A Good Contemporary YA, But A Bad SFF Novel: Tori Bovalino – The Devil Makes Three

I was very much looking forward to reading a book set in a library with a dangerous old grimoure and two teenagers who accidentally summon a demon and then have to fight its dark forces. Dark Academia, creepy tomes, and maybe a dash of romance is exactly what I was in the mood for. Sadly, I only got a nice romance with a paperthin SFF plot, a slumpy middle, and sloppy ending.

THE DEVIL MAKES THREE
by Tori Bovalino

Published: Page Street Kids, 2021
Hardback: 389 pages
Standalone
My rating: 5.5/10

Opening line: Tess Matheson was one of the few people on campus who didn’t think that the Jessop English Library was haunted.

Tess Matheson only wants three things: time to practice her cello, for her sister to be happy, and for everyone else to leave her alone.

Instead, Tess finds herself working all summer at her boarding school library, shelving books and dealing with the intolerable patrons. The worst of them is Eliot Birch: snide, privileged, and constantly requesting forbidden grimoires. After a bargain with Eliot leads to the discovery of an ancient book in the library’s grimoire collection, the pair accidentally unleash a book-bound demon.

The demon will stop at nothing to stay free, manipulating ink to threaten those Tess loves and dismantling Eliot’s strange magic. Tess is plagued by terrible dreams of the devil and haunting memories of a boy who wears Eliot’s face. All she knows is to stay free, the demon needs her… and he’ll have her, dead or alive.

The Devil Makes Three is told through dual first-person POVs which lends itself particularly well to a romance. Tess Matheson works at Jessop Library under the strict eyes of her great-aunt Mathilde. The reason she works there in addition to her waiting job at Emilio’s is that Falk is a super expensive school and Tess’ parents are on the edge of poverty. But it’s all worth it for Tess because this way, she can help her sister get a great education. Never mind that Tess gets too little sleep and way too little time for practicing her beloved cello.

Eliot is the principal’s son and as such may be seen as just another privileged rich boy. But he has his own secrets and problems. First of all, he’s a witch! Secondly, he really doesn’t get along with his dad, he’s shy and bookish, and he’d much rather stay with his sick mom in the English countryside. Oh yeah, he has a British accent but that was clearly just a fancy on the author’s part because while he may say “crisps” instead of “chips”, she forgot to make him call “gas” petrol and “soda” fizzy drink. That literally took me 30 seconds to Google so if you want your character to be British, do better! Throwing in a “bloody hell” once does not convince.

But Eliot’s fake-Britishness aside, both him and Tess are pretty interesting characters with very complicated families. The part I enjoyed best about this whole book was finding out how their problematic situations came to be. Eliot’s mother is very ill and his close relationship to her is tangible on every page. It also explains his desire for forbidden grimoires and books on the occult – he’d do anything to save her!
Tess had a world of different problems. First of all, there’s her family’s finencial situation and how that came to be. I enjoyed learning more about that and how Tess is handling things, even though it’s really painful. Tess’s passion is the cello and if she wants her sister to have a good life, the cello will have to take second place. So although Tess isn’t the most well-developed character, her actions show that she is willing to sacrifice her life’s dream for her sister and that makes it easy to like her.

The protagonists’ “meet cute” is based on a misunderstanding which is gladly resolved pretty quickly. But then each of them is determined to misunderstand the other one as often as possible in order to artificially create tension. I found that technique super weak, especially because there wasn’t even any great banter between them. They’re clearly attracted to each other but each of them sticks to certain ideas about the other and thus decides a romance is impossible. It’s pretty dumb but again, the author got over that bit and eventually managed to make these two bond somewhat more organically over the course of this novel. After all, they soon have a common enemy to fight.

Which leads me to the rather weaksauce fantasy/horror plot. It starts out okay, I guess. They find a very hidden very old book, Tess reads a couple of lines from it, things go weird. Random books start bleeding ink, both Tess and Eliot are having hallucinations, and Tess has a visitor in her dreams who promises to make all her deepest desires come true if only she gives in. Of course, instead of talking to each other, the two protagonists individually pretend everything is fine because reasons I guess. And then a whole chunk of the book just goes on repeating like that. The demon/devil that they summoned does the same trick over and over again, has a whole bunch of threats but sticks to the same mild scare tactics. If you want a properly scary book, this isn’t it. There was exactly one scene that I found truly unsettling, the rest felt more like cheesy teen horror movie material.

The last third of the book finally picks up some speed again, although I can’t say it did well. The solution to the kids’ demon problem is extremely unoriginal and the last-minute “twist” Bovalino threw in there was super obvious from very early on. I mean, there are about nine named characters in this entire book so if a point gets mentioned over and over again with one character coming up every time, it’s not hard to suspect they are more than they seem…
I was also kind of shocked with what callousness some character deaths were handled. It’s incredible that one character’s demise is taken with almost just a shrug, then another with a couple of sad lines, and that’s it. I mean, Tess does some truly terrible stuff in this story but she seems to get over everything like a breeze. The only things that rile her are when her sister is in danger of when Eliot’s life is on the line – the boy she’s known for a few weeks is more important to her than the great-aunt who saved her and her sister’s education and also happens to be family!

Generally, the further along I read, the more I felt a disconnect between the events that took place and the characters’ actions and feelings. I believe the author mostly wanted to write a romance between a bookish guy with a British accent and an emotionally hardened girl who’s good at music, and the whole demon thing was just an afterthought. You know, because you need a conflict or whatever.
Because if you take out the family backstories and the relationships between Tess/Eliot and their parents, that’s the focus of the entire book. Them endlessly thinking of each other and repeating cheesy lines in their heads. Eliot gets super protective of Tess (come on, think of something new to express love) and Tess dreams of kissing him but pretends not to like him because that’s what she saw in the movies, I suppose. And in the matter of a few chapters, they’d gladly die for each other. It’s rife with clichés and the only saving grace is that the few tender moments between them, where they truly opened up and were just people who liked each other, were well written.

The reason I didn’t hate this book despite all its flaws is that the non-fantastic parts, the parts about Tess’s family, her music, her sister, and generally her everyday mundane life, were really gripping. There were many interesting relationships there, big conflicts between her and her father especially, that I would have gladly read more about. And the same goes for Eliot. His fraught relationship to his father and his father’s girlfriend on the one hand was intriguing, but the deep bond he shares with his mother was a whole different level. And then he’s also magic! The book feeds us tidbits about the characters’ past as it goes along and I enjoyed those much more than anything to do with this boring-ass devil whose actions make no sense anyway. Seriously, he has a certain ability but he waits months to use it the first time… There is no world-building here, not much thought has been put into either Eliot’s magic or the grimoire, because those things just do whatever is convenient to the plot. Never mind if it’s internally consistent. This was never meant to be a fantasy or a horror novel. It’s also not Dark Academia, because having one character work at the library isn’t enough. There’s no particular love for academical pursuits, thre’s no scholarly atmosphere, the plot could have been set anywhere, the book could have been found in someone’s attic, and everything would have worked just the same.

So no, this was not a good SFF book. This wasn’t even an okay SFF book. But it could have been a great contemporary novel about two teenagers who feel lost, finding strength in each other and learning how to deal with their problems. I don’t think I’d pick up another Bovalino book with superantural elements, but I would definitely try a non-SFF novel of hers.

MY RATING: 5.5/10 – Okay

#WyrdAndWonder Day 7: Fantasy From Around the World

Traveling the world and seeing new places is great, but if you can’t do that, for whatever reason (money is usually a big one, although we’re also still in a pandemic and traveling isn’t most people’s top priority right now), there are always books. In recent years, the fantasy genre has branched out more and more, and is giving us stories inspired by places other than Medieval Europe and cultures other than white Eurocentric or North American ones. Here are some of my favorite authors and books that let you travel around the world. With magic!

Fantasy From Around the World

For this post, I’ve chosen not only books that I really enjoyed and would recommend, but also ones where the setting and sense of place is more than just window dressing. There are many, many books that are “set in XYZ” where “XYZ” turns out to be just a name that has no bearing on the characters or plot. These are books that have a proper sense of place and culture. I found all of them to be great reads that transported me far away from home.

East Asia

If you still haven’t read Fonda Lee‘s mindblowingly good Jade City and its equally fantastic sequel Jade War, then you are in for a treat. The third and final book in the Greenbone Saga is coming out later this year, so you won’t even have to wait that long.
It’s about the Kaul family, one of the two ruling mafia-like families on the island of Kekon. They use magical jade to enhance their abilities. These books are all about ancient feuds, secret betrayals, political alliances, and cool martial art battles. But it’s told through the eyes of the younger Kaul generation who are brilliant characters in their own right and will steal your heart in no time. It’s like the Godfather with magic!


Russia

Our next stop will lead us to alternate Russia where The Winternight Trilogy by Katherine Arden takes place. These books tell the story of Vasilisa Petrovna, Vasya for short, who can see the spirits that protect her village. It’s the little house ghosts that people leave some food out on the window sills for and the creatures of the forest that talk to Vasya. When a young and charismatic priest comes to live in the village and plans to convert everyone to Christianity, two belief systems clash. And Vasya is right in the middle of a battle between old gods and new ones.
This is such an atmospheric trilogy that has a little bit of everything. It starts out set mostly in Vasya’s home town but in the second book, she visits Moscow and other places in Russia – both real and magical. There’s a beautiful romance, court intrigue, female empowerment, and this brilliant atmosphere that makes you believe there really could still be a little magic left in the world.


Nigeria

Look, I could throw all of Nnedi Okorafor‘s books at you and I really want to, but that seems unwise and also a bit impolite, so I’ll just go with one of her YA books which is set in Nigeria. If you like super immersive fantasy worlds that exist alongside our mundane human world, then Akata Witch and Akata Warrior are an excellent choice.
Sunny Nwazue is Nigerian by birth, has lived in the US and has now returned to Nigeria. She is also albino and feels like she never really fits in. That is, until she finds out she is also a Leopard Person – someone with a magical gift – and will be learning how to use these new powers alongside a group of great friends. Oh and there’s also a dangerous serial killer on the loose, a book of lessons that seems to mock its reader, teen drama, and lots of original, cool, fun magic to discover. I adore these books and I cannot wait for the third part to come out.
Also, if you’re into audiobooks, I highly recommend going that route. The narration is stunning!


South Africa

All the way down in South Africa, we find the setting for Lauren Beukes’ fantastic novel Zoo City where people who have committed a terrible crime are marked by an animal companion. It may sound cool to have you rvery own pet companion but you can’t be separated from it without feeling pain and seeing it shows everyone else that you have done something terrible…
Set in Johannesburg, Zoo City tells the story of Zinzi December, who has a sloth and is also very good at finding things. This book has so much to discover. Zinzi takes a job to find the missing half of a famous pop duo, has to try and pay her drug debts by participating in 419 scams, and also lets us see what life is like for an “animalled” person in this alternate South Africa.



Mexico

Don’t let the words “horror novel” scare you off. Even if you’re not a great reader of horror (neither am I), this could still be for you. In Mexican Gothic, Silvia Moreno Garcia sends her plucky socialite heroine off to the creepy mansion where her cousin lives with her new husband and his family. As soon as she arrives, she knows something isn’t right and she is determined to figure it out. Things get creepy fast and it’s delightful to follow Noemí through the crumbling old house, looking for clues, unsure whether she can trust anyone but herself.
This book is so damn immersive and readable that you can eat it up in one sitting. At the end, things do get a bit gross and there’s some body horror there. But for the most part, the creep factor relies on humans acting weird, things not making sense, and the casual everyday racism of the family’s patriarch.
For another trip through Mexico that reads much more like YA (although apparently, it is supposed to be adult fantasy), go for the fairy tale like cute road trip novel Gods of Jade and Shadow. There’s lots of mythology and a lovely coming-of-age tale here. I still feel it reads super young, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a fun book.


Brazil

Ah, finally another chance to recommend one of my all time favorite underdog books. This novel should be getting so much love but it seems to have gone under the radar. So let me tell you why The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson is so brilliant and you should all be picking it up.
It’s set in a futuristic Brazil in the city of Palmares Tres where every few years a Summer King is chosen who then gets to select the future Queen. And then he’s killed. Don’t question it, just read the book. Young June Costa is a graffiti artist and she’s also quite taken with the newest Summer Prince, Enki. But there’s much more to this book than a teen romance. First of all, most characters seem to be bisexual in this book and there’s very little teen drama. Instead, there is political unrest, the clash of old and young generations, new technology versus traditional methods, and it’s also about the importantce of art. I adored this book for its great atmosphere, its amazing world building, and its characters.


There are many, many more fantasy books set in all sorts of different places around the world but these are some of my favorites. I hope you enjoy traveling via book as much as I do and these recommedantions offer new and interesting places to visit.
I can’t wait to go and see what everyone else is recommending for this seventh day of Wyrd and Wonder. 🙂

The Liebster Award

I’ve been tagged by Lisa from Way too Fantasy  – thank you so much for thinking of me! 🙂
The end of the year is the perfect time for tags, if you ask me, so I’ll do my very best to answer Lisa’s questions.

 

Rules:

  • Thank the blogger who nominated you
  • Answer the 11 questions the blogger asked you
  • Nominate 11 bloggers
  • Ask your nominees 11 questions
  • Notify your 11 nominees

Lisa’s questions:

What is the last book you read that annoyed you and why?

Oh, that one’s easy. The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue because that book promised me so many things and then delivered none of them. I found it predictable, it didn’t establish its settings or time periods, the characters were flat, and it was just a totally forgettable read.
The most annoying part is how much I wanted to love this book. My review is coming on Monday, so you can read my rant in its entirety then.

What is your favorite non-book related hobby?

That’s a hard one. I discovered bouldering a few years ago through my boyfriend and it’s a really fun sport. It’s like solving riddles while exercising your body and the thrill I get whenever I manage to climb a route that is difficult for me is so great!
I also like to draw (although I haven’t in a long time), and play video games. I suck at first person ones, but I’m really good at jump and run games and ones involving riddles. I have a thing for riddles and puzzles, apparently.

Something about yourself that people may be surprised to learn?

Hm… I’m really not that interesting. 🙂
The only thing I can think of is that my first language is actually German. People may not know this because I blog only in English. I’ve always loved languages and I’m glad I have books and blogging to keep my brain using English so I don’t forget everything I’ve learned. It happens, people. My French and Spanish are proof of that. I used to speak French so well but once you stop using it or hearing/reading that language, eventually all that vocab just goes away.

How do you pick your next read?

It varies. When there’s a readathon I’m participating in, the prompts dictate my reads for that month/week. When Hugo voting season is upon us, I read as many finalists as I can (the order is decided by my mood). The rest of the year, I vaguely follow my goals – reading diverse books and authors, continuing ongoing series, keeping up with new publications, reading a few award winners, etc.
Sometimes, I make my boyfriend draw a book from my TBR bag. It’s filled with little papers with the books I’ve been putting off too long. But when he picks something I’m not in the mood for, I make him pick again, so I guess I’m cheating a little.

If you had to move to another country, where would you choose to live?

That’s a super hard question! I love France (I’ve lived there for half a year and I still miss all the amazing wines and cheeses) but when I consider everything – politics, jobs, socio-economic issues, etc. – I’d much rather live in Scandinavia. Sweden has always intrigued me, although I’ve never been there. Then again, I hate the cold, so that’s a no no.
I’m honestly quite happy here in Vienna, Austria. Sure, my country has problems like any other but there’s a reason my city has been voted the one with the highest quality of living for many years in a row.

What is your first favorite book that you were maybe a bit obsessed with?

There really was something before Harry Potter and it was by a German fantasy writer duo named Wolfang and Heike Hohlbein. I got the book Katzenwinter (“Cats’ Winter”) for my 11th birthday and I must have read it four times in a row, I was so obsessed. There were ten cats in that book, I knew all their names by heart, and would tell them to anyone who was interested (which was nobody – thanks for listening anyway, grandma!).
This is also the book that got me into the fantasy genre. I’m pretty sure I would find many, many things wrong with this book and the others by Hohlbein but for 11-year-old me, it was a revelation!

Have you ever joined in a fandom? If so which one?

How do you officially join a fandom? I consider myself part of many fandoms because… well, I’m a fan. But I haven’t posted any fanart or fanfiction publicly. I’m way too shy for that. Blogging is about as outspoken as I get on the internet and sometimes, especially when I have a negative review about a well-beloved book, that still takes me some courage.
I’ve recently discovered that I love Laini Taylor, Holly Black, and Leigh Bardugo. They have pretty big fandoms with lots of great art and I love to discover it!

Besides blogging, what is another way you participate as part of a book community?

I’m on Goodreads, mostly to track my reading, but I do occasionally post in the group forums there. I follow many people on twitter who write about books and publishing, and I sometimes post my current reads to Instagram. But honestly, I’m not too into social media. The internet is eating up enough of my time as it is.
I also listen to SFF podcasts: The Sword & Laser, SFF Yeah, The Fantasy Inn, The Writer and the Critic, The Coode Street Podcast.

What is your least favorite part of blogging?

Writing negative reviews. It can be cathartic of course, but I’d always rather love a book than hate it. It’s especially bad when I dislike a book that everyone else seems to love.
When I do hate a book, I stand by that opinion and I try to explain why I hated it. But I can’t say I enjoy saying bad things about books. Even if I think the author did a shitty job, they still put a lot of work and effort into it and that deserves respect at least.

Your favorite book you’ve read so far this year?

Just one? You’re kidding, right?

Pre-2020 releases:

How large is your TBR pile?

Hahahahahahahahaha! Goodreads says around 2600 but I do occasionally un-haul books, so maybe a little less than that. Still, it’s ridiculous.

My questions:

  1. Which author do you own the most books by?
  2. What underrated/underknown book would you recommend?
  3. What’s your favorite chonky (like 500+ pages) novel?
  4. How many books did you read this year and are you happy with that number?
  5. What are your favorite books published in 2020?
  6. What’s a book/author you go to when you need a feelgood read?
  7. Who are your top 3 couples from books?
  8. How has the Corona pandemic influenced your reading?
  9. What was the last book that gave you a book hangover?
  10. What are your reading goals for 2021?

I tag:

You don’t have to participate if you don’t feel like it. Consider this a shoutout to some bloggers I really like and appreciate:

I hope you’re all doing well and can enjoy the holidays! Whether you participate in the tag or not, I look forward to your upcoming posts!

Jessica Townsend – Wundersmith

I discovered the Nevermoor books through Booktube and I am so grateful that I have this fun, quirky Middle Grade series in my life. While I don’t think comparisons to that most famous of teen wizards are quite fitting, these are books that you can just fall into. They are feelgood books that I highly recommend, especially for people who aren’t as lucky during these trying times as I am and need something to lift their spirits. Warning: Big SPOILER for the first book below!

Wundersmith: The Calling of Morrigan Crow Nevermoor, Band 2: Amazon.de: Townsend, Jessica: Fremdsprachige BücherWUNDERSMITH: THE CALLING OF MORRIGAN CROW
by Jessica Townsend

Published: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2018
eBook: 545 pages
Series: Nevermoor #2
My rating: 7/10

Opening line: Morrigan Crow leapt from the Brolly Rail, teeth chattering, hands frozen around the end of her oilskin umbrella.

Wunder is gathering in Nevermoor …
Morrigan Crow may have defeated her deadly curse, passed the dangerous trials and joined the mystical Wundrous Society, but her journey into Nevermoor and all its secrets has only just begun. And she is fast learning that not all magic is used for good.
Morrigan Crow has been invited to join the prestigious Wundrous Society, a place that promised her friendship, protection and belonging for life. She’s hoping for an education full of wunder, imagination and discovery – but all the Society want to teach her is how evil Wundersmiths are. And someone is blackmailing Morrigan’s unit, turning her last few loyal friends against her. Has Morrigan escaped from being the cursed child of Wintersea only to become the most hated figure in Nevermoor?
Worst of all, people have started to go missing. The fantastical city of Nevermoor, once a place of magic and safety, is now riddled with fear and suspicion…

Morrigan Crow is back and this time, we get to follow her to magic school! It’s a trope many readers love, me among them, so I was looking forward to this book a lot. Turns out, things don’t go exactly according to Morrigan’s (or my) plans but that just makes the story more exciting.

Morrigan is now a member of the Wundrous Society and, together with the rest of her unit, she will learn to use her Knack for the benefit of Nevermoor. Or so she hopes. Things start going downhill when her Knack is revealed to her unit and their mentors – people who have sworn an oath to each other, to keep each other safe, to be a found family, to always look out for each other. But Morrigan being a Wundersmith complicates matters and makes her very much an outsider in the group that was supposed to be her home.
Add to that the fact that, unlike the others in her unit, she only gets to go to one class, dealing with the history of Wundersmiths. While her best friend Hawthorne gets to ride dragons, learn their language, and acquire all sorts of useful skills, Morrigan reads endless passages about the terrible deeds of all the Wundersmiths that came before her. Oh yes, and lets not forget that people are mysteriously disappearing all over Nevermoor and nobody seems to have any idea what’s happening…

The magic school trope usually works really well for me and Jessica Townsend did not disappoint when it comes to originality. All the little rules and quirks of Morrigan’s new life made me smile and appreciate this magical world all the more.  Whether it’s the small W appearing on Morrigan’s index finger, the door that leads to her unit’s very own Wunderground station, or the school Mistresses, there is something fun and quirky to discover on every page.
But at the heart of this story is Morrigan’s relationship to the people around her. Jupiter is super busy and rarely has time for her, Hawthorne sticks to her no matter what, but the rest of the unit are not big Morrigan fans. When a blackmail letter arrives at their station, forcing one of Morrigan’s friends to do something terrible in order to keep her secret (about being a Wundersmith), this doesn’t exactly help her grow closer with her unit.

Nevermoor series author Jessica Townsend on crafting diverse characters, comparisons to JK Rowling - Living News , Firstpost

In this second instalment, you’ll meet all your favorite (and not so favorite) characters from the first book as well as some new ones. Morrigan’s classmates may not like her very much, but I liked them a lot as a reader. There are also tons of new things about the city of Nevermoor that were so much fun to read. Tricksy Lanes were probably my favorites, but Morrigan’s Knack slowly coming to life also kept things interesting. And learning about old Wundersmiths – while super boring for Morrigan – helped flesh out the world building and give us more background on why Wundersmiths are so feared. Not to forget the subplot about people going missing. That was my least favorite aspect of this book and although things come together at the end, I didn’t feel like this thread was needed for the larger story. Then again, I have no idea what Jessica Townsend plans for the next book so I might be completely wrong here.

Morrigan spirals lower and lower during this book and ends up feeling almost as lonely as she did before she ever came to Nevermoor. But this being a Middle Grade novel, albeit a darker one than the first volumen, you can rest assured that things will turn out mostly alright by the end. You can also expect some twists and turns along the way, as well as the trademark heartwarming love between Morrigan and Jupiter (and all her friends). I loved this book. It’s a fun adventure story but it has so much heart that it makes you all warm and fuzzy inside. The third – and final, at least for now – book will come out later this year and I’ll be very surprised if I don’t pounce on it the moment it is out.

MY RATING: 7/10 – Very good

An Update During the Corona Pandemic

Hello, everyone! I hope you are all safe and healthy! I just wanted to post a short update on how the Coronavirus is affecting me and this blog. The short answer is: a little.

My boyfriend and I have been working from home for the past week and will continue to do so for the next three weeks. We are allowed to go outside for three reasons:

  • urgent shopping (food, hygiene products, etc.)
  • trips to the pharmacy
  • helping others who can’t or shouldn’t go outside

Going for walks or a run is still allowed, as long as you keep at least one meter distance between you and other people, so I don’t really feel all that constricted in my daily life. Sure, it’s strange to work from home because I’m used to a huge office where I can just get up and talk to people. But honestly, I have it pretty easy. I’m lucky enough to have my own terrace, so I don’t even have to leave my apartment to get a bit of fresh air or enjoy the sun. And the neighbour’s cat comes to visit every once in a while which always makes me happy.

I’m putting all the extra time I have to (hopefully) good use. I’m reading a lot, I hope to publish reviews more frequently during the next weeks, and I’m trying to stay as close to normal as possible. I think the restrictions our government put on the population are smart and helpful and I hope that humanity sticks together so we can get through this with the least amount of damage possible.

I have seen so much solidarity in the last few weeks – people offering to go shopping for elderly neighbours, people applauding every evening for those working in hospitals and supermarkets, people sharing creative ways to keep yourself and your children happy while stuck at home – and I’ve also seen total ignorance. People still partying, walking around in groups of 20 or more, ignoring the rules set in place to protect those who most need protecting… but overall, I think most people understand the responsibility each and every one of us carries and are trying to do their best. Thank you, fellow humans!

That’s all the news I have. I just didn’t want to keep posting like nothing is happening in the world, thus this little update.  I hope, my dear readers, that all of you are doing well! And in case you are quarantined or self-isolating at home, I will try and do my little part in keeping you entertained with book reviews and reading challenges and readathon TBRs. Stay healthy, stay safe, help others, and we’ll get through this together!

The Triwizard Tournament Readathon: The First Task (TBR)

November is here and the three magic schools competing in the Triwizard Tournament Readathon have found out which dragon they will face in the first task. I am a Beauxbatons student for this readathon (the school is determined by your birthday) and I cannot wait to join my school mates. We can face this challenge and win the Triwizard Cup!

I’ve already posted a very loose TBR, simply because I needed to have a book ready for any given prompt. I know I spend way too much time going through my unread books, looking for just the right one for the readathon – and that time could be much better spent, you know, actually reading. But now that the dragons have been announced, I have finalised the two books I am going to tackle during the first task.

The Dragon

Beauxbatons have to sneak past the Hungarian Horntail to get the golden egg which will lead us to our second task. The reading prompt for this task is to read a book with lots of action.

I believe I have just the thing for that. Jade War by Fonda Lee is not only the sequel to one of my favorite books from 2018 but – if it’s anything like the first book – will have plenty of action. In this series, gifted and trained people can use jade as a sort of magical enhancer for their abilities. So imagine martial arts but with magic. I cannot wait to see what’s in store for all these characters I’ve come to love.

The Method

There are four methods one can use to finish the first task and get that golden egg from the dragon. I have picked out a method and book already, but as I might change my mind, I’ll leave all the methods and reading prompts listed here.

Conjunctivitis Curse: Temporarily blind your dragon by reading a book with eyes on the cover.
Bewitched Sleep: Send your dragon to sleep by reading a whole book in bed.
Speed: Race past your dragon to retrieve the egg by reading a graphic novel.
Distraction: Distract your dragon by transfiguring a rock into an animal, read a book with an animal on the cover.

I am going to use Distraction on that dragon by reading Minor Mage by T. Kingfisher which has an adorable armadillo on the cover. If I finish that book fast enough, I may throw in another book for extra points. I don’t even know if you can earn extra points in this task, but more books read during a readathon is always a good thing, right? Depending on how the week of the first task goes, I have a comic book and another short book lined up that I could read in bed.

The first readathon task begins on November 11th, so until then, I’ll do my very best to finish my current reads (and not start any new ones!) in order to be ready for the Triwizard Tournament Readathon. I cannot wait to see what all the others are reading and I already love seeing people’s excitement over on Twitter. The bookish community on the internet is the best! 🙂

The Triwizard Tournament Readathon – A Tentative TBR

Since I’ve had so much fun and success with my last Harry Potter themed readathon, I thought I’d jump straight into another one. The Triwizard Tournament Readathon is hosted by Chapter Charms and is split into three week-long challenges. If you want to join, there’s still time to put your name in the Goblet of Fire.
The school you represent depends on your birth month. As I was born in January, I am proud to represent BEAUXBATONS! I also just came back from a week in Paris which makes this magical school an even better fit.

As in any proper Triwizard Tournament, there are three challenges to face, each with its own reading tasks to complete.

TASK ONE – DRAGONS

Monday 11th November – Sunday 17th November 2019
On Halloween, each school will learn which dragon we have to battle. Depending on which one we get, these are the prompts our books have to fulfill. We have to read one book that fulfills the prompt for our dragon and one book that represents a method of our choosing. So two books to complete this task.

Chinese Fireball: These dragons are rare for their ability to tolerate their own kind, read a book with a good community spirit.
Common Welsh Green: It is thought a Welsh Green may have started the Great Fire of London,  read a historical book.
Hungarian Horntail: Horntails are some of the most dangerous dragons, read a book with a lot of action.
Swedish Short-Snout: These dragons are sought after to use their skin to make shields and gloves, re-read a favourite that makes you feel protected.

I don’t really know what is meant by “good community spirit” of a book, but I’m interpreting it as a book that has some buzz surrounding it or that many people talk about.  I hope that’s correct, because in that case I’ll read House of Salt and Sorrows by Erin A. Craig against the Chinese Fireball. To defeat the Welsh Green, I could read the fittingly green book Brightfall, a Robin Hood retelling by Jaime Lee Moyer. Should the Hungarian Horntail come my way, I may just pick up Jade War by Fonda Lee. I loved the first book and it had plenty of action. If I can get it, I’d love to defeat the Swedish Short-Snout with Little Witches by Leigh Dragoon, a Little Women retelling in graphic novel format.

All of us magic students have several tricks up our sleeve and can choose one of these methods to defeat the dragon in our first task:

Conjunctivitis Curse: Temporarily blind your dragon by reading a book with eyes on the cover.
Bewitched Sleep: Send your dragon to sleep by reading a whole book in bed.
Speed: Race past your dragon to retrieve the egg by reading a graphic novel.
Distraction: Distract your dragon by transfiguring a rock into an animal, read a book with an animal on the cover.

I have no idea which book to pick for the Conjunctivitis Curse, so I probably won’t use that one. If I want to go for the Bewitched Sleep I’ll read Desdemona and the Deep – it’s a short book by one of my favorite authors so I can definitely read this in bed in one or two nights. Speed may also come in handy, but my newest graphic novel La quête de l’oiseau du temps (The Quest for the Time Bird) is 225 pages long and in French, which takes me way longer to read than English or German. We’ll see. There is still Distraction, which I’d accomplish with Minor Mage by another of my favorite authors. The armadillo on the cover is so cute, it would distract any dragon, right?


SECOND TASK – THE LAKE

Monday 25th November – Sunday 1st December 2019
Just like Harry, Fleur, Viktor, and Cedric, we have to rescue someone who has been stolen from us and is trapped in the Black Lake. We will find out who that is after we completed the first challenge. For bonus points, we can first rescue our loved one and then go back and rescue the others.

Significant Other: Read a book with a romance.
Sibling: Read a book about siblings.
Friend: Read a book about friendship.

I’m prepared for all three prompts. The Queen of Nothing should be out by then and I hope it continues the strange and enticing romance from the first two books. Blanca & Roja is about two sisters in a fairy tale, and A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World will definitely contain a friendship between the boy and his dog. This was a hard task to find books for because I don’t know ahead of time which stories will actually be about friendship but I hope I’m safe with this choice.

Again, we can choose the method we use for breathing underwater:
Gillyweed: Gillyweed will allow you to breathe and move underwater, read a book with water on the cover.
Bubble-Head Charm: This charm gives you a continuous supply of oxygen, read a book set in space where this charm could also be useful.
Transfiguration: Partially transfigure yourself into a sea creature by reading a book about a sea creature.

I’ll pick my method as the mood strikes, but I got Gillyweed covered with The Future is Blue (water all over the cover), I am practising my Bubble-Head Charm and may read Brightly Burning (Jane Eyre in Space), and I’ve got my Transfiguration spells prepared with The Seafarer’s Kiss (mermaids are sea creatures).


TASK THREE – THE MAZE

Monday 9th December – Sunday 15th December 2019
In the maze, we have to complete at least one of the tasks, but can try and complete as many of them as we like.

Blast-Ended Skrewt: This is a hybrid creature, read a book outside your comfort zone.
Boggart: Read a book that contains something you fear.
Acromantula: You may need help to defeat this creature, read a book recommended by a friend.
Sphinx: Solve its riddle by reading a book about or with a puzzle.
Golden Mist: The mist turns everything upside down, read a book with something upside down on the cover.

To defeat the Blast-Ended Skrewt, I could go with A Local Habitation – I don’t normally read Urban Fantasy, but this series might work for me. Book one was pretty good but the entire subgenre is still out of my comfort zone. My boggart could easily turn into the dystopian society of The Handmaid’s Tale – it absolutely scares me and The Testaments is the brand-new sequel to that amazing novel. I am also terrfied of spiders but the Acromantula should be vanquished with  Gideon the Ninth, a book everyone has been recommending. All of Brandon Sanderson’s books contain puzzles, riddles, and mind-blowing plot twists, so I’m confident Starsight will defeat the Sphinx. The last one was the hardest to find, but Thorn with its upside down heart on the cover could get me through the Golden Mist. I doubt I’ll even get that far – I only have one week to read these books, after all.

Once we’ve made it through the maze and made sure the Triwizard Cup is not a Portkey, we simply have to read a book that involves travel of any kind to complete the Triwizard Tournament. Here are my choices for that – I will pick whichever book appeals to me the most when the time has come. I picked three time travel novels, and one that features a voyage on a ship.

  • Annalee Newitz – The Future of Another Time Line
  • Kate Atkinson – Life After Life
  • Diana Gabaldon – Voyager
  • Anna Bright – The Beholder

That’s a lot of books! Thankfully, I don’t have to read them all within three weeks. I love that this readathon is split into three separate weeks, so it’s not one stressful month of reading tons of books but one challenge week followed by a few “normal” ones. And I like that it’s three magic schools competing against each other, rather than the Hogwarts Houses. We’ll see how it goes, but I’m definitely excited!

Lyrical, touching, gorgeous: Patricia A. McKillip – The Forgotten Beasts of Eld

It’s easy to get swept up in the newest releases, the hyped-about fantasy debuts, the books nominated for awards – and it happens to me all the time. Last year, I made an effort to not forget about older books, to always read one newer and one older book at the same time, to catch up on classics, to read the books that inspired the books we’re currently hyping. I found some amazing books because of this and I will definitely try to read more older books in 2019 as well. Because, for one, it led me to The Forgotten Beasts of Eld.

THE FORGOTTEN BEASTS OF ELD
by Patricia A. McKillip

Published by: Gollancz, 1974
Paperback: 208 pages
Standalone
My rating: 8,5/10

First sentence: The wizard Heald coupled with a poor woman once, in the king’s city of Mondor, and she bore a son with one green eye and one black eye.

Sybel, the beautiful great-granddaughter of the wizard Heald, has grown up on Eld Mountain with only the fantastic beasts summoned there by wizardry as companions. She cares nothing for humans until, when she is 16, a baby is brought for her to raise, a baby who awakens emotions that she has never known before. But the baby is Tamlorn, the only son of King Drede, and, inevitably, Sybel becomes entangled in the human world of love, war and revenge – and only her beasts can save her from the ultimate destruction…

Sybel lives isolated on her mountain, surrounded only be her beloved animals – creatures of myth, collected by her father and grandfather, and now the only friends she has or wants. Until one day, a baby is dropped at her doorstep, and in taking that child in, Sybel discovers her all-too-human emotions because she grows to love the child. This is how this fairy tale of a book begins and while the languages continues to be lyrical, rife with symbolism, and simply beautiful to read, the plot goes into more familiar fantasy territory soon.

Tamlorn, Sybel’s adopted son, is not just any child. Away from Sybel’s mountain, two nations are at war. One led by an insecure king, the other by a group of nobles trying to rise up against him. Tamlorn is the king’s son and as such an important piece in their game of power. Although Sybel wants nothing to do with humans and their war, Tamlorn naturally longs to find out more about himself and where he came from. They are both dragged into a war they know nothing of and will each play their part, whether they want to or not.

I came to this book knowing nothing beyond the barest premise – a sorceress living with some magical beasts on a mountain – and I think that has made the reading experience even better. McKillip immediately draws you into her world with her poetic language. It’s never too flowery or cheesy, but it hits just the right note of lyrical. Another amazing part of this book is its main character: Sybel, so aloof, so distant, yet so very human at her core, without even realising it herself. Throughout this tale, she learns who she really is and who she wants to be and that alone would have been interesting enough to fill a novel, even without the war and love story and mythical beasts.

But, oh, the beasts. While at first, they don’t seem to have too much personality (dragon wants to hoard gold, gets really cranky when not enough gold is there), each of them seems to become more distinct during the story. They are not just mythical creatures with magic powers, they are living, breathing beings with a mind of their own, with a moral compass, with feelings – some of them fond feelings toward Sybel. In the beginning, the eponymous forgotten beasts may only appear like window dressing, like a way for Sybel to demonstrate her power, but they are actually vital to the plot!

The Fogotten Beasts of Eld is also a love story, although a very different one than I’m used to from current fantasy books, especially YA. Coren is wonderfully open about his feelings for Sybel and there are no unnecessary obstructions created by misunderstandings or love triangles. Sure, there is a war going on, and Sybel, Tamlorn, as well as her beasts could turn the tide of events, and the fact that Sybel wants to stay out of it all does cause difficulties between her and Coren. But the love story itself, their feelings for each other, are never in question.

I can’t say any more about the plot without giving too much away, but let me say that the best parts (plot-wise) of the novel I haven’t even hinted at. This is a quiet sort of book that is much more concernced with the matters inside its characters than with epic battle scenes. But the questions of morality, of using ones power – whether for good or bad (and who’s good and who’s bad anyway?) remain. This is as much a tale about family – found rather than born into – as it is about kings and warriors. It’s an emotional journey through a magical world and I loved every beautifully told page of it.

MY RATING: 8,5/10 – Damn excellent!

An Update

Hello, dear readers. Sometimes, things are hard and then they get even harder. Two weeks ago, my grandmother, who basically raised me and has been my closest family member since I can remember, passed away. Losing someone this close to me simply wrecked me. I am crying as I write this but at least I feel able to write something again.

I never cared about follower numbers or likes or any of that but I do want to apologise to those of you who read my blog and haven’t seen anything new for months now. I’m doing my very best to get back on my feet, I have actually been reading again (distraction is everything, at the moment) and I think I have a couple of reviews in me.

Thank you all for reading and if your nearest and dearest are sitting close by,  give them a hug.

Books in the Queue – The Review Copy Edition

I don’t think I’ve ever received as many review copies as I have since January 2014. I did get occasional offers to read self-published works, or traditionally published books that just didn’t interest me much. But this year seems to be a great one – at least judging by the pile next to me and the ebooks on my Kobo.

Seeing as I’m really looking forward to most of these books and I want to keep up my end of the bargain (a free book for an honest review is more than fair, in my opinion), I intend to read all of these in time for publication day. For organizational purposes, and your TBR-note-taking pleasure, I made a list:

divider1MARCH 25th

Karl Schroeder – Lockstep

I finished reading this one last weekend and my review will be up tomorrow. I didn’t love it. I even hated some aspects of it. But overall, it was an okay read. Something light and fun for in between meatier novels, a story with bland, stereotypical characters, but a story with some great ideas.

lockstepWhen seventeen-year-old Toby McGonigal finds himself lost in space, separated from his family, he expects his next drift into cold sleep to be his last. After all, the planet he’s orbiting is frozen and sunless, and the cities are dead. But when Toby wakes again, he’s surprised to discover a thriving planet, a strange and prosperous galaxy, and something stranger still—that he’s been asleep for 14,000 years.
Welcome to the Lockstep Empire, where civilization is kept alive by careful hibernation. Here cold sleeps can last decades and waking moments mere weeks. Its citizens survive for millennia, traveling asleep on long voyages between worlds. Not only is Lockstep the new center of the galaxy, but Toby is shocked to learn that the Empire is still ruled by its founding family: his own.
Toby’s brother Peter has become a terrible tyrant. Suspicious of the return of his long-lost brother, whose rightful inheritance also controls the lockstep hibernation cycles, Peter sees Toby as a threat to his regime. Now, with the help of a lockstep girl named Corva, Toby must survive the forces of this new Empire, outwit his siblings, and save human civilization.
Karl Schroeder’s Lockstep is a grand innovation in hard SF space opera.

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APRIL 1st

Katherine Addison – The Goblin Emperor

Now this is such a pleasure to read. Sure, it’s chock full of names I won’t even try to pronounce, but it’s also got insane court intrigue, a young boy suddenly being the ruler of an entire empire, learning to grow up and put his past behind him. The language is lovely, the characters are multi-layered, the story got me hooked, and I have no idea where it’s going. I’m not even halfway through it, but I suspect this book will demand a rather glowing review. (And airships! Did I mention the airships?)

The youngest, half-goblin son goblin emperorof the Emperor has lived his entire life in exile, distant from the Imperial Court and the deadly intrigue that suffuses it. But when his father and three sons in line for the throne are killed in an “accident,” he has no choice but to take his place as the only surviving rightful heir.
Entirely unschooled in the art of court politics, he has no friends, no advisors, and the sure knowledge that whoever assassinated his father and brothers could make an attempt on his life at any moment.
Surrounded by sycophants eager to curry favor with the naïve new emperor, and overwhelmed by the burdens of his new life, he can trust nobody. Amid the swirl of plots to depose him, offers of arranged marriages, and the specter of the unknown conspirators who lurk in the shadows, he must quickly adjust to life as the Goblin Emperor. All the while, he is alone, and trying to find even a single friend… and hoping for the possibility of romance, yet also vigilant against the unseen enemies that threaten him, lest he lose his throne – or his life.

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APRIL 10th

Nnedi Okorafor – Lagoon

I’ve been looking forward to this ever since it was announced. Okorafor’s Who Fears Death still gets at me after more than a year, her short stories in Kabu-Kabu were mostly wonderful, and I can’t wait to see what she does with this subject matter.

lagoonWhen a massive object crashes into the ocean off the coast of Lagos, Nigeria’s most populous and legendary city, three people wandering along Bar Beach (Adaora, the marine biologist- Anthony, the rapper famous throughout Africa- Agu, the troubled soldier) find themselves running a race against time to save the country they love and the world itself… from itself. Lagoon expertly juggles multiple points of view and crisscrossing narratives with prose that is at once propulsive and poetic, combining everything from superhero comics to Nigerian mythology to tie together a story about a city consuming itself.
At its heart a story about humanity at the crossroads between the past, present, and future, Lagoon touches on political and philosophical issues in the rich tradition of the very best science fiction, and ultimately asks us to consider the things that bind us together – and the things that make us human.

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APRIL 15th

Rjurik Davidson – Unwrapped Sky

Cover appeal, anyone? This book had me at minotaur. Not even the word minotaur, just the one on the cover. Apart from being gorgeous, it also sounds So Good. Magic, minotaurs, assassins.

unwrapped skyA hundred years ago, the Minotaurs saved Caeli-Amur from conquest. Now, three very different people may hold the keys to the city’s survival. Once, it is said, gods used magic to create reality, with powers that defied explanation. But the magic—or science, if one believes those who try to master the dangers of thaumaturgy—now seems more like a dream. Industrial workers for House Technis, farmers for House Arbor, and fisher folk of House Marin eke out a living and hope for a better future. But the philosopher-assassin Kata plots a betrayal that will cost the lives of godlike Minotaurs; the ambitious bureaucrat Boris Autec rises through the ranks as his private life turns to ashes; and the idealistic seditionist Maximilian hatches a mad plot to unlock the vaunted secrets of the Great Library of Caeli-Enas, drowned in the fabled city at the bottom of the sea, its strangeness visible from the skies above.In a novel of startling originality and riveting suspense, these three people, reflecting all the hopes and dreams of the ancient city, risk everything for a future that they can create only by throwing off the shackles of tradition and superstition, as their destinies collide at ground zero of a conflagration that will transform the world . . . or destroy it. Unwrapped Sky is a stunningly original debut by Rjurik Davidson, a young master of the New Weird.

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JANUARY 16th

Simon Ings – Wolves

This is already out but I’m still sitting on my review copy. I’ve been staring at the cover for weeks. It’s definitely on my read-very-soon list. Because it may look like fantasy, or even a fairy tale retelling, but it sounds like a crazy science-fiction ride.

wolvesAugmented Reality uses computing power to overlay a digital imagined reality over the real world. Whether it be adverts or imagined buildings and imagined people with Augmented Reality the world is no longer as it appears to you, it is as it is imagined by someone else. Ings takes the satire and mordant satirical view of J.G. Ballard and propels it into the 21st century.
Two friends are working at the cutting edge of this technology and when they are offered backing to take the idea and make it into the next global entertainment they realise that wolves hunt in this imagined world. And the wolves might be them.
A story about technology becomes a personal quest into a changed world and the pursuit of a secret from the past. A secret about a missing mother, a secret that could hide a murder. This is no dry analysis of how a technology might change us, it is a terrifying thriller, a picture of a dark tomorrow that is just around the corner.

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You’ll be seeing my opinions on all of these soon, although I am still catching up with some reading for this year’s Hugo nominations. Between April and whenever the nominees are announced I will have All The Time for new books. Because, see, if I read newer titles right when they come out, I won’t be in the same dilemma next year as I am now – not having read enough titles to make good decisions about what to nominate for a Hugo. Lesson one learned. On to the next one. 🙂