Daughters of Doubt and Eyerolling

Category: Reviews Page 1 of 19

Quick Reviews – June 2022

Light from Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki, published 28 September 2021.

This was weird, but in a good way weird. A hopeful story about identity and finding your place in the world, or should I say universe? 

A deal with the devil leads former violin prodigy turned violin teacher, Shizuka, to seek her latest young music genius in San Francisco. Katrina is a runaway recently arrived in the city whose most priced possession is a cheap Chinese violin. Shizuka has a year to turn Katrina into a star violinist and so lift the curse on her soul. There is absolutely no time for anything else in her life, but then she meets Lan Tran. She's a mother of four, and her family of galactic refugees is selling donuts while secretly creating a stargate on the roof of their donut shop.

5/5 Harpy Eagles


January Fifteenth by Rachel Swirsky, published 14 June 2021.

The near-future Sci-Fi novella follows four women on the day when the Universal Basic Income (UBI) is paid by the government to the citizens of the U.S. 

The author prefaces the novella that she won't go into how the UBI came about and/or how it is organised. 

I assumed the story was about how the UBI shapes and influences the four women's lives, but somehow this was only lightly touched on. In the end it was speculative fiction depicting one day in the lives of a divorced mother of two who's escaped an abusive relationship; a rich college girl bored at her privileged party in Aspen; a jaded reporter taking care of her transgender teenage sibling; a pregnant teenaged member of a polygamist cult.

Interesting, but I was hoping for more depth.

2/5 Harpy Eagles


Amongst our Weapons by Ben Aaronovitch, published 12 April 2022.

I am a fan of the Rivers of London series and I re-read part of the series and caught up with the ones I hadn't read yet to enjoy this ninth instalment. Yet, somehow I am left a bit wanting. 

I wanted to see more Nightingale, more banter between Master and Apprentice. Nightingale is a great character and the more domestic Peter became during this book, the more Nightingale could have taken the limelight. 

Dear Mr Aaronovitch, please give Thomas more page space next time around. Also, let us know what happened to the rings. Thank you!  

3.5/5 Harpy Eagles


A Plague of Giants by Kevin Hearne, published 03 October 2017.

I am not a fan of epic fantasy. Mainly because I like to know where the journey is going and epic fantasy, to me, is more like taking the extra scenic route that doesn't end in the destination but at a way point from which you then carry on (in the next book). 

Hearne's first novel in the Seven Kennings series is no exception. There are many stories within the framing story. Following all those different characters to the end to find out how those different plot lines lined up was tough, for me (see above). 

I felt interested enough to see it through to the end of the book, but I won't read the other novels in the series. I am going to stick to Hearne's Urban Fantasy. 

3/5 Harpy Eagles

The Half Life of Valery K

Natasha Pulley’s latest novel, a historical fiction thriller that is based on real historical events, is set to publish on June 23rd, 2022.

It’s 1963 in the Soviet Union, Valery wakes up in his prison camp bunk in Siberia. A KGB van drives up to the camp and Valery is transported to a secret research facility.

The facility, known as the Lighthouse within City 40, is in the middle of an irradiation zone – think Chernobyl and it’s surrounding areas. Valery notices the dying flora along the road towards City 40 and is pretty certain he’s supposed to become a human guinea pig for irradiation tests. Fortunately for him, he’s actually supposed to follow up on his biology/biochemistry work in the field.

To cut a long synopsis short, Valery meets his former mentor Dr Resovkaya at the Lighthouse, as well as KGB man Shenkov, who might shoot Valery at the slightest misstep. Yet, instead of just intimidating Valery, Shenkov seems to care for him and even starts helping him uncover a conspiracy about the facility that has been blatantly obvious to Valery from his first moment in the restricted zone. And just like a Matryoshka doll, there is another conspiracy hidden beneath the first, and maybe one more underneath that one. It’s soon clear that Shenkov and Valery are destined to find each other, but, in typical Pulley fashion, there is at least one woman blocking the way to their happily ever after. Here it’s two, Shenkov’s wife Anna and Valery’s mentor Elena Resovkaya.


For the first time, since we started this blog, I’m at a loss for words. I was looking forward to reading this book and hence very happy when I was approved for an ARC. Now that I have finished, I just don’t know how to review and rate the book.

Well, I should preface this review with some information. I really like Pulley’s style of writing, her books manage to draw me in every time, despite knowing that there’s certainly going to be at least one female character that is supposed to be the bad guy (or better gal) who is sabotaging the M/M romance. Further, I have lived behind the Iron Curtain and, although that doesn’t make me an expert in Soviet culture, I wish this book had had at least one sensitivity reader, because the anachronisms and cultural/language missteps were jarring and jarringly obvious to me. Last but not least, the book was listed under Sci-Fi, which is probably for its science content.

Here are just a few very basic things which make rating this book so very hard for me:

  • The anachronisms and cultural/language missteps that might have been bread crumbs for the big Sci-Fi plot twist weren’t bread crumbs at all. They were annoying and took me out of the story every time they happened. Some examples:
    • people were boiling water for tea or coffee in their offices in electric kettles – not 100% certain, but 95% sure people didn’t use electric kettles and especially not in their offices
    • kitchen roll was mentioned – definitely not in general use
    • TV remote controls – I’m still laughing about this one
    • people driving to work in their private cars – public transport to work; if a family owned a car, they’d most likely use it for long distance travel
    • expressions like “oi, mate”, “btw”; referencing James Bond
  • Valery is a bit of a sociopath. He’s supposedly unable to read social cues, yet he manages to manipulate the people around him using social cues. He suffers from PTSD and is constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop, but plunges ever deeper into the danger zone. Well, like any good anti-hero would do.
  • Shenkov is this tough KGB guy, who shoots people (off page) for remarking that the Kremlin might be lying to the people at the Lighthouse and City 40. Yet he’s a softy at heart who, strangely, never shows any remorse at having to kill. He’s obviously just following orders. He also loves his four children dearly and would turn heaven and earth to protect them.
  • Anna, Shenkov’s wife, is a brilliant physicist who agreed to have children with Shenkov only when he takes care of them. She would probably leave her children and husband behind without a second thought should the opportunity arise.

!!!Big Spoiler to the Ending ahead!!!

To punish Valery, Resovkaya manages to nap Shekov for her radiation poisoning trials. Valery must rescue him from being used as a human lab rat. Together with Anna, who has just told Valery that she has terminal cancer and is going to divorce her husband, they come up with a plan to use radiation poisoning to free Shenkov and a bunch of other people from Resovkaya’s top secret radiation poisoning lab within the top secret lab facility. Lo and behold, Shenkov and Valery make it out of City 40, but terminally ill Anna and her four children, one of which is dying of leukaemia, stay behind. Valery and Shenkov then get a new life under witness protection in the UK where they live happily ever after.

What.The.Actual.F?

Shenkov, who would die for his family, leaves them and never looks back? Never wonders whether they got out of City 40? Doesn’t turn heaven and earth to get them to join him? Anna suddenly likes taking care of her children so much that she wants to spend her final days with them, and is certain she can protect them from whatever trouble will come her way after the stunt they just pulled? Valery is just fine with … all of it?

See, at a loss for words.

2.5/5 Harpy Eagles

Not seven more books, but one

Almost 2 years ago, I wrote a raving review about Seven Devils by Laura Lam and Elizabeth May (I now also learned to spell the name correctly. Apologies to the author).

Seven Mercies concludes the action packed sci-fi duology. I was kindly provided with an ARC via Netgalley, but kept pushing the book back on my TBR. Now I also have a signed copy on my hands.

The story starts several months after the end of the first book. I heard it should originally have been about a pandemic, but due to the current world state, most of the book was changed. But I don’t think the quality suffered at all. Filled with a lot of action and the fantastic cast of characters, the book ties every lose end together nicely, finishing the story in a clashing, but satisfactory crescendo. Not entirely unexpected maybe, but I did not expect this book to surprise me. Found family space action seems to be my comfort reading genre of choice.

5/5 Duckies

The Salvagers Series by Alex White

The Salvagers series begins with A Big Ship at the End of the Universe. War veteran, former treasure hunter and reality TV star Boots Elsworth is not only a magical anomaly – born without a mark that let’s her do magic – but also barely scraping by.

Nilah Brio is blessed with the mechanists’ mark. This particular form of magic lets her trace a glyph to interact, hack, und tune all kinds of machinery. And she is a soon-to-be racing champion – think the podraces of Star Wars Episode 1. This all changes when she is framed for a murder. Desperately trying to escape, she crashes into Boots’ office. 5 minutes later, Boots’ former war officer, now Captain of the Capricious, demands Boots’ services again, searching for a treasure everyone thought long gone and takes Nilah as a potential bounty with them.

Nilah wakes up in custody on the Capricious, having been at the wrong place at the wrong time. Framed for a murder, she has a bounty on her head and nowhere to go.

Without spoiling too much, of course they all end up working together to unravel various mysteries and an even deeper secret during the three books.

Neither Boots nor Nilah are particularly likeable at the start of the book, but this is a story of redemption arcs of a ragtag spaceship crew – so give them time. The rest of Capricious’ crew makes up for that in the meantime.

The characters reminded me of tabletop RPGs (if you don’t play one yourself, you might at least have heard of Critical Role), how the most unlikely bunch of people end up working together, diving headfirst from one problem into the next, holding together even when the darkest of pasts catches up to one of its members.

Let’s sum it up: Found family, space, magic, racecars, and a treasure hunt. What more could you possibly want?

5/5 Duckies for the whole series

Bloodlines – take two

In my post about the first book in the “Take Them To The Stars” series by Sylvain Neuvel, I mentioned that bloodlines are important; they still are in book two of the series Until the Last of Me, published 29 March 2022.

The first book started in the 1940s, with Mia, the one hundredth incarnation, extricating Wernher von Braun from Nazi Germany. The second book starts in 1968, Mia is a middle-aged woman and has to flee from the Tracker with her young daughter Lola. Their flight takes them to the US, where they try to live an inconspicuous life, which is not very easy especially once Lola turns into a teenager.

Without giving away too much of the content of the book, it follows the two women and the family of the Tracker with flashbacks to earlier incarnations of the two bloodlines. There is also a quest when a former friend of Mia’s mother sends them pictures of a bow, which belonged to one of their fore-mothers and has a message carved into its sides.

The story takes us from the Moon Landing, the Space Race, the Voyager probes, to the Spaceshuttle, but also to Victorian London, ancient Egypt, as well as Iron Curtain Russia and China.

Neuvel left the story at a mild cliffhanger. This means, that although part of the plot has been wrapped up, there are, of course, some things unresolved. I’m wondering where he’s taking us next, apart from To The Stars.

3.5/5 Harpy Eagles (that makes it 4/5 stars on Goodreads)

Quick reviews – May 2022

The Woman in the Library by Sulari Gentill, publishing day 07 June 2022.

As an amateur writer I truly liked the concept of this book: a manuscript by a thriller writer being beta-read by a colleague.

Hannah, an Australian writer with some renown, is writing a book set in Boston. In Hannah's book, four people sit close to each other in the Boston Public Library when they hear a woman's scream. Later the body of a woman is found. Among those four people is Freddie, a mystery writer from Australia, who uses the experience and the people she's met as material for her new book. [Did I mention that it is slightly complicated to describe?] Also, Freddie and the other three library patrons become fast friends while trying to solve the murder of the woman. And they are all being drawn deeper into the case than they had anticipated. 

Leo lives in Boston, somehow got in contact with the famous writer Hannah. He offered to help Hannah with the manuscript since, due to the Covid pandemic, she cannot travel to Boston to scout the area herself. 

I didn't mind the grammar or spelling mistakes in the manuscript part - I'm sure they will be addressed before the book is published - made it feel much more like a manuscript. Sadly, it had a few plot holes and timeline inconsistencies; Leo could have picked up on them, but then again he's only beta-reading the chapters and not an editor. Further, he has his own agenda, like using the connection to finding an agent to get his own book out, or to getting Hannah to write the pandemic into the story. 

I wish the mystery had been more thrilling, more mysterious. I puzzled it out early on.

[ARC provided by the publishers through NetGalley.]

2/5 Harpy Eagles


Book Lovers by Emily Henry, published 12 May 2022 (UK edition).

When I opened the book, I wanted to read for about ten minutes, or until my mug was empty, but I couldn't put it down until I had turned the last page.

Was it predictable? Yes, it was.

What kept me turning the pages? Emily Henry's writing, characters, snarky banter.

Third book by Henry that I've read and the third book that I had to finish in one sitting.

[ARC provided by the publishers through NetGalley.]

5/5 Harpy Eagles


The Audacity of Sara Grayson by Joani Elliott, published 25 May 2021.

Sara's mother died three weeks ago. Now Sara is sitting in her lawyer's office, open-mouthed, because her mother tasked her with writing the last novel in her bestselling series. 

This debut novel was very inspirational. Sara's journey from disbelief to believing in herself is one everyone of us can understand, whether you are an aspiring writer or not; we all struggle with confidence issues now and then. Sara has to overcome hers quick though, because that book has a publishing deadline and if she wants to write it, she must overcome her angst. 

I liked the writing style. Liked the characters with all their flaws. The family secret seemed a tiny bit over the top, but it was well-explained. 

Last but not least, even if you don't like all aspects of the story, the quotes by well-known authors at the beginning of each chapter are a treat alone, and they fit perfectly with the chapter content. 

5/5 Harpy Eagles

Engineer to the rescue!

Braking Day by Adam Oyebanji, published 05 April, 2022.

The cover and title were the things that drew me to this ARC. I immediately wanted to know answers to all the wh-questions. When I then opened the book, I noticed that it said “Revolutions Book 2” on the very first page. So, obviously, I searched the internet to find out which first book in the series I might have missed. Turns out I didn’t miss a book, this is Oyebanji’s debut novel. Well, it reads like a “not the first” novel in a series. I’m not saying it has middle-book-syndrome, it is a good standalone. It would have been an even better standalone with a tiny bit more background information.

We find ourselves on board a generation ship on the way to Tau Ceti. The inhabitants of this ship, and the two other accompanying vessels, have been on their journey for 132 years or six generations. They have reached the point on their route, where Braking Day is upon them. The day the ship will turn and the thrusters will start decelerating the vessels for about a year to get them into orbit of Destination World.

Our main character is Ravi MacLeod, a midshipman training to be an engineer. Coming from a family with non-academic/non-officer class background it is hard for him to work his way up within the seemingly tight social classes on board. What makes Ravi so special? I am tempted to say he is a chosen one. Sounds YA Fantasy, but in fact he is. He’s the one with the vision of a girl floating outside the hull with no spacesuit on. He’s the one with the voice inside his head and the weird dreams. He’s also the one with a non-law abiding family and hence has had “special” training as a kid and a family to help him out of a tight spot. Especially his cousin Roberta, called Boz, who’s extremely good with technology. And he’s the one who will make sure Braking Day will happen.

Here’s what I didn’t like about the book – it’s not much:

  • The feeling that I am not reading the first book, hence knowing I am missing some information. I puzzled it together reading the book, yet I am sure there is a “Revolutions Book 1” on Oyebanji’s hard disk and I would love to read it.
  • Well-known phrases turned so that they fit the generation ship. Instead of ‘for God’s sake’ people say ‘for Archie’s sake’ – the ship is called Archimedes. People do not ‘keep it straight’, they ‘keep it circular’ – because of the rings that make up the ship; which is a very clever world-building strategy. Still, they’ve been out there for only 132 years, or six generations, language does not change that much in such a short time.

Here’s what I liked about the book:

  • The book is packed with action, conspiracy, good banter, illicit tech, sabotage, and a deadline that they cannot afford to overshoot, literally.
  • The world-building is very well thought through to holidays, inter-ship sports events and protest organisations, even if I am grumpy about the phrases.
  • Ravi’s struggle of being true to his family, true to his home/ship, true to his chosen position in life is very real. He’s not only trying to keep his sanity (girl floating in space, voices in his head, dreams), he’s trying to do right by all the people around him.
  • Dragons. In. Space.

4.5/5 Harpy Eagles

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

If you liked Murderbot

TheHatchling#1 (aka my son) re-re-…-re-read the Murderbot series so many times, since he just couldn’t find anything that kept his interest, that I was actually very happy when he read and liked Six Wakes and then alerted me to the Indranan War series after he had read the first chapter that was printed as a teaser at the end of Six Wakes. We decided to do a buddy-read, which ended with TheHatchling#1 reading all three books and then nagging me to get started already since he wanted to discuss.

Since we want to avoid any spoilers we’re only reviewing the first book in the series, Behind the Throne by K.B. Wagers, published 02 August, 2016.

The blurb:

Meet Hail: Captain. Gunrunner. Fugitive.

Quick, sarcastic, and lethal, Hailimi Bristol doesn't suffer fools gladly. She has made a name for herself in the galaxy for everything except what she was born to do: rule the Indranan Empire. That is, until two Trackers drag her back to her home planet to take her rightful place as the only remaining heir.

But trading her ship for a palace has more dangers than Hail could have anticipated. Caught in a web of plots and assassination attempts, Hail can't do the one thing she did twenty years ago: run away. She'll have to figure out who murdered her sisters if she wants to survive.

A gun smuggler inherits the throne in this Star Wars-style science fiction adventure from debut author K. B. Wagers. Full of action-packed space opera exploits and courtly conspiracy - not to mention an all-out galactic war - Behind the Throne will please fans of James S. A Corey, Becky Chambers and Lois McMaster Bujold, or anyone who wonders what would happen if a rogue like Han Solo were handed the keys to an empire . . .

The blurb is partly spot on, partly misleading. Yes, Hail is a sarcastic princess-turned-pirate/smuggler who’s been forcefully returned to her home planet, because someone is killing off the members of her family, the royal family. She’s the only direct heir to the Indranan throne left alive and is struggling to stay breathing with assassination attempts from all sides. Although it is more a story of “courtly conspiracy” rather than action packed space opera, the novel is intriguing, and thanks to assassinations, scandals and betrayals there is never a dull moment.

Hail left her home twenty years ago to hunt down her father’s killers. She embraced the life outside the confines of an empirical princess’ life so much that she became a gunrunner and furthermore captain of her own ship. When she’s dragged back into the palace, she not only has to confront her now ailing mother, whom she has had a troubled relationship with, but also cope with her grief for her sisters’ deaths and come to terms with her new role. Moreover, she learns about the role her long-time companion/lover played without being able to reconcile with him.

As mentioned above, the people behind the murders of her family are also plotting to kill her, which turns out not to be as easy as the plotters thought it would be. Hail swears to uncover the conspiracy and bring the culprits to justice.

What we really liked about this book and the following two books in the trilogy: The Indranan Empire is a matriarchal empire built on Hindu/Indian culture and mythology. It has been matriarchal for more than a thousand years which is obvious down to the swearing, Hail calls people out on their “cowshit” several times.

What this book is not: It’s not a Star Wars-style SF adventure/space opera. It’s more Urban Fantasy set in an SF environment; taking place in a solar system far from our current one, there are space ships and futuristic technology, and there are alien races. There are no epic space battles, we hardly see the inside of a spaceship, and Hail is definitely not a female Han Solo. Whoever came up with that comparison might not have read the book they were writing the blurb for.

The writing: It is a character driven story told from the first person POV, Hail’s. This might mean that you need some time to warm to Hail, especially since she has the tendency to be a bit melodramatic. Further the writing style of this debut novel is ‘a tad bit’ exaggerated, but we soon ignored that the world came crashing down around Hail and that the air was sucked from her lungs, since we were drawn in by the plot enfolding and the secondary characters being more fleshed out. And while we, along with Hail, learned who she can trust and who is nothing more than a two-faced sycophant, Hail also proved that she is a strong ruler who cares for her people.

4/5 Harpy Eagles from the both of us

Love in times of Time Travel

Someone in Time is a short story anthology edited by Jonathan Strahan, publishing date 10 May 2022. All stories centre around the topic of time travel and finding love. As a fan of time travel novels and romance novels, this was right up my alley and I am glad I was approved for an advanced copy. I enjoyed reading about the different time travel devices, all were as diverse as the authors of and protagonists in the stories.

Even time travel can’t unravel love

Time-travel is a way for writers to play with history and imagine different futures – for better, or worse.

When romance is thrown into the mix, time-travel becomes a passionate tool, or heart-breaking weapon. A time agent in the 22nd century puts their whole mission at risk when they fall in love with the wrong person. No matter which part of history a man visits, he cannot not escape his ex. A woman is desperately in love with the time-space continuum, but it doesn’t love her back. As time passes and falls apart, a time-traveller must say goodbye to their soulmate.

With stories from best-selling and award-winning authors such as Seanan McGuire, Alix E. Harrow and Nina Allan, this anthology gives a taste for the rich treasure trove of stories we can imagine with love, loss and reunion across time and space. 

Including stories by: Alix E. Harrow, Zen Cho, Seanan McGuire, Sarah Gailey, Jeffrey Ford, Nina Allan, Elizabeth Hand, Lavanya Lakshminarayan, Catherynne M. Valente, Sam J. Miller, Rowan Coleman, Margo Lanagan, Sameem Siddiqui, Theodora Goss, Carrie Vaughn, Ellen Klages

I particularly liked Zen Cho’s story about an M/M couple that had recently broken up. The MC of the story uses a machine that allows him to experience his past lives. Every time he uses the machine, he meets his former partner. It is soon clear that this person is his soulmate and they belong together, but can he win him back in his own time, his real life?

This collection allowed me to discover and re-discover some of the finest speculative fiction/science fiction/fantasy authors out there. Surprising to me was that I actually liked the short stories from authors that I had read full length novels by before and didn’t like; a second chance romance.

If you are looking for a palate cleanser in between some longer books, pick this up and read a story from it. Actually, I dare you to manage to read just one story at a time. I couldn’t do it, I read the whole book in one sitting.

5/5 Harpy Eagles

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