Daughters of Doubt and Eyerolling

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A Cup of Tea for the Soul

It’s been some time, but I’ve promised my fellow Sceptres that I will finally (this time for real) get back into the habit of writing blog posts. But – how to start? Usually I’d say when in doubt choose a Pratchett, but another author who never disappoints is Becky Chambers.

You may know her Wayfarer series, which introduced us to her fabulous way of writing diverse characters and heartwarming stories. When picking up a Becky Chambers novel, you know that everything is going to be alright.

Her newest book, A Psalm for the Wild-Built, is no exception. While her Wayfarer books take place in space or in at least technologically advanced environments, the first book in the Monk & Robot series takes a different turn. The main character is a tea monk, offering a tea ceremony to people who need comfort and someone to listen to their problems. Still searching for a greater sense of purpose and adventure in their life, the monk one day ventures off the well-maintained paths and comes across a robot. This comes as quite a shock, since the robots left the humans to fend for themselves after gaining self-awareness. If you ask me, that would be a really likely scenario. According to the robot, it’s time to check in with the humans, and to answer the question “what do people need?”.

This snack-sized novella asks some very interesting questions about purpose, needs and happiness. On top of that, you get that hopeful and comforting tone Becky Chambers is so good at.

5/5 Magpies

Familar Sci-fi, still fantastic

Velocity Weapon by Megan E. O’Keefe ticks a lot of sci-fi staples:

  • Emergent AI …
  • … in a gigantic spaceship
  • Forbidden tech nobody understands …
  • … that is used anyway by the authorities
  • War for resources between two planets
  • An interplanetary spy network

Nevertheless, the book manages to feel familiar instead of overly tropey. You feel more like coming home to a new story instead of groaning that everything is the same.

The story features two siblings, a physically disabled gunner Sanda Greeve (she is missing a leg) and her brother Biran, part of the authorities that control the tech that makes the intergalactic portals possible, who appears in flashbacks. Sanda wakes up from coldsleep on a deserted enemy spaceship called Bero. The spaceship AI reveals to her that she slept 230 years, and that both her home planet and the rival planet were destroyed in the war, and the whole system is lost. From this point, events unfold.

There are several plot twists in the book, which did not really surprise me, yet some of them, although they didn’t surprise me, I didn’t see them coming from miles away. I wonder what the RightHonorableHarpyEagle would think about those, as she recently posted about plot twists.

I really liked the book, and I look forward to reading the next two installments of the series. However, I think the author has not reached her full potential in this book. Let’s see how this develops, I will keep you updated.

4/5 Duckies

Quick Reviews – August ’21

Prime Deceptions by Valerie Valdes, 8 September 2020.

Second book in the Chilling Effect series. Unfortunately, I was annoyed with the characters pretty soon. Eva’s past is catching up with her, just as much as Vakar’s smells/feelings are catching up with the reader in nearly every scene. The main part of the story felt like Pokemon Go on a planet far far away.

The cover is cool, though.

3/5 Harpy Eagles

The Butchering Art: Joseph Lister’s Quest to Transform the Grisly World of Victorian Medicine by Lindsey Fitzharris, first published 31 October 2017.

The right book for you if you like history of medicine and have a stomach that can handle descriptions of amputations and wound infection. You’ll learn how terrible the hygienic situations were in Victorian hospitals, called ‘death houses’ for obvious reasons, and how Joseph Lister worked ceaselessly to turn them into safe hospitals.

5/5 Harpy Eagles

Cultish: The Language of Fanaticism by Amanda Montell, published 15 June 2021.

Wow, this was eye-opening. I thought I knew about religious cults, but that was just surface knowledge. Montell dives into the language used not only in cults that have become (in)famous, like Scientology and Heaven’s Gate. She also explores the language of fitness cults like Peloton, social media, and pyramid schemes/multilevel marketing plans.

5/5 Harpy Eagles

You Sexy Think by Cat Rambo, publishing date 16 November 2021.

I was hooked by the description “Farscape meets The Great British Bake Off.” Alas, I was bored from the beginning where nothing much happens but character introductions. I get that they are necessary and I do enjoy them normally, but it just didn’t gel with me. I wanted to see the living ship. I wanted the Space Opera to get going. So, once I got there -to the living ship- (at about 21%), I didn’t care anymore and I skimmed to the end. [ARC provided by the publishers through NetGalley.com]

2/5 Harpy Eagles

Better late than never #2

As I had promised, felt eons ago, I’d catch up with some of the books recommended to me by my fellow sceptical readers. Fortunately, my son asked me for Sci-Fi books for his birthday. That prompted me to not only get recommendations, but also to buy books and eventually read the books myself.

The first book that I tackled was Skyward by Brandon Sanderson, published 06 November 2018.

Although this is a YA book with some of the usual YA tropes, I found it quite a refreshing read. No love triangle. Yeah!

The MC is your average-not-so-average girl. The setting is a space-flight academy, on a human inhabited world that is not Earth, where you’ve got your Malfoys and your Rons and… NOOO! Epiphany! We have Maverick and Goose and Iceman and… If you’ve seen Top Gun, you know what I mean. [Hell that’s it! To be honest, this ‘déjà-vu thing’ has been tickling my brain since I started reading the book and I just couldn’t remember until Top Gun popped into my head just now. Kinda dates me, right?] So, you get the picture: Teenagers, flight school, lots of competition, lots of pressure from higher ups, drop outs, danger, overblown egos, aliens, strange and not so strange fauna, and a space ship with a sassy AI.

You could certainly read it as a stand-alone, but I’m going to get book two of the series, Starsight, soon; book three, Cytonic will be out in late November 2021.

4/5 Harpy Eagles

The next book on my son’s birthday pile was/is Pierce Brown’s Red Rising, published 28 January 2014.

I think one of the first comments I made about this book was “yet another YA novel set in a school setting; I’ve identified the Malfoys already.” [See, that’s why I was thinking of Hogwarts.]

Darrow’s story, the MC of Red Rising, is not like Harry Potter’s. Although, him living in caves below Mars’ surface doing dangerous menial labour for scraps of food might be comparable to Harry’s cupboard-under-the-stairs-life with the Dursley’s. Might being the operative word. I digress. Darrow is a Red. The Reds are the first people on Mars trying to terraform Mars for all of humanity. What Darrow and his fellow Reds don’t know, Mars has been terraformed already and the Reds are slaves that make life for the other colour-coded members of society so much more better.

So, in order to bring about the downfall of the current society Katniss, sorry, I mean Darrow, has to die and get himself resurrected and physically and mentally enhanced to enter a life-or-death school for the upper echelons of society. In order to one day be powerful enough to destroy the caste system of colours. Before he can do that (in book two and three?) he has to go through Hunger Games meets Lord of the Flies.

As you might have guessed already, I wasn’t as enamoured with the book as lots of other people. I’ve said it before, maybe I’m getting too old or too cynic for YA. Or maybe YA has become so generic that the same-old, same-old bores me from page one.

2/5 Harpy Eagles

Lastly I opened Alastair Reynolds’ Revenger, published 15 September 2016.

Look at this cover. A black ship with black solar sails. It practically shouts Space Pirates.

I had heard lots of good about Reynolds’ writing. Revenger was recommended to me/my son by both TheLadyDuckOfDoom and TheMarquessMagpie. After Red Rising I was looking forward to an adult Sci-Fi with a non-school setting. Space pirates sounded perfect.

I opened the book and was confused from the start. The beginning reads steampunk-y in a space setting. We get to meet our YA (!!!) MC and her sister, who run from a social event, get their father’s last remaining piece of financial worth busted, believe a lady in a tent and sign themselves to a space ship captain as (apprentice) ‘bone readers’ in search of ‘baubles’ and ‘loot’.

Okayyyy?! This doesn’t make much sense, but it gets the story going. I do get my action. I’d love some explanations, though. What’s ‘baubles’? What’s a ‘bone reader’?

Piece by piece the things are not really explained in the next chapters. Instead I get more strange pirate-y words, clunky dialogue, an even stranger story of kidnapping, and … I gave up at around 47% of the book. I just couldn’t deal with this 17 year old know-it-all MC in a world full of dumb adults. [BTW, I got an explanation for ‘baubles’ reading the blurb on Goodreads just now when I looked up the publishing date for the book.]

What I took away from that first half of the book is that I got the impression Mr Reynolds didn’t care much for this story, or handed in a first draft that was mysteriously accepted by the publishers without any editing. I wanted to read an adult story. I got a book that read like a middle-grade with some blood splattered and a hint at horror.

1/5 Harpy Eagles

Summer Reading – 2 months later – Short Reviews

There was a draft of this post lingering here for a whole month, the first words had been typed here, left dangling. The state of my summer reading is comparable.

It take ages to read a book, mainly because I’m focusing on so many other things right now. But today is day 1 of my reading weekend, I have finished my current read and finally take some time to give you all an update. There were 29 books on my summer reading list, and I’ve read 14 of them. I don’t care if I will manage to read 15 books in a month (I probably won’t, but who knows). You can find our lists here: https://www.instagram.com/p/CPlieZ_hTB7/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link

Making a reading list for the season has helped me tremendously with reading what I actually wanted to read, and helped me decide while still having the ability to choose. The unread books will go back on my TBR shelf and I will pick new ones for my autumn list. Nevertheless, I read a whole lot of books I’ve been looking forward to reading for a long time:

The Galaxy, and the Ground Within by Becky Chambers: It only took the first chapter before I was hooked, like every other book by Becky Chambers, it was beautiful. The whole Wayfarer series can be read out of order, so if you see one in a bookstore, just grab a copy.

5/5 Duckies

Sisters of the Vast Black by Lina Rather: Nuns at the edge of the universe in a living spaceship? Count me in. Great novella, and the sequel was just announced, too. Perfect time to go and read it, it’s a short read, too. A perfect weekend read!

5/5 Duckies

Rule of Wolves by Leigh Bardugo: I think everyone has heard of the Grishaverse by now. While I loved the Six of Crows duology, I hated the Sankta Alina books, because of Alina. The last book, King of Scars, was ok. This time though, the setting felt too much like WWI in disguise, with extra special effects for the Netflix show sprinkled on top. The Grishaverse ends here. For me at least.

3/5 Duckies

The Relunctant Queen by Sarah Beth Durst: Book 2 of the Queens of Renthia surprised me. I liked the first one, but it had a certain YA feel to it. Book 2 drops all of that and becomes a beautiful fantasy story with characters of all ages and professions. Young Queens and mothers. The characters are fleshed out very well, and I do look forward to putting book 3 on my autumn TBR reading list.

5/5 Duckies

Now, I’m off to read The Library of the Unwritten, which is not on my Summer TBR List, but was specifically bought to celebrate my self-care reading weekend. TheRightHonorableHarpyEagle does recommend the series a lot: https://scepticalreading.com/2020/11/hells-librarian-is-a-badass/

Meanwhile, I am already pondering what to put on my autumn reading list. Any suggestions?

Quick Reviews for July ’21

Without further ado, here are short reviews of books I’ve read this month.

How to Mars by David Ebenbach: A group of six scientists, three women, three men, won seats on a one way trip to Mars. They’ll be the heroes of a new reality TV show. And it is just as boring as it sounds. Even after two of them broke the cardinal rule of not having sex and managed to get pregnant. The book tried to be funny, but it wasn’t. The story was mainly about pregnancy and childbirth on Mars. 2/5 Harpy Eagles

Dustborn by Erin Bowman: Delta, the MC of this YA novel, will bring change. That’s clear from her name alone. An interesting mix of Mad Max Fury Road and Waterworld. Delta, needing to protect her pack/herd (why not tribe? are they animals?), has to go looking for the promised land; that land where there’s water and lots of plants and no one goes thirsty or hungry. Luckily she has a map on her skin. 1/5 Harpy Eagles

The Beautiful Ones by Silvia Moreno-Garcia: They say third time is the charm. Not when it comes to certain things, though. This was my third book by Silvia Moreno-Garcia and I still don’t really gel with her writing style. I couldn’t connect to the female MC, she was too naive for me. And I still can’t believe she never tried her telekinesis when she was a child. Who wouldn’t do that? 2/5 Harpy Eagles

The Final Girl Support Club by Grady Hendrix: Another book that was not for me. Not because I don’t like slasher films, but because I just couldn’t connect to the MC. Furthermore, the book soon felt like a Thelma&Louise kind of road trip to me, and that’s definitely not my jam. 2/5 Harpy Eagles

Give me a break

Firebreak by Nicole Kornher-Stace, published 04 May 2021.

This action packed, gaming dystopia, in a world where two corporations are at war with each other and the general population has to suffer from it is good, but nothing outstanding. The cover is great, though.

Unfortunately, the whole book reads like YA in the vein of Divergent, the few added “fucks” don’t elevate it to adult Sci-Fi.

The MC is an orphan, she lost her parents in the war when she was eight. She’s an introvert, yet needs to broadcast her gaming stream to earn money. She helps strangers, but is bristly towards her friends – she shares her hotel room home with eight other people. When she finds information about one of the corporations at war, she’s the only one who … yada yada yada

2/5 Harpy Eagles

Armchair Time-Travelling with St Mary’s

Oh, excuse me. That’s wrong. The highly secretive St Mary’s Institute of Historical Research doesn’t do time travel, they ‘investigate major historical events in contemporary time’. The historians of the institute are to observe and document, otherwise History will right itself (by erasing them). Add a bunch of eccentric scientists, technicians and engineers who like to blow things up on a regular basis, and you have a fun romp through time. In the case of this first book in the series, Jodi Taylor’s Just One Damned Thing After Another, the catastrophes stretch from Norman conquest England, to France during World War I, the Cretaceous Period and the destruction of the Great Library of Alexandria – mind you, that wasn’t St Mary’s doing, though they tried their best.

If you’re into history, and explosions, mayhem, snarky characters, an extra portion British humour, lots of tea and even more booze, this is the series for you.

Jodi Taylor definitely did her homework in preparation to this book. Honestly, she even knows how to distinguish whether a British person has Saxon or Norman ancestry, something only history nerds know. [Yes, I knew before I read the book; guess that’s saying enough.]

5/5 Harpy Eagles – queue the next book, please.

PS: Yes, I noticed the parallels to the TV series Timeless – which I binged with my daughter ages ago – but I venture that St Mary’s was first and is better.

The Acronyms are back

Or in other words, I’ve read the sequel to The Rise and Fall of the D.O.D.O. This time Nicole Galland did not co-author with Neal Stephenson, but wrote Master of the Revels with his blessings. It was published 23 February 2021.

The first book in this series was my first BuddyRead with TheLadyDuckOfDoom. I enjoyed the book very much and had been looking forward to a sequel ever since. To pass the time until said sequel might hit the shelves, I listened to the short stories, or rather DEDEs, of The D.O.D.O. Files on the Bound App.

Master of the Revels picks up right where DODO left off. Tristan, Mel, Frank, Rebecca, and the rest of the small team that had been cast out of the original D.O.D.O. programme have made Frank and Rebecca’s house their headquarters and are trying to stop Gráinne from changing history.

Gráinne’s latest plan to prevent the evolution of modern technology involves changing the witch scene(s) in Shakespeare’s Macbeth by adding real, very dangerous spells. Of course, Mel and Tristan are trying their best to prevent this, which results in the reader spending time with Will Shakespeare, and the titular Master of the Revels, Edmund Tilney, in Jacobean London.

I enjoyed this sequel, including the brush up on Shakespearean London. In fact, I couldn’t put it down and read it until the small hours of the morning. Still, there are a few things that I didn’t like about the book.

Mainly, the lack of help for some of the characters on DEDE who have gone AWOL felt strange. I’m not spoiling the story beyond what you can find in the blurb and in the pre-published prologue; contrary to all the rescue attempts we’ve seen in DODO, nobody seems to be too stressed to look into the missing DOer(s). Their absence is noted, and is fretted about, but it seems to be the opportune moment to introduce new and other characters’ stories. We know why Frank is absent, from the prologue, but not even Rebecca seems to be too worried about it at first; until she vanishes without further explanations. Tristan’s not reporting back leads to his new-to-the-whole-thing-but-Shakespearean-actress sister to be sent to 1606 to make sure the ‘cursed’ play turns out right. These plot holes are mildly annoying, especially since I am sure the reasons for the longer than planned absences will not or cannot be explained in the next sequel.

4/5 Harpy Eagles

Ghosthunting in Edinburgh

T.L. Huchu’s The Library of the Dead, published 04 February 2021, is the first book in a new Urban Fantasy series set in a post-apocalyptic(?) Edinburgh.

Ropa is a 15 year old ‘ghostalker'[sic], which means she talks to ghosts and delivers their messages to friends and family within the city limits of Edinburgh. From time to time she dabbles in exorcism too. When a charity case ghost asks her to find her lost son, Ropa finds herself in the middle of a scheme that she can only solve with the help of old and new friends.

I liked most of the world-building, though I would have liked to know more about how Edinburgh, or Great Britain, or even the world, ended up being what it is right now. It’s hinted at only very vaguely. The titular Library of the Dead also only makes up a small part of the story and I would have liked to see much more of it. I hope it gets a bigger part in the sequel(s).

This is a fast paced story that’s taking you through the streets of Edinburgh, with a fun group of characters. Potential YA readers might be stumped by the 80s and 90s pop culture references throughout the book. I’m still curious to know how young Ropa – in a time sometime in the future(?) – came to know all those things.

3.5/5 Harpy Eagles; I’ll give it 3 Goodreads stars though, because I wanted more background knowledge to the world and wanted to see more of the library.

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