2015 in Books

_2015I’m going to go ahead and write my reading review before the new year this time, because I don’t have the slightest intention of finishing another book before 2016 rolls around. Aren’t you so happy? It’s like an early Christmas present, only it’s an early New Year’s present! That no one actually wants!

By way of shortcut, if you want a straightforward list of books read this year, you can get that here for another couple of weeks, and then here afterward. Or you can check my Goodreads 2015 reckoning if you’d prefer.

Every year I go through and make lists and graphs to analyze my reading, to absolutely no purpose because it’s not as if I ever make adjustments or anything. I read what I like when I like to read it and do my best to feel no shame when that ends up being a long string of vampire-infested romance novels. (Although, I’d argue strenuously that this year’s quasi-embarrassing series, The Black Dagger Brotherhood, might be more accurately described as¬†romance-infested vampire novels.) Then I take those lists and graphs and turn them into a blog post that I’m sure pretty much no one actually enjoys except myself — and they are a highlight of my New Year every time. ūüôā

If you’re the rare individual who actually¬†does find this interesting, you can find my previous years-in-books here: 2014,¬†2013, 2012,2011, and¬†2010.

I track my books on Goodreads and do their annual reading challenge, in which you just set a goal and try to read that many books. This wasn’t a particularly great year for my reading, and I honestly wouldn’t have met my goal if I hadn’t included a handful of picture books that I read with Henry or on my own in December. This has been a really full-speed-ahead year at work, plus I’ve spent the majority of the year in varying degrees of “pregnant with a two-year-old,” so my stats are down. But since I just do it for the fun of it anyway, I’m not concerned.

This year I set a goal of 75 books and ended up reading 81. That isn’t as great as last year’s even 100, but it isn’t the worst of the past six years I’ve been tracking.

Books_Read_2010-2015_View_2

That comes out to about 25,000 pages this year.

Pages_Read_2010-2015_View_2

As a teacher, I definitely have “seasons” ¬†for reading. I obviously get a lot more read in the summer than in the school year, usually with a spike in December/January due to Christmas break and the really long dark evenings here. I like to track month-to-month reading, again just for the heck of it.

Here’s this year in books, monthly:

Books_Read_in_2015Pages_Read_in_2015
That’s a nice bump in books in December, but not so much pages — lots of picture books. ūüôā As anticipated, my real peak reading took place in July.

And of course, because there’s no such thing as too many graphs, I compared monthly reading for the past six years:

Books_Read_2010-2015Pages_Read_2010-2015

These are kind of interesting to me (although getting harder to read each year — may no longer be a usable format) because I can see not only how each year stacks up to the next, but whether I have a consistent trend in terms of when I’m doing my reading. Why was the late winter of 2011 such a humdinger? What was the difference between the late fall of 2011 vs. 2013? Intriguing.

As previously noted, this year I devoted a lot of pages to J. R. Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood series, which is an interesting beast. I absolutely despise the titles and covers of these books, to the point where I have on many instances refused to read them in public and do my best to hide my updates on them from my Facebook and Goodreads feed. Why, you might ask? Well, let me allow some pictures to speak for themselves.

covers

At a glance, it’s pretty obvious what these books are about, right? Lover this, lover that, shirtless people necking. What¬†are you reading, Mrs. Baker? Scandalous!

In fact, although there are some pretty detailed¬†steamy scenes in each of these, they really aren’t romance novels at all. They’re urban fantasy action/adventure stories about a group of vampiric soldiers who fight a (somewhat vaguely-explained) ongoing war against bad guy slayers while also battling various psychological or physiological battles in their personal lives. Lots of fight scenes, suspenseful storylines, intrigue, etc.. And in fairness, in each book, one of the vampires falls in love and is saved (literally and/or figuratively) by the object of his affection… so I guess that’s what makes them romance novels, in a blood-drenched Byronic sort of way. They’re fun, fast-paced, and don’t require a lot of emotional or mental investment, which is pretty perfect for me at this stage in my life. So yeah, romance-infested vampire novels, rather than vampire-infested romance novels.

But I mean…¬†seriously. Were these titles and cover art decisions really necessary? Were they Ward’s idea or did she fall victim to a publisher who wanted to market these their way? The titles alone sometimes have only a tangential relationship to the plot — my “favorite” probably being Lover Avenged, in which vengeance played a really minor role in the big scheme of things. And the covers? Again —¬†seriously? Of the sampling above, only¬†Lover Avenged¬†and perhaps Lover Mine¬†(top left and bottom right corners)¬†really reflect the characters within in any way; the others are all anonymous torsos airbrushed to emphasize the HOT SEXINESS of these books while I’m just sitting here, reading about vamp-warriors beating the crap out of bad guys and trying to hide the cover of my paperback. Stupid problems, I know.

I read a fairly unmemorable smattering of fantasy in an attempt to find another series that held my interest as effectively as the Dresden Files. The best of these was the Monster Hunter series by Larry Correia, an author I wrestled with because I find his Sad Puppy¬†associations quite distasteful, but whose books are pure fun for someone who likes the sort of books I like. His Hard Magic series, which was the interesting blend of alt-history urban fantasy, was also a lot of fun. I also finished, with some sadness, Kim Harrison’s The Hollows series, which I enjoyed very much and will probably end up re-reading at some point.

I also read some rather good picture books, a couple of decent graphic novels, the slightly-disappointing next installment in Kiera Cass’s Selection series, the really-quite-good¬†Seraphina, and the excellent-as-expected¬†Lock In¬†and¬†The Human Division¬†(AND I got to meet the author!) I also read a couple of good “serious” books, my favorite of which was¬†All the Light We Cannot See by homeboy Anthony Doerr. Oh, and I read the first two volumes in the¬†Game of Thrones series, which I enjoyed, but hadn’t been especially inspired to go on to the next book just yet.

My least favorite books of the year were¬†Halfway to the Grave¬†(just unremarkable),¬†Go Set a Watchman¬†(yep, should not have been published),¬†As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of the Princess Bride¬†(which I really wanted to like but just found disappointing),¬†The Unbearable Lightness of Dragons¬†(ditto, but not surprised — I haven’t been able to enjoy these books since the focus shifted away from Aisling Grey), and¬†Loki’s Wolves¬†(for which I had high hopes, but turned out to be a weak Percy Jackson knockoff — and given my mediocre opinion of PJ, that’s saying something).

And my 2015 obscure recommendation for all y’all out there in DYHJ-land?

The Giant Beard that Was Evil

I really got a kick out of this graphic novel. It’s unlike anything I’d ever read before. Thought-provoking, aesthetically intriguing, and readable on multiple levels — like, I’ve had sixth graders check it out and find it fun and silly, and I’ve also imagined a unit where I use it with twelfth graders alongside¬†1984 to discuss dystopia/utopia, societal norms/taboos, and philosophy. It may be a little hard to get your hands on it, as it’s not the cheapest book ever, but it was published in October 2014 so you can still find it on Amazon and in your better libraries (like mine ;)).

Lest I forget, here’s my annual Pie Chart of Genre Happiness:

Genre_Breakdown_2015

 

I categorize books into as many genres as seem appropriate — usually between 1-3 — and see how things break down. Every year, urban fantasy/paranormal romance makes up a good chunk of my reading; it’s just what I like to read for fun, especially in the dark winter months. Picture books honestly make up a bigger chunk than is represented, but I only count them once, and then only if they have something akin to a plot, were worth the trouble to log into Goodreads and mark them down, and if I remember to do it (or am coming up short on my yearly goal and need to bump up my stats). This year was shockingly bad for MG/YA books — I’ve had a hard time getting my mind to focus on “professional reading,” which this is for me, and there haven’t been as many new releases that commanded my attention. Will need to try harder next year. Somehow my label for general/realistic fiction lost its tail; it’s the sagey-green wedge between fantasy and graphic novel.

 

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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 Glass.¬†I’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 #15

SGF Reading

Reading Update:¬†Today is Wednesday, April 16. As of late tonight, I have read 36 books this year. Two of them were picture books (Mouse Paint and¬†Grover’s First Day of School). The third was Sherrilyn Kenyon’s¬†Styxx, a 1008-page behemoth that took me a couple of weeks to polish off. And the fourth was Jennifer A. Nielsen’s¬†The False Prince.

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(Notice any trends in cover design?)

Okay, so¬†Styxx was not an easy book to read. I mean, it was¬†profoundly easy to read, because Kenyon’s a good writer (with caveats to be explained shortly) and I like her voice/style. But it was so brutal.¬†I mentioned some of that last week. And I mean, yes. Obviously reading an¬†account of the life of someone sold into sexual slavery, or of someone who suffers physical and emotional abuse, is going¬†to be rough. But for me, what was really wrenching was how Styxx was so helpless in the face of all this evil that was done to him — by the gods, especially, but also his family. And let’s just put that out here: Betrayal is waaaay up there at the top of my List of Things that Upset Me, and what greater betrayal is there than a family that rejects you for something outside of your control? Even though I knew how this book would end (trust me, once you’ve read a couple Kenyon books, you know how they¬†all end, which is actually a rather lovely and restful thing) my heart just kept breaking for this guy. And that’s the genius of¬†Styxx, because before this book, the rest of the series had trained me to despise him. Well done, Sherrilyn. I really applaud her research and the fact that she refuses to let her series be¬†just paranormal fantasy, or¬†just romance — it’s complex, and thoughtful, and multidimensional. She resists absolutes in a genre that too often embraces them.

I’m going to keep going; I figure if a book’s page count breaks into four digits I can take some more time writing about it, right?

Like¬†Acheron,¬†Styxx is really two novels in one. The first 3/4 of the book is a, if you’ll excuse the subgenrefication, historical fantasy. Kenyon paints a vivid picture of a super-ancient Greece, before the fall of Atlantis, and sets it as the stage for a massive mythological melodrama. The gods meddle, the humans react, and innocent lives are caught and buffeted in between. This part of the book is very R-rated, but it in no way qualifies as a romance novel (differing from the bulk of Kenyon’s writing, which are solidly in the romance category although heavily influenced by urban fantasy). Again, like the first portion of¬†Acheron, this part of¬†Styxx is very well written and I found myself completely immersed in the story.

The last part of the book fast-forwards to the early 2000s and the modern-day issues facing the surviving gods, demigods, and other characters. It’s more in the fantasy/action genre, and if you ask me it seems clear that it was written much more quickly and with less love and attention than the rest of the book. We get repeated exposition, clunky dialogue, dropped threads of subplot, and other little messy things that are distracting after the tightly woven fabric of the ancient Greece part of the story. Plus, it’s a rehash — from a different perspective — of events I’d already read in other books from the series, so there was a pervading sense of¬†d√©j√† vu.

It kind of bothered me to have my loyalties shaken up (I’ve been a big Acheron fan, but now? His twin seems the better man, and I’m not entirely sure what to do with that! #bookwormproblems) and I’m still a little confused as to what, exactly, was going on in all the times when Styxx and Acheron had their memories messed with, but this was a good solid 4.5 stars for me. I wouldn’t recommend it to the general public, but if you’ve been a Dark-Hunter series reader, you absolutely have to drop everything and read¬†Styxx now.

Hey, there was another book I read, too. I read¬†The False Prince, the first book in a middle-level/early YA trilogy, because its author, Jennifer A. Nielsen, is coming to my school for an author visit next Thursday. I’m going to try to read all of her books before she comes, if I can pry them out of the hands of our students (ha ha). They’re all pretty quick reads.¬†The False Prince was an action-adventure fairy tale about a bunch of orphans (sorta) sucked into a plot to overthrow (sorta) the kingdom. For most of the book I felt like it was a bit too simple for my tastes, but I kept reminding myself that I was reading a book written for twelve-year-olds. Then as all the loose ends began to knit together, I realized that this was a more sophisticated story than I’d assumed. I mean, I’m an accomplished reader. I knew exactly what was going on with this novel long before it told us. But I still appreciated the cleverness and am excited to see what happens in the other two books.

Currently Reading/Looking Ahead:¬†I just finished¬†The False Prince and haven’t started anything new yet. However, the copy of Nielsen’s¬†Elliot and the Goblin War (the first in a trilogy written for upper elementary/lower middle) that I had on hold just came in, so I’ll probably read it this afternoon. I have several adult books waiting in the wings, starting with¬†Made in the U.S.A.¬†by Billie Letts, but I’m going to try to finish both Nielsen trilogies first in advance of the author visit. I’m trying to land an interview with her, and I feel like I ought to be familiar with her books first. Of course, my brain is now in paranormal romance/urban fantasy mode, thanks to¬†Styxx, so I may succumb to that temptation if a book presents itself at a vulnerable moment.