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  • Writer's pictureThe Fiction Fox

Orilium Readathon Autumn '23 - Wrap-up

August has come to an end and with that, so has the second part of the Orilium Readathon. I managed to complete every prompt I set out to do, and have thereby completed my second year of both the Herbologist and Alchemist career. That being said; it was a bit of a ride this year… My reading month started out great and I took a chunk out of my TBR in just the first week alone. Then some health-issues threw a big wrench in my wheels, and almost put me in a slump that I’m currently still feeling. By the end of the month though, 16 books got read and rated, and I’m here to quickly talk about them.

1. The Surviving Sky by Kritika Rao Prompt completed: Alchemy O, the first book in a series Rating: 4/5 stars My thoughts: The Surviving Sky is the start of promising new fantasy series, inspired by Hindu mythology and philosophy that I really enjoyed. Despite some issues typical of a debut, this had a lot of promise to grow into a fantastic series and I’m excited for the sequels. Full review can be found here.

2. Assassin of Reality by Marina and Sergej Dyachenko Prompt completed: Alchemy Q, the second book in a series Rating: 3.5/5 stars My thoughts: This was my biggest disappointment of the month by a long stretch. Assassin of Reality is the sequel to one of my all-time favourite novels Vita Nostra, in which we follow Sasha Samokhina during her first years at a mysterious, sinister, magical(?) university. This book is its direct sequel, and as such I had high expectations. Unfortunately, it didn’t live up to those. full review can be found here.

3. Acceptance by Jeff Vandermeer Prompt completed: Alchemy D, the final book in a series Rating: 5/5 stars My thoughts: We don’t need to spent too much time on this book: Annihilation is my favourite book of all time, and keeps cementing that position firmer in my mind the more I reread this series. When it comes to this series as a whole, I don’t love Acceptance and Authority as much as I do Annihilation, but they’re still absolute masterpieces that blend the genre-line of literary sci-fi and cosmic horror. This was my third reread of the entire trilogy, and even now, I keep finding new elements to haunt my brain. It’s a divisive series for sure, but to me it’s absolutely phenomenal.

4. Wild Spaces by S.L. Coney Prompt completed: Animal Studies O, a pet pick Rating: 5/5 stars My thoughts: a short but incredibly impactful coming of age horror story about a boy, a dog and a monster within the family. Not only an underrated gem, but one of the most beautiful things I read this month. I highly recommend this one to fans of Laurel Hightower, or Neil Gaimans The Ocean at the End of the Lane. full review can be found here.

Prompt completed: Astronomy O, a title related to a song you listened to recently Rating: 4.5/5 stars My thoughts: a quirky, Finnish magical realism tale about a young woman’s hunt for an elusive pike, plagued by strange characters both human and folkloric alike. This book has been on my radar for a while, but I’ve been on the fence to pick it up. Its recent translation into the English pushed me over the edge. It’s a strange and quite whimsical book that might not be everybody’s cup of tea, but I still really enjoyed my time with it. My full review can be found here.

6. A House with Good Bones by T. Kingfisher Prompt completed: Inscription O, a book from your end-of-year TBR Rating: 4/5 stars My thoughts: When I read the synopsis (Kingfisher’s take on the haunted house trope), I knew I would like this novel. I just wasn’t sure how much exactly. In the end, I liked but didn’t love this tale of a daughters return home to temporarily move in with her estranged mother. Everything I love about Kingfisher writing was there, including the humor, great characters and fantastic atmosphere. Unfortunately the thing that I don’t enjoy about her work (particularly her weak endings) were present as well. My full review can be found here.

7. Fires of the Dead by Jed Herne Prompt completed: Inscription Q, shield on the cover Rating: 3/5 stars My thoughts: I’m a bit bummed that I didn’t get to read my original pick (Abeni’s Song), as it wasn’t available in my region yet. Instead I went with my second pick; a short novella by Jed Herne, who I mostly know from his Youtube-presence where he talks about his writing process. I liked this story, but didn’t find it particularly memorable. It’s been less than a month since I read it, and already details are starting to blur in my mind. I remember enjoying the fast-paced plot and the twist at the end, but couldn’t tell you the name of any main characters (or much about their personality for that matter). For a character-driven reader like myself, that’s a big deal.

8. The Wise and the Wicked by Rebecca Podos Prompt completed: Inscription D, a non-debut Rating: 3.5/5 stars My thoughts: This one left me feeling conflicted. I know Podos is capable of great writing about certain topics. Her book Like Water, where she portrays care of a disabled parent and the complex uncertainties of a genetic illness in the family, is one of my favourites. In The Wise and the Wicked it isn’t a genetic illness but a family curse, yet many of the strengths that speak from Podos’ experiences come through all the same. The family dynamics and the strain of the (genetic) premonition that a family curse puts on those were phenomenal. I wish these things were more represented in YA, and having the curse stand-in for actual illness makes the topic more approachable and less heavy. Unfortunately pacing isn’t Rebecca’s strong suit, and the book meandered far too much between the 60 and 90% mark. The messy execution really stands in the way of the good parts, and might even prevent some readers form reaching the (otherwise impactful) ending.

9. Things we Lost in the Fire by Mariana Enriquez Prompt completed: Spells & Incantations O, a short-story collection Rating: 3/5 stars My thoughts: This is one of those books where I feel like I need to “explain”’ my rating. Objectively, this probably deserves more than a 2.5, but subjectively I didn’t enjoy my experience. Thing We Lost in the Fire is a short-story collection set in the disadvantaged parts of Buenos Aires, Argentina and covers a lot of real-life-horrific topics. Violence in many forms is present on these pages (including against children) and I found some stories hard to read and downright depressing. I deliberately use the word “depressing” rather than saddening, because the narrative tone felt distant and almost apathetic to the blight of these characters to me. In addition, many of the stories have a slight “open ending”, where we leave a character in an unresolved situation, never knowing how or if they make it out of that. Although that’s most likely deliberate and realistic, It kept me from fully connecting and feeling their emotions with them. Instead I just felt a little hopeless and bleak about it all. This is probably a me-thing, and with all the glowing reviews this collection has gotten, I don’t want to steer anyone who’s interested in reading it away from it.

10. Swim Home to the Vanished by Brendan Shay Basham Prompt completed: Spells & Incantations Q, a black cover Rating: 4/5 stars My thoughts: This was my final and most challenging read of the month. Due to the health- circumstances that interfered with my reading experience, I didn’t feel I fully grasped this novel the first time around, and I actually went back in to reread a large chunk of it. I’m glad I did, because the second turn gave me a greater appreciation of this Navajo-inspired magical realist tale of grief and the transformation that loss can put a person through. My full review can be found here.

11. Chlorine by Jade Song Prompt completed: Demonology O, a book you saw on someone else’s socials Rating: 4.5/5 stars My thoughts: dark, gory and disturbing enough to live up to the reputation of the original mermaid mythology it was based on. Chlorine tells a tale of obsession, bodies, and coming of age, following an Asian American competitive swimmer who’s life revolves around the pool and her swimteam. Pushed to their limits every day, these women develop a strange, borderline-delusional microcosm amongst themselves, driven by the urge to be better, faster, stronger in the water. As obsession and delusion take over, our protagonist convinces herself that the only way to improve and “become her true self”, she must commit to the water forever, and become a mermaid. This is an unforgettable tale that got its claws in me and didn’t let go. Many great reviews have been written and recorded about this book, including the one by Kayla at BooksandLala that originally inspired me to put this on my TBR, so I highly recommend you check those out!

12. Oh God, The Sun Goes by David Connor Prompt completed: Lore O, a booksellers recommendation Rating: 2.5/5 stars My thoughts: I opened my review of this book with the following question: Have you ever read a book that’s so marmite, that you’re not even sure whether you liked it yourself, let alone how to recommend it to others? That still is exactly how I feel about Oh God, The Sun Goes. I really recommend you read my full review, which can be found here, to get a better idea whether this book would be your cup of tea, as it really is just… strange. In the end, I rounded my 2.5 star Goodreads rating down, rather than up, as the longer I sat with this book, the more annoyed I felt with its over-writtenness and propensity to take itself far too serious.

13. Sudden Traveler by Sarah Hall Prompt completed: Lore Q, a piece of clothing on the cover Rating: 3/5 stars My thoughts: Sudden Traveler was a mixed bag of a collection that does have Sarah Halls signature style throughout all of it. They are literary fiction stories, sometimes with a bit too much emphasis on the “literary” part. Although some stories, like the titular one, were brilliant, others felt distinctly overwritten.

14. The Seep by Chandra Porter Prompt completed: Restoration O, read a book before bed Rating: 3/5 stars My thoughts: The Seep was… strange. We follow a trans woman whose life is irreversibly altered in the wake of a gentle—but nonetheless world-changing—invasion by an alien entity calling itself The Seep. Throughout this short novel, we explore the intersection of these strange alien effects, and real-world factors that make our protagonist feel “alienated”, such as her trans-ness. I felt this book had so many great concepts and potential for interesting conversations, but I was ultimately left wanting more than I got. With its 200 pages, it fell in that gray area between novel and novella. I would’ve either liked more depth and development to justify a novel-length, or a tighter trimming to make a fantastic novella.

15. Pearl by Sian Hughes Prompt completed: Restoration Q, read a book in a different place every time you pick it up Rating: 4/5 stars My thoughts: I could probably write a completely separate post on my thoughts on this year’s picks for the Booker-prize longlist, but Pearl was one of the more intriguing books that showed up on it. I had never even heard of this title before it was nominated, but I decided to give it a try. It turned out to be one of my favourites of the nominees I’ve read. Although there are stylistic choices that I really didn’t enjoy (mainly the choice to start each chapter with quoting a nursery rhyme), it was an emotionally resonant tale that accomplished a lot in few pages. With its strong sense of place (both geographically with its portrayal of rural England, as well as its place in the literary canon) and poignant character observations, this truly feels like it belongs on a literary-prize-list. Something I couldn’t say for some other nominations…

16. Mapping the Interior by Stephen Graham Jones Prompt completed: Restoration D, a title that starts with M (chosen by random letter generator) Rating: 5/5 stars My thoughts: My final, and possibly favourite read of the month is one I plan to review in depth, but haven’t gotten around to yet. Mapping the Interior is a novella by Stephen Graham Jones that opens with a teenage boy, walking through his own house at night when he spots a familiar figure in the doorway. Instead of the people who could be there, his mother or his brother, the figure reminds him of his long-gone father, who died mysteriously before his family left the reservation. When he follows it he discovers his house is bigger and deeper than he knew. This was heartbreaking, terrifying and above all incredibly layered. Full review is in the making, but I might want to (happily!) reread this once more before I commit to it.

Many thanks again to G from Bookroast for creating and hosting this readathon. Be sure to show her some love via her channel, and I hope to be able to participate in this readathon for years to come.


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