The Cage of Dark Hours by Marina J. Lostetter, published 14 February 2023.
A middle book that doesn’t suffer from Middle Book Syndrome is rare. The Cage of Dark Hours is such a book. Since most of the world-building happened in The Helm of Midnight, Lostetter now concentrates on a mystery/adventure about the secrets that made this world tick the way it’s ticking and hints at what might be resolved in the third book (Re: magical plague, hints at technological advancements).
The story is told from three different points of view. There’s Krona, who we met in Helm. She’s still grieving the loss of her sister, still trying to find the cause for the magical plague, and now has to prevent a murder in a city stuffed to the brim with delegations and foreign dignitaries. Then there is the noble Mandip, who, by sheer accident, is drawn into the whole plot only because he wanted to outsmart a relative. He soon finds out that the society he grew up in is not what he thinks it is. And, to show us what lies behind the curtain, we have Thalo Child. Thalo Child is one of the children groomed from infancy to serve the Thalo, to help harvest time among other things [I know this sounds very vague, but I just don’t want to accidentally spoil information]. Their account starts a few years before the actual events of the book with insights into how the Thalo system works and how the children within the system grow up. With each Thalo Child chapter the two timelines draw closer together, until they eventually converge.
The book is fast-paced and due to the dual timeline, its thriller-like plot, and twists and secrets not being too obvious, makes for a hard to put down read.
As mentioned above, I’m hoping the magical plague, although somehow explained in Cage, will come up again in the third book. This part of the plot seemed glazed over too easily and hopefully isn’t dismissed altogether. The hints at technological advancements throughout the book made me wonder whether they foreshadow a huge twist à la M. Night Shyamalan in book three. I guess I will have to wait and see.
Ava and Jules work minimum wage jobs at a Swedish big-box store. No, not that one, another one. The one with wormholes opening inside their showrooms; where Ava and Jules have to use a device called FINNA to find a customer who has been sucked into the multiverse through that wormhole. They are definitely not paid enough to risk their lives in alternate universes, but the customer is king; and your boss is your overlord.
Fun novella about what might happen if a wormhole opened in an IKEA that is definitely not an IKEA.
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.
I suppose there will be a part two towards the end of the month, just because I seem to be reading at least one book a day at the moment.
The Last Tale of the Flower Bride by Roshani Chokshi, expected publication day 14 February 2023.
A gorgeous UK cover. A Gothic tale with beautiful lyrical writing and different folk tales woven into it.
Sadly, the very slow plot never really gripped my attention.
Trigger warning: the relationships between the MCs is toxic, which made reading the story not easier.
2/5 Harpy Eagles
Arden St. Ives trilogy by Alexis Hall
How to Bang a Billionaire (2017)
Arden St. Ives is a student at Oxford when he meets billionaire Caspian Hart. There is chemistry, but although Arden would like to pursue the relationship Caspian doesn't want to ... at first.
Arden is a bit neurotic, yet playful and has an interesting approach to life. Caspian has this dark secret that will be uncovered by the end of the trilogy. There is a billionaire throwing his money around, but it's kind of natural rather than OTT. It's not as steamy as I expected it to be, nor full of weird BDSM.
This first book ends without a cliffhanger. Still, you -just like me- might want to read the next book in this gay 50 Shades of Grey trilogy you didn't know you'd want to read until you started it.
4/5 Harpy Eagles
How to Blow it with a Billionaire (2017)
Arden and Caspian are trying to make their relationship work, but the odds are stacked against them. Caspian is a workaholic and has limited time to spend with Arden.
This book ends in a cliffhanger of sorts. There is a possibility for a happily ever after in the third book though.
5/5 Harpy Eagles
How to Belong with a Billionaire (2019)
Arden and Caspian have a long way to go to get their HEA.
The most important thing for me was knowing that Ardy-Baby was okay. We also get to see more of Ellery (Caspian's sister) and Bellerose (Caspian's PA), which makes me hope that either of them gets their own book in future.
4/5 Harpy Eagles
The Paradox Hotel by Rob Hart, published 22 February 2022.
The Paradox Hotel caters for the super-rich who are about to embark on or have come back from a trip to another century at the Einstein Intercentury Timeport. Grumpy January Cole is the head of security at the hotel and her day just got harder. She's unstuck, which means she is no longer rooted in time. She sees her dead girlfriend, different timelines and there is a dead body not even her AI bot can see. On top of that, four trillionaires are about to meet for a summit to bid on the hotel.
January is the perfect cynical sarcastic detective to find out who killed the dead body. She's pressed for time though, her mind is crumbling, and time is acting up in the weirdest way.
It's a time travel detective story with a noir vibe, LGBTQ+ representation, and a very diverse found family.
4/5 Harpy Eagles
The Locked Attic by B.P. Walter, published 24 November 2022.
I get that thrillers thrive on secrets, but this story was full of rather obvious secrets. Not only that, the secrets were dangle in front of me like a carrot in front of a donkey; they were clearly just used to make me turn the pages.
I didn't mind the non-linear storytelling. I was much more peeved that the two POV read very similar; shouldn't a teenager sound different from his mid-thirties mother?
And why was the secret in the titular Locked Attic not the main topic of the story? The title and blurb are misleading.
I really liked the author's The Dinner Guest, but his last book The Woman on the Pier and this book didn't really work for me.
Plain Bad Heroines by Emily M. Danforth has (of course) been sitting on my shelf forever. The virtual one, at least. Let‘s call it an e-reader-lurker. I started it when heading out for a vacation, because for me that‘s always a good opportunity to tackle some books that have been on my radar for a longer time. And in this case I think my vacation mood made me overlook a lot of things that would have had me bailing otherwise. This is a big “I liked it, and yet…“
The book is told in two alternating timelines. One is set in 1902, when two students of the Brookhants boarding school for girls share not only a passion for the memoirs of young writer Mary MacLane, but also for each other. Named after a quote from Mary‘s book, they form the “Plain Bad Heroine Society“. They are found dead in the orchard of the school, killed by a swarm of yellow jackets. More deaths will follow them.
The other timeline is set in the present day. Author Merritt Emmons has written a book about the events of 1902, and a horror movie adaptation is in the works. After a rather bumpy start, she forms a bond with actresses Harper Harper and Audrey Wells. But during production, talk about the curse of Brookhants gets louder and louder, and in the end it gets hard for them to distinguish truth from rumor and show effects.
Let‘s start with the positive things. The writing style was quirky and engaging, and I liked the omniscient narrator a lot. The use of footnotes made everything feel quite plausible. When starting it, I had the giddy feeling that I’d probably like it a lot. Introducing the different timelines had a lot of potential, and yet…
And yet I don‘t think the book delivered on that potential. I didn‘t notice it on my e-reader at first, but in print this book has over 600 pages. It is really long, yet the end felt rushed and didn‘t tie everything together in a satisfying way. The plot(s) moved along very slow, so it was hard to get a sense of building tension. Also, what little there was, just fizzled out at the end.
While it is classified as horror, it didn‘t really feel like it. Again, probably because it didn‘t grab me that much with its slow speed. There are a few gross scenes, and if you are already a bit nervous around wasps you may be more so after it.
Ruthanna Emrys’ A Half-Built Garden was published 26 July 2022. The blurb for the book reads as follows:
On a warm March night in 2083, Judy Wallach-Stevens wakes to a warning of unknown pollutants in the Chesapeake Bay. She heads out to check what she expects to be a false alarm--and stumbles upon the first alien visitors to Earth. These aliens have crossed the galaxy to save humanity, convinced that the people of Earth must leave their ecologically-ravaged planet behind and join them among the stars. And if humanity doesn't agree, they may need to be saved by force.
The watershed networks aren't ready to give up on Earth. Decades ago, they rose up to exile the last corporations to a few artificial islands, escape the dominance of nation-states, and reorganize humanity around the hope of keeping their world liveable. By sharing the burden of decision-making, they've started to heal the wounded planet.
But now corporations, nation-states, and networks all vie to represent humanity to these powerful new beings, and if any one accepts the aliens' offer, Earth may be lost. With everyone’s eyes turned skyward, everything hinges on the success of Judy's effort to create understanding, both within and beyond her own species.
Given the plot takes place roughly sixty years from now the most alien thing about the whole story was the humans. First off, in sixty years time? Really? That’s bloody soon. Major things must have happened for people on Earth to turn course and it must have happened within the next twenty to thirty years. What happened?
The corporations, who according to their own statements have ruled Earth for over a hundred years, have been banned to artificial islands in the South Pacific. Their Hunger-Games-District-One-like behaviour has brought them to a point where, apart from piling on money, gender-fluid representation seems more important than anything else.
Admirably, eco-friendly networks in North America are trying to save the planet by living very down to earth, reducing and even negating their carbon footprints. These eco-friendly people live in co-parenting, gender-fluid/transsexual households and are interconnected through dandelion networks that help them make democratic decisions. The networks seem to be based on how Reddit threads work.
The aliens, called Ringers, have been searching the galaxy for other sentient species that they can save from extinction. Earth is the first planet they arrive at in time to do so. The Ringers have been studying humans from radio and television broadcasts they received over the last 200 years. Hence the Ringers speak English fluently and have a broad understanding of how Western human culture works. They want to incorporate humanity into their system of symbiotic living on dyson sphere space stations light years from our solar system.
People from the dandelion networks make first contact with the Ringers. They don’t want to leave the planet. The US government wants a chance to expand into space. And the corporations hope for new technology and ways to make money. Now the Earthlings, made up of the three factions, need to try to ‘persuade’ each other and the Ringers what would be the best course of action.
Gender dynamics and parenting are topics that caused this book to be compared to the works of Ursula K. LeGuin and Becky Chambers. Yet, Chambers and LeGuin manage to interweave those topics into their stories in a far more engaging way than Emrys does. She intersperses the fairly interesting basis of her story with breastfeeding, pronoun badges, discussions about parenting, gender fluidity and non-binary gender pronouns, alien tentacle threesomes, and a few discussions about who of the three human groups might be right, and of course a few squabbles amongst the different Ringer factions.
I had expected to read a book about first contact, about aliens and how they live, about what makes Earth and it’s inhabitants important to preserve despite the problems the planet and humanity face.
What I actually read was a book centred on parenting and gender pronouns; democratic eco-friendly co-parenting versus corporations on artificial islands that are hiding their children and need five different gender pronouns depending on what kind of clothes they wear. Oh, yes, and there were aliens that looked like lizards and spiders and lived in symbiosis and had rather organic technology.
What rankled me further, there wasn’t any global representation; humanity is not just dandelion networks, the US government and some corporations in the South Pacific. Also, and this was mentioned briefly by the main character, Earth is made up of more than just humans, but the book centred on humans and their survival only.
A Restless Truth by Freya Marske, expected publication 01 November 2022.
The sequel to A Marvellous Light, the first book in The Last Binding trilogy, is set on an ocean liner travelling from America to Great Britain. This time Robin’s sister Maud is in the spotlight, she’s working ‘undercover’ trying to find the second piece of “the Contract”. [“The Contract” is a fae artifact made up of three magical items that allow the user to syphon magic from other magicians.] That’s why she’s accompanying an elderly lady, and her rather rude parrot, who supposedly has this second piece. But before Maud can find out anything, the elderly lady is killed using magic.
It’s clear that Maud needs help solving this ‘locked room mystery’. Fortunately for her Lord Hawthorne is aboard and grudgingly agrees to help her. She makes further allies in Violet Debenham, a magician and actress who’s wreathed in scandal, as well as the young writer Ross, who carries a suitcase of scandalous material. The group has to find out where the piece of the contract is hidden while also trying to avoid attracting the attention of the murderous magicians hiding among the passengers.
I truly enjoyed this LGBTQ+ historical fantasy/mystery/romance. It was a real page turner and, although I solved the mystery of where and what the second piece of the Contract was fairly early on, I enjoyed how the four amateur detectives puzzled it all out. Tiny note at the end: the cover is gorgeous!
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.
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.
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.