O.W.L.s Magical Readathon 2020 – Wrap-Up

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.

 

General Thoughts

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.

O.W.L.s passed

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.

Total books read 17
Total pages read 4237
OWLs achieved 12

The books

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)


Extracurricular activities

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. 🙂

O.W.L.s Magical Readathon 2020 – Check-In

So, there’s still a pandemic going on and many people all over the world are practicing social distancing in whichever way they can. For me, it means working from home and going outside only when necessary (grocery shopping, taking a walk so my blood pressure doesn’t plummet too low). It also means not commuting to and from work everyday which, in turn, leads to a lot more reading time. Which works really well when there’s a readathon going on. 🙂

For all the info about G’s Magical Readathon, head to her Booktube Channel.

General Thoughts

Last year, I took my OWLs in July to be ready for the NEWTs in August. This year, I was better prepared and can actually participate when everyone else is doing the readathon. And, guys, it is so much fun! I love everything about this, but especially the Careers Guidebook and the fact that all the reading prompts go so well with their assigned classes.

O.W.L.s passed

I did pick a lot of shorter books for this readathon because I wanted to make sure I could pass all the classes. In some cases, it’s also a coincidence that the books I chose were rather short. But to make up for it (and because I’m a Ravenclaw), I read more than one book for some of the prompts.

Total books read 13
Total pages read 3122
OWLs passed 11

The books

I’m almost done with all the OWLs, people!
But guess what my face looked like when I picked up my DADA book (prompt: set at the sea or coast) and it turned out the book takes place in a desert! I thought with a book in the Earthsea Cycle, I couldn’t go wrong, but except for the last chapters, the setting is really as far from the ocean as you can get. So I threw in another book with an actual coastal setting because otherwise, it would feel like cheating.

If I’ve published a review already, the link can be found below. The rest are either still to come or I won’t write one because reviewing very short books or stories is not something I’m good at.

Finished

  • Ancient Runes: Eddie Robson – Hearts of Oak
  • Arithmancy: Catherynne M. Valente – Oracles: A Pilgrimage
  • Astronomy: Isabel Ibanez – Woven in Moonlight
  • Care of Magical Creatures: Nghi Vo – The Empress of Salt and Fortune
  • Charms: Julia Ember – The Seafarer’s Kiss
  • Defense Against the Dark Arts 1: Ursula K. LeGuin – The Tombs of Atuan
  • Defense Against the Dark Arts 2: Susan Cooper – Over Sea, Under Stone (review to come)
  • Divination: K. J. Parker – Prosper’s Demon
  • Herbology: Brandon Sanderson – Mistborn: Secret History
  • History of Magic: Sarah Gailey – When We Were Magic
  • Muggle Studies: Seanan McGuire – Middlegame (review to come)
  • Potions: Rutahna Emrys – The Litany of Earth

While I enjoyed all of the books I read for the OWLs, there were a few that stood out. The Tombs of Atuan swept me off my feet by surprise, When We Were Magic was heartwarming despite being about a murder, and Mistborn: Secret History actually managed to deliver another surprising twist in what is already a twist-filled series.

Still to read

  • Transfiguration: Seanan McGuire – A Local Habitation
  • Potions 2: P. Djèlí Clark – The Haunting of Tram Car 015
  • Muggle Studies 2: Naomi Kritzer – Catfishing on CatNet

I’m currently reading the three books above and I can already tell that The Haunting of Tram Car 015 is a blast. I did not expect it to be this amusing but it’s got a really good mix of science fiction ideas, social commentary, supernatural detective work, and humor.
Catfishing on CatNet is also quite lovely so far. It depends very much on the solution to a mystery in the book whether I’ll end up loving it or just liking it. But it’s a very good read so far.
I’ve just started A Local Habitation and it makes me think yet again, that this what Seanan McGuire is best at. Urban Fantasy with Fae and a snarky protagonist.

Extracurricular Activities

Because I was doing so well with the OWLs, I felt that I could ease off a little and also read books that don’t fit any reading prompt, aren’t for a challenge and aren’t currently up for an award I have to vote on. So I picked up these two just for fun:

  • Sabaa Tahir – A Torch Against the Night
  • Mark Lawrence – Red Sister (currently reading)

Let’s go, Ravenclaw! We have almost two weeks left. Let’s grab that House Cup!

My Thoughts on the Hugo Award Finalists 2020


I am so excited! Conzealand announced the 2020 Hugo Award finalists last week and I have feelings! But first of all:

CONGRATULATIONS TO ALL THE FINALISTS!

Let’s go through my reactions category by category and check in on how many books I still have to read in order to catch up. There are some categories about which I have very little or nothing to say, so I’ll leave those out and focus on the ones I’m most interested in.
Warning: This is going to be a long post. Feel free to skip ahead to a certain category or to my general thoughts at the very end.


BEST NOVEL (4/6)

My first reaction was elation that both A Memory Called Empire and The Light Brigadmade it onto the shortlist. I nominated both and now have the terrifying pleasure of having to rank them.
I’m sure nobody is surprised that Gideon the Ninth is on this list as well, although I am one of the very, very few people who did not like that book. I liked some ideas and I liked Gideon as a character but that didn’t excuse the utter lack of plot structure or fleshing out of side characters. Or the messy world building… I truly wish I had loved this book as much as everyone else, but I guess it wasn’t meant to be. At least this will be easy to rank.
I love Alix E. Harrow’s short fiction and I loved certain aspects of The Ten Thousand Doors of January, but I thought others were very weak, especially for a writer who can accomplish so much in a short story. My super high expectations led to my great disappointment when I discovered that there’s way less magic in this book than I had hoped. But it has grown fonder in my memory over time and I definitely didn’t hate it. I’m glad Harrow is a finalist because I think she has amazing potential and I’ll gladly see her do well here.

I am currently reading Middlegame by Seanan McGuire (who is nominated in a billion categories once again…) and still have to pick up  The City in the Middle of the Night which I’ve had since it came out but never really got to. I have high expectations for both, although Seanan McGuire and I are rather hit or miss. So far, Middlegame is quite good but I am not convinced it’s award material. I can already say that it is not on par with some of the other nominees but I’m only halfway throught he book. We’ll see.


BEST NOVELla (3/6)

  • Rivers Solomon – The Deep
  • Becky Chambers – To Be Taught, If Fortunate
  • Amal El-Mohtar & Max Gladstone – This is How You Lose the Time War
  • Seanan McGuire – In an Absent Dream
  • P. Djèlí Clark – The Haunting of Tram Car 015
  • Ted Chiang – Anxiety is the Dizziness of Freedom

Yay for Becky Chambers. I nominated this one! I also nominated Time War although I have to say that I don’t feel as strongy about it anymore as I did right after reading it. In fact, now that some time has passed, I don’t think it was even that great. I did however love The Deep but I’m not sure if I managed to put it on my ballot in time. Either way, I’m happy it’s here.

I’m looking forward to both Clark and Chiang’s works. To my enormous shame, I still haven’t read anything by Ted Chiang although I really, really want to. Let this be my reason to pick up his collection Exhalation.

I had hoped that after the disastrous mess that was Beneath the Sugar Sky I would be done with the Wayward Children series. This series is based on a great idea whose execution ranges from horrible (Sugar Sky) over okay (Every Heart) to rather good (Sticks and Bones). But since these books are mostly a disappointment, I had planned on discontinuing the series. Alas, I guess I’ll have to read one more. And if Seanan McGuire‘s fans keep up the way the have for the past decade, I’ll probably end up reading the rest of the series as well.


Best Novelette (1/6)

  • Caroline M. Yoachim – The Archronology of Love
  • Sarah Gailey – Away With the Wolves
  • Sarah Pinsker – The Blur in the Corner of Your Eye
  • N.K. Jemisin – Emergency Skin
  •  Siobhan Carroll – For He Can Creep
  • Ted Chiang – Omphalos

See, I have to read Ted Chiang! In this category, I’ve read a whopping one book, Emergency Skin by N.K. Jemisin. I absolutely loved it and I’m thrilled it’s on this list because I read it after the nomination period was over and couldn’t put it on my ballot anymore. Thank you, other nominators!
All the other nominees sound great. I love Sarah Gailey‘s work, I’ve been meaning to read more by Pinsker, and I look forward to checking out the two new-to-me writers, Carroll and Yoachim.


Best series (2/6)

  • James S. A. Corey – The Expanse
  • Katherine Arden – The Winternight Trilogy
  • Ian McDonald – Luna
  • Tade Thompson – The Wormwood Trilogy
  • Seanan McGuire – InCryptid
  • Emma Newman – Planetfall

Oh boy, I have so much to read! This category is particularly difficult because if I don’t know a series at all, I’ll start with the first book (obviously) but depending on the series, that book may be super old and not the reason it’s nominated.

I have read the first book in The Expanse and I liked it quite a lot, but apparently not enough to ever continue the series. I don’t feel equipped to judge the quality of the series based only on its first instalment and I won’t manage to catch up to the latest book in time. But I will try and at least read the second one, despite already having caught some spoilers. I still won’t feel alright raking this series because people nominated it for its most recent volume, I assume, and I can’t judge that by reading only the beginning.
I’ve been meaning to read Rosewater by Tade Thompson and I’m so glad I’ll finally get to it. The same goes for Planetfall by Emma Newman. These books have been on my TBR forever and I just keep neglecting them. Thanks again, fellow nominators, for forcing me to finally pick these up.
I’m not as excited about Luna because it’s just not the kind of book I pounce on, but it sounds really good so I’ll definitely read the first book. Maybe it will sweep me off my feet and I’ll devour the entire trilogy.
I nominated The Winternight Trilogy myself for the last few years, mostly because I thought the first book should have been nominated for Best Novel. Then the second book was just as good and the third managed to stick a beautiful, perfect ending to the trilogy. I really hope this wins because it’s not just a nomination for another instalment in an endless series, this is actually a trilogy that becomes a beautiful whole.
And Seanan McGuire is here again, this time with her one series whose covers really put me off. Don’t worry, I’ll read it, but I can’t help but go into it biased. I’m sorry, I’m not perfect, and there’s a certain type of book cover that just signals it’s not for me – gun-toting cheerleaders leaning sexily on things are it!

What I really like about this category is how much range there is. You have a historical fairy tale trilogy nominated alongside a blockbuster space opera, an Urban Fantasy series, a series about aliens in Nigeria, and one that features mental health issues in space. I may not be thrilled about the amount of pages I have ahead of me, but boy am I impressed with Hugo voters for picking such a great variety of what the field has to offer!


best graphic story (0/6)

  • Kieron Gillen, Stephanie Hans – Die, Volume 1: Fantasy Heartbreaker
  • Nnedi Okorafor, Tana Ford – LaGuardia
  • Marjorie Liu, Sana Takeda – Monstress, Volume 4: The Chosen
  • Wendy Xu, Suzanne Walker – Mooncakes
  • Brian K. Vaughn, Cliff Chiang – Paper Girls, Volume 6
  • Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie – The Wicked + The Divine, Volume 9: Okay

Yep, that’s right guys. This is a year without Saga, so it’s a year in which I have read not a single nominee.

I have read the first volumes in the Paper Girls series, The Wicked + The Divine as well as Monstress, and while all of them had a certain appeal, I disliked other parts of these comics and didn’t want to continue the series. Paper Girls is probably the one I’m still most interested in although I’m not sure I want to buy 5 volumes to catch up. The Wicked + the Divine just didn’t work for me at all. It had nice art but I just didn’t care for the story or the characters and I definitely will not read 8 entire volumes of something I’m not interested in.
Monstress was super intriguing but I felt the art – while absolutely gorgeous – was too detailed and too messy for a graphic novel. It kept distracting me from the story because I just wanted to look at the pretty pictures. And while that’s nice, in a way, it is really not helpful when trying to wrap your head around intricate world building.
I’ll read whatever is provided in the Hugo Voter Packet even if that means skipping a few volumes. Maybe these finalists are so good that they’ll make me want to go back and catch up on the entire series.

Two finalists that have been on my radar for a while are LaGuardia by Nnedi Okorafor – because I love the author and think she just gets better and better with whatever she writes. And Mooncakes because it has one of the cutest covers and looks like it’s a total feel-good book.

The only one I had never heard of is Die: Fantasy Heartbreaker which is written by the same person who writes The Wicked + The Divine (that doesn’t bode well for me). It is, however, described as “Goth Jumanji” and that’s something I’m definitely willing to try.


Lodestar (2/6)

  • Naomi Kritzer – Catfishing on CatNet
  • Yoon Ha Lee – Dragon Pearl
  • T. Kingfisher – Minor Mage
  • Holly Black – The Wicked King
  • Fran Wilde – Riverland
  • Frances Hardinge – Deeplight

I am both so excited and so daunted. I had read quite a few YA books last year and thought I would do better in this category, but apparently no. However, now I have yet another list of probably great books to look forward to.

I am thrilled that Minor Mage made it onto the shortlist. I didn’t nominated it (because my slots were already filled with other books), but T. Kingfisher is a joy and a treasure and her books are the perfect feel-good recommendation for our current time. Minor Mage was charming and heart-warming and lovely and I hope everyone reads it, whether it ends up winning or not.
The one book I nominated that did make the shortlist is The Wicked King, which I still think of as a sort of guilty pleasure. It’s a book I know I probably shouldn’t love but I just do. Kudos for the middle volume of a trilogy making an award ballot! And I stand by my opinion. I don’t care if the relationship in this series is messed up. I love it.

The only Frances Hardinge book I’ve read was brilliant and I honestly can’t tell you why I never read more by her. But I am super excited to pick up Deeplight. That woman has crazy cool ideas in her head and I can’t wait to see what she did here.
Yoon Ha Lee took everyone’s breath away with The Machineries of Empire. It will be interesting to see what they do with the YA genre. The only reason I haven’t read this yet is time. But I’ve heard excellent things about it and can’t wait to dive in.
Now Fran Wilde I actively avoided because I really didn’t like Updraft. But every author gets at least a second chance with me, so I’ll pick this one up and see where it leads.
Naomi Kritzer‘s short story “Cat Pictures, Please” was lovely and I think I ranked it as my number one spot when it was nominated (and ended up winning) so I’m curious to see how she does with a full length novel. For some reason, I don’t have very high expectations however. It feels like she’s just trying to repeat what she did with that short story and I’m not sure it will work. But I’ll keep an open mind and hope I end up liking it.


Astounding award for best new writer (1/6)

  • Sam Hawke 
  • R.F. Kuang 
  • Jenn Lyons 
  • Nibedita Sen 
  • Tasha Suri
  • Emily Tesh 

Again, I have read works by only one author here because I suck. But the one I did read – R. F. Kuang – I also nominated. What she did in The Poppy War was as amazing as it was uncomfortable. If I have the time, I’ll dive into the sequel because I suspect she is an author who grows visibly with every book.

I have Empire of Sand by Tasha Suri and Silver in the Woods by Emily Tesh on my TBR already, I just didn’t get to them yet. Jenn Lyons (The Ruin of Kings) and Sam Hawke (City of Lies) I’m less excited about but I will give them a try. Lyons especially felt like an author that got a gigantic push from the publisher but I didn’t read too many reviews by people I follow and trust, so I worried that it might be just marketing and not much else. But I’ll check it out and make up my own mind, of course. The only author I’ve never heard of is Nibedita Sen but I look forward to any short fiction in the Hugo Voters Packet.


Best fancast (5/6)

  • The Skiffy and Fanty Show
  • Our Opinions Are Correct
  • Claire Rousseau’s YouTube Channel
  • The Coode Street Podcast
  • Galactic Suburbia
  • Be the Serpent

Well, here’s a category where I have almost no catching up to do. I have listened to or watched all of these fancasters with the exception of Be the Serpent.
I love The Coode Street Podcast, even though my reading tastes aren’t exactly in line with Gary K. Wolfe and Jonathan Strahan’s. But they talk about books with so much knowledge, they are fun to listen to and I always feel a little bit smarter about SFF after listening to an episode.
I am super stoked that Claire Rousseau made this list! Her Genrewise SFF updates are my favorite and her reading taste is actually quite similar to mine (with a few exceptions, of course). She’s always good for recommendations and I appreciate that she doesn’t just ramble but instead always talks throughtfully about the books she reviews.
Charlie Jane Anders and Annalee Newitz’s Our Opinions Are Correct is also a great podcast that I only discovered last year. They always do some research before diving into a topic and I just love listening to them.
The Skiffy and Fanty Show is more hit or miss for me. Some episodes are great, others just feel a bit messy. Depending on the topic and guests, things feel unstructured and a bit too hectic. I like them well enough, but they probably won’t be on the top of my ballot.
Galactic Suburbia, as much as I like the presenters, just doesn’t interest me very much. It’s been nominated many years in a row and, every year, I try to listen to a few episodes again. It’s just not for me.


General thoughts

I am very happy with this year’s finalists. There are not too many surprises among them, especially in the Best Novel category. I did expect to find Ann Leckie there but as I haven’t read her eligible book, this expectation is based mostly on her previous awards record. It may just not have been that good. All the other books received a lot of hype and whether I agree with the rave reviews or not, they all deserve their spot on the shortlist.

The most surprising to me was probably the YA category (Lodestar = not a Hugo). I actually didn’t think The Wicked King would make it because although it was buzzed about like crazy and Holly Black has a ton of fans, it is not the kind of book that’s usually up for a Hugo. The only finalist I saw coming was Naomi Kritzer’s book. Not that the others aren’t worthy (I honestly can’t tell, not having read most of them yet) but either I thought not enough people had read them or they would be pushed off the ballot by more popular choices.

Another happy development is that the novella category is not as dominated by Tor.com as it was in the last few years. I love Tor.com to pieces and I think they are one of the finest publishers of SFF fiction out there, but it’s good to have some more variety on an awards ballot. Too much of the same thing, even if it’s a good thing, is just not healthy! So I’m really glad that other publishers managed to publish novellas that got enough buzz to be read by people and that those novellas were good enough to become finalists.

Side note: Much like Neil Gaiman and Connie Willis (both excellent writes whose work I adore), Seanan McGuire seems to get nominated just for having written something. I really, really do not like that. I understand being a loyal fan and wanting your favorite author to win things, but even the most hardcore fan can’t honestly tell me that everything Seanan writes is award-worthy. Not even everything Neil Gaiman writes is award-worthy!
The fact that McGuire is  nominated in all her eligible categories pretty much every year makes me actually want to rank her lower than she possibly deserves, just because I don’t like the practice of pushing a writer that hard. It feels like her fans are begging for a prize. And it makes me annoyed and spiteful and angry with myself for being annoyed and spiteful.

As far as I can tell, Seanan herself has nothing to do with this and her fans act on their own which is totally fine! Again, if you really did love every single word McGuire puts on a page, then by all means nominate it – and if that’s what her fans did, then I guess I should just shut up and stop complaining. It is simply my hope that people try to read more than one author and even if they do read everything by one author, to judge their works fairly and not nominate blindly. Maybe I’m totally wrong and it’s a huge coincidence that this happens every year, but maybe it’s not. There’s nothing I can do about it either way, so this is how I deal with it. I vent about it on here.

As someone who tries to read everything that’s nominated, it gets pretty tired and boring having to go through one single author’s entire back catalogue. Especially an author who has been nominated years and years on end, winning very few awards compared to the amount of nominations (14 nominations total, among them 3 wins, and  two of those for the SF Squeecast, only one for actual writing).
Please don’t hate me if you’re a McGuire fan – I’m just starting to like her writing, too – this is simply my reaction to having to read at least three books by the same author if I want to judge the categories fairly. It’s exhausting, especially because this happens every single year.

But hey, maybe I’ll end up agreeing with her fans and think all of the nominated works are actually worthy of a Hugo Award. I’ll keep you updated and will post my final rankings at the end of the voting period.

As I mentioned above, the Best Series finalists make me super happy because they encompass many aspects of science fiction and fantasy and they force me out of my comfort zone a little.

And I love that the Best Fancast category added a YouTuber to an otherwise podcast-dominated ballot. I hope this is only the first in many years to come where Hugo voters realize that a fancast can be all sorts of things.

2020 Retellings Challenge – First Quarter Update

I can’t believe a quarter of the year is already over again. It feels like I just made those reading resolutions, endless lists of new publications to watch out for, and checked out other people’s Best-of-2019 lists.
But since we took our big sunny vacation during winter this year, I actually managed to get a lot of reading done, especially for the wonderful 2020 Retellings Challenge hosted by Tracy at Cornerfolds. It was my first time travelling to a warm place when it’s cold at home and I can highly recommend it. It did wonders for my mood, my tan, and of course my reading time. And sipping on a fresh coconut is at least as cool as having a cup of tea while reading a nice book.

What I’ve read

Just like last year and just like with any reading challenge, my chosen books ranged from brilliant to pretty bad with everything in between. I’m making it a little harder for myself this year by not counting books that would technically fit certain prompts. For example, Winterglass (still fantastic!) was a re-read, so I’m not counting it. Sword of Destiny is technically a collection of short stories where only one of them fulfills the prompt (includes mermaids) and I felt that if I counted that book I would kind of be cheating. I’m still listing them here because they are retellings but I’ll pick other books for the bingo squares.

So far, the absolute standout book I read for this challenge was Descendant of the Crane, although I’m not even sure it’s a retelling of something. It’s set in a Chinese-inspired fantasy kingdom and it uses some mythology elements but whether it counts or not, it was an excellent book! Mirrorstrike, the sequel to Winterglass wasn’t as good as the first book but I’m still very much looking forward to the sequel.
I checked off one of the toughest prompts (a book over 500 pages) with Tessa Gratton’s retelling of Shakespeare’s King LearThe Queens of Innis Lear which was pretty amazing. And I finally read Diana Peterfreund’s sci-fi retelling of Jane Austen’s PersuasionFor Darkness Shows the Stars.
What I like about this challenge is that it forces me to read outside my comfort zone – that was very much the case with Ahmed Saadawi’s Frankenstein in Baghdad, which is exactly what the title suggests. It was a great book, although very different from what I normally read. I’m so glad to have picked it up as it’s also the first book translated from Arabic that I’ve ever read.
I also really enjoyed the March group read, A Study in Charlotte, which is about the descendants of Sherlock Holmes and John Watson. It was different than what I expected but a fun, quick read that made me want to pick up the sequel. And an even quicker read was Keturah and Lord Death, which is kind of Hades and Persephone and kind of 1001 Nights wrapped in a medieval romance. It was really sweet.
An audiobook that started out really well and then sort of meandered on to a mediocre ending was Juliet Marillier’s Beautiful. The only book I read that I would call bad was Kiersten White’s The Guinevere Deception. One bad book and one middling one out of 11 total is a pretty good ratio, I’d say.

My retellings reading plan

As usual, I don’t set myself a specific TBR but I do want to stay on top of this challenge because the Hugo shortlist is about to be announced and that always means reading a lot of works I missed last year. For the Retellings Challenge, I have picked out at least one book for each prompt, just to be prepared, but if I discover something new that fits a prompt, I may just go with that.
I have already started my book for the African myth prompt, Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James, during my vacation and I’m absolutely loving it. It’s not an easy book to read, though, and it wants to be savored so I may be “currently reading” this one for a while yet. But if it continues the way it started, it may end up on my favorite books of the year list!

  • Marlon James – Black Leopard, Red Wolf (African myth)
  • E. K. Johnston – A Thousand Nights (1001 nights)
  • Alexa Donne – Brightly Burning (set in space)
  • Julia Ember – The Seafarer’s Kiss (features mermaids)
  • Victoria McCombs – The Storyteller’s Daughter (German fairy tale – Rumpelstiltskin)

General Thoughts on the Challenge

I wasn’t sure if I would enjoy this year’s challenge as much as last year’s because the prompts seemed much more difficult for me. While retellings of fairy tales and Jane Austen are abundant, there isn’t as much to choose from when it comes to Frankenstein or Les Misérables retellings. But with a bit of research and recommendations from other participants, I think this year may turn out to be even more rewarding. Because the prompts challenge me more, I am forced to discover  books I would otherwise not even consider and I’m sure there will be at least one hidden gem among them.

If you’re doing this challenge as well, how is it going for you? Have you discovered a new favorite? Have you been disappointed by an over-hyped book? Let me know in the comments!

O.W.L.s Magical Readathon – Third Year Edition TBR

The OWLs are happening and I AM SO EXCITED!!!! I love a good readathon but none ever motivated me and made me read as much as G’s Magical Readathon. Check out her YouTube channel Book Roast for all the info, downloads, and the pure joy she spreads! The OWLs Readathon is the first part of this Harry Potter based readathon, with the NEWTs happening in August. Like last year, you can choose a wizarding career (or several) and pick which classes to take based on that. Depending on how well you do on your OWLs, you can then continue on to take the same classes in the NEWTs. That sounds like the rules are pretty strict, but G always makes it very clear that everyone can read what they like and do this readathon the way they want. The reading police won’t come to pick you up if you interpret the rules differently, promise. 🙂

 

Careers and Hogwarts House

I am of course representing Ravenclaw again and I really hope we’ll win the House Cup this year. For my chosen career of Trader of Magical Tomes, I will have to pass the following classes:

  • Ancient Runes
  • Charms
  • History of Magic
  • Transfiguration

But because readathons are way more fun when you do extra credit work, and because I actually studied languages, I will try to qualify for a course in Mermaid Linguistics as well, which adds another class:

  • Herbology

I actually have about a dozen careers that interest me but, like last year, I will focus on one and see how the readathon goes. If I pass all my OWLs classes again, I may pick a secondary career for the NEWTs. And if that goes well, I’ll just do ALL THE JOBS in the wizarding world. And become an Animagus of course.

OWLs Classes

I marked the classes I have to take for my career, but I prepared a TBR for every single class. You know. Just in case…

Ancient Runes

A book with a heart on the cover or in the title: Eddie Robson – Hearts of Oak

This is a new publication by an author I don’t know yet but it sounds like a crazy wild ride. There’s an expanding city, people behaving strangely, and a talking cat who’s advisor to the king! I mean, that’s all I really needed to know. Also, I love this cover and the way the title blends in with the artwork.

Arithmancy

A book outside your comfort zone: Catherynne M. Valente – Oracles: A Pilgrimage

So, okay, this is my favorite author of all time, but it’s also poetry and I am extremely picky with poetry. It’s something I almost never read and when I do, more often than not, I don’t particularly like it. I’m hoping that I’ll like this, of course.
My alternate pick is The Dark Fantastic by Ebony Elizabeth Thomas, a non-fiction book exploring POC in fantasy fiction. I don’t read much non-fiction but this sounds pretty amazing.

Astronomy

Read a book only at night: ???

For this, I’ll go with an audiobook because I usually listen to  audiobooks in the evening and before going to sleep. Now that I’m working from home and not going outside, the chances of me picking up a current read on a break are high, but audiobooks are reserved for the evenings. I don’t know which book will end up here, but I’m thinking maybe something by Octavia Butler? If you have recommendations for great books on Audible, please let me know in the comments.

Care of Magical Creatures

A book with a beak on the cover: ???

I’m a bit undecided about this one. I have a surprising amount of books on my TBR that fit the criteria (who’d have thought?) but I just can’t decide. So here’s my potential canditates for this prompt. I will probably just read a chapter in each of them and see which one grabs me the most.

  • Isabel Ibañez  – Woven in Moonlight
  • Nghi Vo – The Empress of Salt and Fortune
  • Octavia Butler – Parable of the Sower

Charms

A book with a (mostly) white cover: Julia Ember – The Seafarer’s Kiss

I’ve been meaning to read this book last year for the Retellings Challenge but didn’t get to it, so it has to be prioritized this year! Being pretty short and a Little Mermaid retelling, this is a perfect choice for a readathon book. Plus, it will help me with the 2020 Retellings Challenge as well.

Defense Against the Dark Arts

A book that’s set on the sea coast: Ursula K. LeGuin –  The Tombs of Atuan

I re-read A Wizard of Earthsea last year mostly so I could finally continue the series. And while I don’t know if this story is set at the coast all the time, it is set in Earthsea, which consists of lots of small islands. So I’m sure there’ll be a sea coast here or there.

Divination

Let fate decide: K. J. Parker – Prosper’s Demon

For this prompt, I made a list of 12 books, then had my boyfriend choose three random numbers. Then I made him choose a random number from among the remaining three, and this is how Prosper’s Demon became my pick. It was much more fun than using a random number generator on on the internet (and my boyfriend is much better looking).
I kept misreading the title as “Prospero‘s Demon” for the longest time and still have to remind myself that this has nothing to do with Shakespeare’s Tempest. Because I’m an idiot, that’s why.

Herbology

A book that starts with the letter “M”: Brandon Sanderson – Mistborn: Secret History

I have been caught up on all the Mistborn books for some time now and while both trilogies had satisfying endings, there is always room for more from that universe. I’ve been meaning to read this for ages and now it’s finally time. Being a novella and thus quite short, even a Brandon Sanderson book can make a good pick for a readathon.

History of Magic

A book that features witches or wizards: Sarah Gailey – When We Were Magic

This was a no brainer. I loved Sarah Gailey’s novel Magic for Liars and while this is their first YA book, I’m sure they will deliver another great story with brilliant characters. It’s also about teen witches so I’m sure it’s a good pick for this prompt. The cover is giving me major nostalgia vibes as well.

Muggle Studies

A book from a Muggle perspective (contemporary): Chuck Palahniuk – Beautiful You

It’s been too long since I read a Palahniuk book. I miss his weirdness, his crazy ideas, his strange protagonists. The premise for this one is weird (men being replaced by elaborate vibrators, apparently?) and there are many one-star reviews – so I’m not sure whether I’ll like it. But that just makes me all the more interested and excited to return to the strange worlds of the man who gave us Fight Club.

Potions

A book under 150 pages: Ruthanna Emrys – The Litany of Earth

This series is the only 2019 Mythopoeic Award nominee I haven’t read and since the other ones were all absolutely fantastic, I think I’ve been missing out. Good thing the first instalment (technically part 0.5) is very short and fits this prompt. If it’s great, I may just read the next one for the NEWTs.

Transfiguration

A book that features shapeshifting: Seanan McGuire – A Local Habitation

I can’t 100% guarantee that there will be shapeshifters in this book but it’s an Urban Fantasy series that I started last year and in the first book, there were. Incidentally, it was this readathon that prompted me to even start the series and, to my own biggest surprised, I really liked it even though I am not usually a fan of Urban Fantasy. So let’s hope, the second book is just as good.

This is it, my tentative TBR for the OWLs readathon. Since the Hugo shortlist will be announced in April, I may change around some of my book picks because Hugo reading is usually a lot of work and I want to get started as soon as possible. Without knowing how many finalists I’ve already read, I can’t predict how much time it will take for me to catch up. But I’ll do some check-in posts during the month of April to keep you up to date on how things are going.

What about you? Are you participating and if yes, which career did you pick?

Top Ten Tuesday: Characters I’d Follow on Social Media

Today, we are getting such a great topic for Top Ten Tuesday (created by The Broke and the Bookish and currently hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl). I love some good recommendations, I love lists, I love people gushing about their favorite books. This week, however, we are asked to pick our top ten in a way I’d never have thought of. It’s kind of favorite characters – although maybe not? – but in a funny way. We all know what social media is like, how a small comment can explode, how one misunderstanding can cause a whole shitstorm. But we also know that a retweet can help people find lost pets, give them the motivation they need to reach a goal, and generally spread some love. So here are ten book characters I would follow on social media and the reasons why.

Top Ten Characters I’d Follow in Social Media

Death from Discworld by Terry Pratchett

Whether it’s a recommendation for a great place to get a curry or wise insights into human nature, I think Death would be an amazing character to follow on social media. The fact that he loves kittens would also guarantee lots of adorable cat pictures, and who doesn’t want cute baby animals in their timeline?


Hermione Granger from Harry Potter by J. K. Rowling

Obviously, I’d be following her for book recommendations. But her eagerness to learn new things would also motivate me to better myself, to learn something every day, and to follow the goals I’ve set for myself. Plus, I’d never forget the rules of whichever social media site Hermione uses.


Murderbot from The Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells

I adore Murderbot. Although I’m not sure Murderbot would post much an social media, I would follow anything they had to say. It might mostly be talk about its favorite TV shows but I’d love to send Murderbot some love, even if it’s just a like or retweet. I’m sure it would appreciate it. Silently. From afar.


Laszlo Strange from Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor

Just because I wish I could see the world the way Laszlo sees it. I imagine he’d describe his travels in poetic language, share gorgeous pictures of the sights, and generally convey a sense of wonder that many of us have lost while growing up.


The Fool from the Realm of the Elderlings by Robin Hobb

I do love the fool but I think his timeline would be filled with riddles that I’d endlessly puzzle over only to figure out that he trolled his followers and just posted gibberish for fun. Then again he’d throw in an actual prophecy from time to time which would make following him all the more exciting.


Locke Lamora from The Gentleman Bastard by Scott Lynch

Not that he’d post how his latest heist went down but Locke might just be cocky enough to brag a little about it afterward and I would be there for it. Plus, there would be awesome back and forths between him and his bestie Jean Tannen. Gifs would be exchanged, there would be bickering, and I would watch it all with glee.


AIDAN from The Illuminae Files by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

AIDAN may be an AI but there is definitely so much love in him. He’d be the kind of social media user who reposts all his favorite people’s posts, makes sure the trolls stay away from anyone he loves, and generously blocks people who behave badly.


Every Protagonist Ever written by Ursula Vernon/T. Kingfisher

For practical advice and to remind me of what’s important in life. Spoiler: It’s not what lipstip brand you use or the shape of your eyebrows. I want to be best friends with all of her protagonists, especially the ones that are wombats. 🙂


Geralt of Rivia from The Witcher by Andrzej Sapkowski

Okay, there is a chance his entire timeline would consist of “Hmms” and random grunts, but I would take that chance to catch the occasional conversation he has with others where he shows just how deep an insight he actually has into human nature. Also, I’d hope for bathtub selfies every day.


Flora Fyrdraaca from the Flora Segunda Trilogy by Ysabeau S. Wilce

Flora is delightful and that would be enough for me to follow her. But I believe her Instagram account would show lots of pictures of her crazy home with its ever changing rooms, misbehaving elevators and the occasional ghost. And of course Nini Mo quotes and pictures of her best friend Udo and his daily fashion statements.


Man, now I kind of wish all these characters actually were on social media. It would be way more fun to see posts by these people than, you know, what actually happens on social media every day. Oh well, at least a girl can dream, right?

Top Ten Tuesday: The Last Ten Books That Gave Me a Book Hangover

I haven’t participated in a Top Ten Tuesday tag in soooo long. But this week’s topic really spoke to me. On the one hand, I love reading books that get to me so much that they give me a book hangover. On the other hand… who likes book hangovers? Whichever book comes next has a really hard time, nothing feels like you really want to read it, and the world is just a little sadder because that one book is now over.

But let’s focus on the good thing which is that all of these books are excellent and made me feel all the feels.

The last ten books that gave me a book hangover

Laini Taylor – Strange the Dreamer

Oh Laini Taylor! It may have taken me a second start to finally finish this book but that was entirely my own fault (time management, man) because this is a masterpiece. Everything about this book was amazing. The characters, the story, the world, and especially the language. It’s lyrical without feeling too flowery, it evokes such images in my mind, it literally made me daydream. Which is also the reason I have saved the second part of this duology for a time when I need a book I just know I’m going to love.

Helene Wecker – The Golem and the Jinni

This is a book that quietly grew on me the more I read. The story of two mythical creatures – the titular Golem and Jinni – are thrown into a world that is completely unknown to them. While this may be read as an immigrant story, the fact that we’re talking about two beings who are literally magical makes this all the morei interesting. Getting to know Ahmad and Chava, learning how to navigate the world alongside them, and figuring out who they really were was such a wonderful journey. I felt so deflated after I finished this book because whatever came next would have a hard time living up to this.

Nnedi Okorafor – Akata Warrior

This was a more pleasant type of book hangover. I absolutely adore the world Nnedi Okorafor has created and I just want to spend more time in it! The only reason I didn’t have a book hangover after the first book, Akata Witch, was because I had the second one ready to go. These books sucked me in so much because of the amazing world-building and characters and because it’s so different from any YA fantasy novel I had read before. I’ve said it in my review and I’ll say it again: the Akata books had the same effect on me as when I first read Harry Potter. It is entirely its own story but that feeling of discovering a secret magical world was the same. And who doesn’t want to feel that way again?

Maggie Stiefvater – The Scorpio Races

It took me a while to find my way into this book. Stiefvater isn’t known for flowery language but nobody can create a three-dimensional character with just a few lines the way that she can. In this case, she has created not just a cast of wonderful characters but an entire island filled with tradition and myth and life. Once I had allowed myself to get fully immersed in this world I never wanted to come up for air again. The ending was a thing of singular perfection. I cried and wanted to start reading the entire book again.

Katherine Arden – The Bear and the Nightingale

This entire trilogy swept me off my feet, but the first book gave me a particularly tough book hangover. It was like the author had looked into my brain, picked all the things I like about stories and stuck them into this novel. Russian fairy tales, a brilliant heroine, lots of conflict, a compelling wintery setting and fantastic writing. How could I not love this? The problem was that I read this shortly after it came out, so I had to wait for the next book. In the meantime, all I could do was yearn for another novel that combined all of my favorite things as beautifully as this one did.

S. L. Huang – The Little Homo Sapiens Scientist

Nobody was more surprised than me when this little book completely destroyed me. It’s a reversed Little Mermaid retelling – where the human scientist wants to become a mermaid – that packs way more punch than you’d expect. I’m so glad I bought the physical book from Book Smugglers Publishing because this is a story I want on my shelf. As it’s a retelling, you do know what’s coming ahead of time, but nothing could prepare me for the emotional punch. I was devastated, I was shocked, and I was very impressed. Here it was not so much that I didn’t think anything could live up to this book again, but more a general feeling of depression because of the story.

C. S. E. Cooney – Bone Swans

You can always tell when writers are also poets because even when they write prose, there is something special about the way they use language. C. S. E. Cooney is one such poet and in this collection, she wrote nothing but stories that gave me hangovers. Seriously, after every single one I thought to myself “This was the best one yet, nothing can be better” and then I repeated this until I reached the end of the book. One story in particular hit me right in the heartstrings (the Rumpelstiltskin retelling) but all the others were gorgeous as well. I have since tried to buy everything I could find by this author and I hope we’ll get to read much more by her.

N. K. Jemisin – The Fifth Season

As a three-years-in-a-row Hugo winner for this particular trilogy, I probably don’t have to tell you how great this book is. I had read Jemisin’s work before and was already a big fan, but when The Fifth Season came out, it was clear that she had reached a whole new level of excellence. All the things that are important to me (characters, language, world-building, plot) exceeded my expectations, and then there is one of the best most surprising twists that I have ever come across. This deserves every award it has won and it still makes me doubt I’ll ever read anything quite as good again.

Angela Slatter – The Bitterwood Bible

Here’s another short story writer that completely blew me away. Slatter’s short stories are interconnected (and also connect to her other collection Sourdough) so this didn’t feel so much like a story collection but rather like a mosaic novel. Fitting the pieces together, seeing how each story fits within the context of the others, was almost as much fun as the stories themselves. Slatter writes fantastic characters, putting women front and center. Her writing has a fairy tale vibe, all while doing completely her own thing.

Catherynne M. Valente – Radiance

There had to be a Valente novel on this list, didn’t there? It’s not surprising that my favorite writer also gave me one of my biggest book hangovers. In this retro futuristic novel, she combines so many styles and voices that at first I was most impressed with the writing. But then she also created this heartbreaking characters and tells an extraordinary story that I didn’t know what to love more. Reading this was truly an experience. This is a book you fall into like a dream and waking up feels just as painful as leaving loved ones behind.

I had to browse through my “read” list on Goodreads for quite some time to find all these books. It turns out I have read a lot of fantastic novels but not that many of them gave me proper book hangovers. Either because they had really satisfying endings that made me happy to start a new and different adventure or because they may have been great but not as outstanding as others.

BookQuest Vol. 1 – Wrap-Up

This wrap-up is coming to you a bit late because I’m actually on holiday and won’t be writing new posts, so I had to spread out all the reviews I had already prepared. BookQuest Vol. 1 was my super fun start into 2020. This is still a very new readathon and the hosts are working out some technical quirks, but it was a lot of fun to participate and I can’t wait to see what they’ve got in store for us with the next one.

The Quest

The first thing you had to do was choose which team you would be joining. I picked the Knights of the Kingdom because the quest descriptions were really funny and the prompts fit several books I had been wanting to read anyway.

Each group had to finish seven quests, including reading the group book, The Guinevere Deception. I loved the texts that came with each reading prompt, there was even a map that showed these quests (book with an animal companion was the quest at the stables, book with a weapon on the cover was in the armory, etc.). A lot of love went into this readathon! Even though some technical bugs had to be fixed mid-readathon, Chris was always quick to respond to bug reports and usually fixed the problem within a few days. Now that all of that programming is already done, I can only imagine the next readathon will run much more smoothly and maybe even add some new functions.

My shelf

During this readathon, I managed to read nine books, although one of them was a graphic novel and two were actually novellas. But still, considering that my other reads were all rather hefty, I’m very proud of my success.

As you can see, I could have read more but I’m very happy with my result. Here are my readathon books:

  • Andrzej Sapkowski – Sword of Destiny
  • Benjanun Sriduangkaew – Winterglass (re-read)
  • Benjanun Sriduangkaew – Mirrorstrike
  • Brandon Sanderson – Starsight
  • Marissa Meyer – Archenemies
  • Maggie Stiefvater – Call Down the Hawk
  • Kiersten White – The Guinevere Deception (review to come)
  • Jeff Smith – Bone Vol. 3 (review to come)
  • Tessa Gratton – The Queens of Innis Lear (not finished yet)

MY RESULTS

In total, I read almost 3000 pages, which is not as crazy as it sounds. Two of my books were audiobooks so I could listen while doing other things – folding laundry, doing dishes… it’s all so much more fun when someone’s telling you a great story. And I was quite lucky with the books I’ve chosen. Not all of them were instant favorites but they were at least all good.

The fact that updating your books (pages or percent read) helped level up your character also motivated me a lot! I ended up as a Level 7 Knight of the Kingdom:

All things considered, this was a great readathon! I can’t wait to see what Chris and Ellie come up with for the next one and I’ll definitely be joining again. And yeah, I know I said I wouldn’t do too many readathons this year but come on! 🙂

BookQuest Readathon – Sign-Up

What better way to start a new reading year than with a readathon? My motivation is still super high and I want to get a head start on my reading in 2020 so when I stumbled upon this amazing-looking readathon, I knew I had to participate. BookQuest runs from January 5th through January 25th, which makes it even better. I like readathons that take more than a week because it’s just easier to organize my reading around my other activities if the time frame is longer.

The organizers at The Paper Tavern seem to have put a lot of effort into this readathon. There is a bounty board, there will be a possibility to level  up and check up on our reading stats and it all just sounds wonderful and exciting.  I can’t wait to get started!

This readathon’s quest is to defeat a scary dragon, which you can do by joining either the Mages of the Guild or the Knights of the Kingdom team. Depending on which team you choose, you get different reading prompts for a total of seven books. That includes the group read, The Guinevere Deception by Kiersten White (which fits well into my 2020 Retellings Challenge, yay!).

Normally, I would immediately go for the team that has magic – because magic is awesome – but for this readathon, I have decided to join the Knights of the Kingdom, led by Sir Chris the Dullhead. I mean, how could I resist. 🙂

Naturally, I already thought about what I am going to read for these prompts. Knowing myself, I may change my mind on some of these choices but I like having a TBR prepared so I don’t have to stress about finding books when the readathon is already underway.

The readathon allows for single books to count toward several prompts but as I want to read as much as possible, I picked one book per prompt.

Pick out a Weapon: Andrzej Sapkowski – Sword of Destiny
Meet With the King: Benjanun Sriduangkaew – Winterglass (re-read)
Get Fitted for Armor: Brandon Sanderson – Starsight
Visit the Stablemaster: C. A. Fletcher – A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World
Defeat Your Sparring Partner: Shelby Mahurin – Serpent & Dove
Sign Up for the Joust: Elizabeth Lim – Spin the Dawn
Study the Code of Chivalry: Kiersten White – The Guinevere Deception

I look forward to checking out those books. Maybe, if I’m really fast with the first quests, I’ll switch up my TBR for some bigger books. I already started reading Starsight but since one book can cover several prompts, I don’t think this readathon will be super strict about that.

Are you joining as well? If so, what team will you support and which books will you read? Let me know in the comments!

Best of 2019: My Favorite Books of the Year

I have head SUCH a fantastic reading year, you guys! Not only did I surpass my goal by a crazy amount (mostly thanks to the OWLs and NEWTs readathons) but I also did really well balancing older and newer books, catching up on unfinished series, finally picking up that book everyone loved ten years ago, and so on. I am quite proud of myself and I am even happier that I have such a long list of favorites. 2019 has been good to me, reading-wise.

As per usual, I’ll split my top reads into books published in 2019 and books published before this year. This will also give you a good idea of which books will make it onto my nomination ballot for the Hugo Awards. I’ll include all the 2019 publications I’ve read that didn’t make my list of favorites, so you know what pool I have chosen these books from.

Favorite Books Published in 2019

Novels

The most recent publication of 2019 and a book I did not expect to love as much as I did was Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo.  I knew I liked her writing, her characters, and her stories (so… everything, basically), but this is her first novel for adults. It is set in the real world and it deals with ghosts and demons and stuff. That didn’t sound like my jam. But boy, did I fall into this story! It took me all of one chapter to fall in love. Then the crazy world of secret societies in Yale drew me in more and more. Alex Stern is one hell of a protagonist, the plot was exciting, the storytelling structure kept me intrigued the entire time… I hope that enough people read this in time for nomination season because it totally deserves an award nod or two.

A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine was a fantastic start to a space opera trilogy (series?) that I went into without much expectation. Reviews had generally been positive, so I thought I’d try it out. And then Arkady Martine blew me away with great world building, brilliant ideas, and characters that sneakily weaseled their way into my heart. We follow Mahit Dzmare, the embassador of a small space station, to the capital of the gigantic Teixcalaanli empire because the previous embassador has been mysteriously killed. Now, figuring out whether it was murder and if so, who murdered him, is one thing. But navigating that foreign-to-Mahit society with a second person implanted into your brain is a whole different story. I was hooked immediately and enjoyed every single page. I can’t wait to read the next book in the series.

I am one of many people who loved the clever mind-fuck that was Kameron Hurley’s The Light Brigade. Part military science fiction, part time travel story, lots of nods to Heinlein and Haldeman, but entirely its own thing, this novel kept me transfixed the entire time. When I wasn’t trying to figure out what the hell was going on or putting the puzzle pieces together, I was engaged by the protagonist and their internal struggles, and especially by the world Hurley has created. There are so many details in this book that I suspect make it a great candidate for multiple re-reads. I urge everyone who likes either time travel, riddles, or military SF to pick it up. I am pretty sure this will end up on the Hugo Award short list.

Magic for Liars by Sarah Gailey came out of nowhere for me. It was sold as Harry Potter for adults but with a Muggle protagonist. And yeah, it pretty much is that, but it’s also a detective story at a magic school. The murder mystery was exciting and I loved following along with Ivy as she gathered clues, interviewed people, and so on. But what made this book so special for me was the frayed relationship between our muggle protagonist and her magical sister (there is some jealousy involved, as you can imagine) and the student characters we get to know throughout the story. This was just an incredibly well written book that I hope more people will pick up. I haven’t heard a lot of buzz around it yet but it absolutely deserves it.

Other 2019 books I’ve read:  Tamsyn Muir – Gideon the Ninth, Alix E. Harrow – The Ten Thousand Doors of January, Silvia Moreno-Garcia – Gods of Jade and Shadow, G. Willow Wilson – The Bird King, Helen Oyeyemi – Gingerbread, Katherine Arden – The Winter of the Witch, Fonda Lee – Jade War

Young Adult

For the Retellings Challenge I picked up Echo North by Joanna Ruth Meyer, which retells one of my favorite tales, East of the Sun, West of the Moon. Instead of a polar bear, the male character in this story is a white wolf. And while all the stops of the original fairy tale are there, Meyer has made this quite her own story. Echo is a lovable heroine whose decisions remain understandable the entire time (if you know the fairy tale, then you know that is not the case with the original protagonist).  The magic castle where Echo lives with the wolf almost feels like its own character (it has a magical library!!!), and the ending was such a thing of perfection, I have no words to describe it.

I have loved Sam J. Miller‘s writing ever since I read The Art of Starving. His adult novel Blackfish City was even better! So naturally I grabbed Destroy All Monsters the moment it came out. While it wasn’t quite as perfect as his other two books, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Again, it had brilliant, flawed, difficult characters, and the relationships between them are anything but simple. This book wasn’t so much about the plot (there is one, don’t worry) but more about mental health, friendship, and how to deal with trauma. The fantasy element was cool but if you want nice, clean lines between your fantasy world and the real world, this may not be for you. Things get blurry, things get messy, and I loved every bit of it.

I will say again what I’ve said in my review of the book. I liked The Cruel Prince but I LOVED The Wicked King by Holly Black. The characters are already set up, the world isn’t new for us readers anymore, and the plot in this second book just keeps on giving. Jude and Cardan’s relationship has always been weird, to say the least, but Holly Black does such a fantastic job writing these characters that I kept catching myself hoping they’d end up together. It’s wrong… and it’s made clear that it’s wrong. Cardan’s a dick, Jude is getting more and more power-hungry, and their feelings for each other are probably more lust than love. But man, do I ship them! But this isn’t only a book about whether two characters get together – there is political intrigue, betrayal, really thrilling scenes where you worry for the protagonist’s life, and oh yeah… you may have heard that the ending offers a huuuuge twist. I did not see it coming and it hit me right where it hurts, like all the best stories do.

Other 2019 YA books I’ve read:  Brigid Kemmerer – A Curse so Dark and Lonely, T. Kingfisher – Minor Mage, Margaret Rogerson – Sorcery of Thorns, Holly Black – The Queen of Nothing

Novellas

My biggest surprise when it comes to novellas was probably To Be Taught, If Fortunate by Becky Chambers. Not only did that short book pack a lot of plot but it also shows great worldbuilding, the authors’ well-known almost too nice characters (a bit less nice but more realistic here than in her novels) but it also makes you geek out with the four space travellers over finding a tiny proof of life on a distant planet. There is so much to discover in these pages and I loved everything about the story. Even the ending – though it is a polarizing one – was okay for me. Sure, I may have preferred a slightly different one but I felt that the chosen ending hit the right tone for the novella’s ultimate message.

This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar & Max Gladstone turned out to be a completely different kind of story than I expected. Two agents of warring factions are changing events in time in order to achieve… some goal, I guess? You see, it’s not important why there is a Time War, what’s being fought for, or even who may win in the end. Red and Blue, the two protagonists, communicate across space and time via letters and coded messages. Their correspondence turns into friendship and even into love. So this is an epistolary story with a time travel background, but the heart of it are the characters and the beautiful language. It’s not what I expected but I enjoyed it very much. I admit, my esteem for the tale has grown a little less as I am slowly forgetting details about it, but while I was reading it, I was completely in that world. And for that, it deserves a spot on this list.

Other 2019 novellas  I’ve read: C. S. E. Cooney – Desdemona and the Deep

Graphic Novels

I knew I would love Colleen Doran‘s graphic novel adaptation of Neil Gaiman‘s short story Snow, Glass, Apples. I just didn’t know how much. This dark retelling of Snow White from the point of view of the not-really-evil stepmother hit all the right spots. It’s clear early on that Snow White is the villain in this one and the queen is just trying to save her people. As dark fairy tales go, this one is pretty damn dark! But what made it even better than the story as such was the amazing artwork by Colleen Doran. The story just flows across these pages, even though there is little use of panes. There are so many details that you can linger on every page, soaking in the gorgeous drawings. Highly recommended!

Other 2019 graphic novels I’ve read: V. E. Schwab & Andrea Olimpieri – Shades of Magic: The Steel Prince

Non-Fiction

Nnedi Okorafor’s Broken Places & Outer Spaces was a fairly short read, but it packed a punch. I have read many of Okorafor’s books and loved them all (most recently the Akata series which gave me the same vibes as Harry Potter did all those years ago), but I hadn’t known anything about her as a person. In this book, she talks about an operation on her spine which left her paralysed. She explains not just what life is like with limited mobility (spoiler: it’s difficult, and there’s lots of little things able-bodied people like myself don’t even think about) but also how this thing made her into the person she is, how it gave her ideas and how she then put those ideas into writing. As memoirs go, I have little experience, but this was as exciting to read as any novel, and I loved the insight it gave me into where some of Nnedi’s amazing ideas had actually come from.

Favorite Audiobooks (published whenever)

I have loved audiobooks for as long as I can remember but ever since I developed a serious audiobook habit, I have noticed just how much of a difference the narrator can make. In order to honor the people who have read me some gorgeous stories, I want to share my favorite audiobooks with you. These aren’t necessarily favorite books, but the narration or production of the audiobook feel noteworthy to me.

Nnedi Okorafor makes an appearance again, with her amazing novel Akata Warrior. This book also belongs to the list below (favorites published before 2019), but the audiobook was such a standout experience that I have to mention it here. As the book is set in Nigeria and features mostly Nigerian characters, but a protagonist who grew up in America, narrator Yetide Badaki had to do different accents. Now I can’t judge how accurate the Nigerian accents were (Badaki was born in Nigeria, so I assume she knows what she’s doing), but it was such a pleasure listening to the story and to the dialogue that frequently switched between American English and English with a Nigerian accent, that I was totally immersed in the experience. The duology (so far) also comes highly recommended in general. As mentioned above, it gave me strong Harry Potter vibes, not because it’s a copy of our favorite boy wizard but because reading it filled me with the same sense of wonder.

Holly Black’s The Queen of Nothing may not have made it into my favorites of 2019, because I just loved The Wicked King more, but the audiobook narration of all three novels in this trilogy is fantastic! The books are read by Caitlin Kelly and while she doesn’t do accents, I really liked how she differentiated between the various characters. She was especially great at reading Cardan. When audiobook narrators read a character of a different gender from their own, it can sometimes sound forced or even ridiculous (men doing squeaky high voices for female characters for example) but Kelly managed to deepen her voice and even to give Cardan a super sexy timbre without ever taking me out of the story’s flow.

Lastly, I have to recommend Graphic Audio yet again for their mindblowing productions. In 2019, I listened to the full cast audiboook of Brandon Sanderson’s Oathbringer, and it was as much of a treat as the previous two books. The series itself is a highly ambitious riveting epic fantasy that I just can’t get enough of. But having the dialogues acted out by different people, with background music and sound effects, just turns these audiobooks into a whole new experience. Graphic Audio have adapted most of Sanderson’s work and while the audiobooks don’t come cheap, I highly recommend you check them out. You can start with one of Sanderson’s shorter standalone works or the Mistborn series to see if you like this type of radio play. I gladly throw my money at them and basically auto-buy any new adaptation that comes out. Because they’re just that good!

Other audiobooks I’ve listened to: Megan Whalen Turner – The Thief, Megan Whalen Turner – The Queen of Attolia, Seanan McGuire – Beneath the Sugar Sky, Becky Chambers – Record of a Spaceborn Few, Martha Wells – Rogue Protocol, Leigh Bardugo – The King of Scars

Favorite Books published pre-2019

My standout older book of the year was probably The Golem and the Jinni by Helen Wecker. I had known that I would love this book but I didn’t know just how much. Every review I’d read has mentioned buzz words and plot devices that pushed all my buttons. But reading about Chava and Ahmad, these two mythological creatures pretending to be humans, following their day-to-day lives, and discovering their origins, was so much more rewarding than I could have guessed. I loved everyting about this book. The characters, the language, the structure… and then Wecker even goes ahead and delivers an action-packed perfect ending.

Another book that gave me tons of warm and fuzzy feelings was Laini Taylor’s Strange the Dreamer. I had actually started reading this before 2019 but put it aside again (because the timing sucked). This time around, I was enthralled the entire time. When I wasn’t basking in Taylor’s lyrical language, I let myself fall into her world of blue-skinned demon children, a boy who grew up in a library, and a city trying to get over its dark past. I haven’t picked up the second part of this duology yet because I have a feeling I will need this book for bad times or a reading slump. Strange the Dreamer was one of the most gorgeous tales I have ever read and it has a firm place in my heart.

I was already in love with The Raven Cycle so when I picked up The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater, I expected nothing less than a new favorite. And I got just that. But in addition to a beautifully told story about magical horses who come from the sea and eat humans (and whatever else they can find), Stiefvater also delivered a brilliant, quiet romance between two incredibly lovable characters, and the most perfect last line I have ever read. In any book. Ever!
I cried several times during this novel, but when I read that last page and got to that last line, I was a sobbing mess. If you want a gorgeous standalone novel with a bit of mythology, a bit of romance, and fantastic characters, pick this up.

This was the year of Leigh Bardugo for me. I finished her Grisha Trilogy (plus King of Scars) and I’m finally getting the hype. Her short story collection, The Language of Thorns, was a spectacular return to the Grishaverse.
These are the fairytales told in the actual Grishaverse. So you get “The Too-Clever Fox” (where Nikolai’s nickname comes from) plus a bunch of others. Each story is fantastic on its own but together they paint such a vivid picture of the world Bardugo has created. Plus, the book itself is stunning. The print comes in two colors and with gorgeous illustrations.

I enjoyed Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff’s Gemina – the second book in the Illuminae Files Trilogy – mostly because it was the right book at the right time for me. At a different time, my opinion of this book could have been very different, more critical, more analytical. But I needed a quick, thrilling adventure with a bit of romance and this fit perfectly. The format, transcripts of video footage, chat messages, phone calls, etc., made this really easy to read. The plot was like Die Hard in Space and the romance may not have been original, but it worked for me. While it is maybe not an award-worthy piece of writing, it gave me exactly what I needed and I enjoyed every single page. Who cares if this is great literature. It gave me plenty of enjoyment, silly romance, action and fun, and I will not feel guilty for loving it!

Tess of the Road by Rachel Hartman is a special book. I didn’t fall head over heels in love with it immediately, but the story grew on me over time. The longer I read, the more I liked it and the more I cared about Tess. It’s a quiet tale of a girl coming into her own, dealing with her past, and finding her place in the world – quite literally. Although it is an episodic story, it never felt episodic. The writing is beautiful, but the characters were the living, beating heart of this book. So though this wasn’t an immediate crush, once I finished the book I couldn’t stop thinking about it and the warm, happy feelings it gave me stayed with me for quite a while.

That’s it for my favorites of the year. 2019 has been good to me!
I discovered some new-to-me authors, I caught up on series and backlists by authors I already liked, I read a variety of books – graphic novels, non-fiction, novellas, and of course lots of novels – and it has been an incredibly rewarding year. What were your favorites? Leave a link to your post or share your standout 2019 books with me in the comments! I love to see what everyone else read this year and which books I may have overlooked. And of course:

Happy New Year!!! 🙂