Saturday, 6 January 2018
End of year review 2017
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 329 new books in 2017. 279 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
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%
Historical fiction: 3.8%
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.