TBR YR 10 – The Moon is a Harsh Mistress – Robert A. Heinlein

Genre: Science fiction, Classics, Politics

Narrative Style: First person, chronological

Rating: 4/5

Published: 1966

Synopsis: The moon (Luna) is a former penal colony for Earth. They provide a lot of grain to Earth and are tied into an almost impossible to escape business structure that keeps Luna inhabitants poor and Earth well fed. The Federated Nations refuse to acknowledge Luna as a real country and release them from servitude. When Mannie Garcia, a computer technician realises that the central computer for Luna is self- aware, he, and his companions Wyoh and The Prof, start to consider the possibilities of rebellion.

Format: Kindle

Time on Shelf: A few years now. I had heard of it and was curious but slightly wary as I hasn’t got on very well with Starship Troopers, the last book I read by Heinlein.

Reading Challenges: TBR Challenge hosted by Roof Beam Reader

I really enjoyed this. I liked the politics – which seemed as apt as when Heinlein wrote it – and the style. The plot is generally quite exciting and for the most part, it moved quite quickly. It does get a bit gummed up in the middle when there are long political interludes during the setting up of the rebel group but by the end, the pace had picked up again.

The novel is written from Mannie’s point of view. His first person narrative is written in pidgin English with words taken from Russian and from Australian slang, for example and using a simplified grammar system. He is suitably cynical and generally easy with working outside of the law. He is the first one to realise that the main computer – which he christens Mike (short for Mycroft Holmes) – is self-aware and trying to make a joke when he attempts to send out a pay check for a ridiculous amount of money. The two quickly become friends and Mannie attempts to teach Mike what humour actually looks like.

Mannie attends a political meeting where he meets Wyoh, a visiting political activist. When the meeting ends in a riot, Mannie hides Wyoh and introduces her, and his mentor, Professor de la Paz to Mike. They begin to discuss the likelihood of rebelling and as Mike is able to calculate the odds of a number of scenarios, they are able to work out there best odds of succeeding.

Mike is an interesting character. He is like a cross between a walking encyclopaedia and a somewhat annoying child. He is able to develop a voice for himself and an image so that he can be the leader of the group – named Adam Selene. He also has a rebellious alter ego called Simon Jester who creates political slogans which are quickly taken up by the populace. It was interesting that I quickly forgot that Mike was a mere machine. There were times when I worried that Mike was not trustworthy – a strange thought to have about a machine – like, for example, when he reveals he has used Mannie’s voice to give orders or when I remembered that he was so interested in what a successful joke might look like.

The final chapter details the war between the Federated Nations and Luna. It is a welcom relief from the political talk and posturing of the previous chapter as there is plenty of action. Even so, the ending felt anticlimactic. Although they win their freedom, the new government soon falls within predictable lines. Disappointingly, Mike is taken offline during the bombardment and cannot be found. Mannie is distraught by this and mourns Mike as he mourns Prof (who dies of heart failure as soon as Luna’s freedom is secured). It is disappointing but maybe that is the way of revolutions.

TBR 10 Yr – Munich – Robert Harris

Genre: Historical Fiction, Espionage

Narrative Style: Third person with viewpoint alternating between two characters. Chronological.

Rating: 4/5

Published: 2017

Format: Kindle

Synopsis: Hitler is determined to start a war and Chamberlain is determined to stop him. Hugh Legat works as one of the prime minister’s private secretaries. His old friend, Paul Hartman is a German diplomat. They haven’t seen each other since 1932. Now there paths are destined to cross in Munich when both leaders arrive in the city to try and reach a historic agreement.

Reading Challenge: TBR Challenge 2023

Time on Shelf: I bought this not long after it came out. I really enjoyed Fatherland and was keen to read more by Harris.

There were a couple of things that attracted me to this book. First of all, it was about a time in history that I hadn’t read much about. Books about world war two tend to focus on later events and on Winston Churchill. Secondly, I was keen to read a straightforward historical novel from Harris after reading Fatherland. Finally, I have mixed feelings about spy fiction but felt that if anyone could do it well, it would be Harris.

The book is set in September 1938. Hitler is threatening to invade Czechoslovakia. He wants possession of the parts of the country that are settled largely by Germans and war will be the result if he doesn’t get them. Chamberlain, along with other leaders are tasked with resolving this. We see the story unfold from the point of view of Legat, first of all and then from the German side, from that of Paul Hartman, both of whom are closely involved with the events.

Legat begins the novel an ordinary civil servant with a unhappy marriage. He is an ordinary man in an extraordinary position. The first thing that happens to him is he attends a meeting between Chamberlain and the heads of the armed forces in which he learns that the Navy are not yet ready for war as they were not expecting this situation to arrive so soon. Immediately after, he is told to destroy his notes, something he finds quite shocking. How close this is to the truth I am unsure but it certainly gives a different slant to the events that follow.

By contrast, Paul Hartmann is confident, almost arrogant. He had initially supported the new regime and so has a position within the foreign office. He is now beginning to feel uneasy with the regime and is part of an underground group that are planning to get rid of Hitler. Their plot involves the army and requires a war to be started. When some material comes into his hands that shows that Hitler is lying when he says that he has no further territorial ambitions and he will not invade anywhere if he gets the Sudetenland, he thinks of his old college friend and sends it to Legat.

At first, the narrative moves between Legat and Hartman in alternate chapters, helping to make the story tense. Of course, we know how the conference between Hitler and Chamberlain turns out but it is still interesting to see the machinations of both governments as they move towards it. As the story progresses and both Legat and Hartman are in Munich, the story switches between their viewpoints more quickly and it is possible to sense the frustration of both men at their own powerlessness in the grand scheme of things.

The characterisation of Chamberlain was interesting. The popular view of him is that he capitulated to Hitler because he was a coward and if not for Churchill we’d all be speaking German now. Harris paints him as an honourable man who is passionately opposed to war at this point in time. He knows his armed forces aren’t ready and he feels that the country will not back him if they went to war over this issue. While it is easy for us to see that the note he comes back with is ridiculous and that Hitler will break his promise, it is also possible to see the honest hope that Chamberlain has in this act.

I did enjoy this book and it is certainly one of the best spy novels I have read, I did feel that these stories always seem to turn on people’s stupidity (for example, Legat leaves secret documents in his room which is then burgled) and also on exceptional good luck. (Legat doesn’t actually lose the documents. Chamberlain’s secretary gets them just in time.) Also, the characters of Legat and Hartman sometimes seemed a little clichéd but overall, it kept me reading and made me think differently about the Munich agreement.

TBR YR 10 – 2. The Man in the Red Coat – Julian Barnes

Genre: Biography, History

Narrative Style: Third person

Published: 2019

Rating 5/5

Format: Hardback

Synopsis: Barnes’ biography of Samuel Pozzi begins with a trip to London by three men – a count, a prince and a commoner – the commoner being Pozzi – and expands to take in the Parisian Belle Epoque. Pozzi is the man in the red coat – one of John Singer Sargent’s greatest portraits. Whilst describing the life of Pozzi, Barnes discusses the ideas of the era and describes some of its liveliest characters including Oscar Wilde and Sarah Bernhardt.

Time on shelf: Not sure why this one lingered for so long. I’m a big fan of Julian Barnes and usually read his books quite quickly after purchase.

Reading challenges: TBR Challenge hosted by Adam at Roof Beam Reader.

This was a joy from start to finish. Barnes has an easy style – like having a fireside chat with a friendly history professor. He describes the life of Samuel Pozzi in the main, but also the other two men who arrive in London with him – Count Robert de Montesquiou and Prince Edmund De Polignac. This is a jumping off point for a wider discussion of the times which takes in duelling, dandys, the Dreyfus affair and the trial of Oscar Wilde. The supporting cast of characters includes Wilde, Sarah Bernhardt, Jean Lorrain and Joris-Karl Huysmans, all of whom are colourful to have been the subjects of this book.

Pozzi is an interesting character. He is an excellent surgeon who transformed working practises and made several operations safer. He was a gynocologist of some renown although he was also known for having affairs with his patients. He was married but had many affairs. He became rich and moved in the same circles as princes and counts. He treated Sarah Bernhardt who called him Dr God.

As A History of the World in 10 and a 1/2 Chapters takes the idea of the novel to the very limits, this explores the limitations of historical biographies. Often, Barnes explains, we cannot know exactly what happened. We are relying on others telling the truth and not being vindictive. We have to have a wider understanding of the age. Barnes writes this almost like a novel, wandering along the timeline and back again. There are recurring motifs such as that of bullets and duelling. At one point, Barnes says if this was a novel we would know this information because the author would make it so but as it is, we cannot know.

Overall, this was enjoyable and informative. Barnes has a clear love for his subject. (He is a renowned Francophile.) He has done a lot of research and the era and characters come alive for the reader. Thoroughly recommended.

TBRYear 10 – 1. The Children of Men by P. D. James

Genre: Dystopia

Narrative style: Chronological, shifts between first and third person.

Rating: 2/5

Published: 1992

Format: Kindle

Synopsis: Babies are no longer being born anywhere around the world. This has been so for over 20 years. Theo Faron is merely getting through his days with no hope for the future – either his own or that of civilisation. Then he meets Julian who is part of an activist group. Theo is immediately attracted to her and agrees – against his better judgement – to help the group out.

Time on shelf: I’ve wanted to read this for a long time. I bought this copy about three or four years ago but I kept overlooking it.

Reading challenges: TBR Challenge

I really wanted to enjoy this. I’m a big fan of dystopias (The Handmaid’s Tale, 1984 and Brave New World are some of my favourite books) but I couldn’t get to grips with this one. It’s a shame as James clearly had some interesting things to say about power and its abuses. The things she describes happening are apt and I could imagine that would be how things would go if such a dreadful thing were to occur. Unfortunately the plot and characterisation didn’t live up to that promise.

My first problem was with Theo’s first person narration – written as diary entries. I know that he was a historian and also bored with his existence but did his voice have to be so dull and plodding? He is also an unpleasant person with barely a thought for anyone else. He accidentally ran over and killed his daughter but shows little feeling for the child or for her mother when she is grieving. Don’t get me wrong, I love a less than perfect hero as much as the next person but Theo was almost impossible to like. There was no way to root for him.

James switches from Theo’s diary entries to third person narration from Theo’s point of view every couple of chapters. I wasn’t really sure why she used this device as it didn’t allow the reader access to anyone else’s thoughts. It did at least save the reader from the tedium of Theo’s first person voice. About halfway through the novel, Theo throws away his diary and the novel from then on is in third person. Fair enough but there were third person chapters before that happened.

The plot is very slow moving. It feels like a long time before anything happens. Even once Theo has met Julian, things don’t speed up. He agrees to help her and the other members of the ‘five fishes’ group after seeing the horror of a ‘quietus’ – the government’s way of dealing with the immense number of elderly people – where the elderly are expected to ‘voluntarily’ commit suicide when they reach a certain age. (This was one of the better parts of the book. Theo is forced to think for himself and to realise that the Government are actually not as good as he thought.) This is further brought home to him when he naively goes to visit Xan, the Warden of England, who also happens to be his cousin and finds he cannot persuade him to change any of his ideals.

I felt that James could have picked any issue to write this dystopia. While there are details of women christening their pets or pushing around dolls in prams because the focus is on Theo (who didn’t even love the child he had) we don’t see much of the emotion of the situation. There is no longing for a younger generation from him. He is only concerned for himself. At the end of the novel, Theo shoots the Warden and takes the ring that symbolises his power. It seems that he will be the next leader of England – especially as he can now introduce the first baby born since 1995 to the world. Given Theo’s lack of feeling for others, it is doubtful he will make a better leader than Xan. The novel ends with him baptising the new baby suggesting his new sense of power and Julian (the baby’s mother) can only look on, pushed aside as surely as she would have been if Xan had still been in charge. James makes a strong point about power and the way men push women aside even when they are needed for the most important job in the world. I just wish that the story that brought us to this point have been better.

TBR Challenge 2023 – Sign up.

Once again, I am going to sign up for the TBR Challenge hosted by Adam at Roof Beam Reader. I haven’t really looked at any other challenges yet but this one is a definite because it means that I will definitely clear some of my TBR pile.

Here is my list:

  1. The Thing Around Your Neck – Chimananda Ngozi Adichie (2008)
  2. Lucky Jim – Kingsley Amis (1954)
  3. The Man in the Red Coat – Julian Barnes (2019) – Finished 28/1/23
  4. The Feminine Mystique – Betty Friedan (1 963)
  5. Munich – Robert Harris (2017) Finished 7/3/23
  6. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress – Robert A. Heinlein (1966) Finished 17/4/23
  7. The Children of Men – P.D, James (1992) Finished 20/1/23
  8. Me Before You – Jo Jo Moyes (2012)
  9. The Accidental – Ali Smith (2005)
  10. No One Here Gets Out Alive – Danny Sugarman and Jerry Hopkins (1980)
  11. Black Mischief – Evelyn Waugh (1932)
  12. The Golem and the Djinn – Helene Wecker (2013)


  1. I, Claudius – Robert Graves (1934)
  2. All the Pretty Horses – Cormac McCarthy (1992)