• The Fiction Fox

A Lengthy May Wrap-up

To start off this wrap-up, I wanted to give a small personal update for some context. If you’re just here for the booktalk, please feel free to skip straight ahead.

May has been a difficult month for me personally. During April, the COVID-crisis meant there was a lot of work to be done within the medical field. All internships have been put on hold until further notice, so many of us, including myself, entered into flexwork to help wherever we could. I ended up doing phone-triage and nursing work for the main part, and although it was all a bit surreal and outside my normal activities, I was happy to be able to contribute something. In May, the immediate hospital-crisis (at least in my area) has passed, regular staff is taking over again, and us flex-workers have mostly been send home again. So that’s where I’ve been for the past month: home like so many of you. Although I’m of course happy that things have calmed down enough so we can go home, but mentally it’s quite difficult, like it has been for many others. I’m a bit of a workaholic and can’t remember the last time I spend more than 2 weeks at home, not working or studying. This has been a kind of forced-stop to think, reflect and even work through some things of the past years. All of that is good, but not easy. With that in mind, you can see my reading (let alone reviewing has been a bit all-over-the-place. I promised to participate in Believathon, a readathon organised by How To Train Your Gavin, focussing solely on Middlegrade books, and that ended up being one of the best things I could have done. It was the perfect hit of nostalgia, comfort and fun I needed right now, so many thanks to Gavin for his amazing idea. Without further ado, let’s talk about the 14 books I read in May, starting with the Middlegrade reads, and ending with the Adult books.


Middle-grade


- A Pinch of Magic – Michelle Harrison Believathon Prompt: Poachers Pocket Inn – Read the First book in a Series

A Pinch of Magic is probably the textbook example of the absolutely delightful magical adventure that every middle-grade novel aims to be. We follow the Widdershins sisters: Fliss (age 16), Betty (age 12) and Charlie (age 6), whose family has been cursed to live forever on the small island of Crowstone. Every Widdershin girl who passes the border of the island will die by the next sunset. Although Fliss is quite happy with their homebound life, Charlie and Betty yearn for adventure. They soon get more than they bargained for, as some unfortunate circumstances force them on a high-stake mission to break their family-curse. With the help of three magical heirlooms, and of course their sisterly love and loyalty for another, will they be able to lift the curse before it’s too late? I had heard a lot of great things about this book from people in the community, yet I was still a bit skeptical if would be as special as everyone made it out to be. Although the set up of the story isn’t the most original, the bizarre and often hilarious twists and turns that follow make it an absolute pageturner. Above all, what makes this book so special is the characters and their incredible family bond. I personally didn’t grow up with sisters, but reading these types of books always warms my heart and makes me wish, in a way, that I had. I’d recommend this book to anyone age 11 or up, looking for a whimsical adventure with a strong family-core. Rating: 4/5 stars

- A Sprinkle of Sorcery – Michelle Harrison Believathon Prompt: The Book Keepers Strong Hold – the next book in a series

For this prompt, of course I couldn’t pick anything other than the sequel to my first believathon read: A Sprinkle of Sorcery. The synopsis gives away some spoilers for the first book, so I’d recommend you read that first, before even looking at book 2. All I want to say is that we follow the Widdershin-sisters on a completely new adventure that was equally fun, equally magical and equally filled with family love. It’s quite rare for me to actively anticipate a middle-grade release anymore, but I have to say I’m very much looking forward to book three in this series (A Tangle of Spells) to be released in February of 2021. Rating: 4/5 stars

- The Distance Between me and the Cherry Tree – Paola Peretti Believathon Prompt: Wonderfalls – Read a book featuring a disability

When I first saw the Believathon prompts, I was genuinely so happy to see this one on here, as I’m always on the hunt for books with disability- and chronic illness-representation, especially in childrens- and young adult literature. For this prompt I chose 2 books, the first of which was The Distance Between Me and the Cherry Tree, which follows a young girl gradually losing her sight. Although I enjoyed the story, I didn’t love it. Still I think it’s a very appropriate way to introduce your younger child to this subject in a way that isn’t too heavy. If you’re interested in my more indepth thoughts, I have a full written review, which can be found here. Rating: 3/5 stars

- My Jasper June – Laurel Snyder Believathon Prompt: The Mermaid Lagoon – a book featuring a strong female bond


My Jasper June is the story of a friendship between two fourteen-year-old girls over the course of a summer. Leah has been feeling lost ever since a tragic event last year changed her life forever. Her friends have fallen away, her parents have become distant and Leah is left wandering the neighbourhood alone during her break. Until on one of her walks she meets Jasper, a girl unlike any of her friends from before, and from there their bond begins. Leah soon finds out that Jasper has troubles of her own, which forms the beginning of a wonderful friendship in which the girls try the best they can to help and support each other,even if they don’t always know how.

This book was so much more profound and wonderful than I had imagined going into it. Not only does it deal with some heavy themes in better ways than some adult books do, but it also send an important message to younger readers: you are not alone. Even though your peers may be all smiles on the outside, that doesn’t mean they don’t have their own silent struggles too.

The true power of this book lies in its characters and their friendship. The kind of friendship that is so characteristic of their age, somewhere between child- and adulthood. The kind of friendship that involves quite mature conversations on heavy topics, but also fantasy and make-believe. The kind of friendship where you find yourself for the first time going to your friend rather than your parents for advice and support, even though neither of you is quite grown-up enough to solve the issues in the right way.

I adored this book, and if it weren’t for the ending that felt a little unrealistic and almost “too feel-good” it would have been a 5-star read. Highly recommended for readers 13 and up. Rating: 4.5/5 stars

- The Girl Who Drank the Moon – Kelly Barnhill Believathon Prompt: Black Ice Bridge – A book featuring an expedition or adventure

The Girl Who Drank the Moon is a bit of a booktube darling in the middle-grade genre, and I’ve always felt a bit left out, not having read it. I'm happy to say that I can agree with almost all of the hype I've heard about this book. This story of found-family, friendship and growing up starts with a baby-girl sent out by her community as a sacrifice to an evil witchy who lives in the forest. This witch isn't so evil after all, and decides to take the young girl in herself, feeding her with starlight and love. Unfortunately, one day, she mistakingly feeds little Luna moonlight instead of starlight, thereby granting her magical powers that she may not be able to control yet. There's obviously a lot more to it than just that, but I feel like you'd do best to discover the rest for yourself. Just know that this is a story packed to the brim with magic, love, warmth and at times a lot more depth than you might expect from a magical middle-grade. A cast of very memorable characters (a swampmonster that loves philosophy, a perfectly tiny dragon who believes he is simply enormous, and of course "aunty Xan" herself) make this a story that will be loved an remembered by readers of all ages.

Rating: 4/5 stars

- How to Disappear Completely – Ali Standish

The second book to fit the Wonderfalls prompt is probably my favourite middle-grade of the year so far. Not that I was surprised: I pre-ordered the hardcover edition of How to Disappear Completely, purely based on my love for the authors last book August Isle (which you should also read). I couldn’t have been happier with what I got.

In short, we follow 12-year-old Emma, who develops an auto-immune skin condition called Vitiligo, after her grandmother and best friend passes away. That is only just scratching the surface of the beauty that is contained within this book however. It warmed my heart and made younger-me feel retroactively understood in ways I didn’t know where possible. My full review and thoughts can be found here. Rating: 5/5 stars



Adult


The Queens of Innis Lear – Tessa Gratton

The Queens of Innis Lear is a fantasy-retelling of Shakespeare’s King Lear, that stays rather true to the original story, yet gives its own (feminist spin) to all of the characters. The erratic decisions of a prophecy-obsessed king have drained Innis Lear of its wild magic, leaving behind a trail of barren crops and despondent subjects. As the end of Lear’s life and reign draw to close, the faith of the land lies in the hands of his three daughters; ambitious Gaela, passionate Reagan and dutiful Elia. With only place for one of them at the throne, the rivalry that follows will rip both their family and the country apart. On the spectrum of character- vs plot-focused fantasy, The Queens of Innis Lear is as far to the character-side as it gets. That automatically makes it hit or miss for many, but this was a HIT for me. I adored and devoured this book, and got completely lost in its lush world seeped in nature magic, its well-rounded yet flawed character, and Tessa Grattons superb prose. I will be honest and say that if you’re a more plot-focussed reader, you will most likely find this book a bit too dense and slow to be able to enjoy it. If, like me, you enjoy these types of books, this is one you cannot pass up. I think this was a masterpiece, and I can almost guarantee The Queens of Innis Lear will make an appearance on my 2020-favourite list.

Rating: 5/5 stars

The Glass Hotel – Emily St. John Mandel


The Glass Hotel was one of my most anticipated releases of 2020, and by God am I glad it delivered. I have a full review up, which you can linked below, so to avoid repeating myself too much, I'm not going to go into detail here. I gave this book 5/5 stars, so safe to say I highly, highly recommend you read this book, even if maybe the synopsis doesn’t immediately sound up your alley. There is a lot more to this story than first meets the eye, and Emily St. Johns stunning writing alone is worth giving this book a chance. Full review can be found here. Rating: 5/5 stars

Man’s 4th Best Hospital – Samuel Shem

Expectations were high for this sequel to the (almost) classic that is The House of God (full review can be found here). The fact that a sequel to a book that didn’t need one in the first place was being released almost 40 years after the fact should have been a red flag. On the other hand I really liked the idea of seeing how Samuel Shem’s vision of medicine had changed from his early career as a resident to his pension. Unfortunately, I really didn’t like or agree with this book in many parts. A perfect example of the tonal shift can be found by comparing the “rules” of The House of God with the “rules” of Man’s Fourth Best Hospital. The House of God was packed with cynical humour and used that to address some of the problems in medicine. Befitting of his position as a “lowly intern”, Shem approaches the topic like a court jester, poking fun of the king, but supplying valuable advice in the process. Having risen the ranks as a doctor, Shem seems to think himself the king now, and his tone changes from humorous to moralizing and preachy. His message itself is far from ground-breaking and the effect was that I more often rolled my eyes than shook my head in agreement. Also, on a small nit-picky note, please Mr. Shem, lay off EPIC for a second. It might not be the best software in the world, but it’s not like paper files and illegible signatures were so much better. As the “young-kids” would say: “you are showing your Boomer by only complaining about technological advances…” In short: The House of God was groundbreaking for its time, dared to take a risk and was funny in a painfully relatable way. Man’s Fourth Best Hospital plays it painfully safe, but loses every sense of humour or personality in the process, adding nothing to the original. I hate being so negative, but as someone in the medical field and a big fan of its predecessor, Mans Fourth Best Hospital really wasn’t up to standard. Rating: 1/5 stars

The Sisters Grimm – Menna van Praag


Unfortunately, the disappointment continued in the form of my next read: The Sisters Grimm, an early 2020 release that I had high hopes for. It’s a YA-fantasy novel that takes heavy inspiration from traditional Grimm fairytales, but still happens to have a plot so confusing that I can’t quite summarise it a concise way. Basically, we follow four “sisters” (in a metaphorical way), who each are named after a fairytale character, and share some similarities with them. During their childhood, they have the ability to travel to a mysterious, magical place in their dreams, where they meet and form a friendship, until after their thirteenth birthday they suddenly forget all about it. Now, at the eve of their eighteenth birthday, their memories start returning, in tandem with a magical power over a different element for all four of them. They soon discover that there’s more to this mysterious place of their childhood, and that they must reunite to fight a battle for their lives. Honestly, I found this story very disjointed, and quite poorly executed. It seemed like the author had many ideas for very different novels, but instead of picking one and developing this further, she decided to chug them all into one story, throwing coherence out of the window. There were more problems I found with it, though, and I plan to write a full review soon, so stay tuned for more. In short: a very ambitious premise, that was brought down by clunky writing, and insufficient development of character and world. Unfortunately wouldn’t recommend. Rating: 1/5 stars

- Safe Harbour – Christina Kilbourne

I received a copy of Safe Harbour from the publisher in exchange for an honest review, which you can find linked below. It tells the story of fourteen year old Harbour, who spends her summer living in a tent with no-one but her dog and her father’s almost empty credit card for company. She’s not homeless, she tells herself. She’s merely waiting for her home — a thirty-six-foot sailboat — to arrive with her father at the helm… But when the days grow shorter and colder, and her father’s promised return date has long passed, she’s forced to accept the possibility that something may have gone terribly wrong. I very much enjoyed Safe Harbour, and the way it tackles some complex topics in a way that’s understandable to younger readers, as well as older ones. Although I had to knock off a few points for a rushed and disappointing ending, I do recommend you give this book a try if the subject matter interests me. Full review can be found here. Rating: 3/5 stars

Tuesday Mooney Talks to Ghosts – Kate Racculia


I guess one of the good things about quarantine is that it’s forcing me to venture outside my comfort zone and discover new things, including in my reading. Tuesday Mooney Talks to Ghosts (also known as Tuesday Mooney wore Black, as it was published in the UK) was nowhere near my radar, but as I scrolled past it in my library’s limited selection of ebooks it sounded intriguing enough to give a try. And boy, did I have fun with this one. Our story begins when an eccentric billionaire dies—leaving behind an epic treasure hunt through the city, with clues inspired by his hero, Edgar Allan Poe. Puzzle-loving Tuesday Mooney, her flamboyant friend Dex, teenage neighbour girl Dory and a mysterious rich heir from another wealthy family join hands to partake in this urban scavenger hunt, in search of the ultimate monetary prize, as well as the billionaire’s family secrets. Tuesday Mooney Talks to Ghosts was the exact mix of urban adventure, mystery, lovable characters, campy humor and culture references I didn't even know I needed in my life. You will have to put up with some archetypical characters, some over-the-top scenes and elaborate plans that would never work in real life, but if you’re looking for a fantastical, just simple fun adventure to sink your teeth in, this is for you! Rating: 4.25/5 stars

The Southern Reach Trilogy – Jeff Vandermeer



Last but not least, I reread the complete Southern Reach trilogy by Jeff Vandermeer, including a rewatch of the Netflix adaptation Annihilation. It was a very interesting experience that I have quite a lot to say about. I plan on writing a full series-review in the very near future. I will say for now: Annihilation remains as one of my all-time favourite novels, even more so upon my third reread. I never quite enjoyed the second and third novels as much, and still don’t although I did find some new insight in them upon reread. Again: full review to come soon.





That concludes my belated May Wrap-up. I hope you found some inspiration for your own TBR’s and I hope you can forgive my lack of engagement for the past few months. Like I mentioned: it’s not been the easiest time for me, and I often struggle to even keep this blog going, as much as I enjoy it. Hopefully, June will bring some better times for all of us. Until then, happy reading and stay safe.

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