The OWLs readathon is officially over and it has been a blast once again! For my chosen career of Trader of Magical Tomes, I only had to read four books, plus an additional one for the extra class to become a merpeople linguist.
Just like last year, this readathon was so much fun and has such positive energy that it’s difficult not to get swept up in it. I was happy to immerse myself in this make-believe world that lets us pretend we’re taking Hogwarts classes by reading books. But I do have to say I wasn’t quite as engaged as last year… The fact that we’re going through a pandemic may have contributed to that. I’m not super worried about myself but it’s a global crisis that definitely takes up a lot of brain space every day.
Also, the Hugo Award finalists were announced earlier than I had expected. Usually, they come out around Easter but this time, it happened a week earlier, giving me more time to catch up on my reading. That worked out really well for this readathon as some of the finalists fit perfectly into the reading prompts.
I was pretty sure I could manage to pass all my OWLs but as we reached the middle of April and I was nearly done, I got a little more ambitious. So I did read one book for each class and then I added a few more books to the list, some that fit the prompts, others just because I had the time.
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Ancient Runes – A Book with a Heart on the cover or title
For this I chose a recent release by a formerly unknown to me author, Hearts of Oak by Eddie Robson. It turned out to be a super weird but also very fun ride. We follow a renowned architect in a city that’s all about buidling, rebuilding, tearing down to rebuild, and not much else. We also follow the king and his talking cat advisor. The king doesn’t do much kingly stuff and really just wants people to like him. But strange things are starting to happen and even though strange seems to be the norm here, this kind of strange makes Iona the architect go out and investigate. And discover some even crazier shit. (272 pages)
Arithmancy – Read something outside your favorite genre
Reading outside of my favorite genres is both hard and easy. On the one hand, I’m open for new experiences and I’ll try any kind of book at least once. On the other hand, I do know what usually doesn’t work for me. Poetry is one such thing that I rarely like. If I do like it, I will love it forever, but more often than not, I just don’t get poetry. My favorite author of all time, Catherynne M. Valente has written a little poetry collection called Oracles: A Pilgrimage which I did end up liking quite a bit. The poetry as such didn’t work for me (I do like rhymes, even if that may sound childish) but the story those poems told were really good. It’s about what modern day oracles would look like and how they would spend their days. Each poem is about the oracle of a different, modern-day city and while I wasn’t a fan of the poems as such, they painted vivid pictures of places and women who could – for all we know – be the oracles of our time. (84 pages)
Coincidentally, I picked up a book I had tried to read several times previously and never managed to finish. In fact, I had never gotten past the first chapter, so even though it’s science fiction (a genre I love), you could say that book was way out of my comfort zone. I’m talking about Neuromancer by William Gibson, that classic work of cyberpunk that got an entire subgenre started. While I thought reading it was rewarding in some ways, it definitely wasn’t a well written book. But I’m glad I did read it as it gives me a greater understanding of part of the genre I love. (297 pages)
Astronomy – read a book (mostly) at night
This prompt was like a little gift to me. My audiobook choice for this was Woven in Moonlight by Isabel Ibanez. Because I always listen to audiobooks before going to bed, the prompt practically fulfilled itself. The story was a lovely take on the YA revolution. A decoy condesa is sent to marry the king but really, she’s spying for her own people who plan an uprising to take back the kingdom that used to be theirs. But this is not about warfare or dangerous spy missions, it’s first and foremost about the people. All the characters in this book – no matter whose side they are on – felt so real and believable that it poses the question whether a bloody revolution is really the right way to go. I loved how this YA book keeps some of the usual YA tropes but at the same time doesn’t shy away from asking difficult questions and giving the protagonist impossible choices to make. (384 pages)
Care of Magical Creatures – A Book with a Beak on the Cover
Another short book that packs a punch was Nghi Vo’s The Empress of Salt and Fortune which features a hoopoe on the cover, on which you will find the beak required by the reading prompt. This is the story of a young girl who has to marry the emperor against her will. It is told by her former handmaiden Rabbit and most of what makes this book so wonderful happens between the lines. We’re not actually witnessing the empress’s story, but Rabit is retelling it to us long after the events. That doesn’t mean it’s any less powerful or less of an emotional gut-punch though. I was deeply impressed with how much can be told with so few words and how much I ended up caring. (112 pages)
Charms – a (predominately) white cover
I’ve been meaning to read the Little Mermaid retelling The Seafarer’s Kiss by Julia Ember forever and now I finally got to it. While it’s clearly a feminist take on the fairy tale and features a lovely F/F romance, there were maybe too many ideas for the amount of pages. Nothing got really fleshed out enough, there wasn’t enough time to fully engage with all the characters, and the ending almost seemed a bit too easy. But I did really enjoy what we got to see of the world building, I loved that the focus wasn’t just a mermaid’s crush but that it was about her whole society and what’s wrong with it. Oh, and also Loki, trickster god, makes a few appearances. Maybe not the deepest retelling, but defeinitely recommended. (214 pages)
Defense Against the Dark Arts – A book set on the sea (coast)
I was so sure choosing an Earthsea book for this prompt would be perfect because Earthsea is set on an archipelago… so lots of little islands with enormous amounts of coast. However, this second book in the Earthsea cycle turned out to be set in a desert! That was a bit of a bummer but the book ended up being so amazing that I didn’t even care. I only liked A Wizard of Earthsea but I loved The Tombs of Atuan by Ursula K. LeGuin. And there are a few chapters at the end that involve the ocean. (180 pages)
But I didn’t feel right counting this as my only DADA book, so I went ahead and chose another book that is set on the coast from the very beginning. This is how I started Over Sea, Under Stone by Susan Cooper, the first in The Dark is Rising series.
It was a cute children’s book that had great summer holiday atmosphere but it also felt like a small story that would lead up to something epic. So it wasn’t super great but it made me want to continue the series very much! (224 pages)
Divination – Random TBR pick
I turned my boyfriend into the random number generator required for this prompt and he chose (unknowingly) Prosper’s Demon by K. J. Parker. As my first Parker book, I must say I’m hooked. It’s about an exorcist who hunts down demon-like creatures but keeps meeting one particular one over and over again. He has to rethink if maybe demons can’t be bargained with after all instead of just being exorcised right away.
What made this book so great wasn’t as much the content as the voice. The protagonist who doesn’t even have a name, tells this tale with such humor, much cussing, and so straightforward that I had to giggle a lot. The rather dark plot (demon possession is no joke) juxtaposed with the hilarious voice made this a perfect quick read. (112 pages)
Herbology – A book that starts with the letter M
There’s always another secret. Never has that Brandon Sanderson quote been so true as with this novella Mistborn: Secret History. I can’t really tell you anything about it because it would spoiler the entire Mistborn trilogy but I can tell you to go pick that trilogy up, devour it, and then make sure to come back to this novella. It goes kind of behind the scenes and shows us a very different perspective of the events that happened in the main trilogy. There are plenty of secrets to discover and there are also hints tying the greater Cosmere together.
Reading Sanderson is an adventure and no matter where you start, you’re in for a treat. (160 pages)
History of Magic – A Book featuring Witches/Wizards
Sarah Gailey‘s latest novel When We Were Magic features six young witches who are the best of friends. When protagonist Alexis accidentally kills a boy by exploding his penis (yeah, seriously), she and her five best friends come together and try to solve the problem. The book itself is mostly about getting to know them and see the beautiful dynamics between these six very different, very magical girls. It was a delight to read!
Be aware though, that this is not a murder mystery book or even a trying-to-get-away-with-murder book. The focus is really the relationship between the girls and their surroundings and it is much more engaging than I’m making it sound. Do pick it up! (352 pages)
Muggle Studies – A book from a muggle’s perspective
I was initially going to read something else for this prompt but then the Hugo Award finalists were announced and this one fit so well that I snuck it in there. Middlegame by Seanan McGuire is about two engineered twins who were separated at birth, Roger and Dodger (yeah, I know…). One of them is a math genius, the other a language prodigy, but only together do they feel whole.
This is the story of them growing up – over and over – and trying to save the world from falling under the control of the Big Bad. It had some cool ideas, the execution was sadly flawed. But I did like the characters and especially the book within a book. Can’t wait for that to come out as Seanan actually ended up writing it. (528 pages)
The Hugo finalists were a goldmine for this prompt. I also picked up the Lodestar nominated Catfishing on CatNet by Naomi Kritzer and was delighted by it. It’s about a young girl who’s on the run with her mother, hiding from her stalker father. Only staying in each place for a few months at the most, she has a hard time making friends IRL. But there’s Catnet and her wonderful group of internet friends. And a lovable AI that absolutely stole my heart from the get go.
This was such a heartwarming tale of friendship but it had plenty of action and great characters. There is also so much representation and diversity in this book – I wish more YA novels were like this. (288 pages)
Potions – A Book under 150 pages
chose Ruthanna Emrys’ The Litany of Earth for this because the series was nominated for a Mythopoeic Award and I tend to love those books. Never having read Lovecraft, I’m sure I missed a lot of things here, but I can tell you that Emrys created brilliant atmosphere in this short story and made me want to read more. There seems to be this whole secret society thing going on, with alien races living among us humans, and with big prophecies foretelling the end of the world. I will hopefully start Winter Tide, the first novel in the series, very soon. (48 pages)
And again, because I had the time and the Hugo finalists were just announced, I threw another short book onto the list and caught up with The Haunting of Tram Car 015 by P. Djèlí Clark. I had been meaning to read this anyway and I’m glad I finally did.
This exorcism story set in alternate 1912 Egypt was wonderful and much funnier than I had expected. It had atmosphere, great mythology and worldbuilding and a plot that you can fly through. Who knew that a haunted tram car could lead to such fun investigations and a fantastic showdown? (130 pages)
Transfiguration – A book that features shapeshifters
If I’d known I would be reading another Seanan McGuire book so soon, I wouldn’t have picked A Local Habitation, the second in the October Daye series. But it was one of the few books where I was sure there would be shapeshifters and it also works well for my Read-the-Sequel challenge.
Toby Daye is sent to a County stuck between two rival Counties to check out why Sylvester (her liege’s) niece hasn’t been calling anymore. It turns out her tech company has some serious trouble that Toby and her assistant Quentyn are there to investigate.
While certain twists in this book were super predictable, others surprised me and it was another fun Urban Fantasy book. Not quite as good as the first but good enough for me to continue reading the series. (400 pages)
These are the books I read in addition to the O.W.L.s :
Sabaa Tahir – A Torch Against the Night
It was okay but definitely lacked the edge of my seat thrill from the first book. The unnecessary love square was resolved at least (or let’s say, it was shrunk to your standard love triangle again) and some minor plot points were moved forward. I will read the third book in this series, but I’m not in a hurry. (452 pages)
Mark Lawrence – Red Sister (unfinished)
I’m only three quarters of the way through this book but if I had finished it, it could have been a candidate for Astronomy as I’m listening to the audiobook mostly in the evenings. It’s a pretty cool world with one of the most interesting protagonists I’ve met. But the beginning of the book was much stronger than the middle part. I’m curious to see if the ending will be as epic as I hope.
And with this, the OWLs Readathon has ended and I am now in full Hugo reading mode. I look forward to the NEWTs in August but until then, it’s rather nice to pick books by mood again instead of readathon prompts. 🙂