Monthly Archives: December 2016

Reflecting on 2016 and the books I read

2016 sucked in a lot of ways. I have referenced the above comic so many times I’ve lost count. [Thank you David Sipress for speaking my reality.] War, deaths, devastating and disgusting politics…and that’s just in the public arena. I started the year with a broken wrist and that threw off so many of my normal routines that I never managed to regain, even once healed. (I’m hoping my 2017 New Years resolutions improve this.) Disappointments, existential angst, warbly family finances and employment questions, not to mention colds, flu, strep throat and just life at its low points. 2016 sucked in so many ways.

But you know, those caverns of outrage and disbelief and fear weren’t all there was to it. I mean, they stand out when you think back, sure, and some of it’s carrying over to the new year, but a closer look at 2016 reveals a lot of happy moments too, both public and private. And for me, reading was definitely a shining example of splendiferousness. (Yeah, ok, I just wanted to use that word.)

Admittedly, in a lot of ways I hid in fictitious worlds when the real one became too much for me. But as coping mechanisms go, that’s not a bad one. Right? RIGHT? Even with that caveat, I think 2016 was a success in the reading department.

Maybe not everyone thinks of reading in that way, like it’s quantifiable and loggable and therefore worthy of being considered an accomplishment. But for me it is; reviewing too. I get a lot of joy out of setting reading goals and finishing them, creating To Be Read lists and marking books off it, seeing the stack of read books grow from nothing to overflowing. For me, reading is more than just the physical act of passing pages or the imaginative process of visualizing stories in my mind. For me it’s also about gathering possibilities and creating orderly columns of read and to-read and sometimes never-read. But all of that collating is part of the fun. And in this, 2016 was totally gold star worthy.

To borrow Goodreads’ images, my year looked like this:

Yeah, that’s 364 books, 76, 695 pages! Well past my goal of 300 books, which I’d thought was especially high when I set it; since one of my goals in 2016 was to read as many of my short stories, novelettes and novellas as possible. Decluttering my To-Read shelf, as I think of it. Those numbers give me a feeling of accomplishment and make me happy, even outside of the hours of enjoyment I got from the actual reading. I just like looking at the image, if I’m honest.

Ahh, see, that makes me smile. I’m so easy to please sometimes.

To break the reading year down a little more, it’s been an odd one for me. Like I said, I made a goal to read a lot of shorts because they were making my TBR look much longer than it really is (and it’s plenty long), but also because of the pesky broken wrist. I couldn’t type, so I wanted reads that would only require short, snippy reviews and shorts fit that bill nicely.

This decision to concentrate on shorter works was a departure from the norm for me. I generally consider anything under 100 pages a waste of my time. When done well a short story can blow my mind, but in my experience and suiting my personal tastes, only a slim portion of shorts are done well and those that are not always leave me feeling bereft of the time it took to read them.

So, I knew going in I would spend a lot of time disappointed. And I did. But a surprising number of shorter works rocked my world this year. Nash Summers’ Maps, Alex Gabriel’s Still Waters, B.R. Sanders’ The Other Side Of Town, Amy Rae Durreson’ Emyr’s Smile, Amy Jo Cousins’ The Rain in Spain and Alexis Hall’s In vino all got a rare five star rating from me. I only gave out 20 all year. 20 five stars out of 364 reads and a whole 6 of them were shorts! This was a pleasant surprise for me.

Now, I’ll admit I tend toward a middle bias. When I use star ratings, which I don’t on this blog (because I prefer people concentrate on the content of a review over the numerical ranking), I don’t give out a lot of five stars or a lot of one stars. That makes sense to me. Most things I read I don’t feel strongly about. I neither love nor hate them, so a middle of the road, OK rating fits and it is by far my most common. Here, check this out.

If you discount the no-star books, which could be anything from a DNF (of which I had a few in 2016) to something I felt uncertain of a ranking, that’s not too far off a bell curve. (Yes, I know it isn’t really a bell curve. Thank you, S.) There are more one stars than five, true. But considering I just finished telling you shorts don’t light me up, that’s to be expected. This is about what I like my rating spread to look like. Of course I want to read more stellar books, but if we make a pretend effort toward randomization (I choose books based on what I want to read at the moment) then I like this dispersement. I’m ending the year happy.

Not everyone agrees of course. One commenter on an Amazon review stated,

The Vast majority of this reviewers’ reviews are very negative and nasty. Why bother to review if you hate the books?

(I’m gonna let that question at the end go, because I could write a whole post as an answer.) My point is that even my nice bell-like curve isn’t good enough for some people and reviewers take their knocks too.

In fact, I had a disappointing number of nasty comments on reviews this year. Including one review that seems to get attention almost every 3 months with commenters commenting not on my review anymore, but on my interactions with other commenters. Basically chastising me for having an opinion. One commenter said,

If you are not here to share your opinions freely with other people, and only want to hear from people who agree with yours, you should write them in a PRIVATE diary that only YOU can read. That way, you’ll know for sure that everyone who reads it will agree with you.

This because I didn’t immediately agree with the man who wished to correct me on my opinion rather than have an open discourse on interpretation of a text. (I rather suspect it was the author, if I’m honest.)

So, yes, like the rest of 2016, the reading and reviewing year brought some shocks and disappointments. Both the above quotes are from reviews of books I gave a 3-star review to. But six five-star shorts! I can’t complain about that. Neither can I complain on my own personal reading challenges, which I did several of throughout the year.

My first, as mentioned above, was with Goodreads and that was to read 300 books. I surpassed it. Second, as always, I did an alphabet challenge. I read a book written by an author for every letter of the alphabet. And the third year long one was through the Action Heroine Fan group, in which I committed to reading 20 books with action heroines. I read a lot of paranormal and urban fantasy, many of which had female leads. So, this was no real hardship for me. I finished the year with 40 books matching the challenge’s specifications.

As usual, I also set a number of smaller challenges for myself throughout the year. I did the BloodMoon challenge in May. I read 7 books with that title. I always find it especially amusing to see several books with the same title lined up in my read pile. I completed this one.

I did Alpha and Omega challenges in March, in which I set out to read all the books I had with alpha or omega in the title. I finished the Omega one, but didn’t quite make it through all the alphas. (There were a lot more) And of course I’ve since downloaded more of both. I’m such a sucker for shifters.

I found this experience really interesting because, though I knew many shifter books followed the same tropes, I hadn’t realized that it had been named and was official. I discovered the Omegaverse and was quite pleased with myself.

And then, lastly and maybe most importantly of the challenges, I did a #DiverseRomanceBingo challenge. The goal was to increase the diversity in the books I read. I discovered that unless I’m really paying attention, the characters in the books I read tend to be very white, western, heterosexual, able bodied and cisgendered. Seriously, in August I went through all the books I’d read this year up to that point, and despite thinking of myself as someone ‘woke’ and aware, my reading habits DID NOT SUPPORT THIS view of myself. Good intentions are not enough. Conscious and deliberate action is required.

So the timing of the  Diverse Romance challenge was stellar. I started in September, which is when it came to my attention. I wish I could say I completed the board. But there just wasn’t enough time. Of course, it’s bingo. The goal is to complete a row, which I did. I just would have liked to read a qualifying book for every square.

If I cheated and counted from the beginning of the year I could come close. But even then I couldn’t say I managed a Middle Eastern or Muslim main character. I will try harder next year. But more importantly, I intend to keep the pressure on and remain vigilant of when my characters start to all look the same.

Before moving on to my Best of 2016 (yeah, lets put that hard choice off as long as possible), the last category of books notable enough to pull out of the whole 364 is books I read by request of the author. (Not counting Netgalley ARCs, as I request them.) I read or attempted to read 29 books sent to me by authors. Here is the list:

Ok, I’m committed to ending this post with a list of my best reads of the year. And, oh man, isn’t that tough? When push comes to shove I’d have to choose, in no order, B.R. Sanders’ Ariah, K.J. Charles’ Think of England (or Jackdaw, I can’t decide), Adrienne Wilder’s In the Absence of Light, Chrys Cymri’s The Temptation of Dragons and E.E. Ottoman’s Documenting Light.

I’m pretty sure only one of those (Temptation of Dragons) actually came out in 2016. But I go by when I read them, not when they were published. I can think of several runners up, anything by Santino Hassell, for example. But if I let myself start down that path it might never stop.

I can’t say I’m sad to see 2016 go, but I sure am looking forward to all the wonders 2017 is going to bring (and ignoring all my fear about the state of the world going into the new year). I’ve got more books than I know what to do with and I anticipate time to read, read, read.

 

 

‘Hey, I know you’ novella reviews

Right here at the end of the year, I am still trying to clear off my less-than-100-pages shelf. I suppose I’m finishing as I started this particular trip around the sun. The task probably would have been more successful if I hadn’t managed to download as many shorts as I read.

Well, in my head I call them short stories, even though I know technically they’re novellas or novelettes. The thing is I’m not a big fan of short stories. Plus, having a ton of them clutters everything up when I’m otherwise looking for a novel to read. But somehow I always seem to be finding more. Why? WHY? How? I just don’t even know.

I’ve written seven other such posts, this year, where I cluster a number of short stories together for review. I’ve clustered them by page length (novelettes less than 40 pages, 40-59 pages,  60-69 pages and 70-79 pages) by duologies, and by request.

Most recently, I decided to group a number of them by authors I’ve had at least some minor interaction with online, be it an exchanged tweet, passing comment in a forum, an email, a note in a won book, review request received since I did the request post, erroneous inferences that I set out to screw them personally, discussion on our mutual love of manga, whatever. None of them I know well or in real life, but all of them I remember at least nodding digital heads with on occasion and, of course, the book is under 100 pages and I already own it.

When I went through my To Be Read shelf, these are what I found:

And here are the reviews in no order beyond the order that I happened to read them in. This was a task not accomplished in a day, by the way.

Aloha, Babyby Liv Rancourt:
A sweet, clean romance set in Hawaii in the early 90s, just not a time period things tend to be set in, which made it especially amusing.  But it was also endearing.

You Can Leave Your Boots Onby Irene Preston:
Two sexy characters, some smexy time that was hot but not too graphic, a POC main character, and a HEA. Not much not to like here. I was a little squinked out by one character pressuring another out of the closet, especially when the family involved was perceived as very anti-gay and there could have been severe ramifications, but otherwise an enjoyable novella. I enjoy Preston’s voice quite a bit.

The Lonely Dropby Vanessa North:
I thought this was sweet and I enjoyed it. But it’s basically two men who can’t communicate. Had either one spoken up about what they wanted they could have missed out on all the angst. I mean, neither hid it very well. I always find such stories a frustrating read. But again, aww-inducing and well written.

A First Time for Everything, by Marjorie F. Baldwin:
I thought this was a fine erotic one-shot. But I admit to confusion. It’s been almost 3 years since I read the rest of the Phoenician series, which I very much enjoyed. (I gave the first a five star rating/review.) But I don’t at all remember it being erotic, let alone kinky. So, this BDSM novella felt very much like a departure from theme.

I liked William’s shy embarrassment and I did appreciate Jared’s attempt to negotiate ‘vanilla sex’ when he was used to kinky play. But I was totally thrown by the existence of recognizable BDSM in the Phoenician universe. I mean, this is a world in which fairy tales aren’t remembered anymore, but BDSM language managed to transverse the galaxy unchanged?

Turnby David Podlipny:
This is one of those stories that is trying so hard to be something significant that it undermines itself and becomes substance-less instead. I liked Sono and his grandfather. I liked that you could feel their affection for each other. It was almost enough to overcome how very staged their conversations were. Like Podlipny was just desperate to be seen as witty and insightful. But in the end it wasn’t enough to carry the story.

The thing is that I would have put up with overly sarcastic banter and stiff, PURPLE prose but the book had no discernible plot. There is a lot of explaining the world, but no reason that we’re there following Sono in the first place. What’s more, you can feel from a very early stage how the book will end—in some predictably unpredictable strangeness that leaves the reader wondering WTF they just read and what the point was. I might not have guessed exactly what twist of reality would be dropped in the readers lap, but I saw the ‘let me blow your mind with the unexpected’ coming from a very long way off and was just as disappointed by it as I expected to be. Had it managed to pull the random discussions together, it could have redeemed the book. But it didn’t.

In the end, I finished Turn thinking, “Well, that was a collection of random words that went nowhere and accomplished nothing.” Maybe it was just too esoteric for me. Maybe I’m not smart enough for it. Whatever, it was prettily written but that’s about it.

The Martini of Destin,y by Anthony St. Clair:
An interesting read with sharp writing and dialogue. I did feel a little like I was missing a chunk of history to give everything context, but basically enjoyable. As an aside, I thought the cover (front and back) were unusually well done for an indie publication.

Fancy & Adriaanby Haidji
I’m torn about what to feel about this book. I read the first ten or so pages and thought, “This is a disaster.” Then I started again, reading it aloud to my 6 & 9-year-old. Reading it aloud forced me to pay more attention to and adhere more strictly to the odd stanzas and punctuation, made it more poem-like and I had to concede it wasn’t as big a mess as I’d first thought.

Even conceding that this might be more poem than story, I was still unconvinced of it’s genius though. It contradicted itself, as so:

Thinking of nothing.
He woke up there,
In the dark,
Thinking of a way to go out of there.

It didn’t seem to have a grasp of grammar in the paragraphs that weren’t in strangely broken lines (assuming the broken lines are purposeful). And the fact that some was in line poetry and some in regular paragraphs was off-putting. It honestly felt more like bad formatting than artistic effect, but I doubt (desperately hope) that’s not the case. It didn’t explain some of the sudden developments and it took unexplained detours at times.

Saying all that, it was cute. It did have a romantic theme and the children liked it. So, read at your own risk. Maybe you’ll see more in it than me and prove I just don’t have the chops to make an art critic.

The Containment Epiphany, by Vincent Moneymaker:
An interesting idea that doesn’t quite carry all the way through in the writing. The dialogue is stiff and stilted. The science hand-wavy. The ending unexpected, but a little too abrupt to feel satisfying and it completely drops the question of the implications of the technology the story is about, i.e. the theme of the story up to that point. There are a few humorous lines and it presents an interesting thought problem. What would the government do with technology like this? But it’s all a little too flat and presented straightforwardly.

In Vino ,by Alexis Hall:
Funny and freakin’ hot, but made my heart hurt too.

Hiddenby Jason Collins:
Basically just a brief oral orgy scene, but writing was ok and I suspect it’s part of something larger.

Georgeby Steelwhisper:
All well written. The beginning was outside my comfort zone and, given the rest of the story, felt unnecessary. There wasn’t enough world to give it context and a place. But I would have liked for them to be. I’d have happily read it. The last part was really lovely and I would have very much enjoyed knowing the rest of their story.

The Rain in Spainby Amy Jo Cousins:
Oh God, just unbelievably fraught and sweet. I was full of feelz.

Cloversby Samira:
DNF 28%. I’m sure it’s witty and clever to some people. However, at 28% I have 100% no idea what is supposed to be going on. Too much wordplay, not enough substance.

Killing Sam Knight (The Knight Chronicles, #2)by John Cassian
Like the first book, I enjoyed getting inside the killers head. ‘Sam’ is a surprisingly likable serial rapist/killer. Though he is quite a bit more introspective that is believable. Here we see it all fall apart. I found some surprisingly light, funny moments, had trouble with the single rape scene (I always do) and I thought the ending unlikely. But the writing was stellar and I’d probably read a third installment.

MINE-198 (The Salvager’s War #1)by Jacob Peyton
Fairly standard sci-fi horror. Editing needed a bit of work, but the writing was generally ok. Though it occasionally fell apart with passages like, “John screamed and he screamed, but the only people left to hear him scream, were the dead.” Not bad, but not great either.

The Quest of the Golden Appleby Geoffrey Angapa
DNF 7%, end of chapter one. It’s painfully over-written, but I think intended for young children who might enjoy such style. Not for me at almost 40, however.

Callie, Unwrapped (Play It Again, #1)by Amy Jo Cousins
A hot little FFM erotic short about a woman getting her groove back. There is a plot here, but it’s largely told through sex and sexual tension. I really appreciated that the players were in their 30s or 40s. You so rarely see them given their sexuality. I’ll be looking forward to the next book to see where Callie, Kate and Gabe go next.

Review of Destiny Blues (Hand of Fate #1), by Sharon Joss

I grabbed a copy of Sharon JossDestiny Blues when it was free on Amazon. It was still free at the time of posting.

Description from Goodreads:
Some people attract stray cats. With Mattie Blackman, it’s demons.

At work, in her car, even at the foot of her bed. And with the FBI on the hunt for a rogue demon master, she’s desperate to get rid of them. Thwarted at every turn to solve her problem through legitimate channels, she turns to Shore Haven’s sexy mage for the answer: a fate she refuses to accept.

But as the serial killer’s victims pile up, Mattie realizes there’s only one way to stop a demon master. To save her friends and the people she loves, Mattie must choose between her life and her destiny.

Review:
An amusing but ultimately insubstantial read. The book had an interesting magic system and I liked the main character well enough (despite her cliched clumsiness and cutesy job), but the story felt flimsy and the story contradicted itself in numerous small ways. For example, the fact that it was set in a small town where everyone knew one another was emphasized. However, the main character, her mother and her brother all lived there their whole lives but never happened to be recognized by the family they supposedly look just like. Or people who summoned demons were treated as terrorists, but demons never seemed to be summoned. Instead they were caught, like virus. Similarly thin was the character development. No one felt very well developed, some characters devastatingly one-dimensional (the brother and best friends, for example). All in all, I enjoyed the read but didn’t feel it would hold up to much scrutiny.