Daughters of Doubt and Eyerolling

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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

Madhouse at the End of the Earth

Welcome back to the Marquess Magpie‘s next entry in the series „people dying on the ice and/or mountains“. This time, we are following the crew of the Belgica into the Antarctic night.

It is the age of polar exploration, and Belgian Navy officer Adrien de Gerlache decides to lead an expedition to the Antarctic to make his nation proud. One of the expedition‘s goals was to reach the (magnetic) South Pole. And oh my, during their journey things go south indeed.

They were not even anywhere close to the South Pole before some of the crew members started brawling and they had to get rid of their cook. The beginning of the book therefore has a bit of a boys will be boys vibe. They also lose one of the crew members quite early on during a storm.

The book mainly follows the commander de Gerlache, the ships’s surgeon Frederick Cook and first mate Roald Amundsen. Having read an abbreviated version of Amundsen‘s account of his later expedition to the South Pole, it was very interesting to see everyone‘s favourite viking in his younger years. These characters are what makes the story so very interesting. Cook and Amundsen developed a kind of bromance, tinkering with the exploration gear and going on skiing excursions together.

When faced with the decision to either abort the expedition or to let the ship get trapped in the ice, possibly for months, de Gerlache made the conscious decision to stay. He would hate to come home and be known as a quitter. His desire for fame and glory by far outweighed his instinct for self-preservation, and his crew didn‘t get to have a say at all.

Trapped in the ice, every night got longer and longer, until the sun disappeared for seventy days. One can only imagine what this does to your mental health. The ones being least affected were Cook and Amundsen, taking it as a chance to prepare even harder for future expeditions. Amundsen, the weirdo, almost seems to be having fun. But soon they had to face the fact that – not unlike punk – scurvy‘s not dead.

Thanks to the primary sources Julian Sancton used, this feels like a very close and accurate account of the story while offering different perspectives. The description of the preparation phase was a bit slow, but once the crew got on board the story really took off. The German translation was great and for once did not feel clunky at all.

5 / 5 Magpies – ice, death and madness all the way. Remember to eat your penguin meat.

Books of the Month

Because I have gotten extremely bad at writing reviews, I’ll try something different and do a bunch of shorter ones to sum up my reading month.


Race to the South Pole by Roald Amundsen

Sadly, I only read an abbreviated German translation. But nonetheless, this was very interesting. Especially since I visited the Fram museum in Oslo two years ago, so I stood aboard the polar ship Amundsen used to reach the South Pole. Amundsen’s writing is captivating, and everything he and his team experienced just amazed me. A minor content warning here: don’t get attached to the dogs.

4 / 5 Magpies


The Ascent of Rum Doodle by W.E. Bowman

This was really just a lot of fun, especially if you are into “real” mountaineering books. With the aim to put someone on the top of the titular Rum Doodle, our main character Binder puts together an expedition team. From the constantly ill Dr. Prone to the navigator Jungle who even gets lost on his way to the first planning meeting in Britain, all characters are perfectly named and just ridiculous. Together with 3000 porters (yes, the number is correct), they set out and everything that can go wrong, will go wrong. The audiobook was fantastic as a palate cleanser. And just for your information, according to experts champagne can now be considered medicine. You’re welcome.

4 / 5 Magpies


Medea by Christa Wolf

It feels like lately we’ve been spoiled with retellings of Greek myths. And while most of you probably heard of the Madeline Miller books, few will know about Christa Wolf. Published in 1996, Medea tells the titular character’s story from multiple perspectives, shining a different light on the story with each new monologue. It’s quite literary but still fascinating that way, and her take on Kassandra’s story is already waiting on my shelves.

4 / 5 Magpies


The Diary of a Bookseller by Shaun Bythell

Ever wondered what it’s like to own a bookstore? A peek into Shaun Bythell’s diary will give you a good idea. The underlying tone is that customers are mostly quite annoying, and Amazon is out to get us all. I think there is some truth in both points. The writing is entertaining, and it worked really well as a bedside book because reading more than a couple of entries in a row might get repetitive.

3 / 5 Magpies for solid entertainment without any surprises


The Mysterious Study of Doctor Sex by Tamysn Muir

This is a short story set in the Sixth House of Tamysn Muir’s Locked Tomb series. You can read it for free here. Having read both Gideon and Harrow the Ninth, it was fun to be back in the world and also to have a glimpse into the Sixth house. But without prior knowledge from the two full-length novels, this must be an extremely confusing story. And yes, you are most welcome to snicker at the name of the doctor, as are our two 13-year-old protagonists Palamedes and Camilla.

4 / 5 Magpies


The Annual Migration of Clouds by Premee Mohamed

This dystopian novella started off with a Chosen One storyline, but didn’t go there all the way. Instead we spend our time with the main character (and her fungi parasite) as she ponders whether or not to leave her mother behind to make something out of her life. She reaches a decision in the end, but somehow all this buildup feels anticlimactic as this is the point where the story stops. Maybe this would have worked better for me if it was instalment 0.5 of a series instead of a standalone.

3 / 5 Magpies for fungi fun


Finders Keepers by Stephen King

After reading If It Bleeds and The Outsider, I decided to finally finish the Bill Hodges trilogy. Or at least pick up book two, for now. It was a solid King novel – some blood, some suspense, greate characters. According to Goodreads, I read the first book in 2017, so I was really glad that it didn’t matter too much. Or at least I remembered enough to get along.

4 / 5 Magpies


Judge Dee and the Three Deaths of Count Werdenfels by Lavie Tidhar

This is the second of the Judge Dee short stories, it can be read for free here. Apparently there is a third one out already, so I’ll have to get to that soon. Because it’s a short story, I’m not going to tell you much about it. You’ll just have to trust me that it’s worth your time.

5 / 5 Magpies

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

How Not To Die On A Mountain

… is not really something this book will teach you. Touching the Void is Joe Simpson’s account of his highly improbable survival in the Peruvian Andes. Together with his climbing partner Simon Yates, Joe set out to reach the summit of the Siula Grande via the West face. While the ascent was a struggle, bad weather turned the descent into a nightmare.

When preparing for their trip in the base camp (where they left their non-climber companion Richard Hawkins to wait for them, the poor guy), they did not pack enough gas to account for a delay in their progress. Sounds like a bad idea, right? Combine it with terrible weather and you get two very exhausted, cold and dehydrated climbers with no way to melt snow and ice for drinking water.

Disaster strikes on an ice cliff, when Joe breaks his leg in a fall. The descriptions are not for the faint of heart, let’s just say that his tibia ended up in his knee joint which is not a decent place to be. They both know that this is a death sentence for him. Simon’s chances of descending alone would be slim enough, without attempting to rescue Joe. They try it anyway, and Simon lowers Joe by using two ropes tied together to increase their length. Sounds scary? Now try to imagine that they have to repeatedly stop to switch the belaying device from one side of the know to the other, while Joe had to balance on his one good leg.

This works quite well for them. But one disaster just is not enough. Almost having reached safer ground, Joe is lowered over a cliff edge, hanging free with his whole weight on the rope. There was no way to let him down any lower, and he could not climb back up. After supporting Joe’s weight for the longest possible time and with his belaying seat disintegrating underneath him, Simon was forced to make the brutal decision of cutting the rope to save his own life. Traumatized, he reached the base camp alone and had to tell Richard that Joe was presumably dead.

Joe, meanwhile, had survived his fall into a crevasse and began the mind-boggling process of hopping and crawling towards the base camp. His injured leg was completely destroyed and useless by then. Nothing short of a miracle, he reached them mere hours before their departure back to Lima.

This book is filled with technical descriptions of the climb itself and the gear they used, but also offers a very interesting psychological angle. Simon Yates faced a lot of criticism for his decision to cut the rope. People argued that he should have decided to (probably) die with his friend instead of cutting Joe loose to save himself. Joe shows a huge strength of character. He offered comfort and voiced his complete support and understanding to Simon before being even remotely recovered.

Dead Mountain

As mentioned in a previous post, I am (perhaps weirdly) fascinated by mountaineering books and the disasters that often accompany them. Dead Mountain by Donnie Eichar falls firmly into that category. It is an account of a mystery that leads to the death of nine experienced hikers in the Russian Ural Mountains.

In 1959, nine university students – all of them experienced hikers – set out on a trip that was supposed to earn them the next hiking grade. The group surrounding Igor Dyatlov died under circumstances that still lead to confusions decades later. The bodies of the hikers were found outside their tent, all of them without shoes and proper clothing. Their tent was cut open from the inside, giving the impression that all of them fled into the night in a panic. While most of them died from spending the pitch-black night in freezing temperatures, violent injuries were found on some of the bodies.

In his book Eichar tries to find a plausible explanation for the events on the titular Dead Mountain that does not involve conspiracy theories. In 1959, the investigation was wrapped up with the explanation that the hikers left their tent because of an “unknown compelling force”, after all. We are talking about Soviet cover-ups, rocket launches, strange lights in the sky and radiation readings. A big part of my fascination with this book was caused by the photographs reproduced from the hiker’s cameras, supported by translations of their journal entries. This made following their story almost a personal matter.

I was very satisfied with the (scientific) conclusion Eichar provides in the end, although probably only one of the hikers could have told us what really happened that night.

Wordslut

Wordslut. A feminist guide to taking back the English language by Amanda Montell, published 28 May 2019.

I was made aware of this sociolinguistic book by a friend, who knows that I like to learn about words, their origins, their (current) usage – in short, that I am a hedge-linguist and a wordslut. Said friend and I then did a buddy listen of the book; we both listened to the audiobook and had a Zoom meeting to talk about it. We both liked the narration by the author herself, she is snarky and has a lot of serious things to say about the English language.

Montell talks about how words lost their original meanings and how, instead of being all encompassing or empowering, they are now used against women and marginalised groups, to keep women from power; how gendered insults, like calling someone a ‘sissy’, work and should be overcome; why women should curse more, in which situations women curse and whether we need gender specific curse words – does ‘clitfuck’ work? Apart from concentrating on vocabulary alone, there is also information about grammar, for example how gender neutral pronouns work in other languages and how they might work in English. An entire chapter is dedicated to specific pronunciation and the voice women use when talking, how women can sound more authoritative and whether women should embrace phenomenons like vocal fry and up-talk.

Some of the topics stuck more with me, like the gendered insults, gossiping, women’s voice/pronunciation patterns. Some I hardly remember what Montell was talking about, gay language for example. I am not certain why, I know I listened to this chapter attentively, but my brain might have filed it under “that must be a US thing”.

I recommend this book to anyone who would like to learn about how language is used against women, how women themselves struggle with coming to terms with language, and people fighting for the equality of all people – no matter what assigned gender at birth, skin colour, or cultural background.

4/5 Goodreads stars

More Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls

Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls: 100 Immigrant Women Who Changed the World by Elena Favilli. Pub Date: 13 Oct 2020

I was invited to review an early copy of the third instalment of the bestselling Good Night Stories series. This time the stories and illustrations concentrate on women who emigrated from their country of birth. Among those 100 women are very well known names such as Rihanna or Madeleine Albright.

Personally, I enjoyed the stories of less well-known-to-me women like Lupe Gonzalo (Migrant Farmer and Labour Organiser from Guatemala), or football referee Jawahir Jewels Roble (from Somalia) far more than the stories of Diane von Fürstenberg or Gloria Estefan.

The outstanding illustrations in this book were made by 70 artists identifying as women from all over the world. A list of all the names is included in the back of the book.

An empowering read that shouldn’t be missing on any shelf.

Another View at Victorian Asylums

I was recently able to read an ARC on Life in the Victorian Asylum by Mark Stevens. When I think about asylum in the Victorian age, I always see rather gruesome pictures in my head, and countless horrors come to mind. This book casts a rather different light on asylums and mental health care in the Victorian age. The author, Mark Stevens, is a professional archivist working with asylum records.

This book consists mostly of a “Welcome Guide”, written as if the reader themselves were admitted to an asylum. The details in this book are many, and they make, to be honest, for a rather dull read. As you would expect from a welcome guide. The last 20% or so of the book are about the development of asylums until today.

Personally, I feel the author should have changed his choice of words, referring only inside the “guide” to the asylum patients as “lunatics”. It feels a very insensitive in the second part of the book.

I actually was surprised by the description of life in an asylum. There is a huge difference to the depiction in today’s media. I am intrigued to research more about the topic, where do the horror stories originate? Surely the actual asylums were partly very good institutions, and in part very bad, and most somewhere in between. The author does not claim to be debunking myths. It was an interesting read though, if incredibly dull to get through. The insensitivity depicted by the author causes another star to be deleted.

2/5 Goodreads stars.

Proud to be a Bad Feminist

Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist is one of those books that pops up on every ‘feminist books you need to read’ list. I’ve read and loved Hunger and An Untamed State, so I was familiar with some of her background story and her gut-punching writing style.

While circling through different topics, this essay collection opens and closes with pieces on what it means to be a ‘Bad Feminist’ and I whole-heartedly agree with them. Gay’s bottom line in her last essay is this: ‘I would rather be a bad feminist than no feminist at all’, summarizing my thoughts on the matter exactly. There are so many inaccurate myths about feminism that do not offer enough room for all the contradictions day-to-day life presents. Just because I identify as a feminist does not mean I can’t listen to bad rap lyrics or that I have to stop shaving immediately.

This essay collection covers more topics than I would have expected and I especially appreciated the section about race & entertainment. I remember enjoying Kathryn Stockett’s The Help a lot, but Gay’s essay about it really made me wonder if my brain was even turned on back when I read the book. Everyone of us needs more eye-opening moments like that.

Also, if you ever wanted to know something about the hidden depths of competitive scrabble, this collection has something for you.

This was only a 4/5 star read because I missed out on some of the political or pop culture references, but that might be different for readers from the US.

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