nervous Planet

It was a refreshing read (or should I say “listen”?). It's about living. And being happy. And embracing what is important. Letting go of the burden.

The book: Notes on a Nervous Planet by Matt Haig Published January 29th 2019 by Penguin Books (first published July 5th 2018

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By Noisy Deadlines Minimalist in progress, nerdy, introvert, skeptic. I don't leave without my e-reader.

by Charlie Jane Anders

All the birds in the sky

This was a surprisingly weird book. It's a mix of urban fantasy, light science fiction, nonsense and disastrous near futures. There's an AI, witches and mad scientists (sort of...). There is romance. Childhood adventures. Nerdy hipsters. Birds and trees talking. There are philosophical discussions about life, universe and everything. A clash of magic and science.

It's one of those books that can't really fit in one genre box. It's multi-genre (if such a classification exists). I enjoyed reading it mostly because of the unusual dialogues and crazy ideas. It reminded me a little bit of Douglas Adams's style (like The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy).

The AI Peregrine was my favorite character. And in my head I was sure the AI was a female. But then later in the story I realized they actually called her with a masculine noun. Anyway, the genre doesn't matter at all, the AI was cool. I thought the best portions of the story were when Patricia and Laurence were having some existential discussion, like the end of the world.

At around 70% I thought the story dragged a little bit and it became a little depressing. But then the story picks up and extraordinary things happen.

It's an interesting mixed bag of magic and “sciency” near future story.

To be read with an open mind.

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By Noisy Deadlines Minimalist in progress, nerdy, introvert, skeptic. I don't leave without my e-reader.

I have always loved stories about robots, AI's, bots or any sentient like machine. This book reminded me again why I love these stories. It is excellent!

All Systems Red (The Murderbot Diaries, #1) 
by Martha Wells

One thing that happened to me while reading the first chapters is that I automatically assigned a female gender to Murderbot. I don't why I did it, but Murderbot was so relatable to me, I created empathy for all its fears, anxiety and social awkwardness. But then it is clear that Murderbot doesn't have a gender, because it is a security bot, not a sexbot. I wonder if the book cover led me to think that. Although I showed it to my husband and he told it was a totally gender neutral bot in that cover.

Maybe that is proof of how engaging and well written the character is. It's all about what it means to be alive, what it means to exist and think, no matter what or who you are. It was so interesting to be inside this bot's head and find out that it doesn't know what it wants, kinda like a human mind, all confused and asking why the universe existed:

It’s wrong to think of a construct as half bot, half human. It makes it sound like the halves are discrete, like the bot half should want to obey orders and do its job and the human half should want to protect itself and get the hell out of here. As opposed to the reality, which was that I was one whole confused entity, with no idea what I wanted to do. What I should do. What I needed to do.

I loved that Murderbot enjoyed watching television series:

And in their corner all they had was Murderbot, who just wanted everyone to shut up and leave it alone so it could watch the entertainment feed all day.

And I already started reading the sequel, because this is one of those “Hell, yeah” kind of stories.

Highly recommended!

Book info:

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By Noisy Deadlines Minimalist in progress, nerdy, introvert, skeptic. I don't leave without my e-reader.

Book: Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less By Greg McKeown

Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less By Greg McKeown

  • Kindle Edition, 274 pages
  • Publication Date: April 15, 2014
  • Read from October 30 to 31, 2015

This book was a fast read for me. The good thing is that it made me feel less anxious and less stressed. It reminded me that I have the power to choose what I want to do with my time and my life. And that I don't need to let others dictate/influence my schedule and my to-do list. Because as Greg McKeown advises us in the book:

“Remember that if you don’t prioritize your life someone else will.” ― Greg McKeown, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less

It has taught me that the most important question to ask is: “What is really essential to me?”. The rest can simply be thrown away. But that's no simple task because we usually hang on to a pletora of things without knowing which of them are truly essential. He has a nice definition o the term Essentialism:

“Essentialism is not about how to get more things done; it’s about how to get the right things done. It doesn’t mean just doing less for the sake of less either. It is about making the wisest possible investment of your time and energy in order to operate at our highest point of contribution by doing only what is essential.”
― Greg McKeown, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less


“Dragonfly in Amber” (Outlander #2) by Diana Gabaldon

Kindle Edition, Reprint Edition, 754 pages Published October 26th 2004 by Dell (first published July 1st 1992)

I read the first book of this series (Outlander) in 2013 and I remember that at the time I have enjoyed many aspects of the story but I’ve thought that the book was longer than it needed to be. I had the intention to continue on reading the series but I eventually forgot about it. And maybe knowing that it was a long series (today there are 7 books published!) made me postpone reading it until I had more time.

This year I was leisurely browsing Netflix and I saw the Outlander TV show available! Well, I decided to watch it! At the same time, I started reading the second book because watching the series Season One made me want to go back to that world. And that made be dive into this epic story story once more! Each book is like a chapter in the larger story, so it’s the kind of series you have to read the books in the order they were published.

Overall of the book series

Before I talk about the second book, I will say that Diana Gabaldon is a superb writer. The books are well-written with generally well-researched historical background.

She has a way of telling a story in the most compelling of ways with complex characters and solid world building.

The Outlander series is a mix of time-travel/historic romance and it starts with the story of Claire Randall, a former combat nurse that lives in 1945 and was transported back in time to Scotland in 1743, in the middle of clan wars and borders conflict between scots and englishmen. Claire encounters a young Scots warrior named James Fraser and they experience an epic romance story together.

The second book : “Dragonfly in Amber”

It is a follow-up of the first book, but it starts with Claire Randall in the “present” going back to Scotland and starting a research about the Battle of Culloden and aftermath of the war. From the first book we have an idea that the main characters were somehow involved with the historic battle of Culloden that took place in 1746. This battle marks the final confrontation of the Jacobite rising of 1745, in which the Jacobites, with the support of France, fought to reestablish Charles Edward Stuart, known as “Bonnie Prince Charlie” in the throne of Scotland. We all know from historical facts that the battle of Culloden ends the rebellious rising and the clan system in the Highlands of Scotland.

So, in this book, we are transported back to 1745, with Claire and Jamie fleeing from Scotland to find refuge in France. Meanwhile, the story brings us flashes of the present, with Claire telling her adventures to her daughter for the first and revealing her secrets.

I was amazed by the quality of the storytelling because of its freshness and pace. I love the writing style of Diana Gabaldon: she can be “flourishy” without being boring. The reading flows effortlessly.

The time travel aspect of this series can at first seems too absurd and I was worried that it could spoil the story. You know, it is complicated to avoid time travel paradoxes. And sometimes when you explain it too much, the story can loose its power. So far in this series I have not seen it being spoiled. I think the author did a good job of playing with historical facts and avoiding paradoxes. So far, so good!

The book is quite a ride, with politics, war, romance, personal struggle and historic facts being beautifully intertwined with fictional characters. I am totally hooked to the series now, and I have already started reading Book 3 “Voyager” (and enjoying it so far!).

I highly recommend the series for historical romance lovers who fancy a bit of time travel vibes!

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By Noisy Deadlines Minimalist in progress, nerdy, introvert, skeptic. I don't leave without my e-reader.

“There are 168 hours in a week. This is your guide to getting the most out of them.” by Laura Vanderkam

Book Cover: 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think by Laura Vanderkam

  • Kindle Edition
  • Print Length: 271 pages
  • Publisher: Portfolio (May 26, 2010)
  • Publication Date: May 27, 2010

My overall thoughts about the book:

I enjoyed the main approach of the book, which is to be aware of how we spend our 168 hours and identify how we can make better use of the time available for all of us. So far so good, but I found that the author addresses only a handful of life styles, specially couples with kids.

I didn’t agree with all the suggestions she gave. There was too much “delegating” to paid services tips and I am more into searching for a frugal or simple lifestyle. As far as I know hiring household services is usually more expensive than doing them ourselves, but the author affirms that this model could work for some people (if they have the money to afford it, of course).

I think it’s hard to try carve out more time out of our days if we don’t reduce the excess activities and stuff we accumulate over time. And I don’t remember the author addressing this side of the coin.

The Pros:

The main messages of the book that stuck in my brain and that I somewhat agree with were:

  1. Cut down TV time. And then cut some more. TV is not so relaxing as we might think.
  2. Block out time to exercise. Then fine more exercise more.
  3. Make a list of tasks you can do in 30 minutes. And another for 10 minutes. Remember these little things that can be done between tasks or while waiting something. For example: read a book in a waiting line, or do some push-ups or stay in plank position while you wait for the microwave. Reading while waiting or in public transport is totally okay, I do this all the time with my Kindle. Doing push-ups while the microwave: not so much because there are usually other things to take care of in the kitchen, in my case. But I think it’s doable.
  4. Identify our core competencies: that is a good exercise because we often forget our main goals amidst the various activities and responsibilities we are involved. When we know what are our core competencies we can plan out more time to develop these areas.

The Cons:

The following tips didn’t really resonate with my personal style:

  1. Carve out chunks of time during our work day to do the things we say we don’t have enough time to do. That’s the kind of tip that won’t work for everyone because not all of us have a flexible schedule or a work environment that encourages “off duty” activities or arriving a bit late.
  2. Hire services: Get someone else to do the things you don’t enjoy by delegating or hiring someone else: laundry, cooking, scheduling appointments. I don’t agree with this one because I truly prefer to live an independent life, and if I can’t find time or satisfaction from taking care of my stuff, I should consider minimizing.
  3. The writing style. I thought the chapters were too long and there were too many anecdotes about other peoples lives filled with excessive and unnecessary details to prove a point. Those parts really put me off the book and made me speed read them. I think the text lacked a bit of objectivity, since it’s about productivity and carving out precious time.

So, the book has a couple of good ideas and tips but the overall experience of reading it wasn’t fulfilling and I was a bit disappointed in the end. Maybe it was not directed at my simpler lifestyle. Sometimes doing less is the best option.

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By Noisy Deadlines Minimalist in progress, nerdy, introvert, skeptic. I don't leave without my e-reader.

You know when a fictional story catches your attention and you want to dive into the imagined world? You know when you like so much the main character that you wish she was real?

I enjoy reading romance. But not the old formula romance that is full of tropes of women being the passive part of the story, like the old “Damsel In Distress” plot line. Romance is usually about two people building up a romantic relationship. That’s the main core of any romance story. But we often see the female depicted as a virgin, innocent, young girl who has her heart stolen by some alpha male dude.

I prefer romance stories where there is no sexism. I enjoy reading strong female characters and gladly we have many options today, we just have to search for them.

This sci-fi romance “Paradox” trilogy by Rachel Bach has this “no sexist” atmosphere that I look for in a romance story. The protagonist is a bad-ass ambitious mercenary, Devi Morris, who finds herself working on a small ship full of strange occurrences.

I will not explore the plot here, so feel free to go on because it will be spoiler free.

What I loved about this trilogy, in general:

  • Fast paced writing style, it can be considered an action packed space opera.
  • Cool alien creatures.
  • Mystery and intrigue in a sci-fi universe.
  • Plot twists, because, why not?

And here goes some notes regarding each one of the books:

Fortune’s Pawn (Paradox #1)

Book: Fortune’s Pawn (Paradox #1) by Rachel Bach

Action packed, a female bad-ass protagonist, amazing world building with a bit of romance. Yes, I think the combination worked pretty well and I really got into the characters. It reminded me of fem-Shepard, out of Mass Effect video game (because well, I played as a female Shepard) and the book created in me that surprisingly familiar feel of great sci-fi/space opera focused on role playing. It was a very fun, fast read and I wanted to jump into the second book right away.

My favorite quote, where Devi, the protagonist explains her line of work:

“You spend enough years as a soldier for hire and you find that most mercs tend to fall into three categories. There are the career professionals like me who are in this business because they’re excellent at what they do and love to do it; there are the grunts who put on the armor and do what they’re told because it doesn’t take too much thought and the pay is good; and then there are the skullheads, the macho idiots who do it for the power trip.”― Rachel Bach, Fortune’s Pawn