January Reading Wrap-Up

I read four books in January, two that I really enjoyed and two that were good but not as good as I’d hoped they’d be. Can you guess which are which?

The January Outbox page in my reading journal…

Here’s what I read in January:

  • Murder on Cold Street by Sherry Thomas — I love these characters and this story world so much. This was easily my favorite book I read in January. There’s not much I can say here without spoiling earlier books in the series, so I’m probably going to leave it at that. But there better be more coming soon because I need more Charlotte Holmes and friends in my life.
  • Poseidon’s Wake by Alastair Reynolds — I FINALLY finished this book. It was a bit of a slog, but I was determined to complete the series because I liked the first two books. This one moved really slowly, though. The story didn’t feel like it really got started until (small spoiler) Eunice returns near the middle of the book. My biggest frustration was that the relationships between the characters felt really wooden (I didn’t care as much as I probably should have when bad or good stuff happened to them, except one part at the very end) and the pacing seemed off. The story was good, but not my favorite of his books.
  • Deadly Education by Naomi Novik — I wasn’t expecting to like this one as much as I did, especially after the first chapter was basically one big world-building info dump. There is a lot of info-dumping throughout, but I think it all works because it’s always discussed and revealed in a way that directly connects it to the main (POV) character’s goals, worries, and other feelings. There has been some (a lot) of discussion in the reviews about cultural inaccuracies and problematic racial depictions in the book. While I appreciate that the author was trying to create a diverse world, I think too much of that came at the expense of leaning on (potentially harmful) stereotypes, and that’s especially frustrating in a book where the main theme is about reckoning with privilege within the school, and in the wider magical world. The author has responded to the criticism with an apology, and I believe that the paragraph that was most often cited as being harmful has been removed from later copies of the book (mine still had it). So I think she’s listening. I’m curious to see what changes in the next book.
  • Stormsong by C. L. Polk — I liked this book, but I didn’t like it as much as the first one in the series. That said, I am definitely planning on reading the last book in the series, which comes out this month. The world and atmosphere is still so good, the plot is well paced to keep you turning pages, but I just wasn’t a fan of the main (POV) character in this story. She’s going through a journey in this book where she’s discovering her privilege and learning that she has a responsibility to help others, and that’s great, but I’m always more partial to following the story of the underdog. The first book was from Miles’s POV (her brother, who ditched all the problematic stuff that she embraced), and that may be why I liked that one better. Oddly, Grace’s love interest in this book is someone from their class who (like Miles) ditched everything to go her own way. I probably would have liked this book better if she was the main character instead of Grace, but that probably wouldn’t have worked for the plot. Anyway, book three looks like it’s Robin’s story, so we’re back to an underdog again. I’m excited for that.

In other news, my reading journal is still going strong. I’m enjoying having a place to dump all my disorganized thoughts about what I’m reading. The month title pages and TBRs as well as the month summary pages have also become fun craft projects. I never did much collage in my actual bullet journal. So it’s fun to try that in my reading journal.

I’ve already finished reading my first book of February (Hench). So today I get to pick something new to read. Out of nowhere I got this urge to re-read These Broken Stars, but I think I’m going to hold off on that and pick up one of the books on my Blackathon TBR instead.

What are you reading and enjoying this month?

#TomeTopple Recap: books read, challenges completed

Books read: 2.2

(such nice blue covers…)

Total pages read: 1,305

Challenges completed: 2.2/5
1. Read more than 1 tome — DONE!

2. Read a graphic novel — nope ūüė¶
3. Read a tome that’s part of a series — DONE! (Gemina)
4. Buddy read a tome (use goodreads and twitter to find buddies!) — nope ūüė¶
5. Read an adult novel — Started… (Kraken)

I’ve never participated in a readathon before, and I’m so glad that I decided to do this! It was REALLY fun!

Did anyone else out there participate? If so, what did you read? Feel free to link your blog post or recap video in the comments below. I’d love to check it out.

January in Review

This will probably be a pretty long post… I’m dividing it up into sections, so you can just skip the bits you aren’t interested in.

I had two main goals for January. One was to finish my NaNoWriMo novel from November. The other was to turn up the heat on my swimming training because January is the start of the short course yards season and Nationals is coming up at the end of April.

I’ll recap on how things are progressing on those fronts, as well as recap what I read in January and talk about what I plan to read in February. I’ll also mention some of the other culture I consumed this month in the way of TV shows and podcasts.

Swimming

Spring Nationals is kind of a big deal for Masters Swimming. I’ve qualified in all three breast stroke events (50, 100, and 200 yards) every year that I’ve been swimming Masters. And, looking at¬†my times from last year vs. this year’s qualifying times, I’ve qualified in¬†all three breaststroke events, and I’m very close to qualifying¬†in the 400 IM and the 200 fly.

My goal for this season is to swim qualifying times in 400 IM and 200 fly, and swim under 2:50 in my 200 breaststroke. These are pretty much the three hardest events in swimming and they all require a ridiculous amount of endurance. I started stepping it up in the fall, and now I have about ten weeks of hard training before the focus turns more to speed, in-season racing, and then taper.

So far this month I’ve had some pretty good practices. I’ve repeated a few “test sets” from last year and dropped time. And yesterday I swam The Olympic Club Mile, a 1500 meter race in their competition pool. I’ve never raced a mile in the pool before, so I was fairly conservative with my seed time of just over 24 minutes. But, I ended up blowing away my expectations and holding a strong pace through the entire race to finish just under 23 minutes. Now, if I can just keep this up for another three months…

Writing

The writing hasn’t been going as well as planned this month. I only managed to write about 3k words this month. I love my story and I’ve received some great feedback on the first few chapters. I’m inching closer to the end, but I’ve been struggling with my perfectionist tendencies and worrying about “sticking the landing” (I¬†don’t have enough practice¬†at endings yet).

I like to get things right the first time. I don’t really like “fixing things in revision.” Adding things in revision (description, layers, scenes, etc.) is fine. But I’m having to do a lot of world-building as I’m writing this story. So, sometimes I find I need to stop and figure things out so I don’t write myself into a corner and have to backtrack.

I’ve come to the realization that I need to stop treating this like a “creative outlet” along the lines of¬†“I feel like coloring today.” I need to start treating it a little more like I do swimming. I feel awful if I don’t swim five or six times a week. Even if I don’t want to go, I make myself at least go and swim a warm-up. I tell myself I can get out after warm-up if I still want to bail (I never do). But on the days I skip writing, I let myself off the hook. I feel awful and guilty about it, but I just shrug it off. So, my strategy for February is going to be that I have to at least write three sentences every day. If I want to stop after three sentences, fine. But I have to write at least three.

Reading

If you remember from my TBR post, I was on a non-fiction kick this month. I don’t know where that came from. I read as many non-fiction books in January as I did in all of 2015. And I still have more on my TBR for this month. Here’s what I read this month:

January2016

I just noticed that four out of five books I read this month featured a woman on the cover. Huh. If you want to know what I thought of these, check out my reviews on Goodreads (One Good Earl Deserves a Lover, The Oregon Trail, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?, The Art of Asking, and Lean In)

I like to read non-fiction when I’m¬†writing. I feel like it interferes less with my story-telling brain. Or if it does interfere, it interferes in a positive way. But, sometimes, even when I’m writing, I find it helpful to read in the genre I’m writing in because I can see how other authors handled certain sticky plot problems. That’s one reason I threw in a romance novel at the end of this month. I needed a little help getting un-stuck on my current WIP.

I expect that the focus for February will still be on swimming and writing. So, I’m¬†keeping my February TBR on a tight leash. These are the books I really want to read next.

February2016-TBR

I’ve already talked about why I want to read The Boys in the Boat and Deep. So, I’ll just make a few comments about the other three on this list.

I’ve had a feeling that The Magicians is going to be a series I’m going to fall in love with. Based on the blurbs I’ve read, it appears to have just the right mix of magic and grit/darkness that I love. So, I’ve been holding it at an arms length for some time, waiting for the right moment to dive in. Now that the series is complete, and the TV show on the SyFy channel has just started, I must read it immediately.

Similarly, I love the new Star Wars movie and I’m planning on diving into all the new extended universe books, novellas, and comics, starting with Chuck Wendig’s Aftermath.

And, we have a weekend road-trip planned in February. So, I pulled Kingpin (non-fiction) off my ancient TBR list, and checked the audio-book out from the library. Hubby and I just finished a binge watch of Mr. Robot, and I think this is going to be a great companion selection.

Other culture consumed

One of the other things that happens when I’m writing is that I consume more TV shows and movies. Sometimes it’s a mood thing (like I’m trying to portray a mood in my writing and I need to immerse myself in something that evokes that feeling). Other times it’s just a time thing (as in, I don’t have enough time to read a whole book, so I’ll substitute my fictional world craving with a TV show or movie). Whatever it is, I definitely watched more shows than normal this month.

The two¬†shows that I’ve been obsessed with this month are Jessica Jones (Netflix) and Mr. Robot (USA Network, but we purchased from Amazon). I’m still digesting all the reasons I love these two shows, and I’m not quite ready to talk about them yet. But, I will say that I’m anxiously looking forward to the next seasons of both.

I’m also learning to love podcasts.¬†Recently, I am most loving the Dear Bitches, Smart Authors podcast by the folks who do the Smart Bitches, Trashy Books blog. I could go on and on about my love for this podcast, but this post is already long enough. So, I’ll just say, if you like genre books, especially romance, and if you like author interviews and listening to smart, thoughtful people talk about books, you should check out this podcast. Just click on the podcast link (above) and read through the synopsis of the recent podcasts. It’s basically the only podcast I subscribe to that¬†my husband will listen to when we’re in the car together.

Okay… that was a LOT for one blog post. Maybe I shouldn’t wait so long between blog posts, huh?