June 2022 wrap-up: delightful and disappointing fantasy

June was a busy month at work, but I did some fun things in my free time. My boyfriend and I went to the movie Jurassic World: Dominion, we made some boat trips and we swam a few times in a lake near our house. I didn’t read a lot of books, but I did find a new favourite this month.

Books I Read

The City of Dreaming Books by Walter Moers5 stars
In four words: bookish, imaginative, funny, adventurous
What I liked: This book was amazing! It’s set in a city I yearn to visit if it was possible. In Bookholm everything is about books. It smells of ink and paper, books are everywhere and everyone’s life in this city revolves around books. With our main character (who is a dinosaur by the way) we get deeper and deeper in the city. He encounters strange creatures and even dangerous books. The writing style of this story was enjoyable: a bit poetic, humorous and imaginative. I also loved the illustrations.
What I disliked: The only demerit is the many info dumps. However, I didn’t mind them. I couldn’t get enough information about the fascinating City of Dreaming Books!

A Wizard of Earthsea (Earthsea Cycle, #1) by Ursula K. Le Guin3 stars
In four words: classic, familiar, coming-of-age adventure
What I liked: I was looking forward to finally read something by Ursula K. Le Guin. I enjoyed the story and liked the familiarity. The book feels like a predecessor of Harry Potter. The main character, Ged, is easy to like and it was interesting to see his character develop throughout the story.
What I disliked: I hoped to like this book more, but it just didn’t “wow” me. Some elements felt like overused tropes. Of course I cannot really blame the book for this. At the time it was written, the ideas were original. But I usually love books about schools of magic. So it was disappointing that only two chapters are set in the school of wizardry. The irregular pacing also didn’t work for me.

DNF

The Shadowed Sun (Dream Blood, #2) by N.K. Jemisin
The books of the Dreamblood duologies are interesting, but complex. A lot happens and little is explained. This isn’t a bad thing. But I wasn’t in the mood for this kind of book. For now I left The Shadowed Sun unfinished. I do hope to try this book again at a later moment.

Podcasts I Liked
Blog hiatus

This summer my boyfriend and I are going to Norway with our camper van. I’m really looking forward to it! I won’t take my laptop with me. So don’t expect any posts during July. I will be back in August.

Mid Year Book Freak Out Tag 2022

Just like every year in June, it’s time for the Mid Year Book Freak Out Tag. It’s the moment to reflect on the books I read so far. In numbers, I have read 15 books; 7086 pages in total. At the end of the year I hope to have read 36 books, so I’m a little behind. But I’m sure I will catch up this summer holidays. Let’s get to the questions.

Best book(s) you read so far?

  • Black Water Sister: humorous and a somewhat creepy story about a lesbian girl who is haunted by her sassy, dead grandmother
  • The Embroidered Book: magical version of the lives of Marie Antoinette and her sister Charlotte that’s still very true to history
  • The City of Dreaming Books: imaginative story set in a city where everyone and everything is about books

Best sequel(s) you’ve read so far?

I haven’t read any new sequels yet. I did love my reread of The Illuminae Files.

New releases you haven’t read yet, but want to?

  • The Diamond Eye: historical fiction with a premise that sounds very intriguing: ‘”an unforgettable World War II tale of a quiet bookworm who becomes history’s deadliest female sniper.”
  • The Paris Bookseller: based on the life of Sylvia Beach who established Shakespeare and Company, a famous bookshop in Paris I visited last year.
  • She Who Became the Sun: not that new, but every one seems to have read this historical fantasy book except for me.

Most anticipated release for the second half of the year?

The Book Eaters by Sunyi Dean: it’s about people for whom books are food and this sounds fascinating!

Biggest disappointment?

The Killing Moon was not a bad book, but I expected to like it more.

Biggest surprise?

I didn’t expect that the first book I read this year, Black Water Sister, would immediately become a new favourite.

Favourite new author? (debut or new to you)

After reading The Embroidered Book I would love to read more books by Kate Heartfield!

Newest favourite character?

I really came to like Marie Antoinette and Charlotte from The Embroidered Book. Charlotte is a confident and ambitious queen, while Antoinette tries her best to make everyone love her. They are well-written characters and felt like real people to me.

Book that made you cry?

I didn’t cry, but the last part of The Embroidered Book did make me feel really sad.

Book that made you happy?

The City of Dreaming Books made me smile a lot, because it’s a love letter to books and reading. The story is also funny and really enjoyable to read.

Most beautiful book you’ve bought so far this year (or received)?

I again choose The City of Dreaming Books, because it has beautiful illustrations. I received this book for my birthday from my parents.

What book(s) do you need to read by the end of the year?

Top Six Books Where Time Is Altered

Today’s Top Ten Tuesday topic, the weekly meme managed by That Artsy Reader Girl, is ‘Books With a Unit of Time In the Title.’ I adjusted this topic a little, because I found it more interesting to write about books where time is approached in unusual ways.

Passenger by Alexandra Bracken
On the night of an important concert, violinist Etta is suddenly thrown hundreds of years back in time. It isn’t easy to write a good time travel story, but in this book time travelling is well executed.

Timekeeper by Tara Sim
I liked this story for its originality. It’s an historical fantasy set in Victorian London where clock towers control time. If a broken clock isn’t repaired, the time in the town just stops working. So mechanics are literally timekeepers.

The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton
This book is a mystery with a twist. The day of the murder repeats itself until the protagonist has solved it. Despite the repetition, this never becomes boring. Because every morning the protagonist awakes in the body of another person.

Still on my TBR:

Wyrd & Wonder 2022 wrap-up

It’s already the last day of Wyrd & Wonder. Just like the previous years I want to thank all the hosts! I enjoyed participating and loved to read everyone’s contributions. On this blog I posted my reviews of the Hugo Award Short Story Finalists, a Top Five Bookish Characters from Fantasy Books and Five Forest Fantasy Books I read. I also finished two books and I’m currently still reading The Shadowed Sun. The Dream Blood duology by N.K. Jemisin is interesting, but not as easy to read as I expected. In this blog post you will find my thoughts about the books I read, some podcasts I liked and my favourite Wyrd & Wonder blog posts of the month.

Books I Read
Wyrd & Wonder 2022 - wrap-up

The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black – 4 stars
In four words: modern, dark fairy tale
What I liked: For this book the writer rearranged some fairy tale elements in a new and interesting way. There are faeries and there is a boy with horns in a glass coffin. He is surrounded by broken bottles and crushed tin cans and regularly tourists are gaping at him. The modern setting and the casual way the fearies are treated made the story feel almost real. I also liked the way the book is written. The writer doesn’t tell why something happens, she shows it. The characters are interesting as well. All of them have secrets and we slowly find out more about them.
What I disliked: I actually liked this book more than I expected. I’m not a huge fan of fairy tale retellings, but I enjoyed reading this book.

The Killing Moon (Dreamblood, #1) by N.K. Jemisin – 3 stars
In four words: fascinating setting, complex story
What I liked: One of the reasons I wanted to read this book was the setting. The world is inspired by Ancient Egypt and as fascinating as I hoped. The most memorable characters in the story are Gatherers. They are priests who harvest dream magic. This can be used to either heal sick people or give corrupt people a peaceful death. But who decides who has to be killed? And what if the people in whose decision you trust are corrupt themselves? These interesting questions are explored. The book doesn’t simply give the answers; you have to figure it out yourself. I like the idea of puzzling everything together.
What I disliked: We are thrown in the middle of a complex story with many strange names. Very little is explained. That’s why this book was at the beginning hard to follow. Throughout the story I slowly started to understand it. But in the end I can’t say I totally comprehended it. More information would have helped me to care more about the plot and the characters.
Trigger warning for murder

Podcasts I liked
  • Curses and consent – with Heather Walter at Breaking the Glass Slipper was an interesting podcast episode about fairy tales. They discuss why some fairy tales are actually quite problematic, but are still inspiring and fascinating.
  • The Marie Forleo Podcast is a (very American) self help podcast. Not all episodes are my thing, but I love the positivity of Marie and her guests. Recently I listened to episode 205: Rediscover Your Wild, Untamed Heart with Glennon Doyle. I sometimes struggle with being myself and this episode reminded me why it’s important to stay true to yourself.
The Good Stuff of Wyrd & Wonder 2022

2022 Hugo Award Short Story Finalists Reviewed

Today I tag along with the Wyrd & Wonder prompt ‘Bite-size delight’. I share my thoughts on the short stories that are nominated to win a Hugo Award. With some of them, I purposely stayed a bit vague. Because the stories are so short, I don’t want to give away too much of the plot. If a story sounds interesting, definitively read it yourself! All of them can be find online.

Mr. Death by Alix E. Harrow (Apex Magazine, February 2021)
In this story reaper is a job you can get after you die. We get to explore this fascinating idea with an interesting main character and see his character develop during the story. This story about death is a bit heart-breaking, but also heart-warming and even has some humour. I admire the writer for being able to convey so many emotions in just five thousand words.

Proof by Induction by José Pablo Iriarte (Uncanny Magazine, May/June 2021)
The main character of this story is able to talk with his father after he died. The idea is interesting, but the conversations they have are quite boring. There were so much mathematical terms! For me all the math they talk about overshadows the better part of the story.

The Sin of America by Catherynne M. Valente (Uncanny Magazine, March/April 2021)
I just didn’t get this story. It’s about an American woman who had a life full of pain and disappointments. Her dinner at Blue Bison Diner & Souvenir Shoppe is meticulously described. The many details obscured the plot for me. In the end I’m not sure what the writer wanted to tell. This is the kind of story you have to read three of even four times to get. But I couldn’t find anything in the story that makes it worth rereading.

Tangles by Seanan McGuire (Magicthegathering.com: Magic Story, September 2021)
This short story tells about a meeting between a dryad and a mage. They live in a fascinating world with magic and trees that walk. We just get a small insight in this world and I would love to read more about it if possible. The story is also beautifully written.

Unknown Number by Azure (Twitter, July 2021)
If short stories could win prizes for originality, this one would probably get one. This story has the most unique format of all the finalists. It’s a SMS conversation between the main character and theirself from another universe. Their lives have many similarities, but there’s one big difference. The format made the story feel very real. I do think this story has the potential to have more depth. The writer spends quite a lot of time on setting up the story.

Where Oaken Hearts Do Gather by Sarah Pinsker (Uncanny Magazine, March/April 2021)
Another story with an unusual format. This one is formatted like a kind of website about a song called ‘Where Oaken Hearts Do Gather’. Various commenters discuss the phrasing and history of the song. Sadly it felt like a huge info dump. I didn’t really like the song, so I had no reason to be interested in its fictional history. The story may have worked if the characters were more relatable.

There were three short stories I enjoyed reading. My favourite was definitively Mr. Death by Alix E. Harrow. It’s based on an original idea that is well executed, and the story is beautifully written. Which one do you think should win?

Top Five Bookish Characters from Fantasy Books

Time for Top Ten Tuesday, the weekly meme managed by That Artsy Reader Girl. I love today’s topic: Bookish characters! Since it’s also Wyrd & Wonder this month, I decided to focus on bookish character from fantasy books.

Lazlo from Strange the Dreamer

“His nose was broken by a falling volume of fairy tales his first day on the job, and that, they said, told you everything you needed to know about strange Lazlo Strange: head in the clouds, world of his own, fairy tales and fancy.”

My favourite fictional bookworm! Lazlo is a kind-hearted librarian. Since childhood he is obsessed with a mythic lost city called Weep. He collects all the information he can find about it. Lazlo’s dream is finding this city and solving all the mysteries surrounding it. When he gets the opportunity, Lazlo has to seize his change or lose his dream forever.

Meggie from Inkheart

“There was another reason [she] took her books whenever they went away. They were her home when she was somewhere strange. They were familiar voices, friends that never quarelled with her, clever, powerful friends – daring and knowledgeable, tried and tested adventurers who had travelled far and wide. Her books cheered her up when she was sad and kept her from being bored.”

Meggie lives with her father Mo. He is a book binder and they both love reading. One night she overhears a conversation her father has. Next morning, they suddenly have to go to aunt Elinor. After a while, Meggie finally finds out her father’s secret. He is able to bring things from a book to our world when he reads the story aloud. But this talent comes with a price…

Bastian from The Neverending Story

“Bastian liked books that were exciting or funny, or that made him dream. Books where made-up characters had marvelous adventures, books that made him imagine all sorts of things. Because one thing he was good at, possibly the only thing, was imagining things so clearly that he almost saw and heard them.”

The Neverending Story is one of my favourite books from childhood. It’s about a boy reading a book about Fantastica. This world needs a human to save it. While Bastian is reading, he goes into the book. The best thing is: he doesn’t only become part of the story, Bastian is also able to shape it with his imagination.

Charley from The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep

“… I really have no circle of acquaintances outside work. None nonfictional or unrelated to me, anyway. I’m busy. There are a lot of books to read.”

Charley has the magical ability to bring a character from a book into the real world. His brother Rob thinks this family secret causes mostly problems. But I would love to have this power! Not only the characters, but also the plot of The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep is really interesting.

Tilly from Tilly and the Bookwanderers

“With very few exceptions Tilly found that she much preferred the company of characters in her books to most of the people she knew in real life.”

Tilly is a young girl wo lives above her grandparents’ bookshop. One day a character from the book she’s reading appears in the shop. That’s when she learns about `book wandering.’ This magic works both ways: Tilly can bring characters from books into our world and she can get in the book herself.

Five Forest Fantasy Books I read

This post is inspired by the Wyrd & Wonder prompt ‘Top Five Forest Fantasy Recs’. I actually have read exactly five forest fantasy books. So I decided to just make a list of the books I read. In of all them there is some kind of enchanted wood. I’m currently reading a sixth forest fantasy book: The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black.

Uprooted by Naomi Novik
The forest in this book is evil and powerful. It takes people who enter it. The ones who survive, come out different and just as dangerous as the forest itself. Agnieszka lives in a village close to this forest. Her people rely on a wizard known as the Dragon to protect them. Once every ten years the Dragon demands a young woman to serve him.

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden
This atmospheric book is set in a small village close to the cold Russian wilderness. During the nights people nestle around the fire and tell each other chilling stories about strange creatures. Vasya loves to hear them. She also knows the stories are more than fairy tales, because she can see the spirits. Better than anyone else, she realizes the importance of honouring the spirits who protect them against evil creatures lurking in the forest.

The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert
I didn’t give this book all the stars, but I did like the out-of-this-world vibe. Alice and her mother always have bad luck. It gets even worse when Alice’s mother is kidnapped. She left behind a message: ‘Stay away from the Hazel Wood’. This is the secret estate of Alice’s grandmother, a woman Alice has never met. Hazel Wood is of course the place Alice has to find.

Wildwood by Colin Meloy
I received this book as a present and I keep it for the beautiful illustrations made by Carson Ellis. Wildwood is an enchanted forest in the middle of Portland. It’s inhabited by talking animals. When Prue’s baby brother is kidnapped by crows, she has to save him. With the help of Collin, she follows her brother into the forest. I wouldn’t recommend this book for the plot, but I liked the world the story is set in.

The Liveship Traders trilogy by Robin Hobb
These books are about ships fashioned from wizardwood. The special wood for these ships comes from the Rain Wilds, an area with enormous trees. Settlements are built high in the trees. The forest plays a bigger role in The Rain Wild Chronicles, but I haven’t read those books yet.

April 2022 wrap-up: diving into the past

April had a good start with a short vacation in Valencia. It’s a beautiful city I would love to revisit! At the end of the month I celebrated my 28th birthday. Readingwise I also had a good month. I found an amazing historical fantasy book that became a new favourite. While reading about a book set in the 18th century I listened to podcasts to learn more about the time period. So in this wrap-up you will find my thoughts about a new favourite book, the (as always spoiler-free) mini reviews of the other books I read and a lot of podcast recommendations.

Books I Read

The Swimmers by Marian Womack4 stars
In four words: dreamy, quirky, fascinating dystopia
What I liked: The setting of this book is fascinating. Pearl grows up in a future when Andalusia has become a jungle with carnivorous plants and mutated animals. We also read fragments of Pearl as an isolated, pregnant woman in the Upper Settlement. This is ring perched at the edge of the planet’s atmosphere where a part of the human population lives. The more I learned about this dystopian world, the more intriguing it became. The story has a dreamy and quirky vibe. I came to like it after getting used to it.
What I disliked: Because the book has a dreamlike atmosphere, the plot was sometimes hard to follow. Some things stayed a bit vague in the end. I feel like I didn’t get everything the writer wanted to convey.

The Embroidered Book by Kate Heartfield5 stars
In four words: magical, well-thought-out historical fantasy
What I liked: This is an altered version of the lives of Marie Antoinette and her sister Charlotte. The book is based on real 18th century history. Only the sisters now have a book of spells. I loved how the magic is interwoven in the story. The magic system is well thought out and fits the story perfectly. It’s amazing how much research the writer did for this book! Many of the characters and non-magical things that happen are true to history. I liked how the main characters are portrayed. Charlotte as a confident and ambitious queen, while sweet Antoinette tries her best to make everyone love her. I was also fond of the writing style. It felt balanced; the book is beautifully written and enjoyable to read.
What I disliked: If you know anything about Marie Antoinette, you will know how her story inevitably ends. The ending of the book wasn’t happy either. I didn’t like how sad it made me feel. At the same time, my sympathy for the characters was another proof of how good The Embroidered Book is.

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue (Montague Siblings, #1) by Mackenzi Lee3 stars
In four words: queer, romantic, humorous quest
What I liked: This book is an easy to read YA story set in the 18th century. Our narrator is Henry Montague, better known as Monty. He and his best friend Percy, accompanied by Monty’s sister Felicity, are on their grand tour through Europe. Monty seems to attract problems and their journey totally goes astray. On top of that he also is secretly in love with Percy. This was interesting, because I seldom see queer characters in historical fiction. From the start my favourite character was Felicity. She is a fearless, rebellious book worm. The more I got to know her, the more I liked Felicity.
What I disliked: Initially I hated Monty. He is selfish and only seems to care about alcohol and sex. I almost quitted reading because of him. Later in the book Monty changes, but I still couldn’t really empathize with him.
Trigger warnings for homophobia, racism and abuse

Podcasts I liked
  • The episode Women, history & power – with Kate Heartfield at Breaking the Glass Slipper was the reason I read The Embroidered Book! I literally bought the book the same day. In this episode the hosts invited the writer to talk about her new book, and about Marie Antoinette, writing historical fantasy and women in history in general.
  • While reading The Embroidered Book, I wanted to know more about Marie Antoinette. The podcast Noble Blood has two episodes on her. The Neck and the Necklace tells about a plot involving an extraordinary expensive necklace. The Second Death of Marie Antoinette is the tragic story of her time in prison and her final moments.
  • I also listened to podcast episodes at Stuff You Missed in History Class about some of the side characters from The Embroidered Book. I enjoyed listening to the The True Story of the Chevalier d’Eon (there are two parts, I especially liked the second). Another interesting one was about the French painter Vigée Le Brun. There are also two episodes about Léonard Autié, hairdresser and friend of Marie Antoinette.
  • And I looked for stories about other women from the 18th century. I loved the episode Catherine the Great and her Husband the Mediocre at Noble Blood. It’s about how Catherine took the Russian throne from her unpopulair husband Peter the Third.
More Good Stuff in April
  • The Magical Readathon created and hosted by G at Book Roast was back this month! I still admire the creativity of this readathon. It’s so well-planned! However, I was too late to participate. I also wasn’t really in the mood to choose books based on reading prompts.
  • I went to Elfia, a great outdoor costume event in the Netherlands. The photos give you an impression of the amazing costumes people came up with.
  • I’m looking forward to Wyrd & Wonder! This monthlong celebration of all things fantasy starts tomorrow.

Wyrd & Wonder 2022 TBR

In May I will again participate in Wyrd & Wonder! A yearly celebration of all things fantasy. This year it’s the fifth anniversary of Wyrd & Wonder. Forest fantasy will be the theme of this special edition. Wyrd & Wonder is hosted by a team of five bloggers: Imryl from One More, Lisa of Dear Geek Place, Jorie from Jorie Loves A Story, Ariana at The Book Nook and Annemieke of A Dance With Books. Read here about everything that is planned during the month.

On my blog you are going to find fantasy-themed posts next month. I also hope to read at least three fantasy books. I’m going to participate in the read-along hosted by Lisa of Dear Geek Place. And there is a great duology I want to read. This is my TBR-list:

The Killing Moon (Dreamblood #1) & The Shadowed Sun (Dreamblood #2) by N.K. Jemisin
I’m looking forward to finally reading something from N.K. Jemisin! I decided to start with this duology, because it sounds amazing. The first thing I like is that the world in the books is based on Ancient Egypt. It’s also interesting that dreams play a big role. The main character is a priest of the dream-goddess. It’s his duty is to harvest the magic of the sleeping mind and use it to heal. However, someone uses this magic to kill people…

The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black
This book is chosen by Lisa for the read-along. Following the theme, it’s a forest fantasy. The story sounds like a dark fairy tale. It’s about Hazel and her brother Ben who live in a town where humans and fae live side by side. There’s also a glass coffin in the woods with a sleeping boy in it. I’ve never read anything else by Holly Black. So I’m curious what I will think of this book.

Non-fiction Books on My TBR-list for Earth Day 2022

Today is Earth Day! It’s an international yearly event to make people aware of ecological problems. The goal is to make people come in action. Read more about Earth Day on this website.

I post about Earth Day every year. Here you can find all my posts. I already wrote several times about books in which nature or the environment plays a role. But all those books were fiction. This time I decided to make a small list with non-fiction books about the climate I want to read. All of them are written by people that inspire me. On my TBR-list are:

No One Is Too Small to Make a Difference by Greta Thunberg
It’s amazing what Greta does! I admire her courage to stand up for the climate. At her age I certainly didn’t have the determination and the guts to go on strike or talk to world leaders. This book is a collection of Greta’s climate action speeches. I hope it will inspire me.

All We Can Save: Truth, Courage, and Solutions for the Climate Crisis edited by Ayana Elizabeth Johnson & Katharine K. Wilkinson
I first heard about Ayana Elizabeth Jonhson in the podcast Ologies. In the episode Oceanology she tells about the beauty of the ocean and talks about how the ocean’s health is getting worse. It made me again realize how important it is that we have to do something about climate change. Later I found out that Ayana Elizabeth Jonhson edited a book with poems and essays about the climate crisis. This book with a diversity of contributors seems a great read!

The Book of Hope: A Survival Guide for Trying Times by Jane Goodall & Douglas Carlton Abrams
Jane Goodall is an anthropologist famous for the research she did on chimpanzees. She is an outspoken advocate for animal rights and the environment. Jane Goodall is an inspiring woman, and I really want to read one of her books. The Book of Hope sounds like something we all need. It’s about how we can stay hopeful when everything seems hopeless.

Have you read any of these books? Share your thoughts in the comments. I also love getting book recommendations!