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  • Writer's pictureThe Fiction Fox

O.W.L.s Wrap Up 2020

With everything going on in the world right now, I had no idea how the month of April would turn out. I mentioned in my TBR post that I expected to either read a lot more than usual, or not at all, depending on the circumstances. The former came true. Work at the hospital has been very all-or-nothing lately: instead of working daily, I now work half-time (or even less), only more intense. I’ve found myself seeking the escape from the real world in books even more in my down time, and I ended up having one of my best reading-months, both quantitively and qualitatively.

This wrap-up will be a two-parter: first I will mention the books I read for the O.W.L.s Magical Readathon, for which I pulled a Hermione, and ended up completing all 12 subjects. Second I will mention the books I read outside this readathon, near the end of the month. There’s a lot of good to get to, including 8 (!) five-star reads, so without further ado, let’s get into the books:

Going by alphabetical order, the first book I have to discuss is immediately my highlight of the month. Deb Caletti’s A Heart in A Body in the World is bound to be a new all-time favourite of mine, and I wholly have this readathon to thank for picking it up, as without the push of this prompt I might not have even picked it up at all. The story is simple: we follow Annabelle, as she embarks on a journey to run from Seattle to Washington DC. Along the way we slowly get to know her and her motivations as to why she felt like she had to undertake such a herculean task. Without spoiling anything: Annabelle has the constant burden of grief and trauma from events in her past on her shoulders, and finds out along the way that she might not be able to outrun everything, no matter how hard she tries. This book hit me unexpectedly hard and personal. I have personally dealt (and still continue to) with grief, trauma and in the past PTSD, and can honestly say that this representation was one of the closest to my own that I’ve ever read. I plan on writing a full review in the future, but until that time I highly implore you to give this book a shot. You’ll be hard pressed to find a contemporary with better character development and heartfelt, relastic representation of trauma out there. Rating: 5/5 stars

For my book outside my favourite genre, I deviated a bit from my TBR by reading a non-fiction book instead of a children’s book. Not to worry: I still fit in the children’s book I pledged to read in another category, so I wasn’t cheating on my TBR.

A Field Guide to Lies: Critical Thinking in the Information Age, is basically exactly what it says on the tin. It explains the basics to critical reading and judging the information put before you in an age where misdirection and, dare I say, “fake news” might be more relevant than ever.

Depending on your background, this might either be lifechanging to the way you experience information, or nothing more than “common sense”. If you’re familiar with scientific reading and research on a college level, this won’t rock your world. My reading experience therefore was a bit like reading a summary of something I had already studied. That being said, Levitin does a great job of explaining potentially complicated subjects in a very accessible way, and the skills of critical thinking it teaches will benefit anyone, especially during current times.

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

Here my initial children’s book makes its reappearance, and as it’s quite short I was able to read it in a single night. I’m not sure what happened here; I loved many of the concepts and ideas this book has, but I somehow wasn’t connected to the way they were executed as much as I wanted to be.

We follow a boy, who has washed up on a mysterious, isolated beach, without any memory of how he got there, or even who he is. We follow him on a journey to discover the truth about this place, and more importantly, himself. Although the story starts off with an air of whimsical spookiness, it takes some dark turns to cover very heavy subjects for a children’s book. Where the surface-level story can be enjoyed by readers as young as 9 or 10 years old, the deeper meaning and symbolism can be important to older kids and adults alike.

My personal issue came from the personality (or lack there off) of the main boy, which I understand is necessary to the plot. However, it did stop me from getting attached to him, which made the emotional pay-off in the end miss the mark for me.

Rating: 3/5 stars

This book needs no introduction, especially not in a Harry Potter-themed readathon. It has been one of my goals for the year to re-experience the entire Harry Potter series on audio, which I’ve never done before, despite rereading them a number of times. I can tell you: it was só worth it for book 1. I can’t think of a better narrator than Stephen Fry for the job, and I thoroughly enjoyed the way he brought the world to life, even more so than the books on their own can do. 5/5 stars of course, and as you will see later in this wrap-up: once I got the taste I couldn’t put the series down again. Rating: 5/5 stars

In the words of Savannah Espinoza: kids in her small New Mexico hometown, either flee right after graduation or they’re trapped there forever. She has always planned on being the former kind herself. But that was before her father was diagnosed with a terminal degenerative illness and her family had to struggle to stay afloat. Now she’s stuck living at home, working as a performing mermaid at a second-rate water park, distracting herself with one boy after another. Until she meets Leigh, and develops a special friendship she never anticipated.

This is the exact type of contemporary that attracts me; hard-hitting topics, a focus on family and/or coming of age, all against the highly atmospheric backdrop of (preferably) a small town... Even so, Like Water exceeded all my expectations, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see this turn up on my favourites of 2020-list at the end of this year.

I often keep banging on and on about needing more good books about chronic illness or taking care of a loved one with an illness, and I finally found one that I want to add to that list! Like Water was all I could ask for in this regard. It nails it with the dilemma's and conflicting feelings that come with the situations, as well as the strain that "not-knowing" puts on a person.

As if that wasn't enough greatness for one book, this is only the beginning. I have a lot of respect for Rebecca Podos managing to fit in so many potentially loaded subjects (sexual identity, mental illness, coming of age, Hispanic culture, etc.), yet pulling it all off so seamlessly. If you like this genre, that floats somewhere between contemporary and magical realism, or even if the premise alone sounds intriguing to you: please give it a shot! You won’t regret it. Rating: 5/5 stars

Defence against the dark arts

Grindylow: a book set near the sea or coast

Continuing my streak of 5-stars, we have one of my most anticipated releases of 2019, and another emotional but heart-warming family saga. The Last True Poets of the Sea follows Violet Larkin, who describes her family as “having wrecks run in their bloodline”, and she herself is no stranger to them. After her brother attempts to take his own life, he is send off to a rehab facility in Vermont, and Violet is send to spend the summer with her uncle in their ancestral home at the coast of Maine. Intrigued by the fact that her great-great grandmother was a sort of local legend, she delves into their family history as long as she’s here, helped by her colleagues at the local aquarium.

The combination of the family history, combined with superb character-development, realistic friendships and a romance that for once wasn’t cringy aloud this book to be everything I wanted and more. Add to that Julia Drakes lyrical language and a seaside setting, and you got yourself a new favourite.

Rating: 5/5 stars

Divinations Pick a book from your TBR using a random number generator Containment – Hank Parker

Clearly, this 5-star streak couldn’t continue forever, and to have Divination (the subject I expect I would enjoy least at Hogwarts) breaking it seems almost fitting. I used a random number generator to pick an ebook of my library’s e-bookshelf. As if faith truly had a hand in it, the book to appear happened to be about a new pathogen, threatening the world with a pandemic. Unfortunately for me, I ended up really disliking this book. Perhaps it’s everything going on in life that has lowered my tolerance for these kind of books, but I really hated my time with this. Some of my main complaints were the ridiculous unrealistic nature, the cartoonish villain and the complete lack of character development whatsoever, and how convenient everything is. I can understand how some of you might be interested in this genre right now, but there are many better bio-thrillers out there. Cold Storage, is the first that comes to mind to be similar, but better. Rating: 1/5 stars

  • Against the blockbuster Harry Potter novels and the 5-star shower that was April, Midnight at the Electric almost got lost along the way somehow. Not because it isn’t any good, but because it’s a quite kind of good. The story brilliantly interweaves 3 timelines within each other. The first of which follows Adri, spending her last few weeks on earth with her distant cousin before departing as one of the first colonists to be send to live on Mars. In her cousins attic, she finds the journal of Catherine, a woman from the Dust Bowl Oklahoma in 1934 who fears for the life of her sister who suffers from a lung disease. In the same way that Adri reads about Catherine, Catherine in turn reads the letters from Lenore, a woman who sailed from England to America in the 1920’s after the tragic death of her brother in the first world war. Based on the synopses, this may seem like a lacklustre mix of random stories, but Midnight at the Electric manages to keep them all entirely consistent, through small connections, motifs and themes. All stories share a core of “leaving” and starting anew, without being completely sure what that future will look like. It provides the entirety of the book with an atmosphere of quiet reminiscence , melancholy and careful hopefulness, that I won’t soon forget. Rating: 4/5 stars

  • History of magic A book featuring witches The Price Guide to the Occult – Leslye Walton

Out of the entire April TBR this book was the one I was most excited about, yet most dreaded at the same time. As many other people, I adored Leslye Waltons debut novel The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender. In particular, I loved Waltons writing style and her unique talent for writing atmospheric settings and dysfunctional families. I was however, also aware that The Price Guide to the Occult received quite mixed feedback upon release, including some harsh critiques from fans of her debut. I was still hopeful, as I had a lot of faith in Walton pulling of an Ava Lavender but with witches storyline. I wasn’t let down. Like Ava Lavender, the story in itself is quit simple, but the world and atmosphere around it are superb. I’m genuinely confused as to why this received such a mixed welcome and hope that more people will give it a chance nonetheless. Rating: 4.5/5 stars

After my success with Like Water, I decided to dive into this authors backlog, and picked up her first book The Mystery of Hollow Places right afterwards. In this we follow 17-year-old Imogene, daughter of an eccentric forensic-pathologist-turned-mystery-author and a mother she’s never met. When her father up and leaves without a trace one day, leaving Imogene and her stepmother worried about his well-being, Imogene dawns the detective-cap for herself and sets out to investigate. Meanwhile uncovering secrets of her past and her family she never knew. It might have been my high expectations, but I was left feeling quite disappointed. I didn’t connect with the character anywhere near the same way I did with those in Like Water and I couldn’t get over how juvenile they felt compared to their supposed age. Imogene truly reads like a 12-year-old, and considering the subjects of the book and the demographic it’s aimed at it was a bit jarring. Luckily Rebecca Podos’ talent as a writer is already evident here: she creates beautiful sentences and there are many great idea’s just below the surface of this book. It is an okay debut, but a clear debut at that, and I much preferred her later work. Rating: 2.5/5 stars

I’ve never pretended to be knowledgeable on poetry, and this collection is an excellent example of me, again, not being qualified to put a rating on someone’s thoughts. Although there were some poems I really enjoyed, such as Entropy, the collection as a whole didn’t speak to me personally in the way some of my favourite poems do. I can however recognise the important themes the collection addresses and I commend the author for her bravery in speaking out about them. In my personal, uneducated opinion: it wasn’t for me. My main dislike is not in the collection itself, but more the genre it was in. I struggle with modern poetry, as i prefer poems to have a more classical structure, cadence or rhythm. These poems don’t have that. If that doesn’t bother you, this might be a better fit for you than it was for me. No rating

The Ocean at the End of the Lane, last but not least, was a bit of a second-chance-book for me. I had read it before, and didn’t really enjoy it. I couldn’t help but feel like I might have missed something here, based off the mood I was in at the time of first reading it, the almost universal praise for this book, and the parts I did love and tab up.

My second experience indeed was very different than the first, in all the right ways, and I can see now how this is so many people’s favourite book. There’s a lot to unpack in this novel that basically captures the experience of childhood and remembering said childhood as an adult in only 200 pages. I’m going to need to sit on this before I attempt to put my thoughts into words, but luckily this is a fairly famous book with tons of very articulate reviews out there. All that I can say now is: “wow, I had no idea Neil Gaiman was capable of this.”

Rating: 5/5 stars

That concludes my O.W.L.s Magical Readathon Wrap up, and therefore the majority of my reading for the month of April. With all twelve subjects done I have every career opportunity open for the N.E.W.T.s in August, and I’m honestly excited for it already. Many thanks to G from Book Roast for creating and hosting this readathon, for the third year in a row: your creativity and work is highly appreciated! If you want to hear about the remaining 5 books I read during April, you can read part two here. (If link doesn’t appear, please check back in a few days, I might not have been able to upload it yet).

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