Wednesday, January 1, 2020

2020 Read My Own Books Challenge

/12 books

Challenge Basics: 
Name: Read My Own Damn Books Challenge
Starts: January 1, 2020
Ends: December 31, 2020
Eligible Books: Books you own prior to 2020.
Levels: I'm going to try to read and/or DNF and get rid of 12 books I own.

Why I'm Interested:  

I seriously have too many books and they keep sitting on my shelves unread. I did this challenge in 2015 and ended up getting rid of almost all the books I read for the challenge, which means I've carted around and found room for all those books that I didn't even end up liking. Before I move again, I need to reevaluate the books I'm bringing with me and make sure they're books I actually want.

Some books I'm considering: 

Anything on my Own-Unread shelf that I acquired prior to 2020.

At the start of 2020, here's where I stand as far as what books I own and what percentage of them I've read:

33% read of books acquired in 2019 (165)
29% read and 5 added of books acquired in 2018 (265)
26% read and 12 removed of books acquired in 2017 (348)
39% read and 6 removed of books acquired in 2016 (362)
21% read and 6 removed of books acquired in 2015 (107)
39% read and 1 removed of books acquired in 2014 (79)
56% read and 3 removed of books acquired in 2013 (55)
47% read and 9 removed of books acquired in 2012 (68)
79% read and 4 removed of books acquired in 2010-2011 (146)
81% read and 0 removed of books acquired in 2008-2009 (36)
89% read and 1 added of books acquired in 2003-2007 (101)
99% read and 1 removed of books acquired in 2002 and earlier (75)
Books Completed:

4. Minette by Melanie Clegg (2019)
3. Breakfast at Tiffany's by Truman Capote (2019)
2. The Other Tudor Princess by Mary McGrigor (2018)
1. Sword of Destiny (Witcher 2) by Andrzej Sapkowski (2019)

Books DNF'ed:


2020 Re-read Challenge

Challenge Basics: 

Name: The Re-Read Challenge
Starts: January 1, 2020
Ends: December 31, 2020
Eligible Books: Books you've already read.

Why I'm Interested:  

Whether it's re-reading for comfort or to revisit old favorites, I want to make sure I enthusiastically dive into re-reading whenever I feel the urge.

Some books I'm considering:

My Special Shelf favorites, of course. Also, books I liked enough or am curious enough to re-listen to on audio.

Books Completed:


2020 Keep the Books Off the Shelf Challenge

Challenge Basics: 

Name: Keep the Books Off the Shelf Challenge
Hosts: Me!
Starts: January 1, 2020
Ends: December 31, 2020
Goal: 15 books
Eligible Books: Books you acquire in 2020

Why I'm Interested:  

I'm not sure if anyone is actually hosting a challenge like this, but it's a challenge I'm giving myself, again. Last year I read a ton off books I acquired in 2019, and rather than feel bad about neglecting my previously owned books, instead I felt like I was accomplishing something with every new book I acquired and read. And I was!

Every year I participate in the Read My Own Books Challenge where I try to read as many books I own as possible. Downside? Those challenges don't count books you acquire during the challenge year, and I think they should! Sure, I know the goal is to read all those books that have been languishing year after year, but what about preventative measures? I think those should be rewarded, too!

(I feel like a health insurance plan)

So, enter my challenge. I'm going to try to make a dent in the books I get in 2020 and therefore whittle down my mountain of books remaining unread on my shelves in 2021.

Some books I'm considering: 

As many books from my Acquired 2020 shelf as possible. At the end of the year I'll compare how many books I acquired to how many books I've read from that list to see how well I've done. I'd like to shoot for reading/DNF-ing at least 15 books.

Books Completed:

1. Empire of the Summer Moon by S. C. Gwynne

Books DNF'ed: 


2020 Historical Reading Challenge

0/15 books

Challenge Basics:  

Name: 2020 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge
Hosts: Passages to the Past
Starts: January 1, 2020
Ends: December 31, 2020
Eligible Books: YA and adult historical fiction books. I'm including non-fiction.
Levels: I am going to try for 15 books

Why I'm Interested:  

Historical Bio and Historical Non-Fiction: These are the weightier, meatier books that I want to make top priority. They go into detail about actual people and events and I'll learn the most from them. I've thrown in the non-fiction books onto this shelf, too. I've been toe-dipping into non-fiction, and I'd like to continue that toe-dip.

Historical Fantasy: These vary as far as actual historical learning goes. Some have a ton of historical detail, but most just use a historical setting. Some of my favorite books come from this shelf and I don't want to neglect them just because they're not heavy historical fiction.

Historical Lite: These are a lot like the books on my Historical Fantasy shelf, just without the fantasy elements. Usually they're mysteries or romances set with a historical backdrop of varying degrees of detail. They're often easy breezy, fun books and I want to make sure I read them as well.

Books Completed:

Historical Non-Fiction

2. Empire of the Summer Moon by S. C. Gwynne
1. The Other Tudor Princess: Margaret Douglas by Mary McGrigor

Historical Bio (fiction):


1. Minette by Melanie Clegg

Historical Lite:




2019 Wrap Up and 2020 Goals

5 did I do?

The Re-Read Challenge
Goal: Re-read as many books as I want
Books read:10
Goal achieved? Yes!

I ended up re-reading a nice round 10 books this year, none of which were on audio. Audio books were a way I ended up rereading a lot of books, but with my current barely-five-minute commute, I don't have much room for audio books right now.

Last year was an unusual year for rereads, with none of the "usual suspects" making an appearance, and I repeated that trend again this year. No Karen White, Amelia Atwater-Rhodes, and L. J. Smith. For the third year in a row now, no Anne Bishop and Sarah J. Maas. Instead of turning to these standard comfort reads, I broke out the ultimate comfort read and polished off the Harry Potter series that I had started at the end of 2018. It was wonderful revisiting Hogwarts and I can't believe this is the first time I've reread the series.  

Those were definitely comfort reads, but the rest of my re-reads were all straight up revisiting old favorites. I like the mix of comfort and revisiting and I'd like to continue mixing in these kinds of rereads in 2020.

I wrote this last year but it bears repeating: I feel like it's important to remind myself again that following what I want not what I think I should do is what is important. Reread for comfort or reread for revisiting, either one is ok.

Image result for goodreads 2019 reading challengeGoodreads Reading Challenge
Goal: 50 books, then adjusted, and adjusted, up to 78
Books read: 80
Goal achieved? Yes!  

I set a modest goal of 50 books so I didn't feel pressured by quantity and because, I love it when my progress bar says "you're x books ahead!" rather than "you're x books behind" or even the mild "You're on track!" I ended up reading about 6 books a month and set this as a guide for myself each month. That seemed to work well for my life and I think I'll do that again in 2020.

Historical Fiction Challenge
Goal: 15 books
Books read: 38 (21 bio-fic/non-fic)
Goal achieved? Yes! 

I love historical fiction and I wanted to make sure I put some focus on the genre again 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 eight non-fiction books (up from last year's 5), 6 biographical historical fiction books (way, way lower than usual), and seven books that are biographical enough that they're not "lite" but the focus of the book isn't entirely on the biographical person or event.

I read one book from Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey/Maturin series, and I'm counting that a win. I want to keep going with this series and eventually finish it, but I don't feel the need to race through it. As long as I don't let years go by without reading anything, then I'm good with a modest one read this year. 

I had gone on a two year streak of not reading about Marie Antoinette, but that streak was broken this year with a Royal Diaries (very good) book and a Time Traveling Fashionista (not so good). Cleopatra, another frequent flyer of the past, is now on year three of no attention, but I have a feeling 2020 will change this with the final Time Traveling Fashionista book and, possibly, the Cleopatra non-fiction book I picked up this year (how many years will it go unread?) Another favorite, Mary Tudor, did make a last minute appearance, closing out the year with Carolyn Meyer's Mary, Bloody Mary (unread on my shelves since 2014!)

The Tudors were very popular on my reading list this year with seven books (definitely up from last year) and a focus on Anne Boleyn, Mary, Elizabeth, Catherine of Aragon, and Henry. On one hand, I'm feeling a little Tudor-ed out at this point, but on the other hand I'm still gaining deeper and new insight into the era and the people who lived in it, and so I don't see myself stopping any time soon. I'm in the middle of The Tudors by G. J. Meyer, so I know there will be at least one Tudor book completed in 2020.

Surprisingly, the Wars of the Roses didn't feature once this year. The Plantagenets did get some page time with Jean Plaidy's Hammer of the Scots (Edward I) and the barely-there History in an Hour book focused on the Anarchy, but this was also surprisingly sparse. I was hoping to spend more time with the three Edwards, but that didn't happen much.

While much of 2019 saw a lot Tudor time, it also introduced me to a number of new-to-me or still very toe-dippy historical figures and events. I spent some time with Nannerl Mozart and a young Wolfgang, the Brontes, Coco Chanel and Elsa Schiaparelli, Athenais the Marquise de Montespan, and the Borgias. Flashman introduced me to Britain's Retreat from Kabul in Afghanistan and Otto Von Bismarck. I also got to experience some of Africa's modern upheaval through 104 Horses and the Middle East through the eyes of the English in the 1930s with Agatha Christie's memoir. It was amusing reading Gerry Durrell's adventures in Mexico and his introduction to this new food called a taco.

Jean Plaidy and Carolyn Meyer made welcome appearances again, as did Marion Chesney and Robert Lacey. Sadly, I didn't complete a Sharon Kay Penman, a Susan Howatch, or an Anne O'Brien, but there's always next year.

Keep the Books Off the Shelf Challenge
Goal: Read books I acquired in 2019
Books read: 44 read, 8 read in previous years, 6 DNF/On Hold/Currently Reading
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.

I got a lot of books in 2018, so I knew I wouldn't be able to read most of them this year. And that's ok. Between those I read this year and previous years, of the 166 books I acquired in 2019, I've read 31% (25% read this year), which is up from the 22% I read last year and the 19% I read the first year I started this challenge. If I add in the books I've either DNF'ed, put on hold, or am currently reading, that goes up to 35%. I also acquired significantly fewer books this year than the previous two years, and of the books I acquired this year, only 33 of them are print books, and I read or DNF'ed 21 of those. I'm far more concerned with leaving unread print books on my shelves (and lugging them around each time I move) than I am about e-books, so I'm glad I read 64% of the print books I acquired this year. I enjoy this challenge and I'll sign up for it again in 2020.

Read My Own Books Challenge
Goal: Read books I acquired prior to 2018
Books read: 27 read
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. Really, what I want to achieve with this challenge are two things: First, I want to determine whether or not I should continue lugging these books around with me. Second, I want to not let books sit unread for years on my shelves.

Of the 27 books, 17 of them were e-books and 10 of them were books I got in 2018. So, as far as the first reason for this challenge, 10 of the books apply as they were print books. Of those, 9 have been sitting on my shelves for 2 or more years, so that's a win. I didn't keep track of the books I gave away this year, but I went through a major purge and removed about 5-10 boxes worth of books (and many of those I didn't track on Goodreads, so they're not included in the numbers below).

I'm still playing around with how I want to track progress on this, and I think now I may try tracking both percentage of books read and number of books removed that year (I only decided this after I removed the books from 2016 and 2017, so that's why there aren't any removal numbers there). This way if I either increase the percentage or remove books, either way I'm moving toward my goal. The below isn't quite accurate for 2018 because I cleaned up some books that were still showing on those shelves even though I had removed the print copy years ago. This at least gives me a baseline for next year. The * indicates progress in that there was either a change in percentage (for the better) or removal of books.

33% read of books acquired in 2019 (165) *adjusted after purging
29% read and 5 added of books acquired in 2018 (265), up 3%
26% read and 12 removed of books acquired in 2017 (348), up 5%
39% read and 6 removed of books acquired in 2016 (362), up 2%
21% read and 6 removed of books acquired in 2015 (107), up 2%
39% read and 1 removed of books acquired in 2014 (79), up 4%
56% read and 3 removed of books acquired in 2013 (55), up 9%
47% read and 9 removed of books acquired in 2012 (68), up 4%
79% read and 4 removed of books acquired in 2010-2011 (146), up 2%
81% read and 0 removed of books acquired in 2008-2009 (36)
89% read and 1 added of books acquired in 2003-2007 (101), up 2%
99% read and 1 removed of books acquired in 2002 and earlier (75), up 2%

I realized this year that I need to track this differently because I have a lot of e-books that I don't feel the need to get rid of, but I also don't think the odds are high that I'll ever read them. These are throwing off my percentages, since the goal of tracking this is to not leave books I really do want to read unread. You know, the ones that when you see them on the shelf they're giving you the stink eye. THOSE are the books I want to track. Not so much the "digital library" of books I have but don't care if I read or not.

I still have a lot of books I haven't read, but I think this is going to be a marathon not a sprint. I'll be signing up for this challenge in 2020 and I hope to continue making a dent.


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 continue to want to read historical fiction and non-fiction, and I love how this challenge helps focus my reading on that. I actually fell behind and having this challenge helped me realize that and re-focus. I also like being able to see which eras and people I focus on or haven't focused on in a while. This is helping me expand the depth and breadth of my knowledge.  

In 2017 I really started to shift my reading to a more relaxed, read-what-I-want approach, and I've continued that approach in 2018 and 2019 to the point where I don't think I'm trying anymore and it's my new way of being. I like that. It's funny how book blogging became an obligation and completely changed my approach to reading. I feel like I've found my way back home to reading as a hobby...and I've learned a lot through that journey about how I want to (and don't want to) approach hobbies.

I really wanted to focus this year on reading the books I own, and I definitely accomplished that. My lowest percentage is 21% read (2015) and I made a big jump in percentage for my books acquired in 2013 (9% increase). The other years have smaller percentage increases, but they add up to something significant. I still ended up reading more new books this year than those owned in 2018 or older, but that's ok. Maybe next year that will shift...or not. As long as I continue making a dent in what I own, I'm happy.

I also purged a ton of books I've been carrying around unread for so long by recognizing that a large part of me didn't actually want to read those books, which is why they were unread for so long. Shedding feelings of obligation, guilt, and "but what if it's The One (when I know it won't be...and if it is, then I can always re-buy it in the future)" was liberating and I feel much better for it. This combined with the books I read that I already owned means I focused a lot this year on going through owned pre-2019 books and that is really what I wanted to achieve this year. Mission accomplished.

I was a lot less focused this year on "lessons learned," which is both fine and a little disappointing. It's fine because I think this demonstrates another level of relaxing with my reading and just enjoying the story. It's a little disappointing because I think when I did focus on lessons learned, I gained something deeper from my reading. I did a lot less reviewing this year, and so perhaps that also contributes to a less in-depth experience.

The last few years I've noticed that I can look back over my reading and infer how I was doing emotionally during that time. This year I was able to notice this and make deliberate changes in my life to address what was making me unhappy. Using my reading as a "symptom" gauge is actually pretty handy and I'll continue to do this. It's also almost like a scrapbook of my life: I can see things like "oh this is when I was moving" or "oh, this is when I was camping" and so on, so it's pretty neat in that way, too.

Other notable things about 2019:
  • Realized I love Edith Wharton's books
  • Introduced to Flashman
  • Re-read the Harry Potter series for the first time (over 12 years since first reading them)

Next up

I'm going to sign up for all of the same challenges again. Here are some hopes and goals:

The Re-Read Challenge: I like that this year's challenge ended up with a nice round number of 10 books read. I'm tempted to say I want to shoot for 10 books again, but that's just because I like the way the number looks, which is a pretty silly reason to set a goal. Instead, I'm going to say that I'd like to re-read 5-10 books, because this is enough to make sure I revisit favorites without turning it into a chore.

Goodreads Reading Challenge: I'm going to set the challenge at 50 for the first part of the year and then adjust. This is the best way to ensure I get that nice "You're X books ahead!" encouragement that works so well for me. Ultimately, I'd like to shoot for 72 books. That works out to an average of 6 books per month, which seems to fit the rhythm of my life and schedule right now. I'm not setting a goal of reading these authors, but I do want to sticky note my "happy list" since these are the authors that I enjoy reading and why not do things that are enjoyable: Joan Holub and Suzanne Williams, Georgette Heyer, Daphne Du Maurier, Susanna Kearsley, Gerry Durrell, Marion Chesney, Edith Wharton, L. M. Montgomery, Mary Stewart, Marie Brennan (Lady Trent), Special Shelf, and the historical authors below.

Historical Fiction Challenge: I want to read more historical bio than I did this year. I enjoy them and I still have a lot of them that I own but haven't read yet (both print and e-book). I love that I'm reading more non-fiction, and I want to continue that. I've been making an unofficial goal each year of reading Jean Plaidy because I have a million of her books and I like reading them. This year I'm going to just call a spade a spade and make it an official goal. I'd also like to spend more time with the Plantagenets again and perhaps dig a little more into Coco Chanel. Another Flashman and another Patrick O'Brian would be nice. I'm not setting a hard and fast goal on these next authors, but it would be nice to read at least one of them since I have a good track record of enjoying their books: Sharon Kay Penman, Susan Howatch, Susanna Kearsley, Susan Higginbotham, Margaret Campbell Barnes, Anne O'Brien, Dan Jones, Thomas B. Costain, Norah Lofts, and Carolyn Meyer.

Keep the Books Off the Shelf Challenge: No real goals for this one. Just try to read the books I get, especially the print books.

Read My Own Books Challenge: I'd like to continue focusing on this a lot next year. I made a big dent this year and so I don't expect next year to be quite as dramatic, but I know there's still a lot of room here. I set aside a number of books this year that I sort of wanted to remove...but I couldn't bring myself to remove them. In 2020 I want to either read them or remove them. Or, well, at least a good number of them. I also want to figure something out with tracking those e-books that I technically own but don't feel pressure to read.

General Reading Goals: Read what I want. Enjoy the time I spend with the books I'm reading. Read authors, books, and series I know make me happy.

General Blogging/Reviewing Goals: Figure out a way of "reviewing" that works for me. I don't know yet if this means privately, jotting notes, full reviews here, reviewing on Goodreads, combo platter, or something else. I just know I mostly stopped reviewing and I think I lost something that I do enjoy as a result. I'm also not sure what I want to do with this blog. November 2020 will mark 10 years and while I still enjoy some aspects, others I don't care about anymore, and others still are things I want to continue doing but maybe in a different way. A lot changes in 10 years.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Book Review: The Christmas Spirits on Tradd Street by Karen White

Pages: 384
Publisher: Berkley
Released: October 22, 2019
Received: Finished copy from publisher, ARC via Netgalley
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

*This is the sixth book in the Tradd Street series

To say I love this series is an understatement (and not much else of this review will make sense if you haven't read the series, so stop reading this review now and instead read the one I liked above, and then start this series ASAP).

That said, I was disappointed with the last book in the series, The Guests on South Battery. It felt forced. The mystery wasn't as engaging (and the first four books had awesome mysteries), the family connections felt stretched beyond reason, and there was contrived romance drama between Mellie and Jack that I did not appreciate. I was seriously getting worried for this series, even while still gobbling it up because it had tons of things that still make me happy.

So that was my baggage when I started reading The Christmas Spirits on Tradd Street. Thankfully, this one was a big improvement on the last. The mystery was good and engaging in its own right. The characters charmed me just like they always do, though many of them didn't have a whole lot of page time. I also liked the Christmasy background activities of getting the houses ready for the big holiday event and watching the characters make decorations, bake, etc. It was charming and heartwarming. I also adored the scene when Mellie overheard someone remarking on how perfectly arranged her cloves were in her orange decoration. I wanted to high five her. Oh, and I also loved the whole plot line with Rebecca and Mark. I can't stand Mark and I can't help but like Rebecca even though she's awful, and so I loved what happened with them. The Middleton women solidarity was great.

I'm with Mellie in that I'm actually feeling...jealous? vicariously jealous? jealous on behalf of Mellie? sympathetic jealousy? whatever it is, I like Jane objectively but I wish she was also never written into the story because she's just so darn perfect (and I can't help but like her).

The only thing I really, really could have done without was the, again, contrived drama between Jack and Mellie. Oh, and the fact that Mellie isn't allowed to eat any cookies (seriously, I loved that Mellie used to be able to eat anything she wanted without ever gaining weight. If I wanted to experience having to watch what you eat all the time and not being able to eat cookies and donuts and everything worth eating, I can just live my own life.) Anyway, back to Jack. Again, I read these books because they're feel-good, swooning escapism with gripping historical mysteries and beautiful old houses. I don't read them because I want to read about my favorite couple fighting and feeling heartbroken.

Bottom line

I still love this series and I can't wait for the next book to come out.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Book Review: The Vanished Bride by Bella Ellis

Pages: 304
Publisher: Berkley Books
Released: September 10, 2019
Received: e-ARC from NetGalley
Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5 stars

I hadn't even heard of this book an probably wouldn't have read it if it weren't for the publisher sending me a link to download the book through NetGalley. So, well done, it worked. Again.

And, again, I'm very happy this happened because I really enjoyed The Vanished Bride. It's one of those books that maybe isn't perfect and has some room for criticism and improvement, but, for the most part, none of that mattered to me. I started reading the first chapter "just to see" and ended up getting completely sucked into the story.

It moved at a nice swift but not breakneck pace, and shorty chapters definitely helped with this. The point of view changed between Charlotte and Emily and I ended up liking both of them a lot even though, objectively, both probably should have annoyed me. Ah, wait, Anne is in this book (she isn't in the other Bronte mystery book). Drat. Ok, so I read another Bronte-mystery book (Always Emily) soon after finishing this one as The Vanished Bride so inspired me to delve into the Brontes and left me wanting more fictional Bronte sleuthing, and I think I may have bits and pieces of the two mixed up.

Ok, so less detail and more general impressions, because that I don't have mixed up. The mystery kept me on my toes and intrigued. The sisters were all appealing and fun to spend time with. I liked their brother, even as I was shaking my head at him. It was kind of corny but ultimately I liked all the nods the author made toward the Brontes' stories, as if the events they were experiencing in The Vanished Bride were the things that influenced the sisters' later (real) books. It was a total gimmick, but it was also one I fell for totally.

The only thing I didn't like was the bit at the end. It felt unnecessary and like it was shoehorned in just to provide an element of modern diversity and "damn the patriarchy" that didn't fit with the rest of the book. It felt out of place in a novel starring the Brontes, for a character who this seemed not aligned with her characterization during the entire rest of the book, and in a story that, up until the very, very end, hadn't even hinted at this.

But, that bit aside, I very much enjoyed this book and I definitely plan on reading the next in the series.

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