February Weekend Reading — Inbox / Outbox Update

Not quite one full week into February, and I’ve already finished one book so far this month! I’ve also already deviated from my TBR plans…

Outbox

I finished five books since my last inbox / outbox update. All of them were good, enjoyable reads, but no new faves.

  • Italian Folk Magic by Mary-Grace Fahrun — This was really interesting. I have no real frame of reference for “authenticity” of the content, but some of it definitely reminded me of things I’ve seen or heard in my extended Italian-American family.
  • The Fantasy Fiction Formula by Deborah Chester — There’s a lot of good stuff in here. Probably my biggest take-aways were the idea of testing your premise with her SPOOC formula (a summary sentence you create using your story’s Situation, Protagonist, Objective, Opponent, and Climax) and her chapter on scene conflict.
  • Spare by Prince Harry — I enjoyed hearing Harry’s thoughts about his life, which I was not really familiar with because I pay almost no attention to celebrity drama. There’s a lot to think about here, and I’m still processing my thoughts. I will say that I’m annoyed at the negative reviews that seem to focus only on poking fun and nitpicking what he said and how he said it instead of engaging with the bigger issues he raises.
  • A Dowry of Blood by S. T. Gibson — This was an entertaining read, but I’ve never been a big fan of vampires. The book is well written. The prose is engaging and even lyrical at times. I liked it. I just didn’t love it. Which makes me feel a bit like an outlier, because lots of people seem to really love this book. So don’t listen to me. If you like vampires and none of the content warnings are deal-breakers for you, you should definitely check this out.
  • Pretty Dead Queens by Alexa Donne — I love a good murder mystery, and this one had me turning pages and trying to solve the puzzle before the big reveal. It’s well done. I liked it. I thought I was sure I knew whodunit, but the story kept me questioning myself until the end.

Inbox

Since reading multiple books at once seemed to work out pretty well for me, I am probably going to keep that up. Except, my current plan is to have at least one fiction book in every format (audio, paper, and digital) going at any time. Plus one non-fiction book in addition to those, in any format.

My non-fiction book, at the moment, continues to be The Anatomy of Genres.

On audiobook, I’m listening to The Monsters We Defy by Leslye Penelope. I’m only a few chapters in, but the narrator is killing it, and I am really enjoying the story so far.

My current ebook is the most recent addition to the Innkeeper series by Ilona Andrews, Sweep of the Heart. I absolutely love the worldbuilding in this series and am so excited to be back in this world.

All that’s left now is to start my hardcover selection, Spells for Forgetting… Maybe tomorrow?

What are you reading?

February TBR and Journal Set-up

There are so many books I want to read right now, but I’m limiting my TBR to just the four that I know I will be starting as soon as I finish the book I’m currently reading.

First up is Pretty Dead Queens by Alexa Donne. I am in the mood for some murder mystery thrillers, and this one resurfaced from somewhere deep in my TBR because I saw the author announce that it is a finalist for the 2023 Edgar awards. It’s also going to be this month’s buddy read book with L & S.

Then, since I’m participating in the Magical Readathon’s Adventure in Aeldia challenge, I’ll probably start the book I’ve picked for the February prompt. January’s options were to either start or finish a series. I decided to use one of my FairyLoot hardcovers to fulfill the first prompt, and that gave me the idea that maybe I could use those FairyLoot hardcovers for ALL the prompts this year! Then I would be sure to read my hardcovers. Right?

Journal spread for “Adventure in Aeldia,” a year-long Magical Readathon choose-your-own-adventure reading challenge with one prompt per month.

I think this is a genius plan. Since I “turned left” and chose the “start a series” prompt for January, my next two options were to either “go to the forest” (trees on the cover) or “go towards a lake” (water on the cover). None of my FairyLoot hardcovers have water on the cover, so I went with trees and picked Spells for Forgetting by Adrienne Young. I am definitely curious about this one, especially because it adds to the “small town secrets” vibe that I’m getting from Pretty Dead Queens.

After that, I really want to read books six and seven in the Veronica Speedwell series (more mystery novels!) so that I’m caught up before book eight comes out in March. And, I really REALLY want to read Sweep of the Heart, which just came out in December, because I love Ilona Andrews’ Innkeeper series.

After that, who knows? I’m thinking I’ll do another mid-month inbox-outbox check-in update to let you know what I decide. I just got my January FairyLoot hardcover in the mail, and it is a book that I have been VERY much looking forward to. So, I may want to start that next. But, I won’t say what it is so I don’t spoil the box for anyone who hasn’t opened theirs, yet.

What’s on your February TBR?

Currently Reading

As promised, it’s time for a mid-January reading update!

I’ve made some progress on the books I mentioned in my last post, and I’ve even managed to finish a few! Here’s the inbox / outbox update…

Outbox

Since my last post, I finished reading:

  • The Spare Man by Mary Robinette Kowal — I enjoyed this, but didn’t love it. It’s been positioned as “The Thin Man in space.” I’d never seen that old movie, or read the book the movie was based on, so I waited to watch the movie until after I read this reimagining of the story. Now that I’ve read this book and seen the movie, I think I’m a little disappointed that the detective couple in The Spare Man isn’t quite as charming and charismatic as the detective couple in the movie. Without the movie, I wouldn’t have known what I was missing, but if you’re familiar with the movie, I guess that’s just something to be aware of going in. You’re not really getting Nick and Nora. Then again, maybe The Spare Man is meant to be riffing off the original source material (the book by Dashiell Hammett)? I’m really curious to hear more about this when the Writing Excuses podcast does their deep dive on this book in February.
  • Finding Me by Viola Davis — This audiobook was riveting! If you like Viola Davis’s work (and seriously, who doesn’t?), I highly recommend checking this out. I also recommend it to anyone pursuing any sort of artistic endeavor. It’s so good. And, if you like audiobooks, definitely listen to this one because she reads it herself.

Inbox

After finishing The Spare Man, I needed another fiction book to read. So I went through my FairyLoot hardcovers, and decided to start with A Dowry of Blood by S. T. Gibson.

My new LED booklight is fully charged and ready to go…

I picked this because it’s short, and I’d heard a lot of glowing reviews for this book. Plus, it is technically the first book in a new series, so I can use it for the January prompt in the Choose Your Own Adventure: Year in Aeldia Magical Readathon 2023 Challenge. And yes, I started a Magical Readathon spread in my Passion Planner. More on that when I do my February set-up post. πŸ™‚

Until then, happy reading! Talk with you more soon.

How many is too many?

What are you reading? Should be a simple question, right?

You know that moment when you realize that you’ve bitten off way more than you can chew? I think I’m having whatever the reading equivalent of that is right now.

I started reading six books at the start of the year. Not all at the same time. It just sort of happened over the course of about a week. I think I was up to about four in progress before I managed to finish one of them (the only novel). But then I immediately started another one (also a novel) and then a couple more.

So at the moment, I’m reading six books.

What are they?

  • The Fantasy Fiction Formula — Okay, this writing craft book is kind of a cheat because I actually started reading it in 2022, but I put it down during the last couple months of the year with only a few chapters left to read. I picked it up again in January, determined to finish it. But, I read non-fiction slowly, and I read craft books especially slowly, because I either get annoyed by them and set them aside, or all my highlighting and note taking slows me down. This one started with the latter problem. It gave me a ton to chew on, which is why I set it aside. But the final third is more of a review, so it’s taking a little longer to get through.
  • The Anatomy of Genres — As long as we’re on the topic of craft books, I purchased this beast in December, really excited to read it, but put off starting it until the New Year. I dove in on day one, and it is definitely blowing my mind, but I think it’s possibly going to take all of 2023 for me to get through it because it is DENSE. There’s a lot to think about here, and I’m taking a lot of notes.
  • Italian Folk Magic — I picked this up because I write fantasy, and I was curious about what sort of magical traditions might come from my own ancestors. I think a lot of this tradition in my family got lost a couple of generations back when everyone was trying to assimilate to acceptable white middle class culture in the US. My grandparents all died when I was really young (one long before I was even born), and I grew up far from our extended family, so I feel really disconnected from this sort of thing. I think I may need to buy a copy for my mom so we can discuss.
  • The Spare Man — This is the novel I started after finishing the only book I’ve finished reading so far this month. I bumped it to the top of my TBR because Writing Excuses (podcast) is going to do a deep dive case study on this novel with the author in February, and I wanted to be able to follow along.
  • Finding Me — Memoir is one of those genres that I always forget that I enjoy. When I was going over my stats, I remembered to go check what’s new in memoir (since it doesn’t usually organically pop up in places where I look for books to read). I started with the Goodreads Choice nominees and saw that a friend of mine HIGHLY recommended this memoir, so I picked it up. The audiobook is fantastic.
  • Spare — Of course this came up in my search for what’s new in memoir. At least half of my author friend group is reading it right now (we are all team Harry and Meghan). So, I decided to request it from my library on audiobook. I was shocked that I got it almost immediately after release. Now I’m alternating between this and Finding Me while doing stuff around the house.

Those of you who are paying close attention might realize that none of these are Fairy Loot special edition hardcovers. I thought I was going to read Babel this month. I read the first 10ish pages at the very start of the month, and I was excited about continuing. Then I lost track of it and didn’t pick it up again. Now I don’t think there’s any way I’ll finish it before the end of the month. So… I think I may pick up one that I suspect (based on others’ reviews) will be a fast read. Then I can get a quick win. Let’s hope by this time next week, I’ve finished some of these and at least started a Fairy Loot book.

I’ll check back in at the end of the weekend and let you know how it’s going. In the meantime, I’m curious, how many books are you currently reading?

My Plans for Reading in 2023

In my last post I said I was getting rid of my reading journal, and I am. But that’s only because I’m moving the reading journal stuff to a new home. See, I’ve nearly filled up the notebook. It’s getting super chonky, and I don’t think there are enough pages left to last me through 2023.

So, I had to decide. New notebook? Or something different?

I opted for something different, because I wasn’t really using that journal for more than a fun monthly art project. I haven’t been writing deep thoughts about the books I’m reading like I’d planned to do. While having a dedicated notebook just so I can do monthly reading spreads is a totally valid choice, I also wanted to consolidate the number of journals I’m using at any given point in time.

My solution? Do the same thing I’ve been doing, but do it in the blank pages at the end of the Passion Planner I bought to use as my 2023 writing and publishing planner.

Now I have two journals instead of three.

I’m still using a bullet journal (A5 Dotted Leuchtturm 1917) to do all the usual bullet journaling things (Ryder Carroll style). But, I realized in 2021 that trying to use “collections” to track my writing and publishing projects just wasn’t working. So I spun all that off into a dedicated project planner at the start of last year. Unfortunately, the notebook I picked (monthly overviews with a bunch of blank pages at the end) was a little too unstructured. After much consideration, I decided I need both monthly and weekly spreads for the full year in order to stay on top of my project plans.

Result: the return of the Passion Planner for 2023.

I say “return” because in 2021 I tried abandoning bullet journaling and moving entirely to a Passion Planner. It didn’t work because I need my daily logs, and the Passion Planner weekly doesn’t have a good place to do that. But I don’t need daily logs for my project planning and tracking. I just needed a place to do future planning and a way to break bigger goals into smaller tasks and assign them to specific weeks. And I’m using the days in the weekly layout to track how I’m using my time.

So far, this combo of notebooks is working really well for me. And, since I know I’m going to have it for the full year, I decided it’s also a great place to plan and track my reading.

I made a bookcase where I can draw in and color code the books I read this year.

And I made a cover page with a key for the bookshelf color code. Opposite my cover page is the page I made to track the one goal I have for my reading this year. Can you guess what that goal is?

If you guessed “read or DNF/donate my backlog of Fairy Loot special edition hardcovers,” then you are correct!

As I mentioned in my 2022 wrap-up post, I did a terrible job reading physical books last year, even though I didn’t really travel anywhere, and I don’t have a commute. I seriously have no excuse. Well…except that I hate reading hardcovers in bed. Mostly because I don’t have (or want) a bedside reading lamp.

Since I don’t expect this year to be any different, I’m making some changes. My plan is to add one of these books to my TBR each month. I know there are only nine on that page, but I have ten, total. These are just the nine oldest, so they are the ones that I MUST get through this year. But I don’t necessarily have to finish all of them. DNFing is an option. If I read at least 25% of the book and am not sucked in, I will count that book as “done” and DNF/donate.

If I don’t complete (or DNF/donate) at least one of these each month, then I am going to suspend my subscription for a month. If I miss two months in a row, I’m going to cancel my subscription. I REALLY don’t want to do that because, even though it makes no sense whatsoever, I love special edition hardcovers. And the books that Fairy Loot picks are usually really good ones. So, I think the threat of cancelation is going to be enough to make this plan work.

It may also help that I just purchased a clip-on, rechargeable LED book light that I can use to read in bed. It’s not here yet (ordered online), but I’m hoping that helps as well.

So, is that really my only goal for this year?

Well…. Sort-of?

I have a stack of writing craft books I want to read for a project I’m working on. Plus I still want to read more books about social justice issues so I can expand my knowledge and awareness (target = 4 total). I’ve already identified several and added them to my TBR, but I’m on the lookout for a few more options in very specific areas.

I also want to continue to read books by diverse authors and with diverse main characters and from diverse publishing paths. I have some targets in mind that I’d like to hit, but I’ve been doing pretty well on that stuff organically. So I’m not going to focus on stats for those until mid-year. If I check in July, and I don’t like the look of my stats, then I may have to focus on that a bit more.

But the current priority is determining if there’s a place for special edition hardcovers in my life or not. So that’s my primary reading goal for 2023. Read in print. Specifically, the books I’ve already purchased.

I’m curious, do you also have a backlog of hardcovers from subscription boxes that you haven’t read but want to? Do you track how much you read in print vs. e-reader vs. audiobook? Does it matter to you? Are you trying to change any reading habits this year? Let me know in the comments.

Favorite books read in 2022 — the first cut

It’s the end of the year, and everyone seems to be doing their “best of” and favorites lists. But I’m over here still reading and getting FOMO. So, I looked at the books I’ve read so far this year and narrowed the list down from 60+ books to my top twelve favorites.

What’s on my short list:

  • Light from Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki — contemporary fantasy with a side of violin prodigy
  • Paladin’s Grace by T. Kingfisher — fantasy mystery romance with fresh world-building
  • Payback’s a Witch by Lana Harper — my fave of the small town witch romances I read this year
  • The Misfit Soldier by Michael Mammay — fun military sci-fi caper with an excellent rivals to lovers romance sub-plot
  • Son of the Storm by Suyi Davies Okungbowa — the first epic fantasy that has captured my attention in a long time
  • Legendborn by Tracy Deonn — contemporary fantasy based on the King Arthur mythology
  • The Galaxy and the Ground Within by Becky Chambers — cozy alien anthropology with a side of infrastructure collapse
  • She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker Chan — historical fiction with a dash of fantasy
  • The Undertaking of Hart and Mercy by Megan Bannen — swoony fantasy romance with chaotic but charming worldbuilding
  • Legends & Lattes by Travis Baldree — cozy fantasy that will make you want to visit your local coffee shop
  • Kamila Knows Best by Farah Heron — best contemporary romance retelling of Jane Austen’s Emma since Clueless, IMO
  • Killers of a Certain Age by Deanna Raybourn — contemporary mystery novel featuring four retired female assassins

I still have a stack of books I plan to read before the end of the year, and a couple of those have “five star” expectations from me. So, I may have to modify this list a bit before I start stack ranking to determine my final “top five favorites” of the books I’ve read in 2022. But, I thought I’d post a preview of my short list in case you have one of these on your TBR and have been waffling about reading it before the end of the year.

End of Year TBR

There are a lot of books I could put onto an end of the year TBR. But the truth is, what is time? I mean, I don’t HAVE to finish anything by some arbitrary date on the calendar. It’s not like the books are going to expire or turn into a pumpkin at midnight on New Year’s Eve. So why bother making an end of the year TBR?

These are the thoughts that have been going through my head when I look at the many MANY books on my carefully organized Goodreads shelves and shake my head at myself for adding even MORE books to read. I don’t really need more stress or obligation in my life. I’ve been actively trying to do away with both of those things for the better part of this year. So, again I say, why bother?

Well, the short answer is, I like to plan and organize things.

The longer answer is… *gestures to the rest of this blog post*…

You know how sometimes there are books that you keep saying you want to read but then never get around to actually reading? There are a few of those on my TBR that have been needling me lately because I remember being really excited when I first heard about them. I bought (or was gifted) them and added them to my (virtual) shelf. And then, for some unknown reason, I just kept passing them over for something else.

So, I decided that part one of my end of the year TBR is just going to be reading the first chapter of three of these books and making a decision. Do they stay at the top of my TBR? Or do they get shuffled back into the murky middle with the other hundreds of books I mean to read one day but realistically will probably never get to in this lifetime?

Here’s what’s on the evaluation short list:

The next part of my end-of-year TBR is seasonal reading. This year there are two winter holiday themed books I want to read. They are:

Part three (the final part) is where the guilt kicks in. I’ve been hording Fairy Loot hardcovers. I signed up for their adult fantasy subscription box, and I read the first book I received. Then the next few months (August, September, and October) started to stack up. I’ve decided that if I don’t read at least two of them before the end of the year, then I am going to have to admit that subscription boxes aren’t actually for me and suspend or cancel my subscription. Here are my options:

There are a couple of other books I want to read, but those aren’t ones that I feel any real sense of urgency around. If I don’t get to them until January, it will be fine. There are also a lot of new releases from October and November that I am REALLY excited about. Hopefully, I’ll also get to those before they end up like the first set of books on this list… lost in the TBR shuffle.

This isn’t really that much of a commitment. Three first chapters (with the possibility of more), two holiday books, and two hardcovers. Let’s see how I do, shall we?

Are any of these on your TBR? Let me know in the comments. And if you’ve read any of the above, tell me if you have thoughts or predictions on which I’m going to like and/or which I should prioritize.

October Reading Journal Set-up

Spooky season is here and my reading journal is ready!

I tried to add all the witchy small-town romance books that I could find to my TBR this month. Here’s what I ‘ve got so far:

  • Boss Witch by Ann Aguirre — I read the first book in this series last year. I don’t remember much about it, but this book was available at the library, so I decided to give it a try.
  • The Ex-Hex by Erin Sterling — I’ve had this on my Kindle for a while now, so I’m bumping it to the top of my spooky season TBR.
  • Witchful Thinking by Celestine Martin — This is a new release that I managed to get from the library!
  • The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches by Sangu Mandanna — Another new release, but this one is still on hold at the library. We’ll see if I get it in time to read this month, or if I have to wait…

I’ve also added one non-romance book with bone magic to my TBR (The Bone Maker by Sarah Beth Durst). Plus one dark academia book (Babel by R. F. Kuang). I may also add The Golden Enclaves by Naomi Novik, but it depends on whether or not I get it from the library in time to read this month.

There are a few other (non-spooky) books I’m hoping to read this month as well. I mentioned the others in my reading journal set-up video, if you’re curious. But I have a feeling I won’t be able to get to them all.

If you have more witchy small town romance books that you think I should check out, definitely let me know in the comments. Those are my favorite fall reads.

September Reading Journal (#Bookoplathon) Set-Up

As you may have guessed from the title of this post, I found another readathon to participate in during the month of September! This one was created by Becca and the Books, and it’s based on the game Monopoly. Be sure to check out her video for the full description of the game board and rules and whatnot. It looks like it’s going to be a lot of fun.

It sounds like there are two ways to play the game. Either you can pre-roll your entire TBR to select however many books you think you will read in September. Or you can roll as you go.

I’m going with the roll as you go option. If you want to see my board set-up and find out what my first book is going to be, check out my reading journal set-up video.

I mostly chose the “roll as you go” option because I am not sure how much reading I’ll be able to get done this month. I have had two really excellent reading months in a row, so I feel like I may be overdue for a slump. I really hope that doesn’t happen, but it’s possible.

Also, I am trying to finish up edits on my new writing project so that I can send it to beta readers before the end of September. So I’m not going to have as much time for reading, and I’m probably going to focus on reading outside the genre I’m writing in while I finish edits. That means digging into the fast-paced contemporary, historical, and mystery options on my TBR.

Now that I’ve mentioned my writing project, I suppose I should also mention that, if you want to be a beta reader (aka someone who reads an early draft of the book and provides feedback on character, plot, and world-building), please sign up for my monthly newsletter, because that’s where I’m going to be giving folks all the info about beta reading and ARC opportunities for Heir of Gods (the first book in my new series).

Because I’m “rolling as I go” for this readathon, I am planning on doing more frequent reading updates this month. Kind of like back when I used to do the weekly “Inbox / Outbox” posts. Whenever I finish reading a book, I’m planning to do a quick video of my next roll and book selection. I’ll probably post them as reels on Instagram, but I’ll also post a quick “Just finished… / Now reading…” post here on the blog as well. So that should be fun!

Are you playing Bookopoly this month and participating in Bookoplathon? Let me know in the comments if you pre-picked your TBR or if you’re rolling as you go.

August Reading Journal Set-Up and Orilium Readathon TBR

It’s time! The Orilium Readathon is back in August for the Autumn Equinox session, which means my August reading journal set-up got done early this month!

If you want the full flip through and discussion of which books ended up on my TBR and why, check out the video linked below.

If you don’t want to watch the video, here’s a sample of what one of my TBR pages looks like:

Originally, I’d planned to finish the rest of the Hugo finalists for best novel and best novella in July and August. Last month, I mentioned that I was going to try to get through some of the novellas in July. However, once I remembered that the Autumn Equinox edition of the Orilium Readathon was coming, I thought it might be better to focus on the best novel finalists and save the novellas for the readathon. I just hoped that I could make them match up with the prompts I needed to complete in order to achieve my Story Weaver calling.

I have six levels across three courses that I need to complete in order to achieve Story Weaver, and I have five novellas and one novel I need to read to complete my Hugo finalist project. I managed to do a pretty good job getting the two aligned, but I did have to add a few non-finalist books to make it work. I think I’ll be able to fit the other two in under one of the readathon quests.

Here’s what I have planned:

  • Inscription
    • O Level: Read a childhood favorite –> An Acceptable Time by Madeline L’Engle — This was the first book that came to mind when I read this prompt. I debated using this one for the time travel prompt, but I don’t want to do two re-reads in a month when I have a lot of other new-to-me books I want to get through.
  • Lore
    • O Level: Book with colors similar to my country’s flag –> A Spindle Splintered by Alix Harrow — This is one of the books I need to read for my Hugo finalist project, and it happened to have red, white, and blue on the cover. So I’m using it for this prompt.
    • Q Level: Story featuring betrayal –> Across the Green Grass Fields by Seanan McGuire — This is another Hugo finalist that I wanted to get onto my TBR this month. I am going off the synopsis for this one, which made it sound like there was a friend betrayal as part of the setup for this story. If I’m wrong, oh well, I need to read it anyway, and I’ll pick something else that better fits this prompt.
    • D Level: Book with a desert setting –> Empire of Sand by Tasha Suri — I have been meaning to read this book for a while. So, when none of the Hugo finalists looked like they’d work for this prompt, I decided to go with this option. I’m pretty confident that I will enjoy it. The only risk is that it will make me want to immediately read the second book, and I don’t have that one on my Kindle (yet).
  • Psionics & Divination
    • O Level: Story featuring time travel –> Alice Payne Arrives by Kate Heartfield — None of the Hugo finalists fit this prompt, and I really REALLY struggled to find something I wanted to read that did fit. I am really picky about time travel books. In general, I don’t like them. The ones I can think of that I like are all more multiverse than time travel (except for An Acceptable Time, oh the irony). I did some browsing and found a few books that I might like to read, but this was the only one that was both short and available at my library. It was not my top choice (that was Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel), but I’m putting my trust in the magic of the Tor.com novella. They haven’t failed me yet. Let’s hope that trend continues.
    • D Level: Book with the same word in title as your last read –> The Past is Red by Catherynne M. Valente — This one is going to be mostly about timing. In order for this book to work (which I need to read for my Hugo finalist project), I need to read it directly after Across the Green Grass Fields. Yes, I’m using “the” as my same word.

There are also quests that you can get points for in this readathon. I talk about my plans for those more in my set-up video. Based on the first set of open-to-everyone quest prompts, I think I should be able to get points for most, if not all, of the other Hugo finalist books I want to read this month, AND earn some extra points for the Mind Walker guild.

Let me know in the comments if you’re participating in the Orilium Readathon in August and what’s on your TBR.