BooksOfTheMoon

Refined: Supervillain Rehabilitation Project

By H.L. Burke

Rating: 3 stars

The fourth, and final, book in the Supervillain Rehabilitation Project series takes place some months after the last – with Prism still unable to properly access her light-based powers, and Aidan still struggling to adapt to having returned from effectively being dead. A villain has found out that Fade is the son of a long-disappeared sable hitman named Syphon, and repercussions for Prism, Fade and the whole team follow. And they’re not helped by a new SVR recruit foisted upon them by the powers that be.

It felt like there was more melodrama in this book than in previous ones – a long-lost father; someone struggling to admit their feelings for a colleague; someone keeping a secret that could put others in danger – but it was still an enjoyable read. The new recruit – Voidling – was initially someone I thought who wasn’t going to be hugely interesting, but her story arc surprised me by not going where I thought it would at all.

The main arc of the story is about redemption and forgiveness, as Syphon tries to atone for his past. He’s also not the character that I was expecting from a supervillain hitman, but that’s for the best. If anything, I think he was maybe too sympathetic and his past whitewashed a bit.

I was surprised by the lack of consequences from some of Fade’s actions from the last book. They were briefly mentioned at the start but then disappear from the story. That’s a bit disappointing, but Fade’s over-protectiveness/controlling thing from the last book has also been toned down, which is something.

There was more Tanvi in the book than the last one, which is always cheering, as she’s such a fun character, if a bit angsty here. There was less Bob, alas, but we can’t have everything.

It’s been a fun series, steeped in superhero tropes but happily playing around with them. The end of the book (and the series) sees a lot of change, and it felt like a good ending.

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Year of publication: 2021

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

By Mary Ann Shaffer

Rating: 5 stars

My sister recommended this short epistolary novel to me, and while I’m not usually a reader of historical fiction, I absolutely devoured it. Set just after the end of the Second World War, author Juliet Ashton has just finished a tour for her last book and is now casting about for what to do next. Serendipitously, she gets a letter from a stranger on the Isle of Guernsey, which leads to a correspondence and an introduction to the eponymous Society.

Guernsey was the only part of the UK that was occupied by the Germans during the war, and the correspondence between Juliet and the members of the Society teases out the complexities of the occupation and the relationship. It was a terrible time, and there were many atrocities, but there were kindnesses and love as well, and the book balances that well.

The members of the Society are well-drawn, and, interestingly, one of the clearest is someone who doesn’t write any letters of their own but is a prominent figure in many of the others. To say any more would be a spoiler. Possibly my favourite character is Isole, a hedge witch and keen practitioner of phrenology. She’s an awful lot of fun and I love her voice when she’s writing. A delightful romance also develops later in the book which is lovely to read.

The epistolary form through an entire novel is unusual and, I imagine, hard work to do. I did enjoy it though. The voice for the period is mostly well done as well.

I had all the feels while reading this book, I loved it.

Book details

Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing
Year of publication: 2009

Reborn: Supervillain Rehabilitation Project

By H.L. Burke

Rating: 4 stars

Reborn picks up the Supervillain Rehabilitation Project story about a year after the last book finished, with Prism heavily pregnant but as busy as ever. The driving force of this book is that Aiden, Prism’s brother, is alive (following the revelation for the reader at the end of the last book). Now on the one hand, it’s an long-established trope that superheroes rarely stay dead for long, but on the other, I had thought the treatment of Prism’s grief and growing acceptance of Aiden’s death in Redeemed was very well done, and this revelation felt like it undermined it a bit.

Still, the book does deal with the consequences of finding that Aiden is alive. Prism will stop at nothing to get him back, and she finds her mental balance thrown, as it’s repeatedly pointed out to her that there might not be enough left of him to save.

It’s Fade that’s most interesting here though. He’s someone who’s never had anything to lose in the past, and now he has not only a wife, but a child as well. This leads to some… dubious decisions. We didn’t see much in the way of consequences of that this time, but I expect chickens coming home to roost at some point. It also led Fade becoming over-protective to the point of being on the edge of being controlling. It’ll be interesting to see if that goes anywhere, or if I’m just being overly sensitive.

As always, there’s not enough Keeper (and Yui) – but then I’m biased towards there being more Scots in media – nor enough Tanvi, who’s probably my favourite character at this point. We got cameo appearances from some of the teens from the last book, along with their adopted parents, which was nice to see.

As with the rest of the series, the book is extremely readable. I enjoy the superhero world writ large, and this series scratches that itch admirably. Intrigued by the hook in the epilogue and already looking forward to the next one.

Note: I received an ARC of this book from the author in exchange for an unbiased review.

Book details

Year of publication: 2020

Redeemed: Supervillain Rehabilitation Project

By H.L. Burke

Rating: 4 stars

This book picks up a few months after the events of Reformed, with the whole team still reeling over the shock of Aiden’s death in the previous book, but with Prism and Fade a strong couple. Tanvi injures a sable who she sees breaking into a house and is shocked to find that it’s a just a teenage girl. She persuades Prism to recruit the girl, Alma, as the next recruit for the Supervillian Rehabilitation Project. But Alma has secrets of her own and is running from her past.

I enjoyed this short book a lot. Prism and Fade being an established couple works much better for me than bringing them together, and the interpersonal problems of a devoted Christian and a hand-waving theist make for surprisingly real drama.

I liked that we got to see much of both Tanvi and Bob this time round, although they’re still not PoV characters, and Yui also played a much more active role in the plot. Sidenote: I really liked the idea of Bob’s wife always being around, but nobody has any idea about it. It’s a neat little idea that tickled my fancy.

The true villain of the piece, Handler, was one that made me want to shower every time he was on the page. I really hate the idea of mind control, so his powers (not to mention his ruthlessness) made him an effective villain in my eyes.

Unlike the previous book, this one definitely ends on a cliffhanger, and I look forward to reading the next two books in the series, as they come out.

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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 ça 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.

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Artificial Condition (The Murderbot Diaries, #2)

By Martha Wells

Rating: 4 stars

Murderbot got its clients away from the really quite nasty GreyCris corporation on the survey world it had been guarding them on, and after its client bought it, just walked away. Now it decides that it needs to know about its past, about the event that caused it to give itself that name. Aided by a research transport vessel, it ends up taking on a small group of clients as a security consultant and finds that despite what it wants, it cares about them too much to skip out on them.

Murderbot is, despite, you know, the whole murder thing, a delightful protagonist. It’s fun and sarky and, despite its best intentions, isn’t nearly as misanthropic as it wants to be. It just wants to be left alone to watch space-Netflix all day, but instead keeps getting involved with humans it can’t bear to leave to die horribly.

While I’m still not convinced about any society that creates sentient cyborgs and then enslaves them, I think that Wells has given us enough hints that a) she doesn’t consider this to be a place anyone would want to live and b) not the whole of human space is like the bit that built Murderbot.

The research transport that Murderbot sort of befriends (ART) is a lot of fun, and you can’t help wanting to protect its clients/cover story, as they’re young, innocent and just adorable.

Final thought: Murderbot is horrified at the idea of being hugged. I would do some murdering of my own for a hug right now (stupid coronavirus).

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Fanny Hill: Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure

By John Cleland

Rating: 3 stars

I must confess that when I picked this up (on the basis purely of a positive review I’d read), I knew it was supposed to be risqué but I was convinced that a book written in the middle 1700s couldn’t be that risqué. I was wrong. Fanny has a homosexual experience within the first dozen pages and goes on to meet and enjoy men in pretty graphic fashion fairly soon afterwards.

I suppose I shouldn’t be too surprised, it’s not that people haven’t been having, thinking, drawing, talking and writing about sex since the start of our species, I just wasn’t expecting it in written and published form in this period.

The book is in epistolary format and can be quite frustrating at times, with lots of long, run-on sentences and nested clauses (not helped by the Gutenberg text I was reading having quite a lot of typos). I sometimes found it difficult to tease out meaning from them. But if you can work through that, it’s enjoyable enough. While not explicitly naming genitals or acts, your euphemism vocabulary will certainly grow, and it can be quite fun spotting the more outrageous metaphors.

I also like that although there’s a moral at the end where Fanny disclaims her past, it’s not a moralistic book in that nothing bad happens to her. She’s allowed to enjoy sex and still get her happy ending.

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Year of publication: 1748

The March North

By Graydon Saunders

Rating: 3 stars

I got this book recommended to me by a friend as the opposite of grimdark fantasy. I enjoyed quite a lot of it, but I did have some trouble with it at times. For a start, I understand the book was self-published, which is all very well, but I do feel like the author could have done with an editor at times; many passages felt obtuse and I had to read them several times before I had a decent idea of what they meant. Something else that I found grating was the deliberate refusal to provide genders for characters. I have no problem with this in principle, but please use constructs like “they/them” or one of the other sets of adjectives. Repeatedly using the characters’ names in a sentence to avoid he/she just felt clunky. It also didn’t help that Saunders is very fond of archaic or jargonistic language. I’m really glad that I was reading on a Kindle, so I could consult the built-in dictionary (which I found myself doing more frequently than I would have liked). Expanding one’s vocabulary is all very well, but it did start to feel like hard work at times.

Speaking of hard work, Saunders really throws you in at the deep end and leaves you to sink or swim. There’s no hand-holding going on here. We start with a military man of some kind expecting (sorcerous) visitors to his area and rapidly go on from there to repealing a military invasion from another country. What the Commonweal is, what a Standard-Captain is, or the focus, or the Shape of Peace are things you’re left to figure out for yourself. There’s no harm in making the reader work for their story, but this, combined with the editing issues I mention above mean that it took a while for me to get through this book. I still don’t know if I’ll go on to the others in the series.

But despite that, my friend was right: I did enjoy the shape of this story, in which an egalitarian, democratic nation exists in the midst of its more traditional fantasy neighbours. Where extremely powerful (basically immortal) sorcerers, who used to behave like Dark Lords in the past, agree to bind themselves into the nation for the greater good. In a world filling up with strongmen and “leaders” whose only goal in power is to stay in power, it’s good to have examples to look up to.

Book details

ISBN: 9780993712609
Publisher: Tall Woods Books
Year of publication: 2014

A Pocketful of Crows

By Joanne M. Harris

Rating: 3 stars

I started this book back in the summer, but put it down for a long period because I could see what was coming and it felt “cringe-y”. I did eventually pick it up again, and I’m glad I did. As much as anything, the writing is poetic and beautiful to read, as much as for the story.

Our protagonist is a young woman of the travelling folk, who travels in all manner of birds and beasts, not tied to anyone or anything. Until she falls in love with a young prince. An inevitable betrayal and revenge follows, but it’s the journey that it takes that is worth staying for.

Based on some of the Child ballads, the story is simple enough, and Harris’s embellishments and feminist reading make for an interesting interpretation. As I say, the writing is a pleasure to read, and helps raise the fairly simple story to something greater. Also, the art, even in my Kindle edition, is gorgeous.

Book details

Publisher: Gollancz
Year of publication: 2017

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