Sceptical Reading

Daughters of Doubt and Eyerolling

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

It has such a nice cover

These days I seem to be reviewing books either as “this wasn’t for me” or “holy shit, you have to read this”. I am sorry for every author whose work falls into the first category; I’m 92% certain it’s a case of “it’s me, not you”.

Along those lines, The Wood Be Queen wasn’t for me. Edward Cox’s novel was promoted during the Gollanz Fest earlier this year and I immediately requested a review copy. I was very happy when I got approved for an ARC, but this is where my happy reading experience stopped.

As I mentioned above, it’s a case of me. It took me felt ages to get into the story. I gave it several tries. The first 20-ish % that I read, and re-read, reminded me of Erin Morgenstern’s The Starless Sea. Though, where I stuck it out with Morgenstern’s book and actually re-read that one, I just couldn’t get into The Wood Bee Queen. The dialogues felt forced, the arrangement of the chapters/scenes felt weird, which is probably a feature not a bug. I kept wandering off, first in my head then physically by picking other books.

This book might be for you if you like meandering story lines that come together at the end. But more importantly, this book is for you if you are a much more patient person than I am and like to wait for the story to unfold rather than being plunged into the action from page one.

Edward Cox’s The Wood Bee Queen was published 10 June 2021.

2/5 Harpy Eagles

It’s that time of the month…

… when I am thinking about which skein of yarn I’ll have to turn into a pair of woollen socks, because it’s getting cold outside.

This summer hasn’t been very summery and it seems to have turned into autumn already. As I’ve mentioned last month already, this has definitely boosted my reading.

In August I read a lot of ARCs, see my quick reviews of a few of them here and here, and I re-read some comfort reads. That’s probably why I haven’t made any big reading plans for September so far. I have been thinking about making an autumn reading list though, I could add the few books left from my summer reading list. Planned for the immediate future is Pratchett’s Going Postal, since the #OokBOokClub on Litsy is discussing this next week. My other book club decided on reading Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead, which is on the Booker longlist and supposed to be a very un-Booker book – so I’ve been told. It might very well be the first Booker book I’ll be reading.

What I’m longing to read is a book with a surprising plot twist. I can most often see a plot twist from miles away, despite lack of foreshadowing. That’s probably the current main reason why I’m re-reading books, or read romance novels; I know what I am in for and my brain can take a stroll for once. I am an over-thinker and I have a very hard time reading a book without thinking about its continuity, possible plot twists, etc. I am my own worst enemy, I spoil the plot/fun for myself. Most books I read this summer couldn’t surprise me. I’m not saying that they were bad, but once in a while I’d like to say “I did not see that coming!” Which book(s) surprised you with unexpected plot twists?

Better go do some stash diving for the perfect yarn. Can’t think of anything more relaxing than a comfort read on my headphones while I’m turning a ball of soft wool into a pair of reading socks right now. Even if I don’t encounter a plot twist in the book I’m listening too, I’m sure I’ll manage to twist the yarn I’m working with.

Quick Reviews – Aug ’21 – #2

Here are four NetGalley ARCs I managed to read during the last couple of weeks.

A Strange and Brilliant Light by Eli Lee, published 22 July 2021.

This is literary dystopian Sci-Fi. The author basically discusses the advantages and disadvantages of AI taking over our world. It’s interesting, but it was a very slow read for me, especially as I didn’t like any of the charcters.

2/5 Harpy Eagles

Betrayal on the Bowery by Kate Belli, publishing day 12 October 2021.

The story picks up right where book 1, Deception by Gaslight, ended. It’s New York in 1889, Daniel and Genevieve are thrown together to investigate the kidnapping of a debutante and are also working on solving the murder of two young society gentlemen. There is a haunted mansion, very dark places, and a connection to Daniel’s past.

3/5 Harpy Eagles

The Thunder Heist by Jed Herne, publishing day 19 October 2021.

The heist was good. The rest, not so much. There is lots of action going on, yet I’d have liked more fleshed out characters. Additionally, the MC got out of scrapes too conveniently; sometimes by purely changing the POV to a secondary character who happens to meet the MC after she made it out of the trap. That’s lame writing. I want to see/know how she did it.

2/5 Harpy Eagles

The Bookshop of Forgotten Dreams by Emily Blaine, published 18 June 2021; translated from French. TW: suicide!

Maxime is a really bad boy, he’s a young actor with anger management problems. He’s misogynistic and he doesn’t endear himself to the reader during the very first chapter. Sarah is the shy (and innocent) owner of a second hand bookshop in a rural area. Maxime, after beating someone up, has to do community service in Sarah’s bookshop. She changes him.

Nope! Not my kind of romantic story.

0/5 Harpy Eagles

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 – 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

Daughter of the Salt King

Daughter of the Salt King by A.S. Thornton, published 2 February 2021.

The description on the cover caught my attention:

A girl of the desert and a jinni born long ago by the sea, both enslaved by the Salt King- but with this capricious magic, only one can be set free.

This description rings a bit YA, but the book has been hailed as adult and I soon found out why. Within the first two chapters, actually.

The titular Salt King is what it says on the tin, the king of a desert kingdom/village who has accumulated the most salt. His riches enabled him to stock his harem with lots of wives, which gave him lots of children.

His male offspring is carted off to the army. The girls are hidden in tents that may not even been opened for some ventilation in order to keep them secluded form the eyes of possible suitors. They are being wed off to form fortuitous alliances.

For shock value – and possibly to alleviate this novel above YA – the girls aren’t just wed to a suitor. Possible future sons-in-law may take the girl they’ve cast their eye on and spend three nights with them. If she performs to his satisfaction, he might marry her. Or test drive one of her sisters/half-sisters.

The MC, whose name I’ve already forgot, has been hoping to leave her father’s compound for some time. She dreams of being set free by being wed and joining her husband’s harem ever since her first night pleasing a man at age fourteen. Time’s pressing, she has to snag a hubby, especially, since she’s twenty-two already and unwed daughters will be cast/thrown out of the compound at age twenty-three.

I managed to read the first three chapters. There might be a rather good fantasy story about a young woman rebelling against her father, saving her people and falling for a jinni, but I just couldn’t do with the non-consensual sex with minors; the father pimping out his daughters.

0/5 Harpy Eagles

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