2020 Books

After reading 30 of a planned 24 books in 2019, I decided it would be a good idea to try for 30 this year.

This year I’m not going to try to pre-plan how many of them will be technical and how many fiction (I’m reasonably sure I failed on that count anyway last year). Instead, the more important focus is to keep the reading habit alive. Even if it’s just by reading some more fiction… even those can be surprisingly enlightening at times.

Having learnt to avoid Amazon last year, I will continue with the Goodreads widget showing what I am currently reading and what I’ve completed this year. Again, apologies if you are on mobile, I still haven’t figured out how to make this plan work reasonably on a small screen. For now, I assume no-one cares: if you do, let me know, and I might make a slightly more significant effort.

Below you will find the hopefully monthly updates to this blog post with very brief notes or impressions on the books - full reviews (if any) will reside on Goodreads.

December 2020

The month I ran out of steam… I only managed 20 of a planned 30 books in 2020.

November 2020
Flight of the Old Dog by Dale Brown

A recommendation from my father-in-law while we were in South Africa.

This is by no means the best thing that was ever written, but an easy read and at least moderately interesting thanks to its Cold War setting and technical detail.

October 2020
Mistress of the Empire by Raymond E. Feist & Janny Wurts

The third and final book in the Empire Trilogy, co-written by Janny Wurts.

This was a fantastic conclusion to a great trilogy!

Zwei Katzen in Köln by Nina Wagner & Claudia Peter

This is the first German book on this list! It’s a small bundle of four short-stories aimed at readers with German A1 level. The stories were fun and all had a little twist or surprise, so they made for a pleasant read. I can’t say that I perfectly understood every word and sentence, but but there’s enough repetition built-in that you eventually get the gist of it in the few cases where things are not immediately clear.

Servant of the Empire by Raymond E. Feist & Janny Wurts

The second book in the Empire Trilogy, co-written by Janny Wurts.

I’ll be honest… this one dragged on a bit. Where the first book was short, focused and brilliant, this one just overstayed it’s welcome. I thought I was finished halfway through the book when Mara wins a great victory, but then found out I’m only halfway! The best part was probably seeing Pug / Milamber’s tantrum at the Imperial games from the receiving end - it’s horrific and terrifying from this new perspective.

I’ll finish the trilogy though, I’m still curious to see what happens next…

Test Driven Development: By Example by Kent Beck

For the most part, this book wasn’t news to me, I had already learnt about TDD from various other sources… I read it in an attempt to understand what, if anything, me and my team are doing wrong. This came from a place of feeling that our tests are too brittle, making changing the software difficult.

I came away with a couple of ideas:

  • It seems the unit in unit-test, need not be a class. In the main example the author has a single class that is eventually testing around five classes. So I will try to break the 1-1 correspondence between classes and test-classes that I learnt from Java / JUnit / somewhere - perhaps that couples my tests too closely to the current implementation.
  • The author specifically recommends decoupling test code from the code. In the example, by using an interface and factory methods to allow a new implementation to be substituted in. I have often had to go through reams of test code changing instantiations, so perhaps coupling is the problem. I will try in future to test at interface level and consider using creational patterns to abstract instantiation of objects in tests.

Apart from these specific points I found the short supplementary section on feedback loops particularly interesting. The second practical section in Python was a bit less fun - perhaps on account of the Python code being a bit old (2.x not 3.x).

Worth a read - it’s only 200 pages - so it won’t take long and you might pick up a new idea or two…

September 2020
Daughter of the Empire by Raymond E. Feist & Janny Wurts

The first book in the Empire Trilogy, co-written by Janny Wurts.

This one was a fantastic look at what’s happening on Kelewan during the Riftwar! Thoroughly enjoyed it - probably one of the best books in the entire series!

Murder in LaMut by Raymond E. Feist & Joel Rosenberg

The second book of the Legends of Riftware trilogy. In this trilogy Feist basically co-wrote books set in Midkemia with some other writers.

Out of the three books in this trilogy of stand-alone stories, this one was definitely the dud! I struggled for about a month to get through it… The story was very slow-paced and mercenary characters just didn’t quite seem to fit into the world as well as Feist’s other characters.

August 2020
The Pragmatic Programmer: From Journeyman to Master by Andy Hunt & Dave Thomas

A book that I wish in retrospect, I had read from cover to cover the moment I got it 8 years ago, instead of getting too busy with work and dropping it after the first chapter… A lot of the lessons it has to teach will probably seem like old hat to anyone with some experience (DRY for code AND data, automate all the things, etc.), most of these principles are now common practice. However I would’ve learnt many lessons much sooner if I had simply read this book.

Honored Enemy by Raymond E. Feist & William R. Forstchen

The first book of the Legends of Riftware trilogy. In this trilogy Feist basically co-wrote books set in Midkemia with some other writers.

I absolutely adored this book, it was unexpectedly excellent! It tells the tale of how two opposing forces in the Riftwar (Midkemian and Kelewanese), have to band together to survive a common threat that is alien to both.

July 2020
Jimmy the Hand by Raymond E. Feist & Steve Stirling

The third book of the Legends of Riftwar trilogy. In this trilogy Feist basically co-wrote books set in Midkemia with some other writers.

This one gave us some more time with our all-time favourite character: Jimmy the Hand! Can’t really complain about that, it was a fun little adventure.

A Darkness At Sethanon by Raymond E. Feist

The third book in the series provided an awesome and satisfying ending to the trilogy!

June 2020
Silverthorn by Raymond E. Feist

The second book is again chock-full of adventure and we get to see a lot more of Jimmy the Hand (me and my wife’s favourite character). As with the first book this was a page turner and it was thoroughly enjoyable!

It took me five months to get through Earthsea, which only weighs in at around a 1000 pages in total. Contrast that with finishing the first two books of the Riftwar saga, which are 700 pages each, in just a month. It might no be the most sophisticated literature you’ll ever read, but there’s definitely something magical here that I really missed while slogging through Earthsea…

Magician by Raymond E. Feist

Looking through the many 1 and 2 star reviews on Goodreads I must conclude that my initial judgement that this book is not high literature like Earthsea seems to have been correct. But then looking at the average rating of 4.32 also shows that I’m not alone in loving this book in spite of its flaws! It’s a rip-roaring fantasy rollercoaster that I think most people would enjoy as long as they don’t set their expectations too high.

May 2020
The Other Wind by Ursula K. Le Guin

The final book of the Earthsea series. I can’t say exactly what it was about this book that left me cold… but something did. To me a great fantasy story leaves me wanting more - instead by the end of this book I was left confused, uncertain and glad that it was over.

Overall I would say I enjoyed the series and I must concede that Ursula K. Le Guin was a fine writer of great literature, but this series won’t make it into a list of my top five fantasy series.

April 2020
Tales from Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin

I quite enjoyed this anthology of 5 short stories set in the world of Earthsea. They show some of the history of the world, the history of some of the less central characters. The last one sets the stage for sixth and final book in the series.

March 2020
Tehanu by Ursula K. Le Guin

The fourth book in the series is quite unconventional for a fantasy series. It’s really more about ordinary people living in a fantasy world. It may seem like a massive deviation from the rest of the series. This is probably something that younger-me would’ve found deeply offensive, but now I find that it works well for this particular story.

The Farthest Shore by Ursula K. Le Guin

The third book is again told from the perspective of a different character than Sparrowhawk. Although this time Sparrowhawk features prominently from the start of the book. At this point, I can firmly confirm that the themes in this book would’ve passed way over early-twenties-me’s head. Themes like immortality as greed for life, death as a necessary contrast to give life meaning, addiction and probably a few more that were too subtle to consciously remember after the reading. I’m glad I finally came back around to re-reading these!

Strategy: A History by Lawrence Freedman

This book took me the longest time to finish of anything I’ve read in the last year! I started reading this nearly two years ago. I have been reading 20 minutes a day on the train almost every day over the previous three months… It was time well spent, though! The book exposed me to ideas from many authors on strategy that I would likely never have heard of in my own meanderings.

The conclusions offered about strategy seems sensible: elaborate long term plans are generally doomed to failure because we can’t predict what will happen in the future. Much of strategy also depends not just on what we do, but also what our opponents do. So instead of coming up with brilliant long-term plans, instead focus on the short-term goals that get you a little bit closer to long term goals.

It’s about a year-and-a-half since I discovered wrote my blog post that tried to define the Turn-based-strategy genre… now that I’ve finally finished reading this book, I can come back to that project with some useful insights.

February 2020
The Tombs of Atuan by Ursula K. Le Guin

The second book departs for a little bit from the story of Sparrowhawk by having a completely new viewpoint character as the protagonist, with Sparrowhawk only entering into events about halfway through the book. While the first book was vividly remembered, this one left barely any trace in my memory… I think perhaps in my university years I was too immature to appreciate this author’s artistry fully.

January 2020
A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin

A tiny little wisp of a book at only 180 pages, I almost feel bad, including these in my reading challenge… When I read this during university 15 years ago, it was as part of a single compendium book titled The Earthsea Quartet. I considered reading all four as having finished one book. That said, I think perhaps these stories are better experienced as tiny standalone windows into a grand fantasy world. Reading them separately with a week in between books makes the differences between books much less jarring than I felt they were in my youth.

Finished reading


Matt Van Der Westhuizen

Back-end service developer at Ubisoft Blue Byte by day - wannabe game designer & developer by night.