Category Archives: year end/beginning review

Goodbye 2018, Hello 2019

I usually do this as two posts, but I’ll be honest, the last few months this blog hasn’t gotten a lot of attention. It’s just been a matter of life getting in the way, but the result is things like a compressed New Years Eve – New Years post. Be that as it may, let’s get on with discussing how it went in 2018 and what to expect in 2019.

I feel like there were two 2018s in my life; the first half, in which I read a ton and everything was normal, and the second half, where my family taught me to game and introduced me to the Xbox, so a chunk of my reading time became gaming time. Overall however, I read or listened to 207 books in 2018. I initially set that goal for 250, but reduced it to 200 when it became obvious I wasn’t reading as much as normal. So, I call this half-met. I reached my re-calibrated goal, but not the initial one. Plus, quite a few were short this year.

2018 Challenges

After the traditional December scramble to find a book by authors with names that start with Q, U and X, I successfully completed my Alphabet Challenge. I even got a good laugh out of the fact that when I reviewed the X author (Meg Xuemei X), I discovered that exactly one year earlier I’d read and reviewed a book by her. Last years last-minute X book.

I have several ongoing challenges on this blog, ones that I set and either let falter or just keep adding to, so they never end. The two I’m still actively working at are to read all the books I own (or borrow or buy) with characters of color on the cover and to read all the small physical books I own.

I’ve actually gone back and forwards on this first challenge. The original idea was to try and counteract the publishing dictum that books with characters of color on the cover don’t sell as well as other book. I can’t afford to buy tons of books, but I can read and review them. The hope being that each review might contribute to the decision to publish another such book. Sometimes I think the challenge is a good thing and other times I think I’m just being presumptuous, arrogant and performative, playing the ‘white hero,’ etc. This is especially true considering how long it’s taking me. I’ve come close to deleting it several times.

So far I’ve reminded myself that having a set challenge is a way to keep myself aware that it takes effort to see change and allowing myself to fall back into I don’t pay attention to who is on the cover (because I otherwise don’t) means I’m also not paying attention to who so often isn’t on covers and thereby represented. Eventually, I called it “ongoing,” but I still fear having a list makes it look like I’m seeking a cookie for “see how many I’ve read, what a good ally I am!” I’m going to keep at it, but I also might give in to the urge to delete the initial post too.

The second challenge has been an abysmal failure and continues to be. The original idea was to read all my small books to clear space on my shelves, which are lined two deep and still overflowing. I thought it would be quick. The problem became that I replaced the books as quickly as I read them* (and that several of them are niche and don’t hold overall, I’ll read it right now, appeal). So, though the stack has changed over time, there is still a stack on the corner of my desk, waiting to be read. I’ll keep chipping away at it.

Best of 2018

To close out 2018 I really should do a best of list. But man, I find these SO hard. I don’t gravitate towards ranking things I love, but rather just loving them all. But based on nothing more official than my own enjoyment and how well it’s stayed in my memory, my three favorite books of 2018 were:

I love the Murderbot series and recommend it to everyone. The books are short and punchy and funny and well worth the read, even if the series is getting a little serial-like as it goes on. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society was a book I only read because my bookclub chose it. I never would have picked it up otherwise. But I’m so glad I did. It was lovely. And Leviathan Wakes is one of those book I seem to see recommended by everyone, so I finally read it and saw why. Book two in the series is on my table right now, waiting to be read.

2019 Challenges

In the past I’ve set out several reading challenges for forthcoming years. But until I really come back online with my reading and blogging, I’m just going to do the general Goodreads challenge (with a goal of 200 books), this blog’s alphabet challenge (in which I read a book by an author for each letter of the alphabet), and continue my ongoing challenges (reading all my physical small books and reading more books with characters of color on the covers).

And that’s it. That’s the end of 2018 (Can you believe that year?) and what I’m aiming for in 2019. Surely it has to be better, right. I mean the world has to be less crazy, right? If not, I suppose I’ll bury myself in books and fantasy worlds instead.

Here’s to all of you. Have a wonderful 2019!

*Many of these are books I’ve won or been given. I just finished saying how I can’t afford to buy a lot of books.

Closing out 2017

It’s New Years Eve, 2017, and another year is gone. How? HOW? I remember being a kid and hearing my parents talk about how fast time goes and being baffled. I mean summers seemed to last an eternity and Christmas took a decade to get here. But I’m all grown up now and I get it. Time slips by.

I know not everyone does it, but I mark its passage with books. Have I read ten so far? Twenty? Two-hundred? Three? This year it was 301. Granted, a few of those were children’s books or short stories and this was the year I really dove into audio books. But I still consider that a pretty good number. More than I expected, honestly. I set my initial year-long goal at 250 books.

As I’ve said in the past, I generally use Goodreads to keep track of things—books I’ve read, mean to read, own but have decided not to read but can’t bring myself to trash (gasp, the horror), etc. And while I don’t use star rating here on the blog, so that readers pay more attention to the content of a review than the numerical marker of success or failure, I do rate them on Goodreads; who conveniently produces a nice little graphic about them. Tada!

That’s a lot of freakin’ books and looking at it makes me feel incredibly satisfied. I’ll just take a moment to bask in it, thank you very much.

So, what were the highs and lows of 2017’s reading, or even just what stands out? Blue aliens. Seriously, at one point I started collecting book covers with blue aliens on them. I gave up at about 130. Once I started looking, I saw them EVERYWHERE! Thousands and thousands of blue aliens, apparently they don’t come in other colors anymore.

OK, more seriously. I didn’t have a lot of standout books this year (I read a lot of fluff, I admit it), but those that struck me as especially worthwhile were All Systems Red, The Hate U Give, Peter DarlingThe Rules and Regulations for Mediating Myths & Magic, and  Vick’s Vultures;

with The “Wonderful” Wizard of Futhermucking Oz , Resistance, Shifting Dreams, and Twelve Days of Fairy maybe not topping the list, but sticking with me as memorable for their own reasons.

I won’t do a worst of list, but I will note two particular rants I found myself making several times this year. Spinoffs, I cannot tell you how many times I picked up a book thinking it was book one in a series, only to discover that it was actually book one in a spinoff series. Sometimes this was readable—The Crown Tower, The Stone in the Skull and The Way of Shadows being examples—but sometimes I felt like I was picking up book #14 in a series. Sometimes that’s actually what I was doing, the publisher just thought it would sell better if called a new series. I’m getting increasingly sensitive about this, because it just keeps happening to me.

Secondly, I discovered the phrase Book Stuffing/page stuffing. This is something I’d noticed and been irritated by, but didn’t know there was a name or reason for it. The idea being that an author or authors take a cluster of stories or books, makes one of them the title of the “book” and calls all the others “bonus material.” They then take the same stories, call another one the title and mix up the order of the rest and call it a second “book.” Doing this for every one in the collection, such that there are several “books” containing the same material.

The idea is apparently, as I understand it, to have a high page count. This is important because Amazon KU pays authors by the number of pages read, not books sold. The author then includes a link at the end of the primary book to a ‘sneak peak’ or some other enticement that bypasses all the bonus material and leaping to the end, thereby marking them all as read and gaining several hundred page reads and a high payout.

So, these book stuffers are breaking Amazon’s rules to essentially rig the system, sucking more than their share of the KU earnings into their own coffers. They also regularly snatch the monthly KU bonuses and usurp all the top spots on the charts, such that authors playing by the rules are payed less and struggle to gain any visibility.

I don’t have any books in KU. So, on a personal level this doesn’t effect me. What does is the fact that before I learned what this is, I picked up a couple of these stuffed books and read at least some of several of them. They were just terrible. They’re not written to actually be read, after all. The title story was crap all by itself, before I even got to the idea that I thought I was in for a 400 page book, but instead of ten 40 page stories. As a reader, I felt cheated and manipulated. I felt like I had been taken advantage of and lied to. This feeling only got worse once I realize it wasn’t just an annoying way to sell short stories with bad writing, but an actual scam.

It’s my understanding that Amazon is trying to get a handle on this, so maybe it’s no longer a valid complaint and won’t matter for 2018. But it sure was something of note for me in 2017.

Let’s see, what else? Challenges? I didn’t do anywhere near as many challenges as I have in the past. I did an alphabet challenge, where I read a book by an author who’s last name starts with each letter of the alphabet. I did an Action Heroine challenge on Goodreads. I started a mini challenge to read all the paperback novellas on my shelf. I promptly forgot about it though. It’s amazing how I can look over a stack of books on my desk for months. So, I’m calling this one ongoing, I’m about halfway done.

I tried to read more local authors, though I never made this an official challenge, and I made a concerted effort to read more diverse books. But, while I started the year planning to do an actual Diverse Romance Bingo card and a Read Diverse 2017 challenge, I didn’t keep up. I didn’t remember to go back and check the card and the Read Diverse blog hasn’t been updated since April, so I haven’t been able to post there. (I believe the blogger got married and priorities changed. Fair enough.)

I have also had the honor of reading several books or stories by people I’ve gotten to know online. Ladies, you know who you are and you are amazing. Not all the genres are in my wheelhouse, but it’s been amazing to follow the creative process, especially since (despite my intentions) I did very little writing this year.

All in all, 2017, while rough in other ways, was a good year for reading. I look forward to more of the same in 2018. Here’s hoping.

Here’s what 2017 looks like for me.

Oh hey, it’s 2017. Today we woke up not only to a new day, but a new year. I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one happy to be done with 2016. Please, please, please, Fate, let 2017 be less traumatizing than 2016! There are so very many things I want to be different this year, but this is merely a personal book blog, so I’m going to concentrate on that. **No, no, politics, you cannot creep into this post. Down boy, down!**

On a personal, non-literary front (and I say this here in order to hold myself accountable) I intend to do a lot more yoga. Up until last year I was a five times a week girl and I loved it. I was feeling strong and svelte and accomplished. Then I broke my wrist (something I feel like I’ve mentioned a million times) and couldn’t practice. That shattered the habit and even once it had healed, I never managed to re-establish it. Unfortunately, as of this moment, I have to admit I haven’t been in months. (I’m still paying my membership dues though, much to my husbands irritation.) So, goal number one is more yoga and once I’m feeling confident in that, I need (not want) to add come cardio in too. I’m almost 40, my body needs that.

Goal number two is a repeat, I say this every year and mean it, but I’m going to do more writing this year. More importantly, I’m going to finish projects. I have at least three ‘books’ mostly written but abandoned because I don’t know where to go with them.

Look, I even have a snazzy new office space to write in. Up until just last week, all I had for a desk was a fold up picnic table. It worked, but wasn’t anything to be proud of. Look at me now! OK, look at us now, because that’s obviously a workspace for two. Mine is the side awash in blinding morning sunlight, by the way. I might have to wear sunglasses if I want to write before 10am.

Having a great space, and I consider that a GREAT space—my overflowing bookshelves are just out of frame to the right and my inspiration board across from the slatted chair—is an improvement. It’s not enough to hold me to task though. I intend to be viscous with my time this year. I’m starting the year with a regimented daily schedule. I mean, I’m scheduling tea breaks, writing time, research time, plotting time, etc. No hour will be unaccounted for. It’s not sustainable longterm, of course it isn’t. I anticipate it being miserable. But I’m hoping if I start this way I can force myself into more effective, habitual use of my time and be more productive.

If anyone has any advice  for me, I am more than open to hearing it. I’m looking at bullet journals, anti-distraction writing devices, word count apps. Heck, my husband even suggested finding a group to join for the sole purpose of having someone to shame me when I fall down on my self-set goals. Because not being accountable to anyone is a weakness for me. So, what works for you? Tell me, please.

One of the biggest things I’m attempting to do with this plan is cut down on my reading time. I know, that sounds so wrong to me too. But I can’t write if my nose is stuck in someone else’s book, which it usually is. I think of reading in terms of books, not chapters or hours. I have almost no ability to set a book aside once I’ve started it, regardless of its length (or quality if I’m committed to not DNFing it). It’s a little obsessive. “I’ll do X when I finish this book,” means it’s really easy for me to dedicate all my time to reading and get nothing else done. This is a habit I HAVE to break. I just do.

Now, let’s not be hasty. This doesn’t mean I won’t be reading. I’ll be reading, let me assure you. I set a goal of 250 books on Goodreads, which is substantial, but still 100 fewer books than 2016. And I’ll be starting the year off with Blood Stained Tea , by Amy Tasukada. In fact, I plan to crack it open this afternoon. Reading is still on the docket. Just, you know, hopefully not to the exclusion of everything else.

I have other reading goals this year too. I’ve joined a couple challenges already and, being as it’s only January 1, there’s a good chance I’ll find more. But so far I’ve committed to my normal Alphabet challenge, where I read a book by an author of each letter of the alphabet. This really is just me being compulsive. It annoys me to see empty space under the letters on my reviews page. Hey, at least I’m aware of my tendencies.

I plan to do the #ReadDiverse2017 challenge, organized by Read Diverse Books, as well as the #DiverseReads2017 from Chasing Fairytales. They are much the same and obviously the idea is increase the diversity in the book I read.

To do this, I’m going to use the #DiversityBingo2017 card as a guide. Experience has taught me that despite my best intentions, unless I am conscious of the demographic of the characters I’m reading, they lack diversity. So, I like having something to prompt me to expand past white boys kissing and able-bodied, cisgendered, white girls running around fantasy worlds.

Since I’m starting at the beginning of the year, unlike last year, when I started #DiversityRomanceBingo in September, I plan to read a book for each square on the board. (Also like last year, I’ll remind myself of my own cautions: This is something that has to be approached respectfully. If it is reduced to just a game or something done for the social justice cookie, it risks tokenizing, objectifying and even commodifying the individuals represented.)

Speaking of girls running around fantasy worlds (my favorite), the Action Heroine Fan group runs a challenge to read female led action books, I’ll be doing it again this year. I set a goal of 35 such books.

And, lastly, I stumbled across the following excellent looking challenge by Belinda Missen. I particularly like that it includes old classics, new classics, diverse authors, fiction and non-fiction. It’s a good mix. 

So, you see, I still have reading aspirations. Fear not. Plus, I am keeping myself open to review requests. Though, if I’m honest, those have tapered off. I make it pretty clear in my policies that I won’t be reading a lot of requests (I attempted 29 last year, though I didn’t finish all of them) and I think that puts authors off, as it should. I’m committing to one a month. If I receive books that interest me, I’m open to more, but I’ll read at least that many.

So, that’s my New Year’s resolution post for you. What do yours look like?