Daughters of Doubt and Eyerolling

Category: Buddyreads Page 2 of 4

Worst book I’ve read this year award…

… goes, unfortunately, to The Poppy War by R. F. Kuang. For me. This is my opinion, and everyone else might have a different view on this. In this review, I will attempt to list the points that made the book such a bad read to me. [TheRightHonourableEagle has edited this post and added a few thoughts. These are not indicated individually, because they do not differ from TheLadyDuckOfDoom’s. They were added for shock-value. ;o)]

The book starts with an underdog character getting into a military school for the rich – nothing new here. The start was solid, but nothing special. Nothing wrong so far, just some tropes I got tired of: The rich bully making the life of the main character hell, the weird teacher, the tall and brooding hero a few years older.

The problems start with part 2 of the book. Rin, the main character, doesn’t really act according to her character. For the rest of this book, she acts like a petulant child, rather than the young, though trained, soldier she’s supposed to be. So, for the sake of the story, that can be annoying, but is manageable.

Still, the whole story feels forced. There is a sudden friendship/maybe romance between Rin and her former bully. That guy tried to kill her. Multiple times. For Rin, a person driven by emotions, this does not seem likely.

The whole part of the story, where Rin, her comrades, and the rest of the army are under siege feels rather unrealistic; and let’s not talk about the thing with the salt.

Then begins the story of torture and rape. Picturesque and gory to the bone, an ex-classmate of Rin, who also bullied her, is re-introduced for one scene only: Fallen far into a husk, she retells all the scenes of her and the other women’s rape, including how a baby was ripped out of a pregnant women with the bare hands of an officer. And, guess what, all this ex-classmate was good for was to tell about how she was raped. She was not a character at all, just a tool to show the cruelty of what the enemy soldiers did. In addition, the pages of torture and rape we are talking about are not just inspired by the Nanjing Massacre, no, the text reads almost the same as the Wikipedia article. Even if we are reading a work of fiction heavily inspired by history, this is a fantasy novel. I expect the author to at least try to write an individual version, citing resources in a reference at the end of the story, to tell people that this passage was inspired by an event that really happened. This feels like a copy of the article written just for shock value.

And now that your mouth hangs open, your tongue is dry in shock of what enemy forces can do to civilians, you turn the page and find Rin ogling the older brooding guy. It’s a scene mainly focusing on opium addiction, but, although Rin is reminded of something familiar by the smell in the room, what she immediately notices is that His Broodyness has no shirt on. At least the scene stays sombre, he is smoking opium and there is no sexual tension, but I/we really stumbled over the no-shirt thingy.

Opium brings me to the next point that is highly problematic for me. Drugs are somewhat lauded in this book, but I don’t know if the writer has knowledge about how addiction works. There is a former heroin addict who never gave up on drugs, just goes from heavy drug addict to smoking opium once a month. Heavily addicted people become a husk of themselves pretty soon, and heroin is a drug that causes bodily addiction, so going so long without a hit just does not work without repercussions. Furthermore, Rin herself, who has never been on drugs before, is administered shot of heroin to the vein in her neck and falls into a hallucinating trance right away. It’s highly unbelievable that you just get into a trance this way, communing with the gods. [We are not willing to test this theory, though!]

By the way, Rin is the child of a drug-dealing family and did deliveries for them. She has seen addiction in all stages, so I guess it is only natural to just start smoking opium heavily. What could possibly go wrong? It’s for educational purposes. Or was it for the sake of the whole nation? [sarcasm]

On top, in the history of this fictional world, the Empire made an entire people addicted to opium. AN ENTIRE PEOPLE! Because, of course, everyone there is the same, that’s how humans work right? Because if everyone of them is in constant pain and mentally imbalanced, everyone will turn to drugs. Which leads to the overall problems of the book.

The book is incredibly dehumanizing in some cases. Every enemy soldier a monster, and one can feel hate seeping through the pages. This goes so far that soldiers of the Empire wonder how these enemy forces might look like and whether they actually want to see the face of their enemies.

A whole people is addicted to a drug, a whole people does this, does that. Prejudice much? A tiny paragraph at the end that tells us “Yes, they are people, too” just is not enough for me.

Fantasy and science fiction are, in my opinion, genres to explore beyond borders, borders of countries, peoples, stars and also beyond the borders of hate. I could not find this in this book. I really tried, and this book utterly failed in this regard.

We, the Sceptres, have been wondering whether we read a different book from every other reader who raved about this book. The story went from 3-star trope-y Young Adult downhill to a 0.5-star drug glorifying gore-fest. We won’t bother reading the other two books in the trilogy.

Burning Roses – Buddyread Reveal

The Sceptre Buddyread selected from the trusted booksellers at Otherland is S.L. Huang’s Burning Roses, published 29 September 2020.

To me, this came as a total surprise. Not only had I been looking at lists of books published at the end of November or in early December, but I hadn’t heard the name of the author before. My bad, definitely. My fellow Sceptres reminded me of other books by Ms Huang, like Zero Sum Game, which I have, obviously, missed out on, too.

So, we’ll be diving into a story where a middle-aged Little Red Riding Hood and middle-aged Archer go on a quest together. Sounds perfect for the time before Christmas. The book has about 150 pages, so we’ll probably fly through it in no time. We’re starting with Part 1 next Monday, December 7th that is. If you’d like to join the buddyread, leave a comment. You’ve already read the book? Great, tell us about it in the comments, spoiler free please.

Bell, Blade and …

… a thunderhead cloud. I just couldn’t find an alliteration for that.

During the last months I read The Arc of a Scythe trilogy by Neal Shusterman with my son. We both liked it very much.

It’s set in a future, where death has been erased from humankind. Any information on Earth is stored in a large cloud computer, the Thunderhead, who is not only a storage device, but also some sort of benevolent Big Brother watching out for you at all times.

Immortality comes with a caveat though. Overpopulation would be an issue if no one ever died, so Scythes -trained and ordained deathbringers- have to glean people (aka kill for good) to even out the numbers.

We follow a young woman, Citra, and a young man, Rowan, into their apprenticeship under Scythe Faraday. It’s tiresome and trying to learn all the ins and outs of the Scythedom, and only one of the two can become a Scythe at the end of their year of apprenticeship; the other has to be gleaned. Citra and Rowan make it through this first year, which is action packed with actual murder, discovering how crooked the Scythedom really is and trying to set everything to rights. Which will, of course, lead us into books two and three that I am not going to write anything about to avoid spoiling the story.

Let me just tell you, there are a few WTF moments, there are a few twists you might have seen coming, but the final resolution of the story is well-made. What I especially liked is that although it is a Young Adult novel we don’t see the usual tropes of love triangles and pining and every decision being judged through rose tinted glasses. It’s a story that is action packed, has it’s funny moments and definitely makes you think about immortality and what it might mean for humankind.


The Lady Duck of Doom totally agrees with this review. It was a really well crafted YA novel, avoiding the common pitfalls and cutting surprisingly deep into the abyss of humanity.

It’s that time of the month…

…when I’m wondering why I have so much Christmas decoration that I cannot put up because of the cats.

Have you ever tried having a lovely looking book tree with tinsel and fairy lights with two nosy cats? I have, last year. Ended in disaster for the tinsel and fairy lights, luckily the books escaped without much harm. This year, I had the idea of creating a Jolabokaflod book tree. If you are not familiar with the term Jolabokaflod, it’s Icelandic for Christmas book flood. The Icelandic tradition is to give and receive lots of books on Christmas Eve (that’s the brief version). So, my Plan -with a capital P- is to wrap all of the books that I have for the kids, and for myself, and put up a book tree. I’ll forego the tinsel and lights this time; better safe than sorry. What is keeping me from doing this? The amount of books I’d have to wrap. It’s somewhere around 50 or 60, I think. (Yes, I went all out.) Also, the time that goes into wrapping all those books, I would rather be reading!

I’d best be procrastinating by telling you about whether I have planned any reading for December? But first, did I get any reading done in November?

November seemed like a slow month for me, maybe it’s because I did not read twenty or more books. I’ve read/listened to The Broken Earth trilogy by N.K. Jemisin. I’ve read, and partly re-read and buddyread with my son, The Scythe trilogy by Neal Shusterman; review to come. There were a few juicy romance novels in November, which I totally blame on the foggy weather. I skimmed along the Sceptre Buddyread, The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow. We, that is the Sceptres, also read R.F. Kuang’s The Poppy War together; a review is forthcoming. I’ve managed to read a few ARCs off my NetGalley shelf, gave feedback on two beta-reads, and I read a lot of chapters from different books to my daughter.

In December I plan to read that slim volume of Twelve Angry Men by Reginald Rose for my postal book club. There is the Sceptre Buddyread, which is lying right next to me, but since TheMarquessMagpie and TheLadyDuckOfDoom haven’t got their books yet, I am keeping mum about the title. [ETA: they both got their copies, we all know what the title is; you’ll find out in our title reveal post] There will, of course, be more books to read, but I don’t know what I will pick at this moment. There will be ARCs, that’s for sure, there might be some books that have collected actual and virtual dust over the past months/years. I’ll tell you in January.

For now I am off. There are books to be wrapped, tinsel to be stuffed into a cat prove box, biscuit dough to be prepared. I’ll put on an audiobook to entertain me, can’t waste precious reading time on listening to the ticking of the clock.

Once there were three witches

The Once and Future Witches by Alix Harrow, publishing date October 15, 2020.

After reading The Ten Thousand Doors of January, I was happy to be approved for the ARC for Alix Harrow’s next book. A book about witches.

Yet, it is so much more than just about witches. Set in 1883, in New Salem, a town a few miles away from Old Salem, which was burned down in the witch trials about a hundred years ago. Women are fighting for the right to vote. And three sisters need to get to grips with their past and survive the present to allow a future for strong women and witchcraft.

Apart from (feminist) witches and devious witch hunters, this book contains badass librarians, sisters and Sisters, powerful depictions of birth and motherhood, and a gorgeous cover.

The prose is excellent. This is why the rather slow parts in the story are still a pleasure to read. Still, at about 60% of the story I was wondering what else might be coming, I thought everything had been said by then. I was wrong, obviously.

4/5 Goodreads stars


The Once & Future Witches was also our Buddyread this month, picked by our most trusted bookshop, Otherland. TheRightHonorableHarpyEagle skipped along a second time, while TheMarquessMagpie and TheLadyDuckOfDoom discovered the magical story of the three sisters. Here is what we think:

TheMarquessMagpie was very much in awe of the writing style. It felt like fairytales came alive, some of them old, some of them new, all of them feeling like a warm blanket on a cold day. She felt part of the family, one of the sisters herself. There was longing, to be one of the future witches and to believe her familiar is out there, waiting in the dark with red burning eyes until she is ready.

TheLadyDuckOfDoom fell in love with the book, sometimes every page all over again. She especially loved the part on page 399 – 401, which her imagination wants to paint rather badly. It’s the part where old meets new, and no further spoilers will be heard from her, because she loved every part of the story deeply and will not take anything away from potential readers.

Hench – Buddyread Review

Hench by Natalie Zina Walschots is a new take on the superhero genre. It does not focus on the heroes or the villains, but on Anna, a henchwoman. She starts out temping as a data analyst for villains. She quickly finds patterns in data and is an excellent planner – but not necessarily cut out for fieldwork. Things start there and get interesting really fast.

Hench is not an action movie made novel, like other, more typical superhero books you might have read. There is a lot of data analysis going on, but it is all done in the background. It is far from boring, though, and raises some fair points about superhero work. The suspense of the story gradually builds up as the stakes get higher. We all finished the Buddyread a week ahead of time.

The author takes her time to paint the superhero – supervillain world in wonderful shades of grey, giving them all a personality. The other henches working with Anna have their personal histories and motivations, and some of them can be quite surprising. Why would anyone work for a villain at all? They must be evil, right? Well, maybe the henches are just normal humans trying to get by.

Hench is a wonderful deconstruction of the superhero genre and a fantastic read. There are even some open questions that hint at a sequel. I wouldn’t mind that, but the book stands equally fine on its own.

It’s that time of the month …

… when I wonder what’s supposed to be nice about November rain. Ah, well, probably staying indoors and reading books while the tea goes cold.

October was full of books. According to my rather incorrect stats I managed to read about a book a day.

  • Tamsyn Muir’s Harrow the Ninth certainly was my favourite read in September and October.
  • There was the Sceptre Buddyread Hench, which we all liked and got through quicker than we had planned.
  • Sylvain Neuvel’s The Test left me unsettled. The idea behind this sort of citizenship test is not sitting well with me.
  • Nix’s The Left-Handed Booksellers of London, an Urban Fantasy set in the ’80s. Clever world-building and very likeable characters.
  • Johnson’s The Space Between Worlds plays with time travel ideas but set in a multiverse novel, thereby avoiding the typical time travel conundrums.
  • Hackwith’s Hell’s Library duology was “chef’s kiss”-superb. Honestly, if you like Urban Fantasy and library stories, read it.
  • I also read Cixin Liu’s short story/novella collection To Hold Up the Sky. The stories made me put The Three Body Problem onto the “need to read soon” TBR. He manages to intertwine the lives of down-to-earth people with hard sci-fi and Chinese culture which makes for very interesting reading material.
  • Further I have read some mediocre YA fantasy novels, which I then had to cleanse off my palate with romance novels and a few children’s books.

So, what’s in store for November? I intend to participate in the NaNoWriMo. Some of my reading time will have to be allotted to writing.

  • Well, there is the new Sceptre Buddyread. Alix E Harrow’s The Once and Future Witches, which I have already read as an ARC, but I am really looking forward to what my two buddies have to say about it. I’ll probably skim along.
  • The LadyDuckOfDoom and I might read Shveta Thakrar’s debut novel Star Daughter together. It’s set in Indian culture and mythology and the main character is half human and half star.
  • I carelessly abandoned Kit Rocha’s Deal with the Devil weeks ago, it’s patiently waiting for me to return to it.

I’m off to make tea and fetch my favourite blanket, maybe I’ll even light a candle and get some chocolate.

October Buddyread Reveal

Wow, the Otherland-Team really surprised us this time. Neither of us expected their pick for this month’s buddyread: Natalie Zina Walschots’ Hench.

It’s – and here I go by the blurb alone:

A sharp, witty, modern debut, Hench explores the individual cost of justice through a fascinating mix of Millennial office politics, heroism measured through data science, body horror, and a profound misunderstanding of quantum mechanics.

Natalie Zina Walschots, Hench – blurb

Our buddyread plan is to read it over the next four weeks, starting today. The book has 399 pages. We’ll read to page 99 until next week Tuesday, then until page 196, the next section is up to page 293, and the final bit brings us to page 399. I’m curious as to whether we can stick to this plan. It’s supposed to be a fast paced read, we might not be able to stop ourselves.

The Necromancers are back

… or in other words, the second book in Tamsyn Muir’s Locked Tomb Trilogy hit the shelves; Harrow the Ninth was published 4 August, 2020.

It’s a bit tricky to talk about the book without giving too much away. Harrow starts several months after the point where Gideon the Ninth left us with a cliffhanger. Harrow is a new Lyctor now and should be training to be a full Lyctor soon, but something is off. You’ll notice this right away due to the unusual POV. The other Lyctors around her, as well as God, have strange habits, interesting names and are more fully-fleshed people than deities that need to be worshipped should be.

I enjoyed this “middle book” very much, mainly because it does NOT suffer from Middle-Book-Syndrome!!! Muir manages to propel the story forward and give Harrow enough room to develop her character further. There is a cast of familiar and new secondary characters that enrich the mystery of what is going on around Harrowhark the Lyctor.

I am looking very much forward to getting my grubby hands on Alecto the Ninth. The epilogue of Harrow might have teased at her story.

5/5 Goodreads stars

The Year the Albatross Came to the South-Western Halls

… was a special one for Piranesi, but we will not tell you why. No, not at all. This month’s buddyread is a book that is best read without knowing anything about it. I will not even assign a genre to this one. Susanna Clarke’s newest book Piranesi is about it’s titular main figure, living in the mysterious House and trying to figure out it’s secrets and pecularities. That’s really all you need to know.

When starting the book, we set a schedule. That’s what we always do to space out the reading over the month so that it doesn’t feel like too much of a task. But it was such a page-turner that we couldn’t stop ourselves from overshooting. We all finished it within ten days instead of four weeks.

The epistolary novel is told through Piranesi’s meticulous journal entries, so we learn about everything that’s going on in his pace. Through it all you experience his sense of wonder and gratefulness for the House that is also home. His character develops over the course of the book in a very interesting way. Our own RightHonourableHarpyEagle enjoyed the audiobook as well, and the voice acting by Chiwetel Ejiofor reflected Piranesi’s progress as a person.

It was a five star read for all of us, and another amazing buddyread pick.

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