Reading Wrap-up for 2021

Now that I’ve had a week or so to reflect on my 2021 reading and collect my reading stats, it’s time for another recap. I almost didn’t post this one. It was a total pain to put together. I couldn’t figure out why I was struggling so hard to compare this year’s reading to previous years. Then I remembered that because I didn’t use a spreadsheet to track my reading this year, I must have accidentially or on purpose? changed all the data I was collecting. Oops. Oh well.

If you stick with me through my painstakingly gathered stats, I’ll reward you with my top five favorite books at the end of the post. Or just skim the stats and skip to the bottom. Either way is fine with me.

We will start this journey by paging through the reading summary pages I made back at the end of 2020 when I was setting up my reading journal for 2021.

Remember the bookshelf spread I made? Here’s how that turned out.

Surprise! I actually really like this spread.

If you remember, I had a color code I used to mark the books spines with the appropriate genre, and I added a little heart to the spine if it was also a romance. I did it this way because I wanted to track romances separately from genre because romance novels come in all genres, and I didn’t want to lose track of the genre breakdown just because I marked something as a romance. The only problem is, because of this completely logical and brilliant change, it turns out that I completely busted my ability to track my year over year genre stats. Whee!

Oh well.

I counted up the spines (another sad side effect of not using a spreadsheet) and twenty of the fifty-nine books I read in 2021 were romances (meaning they had a primary romance plot that ends “happily ever after” or “happily for now”). That’s about one third of the books I read last year.

I don’t really have any sort of goal or target or limit or whatever associated with how many romances I read each year. It’s just a meaningless data point. The first of many in this post.

I suppose what is interesting is the distribution of where those romances fall on my tracker, which is something you can’t see easily when you’re tracking things in a spreadsheet. Score one for the reading journal approach, I guess? Anyway, as I was saying, if you look for the hearts on the spines in the image above, you may notice that my romance reading was heavily weighted toward the end of the year, just as things in my life (and in the world) were starting to get stressful again. Coincidence? Probably not.

Oh, yeah. One more side note. For any detail-oriented folks reading this, yes, there are sixty books on the shelves in that photo, and I keep saying I only read 59. I ended up abandoning one of these books at about the halfway point, but I’d already drawn it in. I do plan to finish it later, so I included it on my shelves. I just decided not to include it in my total stats. I suppose this is one downside of drawing in pen. Not really a problem if you use a spreadsheet. I guess that’s minus one for the reading journal approach.

After more spine counting (and re-counting, just to make sure I didn’t mess it up), here’s how many books I read in each genre and what percent of my reading that turns out to be, in descending order (most to least read).

  • Fantasy — 15 books (25%)
  • Sci-Fi — 13 books (22%)
  • Contemporary — 12 books (20%)
  • Mystery — 8 books (13%)
  • Self help / writing / business — 6 books (10%)
  • General non-fiction — 2 books (3%)
  • Memoir — 2 books (3%)
  • Historical — 2 books (3%)

If you’re thinking, “Aren’t these just more meaningless data points?”, the answer is yes!

What do I even do with this information I’ve gathered? Nothing.

I mean, I don’t have any goals pertaining to which genres I read, and I don’t plan to create any for 2022. And, because of the genre tracking changes I made, I can’t even compare these percentages to last year in any meaningful way.

Are you beginning to see why this was a very frustrating post to try to write?

Oh hey! Check it out! When you turn the page, there are even more book stats and goals to review. This should be fun.

Whatever possessed me to create a table with numbers that I was going to have to eventually tally up in a notebook?

This right here is why god invented spreadsheets. I really want to kick past me in the shins right now. Once for the data table and then a second time for thinking that creating a “21 in 2021” TBR was a good idea.

Here are some fun stats that I collected in that sweet data table that I didn’t have any goals associated with:

  • 86% of the books I read were ebooks with 7% paper and 7% audiobook.
  • 76% of the books I read were adult vs. 24% YA.
  • I got 58% of the books I read from the library.
  • 29% of the books I read were new releases (published in 2021).
  • 93% of the books I read were traditionally published.

Dear future self: Stop compiling meaningless reading stats. Just stop.

Also buried in that table on the left page are the numbers I needed to add up to help me determine if I accomplished my actual reading goals or not. Here’s how I did on my 2021 Reading Goals.

  • Read at least 52 books — Accomplished! I read a total of 59.
  • Read at least 12 books by Black authors — Yep. I read 13.
  • Read at least 12 books by other authors of color — Not quite… I read 8.
  • Read at least 12 books by queer authors (and/or with strong positive queer rep) — Done. I read 13.
  • Read my “21 in 2021” TBR — Hahahahaha. No. I read 1 of the 21 books on this list.

Not terrible considering that I think we can all agree that the “21 in 2021” TBR was a very bad idea. So I’m not going to feel bad about that epic fail.

I feel a lot worse about the four books I fell short of my goal on reading books by non-Black authors of color. At least I did better on those metrics than I did last year (36% total books written by BIPOC authors vs. 28% last year, and 22% written by queer authors and/or with queer POV characters vs. 12% last year). These are possibly the only data points I’m tracking that I care about.

But hang on! We’re not quite done, yet. (Even though we probably should be.) On the next two pages I also decided to track a couple more things that weren’t part of my goals.

Why do I do this?

On the bright side, it looks like I did complete a handful of the 2021 Read Harder Challenge tasks without really trying (5 out of 24, or 21%).

However, it appears that I abandoned the book haul list I’d intended to keep. I know I bought more than three books in 2021. I suppose I could go back, figure out what I purchased, and then fill this page in, but who am I kidding? That seems like a lot of work, and it’s just more meaningless data.

I honestly wish I could say that I learned something from this exercise, but I think I just can’t help myself from collecting data, even if I’m doing nothing with it. It’s like I’ve become the evil boss guy from Office Space with the TPS reports. Gross.

Okay. That’s it. Data tables and spreadsheets have been officially banned from my reading life in 2022.

But I’ll keep my color-coded book spines with the little hearts on the ones that are romances. That’s fun.

All right. We’re done with the data. Phew. And I promised you a top five list. So let’s move on from the numbers and get to the unquantifiable part of my 2021 wrap-up, shall we?

Back when I was trying to decide if I wanted to make a reading journal, I watched a bunch of reading journal set-ups on YouTube. Come to think of it, that may be where I got the terrible idea for the “21 in 2021” TBR in the first place. But there was good stuff in there, too. I think.

Anyway, I remember seeing some people do a sort of “battle of the books” bracket tournament thing. I liked the idea. The only catch was, I didn’t think it was fair to pit two books against each other just because I happened to read them in consecutive months. So I did my favorites a little differently.

I meant to put something in the middle of this spread, but then I couldn’t figure out what to do, so I ended up leaving it sad and blank.

As you can see in the photo, I picked a favorite book read from each month. Then I eliminated the two non-fiction contenders, because I didn’t think it was fair to mix fiction and non-fiction. That left me with ten favorite fiction books, and I wanted to narrow that down to a top five. Because I like top five lists.

Because Internet and Why We Swim were the two non-fiction books that get honorary “favorite non-fiction from 2021” awards.

And here are the top five (fiction) books I read in 2021 (listed in the order I read them):

Unsurprisingly, they are all sci-fi / fantasy novels. Possibly more surprising is that only one of them could also be considered to be a romance (Winter’s Orbit). They are all really good reads, though. So, if you haven’t checked them out, go read the blurbs and grab one that sounds appealing to you.

Now, that this post is done, it’s time for me to have a long think about what data associated with my reading that I actually care about tracking in 2022. While I do that, let me know in comments, what was your favorite book that you read in 2021?

I’ll be back soon with some “looking ahead to 2022” posts (aka “2022 Goals”). Until then, happy reading!

Top 5 Books I Read in 2020

I’m working on my December reading wrap up, and calculating my 2020 reading stats. While I do that, I thought I’d share my top five favorite books I read in 2020.

My favorite books read in 2020 were (in no particular order):

I’ve already gushed about all of these in previous blog posts, so if you haven’t read those, go check out my monthly reading recaps.

Genre-wise, these books represent a little bit of everything that I like to read: contemporary (Such a Fun Age), contemporary fantasy (Sweep of the Blade), secondary world fantasy (Return of the Thief and Race the Sands), and sci-fi (Network Effect), but I think it’s a little unusual that they are all adult fiction. I have to go back and look, but I feel like previous years’ lists must have included at least one or two young adult books.

Another odd thing they have in common is that all but one of these books were published in 2020 (Sweep of the Blade was published in mid-2019). Technically, Such a Fun Age was published on the last day of 2019, but I’m counting it as a 2020 book. This was a little surprising, because I don’t usually read so many new releases.

And finally (and possibly most unusual for me), all of these books feature parent-child and/or caregiver-child relationships that play very important roles in these stories. Sweep of the Blade and Race the Sands both have badass mothers as main characters. The main character in Such a Fun Age is a nanny. Murderbot is put in charge of protecting a surly teen (Dr. Mensa’s daughter) in Network Effect. And The King of Attolia takes on a new, very young attendant in Return of the Thief.

Did any of these make it onto your favorites list? If not, what was your favorite read from 2020?

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.

Bookish Things I’ve Changed My Mind About (#Top5Wednesday)

It’s been a while since I’ve done a Top 5 Wednesday post, and the topic this week works pretty well with something I’ve got on my mind. So, let’s do this!

This week’s topic is: “Bookish Things I’ve Changed My Mind About.” I’m going to get pretty specific here because I just finished reading a sci-fi romance book that disappointed me and got me thinking about how I’ve changed as a reader over the last 10+ years, specifically since I started writing books.

I like romance in my sci-fi and fantasy stories. It doesn’t have to be a major plot point, it could be a sub-plot. But I’ve struggled to find a sci-fi / fantasy romance book or series or author that I love. That got me thinking about why. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that there are just some things that didn’t really matter much to me as a younger reader that will completely turn me off on a book now.

Here are the top five things that I’ve changed my mind about when it comes to reading sci-fi and fantasy romance:

  1. Diversity — I never used to notice when a future / fantasy world was homogeneously straight and white, but this has become one of those things that immediately pulls me out of a story. Once you recognize that the real-world population isn’t homogeneous, you realize that if a future and/or fantasy world is homogeneous, there better be a damn good reason for it. Ideally, I want to see positive representation on every axis, but at the very least with regards to race and sexual orientation.
  2. Consent — Sci-fi and fantasy romance can be pretty negligent when it comes to showing consensual romance. Again, this is not something I noticed as a teen, or even in my twenties. This was never okay, but my tolerance for it has definitely changed. If a modern hero is “taking” a heroine (or another hero), there better be a verbal “yes” in there before things get steamy. And power dynamics complicate things. If one character is another’s prisoner or subordinate, you better put them on an even playing field if you want me to get on board with the romance.
  3. Plausible Science — I don’t think I ever considered this until I started writing novels. Sci-fi and fantasy are full of crazy creative ideas that are not possible in our contemporary reality, and I love it. Give me all the magic and FTL space travel. Space ships and colonies on planets in distant galaxies are cool. Aliens and magical creatures are awesome. But these days I lose my ability to suspend disbelief when there aren’t consistent rules and limits to a magic system, or when the science fiction elements demonstrate no understanding of basic science and technology and don’t even offer a hand-wavey explanation as to how/why it works.
  4. The Smurfette Principle and/or the Strong Female Character Trope — This is a big one that I used to take for granted because I was a boy-crazy teen / young-adult and was just happy there were *any* point-of-view female characters in my SFF books. But now these tropes make me so angry I want to scream. If the leading lady is the only female character in the book, or if she spends the whole book trashing other women and has no female friends, I’m probably going to DNF the book. If she’s determined to show how “different” she is from “other girls” by being super tough and never wearing dresses, I’m done. And, if the heroine does have a female crew and immediately drops them to get with the hero, I may throw the book across the room.
  5. Plot is Linked to the Speculative Elements — I’m sure that I never even considered this before I started taking my writing seriously. I love plot, I always have, and it’s really hard for me to get into a book without a solid one, regardless of how much I like the characters or the world. But, if I can take the plot of a book, change the setting, and have the story still work, then I’m probably not going to want to finish reading the book. Plot and world and characters all need to be linked. This is the most frequent thing that fails to win me over when I’m reading a sci-fi and/or fantasy romance book. It’s a bummer, but I can’t turn off my writing brain when I’m reading.

If you have book recommendations for me that avoid these pitfalls, please PLEASE let me know in the comments. And if you’re curious what book set me off on this topic, stay tuned for my April reading recap post tomorrow.

Top Five Wednesday: Favorite SFF Creatures (#T5W)

This week’s Top 5 Wednesday blog post prompt is: favorite creatures from science fiction and fantasy books!

Here are my top five:

  1. Dragons I really like dragons. Dragon shifters are okay, but they’re not my favorite. I prefer stories where dragons are sentient creatures who bond with humans. I don’t really think dragons should talk, but I’m cool with them communicating telepathically. I don’t have any favorite dragon books, at the moment. Lately, I’ve been really digging the idea of tiny dragons, like the adorable dragons in The Tea Dragon Society (which I got for my niece for Christmas).
  2. Elves / Fae–I suppose I should clarify that I mean elves like Lord of the Rings elves, not like Santa’s little helpers. I’m lumping elves and fae together here because I’d be hard pressed to draw a line defining the difference between elves and fae. The way that most authors handle them, the two types of creatures usually end up seeming very similar. As for favorite books featuring fae or elves, I really like some of the stories in Robots vs. Fairies, and I liked the world-building in An Enchantment of Ravens and The Cruel Prince. And, I also really like my own books. 😉
  3. Robots (like Murderbot) The other half of Robots vs. Fairies also make my top five list. That’s another reason I like that collection of short stories. I especially like robots when they’re done like Murderbot in All Systems Red. I suppose the droids from the Star Wars movies would also fall into this category. I love it when an author can manage to pull off cool autonomous, sentient robots who have personalities, but still have some real-world, logical science behind them.
  4. Mutants (like X-Men)–I love humans with superpowers. I love all the freaky and cool ways that mutant superpowers manifest in the X-Men comics.I also like stories that include humans with mutant-like super powers, like in Anne McCaffrey’s Talents series. (Side note: I’m planning to do a re-read of that series at some point because I want to see if it lives up to my memories of how much I loved those books, starting with To Ride Pegasus and going all the way through the spin-off series featuring The Rowan and her children and their children.) I’d also lump the Bene Gesserit (from the Dune series) and the Jedi (from Star Wars) into this category as well. Basically any time you have a human who is able to do super-human stuff, but not including alien superheroes like Superman and (some of) the Avengers. They have to be (essentially) Earth-humans that have mutated or evolved to do things “normal” humans can’t do. I also like this because these stories can play with that whole “what is normal and who gets to decide what’s ‘normal’ anyway” theme that I love.
  5. The Stone Eaters This one is pretty specific because it’s only been done in one series (that I know of), but N. K. Jemisin’s creatures who look like humans but are made of stone are super cool. I love how they can move through the earth’s crust and communicate with the obelisks. The back-story that you get about these creatures in book three makes them even more interesting. They’re so unique that I think they’re probably my favorite, at the moment.

What do you think? Which creatures are your favorites? Let me know in the comments what I missed, or if you also like any of the ones I listed!

Top Five Wednesday: Independent Ladies (#T5W)

This week’s Top Five Wednesday is all about our favorite leading ladies — specifically the ones who aren’t distracted from getting shit done by their love interest. This doesn’t mean there can’t be a romantic plot or sub-plot. It just means that for these characters, priority number one is kicking ass, saving the world, and getting shit done. Oh yeah. Let’s do this!

  1. First on my list is Sassinak, the title character from Anne McCaffery and Elizabeth Moon’s book of the same name. (And if you didn’t guess this already, you probably haven’t been reading my blog for very long… Welcome!) This book opens with Sassinak and her childhood best friend having a blast at a festival just before planet pirates descend on their colony and kill all the adults and enslave all the children of a manageable age (old enough to fend for themselves, but young enough not to fight back — basically pre-teens like Sassinak). Through the rest of the book we get to see her grow up and fight for her dream of becoming a Fleet Captain and getting her own ship to hunt down planet pirates. Along the way she has several liaisons with various side characters, but she never loses focus on her goal. Sassinak was my first favorite “strong female character,” and she maintains a special place in my heart to this day.
  2. Next up is Charlotte Holmes from Sherry Thomas’s Lady Sherlock series (first book is A Study in Scarlett Women). This series is set in the original Sherlock Holmes time period (Victorian England?), but in this series Sherlock is actually a woman named Charlotte, and she’s delightful. Of course, because this is the “bad old days” of the patriarchy, she has to hide her genius behind a pseudonym (Sherlock). Some people may think she’s cold and calculating or just plain “odd,” but she is in love with someone. Regardless of her feelings, nothing gets in the way of her desire to solve all the mysteries (and eat all the cake). I LOVE this series. Charlotte is my favorite version of Sherlock (yes, even better than BBC Sherlock). At some point, if we ever do a T5W of characters we’d like to be friends with, she’d definitely make my list.
  3. Now, let’s talk about two independent ladies who I love that appear in a book I did not like: Alice and Julia from The Magicians series by Lev Grossman. There are many reasons I didn’t like these books (and yet I LOVE the TV show), but the biggest reason is the awful way these two characters are treated in the books. For starters, Alice is smarter than everyone and completely focused on achieving her goal, even with the distraction of being the love interest of the main character, Quentin. (Oh how I hate Quentin as a main character in the books. The TV show did a much better job with his character.) But then, at the end of book one, (*spoiler alert*) Alice dies for sort-of no other reason than to enhance Quentin’s plot. The author “fridged” her. I could have accepted what happens to Alice, but then, just as we begin to realize how bad ass Julia is, and start to love her at least as much, if not more than Alice (*spoiler* Julia didn’t get in to Brakebills, but that did not stop her from learning magic and becoming at least as good, if not better at it than the others), the author doubles down on his awful treatment of female characters with an ending to book two that is completely unforgivable. It nearly made me DNF the series. I’m still not over it. Guys (and I do mean guys because it’s mostly male-identifying authors who keep doing this), please quit it with the rape as a plot device. I’m not even going to apologize for spoilers here because you should be warned about this ending. It’s not just rape, it’s rape that is supposed to somehow “inject” (literally) our female main character with god-like powers. Nope. No thank you. Alice and Julia are awesome. I’ll keep enjoying them (and Margo) in the TV show, and pretend the books never happened.”
  4. My next top five favorite independent lady is a classic, and possibly the original independent lady, Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. In a time period where the only realistic goal for young ladies was pretty much “find a rich and tolerable man and marry him,” Elizabeth Bennet was determined to marry for love. She turned down an “advantageous” proposal from a cousin who was set to inherit her father’s property when he died. She even declined Darcy’s initial proposal because he was behaving like an ass. Hers is a “quieter” independence. She’s not out killing monsters, learning how to wield magic to save the world, or having any other dramatic adventures. But she’s still a risk taker who stuck to her principles and went after what she wanted, and for that she’s earned a spot on my list.
  5. Last, but most definitely not least, on my list of favorite independent ladies is definitely Kiva from John Scalzi’s The Collapsing Empire. Kiva was hands-down my favorite character in this book. She’s smart and crafty, and she’s out there, making stuff happen. One of the coolest aspects of this character is that she gets to have casual hook-ups with any willing partner the way that a male main character would. No shame. No moralistic repercussions. She’s just out there doing her thing. I love it and can’t wait to see what happens next for her, and the other characters in this series.

That was fun. Now I better get back to the writing cave and work on writing the adventures of my current independent leading lady in my Modern Fae series. Let me know in the comments if you agree / disagree with my selections, above, and tell me who’s on your list.

Top Five Wednesday: Nostalgic Ships (#T5W)

This week, for Top Five Wednesday we’re talking about the first fictional couples we ever got butterflies over and the couples we used to be really into when we were younger.

“Younger” for me encompasses a pretty large swath of pop culture. So, for this post, I’m going to focus on the couples I swooned over at any point prior to graduating college.

I had a hard time coming up with examples from books. Almost all my nostalgic ships are from movies or TV shows. Maybe there weren’t many ship-able couples in the books I read.

  1. Meg and Calvin (A Wrinkle in Time) — As an inch-thick-glasses-wearing smart girl with not-quite-curly and definitely-not-straight hair, I identified with Meg so much. Calvin was the best pre-teen hero I’d ever seen in a book because he appreciated Meg for who she was and loved her without her having to have some stupid makeover that gave her contacts and made her hair magically straight (I’m looking at you, Princess Diaries). My favorite books in this series are the ones with Meg and Calvin, or the ones that feature their daughter, Polly. I loved that when the series continued with the next generation of Murry-O’Keefes we got little glimpses of Meg and Calvin’s grown-up happily-ever-after. They were #RelationshipGoals before hashtags were invented.
  2. Han and Leia (Star Wars) — “I love you.” “I know.” Why in the hell does that get me every time? I love their banter. I love their opposites attract relationship. They were probably the first on-screen couple that I was completely invested in seeing live happily ever after (only to fast forward forty years and have their stupid son Kylo go and ruin their HEA). Regardless, their relationship is probably what gave me my soft spot for “stuck-up, half-witted, scruffy-looking nerf herder(s)” and rebellious princesses who get shit done.
  3. Sarah and Jareth (Labyrinth) — Honestly, what fantasy loving teen didn’t ship these two? I loved this movie so much that I can still recite her little speech about “dangers untold and hardships unnumbered” by heart. The masked ball scene alone is super swoon-worthy. So she doesn’t exactly end up with him at the end of the movie. You know she’s going back now that her baby brother is safe and all the goblins love her. “If you miss us…”
  4. Andie and Duckie (Pretty in Pink) — I know. He basically stalks her for the entire movie, and she turns him down repeatedly. It’s not exactly a good example for “no means no,” and I can see that now. But back when I, as an impressionable pre-teen, watched this movie at a friend’s sleepover party, Duckie was my instant fave. His whole lip sync was irresistible to pre-teen (and teen) me. Meanwhile, Blane always came off as a douchebag, even when I didn’t really know what that meant. I always thought he was a preppy jerkface who just didn’t get Andie the way that Duckie did.
  5. Rogue and Gambit (from the X-Men Comics) — I started reading the X-Men comics in college. I didn’t really know where to start, so I just picked the relationships I wanted to follow and then followed characters and pairs around through all the relevant comics where they appeared. Rogue and Gambit were a pair that I loved. I tried to read everything I could get my hands on that had them in it. I know they’re planning on making a Gambit movie at some point in the future (maybe), and I’m crossing my fingers that I’ll get some more Gambit and Rogue at that point (if they ever decide to make that movie).

I hope you have enjoyed this trip back in time to 80s and 90s nostalgic romantic pairings in pop culture. I’m sure there are some I’ve missed. So, I’m looking forward to checking out everyone else’s posts and BookTube videos. Let me know in the comments if you did a T5W post this week that you think I should check out.

Top Five Wednesday: Top of my TBR (#T5W)

What’s this? Another TBR post? Well, as it turns out, the topic for this week’s Top Five Wednesday discussion is sharing the top five books on your TBR. As I explained in my post earlier this week, I just created a pretty ambitious TBR for the first half of 2019 that includes over thirty books! I’ve already read a few so far this year, and I have a few more in-progress. So, what I focused on for this post are the top five that I plan to start next.

The top five books on my TBR are:

I currently have I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara and The Hollow of Fear by Sherry Thomas out on digital loan from the library. I haven’t started either, and I can’t turn my Kindle off airplane mode until I finish reading them. So those two are definitely at the top of my TBR.

But the very next book I read will likely be, The Queen of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner (aka the second book in The Queen’s Thief series). I think my reading buddies will be ready to start this one any day now. I’m looking forward to this re-read because, as I realized while re-reading the first book, I’ve forgotten a lot of what happens in this series.

I also want to get started on at least one of the six books I put on my Kindle backlog bust reading list. I think that’s probably going to be Brightly Burning by Alexa Donne. I thought I might want to start with Vengeful, but my attention is very scattered at the moment. So, I think I’m going to put that one off for a bit longer and read something shorter and fluffier instead. Brightly Burning is billed as “Jane Eyre in space,” and while I’ve never read Jane Eyre, I think an angsty YA space opera sounds pretty good right now.

Last, but possibly most important, I have to keep up with my RITA reading. As I said in my previous post, I have seven books to read in seven weeks. I’ve finished one already. But rather than wait, I’m going to keep plowing through them so that I don’t get behind. I’m awful at keeping secrets, and it’s hard for me to keep my mouth shut about what I’m reading. But, I’m a professional, so that’s what I’m going to do. My lips are sealed.

There you have it. The top five books on my TBR. Are any of you also doing a Queen’s Thief re-read before book six comes out in March? Or are you planning to read any of the other books on my list? Let me know in the comments!