Sceptical Reading

Daughters of Doubt and Eyerolling

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.

Sword of Destiny

Sword of Destiny is the second short story collection I’ve read in the The Witcher series by Andrzej Sapkowski. Not the second in general though – that would be Season of Storms, which I have somehow managed to skip. No need to worry though, I already ordered it.

At first, it was hard for me to get back into the world, and to build a connection with the characters. Well, considering I skipped a book it kind of makes sense. But after the first two stories, I was completely engaged and the book became a page turner. The recurring presence of mainly Yennefer, Dandelion and Ciri connected the stories much better than in The Last Wish, the first story collection set in the universe. While scenes with Ciri are quite emotional (for the reader, for Geralt not so much), scenes with Yennefer give food for thoughts on morale and determination. And every scene with Dandelion is basically a lot of fun. It felt like the focus for this installment shifted from monster-slaying to character development and it worked out really well.

Since the books were originally written in Polish, I decided to pick up the German translations and can highly recommend them. Erik Simon did a really good job. I’m now eagerly awaiting Season of Storms to finish the short stories. After that, it will be interesting to see if the novels also work that well for me.

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.

Just imagine London was French

Natasha Pulley’s fourth novel The Kingdoms, publishing day 27 May 2021, is an alternate history/time travel story set between the French Revolution and the early 20th century [I’m being vague on purpose]. The French won the Napoleonic Wars and Britain is under French rule; that might need a moment to sink in, take your time.

Our MC Joe arrives in a London that is familiar to him and is not. He’s lost his memories. He’s certain though that his wife’s name is ‘Madeleine’ and he has dreamlike memories of a man standing by the sea waiting for him. Due to his amnesia, he spends a few days in hospital until his owner and his wife Alice take him home. To a home and a life he cannot remember. He slowly adjusts to this new-to-him life and starts a family with Alice. When, some years after his arrival in London, Joe’s being sent to stay at a lighthouse in the northwest of Scotland for a winter, Joe knows that not seeing his young daughter for several months will have an impact on both their lives. He could not fathom how big this impact might actually turn out to be.

Pulley’s writing is excellent. I highlighted quite a lot of very apt descriptions in my eARC. My favourite, which I’ve already shared on Twitter and hope will make it into the final version of the book, was when Joe watched sailors pulling up the anchor chain of a ship, where one tiny slip might cause a fatal accident:

… his [Joe’s] teeth itched with the sense of potential energy.

Natasha Pulley, The Kingdoms

The chapters are mainly told following Joe, but we also get flashbacks to other major character’s pasts. This might be a little confusing at first, but each “jump” in time is labelled at the beginning of the chapter. I thought it was handled very well and easy to follow, but I love a good time travel story with twists and turns [Tenet did not give me a headache at all].

The story’s based on the so-called grandfather paradox of time travel. You know, will you still be alive if you travel back in time and kill your own grandfather before your parent is even conceived? That is, will changes made by your being in the past have an influence on your present/future? [Should you like research rabbit holes as much as I do, here’s a nifty Wikipedia article for you: Grandfather Paradox.]

What’s left to say? I’m looking forward to holding a print copy of this book in my hands. I’m actually hoping I can pre-order a signed copy and re-read the story by the fireside at the next Gladstone’s Library reading retreat that was cancelled twice in 2020 due to ‘the-virus-that-shall-not-be-named’.

Mercy in Pain

The Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargrave was my first finished book of this year and it was a really good one. It is a historical fiction novel set in the small island town of Vardø, Norway, and is based on the real event of a sea storm in 1617 which killed most of the male population while they were out fishing. While this event alone could make for a really interesting story, it is the witch trials – the first in Norway – following the storm that make this book a hard but rewarding read.

The story follows two main characters. One of them is Maren, who had to witness the death of her father, brother and betrothed during the storm. We follow her struggles as she has to adapt to the new life with the rest of the women of Vardø. While still coming to terms with the trauma of losing so many people, they have to fend for themselves in order to stay alive. The second point of view is that of Ursula, wife of the new comissioner coming to Vardø. He is supposed to assist the appointed minister to keep the women on a tighter leash.

The comissioner’s arrival deepens a divide that has begun to emerge between the women. There are the kirke-women, going to church and praying and focusing on womanly and godly behavior – and there are the rest of the women, taking on “male” tasks like fishing to keep the community alive. Maren faces the divide even in her own home, as she is left with her mother, her sister-in-law and her newborn nephew. While her mother leans more and more toward the company of the kirke-women, her sister-in-law is one of the native Sámi people which are increasingly suspected of witchcraft due to their rites and rituals.

Ursula has come to Vardø trapped in her loveless marriage to the cruel commissioner. On her way from Bergen, she envisioned a place of sisterhood to help her through her loneliness. She finds a safe haven in her growing bond with Maren, while around them conflicts are growing and finally erupting.

The writing is wonderful and lyrical, capturing the harsh setting while still providing sources of light and hope. Although this is a historical fiction novel, the tone and style reminded me a bit of last year’s buddyread of The Once and Future Witches.

While the beginning and the end of the book are really fast paced, the middle is more character-driven to illustrate the connection developing between Ursula and Maren. The difference in pacing gives the feeling that the middle drags a little, but I still enjoyed seeing the relationship between the two women grow. The commissioner is a character that fills you with dread right from the outset, and the feeling grows the more you get to know about him. Religion is once again used as a tool of oppression here. Especially in the unfolding of the conflicts you really start to question how people really could believe all the accusations thrown at the supposed witches.

Please be gentle, 2021

We all can agree that 2020 was… well, let’s say challenging for all of us. I wonder what this year has in store, but taking a bookish look at it is a sure way to get our hopes up. So, here we go.

I am sure our monthly Buddyreads picked by the Otherland staff will continue to be a source of joy and lead to interesting discussions with my fellow Sceptres. The next Buddyread delivery will be accompanied by some other books I ordered, so the year is off to a good start.

Usually I’m not really good at keeping track of new releases, but there are some I am really excited about:

  • Jade Legacy by Fonda Lee
  • two new Becky Chambers books, the fourth Wayfarer book will even get here as a signed preorder thanks to TheLadyDuckOfDoom
  • Broken by Jenny Lawson
  • Across the Green Grass Fields by Seanan McGuire
  • The Echo Wife by Sarah Gailey

Apart from that, there are a couple of books already waiting on my shelves that I finally want to get to:

  • Dark Age by Pierce Brown – I excitedly preordered a signed edition back in 2019 and it has been waiting for me ever since
  • Assassin’s Quest by Robin Hobb, to finish the Farseer trilogy
  • 5 (!) books by V.E. Schwab
  • Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn trilogy and Warbreaker
  • The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin – also signed, also silently judging me from its place on the shelf

As always and against my better judgement, I also get really excited about reading challenges at the beginning of the year. The Goodreads challenge is the only I’ve really stuck with in the last couple of years, but I always take a look at Book Riot’s Read Harder Challenge and the Popsugar Reading Challenge. I usually plan books for most of the categories in January and forget all about them by April at the latest. But still, the planning is a whole lot of fun.

To a bookish 2021

2020 really sucked. One of the only good things that happened was starting the Buddyread group and the resulting book blog. So let’s just leave the rest behind and have a look at all the great books waiting for us this year.

Our Buddyreads chosen by Otherland (the best bookshop here in Germany) will, of course, continue. They have been a delight last year and I would bet my favourite pair of socks (there are ducks on them) that they will continue to pick fantastic, thought-provoking books.

There are a ton of books I already look forward to. Let’s start with some new releases of 2021. Maybe we will open my ever-growing TBR shelf in a later post.

The first book I really look forward to is Across the Green Grass Fields by Seanan McGuire, the 6th release of the Wayward Children Series. These novellas are so beautiful and will resonate with those who ever felt lost on this world. Publishing date is 12th January, so I won’t have to wait long.

Next up is The Galaxy, and the Ground Within by Becky Chambers. I love the Wayfarers series, and even ordered a signed HC for me and the Marquess. I am still angry that there is no German audiobook, because I keep talking to my love how awesome these books are – and audiobooks are what works for him. The release is on 16th February. Maybe I can get a whole year filled with a new release each month in this article?

March will end with the release of Rule of Wolves by Leigh Bardugo, second in the King of Scars Duology. If you have not read anything in the Grishaverse yet, maybe do it soon, the Netflix adaption is on the horizon.

Whatever else happens in April, it will be overshadowed by the release of the next Murderbot installment, Fugitive Telemetry by Martha Wells on 27th. Everyone loves Murderbot.

There will be a lot of releases in May, but I’m particularly intrigued by Son of the Storm by Suyi Davies Okungbowa, released on 11th. The blurb sounds fantastic, so I really can’t wait to get my hands on it.

My to-buy list of new books is already overflowing, and June will only pile more on top. The Jasmine Throne by Tasha Suri, published on June 10th, is one of the books I will definitely get on release day. It is the start of a new fantasy trilogy inspired by the history and epics of India, and features morally grey characters.

July has another Becky Chambers coming up: A Psalm for the Wild-Built, released on July 13th. A new series of novellas, and I hope Becky Chambers will continue her unique hopepunk style in a new setting.

On August 24th The Thousand Eyes, book 2 in The Serpent Gates series by A.K. Larkwood, will be released. I haven’t read book 1 yet (it’s staring at me from my shelf), but I will. Soon.

September has the heavily anticipated release of Empire of the Vampire by Jay Kristoff on the 7th. He seems to be really proud of this novel, and while I was not a total fan of his last books, I will pick this one up with an open mindset.

As of right now the announced releases are looking scarce for the year’s later months, but I bet they will be filled with a whole ton of awesome books. Last year, I did not manage to keep up with the new releases at all, but maybe this year will be different?

It’s that time of the year…

… when I’m trying not to make New Year’s Resolutions that I won’t keep.

One of my resolutions last year was to read 250 books. I managed to do that. The Covid-19 situation is not to be blamed for it, I’ve been reading a lot every year since I had to stop working. Further I wanted to read 24 physical copies off my shelves. I haven’t kept a record, but I’m pretty sure I didn’t meet that goal. Apropos meeting goals, I had planned not to buy more than two new books each month. That resolution went out the window within the first few days of 2020.

What are my resolutions for 2021 – the bookish ones that is?

  • I want to try to flatten the curve of my MountTBR, it’s ginormous. The number of ebooks, audiobooks, and physical copies unread has four figures and the first one is higher than there are fingers on one of my hands. I will have to live forever, it seems.
  • I’d like to tame my review copies shelves, which means, I have to read through the small mountain of ebooks and will have to stop requesting too many new review copies.
  • As every year, I promise myself to read 24 physical copies already lingering on my shelves – I’ll keep you updated on how spectacularly I’m failing.
  • Last but not least, I’m trying to stick to a tighter book buying budget. I’m going to keep a record of pages read. Each page will be worth one Cent. Audiobooks and ebooks are entered by checking the number of pages of the physical copy editions, or are estimated. I can only spend as much as I have earned by reading books. Means, I have to read a few books before some of my pre-orders make it to my shelves.

Pre-orders? Yes, of course, a reader has to be prepared for the worst case scenario: empty shelves. — I just burst out laughing. As if that could ever happen. If I believed in the concept of Heaven and Hell, I’d say Hell freezing over’s more likely to happen than me running out of reading material; just see above mentioned MountTBR.

I’m really looking forward to the second book in the King of Scars Duology by Leigh Bardugo: Rule of Wolves. This will be my birthday treat to myself. Okay, you got me. It’s part of my treat; I’m intending to let the staff of Otherland curate a surprise box of books for me again. Must read the four books from 2020 before then, though.

In order to get myself to catch up on some recommended reading – not the scholarly kind of RR – I’ve pre-ordered Becky Chamber’s fourth book of the Wayfarer series, The Galaxy, and the Ground within; and I’m contemplating pre-ordering the next book of the Murderbot series by Martha Wells, Fugitive Telemetry.

Five books that I’ve put on the tentative TBR list for 2021 are:

  • Matt Haig’s The Midnight Library – which I have wanted to read ever since the news about the book came out.
  • Victoria Schwab’s The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue – s.a.
  • N.K. Jemisin’s The City We Became – I’m going to read this in January for the #AuthorAMonth book club over on Litsy.
  • Sabaa Tahir’s Ember in the Ashes series – don’t gasp, I’ve already told you I am behind on the recommended reading.
  • Jay Kristoff’s Empire of the Vampire – can’t wait to review this one.

Why only five? Well, I could have added so many more. Actually, there are more than 400 books on my “Want to read” list on Goodreads. Though that doesn’t mean that I have to want to read them all within the next few months. I’m trying to put less pressure on myself not more.

Last but not least, a tiny recap of December 2020. I did manage to make a small book tree. I wrapped 42 books for it. I could have added more, but I was done cutting the pad of my thumb on the tape dispenser. As far as reading went, I finished the Forward Collection, a collection of six sci-fi short stories curated by Blake Crouch; read the first novella in the Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells; wrote a long review after finishing Naomi Novik’s Deadly Education; and there were also a few ARCs and romance novels.

What are your resolutions for 2021? Any bookish challenges you’re taking part in? One of my non-bookish resolutions is drinking more water. Since I’ve emptied my tall glass now, I’m off to refill it and then settle down with one of my ‘left-overs’ from last year, The Bone Shard Daughter by Andrea Stewart.

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.

Mutineers and Mangos

Robert Merle’s The Island is based on the fate of the Bounty mutineers on Pitcairn Island and once again shows that a hunger for power begets quite a lot of blood. While not completely out of my comfort zone, it took someone close to my heart to put it into my hands. I probably wouldn’t have stumbled across it myself, given my somehow strained relationship with French authors.

After killing their cruel and sadistic captain, the mutineers aboard the Blossom need to avoid British persecution. Those directly involved in the mutiny therefore sail toward an uncharted island, determined to build a new home there. They stop in Tahiti, picking up several men and women of a tribe befriended by the main character Adam Purcell. But even before reaching their island, conflicts between the British sailors and Tahitians are starting to brew. One of the main reasons for dispute will prove to be the fact that there are less women than men and that their “distribution” hence leads to jealousy and rage. Combined with a decent supply of gun power and cultural differences, a predictable racial war ensues.

Merle’s writing style is very detailed and analytic, often discussing every possible outcome of a debate before the character has even uttered a single word. It’s not a style to really relax your brain, but enjoyable nonetheless. While the plot itself is easy to predict, the book keeps you hooked with extensive character development and moral considerations.

Would events have turned out differently if the most power hungry of the British had been killed early on? What kind of society would have emerged, if the whole crew had taken to Purcell’s approach of treating the Tahitians as equals? What if the women had been allowed to select their partners on their own, instead of being distributed like cattle?

After dipping my toe into this part of Merle’s work, his next book on my list will be Malevil. It will be interesting to see how his writing fares in a (dystopian) science fiction setting.

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