2018 Reading Round-Up

It’s that time of year again–or actually, a few days past.  Time to look at the best, the worst and sometimes weird of my 2018 reading.  In this past year I read 101 books.  I know that’s a lot when the average is more like 12, but it’s also a big drop for me–I’m usually somewhere approaching 200.  I blame this fully on getting married, and you know, seeing as there are also compensations to that, I can’t complain too much.  But I do hope to bring that number up next year–barring other major life changes, of course!

In that 101 books, there were a lot of nonfiction ones, a lot of audiobooks, and a lot of Newbery Medal winners.  So it’s been kind of a departure of a year in a lot of ways!  But there were still good books in there, so let’s see how it looks.

1) Best of…
I’ve been splitting my “Best of” books for the past few years, so that I can highlight the ones that were best in very specific ways.

1A) Best Premise: The Improbable Adventures of Sherlock Holmes – This was an amazing short story collection from a variety of authors (including Stephen King and Neil Gaimain!) with original Holmes and Watson stories…which may or may not be fantastical.  I have seen authors mostly fail to accurately portray Sherlock Holmes, so it was an especial delight to find a whole collection of authors who (for the most part) got it right, and the fantasy element was an extra awesome element.

1B) Best World Building: Jane, Unlimited by Kristin Cashore – This was the most beautifully crafted book I read this year, so I’m calling that world building.  A series of alternate paths for the main character, each with its own genre, each independent and yet consistent and building on each other…this was a gorgeously crafted book.

1C) Best Romance: I find myself with a very strange dearth of options for this category this year!  I think this is what happens when you read a lot of Newbery Medal winners and nonfiction books.  I’m going to have to set a goal to read more romances in 2019, I think.

1D) Best Hero(ines): The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter by Theodora Goss – I’m giving this one to a group, the amazing women of the Athena Club, each one a product of a mad scientist’s experiment, banding together to forge their own lives and fight evil in the process.  This one could have taken best premise too, but we’ll put it here for its awesome heroines. Continue reading “2018 Reading Round-Up”

2018 Goals – Year-End Update

It’s been a strange year for goals–so maybe it’s fitting I’m running a day or two late from normal on this report!  I mixed together life goals and reading challenges this year, so the updates have been a little varied from usual.  And the timing has been a little strange all through.

Getting married was my biggest goal this year, accomplished on May 12th.  I put a lot of focus on the Newbery Medal reading challenge, and completed that at the end of August, so I already reported on that in my last update.

My second reading challenge was (for the third year in a row) to try to read more books with minority hero(ines).  Well, I’m still getting used to reading while married (totally different daily routine!) and I frankly didn’t think about this goal in the last three months.  So, not surprisingly, I’m sneaking in one fantasy re-read but otherwise, no progress here.  With the usual rather sad observation that it’s not easy to stumble accidentally into minority-led books–which says rather a lot.

  1. North of Happy by Adi Alsaid (Mexican)
  2. Amos Fortune: Free Man by Elizabeth Yates (African-American)
  3. Gay-Neck: The Story of a Pigeon by Dhan Gopal Mukerji (Indian)
  4. Shadow of a Bull by Maia Wojciechowska (Spanish)
  5. Waterless Mountain by Laura Adams Armer (Navajo)
  6. Hello, Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly (Japanese and Filipino)
  7. Secret of the Andes by Ann Nolan Clark (Incan)
  8. Street Magic by Tamora Pierce (vaguely Arab, in a fantasy world)

On writing goals, I wanted to write three short stories, which I finished by September.  On my last update I was still working on the first book of my Phantom trilogy.  I’m very happy to report that’s completed–at least barring any tweaks required based on revising the later books.  But that should be minor at most!

I also intended to get the second installment of the trilogy to beta-readers by the end of the year.  Well, it’s January 2nd and I’m still working on it.  But the end is actually in sight, and I’m hoping to get it off by mid-January, so only about two weeks behind the original goal.  And honestly, that’s better than I expected most of the time, so we’ll call that good!

So, not quite a perfect score on reaching all my goals–but I had more ambitious, more complicated goals than usual, and 2018 was one of the most life-altering years I’ve ever had–so I’m going to feel good about how it all turned out.

Did you have reading or other goals for the year?  How did they turn out for you?

Friday Face-Off Freebie: The Blue Castle

Today is a free day on the Friday Face-Off meme, created by Books by Proxy, with weekly topics hosted by Lynn’s Book Blog.  The idea is to put up different covers for one book, and select a favorite.

This week’s theme is “choose your own favorite” so I’ve selected one of my favorite books, my favorite L. M. Montgomery novel, The Blue Castle.

      

These two are much the same, both capturing the pastoral setting and suggesting the romance by putting a couple on the cover…though they don’t evoke the title at all, and there’s some questionable clothing choices going on in that right-hand cover! Continue reading “Friday Face-Off Freebie: The Blue Castle”

Friday Face-Off: A Christmas Carol

Today I’m doing a Christmas-themed post with the Friday Face-Off meme, created by Books by Proxy, with weekly topics hosted by Lynn’s Book Blog.  The idea is to put up different covers for one book, and select a favorite.

This week’s theme is ‘ho, ho, ho’ – A seasonal cover

So I really only have two favorite Christmas books: A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens and The Mischief of the Mistletoe by Lauren Willig.  The latter only has one major cover design, and the former has…hundreds.  So I decided to look at A Christmas Carol, but in moderation.  Here’s a couple particularly bad ones, and a couple particularly good ones!

So I’m pretty sure “A” is not actually the most important word on this cover… 😉

Bobble-head Scrooge will definitely not nod for you…but he will be happy to terrify you instead!

By contrast, I like how this one shows dour, angry Scrooge cut off from the light and cheer of the crowd, as he clutches his bank book.  The contrast sets up the eventual message about what is really of value, without giving the whole story away by showing a joyful Scrooge carrying Tiny Tim (that image is amazingly popular on covers!)  I wish this was a full-cover image instead of the inset, but I do like the border also, and the understated Christmassy-ness of the bits of holly.

I like that this one gets at the ghost aspect without being TOO spooky.  Scrooge looks unpleasant but not ghoulish, and I like that the viewer can see Marley hovering behind him before Scrooge sees the ghost himself.  That’s a fun interplay.

What do you think of the covers?  And do you have a favorite holiday book I should read, since my selection seems to be small?

Happy holidays!

Writing Wednesday: Historical Verification

I had a very satisfying moment at my writing group some while back.  I brought in a scene from my Phantom trilogy that mentioned the electric lights on the Avenue de l’Opera, and someone at the table asked if they would have had electric lights so early.

And I was ready for that–because my novel is set in 1881, and my research had told me that electric lights were put onto the Avenue de l’Opera in 1878.  So I felt quite good about having that answer!

But then the question kept coming up.  Multiple early readers for the first book asked the same question.  And I thought–well, I knew I had it right, but that was only so much use if readers weren’t going to know it.  So I made a little edit to the excerpt below, for the readers who ask the question when I’m not there to answer it!

***************

Photo I had to take of the lights on the Avenue de l’Opera when I visited Paris.

We watched together as the sun dipped below the horizon and the shadows deepened.  For a little while, the city was bathed in a soft twilight.  Then the electric lights down the length of the Avenue de l’Opera flared into bright, vivid life, a line of light unrolling at our feet, stretching out towards the Seine.  Electric lights had been shining on the Avenue for three years now, since the Paris Exposition in 1878, but they still seemed magical.

I smiled, clasping my hands around my knees.  “It’s beautiful, isn’t it?”

“If you like that sort of thing.”  Erik’s voice wasn’t irritated exactly, but it was cold.  I snuck a glance at him, couldn’t read anything from his face in the shadows.  He must have seen the query in my glance though, because he shrugged and said, “I like candles.  Gas lamps are all right too.  Electric lights are so…harsh.  An attack on the darkness.”

Mini-Monday: Tamora Pierce Revisited

I’ve been doing a lot of audiobooks recently, and I decided to revisit a few Tamora Pierce books–although rather than listening to favorites, I ended up revisiting a few I was on the edge about, to see how they’d feel on another read.  The results were mixed!

Street Magic

Tamora Pierce has two big, long-ranging magical series with subsets within them, Tortall and the Circle of Magic books.  While everything is good, I give a definite edge to the Tortall series.  However–Street Magic is my favorite of the Magic Circle books, and I was happy to see it held up well on a reread.

The Magic Circle books center around four young mages, Briar, Sandry, Daja and Tris.  The first four books develop their foster sibling relationship and the discovery of their respective magical gifts.  The next set of four books sends each of them on separate adventures.  Street Magic follows Briar, gifted with plant magic, as he takes on his first student, street kid Evvy, and tangles with the gangs interested in Evvy’s stone magic. Continue reading “Mini-Monday: Tamora Pierce Revisited”

Friday Face-Off: Metaphorical Crowns

Today I’m returning to the Friday Face-Off meme, created by Books by Proxy, with weekly topics hosted by Lynn’s Book Blog.  The idea is to put up different covers for one book, and select a favorite.

This week’s theme is “Heavy is the head that wears the crown”  – A cover featuring a crown

I thought I’d do something a little bit different, because the first book that came to mind was a metaphorical crown: The Shepherd’s Crown by Terry Pratchett, last book in the Discworld series.  Unlike last week, all the covers for this one are pretty good–and no one’s made the mistake of showing an actual crown!

I like the simplicity of this one, and the way they evoked a crown without actually depicting one.  It has an appropriate natural and homey feel with the bees and the sand dollar.

This one is more communicative, and I like how the images glow against the dark backdrop.  The Nac Mac Feegle on her hat brim is a nice touch, and I can’t decide if I like that her expression isn’t sweet, or if it’s just a touch too irritable.  But it kinda fits!

I love the energy of this one, the action promised in her cloak and those massive boots, and I like the swarm of Nac Mac Feegles all around her.  And Tiffany’s expression here feels perfect.  This is also the only cover that makes it look like a comedy!

In some ways less striking than the previous cover, this one is still my favorite, because I think it’s the cover I needed on this, Pratchett’s posthumously-published last book.  We still have the witch’s hat, the swarm of Nac Mac Feegles and the mountain landscape, but I love the way Tiffany is clearly leading them here.  This cover captures an element the others don’t, that this book is about Tiffany accepting the (metaphorical) crown as a new leader in her world.  Tiffany actually looks like a (metaphorical) shepherd here, and there’s something very satisfying in that.

Have you read this one?  Which cover do you like best?