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.

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! 🙂

December 2019: Reading Wrap Up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Currently Reading

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

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

2019 Reading Stats

All right. It’s time. Now that December is over, it’s time to take a look at my 2019 reading stats. (For 2018 reading stats, check out this post.)

Ready for some numbers? Cool. Let’s do this.

I read a total of 81 books in 2019. That is a HUGE number of books for me. The most books I’ve read in one year prior to this was 76 books in 2015. On average, between 2008 and 2018, I read about 42 books per year. So, this year was nearly twice that. Wow.

Here’s how my 2019 reading stats break down:

  • New vs. backlist: 17% of the books I read (14 total) were books published in 2019 vs. 83% (67 books) published prior to 2019. I read fewer new releases this year than I did last year (2018 was 39% new releases).
  • Fiction vs. non-fiction: I read quite a bit more non-fiction this year than I usually do, but fiction still dominated with 80% (65 books) fiction books and 20% (16 books) non-fiction. Usually, it’s closer to 90% or more fiction.
  • Author genders: I have to make some assumptions for this stat because not all authors are clear about their pronouns. 75% (61 books) were written by female-identifying authors, 20% (16 books) were written by male-identifying authors, and 5% (4 books) had one of each. None were written by non-binary authors, as far as I can tell.
  • Book format: I listened to 12% of the books I read this year (10 total). Ebooks made up 54% of my reading (67 books), and print was 21% (17 books). So audiobooks continue to be a thing I enjoy, but less than I did in 2018  when 20% of my reading was audiobooks due to an eye issue that made listening my only option. Also, print is making a comeback for me! That’s a much higher percentage of print books than I read in 2018 (7%) or 2017 (17%).
  • Age category: This year I made a big move toward adult books. 73% of the books I read this year (59 total) were “adult” vs. 23% “young adult” (19 books) and 4% (3 books) were “children’s or middle grade.” In the previous two years the split between “adult” and “YA” was 57% and 39%.
  • Genre: The majority of what I read was sci-fi and fantasy (56%). However, the total of these two genres is actually down a bit from previous years. Romance came in at 16%, followed by self-help/business books at 11%. Next was contemporary or general fiction at 7%, then memoir/autobiography at 4%. The remaining 6% were a bunch of one-off books that ended up lumping into one category of “other.”
  • AOC: As with the gender stat, this one can sometimes be difficult to determine. As best as I can tell, 31% of the books I read (26 books total) were written by an author of color (aka one that does not identify as “white”). That’s down from 2018 (43%), and I’m not happy about that.
  • LGBTQA: Please note, I’m not always sure how an author identifies, and I don’t think that I need to be. That said, I think only 9% of the books I read (8 total) were written by an author who I knew identified as something other than “straight.” Again, I’m not thrilled with this stat. It needs improvement.

Okay, data geek-out is over. For now. You’ll see me reference some of these as metrics for my 2020 reading goals when I publish that post. But first, before we leave 2019 behind completely, I want to share my favorite books and my most disappointing books of 2019. Stay tuned for those posts, coming soon!

I’m curious, do you track your reading stats? If so, do you track these same types of metrics? What do you like to keep tabs on, and why? I’m always looking for ways I can improve my process, so I’d love to know your thoughts.

November 2019: Reading Wrap Up

I managed to finish six books while also writing over 50k words for NaNoWriMo in November. Before you get too excited, I should point out that three of those books were already in-progress before November started and one of the remaining three was actually a novella. Still, that’s a lot of reading during a very busy month.

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I started off the month by (finally) finishing Dread Nation by Justina Ireland. So, here’s the thing… I don’t like zombies, and I don’t like alternate history. I read this for the Read Harder Challenge. I also read it because a lot of people whose bookish opinions I trust really liked this book and said specifically that it wasn’t really a “zombie” book. So I made this my pick for the alternate history task. I’m glad I did. It’s objectively a good book, it’s just not my jam. If you like Westworld (the TV show) and alternate history, you might really love this book. I just realized that I also burned out early on Westworld. So yeah. Reading Harder accomplished. Moving on.

Next up, or possibly while I was still trying to finish Dread Nation, I started listening to Educated by Tara Westover on audiobook. This book has had no end of hype, and I feel like I’m arriving pretty late to the party when I say, Wow. This was a page-turner of a memoir, folks. I keep saying I don’t like memoir, but some of the stand-out books I’ve read this year (topic for a future post) have all been memoir like this one with lots of meaty chewy bits to stew on. (Mixed food metaphor much?) I’ll also say that the audiobook was a good choice for this one.

I picked up Witchmark by C. L. Polk immediately after (finally) finishing Dread Nation. It sucked me right in with the atmosphere and the world-building and the hints of mystery, not to mention the slow-burn romance. I’d been wanting to read this for a while and finally picked it up because my “Camp Book Club” crew decided to read it as our book club pick for November. Unfortunately, due to life drama combined with NaNoWriMo, I didn’t finish it in time for our meeting. I did finish it about a week later. I think the plot got a little convoluted and rushed at the end, but I still really enjoyed the characters and world. I think the problem was that this book is part secondary world fantasy, part romance, and part mystery. The problem is, that’s a lot for one novel (especially a first novel) and I don’t think the mystery part was as well done as the other bits.

After that, I read This is How You Lose the Time War by by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone. I hadn’t realized this was a novella until I looked at the page count. I had a different book picked out for the “Read an Epistolary Novel” task in the Read Harder Challenge, but I decided to read this instead because I’ve been hearing a lot about it. I’m glad I did. The writing in this book is so good. At one point I was listening to it on audiobook and then going back to re-read sections in the hardcover I bought because there’s just so much going on with the language and the plot and the way the story is interwoven. I think I was most impressed by the fact that the language and the structure reinforce the time travel premise and this story about messages that forge a relationship between two individuals on opposite sides of a time war. I don’t want to give too much away, but I haven’t been this impressed by form matching substance in a story since Cloud Atlas.

I mentioned in a previous post about how I wanted to try to finish this book of short stories that I started earlier in the year but keep forgetting to read. Meet Cute is a YA short story anthology with contributions from a lot of really popular YA authors. Every story is the origin story for a couple. Many of the characters are LGBTQ and/or not white. Almost all of the stories are contemporary. There’s one (the one by Dhonielle Clayton) that has a speculative bent to it involving magical true love tattoos and a bit of seeing into potential futures. The one by Kass Morgan could probably be categorized as near-future sci-fi, but it takes place on Earth. The stories are all good. I’m still trying to decide which one was my favorite. I really liked “Print Shop” by Nina LaCour, “Oomph” by Emery Lourd, “The Unlikely Likelihood of Falling in Love” by Jocelyn Davies, and “Somewhere That’s Green” by Meredith Russo. That’s nearly half of them, so I’m not doing a great job narrowing this down, am I? Bottom line, if you want warm and fuzzy YA contemp (plus a little Spec Fic thrown in for funzies) by diverse authors with good representation, get your hands on this anthology.

Finally (and really, it feels like I’ve been listening to this book forever), I finished The Future of Humanity by Michio Kaku. I started listening to this audiobook back in April on a road trip to Utah. I think I gave up because the narrator kept putting me to sleep. Eventually, I came back to it (in October? or earlier? I can’t remember…). Turns out this is much better listened to on walks or while doing the dishes. Still, it took me forever to get through it. I’ve had to renew it from the library way too many times to count. Luckily, no one else seems to want to listen to this audiobook. I get it. I think the audience must be almost exclusively sci-fi writers. It’s not going to make you a scientist or an expert on colonizing Mars or living forever, but I do think it’s a pretty great overview. I bought the paperback so I can use it as reference, but I don’t think I would have ever finished it if I’d tried to read it instead of listening. As dry as the narration is, it’s still better than reading the material, I think.

Before I get to my “Inbox” summary for the month, here’s an update on where I’m at with that Read Harder Challenge…

Read Harder Challenge Status: 20 finished and 4 to go…

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My most expensive book purchase this month…

I purchased a hardcover edition of This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone. Not only did I purchase it in hardcover, but I bought it new from my local independent bookstore. That was a lot to spend on a book that’s only about 200 pages long. But, I didn’t want to wait for my library hold, and I wanted to support my local bookstore. I was going to give it as a gift when I finished it, but I like it enough that I think I may just keep it.

My most eagerly awaited book of 2019…

I’d intended to order a signed hardcover of The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern, but I waited too long and they sold out. Then I couldn’t decide if I wanted a copy in hardcover or on Kindle. I have The Night Circus in hardcover because it’s one of my favorite books, but I bought it after I’d read it on Kindle. So, I decide to read this one first and see how much I like it before I buy a copy for my shelf. Luckily, I’d already put the ebook and the hardcover on hold at my library, so I don’t have to wait to read it. I had just started my borrowed copy last night, then the hardcover arrived today as an early Christmas present from my mom! Thanks, Mom!

Currently Reading

What’s on my TBR for December…

My December TBR is a little daunting. I have four books I need to read in order to complete the Read Harder Challenge, but three of those are non-fiction (The Barefoot Bandit, Guantánamo Diary, and The Middle Kingdom). The fourth one is the third book in a series I’ve been meaning to finish for several years now (Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay by Elena Ferrante). I am pretty sure that I’ll finish at least two of these four. I really want to finish the challenge this year because I’m so close, but I’m not sure if I’m going to have time for all these books.

Other than that, I’m planning to read The Starless Sea for book club this month. I also want to read it now before I start hearing more about it and get psyched out by the hype (and/or spoiled). I’ve already started reading this, but it’s really long. Choosing to prioritize this may mean having to give up on finishing my Read Harder Challenge.

And finally, because I had that goal about reading the books I purchase this year within at least six months of buying them, I really should read A Prince on Paper before the end of the month. This one is going to be a fast and fun book that I’m very much looking forward to reading. I think I’m going to use it to keep me from going crazy with all those dry non-fiction books.

Somewhere in here, I’m planning on trying to keep up with the Winter Magical Readathon. I’m really hoping that I can use some of these books to meet those reading prompts. We shall see…

Stay tuned to find out how I finish the year and get all my 2019 reading stats. The most books I’ve read in one year up to this point was in 2015, when I read a total of 76 books (<– link goes to my Goodreads shelf that shows what I read that year). So far, I’ve read a total of 73 books this year. 2019 may be my biggest reading year since I started tracking this stuff. Wow.

October 2019: Reading Wrap Up

I read some really good sci-fi and some great sci-fantasy in October. Plus I grabbed another great batch of books from the library. Not that I’m going to be doing much reading in November due to NaNoWriMo. Which is a bummer because (as I mentioned in my previous post) I have way too many books on my end of year TBR.

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What I read in October.

I started the month with my re-read of The Rowan by Anne McCaffrey. Whenever I mention her as one of my early favorite sci-fi / fantasy authors, most people chime in “oh yeah, the Dragonriders books!” But, I never read those until much MUCH later, and then I stopped after the first three because I just didn’t like them as much as her other stuff. This series (really starting with the Pegasus prequels) were what got me initially hooked on her stories. Because of that, I’ve been a bit nervous to re-read The Rowan in case it didn’t hold up, but I enjoyed it as much on this re-read as I did when I first read it as a young teen. The writing and story-telling style (language, narrative structure, etc.) is definitely dated compared to modern sci. But the story and the characters and the world-building are all still just as awesome as I remembered.

Somewhere in there I also read Polaris Rising. It ended up being an interesting contrast to The Rowan because they’re both sci-fi romance with talented and tough heroines near the top of an established power structure. They are both dealing with political plots and ultimately fall in love with Alpha male heroes. The difference is they’re two totally different styles of story-telling. The Rowan starts when the main character is a baby and advances in about two major time leaps until she’s probably about the same age as the main character in Polaris Rising. These days, that kind of character development would happen in backstory reflections scattered throughout the story when and where they become relevant to the plot. The Rowan is also “quieter” in that (aside from the inciting incident) the main character is never in any real physical danger throughout the story. On the other hand, Polaris Rising takes place over a handful of days or maybe weeks and is much more action-packed with lots of escapes and combat and danger. While I liked Polaris Rising, and I cringed a bit at the old-school writing style of The Rowan, I still like The Rowan more. Even now, as I type this, I can’t quite put my finger on why.

Continuing with the sci-fi trend, I listened to Emergency Skin while on a walk. It’s a quick read (or listen). Normally, I don’t like polemics dressed as sci-fi, and could definitely be considered as one since it’s pretty heavy on the “message.” But, it’s short, and I really enjoyed the story structure and the humor. I highly recommend checking it out, especially if you have Amazon Prime, because both the audio and the ebook are free with Prime.

Another short audio “read” that I really enjoyed was Wolfpack by Abby Wambach. I heard about this book on Smart Podcast Trashy Books where Sarah recommended it as an inspiring read about owning your ambition and your strength and surrounding yourself with other ambitious, strong women. So, yeah. I was in. Especially when I heard that the audiobook was about the same length as a podcast and figured out that it was available to borrow at my library. As expected, it’s great. Very inspiring. I highly recommend you check it out.

As much as I enjoyed those short reads, the book that really took me by surprise this month, the one that gave me a new favorite author (or author pair), was Clean Sweep by Ilona Andrews (a husband and wife writing team). I was expecting this to be a cute paranormal romance with a witch heroine and werewolf hero. Since I like but don’t love what I think of as “standard paranormal characters,” I was expecting to enjoy this but not love it. Holy wow was I wrong. The world-building in this book! Oh my. This isn’t fantasy, people. This is sci-fantasy and it’s amazing. The reimagined backstory for what I consider to be standard paranormal creatures got a solid boost from sci-fi that made this a whole new world that I instantly fell in love with. So, yeah. New favorite. Immediately reserved the rest of the series at the library. Though, I found out that this was initially released as a serial novel, and I think it’s maybe their only indie-published series. I’m not sure what that means for their other series, but I’m excited to check them out and see if I like them as much as I like this book.

Finally, I read book two in Scalzi’s Interdependency series, The Consuming Fire. I had a really hard time getting into this book. There’s so much “telling” at the beginning. Chapters and chapters of telling. The story doesn’t really get started until almost half-way through. Then it starts to build up to an ending takes a very Godfather-esque turn that I really enjoyed. The end is great. The middle is pretty good. The beginning was super meh. Kiva is still my favorite character. I’m looking forward to seeing how the trilogy (this is a trilogy, right?) ends, but I’m not running out to pre-order book three. I’ll get it from the library. Even with Tor’s stupid library ebook delay policy.

Before I get to my “Inbox” summary for the month, here’s an update on where I’m at with that Read Harder Challenge…

Read Harder Challenge Status: I started two books (Dread Nation and The Barefoot Bandit) but didn’t manage to finish either of them before the end of the month for a variety of reasons. So… I’m now behind schedule. I need to finish six books in two months, and one of those months is NaNoWriMo. It’s cool. I can do this. Everything’s fine. I am still determined to finish the challenge this year. It’s going to happen. If you’re curious about my reading list, you can check out my Goodreads Shelf here.

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What I bought and borrowed.

A large chunk of the books in this haul were ones that I’d reserved at the start of the year because of their position on the Powell’s Staff Top Five books of 2018 lists (Educated, There There, Red Clocks, Heavy, and The Third Hotel). Check out my post on that, if you missed it and want the details on those books.

Another chunk are next books in a series I’ve already started (Five Dark Fates, The Art of Theft, Wrong to Need You).

The last few are books that I’ve heard good to great things about and want to check out (Heart of Iron, The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics, Wanderers, and Phoenix Unbound).

Currently Reading

In-progress and TBR books for November.

I have no reading plan or TBR for November aside from trying to finish the books I already have in-progress (Dread Nation, The Barefoot Bandit, and The Future of Humanity), plus try to finish some more books for the Read Harder Challenge (maybe The Middle Kingdom and Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay…). Oh, and I am reading Witchmark for “Camp Book Club” with my friends L. and S. But other than that, no TBR. (Who am I kidding? That’s totally a TBR.)

And that’s it for October. Now I better get back to my NaNoWriMo writing. Wishing you all a great month and lots of excellent reading!

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.

September 2019: Reading Wrap Up

It’s officially fall here in the Pacific Northwest. I’m bundled up and burning a delicious smelling “Pumpkin Spice” candle as I write this. Even though it’s perfect reading weather, I didn’t finish as many books as I’d hoped to in September, but that’s okay because I’ve already hit my Goodreads goal for the year, and we’re just getting started with the cozy reading season.

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What I read in September:

I started off the month with Dryland by Sara Jaffe, which has been on my “to read” list forever because it features swimming as a sport and takes place in Portland in the 90s. It was available on ebook from my library, so I grabbed it in one of my recent library hauls. I was pleasantly surprised by the accuracy of the swim team stuff. The unique structure of the novel also really worked for me. It’s told in a sort of stream of consciousness journal entry first person account. The big mystery of what happened to the main character’s brother is mostly what kept me turning pages long after I should have gone to sleep. Otherwise this is a kind of quiet and literary YA story about finding your way and exploring your sexual identity.

After that, I did a couple of buddy reads with two of my friends, L. and S. The first of those was Radio Silence by Alyssa Cole. As you may remember from previous posts, I’ve been reading through her Reluctant Royals series (contemporary romance) and loving them. So, I thought it was time for me to finally read the first novel in her dystopian romance series. After all, I’m normally more of a SFF fan. I fully expected the book to be not as good as her other stuff because I’m pretty sure it was her first published book, and authors usually get better with each book. And, I can say this book met my expectations. I liked the book, but didn’t love it. I probably won’t continue with the series. My main complaint is just that it read like YA even though it was supposed to be an adult romance. I kept having to remind myself that the main characters had jobs and were adults, not kids.

Next up, my friends and I read Aurora Rising by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff. This one was actually YA (sci-fi) and also by authors whose books I’ve read and loved. It also had the added bonus of checking several of my “reader catnip” boxes. Specifically: military academy in space, officers in a space fleet on a mission, forming a squad / found family, and telepathy / telekinesis superpowers. Plus there was the added bonus of space Fae (or space Elves if you’re more of a Lord of the Rings fan). The book was fast paced and super campy. It definitely had a “Breakfast Club in space” vibe. I really enjoyed reading it, I’ll probably pick up the next one when it comes out, but I can’t think too hard about it, or I’ll start to nit-pick world-building and character stuff that annoyed me. Like the “new weird” twist at the end.

The last book I finished this month was actually the first book I started, Certain Dark Things by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. I read this one for the Read Harder Challenge and picked it because I’d read her book Signal to Noise and really enjoyed it. This was a new take on a vampire novel. The world-building is top notch. I love all the types of vampires and how she’s integrated them into this alternate universe version of modern day. It definitely has that “urban fantasy” feel. There’s a romance, but I don’t think I would shelve this under romance because it doesn’t really end with the paired characters together. It’s an optimistic ending, but not exactly an HEA. Anyway, if vampires and/or urban fantasy are your jam, or if you’re looking for something like Trail of Lightning, I highly recommend this book.

Before I get to my “Inbox” summary for the month, here’s an update on where I’m at with that Read Harder Challenge…

Read Harder Challenge Status:

Tasks completed this month:

Total tasks completed: 18

Total tasks remaining: 6

I’m still on track to finish, but no longer ahead of schedule. The next three months are going to be packed, and I have a ton of books I want to read before the end of the year. But, I am determined to finish this challenge for once. I think this is the closest I’ve ever come to achieving that goal. So, I’m going to keep going and try to get at least 2 more tasks checked off in October.

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What I bought & borrowed:

The only one of these that I purchased was David Mogo, Godhunter by Suyi Davies Okungbowa. I was in a critique group with him at Futurescapes and got to hang out with him a bit. He’s super nice, and I love his writing, and I’m really excited to read this book. It’s been labeled as “Nigerian God-punk,” and he’s from Nigeria. So, if that sounds cool to you, grab a copy.

Some of the rest are new books by authors I like (There’s Something About Sweetie, Sorcery of Thorns, and Aurora Rising). A couple are for research (The Great Alone and Her Royal Highness). One is for a Read Harder Challenge Task (Guantánamo Diary). And the remaining two are based off of recommendations from the Smart Bitches, Trashy Books reviewers (A Curious Beginning and Polaris Rising).

I made another “TBR Bingo” tracker for my BuJo to create some additional incentive to finish my Read Harder Challenge and Kindle backlog books. But, as you can see from the list under the “Wild Card” section, I have quite a few sci-fi books that are calling to me at the moment…

We’ll see what happens in October. I think it’s going to be another chill (and chilly) month, but it is also officially “Preptober” and time to get started working on plotting and planning and outlining my NaNoWriMo project for November! So, I have some work to get done in addition to enjoying my “between novels” downtime.

What’s on your reading list for October? Have you read any of the books in my book haul? Let me know what you think in the comments.

August 2019: Reading Wrap Up

So, there are four months left in the year, and I’ve already met my Goodreads Reading Challenge Goal!

I have the N.E.W.T.s Magical Readathon to thank for that. I read TEN books in August. That’s just nuts as far as my usual number of books consumed in a month goes. It would be more understandable if reading was all I did in August, but it wasn’t. I also wrote over 30k words to finish the first draft of book three in my Modern Fae series! Talk about a productive month. Wow.

Are you ready for an epic reading summary? Buckle up, because here we go…

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What I read in August:

Before I could get started on my Readathon goals, I had to finish up reading all the Hugo best novel finalists. Rather than rehash that all in this post, if you want my thoughts on Raven Stratagem, Revenant Gun, and Spinning Silver, check out my previous post where I stack rank the best novel finalists, forecast the winner, and stubbornly choose one of the least popular of the bunch as a favorite.

I also finished reading through Draw Your Day, which I bought hoping it would spark some inspiration for me to add doodling to my journaling. I definitely found it inspiring, but also a little overwhelming. I put it down feeling pretty convinced that I was so not ready for that level of doodling. But then I took Fran Wilde’s Journaling for Creativity class and was reminded that “it’s okay to be messy” in your journal. I’m a perfectionist. This is a hard lesson for me to learn, but I’m working on letting go a bit. It’s a process. Maybe in the future I’ll get brave and post some of my own drawings from the day…

With all my unfinished business out of the way, I moved onto my N.E.W.T.s reading. If you read my N.E.W.T.s TBR blog, then you’ll notice that I made a few switches and substitutions in order to accomplish my tasks. But, I did it! Not only did I achieve the grades I needed to become an official (magical) writer/journalist, I ended up getting higher grades in Muggle Studies and Charms than I needed. So, maybe I can try for a second (side-gig) wizarding career next time the O.W.L.s and N.E.W.T.s readathons come around.

I started off with the History of Magic prompts.

I’d meant to read Our Dark Duet for the “read a fantasy” prompt, but it’s really long, and I wasn’t feeling like reading it. Plus, when it came time to get started, I realized that I really needed to read The Last Unicorn to check off one of my Read Harder Challenge tasks. I also wanted to pass it on to my brother-in-law and niece. So, I switched things up. I can see why this book is a classic. It wasn’t my favorite, but I enjoyed it, and I feel like it’s probably aged better than some other fantasy books of its era. You never know what you’re going to get when you dive into a beloved classic of the genre.

Next up, I finally started The Queen of Blood. I’ve had this book on my Kindle since March 2017. No joke. I just checked Amazon to be sure. The series is now complete, and I own all three of the books. I liked this first one enough that I’ll definitely be continuing with the rest. So, I suppose it’s a good thing I bought them when they were on sale, huh? I thought this was a great twist on the “magical wood” trope and a great twist on fairies and sprites. If I’d known that this book included a section set in a magical academy, I may have picked it up a lot sooner. Plus the main character wasn’t the standard fantasy assassin character so popular in that era of YA fantasy books. She’s nowhere near the best in the school, but she’s determined, has a strong sense of ethics, and works hard. Definitely my sort of heroine. So, if you’re looking for a YA fantasy with great world-building and actual consequences for going up against the dangerous elements in the world, definitely check out this series.

As much as I wanted to complete the final task in History of Magic (“reread a favorite”), I decided I needed to move on to Muggle Studies if I wanted to finish all the tasks needed for my career.

This is where I made another substitution to my plan. My hold on the audiobook version of Burnout became available, so I needed to figure out if I could use it for any of my tasks. I decided to use it for the “book set in our real world” task. It’s nonfiction, so I think it qualifies. This book was great. If you struggle with managing stress, I definitely recommend checking out this book. I learned so much, and it debunked some harmful myths and conventional thinking about stress that I really needed to hear. So, yeah. Great book. I highly recommend it.

At the same time as I was listening to Burnout on audio, I was reading You’d Be Mine on Kindle. This is a YA contemporary romance set in the country music scene, and it’s just so much fun. It definitely deals with some heavy themes, so check out the content warnings if that might be an issue for you. Otherwise, if you liked the movie Walk the Line and/or A Star is Born, but would have enjoyed a “happily ever after” ending, you should definitely check out this book.

Since I only needed to finish You’d Be Mine in order to get the grade I needed for my wizarding career, I decided to stop there and move on to my last subject, Charms, before time ran out.

  • Charms –> O
    • Read a book that you think has a gorgeous cover <– The Gilded Wolves
    • Read a comic, graphic novel, manga, or book under 150 pages <– Sailor Moon
    • Spongify: softening charm – read a paperback <– Revenant Gun

I basically read these tasks in reverse order because I decided I could use Revenant Gun to fulfill the Spongify task after I moved The Last Unicorn over to “read a fantasy” under History of Magic. I needed Revenant Gun for my Hugos reading, but I knew it wouldn’t count unless I got the other two done as well. Luckily, the manga I chose was a fast read.

I used to watch the Sailor Moon cartoon as a teen. While I really liked the show, I wasn’t a major fan and don’t really consider myself part of that fandom. There’s a lot about the world and characters that I don’t understand or remember. So, when I needed to find a manga for the Read Harder Challenge, I decided to try to get my hands on some Sailor Moon. I could have picked any one of a number of comics I have in my TBR stack to complete this task for the N.E.W.T.s Readathon, but when you’re trying to complete two reading challenges at the same time, you look for options that will help you cross off a task in each with one book. That’s why I decided to read Sailor Moon Vol. 1 for this task. It was fun, but a little confusing. I’m considering passing this on to one of my “niblings” (new word for “nieces and nephews” that I picked up from listening to Galactic Suburbia) to see if I can get them past the concept of reading a book “backwards” to get them hooked on the awesome Sailor Guardians.

Finally, more or less at the same time as I was wrapping up reading Sailor Moon, I finished The Gilded Wolves. This the fourth book I’ve read by Roshani Chokshi, and probably my favorite of bunch. Even thought this is a slightly different sub-genre of fantasy than her other stuff, there are still plenty of what I consider to be her trademark descriptions. While I love how creative she is in the way that she describes things (she makes associations that are unexpected but really work), my brain has a tendency to skim long descriptive paragraphs, especially when it’s been trained by an author that there won’t be any relevant plot details embedded in there. I’d thought there might be more of those embedded plot details in this book because this is a treasure hunt heist mystery story like Indiana Jones or National Treasure, but nope. I feel like it was missing a lot of the double-crosses and fakes and “that was my plan all along” sorts of things I expected to see in this sort of story. But I loved the characters. It definitely has that “found family” crew of misfits feel.

I just want to say, the Magical Readathons are excellent readathons. If you missed this one, you should definitely check out the next one. I really hope she does the “Christmas at Hogwarts” one again in December. I’m definitely in if she does.

Before I get to my “Inbox” summary for the month, here’s an update on my other 2019 reading challenge…

Read Harder Challenge Status:

Tasks completed this month:

  • Task #12: A book in which an animal or inanimate object is a point-of-view character (The Last Unicorn)
  • Task #11: A book of manga (Sailor Moon)

Total tasks completed: 17

Total tasks remaining: 7

I have four months left, so that means I’m ahead of schedule on this challenge! Hooray! And, I managed to find a book that I think I might enjoy reading for the “written in prison” task, and it’s available on Kindle from my library. So, I may actually finish all 24 tasks this year. Shocking.

I should also mention one other thing that I’ve been reading. It’s serial fiction that an author friend of mine is writing and illustrating. The story is contemporary fantasy that starts in the “real world” with glimpses into what’s going on in the fantasy world, and hints at a lot more magic and adventure to come. You can check it out here and sign up to read episodes for free. There’s a new one every Friday. Here’s a little behind the scenes scoop for you… My husband and I were actually models for the image from episode ten. He definitely improved our hair, though.

And that’s it! That’s what I read in August. Phew.

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What I bought & borrowed:

Heart on Fire went on sale, and (sucker that I am) I bought it. This is the third book in Amanda Bouchet’s adult fantasy romance Kingmaker Chronicles series. I’ve only read the first book, and I didn’t love it. The way the hero pursued the heroine felt straight out of an old-school fantasy romance and maybe wouldn’t be good if you aren’t a fan of aggressive alpha males and not entirely explicit consent (I’m not). That said, I bought book two when it was on sale, and I’m willing to give the series another shot because lots of people love it. I figured, if I’m going to read book two, I might as well have book three on hand and ready to go. Could I have got this from the library? Yes. Should I have probably not spent the money on this? Also, yes. I’m a series completest, and I’m a sucker for the cheap ebooks. What can I say?

I’m also in the process of harvesting another batch of books from my library. Since technically those are going to be downloaded in September (and this post is too long already), you’ll have to wait for next month’s edition of “Inbox” to see what I got. I will hint that there’s at least one literary fiction book in there that was recommended by my friend “L,” plus a sci-fi romance novel that looks very promising, and a handful of new releases by authors who’ve written other books I’ve loved.

For possibly the first time this year, I don’t have any books that I feel like I have to read in September. I’d like to read at least one of my Read Harder Challenge books, but that’s it. I’m really looking forward to just picking up whatever sounds good at the moment. I made a “TBR Bingo” tracker for my BuJo just to remind me that there are still books on my TBR that I want to read before the end of the year. So, I may try to knock off a few of those squares. But I’m looking forward to a “wild card reading” month for once!

On that note, I will sign off for now. Until next time, happy reading!