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!

October Reading Wrap-up

This wasn’t an amazing reading month for me. I suffered from a big reading slump at the start of the month, then eventually read some stuff that I enjoyed, but nothing really knocked my socks off. But, hey! Look! I completed my Goodreads challenge goal!

So that’s cool! Now let’s talk about what I read in October…

Rather than make my usual “outbox” spread this month, I just put the book covers below my book list. I didn’t think three books necessitated a full two-page spread. Plus it’s all super color-coordinated! That’s a cool coincidence, right? And, for the second month in a row, everything I read happened to be published this year! Who even am I reading all these new releases?

Here’s what I read in October:

  • The Last Graduate by Naomi Novik — This was the book that pulled me out of my reading slump. I tried reading the first chapter of a selection of books, and when I got to this one, the grumpy voice of the main character hooked me. El reminds me of Murderbot in that way, and it was just a good fit for the mood I was in at the start of this month. I enjoyed the story, but I’m still annoyed about the ending. I didn’t realize there were going to be more books in this series, and was not prepared for that massive cliff-hanger ending.
  • First Comes Like by Alisha Rai — After the evil cliff-hanger, I picked this up for a quick, fun read at the recommendation of a friend, and it was exactly that. I trust this author to write a heartwarming romance, and she always delivers. Of course, I also forgot that I never read book two in this series, so oops! It was fine, though. The books in this series all feature different couples in a friend group, and the heroine of this book is one of the sisters from the author’s Forbidden Hearts series. Even though the timelines of each book are consecutive, I had no issue reading this one out of order.
  • A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers — This is a novella in what looks like a new series from this author. I went into this expecting that it was going to be a character-driven story with no plot, and that’s what I got. So, expectations met. I did enjoy it, and if you like other books by this author, you’ll probably love this one. I appreciate her writing, but her books are really just not for me. I realized this when I finally noticed that it was taking me weeks to finish a 160 page novella. As much as I enjoy her worlds, I need plot.

I also updated my 2021 bookshelf in my reading journal. Only one shelf left to fill in…

That reading slump at the start of the month caused me to reflect a bit on my reading life. I think I’m moving in the direction of becoming more of a mood reader. Because of that, I’m also getting better at DNFing books. Or at least putting them aside and admitting that they’re just not a good fit for me right now rather than wasting weeks of my life avoiding reading anything because I feel like I have to finish the book I already started before I read anything else.

I’m also figuring out how to use my reading journal. For most of this year, I had this idea in my head that I needed to write these deep thoughts about the books I was reading and rate them according to this system where I gave each book a score for character, plot, world, intrigue, and enjoyment. Then I averaged those scores to come up with a final rating for each book. But that’s all way too much work and is turning out to be not helpful in achieving what I ultimately wanted this reading journal to achieve. So I changed things up this month, and it worked SO MUCH BETTER!

Now I’m using my notes pages to identify the universal fantasy elements in the book, any tropes, and what MICE elements are included in the story, in addition to the very basic idea of “did I like it and why/why not?” This is WAY more helpful in identifying story elements that I gravitate towards and love vs. the ones that are just not for me. SO MUCH BETTER! Why didn’t I think of this before?

Anyway, that’s my October reading wrapped up. Overall, no new favorite books, but a lot of good new ideas. I’m pretty satisfied with that.

September Reading Wrap-up

The first part of the best Magical Readathon ever is over, and now it’s time for spooky season and writing lots of words. But first, let’s recap what I read in September.

I participated in G’s Magical Readathon and completed three of the six prompts along The Novice Path. I can not even begin to tell you how creative and fun this readathon was. I loved every minute of it, right down to the wrap-up video where we found out what the choices we’d made during The Novice Path narrative (which was released in the Discord group in parts throughout the month) meant. The work that went into this… I am in awe. So good.

I adapted my notes pages for the books I read for this readathon to include the challenge prompt at the top.

The books I read / prompts I completed are:

  • Winter’s Orbit by Everina Maxwell for The Mist of Solitude (Read a standalone) — I really loved this book. It’s a m/m arranged marriage in space, and there’s also a murder mystery. Just beware of the content warnings. One of the pair was in an abusive relationship and is still working through the trauma from that.
  • Witch, Please by Ann Aguirre for Ruin of the Skye (Read a book featuring supernatural elements) — This was a light and fluffy read. I liked it, but didn’t love it as much as I thought I would given the premise and the fact that I really enjoyed a previous book by this author. I feel like the pacing was off (which, if you’ve been reading my NaNoWriMo Prep posts hints at plot issues, but I’m not going to be more specific because spoilers). That sort of ruined things for me.
  • Pride and Premeditation by Tirzah Price for Obsidian Falls (Read a thriller or mystery) — Since I have been on a murder mystery kick lately, I was super excited to see this cozy mystery retelling of the beloved Jane Austen classic Pride and Prejudice. It’s set in the Victorian era, but it’s not an exact retelling. I mean, Bingley is accused of murder, and both Darcy and Mr. Bennett are lawyers in competing law firms. I liked the choices the author made and how she twisted this tale to adapt it to a different genre while still keeping a lot of everyone’s favorite beats (and in some cases, lines) from the original.
I ended up not putting the book cover print outs next to the appropriate prompts because they were too big.

I also read two non-fiction business books. The first was We Should All Be Millionaires by Rachel Rodgers. The second was 7 Figure Fiction by T. Taylor. They were both really good reads.

I never did make a cover page for September. I just started with the Magical Readathon stuff. And I pasted the book covers for my Magical Readathon books onto the map, so I decided not to do an “Outbox” page for September. Instead, I just added my usual summary page to the end so I could easily collect my book stats from the month, and pasted the two non-readathon book covers onto the bottom of that page.

Fun fact about my September reads, they were all published in 2021!

I will be doing a cover page for October, though. I’ve been checking out Draw So Cute‘s “How to Draw Fall / Autumn Art” playlist on YouTube for inspiration. I’m planning on having a little Sunday Funday art session later today and will post photos once I get it all set up. Until then, happy reading!

August Reading Wrap-up

August turned out to be another big reading month. I ended up reading six books, evenly divided between fiction and non-fiction. I also managed to actually write down my thoughts in my reading journal for nearly all of the books I read this month! Big wins all around! (Except for the writing. Don’t ask about how the writing went.)

What I read in August:

  • Dangerous Alliance by Jennieke Cohen — This was a cute historical romance that also has a mystery sub-plot. I enjoyed it while reading it, but have pretty much forgotten almost everything about it since then. The heroine is a fan of Jane Austen (who is alive and publishing in the year this story takes place), and when she is confused about what to do she often considers what her favorite Jane Austen heroines would do in her place. If you like historical romance in general and Jane Austen in particular, I recommend checking this out.
  • Write Novels Fast: Writing Faster With Art Journaling by Shéa MacLeod — At only 36 pages, this barely qualifies as a book, but it’s listed in Goodreads, so I’m counting it. I was in a bit of a creative slump when I picked up this book and needed some inspiration. There were just enough ideas in here to motivate me to dust off the notebook I’ve been using as my brainstorming / character building / plotting notebook for my Modern Fae series and get back to work. I’m not convinced the tips in this book are going to help me write any faster, but they did help me move past a creative block.
  • What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami — I can’t remember if I bought this for my husband several years ago, or if my mom bought it for him because I said I thought he might like it. Either way, it’s been sitting on our bookshelf for a while. I decided to pick it up to see if it had any words of wisdom that might help motivate me to step up my running game. It turned out that it did. Plus the author made really insightful parallels between running and writing. So, that was great! My only complaint is that something about the narrative voice makes it sound like the author thinks that the audience for this book is exclusively men. That was super annoying.
  • A Desolation Called Peace by Arkady Martine — I really enjoyed this follow-up to A Memory Called Empire. The story picks up shortly after the events at the end of the previous book. Even though that book could have been read as a stand-alone, it was nice to see what happened next. If the first book was, at it’s heart, a “whodunnit” murder mystery, this is mostly an alien-first-contact story. But, like the first book, there is a LOT of other stuff going on, including all the politics and struggles of those who find themselves trying to “do the right thing” within or in the face of a large and aggressive empire. Meaty sci-fi! Yum!
  • Written in the Stars by Alexandria Bellefleur — This was a pretty light and fluffy contemporary romance that was a very loose f/f retelling of Pride & Prejudice. I think I expected the plot to be a little more of an actual retelling than it turned out to be, so that was a little bit of a disappointment. Also, there wasn’t really any other plot besides the romance plot, which I wasn’t expecting. The romance plot was good, and I enjoyed the characters. I’ve just come to expect an external conflict in addition to the internal conflict in the contemporary romance books I read. It’s nice to see two characters falling in love, but I also want them struggling to accomplish something else, too.
  • Because Internet: Understanding the New Rules of Language by Gretchen McCulloch — This book was fantastic. My husband and I listened to it on our recent road trip. It kept us both engaged and sparked a ton of discussion. The audiobook narration was really easy to follow, even in places where the author/narrator is trying to describe specific uses of repeated letters and unusual punctuation. Though, it did help that I happened to also have a copy of this on ebook. That way I could look up anything that I wasn’t sure I fully understood from the audiobook. If you are at all interested in language and looking for insights into how informal communication has evolved through the decades, I highly recommend checking this out.

In case you are curious, I also updated the bookshelf overview page in my reading journal. I really like how it’s turning out. As a reminder, the colors on the spines represent genre, and the little hearts signify which of the books are romances.

It always feels like I’m reading a lot of romance, but if you count the hearts on the spines in the photo, I’ve only read nine so far this year. And that’s out of forty-three books read, total.

Also, wow! I’ve already read forty-three books so far this year! Only nine more books until I reach my annual goal of fifty-two total books read. I’m not going to change my Goodreads goal, though. I have two first drafts of two different novels that I want to finish before the end of the year (and I did not get much writing done in August). Plus the holidays are coming up. So I need to step up the writing and cool it with the reading, at least until after I get my work done each day.

What are you reading? Are you also doing the Magical Readathon in September? Let me know in the comments.

July Reading Wrap-up

It just occurred to me that I never posted my reading wrap-up for July. I finished the “outbox” page in my reading journal days ago, then I just sort of forgot to post it. So, let’s talk about what I read in July.

If you remember from my June wrap-up post, I finished reading Spaceside by Michael Mammay in the first few days of July, but I counted it toward my June reading because I’d read most of it in June. Well, after I finished reading that, I went on to read the final (?) book in that series, Colonyside. I enjoyed it, but not as much as the first two books. I just didn’t feel like the ending of the last book was as strong as the other two. But at this point, a month later, I can’t remember why. I really wish I’d written my thoughts down in my reading journal instead of just telling my mom about them because she happened to be visiting at the time.

As a related aside, this reading journal is definitely turning into more of an art project than memory capture tool. I’m not very happy about that, but I’m also not doing anything to fix that problem, either.

After finishing Colonyside, I decided to read A Murderous Relation, book five in Deanna Raybourn’s Veronica Speedwell series, because my mom was visiting and I thought it would be fun to read it while she was here. It was definitely a fun read. The first paragraph of the first chapter had me laughing out loud. I don’t think this is my favorite of the series (I think that honor still goes to book two, A Perilous Undertaking), but enjoyed it and am excited to read book six.

Keeping up the murder mystery theme, I read The Ivies by Alexa Donne, next. This is a very solid thriller set in an elite boarding school, and I’m a bit of a sucker for that particular trope. There is a group of “mean girls” and one of them dies. The suspicion that it had something to do with who go early decision admission to which Ivy League college causes one of her friends to decide to play amateur detective. It was definitely a page turner and a very good first thriller novel from this author.

Then I started feeling the Olympic vibes (probably because I haven’t been able to watch any of it because we don’t have NBC). So, I picked up Coming Up for Air by Miranda Kenneally. This is book eight in the author’s Hundred Oaks series, but I have read none of the other books. They are all contemporary YA romance, which isn’t really my jam. But this book featured competitive swimming, and I’m a sucker for a book featuring competitive swimmers, especially if they have their sights set on the Olympics. So, yeah. I grabbed this from my library. I enjoyed it and only had a few annoyed moments when the heroine did something that did not feel like something an actual competitive swimmer would do (diving in to race without warming up and putting sneakers on wet feet to walk around the pool deck after a race were the two biggest offenders). You could tell the author was not writing from personal experience (confirmed in her authors note in the end). But, overall, she did a pretty good job crafting mostly believable swimmers.

The second Olympic-related book I read was Every Reason We Shouldn’t by Sara Fujimura. This one was another YA contemporary romance, this time about a figure skater and a speed skater. It was cute, and I enjoyed it, but I went into it thinking that the author was Japanese. She’s not, but her husband is, and her kids are bi-racial (like the teens in this book). Some of the Asian reviewers on Goodreads have expressed frustration with some of the representation. Also there’s a lockdown scene that takes place at the school. So if either of those two things are issues for you, maybe skip this book.

Finally, I finished a book I’ve been slowly working my way through since the start of the year. I read Me and White Supremacy by Layla F. Saad and did the journaling exercises. Instead of doing them one per day for twenty-eight days like it suggests in the book, I averaged about one per week since the beginning of January. I found this to be really useful, and as a result, one of the things that I’m committing to going forward is to continue to educate myself on anti-racism topics. Specifically, in addition to other methods of learning, I want to read at least four non-fiction books about racism and/or topics related to racism each year (which is about one per quarter, on average). It takes me longer to read non-fiction than it does to read fiction, which is why I’m going for one book every three months instead of something more ambitious.

And that’s what I read in July. If you have any suggestions on how I can be better about actually writing down my thoughts about the books I’m reading in my reading journal before I forget them, please let me know in the comments. Or, if you think I should just give in to the art project side of things and stop trying to force myself to do something that is just not happening, tell me that instead. Or just tell me what you’re reading and enjoying. I’d love to hear from you.

June Reading Wrap-up

June turned out to be a HUGE reading month for me. I read nine books!

What I read in June

I started off the month on a mystery kick. I got my mom into Deanna Raybourn’s Veronica Speedwell series because she (and I) liked Sherry Thomas’s Lady Sherlock series so much. She’s been devouring all the Veronica books while I’d only read the first one, and she’s coming for a visit soon, so I thought it was time to catch up. I read books two, three, and four in June. Of those, I liked book two (A Perilous Undertaking) the best (such good tension between Veronica and Stoker!) and book three (A Treacherous Curse) the least (too much unexamined colonialism). Book four (A Dangerous Collaboration) had a very exciting ending that made me want to immediately dive into book five, but I had to pause while I waited to get the next two books from my library.

I also borrowed two YouTube celebrity memoirs on audiobook from my library as a source of character research for my next Modern Fae book. I started with Lilly Singh’s How to Be a Bawse: A Guide to Conquering Life, which was a Goodreads Choice Award winner in 2017. In addition to getting a lot of good info about what it’s like to be a YouTube superstar, I found myself really appreciating her advice about life and the self-employed career hustle.

I considered stopping after that one, but I had already downloaded Jenn McAllister’s Really Professional Internet Person, so I decided to listen to the first few chapters and see what I thought. Her book was a little repetitive in places, but focused more on what it’s like to be growing your YouTube audience when you’re in middle school and high school, which was really interesting. Neither of these women is exactly like I imagine my character, but their experiences gave me a lot to think about.

Somewhere in between devouring mystery novels and listening to audiobooks while washing the dishes, I read C. L. Polk’s romantic fantasy The Midnight Bargain and Addie Woolridge’s contemporary romantic comedy The Checklist. Both of these were really good, as I expected they would be. I really love the worldbuilding in The Midnight Bargain. And the characters in The Checklist were so full of life, I loved every minute that I got to spend with them…even when everything started to go sideways and made me super anxious. Addie did a great job crafting an ending that tied everything up perfectly.

As much as I liked those two books, my favorite of the month was The Space Between Worlds. This book blew me away. It is just so good. I mean, I’d heard it was good, but it was even better than I expected it would be. The plot is twisty, the characters are superbly crafted, and the worldbuilding is just off the charts excellent. I loved it so much that I searched out a special edition signed hardcover to buy so that I can add it to my “favorites” shelf and reread it in physical form. Seriously, if you like sci-fi and have not read this book, go get a copy immediately and start reading. I can not recommend it highly enough.

Just before the end of the month I managed to squeeze in one last book. Technically, I didn’t finish Spaceside by Michael Mammay until the second of July, but I read most of it in June, so I’m counting it. Here’s the thing about this series, it’s marketed as “military sci-fi” which is a genre that I enjoy (depending on the author), but the series is so much more than that. At their core, each book is really a mystery novel. The “detective” is a veteran soldier, and the mysteries he ends up getting pulled into solving involve the military, but the novels aren’t really all about guns and fighting and stuff like that. And the author is a veteran who writes about the military in what feels like a very authentic (and respectful) way. So, if you like sci-fi and mystery novels, you should really check out this series.

As for July, I am looking forward to reading Colonyside (which I already started) and book five in the Veronica Speedwell series (A Murderous Relation). I also plan to read A Desolation Called Peace by Arkady Martine and Wild Seed by Octavia Butler for my Camp Book Club buddy reads. Even though I have a sort-of TBR this month, I decided to stick to the same simple monthly layout that I’ve been using in my reading journal.

I went with a red and blue color scheme for July in honor of Independence Day. I added some gold star washi tape and some silver dots (using my metallic Kuretake Clean Color Dot marker) to give a sort of fireworks effect. It’s not my best work, but it’s not bad.

I also got some new sparkly bookshelf washi tape that I couldn’t resist using on the “books read” page. And I printed out a couple of the covers for the books that I plan to read this month. I didn’t glue them down, though. I’m using that star paperclip to attach them to the page as a visual reminder of the books I want to read this month. That “books read” page will be a list, and I’ll glue the covers of the books I actually did read to an “outbox” page at the end of the month.

I’m still not doing a great job of writing down my thoughts on each book while I’m reading them, or even right after I finish, even though I added a pen loop to my reading journal. I’m going to keep working on getting better at that because I’m finding it really useful to look back on. My brain nearly instantly forgets the details of a book after I’ve read it. I remember the feelings I had while reading the book, but not the plot. That’s probably one of the reasons why I can happily re-read my favorite books. Writing down my thoughts helps me to remember the bits of a story that I don’t want to forget.

What are you reading in July? Are any of these books on your TBR? Let me know in the comments.

May Reading Wrap-up and Birthday Book Haul

May was not a great reading month for me, but I did get a lot of awesome new books for my birthday! Read on to find out more…

Sad little monthly spread for May.

The first book I read in May was The Enigma Game by Elizabeth Wein. This is another novel in her Code Name Verity world, but it features different characters. I really liked Code Name Verity but never got around to reading any of her other books. So when my book club buddies suggested that we read this, I read the blurb and agreed. Turns out that it was good, but I didn’t love it. The pilot scenes and the scenes between Louisa and the old German lady she’s in charge of caring for were some of my favorites. The rest required a bit too much suspension of disbelief for me.

I also read Why We Swim by Bonnie Tsui. I started on the first of the month, and it took me almost the next thirty days to finish it, which is a little embarrassing because the book is only 277 pages long. And I love swimming! I really enjoyed all the information about why swimming is awesome. Some of it I knew before, but there was a lot of new stuff as well. I definitely recommend this for folks who love swimming or who are curious about the benefits of open water swimming (especially in cold water). It motivated me to get into our local lake a lot sooner than I might otherwise have. The author did a lot of research for this and sites a lot of science, so it’s not just a series of essays with a some personal anecdotes thrown in.

Birthday book haul!

Here are the books I received (thanks, Mom!) and/or purchased for myself for my birthday:

  • Son of the Storm by Suyi Davies Okungbowa — I met Suyi at Futurescapes a couple of years ago. We were in a critique group together, and I got to read the first chapter of this book and totally wanted to read more. When I found out that it was getting published, I was so excited! I can’t wait to read the rest of the story.
  • Lady Hotspur by Tessa Gratton — The blurb for this book gives me big “Brienne of Tarth” vibes, and I already know that I love Tessa’s writing and world-building. This is going to be epic.
  • The Dreamblood Duology by N. K. Jemisin — I have been wanting to read this since I finished the Broken Earth trilogy, and now I can! Hooray!
  • Drowned Country by Emily Tesh — I really enjoyed Silver in the Wood. (Seriously, if you haven’t read it and you like magical woods fantasy stories, go get your hands on a copy.) This is the second book in that duology. I am really looking forward to seeing what’s next for Henry and Tobias.
  • How to Find a Princess by Alyssa Cole — If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, then you already know that Alyssa Cole is pretty much an auto-buy for me. After getting a glimpse at one of the heroines of this book in the first book in How to Catch a Queen, I knew I had to read her story. Beznaria just leapt off the page and into my heart. I needed to read her love story.
  • The Checklist by Addie Woolridge — Addie is funny and smart, and I am just so excited to read her first published book! This rom com is already starting to get all the summer book buzz, so you better grab a copy and check it out for yourself.

What do you think? See anything in my book haul that is also at the top of your TBR? Let me know in the comments.

Next, it’s time to set up my reading journal for June…

April Reading Wrap-Up and May Reading Plans

April was an unexpectedly busy month. I was supposed to be focused on editing the Modern Fae novella that I’m publishing in June, but all I wanted to do was read. My creative brain was hungry, and it devoured seven books this month! Yikes!

Seven books!

Here’s what I read in April:

  • Fugitive Telemetry by Martha Wells — Murderbot helps solve a murder mystery? What could possibly be better than that? I love Murderbot, and this novella did not disappoint.
  • Hollywood Ending by Kellye Garrett — The murder mystery part of the Murderbot novella had me wanting to read more cozy mysteries. This book definitely scratched that itch. I really like this series, and I really need to know when / how to get my hands on the third book!
  • More Than Maybe by Erin Hahn — I’ve been trying to get to this one for a while, and I’m so glad I finally did. It’s such a cute YA contemporary romance. If you were/are someone who attempts to communicate your feelings to your crushes via music (other people’s or your own), you are going to really like this book. I was/am one of those people and did/do love this book.
  • Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo — I read Six of Crows (and liked it a lot), but I never read this series. So I figured that I better at least read the first book before watching the Netflix show. It has all the elements of a 2000s YA fantasy. Feisty heroine who discovers she has special powers, love triangle that pits sweet boy from her youth with dark and brooding mysterious hot guy, plus a training montage. There is a point in my life when I would have eaten this up with a spoon. That point is not now, and that’s too bad because I liked it, I just don’t really feel the need to read the rest of the series. I’ll just watch the show.
  • Dragon Called by by Kara Lockharte and Cassie Alexander — This was a fun, fast paranormal “romance.” I am putting romance in quotes because I feel compelled to warn you that the two main characters do not reach an HEA or even an HFN by the end of this book. I’ll admit, I was more than a little disappointed when I got to the end. But it has some great action and some steamy scenes. So, if you’re into alpha dragon shifters, you should definitely check this one out. Just grab the whole series when you do.
  • Penric’s Demon by Lois McMaster Bujold — This is my first Bujold read. It’s a super cute and warm-hearted novella set in the usual secondary medievalesque fantasy world. However, what’s interesting and unusual about this is the demon possession. I’m not going to spoil it, but it’s charming, creative, and well crafted. There’s a little bit of plot that’s somewhat predictable and resolved quickly, but it’s a novella, and it’s mostly about Penric. And his demon. And it’s a heartwarming read.
  • David Mogo, Godhunter by Suyi Davies Okungbowa — This book is different in such a refreshing way. The main character directly interrogates his role as the “chosen one” and the idiocentric behavior of the gods he’s dealing with in a way that is usually glossed over or shrugged off in other novels. I loved it. The world-building and the action were also really, really good. I am looking forward to my pre-order of Son of the Storm (new series, different characters) landing on my Kindle next week!

Since April is over, I’ve updated my 2021 “What I Read” bookshelf overview. Remember, this bookshelf overview is color coded by genre. The small heart on the spine indicate books that would be also categorized as romance (has an HEA or HFN).

So much purple (fantasy)…

And since we’re already a few days into May, I might as well show you what my month overview for May looks like. Don’t be fooled. Those flowers are bleed through from the “April Outbox” page. I haven’t bothered to decorate my May spread (yet). I also haven’t made a TBR. Again.

It’s not that I’m not excited about May. My birthday is in May. I am getting my second COVID vaccine shot in a few days. I will be able to hug vaccinated friends and family before the end of this month! I love May. It’s just that I can feel myself losing steam on this whole reading journal thing…

As you can see in the photo below, I’m still trying to catch up on writing down my thoughts on several of the books I read in April. I’ve written more in this blog post about these two books than I have in my actual reading journal.

I’m still finding the exercise to be valuable. I just don’t seem to be finding much time to actually sit down and DO IT. So, I need to think about this a bit and figure out if there’s something I can change to make this more interesting or at the very least, to make me more compelled to actually write down my thoughts while I’m reading or within a day after I’m done reading. If I don’t do that, I forget all the stuff I wanted to write down (like the execution of tropes that I particularly liked or didn’t like, world-building details that I thought were particularly good or that frustrated me, etc.).

Take, for example, the “but Kazi…” reminder I have up there under the More Than Maybe entry. I remembered to scribble that down real fast one day while I was reading as a reminder to complete my thought later. It’s a good thing I did, because I wouldn’t have remembered that character’s name if I hadn’t written it down. I do remember what I was going to say about him because it chafed me while I was reading, but I almost never remember side characters’ names, let alone main character names, once I’m a few weeks out from finishing a book.

Maybe the answer is to find a way to keep my reading journal (and a pen) WITH my Kindle so that it’s there and ready to go when I have a thought and want to make a note.

If you have ideas or suggestions to keep me engaged with this reading journal exercise, let me know in the comments. Or, if you’re similarly finding yourself losing interest in your reading tracking system, let me know if you’ve decided to stick with it, or how you’re changing your approach.