Saturday, 6 January 2018

End of year review 2017

Yes, I know it's already the 6th of January and I've already posted three actual book reviews before getting around to this post. It's my blog, and I do what I want. Besides, there's quite a bit of calculation and tallying and careful consideration as to what books deserve to be included on my best of the year list and so forth, so if I want to take some time to get this done, that is my right. It is my blog, after all.

2016 was a pretty sucky year. As it turns out, at least on a global scale, 2017 was so MUCH worse. As my gloomy, pessimistic husband has been saying for years, we're living in a dystopian novel, it just became really obvious to everyone this year. The President of the United States is an unstable, vain, frightfully narcissistic and incredibly stupid man, who is probably suffering from dementia and god knows what else. He keeps trying to provoke North Korea into nuclear war (and getting closer with each new and dumb statement). Global warming is increasing, natural disasters just keep getting more and more devastating, it seems like if there isn't a news story every day that can pretty much be interpreted as "We're all going to die", then it certainly appears once a week.

So with all of this external stuff to worry about, it was obviously time for the IVF treatments to finally work, and for me to get pregnant. In May, having completed my third hormone ordeal and had a record 17 eggs harvested (yay, ovaries), they put two fertilised embryos into my womb, and one decided to stick around! Thankfully all has gone well along the way (not everyone I know this year has been as lucky, that's part of the suckiness, no matter how natural and common miscarriages are, even if they're not talked about all that much) and I am now 35 weeks pregnant. Which also means that the wee baby Moomin (as he is currently known) is just biding his time and could arrive at any moment.

Now, I don't want to draw an exact link between my pregnancy and the fact that in the second half of the year, my ability to do much of anything seemed to go out the window. By the end of October, my pelvic girdle pain was bad enough that I was no longer able to work at all, so I've been on 100% sick leave since then. What a lovely opportunity to get more reading done, you might say. Well, my brain did not agree. I've still probably read more of my real life friends here in Norway, but compared to people I know online or you know, myself a few years ago, my reading and reviewing output has been pretty poor. I have gotten a lot of knitting done and watched quite a bit of TV, but sadly, much of my time has simply been procrastination and constant updates of my social media feeds to see what horrible thing I need to be worried about next.

While there have been a lot of sad things happening this year, there have also been happy things - first and foremost of all obviously the fact that medical science finally made me a baby. He's running out of space in there and getting pretty squirmy. I said goodbye to a lovely class of teenagers when my 10th graders graduated in June, and got to know several nice new ones when I took over a new 10th grade class in August (I still feel bad that they were stuck with substitutes for nearly two months this term because my body is contrary). My husband and I went to Berlin in August for four days and I got to practise my German with actual natives. My DuoLingo streak is now more than 700 days long, and in honour of the New Year, I started Italian, having already gone through French, Norwegian, Swedish, Spanish and German (twice). While I can't quite keep up with a page a day in my Moleskine journal, I update it every few days, so I'm more or less keeping on top of that. My husband and I both went to two weddings in August.

My brother married his girlfriend of fifteen years (we have two nephews, nine and four), so this has been a long time coming. While there's been quite a few years without a single wedding invitation, it just so happened that one of Mark's best friends Liz was also getting married, in England, the very same weekend. Hence we went to separate weddings, but both had a lovely time. I don't think I've ever had a meal (anywhere) as nice as the four-course meal at my brother's wedding, it was simply heavenly. It was also nice to see so many of my relatives again, especially since I could finally share my happy baby news with all of them. I'm sorry I missed out on seeing many old friends at Liz and Simon's wedding in Durham, but I also didn't want to get disowned by missing my brother's big day. Two weeks later, a day before my birthday, our good friends Erica and Mario finally tied the knot after seventeen years together. This was also a lovely party and gave me the chance to reconnect with a lot of people I haven't seen in a long time.

In May, my BFF Lydia came to visit, bringing her husband Michael (who's been busy with work all the other times) and their son (and my godson) Malcolm, to celebrate Norway Day, the 17th of May, with us and much enjoyment was had. We went to visit them during the first week of October, when Lydia was as pregnant as I am now (I have no idea how she had the energy to go out and do stuff with me at all) and I was still relatively mobile (the pelvic girdle pain hadn't really kicked in properly yet). I have four friends who have had babies over the course of the year - so baby Moomin will have friends in several countries to play with when he gets older.

So even in a year of doom, gloom and "we're all going to die" reminders popping up constantly, there's been a lot to be pleased and happy about as well. There were a lot of good movies, and TV shows to watch (many are still on my To Be Watched-list), and while I didn't read as much as I may have wanted, I still did read.

I got 323 new books in 2017. 273 were e-books, 33 were actual physical books (8 of them comic books/graphic novels) and 17 were audio books. 12 were gifts, 14 were free from websites or in various 2 for 1 or 3 for 2-sales.

Total pages read: 48276 pages
Total books read: 132
New books read: 109
Novellas: 2
Re-reads: 23
Audio books: 22
Comics/graphic novels: 12

My genre breakdown for 2017:
Romance (historical and contemporary): 37.6%
Paranormal/urban fantasy: 22.6%
Young adult: 17.3%
Fantasy: 11.3%
Historical fiction: 3.8%
Mystery/suspense: 2.3%
Sci-fi: 2.3%
Horror: 1,5%
Non-fiction: 1,5%

I completed a record of 29 different reading challenges, and know from the #Shelflove one that 35% of the books I read this year, were books that I owned and had gotten in some way before 2017 began. Considering how easily tempted I am by new and shiny releases, I think that's pretty good.

This year, because I have read a lot of books that I like, my "Best of 2017" list is going to be ten entries published IN 2017 and ten from previous years. I say entries, because it turns out that I suck at choosing, so in some cases, whole series have been included. My lists, my rules. I did actually rank them this year, though.

Best books from 2017:
10. The Thing About Love by Julie James. Pretty much always solid and reliable within the field of contemporary romance, Ms. James writes about rival FBI-agents who have to work together and discover that they don't in fact hate each other after all.

9. Alex, Approximately by Jenn Bennett. While I am hugely fond of many romantic comedies, I never really liked You've Got Mail. This YA retelling of said story, on the other hand, delighted and entertained me and made me determined to read more of Jenn Bennett's books.

8. Saga, vol 8 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples. What would a "best of the year" list be without at least one volume of Saga included? I read this so late on New Year's Eve that I wasn't able to get the review done in time for the CBR9 cut-off. Hence it's my first review of CBR10. This graphic novel is always excellent, but vol 7 was so gut-wrenching and sad to me that I couldn't really rate it more than five stars. This volume is a lot more uplifting, and deals with some pretty sensitive and tricky issues in a very good way, while still entertaining the reader and bringing the story to new places.

7. The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli. Ms. Albertalli has only published two novels so far, but is becoming someone who is worth paying attention to in YA circles. This book is a very sweet YA romance, featuring twin sisters who couldn't be more different, with very different romantic histories. The protagonist and her friends and family are all great and I very much enjoyed this book.

6. The Duchess Deal by Tessa Dare. By mid-August, when this book came out, I was in a pretty serious reading slump. This book, however, I read in less than half a day, and I was amused and delighted at every turn. Ms. Dare is not the historical romance writer you turn to if you want angsty, grittily realistic romances, but she writes amazing escapism. A scarred warhero duke needs a wife, and proposes to a ruined clergyman's daughter seamstress. Hijinks ensue. I loved it.

5. Dating You/Hating You by Christina Lauren. A workplace romance featuring enemies to lovers? Similar to, yet very different from my favourite book of 2016, Sally Thorne's The Hating Game? Give it to me. While Christina Lauren often write enjoyable and steamy romances, I was not expecting quite such a strong feminist message to run throughout the book, making an already good story even better and much more relevant in today's environment.

4. Forbidden Hearts series by Alisha Rai. Having never read anything by Ms. Rai before, both Hate to Want You and Wrong to Need You really impressed me this year. Sexy, steamy, very satisfying romance that nevertheless also deal with depression, anxiety, grief, dysfunctional families, parental expectations and more, featuring a cast of characters who are diverse in all sorts of ways. While the slightly soap opera-y framing story took a little bit too much of the attention away from the main couple in the first book, it was still a very good read and some of the personal issues that Sadia and Jackson both had to deal with in the second book, before they were ready to commit to one another, actually had me in tears. Highly recommended - both books. The third book comes out in early 2018.

3.  Pretty Face by Lucy Parker. This one came out early in the year, which means I've had time to re-read it as well. In 2016, Lucy Parker became a firm favourite with romance readers everywhere with Act Like It. Pretty Face is a longer book, which gives us more time to get to know the characters and see the romance develop properly. While workplace romances with older guys and younger women could be seen as completely squicky after all the sexual assault allegations that have come out in the second half of this year, Parker deals brilliantly with the issue and writes a very romantic, incredibly satisfying story.

2. Hidden Legacy by Ilona Andrews. The first book in this series, Burn for Me, was actually published in 2014, but due to a number of circumstances, the authors weren't able to complete the rest of the trilogy as planned. Hence, the first book was re-released in early 2017 and I was lucky enough to get two new (and excellent books) during the first half of this year. I thought the first book was promising, but the middle and final instalment exceeded my expectations. While White Hot might have the worst cover of any book I own, it was a cracking read, and Wildfire finished the story (so far?) excellently. I really can't choose between them, so the whole series gets included.

1. Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor. It should tell you something about my fairly epic reading slump in late July-mid-August that I was reading this book, which ended up being my very favourite of the year at the time, and it still took me nearly two weeks to get through it. The world-building is beyond compare, the prose is lyrical and lovely, the story is fascinating. There's a mythical, hidden city and fairy-tale like creatures, there's our poor orphaned, creative, dreamer hero and the star-crossed romance he finds himself part of. It's my favourite book of the year, despite ending on a horrible cliff-hanger, with the sequel not even having a release date yet.

Best of the rest (published pre-2017):
10. True North by Liora Blake. I got this in an e-book sale years ago and promptly forgot about it. Even as I started it, I didn't have very high expectations, but before I knew it, it was the early hours of the morning, and I was halfway through the book. Rock star romances don't tend to be all that memorable, but this story, with a widow still working to get over the death of her husband several years before and the surprisingly sensitive and caring "bad boy" rocker really entertained me. I am absolutely going to read the rest of the books in the series.

9. A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab. I wanted to wait to start this series until the trilogy was completed (which it now is, with the third book appearing on several best of-lists), so I wouldn't have to wait ages to read the rest, if I so chose. The world-building is excellent, the main characters are interesting and the villains were very menacing.

8. Charlie All Night by Jennifer Crusie. While she doesn't seem to write them anymore, Jennifer Crusie is an undisputed queen of contemporary romance, so I shouldn't have been surprised at how fun and easy a read this book turned out to be. The my backlist of Crusie-books that I have yet to read is getting shorter, but it seems there is still more gold to be found.

7. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz. One of the very first books I finished in 2017, this book is a delight. Part romance, part coming of age-story, the tale of "Ari" and "Dante", excellently narrated by Lin-Manuel Miranda still lingers in my memory. It made me feel the full range of feels and is well worth your time.

6. A Duke to Remember by Kelly Bowen. In her Season for Scandal series, Ms. Bowen has clearly decided to feature extremely professional and competent heroines and the men who are just incredibly impressed by them, and rather than feel threatened by their many skills, just fall all the harder for them instead. Of all three enjoyable books, this is my favourite.

5. Places No One Knows by Brenna Yovanoff. I'd seen this book recommended in a number of places, but the dumb pastel-pink cover and the randomly floating teens on it didn't really inspire me to pick it up. I'm glad I finally did, though, as the story of the rather unpleasant and highly strung Waverley and her unlikely romance with class stoner Marshall was an excellent read, even if Waverley kept making me want to shake her, and took the longest time to realise what a catch she had in Marshall.

4. The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, vol 1: Squirrel Power by Ryan North and Erica Henderson. My double Cannonball this year was reached with this delightful and slightly bonkers volume, featuring a wonderfully upbeat and cheerful super-heroine, with all the powers and abilities of a squirrel. When Doreen goes off to college, she doesn't just have to juggle her superhero duties, she also has to adapt to a prickly roommate and go to classes. Funny, cute, exciting and feminist - I love this comic and can't wait to read more of it.

3. A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas. If you told me at the start of the year that a Sarah J. Maas book would be included on my "Best of the Year" list, I would not have believed you. Ms. Maas writes two different fantasy series, the Throne of Glass books about silver-haired super assassin Celaena and the many dudes that seem to love her, and the Court of Thorns and Roses books where mortal girl Fayre is forced to live in the courts of Faerie after killing an enchanted wolf. I read the first book in the series in 2016, and while it was slow to start, it got more interesting as poor Fayre really has to prove herself and try to rescue not just her faerie lover, but the entire realm from the evil queen. Then this book turned pretty much everything that had happened in the first book on its head, and nothing was entirely what it seemed, and poor Fayre had to deal with tons of PTSD and the whole book was so amazing and compelling and I couldn't put it down. It really doesn't work as a stand-alone novel, but the entire trilogy so far is well worth a read.

2. 84, Charing Cross Road and The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street by Helene Hanff. These two books were published together in one volume, so they pretty much count as one. Pretty much a must-read for any book-lover, the story of the outgoing American writer and the restrained English book seller who correspond for years, beginning in 1949 and develop a beautiful friendship, based in their mutual love of books - it's so lovely. In the second half of the story, Ms. Hanff finally gets to visit London and meet so many of the people she heard about and corresponded with, even if her good friend the bookseller, Frank Doel, has passed away by this point.

1. The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood. I finished this book in April, before my last round of fertility treatments and my subsequent pregnancy, and am pretty sure I wouldn't have been able to read it later in the year. I have yet to be able to watch more than the trailers for the Hulu TV-show, no matter how much critical acclaim it's gotten. While by no means a pleasant book, this science fiction story from the mid-1980s is turning out to be more prescient that anyone could have imagined. Most of the books on this list were pleasant reads, I really can't say that this was the case here - but it's an important book and it's warnings should be heeded.

Finally, if you're still here reading:
Worst books of 2017:
The Devourers by Indra Das. So many interesting ideas, so many bodily fluids. Tried to like it, couldn't.
For Your Arms Only by Caroline Linden. No book with a former spy hero should be so dull.
The Rebel Heir by Elizabeth Michels. Slow, messy plot. Dislikable hero. Tons of anachronisms. Thank heavens I didn't actually pay money for it.

Reading Challenge Round-up 2017

Despite a number of useful resources that help me keep track of my books and my reading like Librarything and Goodreads, since 2007, I have used a spiral-bound notebook where I write down everything I read. From 2009, I actually started writing down page numbers and checking how much I read per month and per year, and became interested in how many physical vs e-books I read and so on. Thanks to this book, it became very clear to me that from about July of this year, my capacity for reading was suffering. I was reading fewer books than in previous years, and my capacity for longer books seems to have gone straight out the window. Despite all this, I have taken part in and completed more reading challenges in 2017 than ever before. Below you can see all of the various challenges, and a short summary of how I did. I must admit, in the second half of the year, I've been absolutely rubbish about linking my reviews to the various challenge blogs (some of which have sadly also disappeared over the course of the year), so all my books will be collected here.
  1. The Cannonball Read is the reason I actually have a blog. The Cannonball Read or #CBR (sign-up here for #CBR10 if you're interested) is an online race to read and review 52 books in a year (or 26 or 13, if 13 is too big a commitment) with a mission to donate profits to the American Cancer Society. We’re essentially a virtual book club where participants read what they want and write what they want, all while shouting “F— Cancer!”. My goal has always been at least a double (104 books), which I reached in mid-October and as my reading slowed down massively in the second half of the year, I was starting to wonder if I was going to have the energy to keep going after that. In the end, I actually managed 2 and a half Cannonballs (130 books), with the last book posted on New Year's Eve.
  2. The Goodreads Reading Challenge. Since I had my goal of reading and reviewing to a double Cannonball, my Goodreads goal this year was 104 books, which I reached on 22/10/17. It's been bigger in previous years, it's going to be a lot lower in 2018.
  3. The Alphabet Soup Reading Challenge. Read a total of 26 books, with a title starting with each of the letters of the alphabet (removing A, and or the). The exception to the rule are letters Q, X and Z, where the letter can be anywhere in the title. While early in the year, it's very easy to find books for the list, it gets harder as the year progresses. I finished the last of the books here on Christmas Eve. List of books here.
  4. The Backlist Books Reading Challenge. I have so many books on my TBR-list and books that I own, so this challenge, to read backlist books - defined as anything published a year before you read it, was good. To count for this challenge, the book had to have been published at least one year before the reading dates. I wanted 2/3 of the books I read this year to fit into the "backlist" category, that didn't quite work out. It ended up being a little more than half, which I've decided to be happy with. List here
  5. Color Coded Reading Challenge Read books with the colour in the title or as the dominant colour of the cover (the challenge became so much more doable once they changed this rule). Brown always seems to be the colour it takes me longest to get round to, I finished this challenge in early October. The colours in question are blue, red, yellow, green, brown, black, white, any other colour in the title/on the cover and a title/cover that implies colour. Full list of books here.  
  6. E-books Reading Challenge. This one was a given, as I read mostly e-books nowadays. I signed up for Terabyte - at least 75 books in a year, and was surprised to see that I didn't actually finish the challenge until the start of December, probably because I did a lot of audiobook listens over the course of the year as well. List here
  7. Flights of Fantasy Reading Challenge. Fantasy has always been one of my preferred genres to read. I challenged myself to read at least 12 books and this was the first challenge I completed in 2017, in early March. In total, I ended on 48 books
  8. 10th Annual Graphic Novel & Manga Reading Challenge. At the start of the year, I had a lot of unread comics/graphic novels. I really wanted to motivate myself to read through more of them, but ended up reading the bulk of the books in late November, early December. I signed up for Modern Age - to read and review at least 12 books during the year, and finished the very last book (and review) in the afternoon on New Year's Eve. Full list here
  9. Historical Romance Reading Challenge. I do like a reading challenge that basically lets me keep reading exactly the genres and books that I already enjoy. It'll come as no surprise to people following my reviews that I read a lot of historical romance, but this year, the majority of the romance I read seems to be contemporary. I signed up for level 4 - Marchioness - 26-35 books, and ended the year with 31 books towards the end of November. 
  10. Diverse Reads Reading Challenge. Every year, I try to remind myself that I could do a lot better about reading books by and about people who are not cis-gendered, straight white women. In 2017, I challenged myself to read least 30 books that are written by or about characters including but not limited to LGBTQIA, persons of colour, gender diversity, people with disability (including physical, sensory, cognitive, intellectual or developmental; chronic conditions, mental illnesses and addiction) and ethnic, cultural and religious minorities. By the end of June, I'd read 30 books, at the end of the year, my total came to 54, which is not bad at all. 
  11. Literary Pickers Reading Challenge. This challenge is basically a scavenger hunt, where you get a list of items (or characters, or story tropes) to check off of a list. The books you use to "pick" things off the list have to be romances, or books with a heavy romantic elements. I signed up for 25 items (the middle level) and managed to complete that by mid-June. In the end, I found 40 items in different books. What I absolutely sucked at, was updating once a month with my progress. Mea culpa. 
  12. Monthly Keyword Challenge. This has been one of my favourite challenges for several years now, and it allows me to do one of the things I love almost as much as reading - making lists about things I'm planning to read each month. With five or six keywords for each month of the year, you read books that contain one or more of said keywords. Sadly, this is one of the challenges where the hosting website just seems to have "died" at some point during the year, but my complete list of books can still be found here
  13. Monthly Motif Challenge. Very similar to the monthly keyword challenge, except you get 12 different motifs featured over the course of the year. Some months I managed several books, other months I only barely managed one. This is another challenge where I completely failed to link up my reviews in the second half of the year (I was struggling just to review at all). My complete list came to 30 books
  14. New Author Reading Challenge. I do like to try new things, and this year challenged myself to reading books by at least 30 different new authors. I completed the challenge by mid-October, and in total discovered books by 39 authors in 2017.
  15. New to Me Reading Challenge. This challenge isn't just for new authors, but also genres or series as well. I wanted to discover at least 40 different new things (which I managed by 22/10, but by the end of the year, I had 52 different "new to me" items, which is a decent result. 
  16. Historical Fiction Reading Challenge. This challenge is all about historical fiction of all kinds. If it's set in the past, it counts. It's one of the ones I can normally do fairly easily, without really changing my reading habits at all. As always, I signed up for the highest level (Prehistoric) of 50+ books and I reached it by the beginning of November. At the end of the year, my total was 61 books.
  17. Pick Your Genre Challenge. Because I couldn't find a specific challenge for all the various romances I read, I made this my Romance Challenge for both 2016 and 2017. The minimum amount to read here is also 12 books, but knowing how much romance I tend to get through, I set myself the challenge of 50 books, which I reached in early September. By the end of the year, I'd read 75 books
  18. Paranormal Reading Challenge. As with romance, paranormal/urban fantasy books are a genre I read a lot of. So it seemed pretty natural to sign up for a challenge I'd probably be able to ace without doing anything new. I challenged myself to read at least 24 books, and ended up with 41 at the end of the year. 
  19. Pages Read Reading Challenge. In 2016, I didn't read as much as in previous years, and therefore set myself a lower level on this challenge, just in case. I signed up for level 4 - Apple Tree - 48 000 pages. It turns out that was a good idea, as this year, I read fewer pages than since I started actually checking that sort of thing in 2009. I had to read a lot in December to make sure I would even make this goal (which I reached on December 30th). In total, I read 48276 pages, which only just covered this goal. Suffice to say, it's not been a great reading year for me.
  20. Review Writing Challenge. Since the whole point of the Cannonball Read is both to read and review, to make money for charity, signing up for a review writing challenge seemed like a good idea. I hadn't counted on how much of the year book reviewing was going to be a massive chore, and I spent far too much of 2017 trying to remember a book I read two months ago when it finally came time to blog it. My goal for this challenge was the same as on my blog - a minimum of 104 reviews, but since I frequently review more than one book in a post, it took me much longer to complete this challenge than to get to my double Cannonball. Having gone back and checked, I didn't actually complete my 104th review until the 23rd of December.
  21. #ShelfLove Challenge 2017. This challenge was all about reading the books you actually own already. At the start of 2017, I had 544 books listed as "To Read" in my personal library (according to LibraryThing). In 2016, 28% of the books that I read were ones I'd acquired before 2016, so I wanted my goal for this 2017 to be at least 30% of the total. Because of that, I signed up for level 5 of this challenge, "My shelves are now my BFF (41-50 books)". By Christmas Eve, I'd read 41 books, and by New Year's Eve, I'd read 46 - which means a whole 35% of the books I read this year, were books I physically owned and acquired before 2017. I'm happy with that result. 
  22. #RockMyTBR Challenge 2017. After a heroic cull of my Goodreads TBR shelf, said shelf still contained 947 books at the start of 2017, so more books than I could read in about six years, even if I didn't keep adding to it. Now, at the start of 2018, it's on 1096 (Ha! It's never getting smaller) One of the side effects of the Cannonball Read is that I keep discovering authors and books that seem so tempting, and that's before you count all the other ones I find on the many other review sites I frequent. December, with it's many "best of the year" lists is especially dangerous. I set myself a goal of at least 50 books from my TBR list, which I reached in mid-October. At the end of the year, I'd read 68 books (no one message me to say just how many more I actually added to the list over the course of the year). 
  23. What an Animal Challenge. A reading challenge that I've taken part in for years was made a tiny bit harder this year as you can no longer count a book if it just has an animal in the title or on the cover. The animal has to play a major part of the plot, or a character has to turn into an animal or creature or some sort. Nevertheless, I was pretty confident that I could manage the highest level - 21 or more books, and I completed my 21st book by early May. By the end of the year, I'd read 54 books that qualified. 
  24. What's in a Name 2017 Challenge. I failed to complete more than two of the seven categories of this in 2016, because I just didn't feel inspired. I liked the categories for 2017 a lot more, so decided to try again. I completed the challenge on the 9th of July
  25. Women Challenge 2017. This reading challenge is clearly geared towards people who don't already read primarily female and female-identifying authors. I still sign up for it, and try to make it a tiny bit harder by only allowing myself to list each female author once on the list. As in many years before, I signed up for level 4, Wonder Woman, 20 or more books written by a woman. I'd hit that number by the end of April, and by the end of the year, I had read books by 66 different female authors
  26. 2017 YA Reading Challenge. I read a lot of YA literature as well, so I challenged myself to read at least 12 books in 2017. I hit that goal by the end of April, but by the end of the year, I'd only read a total of 26, so I really haven't been hitting the YA books as much this year as in previous ones. 
  27. #RIPXII Reading Challenge. Hosted by Estella's revenge. Read books in the mystery, suspense, thriller, dark fantasy, Gothic, horror and supernatural genres. I sign up for all three reading levels, totalling 7 books
  28. You Read How Many Books? 2017. In 2016, I failed in my goal to reach level 2 of this (150 books), so for 2017, I signed up for level 1, 100 books. As it turns out, this was a good plan, as I was far from reaching level 2 this year. 
  29. Reading Challenge Addicts 2017. The highest level for on this challenge is "Out of This World - 16 challenges entered and completed by the end of 2017". While I may have read fewer books and total pages in 2017 than at any point since 2009, I still successfully took part in and completed 29 separate challenges, as this post proves. I'm still not sure if that's sad or impressive.

Thursday, 4 January 2018

#CBR10 Book 3: "Sunset in Central Park" by Sarah Morgan

Page count: 384 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Francesca "Frankie" Cole's parents went through a fairly harrowing split when she was fourteen. Her father cheated with a much younger woman, left her mother as a broken-down wreck and walked out without ever looking back. Frankie was the one who had to try to pick up the pieces with the devastated parent she had left. After a period of mourning, her mother seemed to decide that enough was enough, cut her hair, lost a lot of weight and started borrowing her daughter's clothes, determined to sleep around just as much as her husband had. She didn't seem to be very discriminate about whether the men she chose were older, younger or married and on the small island where they lived, and everyone knew everyone else's business, Frankie's life went from bad to worse as her mother's reputation seemed to become automatically attached to her as well. Once Frankie left Puffin Island to go to college, she has never been back and she now tries to be as different from her mother as is humanly possible.

While her mother's attitude seems to be "If you've got it, flaunt it", Frankie never wears skirts or dresses (after a very unfortunate incident at prom, where someone seemed to think that since her mother liked to sleep around, Frankie did too). She prefers baggy, non-descript clothes and also wears thick-rimmed, specifically chosen unflattering glasses in public, clearly trying to hide herself away as much as possible. What few dating experiences she's had, seem to have been fairly awful. She's an introvert and deeply cynical and pretty much the opposite of her outgoing, romantic colleague and best friend Eva. One of the only men she feels comfortable around is Matt, her best friend Paige's older brother, who also happens to be her landlord. Since Paige and Frankie have been friends since they were four, Matt has been there for her most of her life, and also knows how much of a scandal Frankie's mother caused on Puffin Island.

While Matt might think he knows everything there is about Frankie, he's shocked to realise one evening that the glasses she's worn her entire adult life are not actually something she needs, but one of many defencive shields she uses to hide herself away from the world. He starts to wonder how much else he doesn't know about the fascinating woman he's been attracted to for so long. He knows that Frankie isn't romantic, and actively seems to want to avoid dating, but he's also pretty sure that his interest is not one-sided, and decides to take the plunge and move their relationship to the next level. Trying to coax Frankie out on a date is no easy feat, however.

Frankie is the second of the co-owners of Urban Genie, the events planning and concierge service company set up in Sleepless in Manhattan. She, along with her best friends Paige and Eva, grew up together on the idyllic Puffin Island outside Maine and moved to New York together after college. They ended up at the same company, and were fired at the same time. All three women live in Brooklyn, in a brownstone owned and restored by Paige's architect brother. They pay a very reasonable rent because Matt is well off, and it's clear that along with Matt's best friend (and now Paige's boyfriend) Jake, they are a close-knit group of friends, who tend to have movie nights every Friday on the beautiful roof terrace, or dinner together at Jake's adoptive mother's Italian restaurant.

Determined to make herself as different from her mother as possible, it's clear that Frankie might have gone a bit overboard. The fact that a lot of the guys she grew up with automatically assumed that she was "easy" and hence took liberties they shouldn't, is the reason she started learning karate at seventeen. She's never had a really successful or satisfying relationship with a man so far in her life, and one especially charming individual apparently told her that when it came to sex, she was a "D minus". Hence she's pretty much sworn off men entirely, claiming she's perfectly fine nursing her many, many plants (when they work together, Paige is the planner and organiser, Frankie deals with plants, horticulture and practical details, while Eva covers food, baking and all the romantic touches) and spending her nights reading rather than going on dates. Still, she does find Matt very attractive, and is really not entirely sure how to handle that, much to her two friends' amusement.

When Matt decides that enough is enough, and starts openly flirting and complimenting Frankie, she's entirely flustered and she goes into full-on panic mode when he actually asks her out. Terrified of commitment because of her parents' horrible divorce and burned by her previous awful dating experience, Frankie concludes that if she just kisses Matt, he'll see how terrible she is and give up on her - but that experiment backfires rather spectacularly. Surprising absolutely no one who's ever read a romance novel before, Frankie isn't bad at or hates intimacy and sex, she just hasn't had any good experiences, and therefore doesn't know what she's missing.

It was a nice role reversal from the other two books that here the heroine is the one who takes the longest to commit to the relationship and Frankie's depressing childhood and dating hang-ups are dealt with really well. I also appreciated that while it's quite clear that Frankie hates the way her mother jumps from guy to guy and is embarrassingly candid about her sexual experiences in front of anyone who will listen, and mortifies Frankie by hitting on her male friends (like Jake and Matt), there is no slut shaming here. Frankie can understand why her mother chooses to live her life the way she does, she just doesn't agree with it and feels embarrassed because her mother is the opposite of discreet. It's quickly established that while Eva wants all the details on every of her friends' romantic and sexual lives, Frankie and Paige would rather not have any (in Frankie's case, because they make her uncomfortable, in Paige's case, because Frankie starts dating her brother - and you really don't need those mental images). Neither Frankie nor her friends judge her mother, they just wish she didn't try to make Frankie over in her own image, and was a bit more aware of how intensely uncomfortable she makes her daughter.

A satisfying aspect of the book is also that Frankie isn't immediately "healed", just because she finally starts having a satisfying romantic and sexual relationship. There are good reasons for her reluctance to commit, her many fears and hang-ups and while Matt is a great and supportive guy, he needs to be patient while Frankie works through a lot of her issues. The scene where Frankie has spoken honestly with her mother about the divorce and how her father's abandonment and her mother's behaviour has made her feel and finally feels ready to tell Matt that she loves him is made so much more satisfying by the complicated series of events that take place when she comes to find him at their brownstone.

I have very much enjoyed all three books in the From Manhattan with Love series. From what I can see on Goodreads, Sarah Morgan has at least two other trilogies (one set on Puffin Island) out, as well as a few more books in this series (that clearly spun out from the original trilogy). I see myself spending a lot of time with her writing in the months to come.

Judging a book by its cover: Not a huge fan of pink in any situation, and I find it funny that Frankie's book is the one which gets the pink cover - since she seems to be as far from romance, pink and fluff as it's possible to get. Frankie loves the outdoors and plants, so Central Park is clearly a place she adores (which Matt knows, and it's where he takes her for their first date). On the other two covers, the heart appears to be made up of stars, here it's made up of birds - another nice touch.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

#CBR10 Book 2: "Sleepless in Manhattan" by Sarah Morgan

Page count: 384 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Events planner Paige Walker was expecting to be promoted, but instead finds that she's been fired, alongside her two best friends and a lot of others. Having spent much of her childhood and her teenage years in hospital due to a heart defect, Paige is fiercely independent and wants to be in control of every aspect of her life. Normally very calm, collected and always the one with the plan, Paige is suddenly at a loss and very much adrift. She has some savings, but hates the thought of having to go to her parents or older brother Matt (who is already her landlord) for money. Her parents and brother have always been very overprotective of her due to her former illness, she's not prepared to take more pity or concern from them.

Jake Romano, notable New York tech guru and her brother's best friend, seems to be the only one to never coddle or protect her. He suggests that Paige, along with her best friends Frankie and Eva, who were also laid off, take their formidable skills and start their own events planning company. The ladies decide to go for it, but struggle a lot to begin with, until Jake hires them to do a big promotional event for his company. Of course, if Paige is planning his big party, she needs to work closely with Jake, who for years has been trying very hard to tell himself that his best friend's little sister is firmly off limits. While he may be one of the most sought after dates in Manhattan, and normally has a new woman on his arm every month, the only one Jake really wants is the only woman he can't have, because he promised her brother he would never touch her.

Just before New Year's, I started the From Manhattan with Love series in the wrong order, with book 3, Miracle on 5th Avenue, because I knew it was set in the holiday season, around Christmas. By that point, two of the three ladies running Urban Genie, the events planning and concierge service company extraordinaire have already been neatly paired off with their perfect mates (who just so happen to be guys they've known and really loved for ages), and the bubbly, hopeless romantic Eva needs to find her HEA. It was a very enjoyable book and made me want to see if the previous books in the series were as well-written and quick to read.

While Eva actually has to get to know someone new, Paige's ideal partner is the first man she ever had a crush on, and who also firmly broke her heart when she was eighteen. Jake Romano, her brother Matt's best friend, would spend hours at the hospital with her, cheering her up and telling her not just stories about his adoptive mother, Maria, who took him in when he was six, but also about the loss he went through when his birth mother abandoned him suddenly one day. When a young and naive Paige tried to confess her infatuation to the somewhat older Jake, while entirely naked both physically and emotionally, he very kindly rejected her and their friendship never entirely recovered. In the years since, Jake never seems to touch Paige, and they argue constantly. While Paige appreciates that Jake is never overprotective, like most other people around her, he also seems to go out of his way to provoke her.

Jake is, of course, protecting Paige in his own way. When his biological mother abandoned him at six, this scarred him badly and he never intends to let anyone that close ever again, he's certainly never going to be capable of a serious, long-term relationship with a woman. Paige clearly deserves much better than an unscrupulous playboy like him, and even without the promise to her brother that he'd never touch her, Jake tries to stay as far away from Paige as possible. Rejecting her advances when she was eighteen was necessary and he's determined that it's better that she's annoyed with him than attracted to him. When she loses her job and starts her own company, he knows that he's in a position to help Paige, but also knows that he's the last person in the world she would approach for help. He's counting on her getting the business off the ground without having to interact much with her, but as the weeks go by, and the three women are struggling, Paige is persuaded to swallow her pride and seek out Jake for advice.

Not only does he ask Paige and her friends to arrange a large and swanky corporate event for him, he impulsively offers them office space in a corner of his own building, meaning she'll be working nearby at all times. As the planning of the event continues, he tries to delegate responsibility to his underlings and stay away from Paige as much as possible, but no matter how much he tries, he's more often in close proximity to the woman he wants more than anything, and sooner or later, something will snap. That something comes when Jake and Paige are trapped in a lift together, and Paige is close to having a panic attack. It seems passionate kissing is a really good cure for claustrophobia.

It was clear from the first Sarah Morgan novel I read that she's good at writing fully realised and interesting characters, believable and supportive friendships as well as sizzling romantic tension. It always much more enjoyable to read about characters who seem real, who have jobs, friends, worries and joys and who then just happen to fall in love along the way. In addition, while Sarah Morgan herself is apparently not from New York City and in the introduction to this book claims that she was initially reluctant to set her new trilogy there, the city of New York and these women's love and enjoyment of living and working there adds further flavour to the books.

That both Paige and Jake find each other attractive is obvious to the reader from very early on, as we get points of view from each of them throughout the book. Paige can't forget the mortifying moment when she confessed her love the first time and was rejected, and keeps trying to move on. Jake can't stop thinking of his best friend's little sister in a decidedly non-brotherly way, and keeps having fantasies of what he'd like to do to her, while maintaining a very careful distance to her in all their encounters. As such, the unresolved sexual tension is very high by the the time they actually act on their feelings. Once Paige realises that Jake does in fact find her attractive, she is not going to take no for an answer for very long. No bro-code loyalty is going to keep her from taking what she has wanted for most of her adult life.

While there are complications along the way (aren't there always?), there is thankfully no big misunderstandings and throughout the story, Paige always has her two besties firmly at her back, giving her helpful advice and unwavering support. Paige keeping a relationship with Jake secret from her brother Matt, who lives in the same building as her, is always going to lead to a confrontation at some point, but when that inevitable scene came, there was a lot less melodrama than I had feared, and showed that Ms. Morgan is a writer I think I will want to read much more from.

In other words, this is a highly enjoyable contemporary romance about competent professionals falling in love, while also having believable interests, hang-ups and friendships. Well worth reading.

Judging a book by its cover: Unlike the colour scheme on Miracle on 5th Avenue, a sort of orangey red and turquoise, which I sort of hated, the dark blue and fuchsia on this cover works pretty well together. You get part of the Manhattan skyline and the Brooklyn bridge (Paige lives in Brooklyn, Jake has a penthouse in Tribeca), and I see now that all three covers in the series have a number of stars forming a heart-shaped constellation, which I actually think is rather cute.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Monday, 1 January 2018

#CBR10 Book 1: "Saga, vol 8" by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

Page count: 152 pages
Rating: 4.5 stars

Every new volume of Saga that comes out is a little event in my life, and it feels like the wait between each one is interminable. Since we'd already had one volume out in 2017, Saga, Vol. 7, I was not expecting another one, certainly not just before New Year's. Going back and checking, the last volume came out in April. I knew it had to be fairly early in the year, as I was heartbroken enough by the end of that volume, I'm not sure I could have handled it considering my current physical state (I'm trying to be super non-spoilery here, people, I hope you appreciate it).

Anyways, post-Christmas surprise Saga. When I saw it being reviewed by some of my friends in my Goodreads feed, at first I thought they'd somehow been lucky enough to score an ARC or something. Are there ARCs to be had? Who do I plead with/cajole/threaten to get my hands on them? But no, I checked the release date and was pleasantly surprised to see that it was actually officially out! I immediately rushed to my local fantasy/sci-fi/everything nerd-related-shop in the centre of Oslo, only to be told by a sympathetic sales clerk that sadly, all their volumes of the new trade were boxed up in the store room, and the guy in charge of comics was currently off sick. She was just as eager to get her hands on it as I was. Somewhat taken aback, I made her reserve me a copy (not that I really thought they'd sell out, but you can never be too careful) and had to leave the store empty-handed.

So I only actually got my hands on this trade the day before yesterday, and didn't have time to read it until today, the last day of 2017. Saga will famously wreak havoc with my emotions. If one volume makes me happy, the next one will break my heart. Since volume 7 was pretty damn heart-breaking, I was hoping that this would be a more uplifting installment and I felt a lot more happy and hopeful after finishing it.

I really don't want to go into very specific details about the plot, as the book has been out for less than a week, and there are a lot of people who could be spoiled if I do. Suffice to say, this volume deals with the aftermath of the very sad events at the end of volume 7. Alana, Marko and their little family are at a planet that looks like the sci-fi version of Red Dead Redemption. As Hazel is older now and has a greater understanding of the losses she's suffered throughout her short life. She has a lot of questions, and like all children, doesn't always understand what it is polite to ask about or when to pose these questions. Petrichor, one of their new travel companions, continues to be a delightful addition to the little group and I hope she sticks around for a long time.

As well as catching us up on our main gang, there's an issue where we see more of what the Will is up to (sadly, I think Lying Cat is in only three panels - a travesty!) and we also check in on Ghüs, the little seal creature. The ending of this volume suggests a pretty big change in the narrative going forward, and I, for one, am very eager to see where the journey takes us next. If we could maybe get a volume or two now where I don't cry bitter tears at the end, that would be awesome.

Judging a book by its cover: I said the book is set in an Old West style planet, but it has a distinctly sci-fi twist. As you can see, the horses are more like colourful zebras, but Alana makes a pretty awesome cow-girl. The previous volume had our protagonists clearly involved in battle, you can tell that the environment is calmer and somewhat less directly dangerous from the more gentle feel of this cover. Huge shout-out once again to Fiona Staples for her amazing art.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Sunday, 31 December 2017

#CBR9 Books 129-130: "Locke & Key, vol 4: Keys to the Kingdom and vol 5: Clockworks" by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez

Total page count: 320 pages
Rating: 4 stars

SPOILER WARNING! This review may contain some spoilers for the plots of the two volumes in question. 

In volume 4, Keys to the Kingdom, the three Locke siblings are still fighting against the Dark Lady, whose inhabiting the body of the person they think is their friend Zach. He's posing as Kinsey's affectionate boyfriend and Tyler's loyal friend, trying to get one of the siblings to reveal where the crucial and powerful Omega key is hidden. Over the course of this volume, the Locke children seem to be attacked more and more frequently and only towards the end of the volume do they realise where the true threat lies, but by that point, it may be too late.

In volume 5, Clockworks, we go back in time, first to 1775, when the first keys were created and get some insight into the dangers that lurk inside the portal that the Dark Lady wants opened. Kinsey and Tyler also find a way to go back and see exactly what happened to their father and his friends in 1988. Both of them are far too preoccupied to discover that Bode isn't acting entirely like his normal self.

I would have read a lot more strategically earlier in December if I'd remembered just how dense and compact the writing in each of the volumes of Locke & Key are. I certainly wouldn't have saved my final graphic novels to the same day I have review deadlines, as the books took WAY longer than I anticipated to read. I also keep forgetting just how utterly creepy these books are and how much they affect me. My plan was to read the final three, but after getting through these two, I needed to take a break before I dive into the final and concluding volume, which I'm sure is going to out-gruesome the previous five.

Over the years I have been reading this comic, I've really come to get attached to the characters in it. I really rarely read horror because I get so emotionally attached and the suspense and the gore just gets too much for me. As the stakes get higher and things get more serious, these stories within these books just get creepier and creepier. It doesn't help that Gabriel Rodriguez' art leaves so little to the imagination. I am very much enjoying them, but two volumes was all I had the stomach for this time.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

#CBR9 Book 128: "The Wicked + The Divine, vol 1: The Faust Act" by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie

Page count: 144 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Every ninety years, twelve gods incarnate as humans. They appear as rock stars and are loved and hated in equal measure. In two years, they are all dead. The lesson they need to learn is: just because you're immortal, doesn't mean you're going to live forever.

In the first volume of The Wicked + The Divine we are introduced to Laura, a seventeen-year-old from London who is utterly devoted to the various recently incarnated gods, who appear as rock stars of various genres all over the city. After she passes out at one of Amaterasu's concerts, she is introduced to "Luci", the current incarnation of Lucifer and taken backstage to spend more time with some of the gods. Just as countless people adore the new godlings, there are those who hate them too. When armed gunmen open fire on the people in the room, Luci gets carried away, snaps her fingers and has their heads explode. During her trial, where she's adamant that they can't prove an actual link between her fingers and the dead bodies, the judge is spectacularly killed in the same way, and Luci finds herself in prison.

Laura is convinced that for all that she is scary and seems a bit unhinged, Luci didn't actually kill the judge. Someone is trying to frame her, and she wants to do whatever she can to help. She is sent to look for the mysterious Ananke, and comes into contact with even more of the twelve deities as a result. There is clearly more here than Laura understands and she knows she's neglecting her schoolwork and future by throwing herself wholeheartedly into the quest to free Luci, but she can't seem to help herself.

I didn't know a lot about this comic before I started reading it, and having finished the first five issues, collected in The Faust Act, I'm not entirely sure I know all that much more. As the description says, twelve gods get incarnated every ninety years. It's not always the same gods, but Ananke seems to be part of the group no matter what. In 2014, at least, they all appear as famous rock stars, utterly adored by their fans. Most people seem deeply sceptical to their claims of actually being divine, and it seems that Luci breaks a lot of unspoken rules when she openly shows off some of her dangerous and unpredictable powers. This has consequences as the issues go on.

As this is only the first trade, it does the job of introducing us to a large cast of characters. There's Laura, who's our entry-point into the comic, and a whole bunch of the different gods. Why are they reincarnated into the bodies of young, beautiful people? Why do they only live for two years? Who is setting up Luci for a murder charge? All of these questions will clearly be answered down the line.

I am very intrigued by the premise of this comic, and will absolutely be reading more of it. The fact that my husband "knows" both the writer and artist from an internet forum from many years ago is an added bonus. It's always good to support friends.

Judging a book by its cover: Jamie McKelvie's art is so gorgeous throughout this comic, and the monthly covers for the various issues feature beautiful facial portraits of the various deities. So it was a bit of a disappointment to me when the trade had this cover which is so simple, even though it is rather evocative.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.