Daughters of Doubt and Eyerolling

Tag: sci-fi Page 1 of 8

Quick ARC Reviews – November 2022

If This Book Exists, You’re In The Wrong Universe, by Jason Pargin.

This is the fourth book in the John Dies at the End series. All the other books in the series were written under Pargin's pen name David Wong, who is also the main character of the stories. 

Like the three other books in this series, this book can be read as a standalone. Reading the other books in the series, in order or not, won’t help with that feeling of “what the … am I reading here?” It's a bonkers wild ride with aliens and magical soy sauce and parasites and a magical egg that demands human sacrifices and ...

In other words, a novel where you have to trust that the author knows what they were doing and go with the flow. 

4/5 Harpy Eagles


The Conductors (Murder and Magic book 1) by Nicole Glover, published 02 March 2021.

I liked the idea of the story, Underground Railroad conductors turned detectives, and there is magic involved. Sadly, I didn’t like the way the story was told. 

Too many characters are introduced at the beginning of the story and they all lacked backstory, so keeping up with who was who was difficult. 

The magic system is not well explained. It’s not clear what makes a magic holder and how exactly the magic works. All I understood was that constellations are used as sigils and those make up a spell. 

The mystery is interesting, but since there was too much telling, via dialogue between the two main characters Hetty and Benjy, it was not very engaging. 

This speculative fiction woven into a historical fiction story was not for me. Still, I am hoping the next books in the series are better. 

3/5 Harpy Eagles


The Immortality Thief by Taran Hunt, published 11 October 2022.

This is the story of that quirky side-character who seems to always stumble into situations without ever having had the ambition to be a hero. Alas, he's about to become the hero he never wanted to be and here is his story. 

There is a thousand year old space ship about to be sucked into a supernova. Sean Wren, refugee, criminal, linguist, and FTL pilot, and two other felons are offered a pardon when they rescue important data about the Philosopher's Stone from the space ship before it goes up in flames. What's supposed to be a quick job soon turns into alien encounters, sociopolitical debates and a rather predictable outcome. 

I liked the short chapters and the chapter titles. I did not enjoy the 600+ pages of the book. The story could have been told in half the page-count. 

3/5 Harpy Eagles


Legends & Lattes by Travis Baldree, first published 22 February 2022, US publication 10 November 2022.

TheMarquessMagpie wrote a wonderful review about this book earlier this year. You can find it here. I agree wholeheartedly. 

This book is like a hot mug of coffee and a warm cinnamon roll on a blustery autumn day. Simply delicious, heart-warming soul-food. 

5/5 Harpy Eagles

Half-thought through

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.

2/5 Harpy Eagles

That’s how it ends?

The third and last book in the Scholomance trilogy, The Golden Enclaves, by Naomi Novik was published 27 September, 2022.

The first two books in the series weren’t as bad as I had originally thought. Meaning, I had expected YA dark academia romance, but in fact it was actually more dark academia than romance.

Book three on the other hand, was not the conclusion I had hoped it would be; El taking down the large and rich enclaves and offering save havens for all magical families.

[The following might contain spoilers.]

While her main objective is to open Golden Enclaves, El travels the world with her tiny entourage of allies to, find Orion whom she suspects isn’t dead after all. In her grief for Orion, El acts very out of character, for example she hooks up with Liesel, whom she neither likes nor trusts. Then, once she’s found Orion and rescued him from the dark edge he seems to be balancing on, she sends him back to his mother, fully knowing this is the worst idea ever.

The ending of the story is very “Elizabeth Swan & Will Turner”. El and Orion stay together, but apart from each other. El is opening Golden Enclaves all over the world and hunting maw-mouths, while Orion keeps the Scholomance free of mals.

The whole plot seemed as if it was thought up on a napkin after having watched a few films and played a few video games. El levels up with every stop on her journey and she acquires tools that help her in her final “boss-fight”. It all ends on a slightly high note by telling the reader that El and Orion are together after all and that Liesel was just a fluke to help El feel good in her body.

I’m not sure what I had expected, but it wasn’t this.

PS: El is from Great Britain, but her language is definitely American English. She uses Americanisms so often that I actually wondered why Novik gave her a British background.

1/5 Harpy Eagles

Quick Reviews – September 2022

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. 

3/5 Harpy Eagles

Quick Reviews – August 2022

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. 

2.75/5 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

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)

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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