Sceptical Reading

Daughters of Doubt and Eyerolling

Tackling the TBR

Hello. My name is TheRightHonourableHarpyEagle and I am a book addict.

That might not have needed to be pointed out, but it’s good to admit to it sometimes. I love buying books, I love hoarding books, but do I read the gems on my shelves?

This week I decided to actively read at least one book off the TBR shelf, which led me to actually read two novels by the same author, Naomi Novik.

Spinning Silver – a retelling of Rumpelstiltskin (gah, I hate the English spelling). Although I liked the Slavic touch of the story, I didn’t like the many POV in the book. Some characters were written so similar to each other that it always took me a moment to get into the story again. Also, some POV were introduced and then dropped without further notice, which made me wonder whether I had missed some pages. That and the feeling of the story of these three women somehow getting nowhere made me skim most of the second half of the story. I just didn’t care for what would happen. I might have liked the book ten years ago, but my tastes have changed. I hadn’t had the book lying around for a decade though.

I had a similarly hard time with Novik’s Uprooted. Again, I liked the Slavic fairy tale-ish background to the story, but the dragon character verbally abusing the young woman and then seemingly suddenly the two characters are head over heels in love with each other? Just didn’t gel with me.

I was wondering whether it’s the author and her writing style that I don’t like. No that’s not it. The writing is good. Actually, I’ve read the two Scholomance novels by Novik and liked them. In fact, I have the third book of the trilogy on my TBR. I’m assuming it’s the fairy tale retelling I struggle with; they don’t really work for me most of the time.

Did I just read YA porn?

The third book in Kerry Maniscalco’s Kingdom of the Wicked series, Kingdom of the Feared, published 27 September 2022, is hailed as YoungAdult/16+ on the big retail platforms. It’s not, trust me. It’s so adult that you can’t even call it New Adult.

In book 2, Kingdom of the Cursed, Emilia was openly lusting after Wrath and there were some explicit scenes in the novel.

I didn’t expect book 3 to have less sex, but it’s supposed to be a fantasy romance. Imagine my surprise when Emilia basically offered herself on a silver platter from page one. Where’s the romance in that? Sex is not romance and I shudder at the thought that this novel might be read by YA readers thinking it was.

If you want to read the book(s) without spoilers, please stop reading here.

Tiny recap: Book 1 introduces Emilia and her twin sister Vittoria, who are witches in a long line of Sicilian witches. They’ve been told not to engage in black magic and to fear the demons of hell. Vittoria is killed at the beginning of the story and Emilia tries to find her killer. She summons a demon of hell to help her, who turns out to be Wrath, a prince of hell.

In book 2 Emilia and Wrath make their way to the seven kingdoms of hell. Emilia is to marry the Devil, who turns out not to be Pride, but Wrath. At the end of the book all that is left for Emilia and Wrath to do to seal their marriage/bargain is to have sexual intercourse; and by that I mean penis in vagina, any other form of sex they’ve had before was just foreplay. But, just as they are about to get down to business, Emilia finds out that her sister Vittoria might still be alive.

Book 3 then opens with Emilia trying to seduce Wrath, who still goes out of his way to give Emilia space and breathing room to decide whether she actually wants to enter this marriage. Emilia wants this marriage, or does she just want to bone Wrath? Not quite sure. Whenever they are together Emilia’s libido is in overdrive and all she can think about [and tells the reader all over and over and over] is how hot and bothered Wrath makes her feel and how much she wants and needs him. Before you reach chapter ten, Emilia has taken off her clothes several times and tried to climb her prince of hell in different ways, she even went down on him in a gondola.

Unfortunately, every time Emilia wants to seal their bargain by banging Wrath, a tiny bit of plot happens. For example, Vittoria is not dead, she’s in league with werewolves. Also, Vittoria tries to force Emilia to remember her former life, because Emilia is neither a mortal, nor a witch. Furthermore there are vampires and all the princes of hell and machinations. Secrets are unravelled, the ancient curse is lifted [yay!] and it all feels bland. Just as bland as a porn film, where some sort of plot has to happen that leads you from one scene of bippity-boppety to the next.

The last chapter of the book hints at a spin-off series about Pride and Vittoria and Lucia. If that happens, I’m rooting for Lucia and Vittoria to get together, but would expect some sort of threesome to happen. [If you are wondering who Lucia is, it’s a character from book 1 on, but I won’t spoil who exactly here.]

Long story short: Read this book if you liked SJM’s ACOTAR. Or if you like shifter literotica/romance stories with possessive males and strong-yet-not-in-need-but-actually-kind-of-in-need-of-protection females. The whole family of princes of hell reminded me of a werewolf pack and/or a coven/seethe/sucking(?) of vampires – or maybe I just read too many Patricia Briggs and JR Ward novels.

2/5 Harpy Eagles

Quick Reviews – September 2022

The Secret Life of Albert Entwistle by Matt Cain, published 24 May 2022.

Albert lives a very private life. He doesn't have a lot of friends. He lives in his parents' house with his cat Gracie. He's been working as a postman for decades. 

Three months before his sixty-fifth birthday Royal Mail send him a letter thanking him for his service and wishing him a happy retirement. This letter changes him. He's determined to find happiness. He sets out to find the love of his life, George, and makes the unlikeliest allies and friends on the way. 

A very different, very uplifting coming-out story. 

4/5 Harpy Eagles


The Second Sight of Zachary Cloudesley by Sean Lusk, published 09 June 2022.

Zachary Cloudesley is the son of a famous clock maker. He's a very intelligent and curious child. Always flitting around his father's workshop. When an accident leaves him scarred for life, his father decides that Zachary would be better off being raised by Aunt Frances in the countryside. 

Abel Cloudesley, knowing his son to be well-cared for takes on a dangerous job in Constantinople, which is going to change his life and that of his son. 

Zachary, plagued by visions, knows he has to find his father. An adventure begins that will also take him to Constantinople. 

"With a Dickensian cast of characters that are brilliantly bonkers one moment and poignant the next, Sean Lusk's debut will take readers on an immersive journey into the wonders of the world of Zachary Cloudesley." [Blurb]

The book is exactly what this last sentence of the blurb describes. It was a delight reading it. 

5/5 Harpy Eagles


Nona The Ninth by Tamsyn Muir, published 13 September 2022.

The third instalment in the Locked Tomb series by Tamsyn Muir doesn't disappoint. It picks up where book two, Harrow The Ninth, ended and it pulls you in within the first paragraphs. 

I read the book. I enjoyed every page. It was total bonkers, and I am left with wanting more and wanting to re-read the whole series at the same time. Somehow I am not sure what I read. Deep down I know it makes sense within the context of the series, but within the first minutes after finishing the book I was flabbergasted.

If you have read and enjoyed the previous books in the series, get this one and read it. It's definitely not a standalone book. And it will make you wish for book four, Alecto The Ninth, immediately after you've closed the book. 

4/5 Harpy Eagles


The Bullet That Missed by Richard Osman, published 15 September 2022.

The third book in the Thursday Murder Club mystery series has the gang from Cooper's Chase trying to solve a decade old murder of a TV presenter. Of course it's not a straightforward case and the four "Oldies" get into more trouble than they might have bargained for.

I like the dynamic of the characters. I love Joyce chapters, where she writes her diary entries and goes off on tangents. 

If you haven't read the series yet, get going!

5/5 Harpy Eagles


Killers of a Certain Age by Deanna Raybourn, published 06 September 2022.

Four women in their early sixties are on a cruise. It's their retirement gift from the Museum, a secret agency who's been assassinating the bad guys for over four decades. The women were the first female assassins in the organisation. And right when they started to relax on board they find out that a bomb has been activated to take them all out. 

Why do they suddenly have a target on their backs? Will they be able to find a safe place to regroup, in the middle of an ocean? Who is responsible for the hit order? 

Solid cozy thriller that flashes back to the early days of working as assassins. Not as good as the Victoria Speedwell series, but an enjoyable read nonetheless. 

3/5 Harpy Eagles

Paradox Series Review

Almost a year ago, I published a review of Fortune‘s Pawn by Rachel Bach, lamenting about my book buying ban. The end of the book was a large scale cliffhanger, and I wanted the next books RIGHT NOW.

A few months later, I splurged and bought book 2 and 3 of the series. I am happy to say that they stay as fast paced and action-packed as the first one! The love story is engaging, and there are twist, turns, and backstabbing involved the whole way through. The science fiction universe with it‘s dangers and inhabitants is fun, but not full of new and exiting ideas. And it does not have to be to make this series a delight to read!

5/5 Ducks

Werewolves, Walkers, Shifters,…

TJ Klune, whom most might know from The House in the Cerulean Sea, wrote a werewolf series a few years back. The first book of the Green Creek series, Wolfsong, is being re-published in September 2022. It was first published in June 2016.

It is an M/M romance like THitCS or Under the Whispering Door and at the same time it is not. It is a slow build romance like in the other books, but it is much grittier, there is gore, there is very explicit sex and the story is definitely not as whimsical as the above mentioned two.

You need to have read or seen a few werewolf stories to truly appreciate this story, because otherwise you might be put off by the power dynamic between the two ‘lovebirds’ and the proprietary behaviour, not to mention the age gap between the two MCs.

Joe and Ox meet for the first time when Joe is nearly eleven years old and Ox just turned 16. Joe’s family moved into the house at the end of the lane and Ox becomes fast friends with the three boys. He is welcomed into the family from the start, which he finds odd at first. Though when Ox later finds out that the family is a family of werewolves and learns all about werewolf packs, pack wars, Alphas, Betas and Omegas, their behaviour starts to make sense.

When Ox is 22 and Joe 17 the romance really starts. But Joe has had his eyes on Ox for years and his proprietary behaviour towards Ox might not go down with every reader. It’s a werewolf thing, or should I say it’s a theme that comes up in werewolf stories? To give Klune and his characters credit, Joe’s family is completely okay with Joe and Ox getting together. Still, Ox insists that nothing physical should happen between the two of them until Joe is 18 years old.

A lot of things go on in this book besides the romance. For one there is this nasty Omega-wolf who is attacking the pack, because he wants to be Alpha. There is violence, there are fights, people come to harm, but also packs/found families are formed.

Probably not my favourite Klune book, but definitely one that I am glad I did not pass.

3/5 Harpy Eagles

Reviewing Books you did not finish…

… and why we think that is ok. We recently got a comment about a review of a book that The Right Honorable Harpy Eagle did not finish, but had a lot to say about. Even writing the review was called out to be very reprehensible. We think differently.

Even DNF’ing (Did Not Finish) a book is very difficult for me, the Lady Duck Of Doom. Often, I feel the need to skim the rest of the book so I can say I have “finished” it. This year, I actually managed to put a book away that I really, really did not like. I was incredibly proud, and vowed to do it again. It is an incredible freeing feeling. In this case, writing a review seemed very pointless to me, as I had no feelings whatsoever about anything in this book except that it wasn’t for me. And I was far too lazy to write a review that’s essentially “It’s me not you”.

But sometimes, it is more than “It’s me not you” that makes you not like a book. Sometimes, there are serious issues with a book. Sometimes, there are so many small details that are just wrong, or just not your cup of tea, that you don’t want to finish the book. These issues can be of all kinds, for example representation, logical or timeline flaws and inconsistencies, racism, or just another sci-fi written by a man with only male characters except for one scarcely clad female hologram. These might not be the issues other readers have with the book, but these are your issues.

So are you essentially forbidden to have an opinion about this book, just because you did not make it until the end? It does not make any sense to me. Are you required to invest time in something you already know you do not like to earn the right to have an opinion? In my opinion, no. And in our small blog, we are absolutely allowed to write about it. Of course, you are free to disagree, but it won‘t stop us 🙂

A new Spin on Vampire Books

Frankly, I never thought it was impossible to give vampire stories a new spin, but I was reasonably sure it was unlikely to happen. Until I read Sunyi Dean’s The Book Eaters, published 02 August 2022.

Our protagonist, Devon, is a mother. She’s hiding to protect her son, Cai, whom she kidnapped and ran away with two years ago. Her son has special needs. He’s always hungry. He cannot eat regular food. He has a skin condition that needs treatment. Devon, a fierce lioness protecting her cub, knows what helps her five-year-old, she has to get him humans to feed on.

Devon is a Book Eater. She is not human, but looks human. She escaped with her son from the strange customs of the Book Eater society hiding from humans in the northern parts of Great Britain. She can read, but Book Eaters cannot write. She doesn’t have a bank account, nor an ID. She and her son live on the edges of human society, always fearing they’ll be found out by the human authorities or by the Book Eaters’ knights who are hunting them.

Devon wants to take Cai away from Britain, but in order to do that she needs help, because of the limitations her origins put on her. Also, she needs a certain drug to quench Cai’s hunger that she can only get from one of the Book Eater families.

What’s Devon supposed to do? What price is she willing to pay to protect her son?

5/5 Harpy Eagles

Quick Reviews – August 2022

Husband Material by Alexis Hall, published 02 August 2022.

The sequel to Boyfriend Material is not just as good as the first book, it's better. Knowing the characters already, it's seeing them grow and struggle and overcome obstacles, which makes it so much better. There were lots of LOL moments for me, but just as many moments where I empathised with both main characters and their struggles. 

Hall clearly knows how to write stories and how to play to the strengths of the English language. 

Caveat: The structure of the book kind of made the ending obvious, but it's the best ending for Oliver and Luc.

5/5 Harpy Eagles


Rosaline Palmer Takes the Cake by Alexis Hall, published 18 May 2021.

Yes, another Alexis Hall book. I read this first book in the Winner Bakes All series in preparation for the upcoming sequel, Paris Daillencourt is about to Crumble (publishing day 18 Oct 2022). 

Does Hall know how to play with tropes? Yes! This novel features a love triangle, which is extremely well-executed; compared to all those cringe-y YA love triangles. Furthermore there's a sesquipedalian eight year old, witty banter and lots of cake since the love interests meet at a national baking competition.

Eventually though this is a story about personal growth and standing up for yourself. 

4/5 Harpy Eagles


The A.I. Who Loved Me by Alyssa Cole, published/released 19 December 2019.

An A.I. hotty who has to figure out his humanity, a woman suffering from PTSD following an accident, and an interesting (though not entirely unexpected) twist towards the end of the story. 

This audiobook-only sci-fi romance story was more interesting than I had expected. I thought this would be far more sizzling romance than sci-fi, but the SF parts of the story were well thought through. 

The dual point of view narration by Regina Hall and Feodor Chin is enhanced by the addition of a whole cast of narrators. 

4/5 Harpy Eagles


Grand Theft Astro by Scott Meyer, published 29 July 2021.

The Audible Originals audiobook-only story is about Baird, a thief, who, on her latest heist, had been infected with a virus that has no cure yet. She has seven days to live. Her 'handler' tells her that in order to ensure a proper medical treatment Baird not only has to steal certain components of the cure, she also has to remain in stasis while she's not actively stealing. While in stasis she's being transported to her next place of 'work', which often takes several years. 

So far I was on board, if a bit sceptical about how gullible the protagonist is; accepting and relying on all information necessary provided by the handler only. 

Then the book seemed to turn to middle-grade level without being for that audience. While scoping out the places Baird has to rob, she's told everything about how the security systems work by the security people themselves. The way she then executes her heists is supposed to be funny/comical; I thought not. But that might be me. 

I gave up after the second heist. It read too much like an underdeveloped middle-grade book with way too much tell and very little show. 

1/5 Harpy Eagles


Belladonna by Adalyn Grace, published 30 August 2022.

The audiobook of this YA gothic/paranormal fantasy novel was good. The narrator, Kristin Atherton, did a good job giving each character a distinct voice. Especially Death's voice was rather sultry.  

To be honest, I might have bailed on the book had it not been for the audiobook. Why would I have bailed? It was a bit too long-winded for my taste. There was too much woe-be-me by the main character, Signa. And the mysteries were, given I had paid attention from the start, obvious to me. Add jarring anachronisms and I'm normally out. So kudos to the narrator.

If you liked Kingdom of the Wicked, you will certainly like this book. After all, it's a story of romance between a not-so-mere mortal and Death. 

2.75/5 Harpy Eagles

To write a DNF review or not to write?

That is a tough question.

Am I allowed to write a review about a book that I didn’t finish? In my humble opinion? Bloody hell, yes! Especially if I can point out reasons why I didn’t like the part of the book I read. That doesn’t mean I’m slanting the author or the book or that I want to prevent other people from reading the book. I’m just talking about the things that triggered my not liking it; I’m pre-warning fellow readers who might have issues with the same things.

Would ploughing through and eventually finishing such a book change my mind about it? I want to write no, it wouldn’t change my mind, but I cannot do that. Nevertheless I am fairly certain that in more than 90% of my DNF cases, my review and rating would be similar -if not worse- had I read the whole book.

To keep this short. I’ll continue to write reviews about books that I haven’t finished reading. It’s my free time that I am spending on books and I am writing my thoughts about them to not only encourage people to read a certain book, but also to offer critical views and/or content warnings about books that I didn’t enjoy. And if you are a bit like me, then my DNF reviews might actually encourage you to pick up the books and read them to form your own opinion.

Quick Reviews – July 2022

Beach Read Edition

I’ve read so many palate cleanser books -light entertainment, romance mainly- that I am wondering whether the real palate cleansers are the Sci-Fi and Fantasy books I read in between.

Anyway, here are a few of the books I have read that would make an ideal read for a day at the beach, or by the pool, or under a tree in the park, or wherever you like to spend a drowsy afternoon when the temperatures are high.

Stuck on You by Portia Macintosh, published 17 September 2020.

This is a Christmas themed book and might hence be a bit weird to read on a hot day, but reading about cold days might help you cool off a bit. You might also get a few ideas about how to celebrate Christmas in a quirky way.

Sadie is the PA of Damian Banks, famous portrait photographer. Hence her life revolves around his whims and she has no time for friendships or love. Except, she has a sticky-notes penpal-friendship with her desk-buddy Adam, whom she can confide in. 

With Christmas around the corner, and a new year coming up, Sadie wants to make more time for herself. Can she invite Adam out for a drink? Can she leave the demanding Damian for a new job? Or will she re-ignite the flame that once burned between her and her high-school boyfriend Brian?

The romance was very predictable and the major plot twist probably just came as a surprise for the female lead. Strange that the otherwise intelligent woman didn't catch on to it sooner. 

There was a lot of build-up about Mackie, a person Damian takes photos of, at the beginning of the story and I would have liked to see this rounded up; a snippet from a newspaper towards the end of the book would have been nice. It felt like a story line that was dropped half-way to its conclusion for the sake of the romantic Christmas plot. 

ARC provided by the publishers through NetGalley

3/5 Harpy Eagles


Note to Self by Anna Bell, published 23 June 2022.

Edie just turned 35 years old. A few days after her birthday emails arrive, written by her 18 y/o self during the summer she met Joel. The summer that changed her life forever. The summer Joel broke her heart. The summer her mother died. 

The emails are like entries in a diary. They remind Edie of who she was back then and how much her life and her goals in life have changed. And they make her reach out to the people she met working at a campsite that summer, reconnecting with old friends.

Of course Joel is part of that group. The chemistry between the two of them is still there. But Edie is in a relationship, and Joel has an American girlfriend he might want to follow to Florida for work. 

What I liked most about this book was how down to earth the individual characters' lives were. They all had their problems, but were projecting if not a perfect life than at least a happy life to the world. 

TW: grief, alcoholism

ARC provided by the publishers through NetGalley

5/5 Harpy Eagles


Stone Broke Heiress by Danielle Owen-Jones, published 21 March 2022.

From riches to rags. Or from Dom Pérignon to dumpster diving. The blurb sounded fantastic and if I was less of a sceptic it might have worked. If you like a really light read, where you can overlook a lot of the flaws of the premise behind this story, this is the perfect rom-com for you. 

Bella's family loses their tinned soup company. Bella loses her fiancé to her best friend. Bella is out of a job and broke. So Bella has to find a cheap flat and a job.

Of course she starts working at a soup kitchen, her familial background would make this an ideal job for her, but she's never wielded a spatula in her whole life. 

Dan, the owner of the soup kitchen, is a good looking grump. He holds a grudge against her family, so Bella has to lie about who she is...

The writing is easy to follow if a bit repetitive at times. 

ARC provided by the publishers through NetGalley

2/5 Harpy Eagles


Abridged Classics by John Atkinson, published 5 June 2018.

To give you the full title of the book:

Abridged Classics: Brief Summaries of Books You Were Supposed to Read but Probably Didn't.

What more could I tell you about the book? Each classic book is summed up in one or two fitting drawings with a one-liner at the bottom. 

Perfect if you need a good chuckle in between some very sad books. 

If you intend to still read those classics mentioned in the book, don't worry, the short summaries do not spoil the stories. 

4/5 Harpy Eagles


How to Swear by Stephen Wildish, published 10 April 2018.

Just in case the Abridged Classics didn't cheer you up, try this book. It has Venn diagrams and charts about swearing. 

This is the perfect book for you, if you feel like you need a refresher course on the four letter words you were told never to utter in polite and/or under-aged company. 

It's a very brief book, so don't expect in-depth etymology of words. What it lacks in depth, it makes up in summing up the important facts in handy graphs. 

4/5 Harpy Eagles

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