Reading the real deal

Sherlock Holmes: The Definitive Audio Collection
by Arthur Conan DoyleStephen Fry (Narrator)

A Study in Scarlet 
The very first Sherlock Holmes story. John Watson meets Sherlock Holmes. The mystery wasn‘t terribly exciting. Two Americans turn up dead. Obviously there is a back story. Utah, Mormons, romance… ★★★½☆

The Sign of the Four 
The sequel. Holmes & Watson meet Mary Morstan. And Toby, the dog with the supernose. The backstory takes us to the Andaman islands. I have read this one several times and so far it is my favourite.

I still astonishes me how (relatively) human and social Holmes comes across in the original. TV has a lot to be answered for.

This audiobook monster is narrated by the adorable Stephen Fry, who did his usual stellar job. Some interesting forewords are included.

More reviews to come, as I slowly progress through this audio.


The last time I read The Sign of the Four was in 2016. Here is what I had to say about it back then:

Re-reading a classic.

This is my favourite Holmes story. I was fascinated about the description of his drug use, when I read this first as a teenager.

With his long, white, nervous fingers he adjusted the delicate needle, and rolled back his left shirt-cuff. For some little time his eyes rested thoughtfully upon the sinewy forearm and wrist all dotted and scarred with innumerable puncture-marks.

The plot is (mostly) fun. We meet Mary, Toby, Wiggins and get to read many immortal sentences from the Sherlock Holmes universe.

I know the plot so well that I find it hard to be critical about it. The only part I truly do not like, is Jonathan Small’s story. It drags and I find it a little boring. It’s too long and feels like an afterthought, that got stuck on to inflate the page count. 

And from today’s point of view Doyle’s description of Tonga comes across as pretty offensive. But this was published in 1890, so I can acknowledge that and live with it.

And even back then they wrote bad insta-love! It also struck me as strange during this re-read, how jovial Holmes is and how often he laughs. Should I blame the BBC for that?

Millennial banality with zombies

Severance
by Ling Ma (Author), Nancy Wu (Narrator)

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

“The end begins before you are ever aware of it.“

Odd book. The beginning feels like Covid-19 reimagined, bacterial instead of viral. Or rather it’s prophetic, as it was written in 2018. Apocalyptic/dystopian on the surface, it reads more like literary fiction. Commentary on capitalism, consumerism, the life of millennials, hopes and aspirations and the reality of making ends meet, the occasional boredom and banality of everyday life and work.

A long look back at the depressing/monotonous life of the MC. Average millenial with average job, living an average-sounding life of the relatively well-off. Illness strikes, an outbreak at first and then a pandemic. People seem to wind up as harmless zombies, wandering about and repeating tasks of their living past. Society as we know it ends. Our MC eventually leaves New York and joins up with a group of other survivors.

The backstories of the MC and her parents, Chinese immigrants to the US, take centre stage for most of the book. Which made me question if the apocalyptic setting was just a gimmick, to draw more readers. There is an odd amount of narrative about the MCs book production job. This had me wondering even more, what the whole point of this book was supposed to be. The dystopian elements only play a small part.

One of my GR friends described this as a „a slightly disguised New Adult Contemporary coming of age“. It’s a bit deeper than that, but nails it pretty well.

The audiobook narrator sounded pretty bored and laconic for most of the book. Or depressed? Pretty similar to how the MC felt about her life before the apocalypse.

The last few chapters made up for the indifference I mostly felt towards this story. The ending is pretty open, which I usually hate, but it gave a nice sense of purpose and possibility here.

StoryGraph and currently reading

I started using StoryGraph at some point last year. I had an account longer than that and had also imported my Goodreads data, but never really did anything with it. The usual discussion with friends about the failings of Goodreads results in another hunt for options. Which, sadly, still doesn‘t exist.

However, I took another closer look at StoryGraph and decided that I like their stats. I started logging my reading progress regularly this year. A few days ago they added a new feature—tracking audiobook minutes. Something that GR never managed to set up in a satisfying manner. So, here we are—I checked and hopefully caught all those audios from last and this year and switched them back to their proper audiobook settings.

This is what my May looked like with pages read only: May Wrap-up — 2.042 pages. And with audiobooks I get this:

A little less than half my pages were audio. And my 2021 now looks like this:

My June is plodding along with longer and slower offerings again, hence the lack of updates. I am still reading Dead Silence by S.A. Barnes and Middlegame (Alchemical Journeys, #1) by Seanan McGuire. And I started March to War (The Walking Dead, #20) by Robert Kirkman. Incidentally, all books with horror themes. Well, ok, Middlegame not so much, but it had tendencies towards that genre.

Middlegame is pretty odd so far. A linear timeline with some jumps, twins with supernatural powers that have been separated at birth, an evil alchemist with a scary scheme for world dominance… I am about halfway and have slowed down a bit, the middle bits often do that to me.

Dead Silence is moving into haunted house territory. Or in this case haunted ship in space. So not my thing, really, I generally find psychological horror like this boring as hell. Odd, I know. This is ok so far, but the suspense is not killing me. Plus the audiobook narrator with her breathy and sometimes frantic voice is grating on my nerves just a bit. And the MC is too whiny. And the whole book is told by the MC looking back. I hate that kind of thing, when you already know from the start who lives and who dies. So this book does not have a lot going for it right now.

March to War Is another one in the endless comic series of The Walking Dead. Getting ready for that ultimate confrontation with Negan. So far, so good.

You see, the hate they give is senseless…

Ring Shout by P. Djèlí Clark (Author), Channie Waites (Narrator)

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Let‘s call it alternate history with a strong horror element. Three African-American women hunt Klu Kluxes, aka monsters disguised as Klu Klux Klan members. The story is set in Georgia in 1922. 

I liked the beginning quite a bit. Nice set-up, speedy beginning, interesting monsters. However, when the more supernatural elements entered and the focus shifted towards the characters, I started to drift off. The plot seemed to disappear into almost nothing and I lost interest in what went on. I never really connected with the main characters or the story.

The audio was ok at first. I struggle a bit with the Gullah accent of one of the characters. The narrator was too over the top with her vocalisations and her high tones eventually really grated on me.

I finished, but it was a close call and I barely paid attention at the end. Yes, the social commentary is very, very relevant, but if you‘re not telling me a gripping story, I find it hard to care.

I did like the aunties. Could they have been a version of the Three Fates? I looked up the Night Doctors, the Klu Klux Klan, Stone Mountain, D.W. Griffith and his movie, what a ring shout is and I wondered about Rhode Island. H.P. Lovecraft, maybe? So, this novella was not a complete loss for me.

From one-celled organisms to glass canyons

Life on Earth by David Attenborough (author and narrator) 

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Attenborough recounts the history of the natural world, „from the emergence of tiny one-celled organisms in the primeval slime more than 3,000 million years ago to apelike but upright man, equally well adapted to life in the rain forest of New Guinea and the glass canyons of a modern metropolis.“

Not what I expected—which happens when you forgo reading the blurb. Not sure what I was thinking. But I didn‘t get this audiobook for the story, I got it to listen to him. David Attenborough can tell me anything and I would listen. The man is an international treasure. I love him, probably like many other people growing up on his TV documentaries about nature. In retrospect I would probably have enjoyed this more with moving pictures on a TV screen though. As in: a re-watch of his „Life“ series! 

I met some interesting critters, but the book could not completely captivate me. For me it lacked narrative tension. It felt a bit like ticking off a checklist. It needed more. Still, David Attenborough… 

Narrator: ★★★★★
Story: ★★★☆☆

Sometimes activation sucks.

Activation Degradation
by Marina J. LostetterHayden Bishop (Narrator) 

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I really hesitated to get this book because of the Murderbot comparison in the blurb. I love Murderbot and don‘t want to read a rip-off. I think they probably did this book a disservice by linking it to Murderbot.

Our robot is brought online on a platform orbiting Jupiter, to protect a mining platform that is under attack by aliens. It turns out that the situation is quite different to what Unit Four was lead to believe.

I liked the beginning very much and listened to the first half of the book almost in one sitting. There was a pretty good reveal towards the end. Good action sequences. The more reflective parts could have been a bit more elaborate. The plot lost a bit of steam in the second part and my interest flagged a little. 

I am still trying to decide if I like the rather convenient ending. I find it almost impossible to talk more about this book without spoilers, so I leave it at that. I largely enjoyed this book and might give it another go in printed form to pick up all of the nuances.

This is my first book by the author and I got the audiobook. The audiobook narration was good, but I didn‘t love it.

Would I pick up a sequel? Maybe. Probably.

Monthly wrap-up

My October 2021:

– Ancillary Mercy ★★★★★ audio, Imperial Radch #3, re-read. I really liked this. Not sure what I did during the first read, but I definitely did not pay attention, because I barely remembered any of this. Great fun, I loved all the AIs and their dynamics. And Translator Zaiat was precious.
We Have Always Been Here ★★★★☆ ebook, colony ship (is it?), AI, a litte horror, mystery, dystopia.
– Was weiße Menschen nicht über Rassismus hören wollen ★★★★☆ audio, about institutionalized racism in Germany and the experiences of a black woman growing up in Cologne. Not bad, a bit on the shallow side. Very readable.
– Dominion: An Anthology of Speculative Fiction from Africa and the African Diaspora★★★★☆ ebook, #ReadBIPOC2021, TBR pile, Netgalley. This is a very strong anthology. Even the stories that didn‘t fully grab me gave me plenty to think about. Recommended! 
– Dark Path ★★★☆☆ ebook, TBR pile, mystery fluff. Buddhist forensic pathologist solves a case in Florida.

Short stories:
– The Lottery ★★★★☆ online. Famous story by Shirley Jackson from 1948.
– You Can Make a Dinosaur, but You Can’t Help Me, Uncanny Magazine Issue 23: July/August 2018 ★★★★☆ online. About a trans man and his Jurassic Park-inventing dad.
– You Perfect, Broken Thing, Uncanny Magazine Issue 32: January/February 2020★★★★☆ online. Dystopia? Winning a race to stay alive…

Poetry:
– Uncanny Magazine Issue 41: July/August 2021 ★★★★☆ online, I read three of the four poems, about Japan and sacrifice, Beowulf and Madame Curie, here: https://uncannymagazine.com/issues/un…
– What to expect from the Hadron Collider as a college roommate, Uncanny Magazine Issue 16: May/June 2017 ★★★★☆ online, pretty amusing poem.
– A tenjō kudari (“ceiling hanger” yōkai) defends her theft, Uncanny Magazine Issue 32: January/February 2020 ★★★★☆ online, a spectre gets her revenge.

Currently reading:
– Tietjen auf Tour: Warum Camping mich glücklich macht, paperback, TBR pile
– The Resurrectionists, ebook, Netgalley, TBR pile

Abandoned reread:
– BR zombie Persepolis Rising, audio, Expanse #7, re-read
– BR zombie Tiamat’s Wrath, audio, Expanse #8, re-read

Movies & TV watched:
– No Time to Die ★★★★★, last 007 with Craig, cinema.
– Smoking Aces ★★¾☆☆, action thriller comedy with lots of blood, pretty pointless. 

Starting with that readathon….

Ok then, here is the Opening Event Survey for October‘s Deweys.

1) What fine part of the world are you reading from today? — still the South of Germany, small town between Stuttgart and Tübingen.
2) Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to? — I want to finish Dominion: An Anthology of Speculative Fiction from Africa and the African Diaspora today and whilst making my way though my house work and laundry, I want to get into the audio of Rovers (Audible Audio) by Richard Lange, a horror book with a different take on vampires.
3) Which snack are you most looking forward to? — I am not much of a snack person. I don‘t actually have any sweet stuff in the house. I have some self-grown cocktail tomatoes left, I guess they will be my snack.
4) Tell us a little something about yourself! — Speculative fiction is my drug.
5) If you participated in the last read-a-thon, what’s one thing you’ll do different today? If this is your first read-a-thon, what are you most looking forward to? — not my first readathon, I don‘t participate in many. I realized at some point that they stress me too much. I like to connect to other readers though, so here I am. No promises that I will read more than usual or post regularly. And I definitely will not read through the night, as I will be travelling tomorrow afternoon and need to be rested. More audiobook time!

Some tea? Fish sauce? Oysters?

Ancillary Mercy (Imperial Radch #3)
by Ann Leckie,  Adjoa Andoh (Narrator) 

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I really liked this. Not sure what I did during the first read, but I definitely did not pay enough attention, because I barely remembered any of this. Great fun, I loved all the AIs and their dynamics. And Translator Zeiat was precious.

I would love to read another book in this setting, to find out how it all turns out.


Review from 2017:

Lovely. I am sad that this is the end for the Imperial Radch. But then…

“Every ending is an arbitrary one. Every ending is, from another angle, not really an ending.” 

Direct continuation of Ancillary Sword. A nice and fitting conclusion to the trilogy.

The humour and tongue-in-check of the dialogues was great and right down my alley. And Translator Zeiat made this novel, what a great character! 

Loved Breq and how human she became in the last book. And not. 

Loved the development of her relationship with Seivarden, who definitely did not have enough page time. 

Loved the action sequences, loved the conversation about what makes one a significant being.

I will miss these characters, Athoek Station, the Undergarden… I would have loved to go through the ghost gate and meet the Presger.

Ancillary Sword and Ancillary Mercy felt like one book and I think I liked them more than Ancillary Justice. The plot and characterizations were more intricate. Although I did like the plot of Ancillary Justice a lot, too, and the early days of Seivarden and Breq. I’ll need to think on that some more.

Some fish sauce in the meantime?


“Thank all the gods,” said Sphene. “I was afraid you were going to suggest we sing that song about the thousand eggs.”

“A thousand eggs all nice and warm,” I sang. “Crack, crack, crack, a little chick is born. Peep peep peep peep! Peep peep peep peep!”

“Why, Fleet Captain,” Translator Zeiat exclaimed, “that’s a charming song! Why haven’t I heard you sing it before now?”

I took a breath. “Nine hundred ninety-nine eggs all nice and warm…”

“Crack, crack, crack,” Translator Zeiat joined me, her voice a bit breathy but otherwise quite pleasant, “a little chick is born. Peep peep peep peep! What fun! Are there more verses?”

“Nine hundred and ninety-eight of them, Translator,” I said.

“We’re not cousins anymore,” said Sphene.” 

My September 2021

Here is what I read in September:

Ancillary Sword ★★★★★ audio, Imperial Radch #2, re-read. I remembered most of this and this time around liked it better than #1. Loved Dlique and Tisarwat.
– Return to the Center of the Earth ★★★★☆ KU, sequel, re-tracing the steps of Jules Verne. Brain candy. Fun!
– Babylon’s Ashes ★★★★☆ audio, Expanse #6, re-read
– City of Bones ★★☆☆☆ ebook, dystopian fantasy by Martha Wells. Not enough sarcastic AIs. I liked parts of it a lot, but as a whole it didn‘t excite me. I pretty much skimmed through the second part, because I didn‘t care.

Poetry:
– “You’d Have Me Be White” by Alfonsina Storni, https://betterthanstarbucks.wixsite.c…, ★★★★★, feminist poetry, made me smile and nod my head…
– Scifaikuest Online, https://www.hiraethsffh.com/scifaikue…, ★★★★½, great SF haikus
– “Among the Scythians“, Deborah L. Davitt, Heroic Fantasy Quarterly #49, August 1, 2021, ★★★☆☆, https://www.heroicfantasyquarterly.co…
– Horrific Punctuation, poetry, KU, DNF, my ebook was barely readable and the poetry too abstract.

Comics:
– The White Trees #1 ★★★★☆, KU, eComic, high fantasy, x-rated, ex-killer has to pick up his weapons again to save his family
– The White Trees #2 ★★★☆☆, eComic, not as good as the first issue

Return To The Center Of The Earth by Greig Beck Horrific Punctuation by John Reinhart Babylon's Ashes (The Expanse, #6) by James S.A. Corey The White Trees #1 by Chip Zdarsky The White Trees #2 by Chip Zdarsky City of Bones by Martha Wells Ancillary Sword (Imperial Radch #2) by Ann Leckie 

Currently reading:
– Dominion: An Anthology of Speculative Fiction from Africa and the African Diaspora, ebook, #ReadBIPOC2021, TBR pile, Netgalley
– Tietjen auf Tour: Warum Camping mich glücklich macht, paperback, TBR pile
– Ancillary Mercy, audio, Imperial Radch #3, re-read

Planned, but lacking in motivation:
– Persepolis Rising, audio, Expanse #7, re-read
– Tiamat’s Wrath, audio, Expanse #8, re-read
I might abandon the plan to read those two and just jump to the new book…

Movie watched:
– Dune ★★★★★ — I considered deducting a star, because it‘s only „Part One“. I was pretty frustrated about that. The beginning took forever! Is Caladan supposed to be Caledonia, aka Scotland? Never really thought about that before. My first visit to a cinema since 2019!