July reading wrap-up

July was a great reading month for me. I read eight books and one short story! EIGHT books!

Here’s what I read in July:

  • It Takes a Villa by Kilby Blades — This was a fun travel romance with a mystery subplot. I enjoy contemporary romance when there’s more going on in the story than just the romance, and that’s always the case in Kilby’s books. Made me want to go back to Italy and spend a lot more time there.
  • How to Find a Princess by Alyssa Cole — So glad I finally got around to reading this book. I really enjoy this series (and her other series that is connected to this one). The characters and the unique setting were what made this book extra enjoyable for me.
  • In An Absent Dream by Seanan McGuire — It’s been a while since I read the first three novellas in this series. Prior to reading this, Jack and Jill were my favorites, but I think Lundy’s story may be my new favorite in this series.
  • Juice Like Wounds” by Seanan McGuire — This is a short story that tells what happens on a side quest that takes place during In An Absent Dream. Definitely worth reading if you liked that book.
  • Ice Planet Barbarians by Ruby Dixon — Finally got around to reading this book. It was mostly what I expected it would be. What I didn’t expect was that there was going to be an attempt at sci-fi world building. Most alien romances like this don’t spend much time trying to make the world make sense, so that was cool. At it’s core though, this is basically a Beauty and the Beast trope, which is why I think it really appeals to a lot of people. Unfortunately, it’s just not really my jam.
  • Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir — I finally finished reading this. I almost definitely wouldn’t have if I hadn’t decided to do the Hugo nominee reading project. I’d started it once and bailed because I didn’t like the main character or the amnesia plot device. I still don’t like the main character, and the more I read it, the more I got frustrated with the story because I never once believed that this mission was actually at any risk of failure. Every obstacle was pretty easily and quickly overcome, which made it just seem like the whole thing was an elaborate excuse to watch someone do science. Which, if you like that, awesome! You’ll probably love this book. It just wasn’t for me.
  • A Master of Djinn by P. Djรจlรญ Clark — I really enjoyed this mystery. The world and the characters were great. My only complaint was that I feel like the detectives should have figured out the mystery sooner than they did. The “whodunit” should have been obvious to the detectives given the experiences of those characters. That said, it was really cool to read something that was like the inverse of all the John Bellairs mystery novels that I enjoyed when I was younger.
  • Come Tumbling Down by Seanan McGuire — I was really looking forward to returning to the Moors with two of my favorite Wayward Children characters, and this novella didn’t disappoint. I think this was a solid ending to that arc of the story that is unfolding in these novellas.
  • The Galaxy and the Ground Within by Becky Chambers — I described this novel to someone as “cozy alien anthropology with a side of infrastructure collapse,” and I think that’s a pretty solid summary. I enjoyed it more because I’ve read enough of this author’s books to expect that it’s just going to be a bunch of different alien types talking about the similarities and differences in their cultures and getting over their preconceived notions about others and dealing with interpersonal conflict. But she does that really well, and this is a really good cozy, slice of life, fantasy novel.

Now, it’s time to get back to my Orilium Readathon TBR! I have another eight books I want to finish this month. So, we’ll see if I am lucky enough to have two really great reading months back to back!

If you’re also reading the Hugo nominees for best novel and/or best novella, which have been your favorites so far? Let me know in the comments.

June reading wrap-up

Yes, I know. We’re over a week into July, and I’m just now getting a chance to post my June reading wrap-up.

I meant to get this out earlier, but after my book release in June and all the series promo stuff I was doing, I just really needed a break. I ended up taking the first week of July as a pseudo-vacation. Or maybe it was more like a “stay-cation?”

After a very active (for me) month of social media in June, I just had that moment where I was like, “Hey, I just want to do stuff without telling the world about what I’m doing.” Shocking, right?

So, I played tourist in my own town (with my mom, who was visiting) for the week, and I read a LOT. I mean, no spoilers for my July wrap-up post, but I’ve already finished two books this month! And they were books that I started *and* finished in July! This clarification is important because I started a lot of books in June, but I only finished reading three. Which brings me to…

Not pictured: the non-fiction book I read.

What I read in June:

  • Engaging the Enemy by Elizabeth Moon — This is book three in the Vatta’s War series. I’m still really enjoying this series, but I felt like this book was a little slower paced than the first two books. The narrative is split between several perspectives. One is Ky’s badass fly-fishing great-aunt who is still back on their home world and going all Arya Stark on the Vatta family’s enemies. The other is the continued story of Ky and her cousin Stella (mostly told from Ky’s perspective) who are out in the universe trying to rebuild the Vatta empire. Because of that, the story felt a little scattered at times, and it took me way longer to finish this one than either of the first two books in the series. I’ll definitely be reading book four, but I decided not to start it right away after finishing this one.
  • The Elf Tangent by Lindsay Buroker — This is the first book I’ve read by this author, and I really liked it! The characters and the world were great, but I did struggle with the pacing a little bit. I think that’s because the “promise of the premise” for me (based on the blurb) was that the math-geek, puzzle-solving heroine was going to spend more time using her brains to help save the elves. But the road trip section of the book (getting to the elf kingdom) seemed to drag on way too long compared to the puzzle solving / kingdom saving part, which felt really rushed. But the slow burn romance was really good (even if I did figure out the hero’s big secret WAY before the official reveal). I definitely want to read more in this series, and I may even check out the other stuff she’s written (but probably not until after I finish my Hugo nominee reading project).
  • Writing and Marketing Systems by Elana M Johnson — This was the non-fiction craft book I read in June. In case you didn’t know, I’m a process geek. This is the first book I’ve found on setting up writing and marketing systems for authors, and I had to check it out. There’s a lot of info here. It’s kind of like the productivity classic, Getting Things Done, but specifically for authors. I definitely picked up some things that I wanted to try right away. But there’s so much that I think I’ll have to continue to revisit this one as I work set up my own systems based on what I learned.

Not mentioned above (because I didn’t finish reading them, yet), are the other three or four books that I started in June and got about halfway through before the end of the month. I will probably finish most, if not all, of them this month, if I can keep my non-work time focused on reading. After a week of just chilling with a good book, I’m definitely feeling my urge to devour books returning.

I have more to say about my July reading plans, but I’ll do that when I finally post my July reading journal set-up. I already filmed the set-up video (back a the end of June). Now I just need to edit it and post it to YouTube. I’m going to try to get that blog post up this weekend. In the meantime, let me know in the comments what you’re reading this weekend!

May Reading Wrap-Up

May turned out to be an excellent reading month for me. I read four fiction and three non-fiction books. Plus, since it was my birthday month, I got a whole bunch of books that have been on my wish list! Some I received as gifts and others I bought with gift card money. Combined, I have so many stories to read that I should probably do a book haul post!

What I read in May… Starting with the fiction books:

  • Legendborn by Tracy Deonn — I think this was my favorite book I read in May. It’s the first YA fantasy I’ve read in a while, and it reminded me of all the stuff I love about YA fantasy. The feelings. The magic. The adventure. The friendships. The love triangles…. I especially love this new take on the Arthurian legends. I can not wait for the next book in the series!
  • The Atlas Six by Olivie Blake — Okay. I definitely get what all the hype is about. I think if someone had said this is a “one of us must die” secret society book, I might have picked it up faster. I was absolutely loving this book up until the last few chapters. Then some stuff happens that kind of felt like it came out of nowhere. I don’t know. I need someone to talk to about this book, and none of my bookish friends have read it yet. Overall, I really liked it, though, and I’ll definitely be checking out the next book.
  • Never Saw You Coming by Erin Hahn — I love this series of loosely connected stand-alone YA contemporary romances. Erin Hahn has become an auto-buy author for me, and I am incredibly picky about contemporary romances! Maybe it’s that Midwest vibe I get from her books (I grew up in the Chicago suburbs). More likely it’s the characters. I also really love the complexity she packs into these books. Even though they are definitely written for a young adult audience, they don’t shy away from the difficult topics. Her characters are going through stuff, but you know (because it’s romance) that they’re going to be okay in the end, and I’m here for it.
  • Supernova by Kass Morgan — I really wanted to read this so that I could complete the duology. I mean, it’s a young adult space academy adventure! This type of story is my jam. Usually. I wanted to love this book, but I just didn’t. I liked it. I just didn’t love it. I don’t think it was necessarily the book’s fault. I just wasn’t vibing with any of the characters. But it was still a fun read.

I also read a handful on non-fiction books related to the business of writing. Those were (in order of most to least helpful): The Book Marketing Audit: Get Better Results with a Better Plan by Kilby Blades, Secrets to Selling Books on Social Media: Social Media Marketing for Writers – How to Get Readers to Buy Your Book by Bethany Atazadeh and Mandi Lynn, and A Book A Week: How I Outline and Draft a Full Novel in Just A Week by Kate Hall.

Here’s what my “Outbox” spread ended up looking like:

Notes covered up to avoid sharing spoilers.

I started trying to put notes next to each of the books I read. As you can see, that lasted for only the first two. Then I got lazy. So lazy that I didn’t even bother printing out the covers for the non-fiction books I read. I tried to use a star stencil for the ratings, but they are not lined up or spaced very well at all. Probably not going to try that again.

Your turn! What was your favorite book that you read in May? Have you read Atlas Six? If you did, what did you think of the ending? Let me know in the comments.

April Reading Wrap-Up

It’s time for another reading wrap-up post! I participated in both the Magical Readathon and the Tome Topple Readathon in April. I managed to complete all my “coursework” for the Magical Readathon’s Orilium Academy spring session, and I finished one tome for Tome Topple! So, I’ll call that a successful reading month.

Here’s what I ended up reading in April:

  • Paladin’s Strength by T. Kingfisher (for the Orilium’s “Art of Illusion”) — I started the month with this fantasy romance. I really loved the first book in this series (Paladin’s Grace). This book is the second in the series and shifted focus to follow a new pair of characters, which I expected from the blurb. I really liked this new couple. One is another paladin from the first book, and the other is a new character we meet in chapter one. Part of the plot expands on the mystery plot from the first book, but the majority of this story pushed things in a different direction and ended up being more of a rescue mission. I really enjoyed it (though I think I liked the first one a tiny bit more than this one), and I’m looking forward to reading book three.
  • Deal With The Devil by Kit Rocha (for the Orilium’s “Psionics and Divination”) — This was a near-future sci-fi romance featuring the leaders of two bands of mercenaries who end up having to work together for plot reasons. Mercenaries are kind of hit and miss for me. These were super-soldiers with biological enhancements in a post-apocalyptic world. Neither of those things (super-soldiers or post-apocalypse) are my favorite. Still, I ended up liking this book. Not enough to jump immediately into the next one in the series, but enough that I might read book two at some point.
  • Son of the Storm by Suyi Davies Okungbowa (for the Orilium’s “Inscription” and also for Tome Topple) — This book was so good! Epic fantasy at its absolute best! I ended up listening to this on audiobook even though I own the ebook and the hardcover. I had a bunch of spring cleaning projects to do in the second half of April, and the audiobook was available from my library, so I switched formats. I have to say, I’m really glad that I did because the audiobook narration is fantastic. Sometimes I find it hard to stay engaged in fiction when it’s being read to me, especially when the book has a lot of complex world-building like this one does, but the narrator (Korey Jackson) did a great job. I can’t wait for the next book in this series!
  • Drowned Country by Emily Tesh (for the Orilium’s “Lore) — This is a novella and a companion story to Silver in the Wood. I love the folklore and atmospheric, lyrical prose of these books. I also love the sort-of grumpy / sunshine pairing of the two main characters. This was a fast and very enjoyable read, and I highly recommend these two books.

Originally, I’d planned on reading Legendborn for the “Lore” prompt in the Magical Readathon because it was also a tome, and I thought I might be able to finish two tomes in one month. But I ran out of time. I might have been able to finish it before the end of the month, but I didn’t have enough days left in the Tome Topple Readathon by the time I finished Son of the Storm. So I decided to switch to Drowned Country (which also fit for the prompt and was only 160 pages long). Then, I started reading Legendborn as soon as I finished Drowned Country. I am LOVING it, so far. If you haven’t read it, yet, go find a copy and check it out. This is possibly some of the best YA fantasy that I’ve read in a while. But I’ll save the rest of my gushing until my next reading wrap-up post…

Now that we are officially in May, I’m working on setting up my reading journal for the new month. I’ll have that update posted soon (probably with a video). Until then, let me know in the comments what you’re reading this month!

March Reading Wrap-Up

I did not read as many books as I thought I was going to read in March. I had wanted to read one for every line in my rainbow, but alas that did not happen. On the bright side, I really liked everything I read.

Here is what I read in March:

  • Hunt the Stars by Jessie Mihalik — This book gave me serious Firefly vibes. There’s a crew of mercenaries. The Captain falls for the alien who hires them for a job. I enjoyed it, and I think I liked it better than I liked her Consortium Rebellion series. If you’re looking for some sci-fi romance that’s not of the blue aliens kidnapping Earth women variety, you should give this one a try.
  • The Misfit Soldier by Michael Mammay — This book was great. The author has become one of my auto-buy authors, and I think I liked this book even better than his first series. Currently, this is a stand-alone. I could totally see this becoming book one in a series (and I hope that it does). The voice of the main character had me laughing out loud. I don’t want to spoil anything, but I was practically giddy when I realized that this wasn’t just a military sci-fi mystery novel. Another, somewhat unexpected genre has been sandwiched in here, and it’s done very well. This one is definitely my favorite that I read this month.
  • The Bounce Back by Addie Woolridge — Another REALLY good novel. Again, I think I liked this one even better than I liked her first novel. This book is funny and heartwarming, and there is so many wise nuggets about day jobs and sibling relationships and female friendships. I highly recommend checking out this book, even if you haven’t read The Checklist (but you should totally read that one, too).

If you want to watch the flip-thru video, you can check that out here:

I am still working on adding some background music to my April set-up video. Once I get that figured out, I’ll get that posted, too! Until then, happy reading!

February Reading Wrap-Up — #FaRoFeb and More

Fantasy Romance February is over, which is a little sad, but it was a good reading month for me. I ended up reading a total of seven books! Not bad for the shortest month of the year, right?

Since (like last month) I read both fiction and non-fiction books, but (unlike last month) I read more than one of each, I’ll start with my favorite fiction and favorite non-fiction that I read this month.

Fave fiction of the month goes to Paladin’s Grace by T. Kingfisher, which I already gushed about here.

Fave non-fiction of the month goes to Black Love Matters: Real Talk on Romance, Being Seen, and Happily Ever Afters by multiple authors, edited by Jessica P. Pryde. I highly recommend checking this out, especially if you are a writer or a romance reader. But really anyone who consumes stories in any format or genre could benefit from the light that these authors shine on the myriad issues around how Black relationships are portrayed in books, shows, and movies. It really was some of the best non-fiction reading I could have selected for any month, let alone the month that is dedicated to both Black History and all things love (due to the mid-month Gal/Pal/Val/entine’s Day holiday).

Aside from those two excellent reads, my buddy read book for the month was the series finale, Aurora’s End by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff. It was a solid culmination of this epic space adventure, but it wasn’t my favorite. I just wasn’t that into, and it nearly sent me into a reading slump. But then I jumped back into one of my favorite series and saved myself with Miss Moriarty, I Presume by Sherry Thomas. I cannot gush about her Lady Sherlock series enough. It’s so good, and it was exactly what I needed to pull me out of the looming reading funk.

I also read Newsletter Ninja 2 by Tammi Labrecque, which overwhelmed me with lots of excellent ideas (in a good way). Mentioning that book reminds me that I should probably say, if you like my blog posts, you might also like my monthly newsletter. Yes, shameless self-promo, but also, I’m not kidding. My newsletter is a lot like my blog posts, it just has different (newsletter exclusive) content, including updates on my writing projects and free stories. Like this one that you get in exchange for signing up.

Finally, I jumped back into fantasy romance because it was FaRoFeb, after all. I read Payback’s a Witch by Lana Harper, which was cute and fun. I was really into the magic competition (because I love competition stories), though I was a little disappointed that the main character wasn’t participating as one of the witches in the contest. The world-building is very “our world, but with magic” (which I like), and I loved the little town of Thistle Grove (not least of which because it sounds like the kind of town that wouldn’t have been that far from where I grew up).

Then I picked up a newsletter freebie (The Duchess: Tales of Kelnore) from a fellow FaRoFeb author (Hannah E. Carey) who also writes Celtic-inspired fantasy romance, except I don’t think her books have magic in them. At least this prequel story didn’t. When I looked it up on Goodreads, there was only one review and it was 2-stars, but the low rating was because that reviewer was disappointed that the heroine has sex before marriage. After I stopped laughing, I signed up for Hannah’s newsletter and hit download. I’m glad I did because I enjoyed this little prequel novella, even though it would not be considered a romance (because the pair of characters who are in love don’t live happily ever after). But the story did it’s job in introducing me to this world of Pern Coen and making me curious about what happens in the first full book in this series (The Hunter: Tales of Pern Coen).

Possibly the most fun I had this past week was adding these books, plus last month’s books, to my 2022 virtual shelf in my reading journal, which is looking pretty sweet, if I do say so myself.

How was your FaRoFeb? Did you read any good fantasy romance that you recommend? I would love to hear your faves and recommendations in the comments.

January 2022 Wrap-Up — Reading or Not

I mentioned in my last post that I started the year in a major reading slump that lasted for the whole first half of January. So what happened? And why didn’t I picked up a book?

In retrospect, I think the problem was that I set myself this goal of re-reading all my Modern Fae books in January so that I would be ready to start developmental edits of book five in February. Whenever I had time to read, I felt like I should be reading those. But that wasn’t what I was in the mood for, so I just didn’t read. It’s the classic problem I have with TBRs and why I gave up on making them.

I picked up a couple of other books during the first half of the month, read the first chapter or two, and then set them down again, feeling guilty that I was cheating on what I was supposed to be reading, even though I was actually really enjoying them. Eventually, I picked up my buddy read book for the month, Light From Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki, because I could rationalize that I had to finish it before my next virtual meet-up with my two bookish friends.

That book sucked me in. I think I was expecting more sci-fi and/or space opera based on the cover. I don’t think I ever read the blurb. I picked it because it had been highly recommended by other readers I listen to on podcasts and YouTube. So, when the first chapters were very real-world contemporary with a splash of paranormal, I was a little surprised. In a good way. I love that there were elements of both sci-fi and fantasy in this story! The donut shop scenes were great, and I loved the competitive violin world. The story pulled me in because I really needed to know what was going to happen to these very interesting people next. This book deserves the hype. I definitely recommend it. But be warned that all the delicious food descriptions are going to make you hungry.

Then, because one of the main characters in Light from Uncommon Stars is trans, and I wanted to learn more and educate myself about her experience, I picked up Redefining Realness by Janet Mock. I devoured that, too. I learned enough to remind myself how much more I have to learn, which is basically what happens every time I read non-fiction. So then I pulled a bunch more non-fiction books to the top of my TBR.

Overall, January wasn’t a big (quantity) reading month for me, but it was a good (quality) reading month. I didn’t finish (or even get very far into) my Modern Fae re-read, and I only read two books, but the books I read were both really good.

Even though I am starting edits on book five, I’m hoping to spend more of my spare time reading in February. We’re only a day and a half in, but the month is already off to a great start. I’ve got some big (ambitious) reading plans for February, and I’ll tell you more about them later this week when I post my February reading journal set-up.

Until then, I hope you are enjoying whatever it is that you’re reading!

Reading Wrap-up for 2021

Now that I’ve had a week or so to reflect on my 2021 reading and collect my reading stats, it’s time for another recap. I almost didn’t post this one. It was a total pain to put together. I couldn’t figure out why I was struggling so hard to compare this year’s reading to previous years. Then I remembered that because I didn’t use a spreadsheet to track my reading this year, I must have accidentially or on purpose? changed all the data I was collecting. Oops. Oh well.

If you stick with me through my painstakingly gathered stats, I’ll reward you with my top five favorite books at the end of the post. Or just skim the stats and skip to the bottom. Either way is fine with me.

We will start this journey by paging through the reading summary pages I made back at the end of 2020 when I was setting up my reading journal for 2021.

Remember the bookshelf spread I made? Here’s how that turned out.

Surprise! I actually really like this spread.

If you remember, I had a color code I used to mark the books spines with the appropriate genre, and I added a little heart to the spine if it was also a romance. I did it this way because I wanted to track romances separately from genre because romance novels come in all genres, and I didn’t want to lose track of the genre breakdown just because I marked something as a romance. The only problem is, because of this completely logical and brilliant change, it turns out that I completely busted my ability to track my year over year genre stats. Whee!

Oh well.

I counted up the spines (another sad side effect of not using a spreadsheet) and twenty of the fifty-nine books I read in 2021 were romances (meaning they had a primary romance plot that ends “happily ever after” or “happily for now”). That’s about one third of the books I read last year.

I don’t really have any sort of goal or target or limit or whatever associated with how many romances I read each year. It’s just a meaningless data point. The first of many in this post.

I suppose what is interesting is the distribution of where those romances fall on my tracker, which is something you can’t see easily when you’re tracking things in a spreadsheet. Score one for the reading journal approach, I guess? Anyway, as I was saying, if you look for the hearts on the spines in the image above, you may notice that my romance reading was heavily weighted toward the end of the year, just as things in my life (and in the world) were starting to get stressful again. Coincidence? Probably not.

Oh, yeah. One more side note. For any detail-oriented folks reading this, yes, there are sixty books on the shelves in that photo, and I keep saying I only read 59. I ended up abandoning one of these books at about the halfway point, but I’d already drawn it in. I do plan to finish it later, so I included it on my shelves. I just decided not to include it in my total stats. I suppose this is one downside of drawing in pen. Not really a problem if you use a spreadsheet. I guess that’s minus one for the reading journal approach.

After more spine counting (and re-counting, just to make sure I didn’t mess it up), here’s how many books I read in each genre and what percent of my reading that turns out to be, in descending order (most to least read).

  • Fantasy — 15 books (25%)
  • Sci-Fi — 13 books (22%)
  • Contemporary — 12 books (20%)
  • Mystery — 8 books (13%)
  • Self help / writing / business — 6 books (10%)
  • General non-fiction — 2 books (3%)
  • Memoir — 2 books (3%)
  • Historical — 2 books (3%)

If you’re thinking, “Aren’t these just more meaningless data points?”, the answer is yes!

What do I even do with this information I’ve gathered? Nothing.

I mean, I don’t have any goals pertaining to which genres I read, and I don’t plan to create any for 2022. And, because of the genre tracking changes I made, I can’t even compare these percentages to last year in any meaningful way.

Are you beginning to see why this was a very frustrating post to try to write?

Oh hey! Check it out! When you turn the page, there are even more book stats and goals to review. This should be fun.

Whatever possessed me to create a table with numbers that I was going to have to eventually tally up in a notebook?

This right here is why god invented spreadsheets. I really want to kick past me in the shins right now. Once for the data table and then a second time for thinking that creating a “21 in 2021” TBR was a good idea.

Here are some fun stats that I collected in that sweet data table that I didn’t have any goals associated with:

  • 86% of the books I read were ebooks with 7% paper and 7% audiobook.
  • 76% of the books I read were adult vs. 24% YA.
  • I got 58% of the books I read from the library.
  • 29% of the books I read were new releases (published in 2021).
  • 93% of the books I read were traditionally published.

Dear future self: Stop compiling meaningless reading stats. Just stop.

Also buried in that table on the left page are the numbers I needed to add up to help me determine if I accomplished my actual reading goals or not. Here’s how I did on my 2021 Reading Goals.

  • Read at least 52 books — Accomplished! I read a total of 59.
  • Read at least 12 books by Black authors — Yep. I read 13.
  • Read at least 12 books by other authors of color — Not quite… I read 8.
  • Read at least 12 books by queer authors (and/or with strong positive queer rep) — Done. I read 13.
  • Read my “21 in 2021” TBR — Hahahahaha. No. I read 1 of the 21 books on this list.

Not terrible considering that I think we can all agree that the “21 in 2021” TBR was a very bad idea. So I’m not going to feel bad about that epic fail.

I feel a lot worse about the four books I fell short of my goal on reading books by non-Black authors of color. At least I did better on those metrics than I did last year (36% total books written by BIPOC authors vs. 28% last year, and 22% written by queer authors and/or with queer POV characters vs. 12% last year). These are possibly the only data points I’m tracking that I care about.

But hang on! We’re not quite done, yet. (Even though we probably should be.) On the next two pages I also decided to track a couple more things that weren’t part of my goals.

Why do I do this?

On the bright side, it looks like I did complete a handful of the 2021 Read Harder Challenge tasks without really trying (5 out of 24, or 21%).

However, it appears that I abandoned the book haul list I’d intended to keep. I know I bought more than three books in 2021. I suppose I could go back, figure out what I purchased, and then fill this page in, but who am I kidding? That seems like a lot of work, and it’s just more meaningless data.

I honestly wish I could say that I learned something from this exercise, but I think I just can’t help myself from collecting data, even if I’m doing nothing with it. It’s like I’ve become the evil boss guy from Office Space with the TPS reports. Gross.

Okay. That’s it. Data tables and spreadsheets have been officially banned from my reading life in 2022.

But I’ll keep my color-coded book spines with the little hearts on the ones that are romances. That’s fun.

All right. We’re done with the data. Phew. And I promised you a top five list. So let’s move on from the numbers and get to the unquantifiable part of my 2021 wrap-up, shall we?

Back when I was trying to decide if I wanted to make a reading journal, I watched a bunch of reading journal set-ups on YouTube. Come to think of it, that may be where I got the terrible idea for the “21 in 2021” TBR in the first place. But there was good stuff in there, too. I think.

Anyway, I remember seeing some people do a sort of “battle of the books” bracket tournament thing. I liked the idea. The only catch was, I didn’t think it was fair to pit two books against each other just because I happened to read them in consecutive months. So I did my favorites a little differently.

I meant to put something in the middle of this spread, but then I couldn’t figure out what to do, so I ended up leaving it sad and blank.

As you can see in the photo, I picked a favorite book read from each month. Then I eliminated the two non-fiction contenders, because I didn’t think it was fair to mix fiction and non-fiction. That left me with ten favorite fiction books, and I wanted to narrow that down to a top five. Because I like top five lists.

Because Internet and Why We Swim were the two non-fiction books that get honorary “favorite non-fiction from 2021” awards.

And here are the top five (fiction) books I read in 2021 (listed in the order I read them):

Unsurprisingly, they are all sci-fi / fantasy novels. Possibly more surprising is that only one of them could also be considered to be a romance (Winter’s Orbit). They are all really good reads, though. So, if you haven’t checked them out, go read the blurbs and grab one that sounds appealing to you.

Now, that this post is done, it’s time for me to have a long think about what data associated with my reading that I actually care about tracking in 2022. While I do that, let me know in comments, what was your favorite book that you read in 2021?

I’ll be back soon with some “looking ahead to 2022” posts (aka “2022 Goals”). Until then, happy reading!

December Reading Wrap-up

Happy New Year! I meant to get this post up sooner, but the first few days of 2022 have been busy! I haven’t even had a chance to officially pick out my first read of the New Year! I’ve read the first chapter of a couple of books, but I’m still undecided about which one I want to dive into next. Maybe if I get December wrapped up, I can move on to January reading. Let’s talk about what I read in the last month of 2021…

I did read a couple of those holiday books that I put on my book buffet for December. The first of those was Under A Winter Sky, an anthology featuring stories by Kelley Armstrong, Jeffe Kennedy, Melissa Marr, L. Penelope, and Grace Draven. These were all more solstice themed, except for the first one by Kelley Armstrong. That one was kind of Outlander-esque Scottish time travel where the two main characters were celebrating Christmas in both modern day and the Victorian era. It was cute, but definitely one of those that felt like a bonus written for people who are already fans of that series. I’ve never read her other books, so the fan service love scenes fell a little flat for me. The second story by Jeffe Kennedy also felt like I was missing something having not read anything else by the author. There was a TON of world-building in that one for such a short story. My favorite was probably the Grace Draven story at the end, but it was also the shortest and the one with the most ambiguous ending (not quite a HEA… more like a promise for pinning?). I did really enjoy the world-building in both Melissa Marr’s story and L. Penelope’s story. Since I’ve already read a full length novel by Grace Draven and know that I enjoy her writing, those are the two new-to-me authors who I think I want to try reading more from after reading this anthology.

I also read Christmas With Holly by Lisa Kleypas. It was cute. I can see why they made it into a Hallmark movie. The author’s local knowledge was good. I believed that she had spent time on San Juan Island, or had at least done her homework and/or had a local gut check her book for her. If the book didn’t have that local setting, I probably wouldn’t have picked it up, and I’m not drawn enough to the author’s writing that I’m going to run out and read more books by her (mostly because she writes in genres that aren’t my favorite), but if I came across one with a premise that sounded like something I’d be really into, I’d pick it up for sure.

Then I decided to check out The Ex Talk by Rachel Lynn Solomon to see how she did with the section of the book that I’d heard was set on Orcas Island (where I live). Unfortunately, they spend most of their time on the island in an AirBnB, in a thunder storm. Which is weird because thunder storms are really rare here. Also, they go antiquing. I don’t think I could name one antique store on this island. Art galleries, sure, but not antiques. So, I was a little disappointed with that because the author’s bio says she lives in Seattle. I guess I kind of expected more. Also, the main character is dealing with grief over the sudden loss of her father from a heart attack. The death happened long before the books starts, so it’s not fresh grief, but still. I wasn’t really expecting that part going in, and that bit of backstory hit a little close to home for me, especially reading it around the holidays. But the rest of the book was good. So don’t let the weird portrayal of Orcas Island stop you from checking out what is otherwise a really cute rom-com.

Probably my two favorites of the month were (unsurprisingly) Forrest for the Trees by Kilby Blades and Fated Blades by Ilona Andrews. Two very different books, but both page-turning romances. Forrest for the Trees is a contemporary romance between a fire marshal and a park ranger who have to work together to figure out who is setting fires in the section of National Park where they work. I loved the characters and thought the mystery plot was really well done. I am finally realizing that, if a contemporary romance doesn’t have an external plot bringing the love interests together, I am probably not going to like it. This one did, and it was awesome.

Fated Blades also had an external plot that brought the love interests together, except it was a sci-fi (or maybe sci-fantasy) romance instead of a contemporary romance. And there were some unfortunate plot holes in that external plot which reduced my enjoyment of the story. There was a sort of “only one bed” scenario and a training montage that somewhat made up for it. But, in the end, Forrest for the Trees nudged out Fated Blades to take the win as my favorite book read in December. Which is a bit shocking. Me, putting a contemporary romance above a sci-fantasy, “ballgowns in space,” romance? Who even am I? I was not expecting that.

The last book I read in 2021 was the graphic novel version of one of my all-time favorite YA novels, Graceling by Kirstin Cashore and Gareth Hinds. Because the story itself is a re-read, just in a different format (graphic novel), I excluded it when trying to decide on which book I read in December was my favorite. If I’m re-reading a book it’s because it already is a favorite, so it’s not fair to include it. I really enjoyed revisiting this story. I’d forgotten most of the details, and the drawings were a nice addition. Two of my nieces are almost old enough to give them copies of this one (I’d forgotten how violent in is), and I cannot wait to share this story with them. I love that there is now a graphic novel option because I think that has the potential to open up this story to new audiences.

Now that December is done, I can calculate my reading stats for 2021 and figure out which books I read last year were my top five favorites. I probably won’t get to that until the weekend, though. So, stay tuned for my 2021 reading wrap up and 2022 reading goals.

Until then, happy reading!

November Reading Wrap-up

Even though November was National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), I managed to read three books! Well, two books plus a bind up of two novellas, and a short story. But whatever. I read some stuff! Read on to find out more.

Because this month was focused on writing, when I had spare time I mostly opted for stories in the form of movies, shows, and games. I think of those as quick-fix doses that feed my creative brain. Books take a lot longer to read, and sometimes you need the full story arc of something that feels like it could be a novel, but condensed down into an hour or two instead of the six to ten it might take to read a book.

I still made time to read. Mostly before bed, and mostly light and fluffy romance. The first book I finished was Dial A For Aunties by Jesse Q. Sutanto. That one was contemporary romance.

Everything else I read fell into a sub-genre of sci-fi romance that I have started to think of as “ballgowns in space” because the world-building feels more like science-based fantasy than hard sci-fi. The primary example of this being people on presumably far-future space ships (or alternative Earth-like planets) who go to parties wearing current Earth fashions. The first of the “ballgowns in space” books was a YA sci-fi romance called The Stars We Steal by Alexa Donne. After that, I read two novellas and a short story that had been re-published as a box set called The Kinsmen Universe by Ilona Andrews.

I didn’t realize this until after I read them, but Dial A For Aunties, The Stars We Steal, and the first of the Kinsmen novellas (Silent Blade) were all second chance romances. I realized this as I was making notes about the tropes in each book after I read them. At about the same time, I realized that I don’t really like the second chance romance trope. Or, maybe I do? But only in very specific cases? I don’t know. Let’s just say, it’s not an auto-buy trope for me.

Of the three of these stories with second chance romance arcs, I think Silent Blade worked best for me. After much reflection, I’ve realized that there are two things I need from a second chance romance. One is a believable but redeemable reason why the relationship didn’t work the first time (no cheaters, no liars). The second is character growth from the previous attempt at romance. I mean, it didn’t work the first time for a reason. Whatever that reason was has to get fixed, and if one of the two characters was a jerk, then there better be a really good grovel.

I don’t want to spoil the previous relationship between the two main characters in Silent Blade, but their break up satisfied my first second chance criteria. The hero was the jerk in this relationship, and at the start of the story, he hasn’t changed. When they meet again, the heroine is out for revenge, not reunion, and she is not a pushover. Things aren’t resolved with a simple apology. This required some serious grovel and character growth. All of which made the ending very satisfying.

Dial A For Aunties was really fun and funny, but I didn’t like how Meddy treated Nathan. Honesty is sort of a thing for me, and when the main character is lying to a love interest as sweet and pure of a character as Nathan, it’s going to be a hard sell for me, no matter how good their reasons are.

Similarly, The Stars We Steal was a really fun sci-fi romance with a catchy premise (The Bachelor in space). But when the previously perfect hero returns, he’s suddenly lying and hiding stuff from his “one true love.” Even though there is still obvious chemistry between the hero and the heroine (whose names I have sadly already forgotten), I could not root for the romance because he keeps acting like such a jerk, and she can’t make up her mind about what she wants. The romance I was rooting for was when she eventually “settles” for a political match with an ace guy she gets along with really well. And for reasons that would spoil the story, but that are probably obvious if you know how romance novels work, I was not a fan of the ending.

That said, these were all really fun, well written, and enjoyable reads. Anything I didn’t like just came down to personal tastes. They definitely left me craving more murder mysteries and more ballgowns in space. Which may have led me to create a TBR for December… But more on that in my next post, along with my December reading journal set-up.

Until then, happy reading!