Wrap Up: April 2020

Last month I read 25 books. I also I finished my O.W.L.s to become an Herbologist for the Magical Readathon.

I track stats including genre, special formats like plays or graphic novels, some types of representation for authors and main characters, and my star ratings. I also track the different book “projects” I’ve created for myself. You can read the descriptions for each project on my About page.

The stats and reviews for last month’s books are:

images - wrap up stats

Projects
11 #projectnew
14 #projectSAMS
0 #projectreread
6 #projectTBR

Authors
18 by a woman
0 by an author of color
4 by a queer author
4 by a Jewish author

Main Characters
11 with a woman main character
3 with a POC main character
6 with a queer main character
1 with a Jewish main character

Genres
8 Nonfiction
2 Contemporary
10 Fantasy
1 Historical
1 Horror
1 Mystery
1 Sci-Fi
1 Romance

Other
9 Short Stories
3 DNF

Ratings
3 star
1 1.5 stars
4 2 stars
0 2.5 stars
3 3 stars
3 3.5 stars
4 4 stars
4 4.5 stars
3 5 stars

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761146Big Fish by Daniel Wallace 2 stars
O.W.L.s Readathon: Charms – Lumos Maxima – white cover

A truly fantastic idea buried in sub-par writing. The only way I knew about what held everything together thematically was because I’d watched the movie.

The stories are mostly bland, told in unconnected vignettes. The book oddly tells Edward’s stories through his son’s eyes rather than his own, distancing the reader from how Edward portrays himself, which seems an important thematic distinction the movie did right.

The book also includes a lot of unnecessary detail that buries the main idea to almost invisibility. The whole tension between Edward and William doesn’t appear until late in the book, stagnant until the very, very end. I would have DNFed the book much earlier than those points if I hadn’t been familiar with the movie, and even still I skipped around a lot because I was so bored. The movie has a better focus and trajectory throughout on the theme and adds important, related layers of meaning.

Just watch the movie for this one.

156930._sy475_Always by Nicola Griffith 4 stars
O.W.L.s Readathon: Arithmancy – magical qualities of number 2 (balance/opposites) – read something outside your favorite genre

There was a bit of a different, looser feel to this book compared to the first two, possibly because it was written so many years after them. But I absolutely love Aud and Dornan’s friendship and the lessons of the self-defense class throughout the book. Griffith’s to-the-point writing intermixed with beautiful nature descriptions continued to amaze.

10771955The Linnet’s Tale by Dale C. Willard 5 stars
O.W.L.s Readathon: Care of Magical Creatures – Hippogriffs – creature with a beak on the cover

This book is the very definition of charming. Every step of the way, my heart was soft. From the adorable mice names to the lovely cover art and illustrations to the consistent cozy bookish tone to the little English-high-society inspired mouse community to the utterly loving voice of the linnet as narrator, the whimsy swept me away from page one.

Admittedly there’s really not much by way of plot until well into the second half of the book. The first half is basically vignettes of life in Tottensea Burrows that eventually thread together. But it didn’t matter, because it was adorable and attention-grabbing and heartwarming regardless. There are tons of little moments of mice helping each other and being good friends and other meaningful moments that almost catch you off guard and just continually increase the enjoyment level.

The writing is very well constructed with themes and motifs repeating and popping up at just the right moments. If you’re looking for a light, charming, heartwarming, short read with just a sprinkle of danger thrown in, this book was made to fit the bill.

10574457Apocalypse Scenario #683: The Box by Mira Grant 4.5 stars
O.W.L.s Readathon: Potions – Shrinking solution – book under 150 pages

This is how to write a short story. Even though there’s obvious connection to the main series, it stands alone perfectly. There aren’t any overlapping characters and it’s extremely short, but the horror tension is built up SO WELL as the story unfolds, with just the right amount of detail to get the background we need. And that ending sent chills up my spine.

41gnxa6hjml._sx276_bo1204203200_Sons from Afar by Cynthia Voigt 1.5 starsDNF
O.W.L.s Readathon: Defence Against the Dark Arts – Grindylows – book set at the sea/coast

So hard to believe this is the same author who wrote the masterpiece that is A Solitary Blue. James is a whiny emo inconsistent uncommunicative teenager, which sounds accurate but Voigt’s other teenage characters seemed authentic without being irritating to the max.

There’s a literal page about James walking through the mud in rain too emo to use an umbrella or avoid puddles (the narrative SPECIFIES this) letting the rain plaster his hair to his head and fall down his cheeks like tears which he liked because then he could pretend he’s crying to himself while not really because real men don’t cry. Page 102, check it out if you hate yourself.

I could see what Voigt was trying to do with James wanting to find his father and compete the story of their family history, what not growing up with a father figure could do, but the whole scenario rang false because the family isn’t lacking in love or direction or support or parenting in any way. The entire premise of this book felt shoehorned into being a problem just so the author could write another book.

Also the scene of the family thinking it might not be a bad idea to set up 14-year-old Maybeth with her 28-year-old piano teacher “for her protection” was a whole new level of effed up.

I forced myself to sit through Bullet’s racism in The Runner because at least Voigt attempted to deal with that issue, but I’m not doing it again with James’ unchallenged fatphobia and misogyny.

49211639._sy475_Meat Cute by Gail Carriger 4 stars
O.W.L.s Readathon: Herbology – Mimbulus mimbletonia – title starts with an M

A fun story about Alexia and Conall’s first meeting. Even without the interference of the characters that frame this story (loved seeing them by the way), it’s clear only Alexia and Conall could handle each other in a relationship.

22611728._sy475_The Curious Case of the Werewolf that Wasn’t by Gail Carriger 3 stars
O.W.L.s Readathon: Astronomy – Night classes – read majority of this book when it’s dark outside

Carriger’s usual humor was great, but overall I found the story lacking. I also really didn’t like the full cast audio narration with distracting background music and sounds.

31287528._sy475_Romancing the Werewolf by Gail Carriger 4.5 stars
O.W.L.s Readathon: Transfiguration – Animagus lecture – book/series that includes shapeshifting

Yes of course I love Biffy and Lyall, and the pack, and the story, and the humor and etiquette and style and touching moments and DAMMIT CHANNING STOP SHOWING LITTLE NICE MOMENTS YOU HAVE A REPUTATION.

But as much as all those things are glorious and heartwarming and perfect by themselves, the single most charming part of this book is that grown-ass humans, vampires, and werewolves are brought utterly to their knees by kittens and infants.

18516130._sy475_Fairy Debt by Gail Carriger 3 stars

A cute fairy tale but not particularly memorable.

12493504._sy475_My Sister’s Song by Gail Carriger star

I’m glad Carriger’s writing since this story from 1998 has drastically improved, because My Sister’s Song is overwhelmingly infodumpy and not at all compelling.

49405098._SX318_SY475_Marine Biology by G. L. Carriger 3 stars

Cute and funny with interesting hints of worldbuilding I’m hoping are fleshed out in the main series.

2387722Two Hearts by Peter S. Beagle 5 stars
O.W.L.s Readathon: Ancient Runes – Heart rune – heart on the cover or in the title

Pure magic. It’s incredible how the author manages, in so few words, to evoke the weight of everything that happened in The Last Unicorn and continue building on those themes and relationships.

9285319._sy475_Tales from Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin 4.5 stars
O.W.L.s Readathon: Divination – Third eye – assign numbers to your TBR and use a random number generator to pick your read

Le Guin is a master of writing stories with depthless layers. It’s almost exhausting reading her work because there’s SO MUCH in the words she uses and in between. But the experience is incredible.

I particularly loved the found father-son relationship in “The Bones of the Earth.”

I’m waiting for the whole dragon-human thing from “Dragonfly” and the end of Tehanu to make a little more sense in where it fits in the world/lore of Earthsea.

52740733._SY475_Sugar Summer by Hannah Moskowitz 3.5 stars
O.W.L.s Readathon: Muggle Studies – Book from a perspective of a muggle (contemporary)

I thought the way the author translated the original Dirty Dancing to contemporary Jewish, queer, and race issues was done so well. The book did not shy away from bringing differing issues to the surface and balancing them well with a very sweet romance and compelling coming-of-age/coming out story. I loved Sugar’s growing relationships with her mother and sister and how they navigated the bumps along the way. There’s a lot of great stuff going on in this little book.

The book desperately needed a proofreader to catch major errors like misnamed characters, incorrect pronouns, etc.

Print“Repent, Harlequin!” Said the Ticktockman by Harlan Ellison 4 stars

A good, if convoluted, speculative story about rebelling against ridiculous societal constraints. The Harlequin telling the Ticktockman, repeatedly and with great feeling, to “get stuffed” was especially satisfying.

24232432Daughter of the Midway, the Mermaid, and the Open, Lonely Sea by Seanan McGuire 4.5 stars

I WANT MORE. Not because the short story wasn’t sufficient enough, but because it was developed so well. Ada’s voice instantly hooked me, and the depth of the carnival family and her history was shown (rather than told) perfectly.

30025336._sy475_All the Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater star DNF

All form, no substance. Explanation solely via infodumping or poetic but empty, distancing hot air. The constantly switching POVs from sentence to sentence made it impossible to grasp any of the bajillion characters or care about having to sift through the nonsensical narration to find any kind of connection.

23639488The Awen Alone by Joanna van der Hoeven 3.5 stars

I originally gave this book 2.5 stars. Much of it sounded overly idealistic. The writing was pretty bad and often repetitive, if not outright confusing to follow. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to wrap my head around “ancestors of the future.”

I did appreciate the way the author talked throughout the book about mindfulness and being present in the moment. I really liked the discussion of seasons, festivals, and different activities that could be done to connect to nature accordingly.

However, after having an epiphany about being present in the moment shortly after reading this book, I upped my rating to 3.5 stars.

17434360Zen Druidry by Joanna van der Hoeven 2 stars

The book does connect Zen and Druidry at the very basic level, so I guess it fulfilled its mission. I agree with the author’s foundational argument about living in the moment and not letting emotions rule you.

However, the writing is very repetitive, weak, and surface level. Zen’s tenants, as portrayed, can be contradictory, which the author addresses with the written equivalent of a shrug and says that we should just accept it. The author’s continual assertion that everyone should be kind and compassionate to others, no matter what, is to varying degrees condescending, judgmental, and detached from societal reality. Attempts to recognize that people have to deal with injustice in the world are overly simplistic in order to maintain the author’s argument about kindness.

The meditation section, while nothing other books don’t have, was fairly decent.

36758345The Bardic Book of Becoming by Ivan McBeth 4 stars

An excellent introduction to Druidry that does a great job of balancing theory with practicality and making it clear how each feed into and build off of the other. The book includes meditations, rituals, and activities you can start implementing at home right away (in fact, I already have).

I have questions about some aspects of Druidry presented that either didn’t make sense or seemed contradictory, but I’m not sure if that’s from McBeth’s writing or larger Druidic teachings themselves. Also sometimes the book had overly self-helpy marketing wording (“do this stuff to become your most amazing self!”). To be fair the book includes actual, implementable methods to get there, but the style can be off-putting.

The foreword and introduction were both written by people who knew McBeth and are therefore among the most touching, contextualized forewords/introductions I’ve read. McBeth peppered his own experiences throughout the book to illustrate his points at exactly the right times.

51170402._sy475_Seasons of Moon and Flame by Danielle Dulsky star DNF

A bloated mess of pretty but shallow words.

40334113Weave the Liminal by Laura Tempest Zakroff 5 stars
O.W.L.s Readathon: History of Magic – Witch hunts: book featuring witches/wizards

Zakroff has an incredible way of clearly expressing ideas, with the smartest and most accessible metaphors, and giving them appropriate weight while never losing a sense of humor (and therefore the understanding that we are all humans trying to get through this thing called life together). The central loom/weave structure is used brilliantly.

While I don’t agree with or know what I think about everything Zakroff discusses, MANY of the viewpoints uncannily match my own journaling over the last few months, which is wonderfully validating. I strongly agree with and support Zakroff’s approach that finding your own path, however that looks for you and regardless of what others think, is the most important part of witchcraft. That assertion is the backbone of this book.

It’s a great guide for both beginners and those who have done significant reading on witchcraft topics. It provides great summary and discussion of the history of witchcraft, trends, things to be wary or cognizant of, etc. Zakroff covers many different aspects of witchcraft and contextualizes her own viewpoints while offering the others that are available that might work better for different people. Her utter lack of judgment for things that aren’t actively harmful is refreshing and inspiring.

And her art in the illustrations on the cover and at the beginning of each chapter is GORGEOUS.

649027The Druidry Handbook by John Michael Greer 3.5 stars

Both Greer and I acknowledge that there’s so much more to be said about the topics he introduces. One of the strengths of this book are the extensive, annotated lists of further readings. Overall The Druidry Handbook is a very good introduction to revival Druidry. The history, lore, and meditation sections were especially interesting or useful.

44903305Keeping Her Keys by Cyndi Brannen 2 stars

The book’s ideas are okay if you’re interested in an almost monotheistic devotion to Hekate. The view of Hekate as an all-powerful source of energy infusing everything, using her epithets as foci for specific energetic aspects, referring to her as My/Our Lady, and capitalizing her pronouns are all too reminiscent of Christian practices for my taste. But it obviously works fine for the author and others, and normally I enjoy reading about others’ practices even if they won’t directly impact my own.

I did get a couple tangential ideas from the first half of the book, and I appreciated the author’s emphasis on personal development.

However, in this book you have to wade through:

  • an absurd number of comma splices;
  • sentences you need to re-read because they’re missing words or include extraneous words that don’t belong (these proofreading issues constantly stalled my reading experience);
  • REPETITION of words, phrasings, quotes, and ideas on every other page. Seriously, half this book is just a repeat of itself;
  • random unsourced claims with no discussion, leaving you wondering what to do with that information (e.g. Hekate is also associated with the number 7: okay, literally a 1-sentence idea that isn’t returned to at all);
  • discussion of ideas before she actually introduces them (e.g. she first mentions a salt strophalos, which the reader has supposedly built, several sections before she actually discusses what a strophalos is and how to make it);
  • direct contradictions like claiming “Hekate will support our witchcraft, whether it’s for nefarious purposes or for the highest good” after 244 pages of structuring her thesis on kindness being one of the three core guiding Hekatean principles;
  • the author’s personal, unsupported interpretations as solid parts of Hekatean devotion (e.g. she says throughout to modify your practice according to your preferences, but then says she associates Wednesday with Hekate “for no reason except that I am a Gemini and Wednesday (Mercury’s day) is my favorite day of the week” and continually references Wednesday as a definite Hekatean day after that);
  • the rapid downhill tumble of the second half of the book, bypassing any sort of logic or cohesion whatsoever.

Brannen tries to do too much with this book (introducing both general magickal concepts and Hekate) and ends up only touching at the most surface level of those topics, leaving the reader not only wanting but needing more. Honestly, reading Hekate’s entry on Theoi.com and any other introduction to magickal practices and then putting the pieces together yourself will be more beneficial.

23279699Druidcraft by Philip Carr-Gomm 2 stars

Too light to be a useful beginner’s book or a meaningful advanced book. I liked the structure of the handful of chapters with a mythological story and subsequent lesson, but I didn’t actually think there was a strong connection between the individual parts. The history sections were chock-full of holes and questionable interpretations that diminished the author’s authority.

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That’s everything I read last month! Have you read any of these books? Did you have the same experience with them I did?

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