BooksOfTheMoon

The Sinister Mystery of the Mesmerizing Girl

By Theodora Goss

Rating: 5 stars

Picking up right from where the last book left off, this volume sees the Athena Club rush back to England to try and find and rescue one of their own and in the process they uncover a larger plot that threatens the throne itself.

While I had some problems with the previous book in the series, this more than made up for them. It’s tight, tense and terrific. The interruptions from the other Athena Club members into Catherine’s writing process are much less irritating than the previous volume (although there are some adverts for previous books, Mary clamps down on that) and they’re now something I looked forward to rather than sometimes groaned at.

I love all the members of the club, they’re great characters (I think Diana has become my favourite), and although we got to spend more time with Alice this time round, the newest member, Lucinda gets little to do, which is a shame. It would have been nice to spend longer in the head of someone who’s just starting out on her journey as a vampire and is still trying to figure it out.

I’ve read a number of books recently where the villain’s motivation is plain racism. I find that particularly difficult to read, but it’s important – Moriarty’s way of thinking in this book is gaining far too much ground in the real world, and anything that can remind people that it’s not a sensible and acceptable way of thinking is to the good. I was very glad to see the Golden Dawn (urgh) get their comeuppance here.

Spoiler
The one thing that didn’t quite work, I thought, was the climax – the fight with Queen Tera. I thought all the members of the club were caught and held too easily, and then the way that Laura calmly shot her and got Diana to saw her head off was unpleasant. I do think that Goss could have spent more time both with the climax itself, and with the aftermath.
After cutting someone’s head off with a knife, Diana calmly goes back to eating jam roly-polys, apparently without a care in the world. But killing someone isn’t something that can be shrugged off that easily, especially in such a grisly fashion. I would have liked to have seen more fallout from that. Yes, she’s Edward Hyde’s daughter, but I’d still have liked to have seen how she felt after doing the deed. Or at least the reaction to the other Club members when they learned what she’d done.

I’d drop half a star for the grumble in the spoiler, but still round it up, ending the trilogy on a high note.

Book details

ISBN: 9781534427884

Battle Angel Alita: Holy Night and Other Stories

By Yukito Kishiro

Rating: 3 stars

This book collects four short stories set in the Alita-verse, two of which feature Alita herself. We open with a story featuring Ido, shortly after he was banished from Zalem and his discovery of a girl who needs his help (sound familiar?). It’s quite a melancholy story, but gives us more insight into Alita’s ‘father’.

Second up, we have Sonic Finger, set during what I think of as a golden period of Alita’s time in the Scrapyard. She’s finished with Motorball and being a hunter-warrior, but is beloved by them and trains them. When someone attacks her with what appears to be a gun, her friends all rally round. There’s a lot more action in this one, but no real depth. We don’t get any character development or even any real reason as to why Sonic Finger was doing it.

The third story is a short one with hardly any dialogue, featuring a Deckman who left the scrapyard, and its encounter with Alita. This one manages to pack a lot of punch into a short, almost wordless story. We see the Deckman learning about the world outside the Scrapyard, playing with children and seeing the beauty of a sunset. All the while being trailed by Alita in her A-1 TUNED phase.

The final story is set after the end of the main series, following Koyomi’s attempts to be a journalist photographer, and her desire to find the rumoured still living leader of the Barjack rebellion again, just so that she can have a purpose in life. Again, not a huge amount of action, but some nice character development for Koyomi.

These are an enjoyable set of stories in the Alita-verse that help round out her world, but are by no means essential.

Book details

ISBN: 9781632367105
Publisher: Kodansha Comics
Year of publication: 2018

The Wicked + the Divine Deluxe Edition: Year Two

By Kieron Gillen

Rating: 4 stars

This second oversize volume of WicDiv collects the third and fourth arcs of the overall story. The first arc in the collection steps back from the overall plot to do more character-focused issues on some of the remaining members of the Pantheon. Regular artist Jamie McKelvie is missing for this arc, with a bunch of guest artists brought in. This mostly really works, but I wasn’t sure about Kate Brown’s art for the first issue of the volume. It’s rather cartoony and, for me, didn’t quite work with the material. On the other hand, Tuta Lotay’s art for issue 13 is fantastic, and puts a soft touch to a delicate subject (and that issue is pretty hard-hitting). I also really like Brandon Graham’s almost dreamlike art for issue 17, which gave us more insight into Sakhmet, who was present right from the start, but who we hadn’t really spent any time with before this.

After dropping hints of her in the previous volume, we finally get to meet Tara in the flesh, as it were. It’s a shame it’s so brief though, as her issue is very powerful, dealing, as it does, with objectification and harassment of women.

The second arc not only goes back to the plot, but turbocharges it. After seeing Ananke’s questionable actions last volume (not to mention the frankly murderous behaviour at the end of that volume), here we see her further manipulate her “children”, culminating in a dark ritual that even Woden doesn’t like the look of.

Spoiler
Also, Laura/Persephone’s alive! *Happy dance*! And while I don’t necessarily blame her for killing Ananke, this can’t end well.

I’m still really liking Gillen’s writer’s commentary. It’s a great way to review what you’ve already read, but more slowly and thoughtfully, paying attention to things that you rushed past on the first pass. And comics, even a large book like this one, are still brief enough that you can make multiple passes like that in a reasonable amount of time.

A compelling story, combining very modern storytelling with ancient tropes in an effective manner. I’m both dreading and can’t wait to see where it goes next.

Book details

ISBN: 9781534302204
Publisher: Image Comics
Year of publication: 2017

Federations

By John Joseph Adams (editor)

Rating: 3 stars

This is a nice idea for an anthology: stories set in and imagining large-scale interstellar societies. There’s a mix of reprints and originals, and I tended to find the originals tended to match the brief better than the reprints.

There was a mix of stories here. There weren’t any that I outright hated, but I couldn’t remember enough about Ender’s Game to appreciate Orson Scott Card’s Mazer in Prison, set in the same universe, before Ender’s time; and I feel there was some mythology in LE Modesitt Jr’s Life-Suspension that I missed which probably stopped me getting the most out of it. Someone is Stealing the Great Throne Rooms of the Galaxy by Harry Turtledove was probably a bit too comic for my taste; while Prisons by Kevin J. Anderson and Doug Beason just felt grim, after a hopeful start.

The story I had the most problem with was Anne McCaffrey’s The Ship Who Returned, which is another story abut the brainship Helva, The Ship Who Sang. I was very fond of another Brainship book, The Ship Who Searched in my youth, but this makes me very wary of going back and revisiting it. To put it kindly, there’s a lot of outdated notions of womanhood and ability, not to mention outright rape jokes that really left a sour taste.

On the other hand, there were some great stories as well, including Spirey and the Queen by Alistair Reynolds about two (too-)balanced factions fighting a war in a distant solar system; Mary Rosenblum’s My She about telepaths who form the basis of the communication network between the stars; The One With the Interstellar Group Consciousness, about the conscious Zeitgeist of a civilisation that just wants to settle down and get married; and finally Golubash, or Wine-Blood-War-Elegy which is a great story that paints a society through wine.

So a great idea for an anthology, but the execution could have been better.

Book details

ISBN: 9781532739941
Publisher: Createspace Independent Publishing Platform
Year of publication: 2016

Pied Piper

By Nevil Shute

Rating: 4 stars

I probably wouldn’t have found this book on my own, but a friend recommended it to me and it sounded delightful: an old man goes on a fishing holiday to France in the middle of the Second World War. While he’s there, France is invaded by the Nazis, and he has to make his way home, except that a British couple also out there ask if he’ll take their children back to Britain as they can’t leave. He agrees, and spends the book acquiring more children to bring safely to Britain.

This is a charming and sweet book. Our protagonist, Mr Howard, shows boundless patience towards his charges and a determination to get them out of danger and to safety, whether in England, or to send them to his married daughter in America.

Howard’s decision to go to France on holiday perhaps shows poor judgement, but there are mitigating factors, revealed later in the book. But it also perhaps shows how little the war had impacted gentlemen of a certain age and class at this point, that he felt that a fishing holiday was safe. Although I imagine nobody expected France to fall. Certainly not a quickly and completely as she did. The book is also contemporary to events: it was written in 1942, only two years after the fall of France, when the book is set. At this point, the outcome of the war is far from certain, and to write such a positive book in the midst of it is quite the achievement.

Spoiler
I really loved the relationship that built up between Howard and Nicole, the French girl whose father he knew, and who, it turns out was the lover of his dead son, John. This is something that surprised me in a book written at this time – that such a relationship, with heavy implications that it was a physical one – outwith marriage was not only written about, but in a positive, non-judgemental way. Howard even accepts and describes Nicole as his daughter-in-law, despite the fact that John died before they could marry.

An enjoyable, slow-paced book, albeit with added danger towards the end. But even Nazis want to see their children kept safe.

Book details

ISBN: 9780099530220
Publisher: Vintage Classics
Year of publication: 2009

How To

By Randall Munroe

Rating: 4 stars

There are perfectly sensible ways to dig a hole, cross a river or move house. If you’re a fan of any of being sensible, do not buy this book. The author uses Science! to find the most useless, complex and dangerous ways of doing common or everyday tasks. As well as the above, we learn to how throw a pool party, move house, predict the weather and much more.

In this book I learned that the US military detonated nuclear weapons to see what effect they would have on alcoholic and carbonated beverages (good news, they survived and, apparently, tasted fine); that one percent of people think it’s okay for employees to steal expensive equipment from their workplace (presumably that’s the oft-neglected thieves’ vote); and that if the book itself was used to power a car, it would burn through about 30,000 words per minute.

Munroe persuaded Serena Williams to hit tennis balls at drones (outcome: Serena Williams is very good at accurately hitting balls at things) and Chris Hadfield to answer increasingly stupid questions about how to land an aeroplane/space shuttle/space station (which he amusingly did without batting an eyelid).

Munroe certainly didn’t skimp on showing his workings throughout. For whatever harebrained scheme he comes up with, he probably provides not only the outline solution, but there’s a good chance he’ll provide the relevant equations and fill in the values for you, so you can try it for yourself. In fact, this book probably has more equations than I’ve seen outwith a maths or physics textbook and almost certainly has the highest laugh to equation ratio of any book that I’ve read all the way through.

A lot of fun, engagingly written and scientifically accurate, if implausible. If you do try out some of the things in this book, make sure to video yourself so that the rest of us can point to it in warning of Things That Man Was Not Meant To Attempt.

Book details

ISBN: 9781473680326

The Ten Thousand Doors of January

By Alix E. Harrow

Rating: 3 stars

I’m sort of struggling to write a review for this one, because it doesn’t seem to have made me feel as much as I think it should. It had so much that I enjoy in a book: a feisty heroine, a book-within-a-book, it’s a book about books and storytelling, but somehow, it hasn’t left as much of an impression as I thought it would.

January Scaller is the ward of the wealthy Mr Locke, whose father is his employee, scouring the world for rare and beautiful objects for Locke’s collection. When January finds a strange book, her world changes entirely.

There’s a lot to this book, with race and racism being pretty high up the list. January is the “Coloured” ward of a rich white man in early 20th century America, and we see early on how his influence protects her, and what happens when that protection is withdrawn. Race is very much on our minds now, in mid-2020, with the Black Lives Matter movement still strong after the death of George Floyd, and this book has a strong treatment of the various characters who are treated badly because of their race, and also their class. In particular the power disparity of those who have money and those who don’t. Locke’s New England Archaeological Society is full of the rich and powerful and they take pride in making it clear just how wide that gap is.

This is also a book about change, and travel. In the book, the Doors are a means of change, of new ideas travelling between worlds, and there are attempts to close the Doors, to prevent change and impose a strict order on the world. On my less good days, I feel that those forces are winning. While I wouldn’t describe the early 21st century as “orderly”, it does feel like moneyed interests (such as those in the book) are very much on top. But as the book reminds us, it isn’t forever. Change is inevitable, and those who try to stop it are eventually washed away.

One final thing, something I discovered quite by accident: the book is Augmented Reality-enabled. If you point Google Lens at the front cover, you get a beautiful little animation, and if you point it at the back, you get a little talk from the author about the book. I really like that, and I hope more publishers start doing something similar.

Book details

ISBN: 9780356512464

The Kingdom of Copper (The Daevabad Trilogy, #2)

By S.A. Chakraborty

Rating: 2 stars

Sometimes a book stays in the mind after it’s over for the wrong reasons. Not for the cool action scenes, or the way the characters grow and develop but for the frustration at the book and the pain the characters cause each other. This, unfortunately, was the case with this book. I enjoyed the big action sequence at the end (the only memorable one in the book, really), I could see various characters developing and changing, but the overriding impression that I was left with was one of harm and unkindness.

So many of the characters in this book choose to cause harm to others. Whether to grasp or hold on to power, or because they’re in pain themselves, they lash out at others, and that wasn’t something I enjoyed reading. I enjoyed The City of Brass because of Nahri’s outsider’s view, and her wonder at Daevabad. Five years later (when this one is set), all that wonder is gone, replaced by fear, entrapment, and loneliness. Ali is still a zealot, unbending and unwilling to compromise, while Dara comes across as powerless (ironic, given his huge new powers) and just a tool in the hands of people willing to wield him to destruction.

I struggle in cases like this to give a rating. The book is well-written and tells a compelling story. It’s just that it’s a story I didn’t care for. I don’t think I care enough to read the final book in the trilogy, not unless I can get it in the library or from a friend.

Book details

ISBN: 9780008239473

Exit Strategy (The Murderbot Diaries, #4)

By Martha Wells

Rating: 4 stars

Murderbot is on its way back to Dr Mensah, with additional evidence against the shady-to-full-blown-evil GrayCris corporation when it discovers that she’s been kidnapped. So, once again ignoring its Risk Assessment Module, it immediately goes off to rescue her. En route, it runs into some old acquaintances (friends, Murderbot, they’re your friends) and has more Feelings that aren’t about entertainment media.

Like the rest of the Murderbot books, this is fun, pacy, and with more emotional punch than you would expect from a sarcastic, misanthropic killbot. Despite its best efforts, Murderbot really does care. It wants to protect those who were kind to it and who treat it like a person, and it wants to beat (in both senses of the word) those who are trying to harm them.

It’s not world-shattering stuff. It’s pretty lightweight, and popcorn reading, but it’s good at what it does and is highly entertaining. Recommended.

Like the others in the series, this is short, easily readable in a couple of hours. I got given the middle two volumes in the series as a birthday present, which is what then pushed me to pick up this final novella, as otherwise I probably wouldn’t have bothered, given that they’re priced close to full-sized novels. If Tor releases the novellas as a pretty omnibus on paper, they’ll have a built-in market (I’d certainly buy it, despite now owning all of them in electronic format). Come on Tor, why won’t you take my money?!

Book details

Publisher: Tor.com
Year of publication: 2018

Rogue Protocol (The Murderbot Diaries, #3)

By Martha Wells

Rating: 5 stars

The third Murderbot novella sees M leave his pal ART and aim for an abandoned terraforming project that was carried out by GreyCris, the ever-more-evil corporation that tried to kill it and its humans in the first book. It’s looking for evidence that there were more shady dealings going on here, that it can feed back to help shore up the case against them, and totally not because it feels guilty at how harried his favourite human from that group looks since it disappeared.

This book widens the world a bit as it introduces Miki, a bot that is integrated into the group trying to take over the abandoned terraforming project and who is treated like a person. Murderbot treats Miki somewhere between contempt and envy as it, once again, poses as a security consultant to try and get what it needs, and finds itself unable to abandon its charges when things go pear-shaped, as they inevitably do around our favourite soap-addicted, murdering, wannabe-misanthrope.

Despite Murderbot’s disdain, I really liked Miki and the relationships it had obviously formed with those around it, including its nominal owner, Don Abene. Miki has led a sheltered life (up to this point) without even knowing what a SecUnit is and has an open, trusting nature that contrasts pleasingly with Murderbot’s cynicism.

I must confess that I didn’t see the twist coming (plus ├ža change), but it worked well. And this one made me Have Feelings by the end of it! And ending on a (sort of) cliffhanger! I shall be moving swiftly on to the next, and final, novella in the sequence.

Book details

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