Daughters of Doubt and Eyerolling

Author: TheRightHonourableHarpyEagle Page 1 of 8

All we need is a little Grace

Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir, publishing day 04 May 2021.

The story is about scientist Ryland Grace who wakes up aboard a spacecraft. He’d been in a coma, he has amnesia. All he knows is that he is a scientist on a suicide mission to save Earth, and by that, mankind from the next ice age brought on by strange microorganisms feeding off the suns in our galaxy. Yet, out there in space, about thirteen light years from Earth, there is a star that is not affected by these microorganisms. Why?

As the story unfolds and our hero regains some of his memories, we learn that Grace is a junior-high science teacher. And that is basically why the science in the book is easy to understand, the science teacher explains it very well. We also learn that the microorganisms feeding on our sun dim the energy output of the sun and that Earth has about three decades before the effects cause an ice age. All nations have to work together and strangely enough they do.

Earth needs Grace’s scientific expertise, but also relies on the fact that he is willing to plough on although he is on a suicide mission. A fact that Grace struggles with throughout the story. But he also knows he’s the only hope Earth has. Again, Weir writes the story of a hero alone fighting for survival, this time survival of all the life on Earth.

I enjoyed the book, apart from a bit of a lull period between 40% and 60%. Nothing much happened other than science and playing Robinson Crusoe in space, in the Arrival version. AKA, the hero meets an alien and they need to understand each other to work together.

[Mini-Rant about one plot point. SPOILER ALERT!]

When in Arrival we have a linguistics specialist who tries to communicate with the aliens, here we have a high-school science teacher encountering an alien species. An alien species he then works together with to find a solution to the microorganism problem. Working together means having to communicate. So, over a few days they learn each other’s language?! No big deal?!

It seems our hero has perfect pitch and a knack for languages. Some people have this knack, here though it feels not exactly forced but false. For example, there’s the scene where Grace meets another scientist for the first time and after a few words exchanged he knows the scientist is from Norway. Wow! Quite the feat. Anyone else might have said they are from Scandinavia, and then followed that up with a question as to which part of Scandinavia. Add the alien language, made up of melodies/strung together single musical notes rather than actual words and you have the by far most unbelievable part of the whole book. Why? Well, I used to teach English as a Second Language to scientists. A lot of my students kept telling me that learning languages had never been easy for them and that that was why they went into sciences. To make it more believable, I would have liked to see Grace struggle more with grasping the alien language. It would have made this learning process a bit more natural.

It’s that time of the month…

…when Spring has sprung and the pollen are flying.

March was another strange month. I have read books, mainly audiobooks, but this was more to soothe my mind than actually please my craving for new stories. Can we please end that Twilight Zone episode about a pandemic? Or is someone playing Jumanji? Still?

I haven’t finished many of the books that I set out to finish; Chilling Effect is still lying on my bedside table, I read a few pages but then was distracted by rakes and debutantes (aka The Smythe-Smith Quartett books by Julia Quinn). I struggled through March’s buddyread The Absolute Book; and have only skimmed through Underland, let’s hope that’s enough for book club night.

I bought The Octunnumi. It’s a book whose secrets are very well hidden. All I knew about the book before purchasing it, and all I know about it at this moment, is what is on the website. I might have bought the cat in the bag. I might have found a gem. I strive to find out in the next days. For now, let’s just applaud the publishers for their marketing strategy.

In further news, I’ve read the sixth book in the Veronica Speedwell series, An Unexpected Peril. I’ve also finished Fugitive Telemetry, the sixth Murderbot story which will be out in a few weeks. I started Seanan McGuire’s Wayward Children series, Every Heart a Doorway was interesting, but it didn’t make me stop everything else to read the rest of the series.

My current read is a review copy of Project Hail Mary, Andy Weir’s new book, publishing day 04 May 2021. I’m trying to savour it, but I want to fly through it too; not at FTL, though. Some people might find it a bit science-heavy, but I like it. It doesn’t only have lots of centrifuges in it, but space travel boosted by a very unexpected fuel, and the one man who might be able to save all humankind -as soon as he recovers his memories- encounters aliens. Final verdict to come, but so far I am leaning towards better than The Martian.

The Shelf of Shame currently holds 120 eARCs; a recent count of the physical TBR came up with a figure that’s closer to 200 than 100. For my PennyPerPage challenge – get one penny/cent for every page I’ve read and balance it against every penny/cent I spent on books – I’m still in the blacks, although I bought a lot of books in March. Ergo, I am reading more pages than I am spending; I count that as a win.

March Buddyread

The Absolute Book by Elizabeth Knox, originally published September 2019, is an absolute brick of a book. With 630 pages, you get a lot to read and think about.

Warning: This is more a rant than a review, and as such it contains what some people might consider spoilers.

To be honest, neither of the three of us liked the book. Reading the first part of the book we all agreed that it gave us a sense of Déjà-Vu. We were reminded of The Da Vinci Code -we even went so far as to say Da Vinci Code with Fairies-, American Gods, The Starless Sea and a bit of Mo Hayder’s Jack Caffery series.

The second part then picked up some speed when a detective, Jacob, was on the main character Taryn’s heels. He was looking into the murder of Taryn’s sister’s murderer. Taryn also introduces her book. A book about books, but the only really important part in Taryn’s book is a scroll box named the Firestarter. When Taryn and the detective get plunged into fairy land, we didn’t bat an eyelash, we were still fully on board. But then,… then the book just took a turn for the worse.

What followed were long descriptions that more often that not seemed to make no sense at all and just bogged down the main story. Also: Can someone please explain why we have this mishmash of different believe systems? What’s the Christian concept of Hell to do with Celtic mythology? And what the BH do Hugin and Munin and Odin and Mimir have to do with this? And since when is Mimir a norn? Without prior knowledge about these systems, we would have been even more confused.

Naturally, we started discussing this. We could not come up with a reasonable explanation other than, it’s weird, we might have to live with it.

Ploughing on, and that is what it felt from then on, we went back and forth within the chapters we were reading and re-read passages, just to still be confused by events and discussions that seemed to have happened off the page.

We considered bailing. Then TheLadyDuckOfDoom went ahead and skimread to the end. Pre-warning that we’d encounter a passage where over more than ten pages nothing much happens but Taryn and Jacob trying to lift something. No wonder the book is so long!

In the end, we find out what is inside the Firestarter scroll box and why it is so bloody important – ridiculously anticlimactic. We finally find out what The Absolute Book, the book is named after, actually is. And there is an interesting and rather weird attempt at solving climate change with magic.

Final conclusion. The Absolute Book was absolutely not our cup of tea, but lots of tea was drunk during the reading process, and gin. From a certain point on tea just didn’t do it anymore.

TheLadyDuckOfDoom: This book tries to be everything at once. It gets so lost during that. It should have focused on fewer things.

News from the Belvedere

Or, the sixth book about the sleuthing adventures of Veronica Speedwell and Revelstoke Templeton-Vane. At the beginning of An Unexpected Peril by Deanna Raybourn, published 02 March 2021, Veronica and Stoker are helping setting up an exhibition in honour of a female mountaineer who died in an accident climbing the legendary ‘Teufelstreppe’ [fictitious mountain in a fictitious Alpine country].

As can be expected, they find evidence for the mountaineer’s death having been murder. Trying to investigate this, at Stoker’s loud refusal, leads the two of them down a very interesting path indeed; Veronica has to impersonate a head of state, while Stoker has to try and keep her alive as death threats arrive.

If you’ve read the previous five books, you know what happened at the end of book five, A Murderous Relation. If you further think that those events, which I am not going to spoil here, might influence the dynamic between the duo, you are wrong. The two of them still banter, the air between them still crackles, and it’s still great fun to read.

Okay, I’m going to say it, I love Veronica and Stoker. But I didn’t love this story as much as the ones before. For the main part, the twists were very predictable. When the previous books mentioned to surprise me here and there and I couldn’t put them away until I had read the story, this instalment I kept putting away for other books.

Anyway, the last lines hint at another story for Veronica and Stoker, and I will gladly come back to Victorian London to investigate whatever Deanna Raybourn has thought up for them.

A bunch of quick reviews

Without further ado…

Fugitive Telemetry by Martha Wells, publishing date 27 April 2021.

Murderbot being Murderbot, it is not easy for it to interact with humans. But it has to find out about the dead human. A dead human it did not kill, thank you for asking. So, it’s playing Sherlock on a space station. Making new friends along the way, of course.

Burning Girls and Other Stories by Veronica Schanoes, published 02 March 2021.

This collection of fantasy and contemporary fiction short stories was a bit ‘yeah and meh’. Some of the Jewish ‘own voices’ stories were really really good. Yet reading some of the more speculative fiction stories, I felt a bit lost. Strong stories nonetheless even if they might make you feel uncomfortable.

The Stolen Kingdom by Jillian Boehme, published 02 March 2021.

This was surprisingly good for a rather generic YA fantasy romance. Boehme managed to make her characters and their love story believable by letting them both acknowledge that they had known each other only for a short time. A further plus: it’s a standalone that delivers a solid story in less than 350 pages.

The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner, published 02 March 2021.

A historical fiction using the split timeline trope. I liked the storyline about the apothecary set in the late 18th century. Nella has a secret apothecary shop, she’s helping women who find themselves in ‘tricky’ situations. Until a chance encounter with 12 y/o Eliza sets the wheels of fate in motion, which lead to Caroline from Ohio. On a trip to London she finds an apothecary bottle while mudlarking in the Thames. She starts researching about the bottle and the apothecary. The story would have been just as interesting without the contemporary storyline, which was rather ‘meh’ compared to the historical story.

A Dead Djinn in Cairo and The Haunting of Tram Car 015 by P. Djèlí Clark.

Both short stories are set in an alternate Cairo in the early 20th century. Otherworldly beings are just as normal as the Ministry of Alchemy. In A Dead Djinn in Cairo, Special Investigator Fatma el-Sha’arawi is trying to solve a murder disguised as suicide and finds herself digging so much deeper that she encounters clockwork angels and a plot that might implode time itself. The Haunting of Tram Car 015 brings us back to Cairo, this time “Senior Agent Hamed al-Nasr shows his new partner Agent Onsi the ropes of investigation when they are called to subdue a dangerous, possessed tram car. What starts off as a simple matter of exorcism, however, becomes more complicated as the origins of the demon inside are revealed.” I enjoyed both short stories and I am looking forward to reading the full novel A Master of Djinn (expected pub date: 11 May 2021), which has been idling on my ARC shelf for some time.

It’s that time… wait…

… where did February go?

We all know that January is the longest month. If you don’t think so, go and read this mnemonic posted by Brian Bilston. And since February is the shortest month, it feels like it just slipped by. It didn’t. It got buried under homeschooling, a week of heavy snow and lots of appointments. Anyway, it was a very successful reading month for me.

Among the more than twenty books that I read in February were a lot of sci-fi books and novellas. I eventually caught up on The Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells, and read the fourth Wayfarer, The Galaxy, and the Ground Within, by Becky Chambers as an ARC. I also started the Chilling Effect series by Valerie Valdes.

My daughter and I finished the Ickabog together. For the adult reader, it is very predictable. My daughter, though, liked it very much. She kept begging me to read another chapter. And another. Until it was way past her bedtime.

What am I reading right now? I just started the sixth adventure in the Veronica Speedwell series by Deanna Raybourn, An Unexpected Peril, published 02 March 2021.

I’m trying to finish Chilling Effect, so I can start its sequel Prime Deceptions. I should be reading William Boyd’s Any Human Heart for an online book club meeting tonight. That same book club has agreed to read Robert Macfarlane’s Underland in March, which I’m looking forward to much more than the Boyd book.

The size of #MountTBR and #MountARC shall not be revealed here. Let’s just say, I’m hoping this month will turn out just as good as February, then I might make a tiny dent in both.

What are you reading? Any books you are looking forward to this month?

I heart Murderbot

The Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells.

Murderbot is a rogue sec unit. It hacked its governor module and could do anything it wants. Like, hide behind its opaque visor and watch endless hours of its favourite TV shows. It still works as a sec unit, tough. And soon Murderbot grows on you, just as it grows on the humans it protects.

I enjoyed this inhuman MC very much. It was wonderful seeing Murderbot interact with humans, basing its communication skills on the TV series it has been watching. Just as fun is seeing Murderbot ‘make friends’ with other bots, drones, and AIs. One of my favourite secondary characters is ART, by the way, the AI of a research transport. I do like its sense of humour.

Over the course of the five stories, Murderbot is evolving, of course. It is learning from its interactions with humans and machines alike. This is not necessarily making it seem more human, but definitely less of a machine designed to kill.

I can’t wait to see what its next adventure will be like. Fugitive Telemetry is going to be out 27 April 2021. I’m practically counting the seconds until the release. Not to mention that I applied for a review copy, which I was approved of only minutes after I wrote my first draft of this post.

As you can see, I’m not the only Sceptre who has a crush on Murderbot. TheLadyDuckOfDoom reviewed The Murderbot Diaries in September 2020.

U-Haul in space, and other catastrophes

Gallowglass by S. J. Morden was our January BuddyRead book.

Jack has it all. As the son of billionaires he has no worries other than his parents trying to force him to get treatments to become immortal. Who wouldn’t want to live an endless life full of riches?

Well, Jack doesn’t. So he comes up with a plan to flee from his parents’ home, from his country, from Earth. He has organised it all in secret. He even has a job ready. But when his parents cross his plans, he’s forced to join the crew of a ship that wants to haul a very large asteroid from the edge of the solar system to lunar orbit. He has the training, but no work experience, and this first job could easily become his last when obstacle upon obstacle unfolds.

The story has an underlying climate change agenda, but it’s so subtle, you need to really look for it. It basically gets swamped by all the trajectory calculations Jack has to perform. I liked the quotes about climate change at the beginning of each chapter though. Some of them were dating back as far as the 17th century, which indicate that the climate change we are facing now was predicted back then already.

Golden Girls

The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna, published February 2021 (in the US).

The story is your obvious YA story. A young girl who used to be not very popular in her village, due to her heritage, has hidden powers with which she can help the emperor’s army defeat the demonic creatures that befall the land. Of course, everyone, even the emperor, has a hidden agenda. Soon it’s clear that Deka, the main character, has to become the saviour of all, especially of oppressed girls and women.

In this case the story has a west African background. The world-building is good. The main character, Deka, is strong and her character arc is interesting. But, sorry to say, it is a YA fantasy that distinguishes itself only by not being based on European or North American fantasy blueprints.

Break a Curse, or two, or three…

In order to properly review the third book in Brigid Kemmerer’s Cursebreaker series, I made my way through the first two books on audio.

  • Book 1: A Curse So Dark And Lonely, published 29 January, 2019.
  • Book 2: A Heart So Fierce And Broken, published 07 January, 2020.
  • Book 3: A Vow So Bold And Deadly, published 26 January, 2021.

Spoilers ahead! Though I am trying to not spoil too much of the stories.

A Curse So Dark And Lonely – the first book – is a Beauty and the Beast retelling with a twist. Prince Rhen was cursed to repeat the season of his eighteenth birthday until a girl/woman would fall in love with him. He was cursed by a sorceress, because she could not lure him into her trap and make him marry her after they spent one night together. More than three hundred seasons after the curse only Rhen and his personal guardsman Grey are left in the castle. This time Harper is the girl that’s supposed to fall in love with Rhen. Harper is from Washington DC, had a rough-ish upbringing and isn’t easily cowed by Rhen and Grey. This is what I most liked about the story. Harper does not swoon at the sight of a chiselled jaw, nor is she overly impressed by Rhen’s royal title. Instead she gives as good as she gets. For some time there was a hint at a possible love triangle with Grey, which, fortunately, turned out to be just friendship. Phew!

A Heart So Fierce And Broken – the second book – is more about Grey and what his live turns out to be following the end of book one. It’s interesting to see his character arc, and that of the people around him. But what happens in his part of the story, and in Emberfall and the surrounding kingdoms, was no big surprise to me, which made this a typical middle book.

Book 3, A Vow So Bold And Deadly, brings all the main players together onto one playing field. Eventually, some characters find out that talking some problems through might actually help solving them. [big eye-roll here] Of the three books this was certainly the most predictable in terms of outcome. Yet, there were a few twists that even redeemed book two. I’m still going so far as to say that book 2 and 3 could have been pulled together. This would have worked as a duology, too.

The audiobook narration of book 1 and 2 was good. Each character had it’s own narrator, which helped flesh them out some more. Some of the American English pronunciation of one particular character in A Heart was a bit grating to my ears, but that’s because I’m a snob.

If I had to pick a favourite from the series, it would be the first book, A Curse So Dark And Lonely, just because it had a new twist on the Beauty and the Beast retelling; the fierce female MC stayed strong to her character even when faced with a seemingly flawless prince.

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