Sceptical Reading

Daughters of Doubt and Eyerolling

Armchair Time-Travelling with St Mary’s #2 – or: Once I fall down a Rabbit Hole…

Dear Jodi Taylor, should St Mary’s need another Historian, please send me the link to where I can apply. Apart from an actual degree in History and being fluent in at least two languages, I bring the most essential prerequisites: I run on tea, sarcasm and inappropriate behaviour.

When I started readingthe first book in The Chronicles of St Mary’s series by Jodi Taylor, Just One Damned Thing After Another, I thought I’d just get it over with, get another eBook-ghost off #MountTBR. Boy, was I wrong!

I fell into the time travelling world of St Mary’s with its snarky characters and well-researched adventures like Alice fell down that rabbit hole. I literally had to scramble to come out for reality and other books. I ran through the first four books and some of the short stories in no time. Then forced myself to read something else, which I barely finished before I went back to St Mary’s.

When I had finished book eight, And the Rest is History, I knew I’d re-read the stories about Max and Leon and Peterson and Markham and the rest of St Mary’s motley crew. So I took the plunge and bought the full set of signed novels plus two short story collections from Jodi Taylor’s site. Not more than 2.5 days after I ordered, the fourteen books arrived. I greedily put my talons out to snap the box from the postman’s hands.

I’m feeling like a mix of Gollum and Smaug at the moment. My precious! My hoard! I might or might not have hugged the books before I made room on my shelf for the collection. Fourteen books. All signed by the author. All the same format, because they were published by the same publisher. It’s definitely Christmas come early for this book-dragon. [Pictures of my unboxing and shelf stacking can be found on Instagram.]

TheMarquessMagpie and TheLadyDuckOfDoom might follow me down this rabbit hole. They have both agreed that if a series is that much the-Rt.-Hon.-Harpy-Eagle-approved that said Harpy Eagle didn’t even blink once at the expenses of international shipping and customs (the UK is no longer part of the EU), it must be good. IT IS! Make yourself a large mug of tea and dive into this world. Trust me on this.

Sceptre Summer Reading List Update – The Rt. Hon. Harpy Eagle Edition

When I wrote that list, inspired by TheLadyDuckOfDoom’s example, I thought this would work the same way all of my attempts at TBRs do: down the drain within days. Fortunately, I was wrong. Now, about six weeks into my summer reading, I have only seven books left on the list; there were twenty-three to start with. Should be doable by the end of summer – when’s that exactly?

Did I really read all of the other books on the list to the last page? No, I bailed on two so far.

The first that I gave up on: Nine Nasty Words. I did not like the writing style, the hilariousness felt forced. Not to mention that my perception of what are nasty words is different from that of the author. I have a potty mouth IRL, but I am dialing it down for the people around me. Furthermore, I didn’t agree to the way some of the research was presented and what kind of conclusions the author drew. One of my issues was, e.g., that the author compared the spelling and use of that nasty F word at the times of William the Conqueror (that’s late 11th century for non-history nerds) to the spelling and use of its 20th century German counterpart. Poor form for a linguistics professor.

The second book I gave up on was The Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking. I want it to be noted here that I did not give up because the book was bad, I gave up because I had somehow completely forgotten that the book was middle-grade. I might pick it up again at a later time, when I am in the mood for some really light reading.

Kit Rocha’s Deal with the Devil was absolutely not what I had expected. I thought I’d read about bad-ass mercenary librarians fighting for books. What I got was a dystopian romance with enhanced and cloned humans who have some sizzling between the sheets action.

The Dictionary of Lost Words, on the other hand, was really interesting. Based on historic events and the real events leading to the first publication of the Oxford English Dictionary, the author Pip Williams wove a fictional story about the forgotten female words in the dictionary. A story of growing up, of heartbreak, and finding your true self among the words of the dictionary.

Definite hits on my Summer Reading List have been The Calculating Stars, The Thief and Just One Damned Thing After Another. The only thing that kept me from binge-reading each of the series was starting the next series; which, of course, means that I got stuck on The Chronicles of St Mary’s with unfathomable consequences.

Now I am looking forward to the remaining seven books. I’ll be travelling to Mars (How To Mars) and outer space (Prime Deceptions), might meet the Rabbit Queen (Mary Toft; or the Rabbit Queen), learn about butterflies (The Butterfly Effect), and will hopefully find out who The Daughter of the Salt King is and Why Swearing Is Good For You, and eventually dive into the Octunummi. Not necessarily in this order, though.

Give me a break

Firebreak by Nicole Kornher-Stace, published 04 May 2021.

This action packed, gaming dystopia, in a world where two corporations are at war with each other and the general population has to suffer from it is good, but nothing outstanding. The cover is great, though.

Unfortunately, the whole book reads like YA in the vein of Divergent, the few added “fucks” don’t elevate it to adult Sci-Fi.

The MC is an orphan, she lost her parents in the war when she was eight. She’s an introvert, yet needs to broadcast her gaming stream to earn money. She helps strangers, but is bristly towards her friends – she shares her hotel room home with eight other people. When she finds information about one of the corporations at war, she’s the only one who … yada yada yada

2/5 Harpy Eagles

Armchair Time-Travelling with St Mary’s

Oh, excuse me. That’s wrong. The highly secretive St Mary’s Institute of Historical Research doesn’t do time travel, they ‘investigate major historical events in contemporary time’. The historians of the institute are to observe and document, otherwise History will right itself (by erasing them). Add a bunch of eccentric scientists, technicians and engineers who like to blow things up on a regular basis, and you have a fun romp through time. In the case of this first book in the series, Jodi Taylor’s Just One Damned Thing After Another, the catastrophes stretch from Norman conquest England, to France during World War I, the Cretaceous Period and the destruction of the Great Library of Alexandria – mind you, that wasn’t St Mary’s doing, though they tried their best.

If you’re into history, and explosions, mayhem, snarky characters, an extra portion British humour, lots of tea and even more booze, this is the series for you.

Jodi Taylor definitely did her homework in preparation to this book. Honestly, she even knows how to distinguish whether a British person has Saxon or Norman ancestry, something only history nerds know. [Yes, I knew before I read the book; guess that’s saying enough.]

5/5 Harpy Eagles – queue the next book, please.

PS: Yes, I noticed the parallels to the TV series Timeless – which I binged with my daughter ages ago – but I venture that St Mary’s was first and is better.

The Acronyms are back

Or in other words, I’ve read the sequel to The Rise and Fall of the D.O.D.O. This time Nicole Galland did not co-author with Neal Stephenson, but wrote Master of the Revels with his blessings. It was published 23 February 2021.

The first book in this series was my first BuddyRead with TheLadyDuckOfDoom. I enjoyed the book very much and had been looking forward to a sequel ever since. To pass the time until said sequel might hit the shelves, I listened to the short stories, or rather DEDEs, of The D.O.D.O. Files on the Bound App.

Master of the Revels picks up right where DODO left off. Tristan, Mel, Frank, Rebecca, and the rest of the small team that had been cast out of the original D.O.D.O. programme have made Frank and Rebecca’s house their headquarters and are trying to stop Gráinne from changing history.

Gráinne’s latest plan to prevent the evolution of modern technology involves changing the witch scene(s) in Shakespeare’s Macbeth by adding real, very dangerous spells. Of course, Mel and Tristan are trying their best to prevent this, which results in the reader spending time with Will Shakespeare, and the titular Master of the Revels, Edmund Tilney, in Jacobean London.

I enjoyed this sequel, including the brush up on Shakespearean London. In fact, I couldn’t put it down and read it until the small hours of the morning. Still, there are a few things that I didn’t like about the book.

Mainly, the lack of help for some of the characters on DEDE who have gone AWOL felt strange. I’m not spoiling the story beyond what you can find in the blurb and in the pre-published prologue; contrary to all the rescue attempts we’ve seen in DODO, nobody seems to be too stressed to look into the missing DOer(s). Their absence is noted, and is fretted about, but it seems to be the opportune moment to introduce new and other characters’ stories. We know why Frank is absent, from the prologue, but not even Rebecca seems to be too worried about it at first; until she vanishes without further explanations. Tristan’s not reporting back leads to his new-to-the-whole-thing-but-Shakespearean-actress sister to be sent to 1606 to make sure the ‘cursed’ play turns out right. These plot holes are mildly annoying, especially since I am sure the reasons for the longer than planned absences will not or cannot be explained in the next sequel.

4/5 Harpy Eagles

Ghosthunting in Edinburgh

T.L. Huchu’s The Library of the Dead, published 04 February 2021, is the first book in a new Urban Fantasy series set in a post-apocalyptic(?) Edinburgh.

Ropa is a 15 year old ‘ghostalker'[sic], which means she talks to ghosts and delivers their messages to friends and family within the city limits of Edinburgh. From time to time she dabbles in exorcism too. When a charity case ghost asks her to find her lost son, Ropa finds herself in the middle of a scheme that she can only solve with the help of old and new friends.

I liked most of the world-building, though I would have liked to know more about how Edinburgh, or Great Britain, or even the world, ended up being what it is right now. It’s hinted at only very vaguely. The titular Library of the Dead also only makes up a small part of the story and I would have liked to see much more of it. I hope it gets a bigger part in the sequel(s).

This is a fast paced story that’s taking you through the streets of Edinburgh, with a fun group of characters. Potential YA readers might be stumped by the 80s and 90s pop culture references throughout the book. I’m still curious to know how young Ropa – in a time sometime in the future(?) – came to know all those things.

3.5/5 Harpy Eagles; I’ll give it 3 Goodreads stars though, because I wanted more background knowledge to the world and wanted to see more of the library.

One Day All This Will Be Yours – Short Review

This novella by one of my favorite sci-fi authors, Adrian Tchaikovsky, is FUN. If you like new spins on time travel stories, it’s the perfect story. I don’t want to spoil too much, but think about what happens after a time war.

If it weren’t for one crucial flaw in the logic of the story, this would have been a 5/5 ducks read for me. Unfortunately, there is, and there has to be for the story to work. If you read the book, can you guess what I mean?

Welcome to the end of time. It’s a perfect day.

adrian tchaikovsky, one day all this will be yours

4/5 Duckies

It’s that time of the month…

… when the school summer holidays are within reaching distance and the weather is cold and wet. Perfect for getting some summer reading done, right? And definitely no worries about getting sunscreen on my pages. Okay, granted, it feels weird looking forward to having a hot tea rather than a cool drink when you’ve just turned the calendar over to July, but beggars can’t be choosers.

Speaking of summer reading, I’ve managed to clear a whooping eight books off my summer TBR already. Yes, that’s me, the person who can’t do TBRs. Well, I might have found the one form of reading list that I can actually stick to, a seasonal list that leaves a wide margin for mood picks. I’ve read

In addition to those eight books, I’ve read and listened, or skimmed, or bailed, 26 more books. Among those were sequels like The Fated Sky and The Queen of Attolia, but also lots of standalone thrillers, non-fiction books and romance novels. I’ve left a lot of reviews here on the blog.

The summer reading list is still on. I’m working on Deal with the Devil and The Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking. In addition to that, Mount ARC has got a new layer of books to review. There’s Paper&Blood by Kevin Hearne, the sequel to Ink&Sigil, which I am really looking forward to. J.P. Oakes’ City of Iron and Dust keeps winking at me from my NetGalley shelf, too. It’s a good thing the summer holidays start tomorrow. I’ll put the kettle on, get the picknick blanket and enjoy my armchair travels.

Lose Your Temper with Me

Nicky Drayden is an author who should get a lot more attention, if you ask me. Temper was quite the experience. It starts out as your regular kind of urban fantasy, and features a bunch of annoying teenagers. But things spiral out of control quite fast.

In this version of South Africa, it is normal to have a twin to balance each other’s character traits. The seven vices and virtues are split between each pair of twins and the vices are marked on your body for the whole world to see. The twin with more vices is seen as the lesser one and often faces severe discrimination and poverty, while the twin with more virtues goes on to lead a privileged life. The world building is very strong and believable, without needing to explain every last detail. Bonus points for introducing a third gender with ey/eir as pronouns.

Our main character is Auben, one of the rare cases with six vices and therefore destined to get into a lot of trouble. As can be imagined, the relationship with his holier-than-thou six-virtue-twin Kasim is getting more and more strained the older they get. When Auben begins to hear a voice that really speaks to his darker side and may be Icy Blue, the most powerful demon of their religion, their relationship really starts to fall apart.

Usually I don’t stick with books starring really annoying teenagers – and believe me, this book is full of them – but since their behaviour was always rooted in their vices/virtues I could stand it and follow along. Once the story around Icy Blue really comes into focus, things really hit the fan and it even gets quite gory. It was just so much fun to witness the mayhem.

The main thing I liked about this book is that all characters are morally grey, even the most virtuous ones. Maybe especially them? Ultimately, it is a story about how labels like vice markers do not define you. I do not give it a full star rating because you really have to get through a couple of pages full of teenage drama before the fun really starts.

4/5 Magpies

Astronettes? Lady Astronauts? Astronauts!

Mary Robinette Kowal’s Lady Astronaut Universe series is the latest rabbit hole I fell down. Or should I say a black hole that drew me in? Three main works have been published so far, as well as two novellas. Book four will hopefully hit the shelves next year.

I’d wanted to read The Calculating Stars for some time but the audiobook kept gathering dust on my TBR. After listening to The Original, co-authored by MRK, I decided to not ignore it any longer.

In this alternate history the fate of humanity is threatened shortly after the end of World War II. This time not by war, but by a meteorite, which hits the east coast of the United States of America. The impact is similar to the one that caused the extinction of the dinosaurs, and doesn’t bode well for humanity. Colonising space might be the only option for humanity’s survival.

Elma York, a child prodigy with two doctorates and former pilot in WWII, is at the heart of this series. She’s working as a computer for the International Aerospace Coalition to help bring the first man to space. But with her skills as a pilot she soon wonders, why she can’t become an astronaut, too. Women will be needed in space colonisation sooner rather than later. Which leads her to notice that not only women are left out of the space programme.

This character driven story uses the sexism and racism of the 1950s and 1960s, sprinkles a good portion of humour, lots of ambition, some grief and heart break, and character flaws on it and out comes a story with characters to root for.

Without wanting to give away too much about the content of the sequel novel, The Fated Sky, let me just tell you, I bought book two and three (The Relentless Moon) right after finishing The Calculating Stars.

The Fated Sky reminded me, in part, of Weir’s Martian and Artemisin part! Yet, it is it’s own unique story about the possible colonisation of Moon and Mars, including months of space travel with all its obvious dangers, but far more interesting and gross are the not so obvious dangers, like regurgitating vacuum toilets. I’m looking forward to the third book in the series, but I am pacing myself a bit, because the fourth book, The Martian Contingency, won’t be published before 2022.

The audiobooks are narrated by the author herself. Something that I enjoy very much in general and enjoyed with this series in particular. MRK does an excellent job giving Elma and her friends and foes a unique voice.

Lastly, I’d like to point out that I truly appreciate all the research that MRK put into the series to represent science and history as accurately as possible. I especially enjoyed the lengthy acknowledgements and lists of bibliography at the end of the books, which probably only represents a fraction of what the author actually learned and looked up.

5/5 Harpy Eagles for The Calculating Stars and The Fated Sky

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