Emily Wilde’s Encyclopaedia of Fairies by Heather Fawcett, published 10 January 2023.
It’s the autumn of 1919 and professor Emily Wilde of Cambridge has travelled to the far north to research faeries. She’s a curmudgeon and manages to aggravate the locals within days of her arrival. Not ideal, since she’s the definition of the well-off city girl not used to fending on her own. Pride and pure stubbornness outweigh comfort; she’d rather freeze than ask someone to show her how to chop firewood. Still, she makes a friend among the local smaller fae. Then her colleague and rival, the handsome Wendell Bambleby, arrives and pushes his way into her research. The both of them soon discover dark fae magic afoot and have to help the villagers rescue fair maidens and exchange a possible changeling. The research mission then turns into rescue missions; especially after Emily gets it into her head to help a trapped local high fae.
The novel reminded me of Brennan’s The Memoirs of Lady Trent series and Raybourn’s Veronica Speedwell series. Strong female academic at the helm of the story. Some kind of romantic entanglement with the male sidekick. Getting into scrapes and out of them with wits and female guile.
I’m looking forward to the next book in the series.
How can January be nearly over already? Well, looking at how many books and short stories I’ve read in that time I can actually believe we’re closer to February than the ‘old year’. Time flies when you’re having fun!
As was expected I fell into the Dresden Files continuum and have managed to make my way through the first ten novels and most of the accompanying short stories. Do I have to say more? Despite being a bit old-fashioned in his regards towards women, I quite like Harry Dresden, resident wizard of Chicago. The merry band of secondary characters makes each story even more interesting, since you won’t know from the start of the book which character(s) might accompany him in his quest this time. Together they battle vampires, werewolves, evil wizards, demons, some of the fae and what else the magical world throws their way.
Apart from Harry Dresden’s exploits, I have read Juno Dawson’s Her Majesty’s Royal Coven. The first novel in an urban fantasy series about witches and warlocks in the British Isles. First published 31 May 2022.
Four childhood best friends have drifted apart since they grew up together on Spice Girls, 90s horror films and music. Now they have to work together to prevent the prophesied rise of an evil force which is going to destroy all witch kind.
The most outstanding feature about this novel is that it is a work of its time. It talks about tradition vs progress, transgender and POC witches, and the strife for power no matter the consequences. But this outstanding feature also makes the plot very predictable. It was clear to me, from the start, who the baddie was. Then I kept wondering whether the book would use the motive of self-fulfilling prophecy to its advantage. Alas that might be part of the sequel(s).
If I had to sum this up in one sentence: Derry Girls meets Charmed and The Craft in a 2022 British remake version.
I initially gave this book 5/5 Harpy Eagles, right after finishing the cinematic last chapters. I’ll down-grade to 3/5 Harpy Eagles for the predictability, but will still be looking forward to the sequel.
Here’s the promised second part for December. Well, what can I say, I read a lot.
Pulling the Wings Off Angels by K. J. Parker, published 15 November 2022.
Look, another KJ Parker! That's how I approached this novella. I just like the writing style of Parker's first person POV novellas.
The story follows a young man who was born with the proverbial silver spoon in his mouth, likes gambling and suddenly owes a loan shark quite a substantial sum of money. Without wanting to spoil too much, our miserable first person narrator finds himself in a pickle that he might not be able to get out of. Because fate and the sins of his forefathers, justice and mercy are all working against him; as well as that well-meaning brilliant professor of his, Saloninus.
As much as this is a metaphysical/religious/philosophical work and at times felt a bit 'preaching to the choir', I truly enjoyed it. Not least because of Saloninus, who is a self-professed genius.
4/5 Harpy Eagles
A Very Scalzi Christmas by John Scalzi, published 30 November 2019.
Scalzi put fifteen snippets of Christmas fun into this collection. There are interviews, short stories, informational articles and poems.
As much as I liked the short stories, I have to say that I liked the interviews the most. There's one with Santa's lawyer, for example. My favourite was the one with Santa's reindeer wrangler.
It's a selection that you can dip into and don't have to scarf down like a plate of the most delicious Christmas cookies. I said can! You can, of course, also just read them all in one sitting as I did.
5/5 Harpy Eagles
The Christmas Killer by Alex Pine, published 29 October 2020.
The review copy for this debut novel had been on my TBR for far too long. I have heard a lot of good about this series and am glad that I actually got to it.
The ARC was a rather tough read. There were grammar errors and the prose and dialogues sounded very clunky and stilted at times. I hope this has been edited out before the book went public.
What rankled me most, though, was how easy it was to sniff out who the murderer was and what their motive was. I was fairly certain early on that I had the right person and then only kept on skimming the text to find out whether I was right. I was.
As I said above, the series has a lot of fans and I hope the sequels improved in quality compared to the first book.
2/5 Harpy Eagles
The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher, series published since 2000.
Yes, I might be late to this Urban Fantasy series, but this just means I have lots of books to binge on.
A friend from Litsy sent me the first book in the series, Storm Front (2000), felt ages ago. I had another book to read to get my self-set goal of reading twenty physical copies off my shelves, so I chose this. Well, I was in for a treat.
Harry Dresden, the wizard protagonist of the series might be a little old-fashioned in his believes and in the way he works and lives (anything invented after the 1940s doesn't really work around him), but he soon grew on me. Even if he notices the erectness of the nipples of the woman in front of him before he notices the colour of her eyes. I have yet to see him mistreat a woman. In fact, he recognises that women are often far stronger than men and behaves fairly gentlemanly around women.
Chauvinism or no chauvinism aside, there are wizards, ghosts, demons, literal fairy godmothers, vampires, werewolves,... All the ingredients for a good Urban Fantasy. And it's set in Chicago, not New York, or London or a small town somewhere out in the back of beyond.
I'm three books in and I know I have to get to the next one sooner than later.
Also, the audiobooks are narrated by James Marsters, who does an excellent job. Even when I am reminded of Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, especially when he, as Harry, is talking about vampire lore.
I have to admit, I knew nothing about this book, but I liked the cover and the blurb was interesting enough.
Raine can see--and more importantly, speak--to the dead. It's a wretched gift with a death sentence that has her doing many dubious things to save her skin. Seeking refuge with a deluded cult is her latest bad, survival-related decision. But her rare act of kindness--rescuing an injured woman in the snow--is even worse.
The author walks a fine line between YA and adult book, sometimes, Raine got a bit on my nerves, but not so much that I did not enjoy the story from start to finish. There is a sapphic love interest that’s not dominating the story, but interwoven in an engaging way. Raine herself is bisexual, which is a big plus for me, because I just don’t care about the heteronormative love stories anymore.
The story is a classic hero’s journey, but for an epic fantasy, its fairly short with just under 350 pages. The momentum the author builds from chapter one does not die down, and the story leaves you wanting to know more of the world. Many things are hinted at, and I’m looking forward to Book 2 next year.
If This Book Exists, You’re In The Wrong Universe, by Jason Pargin.
This is the fourth book in the John Dies at the End series. All the other books in the series were written under Pargin's pen name David Wong, who is also the main character of the stories.
Like the three other books in this series, this book can be read as a standalone. Reading the other books in the series, in order or not, won’t help with that feeling of “what the … am I reading here?” It's a bonkers wild ride with aliens and magical soy sauce and parasites and a magical egg that demands human sacrifices and ...
In other words, a novel where you have to trust that the author knows what they were doing and go with the flow.
4/5 Harpy Eagles
The Conductors (Murder and Magic book 1) by Nicole Glover, published 02 March 2021.
I liked the idea of the story, Underground Railroad conductors turned detectives, and there is magic involved. Sadly, I didn’t like the way the story was told.
Too many characters are introduced at the beginning of the story and they all lacked backstory, so keeping up with who was who was difficult.
The magic system is not well explained. It’s not clear what makes a magic holder and how exactly the magic works. All I understood was that constellations are used as sigils and those make up a spell.
The mystery is interesting, but since there was too much telling, via dialogue between the two main characters Hetty and Benjy, it was not very engaging.
This speculative fiction woven into a historical fiction story was not for me. Still, I am hoping the next books in the series are better.
3/5 Harpy Eagles
The Immortality Thief by Taran Hunt, published 11 October 2022.
This is the story of that quirky side-character who seems to always stumble into situations without ever having had the ambition to be a hero. Alas, he's about to become the hero he never wanted to be and here is his story.
There is a thousand year old space ship about to be sucked into a supernova. Sean Wren, refugee, criminal, linguist, and FTL pilot, and two other felons are offered a pardon when they rescue important data about the Philosopher's Stone from the space ship before it goes up in flames. What's supposed to be a quick job soon turns into alien encounters, sociopolitical debates and a rather predictable outcome.
I liked the short chapters and the chapter titles. I did not enjoy the 600+ pages of the book. The story could have been told in half the page-count.
3/5 Harpy Eagles
Legends & Lattes by Travis Baldree, first published 22 February 2022, US publication 10 November 2022.
TheMarquessMagpie wrote a wonderful review about this book earlier this year. You can find it here. I agree wholeheartedly.
This book is like a hot mug of coffee and a warm cinnamon roll on a blustery autumn day. Simply delicious, heart-warming soul-food.
The third and last book in the Scholomance trilogy, The Golden Enclaves, by Naomi Novik was published 27 September, 2022.
The first two books in the series weren’t as bad as I had originally thought. Meaning, I had expected YA dark academia romance, but in fact it was actually more dark academia than romance.
Book three on the other hand, was not the conclusion I had hoped it would be; El taking down the large and rich enclaves and offering save havens for all magical families.
[The following might contain spoilers.]
While her main objective is to open Golden Enclaves, El travels the world with her tiny entourage of allies to, find Orion whom she suspects isn’t dead after all. In her grief for Orion, El acts very out of character, for example she hooks up with Liesel, whom she neither likes nor trusts. Then, once she’s found Orion and rescued him from the dark edge he seems to be balancing on, she sends him back to his mother, fully knowing this is the worst idea ever.
The ending of the story is very “Elizabeth Swan & Will Turner”. El and Orion stay together, but apart from each other. El is opening Golden Enclaves all over the world and hunting maw-mouths, while Orion keeps the Scholomance free of mals.
The whole plot seemed as if it was thought up on a napkin after having watched a few films and played a few video games. El levels up with every stop on her journey and she acquires tools that help her in her final “boss-fight”. It all ends on a slightly high note by telling the reader that El and Orion are together after all and that Liesel was just a fluke to help El feel good in her body.
I’m not sure what I had expected, but it wasn’t this.
PS: El is from Great Britain, but her language is definitely American English. She uses Americanisms so often that I actually wondered why Novik gave her a British background.
Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Well actually, kind of a bird…. It‘s the MarquessMagpie crawling out of her hole to finally write a review again.
Nettle & Bone by T. Kingfisher started out as my bedtime e-book, but grabbed me enough that it got promoted to my “main book“ pretty quickly. I think I picked it up after hearing about it on All the Books.
I would say it‘s a fairytale for people who are sick of them. Let me show you the ingredients that make this story special:
The princess: Marra is not sweet 16, but 30 and not the least interested in marrying. Instead, she‘s great at needlework and out for revenge.
The prince: Well, he‘s not the charming kind at all. He married both of Marra‘s sisters, killed the first one and abuses the second one. So of course we set out to kill him.
The gravewitch: While being a weapon all by herself, she‘s got a demon chicken and she‘s not afraid to use it.
The fairy godmother: She‘s better at cursing than at blessing, but she‘s doing her best.
The bone dog: A story is always better with an animal sidekick, so who cares if he rattles a bit.
The lumberjack-type love interest they pick up along the way: I already forgot his name. Gladly, the story centers on Marra‘s quest and the group dynamics.
The timeline was a bit confusing at first, but straightened out once the gang got together. At it‘s core, it‘s a revenge quest story with some adventures along the way. What worked really well for me was Kingfisher‘s clever and snarky writing style and great group dynamics.
The Queens of Renthia series by Sarah Beth Durst took me a really long time to read. I read the first book The Queens of Renthia in July 2019, and the last book in September 2022. Each time I started the next book, I regretted that it took me this long to pick it up. But with a TBR as out of control as mine, what am I to do.
The first book introduces the reader to the world of Renthia. The land is full of elemental spirits held under control by the queen. The spirits hate everything and everyone in their normal state, only caring to destroy and kill. Under the queen, they can be coaxed to reluctantly create and build. Some young inhabitants of the land who show elemental affinities can at least control the spirits to do no harm. These become pupils in academias, and the best of the lot can become heirs to the queen if they are selected by the talent-seeking champions.
The story follows Daleina, an academy student, and Ven, a former champion fallen into disgrace. Daleina’s talent is not strong, and while she is under no illusion about the strength of her elemental affinities, she has a strong will to protect and use her powers for the best. What follows is a tale full of twists and triumphs, and while you might be able to guess the ending, there is a lot to explore in the pages between.
On the cover, this seems like a typical YA story of a young, often overlooked girl rising to power, but I can assure you that it’s everything but that. All the characters have deeply layered goals and motivations, and the second and third book are as far as possible from a young adult story.
In the second book, a large part of the story follows a mother with a strong elemental affinity, who is trying to protect her family. The central parts of the story focus on the duties of motherhood, the duties a mother has to herself, and the duty she might have to her threatened country. I won’t tell more because I don’t want to spoil everything.
The third book finishes the trilogy, turning the conflicts between people and spirits, as well as the political conflicts of two countries rivalling for resources to a climax. The author does some very interesting things to twist her take on a typical story solution much further than you would expect. I really, really like what she has done during the final chapters of the book, and I cannot recommend this series more.
The Girl with the Dragonfruit Tattoo by Carrie Doyle, expected publication 31 January 2023.
I admit, I requested the ARC for this book solely because of the cover and title. Going in blind meant I didn't know that this was the third book in a cosy mystery series. Fortunately, it works as a standalone, even though the novice reader might miss out on some references to previous stories.
I didn't like the main character Plum, a travel agent with no police training. Why would the police send her onto a yacht where there's a murderer on the lose?
1/5 Harpy Eagles
Georgie, All Along by Kate Clayborn, expected publication 31 January 2023.
This is a slow building romance that took me a while to get into. At first I thought it was the usual, small town girl returns home with her tail between her legs and then falls for the town baddie, whom she actually can't stand -enemies to lovers- romance. About a third into the story it really picks up.
I've read previous books by Clayborn. So it shouldn't have come as a surprise that her MCs could be the people next door. They have to work through the issues in their lives, coming out stronger more stable people and a stronger couple in the end.
3/5 Harpy Eagles
Death and Croissants by Ian Moore, published 01 July 2021.
British ex-pat Richard has a B&B in the Loire Valley in France where there might have been a murder. He, his guests and his cleaning lady set out to unravel the mystery.
It's a cosy mystery with quirky characters and a lot of obvious clichés used for comic relief. The story takes some twists and turns that have no more obvious reason as to give the reader more time with the quirky characters.
To sum it up, a perfect palate cleanser after a more 'substantial' read, but too cosy and quirky for me to actually enjoy.
2/5 Harpy Eagles
One Dark Window by Rachel Gillig, published 27 September 2022.
I did not finish reading this book.
1) I think it was marketed wrongly. I thought I was going to read an adult Gothic horror fantasy, but it read more like a Young Adult Gothic romance fantasy.
2) The characters are supposed to find twelve specific Providence Cards, which enable the wielder with certain magical abilities. This will then help to overcome a magical plague that leaves children infected with dark magic which causes them to degenerate and die. [That's how I understood it. The premise might be more or less difficult.]
3) The MC, Elspeth, was infected 11 years ago. She's been living with a demon in her head since then. She keeps repeating that using the demon, called the Nightmare, makes it stronger, and she won't let it overpower her mind. But as soon as she gets into a spot of bother she begs the demon to help her.
4) The characters have no urgency to find those magical cards. Instead they have the 'usual' enemies-to-lovers insta-love romance that takes over the plot.
That's when I bowed out. I read a few reviews and apparently the last bit of the story gets more action, but ends in a cliffhanger that will hopefully be resolved in the next book.
1/5 Harpy Eagles
The Book of the Most Precious Substance by Sara Gran, expected publication 03 November 2022.
Lily Albrecht is a bookseller of antique and rare books. When one of her colleagues dies she takes over a commission to find an occult tome called "The Book of the Most Precious Substance" and sell it for a six to seven figure price to the anonymous buyer.
Lily and another rare books selling colleague set out to find the buyer and find one of the few remaining copies of the 17th century book. A book about sex magic, granting the user a large boon when used correctly - or something like that.
So far this sounds good. Bookish people trying to find an occult book. And here's where the book becomes repetitive. The two fly to a city in the US or Europe to meet up with a book collector who might or might not have the book and sell it to them. They stay in a fancy hotel. Go out for an expensive -and described in detail- dinner with the book person. Find out details about the book. Go back to the hotel to have awkward sex.
Not one sex scene is as sexy and erotic as the cover blurb makes you think it might be. Nor is the book as thrilling. The story is repetitive with a very predictable outcome that makes up the last 10-12% of the eARC. It all reminded me of that late 1990's film, "The Ninth Gate" with Johnny Depp; though not in a good way.
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.