OWLs Magical Readathon

READ THE WORLD – Trinidad and Tobago: Difficult Fruit by Lauren K. Alleyne

A poetry collection that is a journey which includes coming to terms with sexual violence and loss, with celebrating love and connection, and bearing witness to the world that shaped that journey.

I don’t often read poetry, mainly because I feel I don’t “get it” and don’t get enjoyment from it. With Difficult Fruit however, I found the poems to be affecting and easy to connect with and understand.

The poems deal with growing up and loss, how someone feels when burying a friend or dealing with an assault on their body and mind. Some poems are quite upsetting or uncomfortable as it doesn’t shy away from the harsh realities people go through, especially women as they grow up.

The poems in the collection are short, often no more than a page long and they are written in different styles. Some with one long stanza, while others are broken up in parts.

One of my favourite poems in the collection was “The Hoodie Stands Witness for Trayvon Martin” which personifies the hoody that Trayvon Martin, a black teenager who was shot and killed in 2012, wears. It’s short and unsettling and really affecting, especially as it’s about a real event and person that’s shocking and unjust. I don’t think I’d ever read a poem before that was so obviously about a certain event or person and it made me really stop and consider the poem and what it was saying.

I often find poems easy to just read and move onto the next one without much thought because they’re short and are about different things. However, with Difficult Fruit I found myself stopping to consider the meaning of a lot of the poems as while they were short, they were impactful. 4/5.

REVIEW: The Places I’ve Cried in Public by Holly Bourne

Trigger warnings for controlling behaviour, emotional abuse, gaslighting, sexual assault and rape.

Amelie loved Reese. And she thought he loved her. But she’s starting to realise love isn’t supposed to hurt like this. So now she’s retracing their story and untangling what happened by revisiting all the places he made her cry. Because if she works out what went wrong, perhaps she can finally learn to get over him.

Do you ever start a book, and you’re only a couple of chapters in or less than 50 pages in, but you think to yourself “Wow, this book is going to be incredible”? Because that’s how a felt about The Places I’ve Cried in Public when I’d only read the first two chapters and I’m happy to say that gut reaction was correct.

The Places I’ve Cried in Public really was incredible. It has two timelines, Amelie in the present going to the various places she’s cried over Reese, a park bench, a bus stop, her music class, and trying to process everything that has happened and her own thoughts ad emotions. Then when Amelie is at these various places, she remembers the incident that had made her cry, and slowly the rose-tinted view of her relationship with Reese is worn away as she sees the red flags she didn’t notice before, or saw but ignored them because she was so caught up in Reese.

There are so many great, thought-provoking lines and whole passages in The Places I’ve Cried in Public. Especially in how it deals with trauma and abuse, slowly working things out as Amelie does, giving words to the things she’s feeling as she starts to process them. One of my favourite quotes is: “Crying is a very obvious sign that something isn’t going right in your life. You should not ignore tears.”

And another favourite passage is: “I wonder how many times in a given second girls are told that their guts are wrong? Told our tummies are misfiring, like wayward fireworks. No, no, no, dear, it’s not like that at all. Where did you get that from? I promise you that’s not the case. You are overreacting. You are crazy. You are insecure. You are being a silly little thing. And, then, days or weeks or even years later, we look back on The Bad Thing that happened to us because we ignored all the signs, and we say to ourselves I wish I had listened to my gut.”

I think they both sum up the difficulties people, but perhaps girls especially when so often the media and society wants to mould them into a certain way, have when trying to figure out their own emotions. There are so many moments in The Places I’ve Cried in Public that are like a punch to the gut with their poignancy.

The Places I’ve Cried in Public is so compelling because as an outsider, you see a lot of the little warning signs that Amelie ignores, or sees in a positive light, even when friends, some of who she’s known her whole life, point them out to her. It’s well-written because even as you see the issues, you can also understand where Amelie is coming from, making her a sympathetic character as her whole sense of being is changed by her connection to Reese.

The Places I’ve Cried in Public is an incredibly sad story but also one that offers hope for anyone who may be in a similar situation to Amelie. There are scenes of Amelie going to a counsellor which were very well-written and important as it shows how there are people out there to help and no one should feel lesser for needing help. The Places I’ve Cried in Public really is a fantastic book and it’s one that’ll leave a lasting impression. 5/5.

READ THE WORLD – Uruguay: The Naked Woman by Armonía Somers

Translated by Kit Maude.

The novella follows Rebeca Linke and her attempt to live her life how she wishes and free herself from a hostile society.

The Naked Woman was first published in Uruguay in 1950 and I can see why it caused a stir then. It depicts female nudity and empowerment, and the violent reaction a whole town has towards that. The Naked Woman is one of those books that I wish I’d read at university, or as part of a book club, because it’s a story that would be great to discuss with others as there’s so many interesting themes and moments in it. There’s fantastical elements and dream like sequences, making it difficult to puzzle out what’s real and what’s in Rebeca’s mind, especially at the beginning. In part, because it’s hard to believe why a woman would wander naked in the woods and fields and be so without her inhibitions.

The Naked Woman is a short but powerful story. It shows the fragility and viciousness of the male ego and how it can corrupt the society they’re a part of. The men of the town have a violent and almost primitive reaction to Rebeca’s nudity. It’s horrifying as so many of them, both young and old, become obsessed with the idea of her and disgusted by her. It’s as if they feel Rebeca has the audacity to wander the fields naked and in doing so, she is being sinful, and when they look upon her, they are too, and they can’t cope with that.

The Naked Woman presents a lot of ideas about feminism, sex, religion, and power. It doesn’t really give any answers to all these themes or solid explanations for Rebeca and other characters actions, which is as intriguing as it is frustrating. This is another reason I think it’d be a great book to discuss with others.

The writing in The Naked Woman is evocative and often fantastical. The Naked Woman reminded me a bit of the few books I’ve read by Angela Carter, so if you’ve read and liked Carter, then you should try Somers work. The Naked Woman is a really interesting story and it’s one that will stick with me for a while, even if I’d have liked more answers. 4/5.

READ THE WORLD – The Bahamas: Woman Take Two: A play in three acts by Telcine Turner

Set in The Bahamas in the early 1970s, Woman Take Two tells the tale of a few people forging alliances for themselves – for love and/or money. There’s Harold Davies, a businessman who will do anything to save face and further his career, including using his teenage daughter Sofia in his nefarious plans. Then there’s Beverly Humes and her fiancé Lionel Joseph who find themselves entangled in Harold Davies’s schemes.

It’s been a while since I’ve read a play and I always find it an interesting experience. Woman Take Two is a very short play with just three acts and 93 pages. The story is relatively short, and the action only takes place over a couple of times, but there’s still some good character beats which would make it an interesting play to see performed. I liked how in the dialogue there were colloquialisms and they also defined what they meant. The colloquialisms added a sense of realism to the characters and made the dialogue flow easily.

Harold is not a nice person and he is cruel to both his employees and his family. He is a strong patriarch that won’t take no for an answer. It’s difficult to tell if he is good at manipulating others, or if it’s just the people he manipulates are naïve and trusting.

A lot of the problems that face characters in Woman Take Two, especially Lionel and Beverly, could’ve been solved if they had actually communicated better. Lionel especially went a roundabout way to explain himself and the situation he was in, wasting time and other people’s trust. Obviously, you need conflict in a play, but this was one that seemed contrived and had the potential to be easily solved.

Woman Take Two is an interesting play about relationships, greed, and mistrust. 3/5.

READ THE WORLD – Comoros: A Girl Called Eel by Ali Zamir

Translated by Aneesa Abbas Higgins.

Teenage girl Eel lives on the Comorian island of Anjouan with her twin sister Rattler and their father All-Knowing. Eel is curious about the world beyond what her overbearing father dictates. When she meets handsome fisherman, Voracious, who offers her the possibility of a life of liberation and love she cannot foresee what it will cost her or the fateful path it will lead her down.

A Girl Called Eel is a 271-page story that’s told in just one sentence. I wasn’t sure what to make of that to begin with, but it worked well, make it an impactful read and one that was easy to follow. There is still a lot of commas in this one sentence, along with line breaks, so it isn’t just pages and pages of block text. Having the story be told by Eel in one, almost desperate, sentence adds to the feel that it is a long string of conscious thought. Especially as ever now and then she interrupts herself, saying how she’s getting ahead of herself or mentioning what’s happening to her in the present as she recounts her past.

Eel basically tells her life story up to that moment, her and her sisters’ birth, how they got such unusual names, how she met and instantly fell in love with Voracious, and how her life unravelled, though if she hadn’t have been so naïve, she could’ve seen the warning signs miles away. Because that’s the thing about Eel, because she’s so inquisitive and studious and quiet, she believes she’s smarter and more capable than she is. She looks down on her fellow students, believing them to be trying too hard just because they open their textbooks, and she thinks her sister is wasting her life, hanging out with friends all the time, but when Rattler does try to focus more on herself and her future, Eel just scoffs and feels no one can change who they are.

Eel is a fascinating character to me. She’s headstrong and determined and curious, loves Voracious with her whole heart but she’s also incredibly self-centred and unfeeling towards a lot of other people. As she tells her life story, she doesn’t shy away from the cruel thoughts she thought in the moment, or the ones she now thinks with hindsight. She thinks she’s smarter and more aware of the world than she is, which then makes her more naïve and childish. All this doesn’t make her a particularly likeable character, but it does make her interesting.

The format of A Girl Called Eel, along with a compelling, if not likeable narrator, makes an almost typical story of a girl getting taken for a fool by an older man more interesting and engaging.

READ THE WORLD – Turkey: The Architect’s Apprentice by Elif Shafak

Sixteenth century Istanbul: Jahan is only a boy when he arrives in the city bearing an extraordinary gift for the Sultan. He has no family or possessions to his name except Chota, a rare white elephant destined for the palace menagerie. There they learn to guard against the scheming of animal tamers, gypsies, deceitful courtiers and the mischievous Princess Mihrimah. Jahan travels on Chota’s back to the furthest corners of the Sultan’s kingdom and back again. But one day he catches the eye of the royal architect, Sinan, a chance encounter destined to change Jahan’s fortunes forever as it enables him to enter the marble halls where the treacherous plot.

I found The Architect’s Apprentice a really slow read. That’s because it is more of a character study of Jahan and while there are incidents in his life, they are like a footnote in how he grows as a person. There’s really not as much action as I was expecting, especially with the blurb mentioning lies and deceit – I thought there would be a lot more political intrigue than there was.

A lot of time passes in The Architect’s Apprentice, it spans decades of Jahan’s life, and it really took me a while to realise that. I didn’t realise that Jahan was growing up because it seemed to take a long time for him to start maturing and evolving as a person. Plus, while things were happening to him, it just seemed like it was one event after the other and it was difficult to gage the passage of time.

For the most part I did like the writing in The Architect’s Apprentice. There’s some lovely passages and the descriptions of Instanbul and the various temples and buildings Jahan is involved with building and designing are vivid. It really does make the city feel alive and it often felt more of an interesting character than the human characters.

The relationship between Jahan and Chota the elephant was a big part of the story and one of the more interesting parts. They were incredibly close, and it frequently seemed like Chota understood what Jahan was saying and what was happening around them. The times when Jahan was with Chota made him feel like more of a real person as Chota seemed to bring out the best of him and he seemed more animated and not just a spectator in his own life when he was with Chota.

Perhaps it’s my fault going into The Architect’s Apprentice with vastly different expectations so what the book actually was, was a disappointment. Still if you like a slow-paced historical fiction novel set during the height of the Ottoman Empire then maybe try The Architect’s Apprentice. 2/5.

O.W.L.’s Magical Readathon 2020

The O.W.L.’s Magical Readathon returns next month! This month-long readathon is the brainchild of Gi at Book Roast on YouTube and it’s the third year it’s happened. Last year was the first year I took part and after successfully completing my O.W.L.’s and N.E.W.T.’s I qualified to be a Ministry Worker in the Department of International Magical Cooperation.

The challenge is based on the Hogwarts examinations in the world of Harry Potter, but you don’t need to know a lot about it or be a Harry Potter fan to take part in the challenge. The basic premise is that each Hogwarts subject has its own prompt, you read a book that fits that prompt and then you’ve achieved an O.W.L. in that subject. This readathon lasts the entirety of April so it gives you plenty of time to try and cram in as many O.W.L.’s aka books 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.

This year there’s some new careers and bonus courses, seminars and training if you want to challenge yourself. I’ve decided that my chosen career this year is Mage of Visual Arts. This sounds like a fun career as you make the pictures and portraits move and it’s the most like the muggle world of film. The O.W.L.’s I need to earn are in Astronomy, Charms, Divination, and History of Magic. That’s four books I need to read but I would also like to push myself and do an extra training course. I would like to learn to operate locomotive trains aka the Hogwarts Express. I love driving cars, so as there’s no course on learning how to drive a flying car (yet!) it’d be fun to learn how to drive a train. The O.W.L.’s I need for that are Defence Against the Dark Arts and Muggle Studies. So, the total number of books I need to read in April is six. That’s doable for me.

I’ve had a look at my bookshelves and below are the books I plan to read to get my O.W.L.’s to become a Mage of Visual Arts. I’ve also got books for the other O.W.L.’s in case I do better than expected and can fit in a couple more books during the month.

Ancient Runes – Heart rune: heart on the cover or in the title
A Dream So Dark by L.L. McKinney
I’m reaching a bit here, but it has the word “heart” and a heart shaped key on the cover, so I think it counts. I read A Blade So Black last year for my N.E.W.T.’s so it’d be cool to read the sequel for my O.W.L.’s.

Arithmancy – Magical qualities of number 2: balance/opposites – read something outside your favourite genre
Gemina by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
I’m not even sure what my favourite genre is anymore (I’m going to probably do a blog post about that at some point) but a genre I don’t read that often is sci-fi so that’s the reason I’ve chosen Gemina.

Astronomy – Night classes: read majority of this book when it’s dark outside
Three Summers by Margarita Liberaki
This book is relatively short at 240 pages and is about sisters growing up in the countryside in Athens before the Second World War.

Care of Magical Creatures – Hippogriffs: creature with a beak on the cover
Infinite Son by Adam Silvera
After going through all my books because I really wasn’t sure if I had a book that had creature with a beak, I found one!

Charms – Lumos Maxima: white cover
The Bloodprint by Ausma Zehanat Khan or The Architect’s Apprentice by Elif Shafak
The Bloodprint is a book I bought just because the cover was super pretty and all I know is it’s a fantasy. The Architect’s Apprentice is a historical fiction and is set during the Ottoman Empire. Both have white covers.

Defence Against the Dark Arts – Grindylows: book set at the sea/coast
Viper by Bex Hogan or The Gloaming by Kirsty Logan
Both books take place on islands and heavily involve the sea. I think Viper is more of a pirate book while The Gloaming is more of a mermaid/fairy tale book – I think!

Divination – Third eye: assign numbers to your TBR and use a random number generator to pick your read
Hawkeye: Avenging Archer by Jim McCann, David Lopez, Duane Swierczynski, Manuel Garcia and Paco Diaz
Putting together all the unread books I have on my kindle, on audio and in my flat (there’s more unread books at my mum’s) I had 47 books for the random number generator to choose from. It picked number 17 which was Hawkeye: Avenging Archer which I couldn’t have picked better myself as comics/graphic novels are always a good idea in a readathon.

Herbology – Mimbulus mimbletonia: title starts with an M
Mama Hissa’s Mice by Saud Alsanousi
Turns out I have one book that has a title that begins with the letter M so I guess I’m going to be reading Mama Hissa’s Mice.

History of Magic – Witch hunts: book featuring witches/wizards
Angel Mage by Garth Nix or Truthwitch by Susan Dennard or mystery book
This one was surprisingly difficult. I’m not sure if Angel Mage has witches or wizards in it but there is magic. Based on the title and the premise I’m pretty sure Truthwitch features witches. Or the last witchy-book I could read for this prompt is one I don’t have yet. I’ve ordered April’s Wildest Dreams book box and the book apparently has “Witches and scientists, sisters and lovers, priestesses and rebels” so that could work too.

Muggle Studies – Book from a perspective of a muggle (contemporary)
The Places I’ve Cried in Public by Holly Bourne
This looks like it’s a sad contemporary about a relationship that’s ending and it’s potentially wasn’t a healthy relationship either.

Potions – Shrinking Solution: book under 150 pages
A Small Place by Jamaica Kincaid
I’ve got A Small Place on audiobook and according to Goodreads it is 81 pages long so definitely works for this challenge.

Transfiguration – Animagus lecture: book/series that includes shapeshifting
Downfall by Rob Thurman or The Invasion by K.A. Applegate
This subject was hard to find a book for as I don’t really read many books with shapeshifting in them and I don’t think any of my unread books have it in either. After looking at my bookshelves, the only book I could find that would fit was Downfall. It’s an urban fantasy and I remember earlier on in the series there were werewolves so that’d count. The other option is the fact I recently learnt that apparently all the Animorphs books are available online for free. Animorphs isn’t a series I read as a child but I have vague memories of the TV show, and as they’re children’s books they’re likely to be short and easy to read (which is always a good thing for a readathon) so I could pick up the first book in the series.

That’s my TBR for this years’ O.W.L.’s Magical Readathon. Are you taking part in the readathon and what career are you aiming for? In August there’s the N.E.W.T.’s which can be even more challenging and will be the final hurdle for achieving your chosen career. Wish me luck!