My 2018 Reading Stats: One Last Post About Last Year

Two of my acquaintances on Tumblr did posts like this (heretherebebooks and logarithmicpanda,) and I shamelessly stole the idea, tweaked it to suit my reading habits, and crunched the numbers.

Total Books Read: 182

Books by Women: 138 (75.8%)

Books by POC: 26 (14.2%)

LGBT+ Books: 18 (9.8%)

Romances: 73 (40.1%)

Rated Five Stars: 27 (14.8%)

Rated One Star: 52 (28.5%)

Did Not Finish: 28 (15.3%)

Conclusions:

  1. I was a harsher critic last year than in previous years. I didn’t do my full 2017 stats, but out of curiosity I checked them for Rated One Star and Did Not Finish: both were significantly lower (19.7% and 10%, respectively.)
  2. Plowing through so many of the romances I’ve collected boosted my Books by Women stat, for sure, but lowered my POC/LGBT+ reading. The bulk of my collection (and of the genre in general) is MF romance written by straight white women, and it shows in my numbers. My romance collection is still pretty large, but I should definitely make more of an effort to read diversely both inside and outside the genre.

I’ve added simple tick boxes for these categories to my 2019 master spreadsheet (yes, I’m that big of a book nerd) so compiling this year’s stats will be much easier when the time comes–I was paging through my read-in-2018 Goodreads shelf and counting each category on each page, which involved a lot of math.

 

 

This Week, I Read… (2019 #1)

One last review from 2018, then it’s on to a new year of reading!

186 - Loving a Lost Lord

#186 – Loving a Lost Lord, by Mary Jo Putney

Amnesia is not a sturdy trope to lean on, and it’s done poorly here. But once I accepted that it was the central point of Adam’s character, it turned out that I liked him, and the bulk of his interactions with Mariah. Whom I didn’t care for, because I also don’t have much patience for a liar whose one, simple lie snowballs out of control with potentially devastating consequences.

I mean, she had sex with him under the completely false pretense of already being his wife, when she wasn’t. Amnesia really messes with consent issues, doesn’t it?

But Adam’s charm is really the only reason this isn’t a one-star review, because I also found the chapters from Adam’s friends’ POV, the plotline where they’re searching for him, incredibly dull. By halfway through, I was skimming them, because of course they were going to find him, and the tale of how they did it wasn’t exactly riveting.


1 - Artemis

#1 – Artemis, by Andy Weir

  • Read: 12/31/18 – 1/1/19
  • Challenge: Virtual Mount TBR (1/48); PopSugar Reading Challenge
  • Task: A book you think should be made into a movie
  • Rating: 3/5 stars

I told myself I wasn’t going to compare this to The Martian, which I adored, and I really tried not to at first. But eventually, the comparisons made themselves. Jazz, despite being female instead of male, of Middle Eastern descent instead of white, and a petty criminal instead of an astronaut, had nearly the exact same snarky narrative voice as the beloved Mark Watney. Maybe she swears a little less, but that’s about it.

While this isn’t a full-blown case of the dreaded “look at how badly male authors write women” syndrome, as Jazz never once tells us what she thinks about her own breasts, I don’t really feel like Jazz ever feels like a woman to me. I don’t expect every female narrator to be excessively feminine, but Jazz is such a tomboy, so “one of the guys” in most social situations, that her femininity never came across as authentic. And while there’s absolutely nothing bad about an AFAB character presenting herself as either nonbinary/genderfluid/gender-neutral, I don’t see any signs that that was the intention here. Being a narrative near-clone of Mark Watney only accentuates the feeling that she’s a guy thinly coated in a female-appearing shell.

Setting all that aside, it’s a fun, science-driven heist story with a quick pace and a lot of personality. I never had much trouble following the science, and like in The Martian, Weir both explains it well when necessary but also uses it to briefly obscure the unexpected consequences of Jazz’s actions and the resulting disasters.

Magic Shifts

#2 – Magic Shifts, by Ilona Andrews

  • Read: 1/1/19 – 1/2/19
  • Challenge: Mount TBR (1/100); PopSugar Reading Challenge
  • Task: A book with a wedding
  • Rating: 4/5 stars

I was really interested to see how Kate + Curran leaving the Pack turned out, and also what Kate claiming Atlanta out from under her father would mean. I was not disappointed on either count. The tension just keeps getting ratcheted higher and higher with each installment.

The main plot for this book, though, the “monster of the week” that gave everything else an excuse to happen, felt weak compared to some of the others. Possibly because so much of the book was focused elsewhere–there’s a lot of subplots being juggled, as well as the over-arcing story lines. It wasn’t that the book was hard to follow or jumbled, just that poor Eduardo being missing never actually felt like it was the most important thing going on, even when it should have been.

That isn’t to say I didn’t love this, I just loved it a little bit less than my favorites in the series.

This Week, I Read… (2018 #50)

178 - Homeland

#178 –  Homeland and Other Stories, by Barbara Kingsolver

As usual for short story collections, some spoke to me much more loudly than others, and in this case, I disliked a few. But what stood out to me most was that I felt every story–even the ones I otherwise liked–ended in the wrong place. An odd, unfinished place. And yes, I know they’re short stories, they’re glimpses of an event or a short span of someone’s life, not an entire plot; but I still came away from each story feeling that I lacked any resolution. Across the board, I felt unsatisfied.

Yet I’m still in love with Kingsolver’s constant inclusion of nature, her beautiful turns of phrase. I can admire this for the language and the strength of her imagery, but also be disappointed that her style of short story doesn’t feel as complete or accessible to me as other authors’. I’m glad I read it, but I have a feeling that none of the stories will be sticking with me.

179 - Last of the Wilds

#179 – Last of the Wilds, by Trudi Canavan

DNF @ page 90. I gave this more than 10% before I gave up, because I wanted to at least rotate once fully between ALL THE MANY POVs. Like the first book, there are just too many, and it makes the narrative too choppy.

Basically the only thing I do like about the book is the inclusion of a new POV character, Reivan, one of the Pentadrian army. Through her I got the first glimpses of the enemy and their society, which honestly seemed to be as rigid, theocratic, and harmful as the Circlians, aka the “good” guys. Part of me was hoping for some kind of subversion, that the Pentadrians were going to turn out to be the winners/heroes/good guys after all, but if this epic fantasy trilogy is about two theocracies dueling it out to see which one is better, well, you’re both idiots, and I don’t care who wins. I’m out. For good.

180 - Friends with Partial Benefits

#180 – Friends with Partial Benefits, by Luke Young

DNF @ 50%. I kept waiting for it to get funny, like all these reviews are saying it is, but it’s just crude, sleazy, and unrealistic.

In the first half of the book, I encountered a whole host of story issues: mild lesbophobia, the perpetuation of demeaning stereotypes about middle-aged women, the constant reiteration that these middle-aged woman can only be sexy/sexual if they look significantly younger than their actual age, completely unbelievable dialogue, predatory sexual behavior including numerous peeping-tom events by both the male and female characters, and constant derogatory comments about the romance-writer-character’s career, both by her and others.

Yeah, this is a “romance” written by a man, and it shows, because apparently it’s okay for the author to make a career writing “romance” but when his female character does it, she’s mocked for it. (On top of that, the excerpts of her writing that appear in the narrative are just awful, right down to more typos and grammatical errors appearing there than in the rest of the work. Though there are plenty of those, too. Did this have an editor?)

You know what I didn’t get from the first half of the book? Any emotional attachment to the characters, or any emotional development on the part of the characters. These are cardboard cutouts moving around a fancy mansion and trying to have sex with each other. Because this book isn’t about romance, it’s about sex. All the characters are constantly talking about it, a few of the characters are actually having it (though almost entirely off the page, so far,) and it’s the only thing any of them seem to care about.

All that being said, I still can’t even call it “erotica” instead, because it’s not erotic. It’s wooden, clunky, and boring. And honestly, there’s not enough actual sex in it for a good erotica (at least in the first half, but I’m not sticking around to find out who hops into bed later.)

181 - The Bone Season

#181 – The Bone Season, by Samantha Shannon

DNF @ page 135. I just can’t anymore. It’s so bad.

I didn’t hear about the problematic elements of this story until long after I’d picked up a secondhand copy for pennies. If I’d been paying closer attention to the drama the book was causing on Tumblr at the time, I would have ditched it unread. But I didn’t–an oversight on my part.

So there I am, trying to clear out some older books from my TBR and my shelves, and I pick this up, completely forgetting it’s (allegedly) a flaming pile of racism and gross slavery romance. I didn’t even remember that until more than 100 pages in, because I was so busy being frustrated at how INCREDIBLY BAD IT IS even without that.

Issue #1: Nothing is ever explained. A new concept is introduced and breezed right past as if we already know what the author is talking about. And I’ve seen writing tips that advise this: write your story as if the reader already knows your world, then pay attention to wherever your beta readers have questions or didn’t understand something. That way, you don’t clog up the story with unnecessary exposition. BUT THAT DOESN’T MEAN NEVER EXPLAIN ANYTHING EVER.

Issue #2: Waaaaay too much slang. Like, 300% too much. There are already so many unfamiliar words in the text because of the world-building, then you get obscure 1800’s British slang on top of that, only some of it is apparently repurposed to mean something different in this fictional world, so even if I were an expert on British slang, I still wouldn’t have a clue? Really?

Issue #3: Info-dump dialogue. Which seems like it should be a contradictory problem, when up in #1 I was complaining that nothing is ever explained? Let me rephrase. Nothing I want to have explained is ever explained. The stuff I don’t feel like I need spoon-fed to me is what the characters endlessly chat about.

Issue #4: I can’t be invested in the stakes if I don’t understand the world. I don’t even understand what the stakes are. Was I supposed to be impressed by Paige’s abilities during her first test? Because I feel like maybe I should have been, except I literally didn’t understand how she was fighting. It didn’t make any sense.

Conclusion: This book is wretched for all sorts of reasons before the super-troubling slavery-romance subplot even begins. And then I’m assuming it gets worse, but I won’t be reading it to find out.

182 - The Fragile Fall

#182 – The Fragile Fall, by Kristy Love

At first I was trying to keep track of all my problems with this story, from excessively repetitive dialogue to inconsistent characterization; but halfway through, I realized very little of the technical stuff mattered beside the HUGE red flags this story was sending up. They can be summed up in few themes.

1. The romanticization of grief, mental illness, and self-harm.
2. Savior complex, ie, love fixes everything.
3. Look at how these huge problems have such a simple, shallow road to recovery.

That’s all this story is–shallow. Ryanne “loves” Will because…I don’t really know? On paper, why would a college girl fall for a younger and incredibly sheltered high school boy with no real social skills or life experience beyond a tragic backstory? Their age gap is only two years (17/19) which isn’t entirely out of the range of possibility as teenagers, but the way their dynamic works, Ryanne loves Will because a) the plot needs her to, and b) she seems to have a savior complex, which I was shy of pinning on her at first, but as the story went on, things she said and did, as well as her own family’s backstory, made it pretty clear Will was as much a possession and a project for her as he was a lover.

Will loves Ryanne, understandably, because he’s a sheltered teenage boy dealing with massive amounts of grief and isolation, and Ryanne is a pretty girl who pays attention to him. Also shallow, but from his perspective, completely believable.

What’s not believable, though, is how quickly he “recovers” from his accidental brush with death. I’m hesitant to call it a suicide attempt, because the narrative definitely paints it as his self-harm going too far, rather than a premeditated, deliberate act. But the end result is a few weeks of being institutionalized, a quick recap of incredibly platitude-filled sessions with his therapist, then back to almost-normal life with almost no repercussions.

I could actually keep going–I haven’t even touched the weird, pointless drama about Ryanne’s parents, or how her brother Jax is a terrible brother to her and best friend to Will, embodying a lot of what’s awful about toxic masculinity–but this is really the worst of it. Will and Ry “saved” each other from mental illness, family drama, and self-harm through the sheer, awesome power of their completely flimsy “love.”

183 - At Home in Mitford

#183 – At Home in Mitford, by Jan Karon

DNF @ page 50. My two major problems: first, there was no plot to speak of yet, 10% of the way in; and second, the fictional town of Mitford was oozing quaintness and upper-middle-class perfection in such quantities I was afraid my fingers would get sticky from turning the pages. It was so fake in its presentation that I couldn’t stomach reading about it.

184 - Magic Breaks

#184 – Magic Breaks, by Ilona Andrews

  • Read: 12/25/18 – 12/26/18
  • Rating: 5/5 stars

What a wild ride.

The longer this series goes on, the harder time I have being critical of it, or even analytical. I flew through this in just over day–I didn’t find anything to nitpick. I just loved it from start to finish, and the ending has me excited to find out next, since it managed to be a great resolution for this book, yet still a massive cliffhanger for the series.

I don’t think there’s any denying that I’m a complete Kate Daniels fangirl at this point.

185 - Tucker

#185 – Tucker, by Juliana Stone

Great sexual tension between the leads, terrible plot.

Let’s apply a core piece of romance-writing advice to this story: Why aren’t they together now?

1. At first, Tucker and Abby aren’t a thing because they’re “friends.” Of course, this friendship is presented as incredibly shallow for most of the book; she’s a bartender at his favorite drinking spot and they talk. Eventually it’s revealed that he’s stayed after hours a few times and they played darts. So that’s “friends” to him? Because she’s literally paid to be nice to you as her job, and to get tips from you. Now, it’s revealed pretty quickly that Abby’s had a crush on him since day one, but still. None of this strikes me as being actual friends.

2. Tucker’s not ready to move on from his missing/dead wife. It’s been three years, and yeah, a presumed-dead wife isn’t the same thing as an actually dead one, so I get it. That’s an entirely reasonable span of time for someone to let go, or to still be torn up–IRL that would depend on the person. I don’t have a problem with that. I do, however, have a problem when it’s revealed that his wife intentionally got pregnant without his consent, while he believed she was taking her birth control, because she was baby-crazy. Of course she lost the baby before she disappeared–adding a child to this bizarre plot would make the simple closure we get at the end impossible–but apparently Tucker’s grief at her disappearance apparently made him forget that betrayal, which is on a deal-breaker level for me personally.

So in spite of all this, Abby agrees to be his last-minute date for a wedding, and everyone in his family there assumes they’re together, despite BOTH of them constantly insisting they’re not. Terrible family, that won’t take anyone’s word for it, because of course they know better! Anyone can see the tension and attraction between them, right? So that makes it totally okay to mock them when they swear they’re not a couple!

But of course before the wedding weekend is over, they’re having sex in the hotel room they were forced to share. Way to prove the fam right.

When they return home, we get to reason #3: Abby’s older brother is a completely toxic jerk. This story takes the “protective older brother” trope to an extreme, though in a way, since Tucker is a terrible person, it’s almost justified. Mick gives Tucker so much shit for dating/having sex with Abby, and while Tucker might be the kind of man who needs reminding not to be an ass, Abby is an adult who doesn’t need her family insulating her from having a life. But hey, it’s okay, boys will be boys, right?

So eventually Tucker and Abby sort themselves out into a reasonable relationship, the depiction of which is totally unsatisfying (the narrative even says “they fell into a comfortable routine,” which is just what I want–a romance that goes from sixty to zero in the space of a few weeks and a couple pages /sarcasm.) Then! Tucker’s wife is found in Cuba! Maybe!

I honestly expected that not to happen. Like, a missing person is gone for three years, then magically shows back up at the most inconvenient time for the plot? She didn’t have to. Tucker was moving on without that spur, and she could have just stayed missing. Or even been found dead, for real closure. But no, he has to fly down there to see if it’s really her–and it’s not, and the woman it really is gives the authorities evidence of where her plane crashed–and discover the story himself, jeopardizing his new, boring relationship with Abby. And then when he’s back and super sure his wife is really gone, he can finally say “I love you.”

I did like the banter between Abby and Tucker, and the sex scenes weren’t terrible. But mostly everything else was. Including the text itself–and I know this had an editor, because they’re listed on the copyright page. But throughout the book, there was frequently missing punctuation, as well as a sprinkling of commas “inserte,d” into words instead of after them, which is a mistake so obvious a simple spell-check will catch it. It’s minor, compared with the story issues, but nothing screams “unprofessional” like a poorly-edited book.

This Week, I Read… (2018 #49)

173 - The Birthday of the World and Other Stories

#173 – The Birthday of the World and Other Stories, by Ursula K. Le Guin

  • Read: 12/11/18 – 12/14/18
  • Rating: 4/5 stars

As always, a book of short stories and novellas is going to be hit or miss, even from a favorite author. I loved most of the stories; having read the entirety of the Hainish Cycle this year, I was glad to revisit many of the worlds and cultures. That being said, there were two stories, the titular novella in particular, that didn’t move me.

The stories I did enjoy, while not directly related as in Four Ways to Forgiveness, nonetheless explored similar themes of love, identity, and sexuality. In fact, having grown up reading Le Guin’s early and nearly sexless Earthsea trilogy over and over, it’s remarkable to me that her later works dive into sexuality so deeply. While the modern English terms aren’t present, bisexuality and a rigid form of polyamory are the norm in one of her alien cultures, gender fluidity in another, and most of her later works, including this one, include queerness in multiple forms beyond that. It’s really refreshing to see an author move past heteronormativity, as Le Guin acknowledged she wanted to do when she looked back on her old works and saw missed opportunities.

174 - Christmas at the Castle

#174 – Christmas at the Castle, by Melissa McClone

Much better than the handful of other Christmas romances I’ve read; this has a real story and doesn’t just rely on Christmas spirit or holiday “magic” to get the leads together.

Kat is a hardworking, no-nonsense woman who just happens to be BFFs with a princess of a tiny (fictional) European country; she’s known one of its princes as well, her enemy-to-lover Gill, since her early teenage years. There’s never been a spark between them or any pining, which is a refreshing take on two lovers who’ve known each other for that long–I love me some unrequited feelings, I really do, but variety is a good thing, and these two start off the story antagonistic to each other.

Though the book is nearly 400 pages, in some ways it still feels like the romance is rushed. We spend plenty of time seeing Kat and Gill warming up to each other, first agreeing to be friendly for the princess’ sake; when that spills over to a love that both of them know can’t go anywhere, it’s heart-wrenching. But once they’ve acknowledged that reality and said goodbye, a week passes in a chapter break and then Gill shows up in Kat’s clinic to propose? After spending the whole book watching Gill’s mother, the Queen, be an interfering and disapproving fiend, I’m not convinced Gill changed her mind about his marrying Kat so quickly. And the two of them only spent two weeks in proximity to each other, not all of that with the warm fuzzy feelings for each other. So, a few days of being “together” plus a week of sad pining while they were separated, and they’re jumping straight to marriage. Yeah. Sure. Great idea. /sarcasm

So we got a semi-believeable enemies-to-in-love arc, but we skipped straight from new love to forever. It didn’t sit quite right, especially when Gill was like “I know you can’t drop your life for me to move back to my tiny fictional country and be queen, so I’ll just stay here until you’re ready.” Which is reasonably gallant, for him anyway, but the implication is clearly that after some unspecified time, she’s still going to have to drop everything and become his queen. Which was never really addressed on her part earlier, because she was too busy being convinced it could never, ever, ever in a million years be possible, so she never had to consider the impact on her life if she did marry her prince. While it’s clearly supposed to be a HEA ending, it’s just a bit too hand-wavey for me.

175 - The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo

#175 – The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, by Taylor Jenkins Reid

  • Read: 12/15/18 – 12/17/18
  • Rating: 5/5 stars

The highest praise I can give this book is that I wish actual celebrity memoirs were always this juicy, this memorable, this thought-provoking.

I’m so amazed by it I’m honestly not sure what else to say. I might still be in shock. I think this is the best book I’ve read this year, and given that it’s mid-December and I’ve read 170+ books…that’s a huge feat.

I think I can also say this: I’ve never read a book that’s so brutally forthright about sexuality and defining and respecting a person’s sexual orientation. Evelyn is uncompromising about describing herself as bisexual and standing up for herself when someone tries to label her otherwise, which happens far more often than it should. That means a lot to me, and it’s something I wish wasn’t so rare across all media, not just novels.

176 - Before the Leap

#176 – Before the Leap, by Liz Isaacson

Easy problems to point to: lots of amateur writing mistakes, like using a word incorrectly or using the wrong word, excess stage direction, choppy or stilted dialogue paired with abrupt and unsignaled shifts in mood.

More complicated: I don’t understand why these two people love each other? There’s a little banter, some physical attraction and tension, and then they fall in love basically out of nowhere. Neither of them has much personality; Jace’s obvious depression is a mental illness, not a substitute for being an actual character. They fall in love because that’s what people in romances do, but not because they have any actual compatibility, interesting interactions, or similar life goals/plans. Not at first, anyway. Also, they spend a huge chunk of the book taking turns giving each other the silent treatment, which is just not interesting to read.

That’s a lot of negative, but there were a few good points for me. I like my romance heroes to be some variation of sweet, sensitive, or emotionally accessible, and Jace’s willingness to show his vulnerabilities to Belle ticks that box nicely. Also the fight they have about how he (wrongly) thinks Belle is changing herself to fit into his life is a new one in my romance-reading experience, and I value originality. Many men would be more than happy to let a woman change herself to make a better partner in that way, and I think better of Jace for not doing that.

177 - Slow Burn

#177 – Slow Burn, by Autumn Jones Lake

Strongly mixed feelings about this apparently atypical motorcycle club romance. It’s not a subgenre I’m familiar with, and the author’s note at the end goes on in some detail about how she was aiming for a “softer” hero and feel to the story. Which I get, because Rock was actually the part I liked best about it–a big bad biker dude who’s so obviously struggling against some of the toxic masculinity ingrained on his psyche. Is he always successful? No. Does he keep trying to be a better person/more sensitive/more understanding? Yes. I don’t require perfection from my romance heroes, just improvement. Change. Moving forward.

Hope? Not as impressed. She’s flat and uninteresting beside Rock, as “innocent” heroines often are. In this case her innocence is not sexual, but criminal, and I think more could have been done with that twist on the typical dynamic, but the lawyer vs. MC ringleader conflict amounted to basically nothing.

Instead, the major conflict was Hope’s grief and widowhood, because partway through the story, her husband, who was never a real character to begin with, just someone Hope mentioned in her internal monologues, dies on the job. Usually I’m complaining about female characters getting fridged, but here we have a husband dying just so the female lead can be “free” to fall in love later with the hero. Not cool. It’s a cheap, tasteless way to handle death, and while Hope’s grief isn’t portrayed as shallow, it does pretty much magically evaporate as soon as Rock reenters her life a year later. (Which is another minor good point, actually, that this romance is allowed to unspool over two years instead of two or three weeks, a common complaint I have in the more typical instalove stories.)

Finding out that the parts I liked best about this were the least typical to MC romances, I’m not inclined to seek more of them out, though I think I have a few kicking around I picked up free, so I’ll at least read those. I don’t, however, intend to read the rest of this series.

The PopSugar 2018 Reading Challenge: Complete!

In the order I read them this year–

  1. A book mentioned in another book: Moby Dick
  2. A book given to me as a gift: The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue
  3. A book with a weather element in the title: The Ice Queen
  4. A book where the author has the same first or last name as me: His to Protect
  5. The next book in a series I’ve already started: Magic Bleeds
  6. A female author using a male pseudonym: Tapping the Billionaire
  7. A book with my favorite color in the title: Deep Blue
  8. A book set in the decade I was born: The Bean Trees
  9. A book with an LGBTQIA+ protagonist: The Cartographer
  10. A prompt from a past PSRC — one word title: Fingersmith
  11. A book by an author of a different ethnicity from me: Three Strong Women
  12. Nordic noir: Let the Right One In
  13. A book with an ugly cover: Oryx and Crake
  14. A book with an animal in the title: Your Inner Fish
  15. A book about mental health: Wintergirls
  16. A book about feminism: A Room of One’s Own
  17. A book by two authors: Save the Date
  18. A book about or involving a sport: In Her Court
  19. A book set on another planet: The Dispossessed
  20. A book that is a stage play or musical: The Color Purple
  21. A book by a local author: How Stella Got Her Groove Back
  22. A book made into a movie I’ve already seen: The Children of Men
  23. A past Goodreads Choice Award winner: The Hate U Give
  24. A book I meant to read in 2017: The Little Paris Bookshop
  25. A book about a problem facing society today: Fire and Fury
  26. A childhood classic I haven’t read: The Giver
  27. A book with alliteration in the title: The Word for World is Forest
  28. A book set in a country that fascinates me: The Housekeeper and the Professor
  29. A book involving time travel: Come Home to Me
  30. A book involving a heist: Faking It
  31. A book with a fruit or vegetable in the title: The House on Mango Street
  32. A book with twin characters: The Thirteenth Tale
  33. A book about a villain or antihero: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
  34. A book about feminism: We Should All Be Feminists
  35. A microhistory: The Island at the Center of the World
  36. A book about death or grief: The Book Thief
  37. A book related to my ancestry: Medieval Lives
  38. A book with song lyrics in the title: Falling Down
  39. A book I saw being read by a stranger in public: The Sixth Extinction
  40. True crime: News of a Kidnapping
  41. A book published in 2018: Our Bloody Pearl
  42. A novel based on a real person: Quicksilver
  43. A bestseller from the year I graduated high school: The Professor and the Madman
  44. An allegory: Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions
  45. A book set on or near Halloween: The Halloween Tree
  46. A book set at sea: The Voyage of the Narwhal
  47. A book involving a bookstore or library: The Bookseller of Kabul
  48. A book with a time of day in the title: African Nights
  49. A celebrity book club selection: One Hundred Years of Solitude
  50. A cyberpunk book: Saga, Vol. 1

 

Expand Your Horizons: Final Thoughts

Expand Your Horizons

I created my own reading challenge, and I stuck to it. Near as I can tell, nobody else did–I publicized it some in the first few months of the year, but I never found anyone using the hashtag. Which is fine! But slightly disappointing.

I set out to read one book a month from four categories: Classics, Nonfiction, Banned Books, and #ownvoices. And I did, so the challenge was a success in that way. But how did making an effort to read outside my comfort zone really go?

Classics

  1. Moby Dick – DNF, 1/5 stars
  2. A Room of One’s Own, 4 stars
  3. Frankenstein, 3/5 stars
  4. The Awakening, 1/5 stars
  5. The Aeneid, DNF, 1/5 stars
  6. The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, 4/5 stars
  7. My Ántonia, 5/5 stars
  8. The Once and Future King, 3/5 stars
  9. The Trial, 1/5 stars
  10. Dracula, 2/5 stars
  11. 2001: A Space Odyssey, 5/5 stars
  12. The Maltese Falcon, 5/5 stars

Didn’t finish two, rated 1/4 of them at 5 stars but 1/3 of them at 1 star. Mixed bag, those classics.

Nonfiction

  1. The Art of Language Invention, 5/5 stars
  2. Your Inner Fish, 3/5 stars
  3. Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, DNF, 1/5 stars
  4. Steering the Craft, 5/5 stars
  5. The Island at the Center of the World, 3/5 stars
  6. Medieval Lives, 2/5 stars
  7. The Sixth Extinction, 5/5 stars
  8. News of a Kidnapping, DNF, unrated
  9. The Professor and the Madman, 3/5 stars
  10. The Bookseller of Kabul, 2/5 stars
  11. Under the Banner of Heaven, 2/5 stars
  12. The Snow Leopard, 1/5 stars

Didn’t finish two, didn’t rate one because I was clearly not the target audience and couldn’t bring myself to rate it poorly. Only two of them got a single star, while three got the full five, but lots of them didn’t live up to my expectations based on my interest in their subject matter.

Banned Books

  1. Fahrenheit 451, 1/5 stars
  2. The Color Purple, 4/5 stars
  3. The Giver, 5/5 stars
  4. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, DNF, 2/5 stars
  5. Women in Love, DNF, 2/5 stars
  6. Big Breasts & Wide Hips, DNF, 1/5 stars
  7. Speak, 5/5 stars
  8. The Golden Compass, 3/5 stars
  9. The Dead Zone, 2/5 stars
  10. Grendel, 2/5 stars
  11. The Lightning Thief, 4/5 stars
  12. One Hundred Years of Solitude, DNF, 1/5 stars

Didn’t finish four, a big jump from the first two categories. Lots of 1’s and 2’s, only two rated at 5 stars. Disappointing overall.

#ownvoices

  1. Three Strong Women, DNF, 1/5 stars
  2. How Stella Got Her Groove Back, 2/5 stars
  3. The Hate U Give, 3/5 stars
  4. The House on Mango Street, 2/5 stars
  5. Women of the Silk, 3/5 stars
  6. The Death of Vishnu, 2/5 stars
  7. Daughter of Fortune, 3/5 stars
  8. The Gift of Rain, DNF, 2/5 stars
  9. Saving Fish From Drowning, 2/5 stars
  10. A Day Late and a Dollar Short, DNF, 1/5 stars
  11. A Free Life, DNF, 1/5 stars
  12. The Pearl That Broke Its Shell, 2/5 stars

The theme for these was definitely different cultures–I’ve got a mix of black, Hispanic, and Asian authors, plus one each from India and Afghanistan. What I’m sorely lacking is queer voices, though I did read some queer lit not for this challenge; also books by/about neurodivergent or disabled people. Massive oversight, though every single one of these came from my previously-owned collection (because of Mount TBR) so if I’d been choosing from books I didn’t own, my selections might have been broader. I didn’t rate any of these particularly highly, though my quibbles mostly tended to be with the quality of the writing rather than the story or message presented. Still, I could have done better, and though I don’t intend to do this challenge again formally, I am still going to make an effort to seek out quality #ownvoices works from a wider range of authors.

Overall? I’m glad I pushed myself this way, but it was a hefty challenge and I’m looking forward to a lighter 2019 without this.

This Week, I Read… (2018 #48)

171 - The Pearl that Broke its Shell

#171 – The Pearl That Broke Its Shell, by Nadia Hashimi

A potentially interesting story that got bogged down under its own weight.

The structure of two intertwined narratives is a good one for the aim of this book, but both the present and the past are treated with equal weight, though the past narrative is supposed to be an inspirational story influencing the present protagonist; it could have been shorter.

In fact, they both could have been shorter, because most pages seemed filled to the brim with dialogue that was often repetitive, either one character restating what another had said, or the protagonist in the present narrative vocalizing her internal monologue. At nearly 500 pages, this simply went on too long to really captivate me. At 2/3 of that, or maybe even 3/4, it would have been a much stronger story.

As for the tale itself? Misery piled upon misery, with our plucky heroines finding the strength to do something about it. The characterization is strong, but the plot is meandering and often predictable, at least if you’ve read any Afghani fiction before.

172 - Saga Vol. 1

#172 – Saga, Vol. 1, by Brian K. Vaughan & Fiona Staples

[Challenge note: Now that I’ve read this, I’m not sure it’s much like the “cyberpunk” I’m familiar with; I got it from a suggested list, because I’ve already read most of the genre’s classics. That being said, I’m glad I did read it even if it didn’t quite fit the task, because…]

I loved everything about this, the writing, the weirdness, the art style, the color palette. I binged it in a single sitting and I’m overjoyed that my library has all of it.

Do I have any criticisms? Not really. I have a lot of unanswered questions, but that’s the trouble sometimes with reviewing pieces of a sequential work–I can’t say much about this as a finished object, because it’s not. However, I do think it serves as a solid introduction to what I assume the story is going to be–it’s full of action and tender moments both; it’s weird as all get out but in a way I groove with; the “adult” content is present but not gratuitous or merely for shock/titillation value; and it tells the story of the birth of little Hazel, overlaid with her narration, in a way that screams both “nostalgia” and “fascinating protagonist to come.”

The rest of the series is going on my TBR immediately.