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.

And this is just Audible!

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.

Review of On Her Own Two Wheels, by Stacy Xavier

I’m in England for the holiday and the blog is on hiatus, but I wanted to make sure I managed to get this review written and posted, since On Her Own Two Wheels (by Stacy Xavier) is my 2019 X-authored alphabet challenge book.

Description from Goodreads:

Just three years out of college and Cassie Wright has hit a dead end. Still living at home with her mom and dad and dating the same writer masked as a waiter, Devon, for just as long, she knows she wants more out of life. Motorcycle lessons seem like a fun idea and the perfect escape. Cassie soon finds herself breaking away from her dull life and starts on a journey to self-confidence as she learns how to make each day extraordinary. 

While driving home from visiting her grandmother in Wisconsin, she drags a reluctant Devon to a local biker event at a motorcycle dealership. From there, she becomes inspired to take riding lessons for some much needed fun and adventure. In time, she meets Marcus, the part-time riding instructor and full-time college administrator. He is drawn to Cassie’s ambition and adventurous spirit, and a romance quickly blossoms, forcing Cassie to realize she deserves better than what Devon chooses to give. 

Becoming more confident in her everyday life through her riding, Cassie quits the electronics shop to become the motorcycle dealership’s new marketing director, opening herself up to an entirely new set of professional and personal obstacles. Cassie must learn to approach her issues in a whole new way while striving to be the type of woman she herself would want to emulate. 

An inspirational coming-of-age novel for any woman who has ever settled for less, romantically or professionally, On Her Own Two Wheels tells the moving tale of a young woman finding the courage to challenge herself, break the mold, seek adventure, and make the ordinary in her life extraordinary as she truly comes into her own.

Reviews:

This was light and fluffy, but I also thought the writing quite pedestrian and the plot shallow. I very much appreciate the themes the book took on—sexism in the workplace, respect in relationships, finding yourself after college, etc. But the solutions were presented as too simple to be believed. She shattered long engrained sexual harassment habits in a garage full of men with professional dress and a quelling glance, for example. 

I think my biggest issue with the book however is that it starts with the main character deciding to change her life and she does, in big ways. But we’re never given any reason for this change in her attitude. It feels anchoress and random. If she’s such an outspoken, feminist, respect driven woman why has she let her life get to the point it has. If she hadn’t been up until the beginning of the book, what changed? I feel the book really needed that information. 

All in all, not bad but not great either.

Review of Primal Trilogy, by Ryan Kirk

I received a free Audible code for a copy of Ryan Kirk‘s Primal Trilogy.

Description from Goodreads:

Tev is a hunter, raised from birth to protect and feed his clan. Among his people, his skills are unmatched. With a spear and knife in hand he has never failed. He longs to explore the world beyond the boundaries of his hunting grounds, not knowing the cost that wish will have. 

His life, and the lives of every member of his clan, are shattered when fire descends from the sky, bringing with it dangers far beyond any that existed before. Tev’s hard-won skills are all that separates his clan from complete annihilation. 

The Primal Trilogy collects the first three short novels in the Primal universe, as well as the short story “Rebellion,” set years before the events of the trilogy. The Primal Trilogy details first contact between two technologically different societies, then follows the consequences of that encounter for generations.

Reviews:

Primal Dawn:

I liked the characters here a lot and the world-building of a human race in alone space, but still a little uncertain. However, I wasn’t all together comfortable with how heavily the plot depends of the comparison of the noble savage and the distanced modernity. Further, I didn’t at all understand the mindset, that is integral to the plot, that when one of their own soldiers goes rogue the only available option was to put a primitive man (who hasn’t even seen metal before) into a futuristic exo-suit and send him out to hunt. This over even a discussion of leaving the ship themselves. This over broadcasting a message that Derrick was alive to calm the soldier down. This over any possible artillery on the drop ship itself. I won’t even get into the deus ex mechina that allowed the primitive man to be the better warrior in unfamiliar technology, since that appears to actually be a plot point in book two. But the central plot point is one that left me totally baffled. 

I did think the book conflated warrior and hunter. Tev is supposed to be this great warrior. But his people all seemed fairly communal and peaceful. There was never any mention of warring between the clans. What was described was Tev being a great hunter (of animals). I don’t actually know that all of those two skillsets would transfer seamlessly enough to be interchangeable. 

Lastly, while I liked the writing, characters, story, etc there is a lot more page space dedicated to hunting/fighting than actual plot progression. In terms of actual events, not a lot happens. Instead a lot of time is dedicated to what Tev is thinking in a fight or considering his next move or observations. I’m not disappointed to be continuing the series though and am curious what will happen.

Primal Darkness:

Not bad, but eventually I just got tired of listening to fight scenes. It’s not that they’re bad, just redundant. I feel like 75% of this book is descriptions of fights, or battles, or martial moves, etc. It started to just feel like warrior worship…or Tev worship, as he’s apparently better at everything than everyone around him. 

There is a bit of a plot, with the ship returning to Tev’s home-world and the question of protecting it from the bad guys (that might not be as bad as thought). But it’s buried so deep as to feel secondary to ‘all hail the amazing Tev and the virtuous Kindra.’ Honestly, the drive to simply do the right thing seems overly simple (as does the solution), when speaking in terms of intergalactic interests. 

Still, though my interest is waning, it’s not dead yet. I’m moving on to book three.

Primal Destiny:

As with the previous books the writing was fine. However, as the conclusion to the series, I found it less than satisfying. Too many questions are left unanswered. Most aren’t even addressed. I could probably list a dozen here, from ‘Where did the rebellion get all that technology—who funded them’ to ‘Where did Needra go’—she was a prime warrior and just disappears as a character. (I listened to the audio. So, I’m not positive I spelled that name correctly.)

By the end, I also started to feel it was a book of men doing men things. Kirk was good about mentioning both men and women were hunters and warriors. But as the series progressed (and especially here in the last book), the story became more fight-scene heavy and women faded into the background (or disappeared entirely for large chunks of time) and became secondary characters. I mention this because the books synopses infer that Tev and Kindra are the main characters. But after reading this, I’d say they are Tev and Derrick. Kindra is too rarely involved in the action and decision making and frankly just isn’t given as much page space. I would personally call her first of the secondary or supporting characters. And I feel like Kirk (maybe as a male writer) did this by accident.

All in all, this wasn’t a bad book at all. But I have to admit to being happy to be finished with it. Tev is a lovely characters, but I didn’t much enjoy the author’s didactic condemnation of modernity. But again, not bad.