Daughters of Doubt and Eyerolling

Tag: ARC Page 1 of 5

Quick Reviews – September ’21

Axiom’s End by Lindsay Ellis, published 21 July 2020.

I had been interested in this book since before it's publication; it has aliens and linguistics. Alas, I could not get over the redundant writing and gave up soon after the aliens were introduced, or when part 2 of the book started. The story might be intriguing, but the novel could have done with a lot more editing. Especially since it is written from the POV of a former linguistics major, who should know how to write concise sentences. 

2/5 Harpy Eagles

Over the Woodward Wall by A. Deborah Barker, published 6 October 2020.

The name Deborah Barker is the pseudonym of Seanan McGuire, author of the Wayward Children series; or rather this retelling of The Wizard of Oz is a book within a book. It's been referred to in Middlegame several times. The story is supposed to be targeted at middle-grade students, yet I thought that there was a lot of between the lines commentary directed at more mature readers. The sequel Across the Saltwise Sea is on my review copy TBR. 

3/5 Harpy Eagles

Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead, published 4 May 2021.

Shortlisted for the Booker Price 2021. This book has two story-lines, one follows Marian Graves, who wants to be a pilot and circumnavigate the Earth from pole to pole. The other story-line follows the actress Hadley Baxter, who's playing Marian in the film based on the latter's logbook found in the Antarctic ice years after her plane was lost on its last leg of the journey. 
I truly enjoyed the Marian part of the story, and although it was interesting to read about Hadley's story, this Hollywood-starlet story-line never really gripped my attention. The last 100 pages of the book, mostly focusing on Marian's circumnavigation, were the best part of the story. 

4/5 Harpy Eagles

Phosphate Rocks. A Death in Ten Objects by Fiona Erskine, published 17 June 2021.

"The demolition crew found the body."

This is how Erskine's novel starts. A body was found in the ruins of what used to be the fertiliser plant in Leith. A body that was encased in phosphate rocks. Ten items are arranged on the desk in front of the body. And those ten items eventually help the former foreman John Gibson and the police to narrow down the time of death and the identity of the person. 

I really enjoyed this mystery. It was full of lighthearted "nerdy-ness": some of the chemicals used in the process of making fertilisers are explained in an entertaining and not too scientific way. Erskine further has first hand experience having worked at the fertiliser plant herself, which gave her lots of material for the story's characters and their anecdotes.

4/5 Harpy Eagles

Two Rivers series by Ann Cleeves.

At last a series of whodunits/mysteries that I couldn't solve right at the start of the books. I really enjoyed the first book of this new series by bestseller author Cleeves. The Long Call (2019) introduces the investigative team surrounding inspector Venn. He and his husband live in North Devon in a small community. When a body washes up on the shore, Venn's investigation brings back memories of his past in an evangelical community. 

Book two, The Heron's Cry (2021), is set only months after the first book. We get to see character development of the investigative team, as well as some secondary characters of the first book make an appearance. A clever mystery that even I had not fully unveiled before the big reveal. 

4/5 Harpy Eagles, for each

Winter’s Orbit by Everina Maxwell, published 02 February 2021.

This book is hard to review. I want to say it's a Sci-Fi book with an arranged M/M marriage romance on the side, but it's the other way round. This is a romance novel about a M/M arranged marriage set in a Sci-Fi world. In order to uphold the treaty between the Iskat Empire and its vassal planet Thea, the two MCs, Jinan and Kiem, have to get married right after Jinan's period of mourning his late husband is over.
  
Rake Kiem has to be reformed. Uptight Jinan has to loosen up. They both have misgivings about the marriage at the beginning. When they find out about a plan to overthrow the treaty, they have to work together. Which leads to them getting to know each other much better and trusting each other. Cue traps, damsels -well, spouses- in distress, and a happily ever after. 

3/5 Harpy Eagles

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

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

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

Let’s eat Grandma!

Star Eater by Kerstin Hall, published 22 June 2021.

This dystopian-esque fantasy novel has an MC fit for a YA novel, hereditary magic based on cannibalism, a Sisterhood of nuns running the government, a resistance movement, zombies, food shortage, and big cats.

This review is based on an ARC of the Recorded Books audiobook.

Where do I even start?

I’d have liked some pointers as to where we are, what kind of period of human history this might be similar too. The only information I get on that is there are horses drawing carts and cabs. Also gas lamps are mentioned once. So, probably somewhere similar to the late Middle Ages with gas lamps?

The main character El/Elfreda is a 22-year-old acolyte of the sacred order of sisters that is ruling Aytrium. She became an acolyte about a year ago when her mother went into her martyrdom. She is, [let’s say it together:], no one special and yet the chosen one to save the world. Add a love triangle or two to the mix,… Yet, the book is hailed as not YA.

The magic system: Magic is called Lace. It is used for protection and defence against Haunts (zombie men created through the Renewal ceremonies performed by acolytes, see below) mainly, but can also be used for compulsion of others. Furthermore, it is used to keep Aytrium afloat. [It’s not quite clear to me whether Aytrium is a country or a city with a few villages surrounding it. Also, it wasn’t clear to me that Aytrium was a floating landmass and has been floating for more than 500 years. It was first explicitly mentioned at about 60% of the audiobook; let’s hope the print edition will have a map that shows this.]  

The following paragraphs will contain spoilers. Frankly, I didn’t very much like this book. It is a non-YA YA novel with YA characters, having YA relationships, YA dialogues and affects, and the adults have betrayed them.

[Spoiler alert!]

Only the members of the Sisterhood have Lace. It’s hereditary magic, which means, it is passed on from mother to daughter after the mother starts her martyrdom. The martyrdom means, the mother falls in some form of coma after her own mother dies and her daughter now has to make weekly visits to her mother in the facility where martyrs are stored. This is a kind of morgue where the still breathing corpses are stored so that daughters can eat some of their mother’s flesh to replenish their Lace. In the flesh and organs, the magic is stored, hence the extremities are eaten first, the organs, especially the heart, last.

In order to keep the Lace within the Order, the members of the Sisterhood cannot have heterosexual relationships. How do they procreate then? The acolytes must perform monthly Renewal ceremonies where they have to have sex with a convicted murderer or rapist. If they get pregnant and the child turns out a boy, the child is given away, and the acolyte has to continue the renewal ceremonies. If the child is a girl, the acolyte keeps the child, raises it, and is henceforth released from renewal duty; grandmothers go into martyrdom and mothers and daughters now have the clock ticking for when they will ‘level up’ within the Sisterhood.

These renewal ceremonies create zombie-like creatures. The men the nuns have sex with catch some form of STD that turns them into Haunts that will, if they aren’t “sent over the edge” (can’t be killed, can’t stay in Aytrium either), haunt the Sisters in order to kill and eat them. Sometimes, men catch this zombie disease without having to have had sex with a member of the order, this means they are used in the renewal ceremonies until the disease is so far advanced that they have to be “sent over the edge.” [The term is mentioned early on in the book, but it doesn’t mean that the listener/reader automatically knows that Aytrium is a floating landmass. Could refer to a cliff-face over, say, an ocean, too.]

As it happens, the Haunts are exactly how the Chosen One story-line gets going. El, our doormat of an MC, hates having to eat the flesh of her mother, hates the Renewal – for obvious reasons – so when a cabal approaches her with the promise to get her out of renewal ceremonies, she agrees to spy for them. Like in every dystopian YA story, she learns about how the ruling class is cheating and suppressing critical information, she wants to support the resistance without actually betraying her vows to the order, her best friends are in the midst of it. And of course, her best friend, from when they were kids and who El has a crush on, caught the zombie disease from one kiss they shared. And of course, the sister of this guy, also El’s best friend, is someone who not only El has a crush on, but who secretly has a crush on El too – hello love-triangle. Luckily this is kept at a minimum. When El and some other members of the Order find themselves in a trap (one with a capital T, predictable from a mile ahead), El finds out that she is the one child born every 70 years that could make or break the Order. Either the Order will gorge themselves on El, because she has lots of Lace. Or El has to bring the Order down by sacrificing herself and her magic. Sacrificing herself will somehow bring her boy back from zombie-dom, so… the last 20% of the book are about how she gets to sacrifice herself.

Just FYI: The resistance see the Sisterhood as a tyrannical order of outsiders and want to get rid of them. The Sisterhood was able to crush all attempts so far, but the resistance is gaining ground, not least because some members of the Order are secretly working with them?

The food shortage seems to be a regularly occurring problem the Aytrium is facing, based on draught years and rain seasons. El works for the department that is responsible to find alternative food supplies. But, once the Chosen One plot gets under way the food shortage is no longer mentioned. I assume it is all resolved due to the way the story ends. Still, this subplot took up a lot of pages, just to be ignored in the end.

Also, there were big cats that were used for long distance travel. They were kept in stables and were probably only for the use of members of the Sisterhood. They can cover ground fast and they are warm in a chilly night.

The titular Star Eater is someone who might have eaten an actual star or someone who was considered the star, or ruler, of the people. Anyway, this eating of the star made the Star Eater so powerful with Lace she managed the ascension of Aytrium all on her own. How? Why?

To be honest, this book left me with a lot of questions about heredity, about the magic system, about the Haunts, about the original Star Eater and how and why Aytrium became a floating land, about what the rest of the world looked like, about why there is a resistance to the Sisterhood when we never get to see what’s so bad about it and know nothing about whether the general public is actually observing the Sisters’ religion, the (forced) bi-sexualism, and so much more.

1/5 Harpy Eagles – lots of unused potential, lots of predictable twists, reads YA although it is not supposed to be.

Serial killer terrorising parallel universes

The 22 Murders of Madison May by Max Barry, publishing day 06 July 2021.

Felicity is a reporter for a New York online paper. When she has to cover for a colleague, she visits the crime scene of Maddy May’s murder. Strange graffiti and a man in a hat plus her instinct for a good story make her investigate this further. What she uncovers is a secret society travelling parallel universes, and a serial killer who’s also travelling through the multiverse to kill all the versions of Madison May who are not the perfect Hollywood actress he fell in love with. Furthermore, Felicity is pushed into a parallel universe herself, which then prompts her to travel on to other parallel universes to find one that feels more like ‘home’. Because, you can only travel forward, never back.

To be honest, I don’t remember much from the book although I only finished reading it a couple of days ago. It’s a lot of plot, but the dialogue makes it a quick read. Still, the characters weren’t outstanding. The different universes gave the whole story a bit of a Groundhog Day feeling, and the finale was rather predictable.

2.5, so 3/5 Harpy Eagles

Robespierre might have been a magician?

Or, what if the French Revolution wasn’t just fueled by monetary inequality (I’m over-simplifying it), but also by the inequality of use of magical power?

A Declaration of the Rights of Magicians by H.G. Parry, publishing day 23 June 2020.

In this alternate history set in the late 18th century, spanning the abolitionist movement and French Revolution, magic is hereditary, but only aristocrats are allowed to use it; unless it’s necromancy or stems from vampirism. Dark magic is forbidden and the Knights Templar police the use of magic rigorously.

At more than 500 pages, this novel is on the thicker side. What makes it hard to read are endless pages of dialogues or debates with no action. There was hardly any female character other than the family members of the protagonists, well-known figures of that time like Robespierre, Pitt, Wilberfur. Furthermore I felt that although the story starts with the kidnapping of a young African girl by slave traders, her story wasn’t very well represented – at least not until I DNF’d at about 50%.

The reading experience reminded me of Clarke’s Strange & Norrell [DNF’d], and history lectures at uni [finished that degree]. In other words, I found it interesting, but boring.

2/5 Harpies – purely for research into the historical facts well-done

Dead Detective and Purgatorial Politics

The Dying Squad by Adam Simcox, publishing day 22 July 2021.

Joe Lazarus is on a stake-out. It’s raining. He’s hunkered down in a ditch, his expensive coat splattered with mud. Can it get any worse? Sure! He’s only minutes away from stumbling over his own corpse. Supernatural detective story where the dead DI has to find his own murderer? Sign me up!

Unfortunately, it’s not as easy as that. The detective story is intertwined with a story-line about politics in purgatory, and both are overshadowed by a dark entity that waits for your dead soul, which is in purgatory already, to cross a certain line of interference just to drag you off into the deepest pits of hell.

The detective part of the story and the interactions between Lazarus and his ‘dead soul’s guide to the afterlife’ Daisy-May kept me turning the pages until I reached about 50% -although it was pretty bog-standard and obvious to me who-dunnit. Obviously the mystery behind Lazarus’s death is just part of a bigger picture. But, because the underworld/afterlife part of the world-building wasn’t fully realised, it bogged down the whole story and left me with many questions that weren’t answered.

2.5 – so 3/5 Harpies

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