Emily Wilde’s Encyclopaedia of Fairies by Heather Fawcett, published 10 January 2023.
It’s the autumn of 1919 and professor Emily Wilde of Cambridge has travelled to the far north to research faeries. She’s a curmudgeon and manages to aggravate the locals within days of her arrival. Not ideal, since she’s the definition of the well-off city girl not used to fending on her own. Pride and pure stubbornness outweigh comfort; she’d rather freeze than ask someone to show her how to chop firewood. Still, she makes a friend among the local smaller fae. Then her colleague and rival, the handsome Wendell Bambleby, arrives and pushes his way into her research. The both of them soon discover dark fae magic afoot and have to help the villagers rescue fair maidens and exchange a possible changeling. The research mission then turns into rescue missions; especially after Emily gets it into her head to help a trapped local high fae.
The novel reminded me of Brennan’s The Memoirs of Lady Trent series and Raybourn’s Veronica Speedwell series. Strong female academic at the helm of the story. Some kind of romantic entanglement with the male sidekick. Getting into scrapes and out of them with wits and female guile.
I’m looking forward to the next book in the series.
How can January be nearly over already? Well, looking at how many books and short stories I’ve read in that time I can actually believe we’re closer to February than the ‘old year’. Time flies when you’re having fun!
As was expected I fell into the Dresden Files continuum and have managed to make my way through the first ten novels and most of the accompanying short stories. Do I have to say more? Despite being a bit old-fashioned in his regards towards women, I quite like Harry Dresden, resident wizard of Chicago. The merry band of secondary characters makes each story even more interesting, since you won’t know from the start of the book which character(s) might accompany him in his quest this time. Together they battle vampires, werewolves, evil wizards, demons, some of the fae and what else the magical world throws their way.
Apart from Harry Dresden’s exploits, I have read Juno Dawson’s Her Majesty’s Royal Coven. The first novel in an urban fantasy series about witches and warlocks in the British Isles. First published 31 May 2022.
Four childhood best friends have drifted apart since they grew up together on Spice Girls, 90s horror films and music. Now they have to work together to prevent the prophesied rise of an evil force which is going to destroy all witch kind.
The most outstanding feature about this novel is that it is a work of its time. It talks about tradition vs progress, transgender and POC witches, and the strife for power no matter the consequences. But this outstanding feature also makes the plot very predictable. It was clear to me, from the start, who the baddie was. Then I kept wondering whether the book would use the motive of self-fulfilling prophecy to its advantage. Alas that might be part of the sequel(s).
If I had to sum this up in one sentence: Derry Girls meets Charmed and The Craft in a 2022 British remake version.
I initially gave this book 5/5 Harpy Eagles, right after finishing the cinematic last chapters. I’ll down-grade to 3/5 Harpy Eagles for the predictability, but will still be looking forward to the sequel.
Here’s the promised second part for December. Well, what can I say, I read a lot.
Pulling the Wings Off Angels by K. J. Parker, published 15 November 2022.
Look, another KJ Parker! That's how I approached this novella. I just like the writing style of Parker's first person POV novellas.
The story follows a young man who was born with the proverbial silver spoon in his mouth, likes gambling and suddenly owes a loan shark quite a substantial sum of money. Without wanting to spoil too much, our miserable first person narrator finds himself in a pickle that he might not be able to get out of. Because fate and the sins of his forefathers, justice and mercy are all working against him; as well as that well-meaning brilliant professor of his, Saloninus.
As much as this is a metaphysical/religious/philosophical work and at times felt a bit 'preaching to the choir', I truly enjoyed it. Not least because of Saloninus, who is a self-professed genius.
4/5 Harpy Eagles
A Very Scalzi Christmas by John Scalzi, published 30 November 2019.
Scalzi put fifteen snippets of Christmas fun into this collection. There are interviews, short stories, informational articles and poems.
As much as I liked the short stories, I have to say that I liked the interviews the most. There's one with Santa's lawyer, for example. My favourite was the one with Santa's reindeer wrangler.
It's a selection that you can dip into and don't have to scarf down like a plate of the most delicious Christmas cookies. I said can! You can, of course, also just read them all in one sitting as I did.
5/5 Harpy Eagles
The Christmas Killer by Alex Pine, published 29 October 2020.
The review copy for this debut novel had been on my TBR for far too long. I have heard a lot of good about this series and am glad that I actually got to it.
The ARC was a rather tough read. There were grammar errors and the prose and dialogues sounded very clunky and stilted at times. I hope this has been edited out before the book went public.
What rankled me most, though, was how easy it was to sniff out who the murderer was and what their motive was. I was fairly certain early on that I had the right person and then only kept on skimming the text to find out whether I was right. I was.
As I said above, the series has a lot of fans and I hope the sequels improved in quality compared to the first book.
2/5 Harpy Eagles
The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher, series published since 2000.
Yes, I might be late to this Urban Fantasy series, but this just means I have lots of books to binge on.
A friend from Litsy sent me the first book in the series, Storm Front (2000), felt ages ago. I had another book to read to get my self-set goal of reading twenty physical copies off my shelves, so I chose this. Well, I was in for a treat.
Harry Dresden, the wizard protagonist of the series might be a little old-fashioned in his believes and in the way he works and lives (anything invented after the 1940s doesn't really work around him), but he soon grew on me. Even if he notices the erectness of the nipples of the woman in front of him before he notices the colour of her eyes. I have yet to see him mistreat a woman. In fact, he recognises that women are often far stronger than men and behaves fairly gentlemanly around women.
Chauvinism or no chauvinism aside, there are wizards, ghosts, demons, literal fairy godmothers, vampires, werewolves,... All the ingredients for a good Urban Fantasy. And it's set in Chicago, not New York, or London or a small town somewhere out in the back of beyond.
I'm three books in and I know I have to get to the next one sooner than later.
Also, the audiobooks are narrated by James Marsters, who does an excellent job. Even when I am reminded of Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, especially when he, as Harry, is talking about vampire lore.
I have to admit, I knew nothing about this book, but I liked the cover and the blurb was interesting enough.
Raine can see--and more importantly, speak--to the dead. It's a wretched gift with a death sentence that has her doing many dubious things to save her skin. Seeking refuge with a deluded cult is her latest bad, survival-related decision. But her rare act of kindness--rescuing an injured woman in the snow--is even worse.
The author walks a fine line between YA and adult book, sometimes, Raine got a bit on my nerves, but not so much that I did not enjoy the story from start to finish. There is a sapphic love interest that’s not dominating the story, but interwoven in an engaging way. Raine herself is bisexual, which is a big plus for me, because I just don’t care about the heteronormative love stories anymore.
The story is a classic hero’s journey, but for an epic fantasy, its fairly short with just under 350 pages. The momentum the author builds from chapter one does not die down, and the story leaves you wanting to know more of the world. Many things are hinted at, and I’m looking forward to Book 2 next year.
… creeps in this petty pace from day to day. Do you also have Hamilton‘s Take a Break stuck in your head already? No? Macbeth, you say? Oh. Definitely the song for me.
This wonderful book by Gabrielle Zevin is about Sam and Sadie, two friends starting a gaming company. The story spans thirty years full of success, fame, joy, hurt, love and loss.
Yes, it is about the games they develop, and they are described in an absolutely impressive way. You really want to play them in real live.
But the real strength of the book lies in the characters. They are complex, and flawed. They are allowed to make mistakes. Even the avatars in their games feel alive. You get to know them so intimately that you want to sit them down for a stern talking to. The side characters shine just as bright (or dark).
It is a top notch characterization of sometimes very difficult friendship dynamics and how both sides can experience the same situation differently. You just feel a lot. Really. It‘s one of these books that will take you on an emotional rollercoaster and you‘ll be glad it did.
K.J. Parker is one of the a-bit-under-the-radar authors we at Sceptical Reading have grown to like quite a bit. And in A Practical Guide to Conquering the World, his mix of humour and cleverness works its charm again.
It is the third and final instalment in Parker’s The Siege trilogy and follows Felix, a translator stuck in another country while his home is conquered.
But what would a Siege book be, without an outsider / unlikely hero saving not only his own, but everyone‘s bacon? And that‘s exactly what happens. Again. But let me tell you, the formula does not get old. This time, the whole world is the playing field. It really makes you appreciate the power translators may wield.
John Scalzi’s Kaiju Preservation Society was written during the lockdown/Covid pandemic. Instead of writing a dark and gloomy book about everyone having to stay at home, Scalzi wrote a book that definitely makes you forget the current world situation and lets you dive into its fictional world.
Our main character Jamie Gray is stuck with a depressing job as a food delivery driver, when a chance meeting with an old acquaintance leads to a new job at “an animal rights organization“. The quotation marks are completely necessary, because in this case the animals are kaijus from a parallel world. Think Godzilla. And of course people are thinking about weaponizing them.
I liked how Scalzi uses the real world pandemic situation and how it affected a lot of us and turns it into a story of this one guy being at the right place at the right moment, so that he can save the world. It is a light-hearted story that has exactly the right amount of science not to overload the casual sci-fi reader. There’s also edge of your seat action, which is well-balanced with humour and some pop-culture references that should make you chuckle.
If you have abstained from reading any lockdown fiction, you might want to make this the exception for the sheer escapism the novel offers. Apparently that was also the reason Scalzi wrote the book, see his afterword/acknowledgements.
5/5 Harpy Eagles
The Lady Duck Of Doom listened to the audio version of this book – narrated by Wil Wheaton, one of my favorite narrators for nerdy stuff. Wil Wheaton delivers the book with so much passion and humor, its impossible to not love it and, at times, laugh with him, as you can clearly hear his amusement during some passages.
I suppose there will be a part two towards the end of the month, just because I seem to be reading at least one book a day at the moment.
The Last Tale of the Flower Bride by Roshani Chokshi, expected publication day 14 February 2023.
A gorgeous UK cover. A Gothic tale with beautiful lyrical writing and different folk tales woven into it.
Sadly, the very slow plot never really gripped my attention.
Trigger warning: the relationships between the MCs is toxic, which made reading the story not easier.
2/5 Harpy Eagles
Arden St. Ives trilogy by Alexis Hall
How to Bang a Billionaire (2017)
Arden St. Ives is a student at Oxford when he meets billionaire Caspian Hart. There is chemistry, but although Arden would like to pursue the relationship Caspian doesn't want to ... at first.
Arden is a bit neurotic, yet playful and has an interesting approach to life. Caspian has this dark secret that will be uncovered by the end of the trilogy. There is a billionaire throwing his money around, but it's kind of natural rather than OTT. It's not as steamy as I expected it to be, nor full of weird BDSM.
This first book ends without a cliffhanger. Still, you -just like me- might want to read the next book in this gay 50 Shades of Grey trilogy you didn't know you'd want to read until you started it.
4/5 Harpy Eagles
How to Blow it with a Billionaire (2017)
Arden and Caspian are trying to make their relationship work, but the odds are stacked against them. Caspian is a workaholic and has limited time to spend with Arden.
This book ends in a cliffhanger of sorts. There is a possibility for a happily ever after in the third book though.
5/5 Harpy Eagles
How to Belong with a Billionaire (2019)
Arden and Caspian have a long way to go to get their HEA.
The most important thing for me was knowing that Ardy-Baby was okay. We also get to see more of Ellery (Caspian's sister) and Bellerose (Caspian's PA), which makes me hope that either of them gets their own book in future.
4/5 Harpy Eagles
The Paradox Hotel by Rob Hart, published 22 February 2022.
The Paradox Hotel caters for the super-rich who are about to embark on or have come back from a trip to another century at the Einstein Intercentury Timeport. Grumpy January Cole is the head of security at the hotel and her day just got harder. She's unstuck, which means she is no longer rooted in time. She sees her dead girlfriend, different timelines and there is a dead body not even her AI bot can see. On top of that, four trillionaires are about to meet for a summit to bid on the hotel.
January is the perfect cynical sarcastic detective to find out who killed the dead body. She's pressed for time though, her mind is crumbling, and time is acting up in the weirdest way.
It's a time travel detective story with a noir vibe, LGBTQ+ representation, and a very diverse found family.
4/5 Harpy Eagles
The Locked Attic by B.P. Walter, published 24 November 2022.
I get that thrillers thrive on secrets, but this story was full of rather obvious secrets. Not only that, the secrets were dangle in front of me like a carrot in front of a donkey; they were clearly just used to make me turn the pages.
I didn't mind the non-linear storytelling. I was much more peeved that the two POV read very similar; shouldn't a teenager sound different from his mid-thirties mother?
And why was the secret in the titular Locked Attic not the main topic of the story? The title and blurb are misleading.
I really liked the author's The Dinner Guest, but his last book The Woman on the Pier and this book didn't really work for me.
Babel, Or the Necessity of Violence: An Arcane History of the Oxford Translators’ Revolution by R.F. Kuang, published 23 August 2022. Yes, the title is a mouthful, but in keeping with the story and definitely one of the reasons I wanted to read this dark academia alternate history/historical fantasy.
The tower of Babel, the heart and centre of the Royal Institute of Translations, is also at the heart of this fictional early Victorian era story. Like the TARDIS it is bigger on the inside, housing more than eight floors of libraries, laboratories and lecture rooms. It is the centre of silver-working, engraving translations into bars of silver to cover all aspects of a certain word or topic, so that nothing gets lost in translation, for magical effect.
The story is told from the POV of Robin Swift, who is a half-Chinese orphan brought to Britain by Professor Lovell, a member of Babel, when he was about ten years old. He’s been learning languages since to prepare him for enrolling at Oxford University.
At Babel, Robin learns that silver-working is Britain’s main tool for its industrial revolution and imperial expansion. Which is why the secret society Hermes is trying to tear down Babel, because it enables the British Empire to keep colonising and exploiting other countries. That Hermes is doing so at all costs, resolving to violence, is what makes Robin waver about whether he’s doing the right thing over and over. What is Robin willing to sacrifice for the greater good? Will he resort to violence or find a different way to stop Babel?
What I liked about the book is that despite it being a dense read, it is a page-turner. It was easy for me to get immersed in the story and sympathise with the characters. The writing is easy to follow and I enjoyed reading every footnote and agreed with Kuang’s assertions about translations and the hard work of linguists.
Yet, the main message of the book, colonisation is bad, made for a tough read from about the half-way point of the book. It is being ham-fistedly hammered home at every opportunity and I found myself rolling my eyes more and more often.
Furthermore, and this is already hinted at in the subtitle, Hermes doesn’t shrink back from the use of violence. Violence that would be seen as terrorism these days. I’m not a big fan of ‘the ends justify the means,’ which is why it took me nearly two weeks to actually finish the last part of the book. This is not due to the writing suddenly lacking, it is just because the questions Robin faces and the decisions he faced made me uncomfortable. However, that was supposed to be the book’s purpose, to make you think while enjoying a good story.
The very Secret Society of Irregular Witches by Sangu Mandanna, published 23 August 2022.
Did you know that there are witches all over the world hiding in plain sight? All orphans, because their parents died soon after it was clear they were witches. Obviously this is due to an age-old curse which also requires that witches are not allowed to meet each other regularly or live together, because that could cause the “muggles” to notice them.
Mika Moon is a young witch who wishes things had been different for her during her lonely upbringing, but accepting the terms of the curse told to her by the witch who had adopted her, but not raised her.
Mika is offered the job of tutoring three young witches who, in the absence of their adopted mother witch, have no one to teach them how to keep their magic in check and an outsider is about to visit in six weeks’ time. Seeing that she is desperately needed, Mika packs her belongings, plants, dog and fish and moves to the warded and hidden manor house by the sea in Norfolk.
The three girls are wonderfully written and their interactions with the grown-ups often made me laugh out loud. Of course there is a grumpy guy who feels the attracted to Mika, and there are the meddling “grandparents” – the housekeeper, the gardener and his spouse.
The book reminded me of The House in the Cerulean Sea, there is magic and found family and love and heart break and deeply seated pain, and an outsider who could ruin it all. Yet, in the end all will work out if not how the MCs thought it would.