Thursday, December 28, 2017

2017 in Review: June and July

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 2017. It's like a snapshot of reviews, but you can click on the titles to go to my full reviews.

I don't know if anyone but me actually reads these lists, but I enjoy making them. I find it fun and helpful to reflect on my reading habits throughout the year and see how my personal life impacts my reading life. This also helps take my focus off the quantity of books I've read and instead focus on the quality of the experiences I've had with each book.

Last year this process also helped me realize how much pressure I was putting on myself to read certain books and how that wasn't making me happy. I realized how my book choices gave me insight into other areas of my life and how I was able to see some things a little clearer as a result. I was able to make changes based on these reflections last year, and I'm happier for it.  "Lessons learned" has been a theme of mine lately, and looking at my reading experiences through this lens has added more depth and value to my reading experiences. 

The Tale of Holly How by Susan Wittig Albert
I read the first book seven years ago, which is an incredible reminder of how time flies! I've had every intention of continuing on with this series...and just happened? Whatever details I've forgotten from the first book didn't negatively impact my experience with the second book, so I guess it really doesn't matter that it took me seven years to make my way back to these books. They're a pleasant diversion, and it's nice to know I can pick them up as needed without having to worry about rushing through them in one sitting.

The Ionian Mission by Patrick O'Brian
Not much to say about this one except it took me several months to finish. I'm finding the stride that works for me with these books. My reading habits this year have led me to starting a book and then nibbling at it over the course of months rather than weeks or days. It's working for me, even though it goes against everything I feel I "should" do with books.     
The Tale of Cuckoo Brow Wood by Susan Wittig Albert
There's something about the mix of perspectives between the people characters and the Beatrix Potter animal characters that I find charming, even though it's kind of strange. The two sets of characters never speak to one another because the humans cannot understand the animals. This, in some way, grounds the stories for me and makes them feel, well, realistic isn't the right word, but it just feels right.

The introduction of fairies does not, however, feel right. I don't like it and it's the reason I stopped reading after this book. I'd like to pick them up again, but I think I need a little time to work my way back after the introduction of fairies.

My Cousin Rachel by Daphne Du Maurier
I adore Daphne du Maurier! My Cousin Rachel isn't my favorite of her books, but it is high on the list. I love the back and forth questioning of character motives and mental states and the way du Maurier has such a knack with creating a palpable story. This was a book I could really sink my teeth into and mull over long after I'd finished it. Every time I read one of her books I appreciate her as an author even more. Definitely looking forward to slowly working my way through all her books.

The Tudor Queen by Alison Prince
I didn't expect much from this book, and that's pretty much what I got. It was light, short, and mildly informative. This was pretty much what I was looking for in a book, so I was happy. I read this one over the course of a day, and what an interesting day it turned out to be! Wild rain and wind, rainbows, dust storms, and a power outage! I love Texas summer storms. 

The Lost King by Alison Prince
After the satisfaction of The Tudor Queen, I happily searched my library catalogs for another Alison Prince historical fiction mini, and I found this book. *sigh* Not as good. Short chapters, the Wars of the Roses, and a short book were all in the positive column, but those positives don't stack up well against negatives of poor storytelling and historical inaccuracies. Oh well, you win some, you lose some.

The Mystery of the Third Lucretia by Susan Runholt
This was fun. Not much to say beyond that. I won't remember it forever and ever, but I enjoyed it a lot while I was reading it. I wish the rest of the books were in my library, and I'd read them if they were, but I'm not going to buy them new. I'll keep an eye out for them in used bookstores.

Sinner by Amanda Stevens
I'm not enjoying the post-hiatus books in this series nearly as much as I enjoyed the pre-hiatus books. The romance continues to annoy and the paranormal aspects have taken a turn for the confusing and creepy (though not creepy in a good way). Still, something keeps me engaged enough to keep reading them and I do like the sense of place Amanda Stevens builds. I liked the mystery and characters in this one more than the last book. I'll make my way in time to finishing this series, but I'm not in a rush and I've decided that if I don't remember all the pieces, I'm ok with that.

The Dreadful Tale of Prosper Redding by Alexandra Bracken
I suppose my lesson here is that just when you think you know something, life can still surprise you. I had written Alexandra Bracken off, but a surprise delivery filled with treats and pretty packaging had me reconsidering my boycott. I'm glad I did. This book was far from perfect or forever-memorable, but it was fun. Just like a Disney Halloween special. A perfect read for October, or Halloween in July.
The Blue Castle by L. M. Montgomery
Ooph, well, I had made my decision, but it was a scary decision filled with lots of uncertainty and wondering and feeling judged by the world and worrying how I would measure up. Enter, comfort read. L. M. Montgomery has a knack for refocusing me and helping me see what matters in life. Valency's bold decision to follow what makes her happy (and in doing so, realize all her dreams) rather than the expectations of people whose opinions really don't matter was just what I needed to read.

Confederates Don't Wear Couture by Stephanie Kate Strohm
While I was mustering courage and realigning priorities with Valency, I also lightening things up with Dev and Libby. This book made me laugh during a time when it was important to remember to laugh. Life things were all Big Scary Changes, and a sassy gay best friend sewing period-appropriate pretty dresses for Libby designed to catch the eyes of dashing southern gentlemen during Confederate reenactment tours was the perfect counterpoint. Lesson learned: It's important to lighten up and have fun, always.

Rose Cottage by Mary Stewart
I suspected that the Big Life Changes were going to result in a lack of access to my local library, so I made a list of all the books I really, really, really didn't want to miss out on and then started reading them. Rose Cottage is one such book, and while it wasn't world-changing, it was lovely. Old-timey, with a dash of Downton Abbey, a smidge of Gothic mystery, a pinch of romance, and a setting to sink into. Definitely glad I didn't let myself miss out on this. 

All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot
I had been reading this book since February! It's mostly told in episodic chapters, each in turn heartwarming, funny, or just plain nice. James Herriot finds his way as a new vet with fits, starts, losses, and wins. While for the longest time I thought of the title as relating to all the animals James treats, I came to realize it describes the funny, strange, lovable, dislikable, and amusing people he encounters just as much. It was a charming book and one I savored.

Next up

June and July were filled with books I never reviewed, but did enjoy. The Great Turmoil of 2017 and all the questions it raised came to a firm conclusion in June. I got my answers, and July was spent taking next steps based on those answers.

Looking back over these months the theme that characterized both my reading life and life life was "doing what I want" and that made for a very liberating and surprisingly content June and July. Few if any things were entirely perfect, but the imperfections didn't bother me much.

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