Wyrd & Wonder 2023 wrap-up

First I want to thank all the hosts for organizing Wyrd & Wonder again this year! Like always I enjoyed participating. On my blog I celebrated two of my favourite subgenres: Historical Fantasy and Portal Fantasy. I also shared my Top Three Magical Schools (besides Hogwarts).

During the month I reread The Magister Trilogy. I enjoyed it, but I did hope to like the trilogy more this time. After rereading three books, I didn’t stick to my TBR. I was eager for some new books and I read Sorcery of Thorns. Below are my spoiler-free thoughts of all the books I read during Wyrd & Wonder.

Books I Read

Feast of Souls (The Magisters Trilogy, #1) by C.S. Friedman4 stars (reread)
In four words: intriguing, magical, dark fantasy
What I liked: While rereading this story, I started recognizing parts. What I didn’t remember is how intriguing the Magisters are; powerful and immortal, but at the sacrifice of human lives. Especially Kamala is an interesting character. The book has multiple perspectives, but the story is mostly about her. Kamala managed to become the first known female magister. Now she has a lot to prove. I admired her determination, confidence and fearlessness.
What I disliked: Although I found the characters interesting, I wasn’t emotionally invested in the story. The magisters are too mysterious to really connect with. Other characters are just not remarkable enough. Kamala is one of the few characters I actually sympathised with.
Trilogy has trigger warnings for murder, death of loved ones and rape

Wings of Wrath (The Magisters Trilogy, #2) by C.S. Friedman – 3 stars (reread)
In four words: interesting, but bland sequel
What I liked: I’m glad this trilogy has a couple of strong, complex, female main characters. Female magister Kamala, witch queen Siderea and High Queen Gwynofar are all women who were able to get power in this patriarchal world. Siderea is already fascinating in the first part. She becomes more interesting due to an ambiguous choice she makes in the sequel. I liked how Gwynofar is stronger than she seems and gets more agency in this part.
What I disliked: After reading two books, I still felt mostly indifferent to the characters. A lot of the characters, especially the magisters, show little emotion. This makes it hard to identify with them. Siderea and Gwynofar didn’t get enough pages to really make me care for them. It’s a pity that Kamala plays a smaller role in this part. I liked Kamala and wanted to read more about her.

Legacy of Kings (The Magisters Trilogy, #3) by C.S. Friedman4 stars (reread)
In four words: strong, exciting, satisfying ending
What I liked: There are a couple of significant plot twists. They weren’t a huge surprise to me, because I seem to remember more from the story than I thought. I did like that we finally learn more about some of the characters. It’s interesting that the books have many “grey” characters, who are neither good nor entirely evil. During this last part, some of the magisters grew on me.
What I disliked: I still think this trilogy has too many characters for the amount of pages. If the writer would have focussed on a few of them, I would have liked the story more. I also think the world building could be better.

Sorcery of Thorns by Margaret Rogerson3,5 stars
In four words: bookish, action-packed, fun, enjoyable
What I liked: Elisabeth grew up in a library. Not a common library, this one has living books! Without doubt my favourite thing in this story. The book is set in a fascinating world with sorcerers and various kinds of demons. Elisabeth is alright as main character, but I liked the side characters more. Katrien is the kind-hearted rebellious friend I would like to have. It’s a pity that she hasn’t a bigger role. Silas appears to be a very interesting character when we get to know him.
What I disliked: This was a really enjoyable story, but I hoped it would have more depth. Some problems were a bit too easily solved. And I am left with so many questions about the magic system, the demons and the grimoires. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but I think the story has much more potential.
Trigger warnings for death of loved ones and murder

Podcasts I Liked

Good Stuff of Wyrd & Wonder 2023

  • Just like me, Celeste @ A Literary Escape & Annemieke @ A Dance With Books wrote a post about Historical Fantasy. Both recommended lots of new books for my TBR-list.
  • For Sia @ Every Book a Doorway it has become a yearly tradition to make a list of The Coolest Magical Abilities in Fiction and Cool Magic Systems. She always manages to recommend hidden gems I have never heard of!
  • Eustacia @ Eustea Reads made a great list with 7 Fantasy Books Based on 7 Different Mythologies.

Top Three Magical Schools

The Wyrd & Wonder prompt of today is ‘Magical community.’ My favourite magical community to read about is a school. I love school settings: I am passionate about learning things and in my daily life I work at an elementary school. The first magical school I fell in love with is Hogwarts. I dreamt of going there: I would become a Hufflepuff and my favourite class would be Herbology. Due to all the Harry Potter movies, games and websites (like Hogwarts is Here), Hogwarts feels very real to me. It still has a special place in my heart.

However, I don’t feel like rereading the books. The controversial things J.K. Rowling said are just a part of the reason. I also moved on, because I discovered new favourites and other fantasy worlds to emerge myself in. I still like to read fantasy books set on some kind of school. None of them can compare to Hogwarts. But I do like these schools for other reasons.

Scholomance in A Deadly Education
This may not be a magical school I actually would want to attend. Scholomance doesn’t have any teachers, monsters are lurking everywhere and there’s a big chance of getting killed before graduation. But this school is so fascinating! I loved to read how studying at a teacher-less school works. Naomi Novik also does a great job in describing the history of Scholomance. Of course there are good reasons why parents would send their children to this dangerous place.

The Red Church from The Nevernight Chronicles
Another school I never want to go to for real. At the Red Church the deadliest assassins of Itreya are trained. The teachers are dangerous and quite likely to murder their students. In classes like Potions and Thievery, students learns how to steal things and poison people. Only a couple of them will survive and become a Blade. This is a dark and bloody adult fantasy story set in an interesting world. But what makes the books extraordinary is Mia Corvere. Mia is loyal, confident, competitive and ready to fight for the people she loves. She also has a shadow cat that feeds on her fear.

The Untracable University in De erfenis van Richard Grenville
It’s a pity that this story is not translated to English (yet). The book is the first of trilogy (I still have to finish) and pretty unkown, even in the Netherlands. The Untracable University is the hidden part of a common university in London. Only people with magical talent can enter. This is a university I actually like to attend. I would be able to follow courses like Magic in Music, The Origins and Functionality of Spells, and Ethics in Magic. And there would be a lot of other magical places in London I could discover.

Celebrating a subgenre: Portal Fantasy

This is not a prompt from the Wyrd & Wonder challenge, but I do like to celebrate this subgenre. In a portal fantasy the real world is connected to one or more parallel worlds by some kind of portal. Most well-known are the rabbit hole that brings Alice in Wonderland and the wardrobe to Narnia. There are a lot more portal fantasy books, here are my five favourites:

His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman
This trilogy, starting with Northern Lights (The Golden Compass in the US), is a childhood favourite I still love. It’s a magical, adventurous, coming-of-age story, but also has a lot of deeper layers. The story is full of portals. And while reading these books, I often wished I was able to go to other worlds as easy as Lyra and Will.

Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy by Laini Taylor
Karou may seem just another art student in Prague. However, she hides a secret life where she is able to fulfil small wishes with her necklace, and runs mysterious errands for a monstrous creature from Elsewhere. Karou knows little about that other world, but she is about to find out. And this world with chimaeras and angels is fascinating.

Firebird Trilogy by Claudia Gray
I really enjoyed this adventurous and exciting love story. The Firebird is an invention from Marguerite’s parents. It can be used to jump to other dimensions. When Marguerite’s father is killed, Paul is the main suspect. With the Firebird he escapes to another dimension, but Marguerite follows him. Interesting enough, she meets alternate versions of people she knows, including Paul.

Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire
This novella is an interesting take on portal fantasy. Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children is the place for children who came back from other worlds and no longer feel at home in our world. This book is the first part of a series alternating between our world and various other worlds.

A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab
In this story there are multiple versions of London. Kell is one of the few who is able to travel between them. I enjoyed reading this book, but for some reason I never read the sequel. But I still hope to finish the trilogy at some point.

Celebrating a subgenre: Historical Fantasy

Today’s Wyrd & Wonder prompt is ‘Historical Fantasy’, a subgenre that basically combines two of my favourite genres: fantasy and historical fiction. I love it, because I like learning about history through fiction and I enjoy reading about magic. It’s also interesting to see how history would have been different if magic was involved. Here is my top five historical fantasy books:

The Embroidered Book by Kate Heartfield
This book is amazing! It’s the best example of historical fantasy I have read so far. The Embroidered Book is a great historical novel with an incredbily well-thought-out magic system. It’s the story of Marie Antoinette and her sister Charlotte, if they would have a book of spells. The spell book gives them power, but every spell requires a sacrifice

The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo
Malaysia, in the 19th century. Her father asks Li Lan if she would like to become a ghost bride. A rich family wants her to marry their recently deceased son. While considering this proposal, Li Lan becomes involved in the Chinese afterlife. It’s an interesting world with ghost cities, corrupt officers and some vicious ghosts. I loved how the writer combined real Chinese practices with folklore and her imagination.

Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
This book is set in the 1920’s, but inspired by Maya mythology. The result is a unique story with ancient gods and demons walking through modern Mexico City. The world-building is amazing and the story also has a couple of great characters. Especially Hun-Kamé, the God of Death. At the beginning of the book he’s a cold and quite awful character. At the end of the story I actually liked him.

My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton & Jodi Meadows
A fun and very enjoyable story! This is a magical retelling of the life of Lady Jane Grey. She lived in England during the 16th century and is also known as the Nine Days Queen. Jane is about to become involved in a conspiracy and is going to mary a stranger who regularly turns into a horse.

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden
Vasya lives in a small Russian village where it’s always winter. During the cold nights people tell each other stories about a demon that claims unwary souls. Vasya knows these stories aren’t just fairy tales, because she can see the spirits. The writer managed to create a very atmospheric world based on Russian folklore.

Wyrd & Wonder 2023 TBR

It’s already May, which means it’s time for Wyrd & Wonder! During this online event we celebrate all things fantasy. This year there are five hosts: Annemieke (A Dance With Books), Ariane (The Book Nook), Jorie (Jorie Loves A Story), Lisa (Dear Geek Place) and Imyril (There’s Always Room For One More). They organize two read-alongs: Lisa is going to read Howl’s Moving Castle and Annemieke will read The Bone Witch. I won’t be participating, but I am looking forward to reading all the discussion posts. Two years ago I read The Bone Witch trilogy, and really enjoyed it. I haven’t read Howl’s Moving Castle yet. There’s also a prompt challenge:

I certainly will use a couple of these prompts as inspiration. During the month I am going to post fantasy-themed blog posts and read only fantasy books. Usually I choose books I haven’t read yet. This year I challenged myself by making a To Be Read-list with only rereads:

The Magister Trilogy by C. S. Friedman
I read these books more than ten years ago. Since 2012 I never reread them, but I still kept the books around. I have almost no memories of the story. I know it’s about sorcery and I vaguely remember that the main character is woman with red hair. When I first read the books, I did grade them. I gave Feast of Souls a 7.5, Wings of Wrath got a 6.5 and Legacy of Kings received an 8. So I liked the books, but they didn’t really impress me. This month I’m going to reread the Magister Trilogy. I’m curious if I will recognize parts of the story and if I will like it more than the first time.

The Lord of the Rings series by J.R.R. Tolkien
I was quite surprised to discover that I read the Lord of the Rings only once. Although it’s ten years ago, I still remember a lot from the story. I could summarize the plot and know the names from most of the characters. I did watch the movies a couple of times. And of course The Lord of the Rings is discussed a lot on the internet. I would love to reread the story and experience it all again.

April 2023 wrap-up: a dip in my reading motivation

Readingwise April was a slower month. I kept struggling with a book I wanted to finish, but actually didn’t like. When I finally decided to leave it unfinished, I started another book and my reading motivation instantly came back. The beginning of Wyrd & Wonder in May also really helps! Tomorrow I will post my TBR-list.

Books I read

The Immortality Thief by Taran Hunt4 stars
In four words: action-packed, creepy, sci-fi mystery
What I liked: The more I read in this book, the more I liked it. It’s an exciting and a bit of a creepy story set on an abandoned space ship. The ship hides some terrible secrets. The story felt a bit like a video game. Slowly the characters uncover the secrets and meanwhile they have to fight off all kinds of monsters. The narrator grew on me. At first Sean seems unlikable and incapable. But he actually is a brilliant linguist, kind-hearted and quite cunning. I also loved that this is more than just an action-packed story, it’s also about loyalty and trying to do the right thing.
What I disliked: All of the characters appear to be unsympathetic and aloof. This does change, but it took a lot of pages before I came to like and care for them.
Trigger warnings for murder and gore

The Book of Lost Names by Kristin Harmel4,5 stars
In four words: well-researched, bookish, WWII story
What I liked: This was a gripping story from beginning to end! A photo in the newspaper from an old book, brings Eva back to memories of the war. During the Second World War she helped Jewish children flee to Switzerland by forging identity papers for them. The children needed new names, but Eva also wanted to preserve their original names. An old book holds the key to their real names. I loved how well-researched this story is. It felt very realistic. The author was inspired by real persons while writing her characters and describes in detail how forging papers worked.
What I disliked: Romance plays an important role in this story. Although I liked the romance, I actually wanted to read more about the Jewish children. I think this book would have been even better if the focus was more on them.
Trigger warnings for death of loved ones, murder and war

In my Father’s Garden by Jan SiebelinkDNF
I struggled with this book. Although I’m Dutch, I don’t really like Dutch literature. I want to read diverse, so now and then I try books I usually don’t read. But this book was not my thing. I couldn’t connect with the main character and just didn’t get him. I tried to finish it. But when I started to dread reading this book, I decided to quit.

Earth Day 2023

Every year on April 22 it’s Earth Day. This is an international event to raise awareness for the environmental problems we face. On Earth Day people are called to action to help our planet. This Earth Day I want to talk about waste. Just for a moment, really think about this question:

What happens to your stuff when you throw it away?

Yes, some things can be recycled. But a huge part of our waste ends in the ocean or in landfills. There are already millions tons of plastic in the ocean. And sadly it can take 500 years before plastic breaks down. Landfills are also a problem. They produce toxic gas and leak chemicals. These are just a couple of reasons why we should try to create less waste. You can start small. By using a refillable bottle, you already prevent a lot of plastic bottles from becoming waste. Bring your own bags when shopping, so you don’t have to use plastic bags.

If you want to know more about this, I recommend:

  • The TEDx Talk The Non-Disposable Life by Lindsay Miles is a great one for starters. Just like me Lindsay thought she was doing the right thing by recycling. But she realized it’s even better to create less waste or no waste at all.
  • The podcast Sustainainable Minimalists is also interesting. They give tips to live more eco-friendly with less stuff. Especially the episode Fantasy v. Reality was a good one. It’s about how fortunate people make unwanted stuff someone else’s problem. People think they are doing a good deed by donating old clothes to developing countries. But the huge amounts literally pile up. I was quite shocked after listening to this episode.

March 2023 wrap-up with more Middle Grade books and a five-star read!

Due to a lot of different reasons I sometimes don’t read as much as I want. But in March I read six books! It’s not this number that makes me happy, but all the time I was able to spend reading. I also read my first five-star book of the year! Just like every month, read the mini-reviews of the books below.

Books I read

To Be Taught, If Fortunate by Becky Chambers4 stars
In four words: quiet, comfortable, space travel
What I liked: While other books are good because they are suspenseful, I loved this book because it’s comfortable and contemplative. As always with Becky Chambers’ stories, it’s not about the plot. In this novella there are four space travellers on a mission to explore a couple of habitual worlds outside our solar system. As reader we follow them while they are doing fieldwork and are awed by new species they discover. It’s a quiet story about the wonders of daily life on a space mission.
What I disliked: The ending totally makes sense, but was not entirely satisfying for me.

Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster by Jonathan Auxier4 stars
In four words: beautiful friendship, historical fantasy
What I liked: I loved that this Middle Grade fantasy book is based on real history I knew little about. It’s set in Victorian London, a time when some children had to work as climbing boys for chimney sweeps. This work was extremely dangerous: the children needed to go into the chimneys to clean them. The writer does a great job in showing what it was like for these children. For our main character Nan there’s hope. A mysterious creature saves her life when she’s stuck into a chimney. It’s the start of a wonderful friendship.
What I disliked: The beginning is a bit slow paced. Yet, it didn’t take too long for the story to grip me.

These Violent Delights (These Violent Delights, #1) by Chloe Gong2 stars
In four words: slow-paced, disappointing, unsatisfying retelling
What I liked: This is a retelling of Romeo and Juliet set in Shanghai during the 1920s. In the story our main characters are heirs of rival gangs. The idea sounds interesting. But the setting, derived from true history, was the only thing I actually liked about the book.
What I disliked: Since there are gangs and a mysterious monster roaming the streets, this should have been an exciting book. But it’s very slow-paced. I also didn’t care about the characters and didn’t like them. I kept reading and hoped my patience would pay off at the end. Yet, the book ends with a cliff-hanger and too many questions about what I actually read. This story was clearly “not my cup of tea.” And to be honest, I also never was a huge fan of the original Romeo and Juliet either.
Trigger warnings for murder and gore

The Mountains Sing by Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai5 stars
In four words: beautiful, realistic, heart-breaking, hopeful
What I liked: The Vietnam War was part of my history lessons, but it’s totally different to read about it from the perspective of the victims. I would like to recommend this book to everyone to truly learn how terrible this war was. It’s beautifully written and almost brought me to tears. The story has a dual timeline: we read about Hương near the end of the Vietnam war and get flashbacks from her grandmother Diệu Lan. I felt so much compassion for the characters. They have to make heart-breaking choices and so many people die. Yet they endure and stay hopeful.
What I disliked: There’s nothing to dislike, this book is outstanding!
Trigger warnings for war, murder and rape

Het Ministerie van Oplossingen by Sanne Rooseboom4 stars
In four words: uplifting, exciting, mysterious, secrets
This children’s book starts with a letter addressed ‘To The Ministry of Solutions’. Since this ministry probably doesn’t exist, Nina and her friend decide to help the boy who wrote the letter. They discover that The Ministry of Solutions actually did exist once and get the change to restart it. This story was exciting and I loved the mystery around this ministry.
This is a Dutch book that is not translated in English (yet)

De eerlijke vinder by Lize Spit3 stars
In four words: well-written characters, unsatisfying ending
Jimmy is a young boy who is a proud collector of Tazos. He’s a highly intelligent and kind character that is easy to like. His best friend Tristan is a refugee from Kosovo. Tristan and his family cannot stay in Belgium, because their request for asylum is rejected. But they have a plan and Jimmy can help them. Sadly the ending came quite abrupt and was unsatisfying. The story felt unfinished.
This novella was a gift in honour of the Dutch Book Week 2023

February 2023 wrap-up: coastal reads and Middle Grade books

February was a great reading month! I read two historical novels, both set in the 1900s. And because I work at an elementary school I wanted to explore more Middle Grade books. I reread an old favourite and I read a newer Dutch children’s book that is praised a lot. Read my (spoiler-free) thoughts about the books below.

Books I Read

‘Til Morning Light (Gracelin O’Malley, #3) by Ann Moore4 stars
In four words: beautiful, remarkable, satisfying ending
What I liked: This trilogy is amazing. It’s a beautiful story with wonderful and unforgettable characters. I was a bit nervous for the ending, but it was perfect!
What I disliked: The book has a lot more perspectives than the previous parts. Due to the many subplots, there was less time for Grace’s story. This was a little bit disappointing.
Trigger warnings for death of loved ones and torture

Momo by Michael Endereread
In four words: timeless, magical, enjoyable classic
I read this book more than 15 years ago. It’s a children’s book that was written even longer ago, in 1973, but it has a theme that is still relevant. A gang of time thieves, called the grey men, encourage people to no longer waste time in order to save it for later. No one realizes that the grey men steal the time that is saved. Everyone is always in hurry and no longer has time to enjoy things, except for Momo. But it’s a big task for a little girl to challenge the grey men.

Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier4 stars
In four words: fossil-hunting, realistic, easy read
What I liked: This story is based on the lives of two real women: Mary Anning and Elizabeth Philpot. They were fossil hunters, which was very unusual for women in the 1800s. I already knew Mary Anning and she was the reason I wanted to read this book. The writer did a good job in portraying her life. I enjoyed the book and finished it in just two days.
What I disliked: At some points I missed depth. I hoped that the story would be more insightful and inspiring.

Lampie and the Children of the Sea by Annet Schaap4,5 stars
In four words: nautical, illustrated, atmospheric fairy-tale
What I liked: This beautiful story is actually written for children, but it’s also a great read for adults. I loved that the book has many characters that are a bit weird. Most of them have to deal with prejudices. The story tells us not to be afraid of weirdness. It also encourages us to embrace our weirdness and be proud of it.
What I disliked: Just a small demerit, but I think the ending was a bit rushed.

Podcasts I Liked

  • Before reading Remarkable Creatures I already knew about Mary Anning because of two podcast episodes. The first one is the short epsiode Mary Anning, Princess of Paleontology from Stuff You Missed in History Class and the second an extensive narritive of her life in Episode 124: Mary Anning at The History Chicks.
  • Inspired by Lampie and the Children of the Sea I listened to a podcast episode about a real lighthouse keeper from history: Ida Lewis, Lighthouse Keeper at Stuff You Missed in History Class.

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.