May 2020: Reading Wrap Up

It’s a new day, and Black Lives Still Matter. All of them. And, as you’re about to find out, I didn’t read any books by Black authors in May. One third of the books I read in May had own voices queer representation, but none were written by authors of color.

So far only 16% of the books I’ve read this year have been written by authors of color. My goal for 2020 was to hit at least 33% with a stretch goal of 50%. I’d love to hit 40%, because that would be more or less in line with the percent of non-white people in the United States according to current census estimates. So, it’s time to focus a little harder on improving that stat. But more on that in my TBR post.

Let’s talk about what I read in May, shall we?

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First up was The Queen of Sorrow by Sarah Beth Durst. This was the last book in the Queens of Renthia series (but she’s writing other books set in this world). I wish this series got more attention. It’s really good fantasy with great characters and world-building. One of the main characters in the series (she gets introduced in book two) is a mom with two kids who are pretty well fleshed out characters (not plot moppets), and the conflict between her role as a mother and as a queen is really well explored. In fact, there are at least five different female characters of different ages and with different values and strengths who are all wielding different types of power throughout this series. Sometimes they are on the same side, sometimes they are in conflict. But this series is definitely about the women, and it does not shy away from showing the brutal parts of living in a world where the elemental spirits are trying to kill you. I highly recommend checking out this series. I think it’s an excellent YA/adult cross-over fantasy series.

After finishing that, I did a little Innkeeper Chronicles binge and read books three (One Fell Sweep) and four (Sweep of the Blade), plus the recently published novella (Sweep With Me) over the course of one weekend. I still love this series. I really REALLY hope that there is more. I love the concept. I love the characters. I love the sci-fantasy world-building. I love the light touch with the romance elements (it’s more romantic fantasy than fantasy romance). I think book four (Sweep of the Blade) is my favorite so far because I really like the vampire culture, and I love Maud and her daughter. I want more books set in that vampire world. It’s such a good and unique take on vampires. I can not say enough good stuff about these books. Just go read them already!

Next up, I read A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine. I really liked this book a lot, too. It reminds me of the Hainish Cycle books by Ursula K. LeGuin crossed with something like Planetside by Michael Mammay. The pop culture elements built into the world building is so good. I love it when world building is so well thought out that it includes things like how a poetry slam might be used for political maneuvering. Or considers which novels and other stories might spread and disperse throughout a far-reaching empire, and which would be of interest to people who have recently been assimilated and are maybe not huge fans of the empire, but maybe appreciate the pop culture. I also think the author did a great job describing what it feels like to have studied a culture and a language to the point where you are passably fluent, but how you still can feel like an outsider who will never be a true part of that culture once you finally get a chance to visit and spend time there. I seriously though this was going to win the Nebula. Now I need to go read the novel that did win (A Song for a New Day by Sarah Pinsker), because if it beat this book and Gideon the Ninth, it has to be good.

Then I took a short break from reading novels to read the first of the five books that make up the novel Wool by Hugh Howey. The first book was originally published as a stand-alone novella. The novella made me slightly more interested in reading the full book, but I found out that the main character shifts after this first book to follow someone else’s story. That makes sense given how the novella ends, but it also makes me slightly less inclined to bump Wool to the top of my TBR. I feel like, if I’m going to be switching perspectives anyway, there’s no big rush.

And finally, I read Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston. I know everyone loves this book, so this is going to probably be an unpopular opinion, and I hesitate to even write this, but this was my least favorite of all the books I read this month. It was good. I liked it. I just didn’t love it as much as everyone else I know did. I blame this on the current political environment and not on the book. I really struggled with immersing myself in this world with its female president. It kept reminding me what we should have had and making me sad. Overall, this book just wasn’t a good fit for me right now, but I’m really glad everyone else seems to have loved it. Maybe if I’d read it before the trash fire that is 2020, I would have liked it more.

And on that super positive note… Ugh. Seems like a bummer to leave it there. I should really be jumping in to talk about what I’m currently reading, or my TBR for June, or something. But this post is super long already, and I need to go write some Modern Fae words so that I can get book four in that series out sometime this year. You’ll have to wait until this weekend to hear about my Hogsmeade Mini Magical Readathon TBR. Until then, stay safe and wash your hands. ❤

May 2020: Book Haul

Hello, friends! Before I get into this post, I’d like to be clear about something that should be obvious to anyone who has been reading my blog for a while. For the record, I believe Black Lives Matter. Make an effort to read books by Black authors. Listen to what Black authors say about the books meant to represent them and to what they say about the publishing industry.

If you haven’t been reading any books by Black authors, or you’ve only read books by Black authors that were about characters dealing with racism (The Hate You Give is considered required reading around these parts, but please don’t stop there), check my Twitter for some recommendations and stay tuned for an upcoming post with my all Black author Hogsmeade Magical Readathon TBR.

That said, let’s move on to our second bit of housekeeping. I’ve decided to split my usual monthly reading wrap-up into two (maybe three?) posts this month. My May book haul was just too much, and it was making my May reading wrap up post too long. So today you’re getting the “inbox” portion of the post and tomorrow you’ll get the “outbox” portion. Then the “currently reading” and TBR stuff will follow.

Are you ready for an epic book haul? Good. Let’s dive in.

Library Haul

This was a particularly large library haul month. I stocked up on some middle and end of series books that I’ve been meaning to read: Hurts to Love You (Forbidden Hearts), Sweep With Me (Innkeeper Chronicles), In a Badger Way (Honey Badger Chronicles), My Lord and Spymaster (Spymasters), Never Judge a Lady by Her Cover (The Rules of Scoundrels), Eclipse the Skies (Ignite the Stars), Engaging the Enemy and Victory Conditions and Command Decision (Vatta’s War), Come Tumbling Down (Wayward Children).

Then there are a few new-to-me series that I’ve been meaning to check out: the Poison Study series by (Poison Study, Magic Study, and Fire Study are the first three books) and the Mistborn series by Brandon Sanderson. I was only able to get Mistborn this time, but I’ve got the other books in the series reserved to get in my next book haul.

I got Lord of Scoundrels by Loretta Chase after reading this Twitter thread by a romance author I follow. It’s technically book two in the series, and I’ve never read anything by this author, but that thread really sold this book for me.

Catfishing on CatNet by Naomi Kritzer, Serpent & Dove by Shelby Mahurin, The Guinevere Deception by Kiersten White, and Riot Baby by Tochi Onyebuchi are all new(er) releases that have been getting a lot of buzz. I’ve had these on hold for a while, and I’m excited to check them out.

Then I grabbed a copy of It’s Not All Downhill From Here by Terry McMillan after listening to an interview with her on the Code Switch podcast. And when I saw that Susanna Clarke has a new book coming out, I also noticed that she had a short story anthology that I’d missed. So, I grabbed a copy of The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories as well.

I think that’s it from the library. Hopefully I didn’t miss any from the cover snapshot above. If you think that’s a lot of ebooks for one haul when I only have twenty one days to read them, don’t worry. My Kindle is on airplane mode while I work through this batch. That also means, there probably won’t be another big book haul for a few months.

Birthday Haul

May was my birthday month. It was a pretty mellow “stay-at-home” birthday, but it was made extra special by Zoom chats with friends and family and a delicious dinner made by my husband. Plus a steady diet of homemade pie and cake and cookies consumed throughout the month. Yum! 🙂

In addition to good eats, I got three ebooks I’ve been looking forward to reading and can’t get from my library. Thanks, Mom! ❤

The first is Scavenge the Stars by Tara Sim, which is a gender swapped retelling of The Count of Monte Cristo. You may remember that I listened to the audiobook of The Count of Monte Cristo (~50 hours of audiobook!) and unexpectedly loved it. When I saw this retelling, I knew I had to check it out.

I also got Strange Love by Ann Aguirre. I first heard about this on the Smart Bitches Trashy Books blog. I’m always on the lookout for sci-fi romance with great world-building, and I like that the aliens in this one are actually alien and not humans with green skin or something. If you also like sci-fi romance, I recommend checking out the SBTB review for more detail on this book (hint: they gave it an A!).

And finally, I got Dangerous Alliance by Jennieke Cohen. This one is billed as The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue meets Jane Austen in the Goodreads blurb. I first heard about it on Alexa Donne’s YouTube channel. She raved about it (and blurbed it), so I added it to my wishlist, but I haven’t heard any buzz about it since then. If you’ve read it or heard anything about it, let me know in the comments.

Other Stuff

Tooth and Claw by Jo Walton was the Tor.com free book in May. I’ve been meaning to read something by Jo Walton, and I’ve heard this is a really good dragon book. So, I grabbed a copy for my Kindle.

I also grabbed a free copy of book one of Wool by Hugh Howey to read for Short Story Club (organized by my critique partners and friends Amit, Scott, and James). The discussion with Hugh was great, and I’m really looking forward to this month’s discussion of “The Bookstore at the End of America” with Charlie Jane Anders. If you want to join, you can get tickets here (cost is an optional donation to Dog Eared Books in SF).

Then, I used some birthday money to buy a copy of my friend Karysa Faire’s first book, Take Two. It looks awesome, and I can’t wait to read it.

And, finally, I received my pandemic-delayed Fairy Loot box with a beautiful copy of Bone Crier’s Moon. This book wasn’t on my radar, but now that it’s in my hands, I’m very excited to read it.

Phew. I warned you. So many new (to me) books! I’m excited to get reading. What from this haul is really jumping out at you? Is there one of these books that you really want me to read and review? Let me know in the comments and maybe I’ll bump it up to the top of my TBR list.

Stay tuned to hear about what I read in May. Until then, be safe and wash your hands. ❤

April 2020: Reading (and #OWLsReadathon2020) Wrap Up

Turns out that “shelter-in-place” has been great for reading through my stash of hardcovers and paperbacks. I made a huge dent in my physical TBR stack this month. But don’t worry. There’s still a tower of books on my dresser. I’ll need a few more months of this to get through them all.

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April was the OWLs Magical Readathon, and I completed ten of the twelve subjects! I’m so excited because this gives me so many career options for NEWTs, later this year!

In the interest of keeping this post relatively short, I’ll just list what I read with a few brief comments on each book.

  • Ancient Runes – Wrong to Need You (Forbidden Hearts #2) by Alisha Rai – Solid middle book in this series. I loved the new characters and the bond between the sisters.
  • Arithmancy – Sourdough by Robin Sloan – I liked this more than I thought I would, mostly because it’s set in the San Francisco tech community, and I really bonded with the main character. The plot is a little weak, but I was so into the character and setting that I didn’t mind.
  • Astronomy – The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics by Olivia Waite – This one was a cozy story featuring embroidery as art, women in astronomy, and ladies in love.
  • Divination – Bitch Planet, Vol. 2: President Bitch by Kelly Sue DeConnick, Taki Soma, and Valentine De Landro – This volume offered some more insight into the world and the various tensions. The ending left me thinking there might be more? But I can’t seem to find anything about that on the internet.
  • History of Magic – The Witches of Echo Park by Amber Benson – Solid characters and world-building, but the plot meandered a bit. If you like modern-day witches, you’ll probably dig this series.
  • Muggle Studies – Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy – This is such a heartwarming story, and that Dolly Parton quote about figuring out who you are and doing it on purpose has been really resonating with me lately.
  • Potions – Saga Vol. 3 by by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples – Volume three continues to entertain, though this one seemed to be a little more “exposition” focused than the first two.
  • Transfiguration – Hot and Badgered by Shelly Laurenston – If you’re looking for heat, you’re probably going to be disappointed. The hero and heroine don’t really get together until about 75% of the way through the book. But, if you love shifters and sister bonds, you probably won’t mind. The characters are great and the plot is fast paced and bonkers (in a good way).
  • Herbology – Marque and Reprisal by Elizabeth Moon – I really like this series. It’s written in a very traditional sci-fi / space opera style, which may turn some people off, but the plot and world-building is so good. I love the addition of Stella and Rafe in this book. Ky’s crew is really coming together, and she’s finding her footing as captain.
  • Charms – Other Minds by by Peter Godfrey-Smith – There is some really cool science in this book mixed in with a lot of anecdotal tales of swimming with octopus and cuttlefish. Enjoyed the exploration of a different evolution of consciousness.

In addition to all that, I also had the good luck to get my hands on a copy of The Last Emperox, the final book in John Scalzi’s Interdependency Series. This was a very action-packed and emotionally satisfying ending to the series, and that’s all I’m going to say about that because I don’t want to spoil anything.

And, just before falling asleep on the final day of the month, I decided to dig into a flash fiction anthology, Nevertheless She Persisted. The stories were written by some of the top names in SFF right now (Charlie Jane Anders, Brooke Bolander, Amal El-Mohtar, Maria Dahvana Headley, Kameron Hurley, Seanan McGuire, Nisi Shawl, Catherynne M. Valente, Carrie Vaughn, Jo Walton, Alyssa Wong). I picked this up because of the authors and because it’s being offered for free from Tor right now.

I also read a bunch of flash fiction written by my writing group because decided to publish a pandemic themed flash fiction anthology called Fever Dreams. The piece I wrote for that is called “The Howlers.” There are six stories in total. They’re all super short and explore what a hopeful post-COVID-19 world might look like. It’s available for free. You can even download an ebook version, if you don’t like reading in a browser.

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I did not buy or borrow any books this month. But, I think May will probably be a big haul month because I have a lot of ebooks coming off hold at the library, and it’s also my birthday month.

Currently Reading

Once the OWLs Readathon ended, I started The Queen of Sorrow by Sarah Beth Durst so that I can discuss it with my reading buddies L. and S. who are reading the series along with me.

There is going to be another round of Tome Topple in May. I don’t think I’m going to participate this time, though. All of my TBR Tomes are on my Kindle, and I’m really enjoying reading paper books right now. We’ll see. I may just start over with Poseidon’s Wake by Alastair Reynolds, which I abandoned at about 10% during the last Tome Topple.

How did your April reading go? Did you participate in the OWLs Readathon? Are you going to participate in Tome Topple? What are you reading? Let me know in the comments.

March 2020: Reading Wrap Up

Well, March was an interesting month. I spent almost the whole month sheltering in place, even though we didn’t get the official order to do so until mid-month. I live near Seattle, which is where the outbreak started in the U.S. So, we started voluntarily social distancing around the 3rd of March. Even though I’ve been home, I didn’t get much reading done. I was way too distracted by the news. But, the second half of the month was better than the first half. It’s too soon to say, but maybe I’m getting the hang of balancing connection with isolation. Maybe.

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I finished three books in March. The first was the audiobook of Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud: The Rise and Reign of the Unruly Woman by Anne Helen Petersen. The audiobook was read by the author, which was cool. I really enjoyed these essays, even though they are a bit dated at this point (pub date was in 2017). Since I don’t watch reality TV, or any TV that’s not available on Netflix, I’m wasn’t really aware of some of these women, even though I’m very aware of the topics and societal norms discussed. There aren’t a lot of answers here, but there is good analysis. So, if that’s something you’re looking for, I would recommend this essay collection.

I also read two very similar YA sci-fi books. Both featured heroines in a space military academy. Both were outsiders with a bit of a chip on their shoulder. Both of them love to fly. I connected with the main character in Skyward by Brandon Sanderson a little more than the main character in Ignite the Stars by Maura Milan, but Ignite the Stars had better supporting characters (more fully developed) and had a much better plot and deeper, more developed world-building. That said, I’m a sucker for the space military academy trope. So, it’s no surprise that I enjoyed both of these books.

Inbox

This was my month to grab a new batch of ebooks from the library. So I stocked up on all sorts of good ones before flipping my Kindle to airplane mode. Some are backlist books I’ve been meaning to read for a long time (Blood Rose Rebellion, Frost Like Night, Ice Like Fire, Grimspace, Shades of Milk and Honey, Fablehaven, Blanca & Roja, and The Bitter Kingdom). Others are new(ish) books that I’m super excited to read (The Stars We Steal, The Bride Test, The Deepest Blue, War Girls, The Blacksmith Queen, Steel Tide, A Madness of Sunshine, and Starsight).

I did buy one book this month. That was The Shadows Between Us, which came in my Fairy Loot subscription box. I hadn’t heard of it before seeing it in the box, but it sounds like one I will enjoy.

I also downloaded a free flash fiction anthology called Nevertheless She Persisted with stories by a bunch of sci-fi and fantasy authors whose work I enjoy. It’s currently being offered from Tor for free on Amazon, if you want to grab a copy.

Currently Reading

It’s O.W.L.s time! If you missed it, you can check out my O.W.L.s TBR here. The first two books I’m reading for the O.W.L.s are Sourdough by Robin Sloan (for Aritmancy) and The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics by Olivia Waite (for Astronomy). So far, I’m loving Sourdough. Lady’s Guide… is off to a slow start, but I’m reading it before bed (per the “read mostly at night” Astronomy prompt), which may be effecting my attention span a bit.

How did your reading go in March? Were you able to finish the usual number of books? Did you get distracted by everything going on in the world? Or did being stuck at home mean that you read even more than you usually do? No matter how your March went, I hope you and your family are healthy and safe, and I wish you all the best for April. ❤

February 2020: Reading Wrap Up

February went by in a flash, even with the extra day. Since I’m already a little late with this post, let’s dive in and talk about what I read in February.

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You may remember from my January wrap-up post, that my in-progress book at the start of February was Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir. This was such a fun book, and totally different than anything else I’ve been reading recently. While I really enjoyed the characters and the mystery aspect of the plot, I did have a lot of questions about the world-building. For the most part, those questions didn’t interfere with my overall enjoyment of the book because I was too absorbed in Gideon. I really loved her character and voice. Gideon was my hook into this series, but book two appears to pivoting to Harrow’s perspective. So, I’m not as interested in reading it right away.

Since it took me most of the first week of February to finish Gideon the Ninth, I only had a small window to read something short before Tome Topple started. In other words, the perfect opportunity to dip back into the Innkeeper series by Ilona Andrews with book two, Sweep in Peace. I pretty much devoured this book in two days. Even though I have the next two books in the series already on my Kindle, I resisted the urge to jump right into book three. I’m trying to pace myself on this series because I really love the characters and the world, and I’m worried that it will all be over too soon.

If you read my Tome Topple TBR post, you’ll already be familiar with my rather realistic plans for Tome Topple. Everything kicked off according to plan. I started reading Poseidon’s Wake by Alastair Reynolds on Kindle and Our Dark Duet by Victoria Schwab on audiobook. I made steady progress on both, but neither were sucking me in or making me eager to return to them. By the time Tome Topple officially ended, I hadn’t finished either of them. In the days after, I completely lost motivation and just didn’t really feel like reading anything. So, I decided I needed the reading equivalent of a “palate cleanser.”

I scrolled through my Kindle TBR and landed on Her Royal Highness by Rachel Hawkins. It’s a short contemporary YA romance about a girl who does a study abroad in Scotland for her senior year of high school and ends up falling for a princess. It’s a cute, fast read with great queer representation, a f/f love story with the familiar and beloved “oops, I fell for a Royal” tropes (one of my favorite tropes). I read it in two days and enjoyed it. It refreshed me and pushed me out of my reading slump enough to at least go finish Our Dark Duet.

I’m sad to report that I didn’t like Our Dark Duet nearly as much as I loved This Savage Song. For some reason, this book seemed to be much more gore-filled and violent than the first book. Possibly because all the graphic descriptions seemed to just be there for atmosphere building purposes and not really necessary to drive the plot or character arcs. And it was repetitive. There were so many scenes where nothing important happened to move to plot or characters forward. I thought the new monster was cool, but completely unexplained and almost entirely unnecessary to the plot (except as a device to bring Kate back to Verity). I’m glad I read it, but I almost think This Savage Song would have been better as a stand alone. Overall, this one was kind of a disappointment and left me in a bit of a slump.

Inbox

I didn’t buy or borrow any books this month, and my Fairy Loot box is delayed. So, I guess I’ll have to wait until next month to share what I got…

Currently Reading

I still want to finish reading Poseidon’s Wake. I’m really happy to be returning to the world of Poseidon’s Children, but the story starts slowly, and I’ve forgotten a lot of what happened in the first two books because it’s been so long. Plus, I’m finding it difficult to stay engaged in a long, meaty sci-fi story right now because I have a lot of other things going on in my life at the moment that are causing no end of distractions. So, I may set it aside and read some more short, fun books that don’t require as much of a time investment. I definitely need something to get me back into the reading groove.

I’ve been thinking about switching things up and putting down my Kindle to read a hardcover book. I’ve got A River of Royal Blood and Eight Will Fall in hardcover, and both of those sound like they’ll be good. Or maybe I need some sci-fi in my life (Spaceside or Ignite the Stars)? Or maybe I should finish the Queens of Renthia series and read The Queen of Sorrow?

If you have thoughts or recommendations, leave them in the comments. I’d love to know which of these you think might drag me out of my reading slump.

January 2020: Reading Wrap Up

Wow! The first month of the year flew by so fast, I can hardly believe it’s already February! Ready for a recap of what I read (“Outbox”), what I bought/borrowed (“Inbox”), and what I’m currently reading? Cool. Let’s talk about books!

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First accomplishment of the New Year: I finished all the books I needed to read to complete all my prompts for the Winter Magical Readathon! Hooray!

I started the year with The Reluctant Queen by Sarah Beth Durst. This is the second book in a trilogy, and I loved the first book. This one started off so good. I mean, I was LOVING this book… until the end. Because of the brutality of the first book’s ending, I was expecting an equally brutal end to this book. I mean, the story was building to it from the opening chapter. It had to happen. And then… something else happened. I don’t know how to discuss this without being spoilery, so if you want to know more, hit me up in the comments, and I’ll answer any spoiler questions there. I’m now very curious how this is going to get resolved in the final book. Luckily, I already have it on my Kindle.

Rather than diving right into book three in the Queens of Renthia series, I decided to continue with my Winter Magical Readathon prompts. I was more than ready to dive into The Art of Theft by Sherry Thomas, and I plowed through it in a couple of days. Seriously, people. If you like Sherlock Holmes and you’re not reading this series, you are missing out. It’s so good! I will say that I highly recommend you have some pastries or delicious cookies and tea on hand while you read this.

And, the last book I read for the Winter Magical Readathon was The Right Swipe by Alisha Rai. This turned out to be exactly what I’d expected in the very best way. The heroine is the CEO of a dating app startup. The hero is an ex-football player with a passion for getting assistance for players with medical issues caused by concussions. They’re brought together by his very eccentric aunt. It’s sexy and heartwarming and romantic. Chapter eighteen is a playbook to my heart. If you are looking to dip your toe into contemporary romance (or if you already know you like it), definitely check out this book.

After that, I read Aurora Blazing by Jessie Mihalik so that I could talk about it with my “Camp Book Club” friends in our virtual book club this weekend. I liked this second book better than the first, mostly because both the hero and the heroine were extremely competent spies who have a history of pining for each other and a decent enough reason to be kept apart. Although, I will say that I called the secret that the hero is keeping back when he made his first appearance at the end of book one. Still, I’m really enjoying this sci-fi romance series and looking forward to the next book.

Inbox

Aside from borrowing The Right Swipe by Alisha Rai from the library, I bought two books this month. Well, technically, I bought the subscription box that they came in, but I bought the boxes because they come with books, so…

Two more boxes from Fairy Loot arrived this month! First up, in my December box (which arrived at the start of January due to holiday shipping delays), I got Eight Will Fall by Sarah Harian. I hadn’t heard of this book, but after reading the blurb and the letter and the interview with the author, I’m pretty excited to read it.

In my January Fairy Loot box, I got Woven in Moonlight by Isabel Ibañez. I know the author of this one from the Pitch Wars community on Twitter, but I’d completely forgotten that her debut novel was coming out this year. I was very pleasantly surprised and excited that this turned out to be the Fairy Loot pick for January! I can’t wait to check it out.

Currently Reading

I am currently reading Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir. The thing is, necromancers aren’t really something I’m super into, and I am really loving this book. I think it’s because the world-building is just weird enough, and completely unexplained enough, that I’m turning pages just trying to figure out what’s going on. Plus the characters are excellent, and the plot is basically a locked room mystery (which is a trope I love). If you have this on your TBR but you haven’t read it yet, pick it up. Believe the hype. It’s really good.

Beyond that, I’m working on my TBR for round ten of Tome Topple (starting on 7 February at 00:00 in your timezone). So, stay tuned for an upcoming blog post on that, once I’ve decided on what I plan to read.

Until then, have an excellent and extra special Groundhog’s Day! (It’s 02.02.2020!) Cheers to an early spring!

2020 Reading Goals

Now that I’ve pretty much reviewed all aspects of my 2019 reading life, it’s time to focus on the year ahead. I decided a couple of things while reflecting on 2019. The first was that I am tracking my reading in way too many places. I know. I say this every year. Or at least, I definitely said it last year, and then went and did pretty much the exact same thing I’d been doing. I am making a few changes this year, and I’ll talk about that at the end of this post.

The other thing I decided was that I’m taking a year off from reading challenges. I’m not saying I’ll never do one again, but I am saying that I realized I like readathons with reading prompts WAY better than reading challenges. It’s a lot easier for me to put personal constraints on readathon prompts (ex: it has to be a book that’s already on my Kindle or bookshelf). This is probably because the entire point of reading challenges is to get you reading things that you probably don’t already have on your TBR.

What I will miss from not doing reading challenges is that extra push to read outside my comfort zone. Instead, I’m just going to have to push myself. To that end, one of my goals includes some reading metrics that I want to keep an eye on throughout the year (plan is to check in quarterly) to make sure I’m continuing to read books written by people with different perspectives than mine.

Given all that, these are the reading goals I decided on for 2020:

  1. Read at least 52 books (or book-like things). — This is my staple “Goodreads Challenge” goal. If it counts as a book on Goodreads, it counts as a book for this goal. Even after reading more than 80 books in 2019, I’m still keeping my goal at a book a week on average.
  2. Finish at least 5 series that I’ve already started. — A lot of the series that I’ve started over the past several years are now complete, but I haven’t had a chance to sit down and finish reading them, even though I own the books. So, this is where I’m going to focus my “bust my TBR” energy in 2020. I’ll do a post soon on which series I am considering completing for this goal.
  3. Read all purchased books within six months of purchase. — I’m changing my focus from trying to control the number of books on my Kindle (impossible) to reading what I buy instead of hoarding books. So, every time I buy a book (starting with my 2019 purchases), it goes on a list in my Google sheet (and I make a note of it in my bullet journal). I decided on six months as a time horizon because if I’m going to wait that long to read a book, I may as well have just reserved it from the library.
  4. Read at least one owned book for every book I purchase. — I’m probably going to regret this goal because it’s going to be really hard to track. I made space for a list in my 2020 Reading spread in my bullet journal, but I think I’m going to move this to a column in my reading spreadsheet, instead. Anything purchased prior to 2019 counts for this goal, because if I bought it in 2019 it should already be covered by goal #3.
  5. Read more books by marginalized authors (measured by % of total books read). — This is always a goal for me, but this year I’m quantifying it. In the past I’ve relied on reading challenges as a crutch to help with this, but even with nearly completing the 2019 Read Harder challenge, my stats for % of books read by marginalized authors were down last year. This year, I’m just going to focus on the numbers instead. My targets are as follows:
    • At least 33% books by “non-white” authors with a stretch goal of 50%.
    • At least 15% books by queer authors with a stretch goal of 33%.
    • At least 10% books by indie authors with a stretch goal of 25%.
    • At least 50% of books written by female-identifying authors.

So let’s talk about tracking. I’m going to make a few subtle changes this year and see if that helps. For starters, I’m not going to use my bullet journal to keep lists of what I read. My BuJo is my planner and my journal all wrapped up into one neat package. It’s not a spreadsheet, so I’m not going to use it like one.

I have this one spread to track new books I want to read, remind me of my reading goals, and list books I’ve purchased so that I can have to reference this info or make notes when I’m not at my computer. In my daily logs, I plan to note when I start or finish a book and maybe journal a bit about what I loved or write down a quote I particularly liked. But that’s it. This way, I can reference my daily logs for start/end dates when I update my spreadsheet.

My Google spreadsheet is going to be how I keep track of what I’ve read, and Goodreads is going to be primarily used to keep track of what I want to read. I’ve already invested a lot of time making Goodreads shelves for books I have on my Kindle, books that are on hold at the library, books I’ve borrowed from the library, and books I own in paperback or hardcover. In the past I’ve tried to keep track of my TBR in my Google sheet as well as on Goodreads, but it always ends in frustration. So, the only TBR I’m going to track in my Google sheet is my list of book purchases with purchase date and (calculated) read by date.

In case you can’t tell, I’m trying to keep things as simple and low maintenance as possible this year. If I thought I could accomplish what I want to accomplish without keeping track of what I read, I might try it. But even though reading fuels me and makes me happy, I’m aware that it’s also food for the creative compost heap in my brain. If I’m not reading, it makes it so much harder for me to write. Similarly, if I’m not reaching for things outside my comfort zone, I’m just consuming empty calories. So, I like to put a little structure around what I’m reading.

Maybe one of these years I’ll do a “no reading goals” reading goal. The idea of that completely freaks me out, so I probably should try it at some point.

Do you make reading goals? If so, are you doing anything new and different this year? Have you mastered the art of tracking what you’re reading and what you want to read? Let me know in the comments. (Really. I’m not kidding. You can talk to me. I read the comments.)

Top Five Surprise Favorite Reads of 2019

I was going to make this my top five favorite reads of 2019, but as I looked through my five star reads from 2019, trying to narrow them down to a top five, I noticed a few things. One is that I need a new rating system. The generic star rating system sucks at helping me decide on which were actually favorites.

So, I started thinking about which books stuck with me the most. Which were the ones I was still thinking about and recommending to others? That’s when I started to realize that the books I’d given five stars to fell almost neatly into two stacks: five star books that I expected to be five stars, and five star books that I had not expected to love as much as I did.

Since the previous post was about disappointing reads, I thought it made sense to make this one about the opposite. These are the books that I didn’t think I was going to love, but ended up raving about to anyone who will listen.

  1. Clean Sweep by Ilona Andrews — By far the most surprising hit of 2019. I was expecting a book about magic, witches, vampires, and werewolves with a romance. What I got was that with a sci-fi twist and some staggeringly creative world-building. I can’t wait to catch up on the rest of this series.
  2. The Queen of Blood by Sarah Beth Durst — A common complaint about YA fantasy is that authors pull punches so there are wars and somehow no one dies or even gets badly injured. The world in this book is dangerous. The heroine isn’t the best, she’s merely the most determined, and there’s a real reason for that title. Beloved characters die. More than just a few. It’s brutal, and I loved it. That may be why I’m starting this year by reading book two in this series.
  3. Space Opera by Catherynne M. Valente — I’ve talked about this book a lot. I did not expect to like it because it was being compared to Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which I didn’t like. I know. But where the Hitchhiker’s humor didn’t really work for me, the humor in this book was calibrated perfectly to my taste. The audiobook narration made it even better. Surprise hit!
  4. Dryland by Sara Jaffe — Books that feature swimmers or swimming as a sport are very hit or miss for me. I was not expecting this one to be a hit, but it was. It may have been the added bonus of being “historical fiction” that takes place in Portland in the 1990s. It could also be the unique structure and narrative voice. I liked this way more than I thought I would.
  5. The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern — I kept my expectations really low for this one, which may contribute to the “surprise hit” factor. But, I wasn’t expecting the story within a story structure of this book, and it really worked for me.

So, what are the books you read in 2019 and raved about? Let me know in the comments if you have one that you think I should check out based on this list.

Most disappointing reads of 2019

All right. Let’s get this post out of the way. I hate talking about things I didn’t like because writing books is hard work. Publishing books is hard work. Truly bad books are just not that common. Problematic books are much more common, but that’s a different topic. Every year I argue with myself over whether or not to do this post. But, after looking through the books that received the lowest ratings on my spreadsheet, I decided to put this out there because the books that made my list really had very little to do with the quality of the writing and everything to do with my expectations going in.

Before I get into my list, I wanted to mention (in light of the ongoing drama with RWA which is in itself a hugely disappointing read after all the progress I thought we were making and further erodes my faith in humanity), my most disappointing reads of 2019 were all books I read as a judge for the RITA awards. They were all traditionally published books, and at least five of the seven contained at least one, if not more than one, problematic element that had me cringe reading and made me have to rethink how far the romance genre has actually come in recent years. Then again, I may have way too optimistic a view on how far we’ve come due to the fact that almost all the romance books I read are written by authors of color and/or queer authors.

With that said, let’s focus on books that were objectively fine books, just ones that I found disappointing. This is a truer representation of “disappointing reads” for me because I chose to read these books, they weren’t assigned to me.

  1. Vengeful by V. E. Schwab — My most disappointing read of 2019 because of how much I loved Vicious (still my favorite book by V. E. Schwab) and how much I was looking forward to reading this sequel. I didn’t even rate it that low. It was good. It just wasn’t the book I wanted. As I wrote in my recap, I would have preferred it if the book focused on the newly introduced (mostly female) E.O.s and if Victor and Eli were just side characters.
  2. Mercenary Instinct by Ruby Lionsdrake — I really wanted to like this one, but… nope. I’ve been searching for a sci-fi romance to love and a sci-fi romance author to follow to the ends of time, but this was not it. As I wrote in my recap post, all the men were constantly threatening to rape the women (because mercenaries, I guess?), and the plot was a convoluted mess. Still looking for a great sci-fi romance if you want to recommend one.
  3. Radio Silence by Alyssa Cole — My second most disappointing read because I LOVE her Reluctant Royals series which is contemporary fiction and this is sci-fi, which is much more in line with what I usually read. But I think this would have been better if it had been written as a YA book. Instead, we’re supposed to believe the main characters are adults when they keep behaving like teens. That disconnect really took me out of the story. If they’d all been aged down to high school students, this book probably wouldn’t have made it onto this list.
  4. I Am Not A Serial Killer by Dan Wells — I’m a huge fan of the podcast Writing Excuses and have grown to really like the author of this book through his work on that podcast. This was the first book I’d read by him, and I anticipated great things. While I enjoyed the paranormal and thriller aspects of this book, this one had the opposite problem from Radio Silence. The main character in this book is supposed to be a teen but read like an adult. Some of that might have to do with the fact he is supposed to be a sociopath, but still, his narrative voice (it’s written in first person) made it hard for me to get immersed in the story.
  5. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them by Newt Scamander, J.K. Rowling — All right, so this one had less to do with my expectations and more to do with the content. We’ve cancelled JKR, right? I mean, I have a warm place in my heart for the original Harry Potter series, and I always will, while still acknowledging it as a problematic fave. But the stuff that’s been published outside of the original series seems to just double down on all the issues, if not create new ones. Many of the descriptions of creatures and even the clarification of what made one a “beast” just didn’t sit right with me. I cringed while listening to this on audiobook, repeatedly. Ugh.

I always feel dirty after writing posts where I talk about things I didn’t like. Do people even enjoy reading this sort of thing? Is it worth doing it? I just don’t know. If you have thoughts on this, let me know in the comments. Meanwhile, I’m going to go write my “favorite books read in 2019” post so I can enjoy raving about things I loved.

December 2019: Reading Wrap Up

Happy New Year, everyone! It’s time for me to do all of those fun end of year wrap up blog posts, starting with what I read in December, what books I hauled in to read, and what I plan to read first in January. Ready? Let’s do this!

Outbox

Let’s start with what I finished for the Winter Magical Readathon. If you’ve been following along with my blog posts, you are probably already familiar with the books I selected for the various reading prompts. I’m all read up through Chapter 4. The ones that have stuck with me the most are The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern and Silver in the Wood by Emily Tesh.

I was really worried that I was going to be disappointed by The Starless Sea, but I think I liked it even more than I liked The Night Circus. It seems to be getting mixed reviews from folks, but I loved the story within a story structure of the book. I love her descriptions. A lot of times descriptions can bore me or take me out of a story, but hers always have a way of making me feel even more immersed in the story. The world-building was unique, and I loved the characters.

Saga vol. 2 reminded me how much I love that series and need to finish it. There There ended up being a page turner while still being a very literary novel and a great read (of course it was, given where it ranked on the Powell’s staff top five lists last year). The only two I was disappointed with were Fantastic Beasts and Jean Grey vol 1. I’m curious to watch the Fantastic Beasts movies now that I’ve read the book and realized that it’s basically an encyclopedia of creatures and there isn’t much of a story. I probably won’t be continuing with the Jean Grey series.

Besides my reading for the Winter Magical Readathon prompts, I did finish two other books: The Barefoot Bandit by Bob Friel and A Prince on Paper by Alyssa Cole. The later is the last book in her Reluctant Royals series, and it’s just as good as all the others in the series. I think book two (A Duke by Default) is still my favorite, but this one is a close second.

I read The Barefoot Bandit for the “read a book of nonviolent true crime” task in the Read Harder Challenge. I chose that book for this task because a good portion of the story takes place on the island where I live, and the author also lives on this island. It was a very entertaining read, and I definitely recommend checking it out if the description sounds interesting to you.

In the end, I didn’t finish all the Read Harder Challenge tasks before the end of the year. But… I think I got closer than I ever have before. I finished 21 of the 24 tasks. This challenge (like the readathons I participated in) definitely helped me read through some of the books I’ve been meaning to read for a while. Still, I don’t think I’m going to attempt it again in 2020.

Inbox

Most of my book haul this month are ebooks that I got off hold from the library, but I did buy one book, A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine. I really like political space operas, and it sounds like this is going to be a good one.

I’ve been comparing bookish subscription boxes for months, mostly via unboxing videos on YouTube. I’ve been trying to decide on one that will have just the right mix of usable bookish swag with a book that I’m actually interested in reading. Based on the videos I’ve watched of previous boxes, I decided to go with Fairy Loot. My first month’s box came with a mix of really cool stuff and stuff I’m not likely to use. But, I had a pretty good idea what the book was going to be, and I was right. It was A River of Royal Blood by Amanda Joy, and it’s one that I wanted to read anyway, so I’m glad I got it. Depending on what this month’s box contains, I may not continue with this experiment, but I wanted to give it a try as a holiday present to my self.

As for actual presents, my mom bought me a bunch of books off my wishlist. I got Spaceside by Michael Mammay, The Alehouse at the End of the World by Stevan Allred, The Magnolia Sword by Sherry Thomas, and The Warrior Moon by K. Arsenault Rivera.

Currently Reading

Since I’m still not done with the Winter Magical Readathon prompts, the first order of business for January is to read the last three books I planned to read for that readathon: The Reluctant Queen, The Art of Theft, and The Right Swipe. Luckily, they all fit really well with my reading goals for 2020. More on that in a future blog post.

While I work on that post, tell me what is going to be the first book you’re reading in 2020? Let me know in the comments.