Monthly Archives: December 2014

Looking back and wrapping up 2014

2014 year in review

Wow, I can’t believe 2014 is over already! But whether I believe it or not, it is. That means it’s time for me to sit down and reminisce a bit.

For me, it was a relatively sedate year, something I never complain about. I would rather a nice calm year to one full of strife, even if it does feel uneventful at times. After all, it’s my understanding that the old saying, ‘may you live in interesting times’ is a curse.

What 2014 was, if not exciting, was full of books. I made a significant chip in my reading list. (This would be a far more meaningful statement if I didn’t buy new books even faster than I read them.)

As seen below, I appear to have read 285 books this year. Goodreads tells me it equals 73, 296 pages, but that’s not quite accurate. I don’t count short stories towards my book count. They therefore won’t be included in the page total and I read 15 or so shorts. Goodreads also doesn’t discount books marked as ‘read’ but DNF, of which I had 8 (7 & a short) which should be discounted. All in all, it probably averages out in the end and, really, when you’re talking 70,000+ pages, why quibble over a few hundred. But I’m a little OCD about that kind of thing.

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I don’t use star ratings here on the blog, as I want people to actually read the reviews instead of just glance at the ratings. But I cross-post to Goodreads and I do use them there. Throughout the year, I’m largely unaware of how many three stars versus five stars versus one stars I give. But looking at the whole, I’m pretty pleased with the spread. I think it’s appropriate, considering there should be a bias toward liking a book since I choose them on interest, not at random.

Beyond simply reading a shit ton of books this year, I also broke my reading into a number of ‘challenges.’ Some of these lasted the whole year and were almost detail-less, like my basic Goodreads Reading challenge, in which I set a goal of 250 books and surpassed it. Others lasted all year, but were more specific. Others still lasted only short times.

IndieFever 2014The second most significant challenge I did this past year, after Goodreads, was BookR3vi3ws’ Indiefever Challenge. The basic idea here was to read as many independently or self-published books as possible. 2014 was my second year with this challenge and I signed up at the Fanatic level. This meant I needed to read 76 or more Indie/SP books. I surpassed that by a significant margin. The vast majority of books I read in 2014 were Independently published in some manner.

Lastly, for the big ones, I never officially signed up for an A-Z author challenge, but sometime around the middle of the year I started making a concerted effort to ensure I read at least one book written by an author starting with each letter of the alphabet. I succeeded at this, even if Q, X, Y, & Z all got read in December.

Throughout the year, I also threw a couple smaller challenges at myself. It serves to break up boredom sometimes and also lets me focus on single goals in the short term. Generally, it just keeps things interesting. I did this twice this year.

In April/May I did a ‘taking care of my own challenge‘ in which I only read books by authors I had befriended (or been befriended by) on Goodreads. (Ok, I cheated a couple times.)  I read 21 books for that challenge.

April montage

Then, in September I took a week and had a lot of fun doing what I called my ‘Bound by Blood‘ challenge. I discovered that I had five books with the same title and read all five back-to-back. Really, it was the novelty that made it fun, because none of the books impressed me much. Here they are though. (For the record, Soulmates is the series name of that fourth one; the title is, as you would expect, Bound by Blood.)

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Lastly, while not strictly a challenge in itself, throughout the year I make an effort to include books sent to me as review requests. Not including those I received from Netgalley, which are still books made available for free from authors/publishers seeking reviews,  (of which I read 24) I read 35 review requests.

a2r done 2014

If I’m honest, I’m a bit disappointed by that count. (I wonder if I failed to label some as requests.) It’s fewer than I would have expected and I kind of feel that I cheated someone, not sure who exactly, but someone. Note to self: do better next year.

Now, here comes the hardest part of a Looking Back post, my top six reads of 2014. (Six, instead of five, simply because it makes a nicer box.)

Honestly, I probably could have done a top ten, it was pretty close between these and a couple others. I wanted to include Vita Nostra and Father Figure, for example. But I’m already cheating by including a collection in there, so I limited myself.

In the end, I’m happy with my year in books. I’m actually impressed about some of it, disappointed in other respects and amazed at how different it was from 2013. I can’t wait to do it all again in 2015.

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Review of Shadow and Bone (The Grisha #1), by Leigh Bardugo

Shadow and BoneI bought a hardback copy of Shadow and Bone, by Leigh Bardugo.

Description from Goodreads:
Surrounded by enemies, the once-great nation of Ravka has been torn in two by the Shadow Fold, a swath of near impenetrable darkness crawling with monsters who feast on human flesh. Now its fate may rest on the shoulders of one lonely refugee.

Alina Starkov has never been good at anything. But when her regiment is attacked on the Fold and her best friend is brutally injured, Alina reveals a dormant power that saves his life—a power that could be the key to setting her war-ravaged country free. Wrenched from everything she knows, Alina is whisked away to the royal court to be trained as a member of the Grisha, the magical elite led by the mysterious Darkling.

Yet nothing in this lavish world is what it seems. With darkness looming and an entire kingdom depending on her untamed power, Alina will have to confront the secrets of the Grisha . . . and the secrets of her heart.

Review:
About two years ago I finished up my second Masters degree and decided all my tired brain wanted to do was read books that required very little mental involvement. YA books fit that bill perfectly. I subsequently went on a binge. I read a ton of them and bought even more. However, as I recovered my cognitive facilities, I grew bored with all the useless and frankly annoying teenage angst of these books and moved on. As a result I have a backlog of YA books sitting on my shelves (physical and digital) waiting to be read. Shadow and Bone is one such book. I’m not even sure why I picked it up this afternoon. The cover grabbed my eye, I think. (‘Cause it’s a great cover.)

To my complete surprise I didn’t hate it. It wasn’t full of Bella-esque drama and, while I’m not deeming Alina a wonderfully strong heroine, I didn’t find her too-stupid-to-live either. I also appreciated that it wasn’t a full love-triangle. I got scared for a while there, but it passed. The thing is though, while I didn’t hate it, I didn’t love it either. I don’t even know that I liked it. And that’s a strange place to find myself. I fully acknowledge that this is a well-written, well-edited, creative book. I consumed it in an evening. It’s wonderful in it’s own way, but also kind of bland.

It’s like a store brand cheddar. It’s a perfectly acceptable cheese. I’ll slice it up and toss it on my sandwich and be perfectly happy with it. But it’s not Brie. It’s not my favourite. It’s not something I’m excited to have gotten to eat and will remember. But I’m also notably not dissatisfied with it. Are you sensing my vacillation and painfully middle of the road feelings, here? Yeah.

Again, very well written. Again, a heroine I didn’t hate. There was also a hero I liked (but didn’t know well), a villain that was truly bad but had hints of multiple layers (but only hints) and side characters that were colourful enough to not just be filler. All good ingredients, mixed into a somewhat blasé whole.

Review of Murder Takes Patience: A Frankie Donovan Mystery (Friendship & Honor #3), by Giacomo Giammatteo

Murder Takes PatienceI bought a copy of Murder Takes Patience, by Giacomo Giammatteo. It’s book III of the Friendship & Honor series. I previously reviewed books I & II, Murder Takes Time and Murder Has Consequences.

Description from Goodreads:
Even good people are haunted by nightmares. Some are kept awake by things they did in the past: Lies they told, people they cheated, laws they broke. 

The ones who lived the worst lives are haunted by more than lies or broken laws. Their sleep is stolen by the people they killed. 

Nicky Fusco isn’t like any of them. He’s not bothered by lies, or broken laws. Not even by the people he’s killed. 

Nicky is kept awake by the people he hasn’t killed yet.

A Pre-Read Note:
I just finished a book I didn’t enjoy. I disliked it so much, in fact, that I didn’t even bother with a blog post about it. But I don’t want to end 2014 on such a sour note. So here at the final hour, I’m pulling out a standby author, one I can count on to write a book that will leave me sated and happy. Giacomo Giammatteo has become one of my favorite authors and is probably in my top five favorite Indie authors (if you separate Indie and traditionals, which I do simply because I’ve had a lifetime to discover traditional ones and only about 2.5 to discover great Indies). G.G. don’t let me down now.

A Post-Read Review:
*Sigh* Yes, I’m a happy reader. Really I could stop right there. I read this book. I’m happy as a result. Something about Giammatteo’s writing always clicks with me and I long ago fell in love with Nicky Fusco and Frankie Donovan.

Nicky is something like Leon, from The Professional, in the sense that he is stone cold and somehow soft at the same time. It’s a heady mix. Frankie is the classic good cop who struggles with doing the right thing while honoring his older loyalties at the same time.

But there are so many layers and so much enmeshment between the two men that nothing can ever be straightforward again. Frankie’s ability to remain a clean cop often comes at the expense of Nicky’s willing ness to get his soul dirty. Thus, there is so much guilt and love and sacrifice and giving that goes on between these two men that the reader just melts.

I have to admit that I didn’t think this book was quite as well polished and finished as previous books. I noticed a few editing mishaps and didn’t love thing quite as much as in Murder Takes Time and Murder has Consequences, but this is still ranking in best of 2014 list.