Books

Talking about books (when I have time to read for fun)

N.E.W.T.’s Magical Readathon 2019

The N.E.W.T.’s Magical Readathon is the brainchild of Gi at BookRoast on YouTube. The N.E.W.T.’s are the next exams/readathon after the O.W.L.’s which took place a few months ago.

The basic premise is that each Hogwarts subject has three prompts one to get an Acceptable in the subject, one to get Exceeded Expectations and one to get an Outstanding grade in that subject, and you have to read the books/prompts in order so read the Exceeded Expectations book after the Acceptable book etc. This readathon lasts the entirety of August so it gives you plenty of time to try and cram in as many N.E.W.T.’s as possible. For more information on the readathon see Gi’s announcement video. It’s clear she puts in a lot of work into this challenge, she makes study guides and a career guide that has information on lots of magical careers and the subjects you need to study in order to be able to progress in that career.

After taking part in the O.W.L.’s readathon in April and successfully reading all the books/completing all the exams I need to be a Ministry Worker in the Department of International Magical Cooperation, I now need to achieve Acceptable in five subjects – Charms, Defence Against the Dark Arts, Muggle Studies, Potions and Transfiguration – and achieve Acceptable, Exceeded Expectations and Outstanding in History of Magic. That means if I want to be qualified for my dream magical career, I need to read eight books during the readathon. That’s doable for me. I think.

Charms: Acceptable – Read a book you think has a gorgeous cover
A Blade So Black by L.L. McKinney
I adore this cover! I read this book’s prologue a couple of months ago on a plane and was intrigued but for some reason I didn’t continue reading it then – story of my life!

Defence Against the Dark Arts: Acceptable – Read a book that’s black under the dustjacket
This Savage Song by V.E. Schwab
I had to go through my various unread hardbacks to find one that’s black under the dustjacket. I remember starting This Savage Song when I first got it but the story didn’t really grab me so hopefully I’m more into it now.

Muggle Studies: Acceptable – Cover that includes a photo element
Where She Went by Gayle Foreman OR Night, Again edited by Linh Dinh
I read If I Stay way back in 2014 and downloaded the sequel onto my kindle straightaway but never read it. The film adaptation of If I Stay is currently available on Amazon Prime Video so I’ll probably watch that before August so I’m not going into Where She Went completely blind because I remember nothing from the first book. Night, Again is a collection of short stories from Vietnam so would be my one and only read for the Read the World Project during the N.E.W.T.’s.

Potions: Acceptable – Read a friend’s favourite book
The Runaway Jury by John Grisham
This is one of my friend Nistasha’s favourite John Grisham books and she even sent me a copy! At over 500 pages it’s a bit of a chunky one for a readathon but with rumours that Tome Topple will be happening in August as well I should be able to get through it.

Transfiguration: Acceptable – Read a book with LGBTQIA+ representation
Golden Boy Abigail Tarttelin by OR Birthday by Meredith Russo
The main character in Golden Boy is intersex and this book has been on my shelves for years so this readathon might be the perfect time to read it. Birthday is a book I got recently in a subscription box and I don’t know what the LGBTQIA+ representation is in it; I just know it has that tag on Goodreads.

History of Magic: Acceptable – Read a fantasy
To Best the Boys by Mary Webber OR Ruined by Amy Tintera OR Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie C. Dao
It turns out I have a lot of unread fantasy on my shelves and all of these are from subscription boxes over the years. I’m not sure which one I’ll read as I have no strong feelings towards any of them at the minute, so I’ probably pick up whichever is shortest. If you have any suggestions let me know or I might just end up doing a Twitter poll to decide.

History of Magic: Exceeded Expectations – Read a book with a map in it
Flashfall by Jenny Moyer
After going through all the unread books I have that I thought might have a map in it, this is the only one that did!

History of Magic: Outstanding – Reread a favourite/read a classic
The Amber Spyglass by Phillip Pullman
I‘m currently rereading the His Dark Materials series via audiobook from my library so hopefully The Amber Spyglass will be available to borrow and read in August. The series was one of my childhood favourites and it’s been over 15 years since I read them. If the audiobook isn’t available, I’ll have to have a rethink as I don’t often reread books – even my favourites! There’s a lot of classics available to borrow on audio from my library though so I’m sure I’ll be able to get one of them if needed.

That’s my TBR for the N.E.W.T.’s Magical Readathon and my TBR for the month of August to be honest. I can read eight books in a month and this looks like it’ll be a good mixture of genres to keep me entertained. There are a couple of contemporary books which I always fly through and a lot of these are books that have been on my TBR for the longest time so it would give me an extra buzz if I did finally read them. I will keep track of my progress on Twitter and will probably do a thread like I did for my O.W.L.’s.

Are you taking part in the N.E.W.T.’s Magical Readathon? If you are, I hope the exams for your chosen career path isn’t too taxing and you have a successful month of reading.

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READ THE WORLD – Slovenia: Mere Chances by Veronika Simoniti

Translated by Nada Grošelj.

A collection of singular and strange stories about characters struggling to maintain their identities as they cross physical and linguistic borders.

The themes of the stories in Mere Chances where very interesting as they cover belonging, identity, and the difficulties in making yourself heard in a new place. However, the actual plots of a lot of the stories aren’t as compelling as their themes. It’s like a lot of them are trying to be bigger and more important than they are, with surprises that don’t feel earned and characters that aren’t developed enough. Obviously, short stories don’t have the same space to give characters a full backstory but a good short story can give you a good characterisation to be interested in, even in just a few pages.

There are a few stories that are truly great and powerful. “Portugal” is about a young woman with a terminal illness who decides to make the trip she’s always wanted to before having to deal with the reality of her health. The escapism is great as she makes her way to her destination, talking to locals and letting her thoughts wander.

A couple of the stories are about the war in the Balkans and trying to find where the bodies in the mass graves belong to return them to their families. Those stories are like a shock to the system after the stories that are bland and unaffecting.

Mere Chances is a short story collection that has a lot of good ideas and themes but unfortunately the majority of the stories don’t have good enough characters and plot to make them more than interesting in theory.

Reading Rush TBR

The Reading Rush starts next week, and I’ve finally got my TBR together. The Reading Rush is the revamped BookTubeAThon (a readathon that will always have a special place in my heart as it was the first readathon I ever took part in) and takes place from midnight your time zone on Monday 22 July and finishes at 11:59pm on Sunday 28 July. They have a YouTube channel and Instagram, and a brand-new website (I’m ElenaSquareEyes over there as well) for people to meet and there will the usual Twitter chats and sprints too.

The Reading Rush comes with some challenges you can try and complete but really the aim is to read as much as you can during the week. There are video challenges too but that’s far too technical for me. The reading challenges are;

1. Read a book with purple on the cover
2. Read a book in the same spot the entire time
3. Read a book you meant to read last year
4. Read an author’s first book
5. Read a book with a non-human main character
6. Pick a book that has five or more words in the title
7. Read and watch a book to movie adaptation
Bonus: Read 7 books!

You know me when it comes to readathons, I’m always look for as many options as possible because I’m such a mood reader. I know I won’t read seven books but with the books I do have, I could potentially complete all but one of the challenges as the books I have on my TBR fit more than one challenge.

Purple on the cover
I have three books that fit this – Viper by Bex Hogan, Hawkeye: Avenging Archer by Jim McCann, David López, Duane Swierczynski, Manuel Garcia and Paco Diaz and West Coast Avengers Vol. 1: Best Coast by Kelly Thompson, Stefano Caselli and Tríona Farrell. Viper has an incredibly purple cover and there’s bits of purple on characters costumes on the two graphic novels.

Read in the same spot
Obviously, I will complete this by reading one of the graphic novels (probably West Coast Avengers as it’s the shorter one). The spot in question will probably be my bed.

Book you meant to read last year
This is The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers. I was meant to read this for Sci-Fi Month last November (there was a buddy read of it and everything!) and I did read 30 pages but then I stopped even though I was liking the characters and the setting I’d been introduced to so far.

Author’s first book
I’ve got a couple of options for that; Viper and The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet.

Book with a non-human main character
I’m pretty sure in the first 30 pages of The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet that I read there were a few non-human characters in the shape of different aliens, and as it’s a sort of ensemble cast type book, that’ll count.

Book with five or more words in the title
The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet fits this one again, as does How the Soldier Repairs the Gramophone by Saša Stanišić. I don’t actually have many books with five words or more, so this was a bit of a struggle to find some options.

I won’t be able to complete the final challenge to read a book and then watch the film/TV adaptation as I don’t currently have any books to read that have been adapted.

Looking at my TBR and the challenges they fit, I only need to read The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet and West Coast Avengers to complete six of the seven challenges! I could totally read them both in a week! I think my plan is going to be to read them two first and then any of the other books I read during Reading Rush will be a bonus.

Are you taking part in the Reading Rush? There seems to be a few readathons going on at the minute so if you are taking part in one, I hope you are achieving your goals and are enjoying what you’re reading!

Mid-Year Reading Update

We’re (over) halfway through the year and as I did a mid-year check in for what films I’ve been watching, I thought I’d do one for what books I’ve been reading too. Plus, I haven’t managed to read one book so far in July (though I’ve nearly finished rereading The Northern Lights by Phillip Pullman on audio, but I started that last month) so these stats are definitely for the first six months of the year.

I kept my reading goals for 2019 pretty simple. I didn’t sign up for any reading challenges though I set my Goodreads goal to 52 books and I wanted to review at least 26 of them. I’m right on track with that as so far, I’ve read 41 books and have reviewed 25 of them (review 26 is half written and will be posted next week). I read 12 books in June which definitely helped these stats. I spent 10 days at my dad’s and pretty much all I did there was read.

I wanted to get my physical TBR down from 100 books to 50 and that’s going well so far too. While I have acquired books, through subscription boxes, the London Bookshop Crawl, and just taking advantage of when I see a book has become somewhat cheap as it sits on my Amazon Wishlist, I have been reading a lot of what I already owned. My current TBR stands at 88 books and while I’m not sure I’ll actually manage to hit my target of 50 by the time 2019 is finished, it looks like (for once) I’m reading more than I’m bringing in.

I’m always interested in who I’m reading books by and try and have an even split of books by men and women (though I naturally tend to read more books by women than men). So far this year I’ve read 25 books by women and 16 books by men. I can see this sort of split continue for the rest of the year as I do own slightly more books by women than men. But then again, I’m a mood reader with eclectic taste so who knows what I’ll read next!

I also started tracking if the authors I’m reading are white or people of colour and I wanted at least 25% of the books I read to be by non-white authors. So far, I’ve read 27 books by white authors and 14 books by authors of colour – which is 34% of what I’ve read! If I keep on like this, I should achieve my goal. I do think my Read the World Project helps me with this as it has really broadened my reading tastes and I’ve discovered so many new authors and stories.

Speaking of the Read the World Project, out of the 41 books I’ve read this year, 23 of them have been by international authors. That leaves me with 133 countries (by my count) left to read in the next 2 years and 2 months-ish if I want to meet my thirtieth birthday deadline I imposed on myself. At the start of the year I said I’d need to read about 50 books for the Read the World project to be in with a chance of finishing the project before my 30th birthday, and I’ve read just a bit less than half of that in the first half of the year so I may be able to achieve that goal. North America is where most of the authors I’ve read so far this year are from (which makes sense as if I’m not reading something for the Read the World project it tends to be YA by American authors) but then there’s Europe, which is not just the UK as I’ve only read 3 books from authors from there, and Africa and Asia. I have more books from both of those continents to read before the year is out so it’ll be interesting to see how this chart looks at the end of 2019.

Did you have any reading goals for this year? If you did, how are you doing with them? I’m a big fan of charts and stats so thought it’d be cool to see how my reading was now, so I could have something to compare it to at the end of the year.

READ THE WORLD – Finland: The Howling Miller by Arto Passilinna

When Gunnar Huttunen turns up in a small village to restore a dilapidated mill, its inhabitants are instinctively wary. He’s big. He’s a bit odd. And he’s a stranger. Everyone loves his brilliant animal impressions but these feelings soon sour when he starts to howl wildly at night. And once the mean-spirited, small-minded locals realise Gunnar won’t conform, they conclude he must be mad and hound him from his home. With the help of the love of his life, and the local drunk, he’ll try and find some semblance on peace.

The Howling Miller feels a bit whimsical like a fairy tale or a fable a lot of the time, especially towards the end when you’re not sure what’s real and what’s not. It definitely has that feel of Eastern European folklore, though obviously Finland wouldn’t necessarily be classified as a country in Eastern Europe. It’s the setting of the forests and rivers and the dark, cold nights, and having a solitary hero with weird quirks, and townspeople who are fine to put up with his eccentricities until they aren’t.

Gunnar is perhaps a simple character as he doesn’t really get social cues or see the boundaries people have. Or he is just an arsehole who just does what he wants. He’s not horrible or unnecessarily cruel, but he lashes out when people turn against him. This then brings about a seemingly endless cycle of Gunnar and the townsfolk getting on until one irritates the other, and then the other reacts negatively. Though Gunnar isn’t the only one at fault. The people of the town, while imitated by the look of him to begin with, enjoy his animal impressions to begin with and even do their own but when he joins in, they feel he is mocking them and don’t like it.

The main problem Gunnar and a lot of the characters have is they are terrible at communicating. Gunnar is very blunt but has his own ideas of what people are thinking, while a lot of the characters never say what they really mean. It’s frustrating and is what leads to a lot of the conflict. The romance between Gunnar and Sanelma feels very rushed and while it’s easy to see why Gunnar likes the her, (she’s kind, pretty and thoughtful) you never really see why she loves him when his actions often inadvertently hurt her.

The Howling Miller is an odd story. Most of the characters are unlikable and it seems like it’s trying to be a cautionary tale, but it isn’t clear what lesson it is trying to teach. The events in the story feel very repetitive as Gunnar scares/shuns the townspeople again and again though in slightly different ways, making it a story that’s a bit of a chore to get through as no one seems to learn from their actions. 2/5.

READ THE WORLD – Sri Lanka: Marriage of a Thousand Lies by SJ Sindu

Narrated by Emily Woo Zeller.

Lucky is an unemployed millennial programmer. Her husband, Krishna, is an editor for a greeting card company. Both are secretly gay, presenting their conservative Sri Lankan-American families with a heterosexual front while dating on the side. When Lucky’s grandmother falls, Lucky returns to her mother’s home in Boston and unexpectedly reconnects with her childhood friend and first lover, Nisha. When the two rekindle old romantic feelings, Lucky tries to save Nisha from entering a marriage based on a lie and finds herself pushed to breaking point.

Marriage of a Thousand Lies is an unflinching look at how someone who does not fit into their culture’s ideals can try and reconcile two sides of themselves. Lucky is in almost constant conflict with herself. She knows and accepts she’s a lesbian, she likes being a lesbian, but she doesn’t like how she has to hide that part of herself from her family. This struggle of being who she is but not wanting to lose or disappoint those who are closest to her is something that is almost constantly on Lucky’s mind as she tries to find the strength to be who she is.

Lucky’s mother wants her and Kris to have a baby and be just like all the other Sri Lankan families in their community. Lucky’s mother wants Lucky to fit in as she knows what it’s like to be shunned by the community. Lucky’s parents are divorced but naturally her father and his new wife (a close family friend) are treated just the same by everyone, it’s her mother that is seen as an outsider for being a divorcee.

Marriage of a Thousand Lies is written in the first person from Lucky’s point of view but you never really get a handle of how she’s feeling about what is happening in her life. Lucky is so emotionally closed off from a lot of what is happening around her that she barely reacts to what those closest to her are saying or doing. It makes the emotional impact of some big, potentially life-changing moments, not feel that important at all.

While they are obviously pretending to be happily married for their families, often it seemed like Lucky didn’t even like Kris and resented him for being married to her even though it was something that she agreed to and it worked for the both of them. Their relationship was never satisfactorily explored.

Nisha was equal parts frustrating and understandable. She would often have these big ideas, saying to Lucky they should run away together, but when Lucky tries to take her up on that, she reverts back to being the doting daughter. She is just as scared as Lucky about potentially losing her family and community over who she loves but she is so torn that she keeps hurting Lucky with her indecisiveness and mixed signals.

Marriage of a Thousand Lies is a well-written and poignant story. It handles the complexities of sexuality, religion and culture well but having a distant protagonist made it difficult to connect with her and the story at times. Also, in its honesty Marriage of a Thousand Lies becomes a very sad story as you, and Lucky, realise there might not be a way that everyone finishes this story happy. 3/5.

READ THE WORLD – Austria: Maybe This Time by Alois Hotschnig

Translated by Tess Lewis.

A collection of nine short stories, each about loneliness and identity.

This was an engaging and eerie short story collection. Each story ranged from 3 pages to 15 pages long and the majority of them pulled you into the story no matter how short they were. The stories themselves were varied in terms of character and plot, but they all are rather unsettling.

Two stories really stood out to me. The first was “The Same Silence, the Same Noise” which is about someone who becomes almost obsessed with their neighbours. It’s weird because the neighbours keep to themselves, but it is their distance that the narrator finds so fascinating. The second was “Then a Door Opens and Swings Shut” which is about a man who meets an old lady who has created a doll that looks just like him. Dolls are pretty creepy anyway but the way the protagonist becomes enamoured with his lookalike doll is disturbing.

I’ve read a few short story collections for my Read the World Project, and Maybe This Time is probably my favourite (so far). The stories all had the same theme so even when the content was different, as I read each story, I got the same sense of uneasiness. Things just felt off in these stories. Characters were either alone and captivated by someone or something else, or they might even seem to start to lose themselves as they become enthralled by whatever or whoever has caught their attention.

Maybe This Time is a very weird and unnerving collection of stories, and it is a collection that has certainly left an impression on me. 4/5.