Happy Friday, everyone!
I hope you’ve all had a great start to March! Personally, I find it astounding that we’re already over two months into 2021. February really seems to have flown by!
Although, looking back, I did actually do quite a lot this past month. I had my own exams, and then spent pretty much the entire second half of February grading other people’s. [Honestly, I never want to see another math exam paper ever again. At least not any time soon. It was horrible! 😅 Though not as horrible as supervising the exams. Watching people write for about three hours is just about the most boring thing ever…]
Still, I did actually get a lot of reading done in February. In fact, I felt so burnt out after my own exams that I decided to take a week off and do nothing, and it was absolutely wonderful! 😊 I read twelve new books – Which means the TBR pile now only has three books left, hooray!! – and tanked up on enough energy that I now feel at least somewhat ready to tackle my master’s thesis in more detail.
Also, while I was holed up in my office and grading, quite a few of you seemed to think this blog was worth revisiting, which means that A Book Owl’s Corner has now surpassed 300 followers! Seriously, guys, I am still astounded that you actually like hearing what I have to say, and I am so grateful to have every one of you! So consider this a belated thank you! 😊 I am thinking about writing something special to celebrate, so let me know what you would like to see. I have actually quite enjoyed reading everyone else’s “Reacting to Assumptions About Me” posts lately, so maybe I could do one of those? Let me know if you’d be interested!
But for now, let’s get into what I read in February! As usual, I have a lot of opinions I need to share with the world, so feel free to skip ahead to the books that interest you 😉
Drowned Country (Greenhollow Duology #2) by Emily Tesh (4.5/5 Stars)
After loving Silver in the Wood last year, I obviously had to pick up the sequel – especially when I saw that the audiobook was available on Scribd! I couldn’t let this opportunity pass! And since I didn’t have to buy a copy in order to listen to it, I decided this didn’t count toward my “read the books on your physical TBR first” rule 😁
Drowned Country picks up about a year after where Silver in the Wood left off, and is just as beautifully atmospheric, magical, and character-driven as its predecessor. In fact, I think I loved this one even more 🥰 The story starts off with Henry Silver being summoned to the grimy seaside town of Rothport, where a girl has gone missing – presumably kidnapped by a legendary monster. The only problem: the one summoning him is his mother. And her assistant is someone Silver hasn’t spoken to in quite a while.
Overall, I had a wonderful time with this story. I am now convinced that listening to audiobooks about enchanted forests while going on long walks through the wintery woods is the only way to go, and I am quite bummed that all our snow has melted away by now so that I can’t replicate the experience.
Anyway, I was immediately immersed in this world and so happy to be back with these characters! 😊 All the unspoken yearning between Tobias and Silver was wonderful! Maud and Mrs. Silver were bad-ass in the best way possible, and I honestly got quite the kick out of them telling Tobias off 😁 There were a few twists I wasn’t expecting, and I also liked that we were slowly filled in on what had happened in the past. There was so much character development, so many cool folkloric references, so obviously, there was no way I wouldn’t love this!
The only thing I could possibly criticize is that I don’t think plot is this novella’s greatest strength. None of the places the protagonists end up in are ever really explored in great detail, and some of the events seemed a bit random. But I didn’t mind that in the slightest. I was basically reading this for characters and the atmosphere, and I loved those so much that I didn’t care at all if the plot was a bit vague 😍
Winterkeep (Graceling Realm #4) by Kristin Cashore (5/5 Stars)
If you’ve read my full review, you’ll already know that I’m utterly obsessed with this book 🥰 Kristin Cashore’s Bitterblue is one of my favorite novels of all time, so obviously, I was beyond excited that we were finally getting a sequel!
And for the most part, Winterkeep managed to fulfill my astronomical expectations. The writing was wonderfully lyrical, the story was full of character development and politics, and it expanded the world beautifully. We get to see some old favorite characters and fall in love with new ones. Some of them weren’t even human, and I’m already prepared to defend them to the death! Okay, well, maybe only metaphorically speaking, but you get the point… This was such a great addition to one of my favorite YA fantasy series, and I’m very much hoping that I won’t have to wait another nine years for the next book to come out, because I need to see more of these characters!!
The one thing I have to criticize is that I don’t think this book had as much nuance as the previous two in the series. One of the things I love so much about Bitterblue is that you’re never hit over the head with anything; instead, you slowly have to piece all the clues together to form a bigger picture. In Winterkeep, especially during the beginning of the book, I felt like Kristin Cashore was pointing out some things a bit too obviously, which made me lose appreciation for the story a tiny bit.
Still, Winterkeep is by far my favorite thing I’ve read in a while, and it has made me super nostalgic. I can’t recommend this series enough! (Especially Bitterblue. Go read Bitterblue! 🙃)
Everlost (3/5 Stars), Everwild (3.5/5 Stars) and Everfound (3.5/5 Stars) (Skinjacker Trilogy #1-3) by Neal Shusterman
Ever since I first picked up Neal Shusterman’s Scythe, I’ve become more and more obsessed with the man’s writing and have made it my mission to read as many of his books as possible. So when my parents gave me his Skinjacker Trilogy for Christmas, I was thrilled and couldn’t wait to start reading!
Unfortunately, though, this series is probably my least favorite of his so far. Not that it was bad, or anything: The writing was excellent, I liked the characters, and the concept was really interesting! Everlost literally begins with our main characters being killed in a car crash, so there’s definitely suspense. On their way to “the light”, however, Nick and Allie are knocked off course, and instead of heading where they are supposed to go, they’re caught in Everlost – a place between life and death, a shadow copy of the living world where all the places and things that no longer exist wind up.
Overall, I really liked all the moral and philosophical ideas that this middle-grade series explored, and the characters, especially Allie, really grew on me. However, what I wasn’t a huge fan of was what I’d call the “bizarre randomness” of the world and plot. I’m not really sure how to best describe this, but similarly to books like Alice in Wonderland, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, or Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels – none of which I particularly like 😅 – the Skinjacker Trilogy relies heavily on lots of puns and random references to keep the story going. A lot of the events portrayed have nothing to do with one another, and seemed very arbitrarily thrown in. The plot became more stringent in the latter two books, which is why I ended up liking those more, but I’m still not the biggest fan of this kind of storytelling style…
Nevertheless, if this series sounds interesting to you, I’d still recommend it! I really liked the way it got you to think about death and dying (yeah, apparently, I have a very sunny personality 🤣), and if you’re one of those people who loves puns so much that you don’t care about intricate plots, I think you might enjoy this!
Mansfield Park by Jane Austen (2.5/5 Stars)
With Mansfield Park, I have now read all of Jane Austen’s six major novels, so I can say with absolute certainty that this is my least favorite one. I did still enjoy parts of it, but gosh, the characters absolutely infuriated me! Seriously, how can people complain that Emma Woodhouse is annoying when there are also people like Fanny Price or Edmund Bertram?
The novel begins when Fanny’s aunt and uncle decide to take her in and raise her together with their own children at the family estate of Mansfield Park in order to help out Fanny’s struggling family. However, it soon turns out that the Bertram’s benevolence only goes so far. After all, why should their niece, with a much less respectable background, get the same privileges as their own daughters do? And why is she so upset about leaving her family behind when they have given her this amazing opportunity? In fact, the only one of the Bertrams who really seems to care about Fanny at all is her cousin Edmund, and he isn’t always there to speak up for her.
So far, so good. At the beginning of the novel, I was super invested, and my heart immediately went out to Fanny. I really liked the social commentary that came with the idea of entitled rich people thinking they should be praised for their efforts of trying to help the poor, while still looking down upon them. I mean, isn’t that exactly the stance so-called “developed countries” always take towards “developing ones”, too? Just look at all our greedy attempts to buy up as many COVID-vaccines as possible, and now we expect to be commended for even considering selling some to countries who went away empty-handed?
But I digress. Because as Fanny and Edmund got older, they started to annoy me more and more with all their prim- and properness 🙈 Honestly, Edmund offering himself up to play a role in a play he considered vulgar, just so his family wouldn’t invite someone of even lower status to take the part? How hypocritical! And Fanny’s refusal to even speak of the play? What’s wrong with a bit of good fun? It’s not like their family was performing the play in public, and they pretty much ruined things for everyone else with their stuffy attitude. And Fanny was just so judgmental! All the stuff she thought about her neighbors and family, and her satisfaction when others also saw how “unvirtuous” they eventually turned out to be? It didn’t exactly elevate her in my eyes! It just felt like she was judging everyone else because she was too hung up on morals to actually enjoy her own life.
Also, the love story in this was about as romantic as a washcloth. It’s pretty much “Well, the girl I actually like turned out to be a douche, so I guess I’ll marry you instead sometime in the future”… Not exactly my idea of an ideal relationship.
So yeah – while I liked some of the social ideas explored in this book, I overall found it to be a bit disappointing. I just felt like Jane Austen was trying to shove morals down her readers throats, and that didn’t sit all too well with me. Call me rebellious if you like, but I’d much rather stick to rereading her other novels!
Nennt mich nicht Ismael! by Michael Gerard Bauer (4.5/5 Stars)
(Original English title: Don’t Call Me Ishmael!)
I know what you’re probably thinking: “Naemi, you’re always whining about stuff getting lost in translation, so why on Earth did you read this book in German instead of English???” Well, I do have an explanation for that 😉 This is actually one of a really good friend of mine’s favorite books, so, in a desperate attempt to get me to finally read it, she gave me a German copy for my 24th birthday. I guess with a last name like “Bauer”, she never considered it might be a translation.
And on the whole, I didn’t mind. The story still had a really strong voice, and apart from one confusing instance where the school bully started calling our protagonist Ismael “Stinki” – it was only through translating back to English that I realized “Smelly” does sound a bit like “Ishmael” and that this might not be the most far-fetched name-calling option for a rather unintelligent bully to take – I never really felt I was missing out on anything.
And I can definitely see why my friend loves this book so much! I, too, absolutely fell in love with Ismael, a rather shy Australian teenager who has just started attending St Daniel’s Boys College. Ismael just wants to stay under the radar and attract as little attention as possible from the school bully, Barry Bagsley, but with a weird name like his, that is easier said than done. Then, however, a new student arrives at St Daniel’s: James Scobie, the weird kid who nevertheless gains the entire school’s admiration within his first couple of days there. And somehow, James Scobie has decided he wants Ismael to be his friend. And as a member of the school’s new debate team. Even though Ismael is terrified of talking to people and would much rather hide in a corner and watch from the sidelines…
Honestly, Ismael was such a relatable character that I just wanted to reach out and hug him! Especially during some of his more embarrassing escapades… And I absolutely loved his sense of humor! I was chortling my way through parts of this book because they were so freaking funny.
Also, Ismael’s friends were great, too. Can we just take a moment to appreciate all the nerdy sci-fi and fantasy references in here? 😍 I love how all the characters had their own unique personalities that made things all the more epic when everyone came together.
So yeah, I would highly recommend this! The only minor complaint I have is that I would have liked the ending to be a bit sadder and hit with a bit more punch – I can’t say how, exactly, without spoiling things – but overall, this is an excellent and very hilarious read!
Unsichtbar (Die Diener #1) by Klaus Viedenz (4/5 Stars)
Klaus’s blog is one of my absolute favorites – Seriously, guys, you need to check out his book reviews! – so of course, I had to give his own novel a try and see what I thought. And I’m not gonna lie: I was a little apprehensive at first. Because what if I hated it? What if I had to write a scathing review that would scare all my blogger friends off from ever writing a book of their own?
Thankfully, though, my fears were completely unfounded. As much as I hate the cover (Sorry, Klaus 😅), I absolutely love the story! Especially the politics! 😍 You probably know by now that I’m a huge sucker for political fantasy, and this book had politics to the extreme. There was intrigue, backstabbing, and everyone had their own complex agenda, so that I was already utterly hooked after the first few pages.
Unsichtbar (literally: Invisible) is the start to a German fantasy series following a multitude of characters in the fictional realm of Indana. With the current emperor just barely clinging to life, power is up for grabs, and pretty much the entire higher nobility is scheming about how to get their favored candidate onto the throne. Caught in this struggle for succession is Anne Myrcontel, sister of one of the most powerful dukes in the empire. And a powerful bargaining chip, since giving away her hand in marriage has the power to seal an alliance that her brother desperately wants. Anne, however, has other plans, and her actions are about to set events in motion that no one could have foreseen.
Like I already said, I was an absolute sucker for the politics in this series. But I also really loved the world in general! It was so interesting getting to see different parts of the empire, and the magic system has me especially intrigued. I get the feeling that there is so much more to discover there, so I will most definitely be reading the sequel. I need to understand what is up with these seven powers and why they exist in the first place!
The characters also really grew on me. They all had their flaws, which only made them more realistic and interesting, and I’m actually quite surprised that I ended up enjoying all the points of view equally. Even Degenhart’s, whom I initially hated 😁 Still, I do think that the novel could have used a bit more focus on the characters’ thoughts and feelings outside of their political affiliations. Unsichtbar is so politics-heavy that I sometimes felt that character development was pushed into the background, and I also thought that all the POV-characters sounded very similar. I would have liked to see a bit more distinction there, and also more focus on the development of personal relationships between the characters. More internal monologue in addition to all the dialogue certainly wouldn’t have hurt.
Overall, though, I really liked this book, and can only recommend that my fellow German-speaking fantasy lovers pick it up. Klaus, you’d better hurry up and finish the sequel, because I desperately need it!
Humble Pi: A Comedy of Maths Errors by Matt Parker (4/5 Stars)
This book was a Christmas present from one of my brothers, and let’s just say he knows me very well, because I absolutely loved it! It was really educational and hilarious, although I am now even more terrified of flying than I used to be. And will probably think twice before entering any super fancy buildings…
Humble Pi is a collection of math mistakes with disastrous real-world consequences – calculation errors that led to bridges collapsing, computers shutting down, patients overdosing on medicine, million-dollar losses – and a few funny mishaps with no real world-consequences other than upsetting countless math nerds across the globe. It is split into several different sections that focus on mistakes from different areas of math, such as unit conversion, geometry, finance, and statistics.
In my opinion, Matt Parker did a really good job making these topics understandable to people without much of a background in math, while also providing tidbits for those of us who do know a bit more. (Though I might be completely wrong about that. My experience grading exams these past two weeks suggests that I tend to forget how much math people who aren’t getting a master’s degree in the subject actually know 😅)
The only thing that I didn’t like as much was that parts of the book were extremely computer science heavy, since many errors occurred due to the way computers calculate things. I did think this was interesting, but personally, I love algebra and geometry way more and must admit that sometimes found my mind wandering in the sections that got rather coding-heavy 😅 (I know, this is not a good sign considering that I’m going to have to start the coding part of my thesis soon…) But I was just way more interested in horribly incorrect road signs at soccer fields in the UK!
Anyway, I would definitely recommend this book to people who are as obsessed with math as I am. It is really funny and interesting, although it will certainly make you lose your trust in a lot of modern appliances!
L’hiver des loups (Garin Troussebœuf #2) by Évelyne Brisou-Pellen (2.5/5 Stars)
One of my goals for this year is to read more books in foreign languages, especially in French. Since I’ve been focusing so much on getting better at Russian lately, I’ve actually been neglecting French quite a bit, so it was a great coincidence that I still had L’hiver des loups (literally: The Winter of the Wolves) lying around 😊 My aunt, who lives in the French-speaking part of Canada, gave this to me a while ago, so I’m pleased I finally got around to reading it!
L’hiver des loups is the second book in a middle-grade series following a young scribe’s adventures in 14th-century Brittany. You don’t necessarily have to read the books in order, though, since none of the stories are interconnected – at least I hope so, since I haven’t read the first one 😅 But I never got the feeling that I was missing out on anything because of it.
This installment begins with Garin seeking shelter in a tiny village during the dead of winter. There, he soon becomes friends with a girl named Jordane, whose life hasn’t been easy. When she was a small child, Jordane got lost in the woods, and was taken in and raised by the wolves that lived there. Eventually, she made it back to her village and family, but ever since, the other villagers have feared and shunned her. They are convinced that Jordane must be a witch, and that she is responsible for the growing number of wolves outside their village. And with Jordane’s father away on a pilgrimage and her mother dead, they think it’s about time somebody did something about it.
While the premise sounds quite interesting, I am sorry to say that I found the overall execution to be pretty boring 🙈 Maybe it’s just because I’m a lot older than this book’s intended target audience, but I thought this story was extremely predictable and I didn’t think the characters had much depth to them, either. In fact, during the first part of the book, the only thing that really kept me motivated was the fact that I was in a state of complete euphoria about my French skills apparently being better than I had thought because I actually understood things! But the story? I mean, for the first 150 pages, pretty much nothing happened apart from the villagers being mean to Jordane and continuous references to her time with the wolves!
It was only during the second half that I genuinely started to enjoy the plot, because that’s when it turned out someone was trying to frame Jordane in order to get her burned at the stake. The utter boringness and monotony of the first half morphed into a quite suspenseful detective story, and although it was terribly predictable, I did find myself invested.
So yeah, overall, I’d say that while this book may not be my favorite thing out there, it does have a relatively easy language level that is perfect for anyone looking to practice. Still, if any of you have any other recommendations for French children’s books that you think I might enjoy a bit more, feel free to leave them in the comments!
Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman! by Richard P. Feynman (5/5 Stars)
This is, without a doubt, the book that has been on my TBR the longest. My ex-boyfriend gave it to me right before we broke up, so I haven’t exactly associated it with the best of memories 😅 However, in my attempt to get rid of my TBR completely, I finally decided to give it a go, and I’m so glad I did, because I absolutely loved it!!! So on the off-chance that you’re reading this, thanks again for giving it to me because no, apparently, I am not traumatized enough by my physicist parents to not lap up anecdotes about one of the most famous physicists of all time. I even enjoyed all the digs Feynman made at mathematicians, even though he is, of course, very wrong. Math is entirely superior to physics.
But back to the book: Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman! is a collection of conversations that Richard Feynman, winner of the 1965 Nobel Prize for Physics, had with his friend Ralph Leighton. The original tapes are still available online – my dad has been obsessed with them for years, but since he is obsessed with anything physics-related and it’s hard enough to get some physics-free moments in this household, I didn’t think too much of it – but were put down in book form several years later. They include stories about Feynman’s life, impressions of his childhood and his time at university, of the practical jokes he played on his friends and colleagues, and some of the more bizarre ideas and escapades he had throughout his life.
As I already said, I enjoyed everything about this. All the nerdy stuff was so satisfying to my math-loving brain. The humor was on point. Everything about university life, especially when you’re studying a STEM-subject, was extremely relatable. As were the completely random thoughts Feynman would sometimes become obsessed with. When he tried to figure out what went on in his mind while he was falling asleep, or when he decided he needed to learn Japanese in order to prepare for a business trip to Japan and was furious about not being checked into a traditional Japanese hotel, that could have been me 😂
And yet there were also the darker parts that were always alluded to and gave the story a much more somber undertone. Feynman’s role in creating the first atomic bomb. The death of his first wife and his failed relationship with his second one. His social awkwardness and the burden of becoming well-known after winning the Nobel Prize.
This book will make you think. It will make you laugh. It will make you reflect on some of your own decisions. I highly recommend it, especially to fellow science nerds!
Caliban’s War (The Expanse #2) by James S.A. Corey (3.5/5 Stars)
There isn’t really much I can say about this book, since pretty much everything pertaining to the plot would be a huge spoiler for Leviathan Wakes. However, what I can say is that I liked this one a lot more the first book! Finally, we get some female characters who aren’t either unnaturally perfect or killed off almost immediately! Avasarala especially really grew on me, and I really liked the authors’ choice to include additional points of view.
Also, as in Leviathan Wakes, I really love how fleshed out this world is. The Expanse takes place in the future, when humans have colonized Mars, parts of the asteroid belt, and moons of the outer planets, and the amount of politics, scheming and scientific background included in the series is something I really appreciate! Combined with a fast-pace and intriguing plot, these books definitely have the perfect set-up for an excellent sci-fi series.
That being said, however, I still think that the characters are these books’ one weak point. Although I do think there is a huge improvement from book one, most of them still feel oddly distant to me. I think part of this is because these books are extremely dialogue-heavy and because we never get to see much of what is going on in characters’ heads, even when we’re reading from their point of view. Knowing all their opinions on current politics and intergalactic threats might be interesting, but it is kind of strange that I’m better informed about that kind of stuff than the characters’ immediate feelings, their personal lives, and their fears and goals.
But I suppose we’ll see what I think as this series goes on 😉 I’m currently in the middle of reading Abaddon’s Gate, so I’ll keep you posted in my March wrap-up!
And that was everything new I read in February! Do let me know if you’ve read some of these, and whether we agree or disagree on any of them 🤗 And what was your favorite read of February? I would love to know!