📚 Small reviews

Here's some thoughts on things I've finished and felt like I wanted to capture for my future reference.

⭐: actively disliked this
⭐⭐: meh
⭐⭐⭐: enjoyable but not notable
⭐⭐⭐⭐: really great; would recommend
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐: utterly brilliant!

2024 | 2023 | 2022 | 2021

Books read this year

Games played this year

📖 Wool by Hugh Howey

Finished: 14th February 2024

It was with some trepidation that I finally stopped putting off watching the Silo TV series. I was curious about the adaptation, but my hesitation went beyond my usual nit picking of whether people did a good job bringing it to life. I have such vivid, important, and personal memories of my first read of Wool, even though it was 10 (ten!) years ago, and the book had stuck with me ever since as a bit of a symbol. On starting to watch the TV series (which is ok so far, but seems to be deviating on several fronts) I had an overwhelming urge to read the book again, I think to make sure that I reinforced my original thoughts and feelings to stop them getting overwritten by TV visuals.

I absolutely flew though the book over just a few days, helped by a horrible cold and time off work. I was surprised at the balance of how I'd remembered so much, but forgotten enough of the nuances that it felt like an exciting read all over again. Some parts of what I now realise fall into the next book were mixed up in my memories, and I really enjoyed reliving it all and detangling the story back to its pure form. And it's just such a great story. I remember my genuine shock of the book starting out detailing the life of a key character, and then taking a turn I really didn't expect. The pacing, the way the mysteries slowly get unravelled, the action, the main character, the way the descriptions of the environment made it all so alive in my head for so long. I love this book, and I'm glad that the re-read didn't lessen any of my experiences.

📖 Nexus by Ramez Naam

Finished: 11th February 2024

This was a recommendation from a colleague, and I found it a very enjoyable read. It's action, action, action, and whilst some of it is written in a very masculine and unsubtle way (there's several instances of variations on "her nipples were hard through her wet top/getting out of the shower; it was the most erotic thing Kade had ever seen"), it kind of works in a very popcorny movie way. The characters are a bit cliched but actually memorable, even some of the smaller roles, and the science and concept are quite interesting in themselves. I've switched over to another series because I was ill and that was already in the house, but I'm keen to read the rest of the trilogy. One warning: there's various references to and depictions of sexual abuse, and also graphic violence.

📖 Kill it with fire by Marianne Bellotti

Finished: 30th January 2024

I had the pleasure of meeting the author when I spoke at an event with her waaay back in 2013, and I've had this book on my reading list for ages. I always struggle a bit with reading "work books" because quite frankly I'd rather be reading about spaceships, but this was actually a really good read. Plenty of very practical advice and examples, and a blunt but honest way of writing that I appreciated for not over romanticising the topic. I can see myself going back to this as a reference, and also pointing others in its direction too.

🎮 Gris

Finished: 27th January 2024

I picked this up after flicking through my play later queue one lunchtime, looking for something fairly light that I could sink 20 minutes into without getting too invested. To be honest, I chose this over other things mostly because the artwork looked nice. On starting, this is one of those games that explains nothing. I was wandering around, not sure what I would be encountering or what my goals were, and coming across things that I could collect without having any idea what they were. The first couple of times I found what I later grew to understand was a colletible, I actually thought I was maybe triggering save points or something. Other things I came across gave lots of satisfying "ohhh" moments when I realised how it all works. With other similar games that level of obscurity has sometimes been a bit much, and I've needed to look up what things were for, because it passed the point of feeling like I should have worked it out or been given some context. But Gris is paced perfectly in that regard. I was quite content to just go with it, not getting annoyed when I got locked out of areas by being thrown into cutscenes, because when everything's a mystery and you're genuinely picking a random direction to walk in to see what happens, it feels way more acceptable than in, say, my Expanse review.

After picking it for the artwork, the visuals of the game itself did not disappoint. It's stunning. It's genuinely one of the most beautiful things I've played, and there were some wonderful 'surprise and delight' moments of the design that genuinely did delight me. This is a game about grief, and it's emotionally heavy without being difficult, and that carries through into the gameplay and puzzles. In two instances I thought "gah, I hate chase sequences", but you just can't die in this game and it's (mostly..) inconsequntial as to how much you engage. Gris is described as "a serene and evocative experience, free of danger, frustration or death" and I found that to be the case. My one, one criticism, which I considered knocking .5 marks off for, was unskippable cutscenes. They only came into play when I was redoing segments (bonus points for being able to jump to parts of levels) for achievements though, and actually it was only the pre-eel cut scene that I had to see a couple of times... and since they're lovely I actually didn't really mind.

Just a wonderful game, and one I'm very glad I stumbled across.

🎮 The Expanse: A Telltale Series

Finished: 20th January 2024

I have a long history of being pretty opinionated on Telltale games, yet have only actually played a few of them. I think I dabbled with the Walking Dead, Wolf Among Us, and Game of Thrones series, without making any progress because of my frustrations with the mechanics, before eventually managing to complete the Borderlands series. To my relief, things have got (mostly!) a lot better on some of the elements that I previously took issue with. I enjoyed the stories in this release, both Drummer's and the short little Avasarala scenario, which was probably helped by them being two of my favourite characters. I also enjoyed the environment design and that there were some elements of puzzles, but was most pleasantly surprised to see that I could a. invert the Y axis (dealbreaker, couldn't in some previous games of theirs), b. tweak accessibility settings for the dialogue and quick time events.

However, I wasn't surprised that there were still frustrations. I'd turned off the time limit for dialogue, but yet any dialogue that used a call mechanism didn't respect that. From the very first mission there were two primary objectives in the menu, but only one showed up on the hud. On doing one, it locked out the other, and I missed a chunk of exploration. Similarly, I tried exploring on the first level but ignoring the marker and trying to fly in a different area still triggered a cutscene, which I really wasn't expecting. And that's my issue. Despite the many, many iterations, these games still feel inconsistent and unclear. Whether it's being asked to collect reaction mass, but having no idea how many there are and if picking up one will lock me out, through to the ambiguous "X will remember that" with no idea whether they took my seemingly neutral dialogue positively or negatively, I feel like this stuff should really have been solved by now. But hey, it was all pleasant enough, and I'll probably be back with similar views when I inevitably play another of the games in 5 more years or so.

📖 Plutoshine by Lucy Kissick

Finished: 11th January 2024

Another book inherited from my husband's ADHD-bought-but-not-read pile so I didn't know anything about it in advance, but it was a solid read to kick off the year. Pluto immediately became my favourite planet (I believe) when it was downgraded (gotta support the underdog), and this book did feel like a bit of a love letter to it.

Story-wise there were layers of different plot angles going on, and actually even the bit-part characters had enough depth. I really enjoyed how both Lucian and Nou were written. I also liked the imagery and descriptions of the Plutonian landscape, and how it would potentially change with terraforming. The book isn't a classic, and I don't think it'll be super memorable for me, but nonetheless still a fun read.