Friday, December 30, 2016

2016 Challenge Review



6 Challenges...how did I do?


The Re-Read Challenge
Goal: Re-read as many books as I want
Books read: 14
Goal achieved? Yes!

I ended up re-reading 14 books this year, three of which were on audio. Since I tend to reread either slowly or on audio, it generally takes me about a month to finish a book. Eleven books for the year makes sense.

The usual suspects appeared on this list: Karen White, Anne Bishop, Sarah J. Maas. I've reread their books for the past few years and don't see that stopping anytime soon.

I also revisited some old favorites with James Clemens (The Banned and the Banished series) and Alexandra Bracken (Brightly Woven), brushed up on Amanda Stevens (The Restorer) in anticipation of her most recent release, and did a reread of Susan Hill's The Woman in Black as a buddy read with my husband.

Revisiting old favorites was just as enjoyable as reading them the first time around. I love that I've embraced this challenge and provide myself the opportunity to experience books that have made me happy without feeling obligated to always focus on the new. I will definitely do this challenge again next year.

Goodreads Reading Challenge
Goal: 50 books 
Books read: 66
Goal achieved? Yes!  

I set a modest goal of 50 books, since I knew this was going to be a busy year. Plus, I love it when my progress bar says "you're x books ahead!" rather than "you're x books behind." It's much more motivating and makes me feel like I'm totally kicking butt. I figured I would probably surpass 50 books, but if I didn't, I'd be happy with hitting 50. This worked out well, and I think I'll make the same goal for next year.

Historical Fiction Challenge
Goal: 15 - 25 books
Books read: 17
Goal achieved? Yes! 

I love historical fiction and I wanted to make sure I put some focus on the genre this year since it's so easy for time to slip away when it comes to reading (i.e. "has it really been four years since I last read a book in that series??" Sound familiar?).

While I included historical fantasy and historical lite in the list, what I really wanted to make sure I read was biographical historical fiction and non-fiction. Basically, I wanted to learn about history. To that end, I read four non-fiction books, which I consider a huge win for me, and seven biographical historical fiction books. 

The unexpected standout for this year was the focus I inadvertently gave to the English Civil War and Restoration period, which were eras I had little interest or knowledge of prior and I do feel I gained a much greater understanding. I also gained more understanding of the earlier days of England during the pre-Stephen/Matilda snafu, which was another period of time I knew little about. This is exactly why I participated in this challenge, and why I will be joining again in 2017.

Keep the Books Off the Shelf Challenge
Goal: Read books I acquired in 2016
Books read: 40
Goal achieved? Yes! 

The point of this challenge was so that I wouldn't continually add to my backlog of unread books on my shelves. Yes, it's important to read though the books I already own, but I think it's equally important to read the new books I get so they too don't languish unread for years. Isn't it better to read them when I get them rather than grow the guilt pile?

I got a boat-ton of books in 2016, so I knew I wouldn't be able to read most of them this year. And that's ok. I did end up reading a little over 10% though, which was surprising! That's also a much higher percentage that I've managed in years past. Also, 61% of the books I read this year were books that I acquired in 2016, so as far as the focus of this challenge, I think I did pretty good! I enjoy this challenge and I'll sign up for it again in 2017.

Read My Own Books Challenge
Goal: Read books I acquired prior to 2016
Books read: 10 read, 3 DNF'ed
Goal achieved? Yes!

I set a rough target of reading or DNF-ing 12 books this year. Working out to roughly one book a month, I figured that was doable. I ended up reading most of these in the early and middle part of the year, petering off with this challenge toward the second half of the year.

I really wanted to know whether the books I've been carting through multiple moves were worthy of the effort, or if I should cull them from my shelves once and for all. Of the 13 books, 7 of them were books I owned prior to 2015, which means I had gone through at least one move with them. I still have a lot of books I haven't read, but I think this is going to be a marathon not a sprint, and I think I made good progress in 2016. I'll be signing up for this challenge in 2017 and I hope to be able to read a similar number of books.

Library Reading Challenge
Goal: Read library books
Books read: 7
Goal achieved? Yes! Ish.  

I didn't give myself a hard number to strive for, so it's hard to say if I achieve my goal here. There are about 43 books in my local library that I can't get elsewhere (unless I buy them), and I read/DNF'ed 7 of them (actually, I ended up DNF-ing 6 of those!). So, about 16%. Not bad.

There are some books on the list that if I moved before getting to read them, my heart wouldn't break. A few, though, I'd be seriously disappointed that I'd missed out on the opportunity to try them. Of the ones I did read, 5 were solidly on the latter list, so I'm glad I made time to try them, even if I ended up DNF'ing all but one of them.

It's strange, but this is the first time in a long time where I really don't spend much time at my local library. It's a hassle. The hours don't like up nicely with my schedule, the parking lot is annoying, and it's just so much easier to download library books or read my own. Shockingly, I ended up reading more of my own print books than print library books! I think this is the first year that's ever happened. I do still have those 36 books I want to try left on my list, so I'll be joining this challenge again next year and I'll try to focus more on the ones that are more of a priority to me.

Reflections and next up

Most of my challenges didn't have a hard number goal, which I like. It allows me to provide focus to my reading without strictly holding myself to an actual number.

I like that the Historical Fiction Challenge allowed me to focus on not only exploring history, but expanding the events and people I learned about. It wasn't until this reflection that I realized how much I had really dug into expanding my understanding of the English Civil War/Restoration period and the time prior to the Anarchy. This highlights for me how important it is to not only participate in challenges and track my reading, but to reflect on that reading as well. 

Another area I'm happy to see is that of rereads. For so long I've wanted to reread books but felt guilty about doing so. Like I was taking time away from what I *should* be reading. Last year was the first year I joined the reread challenge and I'm so glad I did. By this point rereading is something I no longer feel guilty about and instead I value the time I devote to revisiting stories that have brought me joy.

I'm very pleased that I switched from a library-heavy approach to an approach that focused on reading the books I own. In years past, my focus has been reversed and while utilizing a library is never a bad thing, I think that did help me dig a hole by acquiring a lot of books and then ignoring what I had. Which led to guilt and feeling overwhelmed.

The constant reaching for more and neglecting what I have is a theme not just in my reading life, but in my life in general. Feeling guilty, overwhelmed, and constantly in a rat race toward the future hasn't been a healthy thing for me. This inward focus and appreciation for the here and now is a good thing for me and something I'd like to continue in 2017.

Overall, I'm happy with my 2016 reading experiences. I've learned a lot.



Thursday, December 29, 2016

2016 in Review: October through December



I made a really big list

I'm a list maker, so of course I HAD to make an end-of-the-year list recapping all of the books I read in 2016. It's like a snapshot of reviews, but you can click on the titles to go to my full reviews.

In the past I've categorized the books based on rating or on "type" of book (like, "fluffy books" or "special shelf books"), and I've both left out and included rereads. This year I've decided to just run straight down my "Read in 2016" list and cover every single book that appears there, in the order in which I read them. 


Scones and Sensibility by Lindsay Eland
I was looking for something fluffy, light, and contemporary, but not necessarily romantic so I scrolled through my TBR until I found this one, which I had shelved way back in 2011. This was exactly what I was looking for! It even had a beachy, vacation-town vibe, which is perfect for relaxing and taking things a little slower. The blend of Pride and Prejudicy language worked very well and gave the main character a charming quirkiness that helped drive home the message of being true to yourself. It was nice to see the main character totally mess up everything (with the best intentions!) and then see everything work out in the end. This hit the mark.     


The King's General by Daphne du Maurier
I'm really starting to realize all the silly "rules" I've made for myself, and how they just contribute to making things worse. One of those rules is the idea that it is bad to read a book I just bought because this is messing up TBR precedence. Which, really, doesn't that just contribute to my ever-growing stack of unread books on my shelves? Not to mention to absurdity of reading rules and guilt in general.

I picked this book up during the Great Hastings Closing and I decided to start reading it simply because it called to me. I'm glad I did! Historical, Gothic, mysteries, war, and characters that crackled with life, plus du Maurier's amazing writing made for an absolutely absorbing read.

Addison Cooke and the Treasure of the Incas by Jonathan W. Stokes
So, apparently October is the month of revelations: Not only did I realize it's ok to break TBR precedence for newly acquired books, but all review books are also not obligations. Technically I learned this lesson back in January (The Cat Who Came in off the Roof) and again in February (The Wollstonecraft Detective Agency), but, hey, I'm a slow learner. Anyway, lesson learned: When a review book grabs my attention so much that I want to drop everything to read it, that's a good thing! And when they don't, I shouldn't feel obligated to force it.

Addison Cooke was the kind that grabbed my attention, and it continued to do so until I turned the last page and wished book 2 was already published.

Rosemary and Rue by Seanan McGuire
I had shelved this book back in 2015 when I started to realize that maybe I don't dislike paranormal/urban fantasy in general, but that there is a type that I actually really enjoy. A lot of it seems to boil down to the main character: is she a tough as nails, gritty, badass with a lot of sass and sexy times? If so, her stories probably aren't for me. If she's a down to earth, modest, "just trying to get by" but skilled in her own ways kind of character (think, Amelia Grey, Alex Craft), then we'll get along just fine.

Thankfully, October Daye turned out to be the latter and I was instantly hooked by her story. Add in lovable side characters, intriguing mysteries, and a very slow burn hate-turned-love romance and it's clear why the rest of 2016 is filled with these books.

A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas
Sometimes I like listening to audiobooks, but I've learned long ago that my attention doesn't always stick, especially when I'm listening while driving. For that reason, I try to only listen to books that I've already read, which means I can get distracted without missing key story points and I get to revisit old favorites.

It took me the better part of 2016 to finish this one, but after about seven months of intermittent listening, I think I can probably pronounce Feyre's name properly now. I was also reminded again why I like this book and why I'm sure I'll revisit it again.


The Woman in Back by Susan Hill
What better book to close out October with than a spooky ghost story? I first read this back in 2009 and I've been trying to get my husband to read it ever since. He finally gave in and we read this together over the last week in October and celebrated Halloween with a Woman in Black discussion and movie event. It's a classic and my reread only solidified my love of this most excellent ghost story.

We started watching the Harry Potter version, which I had long anticipated and had high hopes for. Unfortunately, we couldn't get very far because it was absolutely absurd, they changed everything, dumbed down the plot, and totally lost the spirit of the book (ha!). We quickly switched to the 1989 TV movie version, and while it was definitely not up to modern filming visuals, the storytelling was much, much better and we happily watched the whole thing.

A Local Habitation by Seanan McGuire
On to November! I picked up the next October Daye book as soon as I finished the first and finished in the first week of November. Everything I liked about the first book continued and just got better and better. It's been nice to sink into a series with a likable (even fuzzy!) cast of characters and engaging mysteries. There's also a very human element to these books that makes them more emotionally impactful.



Doomed Queens by Kris Waldherr
Ugh, everyone was getting sick at work, and I too succumbed toward the end of November. I was in and out of sleep and feeling crappy, so I impulse downloaded this book from the library. Short chapters, each focusing on a different doomed queen, and arranged chronologically, this book was the perfect format to help get me through the day. There was just enough content in each chapter to give a good idea of what happened to each lady, while piquing my interest enough to lead to numerous foggy-headed internet searches to dig deeper. 

An Artificial Night by Seanan McGuire
Back to October Daye, but, wow, this book kicked the series up a level. The creep factor and emotional impact was near-devastating and I was totally sucked into this story. New characters are introduced, more clues are dropped, and characters I thought I knew turned out to be very different indeed. I was into the series before, but this book got me into this series.    





Great Tales from English History, vol 1 by Robert Lacey
Inspired by how much I enjoyed Doomed Queens, I decided to seek out more bite-sized history and stumbled across Robert Lacey's English history series. This first volume starts out with ice age remains and runs all the way through the Black Plague of the 1300s. Each chapter covers an event, person, or legend in history and spans only a handful of pages. Depth isn't the focus, clearly, and that's ok. The episodes are told like stories, entertaining and easy to read. This was a great companion to Thomas B. Costain's The Conquering Family, which is told in a similar conversational tone but with more depth.

The real value of this book, for me, came in the broad view of chronology it provided. Events, people, and time periods that I had previously known but were disconnected in my mind were drawn together. Finally, the waves of Saxon, Danish, and Norman conquests fit together for me and provided context and an understanding of influence for the future Plantagenet etc. reigns.

Late Eclipses by Seanan McGuire
Episodic mysteries are giving way to a greater overarching story, still filled with mysteries, but tying to a bigger picture now. The shift isn't diminishing anything and I'm still invested. The ending had a Big Reveal that makes sense and somehow manages to change everything while not changing a thing (that's a good thing). Side characters are still holding their own, but the barely there romance is getting a little one-note. Still picking these up one after another.




Wit'ch War by James Clemens
You know, much as I love this series, I really could wish for better covers. I read this one through most of November and finished it up in the beginning of December. Inventive, creative (while also totally cribbing from the Lord of the Rings), and exciting, this one still holds my interest despite years of rereads. It's a shame these books aren't more well known.





Great Tales from English History, vol 2 by Robert Lacey
I had even higher hopes for this volume considering I love the first and the period of history in this book is even more well known to me. This picks up just as the Black Plague of the 1300s is winding down, runs through the Wars of the Roses, the Tudor era, through the Stuarts, the Civil War, and the Restoration. Maybe being too familiar with the time was the problem? Events and people I think were important were completely skipped over or barely mentioned. While I'm sure the same happened in the first book, I knew less about that time and so I didn't notice it as a problem. I ended up liking this volume and I still recommend it, but it didn't deliver for me the same way the first book did.

Austenland by Shannon Hale
This was a total whim. I saw it on a Goodreads list of short books and I figured, why not? I had already seen the movie and enjoyed it, and while Shannon Hale and I have a mixed relationship (The Goose Girl, yay! The Book of a Thousand Days, meh) I figured it was so short I might as well give it a whirl.

Mostly, I liked it. The main character was conflicted, and her lack of direction and sense of uncertainty made the book feel a little directionless and confused. Like it, like the main character, couldn't quite decide what it wanted to be and what message it wanted to send. Just when I thought we were going in one direction, we dropped that idea and picked up a new one. It was flighty enough that I don't think it managed to make any great point and it lacked the Austen-inspired sparkle that the movie version (and Scones and Sensibility) managed to achieve. Still, the ending was sweet and since I wasn't expecting much I enjoyed the experience.

Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh
I often feel like I'm being pulled in too many directions and I don't have enough time to focus on anything, let alone focus on myself. I'm a quiet person and I need those moments to recharge and reflect, but lately I've been thrust into very public, very busy positions. This book provided some much needed refocusing and moments of tranquility.

This book is super short (130 pages!), but I stretched it out from the end of October through the end of December, reading in bits, savoring, rereading. It's more of a reflective book than a book with answers or advice, and I appreciate that. I'll probably revisit this a lot as I try to find those moments of peace and stillness.

Petronella Saves Nearly Everyone by Dene Low
Another find from the Great Hastings Closing. I had never heard of this book before, but I'm a sucker for a Proper caper (think Kat, Theodosia) and this was under $2.00!

At first I thought this was going to be "ok but forgettable," but I ended up elevating that assessment to "ripping good fun, but forgettable." I don't think I'll remember Petronella in particular forever and ever (she just didn't stand out enough), but I very much enjoyed the adventure we shared. I wish this series had taken off more, because I definitely would have continued on with her adventures.

Saranormal: Ghost Town by Phoebe Rivers
I've had this book on my TBR for ages and ages, but I could never find a copy. Then I moved here and my local library actually has the series, but I never managed to get around to it. I think I've even had it on hold once or twice, but never picked it up. Well, I grabbed it on an impulse when I found myself in the library (picking up the dvd of Austenland) and read it that same day.

This is a middle grade series, so it really could have gone one of two ways: good but too young to resonate, or excellent. Thankfully, it leaned toward excellent! There are a lot of "human" moments that transcend age and made for a lot of poignant scenes (I would totally be that lady with the pie). The mystery was ok, but it was really the characters that I found so engaging. The old, beautiful house is also a bonus (octagonal rooms!). The basic premise and general feel also remind me of a slightly younger Mediator series, which is a very good thing. I will be continuing on with this series for sure.

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden
All the early reviews were glowing and used words like "lyrical" and "beautiful" and I have to agree on all counts. I'll post up a full review soon, but the shorty version is that I loved this book.

In the Forests of the Night by Amelia Atwater-Rhodes
I read this book back when it was published in the '90s and I've periodically reread it throughout the years. I had no intention of rereading it now, but I was blow drying my hair and forgot to grab my book, so I picked a random book off the shelf in front of me so I'd have something to occupy my time. It's such a short, fast read that I decided to finish it off that night.





 
Uprooted by Naomi Novik
I started rereading this one in the early part of 2016 and slowly read it throughout the year. I think I appreciated it even more this time around. Definitely a book I see myself returning to again and again.



Rampant by Diana Peterfreund
Ah, I've had the itch to reread this one and decided, why not? I picked it up toward the end of December and turned the final page about a half hour before the new year started. Still enjoyable.







Reflections and next up

October through December definitely saw the return of reading for me, and I've been much happier for it. It's funny, but when I read based on whims and totally threw out obligation and lists, I ended up actually accomplishing some of my goals. Two books and one series had been on my TBR for years, one author has been on my "must read more of this one" for years, and three were books I owned but hadn't yet read. One was even a review book.

Guess I need to learn to just let things go? If I make that a goal for 2017, is that being constructive or feeding my obsessive goal-setting and organizing?

But, let's be real, I'm still me and I'm still a goal-oriented list-maker and that isn't likely to change. Plus, I do like the sense of accomplishment of a goal achieved. I think the answer may be in balance. Setting broad goals, like "Read books that have been on my TBR a long time" and "Read books that I own" will give me the sense of accomplishment without the strict "You must read this specific book" and without the guilt when I choose to read something else.

So, broad and flexible, but with targets I want to achieve. And, honestly, my 2016 challenges reflected just this approach. It was just me who decided to pile guilt, obligation, rules, and "shoulds" onto them. Like I said, I'm a slow learner, but what my 2016 reflection has shown is that at least I am learning, and that's a good thing.

Well 2017, let's give it a whirl!



Wednesday, December 28, 2016

2016 in Review: July through September



I made a really big list

I'm a list maker, so of course I HAD to make an end-of-the-year list recapping all of the books I read in 2016. It's like a snapshot of reviews, but you can click on the titles to go to my full reviews.

In the past I've categorized the books based on rating or on "type" of book (like, "fluffy books" or "special shelf books"), and I've both left out and included rereads. This year I've decided to just run straight down my "Read in 2016" list and cover every single book that appears there, in the order in which I read them. 


The Pale Horseman by Bernard Cornwell
I last saw Utred back in February, but it took me all the way until June to pick this series back up again. Like I said about the first book, it wasn't that I didn't enjoy it, it's just that I didn't feel a particular urge to fly through the whole series at once. Utred's personality is appealing with his suppressed rage, but it's also best in smaller doses.

I started this in June and finished it during the beginning on July while on the road to Colorado. While the summer heat and fun of a road trip didn't necessarily match with violence, war, and exile in wintery England, some parts of the drive and navigating July 4th tourists were reminiscent of the battles.   


Disney Villains: Delightfully Evil
Another surprise from Disney, and another mixed bag of nice pictures and a disappointing lack of substance. Unlike the Dragons book, this one had much more formatting and tidbits of information, which I did appreciate. I wish the information had delved deeper into analysis, critique, comparison, or historical backstory rather than keeping things at surface level descriptions.

Still, this gave me something to page through while drinking my morning coffee, which became a nice part of my morning routine. 



Written in Red by Anne Bishop
I haven't actually reviewed this one and that's mostly because I don't know what to say. It's very Anne Bishopy, which is to say it's a weird mix of strange-riding-the-line-of-ick and fluffy, warm, feel-good love, friendship, and personal growth.

There was something about this series that made me hesitate until now, but I decided to bite the bullet and give it a try because I felt like I *should* and it seemed to be pretty popular among my Goodreads friends.

The good parts were definitely good. And, for the most part, I'm ok with Anne Bishop's style of strange. But, sometimes this series crossed over that line from "this is definitely weird, but I can make this work" to "I'm not sure I can make this work" kind of ick. I ended up DNF-ing the second book because it was worse in that one. The Others are a little *too* other-y, and that made the romance a hard to swallow. The romantic lead was also just not working for me.


Henry VIII and His Six Wives by Maureen Peters
Talk about a romantic interest that's hard to get behind! This was a pretty cut and dry rundown of Henry's six marriages with a smattering of historical context thrown in and a whole lot of skipping around and Big Events condensed down into a few sentences. It felt like a Cliff's Notes version, which isn't a bad thing, but it made for a pretty forgettable experience. A review book I requested and therefore felt obligated to read, even when it was clear I wasn't 100% feeling it. 




Wi'tch Fire by James Clemens
July continued with the same unsettled trend of April through June, with one shining exception: Wi'tch Fire.

I used to reread this series constantly, but I hadn't read it in a few years and I was definitely due for a reread. Thankfully, picking this up was like going back to an old friend. I grabbed onto this book like a starving hitchhiker with a piece of beef jerky. 

It's funny how reading books for me is such a hard thing. That was definitely an unexpected effect of getting into reviewing, but it's something that I'm slowly coming to terms with. I like reviewing books and I like being able to support readers, authors, and publishers, but it definitely has affected how I read as a hobby, for myself, and that hasn't always been a good thing. I realize a lot of this year and last I've been searching for that balance.

Going Vintage by Lindsey Leavitt
So, case in point: I was first introduced to Lindsey Leavitt through an unsolicited review copy of Princess for Hire, which I loved. It was sparkling, fun, inventive, and just plain fluffy. I wanted something light like that, and so I impulse grabbed Going Vintage from the library. It was vaguely on my mental TBR, but picking this book was so not According to Plan. But so what?

It was exactly what I was looking for. This book made me happy, content, and thoughtful. It was fuzzy and grounding. I also read it during the beginning of August when there was a flipping riot in my apartment complex that culminated in a call to 911! So, yeah, I'm glad I had my comfort read with me!

Chantress by Amy Butler Greenfield
Another book not according to The Plan! Ha! August was a time for throwing off the shackles of obligation reading and returning to reading for me. Hastings was going out of business and I spent much of August making multiple trips to their two locations and loading up on books. It wasn't hard to see why they were going out of business: even with their 50% off sales, the new books were still more expensive than buying on Amazon! But the used books, that was where I scored big.

Chantress and its sequel were among those I picked up and I gave in to the urge to start reading as soon as I brought it home. I loved the blend of historical and fantasy. I mentally put this one with the Maids of Honor series, not because they're really similar in plot, but because they're similar in feel, which is a good thing for me.

The Conquering Family by Thomas B. Costain
This book rocks! The book follows English history from the days of the Norman Conquest and the beginnings of the Plantagenet family, through Stephen and Matilda's civil war, Henry II's rise and rule, Richard's crusading escapades, and closing with John's bitter demise.

The historical chronicle is enough to keep me entertained, but it was Thomas B. Costain's witty and humorous writing that really brought this history to life. It's a hard book to find (look, I can't even find a decent image of the cover!) but it's well worth the effort to track this one down. I read this one with my morning coffee over the course of a month, and it was time very enjoyably spent.


Poor Unfortunate Soul by Serena Valentino
Yep, this was a review book. But, it was also a "me" book. It's ridiculous and actually has very little to do with the Sea Witch (and the parts that do aren't that great), but it's also fun in its absurdity. It reminded me of the same vibe I got from The Isle of the Lost, which is a similar lack of quality but still somehow fun kind of vibe.  





Grave Visions by Kalayna Price
As soon as I saw this one in my library, I snatched it up and started reading. I'm getting a little tired of the love triangle and things feel like they're getting a little stale and stuck in a holding pattern. But, the characters are still enjoyable and I'm still into it. I also really enjoyed the actual mystery in this one, so at least the plot still crackles even if the romance is fizzling. This was a satisfying way to close out August and definitely reinforced that I'm much happier when I'm reading for myself.




Wit'ch Storm by James Clemens
I'd been continuing my slow reread of this series and wrapped up book 2 by the middle of September. The gross factor in this series really increased in this book with the introduction of all those creepy spiders. I had forgotten one gory death in particular and while I remembered most of the broad strokes, it's been long enough that the details have long faded and this experience is a nice mix of familiar and new.





The Visitor by Amanda Stevens
This is one of the few review books I requested this year and one of my most looked-forward-to books in a while. It's been four years since the last book was published and I was worried this series either 1) Would be dropped or 2) Would come back, but come back wrong. Thankfully, the series came back, and it came back right. I still don't like the Devlin/Amelia romance, but Amelia is still a great character and the central mystery was just as creepy, engaging, and satisfying as those in the previous books. I have book 5 waiting for me, which hopefully I'll get to sooner rather than later.

These were the only books I got to in September (it was a busy month at work), but I'd rather have two solid books read than a slew of only so-so books.



Reflections and next up

July through September was much better and it seems like I unconsciously figured out that reading for goals wasn't working for me as much as just reading what I wanted to read. It took me most of July to figure that out, but by August I was back on track and picking books according to no schedule, goal, or list except what I wanted in the moment. Much better. 

 Next up: Closing out the year with October through December!

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

2016 in Review: April through June



I made a really big list

I'm a list maker, so of course I HAD to make an end-of-the-year list recapping all of the books I read in 2016. It's like a snapshot of reviews, but you can click on the titles to go to my full reviews.

In the past I've categorized the books based on rating or on "type" of book (like, "fluffy books" or "special shelf books"), and I've both left out and included rereads. This year I've decided to just run straight down my "Read in 2016" list and cover every single book that appears there, in the order in which I read them. 


My Fair Gentleman by Nancy Campbell Allen
I read this one while on a business trip to El Paso, so I mostly associate it with a five hour drive each way, a big hotel, college accreditation, El Paso traffic, and border patrol. Admittedly, I could wish for better associations.

The book itself, much like the trip, was just ok. I had higher expectations because I've enjoyed the other books I've read in the Proper Romance series, but this one was just ok all around. Ok characters, ok plot, ok romance. I don't remember much of it except that it was a pleasant diversion.


The Afterlife Academy by Frank L. Cole
After surprising myself with how much I ended up enjoying Shadow Magic, an unsolicited review book I had received back in 2015, I decided to try to knock out a few more backlist review books.

The Afterlife Academy was fun and I'm glad I read it, but unlike Shadow Magic, this one hasn't stuck with me and I don't feel any particular need to seek out more books by this author or pine for this to become a series. Fun and done. 



Iris the Colorful by Joan Holub and Suzanne Williams
The Goddess Girls series has been a solid pick for me for years now, and that's still true. But, it seems I started a trend of "nice but forgettable" reads in April, and Iris the Colorful continued that trend.







Red by Liesl Shurtliff
The trend continues! Nice, but forgettable. This was another review book that appeared unexpectedly and since I was already in a bleh reading rut I figured what did I have to lose? At least it won't be yet another book sitting unread on my shelves for years to come.






With All My Heart by Margaret Campbell Barnes
If this wasn't a historical fiction book, it probably would have fit right in with my April theme since everything was all sort of "nice" without being particularly engaging.

The saving grace was that this IS a historical fiction book, so even if it's kind of "just ok" it still taught me stuff. For the first time ever, I actually looked at Charles II in a new light and my interest was actually piqued regarding the English Civil War and Restoration periods.

So, ok book, you get points. Perhaps the trend is broken?

Brightly Woven by Alexandra Bracken
This is the first book I finished in May, so already things were starting to look better. I've been doing this thing for the past two years where I've been slowly rereading old favorites alongside my actual reading. I don't devote solid blocks of time to reading these and more pick them up for a handful of pages or a chapter every few days, so they tend to take a month or two to finish. It's been a nice way to revisit favorites without feeling the pressure of fitting them in or neglecting other books.

Revisiting Brightly Woven about five years after first falling in love with it was enjoyable. I realized I still love it just as much as before, but in a less flailing way now and more like relaxing in a warm tub kind of way. I still wish there was a sequel.


A Knight in Shining Armor by Jude Deveraux
May's good outlook continues! I had heard of this book, shelved it, and then ignored it for a little while until deciding on the spur of the moment that It Was Time. I picked it up, was touch and go for the first chapter or so, and then I was completely sucked into the book void.

I don't remember what was going on in my life at the time, but this book took over everything. I adored it.



The Hidden Oracle by Rick Riordan
Ugh, and then I read this. It had it's moments, sure, but overall this book made me finally face the music: Rick Riordan and I need to part ways.







The Last Kingdom by Bernard Cornwell
Ok, back to positive. May seems to have been filled with a lot of pendulum swinging in terms of book enjoyment. This one was unexpected. After the Apollo Disappointment, I figured even a mediocre book would seem ok in comparison, so I picked up Nightspell, which had been sitting unread on my shelves for years.

What a surprise! This was another experience where I was totally sucked into the book, barely able to come up for air. Probably one of the most surprising books of the year.

Rapunzel Cuts Loose by Joan Holub and Suzanne Williams
I polished off May with a solid middle-of-the-road bet. I haven't clicked with the Grimmtastic Girls series as much as the Goddess Girls series, but it's still a good standby.

State of Fear by Michael Crichton
June opened with another husband read. It's been years since I've read a Crichton book, but he's always a good bet if you want something fast-paced and thought provoking. The tiny chapters helped speed things up, too. I can't say this was my favorite Crichton. The plot was a little rocky, but the information he built the plot around was interesting and gave us plenty to talk about.  


The Rules of Gentility by Janet Mullany
After all that modern seriousness, I was in the mood for something sparkling and historical. What better genre to fit the bill than a Regency? This one was even supposed to be a comedy and, bonus, it had been sitting unread on my shelves for three years.

And...it was ok. Some things I enjoyed, but there was a crudeness to the humor that just did not fit in a Regency. It was like Regency's naughty bad cousin came to visit and every time things started to look like they were going well and the music would swell, she'd let out a bellowing burp and scratch her crotch. So, mixed feelings on this one. 

The Talisman Ring by Georgette Heyer
Ok, lesson learned: If I want a Regency (yeah, yeah, I know this is technically a Georgian), go to the master herself. I've only read a handful of Heyers, but so far every one has been a win. This was no exception and it gave me all the sparkling historical, romantic, capering around I was searching for. I will definitely read this one again, after a suitable amount of time has passed.







Reflections and next up

Yikes, April through June! This second quarter was definitely not as smooth as my nice, steady, comforting January through March. I tried "being good" and holding myself accountable to goals instead of desires, and that did not work out as well. Though, on the positive side, I did feel very goal-oriented and it was nice crossing some of these books off my TBR, finally.

My general feelings about this period are tumultuous and unsettled. I yo-yo'ed back and forth between a few super good books, some not very good books, and lot of so-so books in between.

So, lessons learned? While I do love my goals and I'm not ready to give them up (plus, I do want to read those TBR books!), I think I need to spread them out more so I'm reading maybe one or two "obligation" books sandwiched between more comfort "me" books.

Stay tuned for July through September!

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