Readingwise, it has been an excellent start to the year. I have finished two books, and both were excellent.

I hoped to make more progress with my third book (When Christ and His Saints Slept) today, but Andy needed some vet treatment. He’s suffering from conjunctivitis in both eyes, so after seeing the vet, I’ve been trying to make him comfortable and cheer him up. Poor little soul.

Now for the actual reading update…

I’ve finished two books, and both were excellent:

The Vanished Birds

The Vanished Birds
by Simon Jimenez
Publication Date: January 1, 2023
Pages: 432
Genre:Science Fiction

Nia Imani is a woman out of place and outside of time. Decades of travel through the stars are condensed into mere months for her, though the years continue to march steadily onward for everyone she has ever known. The captain of a transport ship contracted to the Umbrai corporation, she lives only for the next paycheck, until the day she meets a mysterious boy, fallen from the sky. A boy, broken by his past, and hunted by his present. For he is one of the few born with the gift of the Jaunt. The ability to travel instantly anywhere in the universe. An ability that threatens the vicelike control of the settled worlds by corporations such as Umbrai. Fumiko Nakajima, the great scientist responsible for the design of bird-like Stations that Umbrai uses to control vast tracts of space, has been searching for one such as he for a thousand years. Together, they set out to protect the boy, a journey that will cross the decades and light years all the way out to the fringes of settled space where the laws of civilisation do not apply, and they will have only each other to rely on.

I really really liked this book. The writing was fantastic and even made me oblivious to the fact that the plot does not get going until way after 150+ pages into the story.

There are definitely aspects of The Vanished Birds that reminded me of The Sparrow (Mary Doria Russell) but this is not to say that Jimenez produced a work of fan fiction here. The similarities with The Sparrow are a good thing: we get well-drafted characters, a quest, the exploration of familial relationships, questions of how human endeavours to explore (and colonise) space impacts on both the Earth and other planets etc. The colonisation theme in the novel was drafted really well in that it was a definite theme, but at no point did I feel hit over the head with an agenda.

We have intrigue, mystery, human failure, unexpected kindness, … it was just great.

As for the actual plot, I really do not want to say anything about it because it was a great experience to learn what the novel was all about without knowing anything at all about it. However, I do have to say that I welled up a little towards the end.

Oh, and one character that I was not quite sure about for a large part of the book actually turned out to be just … lovely.

Was this really Jimenez’ first novel?? There are several established novelists that I can think of that do not have the writing skills that show in this book. I look forward to reading more by this author.

The Mutual Admiration Society

The Mutual Admiration Society
by Mo Moulton
Publication Date: November 5, 2019
Pages: 384
Genre:Biography/Memoir, Non Fiction
Fits Halloween Bingo Squares:Genre: Mystery, Vintage Mysteries

A group biography of renowned crime novelist Dorothy L. Sayers and the Oxford women who stood at the vanguard of equal rights.

Dorothy L. Sayers is now famous for her Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane detective series, but she was equally well known during her life for an essay asking “Are Women Human?” Women’s rights were expanding rapidly during Sayers’s lifetime; she and her friends were some of the first women to receive degrees from Oxford. Yet, as historian Mo Moulton reveals, it was clear from the many professional and personal obstacles they faced that society was not ready to concede that women were indeed fully human.

Dubbing themselves the Mutual Admiration Society, Sayers and her classmates remained lifelong friends and collaborators as they fought for a truly democratic culture that acknowledged their equal humanity.

I also finally finished The Mutual Admiration Society. Apologies to TA and MR for falling off this buddy read.

I initially had issues with the book, because Moulton seemed to focus a lot of her investigation on the love lives of her subjects, and I could not have cared less. A lot of the information at the beginning of this collective biography also dealt with life at Oxford, and other topics that I have already read much about in other biographies of DLS.

However, once Moulton changed her subject from a general biography to the individual women, I really started to enjoy the book. By the end, I loved Moulton’s investigation into not only the achievements of each of the women, but also that Moulton tried to answer questions about each woman’s attitude (and change in attitude on occasion) towards current affairs and topics of their day.

It certainly helped to put a lot of context around Sayers’ work for me, but I also loved how Moulton generally showed the change (or not) in social attitudes and the perception of women before and after the First World War, the challenges of anti-semitism even during the Second World War, and many other topics. Having read this book, I may have become a bit of a fan of Charis Frankenburg, someone I had not heard of before.

I am still reading:

When Christ and His Saints Slept

When Christ and His Saints Slept
by Sharon Kay Penman, Sharon Penman
Series:Plantagenets #1
Publication Date: December 27, 1995
Pages: 928
Genre:Historical Fiction

Twelfth-century England, a land of treachery, high passions and shifting allegiances, is plunged into chaos as the Empress Maude and her cousin Stephen become locked in a bitter struggle for the throne lasting twenty years.

King Henry is dead, and there are two people who want his crown. But only one can have it. He has bequeathed it to his daughter Maude, much to the horror of his nobles, for she is arrogant and stubborn, and, most dangerous of all, a woman. When Stephen, a brave and popular warrior but a weak ruler, attempts to seize the throne, it is the beginning of a tragic conflict that brings suffering and bloodshed to all and victory to no one.

And waiting in the wings of this tumultuous drama are other players: Maude’s charming and devious son Henry, born of an enforced, bitter marriage, and the formidable Eleanor of Aquitaine, each with ambitions of their own.

This is going to take a while to finish.