Last week I went to KoyoCon, as I do every year. It’s hard to keep coming up with new and interesting things to share when doing a post, but as is most often the case, I had a good time!
Even after all these years, I greatly enjoy talking to people who come by my booth in Artist Alley and I’m so happy that I keep seeing both new and old faces. There’s always an inspiring author asking for advice, and someone coming by to get my latest book after buying the other ones at a previous convention.
Oh, and then there are the conversation where you spend 20 minutes talking to someone with a TV for a head.
(Cosplay conventions are the most trippy experiences you can get without drugs.)
I did a bit of cosplaying myself as well. I had somehow gotten roped into cosplaying Ada Wong from Resident Evil 4. How she chases zombies in that evening dress in the middle of some Mexican desert town, I will never understand, but I think I mostly kept from accidentally flashing people.
My friends had way too much with getting me to pose for photos, though, so I’m honestly afraid of checking the contents of my camera’s SD card.
Maybe you’ll get an embarrassing cosplay post one of these days.
Now that we have settled into 2021, I’m going to be looking back at the books – all 63 of them – I read in 2020.
I think we can all agree that 2020 was a crappy year, with more and more crap shoved down on top of it nearly every week. But if you’re reading this, you survived it – or you’re spending your afterlife in a very dull way – so you can give it the finger and hope 2021 will be better. That’s what I’m doing.
But you know what was good about the past year?
Lots of time for reading! You gotta look on the bright side of being stuck at home for months on end with only a tiny, grumpy owl for company. So here you have Artemis the Owl presenting each book, with my brief thoughts on each of them.
If you just want a gallery of Bookish Owl photos, scroll straight ahead to the bottom of the post!
This was the last book in the Shadow and Bone Trilogy, and I thought it was a great way to end the story. Though there was plenty of excitement all the way through, the author still managed to wrap everything up nicely and I was left with a great respect for even minor characters. I’m glad the trilogy is part of the larger Grishaverse, because I’m definitely up for more stories in this world.
This was the last book in the Discworld series, and neither this post nor last year’s make any attempt at hiding my love for this series, so I read this with a certain sense of melancholy. Most of the book’s plot even felt like a goodbye, with the death of Granny Weatherwax being a central point. The Shepherd’s Crown wasn’t particular good by the (admittedly sky-high) standard of Discworld books, but it felt like a suitable end to the series.
I needed something light after a rough start to the year, so I went with a re-reread of the first book in the Discworld series. It has absolutely no plot, but lots of insanity and humor, so it’s my go-to book when I need a break from books that are either too gloomy or that force me to actually think.
It’s been years since I last reread the Harry Potter books, and let’s be honest: it’s a little ridiculous that I have had my owl pose next to books for more than a year without doing Harry Potter. Talk about missed opportunities, huh?
This was delightfully weird. It read like an episode of Midsomer Murders, but suddenly people are talking about dragons like it’s completely normal.
Oh, and all the talk of scones made me awfully hungry…
I had forgotten quite how awful Gilderoy Lockhart is… And honestly, it was a relief when Colin Creevey got Petrified. I know I should have saved my wrath for Umbridge in book five, but I kept thinking that if I had the power to magically curse someone and a kid kept following me around and taking pictures of me without my permission, I would have ended up in jail very quickly.
This book was another reread in my hunt for mindless stupidity to entertain myself. Discworld books about the wizard Rincewind are always good for some of that. In this one he accidentally gets summoned by a kid who thinks he (Rincewind) is a demon.
That’s it. That’s basically the whole plot.
Not sure what I think about this book. I read it because I absolutely loved the Netflix horror show loosely based on it, and while I liked the book well enough it suffers from the same problem as many other old classics (this one is more than 60 years old) – namely that most of the story seems to be told between the lines. You know, the kind of story you had to analyze in high school for hours to figure out what it’s actually saying?
I liked how the book was about Eleanor losing her grip on reality in Hill House, but I just wished there had been a bit more focus on the horror part, that is, the things that drove her insane.
Yet another Discworld reread (we don’t have that many more to go, I promise). This one is about witches, wizards, gender roles, and of course, horrible monsters from another dimension.
It also has Granny Weatherwax, who, in the eyes of the wizards of Unseen University, might very well be both a witch and a horrible monster from another dimension…
I think I might be getting too old for these books. My thought processes are beginning to sound like Mrs Weasley. These kids are totally irresponsible, but even worse: what kind of headmaster urges thirteen year old kids to go back in time, dodge a rabid werewolf, steal a hippogrif out from under the noses of law enforcement, just so they can fly around to save a convicted murderer from soul-eating monsters?
Why don’t you do it yourself, you crazy old bat?!
I know, I know, another Discworld book, but this one has Granny Weatherwax and Archchancellor Ridcully reminiscing about their past romance (I ship those two so hard), Nanny Ogg being Nanny Ogg, and Magrat suddenly becoming super badass and killing elves left and right, and scaring the shit out of poor Shawn.
A friend recommended this to me, since she thought I might enjoy a book about a girl who dresses up as a boy to become a knight.
It’s a short and entertaining read with likable characters and a simple story, and that’s something I think the high fantasy genre needs a bit more of. It doesn’t all have to be huge sagas with enough storylines to make your head spin (though I do like those as well).
The second book in the Song of the Lioness Quartet, the sequel to Alanna, and just as enjoyable.
It’s so nice to read a book about a teenage girl falling in love and then not letting it rule her life decisions. The reason I avoided YA books with female leads for years was because I was getting fed up with the protagonists falling in love with some boy and then suddenly the whole book was about how they couldn’t live without them and nothing else in life mattered.
There’s only so much of that I can take.
Someone needs to slap Ron in this book, but otherwise it’s great. Well… except from the fact that Cedric, the Hufflepuffest Hufflepuff there ever was, didn’t deserve being cannon fodder.
I finished this with the knowledge that I was now getting to the point in the series where every book would leave me depressed and teary-eyed…
I reread this Discworld book for Cohen the Barbarian and his Silver Horde. There’s just something about a group of old men wreaking havoc and creating terror wherever they go that gives me hope for my retirement.
I really enjoyed this. It’s an entertaining book that pays tribute to all the classics I used to read as a child – Sherlock Holmes, Frankenstein, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Dracula…
Yes, I might have been an odd child.
The writing style was a little weird, but once you get used to the ‘author’ and characters injecting comments every once in a while, it works just fine.
I did not like this one as much as the first two books in the series, but it was still a good read. Jonathan is being a right asshole in this one, so I’m glad Alanna dumped his ass and got on with her life (for now). The book could have used a bit more plot, but it was entertaining nonetheless.
I was getting a little tired of this series by the time I reached this book, but it turned out to be fairly good. It’s possible it’s because the overall plot was similar to the book I myself was writing at the time, and I very much like kicking back with a book and calling it research, but no matter what, I enjoyed it. We got an insidious plot in the middle of a peace treaty negotiation between dragons and Fae, multiple suspects, and everyone having their own agenda.
Always nice with a healthy dose of secrets and drama.
I had forgotten just how utterly creepy the scenes in the Department of Mysteries were. Water tanks with floating brains and Death Eaters with baby heads… Funny to think that this started out as a series of children’s books, considering I’m this creeped out reading this book as an adult.
I was, however, much better prepared for Umbridge. I remember how completely awful I found her as a kid, but rereading the book now, she’s honestly just a more extreme version of the various bosses and politicians you’re faced with as an adult. It’s hard to be amazed by how far the Ministry of Magic is willing to go once you have dealt with today’s political scene for a few years.
On a less gloomy note: Professor McGonagall was this book’s total MVP and I loved every single scene with her.
Part of the Grishaverse where I loved the original trilogy. This one followed some of the supporting characters and it was really interesting to get inside their heads. I especially loved Zoya, a character way too complex to understand from the outside. She’s still a total bitch when you get inside her head, but it starts to make sense why she is that way and you also see the side of her that fights so very hard to protect her country and the people under her command.
I was a bit miffed to discover it was a duology and that I had to wait for the next book…
This book, the last in the Lioness Quartet, had a lot of potential, but I felt like all of it fell flat. In my opinion, there should have been a LOT more focus on Roger and his schemes, but all the important parts felt very rushed.
After more than a decade of obsessing over this series, I could appreciate this book much more when rereading it. There’s so many great little details that you won’t notice before you have read the last book.
However, I still hadn’t completely learned my lesson: During the scene with Dumbledore’s funeral I had to repeat “He’s an asshole, he’s an asshole, he’s an asshole” in my head to keep from getting all sad and teary-eyed…
I turned to a Terry Pratchett book because I needed to laugh, but instead I got a book that started out with the main character going around and burying everyone he knew after a natural disaster.
Don’t get me wrong, Nation is a very deep and enjoyable book. It just wasn’t what I expected!
We all know this book is fairly depressing, right?
So I’m just going to focus on how great the Battle of Hogwarts is if you don’t take all the deaths into account.
The real badasses just don’t get enough credit. Neville literally went from an utterly useless and clumsy boy to the leader of an all-out rebellion against the Death Eaters. Elderly, stern Professor McGonagall enchanted a whole army of desks and led them into war while yelling “Charge!” (and I so need fanart of that…). Professor Sprout didn’t hesitate for a second when told she would need to fight, just rushing off to get every dangerous plant she could think of. Even Trelawney went berserker and cracked heads open by throwing crystal balls at them.
Screw Harry, Ron and Hermione. They wouldn’t have lasted a second against the pissed-off elderly women of Hogwarts.
This was a new author to me and I enjoyed the book. The romantic relationships between the characters seemed a bit juvenile when compared to the dark themes of the story and the situation the characters found themselves in, but not so much that I felt it distracted from the rest of the book.
This was another reread and not one of my favorites, but I was running out of books at this point and I decided to go for a full set of Discworld book photos.
It does have its bright spots, though – Teppic getting ready for his Assassin exam and then promptly falling over from the weight of all his hidden weapons is hilarious. Also his prophetic dreams: “There was seven fat cows and seven thin cows. One of them was playing the trombone.”
This was a novel tie-in to Warcraft 3/World of Warcraft, telling the story about how Arthas Menethil, Prince of Lordaeron, ended up becoming the Lich King, leader of an undead army trying to wipe out all life on Azeroth.
I have read it before, many, many years ago, but it was a nice revisit to one of the central stories from a game franchise I have played since I was 10 years old.
This book had great characters and a fascinating world with a rich history, but for some reason it took me 300 pages to really get into it. However, once I hit that mark, it suddenly got insanely exciting and the cliffhanger at the end meant I had to go out and buy the next book.
This has always been my least favorite Discworld book, but I did like it slightly better upon rereading it. However, it would have been improved greatly by more wizard scenes.
The mental image of most of Unseen University’s faculty clinging to Windle Poon’s racing wheelchair while screaming their heads off is just great.
This was a novel prequel to one of my all-time favorite games, Dragon Age: Origins. And it follows Prince Maric, the father of my all-time favorite character, Alistair, during his rebellion against the Orlesian usurper of the Fereldan throne. You also see a lot of Loghain, who is much less of a jackass here than he is in the game… but still a jackass.
It’s a good and well-written book, but I had hoped for a bit more of the charm you get from the characters in the games. I liked the characters in the book, but I didn’t fall in love with them.
Still worth the read, though!
This was a collection of fairy tales set in the Grishaverse, but you don’t need to have read any of the other books to enjoy them. The stories are wonderfully dark and the book is beautifully illustrated. I especially love how, initially, you think that each page of a story has the same illustration, but then you realize that each page the drawings change subtly in a way that hints about what is to come in the story.
This one might not have aged as well as Pratchett’s other books, but the overall message about how we’re numb to the horrors of war fits as well today as it must have done in the 90s. In the book it’s the Gulf War they’re referring to, but it might as well have been any of the wars over the last thirty years.
But despite the timeless morale, I think kids today would have a really hard time relating to this book, considering they have never known a time where space invader games were ‘cutting edge’…
I have never played Magic: The Gathering, but when I was invited to a Dungeon & Dragons campaign set in the world of Ravnica, I felt I needed to read up on some of the lore, just so I would have an idea of who all those people trying to kill us were.
Turns out, MTG lore is actually really interesting!
And this tie-in novel was quite good. It was a little difficult to keep up with the large cast of characters at first, but the story was written in a way that made it easy to follow even for Magic noobs like myself.
And now I know more of the lore than several of my friends who actually play the game.
I first read this one many years ago, and while I liked it well enough, the whole thing with the costumes and the interviews ruined it a bit for me, because I felt it was too far-fetched.
Upon rereading it this year, I didn’t feel the same way. Somehow, after America got a reality star who have dick competitions with dictators as President, I can TOTALLY imagine a government turning kids into celebrities before throwing them into an arena to kill each other.
Anyway… What I think I’m trying to say is that I loved this book far more the second time around and I should not analyze the reasons why that is so, because it turns out they’re slightly disturbing.
This was the second book in the Johnny Maxwell series and I liked it more than Only You Can Save Mankind, though I could not tell you what the morale of it is. I feel like there is a morale to the story, but it just soared over my head somehow.
But hey, it’s Pratchett and it’s funny!
If you’re not familiar with Dragon Age: Varris Tethras is a character in the games who writes books when he’s not getting involved in whatever disaster or revolution the player character drags him into. One of his books is a noir detective story called High in Hardtown, which you can find and read chapters from in the third game.
Since I’m a total geek, I just got the physical, illustrated version.
I do think they could have made the story a little longer when they made it into an actual book, but I still enjoyed it, even though it’s short and rather predictable.
This is the last book in the Johnny Maxwell Trilogy, and it was the very first Pratchett book I ever read, way back in middle school. It’s also by far the best book in the trilogy.
I adore crazy Mrs. Tachyon and her time-traveling shopping trolley, not to mention her insane cat Guilty.
Six of Crows is a great Fantasy heist story set in Bardugo’s Grishaverse, and I absolutely loved it. Great plot, great characters, great world, and so many twists and turns that I could barely keep up. You follow a bunch of criminals, yet you still end up rooting for them and their insane mission.
This book follows a small-time criminal who makes a living from finding treasures in the sewers. Yet this smelly lad is a surprisingly charming protagonist, because he’s compassionate and oddly innocent in some ways, while being rather clever in others. There’s just something about Dodger that makes you fall in love with him, even as he’s punching people and stealing the silverware.
The second book in the Six of Crows Duology, and an amazing conclusion to the story. This one might just have even more devious plots and unexpected twists compared to Six of Crows, and that’s saying something. And at this time, you’re incredibly invested in the characters, so the book takes you to the edge of your seat while you wait to see what end is in store for them.
This was an antrology with short stories from the Dragon Age universe. Most of the stories were much darker than I anticipated, but that’s a good thing! It’s clear to see that these stories are foreshadowing the events in the upcoming Dragon Age 4 game, and I’m all there for it, even though the story The Horror of Hormak gave me nightmares…
However, though I like the dark parts of Tevinter Nights, my favorite character had to be Lessef, the tiny old lady who just so happens to be a deadly Crow assassin. Her last line of the story is “Onward, to cookies!” and I love it.
While the themes this book deals with – sexual assault being the main one – are horrible, the author still manages to create a rather heartwarming story focused on girls in a terrible situation finding strength in each other.
And if you ignore the small epilogue, the ending is immensely satisfying.
As the title suggest, this was the sequel to War of the Spark: Ravnica, which I read as part of my mission to learn more about the world of Magic: The Gathering. This book mainly focuses on the necromancer Liliana Vess, and since I’m fond of both bitchy women and necromancers, this was right up my alley.
This story is a reimagining of Lés Miserables, which I have never read nor seen any of the adaptions of it. And maybe that’s why I enjoyed The Court of Miracles so much.
Or, maybe, it was because it’s a story about a criminal underworld and I love any book that has assassins in it…
I really liked the concept of a world where committing violent crimes creates actual monsters. The main characters weren’t that memorable, but they were fairly relateable, and the ending was suitably bittersweet.
The Empire of Gold was an amazing conclusion to the Daevabad Trilogy. Manizheh was crazy, Dara was a loyal idiot, Jamshid was the most precious thing ever, but the Favorite Character Award goes to:
Mishmish, the apricot-loving shedu.
As always, this Discworld book is good for a lot of laughs, but it’s also a great commentary on the nature of organized religion.
But most of all, Vorbis is a great villain…
…who gets killed by getting hit in the head by a tortoise.
Despite the amount of Discworld I read, The Watchmaker of Filigree Street takes the prize for weirdest book I read all year. It’s a good weird, mind you, but… weird.
The beginning is a little rough to get through, since the main character is initially very boring and leads a very boring life, but that changes radically before long. And I can say I honestly didn’t see the ending coming.
Terry Pratchett, Discworld and a ton of Australian jokes.
Add in a bunch of wizards that never listen to logic and ignore warning signs on pure principle, and you got yourself a tale that makes absolutely no sense.
And somehow, it works.
Another World of Warcraft tie-in that follows Thrall, the orc slave who ended up being the Warchief of the Horde.
Thrall was never one of my favorite characters, but Golden manages to make his backstory quite engaging even to someone who considers the main character rather boring.
Given the amount of World of Warcraft I’ve been playing over the past couple of months, I think it’s fitting that the last Bookish Owl post of the year will be Lord of the Clans by Christie Golden.
I’m not even joking. All this social distancing has resulted in me developing a WoW addiction more severe than back in 2008, where I simply hated people.
However, the tie-in novels are quite good. And despite Lord of the Clans being one of the first Warcraft novels ever to be released, this was my first time reading it. It’s possible I delayed because it’s about Thrall, who was never one of my favorite characters. But that doesn’t mean his backstory doesn’t make for a good book.
But it was Thrall’s mother, Draka, who stole my heart when her husband, Durotan, ‘forbade’ her from following him on a dangerous trip… causing her to scratch up his face and then spit in it.
Draka is my kind of gal. I’m glad she gets the recognition she deserves in the latest World of Warcraft expansion.
Oh, and Blackmoore is the biggest arse on Azeroth.
Lord of the Clans
by Christie Golden
Slave. Gladiator. Shaman. Warchief. The enigmatic Orc known as Thrall has been all of these. Raised from infancy by cruel human masters who sought to mold him into their perfect pawn, Thrall was driven by both the savagery in his heart and the cunning of his upbringing to pursue a destiny he was only beginning to understand — to break his bondage and rediscover the ancient traditions of his people. Now the tumultuous tale of his life’s journey — a saga of honor, hatred, and hope — can at last be told….
Tonight we’re going with a horror fairy tale: House of Salt and Sorrow by Erin A. Craig.
This book was a great mix of fantasy and horror, and that’s a genre we need more of!
(That’s a barely disguised request for fantasy horror suggestions in the comments. Just in case you missed it.)
It reads like a dark fairy tale, which I think is my new favorite kind of story.
I would suggest reading this while it’s stormy outside and you’re all alone in the house. That’s the kind of atmosphere this book needs.
House of Salt and Sorrow
by Erin A. Craig
Annaleigh lives a sheltered life at Highmoor, a manor by the sea, with her sisters, their father, and stepmother. Once they were twelve, but loneliness fills the grand halls now that four of the girls’ lives have been cut short. Each death was more tragic than the last—the plague, a plummeting fall, a drowning, a slippery plunge—and there are whispers throughout the surrounding villages that the family is cursed by the gods.
Disturbed by a series of ghostly visions, Annaleigh becomes increasingly suspicious that the deaths were no accidents. Her sisters have been sneaking out every night to attend glittering balls, dancing until dawn in silk gowns and shimmering slippers, and Annaleigh isn’t sure whether to try to stop them or to join their forbidden trysts. Because who—or what—are they really dancing with?
When Annaleigh’s involvement with a mysterious stranger who has secrets of his own intensifies, it’s a race to unravel the darkness that has fallen over her family—before it claims her next.
We’re going Down Under – to Foureks, obviously – in The Last Continent by Terry Pratchett.
Any Discworld novel featuring Rincewind and the wizards of Unseen University is bound to be weird. Throw in time travel and a couple of kangaroos, and it gets even weirder. Which is why I can’t tell you what this book is actually about. Of course, a book about these wizards doesn’t actually need a plot – they’re entertaining enough all by themselves – but it does make it a little difficult to write a post about it.
Though the Discworld obviously doesn’t have an Australia, this book contains so many Australian-related jokes and references that it makes you want to kick a kangaroo. We also get to see the Luggage in drag – it’s never explained where they found hundreds of high-heels – and the Librarian as a beach chair.
No, it doesn’t make any more sense in context.
The Last Continent
by Terry Pratchett
‘Anything you do in the past changes the future. The tiniest little actions have huge consequences. You might tread on an ant now and it might entirely prevent someone from being born in the future.’
The Discworld‘s most inept wizard has found himself on the Discworld’s last continent, a completely separate creation. It’s hot. It’s dry . . . very dry. There was this thing once called The Wet, which no one believes in. Practically everything that’s not poisonous is venomous. But it’s the best bloody place in the world, all right?
And in a few days, it will be except . . . Who is this hero striding across the red desert? Champion sheep shearer, horse rider, road warrior, beer drinker, bush ranger, and someone who’ll even eat a Meat Pie Floater when he’s sober? A man in a hat whose luggage follows him on little legs, who’s about to change history by preventing a swagman stealing a jumbuck by a billabong?
Yes . . . all this place has between itself and wind-blown doom is Rincewind, the inept wizard who can’t even spell wizard. Still . . . no worries, eh?
Also, sorry: It's not the tasty kind of cookies. We're all out of those. Alrighty!