Why a) and b) ? Because these were two books I do not want to count as two, but one. The reason is simple: I did not read all of the first one, and I hesitate to call the second one a book.
a) The Birth-Time of the World and Other Scientific Essays
by John Joly
A collection of 12 scientific essays on various (sometimes related) subjects, originally published in scientific reviews or held as lectures in the years leading up to 1915, when this book was first put together.
The subjects range from trying to determine the age of Earth by calculating the deposits of sediments in our oceans and the chemical make-up of minerals to why alpine flowers are so much brighter in colours than their counterparts in lower regions, from explanations of photographic technology to pleochroic haloes and from the use of radium in medicine to why we can skate on ice but not on glass.
The essay I found most interesting was the one under the headline "Other Minds Than Ours", dealing with the famous "channels" seen on the surface of Mars for decades and thought to be the work of an ancient civilazation on our neighbour planet. Interestingly enough, John Joly was not one of those who would accept no other explanation for those "channels" (which we now know have never existed), but instead sought and gave a logic reason for them having formed naturally.
I did not read the essays about the technology of photography and only skimmed the surface of the one about pleochroic haloes. Also, I must admit to have given some of the other essays a quick-scan instead of properly reading them. But altogether, this book gave me an insight into where science stood 100 years ago. The one about the use of radioactive substances in medicine was also very interesting, as was the one about skating (as banal as that may sound).
The author's style is clear and concise, but personal; you can imagine this gentleman very well to speak to you as part of an interested audience in some lecture hall or other.
Wikipedia says that John Joly was an Irish physicist, famous for developing radiotherapy as part of cancer treatment, and for having developed the techniques described in this book for determining the ages of geological periods.
He lived from 1857 to 1933. The wikipedia entry does not give any information about his personal life. In 1973, a crater on Mars was named in his honour.
b) Love is What I Need - A Christmas Love Story
by Ben Brocard
Two good things I can say about this "book": 1. it is short and 2. it is free.
Everything else? Oh dear, where do I start...
Shall I tell you about the way too foreseeable story line? Or the unconvincing characters (all of them, of course, totally beautiful inside and - what's more important - out)? Do you want to know of the many grammar errors that maybe a 6th-former would make? Or how about the title saying "A Christmas Love Story", and the actual story setting in AFTER Christmas? I guess I better stop here.
It wasn't as much a waste of time as you'd think, since I only read this on the train to work (where there isn't anything else for me to do anyway), and it really was very short.
So NOT recommended.
Maybe Ben Brocard does have some ideas for romantic stories, but he definitely needs to work much harder on them before he should attempt to publish another "book".
I do like seasonal reading, and this was my supposed to be my first Christmassy read of this year. The other ones will hopefully be less disappointing.