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!

Stack ranking Hugo best novel finalists

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

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

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

My current ranking:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

July 2019: Reading Wrap Up

Summer is officially winding down. I’ve been reading like crazy and also getting lots of writing done, but I still didn’t hit all my reading (or writing) goals in July. I’m not that bothered about it, because I’ve been really enjoying my summer.

Before I jump into my July reading recap, I wanted to mention that I decided to change up the format a bit. I’m going back to an “Inbox/Outbox” style summary. I’m also going to continue to provide status on my Read Harder challenge, but I’ve dropped all my Kindle backlog reading tracking. I’ve decided that it’s just not that important to me anymore.

Part of the reason for dropping my backlog tracking is that I’ve accomplished what I set out to accomplish in terms of changing my book buying habits (and shifting more to library usage). I am still keeping a list of the new books I’ve purchased this year, and I still intend to make every effort to read all of them before the year is over. But, I’m letting myself off the hook on reading through my virtual TBR, at least for the rest of this year. Maybe I’ll take another stab at it next year, but (as I’ve said before) I want to read based on interest rather guilt. If I never read all the cheap ebooks I’ve been hoarding on my Kindle, it won’t be the end of the world.

Now that you’re up to speed, let’s get into the recap, shall we?

Outbox: What I read in July

I met my goal of reading all the Hugo finalists for best novella. You can read more about my thoughts on those in my previous blog post. I’m not going to rehash them again here. The ones I read this month were (in order of read/finished) The Tea Master and the Detective by Aliette de Bodard, Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach by Kelly Robson, Artificial Condition by Martha Wells, and The Black God’s Drums by P. Djèlí Clark.

Unfortunately, I didn’t manage to finish reading all the finalists for best novel. I came close, though. Rather than including my thoughts on Record of a Spaceborn Few by Becky Chambers, which I read in July, I’m going to hold off until I’m done with the rest. When I finish, I’ll post my stack ranking and recap of the Hugo finalists for best novel. The awards are on the 18th of August, so it would be nice if I manage to get that wrapped up and posted before the then, but I’m not making any promises.

That leaves Thick As Thieves by Megan Whalen Turner. This was the first book I finished in July, and the timing would have been perfect if the release date for book six in this series hadn’t been moved out to 2020. Luckily, this book didn’t really end on a cliff hanger. I enjoyed getting the perspective of a character who is from the enemy empire, and I enjoyed the return of a previous point of view character. My only gripe was that I wish the author would have made the relationship between those two characters clear. Every time I thought there might be romantic tension, it was diffused in a way that felt a little like “queer baiting.” I’m really hoping that’s not the case, but I guess I’ll have to wait and see what happens in book six.

 

Inbox: What I bought/borrowed

I only bought one book this month, Shatter the Sky by Rebecca Kim Wells. Technically, I pre-ordered this book. So I “bought” it months ago, but the release date was 7/30. That’s why I’m counting it as a book purchased in this month. I made an exception to my book buying rule because I know the author (we were at Madcap together), and I was a beta reader of an early version of this book. So, I’m really excited for her, and I can’t wait to see how the story has changed since I last read it. I think this is the only traditionally published book that I’ve beta read and where I knew the author before she had a book deal. Obviously, I wanted to support her, even though I probably won’t get around to reading it for a few months.

 

Read Harder Challenge Status:

Tasks completed this month:

  • Task #3: A book by a woman and/or AOC that won a literary award in 2018 (Artificial Condition)
  • Task #6: A book by an AOC set in or about space (The Tea Master and the Detective)

Total tasks completed: 14

Total tasks remaining: 10

And that’s a wrap on July! Now it’s time to get started on my N.E.W.T.s reading. I’ve started a post over on Twitter where you can follow along with what I’m reading. If you want to help me decide what to read first, let me know in the comments which of the four books below you think I should start with (The Queen of Blood, The Gilded Wolves, You’d Be Mine, or Our Dark Duet).

Book covers for The Queen of Blood, The Gilded Wolves, You'd Be Mine, and Our Dark Duet

Until next time, happy reading!

Reading List for the N. E. W. T.s Magical Readathon (#NEWTsReadathon2019)

I love these Harry Potter themed Readathons! You may remember that I did the O.W.L.s Magical Readathon back in April and the Christmas at Hogwarts one back in December. Well, now in August it’s time for N.E.W.T.s!

These are all hosted by Book Roast. You can check out her YouTube channel here, and the video that describes what the heck I’m talking about with this N.E.W.T.s thing is here.

I only managed to complete three O.W.L.s back in April, and I chose not to focus on a particular career. But, I finally checked the career manual and discovered to my delight that the three O.W.L.s I completed will qualify me for a career as a journalist or writer so long as I pass my required N.E.W.T.s. Seriously, this is so perfect, I can’t believe I didn’t plan it!

The O.W.L.s I completed in April were:

  • Charms
  • Muggle Studies
  • History of Magic

I need to complete the following N. E. W. T.s with at the specified achievement level in August in order to be qualified for my career as a writer or journalist:

  • “E” in History of Magic
  • “A” in Muggle Studies
  • “A” in subject of my choice (I’m sticking with Charms)

Using the prompts sheet, that means I need to complete (at least) the following tasks in August:

  • Read a fantasy (to get my “A” in History of Magic) <– Our Dark Duet
  • Read a book that includes a map (to get my “E” in History of Magic) <– The Queen of Blood
  • Cover that includes an actual photo element (to receive my “A” in Muggle Studies) <– You’d Be Mine
  • Read a book that you think has a gorgeous cover (to receive my “A” in Charms) <– The Gilded Wolves

Since I’m an over-achiever (or maybe just an over-committer), I might as well shoot for the “O” level in my three subjects. Right? Right. If I do that, it will add the following tasks to my readathon goal:

  • Tom Riddle’s Diary: fond memory – reread a favorite or read a classic (to get my “O” in History of Magic) <– The Rowan
  • Book set in our real world (to get my “E” in Muggle Studies) <– A Prince on Paper
  • Book written by a person of color (to get my “O” in Muggle Studies) <– Radio Silence
  • Read a comic, graphic novel, manga, or book under 150 pages (to get my “E” in Charms) <– Sailor Moon
  • Spongify: softening charm – read a paperback (to get my “O” in Charms) <– The Last Unicorn

Instead of a progress report blog post (like I did for the O. W. L.s), this time I think I’ll probably start a thread on Twitter to update progress along the way. So, make sure you’re following me over there if you want progress updates, or if you’re also participating in this challenge.

If you are participating in this Magical Readathon, let me know in the comments. And, if you are, what career are you working toward? Send me a link to your TBR.

Stack ranking Hugo best novella finalists

Last night I finished reading the Hugo finalists for Best Novella. Now it’s time to stack rank them. I figured I’d blog my thoughts and see where that gets me.

My current ranking:

  1. The Black God’s Drums by P. Djèlí Clark
  2. The Tea Master and the Detective by Aliette de Bodard
  3. Artificial Condition by Martha Wells
  4. Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach by Kelly Robson
  5. Binti: The Night Masquerade by Nnedi Okorafor
  6. Beneath the Sugar Sky by Seanan McGuire

Let me start by saying this is all me trying to rate these books relative to each other. I really enjoyed them all. There’s not a “bad” book in the bunch, as you might expect from a batch of Hugo finalists.

That said, I definitely enjoyed some more than others. For example, I really enjoyed the Binti series. The Night Masquerade was the final novella in the trilogy, but it was the one that I liked the least, unfortunately. I also think the Every Heart a Doorway series by Seanan McGuire is awesome. But, Beneath the Sugar Sky was my least favorite of the three that have been released so far. So, that’s how those two novellas ended up in the bottom two slots. They’re both still really good. I just liked the others better.

Along the lines of follow-up novellas in a series, Artificial Condition is the second novella in the Murderbot series. I loved All Systems Red, the first book in that series, but didn’t really feel the need to continue with the series after it was over. The first novella ends with a satisfying conclusion, even if it leaves things open for more adventures. But, I wasn’t convinced that I needed more. So, I didn’t expect much from Artificial Condition.  I expected more of the same — a character I loved going on a new adventure. That’s pretty much what I got, but it was still a joy returning to that world and the “voice” of Murderbot. So, I stuck this one in the middle slot. It edged out the next novella on a technicality which I will discuss next.

For the first two thirds or three quarters of Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach, I was fairly certain that this one was going to be in the top three. I liked the structure of the novella and the characters. There was a clear story arc and character development along the way. The author did a great job of depicting a complicated new world in a relatively short story. But, the ending didn’t work for me. I don’t think it stuck the landing. So freaking close, though. If I thought about this more and applied the “Writing Excuses” concept of how elements of the MICE quotient were introduced and then closed out, I’d probably be able to pinpoint the exact bit that didn’t work for me, but I haven’t taken the time to do that yet. I have too many more books to read. I suspect if I did that I’d find that the closing of the parenthesis got out of order at some point. That, and something about the antagonist character (Fabian) that didn’t work for me. Now that I’ve said all that, I think I may have to flip this with #5 on my list above and boost The Night Masquerade up to #4.

That leaves the two novellas I put at the top of my list. I read The Tea Master and the Detective before I read The Black God’s Drums, so there may be a little bit of recency bias in my ranking. While I thought The Tea Master and the Detective was a solid novella and a creative re-telling of the classic Sherlock Holmes detective stories, The Black God’s Drums was an equally solid novella in terms of storytelling mechanics, but took me to a completely new world I’d never seen before. I’m always going to give extra points to imagination and world-building. Ultimately, the thing that made The Tea Master and the Detective endearing and enjoyable (the fact that it was a Sherlock Holmes re-telling, and I love Sherlock Holmes and have since I was a kid), was the thing that held it back from taking the top slot.

I’m going to sit with this for a while and think about it some more, but those are my initial thoughts. As of right now, The Black God’s Drums wins in this category for me.

What do you think? Have you read any of these? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

What’s on my July TBR

I started to create a second half of 2019 TBR, but as I worked on the post, I realized that it is insane and way too ambitious. So, I’m throwing out that plan, and I’m going to take it month by month instead.

This is what I’m planning to read in July:

This month, most of what I plan to read are Hugo finalist novels and novellas.

I still have four of the novellas to read. Two of them (The Tea Master and the Detective and Artificial Condition) were already on my TBR. The other two (The Black God’s Drums and Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach) also sound great, and I’m excited to read them as well. Novellas are fun and usually fast reads. So I think I can get through these pretty quickly. Then, it’s on to the novels…

All three of the remaining finalists for best adult novel (Revenant Gun, Record of a Spaceborn Few, and Spinning Silver) were already on my TBR. The only reason I hadn’t read them yet was because I was waiting for library holds (or the Hugo packet, whichever arrived first). Of course, I also need to read book two in the Machineries of Empire series (Raven Stratagem) before I can read Revenant Gun. But, now I have my holds and my Hugo packet, and I own both Raven Stratagem and Revenant Gun in paperback. So, I have no more excuses. Time to get reading. 🙂

Besides all this Hugo reading, I’m still trying to stay on track with the 2019 Read Harder Challenge this month. Luckily, there’s some overlap between my Hugo reading and a few of the challenge tasks. Both Raven Stratagem and Revenant Gun will satisfy Task #6 (Read a book by an author of color set in or about space) and/or Task #18 (Read a novel by a trans or nonbinary author). Plus, Dread Nation, which is a finalist for best young adult novel, will satisfy Task #2 (Read an alternate history novel). So, I may get to check off three tasks this month.

Finally, if I have time, I’d like to read book one in Robin Hobb’s Farseer Trilogy (Assassin’s Apprentice). I was planning to read this with my friend and her son this month, but I think he’s already way ahead of us. I also moved book one in Alyssa Cole’s near-future dystopian romance series (Radio Silence) up in the “to-read” stack. Plus, the cover of You’d Be Mine is calling to me. I think it might make for a fun book to read while enjoying the sunshine this month.

This is still a very ambitious TBR for July. We’ll see how I do, and how much rolls over into August. Did I mention that I’m also working on writing the first draft of book three in my Modern Fae series this month, too? Yikes.

What’s on your TBR for July? Are you planning on reading any of these books? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

June 2019: Reading Wrap Up

The first half of 2019 is over, and it’s time to change up these monthly reading wrap-up posts. I’m rethinking my format for my recap, so if you have thoughts on what you’d like to see here, let me know in the comments.

What I read in June:

I started the month off hot and steamy with Sinner by Sierra Simone. This is the second book (I think) in her Priest series. If you don’t like to mix religion and erotica, this probably isn’t for you. The heroine is planning on becoming a nun but wants to see what she’s missing first to see if she can be tempted away from what feels is her calling. What I love about this series are the contradictions. This is erotica where one of the subplots involves a character’s mother dying of cancer (decidedly NOT sexy). Plus, even though it might seem from the blurb like the author is using religion as a plot device and the “message” will be either anti-faith or that sex is dirty, it’s actually quite the opposite. I’ll warn that if you’re hard-core atheist, this may not be the book for you. It might also not be the book for you if just the idea of mixing faith and sex gives you hives. Because, don’t be fooled, this book is very sex-positive and hot. Oh, and the hero is the best friend of the heroine’s older brother, just in case you’re into that trope.

Did I scare off all my readers by talking about erotica in the first paragraph of my summary? If so, too bad, because they’ll be missing out on what might be my favorite book of 2019, so far. I had some travel planned for the first part of June. So, I got Space Opera by Catherynne Valente on audiobook to keep me entertained on my travels. I’d started reading this book on my Kindle shortly after its release, but couldn’t get into it. So, I didn’t have high hopes for this book, but I’d met the editor (Navah Wolfe) at Futurescapes, and she was contagiously enthusiastic about this book. I already knew the origin story for this book (a back and forth conversation on Twitter during Eurovision viewing), but hearing her tell it again reminded me of all the reasons I thought I’d like this book. Plus, it’s a finalist for the Hugo for best novel of 2018. So, I thought I’d give it another try. Wow, am I glad that I did. First off, audiobook is the way to go with this one. The narrator is awesome. Second, this may have edged out The Calculating Stars for my pick for best novel. The world-building and the dry humor in this book are fantastic. I’ve never read Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, but I imagine this is like that, but more queer and diverse and thoughtful. So good. Highly recommend checking this out.

Next up, I finally got around to reading Vengeful. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know how much I love Vicious. It’s my favorite book by Victoria Schwab. You probably also know how much I’ve been looking forward to reading this sequel. Unfortunately, Vengeful disappointed me. It bums me out to say that, but sometimes that happens. It took me a very long time to finish this book. I got bogged down in the time hopping. I didn’t feel like it served a purpose or enhanced the story. Plus, I feel like the potential of the two new female EOs (June and Marcella) was wasted. I think I’d almost have preferred if this entire book was just the June and Marcella story with nothing about Eli and Victor in it at all. There could still be the link to Sydney that ties the two stories together, but I was not at all engaged in the Eli and Victor aspects of the plot. Will I be back for more if there’s more in the series? Probably. Is VES still an author hero of mine? Of course. Liking books is subjective.

I knew I needed to squeeze in a couple of books to keep up with my Read Harder challenge. So, I went with some easy and short options for June. One was a children’s book (La Princesa and the Pea) and the other was a middle grade comic (The Backstagers). Both were cute and fun and I would definitely give them to the kids in my life to read, if they haven’t read them already.

That leaves the other surprise hit of the month, No Walls and the Recurring Dream by Ani Difranco. I listened to this one on audiobook because it was read by Ani Difranco. I highly recommend that medium for this book. I enjoyed it enough that I’m considering buying myself a copy of the book when it comes out in paperback. There’s a lot to think about here, and I think I might want something to refer back to and re-read from time to time. We’ll see if I’m still thinking about this book when they eventually release the paperback version. I suppose I should mention that I’m not really an Ani Difranco fan, so that’s not really why I read this book. I never really listened to her music for two reasons. One, I’m not a huge fan of folk music. I like it, but not for general purpose listening. The second reason is because at the height of her popularity, I was still going through my boy-crazy college years. It was the tail end of the 90s when calling yourself a feminist meant that you were seen as a man-hating bitch. I suppose some people still think it means that, but I feel like the majority viewpoint on this has shifted. Honestly, I cringe to think of younger me and how feminist I actually was while completely denying it lest it make me unattractive to guys. Oh, silly younger me who didn’t realize that the guys it made me unattractive to were exactly the ones I shouldn’t be dating anyway… sigh. Anyway. There’s a lot to enjoy in this book, but the thing I liked the most was her thoughts and reflections on her art and creative process, as well as why she decided to go indie and stay indie. I tend toward pragmatism but am filled to the brim with passion, so I really value hearing from people who confidently and unapologetically follow their dreams at all costs. I feel I have a lot to learn from them.

 

What I bought:

This was a close call. I was very tempted by several books. But ultimately, I didn’t buy any new books this month! Again! That’s three months in a row. Go me.

 

Net impact on my Kindle Backlog:

Total Kindle backlog books read in 2019: 5

Total new *unread* Kindle books in 2019: 7

Getting closer to net zero, but still need to read some more backlog in order to catch up to what I’ve already purchased (and haven’t read yet) this year. Assuming that I catch up by the end of next month (as I plan to do), I’m definitely dropping this section of my recap in July.

 

Read Harder Challenge Status:

Tasks completed this month:

Total tasks completed: 12

Total tasks remaining: 12

Looks like I’m still on track with this goal. I’m seriously shocked that I actually might finish the challenge this year. Did I purposely choose two of the easiest (and shortest) tasks to complete this month? Yes. Yes, I did. Will that make completing the twelve tasks that remain more difficult? Maybe. But, I’m not going to worry about that. I’m just going to keep chipping away at this challenge and see what happens.

Of course, I still need to find a book I want to read for Task #20 (read a book written in prison). So, if you have a recommendation for that one, let me know in the comments, please!

 

First half 2019 TBR Status:

Total TBR: 33 books

Books read to date: 30

Books remaining: 3

I am absolutely stunned that I managed to get so close to completing this TBR. I’m rounding up a bit here because I’m in the middle of Thick As Thieves and wasn’t able to finish it before the end of the month. Still, I’m counting that one as “read” for the purposes of this list.

Of the books that remain (Our Dark Duet, The Queen of Blood, and Stories of Your Life and Others), I’m rolling two onto my second half of 2019 TBR (to be announced soon). But, I’m dropping the book of short stories (Stories of Your Life and Others) off my TBR. I’d planned to read that one for Futurescapes and didn’t read it in time. I plan to get back to it at some point, but not in the next few months.

And that’s it for June. What was your favorite book you read in the first half of 2019? Let me know in the comments.

Until next time, happy reading!