Sceptical Reading

Daughters of Doubt and Eyerolling

Sceptre Autumn Reading Program

Hello hello, season of cozy blankets, rain and tea. While not everyone has been waiting for you, we are certainly excited to get into full autumn mode. And since our summer reading lists were just so much fun to put together and worked exceptionally well, we decided to go ahead and come up with lists for autumn as well.

TheLadyDuckOfDoom:

  • Beowulf: A New Translation
  • A Question of Navigation
  • Dawnshard
  • Monstress Vol. 4
  • Escaping Exodus
  • American Hippo
  • The Dark Archive
  • Fortune’s Pawn
  • The Library of the Dead
  • Shards of the Earth

  • The Outside
  • Queen of Sorrow
  • The Last Continent
  • King of Thorns
  • The Calculating Stars
  • Neon Birds
  • The Unspoken Name
  • Die Türme von Eden
  • Chaos Vector
  • The Autumn Republic
  • Before They Are Hanged

TheRightHonourableHarpyEagle:

  • Velocity Weapon
  • Ninth House
  • Die Türme von Eden
  • In the Watchful City
  • A Letter to Three Witches
  • The Hemlock Cure
  • The Unbroken
  • The God of Lost Words
  • The Lady Astronaut of Mars
  • Inside Man
  • A Psalm for the Wild-Built
  • Under the Whispering Door
  • Sea of Rust
  • The Red House Mystery
  • Driftwood
  • Unnatural Causes
  • Mrs England
  • Johannes Cabal the Necromancer
  • Pages & Co
  • Freshwater

TheMarquessMagpie:

  • Before They Are Hanged
  • Empire of the Vampire
  • Die Eroberung des Südpols
  • Drei Kameradinnen
  • Escaping Exodus
  • Stranger in a Strange Land
  • Inside Man
  • Shadow Captain
  • Finders Keepers
  • Eroberung
  • Drachensaat
  • Song of Susannah
  • Gingerbread
  • Das Erbe der Elfen
  • The Dark Vault
  • Medea
  • If You Go Down to the Woods
  • Zone One
  • Home Body
  • Windschiefe Geraden
  • The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing
  • The Wych Elm
  • Des Teufels Gebetsbuch
  • Stories of Your Life and Others
  • Nur vom Weltraum aus ist die Erde blau

Quick Reviews – September ’21

Axiom’s End by Lindsay Ellis, published 21 July 2020.

I had been interested in this book since before it's publication; it has aliens and linguistics. Alas, I could not get over the redundant writing and gave up soon after the aliens were introduced, or when part 2 of the book started. The story might be intriguing, but the novel could have done with a lot more editing. Especially since it is written from the POV of a former linguistics major, who should know how to write concise sentences. 

2/5 Harpy Eagles

Over the Woodward Wall by A. Deborah Barker, published 6 October 2020.

The name Deborah Barker is the pseudonym of Seanan McGuire, author of the Wayward Children series; or rather this retelling of The Wizard of Oz is a book within a book. It's been referred to in Middlegame several times. The story is supposed to be targeted at middle-grade students, yet I thought that there was a lot of between the lines commentary directed at more mature readers. The sequel Across the Saltwise Sea is on my review copy TBR. 

3/5 Harpy Eagles

Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead, published 4 May 2021.

Shortlisted for the Booker Price 2021. This book has two story-lines, one follows Marian Graves, who wants to be a pilot and circumnavigate the Earth from pole to pole. The other story-line follows the actress Hadley Baxter, who's playing Marian in the film based on the latter's logbook found in the Antarctic ice years after her plane was lost on its last leg of the journey. 
I truly enjoyed the Marian part of the story, and although it was interesting to read about Hadley's story, this Hollywood-starlet story-line never really gripped my attention. The last 100 pages of the book, mostly focusing on Marian's circumnavigation, were the best part of the story. 

4/5 Harpy Eagles

Phosphate Rocks. A Death in Ten Objects by Fiona Erskine, published 17 June 2021.

"The demolition crew found the body."

This is how Erskine's novel starts. A body was found in the ruins of what used to be the fertiliser plant in Leith. A body that was encased in phosphate rocks. Ten items are arranged on the desk in front of the body. And those ten items eventually help the former foreman John Gibson and the police to narrow down the time of death and the identity of the person. 

I really enjoyed this mystery. It was full of lighthearted "nerdy-ness": some of the chemicals used in the process of making fertilisers are explained in an entertaining and not too scientific way. Erskine further has first hand experience having worked at the fertiliser plant herself, which gave her lots of material for the story's characters and their anecdotes.

4/5 Harpy Eagles

Two Rivers series by Ann Cleeves.

At last a series of whodunits/mysteries that I couldn't solve right at the start of the books. I really enjoyed the first book of this new series by bestseller author Cleeves. The Long Call (2019) introduces the investigative team surrounding inspector Venn. He and his husband live in North Devon in a small community. When a body washes up on the shore, Venn's investigation brings back memories of his past in an evangelical community. 

Book two, The Heron's Cry (2021), is set only months after the first book. We get to see character development of the investigative team, as well as some secondary characters of the first book make an appearance. A clever mystery that even I had not fully unveiled before the big reveal. 

4/5 Harpy Eagles, for each

Winter’s Orbit by Everina Maxwell, published 02 February 2021.

This book is hard to review. I want to say it's a Sci-Fi book with an arranged M/M marriage romance on the side, but it's the other way round. This is a romance novel about a M/M arranged marriage set in a Sci-Fi world. In order to uphold the treaty between the Iskat Empire and its vassal planet Thea, the two MCs, Jinan and Kiem, have to get married right after Jinan's period of mourning his late husband is over.
  
Rake Kiem has to be reformed. Uptight Jinan has to loosen up. They both have misgivings about the marriage at the beginning. When they find out about a plan to overthrow the treaty, they have to work together. Which leads to them getting to know each other much better and trusting each other. Cue traps, damsels -well, spouses- in distress, and a happily ever after. 

3/5 Harpy Eagles

A Long Petal of the Sea

A Long Petal of the Sea was my first Isabel Allende book, although I’ve had her on my radar for quite some time. That’s to say there are at least three other books either waiting on my shelf or my e-reader which I haven’t gotten to yet. My interest was renewed after watching her TED talk Tales of passion. So when I was recently stranded without a book and hours to kill, I did the only sensible thing. I went straight to a bookstore and bought an emergency book – this one.

This family saga covers decades and two continents, as we follow the main characters Victor and Roser. Their story starts during the Spanish Civil War, during which Victor works as a doctor and Roser waits for the return of Victor’s brother Guillem to return from the war in time for the birth of their child. Instead of being happily reunited, Victor and Roser have to flee the country after Franco overthrows the government. After learning of Guillem’s death, they marry to use to opportunity to embark on a sea voyage organized by Pablo Neruda (yes, the poet) to start a new life in Chile. They are unlikely partners, but throughout the book we see them connect and grow into an impressively strong unit.

My prior knowledge about Spanish history really lacked, so it was very interesting to learn about that time period in this well-researched piece of historical fiction. I was really surprised that Pablo Neruda played such a huge part in that time, and found it very fitting to start each chapter with a short quote by him. The book title is also taken from one of his poems about Chile. My only issue with the writing was that it sometimes read too much like a report – but I guess that is hard to avoid when you want to cover such a large amount of time with multiple character lines. Although these characters offered a very obvious chance for a fated lovers trope, Allende didn’t take that path and I’m really grateful for that.

4/5 Magpies

A Cup of Tea for the Soul

It’s been some time, but I’ve promised my fellow Sceptres that I will finally (this time for real) get back into the habit of writing blog posts. But – how to start? Usually I’d say when in doubt choose a Pratchett, but another author who never disappoints is Becky Chambers.

You may know her Wayfarer series, which introduced us to her fabulous way of writing diverse characters and heartwarming stories. When picking up a Becky Chambers novel, you know that everything is going to be alright.

Her newest book, A Psalm for the Wild-Built, is no exception. While her Wayfarer books take place in space or in at least technologically advanced environments, the first book in the Monk & Robot series takes a different turn. The main character is a tea monk, offering a tea ceremony to people who need comfort and someone to listen to their problems. Still searching for a greater sense of purpose and adventure in their life, the monk one day ventures off the well-maintained paths and comes across a robot. This comes as quite a shock, since the robots left the humans to fend for themselves after gaining self-awareness. If you ask me, that would be a really likely scenario. According to the robot, it’s time to check in with the humans, and to answer the question “what do people need?”.

This snack-sized novella asks some very interesting questions about purpose, needs and happiness. On top of that, you get that hopeful and comforting tone Becky Chambers is so good at.

5/5 Magpies

Familar Sci-fi, still fantastic

Velocity Weapon by Megan E. O’Keefe ticks a lot of sci-fi staples:

  • Emergent AI …
  • … in a gigantic spaceship
  • Forbidden tech nobody understands …
  • … that is used anyway by the authorities
  • War for resources between two planets
  • An interplanetary spy network

Nevertheless, the book manages to feel familiar instead of overly tropey. You feel more like coming home to a new story instead of groaning that everything is the same.

The story features two siblings, a physically disabled gunner Sanda Greeve (she is missing a leg) and her brother Biran, part of the authorities that control the tech that makes the intergalactic portals possible, who appears in flashbacks. Sanda wakes up from coldsleep on a deserted enemy spaceship called Bero. The spaceship AI reveals to her that she slept 230 years, and that both her home planet and the rival planet were destroyed in the war, and the whole system is lost. From this point, events unfold.

There are several plot twists in the book, which did not really surprise me, yet some of them, although they didn’t surprise me, I didn’t see them coming from miles away. I wonder what the RightHonorableHarpyEagle would think about those, as she recently posted about plot twists.

I really liked the book, and I look forward to reading the next two installments of the series. However, I think the author has not reached her full potential in this book. Let’s see how this develops, I will keep you updated.

4/5 Duckies

It has such a nice cover

These days I seem to be reviewing books either as “this wasn’t for me” or “holy shit, you have to read this”. I am sorry for every author whose work falls into the first category; I’m 92% certain it’s a case of “it’s me, not you”.

Along those lines, The Wood Be Queen wasn’t for me. Edward Cox’s novel was promoted during the Gollanz Fest earlier this year and I immediately requested a review copy. I was very happy when I got approved for an ARC, but this is where my happy reading experience stopped.

As I mentioned above, it’s a case of me. It took me felt ages to get into the story. I gave it several tries. The first 20-ish % that I read, and re-read, reminded me of Erin Morgenstern’s The Starless Sea. Though, where I stuck it out with Morgenstern’s book and actually re-read that one, I just couldn’t get into The Wood Bee Queen. The dialogues felt forced, the arrangement of the chapters/scenes felt weird, which is probably a feature not a bug. I kept wandering off, first in my head then physically by picking other books.

This book might be for you if you like meandering story lines that come together at the end. But more importantly, this book is for you if you are a much more patient person than I am and like to wait for the story to unfold rather than being plunged into the action from page one.

Edward Cox’s The Wood Bee Queen was published 10 June 2021.

2/5 Harpy Eagles

It’s that time of the month…

… when I am thinking about which skein of yarn I’ll have to turn into a pair of woollen socks, because it’s getting cold outside.

This summer hasn’t been very summery and it seems to have turned into autumn already. As I’ve mentioned last month already, this has definitely boosted my reading.

In August I read a lot of ARCs, see my quick reviews of a few of them here and here, and I re-read some comfort reads. That’s probably why I haven’t made any big reading plans for September so far. I have been thinking about making an autumn reading list though, I could add the few books left from my summer reading list. Planned for the immediate future is Pratchett’s Going Postal, since the #OokBOokClub on Litsy is discussing this next week. My other book club decided on reading Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead, which is on the Booker longlist and supposed to be a very un-Booker book – so I’ve been told. It might very well be the first Booker book I’ll be reading.

What I’m longing to read is a book with a surprising plot twist. I can most often see a plot twist from miles away, despite lack of foreshadowing. That’s probably the current main reason why I’m re-reading books, or read romance novels; I know what I am in for and my brain can take a stroll for once. I am an over-thinker and I have a very hard time reading a book without thinking about its continuity, possible plot twists, etc. I am my own worst enemy, I spoil the plot/fun for myself. Most books I read this summer couldn’t surprise me. I’m not saying that they were bad, but once in a while I’d like to say “I did not see that coming!” Which book(s) surprised you with unexpected plot twists?

Better go do some stash diving for the perfect yarn. Can’t think of anything more relaxing than a comfort read on my headphones while I’m turning a ball of soft wool into a pair of reading socks right now. Even if I don’t encounter a plot twist in the book I’m listening too, I’m sure I’ll manage to twist the yarn I’m working with.

Quick Reviews – Aug ’21 – #2

Here are four NetGalley ARCs I managed to read during the last couple of weeks.

A Strange and Brilliant Light by Eli Lee, published 22 July 2021.

This is literary dystopian Sci-Fi. The author basically discusses the advantages and disadvantages of AI taking over our world. It’s interesting, but it was a very slow read for me, especially as I didn’t like any of the charcters.

2/5 Harpy Eagles

Betrayal on the Bowery by Kate Belli, publishing day 12 October 2021.

The story picks up right where book 1, Deception by Gaslight, ended. It’s New York in 1889, Daniel and Genevieve are thrown together to investigate the kidnapping of a debutante and are also working on solving the murder of two young society gentlemen. There is a haunted mansion, very dark places, and a connection to Daniel’s past.

3/5 Harpy Eagles

The Thunder Heist by Jed Herne, publishing day 19 October 2021.

The heist was good. The rest, not so much. There is lots of action going on, yet I’d have liked more fleshed out characters. Additionally, the MC got out of scrapes too conveniently; sometimes by purely changing the POV to a secondary character who happens to meet the MC after she made it out of the trap. That’s lame writing. I want to see/know how she did it.

2/5 Harpy Eagles

The Bookshop of Forgotten Dreams by Emily Blaine, published 18 June 2021; translated from French. TW: suicide!

Maxime is a really bad boy, he’s a young actor with anger management problems. He’s misogynistic and he doesn’t endear himself to the reader during the very first chapter. Sarah is the shy (and innocent) owner of a second hand bookshop in a rural area. Maxime, after beating someone up, has to do community service in Sarah’s bookshop. She changes him.

Nope! Not my kind of romantic story.

0/5 Harpy Eagles

If your pets played Dungeons&Dragons

… it would probably happen exactly as in Campaigns & Companions: The Complete Role-Playing Guide for Pets by Alex de Campi, Andi Ewington and Rhianna Pratchett. To be released on 14.09.2021, Netgalley was kind enough to provide me with a digital ARC.

This is not a guide how your Dungeons & Dragons character can also have a cute dog, cat or spider, but a hilarious collection of small scenes, all with very fitting illustrations, about what would happen if your average cat/dog/turtle adventurer would behave like a real world pet. The answer is: they are kind of jerks. But incredibly funny.

4/5 Duckies

Quick Reviews – August ’21

Prime Deceptions by Valerie Valdes, 8 September 2020.

Second book in the Chilling Effect series. Unfortunately, I was annoyed with the characters pretty soon. Eva’s past is catching up with her, just as much as Vakar’s smells/feelings are catching up with the reader in nearly every scene. The main part of the story felt like Pokemon Go on a planet far far away.

The cover is cool, though.

3/5 Harpy Eagles

The Butchering Art: Joseph Lister’s Quest to Transform the Grisly World of Victorian Medicine by Lindsey Fitzharris, first published 31 October 2017.

The right book for you if you like history of medicine and have a stomach that can handle descriptions of amputations and wound infection. You’ll learn how terrible the hygienic situations were in Victorian hospitals, called ‘death houses’ for obvious reasons, and how Joseph Lister worked ceaselessly to turn them into safe hospitals.

5/5 Harpy Eagles

Cultish: The Language of Fanaticism by Amanda Montell, published 15 June 2021.

Wow, this was eye-opening. I thought I knew about religious cults, but that was just surface knowledge. Montell dives into the language used not only in cults that have become (in)famous, like Scientology and Heaven’s Gate. She also explores the language of fitness cults like Peloton, social media, and pyramid schemes/multilevel marketing plans.

5/5 Harpy Eagles

You Sexy Think by Cat Rambo, publishing date 16 November 2021.

I was hooked by the description “Farscape meets The Great British Bake Off.” Alas, I was bored from the beginning where nothing much happens but character introductions. I get that they are necessary and I do enjoy them normally, but it just didn’t gel with me. I wanted to see the living ship. I wanted the Space Opera to get going. So, once I got there -to the living ship- (at about 21%), I didn’t care anymore and I skimmed to the end. [ARC provided by the publishers through NetGalley.com]

2/5 Harpy Eagles

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