Daughters of Doubt and Eyerolling

Category: Audio Feedback Page 1 of 2

Break a Curse, or two, or three…

In order to properly review the third book in Brigid Kemmerer’s Cursebreaker series, I made my way through the first two books on audio.

  • Book 1: A Curse So Dark And Lonely, published 29 January, 2019.
  • Book 2: A Heart So Fierce And Broken, published 07 January, 2020.
  • Book 3: A Vow So Bold And Deadly, published 26 January, 2021.

Spoilers ahead! Though I am trying to not spoil too much of the stories.

A Curse So Dark And Lonely – the first book – is a Beauty and the Beast retelling with a twist. Prince Rhen was cursed to repeat the season of his eighteenth birthday until a girl/woman would fall in love with him. He was cursed by a sorceress, because she could not lure him into her trap and make him marry her after they spent one night together. More than three hundred seasons after the curse only Rhen and his personal guardsman Grey are left in the castle. This time Harper is the girl that’s supposed to fall in love with Rhen. Harper is from Washington DC, had a rough-ish upbringing and isn’t easily cowed by Rhen and Grey. This is what I most liked about the story. Harper does not swoon at the sight of a chiselled jaw, nor is she overly impressed by Rhen’s royal title. Instead she gives as good as she gets. For some time there was a hint at a possible love triangle with Grey, which, fortunately, turned out to be just friendship. Phew!

A Heart So Fierce And Broken – the second book – is more about Grey and what his live turns out to be following the end of book one. It’s interesting to see his character arc, and that of the people around him. But what happens in his part of the story, and in Emberfall and the surrounding kingdoms, was no big surprise to me, which made this a typical middle book.

Book 3, A Vow So Bold And Deadly, brings all the main players together onto one playing field. Eventually, some characters find out that talking some problems through might actually help solving them. [big eye-roll here] Of the three books this was certainly the most predictable in terms of outcome. Yet, there were a few twists that even redeemed book two. I’m still going so far as to say that book 2 and 3 could have been pulled together. This would have worked as a duology, too.

The audiobook narration of book 1 and 2 was good. Each character had it’s own narrator, which helped flesh them out some more. Some of the American English pronunciation of one particular character in A Heart was a bit grating to my ears, but that’s because I’m a snob.

If I had to pick a favourite from the series, it would be the first book, A Curse So Dark And Lonely, just because it had a new twist on the Beauty and the Beast retelling; the fierce female MC stayed strong to her character even when faced with a seemingly flawless prince.

On travelling the Continent

European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman by Theodora Goss, published 10 July 2018. The second book in “The Extraordinary Adventures of the Athena Club” series did not disappoint at all. If you’ve got the chance, get the audiobook version. (I’m going to rave about it further down.)

Let’s shortly recap [spoilers for book 1 ahead!]. The first book was about Mary Jekyll, daughter of the famous Dr Jekyll, who’s assisting Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson in solving the Whitechapel Murders. This leads to her finding out about the secret Alchemical Society her father was a member of; and she finds the daughter’s of other Gothic mad scientists: Diana Hyde (her half-sister), Justine Frankenstein, Catherine Moreau and Beatrice Rappaccini.

The second story picks up a short while after the ladies have settled in the Jekyll household, calling themselves the Athena Club. From a telegram, they learn that Lucinda Van Helsing has been kidnapped. Of course they have to rescue yet another daughter of a mad scientist from being experimented on. This time though, they have to travel to Vienna and Budapest for their rescue mission.

The story is told by Catherine Moreau, with lots of interjections throughout the writing process from the, sometimes bickering, young ladies and the household staff. It took me some time to get used to it in the first book, but I was actually looking forward to it in this second book.

Book 2 leaves us with a cliffhanger for the final story (really?) The Sinister Mystery of the Mesmerizing Girl, published in 2019. I’ve already added it to my TBR in the audiobook version, because s.b.

What I truly loved was the audiobook. The narrator, Kate Reading, does an amazing job with all the different characters’ voices, but much more with the languages involved. It was fun listening to this story, and should I ever meet Ms Reading in real life, I’ll have to bow to her. Especially because, as a native speaker of German, I have to say, she managed 99% of the German words accurately – not once did her German sound false. Neither did her French or Italian – I should not comment on the Hungarian and Latin, but I am fairly certain she did those well too.

In short, get the audiobook. It’s 24 hours long, but it’s fun to listen to.

Addition by LadyDuckOfDoom: I love this series! I’ve read all three books, and now I am jealous that I did now listen to the audiobooks.

Addition in response to LadyDuckOfDoom: But I’m fairly certain you’ve got the print editions on your shelf, which I don’t have. So we’re both jealous. I’m not going to punch you in the arm for it. And I hope you’re not going to kick me Diana-style under the table.

School of Monsters

Deadly Education by Naomi Novik, published 29 September 2020, had been on my radar for quite a while. After reading a few reviews, though, I was and wasn’t certain that I wanted to read the book.

What?! You don’t make sense, you might think right now. Well, I sometimes don’t. I’ll try to do my best to explain.

First off, as seems to be my general disclaimer these days, I haven’t read any previous work by Novik. Her book Uprooted was in my big box of surprises from Otherland, but I haven’t made time for it yet. Also, I’m very likely to reveal a few things about the story of Deadly Education – aka SPOILERS AHEAD!

Before diving into a book, I often read some reviews. (Bad habit? Spoils the fun?) I read a few of the glowing ones, which all gush about how clever the world-building is, how they love the main character, how ingenious the magic system and the Scholomance are, and how the readers can’t wait for the sequel. Things that normally put me off. Would have here too, if it wasn’t for the criticism.

After the rave comes the criticism; I move on to the reviews that are often long, detailed, and make me want to read the book to find out whether all the criticism is deserved, or make me not want to read the book at all.

In this case, it was one particular review that had an issue with Novik’s use of different languages and the portrayal of the speakers of these languages that made me want to read the book.

Was that particular reviewer correct? Yes, in part they were correct. Novik’s MC El often refers to other students by the language they speak or the enclave they come from. We have Arabic speaking kids, “the only Mandarin speaker”, kids from the Dubai enclave, kids from the New York enclave etc. Contrary to the reviewer who saw this as a flaw in Novik’s writing, I think this is part of El’s personality. She’s snarky. She’s been hurt before. She keeps a large moat and thick castle walls around herself for her own protection. Yes, she knows she should form alliances with other students, as this would ensure her survival. But it’s hard for her to overcome her inhibitions and open herself to others. Also, due to her magical affinity, which tends towards the ‘kill as many lifeforms as possible’, she cannot show off her magic without risking the lives of the people around her. Hence everyone thinks her either a maleficer or magically inept. That she has survived nearly three years of the Scholomance, a school that you either graduate from or literally die trying should tell her classmates enough about her abilities, but they don’t care.

Another reviewer commented that El’s being dirty would show how stereotypical Novik saw people of Indian heritage.

Well, El is of mixed heritage. Her mother is described as “an English rose” and her father was Indian. Her parents met at the Scholomance and her mother graduated three months pregnant, her father died trying to protect his beloved and their unborn child. Somewhere in the early chapters El remembers her childhood and another child comparing her skin colour to “weak tea”. There were a few more examples of people being racist towards El in the book. Still, the issue was, that El describes herself as dirty. Which is by no means a reflection of people with Desi background. It’s an honest observation based on El’s circumstances. If you don’t have any friends, or any alliances at the school, you can’t go and take a shower whenever you feel like it. You need someone to watch your back while you are in the shower. Otherwise the mals (short for maleficaria: the monsters) will creep up on you while you are at your most vulnerable. [They want to eat teenagers with magic to get the mana that lives in those teenagers. Teenagers are the more yummy snack, compared to aged magicians. Teenagers have more mana.]

Yet another reviewer had an issue with the “lockleeches”.

El explains that long hair is impractical. As a non-enclave student without friends or allies at the Scholomance you can’t shower regularly. You might not have brought a brush or a comb with you on your induction – the process of getting into school, which has very strict weight restrictions for luggage [worse than on-board luggage regulations for flights these days]. Without any grooming tools, your hair might mat together. This makes it easier for a certain type of leech to lay eggs in those “clumps of hair”. The hatched leeches then somehow end up in your brain and … don’t ask. Unfortunately, all that info-dump about the lockleeches came after El’s stream of consciousness narration mentioned that dreadlocks are the worst idea of hairstyle for a student at the Scholomance. Which, as you might guess, some people read as ‘people with dreadlocks have vermin infestations’. I did not understand it this way, but understand how this might have been misunderstood. Naomi Novik wrote an apology about this particular scene.

You’ve made to this part. Thank you! I feel honoured.

Here are my issues with the book.

  • To me El is a very unlikable character. She’s snarky, sarcastic, grouchy, and boasting about her abilities. Albeit, the latter only in her head. The former are all due to her life’s experiences. [I get a tick on my fictional Trope-Bingo chart.] Still, she knows she has to form alliances; better yet, friendships. On the pro side, El is insightful, intelligent and reflective. BUT, why then is she in no way curious about the prophecy her father’s grandmother made about her, or where her affinities for dark magic come from. The prophecy names El as the destroyer of all enclaves. Which caused her pacifistic paternal family to consider killing 5 year old El only hours after they first met her. Her dark powers have attracted mana-hungry mals even before El hit puberty. Is this unusual? Does El want to know?
  • To be able to form alliances, El must show her cards. When the perfect moment of showing off her power comes, she’s saved by the White Knight of the Scholomance, Orion Lake; son of a high-ranking official of the New York enclave (I still don’t have any idea what an enclave is, I’ll get to that in a bit). Villain? Love-Interest? Both? [Tick for handsome, privileged, white guy, who saves the damsel-not-in-distress and who seems to be the villain of the story.]
  • El, by the way, thinks of herself as the ugly duckling. And, as mentioned above, she’s often dirty and probably giving off a bit of BO. [Tick for ugly duckling.]
  • Although El thinks everyone has prejudices against her, she herself is not without that kind of flaw. She sorts people into nice little cliques, just like at highschool, only that here it’s sorting people by the languages they speak. It grated by halfway point. I’m repeating myself, she has to form an alliance and doesn’t even make an effort of getting to know her classmates. Only when she needs something form the other students does she start associating with them.
  • One more about El. Of course, at about the half-point of the story, El decides to save the younger students in the school by killing an unkillable mal all on her own, without any witnesses; and without killing any living being around. Quite the feat! And so predictable from the start.
  • Okay, world-building. The Scholomance is somewhere on Earth, but in a nook that is very close to the void. That’s where the monsters, excuse me mals, come from. That’s where enclave kids can draw dark mana from for spells, too? It is not quite clear. We are being told what the school looks like. But although the information dump is lightened by El’s snarky voice, it’s still information dump and with lots and lots of blanks to fill in yourself to boot. For example, I have absolutely no idea how the rooms look like, but I know that the school is a tiered structure with levels built on top of each other. In my mind it looks like a very depresssing concrete structure – actually, a bit like US prisons are depicted in films and series. (Apparently there is a map in the printed edition, but I listened to the audiobook, so no map.) I wish there had been a bit more fleshing out of the schools interior.
  • The magic system is equally explained and not explained. I’m not quite sure where the affinity for magic comes from, what enclaves are, and honestly tuned out of the explanations several times.
  • The Scholomance was built by powerful enclaves to protect their children from mals. Mals want mana and teenaged kids have the best to offer. Why do the mals want the mana? What do they do with it? Is mana like calories for humans?
  • By the way, I think having a different mal for each chapter is supposed to be a feature, not a bug. But it gives the story a bit of a Buffy the Vampire Slayer vibe.
  • And why are there no adults at the Scholomance? Can we please get an explanation for that?

Whoops! That got longer than I had planned. And I could add.

To cut this very long story short: The book ends with that trope-y scene where all the kids who were most unlikely to form an alliance, or friendships even, are hanging out together when a dire warning makes its way to the main character, leaving the audience begging for the sequel.

Well, I’m not begging. The story seemed to be missing a lot of things. It might be, because we look at the Scholomance through El’s eyes, who has been disenchanted since before she left her mother’s yurt in Wales. I wasn’t enamoured by the lauded writing either. There were passages that I had to go over a few times to really understand them, and that’s definitely not because English is not my mother tongue.

I will probably read the sequel, just to see what Novik created out of all the criticism and in which direction this story is going; but the sequel will not end up on top of my TBR.

Final words on the narration: the narrator, Anisha Dadia, does an excellent job. She makes El’s snark come to live nicely.

The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water

You may know Zen Cho from her books Sorcerer to the Crown, but with The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water, she proves that her writing also shines in a shorter novella form. And you can’t help but get interested with a beautiful title and cover like that.

The book follows Guet Imm, a votary of the titular order. She joins a group of bandits after being fired from her job in a coffee house because of a commotion one of the bandits started. While Guet Imm befriends the right-hand man of the group’s leader, trouble is on the horizon because of the items they are planning to sell. From the outset, you would expect something really action-packed. It starts with a martial arts fight scene, after all. But what you get is a warmhearted novella about a found family with strong themes of acceptance. Devotees of the order also have some tricks up their sleeves, and there may or may not be magic involved.

The audiobook was done really well, and it was easy to keep track of the characters. I think listening to it really added to my enjoyment of the story, as it provided an easier access to the Asian names for me.

Hell’s Librarian is a badass!

I managed to squeeze both of A.J. Hackwith’s Hell’s Libary books into this week. I listened to them, I confess.

Book 1: The Library of the Unwritten, published 01 Oct 2019.

The Library of the Unwritten had been on my radar for a while, but I wanted to wait until the second book was out before I started. It was well worth waiting a year before reading it.

This Urban Fantasy is mostly set in Hell, but also in Seattle, and some other realms of the dead. Hell has a huge library, where librarians serve as punishment for their sins in life. When an unwritten book escapes to Earth to haunt its author, the librarian, her apprentice and a newly arrived demon have to travel to Earth to bring the book back. At the same time, a scrap of the Bible of Hell arrives at the Pearly Gates, which prompts two angels to be dispatched to find the whole book and bring it to Heaven. Of course, all hell breaks loose when their paths, inevitably, cross.

The world-building is fabulous. Just the idea of a library in Hell, where all the unwritten books stay, need to be repaired over time, become restless, their characters becoming corporeal and wandering the aisles of shelves. Perfect. Add the different realms, based on different religions/pantheons.

Each chapter is told from a different character’s POV. This is well-balanced and allows the reader to get more familiar with the whole cast. May I say, I loved Claire the Head Librarian, and Hero, and Leto, but I might have just lost my heart to Walter. Must be a Pratchett thing. You’ll know when you read the book.

Book 2: The Archive of the Forgotten, published 06 Oct 2020.

The Archive of the Forgotten picks up a few months after the end of The Library of the Unwritten. Since anything I might write now could end up being a huge spoiler for the first book, I’m going to just say this. It’s just as good as the first book, it has new plot twists ready for you, it shows the characters growing, evolving and leaves you with a warm fuzzy feeling at the end. Not to mention, lots of ideas to possibly explore, because Hackwith has added a few more wings to the library.

The audiobook narration was good – it’s just, I hate it when a “library” turns into a “liberry”, but this might be due to listening to the audiobook on 1.75 times the normal speed.

Glaswegian Urban Fantasy

Ink & Sigil by Kevin Hearne, published 27 August 2020.

Why haven’t I read any Kevin Hearne before? This was pure Urban Fantasy fun set in Glasgow, Schottland.

Al(oysius) MacBharrais, Scottish sigil agent in his sixties, is the sort of protagonist you seldom read about. The widower and grandfather was cursed in his past, which makes him rely heavily on a text-to-speech app. He has a fancy moustache and defies most cliches about old people. He is the unicorn among UF main characters.

Al is down-to-earth normal. His interactions with his employees, servants, the fairy deities, trolls, other sigil agents, etc are wonderful. The banter is witty and made me chuckle more often that I expected on the outset. Especially the interaction between Al and his hobgoblin servant Buck are often hilarious.

The magic system of specialised sigils written in handmade inks using strange ingredients and special quills and fountain pens is a very inventive and well-thought out, and yet simple way to build this UF world.

The plot was a bit like some of Terry Pratchett’s books. There was some plot: finding who trafficks fairies and why & finding whoever cursed Al all those years ago, but it got dumped under a load of character introductions. Fine by me, since this is the first book in a new series and the characters need to be introduced.

I loved the accent in the dialogue of the book. What was even better was the audiobook! I got it before I was approved a review copy of the book after it was already published. The narrator, Luke Daniels, although an American, which shines through here and there (*cough* iron *cough*), did a very good job handling the different accents of the extensive cast of characters – e.g. Irish, Scottish, American, Australian, Spanish, Chinese, London.

Last bit, as an anglophile: Dear Kevin Hearne, if you know that a Brit says “flat” and an American “appartment”, why does your British/Scottish MC use the words “cell phone” and “subway station” instead of the British words “mobile phone” and “underground station”?

4/5 Goodreads stars

PS: Cowslip reminded me of Matt Haig’s Truthpixie.


TheLadyDuckOfDoom has since also read this book, and liked it very much, just like all the others (she has read everything else by Kevin Hearne). It was not perfect, but TheLadyDuckOfDoom was in a sad mood and could not really enjoy the jokes. But Al was a really enjoyable main character, I love that he is not 20-something and a superhero, but an older person with a lot going on. She’s really looking forward to the next book!

Vampires in the South

The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix, published 7 April 2020.

It was hailed as “Fried Green Tomatoes and Steel Magnolias meets Dracula,” a fitting description, I think. It’s a story about middle-class ladies from the US South, endlessly polite and tirelessly slaving away at home to make life easier for their husbands and children.

Did I say polite ladies? I did. Well, polite until you start messing with children, especially their children. Then the book club ladies forget all about their nice Southern manners and realise that their new neighbour is more than just very charming.

If you like your books bloody, with pop culture and some satire mixed with your horror, then read this book. Better yet, get the audiobook. It might take you a moment to get used to the Southern Drawl, but it adds to the atmosphere.

4/5 Goodreads stars

Let’s Swap!

The Switch by Beth O’Leary, published 16 April 2020.

Leena uses her forced two-month sabbatical to swap places with her 79-year old grandmother Eileen. Eileen moves to live in the shared flat in London, looking for love. Leena moves to live in the tiny Yorkshire village and tries to take care of all of Eileen’s projects.

This story of grief, loss, family, recovery, and love was so good, I couldn’t put it down. Or rather, I couldn’t take my headphones off. The dual narration by Daisy Edgar-Jones and Alison Steadman was the perfect accompaniment to the story.

I fell in love with the characters and felt for them throughout the book. They are real, down-to-earth characters that it was easy to root for.

If you loved Beth O’Leary’s Flatshare, read this. It’s definitely better than watching a whole series of Gilmore Girls, because it’s set in Britain. 😉

5/5 Goodreads stars

YA tropes in space

Aurora Burning by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff.

My buddyread with TheLadyDuckOfDoom of the second book in the Aurora Cycle turned out as expected, we were both rather underwhelmed. Is it Middle Book Syndrome again? Or is it just the two of us, who think that the plot twists were obvious from light-years away, they seemed to wave their disruptor rifles, too. The two of us might also just have consumed too much Sci-Fi in our lives? Let’s just say, the ideas weren’t new. Chapter 28, for example, came as no surprise to either of us.

Things we both rolled our eyes about were Tyler’s “dimples that can explode ovaries at thirty meters” – Oh, really, we’re in the 24th century and haven’t given up on this sort of sexism? Also very annoying, the casual racism against Kal. Again, 24th century, do we have to call him a “Pixieboy”? And if so, why doesn’t anyone call his sister a ‘Pixiegirl’?

That said, just because the plot took obvious turns and there were the usual YA problems and tropes woven into it, the writing was good. Jay Kristoff and Amie Kaufman clearly know how to spin a yarn, tell a story, and make you laugh at stupid jokes and clever banter.

As is often the case I listened to the audiobook while reading the book, the narration was excellent. Kudos to the narrators!

3/5 Goodreads stars

The Raven, the Wolf and the Cat – The Blood, the Swearing and the Smut

The Nevernight Chronicles: Nevernight, Godsgrave, and Darkdawn by Jay Kristoff.

My review might contain slight spoilers.

Having recently finished the last book in the Nevernight Chronicles, I thought it was time to review the whole trilogy – including the audiobook version, since I did immersive reading.

Nevernight, the first book, caught my attention with it’s first line, which someone had posted on social media. Despite my fears of falling short of the mark after that first line the story kept my attention, and its snark, throughout the book. The world-building is good and the characters are fleshed out nicely. Not to mention the writing! Holy Moly, Mr Kristoff knows how to put a good story to paper. After I had read a few chapters, I added the audiobook narration to my reading. I was afraid the footnotes had not made it into the audiobook, but fear not dear gentlefriend, they are in the audiobook too. 😉

I read Godsgrave, the second book, and Darkdawn back to back. Godsgrave seems to have suffered a bit under the Middle Book Syndrome. It was good, but predictable in parts. I was missing some major character development, apart from Mia doing a Deadpool: the cold-hearted bitch turned into a hero.

The last book, Darkdawn, had all the things I loved about the first book, especially some unexpected twists; and some twists that I expected, but which still managed to surprise me. It’s a good ending for the trilogy. Loose ends were tied up and I wasn’t left with a feeling of “I’d like to know more about …” at the end.

The audiobook narration by Holter Graham is spot on. Chapeaux! Especially for the fast paced action scenes, I might have sprained my tongue trying to speak this fast. BUT, why are there factual differences between the audiobook and my physical copies? A question that nobody has been able to answer so far. Also, why did the narrator pronounce some names differently in the third book?

Finally, I think this is only NOT a YA book, because of the swearing and explicit sex scenes throughout the book. Some people might argue the blood, gore and fight/slaughter scenes play a role, too. I’m putting it into the New Adult corner, because of the YA heroine, some typical YA tropes (love triangle, naivety, making unreasonable decisions), and all of the clever/cool banter that is typically found in YA novels.

As you can see from my Goodreads rating, not a bad read:

Nevernight 5/5

Godsgrave 4/5

Darkdawn 5/5

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