Category Archives: Reading Recaps

2018 Reading Wrap-Up and Stats

At the end of the year (or at the beginning of the new year, since this has taken a bit of time), it’s always interesting to look back and remind yourself what you accomplished. In terms of my non-reading year, I had a really fantastic 2018–I worked a lot, but was lucky enough to be able to do a good amount of traveling, and I made a lot of progress on my NaNoWriMo project. With regard to reading and bookish things, I attended BookCon for the second time (I’m working on a very delayed recap post about BookCon, which was amazing); was able to see a number of authors I greatly admire at various events in my city (more on this below); worked on growing my Bookstagram account; and found some new favorite books and authors. Let’s break it down!

Total books read: 98

Total pages read: 33,243

Shortest book read: I’m Afraid of Men by Vivek Shraya (96 pages)

Longest book read: House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski (709 pages)

Most popular: To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han (301,579 other GR readers)

Least popular: Between the Sea and Stars by Chantal Gadoury (137 other GR readers)

Average rating: 3.7 stars

Highest rated book on GR: Magic Triumphs by Ilona Andrews (4.54 stars)

To see all of the books I read in 2018, check out my Goodreads Year in Review here.

Author events attended (these were through various organizations in my city and normally consisted of an extended talk by an author, sometimes in addition to a reading of their work): Margaret Atwood, Colson Whitehead, Samantha Hunt, Angie Thomas, Alyssa Palumbo, Mohsin Hamid

BookCon Panels attended: Tor Presents: #FearlessWomen in Tor Science Fiction and Fantasy with Charlie Jane Anders, V.E. Schwab, S.L. Huang, and Seth Dickinson; Women of Mystery and Thriller with Sandra Brown, Megan Abbott, Sara Blaedel, Kate Kessler, and Karen Ellis; NaNoWriMo: The Power of Writing with Abandon with Susan Dennard, Marissa Meyer, Kami Garcia, Danielle Page, and Grant Faulkner; and Toxic Male Syndrome with Jasmine Guillory, Zoey Castile, Alisha Rai, Sarah Morgan, Megan Frampton, and Claire Legrand

BookCon signings attended: Charlaine Harris, Rebecca Roanhorse, Naomi Novik

Now, let’s get into the statistics!

Adult vs. YA:

This statistic has remained fairly stable over the past few years. I do really enjoy YA, but I still read primarily adult books. This year, it was about 75% to 25%, which seems about right.

Author Breakdown by Gender:

Again, fairly stable, although the percentage of male authors I read has been steadily diminishing over time.

Format:

Also, weirdly stable to last year. I vastly prefer reading physical books; when I listen to an audiobook it’s generally because I prefer nonfiction on audio, and if I read an ebook, it’s either because I’m not sure if I’ll like the book or if the physical book is new and expensive.

Genre:

As you can see, I read a wide range of genres, with fantasy comprising the largest piece of the pie (especially when combined with fantasy affiliates like UF/PNR and fantasy romance). The newest addition to this genre breakdown is contemporary romance, which I don’t think I ever actually read before 2018. I’m also a little surprised that the nonfiction section isn’t larger, since I feel like I read/listen to a lot of nonfiction. But the pie charts don’t lie!

Breakdown by Release Year

This graph turned out weirdly tiny and I can’t seem to make it any bigger, but basically, it’s embarrassing. I do like to read a good amount of new releases so that I know what’s happening in the bookish community, but I also like to read backlist titles, and clearly I did not do a great job of that this year. Also embarrassing is the fact that the oldest book I read this year came out in 1959.

When did I obtain the physical books I read?

Basically, this year I tried to keep track of when I obtained the physical books I read, so that I could see how many or few older titles I was reading versus newly purchased books. The reason that only the past 3 years are represented on this graph is that prior to 2016, I didn’t really purchase that many books, because I was in grad school, moving frequently, and on a very limited budget; the books I did buy during that time I generally read right away. So, what does this tell us? It makes sense that the majority of my reading was from newly purchased books, and I think it’s a good thing, since it means that fewer of those books will be languishing on my TBR shelf for an extended period of time. It also shows that I do continue to read books I’ve purchased awhile ago, although it makes sense that those numbers are smaller since I’ve had more time to read more of the 2016 and 2017 book purchases. So I’m not sure if this chart was actually helpful, but it’s still interesting.

How did I rate the books I read?

I’m actually really happy with this. Significantly more than half of the books I read this year got very good (4 and 5 star) ratings. I also didn’t have any 1-star books, although this is mainly because if I really hate a book I’ll DNF it. But the 2-star section is very tiny as well, which is good news.

 

Next up, hopefully in a timely manner, will be my top 10 reads of 2018 (and other superlatives!)

 

How was your reading year in 2018?

December Reading Wrap-Up

December ended up being a busier and less reading-heavy month than I anticipated, but that’s okay, since I did finish the two books that my goal was to read and review. I celebrate Chrismakkuh, which means that there are generally a lot of holiday-related things going on throughout the month of December–even more so this year, as Hanukkah and Christmas were so far apart. But overall, it was a good reading end to 2018, especially as I managed to sneak in one last book from my top 10 TBR for the year as my last book for 2018.

Stats:

Total books finished: 5

#readmyowndamnbooks: 5

Audiobooks: 0

ebooks: 0

A Very Large Expanse of SeaThe Nine (Thieves of Fate, #1)AutonomousThe Similars by Rebecca HanoverThe Lonely Hearts Hotel by Heather O'Neill

Reviews:

The Lonely Hearts Hotel by Heather O’Neill (4.25 stars) – The Lonely Hearts Hotel follows simultaneously lucky and unlucky orphans Rose and Pierrot, who are artistically gifted but coming of age in Montreal during the Great Depression. It follows them through their childhood at a harsh orphanage, their separation and descent into different aspects of Montreal’s underworld, and path toward their dreams of a show together. I had mixed feelings throughout a lot of this book, but I ended up really loving Rose’s character and her arc, particularly towards the end. I thought that the writing was fairytale-esque and often beautiful, but sometimes became almost too silly, so that took away from the rating a bit. But there’s a lot of really wonderful aspects to this book, and I’d recommend it overall. It’s definitely difficult to read at times, especially due to the instances of child abuse, but it exposes a lot of essential truths that are often difficult to articulate.

The Nine by Tracy Townsend (4.25 stars) – I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this unique fantasy novel, which features tons of action and plot twists along with unique and morally grey characters. I did a full review of The Nine here.

Autonomous by Annalee Newitz (3 stars) – Autonomous imagines a future where crime seems to revolve around pharmaceutical piracy, as prescription drug costs have skyrocketed and only the rich can afford to live long and healthy lives with the aid of medication. We follow Jack, a pirate whose distribution of a reverse-engineered drug reveals the fact that the original drug is deeply flawed and causes deadly addition to its consumers. As Jack flees the authorities tracking her down, she’s also trying to find a cure for the dangerous drug she unwittingly distributed. I thought that the premise of Autonomous was really interesting, and the scientific aspects were well-thought-out and detailed, but the actual plot left something to be desired for me as it was mainly an extended chase that focused alternately on Jack and her pursuers.

A Very Large Expanse of Sea by Tahereh Mafi (3 stars) – I’m a huge fan of Tahereh Mafi’s Shatter Me series so I was really interested to check out her contemporary YA debut. A Very Large Expanse of Sea follows Shirin, a Muslim teenager who has just moved to a new town and a new high school a few years after 9/11. While pursuing her passion of breakdancing, Shirin is forced to deal with rampant prejudice from the people around her. I absolutely loved Shirin as a main character. I loved that she was complex and passionate, with a bunch of diverse interests and hobbies (breakdancing, sewing her own clothes, art, journaling) yet she finds it really difficult to connect with other people due to the racism she experiences on a near-constant basis. I would have been happy reading a book entirely focused on Shirin, her family, her breakdancing crew, and her opening up enough to make friends, but unfortunately the book focused much more on her romantic connection with Ocean, the star of her school’s basketball team, who I found to be a much less interesting character.

The Similars by Rebecca Hanover (3 stars) – I received an ARC of The Similars at BookCon, and will be posting a full review within the next week. Essentially, I really liked the book’s main character, but I had a lot of issues with the plausibility of the plot.

 

How was your reading in December? Are you already looking ahead to your reading in 2019, like I am?

November Reading & NaNoWriMo Wrap-Up

November was a rough month on the reading front, as I was devoting a lot of my time to NaNoWriMo. If you’re not familiar, that stands for National Novel Writing Month, which is an event that encourages you to writing a 50,000-word short novel in the month of November. There’s online interaction and in-person write-ins that give you encouragement, in addition to famous writers posting inspirational essays throughout the month. This was my second time participating, and I was able to write about 30,000 words (which definitely isn’t 50k, but is still a ton for me!).

I was working on the first draft of the fantasy novel that I started writing last year, and I’m finally, finally nearing the end! In addition to getting done a bunch in terms of actual word counts, I was able to really map out the plot for the remainder of the book. I’m really hoping to finish the draft by the end of the year so that I can start editing in 2019, but I’m anticipating December being a super busy month, so I’m not sure if that’s realistic. We’ll see!

In terms of reading, I was only able to finish 4 books this month, which is the lowest so far this year. But! I definitely wasn’t anticipating a big reading month due to NaNoWriMo, so my expectations were low, and I ended up loving 3 out of the 4 books that I did get to read this month. And I’m not mad about a low book count if I’m getting quality over quantity. So here’s how my reading went:

Stats:

Total books read: 4

#readmyowndamnbooks: 3

Audiobooks: 0

ebooks: 1

Get in Trouble: StoriesDiamond Fire (Hidden Legacy, #3.5)Empire of Sand (The Books of Ambha, #1)Space Opera

Get in Trouble by Kelly Link (5 stars) – Get in Trouble by Kelly Link is an amazingly creative short story collection that blends genres and concepts into unsettling, profound, thought-provoking tales. In the hands of another writer, one aspect of one of Link’s stories could fill an entire novel, but in Link’s hands disparate ideas and worlds are explored in 40 pages to a perfect level of depth while still leaving the reader room for interpretation.

A few of my favorites were:
– “The Summer People,” which at first seems like it’s about a sick girl abandoned by her alcoholic father, except then you learn about the neighboring house where the fairies live
– “Two Houses,” about a group of astronauts telling each other ghost stories while in the backs of their minds they can’t forget their own ship’s twin, which mysteriously disappeared decades ago
– “Secret Identity,” about a girl lying about her identity to a man online in a world where superheroes and supervilains are a common sight

No two stories are anything alike, and I was perpetually stunned by Link’s bottomless reserves of unique ideas. If you like weird, genre-blending fiction, I highly, highly recommend picking this one up.

Space Opera by Catherynne M. Valente (4.5 stars) – I really wasn’t expecting this book to be as wonderful and impactful for me as it was. It’s about an intergalactic singing competition designed as a way for newly discovered species to prove their sentience, and Earth is up next. It’s quirky and hilarious, with every sentence packed full of metaphor after metaphor, and although humor in books is tricky because not everything works for everyone, this style was perfect for me. The book goes from hilarity to a profound degree of emotional depth near the end, and I was crying as I finished the book. I think it’s great for fans of Becky Chambers’s Wayfarers series, because both are more positive science fiction works that deal a lot with interpersonal relationships, and also for fans of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which I actually didn’t like very much but I can see how you could easily jump from that book to this one. This is the third book I’ve picked up from Valente and I want to read her entire catalog of work.

Diamond Fire by Ilona Andrews (4 stars) – Ilona Andrews is one of my favorite authors in general, and my favorite UF/PNR author in particular, so every time she starts a new series I am very excited. This was a novella bridging the gap between the Hidden Legacy trilogy, narrated by private investigator Nevada Baylor, and a new trilogy narrated by her younger sister Catalina, who has also grown up working in the family’s P.I. firm and has a very unique kind of magic. It was a lot of fun and really got me on board with Catalina as a main character; I’m really looking forward to the first full book in her trilogy, Sapphire Flames, which comes out in 2019.

Empire of Sand by Tasha Suri (3 stars) – I received an ARC of Emprie of Sand from the publisher at BookCon. While a great premise, this book ended up being a bit of a disappointment for me. You can check out my full review here.

 

How did your reading/writing go in November? Let me know in the comments!

October Reading Wrap-Up

It’s the end of October, which means the end of my month of spooky/thriller-y/creepy/fall-ish reads. I definitely had some fun with my reading this month, although my ratings were all over the place, and I think I got my fix of October-type books for the year. I had a great time participating in Dewey’s 24-hour Readathon this month, and today I dressed up as Hermione Granger for Halloween, which was super fun. Now we’re on to November and NaNoWriMo next, so my wrap-up for next month likely won’t be nearly as impressive as this one is.

Total books read: 10

#readmyowndamnbooks: 7

Audiobooks: 2

Ebooks: 1

The Bone Witch (The Bone Witch, #1)Till DeathThe Haunting of Hill HouseWhite Is for Witching by Helen OyeyemiSadie by Courtney SummersNeverworld WakeA Man Came Out of a Door in the Mountain by Adrianne HarunMy Lady's Choosing by Kitty CurranZoo City by Lauren BeukesA Duke by Default (Reluctant Royals, #2)

White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi (5 stars) – White is for Witching was one of those 5 star reads that sneaks up on you; I wasn’t expecting it to be as impactful as it was. It’s a dark, creepy, unsettling, and strange book that’s fascinatingly and intricately composed. Oyeyemi’s writing is beautifully strange and meandering, following the living as well as ghosts, making you question what’s real and what’s not. She also tackles themes of racism and xenophobia in unexpected ways. White is for Witching follows Miranda, a girl who suffers from pica, a compulsion to eat what’s not food. As she devours chalk and plastic, she grieves for her mother and is haunted by a house with a past—a past that seeks to encompass her too. I don’t want to reveal too much about the story, because learning its aspects is part of the experience of this book, but I highly recommend this to readers of magical realism or literary fiction who are looking for something to put them in the October mood.

My Lady’s Choosing by Kitty Curran and Larissa Zageris (4 stars) – This book is SO MUCH FUN! If you enjoy Jane Austen and/or the Brontes and/or historical romance or romance in general, I highly recommend giving this book a shot. I wasn’t sure when I bought it whether it was my kind of thing, since I’ve never really read historical romance, but I found that having read a bunch of Jane Austen (as well as Jane Eyre) was a solid enough background to catch a lot of the references in this book. Basically, it’s a choose-your-own-adventure historical romance, where you are the heroine and must make decisions every few pages. There are 4 main storylines that you can follow, but each has a bunch of twists and turns and involve a mystery in addition to the romance storyline. In general, the four storylines revolve around either a Mr. Darcy-esque figure; a female adventurer; a Mr. Rochester-esque figure; and a Scottish guy, but there are other endings and romantic options in each of these stories beyond the main character. The book doesn’t take itself too seriously, and there’s a lot of humor and parodying of historical romance tropes; I laughed out loud so many times while reading this that I couldn’t read it in public. If you’re looking for a fun, lighthearted read (or a good book for a readathon!) I highly recommend picking this one up.

Neverworld Wake by Marisha Pessl (4 stars) – This book is strange, immersive, and claustrophobic at times, which makes it perfect to read in one sitting. Five teenagers, best friends, are in a car accident and find themselves hovering in what’s called a Neverworld Wake, a sort of in-between time loop between life and death. They’re trapped there, reliving the day of their accident, until they can bring themselves to vote unanimously for the only one of their group who will survive the accident. No one can agree on who deserves to survive, so they end up reliving their day in all sorts of crazy ways until they agree that they need to focus their time instead on the unsolved murder of the other member of their friend group, which took place a year earlier. I thought the writing was great, and I enjoyed the strangeness and creativity that went into the book’s concept. I wouldn’t say that I loved the ending, but I’d definitely recommend the book overall.

Till Death by Jennifer L. Armentrout (3.5 stars) – I’ve read a few Jennifer L. Armentrout books before (White Hot Kiss, the first two books of A Wicked Trilogy) and when I was at BookCon, I saw that she was going to be doing a signing and giveaway of this book, and luckily I was able to get in line while that was happening. Till Death is my favorite of hers so far; it’s a tightly written romantic thriller with a main character you’ll love and want to root for. It follows Sasha, who was abducted by a serial killer at nineteen and was the only one of his victims to escape, after which he killed himself. Ten years later, Sasha is finally mentally and emotionally ready to return to her hometown to help her mother run a bed and breakfast, but then creepy things start happening to make her wonder if the past is really over. Luckily, she also runs into her ex, who’s now a very attractive FBI agent. I don’t read a ton of thrillers, but this one was perfect for binge-reading and had a good mixture of thriller and romance elements.

Sadie by Courtney Summers (3.5 stars) – This is a book that’s definitely best listened to as an audiobook. It alternates between the perspective of Sadie, a girl whose younger sister was murdered and who is now on the hunt for her killer, and a true-crime podcast tracking Sadie and her sister’s story. Because of that, I found this really easy to listen to, since podcasts are normally easier for me to pay attention to than audiobooks. I didn’t think it was a perfect book; I wished it was more complex, and the ending was a bit anticlimactic, but overall it was definitely a good listen and a creative storytelling method.

A Man Came Out of a Door in the Mountain (3.5 stars) – This atmospheric book is hard to categorize in terms of genre. It follows a group of friends in a Northwestern town besieged by poverty and bad people–and that’s before the devil shows up. It deals a lot with violence against women and discrimination against indigenous communities, and according to the author’s acknowledgements “was sparked by outrage over the ongoing murders and disappearances of aboriginal women along Highway 16, the so-called Highway of Tears, in northern British Columbia.” The supernatural element was creepy and well-done, but I felt like the book could have been longer and developed its themes more fully.

A Duke by Default by Alyssa Cole (3 stars) – This was a fun contemporary romance about a woman who takes an internship at an armory in Scotland and ends up falling for her gruff instructor. I liked the heroine, Portia, quite a bit–she’s interesting, flawed, and easy to root for–but I wasn’t quite as much of a fan of her love interest, who for me was sort of a standard grumpy romance novel dude. I do think I’ll check out the other two books in this series, because overall I enjoyed Cole’s writing and I liked the snippets we got of Portia’s friends, who are the main characters of books 1 and 3.

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson (2.75 stars) – I…wasn’t impressed with this one. I keep wanting to like Shirley Jackson, but somehow her books/stories just don’t seem to quite click with me. This is probably going to be the last one I try; sometimes an author just doesn’t work for you, and that’s OK. The premise of this book is that a professor studying the arcane convinces three other people to accompany him to stay at Hill House, a notoriously malevolently haunted house, where the four of them will proceed to observe and study what happens. We primarily follow Eleanor, a sheltered 32-year-old who has spent most of her life caring for her sick mother, who has recently passed away, and are also introduced to Theodora, a free spirit, and Luke, the sketchy heir to Hill House. The biggest issue I had (probably?) was that I found all of the main characters very unlikable, but not in interesting or compelling ways. The four of them proceed to encounter various supernatural phenomena and learn about the story of Hill House, but this doesn’t happen very interestingly either, in my opinion. There were some well-written passages, and a few attempts at humor did really work for me; I was more interested in the book as a whole at the beginning, when I thought that the more interesting parts were yet to come. Unfortunately, in my opinion, the buildup just didn’t really go anywhere that interesting until the very end, which I sort of liked some aspects of.

Zoo City by Lauren Beukes (2.5 stars) – I really liked the original premise of this South Africa-set urban fantasy: when a person commits a serious crime, they magically obtain an Animal, which is sort of a companion and living representation of their guilt. There are a lot of theories about why this is happening and when it first started, but when the book is set, those with Animals are being driven into slums and have difficulty finding good jobs and homes (and in some countries are killed or imprisoned). The Animal is also sort of a guardian against a mysterious and deadly force called the Undertow, which takes a person if their Animal is killed. It’s a very unique premise, and I liked learning about all of the aspects of this concept, but unfortunately I didn’t like the story itself nearly as much. I found all of the characters to be very unlikable, but not necessarily in interesting ways (I don’t mind unlikable main characters as long as they’re done well) and the story meandered quite a bit before (in my opinion) a really unpleasant and unsatisfying ending. I wouldn’t really recommend this one, and I don’t think I’ll be picking up more from this author in the future. I like urban fantasy and am always looking for UF with a unique premise, but this was a disappointment for me.

The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco (1.5 stars) – Honestly, this book was a disappointment. YA fantasy can be very hit or miss for me, and this one just didn’t work. The premise of the book and its direction were very promising, but I just didn’t feel that it was executed well. There was a lot of infodumping, and the majority of the conversations between characters were also just infodumps in disguise; very little plot or character development happened over 400+ pages. I almost DNF’d it a few times, but kept hoping that things would pick up. Unfortunately, it’s not one I’d really recommend.

 

How did your October reading go?

September Reading Wrap-Up

In September, I basically only read SFF and nonfiction, with the exception of my favorite read of the month, which I would classify as magical realism. I didn’t feel like I did a great job with reading from my physical bookshelf, and my reading in general felt slower and less productive than normal. I was out of town for two of the weekends in September (I was in Montreal for Labor Day weekend, and Toronto last weekend) and although both weekends were very fun, they didn’t leave a lot of reading time. On the other hand, I enjoyed every book I read this month!

Stats:

Total books read: 8

#readmyowndamnbooks: 4

Audiobooks: 2

Ebooks: 2

Yes We (Still) Can: Politics in the Age of Obama, Twitter, and TrumpI'm Afraid of Men by Vivek ShrayaMagic Triumphs by Ilona AndrewsRecord of a Spaceborn Few (Wayfarers, #3)An Easy Death by Charlaine HarrisFear by Bob WoodwardThe Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee BenderBannerless by Carrie Vaughn

And here are my reviews, from most enjoyed to least:

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender (4.5 stars) – Due to its cheerful cover, I’d always thought this book was going to be a light, summery read–which was why I wanted to finish it during the summer. I knew that the premise was a reverse-Like Water for Chocolate situation (If you haven’t read either of these, in Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel the main character is able to imbue the food she cooks with her emotions, whereas in Lemon Cake the protagonist gains the ability to taste the emotions of others, such as the people who have picked, packaged, or prepared the dish, in the food she eats) but I didn’t realize that the book as a whole focused closely on an unhappy and dysfunctional family. It’s a book about growing up and slowly finding out who you are, and a lot of the time it’s deeply sad. That being said, it’s a novel that builds, and by the last third of the book I was completely in love and fascinated. Bender explores the implications of tasting emotions every time you taste food and the impact it would have on a person, as well as how it would help her gain insight into the issues of her family members. The novel starts with our protagonist as a child and follows her into young adulthood, and we grow with her as family secrets are exposed and also as she comes to better understand the people she sees every day. I absolutely loved the ending and the direction the book took, and I was left thoughtful and entranced. I’m very glad that I started reading Aimee Bender this year, and I’d highly recommend this book to fans of magical realism.

Magic Triumphs by Ilona Andrews (4 stars) – It’s really difficult to rate or review the tenth and final book in my favorite fantasy series, but I’m trying. I really can’t say anything at all about the plot, except that it builds on a lot of things that have been happening throughout the series, and that almost every character we know and love showed up at some point. I thought that it set things up really nicely for both the Iron Covenant trilogy (which focuses on Hugh, who’s sort of a villain throughout most of this series; the first book came out earlier this summer and I really enjoyed it) and a possible spin-off series focusing on Julie, Kate’s adopted daughter. Basically, if you enjoy fantasy with strong female characters, found families, and a lot of action and humor, you should really be reading this series, and know that Andrews does not disappoint with the finale. I can’t say that I loved every single thing about how the plot of this book went, but overall it’s been a wonderful ride, and this is a series I’ll continue to revisit in the future. I’m glad that Andrews isn’t ending things with this world or these characters for good, even if she won’t be putting out anymore Kate-centric books.

Record of a Spaceborn Few by Becky Chambers (4 stars) – This is the third book in the excellent Wayfarers series and was one of my most anticipated books of 2018. This book focuses on the Exodus fleet of spaceships, which originally was how humans fled a dying Earth and discovered a greater universe of other peoples, and now exists as a home for humans not interested in living on Mars or other planets among alien species. We follow five characters as they mediate on the values of tradition versus exploration and innovation, and what the purpose is of a fleet of ships that technically completed its mission decades ago.

I love Becky Chambers’ writing style, and her universe is a place I want to continue to read about in many books to come. That said, the pacing in this book felt too slow to me, and I wanted to hear more from members of non-human species since their cultures and perspectives are some of the most interesting things in Chambers’ books. I really enjoyed reading this one, but for me it wasn’t as good as The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet, which is one of my all-time favorite science fiction reads.

An Easy Death by Charlaine Harris (4 stars) – It’s been awhile since I’ve read a Charlaine Harris book, but for years and years, I devoured every book of hers that I could get my hands on, starting with the Sookie Stackhouse/Southern Vampire Mysteries series. She’s still #1 on my most-read authors feature on Goodreads (although Ilona Andrews has recently caught up, and they’re currently tied for first place with 28 books each). When I heard that she had a new book coming out, though, and that she would be signing copies at BookCon, I was so excited to be able to dive back into her writing. And An Easy Death definitely did not disappoint; the premise is a lot different than Harris’s other books, but it has her signature cozy mystery-esque writing style alongside plenty of action and lovable characters.

An Easy Death is hard to classify, genre-wise; it’s sort of an alternate history Western with fantasy elements. It’s set in a version of a fractured United States that splintered apart after the assassination of FDR and a series of disasters, and at the time the book is set, pieces of the U.S. are now owned by Canada, Mexico, and England, and the exiled tsar of Russia has settled on the West Coast with his army of grigoris, or wizards. Our main character Lizbeth Rose lives in the southwestern country of Texoma and works as a gunnie, sort of a gunslinger/bodyguard hired out to protect people. She gets drawn into a search for a missing grigori when she’s hired by two wizards as a guide and protector, and although she’s not a fan of magic or the Russian wizards that brought it with them to her country, she’s determined to see her mission through.

There are really no dull moments in An Easy Death; it’s action-packed and does have a high body count. Lizbeth Rose is a badass, street-smart heroine who’s easy to root for, and she faces down a series of bandits, wizards, and rival gunslingers head-on. The worldbuilding is gradual and fascinating; the concept of the Romanovs surviving an assassination attempt and fleeing Russia for California is a particularly interesting one, as well as the idea that Rasputin had actual magical powers that he taught to a host of other magic-wielders. The book sets up a sequel well, as there’s still a lot left to explore at the end of the book, and I really can’t wait to return to this world. I think that this book would work really well for fans of Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse (which I also loved) as well as urban fantasy fans looking for something different. Highly recommend!

*I received an ARC of An Easy Death at an autographing session at BookCon.

Yes We (Still) Can by Dan Pfeiffer (4 stars) – I listened to the audiobook of Yes We (Still) Can, which is half a memoir about working for President Obama during his campaign and presidency and half an advice guide for Democrats on how to move forward and beat Trump. Dan Pfeiffer was President Obama’s Communications Director (prior to that the Deputy Communications Director and traveling Press Secretary on the campaign) and he has some great stories of what it was like to work in the Obama White House. This book made me miss President Obama even more than usual, and I’ll definitely be checking out Pfeiffer’s podcast Pod Save America next.

I’m Afraid of Men by Vivek Shraya (4 stars) – this was an extremely short, extremely personal memoir about Shraya’s experience as a transgender woman, both before and after her transition, and her experiences with how men have treated her throughout her life. It’s very short–you could call it a long essay, or a very short book–and very powerful.

Fear: Trump in the White House by Bob Woodward (3.5 stars) – I listened to the audiobook of this one because, as a liberal who faced a rude awakening after the 2016 election, I almost felt like I had to. I want to understand as much as I can about why Trump was elected and what’s been going on since then, and how we can turn things around and repair what he’s been doing to our country. I thought Woodward’s book was a very interesting read and a necessary piece of the puzzle; he clearly had a bunch of very high-level sources in the administration speak to him about this book, and it paints a disturbing picture of a disorganized White House with an incompetent bully at the helm. If you’re interested in politics, or if you’d like to read a book that’s sort of like a written version of an episode of the West Wing or Veep, then you should definitely pick this one up.

Bannerless by Carrie Vaughn (3 stars) – I didn’t really dislike anything about this post-apocalyptic mystery, but I wasn’t in love with anything about it, either. Bannerless follows Enid, a young investigator living in what’s now called the Coast Road communities, a collection of towns along what was once the West Coast of the U.S. The book is set a few generations after what’s known as the Fall, when the countries and societies of our current world were destroyed by a combination of epidemics, natural disasters, and prolonged financial crisis, and people in this part of the world have re-organized themselves into a society strictly based on division of labor, conservation of resources, and population control. Only households and communities that have proven themselves able to sustain an extra mouth are given a banner, which is an indication that they are allowed to conceive a child; it’s based on the idea that overpopulation, waste, and greed were the main factors leading to the Fall.

Enid’s job as an investigator is to expose and punish those who violate the communities’ laws, and the book begins when she is called in to investigate a possible murder in a seemingly thriving town. Since murder has become a rarity in this world of interdependency and communal living, the prospect is daunting, and we follow Enid through her uncomfortable investigation in a community that doesn’t seem to want her there, interspersed with flashbacks to a younger Enid meeting her first love and discovering her independence as an older teen.

For me, this book was interesting; I love a good post-apocalyptic story, and I’m always interested in hearing about an author’s interpretation of how society is likely to collapse and what they imagine humanity’s response to be. Post-apocalyptic SF is often fairly dark, and Bannerless definitely isn’t; as readers you can see flaws in how society is organized, but for the most part the people of the Coast Road are healthy and happy, and there is no exploitative ruling class. It was nice to see something different in that regard, but I kept wanting more from the book. More reveals, more depth, more exploration of the implications of strict reproductive control. And I just never got them. The writing is good and solid, but didn’t blow me away. I enjoyed the read, for the most part, but wouldn’t necessarily recommend this one.

 

And here are the books I purchased during the month of September:

August Reading Wrap-Up

I’m a little late with my August wrap-up, since I was away for Labor Day weekend (I went to Montreal! It was really fun) and didn’t have a chance to finish it before I left or while I was gone, but here it finally is!

August was a prolific reading month, but I wasn’t able to find any new 5-star reads, which I’d have really liked to do. It was a really fun reading month overall, though; I’m especially proud that I finished all three of the books from the Make Me Read It challenge from Litsy. I finished some fun, summery reads, as well as some really interesting ones. I also participated in another round of Bout of Books, one of my favorite readathons.

Here are my August stats:

Total books read: 10

#readmyowndamnbooks: 6

audiobooks: 0

ebooks: 4

The Hating GameThe MothersThe Answers by Catherine LaceyThe Hazel Wood by Melissa AlbertHurts to Love You (Forbidden Hearts, #3)Torn (A Wicked Trilogy, #2)To All the Boys I've Loved Before by Jenny HanBellwether by Connie WillisRoomies by Christina LaurenCirce

 

Bellwether by Connie Willis (4 stars) – Bellwether is about a sociologist/statistician who studies the history and origins of fads, from short hair in the ’20s to Barbie to the current “it” colors, and finds herself on the path toward a major scientific discovery alongside a chaos theorist, while being forced to deal with repeated and hilarious bureaucratic and administrative hurtles. It’s fast-paced and funny, written and set in the early 90s, and is my fourth Connie Willis book. I absolutely love her chaotic writing style and sense of humor; reading Connie Willis brings me a lot of joy, and I’d highly recommend this one if you’re looking for an entertaining science-related read.

The Answers by Catherine Lacey (4 stars) – I ended up really enjoying this deeply weird novel; my philosophy on books is generally the weirder the better. The Answers follows Mary, a woman suffering from an undiagnosed illness who finds the only way to alleviate her symptoms is through an expensive form of alternative medicine called PAKing. To pay for her treatments, Mary joins an experiment that a famous actor is putting together to attempt to find the secret to an ideal relationship. Women are given roles and scripts such as the Anger Girlfriend and Emotional Girlfriend (Mary’s role) while a team of researchers analyze their interactions. Things actually get even weirder from there! Overall I found this to be very unique and well-written; I’d recommend it to fans of literary fiction with a weird/speculative twist. I’ll be interested to read more from Lacey in the future.

The Mothers by Brit Bennett (4 stars) – The Mothers is centered around a black church community in Southern California, and we follow three of its young members, Luke, Nadia, and Aubrey, in alternating perspectives, interspersed by the voices of a chorus of “the mothers,” a group of elderly women whose lives now revolve around the church. Through these voices, we learn the intersecting lives and stories of Luke, a former college football recruit sidelined by an injury; Nadia, an intelligent, ambitious young woman reeling from the recent suicide of her mother; and her best friend Aubrey, who has an equally tragic family past and who copes by finding her place in the church. When the story opens, Nadia is pregnant at seventeen with Luke’s child, and the story follows her decision and their lives through the next several years. The Mothers is a relatively short novel, and it’s fast and almost addicting to read; it’s the type of book that could be read in a single sitting. Despite its fast pace, it’s really beautifully written, and each character is fully realized and easy to picture from the very beginning. It’s also a story very rooted in a sense of place, and the Southern California setting is one of the novel’s constants, even when its characters move to other places. I’d recommend this to anyone looking for an emotional literary fiction read that will hold you and not let you go until the end.

The Hating Game by Sally Thorne (4 stars) – Honestly, this book just made me really, really happy. I’m not a big contemporary romance reader; I basically didn’t read any contemporary romance at all until a few months ago, and I was skeptical about this book for that reason. After a few chapters, I was hooked, and started to absolutely love this hate-to-love romance. I’d absolutely recommend this to fans of The Kiss Quotient; I think it has a similar vibe even if the plots aren’t at all alike, and also to anyone looking for a great contemporary romance.

Hurts to Love You by Alisha Rai (4 stars) – This was the third and unfortunately the final book in Rai’s Forbidden Hearts series, and I enjoyed it just as much as the first two. This contemporary saga focused on warring families wrapped up nicely in Hurts to Love You, which focused the romance between Gabe, a tattoo parlor owner and the son of one of the families’ housekeeper growing up, and Eve, who grew up wealthy but is now trying to make her own way.

Circe by Madeline Miller (3.5 stars) – I definitely wouldn’t say that I disliked Circe, nor do I think it was a bad book in any way, but I also didn’t think that it lived up to the hype. I should start by saying that I’ve been a voracious reader of Greek mythology from a very young age, like a lot of bookish people. Because of that, I’ve read a lot of books of mythology and a lot of retellings, and although I absolutely understand Miller’s intent to put a feminist slant on Circe’s story, I just didn’t feel that I gained any new information or insights from this book. It was well-written and incorporated many different mythical “heroes” and deities; I was just expecting more from all of the rave reviews and 5-star ratings I’ve been seeing. By the end of the book, I still felt like Circe’s character development wasn’t fully realized, and that was disappointing, since feminist retellings are one of my favorite types of books. So many people loved this one, though, and so I still think that many people would enjoy reading Circe, but for me it was a bit disappointing.

The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert (3 stars) – I have mixed feelings. The Hazel Wood follows Alice, a 17-year-old girl with anger issues who, along with her mother, has been constantly on the move around the country ever since she can remember. She’s also the granddaughter of the author of a cult classic fairytale collection–but she’s never even met her grandmother, or been able to read her stories, as they’ve become increasingly difficult to find. But then Alice’s mother goes missing, and more and more strange things start to happen, as Alice starts to wonder whether her grandmother’s stories might not be so fictional after all. The premise of this story sounded fantastic, but the execution didn’t go so well. I wasn’t a huge fan of the writing style, which relied way too hard on similes and metaphors for my taste, and I felt like the most interesting part of the book–Alice’s grandmother’s collection of fairy tales–went unfortunately unexplored. We only get to hear two of her stories, and not even in their entirety; we get little hints of others, but I think this book would’ve been SO much stronger if we actually got to read these fairy tales rather than having characters constantly referencing interesting-sounding stories that we never get to know. It also makes our main character seem less competent and interesting since she doesn’t know them either. Overall there were aspects of this book that I did like, but it was inconsistent and the ending was rushed and anticlimactic, especially considering its meandering buildup.

Roomies by Christina Lauren (3 stars) – This was a cute, quick contemporary romance about Holland, the niece of a lauded Broadway director, who is living a sort of directionless life in New York, and Calvin, a young Irish musician whose visa has expired and is performing on the subway and in various bands to pay his bills. Holland decides that Calvin would be perfect for a star orchestral part in her uncle’s show, and the two fake a marriage in order to allow him to join the cast. Of course, they then develop real feelings for each other, and drama ensues. My issue with this was that I found both main characters really unlikable in a lot of ways, and although I found the book very readable, I was never really on board for their romance. My favorite characters were Holland’s uncles, and I found myself wishing that they were this book’s main characters instead. I did recently hear that it’s being adapted into a movie; maybe it will work better in that format. Personally, I’d recommend skipping this one and reading The Hating Game instead.

Torn by Jennifer L. Armentrout (2.5 stars) – This was the second book in Armentrout’s A Wicked Trilogy, which is an urban fantasy focused on the conflict between the fae and humans in New Orleans, and I definitely liked it less than the first book, Wicked. It went down a really dark and disturbing storyline, and I wasn’t in love with the series to begin with, so I’m not sure whether I’ll be picking up the third book.

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han (2.5 stars) – This month, I discovered the delightful and adorable Netflix movie version of this book, and enjoyed it so much that I immediately picked up the book version. Unfortunately, I didn’t like it quite as much as the movie, but it was still a cute read. I’m very much hoping the movie gets a sequel, though!

 

And here’s my August book haul:

July Reading Wrap-Up

So, where did July go? Seriously, guys. Anyways, it’s the end of the month, and we all know what that means–wrap-up time!

My reading in July was a little bit weird and out of the box for me (what else is new). I participated at least a bit in three separate readathons (!), dove headfirst into a new-to-me genre, and finished a book that’s been sitting on my shelf staring at me for over 2 years. I also went on a road trip to Portland, Maine and while there discovered my new favorite indie bookstore: Longfellow Books, which has an amazingly curated combination of new and used titles, along with bookish merch. Seriously, their used book section was the best I’ve ever encountered, with recent titles and everything in great condition. I may or may not have bought 8 books there, seven of which are used books.

To go into a little more detail about the readathon side of things, I kicked off July by participating in the Tome Topple readathon for what I think is the 4th time. I’ve had The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell on my TBR for Tome Topple literally every time I’ve done it, but I was never quite in the right mood for it so I always ended up reading something else. Until now! I feel so accomplished. Tome Topple focuses on books over 500 pages long, and lasts 2 weeks, but due to my mood-reading tendencies, it usually takes me more than the 2 weeks to actually finish the tome since I’m picking up other reads in between.

And then I also decided to participate in both 24 in 48 and the Reverse Readathon, even though I knew I wouldn’t actually have that much time to read during those weekends since I had other plans too. Basically, I just tried to read as much as I could and was in the mood for around what I had planned. In my opinion, as long as you read, you’re technically participating in a readathon, and even if I’m not able to fully commit I sometimes use it as motivation to help me read more than I would have otherwise. I spent the Reverse Readathon at a lake beach with friends, so I got in some nice beach reading during that one.  Usually I’d be doing separate blog posts for these readathons, but since my participation wasn’t super enthusiastic this time around, I didn’t. (I will be actually participating in and doing blog updates for Bout of Books in August, though!)

Anyways, here are my stats:

Total books read: 9

#readmyowndamnbooks: 6

Audiobooks: 0 (technically I listened to some audio for 2 of the physical books)

ebooks: 3 (a lot of ebooks for me!)

Iron and Magic by Ilona AndrewsNot That Bad by Roxane GayThe Book of Essie by Meghan MacLean WeirThe Bone Clocks by David MitchellOf Light and Darkness (Of Light and Darkness #1)Hate to Want You by Alisha RaiThe Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion by Margaret KilljoyWrong to Need You (Forbidden Hearts, #2)Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik

And here are my reviews!

Not That Bad by Roxane Gay (5 stars) – Roxane Gay never fails to blow me away, and this anthology of essays examining different aspects of rape culture was no exception. A difficult read emotionally that should be required reading for everyone. I’d recommend spacing out your reading of this book; I listened to the audio all in one sitting (during a road trip) and it was really rough. If I could do it over again, I’d read one or two essays at a time over a few weeks.

The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell (4.5 stars) – This book is long and complex, and reading it was a journey. I love long books, but they do require a big time investment, so I was very glad this one was worth it. I’ve only read one previous David Mitchell book (Cloud Atlas) and I’d definitely say I preferred The Bone Clocks overall. The Bone Clocks is about Holly Sykes, who we first meet as a rebellious British teenager in the 80s and follow through shifting perspectives and the frame of a mysterious psychic war that she becomes entangled in. It’s hard to talk too much about the actual plot without giving anything away, and I don’t want to spoil anything, so I’ll leave the summary at that. Mitchell’s writing is consistently strong and he’s so adept at switching perspectives that you never second-guess the authenticity of each new voice. I honestly can’t even imagine the amount of research and time that it must have taken to craft a story as intricate as this one and decide the best way to tell it, but Mitchell did an amazing job. That being said, I did of course enjoy some sections and plot twists more than others, and there were a few things that I wish were revisited a bit more closely toward the end, but overall this is a fantastic book and I’d definitely recommend it.

Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik (4 stars) – I received an ARC of Spinning Silver at BookCon at an autographing session; I will be posting a full review here in the next few days (I’ll link it here when I do), but I haven’t had a chance yet since I just finished it last night. Basically, I really, really enjoyed this historical fantasy novel told from multiple perspectives; I found it to be really well-written and to have a nice blend of magic, political maneuvering, and explorations of how women and marginalized groups were treated during the time period. The reasons it didn’t reach 5 star status were that I felt like 3 of the 6 viewpoint narrators really didn’t need to narrate (the story would have been better told by just the 3 main female characters) and the scenery descriptions tended to be overly long. Overall, though, this was great and I’d highly recommend it. It’s actually a really good and atmospheric winter read, and at times reminded me of The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden.

Iron and Magic by Ilona Andrews (4 stars) – Ilona Andrews can do no wrong in my eyes, but I still had some skepticism heading into this new spin-off series featuring one of the villains of the Kate Daniels series as its main character. I shouldn’t have been concerned! They knocked it out of the park as usual with a whole new cast of intriguing, snarky, lovable characters, and there were some guest appearances from characters from the KD series as well. I never thought I would say this, but I really liked Hugh as an antihero, and Elara is an awesome new female lead. This book also has a ton of action, and as soon as I was done I immediately became super impatient for book 2. To summarize, Ilona Andrews crushes it every time, and I will continue to read every single book they come out with and love them. Oh, and I do not recommend jumping into this new trilogy without having read the Kate Daniels series–definitely read those first, because major spoilers.

Hate to Want You by Alisha Rai (4 stars) – I really enjoyed this contemporary romance (which isn’t a genre I usually pick up!). After reading The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang last month and loving it, though, I’ve been wanting to give more romance a try, and this one (the first in the Forbidden Hearts series) came highly recommended. It follows Livvy, a tattoo artist, and her ex-boyfriend Nicholas, who broke up ten years ago when tragedy struck both of their families and who have been secretly meeting up every year on Livvy’s birthday for, um, some fun. When Livvy moves back to town, all of the emotions they’ve been suppressing rise to the surface and they’re forced to actually confront all of their angst and family drama. All of the characters in this book–including all of the side characters, not just the two leads–are really well-developed, and I thought there was a good level of angst with all of the family conflict. I loved the central relationship as well, and I’m really looking forward to picking up more from Alisha Rai in the future! I’m so glad to find an author that lives up to the hype. I received a free copy of Hate to Want You from the publisher at BookCon.

Wrong to Need You by Alisha Rai (4 stars) – I also really enjoyed the second book in Rai’s Forbidden Hearts series. I have to say that I wasn’t as much of a fan of the romance in this one compared to Hate to Want You, but I LOVED the female main character and her family. This one focuses on Sadia, a single mom whose husband died tragically a few years before the book begins, and Jackson, the brother of both Sadia’s husband and the main character from Hate to Want You, a chef who fled town ten years earlier after he was accused of a crime and condemned in the court of public opinion. I’m very much looking forward to picking up the third book in this series, Hurts to Love You.

The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion by Margaret Killjoy (3.5 stars) – This is a novella set in the near future in an anarchist town that summons a guardian spirit, a three-antlered deer, for protection. Our main character shows up in town looking for information about the death of her friend, and discovers that the spirit may turn out to be more of a threat than a protector. It’s an interesting, unique premise, and there were some good eerie moments, but it did feel somewhat rushed.

The Book of Essie (3 stars) – This was a fast-paced read that worked well for me on audio during a road trip; the premise drew me in and I was absorbed throughout. I did, however, guess all of the major reveals very early on, and I had some issues with how certain things were handled later on in the book. It also felt a bit strange that this book was told in three perspectives; one of the storylines, the journalist’s, felt like it should have been its own separate novel.

Of Light and Darkness by Shayne Leighton (3 stars) – There were aspects of this fantasy novel that I enjoyed (especially the setting and concept) and that I didn’t enjoy (the characters and romance). You can check out my full review of this book here.

And here’s my book haul for July, which is mostly indie bookstore finds:

Have you read any of these? How was your reading in July? Let me know in the comments!