Reading Goals and Challenges: Mid-Year Check In 2021

Hello, dear reader friends! Since it’s already mid-July (how did that happen?!), I thought it would be a good idea to check in on my reading goals and challenges. My gut feeling is telling me I have fallen behind on some of them and I may need a course correction, but cold numbers speak louder than fancy words. So here’s where I stand on my reading goals, how I am going to adapt during the second half of 2021 and which challenges I may be dropping or loosening up a bit.

Goodreads Reading Goal

I’m doing quite well on this one, at currently 7 books ahead of schedule. Just like last year, reading novelettes, novellas, and graphic novels for the Hugo Awards has pushed me ahead and there’s still some of those left for me to read. So I should have a buffer for a hypothetical reading slump or some big books that take me ages to finish.

I’m not gonna lie, if I could read 150 books per year I would be ecstatic but 100 is a fine goal that I will be happy to achieve. Considering some of the chonkers I’ve read (hello, Stormlight Archive re-read), I’m even a little proud.


Beat the Backlist Challenge

This is the only offical reading challenge I’m participating in this year but I’m not taking it super seriously. Mostly I just read whatever I would anyway and see if the book happens to fit one of the prompts. It does push me to pick up older books, however, and for that I already consider the challenge a win.

  • Prompts fulfilled: 18/52
  • Bingo: almost, but not yet

Reading the Hugo Awards

This is a two-part challenge, actually, because on the one hand, I want to read past Hugo Award winners and finalists, but on the other, more pressing, hand, I need to read this year’s finalists in order to rank them on my ballot. As this is the first year with a lot of time to catch up on the nominated works(WorldCon being in December instead of August for Covid reasons), my plans have become more ambitious. Meaning I want to read more complete categories than I usually would be able to. Here’s my current status:

  • Best Novel: 4/6
  • Best Novella: 6/6
  • Best Novelette: 5/6
  • Best Short Story: 6/6
  • Best Graphic Novel: 4/6
  • Lodestar: 6/6
  • Astounding: 2/6
  • Best Series:
    • Daevabad: 2/3
    • Murderbot: 5/6
    • Interdependency: 1/3
    • Lady Astronaut: 1/3
    • Poppy War: 1/3
    • October Daye: 3/14

Technically, I still need to read 3 books to be fully caught up on Best Novel because I’ve only read the first in Kowal’s Lady Astronaut series and the third volume is nominated for Best Novel. But the series as a whole being a Best Series finalist means that I’ll be able to finish two categories in one go.

I have no plans of finishing the entire Toby Daye series but a couple more volumes can definitely be done.
I’m actually caught up on the nominated Murderbot books but by now there’s another novella out which I want to read. Because Murderbot.

And I’m not sure I should really do it but I’m debating a Poppy War re-read before I finish the rest of the trilogy. I have forgotten so many details and I know the series will destroy me anyway, so why not make it a full trilogy of emotional destruction?

The second part of this challenge is to read a few past Hugo winners or finalists. I had a handful picked out at the beginning of the year but I haven’t done too well so far. I hope I can do two more this year.

Past Hugo winners/finalists read: 1

I just bought the Graphic Audio adaptation of C. J. Cherryh’s Downbelow Station and I’m very much looking forward to that. My second Hugo winner will either bei Connie Willis’ To Say Nothing of the Dog or A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller.


Read More Black Authors

I am quite, quite behind on this one and I blame Brandon Sanderson. No, not like that, the poor guy didn’t do anything. It’s just that my Stormlight Archive re-read (or rather: re-listen) has taken up a lot of time that would have otherwise gone to other audiobooks. I’m not saying all of those books would necessarily have been written by Black authors but I have a few favorite Black writers who tend to get incredible audiobook narrators, so chances are I would have listened to at least a couple of them instead of the incredibly long Stormlight Archive. Either way, this is why we’re checking in on our goals, so we can still adjust and reach our goals by the end of the year.

Books by Black authors read: 6/20

The Hugo Award finalists are also not helping a lot because this year, there aren’t many Black authors on the ballot (at least not ones whose books I haven’t read yet) and a large percentage of my yearly reading is for the Hugo Awards.

I am currently reading the new Rivers Solomon book (so amazing!) and I can’t wait to get into P. Djèlí Clark’s Master of Jinn but I want to do better in general during the second half of the year. In addition to these 6 books by Black authors, I have read another 10 by non-Black Authors of Color, so my reading is at least somewhat diverse. But still, lots of room for improvement.


New Releases

I’m doing okay on this one. There are still plenty of novels that came out this year (or are still coming out) that I want to read before nominating for next year’s Hugos, but I have already discovered some favorites as well as some others I can safely ignore for my ballot.

2021 releases read: 10/??

Favorites: The Past is Red by Catherynne M. Valente, The Ones We’re Meant to Find by Joan He, All the Murmuring Bones by Angela Slatter. Unsurprisingly, these are all authors who have previously written books that ended up being favorites. I wouldn’t mind a new favorite author discovery now and again. Just sayin’.


Five Star Predictions ★★★★★

Again, I’m doing alright. Not only have I read almost all the books on this list, I also guessed pretty decently. Sure, one of my predictions ended up getting 1.5 stars only so… that was a miss. But the others ranged from very good to excellent.

Alechia Dow – The Sound of StarsRead1.5 stars
Everina Maxwell – Winter’s OrbitRead3.5 stars
Vonda N. McIntyre – DreamsnakeRead4.5 stars
Catherynne M. Valente – The Past is RedRead5 stars
Hannah Whitten – For the WolfNot Read
Fonda Lee – Jade LegacyNot Read

The books actually got better in the order that I read them. I’m wondering now why I put For the Wolf on that list instead of The Wolf and the Woodsman by Ava Reid but hey, I hope they both end up being five star books. Jade Legacy will of course blow my socks off, I have no doubt about it.


I guess things could be worse. I am pretty disappointed that my Black author reading challenge is going rather poorly but while it’s not an excuse, the Hugo Awards and my Stormlight Archive re-listen at least serve as a sort of explanation for it. The year is far from over though and I have a ridiculous amount of exciting books by Black authors on my TBR. I will just have to get to them sooner rather than later.

How are you doing on your reading goals? Do you even set yourself goals? Are you participating in any challenges (and can you recommend any)?

Checking in on Reading Challenges 2020

My 2020 reading challenges recently went through a little overhaul. I started the year with a handful of challenges and a couple of planned readathons but recent events have decidedly changed my priorities. I still plan to continue some of my challenges, but I’ve also added a new one.

Before Covid-19 happened, before George Floyd was murdered, before many of us spent a considerable amount of time at home during lockdown, working from home, and practicing social distancing, I was a wide-eyed girl with some reading goals. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I am incredibly lucky and privileged when it comes to this pandemic! Not only was my job never threatened by Covid-19, I simply work from home now and the Austrian government – as many faults as they might have  – have handled the crisis pretty well.
But of course this year things have changed. I had more time for reading (which is great) but I’ve also used that time to rethink what I read, how I read, and how I talk about the books and authors I read. I’ll check in on all my ongoing and new challenges below and give you a bit more detail on how my priorities have shifted.

So. On to the challenges (past and present).

OWLs and NEWTs readathons

I participated in the OWLs readathon during spring and I not only finished all the prompts but even read an extra book for some of them. Way to go for kicking my TBR’s butt.
The second Harry Potter themed readathon I’d been looking forward so much is not happening the way it was planned because of the author’s transphobic comments on Twitter. That is a topic for a whole different discussion, so I’ll keep it really short and simple here. I believe trans women are women and trans men are men, and I am deeply saddened that the author of the books that helped me through difficult times both in childhood and as an adult doesn’t seem to see it that way. I will not be participating in the NEWTs readathon. G from Book Roast  will not be hosting it although people are free to use the prepared reading prompts for their August TBRs. I look forward to whatever G comes up with for next year. It will not be a Harry Potter themed readathon but rather something out of her own imagination. And judging by the creativity she’s shown so far, I think we’re in for a treat. I cannot wait to get together again with this loving, diverse community for the 2021 readathons!

2020 Retellings Challenge

Books read: 13
Prompts fulfilled: 12/25

If I fulfill one more prompt (a retelling with a mythical creature on the cover), I’ll have achieved a Bingo. My original plan was to get a Bingo Blackout, fulfilling all the prompts, and while I may still manage that, I’m not going to actively seek out books for this challenge anymore.
The reason I read more books than prompts fulfilled is that I doubled up on one of the prompts and read two qualifying books.
If a book I read for a different challenge happens to fit one of the Retellings prompts, of course I am going to count it, but this year, a simple Bingo is good enough for me.

Read the Sequel

Books read: 11

This used to be one of my more relaxed challenges without any specific goal, but in 2020 I ramped it up and finally got caught up on some of the many series I had previously started. As I already did pretty well during the first half of the year, my focus will be on finishing series by Black authors for the rest of the year. Of course, I’m also desperate to read the final books in The Dark Tower series and the Renegades Trilogy, and to continue the Earthsea Cycle. Plus two treats I’ve been saving on purpose – The Stone Sky and Muse of Nightmares – for when I really need something I know I will love.

New Publications

Novels read: 5
Novellas read: 4

Another challenge without a specific goal, this is one where I usually do badly during the first half of the year but catch up during the second. Up until last weekend, I was still busy  reading everything I could for Hugo Award voting (I did very well this year!), but now the voting period is over, I’ll jump on all those new publications I’ve been buying for the last six months. There’s a Murderbot novel, a gothic novel by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, a Zen Cho novella, and Katherine Addison’s Jack the Ripper fantasy book. I’ve been itching to read them all but I couldn’t because Hugo books came first.

10 New-to-me Black Authors

Books read: 2/10

This is my new challenge for the rest of the year. It’s not like I haven’t read books by Black authors in 2020 so far but most of them were by authors I already knew. Discovering new favorites can only happen when you dare to try something new. So it’s my goal to pick up books by 10 Black authors I haven’t read before. The first one I tried was Rosewater by Tade Thompson, and if the rest of that trilogy is as good as the first novel, Thompson may just become a new favorite.

I’ve been picking up books by diverse authors for years now and it’s been a very rewarding thing to do. Eventually, I stopped calling it a reading challenge because… well, it wasn’t a challenge, just something I did anyway. BUT. I am aware that I can do much better. I have discovered some Authors of Color since I started this blog, that I adore and whose work I’ve been following ever since. But there are still so many authors out there who don’t get the publicity their books deserve, who will never be shortlisted for a Goodreads Choice Award, simply because they aren’t well known enough. And I believe it is our job, as readers and reviewers, to help get the word out about these books. I may not be a famous blogger, I don’t have many followers (but I do have the best!), but even adding just my small voice might make a difference. Every time someone picks up a book I recommended, I glow with joy on the inside. And if that recommendation is for a book by a Black author, the person who picks it up may have a bigger voice than me and recommend it to their followers, and so on. So even a tiny contribution can do good in the world and I intend to do my part.

Goodreads Reading Challenge

Books read: 95/75 100
Pages read: 24,209/35,000

I started out with a goal of 75 books. It’s the end of July and I’ve already read 95, so I’m going to go for 100, and then see how far I can go. Covid-19 had a large part in me reading so many books, but the Hugo Awards also helped. Novellas and novelettes can usually be read fairly quickly but they still count as “a book” on Goodreads. And since I binge-read all the nominated comic book series, I am way ahead of this challenge.
So I’m also tracking my pages read. In 2012, I read the most pages in a year (34,988 pages) and I want to surpass that number. It’s not really an important goal and I honestly won’t care if I don’t reach it as long as the books I read are good. But I like having a little something to motivate me, so why not?

That’s it for my 2020 reading challenges. The one I’m putting the most focus on is definitely the challenge to read 10 new-to-me Black authors. As for the rest, sure, I’m going to continue some series, I’m definitely reading new publications, and among them will be some retellings, but I will not stress out over them. The same goes for my Goodreads goal. I’ll have reached 100 books by the end of August easily, so everything that comes after is just a nice bonus.

There are so many books I’m looking forward to and thanks to the many recommendation lists, a lot of them are by Black authors. They’re not new-to-me anymore, but I’m dying to read more by Tochi Onyebuchi and Tade Thompson! I bought myself a gorgeous hardback edition of Octavia Butler’s Parable duology which I have yet to read, and I recently received a stunning paperback copy of The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna which only comes out next year but which sounds fantastic.

The next check in will be a wrap up at the end of the year and I certainly hope that I can report many finished challenges as well as a better ratio of Authors of Color. I’m  working on my reading lists to get better statistics out of them (currently I’m counting Authors of Color but not specifically Black authors). I’ll let you know at the end of the year how everything worked out. Until then, happy reading, stay kind and stay safe!

 

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!

2019 Reading Challenges – Wrap-Up

Happy New Year, everyone! 
2019 is as good as over and so begins the season of best-of-lists, wrapping up challenges and of course starting new ones. As an avid reader and a lover of lists, you can imagine how happy this makes me. It almost makes up for the cold weather and having to put on 50 layers of clothing every day.

I have already posted my favorite books of the year because I don’t think I’ll finish another book in 2019, so now it’s time to see how I did with all those challenges I set myself. Because the previous years weren’t so great reading-wise (and life-wise, to be honest. I lost both my grandmothers in 2017 and 2018 respectively, so books weren’t really on my mind for a long time), so I set myself very achievable goals and participated in only a few challenges. As the year went on and I stayed well ahead of my schedule, I threw in a couple of readathons which ended up pushing me even more ahead of schedule.

Goodreads Reading Challenge

I started out with a goal of 60 books. When I surpassed that in July, I upped it to 70, then 75. After that, I just decided to be happy with however many books I would end up reading, but of course a secret little voice in the back of my head kept whispering “100 is such a nice, round number”. And I did it! There were a few novelettes and graphic novels in there, but the bulk of my reading was novels (and some of them quite big ones).

I only read more pages in 2012 (34994 pages) but 2019 was filled with such fantastic books that I feel like it was actually my best reading year yet.

The Retellings Challenge

This wonderful challenge, hosted by Tracy at Cornerfolds played right into my hands. While I would have read many fairy tale retellings anyway, the reading prompts pushed me to pick up books out of my comfort zone, or older books that had been languishing on my TBR for way too long. It actually was a challenge to fill all the bingo squares and not all of my reads were great, but I am very happy with the result. I discovered new favorites (The Golem and the Jinni, The Scorpio Races), a new author I love (Joanna Ruth Meyer)  and many other fantastic books that I probably wouldn’t have picked up otherwise.

Here’s what I read for this challenge. I’m so happy and a little bit proud that I managed to write a review for every single one of these books!

Beauty and the Beast: Brigid Kemmerer – A Curse so Dark and Lonely
Set in a foreign country: Leigh Bardugo – The Language of Thorns
Stand-alone book: Maggie Stiefvater – The Scorpio Races
Wonderland: Colleen Oakes – Queen of Hearts
Award-winning book: Helene Wecker – The Golem and the Jinni
One word title: Helen Oyeyemi – Gingerbread
Bronte or Austen: Ibi Zoboi – Pride
Native American myth:
 Rebecca Roanhorse – Trail of Lightning
2019 release: Joanna Ruth Meyer – Echo North
Egyptian myth: Kiersten White – The Chaos of Stars
Greek myth: 
Madeline Miller – Circe
Debut author: Melissa Bashardoust – Girls Made of Snow and Glass
Free Space: Lisa Goldstein – The Uncertain Places
Shakespeare: Lisa Mantchev – Eyes Like Stars
Asian myth: Natasha Ngan – Girls of Paper and Fire

Indie book: Esther Dalseno – Drown
Russian folklore: Katherine Arden – The Winter of the Witch
Weapon on the cover: Steven Brust – The Sun, the Moon, and the Stars

Norse myth: Joanne Harris – The Gospel of Loki
Peter Pan:
 Brianna R. Shrum – Never Never
Over 500 pages: Marion Zimmer Bradley – The Mists of Avalon
Set in space: Joan D. Vinge – The Snow Queen
Middle Eastern myth: S. A. Chakraborty – The City of Brass
Brothers Grimm: Neil Gaiman & Colleen Doran – Snow, Glass, Apples
Written 10+ years ago: Nancy Springer – Fair peril

Ongoing challenges

I also ended up, quite by accident, reading some books from the various lists and awards I follow. These aren’t challenges with a time limit, but simply books I’d like to get to someday. However, as new releases tend to catch my eye and demand to be read right now, I often forget those older books. Not so this year! Whether it was because of the Retellings Challenge, the monthly book picks for the podcast Sword & Laser, or the Harry Potter themed readathons I participated in, I actually managed to catch up on some of those lists. If you’re interested in the entire lists, I have them in my blog menu, and if you want to see how many you’ve read, I highly recommend checking out Worlds Without End.

The Mythopoeic Award

100 Must-Read Fantasy Books by Women

NPR’s Top 100 Science Fiction and Fantasy Novels

2019 Releases

While it’s not an official challenge, I always try to read a number of new publications because I want to have read enough new books to nominate my favorites for the Hugo Awards. I doubt I’ll ever manage to read all the books that interest me and are talked about in any given year, but I did quite okay this year.

Here are all the 2019 publications I actually read during 2019. I expect to read quite a few more in January and especially once the shortlists for the Nebula and Hugo Awards are out. But I also believe I won’t have that many books to catch up on this time. I picked many books that were buzzed about – some of them I loved to bits, others puzzled me completely as to why everyone seems to love them except me – but I’m pretty sure I know which books have a shot at being nominated for awards.

2019 publications I want to get to ASAP

Whether or not these end up on an award shortlist, I want to read them desperately. And if I’m quick and lucky, I’ll get to them before the nomination period for the Hugo Awards is over. Who knows, maybe my very favorite book of 2019 is among them?

  • Marlon James – Black Leopard, Red Wolf 
  • Paul Krueger – Steel Crow Saga
  • Charlie Jane Anders – The City in the Middle of the Night
  • Maggie Stiefvater – Call Down the Hawk (currently reading)
  • T. Kingfisher – The Twisted Ones
  • Brandon Sanderson – Starsight

Overall, I am more than happy with my 2019 reading challenges. I didn’t expect to get a blackout on the Retellings Challenge bingo card and I am even happier to have picked up some older books. And I still managed to read more new publications than ever before… apparently I did something right this year, finding the perfect balance between old and new, challenge books and mood reads. I can’t say that I used any kind of system but I hope that whatever motivated me so much in 2019 will still work its magic in 2020.

2019 Retellings Challenge – Third Quarter Update

Holy smokes, where have all these months disappeared to? I could swear it was July a week ago, but here we are, at the beginning of October (speaking of which, I have to find me some witchy reads for Halloween). The summer months have probably been my best reading months in years, if not ever! I participated in the NEWTs Readathon which meant I first had to catch up on the OWLs readathon. Both of these were crazy months where I got a lot of reading done. I’m happy to announce that among the many books I read were also a few retellings.

What I’ve Read

The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker was one of the group reads for this readathon and I absolutely loved it! From the very beginning, this quiet tale of a Golem and a Jinni grabbed me. I enjoyed following them as they found their footing in a new world, within new cultures, and as they became friends. But while this is mostly a quiet story with lots of focus on characters, there is quite an epic ending. I cannot recommend this enough. The language is beautiful, the characters are so engaging, and the story itself had me close to tears several times.

Helen Oyeyemi’s Gingerbread was quite a different experience. It may not be a precise retelling of Hansel and Gretel, but it uses many of the fairy tale’s motifs. Gingerbread is the most obvious ones, but there are also breadcrumbs, houses in forests, and friendships that last through the ages. Most of all, it is the story of a mother and daughter, of how the mother grew to be who she is, why the daughter has turned into who she is and how their past connects them as much as their present. The family relations in this tale get surprisingly complex, but once I found my way into this rather strange story, I was enjoying myself a lot. This will not be everybody’s cup of tea. If you like magical realism (randomly talking dolls, anyone?) then definitely try it, though.

I also finally read The Gospel of Loki by Joanne M. Harris. It was pretty much exactly what I had hoped for, expect shorter and with less depth. We follow the story of Loki, from his brith as an Asgardian god to his demise – all narrated by himself, in the arrogant, hilarious manner you’d expect. I loved the narration, the silly nicknames he gave the other gods, the tricks he played on them and especially his relationship with Thor. In fact, I loved it so much that I would have liked more of the same. More chapters of Loki’s exploits, his travels with Thor, his trickery and cleverness. But Harris tells a proper story that leads straight to the end of Asgard. From a proper critic’s standpoint I would probably command her for writing a proper beginning and end, but as I read this simply for enjoyment, I felt a little let down by how things ended. Not that it came as a surprise but it was slightly anticlimactic. However, I will very likely pick up the sequel.

I also read The Ice Puzzle by Catherynne M. Valente – a retelling or reimagining of The Snow Queen from the point of view of different cultures. As this is one of Valente’s earlier works, it pretty much has no plot but tons of gorgeous language and beautiful imagery. This novella was like falling into a dream. Things don’t always make sense, you don’t know who all of the characters are, but you just roll with it. And what unfolds is snippets of a Snow Queen, of a young girl trying to save a boy, of mirror shards and pieces of ice stuck in an eye. I didn’t love this as much as I do Valente’s other work, but it was definitely a new kind of retelling for me.

I finally finished The Winternight Trilogy with Katherine Arden’s The Winter of the Witch. This was a great book but unfortunately, I started reading it at a bad time. You have to be in the right mood for this in order to fully appreciate it. I put the book away for several months and when I picked it back up, I was exactly as excited as I should have been from the start. It is the conclusion to Vasya’s story. It brings together the elements from the first and second book beautifully and even mixes a lot of real historical events and people into Vasya’s fictional story. Once I got into the atmosphere  of this book again, I loved every page. The Bear and the Nightingale is still my favorite of the trilogy but this was definitely a worthy ending.

Lisa Goldstein’s The Uncertain Places landed on my TBR pile because it won a Mythopoeic Award – a goldmine for retellings of myths, fairytales, and altogether books that I like. Reading it was a strange experience. While I read it, I was quite engaged, I wanted to know what happened and I wanted the characters to figure out how to break the fairy curse at the heart of this story. But whenever I put the book down, I didn’t really want to pick it back up again. I also felt that the most interesting characters weren’t featured enough. Instead, the story is told from one POV, and he was one of the least interesting people in this book. It was a fun read with many nods to fairy tales and fairies in general, but now that I’ve thought about it for a while, I’d rate it only okay.

My favorite retelling of the last few months and probably the whole year was Echo North by Joanna Ruth Meyer. It retells East of the Sun and West of the Moon with a few changes and one mind-blowing twist. Instead of a polar bear, Echo, our protagonist, has to live with a white wolf in an enchanted castle. The castle itself feels like a character – there are so many rooms to discover and so much magic hidden inside of it. And it has a library… a magical library. Need I say more? I also loved that this story manages to take the heroine’s really, really stupid decision from the original fairy tale and make it feel sensible. The villain was fantastic, the last third of the book went by in a blur of action and adventure, and because I was rooting so much for Echo, that twist at the end completely wrecked me. I’m not ging to say any more about it, just please pick up this book if you like fairy tale retellings. It is a true gem!

And another highly recommended book, this time for graphic novel fans: Neil Gaiman & Colleen Doran – Snow, Glass, Apples. This is Snow White from the stepmother’s perspective, except Snow White isn’t the fairy tale princess we know. Without spoiling, I’ll only say that the roles of villain and heroine are flipped in a very original way. It has all the things you know from the original tale – poisoned apples, mirrors, skin as white as snow – but the way Gaiman turned the story on its head, nothing should work but everything does. All the beats of the original tale fit perfectly into this new version. This is a short comic book but it’s also surprisingly dark. The artwork is gorgeous (if you’re into the style, obviously) and had me so impressed I read the book two times in a row.

Reading plans for the next months

  • Silvia Moreno-Garcia – Gods of Jade and Shadow
    Although this doesn’t fit into any of the slots left on my bingo card, I have started this story featuring Aztect gods. I have been buying Moreno-García’s book for a while, but this is the first one I’m finally going to pick up.
  • Alexa Donne – Brightly Burning
    This is a Jane Eyre retelling set in space. Since I’ve already read The Lunar Chronicles, my options for this bingo slot are slim, but I quite look forward to this. I haven’t read Jane Eyre in a while so I’m quite interested in how this author deals with the story and makes it work in a futuristic setting.
  • Anna-Marie McLemore – Blanca & Roja
    I’ve been meaning to read this for a while now. A retelling of Snow White and Rose Red plus Swan Lake sounds too good to miss. Since it features sisters – with all the love and rivalry that comes with it – I am even more intrigued. And I’ve also never read anything by McLemore but she keeps being recommended, so it’s about time I found out if I like her writing.

General Thoughts

I did not realise I’d read that many retellings. To be honest, I didn’t focus on this challenge at all during the last three months, so it’s a bit of a surprise to me how many retellings crept into my reading. With The Golem and the Jinni I got my first bingo on the Bingo Card, but I’m still planning to fill the entire card so there are still some books left for me to discover. The prompts are getting harder and harder to fulfill. While I do own some books that fit into the remaining categories, I’m not particularly in the mood for some of them at the moment. We’ll see how it goes but I am more motivated than ever to actually pull off my crazy plan.

In all honesty, at the beginning of the year, I thought my goal of reading books for all the prompts was way too ambitious but I like big goals. 🙂 I would have been fine with a single bingo, but now that I’m this close to finishing the entire card, there’s no way I’m stopping.

How’s your reading going? Are you (still) participating in this challenge? Which books can you recommend for my missing bingo slots – I’d really appreciate your recommendations!

2019 Retellings Challenge – Second Quarter Update

Another quarter year has gone by and, like every year, I wonder how it happened so fast. Summer is here, I already went on holiday in lovely Tuscany, and of course I spent many days reading on the beach. The Hugo finalists have taken much of my reading time, so I haven’t read as many retellins as I would have liked, but I am still excited for this challenge (visit Tracy at cornerfolds for more info) and I plan to finish the entire bingo card this year.

What I’ve Read

For “Middle-Eastern Myth” on the bingo card, I finally read S. A. Chakraborty’s City of Brass and I loved it. The setting and characters were wonderful, especially the complex political intricacies that Nahri and the readers have to learn about. I loved that there is so much more going on than first appears. Also, I have a super soft spot for Dara.

Brianna R. Shrum’s Never Never was a group read and while I thought it was well done, I wasn’t exactly blown away. A very slow, character-focused book that retells Hook’s side of Peter Pan’s story, it takes a rapid turn at the end, with characters changing their entire personality in a matter of seconds, just for the sake of a dramatic ending. I liked parts of, but very much disliked others, so all things considered, it was okay, but not great.

I fully expected to love Circe by Madeline Miller and I was not disappointed. While it took me a while to warm to Circe herself, once she grew up a bit and I liked her, I was all aflame for her story. You meet many well-known characters from Greek myths and you especially get to see the women’s stories in a different light. Although quite different from The Song of Achilles, this was another excellent retelling of a Greek myth!

Nikita Gill’s Fierce Fairytales just fell into my hands one day at the book shop. This gorgeous looking little book is filled with poetry, short stories, and illustrations, all based on fairy tales. As with any collections, there were stories I liked better than others. But it bothered me how very obvious and on the nose the author was with her message. I fully support the message that you should love yourself the way you are, that women shouldn’t be princesses waiting to be saved by a strong prince, the message of empowerment and female friendship – it’s all there and it’s all things I totally love and want to see more of in fiction. But the execution felt like someone preaching with a raised finger and I really don’t enjoy being preached to. So this was also only a good read, not a great one.

Reading plans for the next months

  • Helene Wecker – The Golem and the Jinni
    June’s group read on Goodreads and a book I’ve been meaning to read forever! I’m a quarter of the way in and I absolutely love it.
  • Helen Oyeyemi – Gingerbread
    I adore Oyeyemi’s style and my favorite book of hers was another retelling (Boy, Snow, Bird), so I’m very excited for this new one.
  • Joanne Harris – The Gospel of Loki
    I hope this book wins the poll for July group read but if it doesn’t, I’ll probably read it anyway.
  • Ellen Datlow (ed.) – Mad Hatters and March Hares
    For the Wonderland bingo square, I might just go with this anthology. It features some of my favorite authors and short stories are usually quick reads. Even if there are a lot of them.

General Thoughts

By now, it’s become a little harder finding books to fit on the bingo card. For example, I already read my Middle-Eastern myth book (The City of Brass), so I’m lucky the group read, The Golem and the Jinni, also fits into the “award-winning” square.
This quarter, my reading has really been focused more on the Hugo Awards than this challenge. Once Hugo voting is over (by the end of July), I can put my attention back to this challenge and also finally reading some of the new releases from 2019 which I’ve been buying. I swear those books look at me sadly just to make me feel guilty that I haven’t picked them up yet!

But I’m still enjoying this challenge and the more I read, the more I appreciate Tracy’s reading prompts. Some of them are vague enough that you can read many things (like the “Brothers Grimm” prompt) and some are more specific and make you go hunt for books which you may otherwise not have read, especially if you’ve already read the most obvious choice (“a retelling set in space” –> Marissa Meyer’s Cinder). The Goodreads group reads also push books onto me which I either wouldn’t have read or which I’ve been putting off for way too long. So I’m still very happy with the challenge and with my progress. I expect to catch up much more quickly once I’m done with the Hugo Award nominated books and stories.

2019 Retellings Challenge – First Quarter Update

The first quarter of the year is almost over (how did that happen?), so it’s time for a little update on my reading challenges. I think I’ve been doing pretty well, especially with the Retellings Challenge which is the most dear to me because my TBR is overflowing with retellings and I really need to catch up!

What I’ve read

My retellings have been everything from mind-blowingly good (The Scorpio Races and The Language of Thorns) to still very good (Trail of Lightning and A Curse so Dark and Lonely) to meh (In the Vanisher’s Palace and Pride) to complete failure (Girls of Paper and Fire). Although, that’s a very mixed outcome, I am quite pleased all things considered.

The Scorpio Races took a while to get started for me, but boy did it grab my heart at the end. I cried, people! The Language of Thorns satisfied both my need for more Grishaverse as well as my love for fairy tales. Trail of Lightning was a fun post-apocalyptic Urban Fantasy romp in a unique setting and A Curse so Dark and Lonely caught me with its kick-ass active protagonist and its clever use of the Beauty and the Beast tropes.

In case you want to read my less favorable reviews, here’s Pride and here’s the complete trainwreck that was Girls of Paper and Fire.

My retellings reading plan

I don’t have any fixed plans on what to read next because I like to see where my mood takes me, but there are a few books that definitely have to happen soon.

  • Surprise Peter Pan retelling (depends on which book wins the poll for the April group read on Goodreads)
  • Katherine Arden – The Winter of the Witch
  • Madeline Miller – Circe
  • Rosamunde Hodge – Bright Smoke, Cold Fire

I’m really looking forward to the Peter Pan retelling, no matter which book wins. All the nominated books sound amazing, so I’ll be happy with whatever gets the most votes (except for Alias Hook which I’ve already read). Madeline Miller’s Song of Achilles was really beautiful, so I’m making her my choice for Greek myth retelling, Rosamunde Hodge is also one of my favorite retellings authors and I’m curious to see what her version of Romeo and Juliet looks like. And Katherine Arden has stolen my reader’s heart with her Winternight Trilogy, so finding out how the story ends is bittersweet. I really want to know what happens but I don’t look forward to not having any of her books left to read.

General Thoughts on the Challenge

I’ve been loving this challenge so far. I did notice that, after reading a lot of retellings I felt a need for something else. So I spent March reading mostly other books, catching up on some series, even reading something that isn’t SFF (Anne of Green Gables – it’s adorable!) but by now, I’m really back in the mood for more retellings. Since I always read more than one book at a time, I may try pairing a retelling with a new release – there are so many new books this year that sound absolutely amazing.

If you’re doing this challenge as well, how is it going for you? Have you discovered a hidden gem like I did with The Scorpio Races? Have you been disappointed in an over-hyped book? Let me know in the comments and if you participate in the challenge, make sure to link up at Cornerfolds.

#TheReadingQuest Review: Leena Likitalo – The Five Daughters of the Moon

I finished a book, you guys!!! I know, I know, for someone who writes a book review blog, this shouldn’t be a big accomplishment, but as I mentioned, I am going through some big stuff at the moment. I’m in the process of moving and anyone who has ever done that knows how much time and energy this can eat. I have barely any time to read and when I do catch some moments for myself, I mostly just need them to rest. But I finished a book! 🙂

THE FIVE DAUGHTERS OF THE MOON
by Leena Likitalo

Published by: Tor.com, 2017
Ebook: 256 pages
Series: The Waning Moon #1
My rating: 6,5/10

First sentence: “The Great Thinking Machine can answer every question,” Gagargi Prataslav says as he steps forth from the shadows cast by the huge machine.

Inspired by the 1917 Russian revolution and the last months of the Romanov sisters, The Five Daughters of the Moon by Leena Likitalo is a beautifully crafted historical fantasy with elements of technology fueled by evil magic.
The Crescent Empire teeters on the edge of a revolution, and the Five Daughters of the Moon are the ones to determine its future.
Alina, six, fears Gagargi Prataslav and his Great Thinking Machine. The gagargi claims that the machine can predict the future, but at a cost that no one seems to want to know.
Merile, eleven, cares only for her dogs, but she smells that something is afoul with the gagargi. By chance, she learns that the machine devours human souls for fuel, and yet no one believes her claim.
Sibilia, fifteen, has fallen in love for the first time in her life. She couldn’t care less about the unrests spreading through the countryside. Or the rumors about the gagargi and his machine.
Elise, sixteen, follows the captain of her heart to orphanages and workhouses. But soon she realizes that the unhappiness amongst her people runs much deeper that anyone could have ever predicted.
And Celestia, twenty-two, who will be the empress one day. Lately, she’s been drawn to the gagargi. But which one of them was the first to mention the idea of a coup?

Starting with the youngest of five sisters, Alina, the royal princesses tell this story in alternating chapters. There’s magic and revolution, conspiracy and secret romances, and five girls trying to survive in a world that is becoming more and more hostile to them.

There were some things I loved about this story, some that I thought were meh, and others that jarred me out of the reading experience. But let’s be positive and start with the good stuff. Considering that each girl only gets two chapters to tell, I was very happy that they each have their own voice. The differences in storytelling aren’t huge, but every sister brings her own personality into how she tells her part of the story and that is a feat all by itself. The smallest, Alina, is plagued by nightmares (or maybe visions?), a condition the court considers to be a sickness of sort, but us savvy fantasy readers recognise as a magical gift of sorts. Merile, whose most striking characteristic is her love for her two dogs, mostly shines when her sisters are the story teller. She has a quiet dignity about her, remarkable for her age. An 11-year-old who stays brave and strong to keep her little sister from being afraid is by default a character I love!
Sibile is pure teenager, dreaming of falling in love, of finally being considert an adult, and throwing tantrums that make it obvious how far from grown-up she still is. The two eldest sisters, Elise and Celestia, have clearly grown beyond that. Elise sees that the Empire can’t remain the way it is and she is trying to take steps to change things for the better. Celestia, in turn, is preparing for the role she was born for – to become the Crescent Empress, marry her father, the Moon, and rule the Empire some day.

Diminishing this tale a bit was how blatanly obvious the villain of the piece is from the very first page. Gagargi Prataslav is like the villain in a Disney movie. One look at him and you know he’s up to dark stuff. Yet somehow, the Crescent Empress doesn’t see it or doesn’t care – in fact, only the two younger girls have a proper sense of fear when it comes to this creepy, conniving man, which makes the rest of the family seem incredibly naive, if now downright stupid. However, the gagargi has some abilities that – while not surprising for a villain – are terrifying and difficult to fight. So despite being on the nose, at least he is an interesting evil to battle.

The one thing that really bothered me about this book was the language. Leena Likitalo is a Finnish writer who even talks about writing in English in her introduction/acknowledgement section. As someone who writes in a second language as well (although I only write reviews), I understand all too well how challenging it can be to find the right words to convey emotions. I commend Likitalo for a job well done, but there were frequent moments when things just felt off. The dialogue is often jarring, Sibilia’s diary entries felt strangely anachronistic (a princess of Revolutionary Russia saying things like “I kid you not” is just not right, even in a fantasy world), and Alina sounded too formal for a 5-year-old at times. It was many little things that added up to me just not liking the language of the book very much.

The plot also takes a while to get going. Because the antagonist is so obvious from the start, the story only really gets going with Celestia’s first chapter. This is where the interesting parts about magic and world building come in, when the story really gets going, when things happen.

Despite my misgivings, I quite enjoyed this book and I will read the sequel when I get my hands on it. Likitalo has created an intriguing world that offers many possibilities for a good story. This one doesn’t exactly end on a cliffhanger, but it’s definitely only half of a tale with no satisfying ending to it. Maybe, in the second book, there will be fewer language issues as well.

MY RATING: 6,5/10 – Quite good

Second opinions:

Save

#TheReadingQuest Sign Up

Hello everyone! My hiatus is still ongoing, although I am sorting out my life and things are looking much more positive at the moment. I won’t be posting much for the next couple of weeks because – drumroll – it’s Worldcon!!! And because things have to get back on track sometime, I am joining another reading challenge by the wonderfully creative Aentee from Read at Midnight. It will start on August 13th, just as Worldcon ends.

This challenge lasts for an entire month, so although I may be starting late, I will have enough time to catch up on all the books I neglected these last two months. As you may have guessed, although I pretty much stopped reading and reviewing, I have been busily buying new books the entire time and my TBR has reached heights that I would call seriously threatening.

Continue reading

#ReadDiverse2017 – An Update and a TBR Pile

I am so happy I found the Read Diverse 2017 Challenge! I have been reading and reviewing books for this challenge since January and have discovered so many new authors, books, and bloggers.

Normally, I am super motivated to read all the books for a challenge right away but then I lose interest. Not so with this challenge! Because the goal isn’t to read one type of book or genre but simply to take a closer look at the authors and books you want to read anyway.  Turns out – and I’m sure this is true for most people with a big TBR – I didn’t even have to buy new books for this challenge (although I did anyway) because many of my unread books were written by marginalised authors and featured diverse characters. And because the experience has been so much fun, I wanted to share the books I’ve read for the challenge and the books I have lined up for the next few months with you guys. May your wishlists grow.

What I’ve read so far

I have read a total of 16 books in 2017 so far, five of which were written by LGBTQI authors and/or featured LGBTQI characters. Five books were written by Authors of Color and/or featured POC main characters. Two books had protagonists with a disability, and five were #ownvoices books.
There was oviously quite a bit of overlap and in reality, I read only 10 books for this challenge so far. But 10 out of 16 is a pretty amazing ratio if you ask me.

And for anyone who believes that I am changing my reading habits or forcing myself to read certain books for the sake of diversity, I can only say that all of these books (except for Peter Darling which I discovered through the challenge) were already on my TBR and I would have read them anyway. The Read Diverse 2017 challenge only pushed them a bit further up on my TBR pile, that’s all.

Here are my diverse reads so far, all of which I would recommend. My full reviews can be found behind the links.

  • Emma Donoghue – Kissing the Witch
    A short story collection retelling fairy tales, most of which feature lesbian protagonists, and all of which focus on women.
  • Zoraida Córdova – Labyrinth Lost
    This book is a wonderful story about a young girl, dealing with her cultural heritage, her place in her family and witchcraft. After messing things up she tries to fix her dire situation. Incudes a trip to the underworld with a fantastic bisexual protagonist.
  • Leigh Bardugo – Six of Crows
    Not so much a heist story as a character study of six amazing, diverse, and absolutely lovable protagonists. Kaz is disabled and walks with a cane, Inej is dark-skinned, and I suspect (though don’t know yet) that at least one character is gay. I loved all of them!
  • Mishell Baker – Borderline
    This is such an amazing book. Millie is a double amputee after her attempted suicide who suffers from Borderline Personality Disorder. She also starts to work for the secret Arcadia Project which polices the traffic between our world and Fairyland. And it’s set in Hollywood. Everything about this book was perfect.
  • S. L. Huang – The Little Homo Sapiens Scientist
    A retelling of The Little Mermaid that gets really dark and broke my heart into a million pieces. The protagonist is a lesbian who falls in love with a “mermaid” and trades her voice for fins. But trust me, it’s much better and more sinister than I make it sound.
  • Helen Oyeyemi – What is Not Yours is Not Yours
    A story collection by the brilliant Helen Oyeyemi that features a diverse cast of characters, most of all highlighting women. I didn’t love all the stories but the collection overall was solid.
  • Marissa Meyer – Wires and Nerve
    Meyer’s first graphic novel, set after the Lunar Chronicles, finally gives Iko her own story. The protagonist android loves her body (which is a Woman of Color) and she deals with questions of identity, feelings, and friendship. It’s a lovely, quick comfort read and I need the sequel now!
  • Catherynne M. Valente – Palimpsest
    Valente’s characters in this book may not all be bisexual, but pretty much everyone sleeps with everyone in this luscious tale of a sexually transmitted city. There are no graphic or particularly steamy sex scenes here, but instead there are breathtaking descriptions of Palimpsest. The language and imagery are stunning, but you should like flowery prose if you pick this up.
  • Austin Chant – Peter Darling
    What if Peter Pan grew up as Wendy Darling? In this very short novel, Peter is a transgender man who comes back to Neverland as an adult. To my utter delight, he and Hook fall in love. I had some problems with this book (there was just not enough of it) but overall, I enjoyed it.
  • Nnedi Okorafor – Binti: Home
    I adored Okorafor’s Binti and couldn’t wait for this sequel. Binti, who has run away from home to study at a university far away from her home planet, has returned. She has to deal with her own identity, her past, her family’s culture and the life she wants for herself. The only thing I didn’t like about this book is that it ends on a pretty mean cliffhanger. Review to come.

What’s on my TBR

I have SO MANY BOOKS! Seriously, there is no shortage of diverse books in my home, but I do have a few lined up that I want to read very soon.

  • Yoon Ha Lee – Ninefox Gambit
    I’m already reading this and as much as the beginning tried to break my brain, I am completely in love with it now and can’t wait to find out how the story continues. If you start reading this, please don’t give up. Push through the first chapters and you will be rewarded!
  • S. Jae-Jones – Wintersong
    I am not sure if I will finish this book. I read half of it and it’s a huge disappointment. A whiny heroine who wallows in self-pity, a bland “romance”, and no plot to speak of. Maybe I’ll write something even if I DNF this book… we’ll see. For now, it’s on hiatus.
  • Heidi Heilig – The Girl From Everywhere
    This book just sounds soooo good. Time travel, maps, a biracial protagonist, a romance, and ships! Plus, the sequel is out already (I think), so if I love it I won’t have to wait for the next book.
  • N. K. Jemisin – The Obelisk Gate
    I actually saved this book up because I know it will ruin any book that is unfortunate enough to follow it. Jemisin is a phenomenal writer and this world is her most complex and ambitious yet. The cast ist effortlessly diverse and Jemisin’s writing is always stunning.
  • Rhoda Belleza – Empress of a Thousand Skies
    I’m a bit on the fence about this but people have said it has lots of diverse characters and a fast-moving plot. So I hope this book leaves away all the YA tropes and delivers an exciting space adventure.
  • Madeline Miller – The Song of Achilles
    I’ve wanted to read this for ages but somehow, every time I choose a new book to read this one slips my mind. Must remember this time.
  • Jaida Jones and Danielle Bennett – Dragon Soul
    I love this series so much! The first book told (among other plot lines) a beautiful romance between two very different men, and all the characters are superb. Can’t wait to continue reading about this world of steampunk dragons, and the crazy people who fly them.
  • Caitlín R. Kiernan – Agents of Dreamland
    I love everything Kiernan writes and most things Tor.com publishes, so this is a book that is practically a guaranteed hit.
  • Ann Leckie – Ancillary Sword
    I am SO behind on this series. The first book was my favorite the year it came out but then I never caught up with the sequels. It’s time to rectify that situation! If you don’t know this series, it’s about a former space ship AI, now existing in one human body, who uses all-female pronouns because it’s an AI and doesn’t know or care about gender. Also, it’s a super exciting space adventure with amazing characters.

The way I know myself, this reading plan will probably be thrown away pretty fast, especially with the amount of exciting recommendations this reading challenge produces. But then, I read for fun. So I’ll do my best to stick by this TBR but if I stray, so be it. 🙂

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save