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.
People have told me to read this book with words like:
it won the Hugo and the Nebula awards
it’s Time-Travel into the 14th century
you are a history nerd and love Sci-Fi/Time-Travel stories
I must say there is one thing Connie Willis got right, during an epidemic that’s fortunately being quarantined early on, there is a shortage of toilet paper and we are reminded of it at least once every chapter. Having lived through the great toilet paper crisis of 2020, I can say this was the most accurate prediction about the future the book had to offer.
For a book written in the late 1980s and first published in 1992 it lacks in extrapolation of existing technology and culture. It basically goes one step forwards and two steps back. Oxford, Great Britain, in 2055 is as backwards as the 1960s. The height of modern technology, ignoring the time travel device that is never really explained, are video telephone landlines which cannot take a message. My cultural highlight of 2055, a university student kisses a girl in the hallway and that leads to uproar about his amoral behaviour. Oy vey!
Okay, Willis might not have nailed the future, but surely the past she must have? Nope! The fourteenth century is dirty, everyone stinks, walks around in rags and it’s actually a wonder how humankind survived after all. Kivrin, the MC, is equipped with the latest information about the fourteenth century; you know, the century of the witch burnings (17th century onwards), the century where basically everyone is a cut-throat or a rapist, where people are exactly as filthy as cliché wants us to believe. Furthermore, her brain-enhancer-translator doesn’t work properly. She cannot understand Middle-English although she has spent three years learning the language. She understands Latin, though. And I’m still wondering why Kivrin had to learn German for this trip. It can’t have been 14th century German, otherwise the little genius and her translator might have worked out what the people are talking about.
Long story short – I’m no Connie Willis:
Past timeline: Kivrin is stranded in 1348 instead of 1320, where she was supposed to land. She falls ill with the plague. The dirty, smelly people, who aren’t all cut-throats even if they are dirty and smelly and scarred and in ragged clothing, help her. She’s bedridden for a long time, but needs to get to “the drop”, the site where she landed and will be picked up again.
Future timeline: It’s Christmas time. People have left the university in droves to spend the holidays with their families. The only available time travel technician in all of Oxford comes down with a virus infection shortly after Kivrin was sent into the past. That’s the catalyst for the lockdown of the city. The techie dangles important information before the senior staff, but falls into unconsciousness every time he might be able to help out with his information.
I see what Willis wanted to do with the book. There was supposed to be a certain allegory between both timelines. There was supposed to be some comic relief. But what I will remember: Not all people in the 14th century were cut-throats, especially the children were adorable. Toilet paper is going to be scarce during a lockdown.
Murder Your Employer: The McMasters Guide to Homicide by Rupert Holmes, published 21 February 2023.
Have you ever wondered what a college for assassins would look like? Probably not. Rupert Holmes has given this idea a lot of thought, though. The McMasters Conservatory for the Applied Arts is the finishing school where the discerning student will learn all there is to know about successfully deleting a person without the deletion backfiring on them. The school’s motto: “Do in others as you would have others do in you.”
This hopefully first novel of a series is set in the 1950s. In this at-home study guide McMasters dean Harbinger Harrow offers the case studies of three pupils, engineer Cliff Iverson, nurse Gemma Lindley, and incognito Hollywood star Dulcie Mown, who all have an ethical reason to delete their employer.
The first part of the book shows why and how students arrive at McMasters’ secret location. We get to know some teachers and their subjects as well as lots of ambitious students who are showing off their acquired skills at every opportunity.
In the second part of the story, Holmes lets us root for the three would-be-killer graduates of McMasters as they all try to finish their respective theses – as the successful deletion of their target is called. Failing is not an option as it would result in successfully being deleted themselves. You only leave McMasters by graduation or in an urn.
A witty murder mystery that was a delight to read, and I am hoping the second volume in this educational at-home course will be available soon.
Ava and Jules work minimum wage jobs at a Swedish big-box store. No, not that one, another one. The one with wormholes opening inside their showrooms; where Ava and Jules have to use a device called FINNA to find a customer who has been sucked into the multiverse through that wormhole. They are definitely not paid enough to risk their lives in alternate universes, but the customer is king; and your boss is your overlord.
Fun novella about what might happen if a wormhole opened in an IKEA that is definitely not an IKEA.
The Adventures of Amina al-Sirafi by Shannon Chakraborty, published 02 March 2023.
From the cover of the US edition you might conclude this is a YA fantasy novel. The UK edition cover might make you revise that idea. Whatever idea you come to in the end, did you think of a tall, brown skinned, middle-aged female pirate who leaves her ten-year-old daughter behind to rescue the daughter of a former crew mate?
It’s a swashbuckling tale of Amina’s first adventure after having left her pirating ways when her daughter was born. You’ll encounter a woman torn between the love for her daughter and family as well as her first love her ship and the sea. There are mythical creatures, sea monsters, magic, fights with mythical sea creatures and, we’re among seafaring people, cussing and drinking.
If you liked Pirates of the Caribbean and are more than ready for another pirate adventure with a daring captain and her middle-aged crew in the Indian Ocean at medieval times, then get this book as soon as possible.
The Art of Prophecy by Wesley Chu, published 09 August 2022.
Before I even dare to share any of my thoughts about this book, let me tell you one important thing about myself: I don’t like epic books. I especially dislike epic fantasy books. I might have said this before.
The Art of Prophecy is the first part of an epic fantasy series and I really liked it. Liked it so much so that I put all the other books I have going on the back burner and concentrated on this alone. In other words, I devoured it.
Jian is a Chosen One. The Chosen One that has been prophesied to slay the Eternal Khan. His martial arts training has been overseen by different Masters since he was a small boy. Yet, what Master Taishi encounters when she evaluates him is a spoilt boy living in his lavish palace being waited on hand and foot.
Master Taishi is appalled at how unprepared the spoilt hero of the Enlightened States actually is. She takes it upon herself to train him and dismisses his former masters. Neither the masters nor the spoilt hero are happy about this turn of events. But this is only the first of many unexpected turns that will change the lives of Jian and Taishi.
Set in an alternate China. Martial Arts fights that far exceed what you’ve seen in the cinema. A slowly expanding cast of characters. A Chosen One, Coming of Age story like no other I’ve read in a long time.
And now I am ordering the Waterstones special edition for the re-read.