Daughters of Doubt and Eyerolling

Category: Buddyreads Page 1 of 4

U-Haul in space, and other catastrophes

Gallowglass by S. J. Morden was our January BuddyRead book.

Jack has it all. As the son of billionaires he has no worries other than his parents trying to force him to get treatments to become immortal. Who wouldn’t want to live an endless life full of riches?

Well, Jack doesn’t. So he comes up with a plan to flee from his parents’ home, from his country, from Earth. He has organised it all in secret. He even has a job ready. But when his parents cross his plans, he’s forced to join the crew of a ship that wants to haul a very large asteroid from the edge of the solar system to lunar orbit. He has the training, but no work experience, and this first job could easily become his last when obstacle upon obstacle unfolds.

The story has an underlying climate change agenda, but it’s so subtle, you need to really look for it. It basically gets swamped by all the trajectory calculations Jack has to perform. I liked the quotes about climate change at the beginning of each chapter though. Some of them were dating back as far as the 17th century, which indicate that the climate change we are facing now was predicted back then already.

January BuddyRead Reveal

The first BuddyRead of 2021 is Gallowglass by S.J. Morden, published 10 December 2020.

This book had been on my radar for a while, but since #MountARC has been very steep for a while, I didn’t request a review copy. Imagine my joy when I opened the BuddyRead package.

What interests me in the book? I’m sharing part of the blurb on the back:

Jack Van Der Veerden is on the run.

[…]

Seeking freedom out in space, he gets a job on a mining ship chasing down an asteroid. Crewed by mercenaries, misfits and failed revolutionaries, they all want a cut of the biggest payday in history. …

S.J. Morden, Gallowglass (blurb)

Yes, I also read the next part of the blurb, but that paragraph was enough information for me. I like stories with a crew of desperate members, each with their own goal.

Demons and Exorcists

Prosper’s Demon is a quirky short story/novella by KJ Parker, published 28 January 2020. We decided to read this story by a new-to-us author as a Buddyread to while away the time until our next buddy-book arrived.

The main character and unreliable narrator, a demon hunter/exorcist, takes us on a wild ride when he is facing off one of the 109 demons in his jurisdiction. A cunning tale which starts with a gripping first paragraph (s.b.), and will keep you on the edge of your seat, chuckling here and there, with it’s many twists and turns and double and triple crossings.

I woke to find her lying next to me, quite dead, with her throat torn out. The pillow was shiny and sodden with blood, like low-lying pasture after a week of heavy rain. The taste in my mouth was familiar, revolting, and unmistakable. I spat into my cupped hand: bright red. Oh, for crying out loud, I thought. Here we go again.

KJ Parker, Prosper’s Demon

If you are like the three of us, you’ll definitely want to dive into a whole book by this author afterwards. We have already decided to squeeze in Sixteen Ways To Defend A Walled City sometime this year.

Bone Shard Spoiler

We started this Buddyread of the The Bone Shard Daughter by Andrea Stewart in late December. All of us were really hyped for this book, and all of us were really underwhelmed by what we actually got. The book is marketed as an adult epic fantasy, which is simply the wrong stamp to put on it. We picked it up based on a twitter recommendation by a much loved author of us, and somehow we expected something glorious in the veins of Robin Hobb, Brandon Sanderson, or V.E. Schwab. Well, those expectations were disappointed for sure.

The magic system is incredibly mellow. So mellow, in fact, that it even breaks the few rules it sets itself. There are necromantic constructs defined by rules engraved into tiny boneshards that are contained within these constructs. The engraving idea is stolen straight out of Foundryside by the way. The constructs, the only barrier between the Island Empire and an ancient evil, can, of course, be outsmarted by anyone with half a brain. We nearly sprained our eyes while rolling them at that blunder.

The worldbuilding is full of holes, too. There are a ton of why’s, and they are not addressed at all. If you can swallow it all down, it might work for you. But what the fuck is Witstone? Not explained at all – personally, I figure it will be revealed in book II, but you get NO info whatsoever about this absolutely essential thing running the empire.

The above aside, it could all make an action-packed fantasy page-turner, except for two things: The multiple character PoV narration breaks up the action. Some of the characters feel forced, maybe they were added at a later editing point of the book. The thing that ruined my enjoyment though were the incredibly foreseeable plot twists. Seriously, not one “twist” was in any way something to gasp about. The biggest twist is literally spoiled in the title of the book. I always wonder if we read a different book from everyone else, because anyone who uses about 25% of their brain capacity would have seen everything that happened coming.

So… yeah. Disappointing. If you want a book where you don’t have to think, this could be for you, but for us it was the wrong decision. Can’t understand the hype at all.

Burning Roses Review

Our December Buddyread was Burning Roses by S.L. Huang and it once again confirmed my theory that you can never go wrong with a Tor novella.

If you are into fantasy retellings, this one delivers quite a lot of them in such a short form. Our main characters are Rosa and Hou Yi, both middle-aged and based on Red Riding Hood and the Archer. They embark on a quest, and on their way face themes of motherhood, belonging and redemption. I won’t tell you more about the plot, because that would spoil a big part of the book. I enjoyed seeing more experienced characters in this story, both of them with a fully fleshed out backstory. Amidst the flood of YA fantasy books, this felt like a breath of fresh air. Their life stories are told as adapted versions of well-known Brother Grimm tales and will please everyone ready for a fairy tale.

After getting a glimpse of Huang’s writing, Zero Sum Game has risen higher on the never ending TBR list.


TheRightHonourableHarpyEagle’s main reason why I found it hard to get into this book was that my grandmother’s name was Rosa. My mind kept inserting a picture of my grandmother, in her usual attire (a hooverette over a thin wollen pullover and a long pleated skirt, sensible brown leather shoes, and her hair in a tight bun), whenever the name Rosa came up. Hilarious when in combination with a gun in a fight scene, yet annoying. It has never bother me before, seeing the name of a family member in a book. Very strange. Add to that my usual struggles with fairy tale retellings. It’s definitely a problem of “it’s me”; it’s just not my cup of tea.

Worst book I’ve read this year award…

… goes, unfortunately, to The Poppy War by R. F. Kuang. For me. This is my opinion, and everyone else might have a different view on this. In this review, I will attempt to list the points that made the book such a bad read to me. [TheRightHonourableEagle has edited this post and added a few thoughts. These are not indicated individually, because they do not differ from TheLadyDuckOfDoom’s. They were added for shock-value. ;o)]

The book starts with an underdog character getting into a military school for the rich – nothing new here. The start was solid, but nothing special. Nothing wrong so far, just some tropes I got tired of: The rich bully making the life of the main character hell, the weird teacher, the tall and brooding hero a few years older.

The problems start with part 2 of the book. Rin, the main character, doesn’t really act according to her character. For the rest of this book, she acts like a petulant child, rather than the young, though trained, soldier she’s supposed to be. So, for the sake of the story, that can be annoying, but is manageable.

Still, the whole story feels forced. There is a sudden friendship/maybe romance between Rin and her former bully. That guy tried to kill her. Multiple times. For Rin, a person driven by emotions, this does not seem likely.

The whole part of the story, where Rin, her comrades, and the rest of the army are under siege feels rather unrealistic; and let’s not talk about the thing with the salt.

Then begins the story of torture and rape. Picturesque and gory to the bone, an ex-classmate of Rin, who also bullied her, is re-introduced for one scene only: Fallen far into a husk, she retells all the scenes of her and the other women’s rape, including how a baby was ripped out of a pregnant women with the bare hands of an officer. And, guess what, all this ex-classmate was good for was to tell about how she was raped. She was not a character at all, just a tool to show the cruelty of what the enemy soldiers did. In addition, the pages of torture and rape we are talking about are not just inspired by the Nanjing Massacre, no, the text reads almost the same as the Wikipedia article. Even if we are reading a work of fiction heavily inspired by history, this is a fantasy novel. I expect the author to at least try to write an individual version, citing resources in a reference at the end of the story, to tell people that this passage was inspired by an event that really happened. This feels like a copy of the article written just for shock value.

And now that your mouth hangs open, your tongue is dry in shock of what enemy forces can do to civilians, you turn the page and find Rin ogling the older brooding guy. It’s a scene mainly focusing on opium addiction, but, although Rin is reminded of something familiar by the smell in the room, what she immediately notices is that His Broodyness has no shirt on. At least the scene stays sombre, he is smoking opium and there is no sexual tension, but I/we really stumbled over the no-shirt thingy.

Opium brings me to the next point that is highly problematic for me. Drugs are somewhat lauded in this book, but I don’t know if the writer has knowledge about how addiction works. There is a former heroin addict who never gave up on drugs, just goes from heavy drug addict to smoking opium once a month. Heavily addicted people become a husk of themselves pretty soon, and heroin is a drug that causes bodily addiction, so going so long without a hit just does not work without repercussions. Furthermore, Rin herself, who has never been on drugs before, is administered shot of heroin to the vein in her neck and falls into a hallucinating trance right away. It’s highly unbelievable that you just get into a trance this way, communing with the gods. [We are not willing to test this theory, though!]

By the way, Rin is the child of a drug-dealing family and did deliveries for them. She has seen addiction in all stages, so I guess it is only natural to just start smoking opium heavily. What could possibly go wrong? It’s for educational purposes. Or was it for the sake of the whole nation? [sarcasm]

On top, in the history of this fictional world, the Empire made an entire people addicted to opium. AN ENTIRE PEOPLE! Because, of course, everyone there is the same, that’s how humans work right? Because if everyone of them is in constant pain and mentally imbalanced, everyone will turn to drugs. Which leads to the overall problems of the book.

The book is incredibly dehumanizing in some cases. Every enemy soldier a monster, and one can feel hate seeping through the pages. This goes so far that soldiers of the Empire wonder how these enemy forces might look like and whether they actually want to see the face of their enemies.

A whole people is addicted to a drug, a whole people does this, does that. Prejudice much? A tiny paragraph at the end that tells us “Yes, they are people, too” just is not enough for me.

Fantasy and science fiction are, in my opinion, genres to explore beyond borders, borders of countries, peoples, stars and also beyond the borders of hate. I could not find this in this book. I really tried, and this book utterly failed in this regard.

We, the Sceptres, have been wondering whether we read a different book from every other reader who raved about this book. The story went from 3-star trope-y Young Adult downhill to a 0.5-star drug glorifying gore-fest. We won’t bother reading the other two books in the trilogy.

Burning Roses – Buddyread Reveal

The Sceptre Buddyread selected from the trusted booksellers at Otherland is S.L. Huang’s Burning Roses, published 29 September 2020.

To me, this came as a total surprise. Not only had I been looking at lists of books published at the end of November or in early December, but I hadn’t heard the name of the author before. My bad, definitely. My fellow Sceptres reminded me of other books by Ms Huang, like Zero Sum Game, which I have, obviously, missed out on, too.

So, we’ll be diving into a story where a middle-aged Little Red Riding Hood and middle-aged Archer go on a quest together. Sounds perfect for the time before Christmas. The book has about 150 pages, so we’ll probably fly through it in no time. We’re starting with Part 1 next Monday, December 7th that is. If you’d like to join the buddyread, leave a comment. You’ve already read the book? Great, tell us about it in the comments, spoiler free please.

Bell, Blade and …

… a thunderhead cloud. I just couldn’t find an alliteration for that.

During the last months I read The Arc of a Scythe trilogy by Neal Shusterman with my son. We both liked it very much.

It’s set in a future, where death has been erased from humankind. Any information on Earth is stored in a large cloud computer, the Thunderhead, who is not only a storage device, but also some sort of benevolent Big Brother watching out for you at all times.

Immortality comes with a caveat though. Overpopulation would be an issue if no one ever died, so Scythes -trained and ordained deathbringers- have to glean people (aka kill for good) to even out the numbers.

We follow a young woman, Citra, and a young man, Rowan, into their apprenticeship under Scythe Faraday. It’s tiresome and trying to learn all the ins and outs of the Scythedom, and only one of the two can become a Scythe at the end of their year of apprenticeship; the other has to be gleaned. Citra and Rowan make it through this first year, which is action packed with actual murder, discovering how crooked the Scythedom really is and trying to set everything to rights. Which will, of course, lead us into books two and three that I am not going to write anything about to avoid spoiling the story.

Let me just tell you, there are a few WTF moments, there are a few twists you might have seen coming, but the final resolution of the story is well-made. What I especially liked is that although it is a Young Adult novel we don’t see the usual tropes of love triangles and pining and every decision being judged through rose tinted glasses. It’s a story that is action packed, has it’s funny moments and definitely makes you think about immortality and what it might mean for humankind.


The Lady Duck of Doom totally agrees with this review. It was a really well crafted YA novel, avoiding the common pitfalls and cutting surprisingly deep into the abyss of humanity.

It’s that time of the month…

…when I’m wondering why I have so much Christmas decoration that I cannot put up because of the cats.

Have you ever tried having a lovely looking book tree with tinsel and fairy lights with two nosy cats? I have, last year. Ended in disaster for the tinsel and fairy lights, luckily the books escaped without much harm. This year, I had the idea of creating a Jolabokaflod book tree. If you are not familiar with the term Jolabokaflod, it’s Icelandic for Christmas book flood. The Icelandic tradition is to give and receive lots of books on Christmas Eve (that’s the brief version). So, my Plan -with a capital P- is to wrap all of the books that I have for the kids, and for myself, and put up a book tree. I’ll forego the tinsel and lights this time; better safe than sorry. What is keeping me from doing this? The amount of books I’d have to wrap. It’s somewhere around 50 or 60, I think. (Yes, I went all out.) Also, the time that goes into wrapping all those books, I would rather be reading!

I’d best be procrastinating by telling you about whether I have planned any reading for December? But first, did I get any reading done in November?

November seemed like a slow month for me, maybe it’s because I did not read twenty or more books. I’ve read/listened to The Broken Earth trilogy by N.K. Jemisin. I’ve read, and partly re-read and buddyread with my son, The Scythe trilogy by Neal Shusterman; review to come. There were a few juicy romance novels in November, which I totally blame on the foggy weather. I skimmed along the Sceptre Buddyread, The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow. We, that is the Sceptres, also read R.F. Kuang’s The Poppy War together; a review is forthcoming. I’ve managed to read a few ARCs off my NetGalley shelf, gave feedback on two beta-reads, and I read a lot of chapters from different books to my daughter.

In December I plan to read that slim volume of Twelve Angry Men by Reginald Rose for my postal book club. There is the Sceptre Buddyread, which is lying right next to me, but since TheMarquessMagpie and TheLadyDuckOfDoom haven’t got their books yet, I am keeping mum about the title. [ETA: they both got their copies, we all know what the title is; you’ll find out in our title reveal post] There will, of course, be more books to read, but I don’t know what I will pick at this moment. There will be ARCs, that’s for sure, there might be some books that have collected actual and virtual dust over the past months/years. I’ll tell you in January.

For now I am off. There are books to be wrapped, tinsel to be stuffed into a cat prove box, biscuit dough to be prepared. I’ll put on an audiobook to entertain me, can’t waste precious reading time on listening to the ticking of the clock.

Once there were three witches

The Once and Future Witches by Alix Harrow, publishing date October 15, 2020.

After reading The Ten Thousand Doors of January, I was happy to be approved for the ARC for Alix Harrow’s next book. A book about witches.

Yet, it is so much more than just about witches. Set in 1883, in New Salem, a town a few miles away from Old Salem, which was burned down in the witch trials about a hundred years ago. Women are fighting for the right to vote. And three sisters need to get to grips with their past and survive the present to allow a future for strong women and witchcraft.

Apart from (feminist) witches and devious witch hunters, this book contains badass librarians, sisters and Sisters, powerful depictions of birth and motherhood, and a gorgeous cover.

The prose is excellent. This is why the rather slow parts in the story are still a pleasure to read. Still, at about 60% of the story I was wondering what else might be coming, I thought everything had been said by then. I was wrong, obviously.

4/5 Goodreads stars


The Once & Future Witches was also our Buddyread this month, picked by our most trusted bookshop, Otherland. TheRightHonorableHarpyEagle skipped along a second time, while TheMarquessMagpie and TheLadyDuckOfDoom discovered the magical story of the three sisters. Here is what we think:

TheMarquessMagpie was very much in awe of the writing style. It felt like fairytales came alive, some of them old, some of them new, all of them feeling like a warm blanket on a cold day. She felt part of the family, one of the sisters herself. There was longing, to be one of the future witches and to believe her familiar is out there, waiting in the dark with red burning eyes until she is ready.

TheLadyDuckOfDoom fell in love with the book, sometimes every page all over again. She especially loved the part on page 399 – 401, which her imagination wants to paint rather badly. It’s the part where old meets new, and no further spoilers will be heard from her, because she loved every part of the story deeply and will not take anything away from potential readers.

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