Daughters of Doubt and Eyerolling

Author: TheMarquessMagpie Page 1 of 5

Of Heroines and Yellow Jackets

Plain Bad Heroines by Emily M. Danforth has (of course) been sitting on my shelf forever. The virtual one, at least. Let‘s call it an e-reader-lurker. I started it when heading out for a vacation, because for me that‘s always a good opportunity to tackle some books that have been on my radar for a longer time. And in this case I think my vacation mood made me overlook a lot of things that would have had me bailing otherwise. This is a big “I liked it, and yet…“

The book is told in two alternating timelines. One is set in 1902, when two students of the Brookhants boarding school for girls share not only a passion for the memoirs of young writer Mary MacLane, but also for each other. Named after a quote from Mary‘s book, they form the “Plain Bad Heroine Society“. They are found dead in the orchard of the school, killed by a swarm of yellow jackets. More deaths will follow them.

The other timeline is set in the present day. Author Merritt Emmons has written a book about the events of 1902, and a horror movie adaptation is in the works. After a rather bumpy start, she forms a bond with actresses Harper Harper and Audrey Wells. But during production, talk about the curse of Brookhants gets louder and louder, and in the end it gets hard for them to distinguish truth from rumor and show effects.

Let‘s start with the positive things. The writing style was quirky and engaging, and I liked the omniscient narrator a lot. The use of footnotes made everything feel quite plausible. When starting it, I had the giddy feeling that I’d probably like it a lot. Introducing the different timelines had a lot of potential, and yet…

And yet I don‘t think the book delivered on that potential. I didn‘t notice it on my e-reader at first, but in print this book has over 600 pages. It is really long, yet the end felt rushed and didn‘t tie everything together in a satisfying way. The plot(s) moved along very slow, so it was hard to get a sense of building tension. Also, what little there was, just fizzled out at the end.

While it is classified as horror, it didn‘t really feel like it. Again, probably because it didn‘t grab me that much with its slow speed. There are a few gross scenes, and if you are already a bit nervous around wasps you may be more so after it.

3/5 Magpies

Nettle & Bone

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Well actually, kind of a bird…. It‘s the MarquessMagpie crawling out of her hole to finally write a review again.

Nettle & Bone by T. Kingfisher started out as my bedtime e-book, but grabbed me enough that it got promoted to my “main book“ pretty quickly. I think I picked it up after hearing about it on All the Books.

I would say it‘s a fairytale for people who are sick of them. Let me show you the ingredients that make this story special:

  • The princess: Marra is not sweet 16, but 30 and not the least interested in marrying. Instead, she‘s great at needlework and out for revenge.
  • The prince: Well, he‘s not the charming kind at all. He married both of Marra‘s sisters, killed the first one and abuses the second one. So of course we set out to kill him.
  • The gravewitch: While being a weapon all by herself, she‘s got a demon chicken and she‘s not afraid to use it.
  • The fairy godmother: She‘s better at cursing than at blessing, but she‘s doing her best.
  • The bone dog: A story is always better with an animal sidekick, so who cares if he rattles a bit.
  • The lumberjack-type love interest they pick up along the way: I already forgot his name. Gladly, the story centers on Marra‘s quest and the group dynamics.

The timeline was a bit confusing at first, but straightened out once the gang got together. At it‘s core, it‘s a revenge quest story with some adventures along the way. What worked really well for me was Kingfisher‘s clever and snarky writing style and great group dynamics.

4/5 Magpies

High Fantasy, Low Stakes and a Lot of Heart

Sometimes, a book jumps into your way at just the right time. I‘ve read about Legends & Lattes by Travis Baldree on Goodreads, and decided to try it to get me out of a reading slump. Gladly, I loved everything about it.

It‘s about an orc called Viv, and she‘s had enough of the adventurer life. She‘s worn out, and her back hurts. So after one last job retrieving a fabled artifact, she moves to Thune to open up a coffee shop.

She quickly gathers a lovely cast of characters around her, including:

  • Cal, a hob carpenter / handyman who helps her renovating
  • Tandri, a succubus who supports her as a barista (and also in general)
  • Thimble, a rattkin who turns out to be an amazing baker

Also, there‘s an epic direcat strolling around and protecting the premises.

Let me just say that everything about this book is lovely. There is a strong found family vibe, as Viv is building a new home against all odds. This story gave me all the warm fuzzy feelings.

Keep cinnamon rolls and coffee on hand when you are diving in, though.

5/5 Magpies

The First Law Buddyread

Say one thing for TheLadyDuckOfDoom and TheMarquessMagpie, say they enjoy the hell out of a well-written epic fantasy series. And Joe Abercrombie’s First Law series was just that.

We read the first three books as buddyreads, which really takes a lot of determination if you want to pace yourself.

The series starts of with The Blade Itself, in which our illustrous cast of characters is introduced and assembled. Here are some of them:

  • Logen Ningefingers, also called the Bloody-Nine: a humble northman haunted by his past. In Lady Duck’s estimation, he also suffers from dissociative identity disorder.
  • Sand dan Glokta, a once praised fencer, for his looks as well as his skill, he was tortured and turned into a cripple when he got captured in war. Now he serves as a torturer and investigator for the Inquisition, which is more of a police institution than religious undertaking in the Kingdom.
  • Jezal dan Luthar, the rich kid, totally loathesome. What an ass.
  • The Dogman, a named man from the north, famed for his sense of smell. It feels unlikely, but he really grows on you.
  • Ferro Maljinn, a former slave, runs on revenge plots alone. She is a force to be reckoned with.
  • Collem West, an army Major stepping up when things get difficult and dangerous. Don’t worry, he has his faults.
  • Bayaz, First of the Magi, always with a trick up his sleeve. You never know what’s up with that cheating bastard.

We spent most of the first book getting a glimpse into the lives of these characters. It‘s mainly a setup book and not a ton of stuff happens. But don‘t think that it gets boring for even a bit – we at least follow Glokta uncovering a conspiracy, after all.

Instead of suffering from a case of middle book syndrome, Before They Are Hanged turned out to be a roadtrip book. There are some very interesting character developments, and we get to know the cast a lot better. The brewing conflicts are foreshadowed very reasonably and you smell a war coming. In the 10th anniversary edition, the author’s note tells us that Abercrombie is incredibly proud of this book, and Lady Duck seconds this opinion. The middle book syndrome is expertly circumnavigated, and she laughed at the end of it.

In The Last Argument of Kings, the world is at war. New kings are crowned and need to grow into their roles very quickly. Although, do they really? There’s fighting, blood, and even more fighting. The “backwards” Northmen play quite a big part in the turn of events. The ending leaves some threads dangling, but intentionally so. The books play so well on the common epic fantasy genres, and denying the readers full closure is just another of Abercrombies tricks. Or maybe he planned more books set in this universe all along.

Overall, the series mostly deals with what it means to wield power. Who can be trusted with it? What does having a title really mean? Isn’t everybody (except one… ) just pretending to know what they’re doing and hoping for the best? Another recurring theme twists the fantasy trope of redemption arcs: sometimes, as hard as people try to be better, sometimes they can not.

The writing style was a real treat:

  • so many unexpected moments of comic relief…
  • … but still grim and bloody
  • it changes a bit with the characters (The recurring “Say one thing for Logen Ninefingers…”, “dead body found at the docks” is a recurring imagined newspaper headline in Glokta’s head after he gets into trouble)
  • some predictable plot twists and turns, but the execution is still great.

The characters feel very real. You see the bad side of every one of them. Not all of them are likeable, but all of them are captivating. I never thought I would root for a crippled torturer, but go Glokta go! Prepare yourself for some very difficult and sad death scenes – but also for a burst of joy when one absolutely loathsome character meets a very satisfying end. While the books are quite “dude-heavy”, the female characters also shine. They are morally grey, scheming and far from your classic damsel in distress.

So, I guess I really need to read all Abercrombie books now. Don’t worry, the next one (Best Served Cold) is already waiting on my shelf. Lady Duck insert: not on my shelves, oh noes. We will need to change that asap (which means summer or later, book buying ban be damned)

5/5 Birdies for each of them – still alive, still alive

Better Skip in Case of Emergency

I found Daniela Krien’s Love in Case of Emergency (or Die Liebe im Ernstfall in the original German version) at a book flea market, picked it up for 1€ and felt incredibly lucky.

Well, let’s say that I’m happy I didn’t pay more. It’s not a bad book, not really. I just didn’t care at all for the characters. The book consists of five interconnected stories about different women. I do not need every character to be likeable, but at least one out of five POVs would have helped a lot.

The thing that stayed with me most was the feeling that everyone was cheating on everyone else. Not my favourite kind of plot, to say the least. I probably expected a more empowering kind of book. It could have been an interesting look at difficult topic and the strength it takes to overcome challenges, instead it just left a somehow toxic taste in my mouth as we see five women that are hurt or defined by either the absence or the presence of men.

2/5 Magpies – at least it was a quick read

Madhouse at the End of the Earth

Welcome back to the Marquess Magpie‘s next entry in the series „people dying on the ice and/or mountains“. This time, we are following the crew of the Belgica into the Antarctic night.

It is the age of polar exploration, and Belgian Navy officer Adrien de Gerlache decides to lead an expedition to the Antarctic to make his nation proud. One of the expedition‘s goals was to reach the (magnetic) South Pole. And oh my, during their journey things go south indeed.

They were not even anywhere close to the South Pole before some of the crew members started brawling and they had to get rid of their cook. The beginning of the book therefore has a bit of a boys will be boys vibe. They also lose one of the crew members quite early on during a storm.

The book mainly follows the commander de Gerlache, the ships’s surgeon Frederick Cook and first mate Roald Amundsen. Having read an abbreviated version of Amundsen‘s account of his later expedition to the South Pole, it was very interesting to see everyone‘s favourite viking in his younger years. These characters are what makes the story so very interesting. Cook and Amundsen developed a kind of bromance, tinkering with the exploration gear and going on skiing excursions together.

When faced with the decision to either abort the expedition or to let the ship get trapped in the ice, possibly for months, de Gerlache made the conscious decision to stay. He would hate to come home and be known as a quitter. His desire for fame and glory by far outweighed his instinct for self-preservation, and his crew didn‘t get to have a say at all.

Trapped in the ice, every night got longer and longer, until the sun disappeared for seventy days. One can only imagine what this does to your mental health. The ones being least affected were Cook and Amundsen, taking it as a chance to prepare even harder for future expeditions. Amundsen, the weirdo, almost seems to be having fun. But soon they had to face the fact that – not unlike punk – scurvy‘s not dead.

Thanks to the primary sources Julian Sancton used, this feels like a very close and accurate account of the story while offering different perspectives. The description of the preparation phase was a bit slow, but once the crew got on board the story really took off. The German translation was great and for once did not feel clunky at all.

5 / 5 Magpies – ice, death and madness all the way. Remember to eat your penguin meat.

The Midnight Library

Ah, another Matt Haig book. The Midnight Library has been sitting on my shelf since Christmas. I knew I wanted to get to it sooner rather than later. But when I saw that a friend started reading it, sooner became right away. And since it is quite snack sized, I tore through it in two days.

The story follows Nora Seed, who decides to die but ends up in a library instead. In this library, time has stopped at midnight and Nora has the chance to visit other versions of her life. Imagine that every time you decide something, another version of your life branches off. What if there is a perfect life you could join instead? And what if there isn‘t?

Matt Haig takes on a heavy topic and still leaves you hopeful in the end. It was a bit predictable, but I was totally fine with that.

5/5 Magpies – 4 for the story, one for the author

A Brightness Long Ago

A Brightness Long Ago by Guy Gavriel Kay is one of the books that has been sitting on my shelves for some time. Patiently waiting. Or more likely silently judging me. Like most of its kind, it turned out to be a “Why did I wait so long” kind of book.

Set in a fantasy version of Renaissance Italy, it is alive with really effortless world building. Because it does not hide the fact that it is kind of Italy but different, everything already feels kind of familiar when you enter the story.

It boasts a big cast of characters, changing perspectives frequently. Sometimes storytelling like this can really annoy me, but in this case it made every aspect more interesting. While parts of the story are told by a first person narrator, he is not necessarily the main character of the story. I’m not even sure there is one. Instead, complex political and personal relationships take the main role.

The writing style was compelling, and at times even a bit self-aware. It felt like the author was winking at you, right before dismantling typical storytelling tropes.

Ultimately, this is a book about the ways people both glorious and seemingly unimportant can shape history. Its place is somewhere between fantasy and historical fiction. But the fantasy elements are more an underlying feeling than, you know, dragons. It still scratches the high fantasy itch. With this book, Guy Gavriel Kay has immediately become an author I need to read more of. Seems like historical fantasy, if we want to call it that, is right in my wheelhouse.

5/5 Magpies

New Year, Old TBR

Oh well, 2021 certainly was… definitely something. Looking at the TBR lists I created in the past, it feels like I fell completely off the bandwagon. I managed to start quite a few of them, but by far didn’t finish each one. It may be that the timing wasn’t right, but some were just complete disappointments. I’m looking at you, Mr. “I’ll reinvent vampire lore by making it cringy” Kristoff.

I went on a three week vacation which really boosted my book total for the year, but other than that the last couple of months felt like one big reading slump. Which is probably one of the reasons I wasn’t really active here.

Since I do miss living the bookish life to the fullest, here are some resolutions to get me into the flow again:

  • take notes during reading, this makes writing a blog post so much easier
  • DNF faster if the vibe doesn’t fit
  • finish some series before starting new ones
  • don’t follow the hype
  • read without fixed lists and choose by mood
  • buy fewer books

Ha, especially the last point will probably be thrown overboard quite quickly. But lately the amount of unread books waiting on my shelves just have been feeling a bit overwhelming. I miss being really excited about choosing the next book.

My current read A Brightness Long Ago by Guy Gavriel Kay feels like a good pick to transition into the new year. Let 2022 be as exciting.

Books of the Month

Because I have gotten extremely bad at writing reviews, I’ll try something different and do a bunch of shorter ones to sum up my reading month.


Race to the South Pole by Roald Amundsen

Sadly, I only read an abbreviated German translation. But nonetheless, this was very interesting. Especially since I visited the Fram museum in Oslo two years ago, so I stood aboard the polar ship Amundsen used to reach the South Pole. Amundsen’s writing is captivating, and everything he and his team experienced just amazed me. A minor content warning here: don’t get attached to the dogs.

4 / 5 Magpies


The Ascent of Rum Doodle by W.E. Bowman

This was really just a lot of fun, especially if you are into “real” mountaineering books. With the aim to put someone on the top of the titular Rum Doodle, our main character Binder puts together an expedition team. From the constantly ill Dr. Prone to the navigator Jungle who even gets lost on his way to the first planning meeting in Britain, all characters are perfectly named and just ridiculous. Together with 3000 porters (yes, the number is correct), they set out and everything that can go wrong, will go wrong. The audiobook was fantastic as a palate cleanser. And just for your information, according to experts champagne can now be considered medicine. You’re welcome.

4 / 5 Magpies


Medea by Christa Wolf

It feels like lately we’ve been spoiled with retellings of Greek myths. And while most of you probably heard of the Madeline Miller books, few will know about Christa Wolf. Published in 1996, Medea tells the titular character’s story from multiple perspectives, shining a different light on the story with each new monologue. It’s quite literary but still fascinating that way, and her take on Kassandra’s story is already waiting on my shelves.

4 / 5 Magpies


The Diary of a Bookseller by Shaun Bythell

Ever wondered what it’s like to own a bookstore? A peek into Shaun Bythell’s diary will give you a good idea. The underlying tone is that customers are mostly quite annoying, and Amazon is out to get us all. I think there is some truth in both points. The writing is entertaining, and it worked really well as a bedside book because reading more than a couple of entries in a row might get repetitive.

3 / 5 Magpies for solid entertainment without any surprises


The Mysterious Study of Doctor Sex by Tamysn Muir

This is a short story set in the Sixth House of Tamysn Muir’s Locked Tomb series. You can read it for free here. Having read both Gideon and Harrow the Ninth, it was fun to be back in the world and also to have a glimpse into the Sixth house. But without prior knowledge from the two full-length novels, this must be an extremely confusing story. And yes, you are most welcome to snicker at the name of the doctor, as are our two 13-year-old protagonists Palamedes and Camilla.

4 / 5 Magpies


The Annual Migration of Clouds by Premee Mohamed

This dystopian novella started off with a Chosen One storyline, but didn’t go there all the way. Instead we spend our time with the main character (and her fungi parasite) as she ponders whether or not to leave her mother behind to make something out of her life. She reaches a decision in the end, but somehow all this buildup feels anticlimactic as this is the point where the story stops. Maybe this would have worked better for me if it was instalment 0.5 of a series instead of a standalone.

3 / 5 Magpies for fungi fun


Finders Keepers by Stephen King

After reading If It Bleeds and The Outsider, I decided to finally finish the Bill Hodges trilogy. Or at least pick up book two, for now. It was a solid King novel – some blood, some suspense, greate characters. According to Goodreads, I read the first book in 2017, so I was really glad that it didn’t matter too much. Or at least I remembered enough to get along.

4 / 5 Magpies


Judge Dee and the Three Deaths of Count Werdenfels by Lavie Tidhar

This is the second of the Judge Dee short stories, it can be read for free here. Apparently there is a third one out already, so I’ll have to get to that soon. Because it’s a short story, I’m not going to tell you much about it. You’ll just have to trust me that it’s worth your time.

5 / 5 Magpies

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