2019: My year in books

Another reading year has come and gone! Here’s a look back at the highlights of my year in books:

Thank you, Goodreads, for letting me know that I’m probably good at other things besides reading! Funny, last year, I read 202 out of 170 books… so I’m slowly increasing? Or probably just throwing in a lot more shorter works into my reading mix.  

Goodreads stats as of 12/31/2019:

The Picture of Dorian Gray is the most popular book I read this year? Color me shocked! Who would have thought that a book from 1890 would have close to a million readers in 2019?

According to my average rating, I’ve been pretty successful this year when it comes to choosing book that appeal to me. Kind of crazy, but for the second year in a row, my average rating was 4.1 stars.

Star rating used most often: 4 stars (87 total)
Star rating used least often: 2 stars (6 total — and I didn’t give any books only 1-star. I think if I thought that little of a book, I just DNFd.)
DNFs: 4 – Between not getting into a book or just not being the right book at the right time, I officially put aside 4 books that I’d started… although I know there are several more that I put down within a page or two, and just didn’t even count.

Highest rated on Goodreads:

Apparently everyone loved this book!

First and Last:

Neither my first nor my last reviews of the year were for books I’d consider favorites… but then again, I didn’t get around (yet) to writing up reviews for the two books I just finished… so I guess they’ll have to just wait to be the first for 2020!

Reading highlights:

Complete series: I read three series start-to-finish this year:

  • Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery (8 books)
  • Beka Cooper by Tamora Pierce (3 books)
  • The Beauty graphic novels by Jeremy Haun (5 books)

New sequels or books in ongoing (or finished) series:

So many great new additions to stories I love! Including…

Stellar historical fiction:

Enthralling re-reads: Books that stand up superbly to a 2nd (or 3rd…) reading:

Great graphic novels:

Fun and light contemporary fiction:

Weird, creepy, disturbing, otherworldly:

Fantastic fantasy:

Story/essay collections:

A quartet of classics:

Aaaaaaand… I’m stopping now before I end up including every single book I read in 2019!

Eye-candy covers:

Let me just take a minute to appreciate some of the most beautiful and/or eye-catching covers from my reading this year… because who doesn’t love a great looking book?

 

Goodbye, 2019!

It’s been a blast… and now it’s time to look forward to all the wonderful books I’ve yet to read.

Wishing everyone a very happy 2020, full of good cheer, good health, and great reading!

 

Oh my stars! Part 2 – Yes, I’m adding a ratings system.

Twinkle, twinkle little star. NOW I’ve decided to include you when I write book reviews…

Following up from my post last weekend, I think I’m going to give using a ratings system a whirl. Can’t hurt, right? Thank you to all who took the time to share thoughts and offer insights and encouragement — it’s been so helpful.

So…

I’m just quietly going to start using stars when I post book reviews. And if I like it, I’ll keep it going!

Here’s a quick look at what my ratings mean:

And now, off to put my stars into action! Let me know what you think!

 

Oh my stars! Reconsidering a ratings system.

Twinkle, twinkle little star. How I wonder whether I should include you when I write book reviews…

Sorry, is that not how the nursery rhyme goes?

About five years ago, I wrote a piece about star ratings and why I don’t use one (here). Looking back, I can see I did some serious overthinking of the issue. But hey, that’s not so unusual for me!

I’ve been blogging and reviewing books for over seven (!!!) years now, and from the beginning, I opted not to include a rating with my reviews. I’ve often felt boxed-in by the Goodreads 5-star system (oh, for those half stars they deny us!), and felt that the approach that works best for me is to put my reactions and feelings about a book into the review, and not try to attach a number to what is essentially a qualitative experience.

So why am I bringing this up again now?

Because I realize that my approach may be a little contrary to how I read other people’s reviews. Okay, I’ll admit the stark truth here: While I don’t use stars (or any other numeric ratings system), I do find myself scanning other people’s reviews to see their ratings before I go ahead and read the reviews themselves. There could be lots of reasons for this:

  • It’s a book I’ve never heard of, so I want to know at a glance if it’s worth considering.
  • It’s a book I’m reading or planning to read, and while I don’t want to know anything about it just yet (the dreaded spoiler phobia at work), I do want to know the reviewer’s overall opinion of the book.
  • I’m in a rush. I do follow quite a few bloggers and some days, there just isn’t time to read everything in my feed. But, if I see that a blogger whose reading tastes usually align with mine gives a book 5 stars, I’ll slow down and read that review to see if the book is for me.

Give that I value other bloggers’ ratings, how do I continue posting reviews without including ratings as well?

I’m cautiously dipping my toes into the idea of adding ratings to my reviews going forward. (Sorry, mixed metaphor, but whatever.) It feels like a big change for me, but also like not quite as big a deal as I once made it out to be.

What do you think? For anyone who’s read any of my reviews… well, first of all, thank you! But secondly — would you prefer to see me include ratings with my reviews? Overall, do you prefer to see ratings when you visit book blogs?

Please share your thoughts!

A Reader’s Reality: Let’s give the “Get To” approach a try!

It’s the age-old lament of book lovers everywhere: So many books. So little time. What’s a reader to do?

Sometimes when I contemplate my huge stacks of books waiting to be read, I feel all mopey and lost. I dream of a day when I can do nothing but read.

But since I live in the real world — one filled with bills and taxes and work and responsibilities — my dream of reading 24/7 will have to wait.

And that means that I have to prioritize. And like so many bookworms, I keep telling myself that I need to focus on the books I already own. Stop buying new books! Stop requesting books from the library! Stop picking up even more library books on a whim! And the biggie for book bloggers;

Stop requesting so many ARCs!

Because ARCs are simply dominating my Kindle right now, and with the ARCs comes a sense of obligation, or even worse, the guilt that hangs over our heads when we just don’t get around to reading them.

The direction my house is heading in…

Now excuse me for a second while I take a detour…

While staying at a relative’s house this past week, I happened to be in a room where the TV was on most of the day, and one day, the group there was watching some morning talk show. No idea which. In any case, the host and the guest were talking about either a book or maybe the guest’s motivational speaking topic (?) — I didn’t catch all of it. But what did strike me in that moment was the approach the guest was promoting, using a reframing of language to change the way we think about things.

Two examples stuck in my mind:

Rather than talking about “going through a hard time”, substitute the word “growing”: I’m growing through a hard time right now.

Um. No. Not for me. Way too hokey, although if it works for some people, more power to them.

But this one I kind of liked:

Instead of “have to”, try “get to”. Rather than “I have to go to work today”, try “I get to go to work today”. I like this! Kind of puts a more positive spin on things we think of as obligations or objects of dread.

Which brings me back to ARCs. Ah, the long, long list of ARCs. Look, I totally believe that getting ARCs to read is a privilege, and one that I really and truly appreciate. That said, I do get way, way ahead of myself and end up with so many ARCs that they take over my reading life, which leaves me feeling frustrated when I have to ignore all my other books in order to read the ARCs in a somewhat close proximity to their publications dates.

I realize that I’ll probably never tame my impulse to request ARCs, and that’s okay. Because I’m trying my new positive spin!

So no more saying: I have to read so many ARCs this spring.

Instead, I’m celebrating! Because…

I get to read so many ARCs this spring!

What do you think? Does shifting the language also shift the attitude? I’m ready to give it a try. And here I’ll be, reading away to my heart’s contect, relishing my ARCs as well as my other books… all the wonderful stories I get to read!

2018: My year in books

2018 has had its ups and downs… but one thing has remained constant, and that’s the joy of spending time with great books. Here’s a look back at my reading life in 2018.

I love the little words of encouragement from Goodreads! My 202 books reads this past year include novellas, children’s books, audiobooks, and graphic novels, in addition to novels and a handful of non-fiction books. It’s always fun to mix things up.

 

Goodreads stats as of 12/31/2018:

I don’t particularly like that Goodreads uses “least popular” in this context. Maybe it should just be “least read”? In any case, Rat-Catcher is a story set in the Toby Daye world, I loved it immensely, and I think more people should read it!

According to my average rating, I’ve been pretty successful this year when it comes to choosing book that appeal to me:

Star rating used most often: 4 stars (83 total)
Star rating used least often: 2 stars (4 total — and I didn’t give any books only 1-star. I think if I thought that little of a book, I just DNFd.)
DNFs: 3 – I gave up on three different books this year — one science fiction, one fantasy, and one historical fiction. With the historical fiction, I just wasn’t in the mood at that moment (and needed to return it to the library). For the other two, the tone of the writing simply didn’t work for me, and I decided not to push myself to continue something I wasn’t enjoying.

First and Last on Goodreads:

Interestingly (or not), my first and last (and bunches of others) were re-reads. I’ve definitely become fond of re-reading the previous book in a series right before the newest gets released. What can I say? I value a good refresher.

Highlights from my series reading:

2018 was the year of the series for me. I started the year with some idea of a few series I wanted to try — and was happy to discover that I picked some great ones! My best series reads this year were:

The October Daye series by Seanan McGuire: 12 novels, plus all sorts of related novellas and short stories.

Newsflesh by Mira Grant: 4 novels and a collection of stories.

From the world of Tortall by Tamora Pierce: I read three quartets and a duology (and am now reading the first book in a trilogy), for a total of 14 books set in Pierce’s amazing fantasy world.

Old Man’s War by John Scalzi: 6 novels

Eye-candy covers:

Let me just take a minute to appreciate some of the most beautiful and/or eye-catching covers from my reading this year… because who doesn’t love a great looking book?

 

But wait! What were my favorite books of the year?

It’s too hard to narrow down! It’s like choosing my favorite child! But, okay, if I must… I’m working on my Top Ten list for tomorrow, when I’ll finally have my list whittled down to just 10 (or so) books that I loved to pieces in 2018. Stay tuned!

Good times at the Big Book Sale

My favorite annual bookish event rolled into town this week: It’s the Big Book Sale put on by Friends of the San Francisco Public Library — and it’s awesome!

Held in a big warehouse on the waterfront, the sale is massive — according to social media posts, something like 500,000 items on sale, and everything is $4 or less! The beauty, of course, is that we can go and stock up on books and feel completely virtuous about coming home with more books than we have shelves for, because all the money goes to benefit the library.

So, yay me! I did my part.

Last night was the member preview night…

… and of course I went!

This time around, I was quite determined not to overindulge. Some years, I fill up a whole shopping cart and come home with 60+ books. Because, hey, they were all only $1 or $2, and anyway, IT’S ALL FOR A GOOD CAUSE!

But, since I’ve been doing some shelf purging recently, trying to regain some semblance of shelf control, I couldn’t really justify buying oodles of new books. Or could I?

Yes. I could. And I did.

My haul was not too shabby this time around:

All those, plus a cute little old copy of Jane Eyre:

That’s 20 books for $61 — AND IT’S ALL FOR A GOOD CAUSE! (I’m going to keep telling myself that every time someone in my house makes fun of me for getting MORE books, when I don’t have space for the ones I already have.)

In case the photo is hard to make out, here’s what I got:

  • Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
  • Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld
  • We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
  • The Riddle-Master trilogy by Patricia A. McKillip
  • Rosewater by Tade Thompson
  • Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson
  • The Endless Beach by Jenny Colgan
  • Lilli de Jong by Janet Benton
  • Tending Roses by Lisa Wingate
  • The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu
  • The Hunger by Alma Katsu
  • The White by Debora Larsen
  • The Feed by Nick Clark Windo
  • Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (which is actually a gift for someone else — I already have a copy!)
  • China Dolls by Lisa See
  • The Alice Network by Kate Quinn
  • Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly
  • The Double Bind by Chris Bohjalian
  • The Atomic City Girls by Janet Beard

The sale runs through this Sunday… and I might, just might, have to make a return visit before it’s all over. Who knows what treasures I’ll find?

If you live in the Bay Area, be sure to check it out! Remember…

IT’S ALL FOR A GOOD CAUSE!

 

I’m back! Where I went, what I did, and what I read

Hi all! Happy 4th of July!

After three weeks away, I arrived home safe and sound early yesterday morning, and promptly fell into bed to sleep myself back to some degree of being human again. (Only partially successful, but hey, it’s only been one day.)

So what have I been up to while being absent from my blogging life? Quite the whirlwind, in fact.

First, I started off with five days in New York. We stayed at a hotel right at Times Square — and no, that’s not a mistake I’m likely to repeat. The hotel was fine, but the crowds were awful. No need to be quite that touristy! The absolute highlight was seeing the oh-so-glorious Harry Potter and the Cursed Child!

Side note: Going to see the HP production is an adventure two years in the making! Two years ago, when tickets were first released for the London production, I jumped through about a million hoops to get tickets for my daughter and me. We had plans for a trip to London last June… and then complications with my elderly father arose, forcing me to cancel my part of the trip. (Darling daughter and her boyfriend enjoyed the show tremendously, lucky them.) When the Broadway ticketing process opened, I was absolutely determined to make it happen… and it did!

For those not familiar with the HP production, it’s a two-part show, which we saw on two consecutive nights. Really, it’s the equivalent of seeing two full-length Broadway shows. Each part ran about 2 hours, 40 minutes, with intermissions. Drink lots of coffee before you go!

What can I say about the show itself? It’s magnificent. If you’re a Harry Potter fan, chances are you’ve read the book already. I had — but even knowing the plot basics, I wasn’t prepared for the spectacle and wonder of the live show. The staging, the lighting, the effects, and above all, the acting, make this a story that has to be seen to be fully appreciated. We were lucky enough to see the original London cast in the Broadway production… and, no surprise, they were simply amazing. One thing I didn’t get from reading the book is just how awesome the character of Scorpius Malfoy is — he really stole the show (and my heart.)

Around the theater, staff gives out buttons saying #keepthesecrets, so I suppose I’m duty-bound not to reveal too much! All I can say is that the show is magical and delightful, and well worth every moment.

Okay, that’s the Harry Potter stuff! Also in New York, my family and I went to see The Band’s Visit, which is a beautiful musical, full of humor and emotion, tightly woven together into a 90-minute production that’s human and moving and has truly lovely music. If you have the chance, definitely check it out! And what’s a trip to New York without a visit to the top of the Empire State Building and an afternoon at the Metropolitan Museum of Art? Add in some great deli, a walk through Central Park, and oodles of people-watching, and who could ask for more?

From there, I headed to Connecticut for a few days of family time, visiting my dad, spending time with other relatives, and basically just chilling out before stage 3 of the vacation, which was…

A two-week trip to Israel!

My husband was born and raised in Israel, and we try to get back to see his family every few years. Somehow, we let more time than usual go by, so this was our first trip in four years! A big chunk of the time there was spent in Tel Aviv, where the family is. Days of hitting the beach, nights of eating at different relatives’ homes. Food. So much food. So much hummus. So much yum.

Because we were traveling with our teen son, I wanted to make sure to include some travel and culture while we were there (although the boy probably would have been happy with nothing but beach, all day, every day.) So we spent two days in Jerusalem, including solemn places (Har Hertzl, Israel’s military cemetary, and Yad Vashem, the incredibly powerful Holocaust museum), the Old City of Jerusalem, the Western Wall, dinner in the newer parts of the city, and a spectacular light show at night within the walls of the Old City. If we’d had more time, we could have spent days and days exploring, but at least we have something to look forward to on the next trip!

Onward we went, heading into the desert for a night at the Dead Sea, where we did our requisite floating! From there, we ventured to Masada — by cable car, no climbing for me in the incredible heat. Masada is always fascinating, and the views are amazing.

One final road trip before heading home — Rosh HaNikra, at the northern tip of Israel along the Mediterranean, where we took cable cars down to the sea grottoes — one of my all-time favorite places! I try to get there on every trip to Israel.

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And now… ta da! We’re back home in SF, where the skies are cool and cloudy, and I have mountains of laundry, mail, and bills to tackle. The joys of post-vacation tasks!

Okay, as for the “what I read” part — here’s a peek at the reading that kept me busy during my quiet moments (amazingly, there were actually a few) during the last few weeks:

I’ll be doing some mini-review posts to talk more about what I read, once I finally catch my breath and finish unpacking and figure out what time zone I’m in!

It’s great to be home! I may be a bit slow to get back into my blogging groove, but I’m excited to be here and look forward to catching up with everyone!

Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird… it’s a plane… it’s a FLYING READER!

 

Actually, it’s just me, flying round trip cross-country and reading lots of books along the way!

I did a quick there-and-back-again trip across the country to attend my wonderful stepson’s medical school graduation. *bursting with pride*

Man, do I read a lot when I fly. I loaded up with some Netflix downloads, but ignored all media in favor of plowing through some books. I caught up on all my group reads, and also read a few novels, and basically had a ridiculously fun time ignoring the world around me and devoting myself to my Kindle. I ended up in a race against the pilot — my Kindle showed me I had 20 minutes left in my book, and the pilot kept announcing how many minutes to landing. Would I make it? Would I finish the story before the wheels met the ground?

Yup, I did. With five minutes to spare!

Who says flying has to be boring?

Bookish bits & bobs

 

Just a random collection of some bookish thoughts bouncing around my brain this week.

 

 

 

  • Audiobooks. Love ’em. But here’s my issue: Why don’t audiobooks include the acknowledgements or author’s notes at the end? If I’m listening to a book, I want the full experience and full content. I only discovered the lack recently after listening to a couple of historical fiction audiobooks. I ended up browsing through the hardcovers at the library, and saw that the print books includes notes about the historical setting and context. Well, why wasn’t that on the audiobook? It adds to the reading experience, and clearly the author felt it was part of what she wanted readers to know. I don’t understand… and it makes me mad. Not that I’ll stop listening to audiobooks, but it leaves me wondering what I’m missing.

 

  • Book review ratings: I don’t do them. At least, not here on my blog. I play along on Goodreads, but I made the decision way back when to do narrative reviews without any sort of quantitative scale. Lately, though, I’ve started rethinking this. I know when I read reviews on other people’s blogs, I’ll often check the star (or unicorn or banana or teacup) rating first, and then decide if I want to read the whole review. So shouldn’t I expect others to expect the same from me? This is a bigger question than just a few lines and a bullet point, so I’ll be expanding on the topic sometime in the coming week, and would love some input.

 

  • Amazon customer service rocks! I have never had a bad experience once I connect with a service rep, and this week was no different. I bought a Kindle edition of a new release in early April, and started reading it this week. And hated it. By 15%, I just knew I couldn’t continue. And I was mad, because it was past the one-week deadline for returning Kindle content. I thought I’d give it a shot anyway. It’s not the amount spent was going to break me or anything, but if I’m spending money on a book, I don’t want it to end up being something I actively dislike. Anyway… I reached out and ended up in a chat with a lovely and helpful Amazon rep, who arranged to return the book for a refund within the blink of an eye. No quoting policy, no trying to convince me of anything, no telling me I was wrong. Just a very nice “I’m sorry the book didn’t work out for you” and a resolution that made me happy.

 

  • When is a novella a novella? When is it really, instead, a short novel? Is 200 pages the dividing line? 125? I haven’t found a hard and fast rule to go by — I’ve found a lot of notes on word count in novels and novellas, but I’m a reader, not a writer. Do you have any firm ideas on what distinguishes a novella from a novel?

 

  • Oh, the things a book lover will do for the sake of bookish satisfaction. I’m a big fan of Susanna Kearsley’s writing, and beside the glory of the stories themselves, I adore the covers of her books.

Well, now she has a new book coming out, Bellewether, and I knew I needed a copy. I preordered it ages ago (the book releases in August), then discovered that the US cover is… well… unappealing. But hey, the Canadian cover is gorgeous and goes with the rest of my books! So I cancelled my US preorder, and got a copy from Amazon Canada instead, which gave me the added bonus of getting the book early, since it released in Canada this month already. And really, which of these would YOU want?

Anyhoo… that’s what’s on my mind today. How about you? What deep bookish thought are bouncing about in your brain?

 

And seriously. What is up with audiobooks and the lack of afterwords and notes? Can someone please make them fix this? Annoyed now.

Why I re-read

I started thinking about the topic of re-reading this week in response to today’s Top Ten Tuesday prompt: Books I Loved but Will Never Re-Read. I re-read books A LOT, and the prompt made me wonder: Are there any books that I’d absolutely rule out when it comes to re-reading? Sure, there are the books that I disliked or felt were only meh reads, but books I loved?

Never say never.

I can’t come up with a list that fits the category, because if I loved a book once, why wouldn’t I love it again?

So I started thinking about what I choose to re-read, and when, and pretty soon, had my own nifty little list going. Without further ado, here are my scattered reasons for why I re-read books:

Visiting old friends: Sometimes, we readers get a wee bit attached to our beloved characters. Or obsessed. Whatever. I love going back and re-reading certain books, because after enough times, it’s like spending time with family or friends who’ve been a part of my life for years and years.

Nostalgia: Thinking back to childhood or a particular era in my life, I may choose to re-read a book that brought me joy at a certain point, or that I associate strongly with events happening at the time I was reading. Or sometimes, it’s just to re-experience the wonder of a lovely story that once upon a time made me smile.

Comfort food: At times of stress, sadness, or even boredom, there’s nothing like curling up with a book that’s guaranteed to make me feel snug and content. (Lookin’ at you, Harry Potter!)

To honor someone special: There are certain books I associate with certain people — and particularly for people I haven’t seen in a long time, or even more so, those no longer with us, sometimes I’ll re-read a book because I know it was special to someone I care about, and reading their special book makes me feel closer to them.

The feels: A book that made me swoon, a book that made me cry, even a book that made me angry — if it brought out particularly strong feelings in me, I may choose to re-read it when I’m in the mood to feel that way again.

A refresher: This has been a biggie for me lately. When a sequel or a new installment in an ongoing series comes out, chances are (if I’m particularly invested) that I’ll go back and re-read the previous book, so all the details and characters and plot points will be sharp in my fuzzy brain.

A second chance: Do you ever reconsider books that you’d already tried and disliked? This one doesn’t happen all that often for me, but occasionally I’ll realize that maybe I gave up on a book too soon, or allowed a bad mood or real-life distractions to keep me from enjoying a book I might otherwise have liked. So every once in a while, I’ll decide to give a book a new chance to impress me… and I’ve actually had some good results!

Jogging the memory: Okay, yes, I’m the first to admit that my brain just doesn’t keep data forever… and so some of the books that I know I read and loved years ago are nothing but fond feelings and a general sense of storyline for me at this point. If I remember loving a book but don’t remember more than that, maybe it’s time for a re-read!

Plot twists: This one is super rare, but there have been several books in my reading life that smacked me with such mind-boggling plot twists that I had to read them all over again, just to see if the pieces really do add up or to sort out the complicated threads of the story.

New meaning: There are some books that I swear I could read over and over and over again, but each time, there’s some new enjoyment or nuance or hidden connection to discover.

 

 

Do you re-read? If so, why?

Clearly, I’m a fan of re-reading… after all, re-reading a favorite book is like giving it a big hug that lasts for hours!

Delicious.