Daughters of Doubt and Eyerolling

Category: Hidden Gems Page 1 of 3

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

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

A Brightness Long Ago

A Brightness Long Ago by Guy Gavriel Kay is one of the books that has been sitting on my shelves for some time. Patiently waiting. Or more likely silently judging me. Like most of its kind, it turned out to be a “Why did I wait so long” kind of book.

Set in a fantasy version of Renaissance Italy, it is alive with really effortless world building. Because it does not hide the fact that it is kind of Italy but different, everything already feels kind of familiar when you enter the story.

It boasts a big cast of characters, changing perspectives frequently. Sometimes storytelling like this can really annoy me, but in this case it made every aspect more interesting. While parts of the story are told by a first person narrator, he is not necessarily the main character of the story. I’m not even sure there is one. Instead, complex political and personal relationships take the main role.

The writing style was compelling, and at times even a bit self-aware. It felt like the author was winking at you, right before dismantling typical storytelling tropes.

Ultimately, this is a book about the ways people both glorious and seemingly unimportant can shape history. Its place is somewhere between fantasy and historical fiction. But the fantasy elements are more an underlying feeling than, you know, dragons. It still scratches the high fantasy itch. With this book, Guy Gavriel Kay has immediately become an author I need to read more of. Seems like historical fantasy, if we want to call it that, is right in my wheelhouse.

5/5 Magpies

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?

One Day All This Will Be Yours – Short Review

This novella by one of my favorite sci-fi authors, Adrian Tchaikovsky, is FUN. If you like new spins on time travel stories, it’s the perfect story. I don’t want to spoil too much, but think about what happens after a time war.

If it weren’t for one crucial flaw in the logic of the story, this would have been a 5/5 ducks read for me. Unfortunately, there is, and there has to be for the story to work. If you read the book, can you guess what I mean?

Welcome to the end of time. It’s a perfect day.

adrian tchaikovsky, one day all this will be yours

4/5 Duckies

Lose Your Temper with Me

Nicky Drayden is an author who should get a lot more attention, if you ask me. Temper was quite the experience. It starts out as your regular kind of urban fantasy, and features a bunch of annoying teenagers. But things spiral out of control quite fast.

In this version of South Africa, it is normal to have a twin to balance each other’s character traits. The seven vices and virtues are split between each pair of twins and the vices are marked on your body for the whole world to see. The twin with more vices is seen as the lesser one and often faces severe discrimination and poverty, while the twin with more virtues goes on to lead a privileged life. The world building is very strong and believable, without needing to explain every last detail. Bonus points for introducing a third gender with ey/eir as pronouns.

Our main character is Auben, one of the rare cases with six vices and therefore destined to get into a lot of trouble. As can be imagined, the relationship with his holier-than-thou six-virtue-twin Kasim is getting more and more strained the older they get. When Auben begins to hear a voice that really speaks to his darker side and may be Icy Blue, the most powerful demon of their religion, their relationship really starts to fall apart.

Usually I don’t stick with books starring really annoying teenagers – and believe me, this book is full of them – but since their behaviour was always rooted in their vices/virtues I could stand it and follow along. Once the story around Icy Blue really comes into focus, things really hit the fan and it even gets quite gory. It was just so much fun to witness the mayhem.

The main thing I liked about this book is that all characters are morally grey, even the most virtuous ones. Maybe especially them? Ultimately, it is a story about how labels like vice markers do not define you. I do not give it a full star rating because you really have to get through a couple of pages full of teenage drama before the fun really starts.

4/5 Magpies

Sharks in the Time of Saviours

I’m not even trying to think of a clever blog post title here because the book title is so beautiful. Sharks in the Time of Saviours is Kawai Strong Washburn’s debut novel and it is one of those magical realism books that makes you think about it for days after finishing it.

In the book, we are spending time with the Flores family, mostly in Hawaii. The story is narrated from a first person point of view, alternating between the different family members. The family is hit hard by the collapse of the sugar cane industry, and their economical situation is getting quite desperate.

That’s when their younger son Nainoa is saved from drowning during a family trip by nothing other than a shiver of sharks. (Which is now my favourite collective noun alongside a murder of crows, but I digress.) The family takes this as a sign that the ancient Hawaiian gods are on their side. After the incident, Noa is considered a legend. You might imagine that this does not sit too well with his siblings. Growing up, all three siblings head over to the US mainland and try to make their own separate ways. Each of them finds that it is hard to shake off the past, and tragedy forces them to come back to Hawaii.

After the initial shark incident, I expected more fantastical elements to pop up throughout the story, but they take a backseat. This is more of a family story than a fantastical one, but it still had me turning the pages. The changing points of view certainly helped with that. I really enjoyed to spend some time with Nainoa’s siblings Dean and Kaui, to see what not being The Special One did to them.

A note on the cover: I first noticed the book because of the bright and slightly bonkers US cover, but bought the UK version in the end. After reading it, I think the quieter blue colour is a better fit for the story.

4/5 Magpies

Talk dirty to me

Ha, made you look, right?

I love a good audiobook. What’s even better than a good audiobook? An audioplay. Better than an audioplay? [Yes, yes, there can be a superlative here.] Better than an audioplay is an audioplay based on a story by Neil Gaiman, played by a whole cast of gorgeous voices and narrated by Neil himself. That’s reason enough for me to not fiddle with the speed of my audioplayer, which I usually set to somewhere between 1.75 and 2.5.

The Sandman audioplay is based on the DC comics/graphic novels of the same title. I’m going so far as to say that I enjoyed the audioplay much more than the GNs, because the cast surrounding James McAvoy makes the story/stories really come to life for me.

I can’t say much more without either starting to go all CAPS, or gushing about details. Get yourself a copy of the original version – trust me, I dared to listen into the German version for a few minutes, just not the same feeling – and enjoy it. Each episode is worth your time, and, at the same time, you can pace yourself by at least trying to listen to not more than one episode at a time. Something I failed at spectacularly.

5/5 Harpy Eagles

An audiobook Original

The Original by Brandon Sanderson and Mary Robinette Kowal, narrated by Julia Whelan, published, as audio only, 14 September 2020.

In a future where people can prolong their lives with weekly boosts of their nanites (nanobots), or by getting a clone in case of a fatality, Holly wakes up in a recently cloned body. She soon finds out that her husband had been killed. Furthermore, she is but a mere Provisional Replica only alive for four days, enough time to find her “Original” and kill her for the murder of her/their husband. For this purpose, the replica was enhanced with deduction and combat skills, but is missing all the AR features of Holly’s old life/body.

Holly now has to come to terms with being a replica under control of the authorities. Getting around in an augmented world in a body that cannot opt in to see the themes. She has to find out where her Original is hiding, why and if she truly killed her husband, and what all this has to do with the community of Check-outs, people who have opted out of using nanites and the AR enhancements they offer.

This book is an audiobook only. Julia Wheelan’s narration is spot on. She manages to admirably convey Holly’s history with her husband – in flashback scenes – as well as Holly’s underlying feeling of running out of time, having to come to terms with the whole situation, and finding her identity as a clone. The sound effects that were added to the narration enhance story and narration even more.

I enjoyed unravelling the mystery of Holly’s husband with her replica. The short story made me wish it had been longer. I would have liked to stay in this world for a few more pages, or rather a few more minutes.

4/5 Harpy Eagles

16 Ways to Defend a Walled City

After reading K.J. Parker’s novella Prosper’s Demon in January, we decided that 16 Ways to Defend a Walled City should follow soon.

The main character Orhan, a colonel of engineers, is widely out of his depth when the city faces an approaching siege. But he has to take command, since nobody else is willing to do it. What follows is a series of events he would probably never have bargained for. He proves to be cunning and resourceful, and is a great character to spend time with.

The plot of the book is built up in a very entertaining and clever way, and even the enemy on the other side of the wall proves to be a surprise for Orhan. Since the story is told as Orhan’s account of the events, the narration is pleasantly unreliable.

Parker’s writing style once again managed to delight us. Cleverly crafted shenanigans (yeah engineering!) are mixed with scenes that hilariously highlight the absurd paths bureaucracy can take. In one scene Orhan has to hunt down this book’s equivalent to permit A 38. Compared to Prosper’s Demon, the main characters feel quite similar. Which is a very good thing, if you share our fondness for smart, flawed characters and a dry sense of humour. There is also a sequel (How to Rule an Empire and Get Away With It) following a different main character. We think it is a good idea to take some time between those books so that Parker’s style does not feel too repetitive.

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