2016 in Books

It has been so long since I logged onto WordPress that I almost didn’t remember how to do it… oops… And here we are, with only 3 posts between this one and last year’s book roundup! Wow… Not sure whether I should pledge to do better, or just give up the ghost entirely… Anyway, it’s January 1 which means it is time for my annual “stats and charts about books” post… You can read old ones at 20152014, 2013, 2012, 2011, and 2010.

2016 reading challenge completed iconThis hasn’t been a banner year for personal reading. Having a baby in January, and having a 3-year-old to boot, will do that to you. Picture books, though — we read LOTS of picture books. So many, in fact, that this morning I realized that I’d left two favorites off and had to go back and add them, putting me at 204% of my reading goal instead of the 200% I’d thought I would end at. I set a goal for 52 books and, once you add in the 49 picture books that stuck in my memory enough to be recorded, I more than doubled that goal. Of course, that means that less than half of the books I read this year had page counts in the triple-digits or intended reader age in the double-digits… But I’m pretty okay with that.

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Here’s the genre breakdown, showing a disproportionate allocation of books for the 6-and-under crowd:

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(To be completely accurate, a great many of those picture books were actually ones I read in two different batches while shopping for great new picture books to try to purchase for the school library.)

My genre identification is completely based on my own impression/opinion/perspective, and I tend to give a book no more than 4 labels (2 is better). With picture books I rarely add a more specific genre label unless they are nonfiction. When you look at the three largest wedges (excluding picture books) you should know that my preferred books tend to fall in all three of those categories — that is, the exact same books are represented by each of those three wedges.

Time to break it down by the months! I had some EXTREMELY weak months this year; October in particular was pretty laughable, with only 2 books and a total of 457 pages. The best month, if you focus only on the number of books, was June (I spent an afternoon binge-reading picture books) but February, when I was on maternity leave, wins with page count at 2,295.

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(Random side-note… in Excel my red and orange looked like distinct colors, but in WordPress they look almost identical. Oops. Sorry about that, those of you who care.)

This next graph highlights the disparity between book and page count so you can easily see the impact of a picture book-rich diet:

books-vs-pages

Ordinarily, the blue line should be considerably higher than the red line (design note: books are on a X100 scale). January through April show a normal distribution of books/pages. Then we get into May and June, where the red line is actually taller than the blue one — craziness! Lots of picture books those months.

It’s also instructive to examine the year’s reading in relationship to previous years. As you can see below, my total book level is well in line with past years.

books-read-2010-2016

My page count, however… well, the graph speaks for itself:

pages-read-2010-2016

Lowest EVER. Hahaha… That said, some of the 32-page picture books I read this year were better than many 320-page novels I’ve read in my life!

So what were the 106 books I read this year, and which were the best?

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popularityThis year, Goodreads made a nifty little infographic thingy that, among other things, told me that the most popular book I read in 2016 was The Martian. It was definitely one of the better books of the year as well. I loved the author’s voice and the way he threaded the needle with the perfect amount of scientific detail.

I also loved The Name of the Wind and am looking forward to reading the sequel, although I’m kind of dreading it because I know the final book in the trilogy is stalled.

At the Water’s Edge was a book club selection that I ended up liking quite a bit. Historical fiction with the Loch Ness Monster in it!

I also thoroughly enjoyed the graphic novel Phoebe and Her Unicorn and the latest installments in two YA/”new adult” series, Queen of Shadows and Court of Mist and Fury.

Which were my favorite picture books? The best ones came in my birthday present from my illustrator sister Meredith — a whole batch of beautiful books about books. It’s hard to go wrong with Oliver Jeffers/A Child of Books! But my very favorite picture book was the gorgeous and sentimental You Belong Here by M.H. Clark and Isabelle Arsenault. Definitely a “read to your little kids” favorite, but wonderful.

My worst two books of the year were MacRieve and Night Pleasures, neither of which were a pleasure. Bleh.

Oh, Goodreads also has this comparison to share:

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On dock, I’ve got Hounded (recommended by many trusted reader friends) and The Aeronaut’s Windlass (first in a series by the author of my favorite series) in addition to the aforementioned The Wise Man’s Fear (sequel to Name of the Wind)I’m also midway through the second book in the Phoebe/Unicorn series and a YA mystery novel called The Unfortunate Decisions of Dahlia Moss, which sadly hasn’t done much to hold my attention but deserves to be finished.

Well, I’ve got kids climbing on me, so I guess I’ll wrap this up. Did you read anything great last year? Looking forward to any particular books in 2017? Let me know!

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Reading Update #27?

SGF Reading

Reading Update: Today is Thursday, July 10. It is hard to remember to blog during summer break, especially when I am prepping for and teaching summer school, and also doing a bundle of other things… oops. But here I am. As of today, I’ve read 67 books toward my goal of 100 for 2014.

Since last time, I’ve read the following eight books:

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Not so very much to say about Corduroy and Pooh Loves unless you’re reading to a toddler…

The Assassin’s Blade is a collection of prequel novellas in the Throne of Glass series. I was expecting them to be dreadful, but they were pretty good, and made me all the more eager for the next book to get published.

Graceling is one of those books that had been recommended to me several times by various friends. It focuses on a young woman who has the Grace (think Xanthian Talent, or superpower) of near invincibility. She’s a powerful fighter and nothing seems able to hurt her. In rapid succession she rebels against her king, rejects her suitor, chops off her hair, falls in love, and runs off on an adventure. It was interesting enough that I read it very quickly, and would like to read the other two books in the series so far, but I don’t really see what all the fuss is about. It felt thin, and I feel like other books have done the same basic story better.

Shadow and Bone is the first in yet another YA fantasy trilogy, this one taking place in a fantastical Russia-ish land. Its protagonist is a orphaned girl conscripted into her country’s military, who discovers an unrealized magical power when she and her beloved friend are attacked. From there she is swept up into a world of glamour and intrigue — and betrayal. I thought this was really well done; I actually cared about the characters, even though they were written in simpler strokes for younger readers. For the first 3/4 of the book I felt it was a pretty great middle grade fantasy in the Narnia vein; later, some more adult situations complicate things, and the very end of the book felt quite rushed and thrown together. Altogether, I quite enjoyed this one and am anxious to read the next book.

The Daughter of Smoke and Bone series was recommended to me by J, and I’d heard a lot of positive chatter from other sources. Here is a place where the hype was right! SUCH a good story. Karou is an eccentric art student in Prague, but of course this is one of those classic “quirky character is more than s/he appears to be and is in fact a messiah figure” tales. The character writing is fantastic, and the complicated moral ground and romantic subplot make this sophisticated enough for adults.

Currently Reading/Looking Ahead: I picked up The Season last night but I’m not impressed. May go by my library this afternoon and pick up Siege and Storm. As long as I’m catching up with my MG/YA collection I probably ought to pick up some realistic fiction, but I’m just not in the mood right now.

Reading Update #21

SGF Reading

Reading Update: Today is Monday, May 27.  As of today, I have read 56 books toward my new goal of 100.

Since last week, I read the following books:

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I’ll start with the picture books and move up.

A Pocket Full of Kisses is apparently a sequel, but I didn’t realize that when I read it. I was immediately drawn to the artwork and the fact that it’s about raccoons. I really loved raccoons when I was little. Thought I’d have one as a pet one day (thanks, Sterling North); my most threadbare stuffed animal from my childhood is Rocky, my beloved raccoon. As an adult living in a place where raccoons are a reality instead of a fun idea, I’ve come to learn that they aren’t exactly the endearing woodland friends of my early imagination, but I still find them — and their adorable hands! — fascinating. Anyway, in this book, the main character is a raccoon who is trying to adjust to having a new baby brother. He’s becoming annoyed at the way his brother encroaches on his life, and worries that his mama may not love him as much now that she has two children. Mama Raccoon puts his fears to rest by giving him extra kisses to keep in his pocket. It was very sweet, and now I want to track down the first book!

New Baby Train is an adorably illustrated folk song offering up an alternative theory to the whole “stork” thing. Rather than tell you more, I’ll point you in the direction of a YouTube video that brings song and book together:

Moving on from little kid books to YA books, we have Throne of GlassI’d been wanting to borrow this from our school library for a while but hadn’t gotten around to it before this past weekend. The cover art, concept, and its popularity with my pickier fantasy-loving boys drew my attention. It’s the first in a series (six novels projected, plus a collection of prequel novellas); book 3 comes out in September. It features a young female assassin fighting to win a position as the King’s Champion — but more importantly, for her promised freedom after four years of royal service. On the positive side of the equation, I read this book quickly and eagerly, and have book 2 sitting at hand. I liked that there is a strong supporting character who isn’t a Generic White Person. On the negative side, the characters left me flat. The protagonist is annoyingly and unrealistically vain and immature; I couldn’t work up any interest in which boy would win the girl. And the book suffers badly from purple prose. That said… book 2. Here next to me. So there’s obviously something working correctly here. (Also: Why do my male students like this book so much? It’s very girl-oriented. The book even mentions menstruation! Interesting.)

And moving on from YA books, past adult books, into Adult Books, we have Possession. This is book 5 in the Fallen Angels series by J.R. Ward. It’s an urban fantasy, heaven vs. hell epic, peppered liberally (well, not so much in this book, which was a welcome change of pace) with steamy scenes of demonic, angelic, and human sexcapades. Definitely classy reading. I liked this one better than some of the previous installments; it’s definitely not great literature, but better than your average romance novel and on the upper end of the majority of urban fantasies I’ve read, so there you have it. Start at the beginning with Covet if this genre is your cup of tea.

Currently Reading: I need to wrap up The Absolute Sandman Vol. 1.

Looking Ahead: Crown of Midnight (sequel to Throne of Glass) is in the wings…

Reading Update #20

SGF Reading

 

Reading Update: Today is Wednesday, May 21. As of today, I have read 52 books and got myself one of these thingamajiggers:

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Which, of course, is just patently silly. Obviously when I set this goal I wasn’t taking picture books into consideration! So I guess I’m going to go ahead and change my goal… hold that thought…

52of100

Okay. That’s better.

Since last week, I read the following books:

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All of the above were fewer than fifty pages in length. (I’ve been reading a couple of big fat books, too, but just haven’t finished them.) With the exception of The Night Bookmobile, they’re all children’s picture books.

Listen to the Wind is a kid’s adaptation of the Three Cups of Tea story. I always kind of look askance at Greg Mortenson stuff, after all the scandal and whatnot, but the artwork in this picture book blew me away. Plus, if you take the discrepancies and financial indiscretions off the table, Mortenson’s story really is inspirational and has a great sort of message for young readers. This book is obviously a vast over-simplification of the whole tale, but worthwhile and a good adaptation.

Henry’s Heart is a densely assembled nonfiction-ish picture book about the human circulatory system. It’s awfully cute and would be a big hit with little kids with an interest in science and medicine. It’s not a great read-aloud book because of the non-linear writing (lots of sidebars) but a lot of children would get a kick out of poring over all the little details. I think it would also be a good supplemental text or something for a health class!

I quite liked Princess Hyacinth: The Surprising Tale of a Girl Who Floated. It’s exactly the sort of storybook I would have adored as a child. Just a sweet little fairy tale, with endearing illustrations and the sort of less-than-perfect ending that appeals to me.

My Name is Sangoel is the story of a refugee boy who struggles to find a way to maintain his identity after moving to America. None of the people he meets in America can pronounce his name, until he comes up with a clever way to bridge the language gap. It is sweet and simple, and would be a terrific book to share with young students who have classmates from other countries.

I really loved the artwork and text design in Mermaid Queen: The Spectacular True Story Of Annette Kellerman, Who Swam Her Way To Fame, Fortune & Swimsuit History! It’s another nonfiction picture book and tells an abbreviated version of Annette Kellerman’s life. I wish that it had gone into a little bit more detail about her early medical problems; I think most young readers will miss entirely the fact that she was (initially) disabled.

Then there’s The Night Bookmobile. Oomph. That’s the sound of being kicked in the stomach. On the one hand, this book was SO good. I loved the concept of the Bookmobile and the Library, and the protagonist’s yearning for the Bookmobile resonated deeply with me. I’m sure it would with any lover of stories. But the resolution? The protagonist’s choice? The way she let her desire for something unattainable ruin all of the many good things in her real life? Ugh. This book falls in the unhappy category of being one I would recommend to tons of people, except for the fact that I can’t, because it would feel too much like an endorsement of something reprehensible. Pooh.

Finally we have Extra Yarn, which was so very nice. I love Klassen’s artwork, obviously, but I also loved the story and its adaptable metaphor — for happiness, kindness, love, you pick ’em. Lovely, lovely, lovely.

Currently Reading: Here, let me just copy and paste exactly what I wrote last week for this section.

I have Possession (book 5 in the Fallen Angels series, a dreadful guilty pleasure of mine) for on-the-road, and a MASSIVE copy of the first volume of The Absolute Sandman at home. It stays safely at home because it’s the public library’s, and I don’t want anything to happen to it (as it’s rather wildly expensive) and it seems like it might be somewhat safer there.

Ta-da!

Looking Ahead: I don’t even know. Ha! I guess we’ll see what strikes my fancy next after I finally finish these other two behemoths.

 

Reading Update #11

SGF Reading SPD

Reading Update: It is Monday, March 17 — St. Patrick’s Day! I’m wearing green but sadly am not reading a green book, although we did make a green book display for the library. As of today, I have read 26 books toward my goal of 52 and am, evidently, halfway there. The four most recent books are a baby book (Fox Makes Friends), a kid’s book (Odd and the Frost Giants), an adult anthology of fantasy, science fiction, and paranormal fiction (Strange Candy), and an adult horror-parody (Paul is Undead: The British Zombie Invasion).

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What shall I say about Paul is Undead? It was clever, funny, and a pretty nicely done zombie parody. It was also gross and full of zombies, which for me is not a recommendation. That said, I read the entire thing — and I’m not known to finish books unless I want to. I recommended it to a few different zombiephiles but didn’t care to keep it after I finished reading.

Fox Makes Friends is a prettily illustrated book about how we can’t force friendships, but that friendships grow naturally out of doing things together. Very cute. Definitely a good one for the preschool/kindergarten set.

I’m addicted to Laurell K. Hamilton (or at least her Anita books) in much the same way one is addicted to junk food. I know it’s not good, but I just can’t help myself. I hadn’t yet read this collection of her short fiction, and was pretty excited to get a copy of it for fifty cents. As it turns out, the collection is pretty hit-and-miss. Her introductory notes are often bitter, making me wonder how many professional bridges she’s burned down. Some of the stories suffered from insufficient editing, and several were forgettable, but many of them were captivating enough that their worlds and characters are still occupying space in my brain and making me crave another installment.

And then Odd and the Frost Giants. I fear I feel that Neil Gaiman can do no wrong, so I’m hardly an unbiased judge of this book. I got it at the used book sale and was surprised to find that it was a book written at the older elementary/early middle school level; I’d been under the impression that it was a picture book, hence having not yet read it. Odd is a little story about a twelve-year-old Viking boy who falls in with some down-on-their-luck Norse gods just in time to save the universe. It will be surprising to no one that the book was reminiscent to me of American Gods, and I’ll have to be forgiven if it also made me think about the recent Thor movies; although I wasn’t picturing Hemsworth and Hiddleston in their Odd roles, I definitely imagined Gaiman’s Odin being played by Hopkins. I was also reminded of an old childhood favorite of mine, Ludo and the Star Horse, which I would like to find and bring to our library at some point.

Currently Reading: I’m not exactly sure I’m actively reading anything. I feel like I ought to finish City of Dark Magic, but it’s not exactly calling to me, so we’ll see. I’m not giving up on the others yet, either (Book of Deadly Animals and Far from the Tree) but don’t exactly expect to make any progress on those in the next few days. Really, I need something light right now. Something easy and fun to read for those of us whose infant sons are on a sleep strike.

Looking Ahead: I need to start (and finish) Let the Great World Spin for book club, but I’m feeling a smidgen intimidated by it right now; it looks as though I’m going to have to pay attention to it, and I’m a wee bit sleep deprived for that. I’ve also got Made in the U.S.A. on standby. We’ll see what I actually accomplish by next Monday….

 

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?

Monday Reading

Reading Update: It is Monday, January 13, and for once I’m actually remembering to do this before Tuesday! As of today, I have read 3 books toward my goal of 52 for the year (unless you count the eighty or so times I’ve “read” Hippo Goes Splash with my kidlet). I’ve added two lengthy tomes (The Musical Life of Gustav Mole and Sidney, Stella, and the Moon) to last week’s offerings:

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Currently Reading: I’m still reading, and very much enjoying, The Night Circus. If I had a slow afternoon I’m pretty sure I could finish it up; tonight is orchestra rehearsal, which would ordinarily give me that time, but with this concert I never sit down so I probably won’t hit “The End” just yet. It’s such an interesting book, not the least of which because I can’t quite tell what sort of book it is or to whom I would recommend it. I mean, yeah, it’s a fantasy… but it isn’t. Pretty cool.

Yesterday I picked up another book and will probably have it on my “currently reading” list for a while, as it’s not only quite long (976 pages) but the sort of book that requires you to actually think while you read it. The book is Far from the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity by Andrew Solomon and it is fascinating so far.

Night Circus Far from the Tree

Looking Ahead: I am temporarily (this week) sidelining last week’s plan to read YA steampunk lit in order to pick out and read another YA book, as yet to be determined, to be reviewed for a special dealio — more about that later today, hopefully!

It’s Tuesday! What Are You Reading?

TuesdayReading Update: Today is Monday, January 6, 2014 Tuesday, January 7, 2014. This year so far, I have read one book toward my goal of 52 books: Bloodshot, by Cherie Priest. I’m setting the goal low again, as I’m seeing that reading (and blogging) is increasingly challenging with an increasingly-mobile baby, but am hopeful that I’ll get to surpass or even re-set it later this year.

Currently Reading: I received The Night Circus as a gift from a friend in my book club and was very excited; it had been on my to-read list for a while. I started it a couple of days ago and am really enjoying it so far.

Night Circus

Looking Ahead: I am eyeing several of the new books in my (school) library and wanting to check them out. I’ve got a nonfiction picture book, How to Get Rich on the Oregon Trail, on my desk and will probably nibble on it a bit today or tomorrow. I’m also in the process of planning a steampunk-themed month at the library, and we got several new titles in that I’d like to sample so that I can speak more authoritatively about them (The Clockwork Scarab, Uncrashable DakotaThe Lazarus Machine, among others).

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Not to mention, I have an entire shelf at home of books PREVIOUSLY mentioned as “next up” that got sidelined by other more tantalizing (at the moment) options. Oh, and the sequel to Bloodshot… and a handful of other non-YA books…. You’d think, as a librarian, that I’d get paid to read! Ha ha!