Category Archives: year end/beginning review

Closing out 2019 and looking into 2020

Technically, the blog is still on hiatus, since I’m currently in England (and will be going to China at the end of the week). But I didn’t want to miss the chance to recap the insanity that was 2019 and look forward to 2020. Though the post will likely be on the brief side this year.

I’ll start with the basics. I read 208 books in 2019. This is down from past years, but still a satisfying number. 208 books means that I completed my Goodreads challenge, in which I set a goal of 200 books. No complaints on that front.

I do have to be honest though. I wouldn’t have made that goal if it weren’t for audiobooks. Last year, I really started listening to book in bulk for the first time and I continued into this year.

What I like to do is listen to an audio book while working on diamond paintings. (This is my newest obsession.) I find it really relaxing and I have been flying through both audiobooks and diamond paintings.

I didn’t set a lot of other challenges for 2019. As always, I did an alphabet challenge. This means I wanted to read a book by an author who’s last name starts with every letter of the alphabet. This challenge almost manages itself, except for I, Q, X and Z. These I usually have to make a special effort to find and read. In fact, my X book was the absolute last book I read this year. I did complete it again this year. So, success.

The last two challenges are ones I actually set in 2018 and have been working on…largely failing at…in 2019. First, I set aside a stack of smallish books to read. However, I keep adding to the stack. So, it never actually seems to diminish. In my head, this one eventually just changed to ‘try and read more physical books.’

For too long my book shelves were double lined and still overflowing. However, this year we rearranged the house. My office became a child’s room and the finished basement (which the children had been sharing as a bedroom) became my office. This means I got a lot more shelf space. So, while I wasn’t all that successful in reading them down, I was successful in finally making my bookshelves manageable.

Lastly, in 2018 it came to my attention (as well as most everyone in my corner of twitter) how rarely characters of color are seen on book covers, even when the character themselves is a person of color in the book. So, while I couldn’t afford to buy all the books I can find with non-white characters on the cover, I did go through those that I own and set a goal to read and review them, supporting the authors in this manner. I wrote myself a blog post with all the titles, planning to chip away at the list throughout the year.

I later somewhat regretted doing this, because I decided it was performative. But I also felt like deleting the post would be giving up and maybe hiding a misstep. I still have really mixed feelings about it, especially since I have largely failed…and failed in multiple layers. First, I simply failed to check my list and choose books from it, instead of what was currently on my kindle. And when I did I often didn’t find anything of interest. (I picked up so many freebie YA books and I’m so burned on YA books. Though that’s not the only reason, of course.)

I was a bit better about choose books with characters of color on the cover while at the library and I briefly added them to the list. But that was too much like, “look what I’ve done.” So, I quickly stopped adding and decided (again) to try and whittle down the initial list. But that too simply fell by the wayside as time went by.

At this point, I have no option but to admit that, despite my best intention, I have failed at this challenge. I’ll carry it over into 2020 and hope to do better.

Now, for the hardest part of this post (even harder than admitting failure), choosing my best of 2019. I almost decided to skip it this year, using the I’m on vacation excuse. But I’m going to suffer through the decision making. Of the 208 books I read this year, I most enjoyed (in no order) The Last Sun, The Ballad of Black Tom, The Bones Beneath My Skin, Girl Waits With Gun, Anatomy of a Miracle, and The Haunting of Tram Car 015. Yes, 6 is an odd number to choose. But I couldn’t make myself decide which one to drop to make ‘top five’ and I didn’t have enough notable winners to make a ‘top ten.’

The interesting thing about this list is that it is made up exclusively of books I expected to love or expected not to and was surprised that I did; no middle ground. Anything published by Tor (The ballad of Black Tom and The Haunting of Tram Car 015) or written by TJ Klune (The Bones Beneath My Skin) I know I’ll love. But The Last Sun I read after several DNF books and a couple two-star reads. So, it was a welcome relief to hit a winner. I didn’t expect much from it initially though, since I’d never read anything by K.D. Edwards before. And both Girl Waits With Gun and Anatomy of a Miracle were books I won and picked up in my attempt to read more of my physical books. I didn’t really expect to like them too much, but ended up loving them.

I also find it interesting that 5 our of 6 are written by men, considering I read far more female authors and tend to like their writing more. It just goes to show you never can guess on January 1st what the year might bring.

Looking forward to 2020, I think I’ll continue the theme of fewer challenges than in the past. In fact, I think I’ll do the same as 2019. I always enjoy the alphabet challenge, the Goodreads Challenge is how I keep track of what I read in general (and I think I’ll stick with 200 books), and I still want to read more of the physical books that I already own and I still want to cross off the books I initially listed in my Characters of Color challenge.

That just leaves one last thing to say.

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.