Series to Finish in 2020

It’s been snowing here on Orcas Island for the past few days, and I’ve been enjoying some excellent quality reading time. Now that I’m almost done with the books I wanted to finish reading for the Winter Magical Readathon, I’ve started thinking about the series I’d like to finish this year.

I mentioned in my 2020 reading goals post that I want to finish at least 5 series that I’ve started but not yet finished. I’m focusing on series that are now complete. So, most of these are older series. Some were hugely popular. Some I initially loved and then bailed on for whatever reason. Now I want to revisit them and see how the rest of the stories play out.

I started to make a Goodreads shelf to track them, but I’m not even sure I’ve got everything, yet. It turns out that there were more than I’d thought. So many that I had trouble narrowing it down to just 10 that I want to finish, but I did it. Below are the top 10 series that I’d most like to finish reading in 2020.

  • Fire and Thorns Series by Rae Carson — I read the first book in this series shortly after it came out and enjoyed it. Then I never read the rest of the series. I think there are more books in this series coming out now, so I’d like to at least finish the original trilogy and see if I want to keep going.
  • Poseidon’s Children Series by Alastair Reynolds — I read the first two books in this trilogy, and loved them. Then I never read the final book. I bought this last one on ebook when it came out, but I still haven’t read it. So, this is one I definitely want to finish this year. I think this will be a good one for a Tome Topple readathon.
  • Saga by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples — I really love this comic series. I own the bind-ups through volume 7, but I’ve only read the first 2. It’s possible that this series isn’t done yet, but I’m going to at least catch up to wherever the most recent volume released is by the end of 2020.
  • The Amberlough Dossier Series by Lara Elena Donnelly — I read the first book in this series, and I own the other two books. The problem is that I have them all in paperback, and I keep forgetting about them. I’d really like to remember to finish this series this year.
  • Throne of Glass Series by Sarah J. Maas — This used to be my favorite series. I devoured the first four books. Then I started souring on SJM’s writing style. At this point, I’ve pretty much completely forgotten what’s happened, and the series is done. So, I’m going to have to go back and refresh my memory with some recaps. Then I think it’s time for me to finally finish this series, for better or worse.
  • Brothers Sinister Series by Courtney Milan — I’ve been taking my time reading these because I love them so much. I have the rest of the series on ebook now, so I could read through them all. The only problem with finishing them is that I’ll need to find a new series for pulling me out of reading slumps.
  • Monsters of Verity by Victoria Schwab — I’ve been dragging my feet about reading book two in this duology because I’ve heard it’s not as good as the first book. The problem is that I bought this on ebook when it first came out, so I’m determined to read it. My plan is to save it for a Tome Topple and then read it and see how I like it.
  • Kingmaker Chronicles by Amanda Bouchet — I didn’t love the first book in this series, but I wanted to give book two a try, so I bought it when it was on sale. Then I bought book three when it was on sale. Now I’m committed to finishing this series. I liked the world-building and was curious to see what happens with the plot. I just didn’t like the characters or the relationship between them. Here’s hoping they grow on me as the series progresses.
  • The Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante — It’s been a while since I read the first two books in this series. I have two more to read, and I really want to finish them. They just keep getting bumped off my TBR. Not this year. This year they’re getting read.
  • The Folk of the Air by Holly Black — Out of all the series on this list, the last two books in this series are possibly the two books I’m most looking forward to reading. I wouldn’t be surprised if this is the first series I end up finishing this year.

Given the fact that there are several series in that list that I’m not super excited to read, you may be asking yourself why in the world I’m bothering to put these on my TBR and make a goal out of finishing them. To that I say: I don’t have to read all of them. I only said I’d finish five. As for the rest, well… I like to finish things. I find it really hard to DNF books, and almost as hard to DNF a series once I’ve started it.

If I pick up reading the Kingmaker Chronicles, or the Throne of Glass Series, or even the Fire and Thorns series and just do not like the next book, I may bail on reading the rest. But, I only have one book left to read in Poseidon’s Children and Monsters of Verity. So, I’m going to finish those, even if I’m not loving the book.

Let me know what you think in the comments. Do you feel compelled to finish every series you start? What series have you given up on? Or which one do you really want to finish reading this year?

January 2020 Bullet Journal Set-Up

And now a break from the reading summaries, stats, and updates to share my bullet journal spreads for 2020. Unlike most, I don’t bother starting a new notebook at the start of a new year. If I still have pages left in my current notebook, I just keep going.

Before diving into my 2020 spreads, I used almost ten pages planning my 2020 writing schedule and goals which I’m not showing here. In general, I laid out a future log for the entire year, four months to a page, divided horizontally so I had space for mini calendars on the left and notes on the right in each box. Then I used pencil (not normal for me) to start putting in rough plans for what writing project(s) I wanted to be working on each month.

In addition to that, I came up with two major writing goals for the year. One is a revenue goal and the other is to “build my backlist.” After that, I made sure my Q1 goals and projects tied to my 2020, and that’s it. All that’s left is to set up some sort of Kanban board to track my tasks associated with those project and make sure it all gets done. With that more or less set up, I moved on to my reading goals for 2020.

I’m keeping it pretty simple with this two page spread. On the left side, I can keep track of new books that I want to put on hold at the library (or add to my wishlist). There’s an 8×8 box for each month, and I’m writing the release date and title in each box for the books I’m excited about. On the right side, I’ve listed my reading goals for the year (which I’m going to talk about more in a separate post). Then I’m using the bottom half of the page as a tracker for the books I’ve purchased to make sure I’m buying and reading books rather than buying and hoarding them.

Next up is my month at a glance. I like the traditional line-a-day view for this. I’m putting my regular life events on the left side and my writing business stuff on the right side. I also have a little habit tracker on the left side for the four habits I’m tracking in January (vitamin, meditation, cardio, and stretching).

The right hand side also has a mini habit tracker because I have a goal of writing 1000 words every day in January. They can be in any of the three Modern Fae projects I’m currently working on, but blog posts and outlining and brainstorming don’t count. It has to be part of a story scene, even if I eventually end up cutting it from the finished product. Ultimately, I want to see if I can keep this up all year, but I’m going to take it one month at a time so I don’t get overwhelmed by my ambition.

On the next page, I have a big blank page for capturing what I read that month and any favorites from my “culture consumed” (like podcasts, music, movies, tv shows, etc.). I’m not sure exactly what this will end up looking like, but I’m intending to try to make it a bit of a collage. I’m thinking of printing out mini book covers to paste in, or maybe doodling the covers of the books I’ve read. I’ll probably add ticket stubs from movies, if I go to any. I’m leaving plenty of space to be creative and have a bit of fun.

I’m also trying something new this month. I’ve never done a mood tracker before. I thought it might be helpful to be able to visually compare my mood to my movement, so I came up with the idea for this chart.

The days of the month are across the bottom. Number of steps are on the vertical axis alongside a very basic mood scale from “no good very bad day” to “everything is awesome” with “meh” in the middle. I’m using some symbols to track what kind of movement I’m doing for my daily cardio (for me this means at least 30 minutes of continuous movement). I’m really curious to see how this turns out.

One of the reasons I wanted to try a mood tracker this month is because I’m not great at being mindful about how I’m feeling. I’m hoping this will force me to stop and think about it at least once a day. I suspect I’ll feel better on days I move more, but who knows. Maybe I won’t. It will be interesting to find out.

The final new thing I’m trying this month is this reference page just before I start my daily pages where I can do some meal planning and write down admin tasks that need to get done but that I don’t want to add to my daily log for whatever reason.

I have these little post it flags that happen to be almost exactly 3×10 squares. So, I made a week and then started writing some of our regular meals on the flags. This way I can move them around and re-use them throughout the month. The lime colored ones will be crockpot recipes and the blue ones will be for everything else. That way if I know I need a crockpot recipe on a certain day (because I won’t be home until late, for example), I can see at a glance that I’ve got myself covered. I’m hoping this will also help me stay on top of groceries for the week.

And that’s it. That’s my set up for January. I don’t like using weekly spreads. I keep trying them and then hating them for a variety of reasons. I like the flexibility and the focus of daily logs. So, that’s what I’m sticking with for January. I definitely lean more towards the traditional bullet journal method rather than the “instagram friendly” bullet journaling that gets featured a lot on YouTube and elsewhere. But, if you like this sort of thing, let me know in the comments, and maybe I’ll do more posts like this.

Reading List: Powell's Books staff's best books of 2019

It’s up! Powell’s just posted their Staff Top 5 Picks of 2019! Since it has become an annual tradition of mine to crunch the numbers* on the staff picks, I couldn’t resist doing it again this year. (Click any of these to see previous years’ posts: 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015.)

The results are in. Below is the consensus top ten list of the books most mentioned in individual lists. Presented in order of most to least total points, the top ten highest rated books of 2019 according to the staff at Powell’s Books (in Portland, Oregon) are:

(Links below take you to Powell’s, because that seemed appropriate.)

  1. In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado (memoir)
  2. Lanny by Max Porter (lit fic)
  3. Cosmoknights by Hannah Templer (sci-fi graphic novel)
  4. Sorcery of Thorns by Margaret Rogerson (fantasy)
  5. The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead (lit fic)
  6. Mother Winter by Sophia Shalmiyev (memoir)
  7. Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me by Mariko Tamaki (contemporary fiction graphic novel)
  8. Three Women by Lisa Taddeo (non-fiction)
  9. The Topeka School by Ben Lerner (lit fic)
  10. Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls by T Kira Madden (memoir)

The thing that surprised me most about this year’s list is that Sorcery of Thorns landed on it, and ended up in the #4 spot. I’ve been hearing a lot of mixed reviews about this one from BookTubers and elsewhere online. Now I’m even more curious to read this for myself. It is the only one on this list that was already on my TBR.

Least surprising were the number of memoirs on the list. I’ve come to expect interesting memoirs to be top picks from the staff at Powell’s. But, after last year, I’ve really started trusting their taste in memoirs. Some of my favorite non-fiction books I read in 2019 were memoirs recommended by Powell’s staff.

If you want to add these books to your TBR, I’ve added them to a Goodreads shelf called PowellsBestof2019. If you do add any to your TBR, let me know in the comments which you plan to read. Alternatively, if you have already read any of these, let me know what you think/recommend in the comments.

* In case you’re interested, here’s how I came up with the total points… I did some good old “copying and pasting” of all the lists into a spreadsheet. Then I assigned points to each mention of each book based on where it appeared in each list (5 points for first place, 4 points for second place, etc.). Then I made a pivot table and sorted the results by total number of points in descending order. There was an obvious cut-off after the first ten books. So I capped the list at ten books.

Disclaimer: I don’t work at Powell’s Bookstore. I have no financial affiliation to Powell’s Bookstore. I get no money from doing this post. I only do this because I have a tendency to like the books their staff recommends and because I like top five lists and crunching numbers. Enjoy! 🙂

Winter Magical Readathon — Chapter 5

I am almost done with Silver in the Wood. I think I’ll be able to finish it today, and then I’ll be all caught up and ready to start my reading for the final chapter of the Winter Magical Readathon! And that’s good because I got three new prompts this week!

Chapter 5 started with a party, and I chose dancing, because of course I did. If this was a real party, I’d be one of the first ones on the dance floor. The next day there was some helping of Neville with the Mandrogas. Then, because I followed the spiders in Chapter 4, I ended up with a rooster as my weapon of choice. And, I got my first prompt: “Read a book with a bird, winged creature or feathers on the cover!”

After scrolling through my Goodreads shelves and squinting at all the covers looking for wings and/or feathers, I came up with a couple of options. One is The Burning Sky by Sherry Thomas. The other is The Reluctant Queen by Sarah Beth Durst. I’ve been meaning to read The Burning Sky forever, but I’m not ready to start a new series right now. My plan for 2020 is to finish a bunch of series that I’ve started reading. Since The Reluctant Queen is book 2 in a series I want to finish in 2020, I think I’ll go with that one. It’s also shorter. by over 100 pages.

Armed with my rooster, I headed to Moaning Myrtle’s bathroom to find out how she died and (because I didn’t go to Nearly Headless Nick’s Death Day party) to tell her an embarrassing story to cheer her up. If you want my embarrassing story, click here for my tweet per the #MakingMyrtleLaugh prompt.

Then, because I never learned in an earlier chapter that I speak Parseltongue, I ended up with another reading prompt. This one was to “Read the first book you think about!” Of course, (predictably) as soon as someone says “think of a book,” my mind goes blank. It’s like, books? What are books? Then I thought of one. The Art of Theft by Sherry Thomas! This is one I’ve been meaning to get to since it came out in September. It’s book four in the gender flipped Sherlock Holmes retelling that I love. Makes sense that it would be the first one to come to mind.

I was kind of hoping that would be it for reading prompts. But, I hadn’t even made it to the Chamber of Secrets, yet. So, me and my trusty (sleeping) rooster continued. I turned right, immobilized the pixies, and found Ginny. In order to wake my rooster and fight the basilisk, I got another reading prompt. This one was “Read a book that starts with an R (for rooster).” For this one, I’m going with The Right Swipe by Alisha Rai.

That led me to the end of the story with a total of NINE prompts for the whole readathon! Woah. Luckily, there’s no real fixed end date. So I have as long as I’d like to read these three books. I think I’m going to try to get them done by next Sunday, though. We’ll see. I may not start any of them until the first of the New Year because I want to finish The Barefoot Bandit before I start any new books. I also have book 3 in my own series coming out at the end of January, and I have to finish the interior layout files and proof read it one last time.

I think I may do one final Winter Magical Readathon wrap-up post once I’ve finished reading all these books. So, stay tuned for that, if you’re curious. I’ve also got a bunch of end of year posts planned. I’m going to do posts on my favorite reads of 2019, my most disappointing reads of 2019, my 2019 reading stats, my 2020 reading goals, and (probably) another “Top 5” summary of the Powell’s Books staff top five lists, whenever those come out.

Let me know in the comments what you’re reading for these prompts (or whichever prompts you got in this chapter) and how many total prompts you ended up with for this readathon. Happy reading!

Winter Magical Readathon — Chapter 4

I finally completed the first two chapters of the Winter Magical Readathon! I finished reading The Starless Sea for my chapter one prompt (and I loved it). I also finished reading There There (another really good book) for the first of my two chapter two prompts (“book with an orange cover”) and Jean Grey, Vol. 1: Nightmare Fuel for the second (“read a comic, manga, or graphic novel”).

Lucky for me, I just found and borrowed the audiobook of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them from my library, so I can get to work on my chapter three reading prompt (“read a book published in 2001”). Fantastic Beasts is pretty short, so I should be able to finish that in a couple of long walks. Which means I’m almost caught up! Hooray!

Winter Magical Readathon reading for chapters one through three…

That (plus the fact that it’s Sunday) also means it’s time to find out what chapter four has in store for me… The short answer is spiders plus two more reading prompts. Yep. #IFollowedThe Spiders.

First up, since I didn’t join Hermione’s book club (what a bummer, I totally would have joined if I’d chosen that path), I ended up with a prompt to “read a book that starts with the letter S, for Slytherin.” My mom just sent me Spaceside by Michael Mammay for Christmas, so that was the first book that came to mind. But, then I remembered that Saga also starts with an “S” and volume two (which was one of my options for my chapter two prompt) would be a fast read. Alternatively, I have Silver in the Wood by Emily Tesh on my Kindle. That one is a novella and would also be a fast read.

Some options for my chapter four reading prompts…

I’m thinking I might go with Saga, Vol. 2 for the Slytherin prompt because the other two books will also work for the second prompt I got for chapter four. See, I decided not to go with the Pollyjuice potion, and I didn’t already have the diary, so I had to go fish it out of the toilet (yuck!). That landed me with the prompt to “read a book that has been written by an author who’s last name starts with either T, M or R.” So, Silver in the Wood (Tesh) and Spaceside (Mammay) will both also work for this prompt.

Right now, I think I’m going to go for a walk and listen to some Fantastic Beasts. Then I’ll probably do a little non-Magical Readathon reading. I’d like to make some progress on The Barefoot Bandit because I hate ending the year with partially finished books. I was really hoping that it would qualify for one of these prompts, but so far it hasn’t been an option. Maybe next week…

Once I finish with Fantastic Beasts, I’ll probably start reading volume two of Saga and see what I feel like after that. I think it will depend on how close we are to next Sunday by the time I finish. Until then, happy holidays and happy reading! Wishing you all a warm beverage and an excellent book!

Winter Magical Readathon — Chapter 3

I’m still not done with my Chapter 1 & 2 prompts. I figured out that I messed up reading Chapter 2 and the comic book prompt was actually part of Chapter 2, not Chapter 3. So, I went back and read Chapter 3 for real this time (and fixed my previous post).

First choice in Chapter 3? Breakfast. Even though I love toast, I don’t really like eggs all that much. So, I went with the corn flakes. Of course, just the mere thought of toast got me craving some. There may have been a pause to go make myself second breakfast before returning to the readathon text.

My decision to go with corn flakes and toast with jam (both IRL and in the text) landed me in Herbology class. After planting Mandragoras, I had three options for my evening activity: dueling club, Nearly Headless Nick’s party, or Quidditch practice. If this were really me, I’d definitely go with Quidditch. I agree with Wood. We should totally be practicing daily.

And that, my friends, is how I ended up with the Chapter 3 prompt of reading a book published in 2001. There are two books published in 2001 that I’ve shelved on Goodreads, but haven’t read yet. I’ve been meaning to read both of them forever, but one (Kushiel’s Dart) is over 900 pages long. The other, Bel Canto by Ann Patchett, I had in paperback and just unhauled it.

So, now I’m stuck. I tried searching the Googles and tried to find another option, but I couldn’t find anything appealing other than Quidditch Through The Ages and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. It turns out that both were published in 2001, and I’ve never read them. I may go with one of them since they are both Harry Potter books, and it’s a good excuse to watch the Fantastic Beasts movie after I’ve read the book, right? The only problem is, I don’t own either of those books and my local library doesn’t have them, either. See? Stuck.

I suppose I don’t need to worry about this at the moment because, as I said at the beginning, I’m still working on my Chapter 1 & 2 prompts. As of right now, my Winter Magical Readathon TBR looks like this:

Winter Magical Readathon TBR for chapters one through three…

If you have any thoughts on other (short) books published in 2001, let me know in the comments. Did anyone else get that prompt? What book did you choose? And who else is excited for the feast next week?

Winter Magical Readathon — Chapter 2

One downside of starting Book Roast’s Winter Magical Readathon with a 500 page book is that I’m not done with it yet! I am currently not quite halfway through reading The Starless Sea to complete my chapter one prompt.

But… I really wanted to see what happens next in the Magical Readathon choose your own adventure version of Chamber of Secrets. So I decided to peek ahead. That’s not cheating, right? I hope it’s not.

For chapter 2, I woke up at the Burrow and stuck with Ron. That landed me with a somewhat challenging reading prompt: “Read a book with an orange cover (or the word “orange” in the title).” I didn’t think I had a lot of books on my TBR with an orange cover, but, it turned out I had three to choose from. I went with There There by Tommy Orange because, in addition to the cover being orange, it’s less than 300 pages long and the author’s name is Orange.

Then, for the next choice in that chapter, I decided to deviate from the book a bit. When I couldn’t get through to platform 9 and 3/4, I probably would have tried to convince Ron to wait for his parents. Luckily, my good behavior landed me with an excellent reading prompt: “Read a comic book, manga, picture book or a graphic novel.”

I haven’t decide yet which of three comics I’m going to read for this prompt. I have 3 that I’ve been meaning to read all year. Jean Grey, Vol. 1: Nightmare Fuel, Bitch Planet, Vol. 2: President Bitch, and Saga, Vol. 2 (so I can finally get started on finishing Saga). If you have thoughts on which I should go with for this prompt, let me know in the comments.

Comics on my TBR…

Hopefully, I will finish The Starless Sea this week and then read There There and the comic relatively quickly. Then it’s on to Chapter 3. I’m pretty sure there’s no chance that I’ll be all caught up by next weekend.

Are you participating in this year’s Winter Magical Readathon? How are you doing? Which prompts have you been getting? Let me know in the comments!

UPDATE (12/17): Apparently I messed up. This is just Chapter 2 and not Chapter 3. I’ve corrected this post to reflect that.

Winter Magical Readathon!

It’s the first day of December and time to start Book Roast’s Winter Magical Readathon! I’m so excited! I just read “Chapter One” and got my reading prompt. I was going to share it here, but I don’t want to spoil the story if you haven’t started it, yet.

While I won’t say which path I chose through Chapter One, I will say that my prompt was to read a book on my TBR that’s over 500 pages! Yikes! What a way to start a readathon!

Luckily, I was just about to start reading The Starless Sea which is 498 pages long in hardcover. That’s close enough, right?

Are you participating in this year’s Winter Magical Readathon? Let me know in the comments, and tell me which prompt you got!

Final books to read in 2019

The end of 2019 sort of snuck up on me. I had all these reading goals for 2019 and a massive TBR of books I wanted to read this year. I’ve done all right with most of them (final recap and tally to be posted at year’s end). Now, with only two months left in the year and one of them being NaNoWriMo, it’s time for a 2019 TBR reality check and some hard decisions.

This “final books to read in 2019” is a tag that was going around Booktube. I hadn’t even thought much about my end of year TBR until I saw this tag. I got this from Books And Lala, who I think got this from a BookTuber named Ariel. Since my YouTube channel is more “AuthorTube” than “BookTube,” I thought I’d have a go at the questions on my blog, instead.

So let’s get started, shall we?

Cover of Meet Cute, an anthology of short stories.

Are there any books you started this year that you need to finish? Yes. I don’t like finishing the year with books still in-progress. It’s a weird quirk of mine. Right now, I anticipate that Meet Cute is going to be one that I’m scrambling to finish. It’s an anthology of short stories that I started reading earlier this year, but haven’t been super motivated to finish. This is more because I struggle with short story anthologies, in general. The particular short stories in this particular anthology have been pretty great, so far. I just always seem to forget that I have this on my Kindle and should probably be reading the next story instead of scrolling Instagram or Twitter.

Do you have an autumnal book to transition into the end of the year? The book that I associate strongly with fall is The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. But, I don’t have time for a re-read this year. Instead, I might try to find time to re-read a short novella that I associate with fall and winter, Night of Cake and Puppets by Laini Taylor. It’s so cute and so sweet and so lovely. The story combined with the short length, make it the perfect book to read by the fire with a hot beverage on a blustery cold evening.

Book cover for The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern.

Is there a new release you’re still waiting for? Yes! I’m eagerly awaiting The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern. I really want a signed hardcover, and I’m not sure if I’m going to be able to get my hands on one. If I get one, I’ll probably drop everything to read it right away. This is one that I know I’m going to need to read before the hype gets going too strong, otherwise it will be ruined for me.

What are three books you want to read before the end of the year? Three? Just three? I have at least twelve that I really want to finish before the end of the year. And yes, I do realize that’s more than one book per week. And yes, I’ll be spending the vast majority of my time in November writing and not reading. So I know that math does not work. At the very, very least, I’d like to actually complete the Read Harder challenge this year. That’s five more books. I tried to pick relatively short ones for the remaining tasks, but there are a few non-fiction titles in there that might not be the page turners I need to meet my end of year reading goals.

Is there a book you think could still shock you and become your favourite book of the year? Yes. I have high hopes for The Starless Sea because The Night Circus is one of my all-time favorite books. I also think This is How You Lose the Time War might slide into my top five based on the buzz I’ve been hearing. I also have plans to read Witchmark with my friends S. and L. That one looks great and has been getting a lot of praise.

Have you already started making reading plans for 2020? Not really… I’ve been thinking about it a little, but mostly just to vow not to make such grueling TBR lists next year. Even as I type those words, I know that vow will be broken before the clock strikes midnight on New Year’s Eve. I’m a sucker for the TBRs.

Stack ranking Hugo best novel finalists

I’ve finished* reading the Hugo finalists for Best Novel. Now it’s time to decide how they compare with each other and figure out which one I liked best.

These novels were so very hard to stack rank. They’re all so different and so good. It’s like trying to pick a favorite type of berry. All berries are awesome. Don’t make me pick a favorite. I want all of them.

But, alas, one of these novels will be selected to win the Hugo later today. So, before the awards are announced, I’m going to think it through and figure out which one I’d pick.

My current ranking:

  1. Space Opera by Catherynne M. Valente
  2. The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal
  3. Revenant Gun by Yoon Ha Lee
  4. Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse
  5. Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik
  6. Record of a Spaceborn Few by Becky Chambers

Here’s my rational for why I ranked these the way I did:

First off, let’s talk about Space Opera vs. Record of a Spaceborn Few. One I ranked at the top of the list, and one I ranked at the bottom. Both of these novels introduce a lot of alien culture world building. From that angle, these are two of the most similar of the bunch, and therefore maybe the easiest to compare. The first main difference between them was that Space Opera focused more on the weird aliens while Spaceborn Few focused more on the evolution of humanity after humans killed their planet and fled to space. In both cases, humanity is somewhere near the bottom of the ranks of the multitude of galactic sentient species. Both books also definitely have a message to convey (more so than the other books on this list), about living in harmony with each other and with those not like us. While I enjoyed both of these, I devoured Space Opera  while I merely slogged my way through Record of a Spaceborn Few. I think this is because Space Opera had a unifying plot while Spaceborn Few did not. Also, I liked the humor/voice in Space Opera better. So, I ranked Space Opera above Spaceborn Few, but why did it get ranked first on this list?

Let me first say that I’ll be shocked if The Calculating Stars doesn’t win the Hugo this year. That said, why did I rank Space Opera above The Calculating Stars? This may come down to me being a bit ornery. See, The Calculating Stars is a crowd pleaser of a book (which is why I think it will win). The main character is delightful. She has a loving relationship with her husband. She’s fighting the good fight to get women (of all races) into space. It’s a pretty straight-forward, science based, research heavy, hard sci-fi story where you can root for the underdog. It’s great. I loved it.

Now, when you look at that compared to Space Opera, you realize that Space Opera is downright weird. Just look at the Goodreads reviews. They’re incredibly polarizing. People love it or they DNFed it out of frustration. But somehow, comparing this to The Calculating Stars, this is the book that I’m still thinking about weeks and weeks after reading it. This is the one I want to own so I can re-read it. Meanwhile, despite having the second book in the Lady Astronaut series on my Kindle, I haven’t been super motivated to start reading it. So, as much as I enjoyed The Calculating Stars, I have to rank Space Opera higher on my list.

That leaves me with three more (also great) novels that I need to decide where to place: Trail of Lightning, Spinning Silver, and Revenant Gun. These are all set in really unique worlds with excellent world-building and compelling characters. They’re also all very different novels. But, because they all had plots in addition to well crafted characters and worlds, I immediately liked them all more than I liked Record of a Spaceborn Few. Sorry. Please don’t think I’m dragging Record of a Spaceborn Few. I really liked it. I just also really like plot and, as good as it was, that book didn’t have one. Does that make it “literary sci-fi?” Maybe? But that’s not what the Hugos are about, so I’ll leave that discussion to the literary experts. I’m just here to explore which ones I liked best and why.

I also didn’t love any of these three books more than I enjoyed Space Opera and The Calculating Stars. That’s how they all ended up in the middle of my list. But, trying to decide how to stack rank them against each other was a much more difficult task. To determine a final ranking, I decided to rate them on how much I liked them based on the three pillars of storytelling: character, world-building, and plot. Plus a bonus (tie-breaker?) fourth component: structure.

Trail of Lightning shines in the world-building department. It’s a very unique take on dystopian that relies on a lot of Native American legends. Plus, it’s #ownvoices. So, that’s awesome. The plot and characters were good enough to make this a page turner, but I didn’t love it enough to want to continue with the series. The main reason this one is getting bumped higher than the other two is because there was nothing annoying about the structure. (See, I warned you that structure was going to be a tie breaker).

The world-building in Spinning Silver is equally as good, and rooted in the Jewish culture of (I think) Eastern Europe. I really enjoyed the three female lead characters in this book. The males were well-written but universally awful until a couple of them managed to (satisfyingly) redeem themselves at the end of the book. There were a lot of characters to manage in this story, but they were all unique, well-rounded, and ended up with solid character arcs, which is saying something given the number of point of view characters.

Even though I liked the characters in Spinning Silver more than in Trail of Lightning, I had to take some points off for plot and structure. I loved the first third and the last third of Spinning Silver. The middle third is where this book fell down a bit for me. That had a little bit to do with the plot (sagging middle syndrome) and a little bit to do with the structure (too many point of view characters). It’s almost as though the first third had one plot (turn silver into gold) and two primary point of view characters (Miryem and Wanda), while the last third had an entirely different plot (destroy the demon and the Staryk King), that’s not really even hinted at in the first half of the book, and traded one primary point of view character for several others. Once the first plot was resolved, the book sort of floundered for me (around the part where two of the characters are hiding in a creepy “witches” cottage) until the next part of the story kicked in.

* So, that leaves Revenant Gun. In the spirit of transparency, I’m going to note that I’m just over halfway through this book. I’ll update this post when I’ve finished reading, if my opinions have changed.

Revenant Gun is the third book in the Machineries of Empire series, which makes it even more difficult to rate it against the others which are either first in their series or stand-alone books. If you picked up this book without reading Ninefox Gambit and Raven Stratagem first, you’d probably be completely lost. Hell, when most people (myself included) pick up Ninefox Gambit (the first book in the series), they are completely lost. I LOVED Ninefox Gambit after I finally gave up trying to understand all the new world-building terminology and just let myself enjoy the story and figure it out as it went along. This is one of those series where you have to really suspend your need for info-dumps (since I hate info-dumps, I love this style of writing). Some stuff just doesn’t get explained and that’s totally fine.

I really love the world-building in this series. It believably incorporates food and fashion and politics and pastimes and prejudices and pop culture into a far-future, space-faring world. It’s not at all “realistic” in the hard-sci-fi sense of the term. Not like Spaceborn Few or Calculating Stars. And yet, the world is rule-based and logical, birthed from the mind of a mathematician. Plus the characters are great. I love all of them. They all feel very unique and have colorful personalities. They may not have traditional character arcs, necessarily, but that’s in line with this sort of military/adventure sci-fi sub-genre. The plot has plenty of satisfying twists and turns and shocking (but inevitable) reveals. Even though this final book in the series did a little weird “nine years ago” interspersed with “present day” thing with the structure, it was necessary to the story and only slightly confusing. Less confusing than Spinning Silver got, at times with all that POV switching.

As much as I enjoyed this series, how do you rank the last book in the series against a field of books that are first books or stand-alones? I was sorely tempted to just not rank it at all (especially because I’m not 100% done reading it, yet). But it’s a good series, and (so far, at least), I like this last book more than I liked Spinning Silver or Trail of Lightning. So, I decided to rank this book third, behind my two faves. It’s highly unlikely that Revenant Gun will take home the Hugo, but I have my fingers crossed that maybe Machineries of Empire will win the completed series award.

Now I’m going to get myself a bowl of popcorn and tune into the Hugo livestream. I am really excited to see if I’m right about which novel will win this category and to see who else will take home a Hugo this year. Best of luck to all the finalists. They are all amazing authors, and I really enjoyed reading all these books.

Let me know in the comments if you read any of these books and which one you think will win.