One Litsy.com member started #JuneOfARC and I tried to read as many ARCs as possible. I managed more than three, but haven’t written up reviews for the other ones yet.
Molly Molloy and the Angel of Death by Maria Vale, published 04 April 2023.
Death accidentally picks the wrong soul and Molly Molloy lives. From now on Molly can see Death and interact with him. Death is depicted as going with the time on Earth but with the comic relief of no education and no clue about the world he wants to live in whatsoever, i.e. he writes everything phonetically, doesn’t know how modern amenities work. A love story between the two of them ensues, including a very fast-forward to several years on.
I'm certain my love for the funny stories about Death by either Pratchett or Christopher Moore had an influence on my perception of this rather lukewarm rom-com.
1/5 Harpy Eagles
The Curious Kidnapping of Nora W by Cate Green, expected publication 01 August 2023.
Nora is about to become the oldest person on the planet. Her great-granddaughter is planning her Guinness World Record party, but Nora doesn’t want a party. Nora wants to leave the care home she lives in. She might be frail, but manages to get a family member to sign off on her paperwork and Nora goes to live with her carer Arifa, another woman who has survived a war.
A story about survival, about family and friendship. I enjoyed this slow story, but it took me some time to get used to the writing style and the POVs of the three women.
3/5 Harpy Eagles
Perilous Times by Thomas D Lee, published 25 May 2023.
The author clearly knows a lot about the Arthurian Legend. I liked the idea of the book, the knights of the Round Table being resurrected whenever the realm is in peril, which this time means a dystopian Britain suffering from climate change.
I had the feeling that the plot suffered from all the commentary on climate change, gender identity, sexual orientation and racism. It bogged the story down and made sticking to the book very hard for me. It was very easy to put the ARC away and similarly very hard to pick it up again.
Shanghai Immortal by A.Y. Chao, published 01 June 2023.
As a contestant for the most stunning cover 2023 this novel is in the lead. I applied for the ARC especially because the cover caught my attention. Yet, the story behind the cover and the interesting blurb didn’t deliver.
Shanghai Immortal seems to defy all genres that I would have assigned to it, is it an adult (urban) fantasy with Chinese mythology elements or a paranormal mystery/paranormal romance?
I’m not sure what this book’s genre actually is, but it read too modern for a story set in the Jazz Age. The MC, Lady Jing, acted like a spoiled teenager rather than a nearly 100-year-old immortal princess/half-vampire-half-fox-spirit with ties to two high courts of the mythical realm. Lady Jing is acting up just for the sake of annoying everyone around her, which shows how the author is using Jing’s childhood trauma as a plot device, it’s the only reason given for Jing’s behaviour. Furthermore, Jing doesn’t listen to the advice from the people around her, which the author tries to hide under the cloak of the “miscommunication trope”.
Where Lady Jing is presented as the anti-hero hero who wants to prevent the theft of a certain dragon pearl from the King of Hell, the secondary characters are depicted as typical paste-board romance novel characters. There’s the uber-beautiful bestie and her love-interest. There is the overly protective, yet obnoxiously annoying father-figure and his cronies, the “turd for brain bitches” who have been bullying Jing all her life, there is an avuncular figure who we get to see two three times but they have to make the deus-ex-machina work, and there is the handsome, clueless and hard to crack mortal love-interest.
Ugh! I thought I’d get an Urban Fantasy with Chinese Mythology woven into it not a hot mess of a story that I’d rank as a bland romance story that has the maturity level somewhere between middle-grade and YA. It definitely isn’t an adult paranormal/mythological urban fantasy mystery.
For the First Time, Again by Sylvain Neuvel, published 18 April 2023.
Short, because spoiler free, review about the conclusion to the Take Them to the Stars trilogy.
The 102nd Kibsu, Aster, has to continue what her foremothers started. The orphaned teenager is being chased by the US military and Alien Trackers. The only guidance she has is an old diary. With help from a very unexpected corner, she tries her best to continue her legacy.
In between Aster’s story there are short chapters going back to the beginning of the Kibsu, to the first of the one hundred and how it all started.
It’s a fast-paced book about destiny and fulfilling one’s purpose in life, full of pop-culture references of the 1990s and early 2000s. I enjoyed this as much as the other books in the series and Neuvel’s Themis Files trilogy.
The Cage of Dark Hours by Marina J. Lostetter, published 14 February 2023.
A middle book that doesn’t suffer from Middle Book Syndrome is rare. The Cage of Dark Hours is such a book. Since most of the world-building happened in The Helm of Midnight, Lostetter now concentrates on a mystery/adventure about the secrets that made this world tick the way it’s ticking and hints at what might be resolved in the third book (Re: magical plague, hints at technological advancements).
The story is told from three different points of view. There’s Krona, who we met in Helm. She’s still grieving the loss of her sister, still trying to find the cause for the magical plague, and now has to prevent a murder in a city stuffed to the brim with delegations and foreign dignitaries. Then there is the noble Mandip, who, by sheer accident, is drawn into the whole plot only because he wanted to outsmart a relative. He soon finds out that the society he grew up in is not what he thinks it is. And, to show us what lies behind the curtain, we have Thalo Child. Thalo Child is one of the children groomed from infancy to serve the Thalo, to help harvest time among other things [I know this sounds very vague, but I just don’t want to accidentally spoil information]. Their account starts a few years before the actual events of the book with insights into how the Thalo system works and how the children within the system grow up. With each Thalo Child chapter the two timelines draw closer together, until they eventually converge.
The book is fast-paced and due to the dual timeline, its thriller-like plot, and twists and secrets not being too obvious, makes for a hard to put down read.
As mentioned above, I’m hoping the magical plague, although somehow explained in Cage, will come up again in the third book. This part of the plot seemed glazed over too easily and hopefully isn’t dismissed altogether. The hints at technological advancements throughout the book made me wonder whether they foreshadow a huge twist à la M. Night Shyamalan in book three. I guess I will have to wait and see.
Falling Hard for the Royal Guard by Megan Clawson, published 27 April 2023.
This might seem like yet another rom-com about enemies to lovers, with a clumsy heroine and a handsome hero, though what makes this unique is the setting which by extension makes the MCs unique. The heroine of the story has certain parallels with the author, both grew up in one of London’s most iconic landmarks, The Tower of London, and as such have inside information like no one else. Debut author Megan Clawson’s father used to be in the armed forces and now works as a Beefeater at The Tower, and she drew her inspiration from her ‘neighbours’ and ‘neighbourhood’.
Understandably, the setting is extremely well-researched. I mean, anyone who has visited The Tower might know that the floorboards in the White Tower creak, but they certainly wouldn’t know which staff door leads to a small kitchen area for a sneaky cuppa, or where to walk if you want to avoid being seen by all the night watch men when coming home late from a date.
Despite all the insider information about The Tower and the military background of the people living and working there, it was a cute romantic story that might have had its OTT moments, but never felt like slapstick; the FMC was sometimes eye-rollingly clumsy and the MMC reminded me of Colin Firth’s grumpy Mr Darcy (either reincarnation). The secondary characters were wonderful and I am hoping to see more of them in Dawson’s next book(s).
The Skeleton Key by Erin Kelly, published 01 September 2022.
Nell’s father wrote a book years before she was born. A book about golden bones that was part children’s story, part treasure map. A book that some people were so obsessed about, they drew strange conclusions and when Nell was a child they tried to cut her open, certain she was born with the last missing piece of the miniature golden skeleton hidden inside of her.
Now, the family meets up to celebrate the upcoming publication of the 50th anniversary edition and its new treasure hunt. With trepidation Nell arrives at her parents’ home which brings back all the memories she has tried to bury. All her family is there. As well as a camera team filming an exclusive documentary. Meanwhile, outside the house, the hard core fans are gathering.
A story of a woman who has hidden herself from the public because of the decisions of her parents. She’s trying to protect her foster daughter as much as herself from the events and the repercussions of the past.
A page-turner with an MC that has scars on her body and soul. Solving the decades old riddle, unearthing several family secrets on the way, is the only way for Nell to keep her foster daughter and make peace with the past.
The Bandit Queens by Parini Shroff, published 03 January 2023.
This story of female friendship, sisterhood, found family, but also about the limitations women are still facing, would have deserved to advance to the Women’s Prize of Fiction Shortlist. Shame it didn’t.
Geeta’s village thinks she murdered her husband and fed his body to the dogs. Geeta knows it’s not true, but if the whole village wants to think she’s a murdering witch, she embraces the idea.
Since her drunkard of a husband left Geeta five years ago, she turned her luck and has never missed a payment for her small business loan. This success story attracts the attention of other women who would like to turn their fortune around by getting rid of their husbands too. So they ask Geeta to help them. Not all of them know how to ask nicely, though.
There is lots of dark humour in this story. Furthermore, behind that dark humour lie truths that need to be acknowledged and challenged. It’s a book that made me laugh out loud at the antics these women came up with, but also made me more aware of the culture and the situations they live in.
The Quantum Curators and the Fabergé Egg by Eva St. John, published 24 May 2020.
A group of time travellers steals famous (about to be destroyed) artefacts before they are lost to their fate. This group of time travellers is from a different Earth than the one we inhabit. An Earth where the Great Library of Alexandria did not burn down, it’s still humankind’s largest depository of knowledge. That’s why their curators have to ‘step through’ to our Earth to get the otherwise destroyed items before they are lost.
Well, I wonder where I have heard elements of that story before? Off the top of my head I noticed parallels to the Invisible Library series, the Great Library series, and the Chronicles of St. Mary’s series. I might have missed a few others.
The band of curators was diverse, maybe more diverse than the groups in the aforementioned series, but all in all the characters were flat. The dual POV jumps from first person narrator to third person narrator and in some cases the some of the secondary characters seem to hijack the POV for a view paragraphs without any prior warning.
This (free with Audible subscription) audiobook was a hot mess for me and I didn’t stick it out to the end.
Voices of the Dead by Ambrose Parry, expected publication 15 June 2023.
Set in 1853, two years after the events of the last book, the fourth book in the Raven, Fisher and Simpson historical (medical) detectives series is centred on mesmerism and the power of mediums.
Body parts have been found around the city and the culprit is soon identified, but the case doesn’t seem to be as straightforward as it seems. Raven helps McLevy with the investigation. Sarah, obviously, helps Raven with the investigation, while trying to learn more about mesmerism. Furthermore, there is a medium that disturbs the routine at Queen Street during a séance that was supposed to clarify that mediums are a fraud. Raven seems at odds with all of it: the things the medium revealed at the séance, Sarah’s interest in mesmerism, the dapper gentleman who’s interested in Sarah, the new head surgeon at Surgeon’s Hall, his wife and his toddler son,…
I had some trouble getting into the story. I felt like I had missed some information at the end of book 3 of the series. So I went back and skim-read book 3 to be up to date, and suddenly the beginning of Voices of the Dead made sense to me. I had indeed forgotten some important details.
Once I got stuck in the book, though, it was hard to put down. Not because I wanted to know whether they would catch the murderer in the end and, more importantly, who the murderer had been – as with most mystery/detective novels, I had an idea how it all tied together before I got to the halfway point – my main interest was the main characters and how their lives and relationships would enfold.
4/5 Harpy Eagles
Miss Percy’s Pocket Guide to the Care and Feeding of British Dragons (2021) & Miss Percy’s Travel Guide to Welsh Moors and Feral Dragons (2022) by Quenby Olson.
Mildred Percy, spinster, inherits a trunk from an uncle. The inheritance and arrival of the trunk soon turns Miss Percy’s rather dull life into an exciting story as it turns out one of the items in the trunk is a dragon egg that soon hatches. Miss Percy is about to have an adventure that ladies of her age are not supposed to have.
After an attempt at abduction, Miss Percy comes to the conclusion that the dragon named “Fitz” needs to be brought to a certain area in Wales to make sure no fortune hunters of any kind try catching him a second time. Together with the local vicar and the vicar’s housekeeper, an old map of her uncle’s and Fitz tucked into a basket, Miss Percy sets off to the unknown land of Wales. A country and journey full of dangers.
The stories are of found family, middle-aged main characters, kindness, adventure and teamwork. The writing is easy to follow, if a bit verbose at times, fast-paced and with the right amount of humour to keep you entertained until the last page.
3.5/5 Harpy Eagles for each book
The Good, the Bad and the History by Jodi Taylor, expected publication 22 June 2023.
For those of you who read this blog regularly, you'll remember that I fell in love with The Chronicles of St Mary's series during the pandemic. I have, since then, re-read the series several times and was in the middle of my "great TCoSM re-read" when Headline Publishing granted my wish and I got a NetGalley eARC of the 14th novel in the series. Naturally, I left book 8, And the Rest is History, unfinished and read the ARC first.
The Good, the Bad and the History is a different St Mary's novel, because, apart from the jumps depicted on the cover (a trip to yet another library on fire and Swan Court), most of the story happens in the future - you know, the desk job Max took up in book 13. Max has to go back to the future 'to close the circle'. Which, incidentally, is also what this novel does with the whole series, there are little remarks about previous jumps/stories here and there, and quotes from previous books, former members of St Mary's being mentioned, etc. Overall, I had the feeling this was to be the last St Mary's story ever. And then there were three seemingly small words right before the Acknowledgements that made me sigh in relief.
Now I can't wait for the signed paperback to arrive so I can re-read the story again while listening to the audiobook.
(For those dying to know: Yes, I finished the "great TCoSM re-read" and, of course, that included re-reading The Good, the Bad and the History.)
5/5 Harpy Eagles
This Time by Joan Szechtman, published 2009.
A Time Travel story about the English king Richard III being snatched from Bosworth Field seconds before his death and being transported to the future.
Sooner than one would think possible for a man having been raised in the rather strict 15th century, Richard acclimatises to the peculiarities of the 21st century. Bathroom facilities don’t faze him; neither does modern clothing or food. He gets the hang of how TV remote controls work as well as mobile phones. He, the king of England, doesn’t even mind being addressed like a commoner, with a nickname even. And although he is still pining after his beloved wife Anne, he soon falls into bed with the one female researcher who greeted him upon his arrival; before you ask, yes, he can wield a condom like he used to wield his sword. I gave up at the point where the previously escaped Richard, who disguised himself as a kitchen help in a restaurant, is about to be recaptured.
The story could have been a good one. The idea is great. Yet, the characters are all one dimensional and Richard takes to the 21st century too easily.
Antimatter Blues by Edward Ashton, published 14 March 2023.
Mickey 7 is back, or should I say he’s still alive? It’s two years after Mickey bartered for his “freedom” from being an Expendable by hiding a bomb with the Creepers. Spring has come to Niflheim and there are problems with the reactor core. To ensure everyone’s survival before the next winter comes, Mickey has to get the bomb back from the Creepers, but it’s gone. What follows is a road trip to recover the bomb from a different tribe of Creepers.
The novel has a plot, but it’s not important. Mickey will save the day, because he is the Chosen One.
1/5 Harpy Eagles
What Angels Fear by C.S. Harris, published 2005.
The first novel in a dark mystery series set in Britain in the early 19th century, right around the tumultuous time when the Regency was about to be declared. Sebastian St Cyr is implicated in the murder and, knowing himself to be innocent, takes it upon himself to find the murderer.
Truly liked to see a mystery set in the early times of the Regency. St Cyr is a likable hero and there are interesting secondary characters. The writing is engaging and the chapters are short, which made the novel a pageturner for me.
4/5 Harpy Eagles
Weyward by Emilia Hart, 02 February 2023.
The cover is gorgeous. The writing is excellent. The three storylines are well-interwoven. That should all make this a five star reading. Do. Not. Be. Fooled. By. The. Cover. This book is darker than you’d think. It’s full of domestic violence, sexual assault, male abuse and subjugation of women, furthermore stillbirth, abortion, miscarriage, mutilation, suicidal intentions.
Three timelines. Three women. Three, let’s call them, hedgewitches are fighting for their independence by using insects or birds to free themselves from their male oppressor/s and/or use the animals for their vengeance.
There is nothing new in these three stories. We’ve read it all before. Women being oppressed by the men in their lives, be it father, husband, family members, neighbours, clergy, men of law. Women being at fault just because they are women.
I appreciate what Hart did here, interweaving the three stories, but even at the end of the book we cannot see the light at the end of the tunnel. The end of the book is the circle closing, to make sure the three stories can interconnect.