Category Archives: year end/beginning review

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.

 

 

Moving forward for 2016

I’m a day late posting this. It was written yesterday and then computer drama happened. I thought it was going to be a localized digital apocalypse, but happily just turned out to be time consuming, with no lasting effects. *deep, relieved breath*

Anyhow, as with every year lately, I cannot believe it’s a new year already! Unfortunately, it would appear that my belief is not required. It is 2016. So, what will I do with it; hopefully lots of things (not all of them relevant to this blog).

hale-cropWriting-wise, I’m about 50% into first drafts of two projects. In fantasyland I’d finish both of them. Here in reality, I’m aiming to have one ready to go out to betas and an editor by year-end (hopefully before).

In terms of reading, I’m laying off the challenges this year. I signed up for Goodreads’ reading challenge, aiming for 250 books. But this should be looked at a little skeptically. I’m starting 2016 as I ended 2015, with a broken arm that makes typing (and therefore reviewing) laborious. So, until my cast comes off, I’m concentrating on cleaning off my novelette/novella shelf. This has the obvious result up artificially inflating my ‘books read’ number. So, 200 books is my true goal. The rest is just padding.

2016 Reading Challenge

2016 Reading Challenge
Zarah has read 5 books toward her goal of 250 books.
hide

I quite enjoyed the alphabet soup challenge last year and will do it again. Basically, this just means I’ll read at least one book by an author whose name starts with each letter of the alphabet (yes, even X). I also liked the TBR challenge I did in 2015, in which I tried to read books that had been on my To-Be-Read list 2+ years. So, I’ll do that again. But I think that’s about it and I’m not signing up with anyone else for these. I’ll just be accountable to myself.

I’ll still keep myself open to review requests and try to read at least one a month, same for Netgalley. And I don’t even need a challenge to read Indie or SP books, that’s the majority of what I read nowadays. So, that’s about it.

readingI have decided to try and read better books. One thing that came out in writing my 2015 wrap-up was that I read a lot of books that were just so-so, last year. This, I think, largely comes down the fact that I read so many freebies. I don’t mean that as any sort of horrible generalization about books offered for free, but I am going to try and curb the urge to go, “Well, it’s free. I’ll give it a shot.” Because it’s often a failure. So, I plan on being a bit more discerning.

In the real, not book related world I’ve got yoga, tae kwon do (I’m a mere yellow belt, at least for now), family, friends, life, etc. So, there are plenty of distractions and reasons things could go astray. But as far as reading goes, this is my plan. What’s yours?

Wrapping up 2015

wrapping-up-2015

I set so many challenges for myself this year! What was I thinking? Arggh, not so much for the challenges themselves, but because that leaves me so much to cover now. I guess the only thing to do is dive in.

GoodReads Challenge

goodreadsThis was my primary challenge in 2015. I set a goal of 200 books on Goodreads, not including short stories, and I succeeded. Good old Goodreads did a cool graphic this year. Feel free to click on it and explore mine.

I read a solid 200 books, but (as I’ve mentioned in previous posts) on December 16th I broke my wrist and since then I’ve been reading only short stories and novelettes, which skews me GR number toward more like 250 ‘books.’

I don’t use stars here on the blog, but if you’re curious, 2015 breaks down like this when I cross post to sites that do. Plus, 55,363 pages isn’t too shabby, though it’s about 20k short of last year. But I managed a lot more writing this year than last year. So, I’m not disappointed.

all books

I appear to have what statisticians would likely call a central tendency bias (at least if this was a true likert scale). But I also read a lot of pretty middle of the road books this year and this is one of those moments when a picture is worth so much. It really brings that point home.

Blogger Challenges

I did an Author Alphabet Soup challenge and succeeded. OK, X got read on Dec 30th, but that counts. So, at least one author for every letter of the alphabet, success. You can double check me here, if you really want to.

I also challenged myself to clear off some of the books that had been on my To Be Read list for more than two years, not including shorts. This last bit was added in two weeks ago, when (again) I broke my arm and concentrated solely on short stories and novelettes in order to avoid having to type anything longer than a sentence or two in review. (Like this post.) A lot of the short stories had been on my shelves for a long time, but they weren’t counted in the challenge. Several reads this year were close to qualifying for this challenge, but short by a mere month or so. I didn’t count them either, though they’d be 2+ years old now (in Dec.).

I wasn’t great about going back and checking in with the Evie-Bookish blog, where the challenge originated, but I feel like I was quite successful in this challenge.

tbr challenge

I signed up for the Mad Reviewers review challenge to read & review at least 104 books (not counting audiobooks). I finished with more than 150, so I’ll call that a success.

Lastly, I signed up for two challenges with  book r3vi3ws: Indiefever and Firstreads. I was good about tagging these, but failed miserably at keeping the list on book r3vi3ws up to date. I did however, succeed at both challenges, reading indie books and authors new to me. In fact, the vast majority of the books I read were either indie or self-published.

Requests

I’m a bit disappointed in the number of requests I got to this year, though I shouldn’t be. I started the year with a goal of 3 a month (36 total), but later opted to concentrate more on my own writing (which I did) and cut it back to one a month. I read 25 books sent to me by authors. There were a couple that I didn’t finish and not everyone was reviewed on the blog, or at least not in an individual post. I tend to cluster shorter works. But here is the list.

2015 requests

Sorry the list and pictures aren’t in the same order. I couldn’t be bothered to redo it all.

Netgalley

It addition to the books I took on request, I also accepted a number of books from Netgalley, meaning publishers offered them free in exchange for a review but I had to request them. This wasn’t a challenge per se, but it didn’t feel quite right to include them with the requested reviews either. There were and additional 19 books here.

Netgalley 2015

Pop-up Challenges

I like to mix things up on occation and sometimes mini-challenges grab my attention. I did two this year. In March, I noticed that I had 4 books titled Blood Lust. So I opted to read them all back to back. It did not go well. The average star rating didn’t even reach 2! But here they are. I just basically find it amusing to see four of the same titles in a row.

Blood lust coll

Then, later that same month, I noticed that I kept scrolling past the same unattractive picture in my TBR list on Goodreads and realized that I had four books with essentially the same cover. Thus was born the Annoying Close-up Guy Challenge. I read all four of them back to back. It went a bit better than the previous challenge and seeing four almost identical covers in a row really tickles me. (I Know, I’m easily amused.)

Annoying closeup guy

Top Picks

Lastly, and I think most importantly, what were my favorite books of the year? This is a difficult choice. After agonizing and hair pulling, I chose the following as my stand-outs of 2015:

They are in no particular order and I did a list of six, rather than the standard top-five, just because it makes a better box. See?

I would eagerly recommend any of these books to fellow readers. In fact, I do. Go, go forworth and read them.

Edit: You guys! You guys, I owe the Mad Reviewer a huge thank you. I forgot to report back to the challenge page at the end of the year and she went above and beyond to track me down for my final review count so that I could be entered in the drawing for a prize. And in the end, I won a $50 Amazon gift card and paperback copy of The Carnelian Legacy by Cheryl Koevoet, an ebook of The Carnelian Tyranny by Cheryl Koevoet and an ebook copy of Aranya by Marc Secchia. That is super cool. Thank you!