You may know Zen Cho from her books Sorcerer to the Crown, but with The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water, she proves that her writing also shines in a shorter novella form. And you can’t help but get interested with a beautiful title and cover like that.
The book follows Guet Imm, a votary of the titular order. She joins a group of bandits after being fired from her job in a coffee house because of a commotion one of the bandits started. While Guet Imm befriends the right-hand man of the group’s leader, trouble is on the horizon because of the items they are planning to sell. From the outset, you would expect something really action-packed. It starts with a martial arts fight scene, after all. But what you get is a warmhearted novella about a found family with strong themes of acceptance. Devotees of the order also have some tricks up their sleeves, and there may or may not be magic involved.
The audiobook was done really well, and it was easy to keep track of the characters. I think listening to it really added to my enjoyment of the story, as it provided an easier access to the Asian names for me.
You may have read about my struggle with Stephen King’s The Stand but today is the day I can finally finally finally announce that I did it. I finished it. It took me roughly seven months (and two weeks to eventually write this review, but that’s somehow very fitting).
The Stand is no doubt a masterpiece, albeit a very long one. But still, why did it take months for me to finish it? That was probably a case of “it’s not you, it’s me”. I had a hard time picking it up time and time again, probably because the page count is so daunting. Once I picked it up, I immersed myself easily. But after reading for quite a while, you still seem to barely make a dent in this huge doorstopper. Let us just say it was the wrong pick for this weird year, not because of the content, but probably because of the format.
Talking of content, I would maybe recommend reading it in 2022, or later. An apocalyptic horror novel about a virus gone wild is probably something that will sit better by then.
As always, nobody writes characters like Mr. King. This book has such a huge cast, and still he manages to make all of them memorable, interesting and fully fleshed out. Even with weeks passing between single reading sessions (cough cough), you step right back among them.
There is a certain ingenuity with which he lets the reader look at ordinary things and recognize the disaster that might lurk just beneath the surface. So, what happens if society has the chance to start over? If we can reshape the way humans are interacting in a social context, rebuild the way we are organized based on the knowledge and experiences we have right now? Well, in King’s opinion we get either a peaceful, benevolent community….or bloody mayhem. I think he has a point.
This story by Elizabeth Acevedo about two sisters finding each other in the aftermath of their father’s death is not something you should read right before boarding a flight. Which is exactly what I did, because my brain has its slow moments.
Camino lives in the Dominican Republic, Yahaira in New York City. Both have accepted that their father is absent for parts of the year. Little do they know that their father is dividing his time between their respective families. On his way to visit Camino, the plane crashes. Their father’s death leads to the sisters oncovering his secret, and they finally meet each other as Yahaira flies to the Domincan Republic for the burial.
This is my third Acevedo, and I have enjoyed every one of them. Her novels are always told in verse. This is something you have to get used to at first, but it really lends a beautiful frame to the stories. In Clap When You Land, different points of views slowly intertwining seamlessly reflects the sister’s evolving relationship. A little caveat – there are a lot of Spanish words scattered throughout the book. They really fit the mood, and my dusty school Spanish was more than enough, but it might be a little bit confusing.
As mentioned in a previous post, I am (perhaps weirdly) fascinated by mountaineering books and the disasters that often accompany them. Dead Mountain by Donnie Eichar falls firmly into that category. It is an account of a mystery that leads to the death of nine experienced hikers in the Russian Ural Mountains.
In 1959, nine university students – all of them experienced hikers – set out on a trip that was supposed to earn them the next hiking grade. The group surrounding Igor Dyatlov died under circumstances that still lead to confusions decades later. The bodies of the hikers were found outside their tent, all of them without shoes and proper clothing. Their tent was cut open from the inside, giving the impression that all of them fled into the night in a panic. While most of them died from spending the pitch-black night in freezing temperatures, violent injuries were found on some of the bodies.
In his book Eichar tries to find a plausible explanation for the events on the titular Dead Mountain that does not involve conspiracy theories. In 1959, the investigation was wrapped up with the explanation that the hikers left their tent because of an “unknown compelling force”, after all. We are talking about Soviet cover-ups, rocket launches, strange lights in the sky and radiation readings. A big part of my fascination with this book was caused by the photographs reproduced from the hiker’s cameras, supported by translations of their journal entries. This made following their story almost a personal matter.
I was very satisfied with the (scientific) conclusion Eichar provides in the end, although probably only one of the hikers could have told us what really happened that night.
… was a special one for Piranesi, but we will not tell you why. No, not at all. This month’s buddyread is a book that is best read without knowing anything about it. I will not even assign a genre to this one. Susanna Clarke’s newest book Piranesi is about it’s titular main figure, living in the mysterious House and trying to figure out it’s secrets and pecularities. That’s really all you need to know.
When starting the book, we set a schedule. That’s what we always do to space out the reading over the month so that it doesn’t feel like too much of a task. But it was such a page-turner that we couldn’t stop ourselves from overshooting. We all finished it within ten days instead of four weeks.
The epistolary novel is told through Piranesi’s meticulous journal entries, so we learn about everything that’s going on in his pace. Through it all you experience his sense of wonder and gratefulness for the House that is also home. His character develops over the course of the book in a very interesting way. Our own RightHonourableHarpyEagle enjoyed the audiobook as well, and the voice acting by Chiwetel Ejiofor reflected Piranesi’s progress as a person.
It was a five star read for all of us, and another amazing buddyread pick.
My childhood as a reader was influenced by the series we all know and love, mainly Harry Potter and His Dark Materials. But beyond that, I was obsessed with books by German author Kai Meyer. Last year I saw him at a reading and he announced that one of his trilogies was about to get a fourth book. I was hoping it would be one of my childhood favourites, either The Wave Walkers (US, or The Wave Runners in the UK) or Dark Reflections. Indeed, it turned out to be a fourth book for Dark Reflections and I was thrilled. Of course I had to read the original three books again – while I remembered loving them, the details were really blurry.
The three books (The Water Mirror, The Stone Light and The Glass Word) take place in an alternative reality, in which Venice is a city alive with magic, living stone lions and mermaids. But there is a threat from the Egyptian Empire, which has conquered most of the world except the Russian Empire and Venice. While the Russians are protected by none other than Baba Yaga, Venice is protected by a mysterious presence called theFlowing Queen. The story itself follows Merle and Serafin, who are at the right place at the right time to save the city from being handed over to the Egyptians on a silver plate. Which leads to Merle drinking the essence of the Flowing Queen, escaping on a flying stone lion to set off on a trip to literal hell to get help and Serafin joining resistance forces in the city.
I loved the books as a child – next to this paragraph you can see the German edition of the first one – but reading them again now I was often irritated by the wild mix of concepts. Magic, hell, sphinxes, mermaids, sea witches, flying stone lions, Egyptian priests, traveling through mirrors, parallel worlds, seasons incarnated, …. it’s a lot to take in and sometimes does not fit together seamlessly. I still enjoyed the reread because it was so nostalgic, and I’m looking forward to getting to the fourth book.
Reading it as an adult you may come across some weird plot devices that seem extremely far-fetched, but I think younger readers will still enjoy this as much as I did in the past. One of the main reasons is that Kai Meyer manages to write believable female main characters. Many (or probably most) of his books are centered around girls and they are most definitely not princesses who need rescuing. The Wave Walkers for example is about a pirate girl who can walk on water. Geeky twelve year old me was totally on board for that.
Our September Buddyread book arrived a little late because it was released in the middle of this month. But it is well worth the wait. Once again we managed to guess (and hope for) the right book.
This month we will be reading Piranesi by Susanna Clarke. Its description is wonderfully mysterious. A house with a labyrinth and an ocean in it, a friend called the Other and messages appearing out of nowhere. This is what we know about Piranesi’s life, and it is enough to become interested.
The cover draws you in, and because of it the book appears to have some ties to Greek mythology. But who knows what this slim book really has in store for us.
The Beauty of the House is immeasurable; its Kindness infinite.
I know it sounds weird, but Sisters of the Vast Black by Lina Rather is indeed about nuns in space. It portrays the lives of the sisters of the Order of Saint Rita as they navigate among the stars on their mission of mercy.
So far I have enjoyed every single Tor novella I picked up, and this one is no exception. While the nuns’ initial mission was to spread the Catholic faith, their main focus has become answering calls for help, healing and blessing people. Although it is about a convent, there is not too much of a religious backdrop. At first it is a little difficult to differentiate between the sisters, but after a short while they evolve into a very diverse and interesting cast of characters. Even their Reverend Mother has something up her sleeve.
The plot itself revolves around what happens when the sisters answer a distress call from a recently visited colony. The sisters prove to be tough, intelligent and capable of making hard decisions to help others.
A really interesting aspect of the story is the convent’s ship, Our Lady of Impossible Constellations. In this version of the future, ships are living, breathing organisms bred for the different requirements of space travel and trade. I wondered how it wold be to live inside one of those ships, always hearing a faint heartbeat wherever you go.
It is always impressive when an author manages to build such an interesting world in the form of a novella. I would love to read more set in the same universe.
TheLadyDuckOfDoom update: Can confirm, this novella is fantastic. Go read it!
Well, it’s been a while. First of all, I have to thank my wonderful fellow Sceptres for keeping this blog alive. I feel like the 30-something child still living in your basement without paying rent. I have nothing to say in my defence except for this: life has been busy and some things have sadly taken a backseat.
To my astonishment, I somehow still managed to read nine books in August – seems like I was just too lazy to talk about them. I solemnly swear to change that. Just typing these few sentences makes me wonder what has kept me from doing so in the past couple of weeks.
One of my bookish highlights this month was a reread of two childhood favourites. They are the first two books of a trilogy which was recently updated by a fourth book – the reason for my reread. Originally published in German, their English translations are The Water Mirror and The Stone Light and they are quite a bit darker than I remember.
Let’s see what September has in store for us. Of course there will be a Sceptre buddyread and we already have our suspicions. Fingers crossed that we are once again correct. Other than that, I will finish And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini. It’s one of those books that has been sitting on my shelf for ages. Once I picked it up, I quickly remembered why I liked Hosseini’s other books so much. His writing is a thing of beauty.
I will also have some days off, so I’m expecting a lot of reading time. Maybe I will even finally finish The Stand…. just kidding, let’s stay realistic. Knowing myself, I will probably pick up something lighter to stay in the reading flow.
Another month, another fabulous buddyread. Our speculations were running wild, as they always do. But this time we managed to get it right. We proudly present our highly anticipated August pick: The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones.
This book has been on my radar since March. There could not have been a better fit. I am just in the right mood for a bit of horror. The first couple of pages already hint at something creepy going on, mixed with social commentary. A very gripping combination, I am really interested to see where this one goes.