2018 Read Harder: What Made the List

The early snow and then the weird temperate rain this year has affected my patience with the Christmas season.

I am lucky enough to always have a lovely Christmas in my home but I am ready to move on to the next part of the year, which is surprising, given the fact that I loathe the time before spring could even suggest rolling in.  I might take down the tree after I write this.  Or I might attend the cardboard bonfire in my yard that is scheduled for all the Christmas shipping boxes later this afternoon.  I agree with the memes about this week of the year being one that feels nearly unmoored, even though I attended work to get some structure back into my life.

Working through the Royal Spyness series backlist books has been a light and fun distraction to this week that is always weird, no matter what I try to do with it.  Always the best on audio with the late but brilliant Katherine Kelgren.

But how did I do for my 2018 reading?

I surpassed my reading goal this year of 60 books.  Not as much as other years, but I have a full manuscript written out and half revised.   I will sacrifice 40 books this year for that goal, certainly.  And more books will be sacrificed when I get back to revising in the new year.

BookRiot’s Read Harder List 2018:

  1. A book published posthumously : The Master and Margarita,  Mikhail Bulgakov
  2. A book of true crime:  The Spider and the Fly, Claudia Rowe
  3. A classic of genre fiction (i.e. mystery, sci fi/fantasy, romance): Like Water for Chocolate, Laura Esquivel
  4. A comic written and drawn by the same person:  Anya’s Ghost,  Vera Brosgol
  5. A book set in or about one of the five BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China, or South Africa): The Bear and the Nightingale, Katherine Arden
  6. A book about nature: H is for Hawk, Helen MacDonald
  7. A western:  News of the World, Paulette Jiles
  8. A comic written or drawn by a person of color:  Black Panther, TaNehisi Coates
  9. A book of colonial or postcolonial literature: Homegoing, Yaa Gyasi
  10. A romance novel by or about a person of color:  The Dutchess War,  Courtney Milan
  11. A children’s classic published before 1980:  Mowgli Stories, Rudyard Kipling
  12. A celebrity memoir:  Bossypants, Tina Fey
  13. An Oprah Book Club selection:  Here on Earth, Alice Hoffman
  14. A book of social science: The Wisdom of Psychopaths, Kevin Dutton
  15. A one-sitting book: The Vegetarian, Han Kang
  16. The first book in a new-to-you YA or middle grade series:  To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, Jenny Han
  17. A sci fi novel with a female protagonist by a female author:  Parable of the Sower, Octavia Butler, and Who Fears Death, Nnedi Okorafor
  18. A comic that isn’t published by Marvel, DC, or Image: The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa
  19. A book of genre fiction in translation:  Black Tea and Other Stories,  Samuel Marolla
  20. A book with a cover you hate:  My Brilliant Friend, Elena Ferrarante
  21. A mystery by a person of color or LGBTQ+ author:  Tall Tail,  Rita Mae Brown
  22. An essay anthology:  Best Food Writing 2018, Ruth Reichl
  23. A book with a female protagonist over the age of 60:  Kitchen God’s Wife, Amy Tan
  24. An assigned book you hated (or never finished):  Age of Innocence, Edith Wharton

I have noted before that I didn’t read any 2018 releases this year that I can think of, so I don’t have any Best of 2018 recommendations.  Other readers have certainly taken care of that for me and made me curious, now that the year is over, what I may have missed.  Circe, Where the Crawdads Sing, You’ll Find me in the Dark, etc.

I don’t know if I can pick a very favorite off this list. I have been trying to think of the books that stood out of this year’s reading, but I love reading, and I love what this reading challenge brings to my perspective on the world, and I loved most of these.  Most hit the blog in the form of a review.

I have to say that I feel weird sometimes when I am searching out books for these categories, combing for pictures of authors to be sure they are of color or reading their bios for their gender/sexual orientation.  The recommendation that I look at award lists is helpful, because some authors identify as color and they look white to me.  I am not a judge of these things.

Next week I hope to have hammered out some reading goals to share, deciding what lists to do, clarify writing goals.  I have the perfect creative space now and I want to also share my pictures of that.

Happy and Safe New Year!

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Christmas Reads: Nora Roberts Shorts

Focusing on finishing my reading year is incredibly hard now that next year’s lists are out and this year’s Best of lists are everywhere, especially since I don’t think I read any new releases this year.  Or very few.

I am justifying the fact I have already picked the books out that I will likely be reading in 2019 with my expectation of AMAZING kindle sales on Christmas week and I have to be ready.  I can’t let the sweet price go by and not be aware that I will NEED that book for my 2019 goals.  I don’t know if Santa is bringing me any Amazon cards, but I should be at the ready.

Another end of year challenge being faced in my house right now is my husband’s not getting into his Christmas socks early because he has blown through all the ones he has right now.  Possibly the elf can bring a few spares to tide him over.

Also a brief shout out to the Audible gift this year, The Christmas Hirelings, an ME Braddon Victorian Christmas item of goodness. I have not been as into their originals that they have been offering monthly yet, which either means I am a picky snob or I don’t tend to read what other people read.  I don’t know what other people read.   Maybe more nonfiction than I do.  But I’m excited about it as I am scrambling to make it to 60 books this year.

Speaking of what other people read, this post is dedicated to two Nora Roberts Christmas short stories as my foray into more popular authors via their Christmas books.

I’m not sure at this point if I regret that decision.  I will summarize them and then discuss my feelings for both of them in one part because I felt the same about both of these.

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All I Want for Christmas, Nora Roberts

Two motherless little boys ask Santa to bring them a Mom for Christmas the same fall where a beautiful young new music teacher assumes the open position in the local school.  She was a cosmopolitan girl but she is settling into small town life for the first time and he is the stoic handsome contractor that is raising his boys on his own, thank you very much, after the boys mother just wasn’t ready to be a mom.  He doesn’t need to let anyone into his life and lets her know it, but they can’t resist their overwhelming attraction to one another.

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Home for Christmas, Nora Roberts

A man comes back to his old home town for Christmas after traveling the globe to reconnect with his high school sweetheart, whom he pretty much abandoned, and unexpectedly reconnects with her for the holiday season.  A second chance at love and family on Christmas.

So, I get it.  She wouldn’t be the queen of romance if she didn’t know how to follow the formula that readers want and expect.  She didn’t have a lot of room with the word count to pursue too much extra or drama and get the couples united in a believably way.  But I felt these were just, blah.  I felt less like a jerk when I saw that Goodreads reviews were okay, but not stellar. She usually clears a four star rating on her novels but these stories didn’t make it to four. She’s a prolific world renowned writer and I read two of her shorts and I am not impressed.  I like the cozy Christmas books I have read more, even if they weren’t high on tension and conflict either.  But as I said, limited word count strips it to the bare romance plot line that is what readers love under all of it.  But they were not my favorite of the bunch this season.

With all of that said, I still intend on reading more Nora before I make a decision on her as a writer and if I want to keep reading her things.  I have Year One and she has some witch novels that deserve a visit.  Maybe I am just not a consumer of straight up romance.  Maybe it isn’t about her.  But I liked other things I read this season better.

Next week is the reading year in review!

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Christmas Reads: Love in a Castle

BookRiot’s Read Harder 2019 list was released on Wednesday!  It doesn’t matter that I am still chewing my way through 2018’s list either!  I even watched the Youtube video released and wrote it down before I could find the list I was so anxious to know what the next year’s lineup was to be.

Plotting my next year projects get me through the doldrums post Christmas and the prospect of the rest of the winter going by without all the Christmas lights twinkling on my way home from work.  Christmas lights are entirely too short lived.

I love the 2019 list.  I can’t tell you that I know how to find all of these books but it is better than the prospect of another celebrity memoir.  I am delighted to say it will be the first memoir free year in many.  Even if I hit Popsugar.

I’d rather hunt for an award winner of color, a non binary or prison author than read about white people ascending to an even more exalted status, even if white people problems will always hold a certain appeal to this Apple product loving, bangs wearing white girl.

Also white people romances in castles at Christmas, which was the intent of this post before the miracle of the new Read Harder list being released.

I lied last week when I said there are no witches in my Christmas romance lineup.  I didn’t know that Scottish time travel romances would involve a meddling magic hub in the form of a woman:

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Morna’s Legacy Christmas Novella Collection:  Scottish, Time Travel Christmas Novellas from Morna’s Legacy Series

I mean, Scotland, Christmas and time travel.  Coming from someone who enjoyed the first in the Outlander series, this was a no-brainer.  Outlander is a little more hard core on the Scottish history, which I loved in the first one but I haven’t read the rest because I heard the sex decreases and the anxiety increases, and, despite the historical accuracy of  it, it’s not enticing reading.

Morna is considerably lighter and these three books are compiled I think to appeal to a wide range of ages.   Two of the three are about older couples falling in love, kind of a second chance you really aren’t too old for this sort of thing and the other one is about traveling back in time to fix a breakup in a young couple just starting out.  Hope that last bit wasn’t a spoiler.  And they all center around the season of love and light, and being with family and finding family at Christmas.

These romances also include some mildly graphic sex, but it is love sex, not hookup sex.  It is like, soulmate sex. These are happily evers for three sets of lovers that, in the beginning, weren’t headed toward that.  It’s wish fulfillment without obstacles that are too harrowing.

All three of these stories were less than ten hours of listening on audio, and audio is always the way to go when you are listening to stories with Scottish characters. Real narrators who can do the accent but still have it understandable.   A decent price. Good background listening to a nice walk or gift wrapping.

I’d love to check out Scotland someday, even though I have heard that it is easy to underestimate how cold the place can be.

In other news, cookie baking was the seasonal activity of the weekend. And getting my husband to score me some massage gift cards for Christmas.  I wasn’t sad I didn’t have to freeze my butt off for a parade and a tree lighting like I did last weekend.

Next week is another holiday foray into a mega famous author’s works again for what I think will be the last Christmas reads post of the season.  I snuck in another read that doesn’t fit in with next week’s post but it might get tossed in anyway if I finish it in time to blog about it.  I’m really enjoying it, so I hope I finish it.

Then it’s my last two Read Harder reads.  Yes, I have three weeks to go and I haven’t finished all my reads and squeezing in the last few reads to make my Goodreads challenge goal.

gray and white castle built near a cliff
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

And I am already the cheater scoping out the internet for my 2019 plan.

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Christmas Reads: Second Chances

My small town did Christmas yesterday, with Santa at the school, a parade and a tree lighting.  It’s a tiny blip on the map so it’s nice to have such an intimate gathering of the town for the holiday.  I always thought it would be really bold of me and somehow impressive to live somewhere like NYC but I think I’m a small town girl at heart. Especially with the internet so I can buy anything I want and have it mailed to me.

Also, Snow-pocalypse has turned more into rain and I took time off from work this week to get Christmas together, shopping, wrapping, etc so I can approach the holiday happy rather than stressed.  I need to make peanut blossom cookies with my son, the peanut butter ones with the chocolate kiss on top, even though he makes no bones about just eating the chocolate.  They are my husband’s favorite holiday cookie.  I’ll decorate some pre-made cookies too with my son and we will call it Christmas.

The two Christmas books for today’s post have to do with second chances.  I didn’t choose them that way:  one was the most recent available audiobook at the library and the other was another famous author Christmas book, but as I went along, binge reading/listening as is the joys of time off, I realized they were both about second chances at love.

 

the christmas train

The Christmas Train, David Baldacci

Okay, so normally I wouldn’t be attracted to Baldacci’s work and because he seems pretty mainstream I wouldn’t come across him for a reading challenge.   It’s interesting that my Christmas reads are what get me to read the mega popular authors.  I guess that makes me a nerd.

And I think this has been my favorite so far of the popular authors Christmas reads.  It was clearly written by an author that likes to layer on the conflict and mystery, with an appreciable final twist.  I notice Christmas books that are more about romance and family don’t have the same tension and twists, and many people like them that way.  But this is a Christmas book with the constant presence of a twist, an intrigue somewhere.

A man who is taking a cross country journey by train for Christmas comes across a second chance at love and connection, as well as a natural disaster and a mystery intrigue.  I binge read this sucker one night when I couldn’t sleep and I kept asking myself why there were more pages because lots of things had already happened in the story.  And I kept thinking to myself, wow, I like this more than I expected to. I could possibly pick up another Baldacci in the future.  I feel like it might be a good read/listen for traveling.  Not that I plan on traveling sans 6 year old any time soon.  But my enjoyment of it was a pleasant surprise, to be sure.

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The Christmas Star, Donna VanLiere

I posted on the previous book in this series, The Christmas Town, last week, commenting that I am kind of late to the game with book #8.  This one was shorter than The Christmas Town and it is a continuation of the stories in #8 with a new set of characters thrown in.  This was sweet and it was happy, and I liked to listen to it while binge knitting, another one of my super cool Mom hobbies. And there is a couple who is thrown together for a second chance at love, and because it’s VanLiere, it’s about family too, and love at Christmas.  I feel that is one of her jams, and it’s one of mine too.   There are the bickering old lady friends to keep it interesting and they get to bicker about wedding planning, an old British woman and an old Southern one.  No stubbornness there, right?

This one did not have the tension and the twists that Baldacci has.  I don’t know if readers who are into his thrillers would like this and vice versa, but I liked them both.  I like how Christmas reads has been a reading challenge for me in its own right.

What I am reading for next week’s post is not a leap for me at all.  It was a big ermagherd this looks great!  It doesn’t have witches, though.  I have a book of holiday shorts with witches in it.  I really do. But I am so much more likely to listen and there’s no audio available.

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Christmas Reads: Family

Happy Hannukah to those who celebrate the light in that way!

I can’t remember the last time I actually wrote a post to be published same day.  The reading is done, but I was waiting for books to come off hold to read them.  I don’t know why I thought I would be able to read them in time to post, but now that I can officially enjoy the Christmas season, I can say that I have caught the optimism of the season.  I went to the annual local parade last night.  All optimism is excused.

It’s raining on the snow and the dog we are sitting is making a serious bid for my breakfast.  The tree is twinkling and I just taught my son the joys of mopping up egg yolk with buttered toast.  As a parent I take my job of establishing a solid foundation of life hacks very seriously.  Yesterday I taught him about the crayon sharpener in the back of the crayon box.  Mind. Blown.

Last year I read my first James Patterson book in the form of The Christmas Wedding.  I don’t think its a bad idea for me to dabble in the mega popular authors via their Christmas novels, so for this post I listened to:

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Skipping Christmas, John Grisham

I remember John Grisham’s legal thrillers being the hot books when I was growing up.   I still haven’t read any of those.  It’s a hard press to get me to pick up a legal thriller, so when I found out he wrote a Christmas short (like eight years ago but I wasn’t reading Christmas books back then) it was perfect.

This is a modern day Scrooge novel.  A modern day tale of love and the meaning of Christmas. If anyone is unfamiliar with the plot, I won’t ruin it, but I wouldn’t have made the same decision at the turning point of the novel that the Kranks do.  And of course his name is Krank, because this is a tale about being a scrooge.  It was a three hour listen and I found out it was made into a Hallmark movie when I went to look up the Caramel Pie recipe mentioned, which turns out other people have done as well and there is a Pinterest recipe.  I haven’t watched it.  I thought also about watching the movie before I blogged.  Thought about it.  Probably everyone else watched it years ago and I found out once I was looking up a recipe from reading the book.  I have always been just this cool.

I liked this better that A Christmas Wedding.  Maybe because I find the premise of A Christmas Wedding annoying and not because of Patterson’s writing.

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The Christmas Town, Donna VanLiere

This was one of the few books that didn’t get caught in my library audiobook Christmas sweep last year. It is narrated by the author and I loved it.

A young woman, Lauren, who was raised in foster care, is looking for a family for Christmas.  She stumbles into a neighboring town where she is taken in by the residents there. Being a Psychologist I love me a story about attachment and love.  Not necessarily romance, and this is not a romance this time, even though I am enjoying them more than I was. I love a story about someone finding a family because Christmas is about family.  Romance with the intention of a relationship that becomes family can also be healing and wonderful, so that’s where it gets me.  I don’t care if I know all along that they will become a family, I like making sure it happens!

This is like book 8 of 9 in the series so I jumped in way late.  It looks like all of these center on the same town and the same cast of characters.  I wish I started at the beginning, but the library audiobooks started at 8, so that’s what happened.  Doesn’t mean I won’t read nine.

Christmas books continue!  I took this week off to get my Christmas anxiety under control via wrapping and mailing.  Some shopping.  And I am hoping to get myself to write during my week off.  Need to get back to it after the gap of parenting and holidays if I am going to make it into anything.

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Bust out the Christmas Reads!

Even though my family was a two weeks before Christmas get the live tree kind of family, I am now part of a fake tree up the weekend after Thanksgiving kind of family.  It confuses my son a little, who thinks Santa should come the moment the thing is up and then has to wait another month for the presents to magically appear.  Even though it always takes a month for Santa to come.

The snow is finally seasonally appropriate, however.

My elf isn’t coming out until December because I have more control over that one.  I can leisurely take my last week in November.

Also I realize that I read Christmas novels the way many watch Hallmark Christmas movies, which I didn’t even know existed until about 12 years ago in grad school when we had a roommate that put up a tree in the apartment even though no one had any kids.  I know sometimes these books get made into Christmas movies too.

The first Christmas cozy novel happened!  And I am not alone because the Christmas audiobooks at the library were already checked out. So there are some other local library patrons right now who were not judging me one bit.

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Christmas Wishes and Mistletoe Kisses, Jenny Hale

So here it is, the quintessential clean Christmas romance, a rags to riches story to warm your Christmas heart. I am enjoying the romance genre more than I did.  I can’t do the really sexy stuff, but this one was good.  And it isn’t sexy. It was predictable, the obstacles not too high for the couple to overcome to be together.  I know that low stress and predictable are requirements for some people, so if that’s you, read this.

Nick, the love interest, only had a little bit of emotional development to do to make the reader happy that they work out as a couple in the end.  He wasn’t like a super dark narcissist with an abuse history or something that you know can’t be resolved by a month of courting.   And I did like that Abbey, the main character finds more actualization than just in her getting a guy who has enough money so she doesn’t have to work or struggle. She is looking to have a business that is her true heart and calling. I am sure there are plenty of modern day wish fulfillment narratives where women marry into the kind of money that will just make her problems go away and then she can lead a life of leisure.  I say modern day because I have read plenty of classic literature where the whole point is to get to be idle, but that’s not today’s world and I, for one, am happy that it is no longer like that.

I am working on more for the Christmas season, but this is as far as I have gotten.  I have made a good dent in the shopping and planning, but not in the reading.  I made my addictive cracker toffee and earned all the praises for Thanksgiving. I read another book in the middle that didn’t get blogged about.  So those are my excuses.

More Christmas reads next week though, so stay tuned.

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It snowed too soon but at least I was reading good books

Popsugar came out with their 2019 list and I love it!  No celebrity memoirs on it!  Very little if any duplication of categories!  Popsugar might have won me back.  Very possibly.  But a quick google sweep reveals that BookRiot has not come out with theirs yet, or Modern Mrs. Darcy.  Popsugar could clinch the advantage with my planning my reading for them earlier than other lists, but I have to see.  I have to make an informed assessment.

That might be the only non book review item of this post that I am happy about.

In more depressing news:

I haven’t gotten through my Essay Anthology category yet for BookRiot 2018.  I have tried a few times to select something.  Nothing has worked yet.  I got out one from the library and I didn’t even open it before it had to be returned.  Now that it’s time for Christmas reads, I am going to be pushing it close this year.  Has anyone out there done theirs and would recommend it?  I think I need one on audio to get me rolling.

It already has snowed here considerably twice and it’s not Thanksgiving for days.  I haven’t even bought my requested dinner contribution ingredients yet and my son has already had a snow day. So spring comes sooner?  Usually we don’t get the first major snow dump until the week of or after.  My son has already gotten out on his sled, though.  Because childhood winter magic.

Goodreads is having their semifinal round of their 2018 Goodreads Choice Awards and I haven’t read any of the new books up for voting.  Not even in YA Fantasy and Science Fiction.  I slowed down my reading this year to novel, and I do have 82000 more words written than I had last year at this time, so that’s a decent tradeoff.  I’ll take it.

But still.  I got nothing to say about the new stuff this year because I didn’t read it.  Popsugar 2019 has a book you didn’t get to in 2018 and I’ll have about 15 things to read for that.  Hopefully some of them go on sale at the end of the year on Amazon, like I have won at in the past.

More specifically bookishly for me, the books reviewed today are ones I read as November deepened. They are both mystical.  Love and connection through both sides of the veil. Family tragedy and heartbreak.

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In the Blue Hour, Elizabeth Hall

I really didn’t know what to read after my magic/scary/witches binge and I wasn’t ready for the pile of Christmas cozies that have somehow found their way onto my kindle.  I accidentally tapped on this to download the audiobook and it was the perfect middle ground. Early November, to me, is the blue hour, the dusk of the year, the time when the veil between the worlds is the thinnest.  It was fitting.

A woman who loses her life partner feels that she is getting signs from him from the other side that she goes on a trip to make sense of, complete with some mystery around a medium that she befriends who encourages her to make the trip.  There is Native American mysticism and Hoodoo and questions about relying on her own intuition, with characters in there to heap on the skepticism.  It’s about a woman who has not been on her own for years finding herself and finding family.

The backstories could get repetitive at times, not only for the main character’s story, and this story does have a plot, but it has so much to say about spiritualism, a topic I love, I still really enjoyed this book.  It didn’t have just her story of belief but many others to balance out the narrative.  If you like stories about family and beliefs about the other side of the veil, it’s definitely worth the read.

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Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet, Charlie N. Holmberg

I have almost read this one about a hundred times.  I thought it would be a fun read, like her Paper Magician series.  I thought it would be diverting.

I must have read the synopsis at some point on this book and my brain turned it into something else.  She makes magic through baked goods.  How fun is that? There are lots of cozies out there centered around baking.  Should be a little cozy, right?

Nope, it was dark. It takes place in a world where there are marauders and slaves, and the main character is wandering around in the world with no memory and a ghost that starts appearing that doesn’t tell her much, and then she is bought by a cruel and unpredictable master who uses her baking for nefarious purposes.  Then the backstory comes out and that has its own darkness to it, even though it is about love in the end.  And creation.

It made me pick up The Plastic Magician, though, the fourth in the Paper Magician series. Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet may have been different from her other work, but it says something that I wanted to pick up her other book when I was done. I figure I’ll eventually get to most of her books.

So, Christmas reads are next, starting this weekend with reading when I finish The Plastic Magician.   I might have to actually buy some audiobook companions because I listened to most of my library’s last year.  Oops.  But with next Sunday officially falling in the Christmas season, it will be time to hop to.

If anyone has any help with the essay anthology category, I appreciate input.

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