Sunday, 1 January 2017

End of year review 2016

So 2016. It was a horrible year, both on a global scale and a personal one. While I didn't get physically injured this year, I did have it confirmed, not once, not twice, but three times, that conceiving is apparently something I just don't do. If you count our first IVF attempt, where I had a negative result just after Christmas last year, by Christmas this year, I'd had four perfectly healthy fertilised embryos implanted on four separate occasions, and every single time, the results were as dispiriting. We now get one more state sponsored attempt, but I can't say I'm looking forward to the months of hormones, injections, the absolutely gruelling egg extraction and quite possibly more disappointment and further confirmation that I will never have children of my own.

Then there was the cancer theme running through 2016. My godfather is still fighting his battle with. One of my female cousins has breast cancer. My eldest male cousin died just after Christmas, having battled lung cancer for the best part of the year. Add to that, the various celebrities that died, whom I admired - David Bowie, Alan Rickman.

It's quite natural, as we get older, that the people we look up to and admire,who are usually quite a bit older than ourselves, get sick and die. Everyone dies, it just feels like a lot more people who actually mattered to me kicked the bucket. The one that absolutely broke me, at the end of a year with very few positive memories, was Carrie Fisher. Four days after having a heart attack on a plane from London, Ms. Fisher died and the world grieved. I couldn't stop crying for hours. I watched Star Wars before I was old enough to understand how narratives work. I watched Star Wars before I could actually read. That's how long Princess Leia was part of my life, someone strong, courageous, spirited and independent that I could look up to. That Carrie Fisher was so much more than the one part she will always be associated with just made it all the more sad to me.

Because it just makes me sad to dwell on more negatives, I'm not even going to touch the train wreck of political disasters that have taken place in the past year, and try to focus on something positive. Sadly, I'm genuinely struggling to come up with positive things. Neither my husband nor I got injured. Our cats are healthy. We spent three lovely weeks in New York, visiting the sister of my heart, Lydia and her family. I got to meet up with several dear book friends during a lovely outing to the Metropolitan Museum. I set myself a journal challenge - to write one page a day in my Moleskine. I also have to find three positive things each day. Some days this year, that's been nearly impossible. So far, I've managed to journal for 295 days straight. That's pretty good. I've also set myself a daily challenge on DuoLingo, where my streak is now 340 days. I've completed the language trees for German, French, Swedish, Norwegian and am now about halfway through teaching myself Spanish. Sadly, my language skills aren't exactly great when I'm not in the app - I suspect my reading and writing skills are better than my actual active vocabulary or pronunciation, but it's at least goals I set myself that I've been able to complete.

My work load during the first half of the year was heavy, but since August, when my supervisors have done their very best to absolutely drown me in work (my life seems to consist of grading essays now), it's been all the harder to find the energy and motivation to read and review. As a result, I've read a lot less than I'd like and I have to go back to 2011 to find a year where I read fewer books and pages in total. My hope for 2017 is that I have more time to read and enjoy what I'm doing, and that while the world is quickly going to hell in a hand basket, perhaps the year will bring more happy things for me on a personal level, at least.

Let's move on to my reading. I got acquired 285 new books in 2016. 238 were e-books, 14 were audio books. Only 11,5% were actual physical books. 29 were gifts. 16 were free on various websites.

Total pages read: 52292
Total books read: 150
New books: 124
Novellas: 10
Re-reads: 24
Audio books: 15
Comic books/graphic novels: 12
Since I did the BOYB challenge, intended to make me read books I actually owned prior to 2016, I can also extrapolate that 28% of the books I read over the course of the year were my own property, acquired before the reading year began. I like discoveries like that.

The genre breakdown for 2016 is as follows:
Romance - 41.3% (I couldn't be bothered checking how many historical vs contemporary)
Paranormal/urban fantasy - 10.6%
Fantasy - 16%
Mystery/suspense - 2.6%
Science fiction - 6%
Historical fiction (non-romantic) - 5.3%
Non-fiction - 2.6%
Young adult - 15.3%

I found that I do not appear to have read any contemporary fiction that isn't also romantic. I should possibly do something about that in 2017. I've already done my round-up of my reading challenges. I failed to complete two, but took part in enough that I still felt like I did ok. I would like to say that I'll take part in fewer challenges this year, but having gone through a list of available ones that look fun, it looks like there's going to be closer to twenty in 2017 as well.

I sat down, while waiting for 2016 to finally expire, to try to organise my best of the year list. I have managed to cut it down to twenty by including whole series in some spots. The following list is a mix of books published in 2016 and books from before. I ruled out all re-reads to make the list more manageable. The books are listed in alphabetical order, because trying to rank it gave me a headache.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie. I listened to the audio book back in March and later in the year, this book was also selected as one of the Book Club Picks for the Cannonball Book Club. I'd heard many positive things about it, but was still unprepared for how this book was going to affect me emotionally. It's such an honest, wonderful and important book. I look forward to getting to teach excerpts from it to my pupils in the spring.

Magic Binds by Ilona Andrews. It'll come as no surprise to long-time readers of my blog that there are two entries by the Andrews' on this list. The penultimate book in my favourite paranormal fantasy series currently being written sees our protagonist trying to plan a wedding while thwarting an ominous prophecy, while also desperately fielding power plays from her ruthless, power-hungry and immortal father. Others may disagree, but I love these books and can't wait to see what happens in book 10.

One Fell Sweep by Ilona Andrews. One positive thing about 2016 is that I got two books from my favourite paranormal authors. Not content with excellent characterisation, action and plotting in their Kate Daniels series, they also publish a sort of urban fantasy/science fiction hybrid series in instalments for free on their website. What started as a fun little side project keeps getting more ambitious with every book, and in the third volume, there is romantic pay-off both for our protagonist and supporting characters.

Six of Crows duology by Leigh Bardugo. This action-packed, heist-driven historical fantasy series, consisting of Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom helped me not go entirely mad in November, when the only physical book I had time to read was the massive Count of Monte Cristo and my world was pretty much non-stop correction work. Amazing world building, clever and razor-sharp plotting, with a super cast of characters, these two books made me happy I'd stuck with Bardugo's Grisha trilogy, which I was never all that impressed by. When certain characters showed up in cameos here, it made it all the more satisfying.

A Promise of Fire by Amanda Bouchet. The first volume in what is going to be a trilogy, this very entertaining book by a debut author manages to combine both well-plotted and realised fantasy with a very satisfying and slow-burning romance. Both protagonists and supporting cast are people I want to keep reading about, there are monsters and deities from Greek Mythology and the next two books are coming out in early 2017, so none of the endless waiting that you get with longer traditional fantasy series.

The Ivy Years by Sarina Bowen (including the excellent novella Blonde Date, but NOT book 5, The Fifteenth Minute). Having heard many positive things about these books by my fellow romance enthusiasts online, I finally got round to this series of New Adult romances early in the year. Focusing on college age protagonists involved in various sports at the fictional Harkness College and every single story I read is absolutely excellent. Bowen also deserves credit for writing very sex positive books with likable characters who never slut-shame.

Him by Sarina Bowen and Elle Kennedy. While I haven't actually read any of Elle Kennedy's solo romances yet (they're high on my reading list for 2017), I very much enjoyed her collaboration with Sarina Bowen. Another New Adult romance, this one focuses on two hockey players and former best friends who initiate a love affair when they meet again after several years apart. A very satisfying M/M romance, at least to me, a cis-gendered, very straight woman.

The Red Rising trilogy by Pierce Brown. With the third book, Morning Star, coming out this year, I finally allowed myself to start this very hyped dystopian science fiction trilogy and for the most part, I was never bored or disappointed. I've seen it classified as young adult, but really don't think that any but the most sophisticated of teen readers will fully get the themes and stories explored over the course of these three books. Rather than just being a boring bridging instalment, Golden Son was probably my favourite of all three books.

Radiance by Grace Draven. Another satisfying fantasy romance, where an arranged marriage between a two parties who initially find the other physically repellent, but manage to develop a close friendship, which later blossoms into devoted love. While I can see why some people had problems with aspects of both the world building and the story, I was absolutely engrossed throughout and really need to get round to reading the sequel soon.

Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye. An homage to the classic Jane Eyre, where the heroine instead ends up murdering multiple individuals over the course of her life. Where the hero doesn't have secrets in the attic, but instead a past in colonial India and possibly unsavoury goings-on in the cellar. With a much more diverse cast than the classic Victorian Gothic novel and marvellously narrated in audio by Susie Riddell, this is one of my very favourite discoveries of 2016 and I will be seeking out other books by the author as well.

The Belhaven duology by Emily Foster, consisting of the books How Not to Fall and How Not to Let Go. Written by a scientist in response to 50 Shades of Grey and the many similar books its success has spawned, Ms. Foster wanted to write a romance which was feminist, sex-positive, science-driven and actually erotic. The protagonists are both science nerds who also love rock climbing, so there isn't just steamy smexy times. The first book is mostly fun, infatuation and getting to know one another, the second part is in large part time-consuming psychological healing, angst, separation and trust issues, before the couple finally get their well-earned happy ending. I found both protagonists incredibly compelling and love books that show that love and great sex can't magically cure deep psychological trauma, it needs to be dealt with by professionals.

Wicked Sexy Liar by Christina Lauren. The final book in their Wild Seasons series, I was initially not entirely sure why this book needed to exist. As it turned out, it was the most satisfying romance of the lot. The story of commitment-shy London and the charming Luke, who initially just want a casual hook-up, but develop their relationship into so much more really surprised me with how great it was and probably the first one I will be recommending to someone curious to try a book by this romance-writing duo.

Her Every Wish by Courtney Milan. After last year's rather disappointing historical romance, Once Upon a Marquess, it was a great relief to see the stellar Ms. Milan back on form with this delightful novella about reaching for your dreams, ignoring your critics and not apologising for your desires. Featuring thoroughly working class protagonists, an adorable inter-racial couple in the Victorian era, I was glad to see that Milan hadn't lost her touch. 

Hold Me by Courtney Milan. Further evidence that Courtney Milan is one of the best romance novelists (if not THE best) writing at the moment came later in the year, with this contemporary New Adult, featuring a transwoman Latina heroine and an Asian bisexual hero. Dealing more with the struggles women face in the STEM fields than making a big issue out of the heroine's gender identity, this enemies to lovers story was deeply satisfying.

The Captive Prince trilogy by C.S. Pacat. Another series I had heard a lot about on the interwebs, but had resisted reading until I was sure it was completed, this alternate history fantasy featuring two sworn enemies falling in love. There is unreliable narration, all manner of political intrigue, slavery, spying, warfare and dysfunctional family dynamics. With each new book in the trilogy, it seems like the story is turned on its head, and the reader is kept entertained throughout, hoping for a happy outcome for the complex, star-crossed lovers at the centre of the story.

Kindred Spirits by Rainbow Rowell. If Ms. Rowell has a book out in a given year, no matter how short, it's pretty much a given that it will find its way to my best of list. A novella written for World Book Day, this tale features Star Wars fans waiting in line for The Force Awakens. It's short, but very sweet and my only complaint is that there isn't a lot more of it. One of my fervent hopes for 2017 is that there will be another Rowell book in the later half of the year (there are sadly none scheduled for the first half).

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith. One of those modern classics that I had never got round to reading, this heartbreaking, but ultimately uplifting historical novels centres around Francie Nolan, growing up in Brooklyn in the aftermath of World War I. While the family is poor, the father an alcoholic, there is love and loyalty and a lot of positive things in between all the bleakness. While the book made me cry more than once, it's a wonderful book and should be read by more people.

The Hating Game by Sally Thorne. If I had to pick my very favourite book from 2016, not necessarily in terms of overall quality or worthiness, but the book that gave me the most sheer enjoyment and that I proceeded to re-read twice in the months after it came out in August. This contemporary romance, where bitter enemies Lucy and Josh discover just how much they have in common when they start fighting for a new CEO position, and their "hating game" turns into the "something else" game was just so comforting and delightful to me, and I keep finding new things to love about it with each new reread.

Saga, vol 6 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples. While maybe not one of the very best volumes of the series so far, it's still a new instalment of Saga, enough said. I would obviously have preferred more Lying Cat, but watching Hazel turn into an actual little person and having Marko and Alana reunited again feels so good.

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson. I had only ever watched the movie before, but found that the book was just as delightful and, as is often the case, possibly even better than the cinematic adaptation. The uplifting tale of downtrodden governess Guinevere Pettigrew and her absolutely wonderful day of adventure is just such a sweet story. It's not a very long book, and it deserves more readers. The movie is also highly recommended.

There you go. My year in review. Now I need to go make lists of potential reading challenges and plan what I want to read in January.

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