Daughters of Doubt and Eyerolling

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Who needs plot, when there is sex?

Kingdom of the Cursed, the second book in Kerri Maniscalco’s Kingdom of the Wicked series, published 05 October 2021. This is not a YA book, there are a lot of very explicit scenes.

Spoiler alert – I’m going to recap book 1.

Short recap of Kingdom of the Wicked: “Picture it, Sicily…” not 1912, but the late 19th century. Emilia and her twin sister Vittoria are witches in a long line of witches. There is a prophecy about the birth of the twin witches, they are supposed to break an age old curse.

But Vittoria is murdered and Emilia summons a demon to help her find who killed her sister. She soon finds out that the demon she summoned is one of the seven princes of hell. One of the monstrous, deceiving, lying beasts her grandmother had warned the girls against ever since birth.

Since Emilia is a good granddaughter she definitely heeds her grandmother’s advice and does not strike a bargain with the devilishly handsome prince Wrath. She’d rather hold up a torch for her childhood crush, now turned monk, Antonio. Well, you guessed it, she didn’t. The charming Wrath might have got under Emilia’s skin – quite literally even, they have magical matching tattoos that grow larger with every day.

At the end of the book, a bargain between Emilia and Wrath has been struck. And Wrath takes Emilia to the Kingdom of the Wicked, where she will become the Devil’s wife.


Book 2, Kingdom of the Cursed, starts with Emilia and Wrath making their way through the underworld. It’s not how Emilia had expected it to be. Especially not because she is in the company of the deceitful, lying prince of hell, Wrath, on the way to being married to his brother Pride. In case you forgot, Emilia will remind you just how untrustworthy, lying and deceitful Wrath is, and how inhospitable the underworld is over and over. Just as often she might tell you that Wrath is also a yummy prince of hell. It got annoying pretty fast.

At Wrath’s castle, information happens to fall into Emilia’s hands left, right and centre. She doesn’t have to work for it. There’s a conveniently located book here, or a visit with a minor demon, or a witch that will tell her what she didn’t exactly needed to know, but what turns out to be vital information for her anyway.

Wrath doesn’t feel like a fully fleshed out character. He’s that overly sexy man Emilia is lusting after, which she shouldn’t because he’s a deceitful,… yada, yada. In his favour, he goes out of his way to let Emilia make her own decisions. The relationship between Emilia and Wrath is supposed to be an enemies to lovers relationship, but are they enemies? They seem to be working towards a common goal.

The last 30 percent of the book were the most interesting. Suddenly plot happened. The big plot twists though? If you paid attention in book one they did not come as a surprise.

Definitely middle-book syndrome. I suppose this book, condensed down to novella size, would have been much better.

I’m still looking forward to book three, but my expectations are low.

2/5 Harpy Eagles

It’s that time of the month…

… when the leaves are falling and the temperatures dropping. Perfect time for a cuppa and a good book, right?

My highlight of September was T.J. Klune’s Under the Whispering Door, published 21 September 2021. It’s a book about grief, a book about death, but also about life. Instead of being dark and depressing, it is very uplifting. It feels like warm hugs and steaming mugs of tea. It also has a gorgeous cover.

I don’t have a lot of big reading plans for October. My kids will be away on holiday for ten days, mid-month. That’ll give me a lot of reading and crafting time. There’s Act II of The Sandman, for example, which should get me through the first stages of my jacket sewing project.

And, of course, there is the autumn TBR that wants to be read. I might eventually pick up Bardugo’s Ninth House; I think this has gathered the most dust since I bought it.

Deffo the cat in the bag

The Octunnumi. Fosbit Files Prologue by Trevor Alan Foris (pseud.) published March 2020. You might remember me mentioning this book back in April. If I remember correctly, I wrote that I had no idea what I was in for and that I applauded the people behind it for their marketing strategy.

The book started off with an action scene, which was intriguing, but at the same time off-putting. Intriguing, should be obvious, you start a book right in the middle of a magical fight and you just want to know what this is about. Off-putting, the two 18 year old MCs are the dog’s bollocks and even if defeated by a bunch of kids, they believe themselves to be superior to everyone around them.

As I read on, this teenaged, hormone riddled, believed superiority of the MCs started to grate. Add to it a story that has virtually no plot, or plot that is drowning in the MCs egos and the world-building, and you know why I had a hard time reading.

Speaking of world-building, the setting is steam-punkish; a bit like Carnival Row. Don’t ask me for details though, because it was convoluted with invented words and concepts that even the added dictionary and pronunciation guide didn’t help with. At page 55 I still didn’t have any idea what the story was supposed to be about, and frankly didn’t care.

2/5 Harpy Eagles

Quick Reviews – September ’21

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

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

2/5 Harpy Eagles

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

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

3/5 Harpy Eagles

Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead, published 4 May 2021.

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

4/5 Harpy Eagles

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

"The demolition crew found the body."

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

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

4/5 Harpy Eagles

Two Rivers series by Ann Cleeves.

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

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

4/5 Harpy Eagles, for each

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

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

3/5 Harpy Eagles

A Long Petal of the Sea

A Long Petal of the Sea was my first Isabel Allende book, although I’ve had her on my radar for quite some time. That’s to say there are at least three other books either waiting on my shelf or my e-reader which I haven’t gotten to yet. My interest was renewed after watching her TED talk Tales of passion. So when I was recently stranded without a book and hours to kill, I did the only sensible thing. I went straight to a bookstore and bought an emergency book – this one.

This family saga covers decades and two continents, as we follow the main characters Victor and Roser. Their story starts during the Spanish Civil War, during which Victor works as a doctor and Roser waits for the return of Victor’s brother Guillem to return from the war in time for the birth of their child. Instead of being happily reunited, Victor and Roser have to flee the country after Franco overthrows the government. After learning of Guillem’s death, they marry to use to opportunity to embark on a sea voyage organized by Pablo Neruda (yes, the poet) to start a new life in Chile. They are unlikely partners, but throughout the book we see them connect and grow into an impressively strong unit.

My prior knowledge about Spanish history really lacked, so it was very interesting to learn about that time period in this well-researched piece of historical fiction. I was really surprised that Pablo Neruda played such a huge part in that time, and found it very fitting to start each chapter with a short quote by him. The book title is also taken from one of his poems about Chile. My only issue with the writing was that it sometimes read too much like a report – but I guess that is hard to avoid when you want to cover such a large amount of time with multiple character lines. Although these characters offered a very obvious chance for a fated lovers trope, Allende didn’t take that path and I’m really grateful for that.

4/5 Magpies

A Cup of Tea for the Soul

It’s been some time, but I’ve promised my fellow Sceptres that I will finally (this time for real) get back into the habit of writing blog posts. But – how to start? Usually I’d say when in doubt choose a Pratchett, but another author who never disappoints is Becky Chambers.

You may know her Wayfarer series, which introduced us to her fabulous way of writing diverse characters and heartwarming stories. When picking up a Becky Chambers novel, you know that everything is going to be alright.

Her newest book, A Psalm for the Wild-Built, is no exception. While her Wayfarer books take place in space or in at least technologically advanced environments, the first book in the Monk & Robot series takes a different turn. The main character is a tea monk, offering a tea ceremony to people who need comfort and someone to listen to their problems. Still searching for a greater sense of purpose and adventure in their life, the monk one day ventures off the well-maintained paths and comes across a robot. This comes as quite a shock, since the robots left the humans to fend for themselves after gaining self-awareness. If you ask me, that would be a really likely scenario. According to the robot, it’s time to check in with the humans, and to answer the question “what do people need?”.

This snack-sized novella asks some very interesting questions about purpose, needs and happiness. On top of that, you get that hopeful and comforting tone Becky Chambers is so good at.

5/5 Magpies

It has such a nice cover

These days I seem to be reviewing books either as “this wasn’t for me” or “holy shit, you have to read this”. I am sorry for every author whose work falls into the first category; I’m 92% certain it’s a case of “it’s me, not you”.

Along those lines, The Wood Be Queen wasn’t for me. Edward Cox’s novel was promoted during the Gollanz Fest earlier this year and I immediately requested a review copy. I was very happy when I got approved for an ARC, but this is where my happy reading experience stopped.

As I mentioned above, it’s a case of me. It took me felt ages to get into the story. I gave it several tries. The first 20-ish % that I read, and re-read, reminded me of Erin Morgenstern’s The Starless Sea. Though, where I stuck it out with Morgenstern’s book and actually re-read that one, I just couldn’t get into The Wood Bee Queen. The dialogues felt forced, the arrangement of the chapters/scenes felt weird, which is probably a feature not a bug. I kept wandering off, first in my head then physically by picking other books.

This book might be for you if you like meandering story lines that come together at the end. But more importantly, this book is for you if you are a much more patient person than I am and like to wait for the story to unfold rather than being plunged into the action from page one.

Edward Cox’s The Wood Bee Queen was published 10 June 2021.

2/5 Harpy Eagles

Quick Reviews – Aug ’21 – #2

Here are four NetGalley ARCs I managed to read during the last couple of weeks.

A Strange and Brilliant Light by Eli Lee, published 22 July 2021.

This is literary dystopian Sci-Fi. The author basically discusses the advantages and disadvantages of AI taking over our world. It’s interesting, but it was a very slow read for me, especially as I didn’t like any of the charcters.

2/5 Harpy Eagles

Betrayal on the Bowery by Kate Belli, publishing day 12 October 2021.

The story picks up right where book 1, Deception by Gaslight, ended. It’s New York in 1889, Daniel and Genevieve are thrown together to investigate the kidnapping of a debutante and are also working on solving the murder of two young society gentlemen. There is a haunted mansion, very dark places, and a connection to Daniel’s past.

3/5 Harpy Eagles

The Thunder Heist by Jed Herne, publishing day 19 October 2021.

The heist was good. The rest, not so much. There is lots of action going on, yet I’d have liked more fleshed out characters. Additionally, the MC got out of scrapes too conveniently; sometimes by purely changing the POV to a secondary character who happens to meet the MC after she made it out of the trap. That’s lame writing. I want to see/know how she did it.

2/5 Harpy Eagles

The Bookshop of Forgotten Dreams by Emily Blaine, published 18 June 2021; translated from French. TW: suicide!

Maxime is a really bad boy, he’s a young actor with anger management problems. He’s misogynistic and he doesn’t endear himself to the reader during the very first chapter. Sarah is the shy (and innocent) owner of a second hand bookshop in a rural area. Maxime, after beating someone up, has to do community service in Sarah’s bookshop. She changes him.

Nope! Not my kind of romantic story.

0/5 Harpy Eagles

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

Better late than never #2

As I had promised, felt eons ago, I’d catch up with some of the books recommended to me by my fellow sceptical readers. Fortunately, my son asked me for Sci-Fi books for his birthday. That prompted me to not only get recommendations, but also to buy books and eventually read the books myself.

The first book that I tackled was Skyward by Brandon Sanderson, published 06 November 2018.

Although this is a YA book with some of the usual YA tropes, I found it quite a refreshing read. No love triangle. Yeah!

The MC is your average-not-so-average girl. The setting is a space-flight academy, on a human inhabited world that is not Earth, where you’ve got your Malfoys and your Rons and… NOOO! Epiphany! We have Maverick and Goose and Iceman and… If you’ve seen Top Gun, you know what I mean. [Hell that’s it! To be honest, this ‘déjà-vu thing’ has been tickling my brain since I started reading the book and I just couldn’t remember until Top Gun popped into my head just now. Kinda dates me, right?] So, you get the picture: Teenagers, flight school, lots of competition, lots of pressure from higher ups, drop outs, danger, overblown egos, aliens, strange and not so strange fauna, and a space ship with a sassy AI.

You could certainly read it as a stand-alone, but I’m going to get book two of the series, Starsight, soon; book three, Cytonic will be out in late November 2021.

4/5 Harpy Eagles

The next book on my son’s birthday pile was/is Pierce Brown’s Red Rising, published 28 January 2014.

I think one of the first comments I made about this book was “yet another YA novel set in a school setting; I’ve identified the Malfoys already.” [See, that’s why I was thinking of Hogwarts.]

Darrow’s story, the MC of Red Rising, is not like Harry Potter’s. Although, him living in caves below Mars’ surface doing dangerous menial labour for scraps of food might be comparable to Harry’s cupboard-under-the-stairs-life with the Dursley’s. Might being the operative word. I digress. Darrow is a Red. The Reds are the first people on Mars trying to terraform Mars for all of humanity. What Darrow and his fellow Reds don’t know, Mars has been terraformed already and the Reds are slaves that make life for the other colour-coded members of society so much more better.

So, in order to bring about the downfall of the current society Katniss, sorry, I mean Darrow, has to die and get himself resurrected and physically and mentally enhanced to enter a life-or-death school for the upper echelons of society. In order to one day be powerful enough to destroy the caste system of colours. Before he can do that (in book two and three?) he has to go through Hunger Games meets Lord of the Flies.

As you might have guessed already, I wasn’t as enamoured with the book as lots of other people. I’ve said it before, maybe I’m getting too old or too cynic for YA. Or maybe YA has become so generic that the same-old, same-old bores me from page one.

2/5 Harpy Eagles

Lastly I opened Alastair Reynolds’ Revenger, published 15 September 2016.

Look at this cover. A black ship with black solar sails. It practically shouts Space Pirates.

I had heard lots of good about Reynolds’ writing. Revenger was recommended to me/my son by both TheLadyDuckOfDoom and TheMarquessMagpie. After Red Rising I was looking forward to an adult Sci-Fi with a non-school setting. Space pirates sounded perfect.

I opened the book and was confused from the start. The beginning reads steampunk-y in a space setting. We get to meet our YA (!!!) MC and her sister, who run from a social event, get their father’s last remaining piece of financial worth busted, believe a lady in a tent and sign themselves to a space ship captain as (apprentice) ‘bone readers’ in search of ‘baubles’ and ‘loot’.

Okayyyy?! This doesn’t make much sense, but it gets the story going. I do get my action. I’d love some explanations, though. What’s ‘baubles’? What’s a ‘bone reader’?

Piece by piece the things are not really explained in the next chapters. Instead I get more strange pirate-y words, clunky dialogue, an even stranger story of kidnapping, and … I gave up at around 47% of the book. I just couldn’t deal with this 17 year old know-it-all MC in a world full of dumb adults. [BTW, I got an explanation for ‘baubles’ reading the blurb on Goodreads just now when I looked up the publishing date for the book.]

What I took away from that first half of the book is that I got the impression Mr Reynolds didn’t care much for this story, or handed in a first draft that was mysteriously accepted by the publishers without any editing. I wanted to read an adult story. I got a book that read like a middle-grade with some blood splattered and a hint at horror.

1/5 Harpy Eagles

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