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

What just happened?

The Helm of Midnight by Marina Lostetter, published 13 April 2021.

You won’t believe it, but I read a fantasy novel in nearly one go. That hasn’t happened in a very long time. What made me stick to this book?

Lostetter pulled me into this dark fantasy mystery/thriller told from opposing POV from the beginning. Yes, the world-building took some time and there were slow passages, but all in all I wanted to know how the POVs came together and how the whole story fit and would play out.

An artefact is being stolen right under the watchful gaze of one of our female lead, a regulator (let’s say some form of police). With the help of this artefact murders are committed ten years after the initial serial killer was caught and executed for his brutal crimes. How do you catch a dead murderer? How do you find out who committed the theft and is behind the recent murders when the thieves used distraction and enchantments to hide their identities?

The other POV is that of a young apprentice to a healer. This woman is very gifted at healing, far more gifted than her age might allow. How? Evidence suggests that she is involved with the current murder spree. Is she, though?

There are enchanted masks and bottled beasts. There’s PTSD and grief. There are strong female characters, friendships, family ties. There is knowledge to be found, but at what price?

A book that took me out of my fantasy-funk! I’m looking forward to reading the next instalment.

4/5 Harpy Eagles

The Measure

The Measure by Nikki Erlick, published 28 June 2022.

Boxes arrive, for any person on earth older than 22 years. The boxes contain a piece of string, showing how long the life of the person will be.

What would you do if you received such a box? Would you open it? Do you want to know how many years you have? How does society deal with this phenomenon? Are people with short strings worth less than “long stringers”?

Told from several different POV the stories are interwoven and make up a fantastic book of speculative fiction!

5/5 Harpy Eagles

Quick Reviews – June 2022

Light from Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki, published 28 September 2021.

This was weird, but in a good way weird. A hopeful story about identity and finding your place in the world, or should I say universe? 

A deal with the devil leads former violin prodigy turned violin teacher, Shizuka, to seek her latest young music genius in San Francisco. Katrina is a runaway recently arrived in the city whose most priced possession is a cheap Chinese violin. Shizuka has a year to turn Katrina into a star violinist and so lift the curse on her soul. There is absolutely no time for anything else in her life, but then she meets Lan Tran. She's a mother of four, and her family of galactic refugees is selling donuts while secretly creating a stargate on the roof of their donut shop.

5/5 Harpy Eagles


January Fifteenth by Rachel Swirsky, published 14 June 2021.

The near-future Sci-Fi novella follows four women on the day when the Universal Basic Income (UBI) is paid by the government to the citizens of the U.S. 

The author prefaces the novella that she won't go into how the UBI came about and/or how it is organised. 

I assumed the story was about how the UBI shapes and influences the four women's lives, but somehow this was only lightly touched on. In the end it was speculative fiction depicting one day in the lives of a divorced mother of two who's escaped an abusive relationship; a rich college girl bored at her privileged party in Aspen; a jaded reporter taking care of her transgender teenage sibling; a pregnant teenaged member of a polygamist cult.

Interesting, but I was hoping for more depth.

2/5 Harpy Eagles


Amongst our Weapons by Ben Aaronovitch, published 12 April 2022.

I am a fan of the Rivers of London series and I re-read part of the series and caught up with the ones I hadn't read yet to enjoy this ninth instalment. Yet, somehow I am left a bit wanting. 

I wanted to see more Nightingale, more banter between Master and Apprentice. Nightingale is a great character and the more domestic Peter became during this book, the more Nightingale could have taken the limelight. 

Dear Mr Aaronovitch, please give Thomas more page space next time around. Also, let us know what happened to the rings. Thank you!  

3.5/5 Harpy Eagles


A Plague of Giants by Kevin Hearne, published 03 October 2017.

I am not a fan of epic fantasy. Mainly because I like to know where the journey is going and epic fantasy, to me, is more like taking the extra scenic route that doesn't end in the destination but at a way point from which you then carry on (in the next book). 

Hearne's first novel in the Seven Kennings series is no exception. There are many stories within the framing story. Following all those different characters to the end to find out how those different plot lines lined up was tough, for me (see above). 

I felt interested enough to see it through to the end of the book, but I won't read the other novels in the series. I am going to stick to Hearne's Urban Fantasy. 

3/5 Harpy Eagles

The Half Life of Valery K

Natasha Pulley’s latest novel, a historical fiction thriller that is based on real historical events, is set to publish on June 23rd, 2022.

It’s 1963 in the Soviet Union, Valery wakes up in his prison camp bunk in Siberia. A KGB van drives up to the camp and Valery is transported to a secret research facility.

The facility, known as the Lighthouse within City 40, is in the middle of an irradiation zone – think Chernobyl and it’s surrounding areas. Valery notices the dying flora along the road towards City 40 and is pretty certain he’s supposed to become a human guinea pig for irradiation tests. Fortunately for him, he’s actually supposed to follow up on his biology/biochemistry work in the field.

To cut a long synopsis short, Valery meets his former mentor Dr Resovkaya at the Lighthouse, as well as KGB man Shenkov, who might shoot Valery at the slightest misstep. Yet, instead of just intimidating Valery, Shenkov seems to care for him and even starts helping him uncover a conspiracy about the facility that has been blatantly obvious to Valery from his first moment in the restricted zone. And just like a Matryoshka doll, there is another conspiracy hidden beneath the first, and maybe one more underneath that one. It’s soon clear that Shenkov and Valery are destined to find each other, but, in typical Pulley fashion, there is at least one woman blocking the way to their happily ever after. Here it’s two, Shenkov’s wife Anna and Valery’s mentor Elena Resovkaya.


For the first time, since we started this blog, I’m at a loss for words. I was looking forward to reading this book and hence very happy when I was approved for an ARC. Now that I have finished, I just don’t know how to review and rate the book.

Well, I should preface this review with some information. I really like Pulley’s style of writing, her books manage to draw me in every time, despite knowing that there’s certainly going to be at least one female character that is supposed to be the bad guy (or better gal) who is sabotaging the M/M romance. Further, I have lived behind the Iron Curtain and, although that doesn’t make me an expert in Soviet culture, I wish this book had had at least one sensitivity reader, because the anachronisms and cultural/language missteps were jarring and jarringly obvious to me. Last but not least, the book was listed under Sci-Fi, which is probably for its science content.

Here are just a few very basic things which make rating this book so very hard for me:

  • The anachronisms and cultural/language missteps that might have been bread crumbs for the big Sci-Fi plot twist weren’t bread crumbs at all. They were annoying and took me out of the story every time they happened. Some examples:
    • people were boiling water for tea or coffee in their offices in electric kettles – not 100% certain, but 95% sure people didn’t use electric kettles and especially not in their offices
    • kitchen roll was mentioned – definitely not in general use
    • TV remote controls – I’m still laughing about this one
    • people driving to work in their private cars – public transport to work; if a family owned a car, they’d most likely use it for long distance travel
    • expressions like “oi, mate”, “btw”; referencing James Bond
  • Valery is a bit of a sociopath. He’s supposedly unable to read social cues, yet he manages to manipulate the people around him using social cues. He suffers from PTSD and is constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop, but plunges ever deeper into the danger zone. Well, like any good anti-hero would do.
  • Shenkov is this tough KGB guy, who shoots people (off page) for remarking that the Kremlin might be lying to the people at the Lighthouse and City 40. Yet he’s a softy at heart who, strangely, never shows any remorse at having to kill. He’s obviously just following orders. He also loves his four children dearly and would turn heaven and earth to protect them.
  • Anna, Shenkov’s wife, is a brilliant physicist who agreed to have children with Shenkov only when he takes care of them. She would probably leave her children and husband behind without a second thought should the opportunity arise.

!!!Big Spoiler to the Ending ahead!!!

To punish Valery, Resovkaya manages to nap Shekov for her radiation poisoning trials. Valery must rescue him from being used as a human lab rat. Together with Anna, who has just told Valery that she has terminal cancer and is going to divorce her husband, they come up with a plan to use radiation poisoning to free Shenkov and a bunch of other people from Resovkaya’s top secret radiation poisoning lab within the top secret lab facility. Lo and behold, Shenkov and Valery make it out of City 40, but terminally ill Anna and her four children, one of which is dying of leukaemia, stay behind. Valery and Shenkov then get a new life under witness protection in the UK where they live happily ever after.

What.The.Actual.F?

Shenkov, who would die for his family, leaves them and never looks back? Never wonders whether they got out of City 40? Doesn’t turn heaven and earth to get them to join him? Anna suddenly likes taking care of her children so much that she wants to spend her final days with them, and is certain she can protect them from whatever trouble will come her way after the stunt they just pulled? Valery is just fine with … all of it?

See, at a loss for words.

2.5/5 Harpy Eagles

Not seven more books, but one

Almost 2 years ago, I wrote a raving review about Seven Devils by Laura Lam and Elizabeth May (I now also learned to spell the name correctly. Apologies to the author).

Seven Mercies concludes the action packed sci-fi duology. I was kindly provided with an ARC via Netgalley, but kept pushing the book back on my TBR. Now I also have a signed copy on my hands.

The story starts several months after the end of the first book. I heard it should originally have been about a pandemic, but due to the current world state, most of the book was changed. But I don’t think the quality suffered at all. Filled with a lot of action and the fantastic cast of characters, the book ties every lose end together nicely, finishing the story in a clashing, but satisfactory crescendo. Not entirely unexpected maybe, but I did not expect this book to surprise me. Found family space action seems to be my comfort reading genre of choice.

5/5 Duckies

The Salvagers Series by Alex White

The Salvagers series begins with A Big Ship at the End of the Universe. War veteran, former treasure hunter and reality TV star Boots Elsworth is not only a magical anomaly – born without a mark that let’s her do magic – but also barely scraping by.

Nilah Brio is blessed with the mechanists’ mark. This particular form of magic lets her trace a glyph to interact, hack, und tune all kinds of machinery. And she is a soon-to-be racing champion – think the podraces of Star Wars Episode 1. This all changes when she is framed for a murder. Desperately trying to escape, she crashes into Boots’ office. 5 minutes later, Boots’ former war officer, now Captain of the Capricious, demands Boots’ services again, searching for a treasure everyone thought long gone and takes Nilah as a potential bounty with them.

Nilah wakes up in custody on the Capricious, having been at the wrong place at the wrong time. Framed for a murder, she has a bounty on her head and nowhere to go.

Without spoiling too much, of course they all end up working together to unravel various mysteries and an even deeper secret during the three books.

Neither Boots nor Nilah are particularly likeable at the start of the book, but this is a story of redemption arcs of a ragtag spaceship crew – so give them time. The rest of Capricious’ crew makes up for that in the meantime.

The characters reminded me of tabletop RPGs (if you don’t play one yourself, you might at least have heard of Critical Role), how the most unlikely bunch of people end up working together, diving headfirst from one problem into the next, holding together even when the darkest of pasts catches up to one of its members.

Let’s sum it up: Found family, space, magic, racecars, and a treasure hunt. What more could you possibly want?

5/5 Duckies for the whole series

Bloodlines – take two

In my post about the first book in the “Take Them To The Stars” series by Sylvain Neuvel, I mentioned that bloodlines are important; they still are in book two of the series Until the Last of Me, published 29 March 2022.

The first book started in the 1940s, with Mia, the one hundredth incarnation, extricating Wernher von Braun from Nazi Germany. The second book starts in 1968, Mia is a middle-aged woman and has to flee from the Tracker with her young daughter Lola. Their flight takes them to the US, where they try to live an inconspicuous life, which is not very easy especially once Lola turns into a teenager.

Without giving away too much of the content of the book, it follows the two women and the family of the Tracker with flashbacks to earlier incarnations of the two bloodlines. There is also a quest when a former friend of Mia’s mother sends them pictures of a bow, which belonged to one of their fore-mothers and has a message carved into its sides.

The story takes us from the Moon Landing, the Space Race, the Voyager probes, to the Spaceshuttle, but also to Victorian London, ancient Egypt, as well as Iron Curtain Russia and China.

Neuvel left the story at a mild cliffhanger. This means, that although part of the plot has been wrapped up, there are, of course, some things unresolved. I’m wondering where he’s taking us next, apart from To The Stars.

3.5/5 Harpy Eagles (that makes it 4/5 stars on Goodreads)

Quick reviews – May 2022

The Woman in the Library by Sulari Gentill, publishing day 07 June 2022.

As an amateur writer I truly liked the concept of this book: a manuscript by a thriller writer being beta-read by a colleague.

Hannah, an Australian writer with some renown, is writing a book set in Boston. In Hannah's book, four people sit close to each other in the Boston Public Library when they hear a woman's scream. Later the body of a woman is found. Among those four people is Freddie, a mystery writer from Australia, who uses the experience and the people she's met as material for her new book. [Did I mention that it is slightly complicated to describe?] Also, Freddie and the other three library patrons become fast friends while trying to solve the murder of the woman. And they are all being drawn deeper into the case than they had anticipated. 

Leo lives in Boston, somehow got in contact with the famous writer Hannah. He offered to help Hannah with the manuscript since, due to the Covid pandemic, she cannot travel to Boston to scout the area herself. 

I didn't mind the grammar or spelling mistakes in the manuscript part - I'm sure they will be addressed before the book is published - made it feel much more like a manuscript. Sadly, it had a few plot holes and timeline inconsistencies; Leo could have picked up on them, but then again he's only beta-reading the chapters and not an editor. Further, he has his own agenda, like using the connection to finding an agent to get his own book out, or to getting Hannah to write the pandemic into the story. 

I wish the mystery had been more thrilling, more mysterious. I puzzled it out early on.

[ARC provided by the publishers through NetGalley.]

2/5 Harpy Eagles


Book Lovers by Emily Henry, published 12 May 2022 (UK edition).

When I opened the book, I wanted to read for about ten minutes, or until my mug was empty, but I couldn't put it down until I had turned the last page.

Was it predictable? Yes, it was.

What kept me turning the pages? Emily Henry's writing, characters, snarky banter.

Third book by Henry that I've read and the third book that I had to finish in one sitting.

[ARC provided by the publishers through NetGalley.]

5/5 Harpy Eagles


The Audacity of Sara Grayson by Joani Elliott, published 25 May 2021.

Sara's mother died three weeks ago. Now Sara is sitting in her lawyer's office, open-mouthed, because her mother tasked her with writing the last novel in her bestselling series. 

This debut novel was very inspirational. Sara's journey from disbelief to believing in herself is one everyone of us can understand, whether you are an aspiring writer or not; we all struggle with confidence issues now and then. Sara has to overcome hers quick though, because that book has a publishing deadline and if she wants to write it, she must overcome her angst. 

I liked the writing style. Liked the characters with all their flaws. The family secret seemed a tiny bit over the top, but it was well-explained. 

Last but not least, even if you don't like all aspects of the story, the quotes by well-known authors at the beginning of each chapter are a treat alone, and they fit perfectly with the chapter content. 

5/5 Harpy Eagles

Engineer to the rescue!

Braking Day by Adam Oyebanji, published 05 April, 2022.

The cover and title were the things that drew me to this ARC. I immediately wanted to know answers to all the wh-questions. When I then opened the book, I noticed that it said “Revolutions Book 2” on the very first page. So, obviously, I searched the internet to find out which first book in the series I might have missed. Turns out I didn’t miss a book, this is Oyebanji’s debut novel. Well, it reads like a “not the first” novel in a series. I’m not saying it has middle-book-syndrome, it is a good standalone. It would have been an even better standalone with a tiny bit more background information.

We find ourselves on board a generation ship on the way to Tau Ceti. The inhabitants of this ship, and the two other accompanying vessels, have been on their journey for 132 years or six generations. They have reached the point on their route, where Braking Day is upon them. The day the ship will turn and the thrusters will start decelerating the vessels for about a year to get them into orbit of Destination World.

Our main character is Ravi MacLeod, a midshipman training to be an engineer. Coming from a family with non-academic/non-officer class background it is hard for him to work his way up within the seemingly tight social classes on board. What makes Ravi so special? I am tempted to say he is a chosen one. Sounds YA Fantasy, but in fact he is. He’s the one with the vision of a girl floating outside the hull with no spacesuit on. He’s the one with the voice inside his head and the weird dreams. He’s also the one with a non-law abiding family and hence has had “special” training as a kid and a family to help him out of a tight spot. Especially his cousin Roberta, called Boz, who’s extremely good with technology. And he’s the one who will make sure Braking Day will happen.

Here’s what I didn’t like about the book – it’s not much:

  • The feeling that I am not reading the first book, hence knowing I am missing some information. I puzzled it together reading the book, yet I am sure there is a “Revolutions Book 1” on Oyebanji’s hard disk and I would love to read it.
  • Well-known phrases turned so that they fit the generation ship. Instead of ‘for God’s sake’ people say ‘for Archie’s sake’ – the ship is called Archimedes. People do not ‘keep it straight’, they ‘keep it circular’ – because of the rings that make up the ship; which is a very clever world-building strategy. Still, they’ve been out there for only 132 years, or six generations, language does not change that much in such a short time.

Here’s what I liked about the book:

  • The book is packed with action, conspiracy, good banter, illicit tech, sabotage, and a deadline that they cannot afford to overshoot, literally.
  • The world-building is very well thought through to holidays, inter-ship sports events and protest organisations, even if I am grumpy about the phrases.
  • Ravi’s struggle of being true to his family, true to his home/ship, true to his chosen position in life is very real. He’s not only trying to keep his sanity (girl floating in space, voices in his head, dreams), he’s trying to do right by all the people around him.
  • Dragons. In. Space.

4.5/5 Harpy Eagles

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