February 2017 in Books

Well I did it (kind of). I made it through February without purchasing any new books!

What’s that you say? What is that handsome hardcover book currently gracing the mantle in my lounge room…


Yes fine, I admit it; I bought David Attenborough’s book when my son and I saw him live last month. But as this was a once-in-a-lifetime event, I figured I could count it as memorabilia, rather than an actual book purchase.

But apart from that one technicality, I didn’t purchase a single book last month; hoorah!

So, in keeping with my tradition of giving extremely late catch ups for the previous months reads, I present all of February’s reads.

Livia Lone


I first discovered Barry Eisler books on my honeymoon. I grabbed a copy of One Last Kill, the fourth book in his John Rain series, from the airport as a quick read for the plane ride. I was hooked.

A holiday in Sydney was just the right setting to read this book. An unfamiliar location, staying at swish hotels; it was the exact environments mentioned in the book!

Eisler’s writing is so detailed, his understanding of the craft so complete. His books have given me a much greater appreciation for spy craft, and whats more it has made it extra difficult to suspend disbelief when I watch anything involving espionage or counter-survelliance.

“That character should run a surveillance detection route” “There is no way they wouldn’t have seen that tail” “What a sloppy choke point”. These are the kinds of things that enter my mind during movies all the time now.But that all being said, I am much happier for this education; ignorance is not bliss, the truth is always a better state of being.

So when Amazon, with their relentlessly fine-tuned recommendation algorithm, sent me an email about the release of this book, I couldn’t resist.

This is my first non-John Rain Eisler read, and I was not disappointed. All the same attention to detail was still there, but with new exciting characters along for the ride.

The story follows Detective Livia Lone as it concurrently tells her story of being sold into child slavery by her parents, and of her current life trying to track down her sister, and prevent others from suffering her same fate.

Livia is a compelling character. Her origin story is fascinating, and borders on superhero, were it not for the cold-blooded nature of her vigilante actions. Less Batman, more Punisher. But given her targets of her vendetta (child slavery and rape) you are rarely sympathetic to those she dispatches.

Eisler signature combat writing is also on display here, with Livia being an expert in wrestling and brazilian jujitsu. And as dry and technical as detailed explanations of chokeholds may appear, it really gives me not only a greater appreciation for the art itself but also an extra dimension when viewing my sons own black-belt level martial arts.

Hopefully in the future this book will move from the ‘stand alone’ section on Barry’s website, and we can get some more adventures centred around Livia Lone.

The Reluctant Yogi


For a while now I have been interested in the idea of yoga, but I could never get over all the……wank.

I understand that there is a lot of scientific evidence for the benefits that yoga offers, and that intuitively the stretches and meditative qualities it possesses would be good for the body and mind. But when people start talking about chakras, or energy, I quickly lose faith in their objective nature.

So I was really looking for a more objective analysis of yoga; what is it, how does it work, and is it the thing for me?

This book was exactly what I was looking for. A guide to yoga written by a journalist who approached it from an equally skeptical standpoint. And while at some points it might sound like she has drunk from the yogi Kool-Aid, she is always quick to explain her experiences in a rational manner, and to point out that these experiences are not always a commonly shared affair.

All this being said, i have yet to salute the sun, or imitated a dog, no matter the direction it faced. Bt it has given me a far greater understanding of yoga and how it might eventually find a place in my life. It is reassuring to know that there is much secular basis for undertaking the practice, and that so many of its benefits can be divorced from the mumbo-jumbo that is often touted as being an intrinsic part of yoga.

One day I shall get out my yoga mat and start reaping these benefits, but until then I will have to make do with the occasional stretch.

I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life


This book really delivered on the second part of its title; it really opened up this whole other dimension of life.

When I told people I was reading a book about microbes they usually commented on whether it was making me become a germophobe, or was I now revolted by all the things I was learning were squirming around in the microsphere. But really the opposite is true. Instead of being disgusted I was fascinated. Instead I found myself embracing this new, grander view of life.

Perhaps this isnt the best thing after all. I now feel less worried about the bacteria flowing through the world around me. hopefully this doesnt lead to a loss in hygiene practices…

Anyhow, this book is fast looking like a favourite of 2017. Much like last years The Genius of Birds altered my perspective and allowed me to look at our feathered friends through a new lens, now I am constantly reevaluating the world around me as representing only a small fraction of what life has to offer.

The book is full of interesting tales that really turn around a lot of the things you thought you knew. Like how hospitals are realising the benefits of leaving windows open occasionally, to help keep the microbiome of the building more on balance. The theory being; that if you clean too much, you effectively wipe the microbial garden clean, which allows some of the bad microbes to take root like weed in an empty lot. Keeping many of the neutral bacteria and other mini-life in the environment actually halts the growth of some of the nasty ones, thus keeping eveything safer.

I cant recommend this book enough for anyone who wants to start really understanding the complexity of the world we live in, and the wonders that this extended view of life offers us.

Graveyard of Memories


My second Barry Eisler book of the year, of the month even! After enjoying delving back into the authors writing at the turn of the month, I was pleased to find this book awaiting me on my kindle.

February’s goal of not buying any new books definitely worked in my favour here, because I wasn’t even aware of having purchased this book, and so it could have gone for years without finding its way onto my read list. But after finishing I Contain Multitudes one night and struggling to find the energy to reach my bookshelf (beer may have played a part), I instead delved into the depths of my Kindle, and found this beauty.

A prequel to the John Rain series, this book finds our anti-hero in the streets of Tokyo just as he finds himself unwittingly entering the workforce as a professional hitman. He isn’t as polished as the John Rain we have come to know and love, but his central character traits are definitely on show. Whats more, we get to watch on as the signature elements behind the character begin to form. His fastidious nature, his ‘rules’, his love of jazz. All of that starts here, and starts convincingly.

My only criticism with regard to unplanned prequels, is that you begin to wonder why none of these events were really mentioned in the subsequent tales of the character. So much of what happens here is formative, and yet other story elements are never mentioned in the following books. And given we are told these stories in first person and are privy to the stream of consciousness of Rain throughout them. The fact that the girlfriend he has in this book for instance, is ever mentioned again, is questionable.

But hey; i get the practicality of this, and while it was something that entered my mind, it didn’t stop me loving every chapter of this book.

Barry Eisler is a very reliable writer, and if you have liked anything he has written before, then you are in for a good time here.



This was my last book of the month. As you an see by the above quote; it is a bit of a weird one. As I mentioned with some of last years books, I like a good hook. That initial weird sentence that gets you intrigued. So when Amazon sent me this book with the premise of hairy beach-ball shaped aliens invading earth, and hacking into government systems, I couldn’t turn it away.

The book started off quite intriguing. The aliens were bizarre, different from the usual sci-fi invaders. Their motivation was mysterious, and their means were quite frankly, amusing. The main character was compelling, and funny, so I was engaged enough to continue on, despite the story offering no real direction at first.

But in the end it turned a bit preachy. Rather than giving me the point of view of some aliens intelligence, instead it felt like I was being told how to solve all of earth problems by some idealistic liberal (and don’t get me wrong I am a big fan of leftist style politics). In the end it all seemed too human, too much like a straw man argument brought to life.

So while I was slightly losing interest in the story, I was determined to finish it off, due to my belief in some kind of last minute twist that would provide the adequate pay off.

And then, I was confronted with this:




Well I am feeling good about my February readings. I learned new things, enjoyed some reality escapage, and broadened my understanding of the world. Whats more, I didn’t spend a cent on new books.

But March, oh March; you are looking good!

First of all, a new Kim Stanley Robinson book! My favourite author by far. So much of who I am is down to reading this mans books in my formative years. And with this instalment set in a  future still dealing with the effects of man made climate change, I am really looking forward to seeing what it has to say.

Then, the beginning of the new John Scalzi space opera arrives with the novel The Collapsing Empire. I have read the first three chapters over here and it was pretty damn good.

And lastly, Luna: Wolf Moon. I had never heard of this author before, but last years Luna: New Moon blew me out of the water, so I am really looking forward to this instalment, especially if it involves (as the title hopefully suggests) of the wolf pack mentioned in the original book.

Here is to March (which is already over a third over, but none of these books have arrived yet!).



January Books In Review

Like many people, I begin each new year with an enthusiasm for changing habits and achieving goals.  I start off quite optimistic, and with a confidence that defies reason; especially given the many years of failed resolutions scattered to the wind behind me. But this year I nevertheless still took stock of a bunch of things in my life, and set myself some challenges for the months ahead.

And so now, like the Roman god for whom it was named, I shall look back at the month that was January 2017, and then ponder the month to come.

Books and Reading in 2017

This year one of my goals is to read more books than I buy. This comes on the heels of last year’s goal of simply reading more books, that eventually settled on an end goal of 40 books, which I just barely managed to achieve. I did however notice the worrying pattern of buying around 50% more books than I needed to, and this is what prompted me to adopt this year’s goal. I still want to read more, and am hoping to exceed the 40 mark from last year. But I think it more important to start curbing my indiscriminate book buying.

So how have I gone this month? Not that well.

I read four books this January, Tools of Titans, United States of Japan, The Obstacle is the Way, and An Abundance of Katherines. however, I also bought, The Fault in our Stars, The Reluctant Yogi, The Daily Stoic, and Livia Lone. My only solace is that I technically bought Tools of Titans last year (literally 11:59 on New Year’s Eve), so my official numbers are:

Books read: 4

Books bought: 7

I shall have to reign in the spending next month for sure, as March contains the release of the next book by my favourite author (Kim Stanley Robinson), as well as a follow up to 2015’s amazing read, Luna: New Moon (nothing like twilight I assure you).

So what did I read:

Tools of Titans

Do you ever read a book, or listen to an interview and try to take down a few little nuggets of truth for later digestion? Then this is the book for you.

Tools of Titans contains the distilled knowledge of almost 200 interviews that Tim Ferriss (author of the 4-Hour Work Week, 4-Hour Body, etcetera) has conducted with people he defines as ‘titans’. And what exactly does a person need to do in order to be considered a titan? Well, to put it simply, then need to be successful in whatever their endeavours are.

But one thing I like about this book is that it doesn’t seek to sell you the One True Path™ to living a good and successful life. Rather it is a compendium of wisdom, gathered from an array of sources, and provided in simple easy to read chunks. Too often people define success with one overly-simplified metric: money. Rich people are successful, and all us other shmos are just struggling to reach this ideal. Tim clearly doesn’t think this is so. In his quest to interview and learn from these titular Titans, he has picked sources from an array of fields. You will find lessons garnered from Hollywood actors, army soldiers, authors, chess prodigies, as well as the expected billionaires and motivational speakers.

The sheer size of the book may appear daunting to some people, but it is this diversification that allows it to tackle so many different readers. If you are just wanting tips on health and fitness, there are a bunch of people waiting to give you their advice. Perhaps wealth is your main concern, then skip ahead to the section titled thusly. Sure, you may be overwhelmed with the number of people on offer here (and yes there are contradictory suggestions abound), but browse and select at your own discretion, and as the book says: the good shit sticks (which out of context sounds like terrible advice…).

Indeed, this is one of those rare books that I would recommend you read on your Kindle (or whatever e-reader you prefer), because you will want to highlight and take notes a lot along the way. In fact, there were so many good quotes in here that I would have saved time by highlighting the things I didn’t think were important!

I couldn’t recommend this book more to anyone out there who is searching for answers. To what questions I metaphorically hear you ask? I don’t know. What questions do you have? Because this book is pretty much just a bunch of answers to life’s many questions, collected and organised in a way that is surprisingly helpful considering its helter-skelter nature.

The United States of Japan

The more I think back about this book, the more I enjoyed it. Sure, there are things about the ending I would have wanted to go differently, but overall the experience was enjoyable. What’s more the world that was created within it was fascinating. I am sometimes torn when I read an alternate history, because I am so fascinated by history, and how things could have gone differently, that I would be happy simply reading an alternative historical timeline. But likewise, if you have a whole novel that spends half its time trying to shoehorn in exposition and info-dumps about their fictional history, it can ruin the flow of the actual storyline. United States of Japan for me handles this balance pretty well. There are constant references to the alternative history that lead to America being fractured between Japan and the Nazi’s after World War Two, but the fact that it takes place in a conquered nation that is still battling against this state of affairs makes the references to the past relevant, and expected.

That being said, I was annoyed when near the end of the novel there was a bunch of interesting additions to the world building that we never got a good enough chance to explore, and I hope there is a sequel that can delve into this further.

For instance, [minor spoilers], there is an underground American resistance to the Japanese empire (obviously) who are still Christian, however we learn there was an additional religious figure added to the traditional Christian trinity after World War II. A real life freedom fighter called Lilith, who died for the cause at the hands of the Nazis, and who is now an integral part of the Christian faith. I want to know more about that! But sadly we don’t hear much about that in the main storyline.

Without going too far into it, the story follows a government official in charge of censoring video games, and a government agent tasked with tracking down the creator of an illegal game that seeks to subvert the Japanese rule of west coast America. Though it is set in the 1980’s, there is plenty of cyber-punk style tech at play, as well as some giant mecha action for those interested. But the central mission keeps the story moving at a brisk pace.

So overall the story is engaging, and the characters are interesting. It is great to have two main characters who are presented to us quite simply and in an unremarkable way, but who then go on to slowly change and unravel, until we get major revelations about them both that highlight just how wrong we were. These are not the simple characters we thought, and each have their own hidden complexities, but ones that still perfectly explain their actions to begin with, and how they were presented to us.

A definite recommend to anyone who likes alternative history, or science fiction, or books…

The Obstacle is the Way

I love philosophy.

But sometimes what I really think, is that I love the idea of philosophy. Because when I get into the nitty gritty details in dense philosophical texts, I struggle. There are so many fascinating facets of philosophical thought; what does it mean to exist, what is good, what is the nature of knowledge? All these are interesting things to ponder, but they also seem so detached from the daily struggles and problems faced by the average man.

This book however is about that most rare of philosophies; the practical philosophy.

In particular, stoicism.

There has been a bit of a resurgence of stoic though of late, particularly when it come to the Silicon Valley start-up mentality that is pervading much of the self-help/life-improvement literature out there. In fact, I initially got onto this book through its being mentioned on Tim Ferriss’ Tools of Titans (see above), himself a successful start-up investor.

The stoic school of thought is one that you can latch on to from a variety of different world views. A Christian can be a stoic, as can a Muslim, or a Buddhist; because this school of thought is about how to approach the problems we find in life, not about any underlying metaphysical nature of reality. The book itself goes to great pains to point out that this stoic outlook isn’t even something that you have to be aware of having. You can approach the world with this attitude simply because from a rational standpoint, it makes sense. Learning about stoicism is like stumbling onto truth, rather than having to define some truth to fit into the world.

Reading this book has really helped me with looking at my life more clearly, particularly at a moment when I have a bunch of uncertainty heading my way. This book teaches things like having a proper perspective of how these obstacles challenge us, and keeping a realistic understanding of what we can control in our lives. By accepting what you cannot change, and concentrating instead on what you can control, you ensure your energy is focused in the right direction. Simple advice, but something we so often lose sight of.

Sure, you could get angry and frustrated at every inconvenience that comes your way, but what does that expended energy accomplish? Nothing. Best instead to accept these uncontrollable factors in your life, and focus on what you can control; yourself, your actions, and your will.

Like the book says, the solution is simple, it just isn’t easy.

I highly recommend this book to any human, living their life.

An Abundance of Katherines

January for me was a month dominated by the Green brothers. I iron my shirt in the morning while watching Hank on Crash Course explain psychology to me, listen to the Dear Hank and John podcasts walking to and from work, and then enjoy catching up on the latest Vlog Brothers videos available on YouTube. But considering I had heard so much talk about John’s books (one in particular; you know the one I mean) over the past however many years, I figured it might be worth investing a bit of time actually reading some of his work.

I was sceptical at first that these books would really have much to offer me, as I don’t consider myself the target audience. But after discovering books like The Rosie Project last year and being pleasantly surprised waltzing out of my comfort zone, I was willing to take a chance with John Green’s novels. So, when I saw a double pack on sale I snapped them up.

It contained the nearly ubiquitous The Fault in Our Stars, but I was more interested in An Abundance of Katherines, mainly due to the cryptic sounding blurb:

When it comes to relationships, Colin Singleton’s type happens to be girls named Katherine. And when it comes to girls named Katherine, Colin is always getting dumped. Nineteen times, to be exact.

On a road trip miles from home, this anagram-happy, washed-up child prodigy has ten thousand dollars in his pocket, a bloodthirsty feral hog on his trail, and an overweight, Judge Judy-loving best friend riding shotgun–but no Katherines. Colin is on a mission to prove The Theorem of Underlying Katherine Predictability, which he hopes will predict the future of any relationship, avenge Dumpees everywhere, and finally win him the girl.

Love, friendship, and a dead Austro-Hungarian archduke add up to surprising and heart-changing conclusions in this ingeniously layered comic novel about reinventing oneself.

That, and a cursory flip through the pages (which realistically isn’t going to offer much insight usually, but this time actually turned up something interesting), showed me a couple of math formulas as a part of the storytelling, and I was sold.


And graphs too; who doesnt love graphs.

I quite enjoyed the story. Sure, it was different than my usual reads, and not something that will likely find its way onto my regular reading lists. However I am still looking forward to polishing off the rest of John’s books at some point in the future (even if I can’t help hearing John Greens voice narrating every page in my head!).

On to next month’s reads. I am going to do my best to purchase zero books this month (shocking!) so that I might actually start approaching my goal of more books read that bought in 2017. Because at present the less-than-encouraging progress graph looks like this:


But one book I know I will read is I Contain Multitudes by Ed Wong. I have been waiting a while to devour this book about the microbes that live within us since its release last year, but kept it at bay due to a need to give my brain a break from the non-fiction that had taken up so much of my reading time.