Monday, December 31, 2018

Reflecting on My 2018 Challenges

6 did I do?

The Re-Read Challenge
Goal: Re-read as many books as I want
Books read:7
Goal achieved? Yes!

I ended up re-reading 7 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.

This was an unusual year for rereads, as none of the "usual suspects" made an appearance this year. No Karen White, Amelia Atwater-Rhodes, and L. J. Smith. For the second year in a row now, no Anne Bishop and Sarah J. Maas. These are my standby comfort reads, but 2018 didn't lead me to seek out this kind of comfort read. Or, perhaps the way I approached 2018 had something to do with that. 

Instead, I revisited some old favorites that I hadn't read in years and years, including the Hero's Guide series and Harry Potter. While I wanted the lighthearted humor of the Hero's Guide books in part because I wanted a laugh, I mostly read all of these because they were good books I wanted to revisit again. Refreshing! Last year in my challenge reflection I noted that it was only toward the end of 2017 that I started rereading for re-experiencing an old favorite instead of for comfort and I noted that I wanted to keep that focus in mind this year. I didn't really remember this throughout the year, but it does seem like I followed that desire.

I feel like it's important to remind myself again though, 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.

Goodreads Reading Challenge
Goal: 50 books, then adjusted, and adjusted, up to 86
Books read: 89
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." It's much more motivating and makes me feel like I'm totally kicking butt. I figured I might surpass 50 books, but if I didn't, I'd be happy with hitting 50. This worked out well, and I ended up adjusting my goal up and up again. I think I'll start with 50 books again next year, and so if I make that goal then wonderful, but if I surpass it then it's just icing on the cake.

Historical Fiction Challenge
Goal: 15 books
Books read: 44 (18 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 five non-fiction books, which is less abnormal for me lately but still something I'm impressed with myself for doing, and thirteen biographical historical fiction books.

While I'm counting all of the Marion Chesney books as historical lite, they were surprisingly meaty and painted a very good picture of the time period. I read a reply from the author once where she said something like "although the books are frivolous, the research was grueling" and it shows. I didn't spend any time this year with Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey/Maturin series, which is disappointing, especially considering how many I read last year and how much I enjoyed them, but not terribly disappointing.

For the second year in a row, Marie Antoinette and Cleopatra didn't make an appearance. I spent time revisiting the Tudors and the Wars of the Roses again, but in both cases from a slightly different angle through the eyes of traditionally "side" characters. The Tudors also got far less time than last year, with the only Henry VIII wife book being the non-fiction Anne Boleyn book.

Last year I said I continued to dabble with Henry II/Richard/Eleanor and Stephen/Matilda, but this year I think I can replace the word "dabble" with something firmer, particularly in regard to Henry II and Eleanor who I feel like I finally know. Last year I toe-dipped with the three Edwards (I, II, and III) and I was hoping I'd spend more time with them this year. Unfortunately Edward III didn't get any time from me, but Edward II got two books and, while it's not on my list because I haven't finished it yet, I did spend time reading Thomas B. Costain's Edward I section of his book The Three Edwards. So, hopefully more to come on the Edwards front next year.

Also notable this year was my foray into Henry III through the perspective of his sister (and her husband Simon de Montfort), which is the first time I've managed to finish a Henry III book. Also incredibly, 2018 was the year I finally found a Victoria book I liked. And I finally finished When Christ and His Saints Slept, which I've been trying to finish for years and years. Perhaps 2018's the year when things started in earlier years finally came together.

Keep the Books Off the Shelf Challenge
Goal: Read books I acquired in 2018
Books read: 54 read, 3 DNF = 57 total
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. I did end up reading 22% though! Last year I ended up reading a little over 19% and even though I got fewer books this year, that's still a win. If I include the books I acquired this year but read in previous years, that gets me up to 25%. And if I add in the ones I acquired and DNF-ed this year (12) that gets me up to 30%. Yay! I enjoy this challenge and I'll sign up for it again in 2019.

Read My Own Books Challenge
Goal: Read books I acquired prior to 2018
Books read: 26 read, 14 DNF'ed, 10 remove = 50 total
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 26 books, 14 of them were e-books and 18 of them were books I got in 2017. So, as far as the first reason for this challenge, many of the books I ended up reading don't apply. However, 12 did, and that was my goal! I also ended up reading 9 books that have been on my shelves for between 2 and 6 years, so that's a win for reason number two. When I add in all the books I DNF-ed and removed, that makes this even more of a win. Removing 25 books this year definitely lightened my shelves (and if I move, that's at least 2 less boxes).

All throughout the year I was looking at my 2017-acquired reads as "less good" than those older owned books. But, really, looking at my reason number two for this challenge, those 2017-acquried reads actually represent a win. That's 18 more books that only went unread for a year or less, which is great.

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.

26% read of books acquired in 2018 (250)
21% read of books acquired in 2017 (360) *
37% read of books acquired in 2016 (368) *
19% read and 4 removed of books acquired in 2015 (113) *
35% read and 1 removed of books acquired in 2014 (80) *
47% read and 2 removed of books acquired in 2013 (58) *
43% read and 6 removed of books acquired in 2012 (77) *
77% read and 6 removed of books acquired in 2010-2011 (146) *
81% read and 0 removed of books acquired in 2008-2009 (36)
87% read and 0 removed of books acquired in 2003-2007 (100)
97% read and 0 removed of books acquired in 2002 and earlier (76)

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 think I made good progress in 2018 and definitely beat my 2017 progress (which beat my record in 2016). I'll be signing up for this challenge in 2019 and I hope to continue making a dent.

Library Reading Challenge
Goal: Read library books
Books read: 2 read
Goal achieved? ?? 

I'm not sure if this challenge is the right fit for me anymore. I mostly feel the need to keep it around because then every book I read "counts" for a challenge, but do I really need that? I don't know that I do anymore.

I've been enjoying the freedom and lack of stress in reading my own books. I'm also really happy that I've been focusing on my own books instead of library books, which is still so new to me but feels really great. I got out of the habit of going to the library these last few years because my last library was annoying to drive to, annoying to park in, and had annoying hours. Plus, in both this library and my last library I work professionally with the directors, so I always feel like I need to sneak in and hope I'm seen because when I'm in the library getting books for myself the last thing I want to do is talk business.

While a little part of me feels guilty (I should support libraries!) and a little part of me feels apprehensive about letting go of a challenge, I think it's time for me and this challenge to take a break next year. There's always the future.

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 continue to want to read historical fiction and non-fiction, and I love how this challenge helps focus my reading on that. I read even more this year than last year and I hope to read in this ballpark next year, too. 

Last year was the first year I really embraced reading my own books and relaxing my reading rules. I'm happy to say I completely continued that approach this year and I hope to see myself keep this new relaxed approach up next year. I like that these books were a good mix of 2018, 2017, and older books.

I'm also happy I finally let go 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.

My hope for 2018 was that I continue reading what I want to, when I want to, and how I want to, and not because I feel the need to adhere to a rule or obligation. Read my own books, appreciating what I have. Recognize and appreciate lessons learned and experiences gained. I'd say that definitely describes 2018, so, success! I hope to continue this approach in 2019.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

2018 in Review: October through December

I made a really big list

It's that time of year again! I started making these lists because I'm a list kind of person, but they've become so much more. I've found myself returning to them time and again almost like a scrapbook. It's been a nice way to reflect, remember, and reminisce.

Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death by M. C. Beaton
Agatha Raisin makes me think of my co-worker in one of the libraries I worked in years ago. She became my friend and felt like another grandmother to me and helped me grow in ways I don't think I was able to fully realize until I got older. Both realize in the sense of be aware of and realize in the sense of put into action. Some things you just need to be the right age for, and I think as I'm getting older those lessons are more applicable to my current life experiences. This friend liked the Agatha Raisin series and reading them now I feel like I'm reading them with her.

Agatha Raisin and the Vicious Vet by M. C. Beaton
...Potted Gardner
...Walkers of Dembley
...Murderous Marriage

I also love these books because I love Agatha Raisin. I read a quote from the author that said something about how she loves writing Agatha Raisin because Agatha gets to say all the things M. C. Beaton would sometimes like to say but she is too polite. I agree! She also said she wanted to create with Agatha a character you might not like but would want to win in the end despite that, and that definitely describes Agatha for me. I love her, and even though I spend a lot of time reading the books shaking my head and saying "Noooooooooo" before Agatha steps in it again, these moments always serve to endear her even more to me.

Deborah Goes to Dover by M. C. Beaton
Ok, one more. I dipped back into this series and enjoyed it immensely. It may not seem like a Big Deal, but my flexibility in going in and out of this series based on my reading mood is Huge for me. 

Isabella by Colin Falconer
This is a strange book because on one hand it's awkwardly written and distant. On the other hand, though, it is genius. Isabella and Edward are both heartrendingly human, with equal doses of human flaws, frailty, and sympathy. Sometimes strange can be genius.

The Death of a King by P. C. Doherty
Honestly, I was really hoping I had found another Daughter of Time. I adore DoT and this book uses the same gimmick of a fictional character conducting an investigation into one of history's mysteries. This time the mystery is the death of Edward II. The clear biases here were in stark contrast to Isabella (here Isabella is every bit the She-Wolf history has maligned her to be), but this didn't annoy me. Sometimes it's fun to delight in a cacklingly evil representation and the image of Isabella carrying around Edward's heart and ordering secret murders was exceedingly fun. Objectively, this was a fun book. In the moment, it was kind of a slog and even though the book is actually pretty short, it felt really long (probably because it has big chapters). Some books are more enjoyable after they're finished than while you're in the middle of them.

The Hero's Guide to Being an Outlaw by Christopher Healy
Ah, just as enjoyable as the others. I'm sad this series is over, but I'm happy they hold up on rereads. The first time I read this book I had so many expectations, hopes, and fears. This time around I knew exactly what would happen and so I could just sit back, relax, and enjoy. While sometimes the suspense of not knowing provides a thrilling delight, I think I actually liked the book more this time around than the first. There isn't just one way to enjoy something, and appreciating the different facets and ways is important.

Thornyhold by Mary Stewart
I read Rose Cottage last year and loved it for its quiet, lovely story. I was hoping for more of the same with Thornyhold and that is exactly what I got. This is one of the first books I bought here in my new home state, but it took me about a year to actually read it. I'm so glad I did. It's a sighing book (you know, *sigh* this book is so wonderful). There's a certain old world charm like The Secret Garden or A Little Princess. The house, the wild land, the charming child, the sweet pets, the lovely romance, and the journey to contentment make this book one I want to revisit again and again.

Agatha Raisin and the Terrible Tourist by M. C. Beaton
...Wellspring of Death
...Wizard of Evesham
...Witch of Wyckhadden
I continued to read Agatha Raisin throughout the month of November, polishing off another four of her stories. I keep waiting to get bored or tired or annoyed with the series, but it hasn't happened yet. I like following Agatha as she muddles through mysteries experiences romances (most horrible, some not so bad), grows, and doesn't grow. I love the characters who make up her circle of friends. I love seeing her try to cook or quit smoking and I love even more when she goes back to embracing her old ways.

Night and Silence by Seanan McGuire
I feel like I'm held hostage to this series. I just want it to end so I can be released and don't feel compelled to read the books anymore! There are elements and vestiges that I like and make me continue reading, but increasingly I feel miserable reading these. Just like a relationship, there may be good parts, but if the overall package is not good, then it's time to call it quits. I think I just need to admit that the relationship is over, make peace with that, and let it go.   

Grave Ransom by Kalayna Price

Ok, so this is another relationship that's on rocky ground, but I ended up really enjoying the time I spent with this latest installment. I think I was searching for what I didn't get with Night and Silence, and I found it in Grave Ransom. Even though there are some things I'm not loving (the romance is totally stalled), what stood out the most to me (and in stark contrast with N&S) is that I still really like the main character. That matters.

Fillets of Plaice by Gerry Durrell
Now that I know what to expect from Gerry Durrell, particularly from his short story collections, I went into Fillets of Plaice with both eyes open. That's the way to do it, and so I was at turns amused and bemused by Gerry's always interesting and often hilarious adventures, musings, and stories. 
Agatha Raisin and the Fairies of Fryfam by M. C. Beaton
...Love from Hell
...Day the Floods Came
...Case of the Curious Curate
...Haunted House
Ah ha! Finally. Agatha's love life is always filled with ups and downs, but The Love From Hell finally shoved a man out of her life and I hope it's for good! Agatha deserves better, and I love that Mrs. Bloxby agrees with me. I know none of this makes sense if you haven't read the books, but here's the takeaway: I adore this series. Agatha is pure Id (as in, id, ego, and superego). She does all the things I might secretly want to do but I Know Better.

The Fall of Anne Boleyn: A Countdown by Claire Ridgway
A countdown indeed. This book was fantastic. I enjoy reading Claire's blog The Anne Boleyn Files and that was where I stumbled across her books. This one has such short chapters that it was easy to fly through it. The short chapters and to-the-point writing also made the "countdown" feel even more tense and foreboding. The creeping horror and swiftness of Anne's demise is terrifying and Claire perfectly captured this feeling. How do you go from beloved paramour for whom a king would divorce his wife, break with the church, and throw his country into turmoil to, in seemingly the blink of an eye, discarded and decapitated? Chilling!   

The Royal Griffin by Juliet Dymoke
Juliet Dymoke is a new-to-me author, but hardly new. This book was originally published in the late 1970s, but a bunch of her books seem to have been re-released over the past two years. I'm glad, because even though Henry III books are always challenging for me (I just don't like him), this is the first one I've managed to finish. Focusing on Henry's sister Eleanor and Simon probably helped a lot, as they didn't like Henry much either. I liked the first half much more, with the beginning showing a lot more care to character development and the ending rushing through events and focusing less on character development. I'm looking forward to reading more by this author, especially with characters I like more. 

The Enchanted Places by Christopher Milne
This is a gem of a book. I don't think it's for everyone, but I get the feeling that Christopher Milne is more of a kindred spirit than not. His careful musings, childhood memories, descriptions of nature, musings on Pooh and Christopher Robin, slight sadness, reflection on his parents, caution, and joy came through in a very tender way. I feel like this isn't really something to broadcast too loudly, but rather a book to savor, treasure, and keep close.   

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J. K. Rowling
...Chamber of Secrets
Has it really been thirteen years since I last read these books? Surely not. And yet, it has. I've watched the movie so many times between then and now and Harry Potter is so much a part of the fabric of our existence now that it doesn't seem like so much time has passed. There were no surprises in this re-read. I've remembered it all. But it was just nice to spend some time at Hogwarts with Harry and Co. again. I don't know if I'll read through the whole series or just part, but that is a decision for next year.


Life stress intruded more in the final quarter with upheavals at work. That's to be expected with new leadership, and everything will be just fine in the end, but change is hard, particularly for my coworkers. Even though the stress is not my own, it has been stressful for me to be around so many stressed and upset people. My in-laws also came during this time and we've experienced a series of annoying but ultimately fine things.

In some ways I let this all build up. End of the year reflection and writing these lists has helped put things in perspective though, and it's been nice seeing that even though life may have been stressful, my reading experiences have been lovely. As with Night and Silence, the final quarter of the year has been about clarifying what I actually think and feel about things, and then making intentional choices to remove those things that do not bring me joy and focus instead on those that do. Just as Dumbledore advises us not to dwell on dreams and forget to live, it is equally important not to dwell on things that do not add joy to our living.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

2018 in Review: July through September

I made a really big list

It's that time of year again! I started making these lists because I'm a list kind of person, but they've become so much more. I've found myself returning to them time and again almost like a scrapbook. It's been a nice way to reflect, remember, and reminisce.

The Little Book of Pooh-isms
A review book. Hardly a "book" in the reading challenge sense, this was a quick read filled with quotes from the Pooh books and movies. Sweet, charming, and somewhat silly, this book was nice because it reminded me of the other books and movies. My husband and I read through the quotes together while making dinner one night. Which, really does make this book a good way to spend some time.

Emily Goes to Exeter by M. C. Beaton
Belinda Goes to Bath by M. C. Beaton
I wasn't ready to let go of this author yet, so I picked her her Traveling Matchmaker series. These books have the best covers yet, but not the best stories. Oh they're great, and I love them, but this series didn't quite grab me the way the other two series did. Which is to say, they're maybe more of a 4.5 special shelf read than a 5 star special shelf read. It also might be timing. I had consumed over 12 of these books by this point and I ended up reading only two of the six in this series before breaking for other books

A Poisoned Season by Tasha Alexander
It took me four years to finally pick up the second book in this series (the first is And Only to Deceive). One of our local used bookstores closed and, of course, I took part in their going out of business sale. The third book in this series was one of my "finds" and that prompted me to read the unread second book. I actually enjoyed it quite a bit, which, yes, I was surprised even though I was of course hoping for that. The main character and I don't entirely click and there's something about the books that is close but not quite there for me. Still, I really liked the time I spent with this book and I started reading the next book directly after finishing this one. 

Annie's Life in Lists by Kristin Mahoney
I was in the mood for something modern, light, sweet, and middle grade after reading so many historicals. I think this popped up as a new book at my library and so I grabbed in on impulse and started reading. It was a fast read (everything is written in list format) and hit the spot.

A Week of Mondays by Jessica Brody
Still in the mood for something contemporary and light, but with a dash of romance. Enter YA contemporary. I almost shied away because of the large page count (464 pages!) but I decided to give it a try. I'm glad I did. It went by super fast and fit my mood perfectly.

A Fatal Waltz by Tasha Alexander
The main character in this series makes me roll my eyes so hard. She's insufferable (which is why I decided not to pick up book 4...I just couldn't spend more time with her right now). But, there's something about these books that I do enjoy and despite the main character I ended up spending a pleasant time with this book. I also liked the atmospheric blustering cold winter described here (it may have been July here, but my hyperbolic thin Texas blood felt like summer never managed to get here...I don't think the weather ever cracked 100 and I'm sorry but high 80s or even mid-90s as a peak summer high is cold). Plus, I picked this book up at the store closing sale on June 29th and by July 18th I had finished it! Fantastic!

Named of the Dragon by Susanna Kearsley
Ok, so I wasn't quite done with Susanna Kearsley this year. I snagged this copy at the same going out of business sale and started reading it right after finishing A Fatal Waltz. It was kind of silly and not my favorite of her books, but it still had a cozy fun vibe to it that made the whole experience like putting on a fluffy sweater and watching kitschy movies. I really like this author and I'm glad she has so many more books for me to read.  

Mother Knows Best by Serena Valentino
July closed with the latest from Serena Valentino's zany Disney villains series. I got this one for review, but I would have read it anyway. I love these books. I'd say they're a guilty pleasure, but I don't feel guilty about liking them.

Penelope Goes to Portsmouth by M. C. Beaton
These books are addictive. I took a small break in the middle of this series, but by August I was back for more. This book introduces Miss Pym's footman Benjamin and he is a lovely addition to this series. The budding romance between Miss Pym and Sir George continues, and even though we really only glimpse this relationship in the beginning and end of each book, I live for those chapters!  

The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom by Christopher Healy
Ah, I still love this book! Isn't it great when you reread an old favorite and you adore it just as much as you did the first time? It seems I'm developing a three year cycle, having first read the book in 2012, then again on audio in 2015, and reading again now in 2018. Perhaps an audio re-read is in order in 2021? Ha, well, we'll see. For now, it was wonderful reading a book that made me laugh as much as this one did.

The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian
I wasn't expecting this book to be what it was. I'm not sure what I was expecting, but since I didn't know about the Armenian Genocide until I read this book, I wasn't expecting that. It's always weird to me when I'm confronted with an entire slice of history I've been entirely ignorant of, and I do consider myself a person more historically inclined than not. There's just so much to know and it's in moments like these that I am humbled and delighted by how much I still have, and will always have, to learn.
Bright Burns the Night by Sara B. Larson
I didn't so much as "read" this book in August as I "finished" it in August. What do I mean by that? Well, I first started reading this book toward the end of March when it arrived unexpectedly at my door. I read through the first few weeks of April and then put it down around the 50% mark with every intention of finishing it at some point. It nagged at the back of my mind and finally I decided to just finish it in August. The book itself was...weird. Good in some ways, but it never really launched and then when it finally started picking up toward the end it crashed and burned spectacularly.

But, silver lining, I'm really enjoying how much looser I've become with allowing myself to read a book when it fits my mood and not push it when it doesn't fit. It feels less about the book or reading lists or numbers of books read and more about me and my enjoyment, regardless of how conventional my approach. Which, really, isn't that what reading should be about?

The Hero's Guide to Storming the Castle by Christopher Healy
I didn't want to laughter to stop, so I started reading this book as soon as I finished the first. The whole experience felt like I was retreating into some happy bubble world. I also could not keep the jeopardous jade djinn gem out of my head as if it were a song lyric on loop. I remember thinking of this story while hiking back and forth up and down a hill carrying firewood back to our campsite. Funny how certain memories become attached to certain reading experiences.  

Beatrice Goes to Brighton by M. C. Beaton
August ended as it began, with another Traveling Matchmaker book. As with her other historical books, these are surprisingly filled with little historical details and a lovely sense of time and place. Miss Pym's adventures in romance and mystery continued and I continued to love them.

Her Highness the Traitor by Susan Higginbotham
Much as I was absolutely loving my light and sweet reading experiences, I was bit hard by the historical bug in September and the entire month was spent immersing myself in the past. Even better? I own ALL of these books! Best of all? I enjoyed all of them.

Her Highness the Traitor is the fourth Susan Hibbinbotham book I've read, and I enjoyed it immensely. I really appreciated how we followed "side" historical figures, so, still real historical people, but people who are usually mentioned as side characters in historical fiction. I liked how they got center stage in this book and that slight shift in perspective added so much depth to my understanding of events during this time. 

Queen Defiant by Anne O'Brien
I started out my book relationship with Eleanor of Aquitaine in a somewhat rocky way through Christy English's book To Be Queen (though the Royal Diaries version was a better experience, if limited on the timeline of events). Anne O'Brien was a two for two hit for me, but in a kind of weaker 3.5 star way. So, my hopes were moderate and I was delighted when Queen Defiant exceeded my expectations. I actually really liked Eleanor and enjoyed the book a lot. This was admittedly helped by Susan Howatch's excellent portrayal-ish of Eleanor still seared in my mind and adding depth to my reading of Eleanor in this book. But, bottom line? I had a blast, regardless of the reason, and I will remember this as the book I finally became BFFs with Eleanor. Sometimes it takes a few tries and a few authors.

The Thrifty Guide to Ancient Greece by Jonathan Stokes
I hope this series continues! Though not perfect, what with the silly time traveling gimmick and the...erm, sanitized approach to some events and people (but, seriously, how else can you do Caligula for kids?), they aren't Heavy History reads. But they're fun. They're fast. And they inspire deeper dives to learn even more about history. So, I'm happy with them. 

When Christ and His Saints Slept by Sharon Kay Penman
If I read no other book than this one this year I would have considered that a smashing success. I have a long history with this book, so even just finishing it is a triumph. See, I first started reading this book in 2013. I got about a quarter of the way through and then stalled. Not because I wasn't liking it, either. I just...stopped. Then I tried rereading it in 2017 and got through about 15% before stalling out again.

I can't even explain why because I adored what I read. I even gave a lower rating to Elizabeth Chadwick's Lady of the English because I so adored Sharon Kay Penman's take in this book that I had not even finished. Yet Maude and Geoffrey's story was so seared in my mind. And it only got better from there. Reading this book was an absolute delight. The fictional parts, the historical parts, it was all fantastic and I hope I don't let such a long time go by before reading more Sharon Kay Penman.

The Stolen Crown by Susan Higginbotham may have been a little unfair to read another historical fiction book right on the tails of When Christ and His Saints Slept, but I didn't love The Stolen Crown as much as I was hoping I would. It was ok. Katherine and her husband were likeable enough, but they both felt more shallow and surface-level. Events seemed to happen around them and Katherine sort of floated through them. Part of that is probably her character, but it felt like the book wasn't as...full? Polished? I'm not sure. It felt weaker than Susan Higginbotham's other books, and that may be the case considering this was her first book. Still, I did enjoy it overall, even if it isn't a favorite.


Interestingly, with the exception of that one camping memory, I can't really recall what was going on in my life while I was reading these books. In part I think that's because there wasn't much actually going on. Well, that's not true. There was a lot going on! The new president at my job started and I oversaw the remodel work on a building that opened in late August. But, even with all that excitement, there weren't any problems or drama, just relaxing and enjoying life. We got our rooftop tent during these months and spent most weekends out camping.

Notably, I do strongly recall reading Agatha Christie's Come, Tell Me How You Live during our trip to Winnemucca Lake where we saw wild donkeys and watched the meteor shower (complete with bats flying over hour heads). I didn't end up finishing that book, but not because I didn't enjoy it. I actually loved what I read, but I think that will be a book I savor over time. 

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

2018 in Review: April through June

I made a really big list

It's that time of year again! I started making these lists because I'm a list kind of person, but they've become so much more. I've found myself returning to them time and again almost like a scrapbook. It's been a nice way to reflect, remember, and reminisce.

Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier
Ugh, this book. April started out kind of meh, but not a total wash. I love Daphne du Maurier's ability to create atmosphere, and she nailed the spooky moors here. Too bad the book was filled with awful characters and a plot that took absolutely forever to go anywhere. It was weird, but the experience made me flash back to middle school where even good books (like Call of the Wild) were turned into awful slogs because I knew I'd have to answer stupid questions about foreshadowing and themes and stuff like that instead of just reading for enjoyment. I couldn't shake that feeling and it seriously ruined things for me. Thanks, school.

The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell
Apparently something in me decided that April was for chilling reads because I carried on with the mood set by Jamaica Inn. Even though it was April and that's supposed to be spring and warmth, it was so cold! I mean, objectively I guess the low 60s isn't exactly cold, but I still haven't been able to shake Texas weather and I'm used to April being in the high 70s/low 80s. So there I was, huddled under blankets and wearing sweaters reading about drafty mansions and midnight hauntings. I was looking forward to this book and so when I was sent a review copy I dove right in. It didn't let me down. A lot of the details actually faded from my memory, but the creepy, menacing feelings linger. Definitely a good one.  

Valley of the King by Cecelia Holland
I really, really wanted to read more historical books this year, so I decided it had been long enough since my last historical read and it was time for another. Last year's The Visitors was still lingering in my mind and so I decided to seek out another King Tut/Howard Carter book. Well, this was a miss. Ish. It was still interesting in its way and I'm hard pressed not to enjoy reading about historical stuff. But, oh my gosh, that second half. What happened? I felt like I was reading weird fan fiction. This was a bizarre experience.

Powder and Patch by Georgette Heyer
I started this book the same day I started Valley of the Kings. I wanted to read something historical-ish. I wanted to read something short. I wanted to read a Georgette Heyer book. I wanted to read something romantic. Powder and Patch fit the bill. It wasn't my favorite Heyer (it felt kinda sloggy, despite the short page count), but I liked it nonetheless. Georgette Heyer is kind of like Jean Plaidy in the sense that she's become a solid pick for when I want something nice, if not always amazing.

Amy Snow by Tracy Rees
This was just lovely. Like some of the best Proper Romance books, I floated on air through this story. Amy is easy to like, as are many of the people she encounters along her journey. Her relationship with Aurelia is heartbreaking. The mystery was fun to unravel, but I guessed it long before Amy did. Not that this mattered, because the mystery was just icing on the cake. This is a sighing book- you know, where you just periodically sigh with happiness and contentment and romance and friendship and love. Definitely a reread.

Secrets of the Manor: Camille's Story by Adele Whitby
I really love short middle grade books with standalone stories that are part of a series. Extra points of they're historical. Think series like My Royal Diaries, American Girl, or Goddess Girls. So, when I found this series I couldn't help but get my hopes up. And they were mostly met. This was good. I enjoyed it. wasn't amazing. I haven't read any of the other books in the series and I don't feel like I must get my hands on them right away, but I do want to. Someday...

A Heart Revealed by Josi S. Kilpack
Amy Snow put me in the mood for more swoony historical romance and so I decided to reach for a reread. I first read this book in 2015 and I adored it then...and I adored it now. Even thinking about it now as I write this makes me want to reread it again. *sigh* that reading scene! What a wonderful way to start the month of May. 

The Boy, the Bird, and the Coffin Maker by Matilda Woods
The happy sighs continued through the start of May. This is a lovely story and I tried so hard to savor it. I read a few tiny chapters each morning and so I started off my days with my heart breaking and mending over the sadness and beauty, magic and love in this story. I feel like Matilda Woods has given me something special, and I treasure it.

Notorious Royal Marriages by Leslie Carroll
Leslie Carroll is also Juliet Grey, and while I adored her serious and emotional take on Marie Antoinette, this compilation had that biting humor that authors seem to like to inject into history books like this in an attempt to make them more appealing to "the masses." I hate that. Leslie Carroll wasn't the worst offender though and overall I did enjoy this book. I think this is the book that gave me a deeper dive into the Georgian monarchs than I've read thus far. 

The Poor Relation series by Marion Chesney
Oh my gosh, this series, this author! Game changing. I spent years through my library career shelving Marion Chesney's (aka M.C. Beaton) books but it wasn't until this year that I actually started reading them. I am in love. They're light, short, fast reads with characters I love, humor I click with, and stories that always leave me feeling happy. I tore through this entire six book series through the final days of May and into the middle of June.

The Six Sisters series by Marion Chesney
Six books later and I still needed more Marion Chesney books in my life. I spent the rest of June happily immersed in The Six Sisters series.

Basil of Baker Street by Eve Titus
I took a brief gasp for air and surfaced from my Marion Chesney marathon to read a classic (1958) children's story. I love Sherlock Holmes and as a kid I loved the cartoon movie The Great Mouse Detective. Someone's update on Goodreads put this series on my radar and I decided to impulse read the first book. I probably would have gone on with the series, but I haven't been able to track them all down yet. Anyway, the story was sweet and charming in that old timey way that I adore and all the homages to Sherlock Holmes were lovely. Definitely a great series I plan to continue.


April through June started out dark and stormy but ended up sunshine and sweet. I wanted to revisit some much-enjoyed authors and time periods, and while I didn't love all of those experiences, I'm still glad I pursued them and all still had something positive to offer.

Between Amy Snow, A Heart Revealed, The Boy, the Bird, and the Coffin Maker, Basil of Baker Street, and my extended stay in the land of Marion Chesney, this spring quarter was positively delightful.

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