Daughters of Doubt and Eyerolling

Category: Hidden Gems

Urban Fantasy, not only for kids

The Identity Thief (The God Machine #1) by Alex Bryant, published February 29th, 2020.

This is a middle-grade or tween Urban Fantasy Adventure I’m glad I didn’t miss out on. It was well-written and well-plotted and, although targeted at the considerably younger than me audience, it wasn’t boring or patronising its readers. There is nothing worse than having the feeling the author has to explain everything because they think their audience is made up of rather uninformed (aka dumb) 12 year-olds.

The villain of the story is a person called the Cuttlefish, who is stealing magical books. Although stealing books seems pretty harmless, Cuttlefish goes to extreme lengths to get the full set of magical books, he’s stealing identities and nixing people all over Britain.

The heroine – okay, let’s say main character – is Cassandra ‘Cass’ Drake, 12 y/o. She lives with her mother near London’s famous Highgate Cemetery, where her father has been buried. Cass is a typical tween, seeking approval from her friends she can be quite unfriendly towards the new boy Hector, whom she met at the cemetery.

Hector and his mother live in an old mansion house, with Greek writing over the door. He’s trying to become Cass’s friend, but Cass is mortified by the idea, because her posse might find out. Hector being prone to seizures and socially awkward doesn’t help him making friends either.

For most part of the book we have two story-lines. There’s Cass and her friends, Hector, school, her mother, Hector’s mother – and lots of pre-teen drama. Bear with it, trust me. And then there’s Cuttlefish’s story, him stealing identities and books, for a reason we don’t know for a very long time. When the paths eventually cross, lots of stuff makes sense and the rest of the story is even more of a blast.

The magic system is based in ancient Greek, which makes people with Greek roots, like Hector and his mother, likely users of magic and therefore suspicious. Maybe that’s why Cass’s mother, a police officer in the special branch for magical policing, is so keen on befriending the family?

The story is full of twists and turns. To not overload the reader with lots of explanations the chapters are interspersed with pictures, notes, and newspaper clippings. This helps avoiding information dump. The Urban Fantasy setting, the humour, the slightly dark themes surrounding Cuttlefish reminded me of Landy’s Skulduggery Pleasant.

I am looking forward to the next book in this series.

The Greek Mythology Fanfiction You Need

This is a public service announcement for anyone who – like me – has listened to Stephen Fry’s Greek Mythology books Mythos and Heroes multiple times and needs more while waiting for the release of Troy.

Some weeks ago I fell down a Goodreads rabbit hole and discovered Lore Olympus, a WEBTOON comic by Rachel Smythe. I’m usually not a big fan of romance stories, but you have probably never seen anyone tear through more than one hundred episodes as fast as I did.

It is a fun way to scratch that Greek mythology itch, although it does not strictly follow the original lore. I enjoyed the different take on Persephone and Hades’ story that manages without abduction and Stockholm syndrome. There are still some triggers, but there are always warnings in place if you prefer to skip those scenes. In the later episodes, trauma and grief are handled in a very delicate way.

While life on Earth takes place in the time of Ancient Greece, everything on Olympus is very modern – think smartphones, night clubs and Gods driving sparkling sports cars. It makes for a very entertaining contrast. I could go on and on about how I love to see all those mythological personalities portrayed in a very human way. Persephone and Hades have such a sweet dynamic, Hermes is the buddy we all need and a certain someone will forever be Asspollo in my mind. No, that’s not a typo.

Season 1 is done and the next season starts on August 2. So if I got you interested, right now would be the perfect time to jump on the bandwagon and start with episode 1.

New World Sourdough

New World Sourdough by Bryan Ford, published by Quarry Books on 16 June 2020.

There are books that make my knees weak, New World Sourdough is one of them. Why? Well, it’s about baking. To be precise, it’s about baking bread. If you thought that the Romance or Sci-Fi aisle in the bookshop would turn me into a roaring book dragon, you should see this Harpy Eagle in the baking section. I love cookbooks, mais j’adore les livres pâtisserie.

Bryan Ford’s goal is to make baking bread more natural, to enjoy the process of creating your own loafs as well as the flavours of the finished product. He takes you through the steps of preparing your sourdough starter, proofing and baking your bread. Each recipe that follows the basic instructions part is explained in detailed steps, including how to prepare the starter for this specific bread.

There are recipes for rustic breads like Olive and Parmesan Bread and Ciabatta and Pretzel Buns and Pizza Dough; and recipes for enriched breads like Pan de Coco and Brioche and Bananas Foster and Pineapple Beignets, and so many more recipes in between those mentioned here.

Before I am salivating into the keyboard, I’m going to close this now. Let me just tell you, I ordered a copy of the book when I was about halfway through the proofing your bread section, which means I hadn’t even read the actual recipes yet. The book is in high demand at the moment, but that means I’ll get a freshly printed copy in a few weeks, which I intend to break in by making the flambé version of the Bananas Foster.

5/5 Goodreads stars

May Buddy Read: If it Bleeds

If it Bleeds by Stephen King was the Sceptre May buddy read. Fetching the envelope with the yet secret book from the mailbox, I remember thinking, ‘Well, it can’t be a King, it’s too slim’. I laughed so hard when I opened the brown paper envelope a few minutes later.

Not having read a Stephen King book for ages, only partly Mr King’s fault (I wasn’t a big fan of The Dark Tower), I was a bit hesitant to start these novellas. Only a few pages into the first story I was hooked though. There was something about the writing, it felt like coming home to a favourite book. (Why did I put Mr King off for so long?) And the plots reminded me of The X-Files; a bit creepy, but nothing too scary.

There’s “Mr Hannigan’s Phone”, a story about a young boy who still gets messages from his former employer’s phone long after Mr Hannigan and his phone were buried. There’s “The Life of Chuck”, a story told in reverse chronology, from Chuck on his deathbed to Chuck’s childhood. Then the story about a writer with writer’s block who strikes a deal with the dev… “Rat” which allows him to finish his novel, but at what costs? And, of course, the title story, “If It Bleeds”. It’s basically a sequel to The Outsider starring Holly Gibney, who sees beyond some facial hair and smells a rat.

My favourite story? Can’t say exactly. I liked all of them for different reasons. “If It Bleeds” put Mr Mercedes and The Outsider on my reading list. “The Life of Chuck” was interesting because of the unusual timeline. “Mr Hannigan’s Phone” made me wonder who I might be able to reach with that ancient iPhone I keep in one of my drawers. “Rat” spoke to me, because I’ve had to battle writer’s block before, worst was staring at the blank page when I tried to write my MA thesis. Though that was not the main reason, it reminded me of one of my favourite childhood books, Jules Ratte. A story about a girl who finds a very intelligent, speaking rat and keeps it as a pet. She’s taking it to school too, so the rat can help her cheat on her tests.

Since I tend to read everything a book has to offer, yes truly everything from the copyright page to the acknowledgements, I must say that the best part of the book was the Author’s Note. That’s just be though, you might like a different part of the book best.

4/5 Goodreads stars

The Savage Beauty of American Hippo

I heard about Sarah Gailey’s novella River of Teeth on a podcast and its premise was so weird that I could not help but get this hippo western collection. Yes, you read that correctly. Hippo western. That should be enough to get everyone’s attention.

American Hippo collects two connected novellas – River of Teeth and Taste of Marrow – and adds two new stories. Usually I’m not a big fan of supplementary stories and tend to skip them, but I read everything back to back.

Gailey based the stories on a mind-boggling fact. In the early twentieth century, the US congress considered hippo ranching as a way to counter a meat shortage and at the same time get rid of water hyacinth that was clogging the waterways. Two birds, one stone. They didn’t follow through, but Sarah Gailey shows what could have happened if they did. Most of the consequences boil down to feral scary hippos biting people in half.

The overall story-line is about betrayal, revenge, cons, gunslingers and explosions – the kind of fun and fast paced romp you might expect from a western adventure. Well, if you replace horses with hippos.

But what really had an impact on me was the highly diverse and morally grey crew of characters. Every one of them feels fully fleshed out without the need to punch you in the face with all the labels. The focus is almost entirely on the skills of each individual character, the fact that they are for example genderqueer or obese is handled in a very accepting and insightful way. To top it off, even the hippo companions get their own character traits and you get a good sense of the relationships between the animals and their riders. Considering the fact that everything in this 5-star-read (at least for me) is packed into less than 300 pages, Sarah Gailey immediately became one of the authors I keep on my release radar.

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