January 2023 wrap up: a diverse reading month

My year started tumultuous, but thankfully things have settled down. I sometimes forget it, but this month I once again remembered how comforting books are. As always here are my spoiler-free reviews of the books I read.

Books I read

Love in Lowercase by Francesc Miralles3 stars
In four words: humoristic, philosophical, quotable, unsatisfying
What I liked: I enjoyed the first part of the book. Samuel starts out as a lonely literature professor with no friends. The appearance of a cat changes everything for him. I loved to read about the cat! It was a pity that he only plays a minor role. I like how the story is both humoristic and philosophical.
What I disliked: The book suffers from some info dumps. But my biggest problem was the last part of the book. Some old characters just disappear, new characters appear, things get weird and then the story suddenly ends. The ending was really unsatisfying! It left me with so many questions.
I read the Dutch edition of this story, it’s originally published as two separated books in Spanish: Wabi-sabi & Amor en minúscula

Leaving Ireland (Gracelin O’Malley, #2) by Ann Moore4 stars
In four words: gripping, heart-wrenching historical fiction
What I liked: This book is just as good as the first part! Grace is still a wonderful protagonist. I also love the new side characters, especially Captain Reinders and Liam.
What I disliked: Some parts of the story, in particular when characters talk about Irish politics, were a bit too wordy.
Trigger warnings for death of loved ones, child death, murder and rape

Under Fortunate Stars by Ren Hutchings3 stars
In four words: interesting, time travel, rogues
What I liked: Two space ships get in a strange rift. When the crews meet each other, they appear to come from different moments in time. The characters have to work together to save a future that already happened. There are four points of view: from a smuggler, a mathematical genius, a history nerd and a facilities coordinator. I enjoyed reading their backstories, because I started to appreciate the characters a lot more when I truly got to know them.
What I disliked: Initially I didn’t really care about the characters. I kept mixing them up. It would have helped if the flashbacks were earlier in the book. I feel reluctant about the time travel aspect. It worked in the story, but it doesn’t make sense when I actually try to comprehend it.
Trigger warning for loss of loved ones

Podcasts I liked

  • Rogues – with Ren Hutchings at Breaking the Glass Slipper is an interview with the writer of Under Fortunate Stars. They discuss what makes a character a rogue and what the difference is between a good rogue and a bad one.
  • While reading Under Fortunate Stars I enjoyed listening to POWER: Time After Time on Flash Forward. It’s a fascinating episode about an important theme of the book: time travel. Rose Eveleth and a couple of guests talk about how travelling through time may actually be possible for real.

The SFF Countries Project 2022 update

The SFF Countries Project is a challenge to read a science fiction or fantasy book from every country of the world. Read more about it on this page. It’s an ongoing project, but I try to give an update at least once a year. So far I managed to read a book for 19 countries. It’s quite easy to find books from Europe, while books from other continents are a bit harder to find. But I’ll just keep looking. I like how many great books I already read because of this challenge. In 2022 I read 5 new books for SFF Countries Project:

Malaysia: Black Water Sister by Zen Cho
This amazing book was one of my favourites of 2022. It’s about a lesbian woman who is haunted by her sassy, dead grandmother. The story is both humoristic and a bit creepy. I’ve never been to Malaysia, but while reading this book it was easy to imagine what it’s like to live there.

Spain: The Swimmers by Marian Womack
I like the fact that I actually read this book in Spain when I was there for a short vacation. However, the setting is nothing like our world. The story is set in a dystopian future when Andalusia has become a jungle with carnivorous plants and mutated animals. It’s a quirky and dreamlike book that intrigued me.

Estonia: The Man Who Spoke Snakish by Andrus Kivirähk
When I heard that this book is a bestseller in Estonia, it seemed perfect for this project. The story could be described as a dark fairy tale for adults mixed with Estonian folklore and some real history.

Republic of the Congo: Everfair by Nisi Shawl
I meant to read this book since I first published about the SFF Countries Project. I finally did. It has the most fascinating premise: What would have happened if the native population of the Congo had adopted steam technology during its colonization? Although I did have some demerits, the story was definitively worth reading.

Finland: Memory of Water by Emmi Itäranta
This is another favourite of last year. It’s a beautiful book set in a post-apocalyptic world where parts of the Earth are flooded and drink water is scarce. The story made me feel a bit melancholic and hopeful at the same time.

On my TBR for 2023

Click on the book cover to go to the Goodreads page to read more about it

Characters of the Year Book Tag – 2022

The previous years I really enjoyed doing this tag, so here it is again! The Characters of the Year Book Tag is created by Amanda from A Brighter Shade of Hope, but I can’t find the original. This time it was quite hard to come up with characters for some categories. I read barely any books with male main characters. Choosing a couple was hard without giving away spoiler. But after some pondering I was able to fill every category.

Characters of the Year Book Tag – 2022 part 1

Favourite male character of the year: Leemet
He isn’t the most likable, but I do think Leemet is the most memorable and interesting male character I read about. The Man Who Spoke Snakish is set during the transition from hunting and gathering to agriculture. Many people try to persuade Leemet to leave the forest and to come live in the village. I appreciated how he keeps holding on to his own values.

Favourite female character of the year: Elizabeth
The main character from A Room Made of Leaves is a based on real letters from Elizabeth Macarthur. Before reading the book, I didn’t know her. As a character I came to love her. I like that Elizabeth is able to stay positive and hopeful when her life is hard.

Most relatable character of the year: Jessamyn
Although I’m not an American girl moving back to Malaysia, I know what it is to have trouble finding a job after college. I could also relate to the relationship Jess has with her mom in Black Water Sister. But fortunately I’m not haunted by my dead grandmother…

Couple of the year: …
There’s a bittersweet romance in Gracelin O’Malley I really liked. I won’t name them, because I don’t want to give any spoilers for the book. But if you read the book you probably know which couple I mean.

Villain of the year: Ah Ma
Jess’ dead grandmother in Black Water Sister is an interesting villain. It all starts with a strange, sassy voice Jess hears in her head. This appears to be Ah Ma, a grandmother she never met. Ah Ma forces Jess to revenge an old enemy. She even uses Jess’ body at some point. And convincing a ghost to leave your head isn’t easy.

Most disliked character of the year: Monty
I’m sorry for fans of Henry Montague a.k.a. Monty, but he was the reason I almost quit reading The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue. He is selfish and only seems to care about alcohol and sex. Monty does make some character changes during the story, but I still didn’t came to like him.

Royal of the year: Marie Antoinette
The Embroidered Book was amazing! The story is based on the real lives of Marie Antoinette and her sister Charlotte, but now they have a book of spells. Especially Marie Antoinette has quite a bad reputation in history. I liked how the book reconstructs history and shows us why she may have been just a young woman trying her best to fulfil her role as queen.

Sidekick/non-main character of the year: Booklings
For this category I didn’t choose one character, but a group of creatures from The City of Dreaming Books. They are said to be dangerous. Yet Booklings are actually small creatures that each choose one author and memorise all their books. I absolutely loved them!

Sibling of the year: Franny and Jet
Each of the Owens children from The Rules of Magic have a magical gift. Franny can talk to birds and Jet can read people’s thoughts. But it doesn’t always feel as a gift to them. It means that they are different and will always stand out. The feeling that you are different is familiar to me. I liked to read how each of the siblings dealt with it.

2022 in books & my favourites of the year

Happy new year! 2022 was a challenging year, but it also brought good things. A couple of the best things of the year were my vacation to Norway and starting a master. Bookwise I’m content. With 28 books I didn’t read as much as in 2021, but there are more 5 star-reads. Below are my favourites of the year, but first some reading statistics:

I read around 11719 pages during the year. On average a book had 418 pages and most books were between 300 and 400 pages. The shortest book I read was Witch Child by Celia Rees with only 210 pages. The biggest book I read was The Golden Tulip by Rosalind Laker; the Dutch edition has 719 pages.

As always most of the books I read were written by female authors. 22 books were written by women, 3 books by men and 3 books by a writing duo with a man and a woman.

I read less diverse than the year before. More than half of the books I read were written by authors from the UK or the US. Four books have a writer of colour. 25% of the books have a main character of colour and 21% a main character that falls in the LGBTQIA-spectrum.

Only two books I read were published in 2022: The Embroidered Book by Kate Heartfield and the Dutch book Het Werkstuk – of hoe ik verdween in de jungle by Simon van der Geest. As usual most books were published in the last ten years. The oldest book I read was A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin which was published in 1968.

I like how balanced the graph about the book genres looks. Most books I read were fantasy, historical fiction or a combination of the two. I also read a decent amount of science fiction, and more contemporary books than I expected.

I read a lot of stand-alones this year: 16 books were stand-alones. Not counting re-reads, seven books were the first part a series. I only want to continue one of these series. I’m looking forward to reading the sequel to Gracelin O’Malley by Ann Moore. Again apart from rereads, I only read one sequel: The Last Graduate by Naomi Novik.

Four books were rereads. I read The Illuminae Files and The Ghost Bride again. There were two books I started reading, but never finished: The Shadowed Sun by N.K. Jemisin and Mansfield Park by Jane Austen.

Best books of 2022

Six books got a five star-rating in 2022. I don’t want to leave out any of them, so here is my top six of the year:

Black Water Sister by Zen Cho
A lesbian woman is haunted by her sassy, dead grandmother. This book made me smile, but was also thrilling and a bit creepy. I loved the Malaysian setting and found the main character very relatable.

The Embroidered Book by Kate Heartfield
This is an altered and magical version of the lives of Marie Antoinette and her sister Charlotte. The story was perfect: there’s a well-thought-out magic system, all the non-magical things are true to history and I loved the characters. Marie Antoinette has quite a bad reputation in history, but this book made me really like her.

The City of Dreaming Books by Walter Moers
Bookholm is bookworm’s dream city: it smells of ink and paper, bookshops are everywhere and everyone’s life revolves around books. The story was so much fun to read! According to Goodreads it’s the fourth part of a series, but it actually reads as a stand-alone.

A Room Made of Leaves by Kate Grenville
This historical fiction is inspired by the real letters of Elizabeth Macarthur. I never heard about this English woman before, but the writer has turned her in a great protagonist. Elizabeth always stays hopeful, when her marriage turns out to be a mistake and even when her husband forces her to emigrate to Australia.

The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman
This is a bittersweet fantasy about feeling different and accepting yourself. It’s a prequel to Practical Magic.

Memory of Water by Emmi Itäranta
A tea master apprentice in a post-apocalyptic world where parts of the Earth are flooded and drink water is scarce. The story is beautifully written and made me feel melancholic and hopeful at the same time.

In the statistics I only counted fiction. I also read some non-fiction books. Some of my favourites were Urban Watercolor Sketching by Felix Scheinberger, Papyrus by Irene Vallejo and The Book of Hope by Jane Goodall and Douglas Abrams.

December 2022 wrap-up

It’s quite cliché, but this last month of the year went so fast! I do like the end of the year. It’s nice to look back at the things that happened. So in a few days you can expect a post where I elaborately tell about all the books I read in 2022. I’m already looking forward to writing it! But first the books I read in December and some podcasts I liked.

Books I Read

Gracelin O’Malley (Gracelin O’Malley, #1) by Ann Moore 4 stars
In four words: detailed, heart-breaking Irish history
What I liked: The story gives an insight in the Irish Potato Famine in the mid-19th century. I believe it gives a realistic image of what it was like to live during this time. It made me realize how fortunate I am that I never had to suffer from hunger. I loved Grace as main character, because she’s courageous and generous. I pitied her for the terrible things she has to endure and admired her for how she handled all these things.
What I disliked: The book started slow and had quite a long introduction. It took a while before I could truly immerse myself into the story.
Trigger warnings for death of loved ones, child death, domestic abuse and murder

Papieren Paradijs by Marlies Medema4 stars
In four words: interesting, fact-based, poignant history
What I liked: This book is based on the true story of a Dutch woman who emigrated with her husband to Suriname in 1845. This wasn’t Anna’s choice. As the pastor’s wife she has to come with him, accompanied by fifty other families. It was interesting to learn more about this poignant part of history. I especially liked how realistic Anna is. She can be very emotional and impulsive. It was refreshing to read about an imperfect character that regrets decisions she made and doesn’t always say the right things.
What I disliked: Some parts of the book felt too planned out. It was quite obvious that Anna did certain things to further the plot. Because of this I noticed this was a debut. But it definitively was a good one!

The Book of Hope by Jane Goodall and Douglas Abrams
I already liked Jane Goodall, and this book made me an even bigger fan of her! A Survival Guide for an Endangered Planet was just what I needed. Sometimes I feel lonely in my concerns for the climate. Reading this book reassured me that I’m not the only one who worries. Jane Goodall explains why there are indeed reasons to be concerned, but she also gives good reasons for hope. Her words made me feel a bit more hopeful. She also encourages me to keep doing small things for the climate, even though it may seem trivial. Because Jane writes that “the cumulative effect of millions of small ethical actions will truly make a difference.”

Podcasts I Liked
  • The podcast Stuff You Missed in History Class is a great resource for background information to historical fiction. When reading Gracelin O’Malley it was interesting to get the historical facts in the episodes The Irish Potato Famine: An Unnatural Disaster part 1 and 2.
  • I again want to recommend the Jane Goodall Hopecast. Just like The Book of Hope, this podcast makes me feel hopeful and inspired. In every episode Jane Goodall and a guest talk about how they try to make the world a better place.

SciFiMonth 2022 wrap-up

Thank you Imyril @ One More and Lisa @ Dear Geek Place for organizing SciFiMonth! I had to read a lot of study-related things, but I also made time to read two good science fiction books. One of them became a new favourite! In this post are my mini-reviews of the books, some podcast recommendations and more good stuff I want to share.

Books I Read

Everfair by Nisi Shawl3 stars
In four words: multi-layered, steampunk, alternate history
What I liked: I wanted to read this book for the fascinating premise. It explores what would have happened if the native population of the Congo had adopted steam technology during the colonization. This complex and multi-layered story definitively does justice to the real history. I appreciated how the author tackled themes like racism and nationalism.
What I disliked: The book has many perspectives, but there isn’t enough opportunity to really get to know and empathize with all the characters. I missed a more emotional connection to the story. Everfair is a story of the land rather than the characters. For me this didn’t work as well as I hoped. I still think the book is worth reading, because it definitively was as interesting as I expected.
Trigger warnings for violence, death and war

Memory of Water by Emmi Itäranta5 stars
In four words: post-apocalyptic, poetic, hopeful, tea
What I liked: The book is set in a world after climate change when parts of the Earth are flooded and drink water is scarce. This realistic future is grim, but the beautiful writing style gives the story a gentle atmosphere. While reading I felt a bit melancholic and hopeful at the same time. The book is told from the perspective of a tea master apprentice. The way she thinks about water and tea made me appreciate it even more.
What I disliked: I can’t think of any demerits. Of course I was hoping for a good story when buying this book. But I didn’t expect it to be so touching!
Trigger warning for death of a loved one

Podcasts I Liked
  • The podcast Noble Blood isn’t science fiction-themed, but I highly recommend the episode The Red Paint on Leopold II if you are interested in Everfair or have read the book. This episode is about how the terrible Belgian king Leopold II colonized the Congo. In his name around 10 million people died! I could name all kind of trigger warnings for this episode like murder, slavery, torture and mutilation. But I think most shocking of all is that the atrocities in the Congo aren’t more well-known.
  • Nisi Shawl, P. Djeli Clark and Zen Cho are guests in the episode Postcolonial Worlds on the podcast Imaginary Worlds. They talk about how speculative fiction can be a useful tool to reimagine the legacy of colonialism and imperialism.
  • The episode Superpowers on the BBC Earth Podcast is about real-life superpowers in the animal world and how they inspire writers.
More Good Stuff in November
  • The Show Your Bujo Theme post by Annemieke @ A Dance with Books inspired me to make my own steampunk-themed bujo page!
  • I want to thank Imyril and Lisa again for the books I won with the giveaway!

Home Sweet Home: 3x Comfy Science Fiction

One of the reasons why I love to read books is that they form an escape from daily problems and worries. Books can be a comfortable hiding place. So for today’s SciFiMonth I listed the most comfy sci fi books I read.

The long way to a small, angry planet by Becky Chambers
Not only this first part, but the whole Wayfarers series could be described as “feel good science fiction.” The book does have a nice plot, but it isn’t very important. It’s all about the characters.  And the best thing is that these characters just accept each other for who they are.

Soulless by Gail Carriger
This steampunk book constantly made me smile or even laugh out loud. It has a witty writing style that fits the story perfectly. The main character is also amazing.

On the Edge of Gone by Corinne Duyvis
This book is set in the Netherlands, where I live. Therefore it’s a familiar setting. What makes the book unique is the narrator: Denise is a biracial girl who has autism (just like the writer). This was an interesting point of view I don’t see often in books.

SciFiMonth: Top Three Turn Back Time

Today’s SciFiMonth prompt is ‘Turn Back Time’. Time travel is fascinating. I like how each time travel story has its own rules and its own approach to time. This makes time travel books usually creative with interesting and complex plots. I haven’t read a lot in this subgenre, but I definitively want to explore it more. These are my favourites so far:

This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar & Max Gladstone

This novella is made up of letters between two time travelling agents on different sides of a war. They call themselves Red and Blue. Their poetic letters slowly grow into something romantic that could change everything. The story is beautifully written!

Passenger by Alexandra Bracken

On the night of an important concert, Etta is thrown hundreds of years back in time. With her new-found time travel abilities Etta gets involved in the hunt for a powerful object. I liked how time travel is executed in this book. The world building made me want to travel to the places and times myself. Passenger also has a sequel I still want to read.

Singing the Dogstar Blues by Alison Goodman

This book is set somewhere in the future at the Centre for Neo-Historical Studies where Joss studies time travel. For the first time an alien becomes a student at this university. He chooses Joss as study partner. This fun and enjoyable book is really underrated. I especially love that, for a change, friendship is central to the story instead of romance.

Still on my TBR:

SciFiMonth 2022 TBR

Today is the start of SciFiMonth, a month full of everyhting science fiction organzied by Imyril from One More and Lisa from Dear Geek Place. Just like last year there’s a list of prompts and a give-away. My TBR-list isn’t a long one this year. I hope to read these two books:

  • Everfair by Nisi Shawl: This is a steampunk alternative history of Congo. It’s on my TBR-list for a while, because it will be a great read for my SFF Countries Project. I recently bought a second-hand edition of the book, so I can finally read it.
  • Memory of Water by Emmi Itäranta: This story is set in a post-climate change world where only tea masters know the location of hidden water sources. It sounds fascinating!

October 2022 wrap-up

It was again a busy month. I didn’t make a lot of time to write blog posts. But next month I hope to be more present here. November is SciFiMonth, and I always love to read and write about it! For now, here are the mini-reviews of the books I read in October.

Books I Read

The Last Graduate (The Scholomance #2) by Naomi Novik4 stars
In four words: entertaining, exciting, cliffhanger ending
What I liked: This book was entertaining and exciting. In the Scholomance monsters can litterally hide behind every corner. Good alliances are crucial if you want to survive, especially during graduation day. In The Last Graduate Galadriel is no longer an outsider. I liked reading more about the other students. The dynamics between the students are interesting and realistic. And that ending! I didn’t expect it and the cliffhanger made me eager to read the third part.
What I disliked: The middle of the book was a bit repetitive. I think the story could have been shorter.

Het Werkstuk – of hoe ik verdween in de jungle by Simon van der Geest 4 stars
I work as teaching assistent at an elemetary school. All the children from my group have to read this Dutch book. So I also wanted to read it myself. I really enjoyed it! The story is about Eva who has to write a paper. She can choose every topic as long as it has something to do with biology. Eva only has a mother, so she chooses ‘biological fathers’ as topic. While writing, she discovers more and more about her father.

Podcasts I Liked

  • I really enjoyed the episode How to Be More Loving with Danielle LaPorte on The Marie Forleo podcast. I liked that talk about why positive thinking isn’t always the solution. Pushing away negative thoughts can make you feel worse. It’s sometimes far more helpful to just accept that you feel sad or angry or irritated.
  • The episode with Dr. Marisa G. Franco about How to Make Adult Friends (and Why They Matter) on the Good Life Project was so interesting. They talk about why making friends as an adult is so much harder than as child. And after this episode I realized that I don’t value my friends as much as I should.