Top Five Wednesday: Favorite SFF Creatures (#T5W)

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

Here are my top five:

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

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

February 2019: Reading Wrap Up

February went by super fast, I accomplished a ton of stuff, and I still managed to finish two books a week, on average. I think all those snow days may have helped. We got hit by a winter storm and ended up with over ten inches of snow, which is very unusual for the little island we live on in the Pacific Northwest. So I had a great excuse to stay inside and snuggle up with a book. I loved it. I’m also really glad the snow is mostly gone, and that it’s finally starting to feel like spring!

What I read in February:

In addition to the books pictured above, I also read 4 books for the RITA contest. So, I finished 8 books, total in February. That’s pretty great considering it was a short month, and I had some pretty ambitious writing goals for the month, like finishing the first draft of book two in my Modern Fae series¬†and releasing a novella. Both of which got done. Yay!

I started the month with a book of poetry (Felicity by Mary Oliver), then I pushed out of my comfort zone with some violent, unsolved true-crime written by an author who died while writing the book (I’ll Be Gone in the Dark). I¬†counter-acted any potential nightmare fuel by reading a short and entertaining Reluctant Royals novella (Once Ghosted, Twice Shy), and then I devoured book three in a series of books that may be my new favorite Sherlock Holmes retelling (The Hollow of Fear). Overall, it was a pretty good reading month.

What I bought:

So…I’m beginning to regret that whole “no buying books” reading goal already, and it’s only the beginning of March. Sigh. I do this every year. Technically, I only purchased two of these books in February. Another is one I just bought today, and the other three are all pre-orders.

I bought Mercenary Instinct because it’s the Smart Podcast Trashy Books book club selection for this quarter, and it was already on my wish list of “someday / maybe” Kindle books to buy on Amazon. Unfortunately, it wasn’t available on ebook from my library. The good news is that I think I can use this for the “read a self-published book” task in the Read Harder Challenge.

I bought The Queen of Sorrow because I own the other two books in the series, and this one went on sale for $1.99. I think I also had digital credits for choosing “no-rush shipping” that covered the purchase price. I plan to binge this series this year, now that it’s complete. Another totally justified purchase.

Then I had some more digital credits, so I bought The Phoenix Empress. The credits weren’t going to expire until the end of the month (I think these were for some non-shipping-related reason), but apparently they were burning a hole in my pocket. I decided to splurge on this book because I own the first book in the series, and it was one of my favorite books I read last year. Plus, I haven’t been able to get this on ebook from my library because of Tor’s new library ebook policy (which I hate). Maybe my library will buy it when it becomes available, but it’s less likely they’ll pick this up than book two in Scalzi’s Collapsing Empire series (which I’m also waiting for). We’ll see.

Two of the three pre-orders are from Alyssa Cole’s “Reluctant Royals” series. I like that she seems to be offering these for lower prices during pre-order, so I keep buying them that way rather than waiting and getting them from the library like a responsible owner of way too many ebooks.

Finally, I decided to go ahead and pre-orderYou’d Be Mine because it’s a debut book by an author I’ve been following for a long time on Twitter. I really like her and want to support her book launch. Plus, I think her book sounds great (even though it’s contemporary, which is not usually my jam).

Net impact on my Kindle Backlog:

Books purchased on Kindle this month: 6

Kindle books read from my backlog list: 0

New Kindle backlog total: 135 (+6)

Hahaha…I should just give up. But I’m not going to. I’m determined to make a dent in this now that I’m (almost) done with my RITA reading (only one left), and I have a few months off of actively drafting a novel.

Read Harder Challenge Status:

Tasks completed this month were:

Poet Mary Oliver died. I had no idea who she was until authors I like started talking about her death and the influence her work had on them. She sounded like a cool lady. So, I grabbed her most recent book of poetry from my library and read it. I’m just as shocked as you are that I actually completed the poetry task for Read Harder, and that I did it in February. I thought this would be the last task I completed for the year and that I would hate it. I guess it’s just a matter of finding the right poetry for you.

The other two were books I already wanted to read and found a home for on the task list. So, win-win. I can’t believe I’m actually ahead of schedule to finish the Read Harder challenge this year! And I’m enjoying it!

First half 2019 TBR Status:

Total TBR: 33 books

Books read to date: 11

Books remaining: 22

Let’s see…33 books in 6 months means I have to finish 5.5 books on average per month. I guess that means I’m exactly on track. Fantastic! For March, nearly everything on my TBR is from this list, and my Kindle is on mandatory airplane mode until at least mid-April. Time to cross some books off the backlog.

Here’s a look at what’s currently at the top of my TBR:

I’m almost done with my re-read of The Queen of Attolia. Oh, man! I love this book. I’m thinking I may want to continue and just roll right into The King of Attolia as soon as I’m done. But these other books are also calling to me, especially Skyward and The Calculating Stars.

I’m taking a month off from writing new words (but there will still be editing happening). So, I expect I’m going to make a huge dent in my reading lists this month. Now if I can just keep my finger off the “buy it now” button…

Let me know in the comments if you’ve read or bought any of these books and what you think. Until next time (like maybe Wednesday…), it’s time for me to get off the internet and go read!

Top Five Wednesday: Independent Ladies (#T5W)

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

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

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

Top Five Wednesday: Nostalgic Ships (#T5W)

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

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

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

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

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

January 2019: Reading Wrap Up

I read a LOT in January. A ridiculous amount. And, I even took a week off from reading. But, I also may have flunked one of my reading goals for the year, before the month was even half over… Before I get to that, let’s talk about the good stuff. Check out all the awesome books I read!

What I read:

The first book I finished in the New Year was Planetside by Michael Mammay. I love it when I find a new sci-fi author and their book lives up to the hype! This was a great military sci-fi book. I highly recommend it, especially if you like a little bit of a “who-done-it” alongside your military sci-fi. I think anyone who enjoyed Lock In by John Scalzi and/or Six Wakes by Mur Lafferty would enjoy this book, too.

I also started my re-read of The Queen’s Thief series and finished the first book, The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner. I’ve talked about this series a bit already in recent posts, but this was a formative YA fantasy series for me as a writer. It’s definitely the sort of series that I would love to be able to claim as a comp for my writing, but this first book was written over twenty years ago, so it’s definitely not eligible for comp title status on query letters any more. It’s still a great book, though.

January always brings with it an urge to read “self-improvement” books for some reason. To that end, I read The Bullet Journal Method¬†by Ryder Carroll (the guy who invented the craze) and The Power of Habit by¬†Charles Duhigg. Both were really useful books. It was helpful to hear the whole story of how the Bullet Journal system was created and how it was intended to work. I came at it through other people’s interpretations of the planning method, and Ryder’s website didn’t have much on it to explain the intricacies of how to use his method. I like to know how things are supposed to work before I start adapting them to fit my own needs. So, this gave me a lot of good ideas about how to improve my own Bullet Journaling.

The Power of Habit was an excellent companion to the Bullet Journal book. It had a ton of great information about how habits are formed, how to make them stick, and how to change habits you already have. It’s full of really fascinating science and interesting example stories. I also managed to find Read Harder tasks that applied to each of these books. So, they were useful in hitting one of my reading goals as well!

I also managed to finish Heart Berries by¬†Terese Marie Mailhot. This is a memoir that I found because of the Powells Staff Top Five Picks from¬† 2018. I don’t usually read memoir (as I mentioned in that post), but I really enjoyed this book, especially after reading Jane Doe. I know that may seem like an odd connection to make, but parts of this book read like they could have been written by the best friend being avenged by the main character (Jane) in that thriller. And that’s not even the most interesting thing about this book. There’s a lot going on in this short memoir. I think it would make a great book club pick. And, it turns out that the author is currently a fellow at Purdue (where I went to college) and she’s going to be one of the authors at our 2nd annual Orcas Island Lit Fest happening in April. Pretty cool coincidences.

In addition to novels and non-fiction, I read a couple of novellas, Girl Reporter by Tansy Rayner Roberts and Tikka Chance on Me by Suleikha Snyder, and a trade paper volume of comics, Paper Girls Vol. 1 by Brian K. Vaughan and Cliff Chiang.

That would already be a HUGE reading month for me, but I managed to squeeze in two of the books I needed to read for the contest I’m participating in as a first-round judge. And that’s all I can say about that.

So I read TEN books in January. That’s crazy. The only problem with all this reading is that it somehow also resulted in a lot of ebook buying. I’m not sure if there were just a lot of ebook sales post-Christmas, or what, but the Amazon gift card I received got depleted pretty quickly. And, I added six more books to my Kindle backlog…

Here’s what I bought:

The first book I purchased in 2019 was Tikka Chance on Me by¬†Suleikha Snyder. I turned around and read it almost immediately. But still, I didn’t even last three days without buying an ebook, folks. In my defense, this was only $.99 and I had a dollar free credit on Amazon for choosing the “I can wait” shipping option. I can’t exactly remember what prompted this purchase. It might have been a Smart Bitches post.

The book I’d thought was going to be my first purchase of 2019 was the novella I had on pre-order,¬†Once Ghosted, Twice Shy by Alyssa Cole. This is set in the same series as A Princess in Theory and A Duke by Default, which were two of my favorite romances that I read last year. I’d intended to read this one right away, but I’d forgotten about my contest reading commitment. So, this is going to have to wait a bit.

I’d also pre-ordered The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi. This sounds like it is going to possibly be my favorite book by her so far, and I’ve read all her books so far. I can’t get to it right away because of the contest stuff, but I’m definitely going to read this in the next couple months.

In line with the “self-improvement” theme for January, I’d borrowed The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron from my library. Only, I didn’t realize it was a thing you’re supposed to do over twelve weeks. I was interested enough in the first half of the book that I decided to just buy a copy so I could return my copy to the library. The reviews all said it was very “woo woo,” but I’m actually finding it to be pretty traditional as far as the spirituality stuff goes. I’m not as interested in that aspect of the book, but it’s not as off-putting as the reviews made it out to be.

Then I saw that one of the YA space opera books I had my eye on went on sale. So, I snagged Ignite the Stars by Maura Milan. Could I have got this book from the library? Probably. If not now, eventually. Was I planning on reading it immediately? Uh…nope. Reading goal fail. Oh well.

After I bought that book, I swore that was going to be it, but then one last ebook on sale caught my eye, Sinner by Sierra Simone. It was $0.99, and it’s not the sort of book that my library is inclined to purchase (self-published, erotica where the heroine is getting her sexy times on before planning to become a nun). I’ve read Priest by this same author, and I like that her books are hot but also have a story. I could justify this purchase by using this book for the self-published Read Harder challenge task, come to think of it.

I suppose we should have a look at the math on how I’m doing against my Kindle backlog reading goal, huh?

Net impact on my Kindle Backlog:

Books purchased on Kindle this month: 6

Kindle books read from my backlog list: 1

New Kindle backlog total: 129 (+5)

Yep. I’m not off to a great start on this reading goal. But, it’s only the first month of the year. Plenty of time to develop new book buying habits and improve this stat.

Speaking of reading goal stats, let’s also have a look at how I’m doing against my Read Harder Challenge goal.

Read Harder Challenge Status:

Tasks completed this month were:

  • Task #8:¬†An #ownvoices book set in Oceania (Girl Reporter)
  • Task #13:¬†A book by or about someone that identifies as neurodiverse (The Bullet Journal Method)
  • Task #17:¬†A business book (The Power of Habit)

Three down and twenty one to go, which means I’m ahead of schedule on this one. Go me!

That leaves that massive first half of 2019 TBR to check in against. Let’s see how I’m doing on that one.

First half 2019 TBR Status:

Total TBR: 33 books

Books read: 5

Books remaining: 28

Not bad. Looks like I’m on track on this goal as well. Phew.

Huge reading months make for really long recap posts. I guess some might say that this is a lot to keep track of, but I’m enjoying what I’m reading and how I’m tracking and tackling my reading goals so far this year. It’s actually a little bit of a relief to know that I’ve got a checklist for all this stuff so that I don’t have to stress about forgetting to read something that I really wanted to get to. Maybe this year of reading is going to be a little much, but I’m determined to plow through that Kindle backlog so that I don’t have to do this again next year.

As for what’s next, I’ve already finished reading my first book in February. I have a feeling it’s going to be another good reading month. How about you? How are you doing toward your reading goals for this year? Did you also go on a book buying binge in January, or was it just me?

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

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

The top five books on my TBR are:

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

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

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

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

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

TBRs and reading lists for the first half of 2019

I’ve been doing a LOT of reading and not a lot of blogging this month. I just opened Goodreads and my Google Sheets spreadsheet to log the seventh book I’ve finished this month, and I realized that I haven’t done a post on my 2019 TBRs. So, I thought I’d take a minute and write a post about my reading plans for the first half of 2019.

You may remember that one of my top five reading goals for 2019 is to put a dent in my backlog of purchased Kindle books. I don’t want to spoil my end of the month wrap up, but I will hint that I may be starting the year in the red on that goal…More on that after the month is over. For now, I’ll say that I decided that in order to get serious about this goal, I needed to pick six books and make a TBR for books I plan to read in the first half of this year. So I did. The lucky winners are the following books:

For anyone who has been reading my blog for a while, these covers probably look pretty familiar. When I scrolled through the 124 books on my Kindle backlog list, these were the ones that jumped out at me as ones I wanted to read first.

All but one of these are new releases that I purchased and then didn’t read right away (Vengeful, The Belles, Thick as Thieves, Brightly Burning, and Our Dark Duet). The last book on the list (The Queen of Blood) is book one in a now complete fantasy series. I’ve been meaning to read this book for at least two years, but keep putting it off. One benefit of waiting is that if I get into it I can binge the rest of the series. I already own book two.

The only problem with this list is that, in order to get to Thick As Thieves, I’m going to have to complete my re-read of the first four books in The Queen’s Thief series. I just finished my re-read the first one. Now I’m waiting for my reading buddies to be ready to get started on book two (and maybe do a brief chat about book one, first). But, that means I’ve essentially just added another four books to my first half of 2019 TBR.

Total TBR count so far for those keeping score: 10 books.

I also remembered that I signed up to judge the Romance Writers of America RITA awards this year. That means I have a panel of books assigned to me that I need to read and score by the 7th of March. Seven books in seven weeks. Unfortunately for you, this list is top secret. I’m not even going to add them to Goodreads. But I still have to read them, and that’s going to take some time.

Updated TBR count, including RITA submissions: 17 books.

I’ve also decided to attempt to complete the 2019 Read Harder Challenge. To stay on track, I’ll need to read twelve books in the first six months of this year. I’ve already finished three, and I have the rest picked out from books that I already own (or have out from the library) that meet one of the challenge tasks. Here’s a sneak peek at that TBR…

The tasks covered by these books are:

Total TBR count after all that: 29 books.

But that’s not all… As if that wasn’t enough “required reading” for the first half of the year, I’m going to a writing workshop in April, taught by a bunch of authors, agents, and editors who I admire. Unfortunately, I haven’t read books by some of the authors, and I want to make sure I do before the workshop. So, I’ve added the following books to my TBR:

I’ll probably shoot for reading one book by each author (Dan Wells, Ted Chiang, Mary Robinette Kowal, and Fran Wilde). So, four of the six pictured here. Which ones I read will likely depend on what’s available first at the library. And, there may be more I need to add depending on who else is announced as participating.

That puts the total TBR count for the first half of 2019 at 33 books. Or almost six books per month, on average. It will probably be almost exactly six books per month once you take into account the rule I’m putting in place about reading books I buy this year (more on that in my January wrap-up).

< cue nervous laughter >

Ambitious much? Yeah. This is maybe a bit crazy. But… Is it weird that I’m actually really excited to read all of them? And I don’t even mind that I’ve completely booked (so to speak) all my available reading time for the first half of this year. Right now, I’m pretty excited about this TBR. I guess we’ll see how I feel in a few months.

Now I should probably go make a tracker in my “BuJo” to keep track of all this reading…

2018 Reading Stats

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

I read a total of 56 books in 2018. Or 59 books if you include the two books I wrote (and had to read over and over again during editing), plus the early draft of a book I read as a critique for an author friend. For the purposes of this post we’re going to stick with 56 books read. Whatever the “official count” is, it was more than the 50 book goal that I set for myself. Go me! ūüôā

Here’s how my 2018 reading stats break down:

  • New vs. backlist: 39% of the books I read (22 total) were books published in 2018 vs. 61% (34 books) published prior to 2018.
  • Fiction vs. non-fiction: This was another big year for fiction (no surprise) with 93% (52 books) fiction books read and only 7% (4 books) non-fiction.
  • Author genders: This one is a bit complicated because some books I read had multiple authors, but 93% of the books I read had at least one female-identifying author. I only read 4 books where the only author was a male-identifying author. I feel like usually this is a more balanced split, but this year I just didn’t find very many books written by men that I wanted to read. Go figure.
  • Book format: This was a much bigger than usual year for audio because I had an eye issue earlier in the year that made it frustrating to try to read. So, I listened to 20% of the books I read this year (11 total). Ebooks made up 73% of my reading (41 books), and print was only 7% (4 books).
  • Age category: The really interesting thing here is that this year’s split is identical to last year’s split. Weird, right? 57% of the books I read this year (32 total) were “adult” vs. 39% “young adult” (22 books) and 4% (2 books) “middle grade.”
  • Genre:¬†The majority of what I read was fantasy (41%) and sci-fi (20%). The total of these two genres is actually up a bit from last year, but there are still a good number of “realistic” books in there (18% of the total, and this includes historical and contemporary as well as those four non-fiction books I read) as well as some straight up romance books (14% of the total), and mysteries (7%). With so many genres represented, this is probably a good time to throw in a pie chart. So, here you go:

  • AOC: 43% of the books I read (24 books total) were written by an “author of color” (aka one that does not identify as “white”). I am very proud of this stat. That’s the closest to 50% that I’ve been since I started keeping track of this stuff, and I didn’t even do it on purpose this year. It just happened. I love that!
  • LGBTQA: This stat, on the other hand, was less great. I’m not doing a fantastic job of including queer representation in my reading. 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 13% of the books I read (7 total) were written by an author who I knew identified as something other than “straight.” This is another reason why I’m excited about the 2019 Read Harder Challenge. Several of the tasks are LQBTQA related, and I’m hoping that helps me “Read Harder” in this personal blind-spot.

Ebook buying in 2018:

Of the 56 books I read in 2018, 57% (32 total) were borrowed from the library. That might seem like a good thing, and it would be a good thing, if I’d actually managed to not purchase any books in 2018, or if I’d at least purchased fewer books than what I’d read off my backlog of purchased books.

But, alas, ebook sales are kryptonite for me, and there were a lot of 2018 new releases by authors I love. The end result was that I bought 37 books on Kindle in 2018. That’s down from pervious years (see chart below). And, I also managed to keep my cost per book down, despite those new release pre-orders.

I don’t mind spending money on books. It’s pretty much the only money I spend on entertainment. The problem is, I feel like if I’m buying them, I should read them.

In 2018, I only read 20 of the books that I’d purchased for Kindle. 10 were books I’d purchased in previous years. The other 10 were ones I’d purchased in 2018. But, remember, I purchased 37 books in 2018. So, that means I didn’t read everything I bought, and the additional purchases negated the small dent I’d managed to make in the backlog of books bought in previous years.

Keep in mind, we’re just talking about ebooks here. I also have unread print books that were given to me as gifts or ones that I’d purchased as part of a subscription box. Since I’m less inclined to run out and buy a print book that I’m not going to read right away (see comment about ebook sales, above), I don’t really track unread print books. I use my bookshelf as a visual reminder of those. The Kindle books, on the other hand, just seem to disappear onto my Kindle until I remember I bought them, or check my list.

This is why one of my reading goals for 2019 is to read more books than I buy. I’m starting 2019 with at least 124 unread books on my Kindle.¬†I say “at least” because there are books on there that I received for free and ones that I might have missed from before I started keeping track and ones that I bought for my husband back when we were sharing a Kindle account. It’s complicated. For example, my “tbr-Kindle” shelf on Goodreads says that I have 148 books unread. That’s probably more like the actual number. But, for the purposes of this exercise, I’m going to go with 124 books because that’s what’s on the list in my book buying spreadsheet.

As I mentioned in my 2019 reading goals post, the rule this year is that for every book that I buy, at least one book has to be read so that I end the year with no more than 124 books on that list. Now, ideally I’d read at least two books for every one book that I buy (one being the book I bought, plus another book from the backlog). But, this year I’ll be satisfied as long as that number stays flat. To keep myself honest, in my monthly reading recap posts this year, I’m planning to do an accounting of books added (inbox) vs. books finished (outbox). We’ll see how it goes.

If you stuck with this post all the way to the end then you must be a kindred spirit who loves to geek out on data! Or you’re my mom. Either way, hi, friend! Thanks for reading and appreciating the annual combination of my love of reading with my love of spreadsheets and data.

If somehow you got this far and are not already tracking your own reading but think you might want to start, I highly recommend using a spreadsheet like the one provided in this post on Book Riot. It’s pretty thorough, and they set up all the formulas and charts for you. So, if you don’t love spreadsheets and formulas as much as I do, you don’t have to worry about that part.

Okay, data geek-out is over. Time to get back to working on writing and editing my books! Happy reading!

Reading summary for December (and sneak peak at what I’m currently reading)

One of these years I will remember that after a month of writing (aka NaNoWriMo), I need to take a break to read and recharge. That ended up being the theme of my December. I didn’t get much writing done, but I did a lot of reading.

Here’s what I read in December:

I started off the month with Light Years by Kass Morgan and Muse of Nightmares by Laini Taylor, two entirely different books.

Light Years is a fun YA sci-fi novel told from the perspectives of a mixed cast of characters. I liked it, but I didn’t love it. I wanted to love it because it had so many elements of sci-fi stories that I love.

What I did love was Muse of Nightmares. It was an excellent companion novel to Strange the Dreamer. I love Laini Taylor’s writing style. Her descriptions are delicious without being over-the-top flowery, and she writes great angsty love stories.

After that, I picked up Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse. I’d been really looking forward to reading this book, but I’d forgotten that I’m not a huge fan of urban fantasy. If you are a huge fan of urban fantasy, you really need to read this book. I loved the world-building. It’s very well thought out, and the backstory of why things are the way they are is woven into the story nicely. I really liked it, but it’s not really my favorite genre, so I’m not sure if I’ll keep going with the series.

As I was finishing up Trail of Lightning, I stumbled onto the Magical Readathon “Christmas at Hogwarts” and posted about how I thought I might participate. I did participate, but didn’t finish it. I accidentally skipped the second to last task, and did not make it to the Christmas feast. Here’s how it went for me:

  • After I “finished my coursework” (aka Trail of Lightning), I “helped Hagrid decorate the trees” by reading Jane Doe by Victoria Helen Stone. Saying there is gold on the cover of this book is a bit of a stretch. But, of the books I wanted to read next, this was the only book with something like gold on the cover. Also, the only thing magical about this book was how well the author captured the first-person voice of this female psychopath. So good. Also super disturbing. If you’ve ever been in a verbally abusive relationship, this book may be triggering for you. But, it’s so good. My friend (who also read this) and I want to subtly give this to everyone we know who might be in, or might find themselves in, a bad relationship.
  • After I recovered from that adventure, I “visited the Three Broomsticks for mulled pixie wine” by reading Night Flower by Kate Elliott. As you may remember, I listened to the Court of Fives series on audiobook earlier this year and loved it. Reading the novella was a trip because I hadn’t seen any of the names in print before, but knew how to pronounce them all because of the audiobooks. It’s usually the opposite for me. As for the story, it was a nice addition to the series. Not critical to read, but added some context and world-building beyond what was in the books.
  • The “mulled pixie wine” must have gone to my head because I forgot that I was supposed to “sneak into the kitchen to gift Dobby socks” next. I had a few novellas and short novels with clothing on the cover, but I wasn’t sure which book I wanted to pick, and I knew what I was reading for the next task. I’m bummed I missed this one because giving socks to Dobby was possibly my favorite task on the chart. After all, I’d tried to pick the path I would most likely have taken if these were actual things I was doing at Hogwarts for Christmas, and this was one thing I would *definitely* have done.
  • Instead, I got ahead of myself and “put on my knitted sweater from Molly Weasley” by reading the other novella in the Court of Fives series, Bright Thrones by Kate Elliott. Again, this is non-critical to understanding the series of books, but does give more insight into what happened with Jess’s twin sister. One of the things I loved about this series was how it really did have that sense of family and included present parents in the story. That’s not something you find a lot in YA fantasy novels, and it’s why I felt like this was the perfect pick for this task.
  • Since I didn’t finish all the tasks, I didn’t “attend the Christmas feast” by watching a Harry Potter movie, but I did attend an IRL party on Boxing Day, and I did plenty of Christmas feasting (*pats bloated tummy for emphasis*). Honestly, watching a Harry Potter movie may have been a better choice. Fewer calories consumed and less awkward socializing. ūüėČ

After Boxing Day, we went down to Portland for a short visit with our friends, and I didn’t finish any more books. There was much game playing, but no reading (at none done least by me) until I got home.

I did start a few books in the last two days of the year with no intention of finishing them before January first. That’s so unlike me. I usually like to have everything all wrapped up nice and tidy by the end of the year. Not this year.

One of the books I started was The Bullet Journal Method, which was waiting for me in my mailbox when I got home. The other was The Power of Habit, which I’ve been hearing a LOT about and decided to finally try. Both of these were excellent choices to start off the year, as far as I’m concerned.

As for my first fiction read of 2019, I picked¬†Planetside by Michael Mammy. I started reading it on January first, and I’m only about 25% through it, but I’m really enjoying it. It’s reminding me how much I miss reading military sci-fi.

Normally, I only read one book at a time, but right now I’m dipping into five books simultaneously. Here’s a glimpse at what I’m currently reading:

We’ll see how many of these I manage to finish before the end of this month… But first, it’s time to crunch the numbers on my 2018 reading stats. That post should be up tomorrow. In the meantime, let me know in the comments what you picked for your first book of 2019.

Reading List: Powell’s Books staff’s best books of 2018

Powell’s just released their Staff Top 5 Picks of 2018! As I did last year (and in 2016, and 2015), I’ve crunched the numbers* in order to calculate which books were most mentioned and determine a “consensus” top ten list.

Presented in order of most to least total points, the top ten highest rated books of 2018 according to the staff at Powell’s Books (in Portland, Oregon) are:

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

  1. The Alehouse at the End of the World by Stevan Allred (fantasy) — This was the clear winner with 18 total points and was mentioned by five of the staff in their lists, but somehow I never heard of it before I saw it here. I immediately clicked over to my library to reserve a copy, but they don’t have it. I have library cards at three different libraries, and none of them had it (or at least not on digital). So, I requested they go buy it, and I moved on to the next on the list.
  2. Heart Berries by Terese Marie Mailhot (memoir) — I don’t usually read memoirs. But, when I read the description and saw that it was about a woman growing up on Seabird Island Indian Reservation in the Pacific Northwest, I read the glowing reviews and saw it was a really short book. So, I looked it up and found out that my local library had this one available for digital loan. Then I borrowed it. It’s now on my Kindle.
  3. Educated by Tara Westover (memoir) — This wasn’t only a popular staff pick, but it was also included on their “picks of the season” gift buying list. Again, this is a memoir, so not my usual jam. But…the description intrigued me. A woman who was born in rural Idaho with no birth certificate but then later left that life. I was interested enough to go add this to my holds list as well.
  4. There There by Tommy Orange (lit fic) — This is a novel written by a Native man and takes place in Oakland. The sheer amount of glowing reviews, blurbs, and best of lists that are mentioned on the page for this book make it hard to find the book description. Apparently, it’s really good. So, I decided I’d better check it out (from the library) and added it to my hold list.
  5. Circe by Madeline Miller (fantasy) — Finally! One that was already on my “to-read” list. I haven’t read her Achilles book. I’ve heard enough good stuff about this book that I decided I’m just going to read this first. Since I already had my library Overdrive open, I clicked over and added this to my hold list as well.
  6. Red Clocks by Leni Zumas (spec fic) — This is a near-future speculative fiction book that sounds like it would be a big hit with fans of Margaret Atwood, especially the ones who enjoyed The Handmaid’s Tale. That includes me, so I figured I should probably add it to my hold list as well. I couldn’t figure out why I hadn’t heard of this book, but I think it may be due to the fact that, assuming I saw it at my local bookstore, the cover and title gave no clue about what this book is about. Marketing fail.
  7. Heavy by Kiese Laymon (memoir) — It seems that the staff at Powells like memoirs. I thought I’d finally found one that maybe I wasn’t interested in reading. But, this is one of those books written by and about a life and experience very unlike my own. So of course I had to add it to my holds list.
  8. I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara (true crime) — This is one of those serial killer true crime books that should never ever end up on my to-read list. Even the reviews say it’s super scary. But, by this point in the list, I’d committed myself to reading all of them. So, now it’s on my Kindle (there wasn’t a wait list for the hold at my library). I’m going to need to read this alongside something a lot fluffier. And in daylight, surrounded by other people.
  9. Washington Black by Esi Edugyan (lit fic) — The description of this book sounded almost like a cross between The Signature of All Things and Homegoing. I really enjoyed both of those books, so this got added to my holds list as well.
  10. The Third Hotel by Laura van den Berg (lit fic) — This one’s a novel with an interesting premise. Grieving widow goes to Havana after her husband dies in a car accident, then she sees him at a museum. See? Interesting, right? By the time I’d got to this book, I’d already maxed out the available holds at my local library. So I had to put this one on hold at a different library.

When I started crunching the numbers for this post, I definitely did not think I was going to walk away with ten new books on my library hold list. The only thing I can attribute this to is the fact that I haven’t been reading much “lit fic” or non-fiction, lately. I think maybe my brain is searching for new material to chew on. Whatever it is, I’m going to go with it and see where it leads.

I try to avoid trash talking the publishing industry, but I have to say that nothing about the covers (or titles) for any of these books would have made me pick them up in a bookstore. I wander through my local bookstore almost weekly, and I’ve probably walked past most, if not all, of these books *many* times. Maybe I’ve spent too long immersed in the romance and sci-fi / fantasy genres where everyone is all about the covers and the titles. But, it seems like the non-fiction and lit fic folks have never heard of #bookstagram.

Seriously, if these books are really as good as the staff at Powells thinks they are, then I think maybe the non-fiction and literary fiction arms of the publishing houses may need to up their marketing game. I have Goodreads friends (and IRL friends) who read these sorts of books more than I do and only half (five) of these books had been added to any of their shelves. And only two of those books (Educated and Circe) had actually been read by any of my Goodreads friends. That’s really unfortunate for these authors.

If you want to add these books to your TBR (and maybe read some along with me), I’ve added them to a Goodreads shelf called¬†PowellsBestof2018. 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, and maybe add me as a Goodreads friend. ūüôā

 

* 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.