Daughters of Doubt and Eyerolling

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Quick Reviews – January ’22

Daughter of Smoke and Bone (GER edition) by Laini Taylor, 2011.

The first book of a YA fantasy romance trilogy featuring angels and demons and a blue haired girl with lots of tattoos. The human girl Karou grew up among chimera. She's an arts student in Prague, but she's also dealing in teeth for her 'adoptive' father, the chimera Brimstone. 
When, on one of her errands for Brimstone, an angel attacks her, and subsequently all the doors to Brimstone's workshop are magically burnt shut, Karou has to face the angel Akiva to find answers about her life and a way back to the shop. 
I've read Karou's and Akiva's story several times. This time I read it in German with my daughter. 
The story is still as good, the translation leaves room for improvement though. 

5/5 Harpy Eagles – because we enjoyed the mistranslations very much


The Botanist’s Guide to Parties and Poisons by Kate Khavari, expected publication 7 June 2022. (ARC provided by the publishers through NetGalley)

A murder mystery set in London in the 1930s with a strong female heroine. 
Saffron Everleigh is working on her PhD in botany. As a woman in academia, in the 1930s, she has to fight a lot of uphill battles already. When the wife of one of the professors of the department is poisoned at a party, Saffron is determined to proof the innocence of her mentor. 
There are some really villainous villains and a lot of very dumb detectives; and there's chemistry between Saffron and her sidekick. 
Brimming with botanical information that isn't at all dull, and, most importantly for me, not too obvious plot twists.

5/5 Harpy Eagles


Evershore. A Skyward Flight novella by Brandon Sanderson and Janci Patterson, published 28 December 2021.

This is Jorgen's story and it's taking place at the same time as the third Skyward Flight novel Cytonic. 
Jorgen is trying to master his cytonic abilities. He's training with the alien Alanik. This is how they pick up a transmission from Evershore, the Kitsen home planet. Jorgen and part of Skyward flight travel to Evershore, where they meet Kitsen, see clouds, the sea and beaches for the first time; and find out - among a lot of other things - that sand truly gets everywhere. 

4/5 Harpy Eagles


Sherlock Holmes and the Shadwell Shadows by James Lovegrove, published 2017.

Lovegrove knows how to spin a yarn, just as well as Dr Watson. 
Three manuscripts, by Dr Watson, were found. Those manuscripts are the true accounts of what Holmes and Watson faced. 
In 1880, logical Sherlock Holmes comes up against the occult for the first time. Lovecraft's Elder gods are roaming Victorian London. Can Sherlock Holmes' rational reasoning handle the inexplicable? Magic? 

Has this been done before? Sure. 
Did it entertain me? Couldn't put it down. 

4/5 Harpy Eagles


Cackle by Rachel Harrison, published 5 October 2021.

Annie, after being dumped by her BF of ten years, moves from Manhattan to a small town in a rural area. The quaint town offers her a new start. Alas, Annie is a doormat and hence gravitates towards the self-confident and charismatic Sophie, who surprisingly wants to be Annie's friend. She wants Annie to recognise her true self. Annie wants her ex back, wants a man in her life, wants to drink her body's volume in alcohol. Honestly, this woman drinks a lot.
Tension? Horror? Not really. 
Female empowerment? If that means you should be obnoxious and rude, then no. 
Best character, even though he was more like a children's book character, the pet-spider Ralph. 

1/5 Harpy Eagles

Quick Reviews – December 2021

Fifty Words for Snow by Nancy Campbell, published 5 November, 2020.

This is a wonderful non-fiction book that you can dip in to at a whim. 

I was surprised to see not only words from snow-rich areas, but also words and stories relating to snow from areas with warm climate throughout most of the year. 

This book is a gem! I wish it had been longer. 

4/5 Harpy Eagles


Sherlock Holmes & the Christmas Demon by James Lovegrove, published 22 October, 2019.

A rather festive Sherlock story.

Asked to help a young lady to proof her sanity, Holmes and Watson travel to Yorkshire mere days before Christmas. Needless to say, Holmes cracks the case, he always does.

I liked the story. Will certainly (eventually) read the other books in the series.

4/5 Harpy Eagles


The Bone Shard Emperor by Andrea Stewart, published 23 November, 2021.

Middle Book Syndrome?

It just didn't click with me.

The story had more world-building than the first book. Though Stewart's acclaimed attention to detail was at the loss of character and plot development.

In my opinion - without book three out there yet - this trilogy might have worked better as a duology.

2/5 Harpy Eagles


Empire of the Vampire by Jay Kristoff, published 7 September, 2021.

And that's a wrap - I'm hereby declaring I am no longer the designated audience for Mr Kristoff's work. 
I know that a lot of people love his work and this book in particular, but I just couldn't finish it. The interview style didn't work for me. I was missing the plot. Then there was homophobia, which was overcome by an f/f romance including a voyeuristic sex scene. There was underage sex, very explicit underage sex, which got my hackles up, but that might just be me. 
Add frat boy banter between hardcore fighters and period-jokes, and I am out. 

0/5 Harpy Eagles

Books of the Month

Because I have gotten extremely bad at writing reviews, I’ll try something different and do a bunch of shorter ones to sum up my reading month.


Race to the South Pole by Roald Amundsen

Sadly, I only read an abbreviated German translation. But nonetheless, this was very interesting. Especially since I visited the Fram museum in Oslo two years ago, so I stood aboard the polar ship Amundsen used to reach the South Pole. Amundsen’s writing is captivating, and everything he and his team experienced just amazed me. A minor content warning here: don’t get attached to the dogs.

4 / 5 Magpies


The Ascent of Rum Doodle by W.E. Bowman

This was really just a lot of fun, especially if you are into “real” mountaineering books. With the aim to put someone on the top of the titular Rum Doodle, our main character Binder puts together an expedition team. From the constantly ill Dr. Prone to the navigator Jungle who even gets lost on his way to the first planning meeting in Britain, all characters are perfectly named and just ridiculous. Together with 3000 porters (yes, the number is correct), they set out and everything that can go wrong, will go wrong. The audiobook was fantastic as a palate cleanser. And just for your information, according to experts champagne can now be considered medicine. You’re welcome.

4 / 5 Magpies


Medea by Christa Wolf

It feels like lately we’ve been spoiled with retellings of Greek myths. And while most of you probably heard of the Madeline Miller books, few will know about Christa Wolf. Published in 1996, Medea tells the titular character’s story from multiple perspectives, shining a different light on the story with each new monologue. It’s quite literary but still fascinating that way, and her take on Kassandra’s story is already waiting on my shelves.

4 / 5 Magpies


The Diary of a Bookseller by Shaun Bythell

Ever wondered what it’s like to own a bookstore? A peek into Shaun Bythell’s diary will give you a good idea. The underlying tone is that customers are mostly quite annoying, and Amazon is out to get us all. I think there is some truth in both points. The writing is entertaining, and it worked really well as a bedside book because reading more than a couple of entries in a row might get repetitive.

3 / 5 Magpies for solid entertainment without any surprises


The Mysterious Study of Doctor Sex by Tamysn Muir

This is a short story set in the Sixth House of Tamysn Muir’s Locked Tomb series. You can read it for free here. Having read both Gideon and Harrow the Ninth, it was fun to be back in the world and also to have a glimpse into the Sixth house. But without prior knowledge from the two full-length novels, this must be an extremely confusing story. And yes, you are most welcome to snicker at the name of the doctor, as are our two 13-year-old protagonists Palamedes and Camilla.

4 / 5 Magpies


The Annual Migration of Clouds by Premee Mohamed

This dystopian novella started off with a Chosen One storyline, but didn’t go there all the way. Instead we spend our time with the main character (and her fungi parasite) as she ponders whether or not to leave her mother behind to make something out of her life. She reaches a decision in the end, but somehow all this buildup feels anticlimactic as this is the point where the story stops. Maybe this would have worked better for me if it was instalment 0.5 of a series instead of a standalone.

3 / 5 Magpies for fungi fun


Finders Keepers by Stephen King

After reading If It Bleeds and The Outsider, I decided to finally finish the Bill Hodges trilogy. Or at least pick up book two, for now. It was a solid King novel – some blood, some suspense, greate characters. According to Goodreads, I read the first book in 2017, so I was really glad that it didn’t matter too much. Or at least I remembered enough to get along.

4 / 5 Magpies


Judge Dee and the Three Deaths of Count Werdenfels by Lavie Tidhar

This is the second of the Judge Dee short stories, it can be read for free here. Apparently there is a third one out already, so I’ll have to get to that soon. Because it’s a short story, I’m not going to tell you much about it. You’ll just have to trust me that it’s worth your time.

5 / 5 Magpies

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

If your pets played Dungeons&Dragons

… it would probably happen exactly as in Campaigns & Companions: The Complete Role-Playing Guide for Pets by Alex de Campi, Andi Ewington and Rhianna Pratchett. To be released on 14.09.2021, Netgalley was kind enough to provide me with a digital ARC.

This is not a guide how your Dungeons & Dragons character can also have a cute dog, cat or spider, but a hilarious collection of small scenes, all with very fitting illustrations, about what would happen if your average cat/dog/turtle adventurer would behave like a real world pet. The answer is: they are kind of jerks. But incredibly funny.

4/5 Duckies

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

Palate Cleansers

Novellas and short stories are a great way to read something new and refreshing in between the chunksters. That doesn’t mean that they don’t have depth. Here are a few I’ve recently finished.

Hard Reboot by Django Wexler, publishing day 25 May 2021. Kas is on a fact-finding mission to old Earth. She’s drawn to the battle-bot fights for scholarly interest, which then leads to her being drawn in much deeper – literally and figuratively. A sci-fi novella about friendship, diplomacy, love, and well-choreographed robot-fights. It’s amazing to see how well Wexler manages this story in only 150 pages! Also, great cover! 4/5 Harpies

The Quest for the Holy Hummus by James Allison is the first book in The Chickpea Chronicles, publishing day 12 March 2021. When vegan dragon George goes to Peopleville to get his beloved hummus from Julian Pinkerton Smith’s organic food store, things go foreseeably wrong. It’s a short witty introduction (think Pratchett, Atkinson, Monty Python) to the two characters and the world the following six stories are set in. 3/5 Harpies

The Past is Red by Catherynne M Valente, publishing day 20 July 2021. Tetley loves the world. Tetley tells the truth. Both these things get her in so much trouble. This is the story of a very optimistic girl that embraced its dystopian home, Garbagetown, and eventually ended up learning one secret too many and becoming a jaded outlaw. Still, she doesn’t give up hope. A very optimistic, yet also slightly disturbing novella that makes you think. My one point of criticism, it was sometimes hard to follow the timeline. 4/5 Harpies

A bunch of quick reviews

Without further ado…

Fugitive Telemetry by Martha Wells, publishing date 27 April 2021.

Murderbot being Murderbot, it is not easy for it to interact with humans. But it has to find out about the dead human. A dead human it did not kill, thank you for asking. So, it’s playing Sherlock on a space station. Making new friends along the way, of course.

Burning Girls and Other Stories by Veronica Schanoes, published 02 March 2021.

This collection of fantasy and contemporary fiction short stories was a bit ‘yeah and meh’. Some of the Jewish ‘own voices’ stories were really really good. Yet reading some of the more speculative fiction stories, I felt a bit lost. Strong stories nonetheless even if they might make you feel uncomfortable.

The Stolen Kingdom by Jillian Boehme, published 02 March 2021.

This was surprisingly good for a rather generic YA fantasy romance. Boehme managed to make her characters and their love story believable by letting them both acknowledge that they had known each other only for a short time. A further plus: it’s a standalone that delivers a solid story in less than 350 pages.

The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner, published 02 March 2021.

A historical fiction using the split timeline trope. I liked the storyline about the apothecary set in the late 18th century. Nella has a secret apothecary shop, she’s helping women who find themselves in ‘tricky’ situations. Until a chance encounter with 12 y/o Eliza sets the wheels of fate in motion, which lead to Caroline from Ohio. On a trip to London she finds an apothecary bottle while mudlarking in the Thames. She starts researching about the bottle and the apothecary. The story would have been just as interesting without the contemporary storyline, which was rather ‘meh’ compared to the historical story.

A Dead Djinn in Cairo and The Haunting of Tram Car 015 by P. Djèlí Clark.

Both short stories are set in an alternate Cairo in the early 20th century. Otherworldly beings are just as normal as the Ministry of Alchemy. In A Dead Djinn in Cairo, Special Investigator Fatma el-Sha’arawi is trying to solve a murder disguised as suicide and finds herself digging so much deeper that she encounters clockwork angels and a plot that might implode time itself. The Haunting of Tram Car 015 brings us back to Cairo, this time “Senior Agent Hamed al-Nasr shows his new partner Agent Onsi the ropes of investigation when they are called to subdue a dangerous, possessed tram car. What starts off as a simple matter of exorcism, however, becomes more complicated as the origins of the demon inside are revealed.” I enjoyed both short stories and I am looking forward to reading the full novel A Master of Djinn (expected pub date: 11 May 2021), which has been idling on my ARC shelf for some time.

Graceful Burdens

This little short story (21 pages) packs quite a punch! But since it’s by Roxane Gay, who would have expected it not to?

In the alternate reality of Graceful Burdens, you have to pass a genetic screening to be allowed to have children. Those who fail can only numb their desperation and longing by checking out babies from the library. Yes, a two week loan, no, renewals are not allowed. One has to wonder – where do these library infants come from?

When the main character Hayden decides to use the library, she gets swept up by an organiziation trying to change things and starts to see their society and her life in a new light.

The story’s tone reminded me a lot of The Handmaid’s Tale and I would have gladly read a full-length novel set in this terrible world.

Demons and Exorcists

Prosper’s Demon is a quirky short story/novella by KJ Parker, published 28 January 2020. We decided to read this story by a new-to-us author as a Buddyread to while away the time until our next buddy-book arrived.

The main character and unreliable narrator, a demon hunter/exorcist, takes us on a wild ride when he is facing off one of the 109 demons in his jurisdiction. A cunning tale which starts with a gripping first paragraph (s.b.), and will keep you on the edge of your seat, chuckling here and there, with it’s many twists and turns and double and triple crossings.

I woke to find her lying next to me, quite dead, with her throat torn out. The pillow was shiny and sodden with blood, like low-lying pasture after a week of heavy rain. The taste in my mouth was familiar, revolting, and unmistakable. I spat into my cupped hand: bright red. Oh, for crying out loud, I thought. Here we go again.

KJ Parker, Prosper’s Demon

If you are like the three of us, you’ll definitely want to dive into a whole book by this author afterwards. We have already decided to squeeze in Sixteen Ways To Defend A Walled City sometime this year.

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