BooksOfTheMoon

Galaxies and Fantasies

By Andy McKell

Rating: 4 stars

This was a find at a dealers’ room at a small con, where I was trying to collect at least one book from each table. For a small press, where you don’t necessarily know the authors, I thought you can’t go wrong with a collection of short stories. And I was mostly right. This collection has twenty seven stories, many of which are flash pieces, with a twist at the end. The collection is pretty varied, ranging from space opera and dystopian near futures, to high fantasy and ghost stories. Let the Children Sleep is a lovely example of the latter, while Why do Robots Shave? is a lovely horror-tinged dystopia involving a “bio-robot” needing maintenance. A Dying Craft brought a lump to my throat while Waiting for Ragnarök is a nice take on a classic theme.

There were some misses too (inevitable with any collection), but with a good number of stories, and none too long, if you’re not enjoying a story, another will be along shortly.

Book details

ISBN: 9781915304063

The Labours of Hercules (Hercule Poirot, #27)

By Agatha Christie

Rating: 4 stars

This is a fun collection of loosely connected short stories. The great Hercule Poirot is getting on a bit and thinking about retirement (and marrows). But first he’s going to go out in style, by taking on twelve carefully selected cases, each one mirroring one of the famous Labours of his classical namesake, Hercules.

The cases are lovely little stories, for the most part. Christie manages to construct surprisingly intricate stories, for the size of them, with only a couple of them feeling morally dubious to me (the one where Poirot gets the PM out of hot water with the media made me feel grubby, in particular). It did make me realise that I’m not as familiar with Greek myth as I thought I was as I had to google (or infer) several of the classical Labours.

Even in short stories, where there’s not as much build-up as is possible in a novel, I stayed true to type and resolutely failed to figure out whodunnit in any of the stories (although I came close once or twice). But if the journey is the point, I had fun travelling with the Great Detective.

Book details

ISBN: 9780006141969
Publisher: Fontana
Year of publication: 1976

The Last Gifts of the Universe

By Rory August

Rating: 3 stars

This is a story about death and grief wrapped in an adventure story about chasing after artefacts from long-dead civilisations. Scout and Keiran are siblings, working for the Archivists, searching the stars for caches from civilisations that have come before theirs and which appear to have been snuffed out, leaving them alone in the universe. They hope to find something that might let them discover what wiped out the others and hopefully stop the same thing happening to them.

But behind all the running around and arguing that “it belongs in a museum!” (yes, of course there’s unscrupulous competitors wanting the booty for themselves), there’s the story of a woman telling the story of her life, and a quiet parallel with Scout’s own life.

I didn’t realise until probably too late what kind of book this was. Like Scout, I was focused on the adventure and the planet-killer, only realising right at the end that I’d been looking in all the wrong places. It’s quietly life-affirming, reminding us to live in the now and to make our lives worthwhile, no matter how long or short they may be.

It’s definitely a book that deserves a re-read, with that placed front and centre. The thing is, like many of us, I don’t want to think about death. Especially death of my loved ones, so I don’t know that I’ll give it that extra shot.

Book details

Year of publication: 2022

Nettle and Bone

By T. Kingfisher

Rating: 4 stars

I bought this book to give to the teenage children of some friends who I haven’t seen in some years, after being assured that they’re into horror these days. Having read it, I’m still not sure if it’s suitable or not. On the one hand, it’s basic quest plot with a princess (Marra) leading a quest with a trusty band of comrades. On other other, the quest is to kill her brother-in-law (prince of a neighbouring kingdom), who’s already killed one wife and is now abusing Marra’s sister. It’s not blood and guts horror, but its quietly horrific in his own right. That and the teeth scene.

But it never focuses on that aspect. It’s always there in the background, but there’s also a slow-burn romance with a tormented paladin (a Vernon classic), a gentle friendship that develops between a fairy godmother and a “dust wife” (someone who speaks to the dead), and a demonic chicken. It’s much more in the fairy tale mould than horror, I would say. And of course the central message that you shouldn’t wait for others to deal with monsters is timeless.

I loved this book, but I’ll definitely be giving warnings when I hand it over.

Book details

ISBN: 9781803360997
Publisher: Titan Books
Year of publication: 2023

That Time I Got Drunk and Saved a Human (Mead Mishaps, #3)

By Kimberly Lemming

Rating: 3 stars

The main moral of this story is to not drug a strange man you’ve only just met in the hope that he helps you escape from your dragon captor. Try asking first. But our protagonist here ignores that advice and ends up being marked by said man (or, rather, dragon) as his mate, in his drugged state. Cue lots of agonising over the whole situation, before the final, inevitable, happy ending. That setup means there’s less sex in this book than previous ones, although still plenty of pent-up desire and almost-sex. But it does leave a bit of space for the characters to develop a bit. Our protagonist (who I’m not going to name, since if you’ve read the other books in the series, it’s a spoiler) has spent years in captivity and just wants to see the world, something which her mate, Dante, the other dragon from previous Mead Mishaps books) is happy to oblige her with.

The whole thing is fun, but the way that our Protagonist kept almost, but not quite, telling Dante about herself was vexing for the reader, who is more clued in on what’s going on. It took the whole book to get to the climax (ooh er!) I wanted (actually, no, I’m not talking about the sex, in this case).

I’ve no idea if there will be more books in this series, but if not, this seems like a perfectly good ending to it.

Book details

ISBN: 9781529431292
Publisher: Jo Fletcher Books
Year of publication: 2023

That Time I Got Drunk And Yeeted A Love Potion At A Werewolf (Mead Mishaps, #2)

By Kimberly Lemming

Rating: 4 stars

Set after Cin (hero of the first book) returns to her village after killing the lich posing as a god, and brings a boatload (literally) of demons with her. This one follows her best friend Brie (the cheesemaker – yes, really) who accidentally lobs a love potion at werewolf Felix. Felix insists that he’s just found his mate (the trope appears to be called “fated mates”“; I’m learning so much new jargon through these books!) and it’s nothing to do with the love potion. Brie insists on trying to wait until the potion wears off before they try anything together, although if Felix’s life might actually be in danger, she’ll take the hardship of sleeping with this man she finds wildly attractive. Just, you know, for medicinal purposes. Oh, and while Brie is trying to figure out her love life, young women from the village start going missing, and the villagers suspect the ship of demons that’s just arrived at their shore to be responsible.

I think I might have enjoyed this more than the first book in the series. This time, the narration is from both Brie and Felix’s PoV, alternating chapters as the plot requires. The meta-fiction of Brie being into paranormal romance is funny, especially when she starts talking about the Omegaverse and hentai to an ancient spirit of incredible power.

I like Brie as a character a lot, and Felix is mostly just a big golden retriever in human form. The peril that they face is pretty mild. A lot of fun (and still very steamy).

Book details

ISBN: 9781529431261
Year of publication: 2023

Seven Mercies (Seven Devils, #2)

By L.R. Lam

Rating: 3 stars

The concluding volume of this duology sees the Devils on the run from the Empire and in tatters, after almost half their members desert. Clo and Rhea are dispatched to the Evoli empire as spies to see if they can find out how they managed to wake up the enslaved “husks” of the gerulae – people whose minds have been wiped and are completely under the control of the Oracle. Then the Oracle goes rogue and it’s up to this small group of rebels to save the empire from itself.

While I really liked having PoV chapters from all seven of the Devils, this time adding Cato and Kyla to the characters we’ve already come to know, I didn’t think this entirely worked as well as I’d hoped. Having Clo and Rhea away on their own mission for most of the middle of the book meant splitting the party and slowing the whole story down.

It did also feature one of my least favourite tropes of people having Big Feelings, not talking about them, and doing stupid things because of them. And then there were a couple of things that just didn’t seem to go anywhere. There was a big hint that the Evolians were as corrupt as the Tholosians, but that didn’t go anywhere, and then there’s Ariadne’s walking away with a minimal plan, and even what the book implied at one point that she was working on didn’t amount to anything in the end. It sort of felt like someone had forgotten to do a final editorial pass over it.

But it was still pretty readable, and the revelations with Cato were entirely unexpected. It was also sort of nice to spend time with Damocles to make him into less of a 2D villain and give him some motivation.

Book details

ISBN: 9781473225183
Publisher: Gollancz
Year of publication: 2023

That Time I Got Drunk and Saved a Demon: Mead Mishaps 1

By Kimberly Lemming

Rating: 3 stars

I can’t remember what made me add this book to a wishlist, and thinking about it, it may have just been that the title made me laugh. Our protagonist, Cinnamon (a spice farmer, whose brothers are Chili and Cumin, really) just wants a quiet life. Maybe with a cat, when she gets drunk one night with her best friend, and ends up saving a demon who’s crashed into her land. It turns out that the goddess her people worship is actually a lich who’s been enslaving the demons and Fallon is determined to free his people, and he needs Cin to help him. Hilarity (and steamy, steamy sex, along with some surprisingly violent limb removal) ensues.

I’d never heard the term “dubcon” before seeing it in the content warning for this book and, having read it, admit that it makes me uncomfortable. I’d have preferred absolute, explicit consent, all the way through, even though it was clear that both parties involved were desperate to jump each other, and that consent was there by the end.

The other part of the story (ie the actual plot) involving finding and destroying the phylacteries of the lich was much more straightforward, as was the small group that joins them on their quest, including a tavern owner and two formerly enslaved demons. Oh, and just when you think that it can’t get more ridiculous, Cin’s horses get accidentally dosed with magic and become pegasi. It’s absolutely ridiculous, but also a lot of fun. I’ll be reading the next one in the series, I think.

Book details

ISBN: 9781529431230
Year of publication: 2023

Seven Devils (Seven Devils, #1)

By L.R. Lam and Elizabeth May

Rating: 3 stars

The characters in this found-family space opera are great. You’ve got Eris, bred and trained from birth to rule, having killed the vast majority of her genetic siblings to become Heir to the Tholosian empire. And she walked away from it all to join the resistance. And Clo, an engineer from the vast slums outside the palace complex. Whose native dialect, for some reason, seems to be Scots. They’re on a mission together to gain intel on a mysterious new weapon that Eris’s replacement as Heir seems to be developing. They run into Nyx, Ariadne, and Rhea, who have combined their skills to escape their various own traps. They end up working together to stop the empire from destroying the last remaining couterweight to the Tholosians.

Eris and Clo on their own are great, but when you throw a soldier, teenage tech genius, and courtesan into the mix, you end up with something quite explosive, and seeing them start to tentatively trust each other is great.

Where the book falls down, IMO, is in the worldbuilding. The two empires at war here are said to inhabit different galaxies. Even if you accept that their FTL drive can span that distance (let’s not forget, as a wise man once said: space is big, really big!), I can’t believe that this empire, in less than a thousand years, has filled all inhabitable planets in their home galaxy. Once again, space is big, and yes, a lot of that is er, empty space, but even if 1% of the ~100 billion plus stars in a galaxy have planets and a further 1% have planets that are either inhabitable or capable of being terraformed (a technology we know the Tholosians have) that’s still millions of planets. I don’t buy resource shortage as a reason for war, and the idea of having one planet that provides water, or one that provides the food is just laughable on the scale of a galactic empire.

But I tried very hard to put those sorts of thoughts out of my mind. This is a grittier take on Star Wars, showing the real costs of a Rebellion against an almighty interstellar Empire and with a small group of heroes fighting incalculable odds with the power of Friendship. And I loved that aspect of it.

Book details

ISBN: 9781473225152
Publisher: Gollancz
Year of publication: 2021

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