Let’s Freak Out Together! The Mid-Year Book Freak Out Tag 2021

June is almost over which means HALF of this year has gone by and that’s kind of crazy?! I mean, people say this every year, but I think we can all agree that 2020 and 2021 have been far from normal, so realizing we have lived through almost 1.5 years of pandemic just sounds ridiculous. Trying to look on the bright side, the numerous lockdowns, working from home, social distancing and isolation have opened up a lot of reading time for many of us, me included. I am doing okay as far as reading goals go, although work has been absolutely insane these past months and I’m glad it’s now looking like things will quiet down a bit.

So, on to the Mid-Year Freak Out Tag in which you shall see quite a few repeat offenders, one of which is (unsurprisingly) by my favoritest of authors. It’s not my fault she’s brilliant…

Best Book You Read So Far in 2021

Easily The Past is Red by Catherynne M. Valente (review goes up on July 19th), although I have some other favorites like All The Murmuring Bones by Angela Slatter, a gothic fairy tale-esque novel about a woman breaking free from her family and finding her own place in a decidedly magical world, or The Ones We’re Meant to Find by Joan He, a post climate change YA novel about two sisters trying to find and save each other in a hostile world. And, the only non-2021 title, The House in the Cerulean Sea by T. J. Klune, which stole my heart so fast I didn’t even know what was happening.

Interestingly, all of these are ocean-themed. In one, there’s nothing left but oceans plus an island of floating garbage, in the second, the ocean is what keeps the protagonist sisters apart, in the third, it’s where the mermaids live who have made a bargain with the protagonist’s family and in the last one, the island setting is in the sea… I always find it funny when I look back on my reading and realize that I’ve been reading on a theme without noticing. 🙂

Best Sequel Read in 2021

Two new releases and three older ones is a good mix, I think. The Discworld novel is not technically a sequel, although it is book 13 in the series. But as it’s not part of either of the sub-series and stands perfectly well on its own, I kind of smuggled it onto this list, simply because I adored it and wanted to mention it here.
Both Arkady Martine’s followup to the amazeballs A Memory Called Empire and Addison’s companion/sequel to the beloved The Goblin Emperor weren’t quite as good as their predecessors, but that doesn’t mean much. They are still both very good novels that gave me more of what I loved in the first book.

New Release You Haven’t Read Yet But Want To

Like every year: So many!

  • P. Djèlí Clark – A Master of Djinn
  • C. L. Clark – The Unbroken
  • Joanna Ruth Meyer – Into the Heartless Woods
  • Ava Reid – The Wolf and the Woodsman
  • Tasha Suri – The Jasmine Throne
  • Nghi Vo – The Chosen and the Beautiful
  • Helene Wecker – The Hidden Palace
  • Maggie Stiefvater – Mister Impossible
  • Nicole Kornher-Stace – Firebreak
  • Martha Wells – Fugitive Telemetry
  • Naomi Kritzer – Chaos on CatNet
  • M. A. Carrick – The Mask of Mirrors
  • Rivers Solomon – Sorrowland

And then some, but these are the ones that feel the most urgent. Yes, I have a problem.

Most Anticipated Release for the Second Half of the Year

  • Jordan Ifueko – Redemptor
  • Catherynne M. Valente – The Past is Red (already read this – it’s perfect!)
  • Catherynne M. Valente – Comfort Me With Apples (already read this – super creepy!)
  • T. J. Klune – Under the Whispering Door
  • Fonda Lee – Jade Legacy
  • Linden A. Lewis – The Second Rebel
  • Ryka Aoki – Light From Uncommon Stars
  • Becky Chambers – A Psalm for the Wild-Built
  • Shelley Parker-Chan – She Who Became the Sun
  • Brandon Sanderson – Cytonic
  • Andrea Stewart – The Bone Shard Emperor
  • Zoraida Córdova – The Inheritance of Orquídea Divina

The Green Bone Saga is coming to an end and I am HYPED! The same goes for Jordan Ifueko’s duology which started with Raybearer (more on that below). We see continuations of Linden A. Lewis’ First Sister series, the Bone Shard universe by Andrea Stewart, as well as Sanderson’s Skyward series, all of which I enjoy a lot. Becky Chambers is starting a new series of novellas, involving a robot and a tea monk (I mean, how could I not want this?), and T. J. Klune offers what is hopefully another heartwarming story like Cerulean Sea. Ryka Aoki and Zoraida Córdova‘s books are on my radar because either I keep hearing about them (Aoki) or the cover is striking (Córcova). Plus, I’ve read Córdova before and like what she does with culture and fantasy.

I’ve already read both of Cat Valente’s upcoming novellas and they are EXCELLENT, although very different in subject and tone. The Past is Red is a post climate-change novel that’s both heartbreaking and hopeful and so, so clever. Comfort Me With Apples is wonderfully eerie but I recommend going into it as blank as possible. The less you know, the more fun you’ll have. There are lots of moments that will make you scratch your head and wonder what the hell is going on. In the best of ways.

Biggest Disappointment

Persephone Station by Stina Leicht, The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper, and FINNA by Nino Cipri.

This is always such a sad question to answer because obviously, nobody sets out to read a book in order to dislike it. Disappointments can take many forms and have many sources. Was the book overhyped and simply didn’t live up to the expectations? Was the synopsis misleading? Is the plot/style/character development lacking? Is it none of the above and the book simply didn’t fit my current reading mood? It could be any or all of those things but no matter the reason, I would much rather have liked these books. I’m glad, however, that it was only these three.

Did everyone read a different FINNA than I did? The idea sounds sooooo great and really quite funny (a wormhole opens up in fictional IKEA and two unhappy and recently broken up employees have to go in to save a lost grandma) but the world-hopping didn’t work in novella format because things get too hectic and there’s no time for proper world building. The characters were one-dimensional (a gender identity isn’t a person, it’s just one part of a human being!) and the writing wasn’t very engaging. As this is nominated for several awards, I expected a lot more.

In the case of Persephone Station it wasn’t expectations or hype, I just didn’t think the book was very good. It lacks focus and it doesn’t ever manage to make its characters truly come to life. Props for representation but there was so little else there that I can’t even remember much of anything. A hundred SF ideas were shoved into it without ever executing any one of them properly, so it ended up as a big old mess.

Now The Dark is Rising is interesting because not only has it won lots of awards, it’s considered a classic of both children’s literature and fantasy and I Just. Don’t. See. Why. You literally don’t know what’s going on most of the time because the protagonist is a passive bag of meat who’s being shoved around by some immortal magical beings who also don’t tell him shit, except when it’s too late and then he still doesn’t do anything active but just waits around for the next magical being to save his ass and hand him some magical artifact. And it’s all got to do with King Arthur, apparently. I have great respect for any child who stuck with this because I don’t think child-me would have had the patience.

Biggest Surprise

John Scalzi’s The Collapsing Empire was a book I expected to not enjoy very much. I have nothing against Space Opera and nothing against Scalzi as a person, but I haven’t warmed to his writing very much. The few reviews I’ve seen hinted at this being rather shallow, an action movie kind of book. And while it was definitely as exciting as an action movie, I found much more to like in it than that. Yes, the characters are a little bland but in light of what else the novel has to offer, I was okay with that. Whatever the reasons for it, I didn’t want to put the book down, ever, and immediately after finishing it, I loaded the sequel onto my e-reader.

Favorite New Author

I’m glad I can list several new (potential) favorites here:

I have read one book each by these authors and they all resonated with me and made me want more. So now I have one or more other books by these authors on my TBR which will determine whether I’ve truly found new favorites or just authors who wrote one book I really liked. I have my suspicions, though, that I will end up loving the second book by all of them as much as I did the first.

New Favorite Character

Tetley Abednego from The Past is Red. She’s a ray of sunshine in a world of grey, she’s smart and loving and eternally hopeful. She makes me want to find whatever happiness I can in this messed-up place that is our world. I also want to be best friends with her and together win 8th Best Daffodil at some contest. 🙂

A Book That Made You Cry

Small Gods because Terry Pratchett writes characters that are so human you feel like you know them. And then he sends them out on adventures that sometimes go well, sometimes not so much, but there’s always a feeling of truth to the Discworld. Brutha was an amazing protagonist who has a secure spot in my heart.
Quite different but similarly endearing is Linus Baker in T. J. Klune’s House in the Cerulean Sea, a book that exceeded my expectations but gave me exactly what I had hoped for. Warm feelings, a sense of belonging, a lovely found family, and some ugly-cry moments.

A Book That Makes You Happy

The House in the Cerulean Sea obviously. I can’t think of a more wholesome, happiness-inducing book that I’ve read recently. Yes, it also made me cry. It’s just that kind of book. A close second is A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking which is by T. Kingfisher, so it’s got her particular sense of humor that I love. It’s also clever and heartwarming and just so much fun.

Favorite Book-to-Movie Adaptation You’ve Seen This Year

I’m not aware of anything other than Shadow and Bone but, yes, I did watch and enjoy its first season. After some initial pacing problems and storyline-combining, timeline-ignoring shenanigans, I actually liked it a lot. The actors are great, it’s visually beautiful, and nothing was ruined so far. That doesn’t sound like high praise but the show does a lot of things right. I was surprised at how much I cared about the Nina and Matthias story because, although I liked that bit in the Six of Crows duology, it was never my favorite. Alina and Mal’s relationship is shown beautifully through their letters and flashbacks, the Darkling is just as hot as he should be (and I’m just as uninterested as I was when I read the books), and it all seems to be coming together.

Most Beautiful Book You’ve Bought This Year

So none of these books are actually here yet because they’re all pre-orders. But I am so excited about the special editions of Raybearer and Redemptor by Jordan Ifueko. I am apparently the only person who doesn’t like the UK covers and while I love the character illustration on the US covers, I am not a fan of the bright colors and all that glitter. But I adore Raybearer and absolutely needed a paper copy! So I grabbed these two beauties with stunning ombre sprayed edges. They’ll be arriving sometime in August or September, I think.

I’ve only had the eARC of The Past is Red to stare at, but that cover is not only gorgeous but also so full of little details that you don’t see the first time you look. It gets even cooler when you’ve read the book and discover that those details have meaning and aren’t just there because they look cool (although they do that, too). I can’t wait to hold the paper copy in my hands and just stare at it for a while.

Honorable mention to The Ones We’re Meant to Find (see first question).

What Books Do You Need to Read By the End of the Year

HAHAHAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA why is this question even here? My TBR pile looks like an entire mountain range at this point, but okay, priorities can be set and certain books want to be read more urgently than others. Excluding all the books I’m reading for this year’s Hugo Awards and the new releases I’ve already mentioned above, here are my top need-to-read books for the rest of the year:

  • Andrzej Sapkowski – The Time of Contempt
  • Tamora Pierce – The Woman Who Rides Like a Man
  • Connie Willis – To Say Nothing of the Dog
  • Iain Banks – Consider Phlebas
  • Brandon Sanderson – Rhythm of War
  • Walter M. Miller – A Canticle for Leibowitz
  • Holly Black – Tithe
  • Laini Taylor – Night of Cake and Puppets
  • Lauren Beukes – Afterland
  • Roshani Chokshi – The Star-Touched Queen

Reading Goal/Challenges Status

  • Goodreads goal: 52/100
  • Beat the Backlist: 17/53 (2 books to go for a Bingo)
  • Black Authors: 6/20
  • New Releases: 10/??

There you have it. I’d say the first half of 2021 was pretty successful, reading-wise. With only a few disappointments but many very good books and several new favorites I really can’t complain. As usual, the Hugo Awards prove to be super rewarding, not only because it’s fun to participate in the community and to vote in the actual awards, but also because reading the finalists shows me new aspects of SFF and leads me down literary roads I would otherwise not have taken.

For someone who wouldn’t have picked up an Urban Fantasy series (because the ones I tried didn’t grab me that much), I am now slowly but steadily catching up on the October Daye series and enjoying it. I also never thought I’d pick up this particular John Scalzi trilogy but, even as I type this, I can’t wait to get started on the next book and find out what happens next!

Now let’s hope the second half of 2021 brings us back to some resemblance of normal and, of course, lots and lots of great books. 😉

Wrapping Up 2020 (Including Stats)

I can’t believe we made it through this year!
Have a wonderful New Year’s Eve, everyone. Be safe and protect each other. I hope you can celebrate with the people closest to you but even if you can’t, know that you are not alone.

Now, let’s take a look back at the dumpster fire that was 2020 and see if I can’t find all the little positive things that have happened in between global catastrophes.

blogging

I’m proud to say that I kept blogging throughout the year more or less consistently. Sure, at some times, reviews came more frequently and at others, I didn’t post anything at all for a couple of weeks, but overall, I’ve been reading and blogging all year.

I also introduced a new regular feature here – something I’ve never done before – and I quite like it. The State of SFF is my monthly catch-all post where I talk about new publications and all the little topics that float around in my head which have to do with the SFF community, awards, podcasts, best of lists, movie adaptations, and so on.

I’ve also started a new personal reading challenge mid-year, prompted by the Black Lives Matter movement. I wanted to read 10 new-to-me Black authors and not only succeeded but discovered some new favorites! I will continue this challenge, in slightly altered form, in 2021. The gist of it is more books but not all authors have to be new to me.

Almost completely by coincidence, this was also my year of finishing series. As most readers, I have a ton of book series that I’ve started and never continued. 2020 was the year where I caught up on some of them, finished others, and of course started a whole lot of new ones. 🙂

Book Stuff

I have read the most books and the most pages ever in 2020. The biggest boost came through the Hugo Award finalists, most of which were fantastic. The fact that the Hugo Voter’s Packet included the entirety of the nominated graphic novel series also helped and let me binge 10 comics in a day. Thanks to the publishers and creators who were so generous during Hugo voting season. You’re not throwing out free books, you’re acutally giving us voters a chance to see a story in its entirety and, for me at least, that made a huge difference.

As for specific books that I’m particularly proud of having read, there are a few that I’ve been putting off for years. Okay, fine, decades! I read Dracula! And Beowulf! I thought I’d never see the day and now I wonder why I was so intimidated. Sure, Beowulf sort of rhymes and there are old-timey words in it, but it was fine. Dracula was overly long but had really good parts that completely sucked me in. I also caught up on some SFF classics that blew my mind. The Sparrow and Doomsday Book were absolute gems, both of which made me ugly cry. Neuromancer was a bit cringey but I’m still glad I read it because it’s such a (sub)genre-defining book that inspired many others. For my favorite books of the year, go here.

The Stats

I love stats. Do you also love stats? Of course you do.
Well, I’ve been tracking my reading in spreadsheets for a few years now but this year, in order to check in on my goals, I tweaked things a bit and I managed to make charts. I wanted to know not only the gender ratio of the authors I’ve read but especially the ratio of white authors and Authors of Color in general, and Black authors in particular.

But let’s start at the beginning and then get into all the shiny graphs. 🙂

I have read a total of 137 books which amount to a total of 40,137 pages.

My strongest month by far was July because that’s when I read most of the Hugo nominated graphic novels. Nine volumes of The Wicked + The Divine, four volumes of Monstress and four volumes of Paper Girls make it look like I’ve read a lot (and I’m not denying I read quite a bit) but novel-wise, I didn’t read that much more than in other months.
What’s rather unusual for me is the two re-reads. I rarely make time to re-read a book and this year, it wasn’t even two favorites that I picked up but rather books I wanted to give another chance. And both times were a great success with me finishing the series right afterwards (Earthsea and Daughter of Smoke and Bone, in case you’re wondering 🙂 ).

What’s making me even happier is how many POC authors I’ve read this year. Granted, there is still a lot of  room for improvement but it’s definitely the most Authors of Color I’ve ever read in a year so far.

  • 42 of my books were written by People of Color (31%)
    • 26 out of those were written by Black authors (19%)

That’s really awesome! I’ve said for years and years that I want to read more Authors of Color and while I always do read some, I don’t think I’ve ever managed to make more than 20% of my yearly reading by Authors of Color. Plus, my challenge this year was to specifically discover new Black authors instead of just reading the newest Jemisin or Okorafor book. Not that I didn’t also read those (because how could I not) but you know. Favorites can only be discovered if you try something new.

  • 82 books by female authors
  • 48 books by male authors
  • 7 books by nonbinary authors

I’m also quite pleased with the gender ratio. My reading has skewed towards more female-authored works for years now (simply because many of my favorites are female and of course I’ll read whatever new books they publish), but this was the first year where I also read some nonbinary authors. To be transparent, I’ve only read 4 nonbinary authors but I’ve read more than one book by some of them (Rivers Solomon and Sarah Gailey are both new favorites!). Next year, I’ll definitely read more by Akwaeke Emezi and Kacen Callender as well.

It’s no surprise that I listened to a lot of audiobooks this year. I usually read one or two e-books (or physical ones) at the same time plus I have an audiobook going on. It helps me keep the books separate in my mind and it’s also really great for listening while doing other stuff. This year especially, I found myself with more time on my hands, stuck at home without the daily commute. So I simply got thorugh my audiobooks faster than usual.
I have no particular goals with in comes to reading format. Sure, there are some audiobook narrators I really like but usually, I just go with whatever format is easiest or cheapest to get.

Future Plans

I’m just glad we made it through 2020. My goals for next year are modest. I do want to read 100 books again, I hope to keep up a regular posting schedule (1-2 posts per week would be nice) and I have picked a reading challenge for 2021. I’ll probably participate in the occasional readathon, I’ll do some tags if they appeal to me, and I’ll definitely continue catching up on all my book series. But there is no pressure at all. If, sometime during the year, I think of a new challenge to do or get into a reading slump, I’ll just read whatever I feel like.

I will do my best to read all the Hugo finalists again and I suspect 2021 will be one of the toughest years for voting yet. Let’s hope next year will be just as great for SFF publishing and much better in all other respects than 2020.

 

A mini update and my current reads

Hey everyone! As I’m currently on holiday in a sunny place, this post is coming to you from my phone. So don’t expect any shiny pictures or fancy formatting. I just had to let you know about my current reads and the fantastic books I’ve read so far.

Joan He – Descendant of the Crane

Boy, did this book surprise me! It started out as a nice fantasy story in an alternate China (with magic, but outlawed magic!) and then got better and better without me even noticing. By the end, I was a complete mess!! So many twists, such brilliant characters, great ideas and cool worlbuilding…. this is now one of my favourite books published in 2019.

Diana Peterfreund – For Darkness Shows the Stars

This sci-fi retelling of Jane Austen’s Persuasion felt a little strange at first. The futuristic world felt a bit flimsy but that got better quickly. And the romance was absolutely amazing! I felt for these characters immediately and wanted nothing more than to push them together and see them happy.

Marlon James- Black Leopard, Red Wolf

I just started this so I can’t say too much about it but I really like the style. It6very different from most books I’ve read before but I like how this fantasy world incorporates African myths rather than the usual fantasy fare. Also, I am super intrigued by the narrator and I want to explore the entire gorgeous map.

So my holiday is going very well. We’re doing a lot of exploring and sightseeing but I have plenty of time to read as well. I hope you’re all doing well and may your current reads be as fantastic as mine. 😁

2019 Reading Challenges – Wrap-Up

Happy New Year, everyone! 
2019 is as good as over and so begins the season of best-of-lists, wrapping up challenges and of course starting new ones. As an avid reader and a lover of lists, you can imagine how happy this makes me. It almost makes up for the cold weather and having to put on 50 layers of clothing every day.

I have already posted my favorite books of the year because I don’t think I’ll finish another book in 2019, so now it’s time to see how I did with all those challenges I set myself. Because the previous years weren’t so great reading-wise (and life-wise, to be honest. I lost both my grandmothers in 2017 and 2018 respectively, so books weren’t really on my mind for a long time), so I set myself very achievable goals and participated in only a few challenges. As the year went on and I stayed well ahead of my schedule, I threw in a couple of readathons which ended up pushing me even more ahead of schedule.

Goodreads Reading Challenge

I started out with a goal of 60 books. When I surpassed that in July, I upped it to 70, then 75. After that, I just decided to be happy with however many books I would end up reading, but of course a secret little voice in the back of my head kept whispering “100 is such a nice, round number”. And I did it! There were a few novelettes and graphic novels in there, but the bulk of my reading was novels (and some of them quite big ones).

I only read more pages in 2012 (34994 pages) but 2019 was filled with such fantastic books that I feel like it was actually my best reading year yet.

The Retellings Challenge

This wonderful challenge, hosted by Tracy at Cornerfolds played right into my hands. While I would have read many fairy tale retellings anyway, the reading prompts pushed me to pick up books out of my comfort zone, or older books that had been languishing on my TBR for way too long. It actually was a challenge to fill all the bingo squares and not all of my reads were great, but I am very happy with the result. I discovered new favorites (The Golem and the Jinni, The Scorpio Races), a new author I love (Joanna Ruth Meyer)  and many other fantastic books that I probably wouldn’t have picked up otherwise.

Here’s what I read for this challenge. I’m so happy and a little bit proud that I managed to write a review for every single one of these books!

Beauty and the Beast: Brigid Kemmerer – A Curse so Dark and Lonely
Set in a foreign country: Leigh Bardugo – The Language of Thorns
Stand-alone book: Maggie Stiefvater – The Scorpio Races
Wonderland: Colleen Oakes – Queen of Hearts
Award-winning book: Helene Wecker – The Golem and the Jinni
One word title: Helen Oyeyemi – Gingerbread
Bronte or Austen: Ibi Zoboi – Pride
Native American myth:
 Rebecca Roanhorse – Trail of Lightning
2019 release: Joanna Ruth Meyer – Echo North
Egyptian myth: Kiersten White – The Chaos of Stars
Greek myth: 
Madeline Miller – Circe
Debut author: Melissa Bashardoust – Girls Made of Snow and Glass
Free Space: Lisa Goldstein – The Uncertain Places
Shakespeare: Lisa Mantchev – Eyes Like Stars
Asian myth: Natasha Ngan – Girls of Paper and Fire

Indie book: Esther Dalseno – Drown
Russian folklore: Katherine Arden – The Winter of the Witch
Weapon on the cover: Steven Brust – The Sun, the Moon, and the Stars

Norse myth: Joanne Harris – The Gospel of Loki
Peter Pan:
 Brianna R. Shrum – Never Never
Over 500 pages: Marion Zimmer Bradley – The Mists of Avalon
Set in space: Joan D. Vinge – The Snow Queen
Middle Eastern myth: S. A. Chakraborty – The City of Brass
Brothers Grimm: Neil Gaiman & Colleen Doran – Snow, Glass, Apples
Written 10+ years ago: Nancy Springer – Fair peril

Ongoing challenges

I also ended up, quite by accident, reading some books from the various lists and awards I follow. These aren’t challenges with a time limit, but simply books I’d like to get to someday. However, as new releases tend to catch my eye and demand to be read right now, I often forget those older books. Not so this year! Whether it was because of the Retellings Challenge, the monthly book picks for the podcast Sword & Laser, or the Harry Potter themed readathons I participated in, I actually managed to catch up on some of those lists. If you’re interested in the entire lists, I have them in my blog menu, and if you want to see how many you’ve read, I highly recommend checking out Worlds Without End.

The Mythopoeic Award

100 Must-Read Fantasy Books by Women

NPR’s Top 100 Science Fiction and Fantasy Novels

2019 Releases

While it’s not an official challenge, I always try to read a number of new publications because I want to have read enough new books to nominate my favorites for the Hugo Awards. I doubt I’ll ever manage to read all the books that interest me and are talked about in any given year, but I did quite okay this year.

Here are all the 2019 publications I actually read during 2019. I expect to read quite a few more in January and especially once the shortlists for the Nebula and Hugo Awards are out. But I also believe I won’t have that many books to catch up on this time. I picked many books that were buzzed about – some of them I loved to bits, others puzzled me completely as to why everyone seems to love them except me – but I’m pretty sure I know which books have a shot at being nominated for awards.

2019 publications I want to get to ASAP

Whether or not these end up on an award shortlist, I want to read them desperately. And if I’m quick and lucky, I’ll get to them before the nomination period for the Hugo Awards is over. Who knows, maybe my very favorite book of 2019 is among them?

  • Marlon James – Black Leopard, Red Wolf 
  • Paul Krueger – Steel Crow Saga
  • Charlie Jane Anders – The City in the Middle of the Night
  • Maggie Stiefvater – Call Down the Hawk (currently reading)
  • T. Kingfisher – The Twisted Ones
  • Brandon Sanderson – Starsight

Overall, I am more than happy with my 2019 reading challenges. I didn’t expect to get a blackout on the Retellings Challenge bingo card and I am even happier to have picked up some older books. And I still managed to read more new publications than ever before… apparently I did something right this year, finding the perfect balance between old and new, challenge books and mood reads. I can’t say that I used any kind of system but I hope that whatever motivated me so much in 2019 will still work its magic in 2020.

Mid-Year Book Freak Out Tag!

This tag has been floating around the internet for about a week now and although nobody has tagged me (so far), I really want to join in the fun. I love the idea, I love the questions, and it’s always nice to check in on one’s own reading. After all, the year is already halfway over, so priorities should be made about what to read next.

❥ Reading Challenges 2019

Goodreads Reading Challenge: 45/60

I’m doing surprisingly well on my Goodreads challenge. I used to read 100 books a year with no problem, but the last two years, that seemed like an impossible task. But life changes, things quiet down, and I managed to find more reading time. I have no doubt I’m going to smash my Goodreads goal this year. Maybe I’ll even get close to 100 books. That would be amazing!

2019 Retellings Challenge: 9/10

Tracy’s Retellings Challenge still makes me as excited as I was at the beginning of the year. I have discovered wonderful new books, some I didn’t like so much, but the challenge definitely pushes me to finally pick up books I’ve been meaning to read forever. Or it makes me go out of my comfort zone and try something new. Either way, it has been very rewarding so far. My plan is to fill the bingo card until the end of the year. And if Tracy doesn’t create a follow-up challenge for next year, I’ll start the whole bingo card over again. Because it’s that much fun!

❥ Best Book You’ve Read so Far in 2019

This is so tough! I can’t go with just one, so here’s my favorite reads of the year so far with a link to my review in case you want to learn more about these amazeballs books.

❥ Best sequel you’ve read so far in 2019

Leigh Bardugo – Ruin and Rising
I didn’t believe any author could possibly write a worthy and satisfying ending to such a great series but Leigh Bardugo did and I cried and it made me feel all the things and now she’s one of my favorite authors.

Nnedi Okorafor – Akata Warrior
I haven’t reviewed this book yet because there is so much to say about it that I don’t know where to start. It had all the magic and atmosphere from the first book but bigger, better, and more terrifying.

❥ New release you haven’t read yet, but want to

SO! MANY!!!

  • Charlie Jane Anders – The City in the Middle of the Night
  • Ann Leckie – The Raven Tower
  • Chuck Wendig – Wanderers
  • Samantha Shannon – The Priory of the Orange Tree
  • Kameron Hurley – The Light Brigade
  • Marlon James – Black Leopard, Red Wolf
  • Leigh Bardugo – King of Scars
  • Arkady Martine – A Memory Called Empire
  • Holly Black – The Wicked King
  • S. A. Chakraborty – The Kingdom of Copper
  • Margaret Rogerson – Sorcery of Thorns
  • Karen Lord – Unraveling
  • Helen Oyeyemi – Gingerbread
  • Sam J. Miller – Destroy All Monsters
  • C. A. Fletcher – A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World

❥ Most anticipated release for the second half of the year

  • Brandon Sanderson – Starsight
  • Holly Black – The Queen of Nothing
  • Maggie Stiefvater – Call Down the Hawk
  • T. Kingfisher – The Twisted Ones
  • Laura Ruby – Thirteen Doorways, Wolves Behind Them All
  • Alix E. Harrow – The Ten Thousand Doors of January
  • Tamsyn Muir – Gideon the Ninth
  • Erin A. Craig – House of Salt and Sorrows
  • C. S. E. Cooney – Desdemona and the Deep

❥ Biggest disappointment

Without a doubt, Girls of Paper and Fire by Natahsa Ngan and Beneath the Sugar Sky by Seanan McGuire. I didn’t write a review for McGuire’s third Wayward Children novella because it made me so angry. There is very little plot (as usual) and there is only one interesting side character. The protagonist was the most self-pitying, hypocritical, whiny moron I have ever read about. The thing is, she would say I dislike her because she’s fat (but I really, really don’t care how big her thighs are) because that’s all she does. Suspect people of disliking her for being fat when everybody is actually very nice to her. But because she has a problem with her own size, she assumes everyone else does too. I just can’t root for a character who constantly puts herself in a victim role, imagining and inventing reasons why she’s supposedly treated unfairly when SHE OBVIOUSLY ISN’T AND NOBODY CARES IF SHE’S FAT. Whew. So yeah… I liked the beginning of that story but the protagonist made it unbearable. I’m surprised my eyes didn’t get stuck from how much I rolled them while reading this.

❥ Biggest surprise

Mary Robinette Kowal – The Calculating Stars

I had read two of Kowal’s fantasy books (Jane Austen with magic is the elevator pitch) and while they featured great ideas, they were both quite boring. That series lacked all excitement and the style is painfully technical. Like, the words are all in the correct place and I can see what the author is trying to do, but there’s no emotion there.
All the more surprise when Kowal’s alternate history/science fiction novel hooked me from the first page and didn’t let up until the end. Although this too is a quiet sort of book, especially for a sci fi novel, there was so much to love about it.

❥ Favourite new author (Debut or new to you)

  • S. A. Chakraborty
  • G. Willow Wilson
  • Sarah Gailey

Each of these women impressed me with only one of their novels. I had technically read G. Willow Wilson’s Miss Marvel before, but this was my first novel by her.
S. A. Chakraborty’s City of Brass was magical and lush and filled with complex politics.
G. Willow Wilson convinced me with her new novel The Bird King, which was full of atmosphere and mythology and very, very human characters.
And Sarah Gailey just threw the perfect debut novel out there with Magic for Liars. I loved the characters, I was completely in for the murder mystery, and I can’t wait to read more by her.

❥ Newest fictional crush

I’m a little too old for fictional crushes but if you made me pick one that I think my younger self would have loved, I’d go with Sean Kendrick from The Scorpio Races.

❥ Newest favourite character

Hm… I already mentioned Sean Kendrick, so I’ll go with a different one here. Although the book itself wasn’t perfect, A Curse so Dark and Lonely featured one of the best, proactive heroines I’ve encountered in YA in a long time. Harper Lacy may have cerebral palsy, but she doesn’t let that hold her back from saving kingdoms, breaking curses, or generally taking matters into her own hands. She doesn’t wait to be saved, she gets up and saves herself!

❥ Book that made you cry

The ending of the Grisha Trilogy was just too well done not to cry a little. But Stiefvater really wrecked me with The Scorpio Races. I was close to tears for the entire last third of the book. But you know when I really did start crying? On the very last page, reading that very last line! I don’t think that’s ever happened to me and I don’t think I’ve ever read a book with an ending this perfect.

❥ Book that made you happy

It’s a little concerning how long I had to think about this. But while I’ve read a lot of depressing, dark, sad books this year, there were some that ended up making me glow with joy.

  • Madeline Miller – Circe
  • L. M. Montgomery – Anne of Green Gables

Circe may have started out depressing, what with the titular Circe being unloved and unwanted most of the time. But as she grows as a character and as her world changes and new people enter into it, her story becomes more joyful. By the end, I caught myself smiling more and more often.
I also finally read Anne of Green Gables after watching the first episode of its adaptation on Netflix. And I’ve come to the conclusion that if Anne’s optimistic outlook and pure joy for life doesn’t make you happy, nothing will.

❥ Most beautiful book you’ve bought so far this year (or received)

I have bought some seriously pretty books this year!

  • Margaret Rogerson – Sorcery of Thorns
  • Leigh Bardugo – King of Scars
  • Joanna Ruth Meyer – Echo North
  • Rachel Hartman – Tess of the Road

❥ Books you need to read by the end of the year

Well, there’s a lot of those. But because endless lists are no fun for anyone, I’m going to narrow it down to my top 15 books that I absolutely need to read before the year is over.

  • Joanne M. Harris – The Gospel of Loki
  • Katherine Arden – The Winter of the Witch
  • Helene Wecker – The Golem and the Jinni
  • Peadar O’Guilin – The Call
  • Peadar O’Guilin – The Invasion
  • Helen Oyeyemi – Gingerbread
  • Joanna Ruth Meyer – Echo North
  • Garth Nix – Frogkisser
  • Diana Peterfreund – For Darkness Shows the Stars
  • Margaret Rogerson – Sorcery of Thorns
  • Marlon James – Black Leopard, Red Wolf
  • C. A. Fletcher – A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World
  • Charlie Jane Anders – The City in the Middle of the Night
  • Karen Lord – Unraveling
  • Kazuo Ishiguro – The Buried Giant

I’m not going to tag anyone specifically because I know many, many people have done it already. If you want to join in and do this tag, consider yourselves tagged and maybe leave me a link to your post. I love reading other people’s freak out tag answers and discovering even more books I have to read. 🙂

Recent Reads: January 2019

As this blog has been on hiatus through most of 2018, I’ve been playing catch-up with writing reviews to all the wonderful books I’ve read. The creative juices are flowing again and you can expect more reviews to come in the following month. Since those reviews include a lot of books I read sometime last year, here’s a little peek into what I’ve been reading in January.

Leigh Bardugo – Siege and Storm

It took a while for me to warm to Leigh Bardugo’s writing, but once I starting liking it, it wasn’t long until I fell in love. After I finished her fairy tale collection The Language of Thorns, I had to finally get on with the Grisha trilogy. Full review to come, but spoiler: I really liked this one.

Leigh Bardugo -Ruin and Rising

You may have guessed why I read this book. 🙂
I really, really loved how this trilogy ended, how the characters grew with every chapter, how the plot strings all came together so nicely. The trilogy had a slow, rather paint-by-the-numbers start for me, but it ended up being so much more than I expected.

Natasha Ngan – Girls of Paper and Fire

My full review will be published in early February but I can already tell you that I was very disappointed with this book. I’m well aware that hyped books have a hard time living up to expectations, but when literally everything that was promised (on the book description, on blurbs, by early reviewers) turns out to be the opposite, I have to ask myself why. A pretty cover and the pretense of being feminist and stereotype-smashing won’t fool anyone who actually reads the book. Sure, this may have sold a lot of copies but disappointed readers will think very hard about buying the sequel…

V. E. Schwab – A Conjuring of Light

I loved the first book in this trilogy, A Darker Shade of Magic. Which made me all the more disappointed with the mediocre, oddly paced sequel A Gathering of Shadows. Which, in turn, made me put off reading the final book for so long. While this was definitely better than the second book, I had some problems with the characters and the (lack of) plot twists. If by mid-book the protagonists form a plan and then spend half the book executing it, without much in the way of opposition or surprises, the entire story falls rather flat. It was an okay ending overall but I’ve yet to write a full review.

R. F. Kuang – The Poppy War

This was a difficult book to read and I don’t know if I’ll review it. I don’t even know where to start sorting my thoughts about it, let alone write a cohesive review. It’s half military school, half war novel, with full on magic and gods. While I really loved the book, I can’t say that it was an enjoyable read. It asks many, many tough questions, deals with dark themes, and because it is so multi-layered, it’s hard to even know who to root for. Definitely recommended though!

On my February TBR:

  • Nnedi Okorafor – Akata Warrior
  • Susan Dennard – Windwitch
  • Ibi Zoboi – Pride
  • Katherine Arden – The Winter of the Witch
  • Leigh Bardugo – King of Scars

My Favorite Books of 2018

It’s been very quiet around here. Life required almost all my attention most of this year so I didn’t have much time for blogging. What time I could snatch away from work, I used for reading or spending with loved ones. BUT I did read, I even reached my Goodreads challenge goal, and I discovered some amazing books. And because it’s that time of the year, I want to share them with you.

Female authors: 66,1%
Male authors: 33,9%

My favorite books published in 2018

Catherynne M. Valente – Space Opera

I love everything Cat Valente writes but I especially enjoy when she tries something new. Space Opera, while still clearly penned by Valente, is so damn funny! It’s like that Rick and Morty episode where Earth has to prove it’s worthy of staying alive by winning a music contest. But with aliens that come out of Valente’s incredibly creative brain, a washed-out rock star as a protagonist, and the most hilarious “Hey, I’m an alien and yes we exist and also you better find a great musician to compete in intergalactic Eurovision” speech you could ever imagine. I laughed until I cried, it’s that funny. But the book also has a lot of heart and will simply leave you a happier person after reading it.

Naomi Novik – Spinning Silver

I didn’t love this as much as Uprooted but it does count among the best books published this year that I read. I felt Novik didn’t do a great job distinguishing the voices of her characters and I don’t see why so many needed to have POV chapters in the first place. But the three protagonists all grew rather dear to me, in their own way, and I adored the conclusion to the story. It may start out as a retelling of “Rumpelstiltskin” but it takes pretty epic turns and grows into something much bigger. Again, I much preferred Uprooted, but Novik’s fairy tale retellings, even when they’re not her best, are still better than most others out there.

Brandon Sanderson – Skyward

I haven’t loved everything by Sanderson so far. What I’ve loved I adore, but there are some books that I just didn’t feel (Steelheart, White Sand, I’m looking at you). Skyward however, is one of his books that you want to eat up in one sleepless night, following Spensa pursue her dream of becoming a pilot like her father. It does everything a good YA science fiction novel should do. A fast moving plot, secrets within secrets (because it’s Sanderson, let’s not pretend there are no seriously surprising plot twists on the way), and have I mentioned the talking space ship?

R.F. Kuang – The Poppy War

I’m still reading this (I’m about one third through) but it is already so damn good that I just know it will end up on this list anyway! Rin is such a compelling character and the world is a pleasure to explore. I have some idea of where the story is going, but mostly, I’m clueless about the bigger picture and I love it. The setting is something you don’t often see in fantasy and I’m surprised that martial arts can be fun reading about instead of watching. But it totally works and as soon as I’m done writing this, I’ll go back to reading the book.

 

My favorite books published earlier but read in 2018

Katherine Arden – The Girl in the Tower

The follow-up to my favorite book of 2017 (The Bear and the Nightingale) had a tough job keeping up with its predecessor. But Katherine Arden didn’t let up but delivered a more than worthy second instalment in ther Winternight Trilogy. Vasya’s journey continues and takes her to the big city. Her relationship with the mythical beings she can see grows, the world suddenly seems bigger, politics are more and more important. Where the first book happened mostly in Vasya’s village, this one opens up. With that new setting come new wonders to discover but also new threats and dangers. I loved this almost as much as the first book and I already pre-ordered the final instalment, due in January!

 

Ursula Vernon – Digger

This massive graphic novel took me a long time to get through. My hardback edition is… let’s set rather unwieldy. At almost 900 pages, it’s not the kind of book you read on a commute. But Digger crawled into my heart nonetheless and now I don’t know what to do with myself, comics-wise. It’s the story of a wombat who digs herself a tunnel that leads to unexpected places. On her quest to find the way back home, she meets hyenas, monks, a spirit child thing (it’s adorable!) and gets mixed up in the politics of a god that is also a statue. Plus, there are prophetic snails, lots of wombat jokes and Ursula Vernon’s trademark practical characters. I just love how pragmatic Digger is and how she tackles problems, makes friends, and is just so lovable all the time. The ending made me cry on several occasions because these characters grew so dear to me and I didn’t want to let go. I do want more Ursula Vernon books however.

T. Kingfisher – Bryony and Roses

Here’s the second Ursula Vernon (writing as T. Kingfisher) book to make this list because she is just that awesome. This is her retelling of “Beauty and the Beast” and it is everything I had hoped for. Bryony – a practical young gardner – stumbles upon the Beast’s castle, figures out pretty quickly there’s something wrong, and does her best to break the curse. The two protagonists develop a bond that is believable and the solution was quite original, nothing I’ve read in a Beauty and the Beast retelling before. I also have to mention Bryony’s sister – who only appears very shortly but is one of those characters I wish I could meet and have a long chat with. And then hug.

Patricia A. McKillip – The Forgotten Beasts of Eld

This year, I took the time to catch up on some older SFF because usually, new releases get all the attention and I miss out on all the great stuff that’s been there for a few decades. The Forgotten Beasts of Eld blew me away. It’s a quiet but powerful story about Sybel and the mythological beasts who live with her, isolated on her mountain. When a human child is thrust upon her, everything changes. She learns to love the child, but him being the son of one of the kings  vying  for power, it is clear that young Tamlorn will be pulled into a war. This book is powerful not so much because of its surface plot but because of what isn’t said. The way her animals react, the way Sybel bases her decisions on things that happen to her, the way the characters’ emotions toward each other change and grow over time – it was a delightful read and, as my first McKillip book, makes me want to read much more by her.

Robin McKinley – Deerskin

I read a lot of fairy tale retellings this year because in stressful times, we go back to what is most comforting. The previous McKinley book I’d read didn’t exactly convince me (maybe it was because I’d seen the Disney movie of Beauty and the Beast too many times or because I read it during a bad time, I don’t know), but I gave her a second chance and – boom – she made it straight into my favorite books of the year.
Deerskin is a tough book to read. If you know the fairy tale it’s based on, “Donkeyskin”, then you know that bad things happen to the protagonist early on. McKinley managed to get through those parts without ever being gratuitous but that didn’t make them any less horrifying to read. But the bulk of this book is a journey of healing for protagonist Deerskin. The bond between her and her dog was beautiful to read, and way more intense than the slowly growing romance between her and the prince. As hard as the reading experience was, I loved everything about this. The way Deerskin has to fight hard every day to keep living, the way magic was inserted into the story, the way it ended. This is why I give authors second chances – I would not want to have missed out on this gem of a retelling.

Ursula K. LeGuin – The Left Hand of Darkness

I don’t know why I didn’t read more LeGuin sooner. Maybe because, much like with McKinley, I didn’t totally love Earthsee and therefore kind of avoided other LeGuin books. What a mistake!
I didn’t really know what to expect of this book and simply dove in without much research. And again I was rewarded. What impresses me most is how much substance LeGuin managed to put into a book that is relatively short. World-building and politics happen almost by themselves without much description or info dumping. The focus lies on the characters (which is probably why I loved it so much), but you still get such a vivid feeling of the surroundings, the political setup, the wider world that’s out there. I kind of expected difficult prose and a slow read, but I raced thorugh this in a few days because it was so very compelling.

My favorite books that were everyone’s favorites last year

There’s a reason I love SFF book awards. They draw my attention to books I may have missed or that didn’t catch my eye with their covers and descriptions but may well be worth a read. I spend a good part of this year catching up on last year’s top books, award nominees, and other bloggers’ favorites.  A very rewarding undertaking.

Sam J. Miller – The Art of Starving

What a strange and yet utterly wonderful book. I read it on the beach in Greece but my mind was totally with Matt and his starving-induced superpowers. This book does not (!) glorify eating disorders – quite the opposite. I loved Matt’s voice, the way he is clearly lost in his own skin but so sure that has all the solutions. I don’t want to give too much away, but I enjoyed every page.

Sarah Rees Brennan – In Other Lands

Oh my god, what a delight. This is Fairyland as I’ve never seen it before – through the eyes of Elliot, a young boy with no interest in becoming a Fairyland warrior whatsoever. He is sarcastic, always gets himself in the most trouble he possibly can, and somehow still keeps his two friends (at times frenemies) throughout his time in magic school. Again, this book focuses on its characters, the fantasy setting is just sprinkles on top, although Elliot does have a weird obsession with mermaids. Although he is infuriatingly dumb at times, I loved Elliot so very much. Sometimes you want to take him by the shoulders and shake sense into him, but his flaws make him all the more lovable. I also love that this is a standalone novel that you can read, enjoy, and get the full story without commiting to another 10000 pages.

Philip Pullman – La Belle Sauvage

It came as no surprise to me that I loved the first instalment in The Book of Dust, featuring a baby Lyra and Malcolm Polstead as protagonist. Pullman just has a way with words that makes you fall into a story. The characters are charming, the plot intriguing, the connection to the original His Dark Materials trilogy is there, but not so overwhelmingly that it takes away from Malcolm’s own story. This was another feelgood book and  I can’t wait for the next in the series.

Theodora Goss – The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter

Everybody raved about this book last year and now I see why. I have been a fan of Theodora Goss’ writing since reading In the Forest of Forgetting but this being her first novel, I didn’t know what to expect. Rest assured, Goss found a cast of characters with charming and distinct voices (voices that frequently interrupt the story to comment on it) and she managed to write a mash-up of classic SF stories in which women take the lead. Dr. Jekyll’s daughter, Frankenstein’s second creation, a woman created by Doctor Moreau…. they all come together here to form a sort of found family and solve a series of mysterious murders. Okay, Sherlock Holmes helps a little.
Although it is completely different, I felt similarly happy while reading this as when I read The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet. It has that feeling of belonging despite being an outsider. I loved it.

What I still Want to read from 2018

There are – as there are every year – several books published in 2018 that I didn’t get to but really want to read soon. Here are the ones at the top of my list:

  • Tasha Suri – Empire of Sand
    Everybody is raving about is, including people whose opinion I trust, so it needs to go on my TBR asap.
  • Natasha Ngan – Girls of Paper and Fire
    Everything about this screams “read me”. The cover, the synopsis, the fact that I got a gorgeous hardcover copy here at home.
  • Anna-Marie McLemore – Blanca & Roja
    I’ve been meaning to read McLemore for a while (I have like five of her books here, all unread) but this is the one that screams the loudest to be read soon. Plus, it’s a fairy tale retelling.
  • Rebecca Roanhorse – Trail of Lightning
    This is a book I would never pick up normally but the way the entire internet is going crazy for it makes me want to try it for myself. Covers like this (urban fantasy with weapon wielding girls) usually put me off. But the synopsis sounds good and I’m pretty sure that everybody whose reviews I read can’t be wrong.
  • Mishell Baker – Impostor Syndrome
    I loved the first two books in this series and I need to finish it soon. Although no more new books with Millie will make me very sad.
  • Theodora Goss – European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman
    Obviously.

That’s it for my 2018 reading year. I hope you had a good one as well and may we all have an excellent reading year 2019!

2015 in Review – Spotlight on Diverse Reads

My blog has a new outfit, YAY (feedback is very welcome)! While I’m still cleaning up some of the new design to make it look just right, I prepared some reading stats to share with you guys.

In 2015, I didn’t read as much as I would have liked and during the second half of the year, I pretty much just grabbed whatever, without any of my reading goals in mind. Shame on me. Now let’s see how I did. I wanted 25% of all my books to be written by authors of color, I aimed for 10 LGBTQI protagonists, and reading about at least one disabled character would have been great. Author genders should be balanced, although I suspect I’m slanting heavily towards female writers because there was just so much awesome stuff by women this year. Here are the details of what I read.

Did I read as many books by women as by men?

As mentioned above, my gut feeling tells me that I read far more female than male authors this year. This is no surprise when you realise that my favorite author (Cat Valente) published three books this year and I discovered a new favorite author (Angela Slatter) whose backlist I’m slowly devouring.

20160102124546I read a total of 90 books last year. 55 of them were written by women, 35 by men. I am very happy with that ratio because I really, really didn’t care about author gender when I picked up a book. Of course, reading challenges like Women of Genre Fiction made me look out for new female writers that I haven’t tried before, but all things considered, I grabbed whatever tickled my fancy.

How did I spread out my reading over the year?

I don’t think I’ll ever be able to make sense of myself when it comes to this specific piece of statistics. I actually read less when I’m on holiday and more during the shorter months when I work 40-50 hours each week. My only guess/explanation is that I read most of my comic books during these months. But you can see that my reading average has dropped significantly from a few years ago, when 10 books per month were normal.

20160102033546

And now for diversity…

As I did last year, I will be looking at the ratio of white authors to authors of color, as well as diversity in protagonists and characters featured in my books.

Authors of color

20160102033138I read 12 books by authors of color in 2015. That is abysmal and nowhere near the 25% I was aiming for. I discovered some wonderful new authors (Alaya Dawn Johnson, I need all your books!), as well as some old favorites (Nalo Hopkinson, Nnedi Okorafor, Helen Oyeyemi) and some I wasn’t sure about (Zen Cho, whom I now love).

I think the problem last year wasn’t so much that I didn’t own any books by authors of color or even that I didn’t feel like reading them. There were just so many interesting books published last year that I had to make choices. And these choices, alas, apparently all went to books by white people. This was not a conscious thing, obviously, and my fingers are itching to get started on N.K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season and Ken Liu’s The Grace of Kings, two of the books highest up on my TBR pile. But seriously, let’s do better in 2016!

Characters of color

20160102124728On the plus side, 35 of my books featured one or more characters of color. I only counted protagonists or side characters that were vital to the plot.

Zen Cho’s Sorcerer to the Crown was not only delightful and fun to read, it also shows two protagonists of color struggling with society’s views of them. Nnedi Okorafor’s Binti was an instant book crush, not only because it features a progatonist of color who faces all sorts of prejudice, but because her culture and habits make her stand out, yet she still holds to her traditions and beliefs. Also that hair! I love that hair! Another favorite was Theodora Goss’ collection In the Forest of Forgetting, chock full of diverse characters. My biggest crush was Alaya Dawn Johnson’s The Summer Prince which features only characters of color, as far as I could tell.

LGBTQI characters

20160102033002Another happy surprise is the amount of LGBTQI characters I encountered in 2015. It is extremely difficult to find books with gay, lesbian, transgender,… characters when just reading book blurbs or synopses on the back of books. Publishers still seem very coy about the characters’ sexuality and gender identity, so if authors and bloggers don’t actively tell me that book X features a lesbian couple, often I wouldn’t even know. Even with the help of internet friends, I only managed to read 17 books with LGBTQI characters, but all of those characters are protagonists or super important for the story they were in.

My favorite examples were Alaya Dawn Johnson’s The Summer Prince which features a generally very diverse cast. In this future Brazil, sexuality is not an issue (they have enough other issues, though, trust me) and everybody sleeps with pretty much whomever they feel like, regardless of genders. Karin Lowachee’s Warchild was also stunning, albeit homosexuality is frowned upon or kept secret in this space opera world. Kurtis J. Wiebe’s comic series Rat Queens features a diverse crew of badass women, Nalo Hopkinson’s wonderful collection Falling in Love with Hominids is also crazy diverse, featuring gay couples, lesbian couples, and everything in between. Even Sarah Lotz’ The Three, a book where I didn’t expect to find a lot of diverse characters, features one gay and one lesbian protagonist. And Angela Slatter’s collection The Bitterwood Bible as well as her tor.com novella Of Sorrow and Such also depict lesbian or bisexual women.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that most of the books in this diversity recap ended up on my best of the year list.

Disability

20160102032835I read 21 books that featured characters with some kind of disability. To be fair, I counted even minor characters for these statistics, and I also sometimes counted magical disabilities that don’t exist in the real world but impacted the character’s life. Out of interest, I looked at only protagonists or vital characters with disabilities and that leaves me with 12 books which is amazing!

There were characters with physical disabilities like Glokta in Joe Abercrombie’s Before They Are Hanged, and characters with mental disabilities such as Cady in We Were Liars by E. Lockhart or the protagonist of Caitlín R. Kiernan’s The Red Tree. There were even characters suffering from a combination of the two, like Uncle Julian in Shirley Jackson’s amazing We Have Always Lived in the Castle.

some more stats

  • I read 4 books in French (yay!), the rest was all in English
  • 27 books were published in 2015, 18  in 2014, and the rest sometime earlier
  • My most read genres are no surprise either:
    • 50 fantasy books
    • 22 comics/graphic novels
    • 13 science fiction books
    • 5 horror novels

Resolutions

READ MORE AUTHORS OF COLOR! I am really disappointed in myself and I will do my very best to catch up on all the missed new releases of 2015, starting with the authors of color. I also want to read many, many new books of 2016 for Hugo Awards nomination reasons.

Speaking of the Hugo Awards, I will be nominating and voting again this year (Uprooted and Radiance all the way!) and I fully intend to continue this tradition of participating in the fandom I love. Puppies aside, it feels really wonderful to be part of this community that has been nothing but welcoming to all voices from all over the world – you know, as long as you’re not a dick.

Other than that, I’m keeping 2016 pretty resolution-free. Read. Have fun.

Top Ten Tuesday (on a Friday) – Favorite Books of 2015 So Far

Half the year is over and I am still expecting amazing books to come my way in 2015, but it doesn’t hurt to take a look back at my favorites of the year – so far. The Broke and the Bookish hosted the perfect Top Ten Tuesday – which I missed because I’m slow and also time zones.

2015 has been very good to me book-wise. Despite the Hugo Awards… thing… (you know), a lot of cool things have been happening in fandom and I decided to use this post only for happy stuff. If I close my eyes really hard, maybe the bad stuff disappears?

Once again, Worlds Without End is majorly to blame for my discovery of some great new authors, but I believe The Book Smugglers, Renay, and Justin Landon are the years’s biggest culprits when it comes to me buying books based on recommendations alone. Not only do they all manage to convey true passion for the books they love, they have also never let me down. Stay that way, guys. You rock my world!

Favorite books published in 2015 (so far)

Naomi Novik is stealing everyone’s heart this year. I admit if I hadn’t won that gorgeous hardback copy (with the UK cover – so shiny!), I might have overlooked the book. I’m so glad Justin pushed it on Twitter, and the rest of the world followed with rave reviews. Mine is just one among the many, many posts singing Uprooted‘s praises. Magical Poland, a dragon who is a wizard, a young girl fighting for her best friend, and general badassery by women, all set against a truly frightening adversary – an evil, ancient Wood.

I bought Bone Gap almost blindly after Renay and Ana discussed it on Fangirl Happy Hour and it was a truly magical book. Open it up, start reading, hold your breath, and don’t come up for air until you’re done. It deals with difficult themes – chiefest among them the effect of beauty (and ugliness) – but in such a lyrical way that it never feels heavy-handed. There are plot twists and amazing characters and a magica atmosphere that sucks you right in.

V.E. Schwab’s A Darker Shade of Magic was a lighter book than the two mentioned above, a fun adventure set in an original world with characters whose true depth is found between the lines. Parallel Londons, dark magic, a thief, a magician, and some really cool villains. I can’t wait to continue the story of Kell, Lila, and Rhy in the next book. Schwab left us with some intriguing plot threads and the hint of a romance that is totally up my alley. It’s the equivalent of a blockbuster in book form.

Favorite books published before 2015 (but read this year)

Alaya Dawn Johnson just took home two (!) Nebula Awards and I am not in the least surprised. The Summer Prince was an excellent book that defies all genre classifications. Sure, it’s science fiction, and sure it features young protagonists – but it just doesn’t feel like your typical YA sci-fi novel, especially looking at the current climate of dystopian Hunger Games knock-offs (which, in turn, is Battle Royale YA-ified). The Summer Prince is about art, technology, about the conflict between generations, and about a young girl coming of age. The book has stayed with me throughout the year so I think I should upgrade my rating a bit. The books that stick with you after reading are usually the ones that make for a great re-read.

I should have known Theodora Goss’ short story collection In the Forest of Forgetting would wow me but I was still taken by surprise at how perfect these stories were. Goss is like “Cat Valente lite” when it comes to prose but she packs just as much emotional punch, whether her stories are about identity, about fighting disease, or simply about finding your place in the world. The language is lyrical, the characters vibrant, and I already ordered her poetry collection (up for a Mythopoeic Award this year) Songs for Ophelia.

The one graphic novel that took my heart by storm this year is a dark little thing. I bought it mostly because of my plan to read more books in French (and comics are easy because pictures). In Beautiful Darkness, the cute creatures and brightly colorful images juxtaposed with the sinister subject matter could have gone terribly wrong – but it all works beautifully. You want to look away but you can’t. I fell in love with the story, I was horrified at the things these creatures do to each other, at the rawness of their journey. This is exactly what it says on the tin. Dark and beautiful.

I don’t think much needs to be said about the perfection that is Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven. A novel set after most of humanity has died comes with a lot of expected tropes, most of which Mandel subverts. She opts for a more positive outlook, for a world that isn’t just defined by brutal survival and constant mistrust, but one where people still work together, where they make art, where they keep alive the things that were important to us before the apocalypse. It’s not completely without fault but after making me cry several times, I still closed the book with a smile on my face and filled with hope.

I had read Sanderson’s book Mistborn: The Final Empire a few years ago, enjoyed it, and never continued the series. Now I stumbled across Graphic Audio and decided to splash out and buy the damn things. It was money well spent – I am completely in love with the “movie in your mind” thing. I can’t tell if I would have enjoyed the story as much if I had just read it myself, but with the actors, the music, the sound effects, and the narration, it was nothing short of perfect. It really made the trilogy into an event. Then again, Sanderson does deserve praise. He is known for planning his long (and I mean long!) stories meticulously and it really shows. The plot twists were fantastic, they came out of nowhere, but they didn’t feel cheap either. You won’t find any “Luke, I am your father”s here, the prophecy trope is subverted about a billion times, and in the end, I didn’t just like the books for their twists’ shock value but for the characters that had quietly grown on me over the course of 1000 pages.

Favorite stuff inFandom

Other than books, the year has had its ups and downs. I will not discuss the Hugo Awards because I’ll either end up crying or laughing hysterically. All I can do is hope that this year’s mess made enough people aware of the awards that next year, more people nominate and vote for the stuff they love.

Among the random things I loved this year are these:

Ana and Renay’s biweekly podcast Fangirl Happy Hour is everything I love. They talk about books, movies, TV shows, and fandom. Whether they agree or not, they each have interesting things to say, and when they do love a thing, they love it hard. It’s pretty much impossible not to go out and buy the books they talk about. I love, love, love these two – and not just because they’re responsible for some of my favorite reads ever.

I backed two Kickstarters this year and it’s difficult to say which I’m more excited about. Abigail Larson has been one of my favorite artists for years and Sarah Faire has been on my Goodreads wishlist forever. Unfortunately, a limited amount of books was printed (also funded through Kickstarter) and no more copies were available. Until now! Naturally, I pounced, I backed, and I am now eagerly awaiting this gorgeous little book.
Clockwork Phoenix 5 baited me with a Cat Valente book, but I am just as curious about Bone Swans by C.S.E. Cooney and the subscription to Mythic Delirium as well as the dozens of other goodies coming my way. I probably won’t see any of the books until next year but that just means I get to spread out my excitement a bit more, right? Right.

My unexpected movie crush of the year is Mad Max: Fury Road. What a joy to watch! When you go to the movies and think you’ll get a vapid action movie (which, you know, is fine) but you are then confronted with a thing of utter beauty, with characters like Furiosa, that’s when you fall in love. My boyfriend and I have seen the movie twice now and it was almost better the second time around. I loved how the two protagonists, Max and Furiosa, say very little but communicate so much. I loved how pretty everything looked – a landscape that is mostly dead was turned into a piece of art. This isn’t the kind of movie where all the best bits are shown in the trailer. Trust me. You want to watch it! The story is amazing, I am completely in love with both Max and Furiosa, and I left the movie theater with a rush of endorphins and a big fat smile. So shiny, so chrome!

Stuff to look forward to

We’ve only hit the halfway mark of 2015, so here a few things coming up that I’m still madly excited about:

I hope that many more cool things will come my way during the rest of 2015 and I’m relying on my favorite people on the internet to point me in the right direction. Now I still have some challenges to catch up on. And you guys – go watch Mad Max!

2014 in Review – Spotlight on Diverse Reads

Wow – I am so late with this post. I had hoped it would go up a little closer to the beginning of the year, but better late than never, right? Right! In my Favorite Books of 2014 post, I told you that I tracked not only what books I read but also how they hold up in terms of author and character diversity.

While I had no problem at all with reading more female authors and keeping a balance between author genders, I didn’t read all that many books that featured diverse characters.

Did I read as many books by women as by men?

Looking back at my reading year, it feels like I only read books by women. As it is quite often, my perception is wrong. I did read more women authors than men but the amount of female-authored books is not as extreme as I thought.

Author Gender 2014I read 33 books written by men and 53 books by women. There were two collaborations – Ellen Klages and Andy Duncan’s excellent Wakulla Springs, and Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples’ Saga Volume 3. As these are two male/female collaborations, I counted one book for each gender. For next year, I’ll probably add a new category in my spread sheet for collaborations and anthologies – after all, I may not always be lucky enough to have an even number of man-woman-teams and then how do I count these authors?
These stats are not bad though, right? I read a lot more women authors this year (which is probably due to not having any more Discworld Witches books left) than last year. The Worlds Without End Women of Genre Fiction Challenge is definitely what gave me the initial kick, and once you’re in that mode where you actively seek out not just women authors but women authors who you’ve never read, it becomes a habit. Instead of going back to the same (fantastic) authors I had loved for years, I tried a lot of new ones – and now my list of favorites is becoming ridiculously long.

When did I read the most and the least?

My reading has been spread out pretty logically throughout the year. Obviously, in the months where I had some time off work, I managed to read a lot more books. The years when 10 books per month were the norm are over, however. The way things are going now, I’m happy if I read 5 books a month, especially if they’re not all comics.

books read per month 2014

I had some time off work in both June and December. Considering how insane last year was, I’m surprised that I read so much during the first 6 months. In summer, things started getting a bit less busy, work hours went back to something resembling normal so I think I must have spent most of August sleeping instead of reading. I had no particular goals for how many books per month I wanted to read, I just think it’s interesting to look at the stats. 🙂

So how about diversity?

As promised in my Favorite Books of the Year post, let’s take a look at how many books by authors of color I read, how many diverse characters I met in 2014 and just generally how much I still have to work on picking more diverse books.POC authors 2014
Meh… that’s not great, is it? I am confident that next year I’ll read a lot more authors of color, just because I discovered a few of them in 2014 (Helen Oyeyemi, Octavia Butler,…) whose books I really enjoyed – and they have backlists for me to catch up on. 25% would be nice, so let’s aim for that in 2015.

I did a little better with diverse characters this year. The thing that struck me, though, was that the books featuring characters of color are usually the ones that generally have more diverse characters. All of the disabled characters I read about, for example, were found in books that also featured a protagonist of color or LGBTQI characters. I get the feeling that contemporary YA fiction is where it’s all happening, but then those books never appealed to me much. I always expect to find “issue books” and those are really not my cup of tea…

POC characters 2014

See now that’s not half bad. Almost a quarter of all the books I read featured characters of color. I was strict in counting them, too, so minor characters didn’t count. I may have let the odd sidekick into these statstics but only if they were vital to the plot. The rest are all protagonists. The same goes for the LGBTQI characters. The absolute stand-out book for these two charts is Jacqueline Koyanagi’s Ascension, a book that is so full of diverse characters it might have gone terribly wrong. Except it didn’t. The heroine, despite suffering from a disability that follows her every step she takes, doesn’t let it define her life. The plot doesn’t evolve around the disability, it’s just something that is in the back of your mind all the time.

LGBT characters 2014

As for LGBT characters – they are still a minority in the books I read. Again, I dislike issue books so I mostly read books with LGBTQI characters where the plot is not about them being gay, transgender, intersex, or what have you. Malinda Lo’s blog diversity in YA is a good source for YA books by diverse authors and featuring diverse characters, but you know my fragile relationship with YA fiction. It’s getting back on its feet what with brilliant writers like Maggie Stiefvater and Ysabeau S. Wilce, but I’m still careful when picking my YA fantasy books because I just can’t handle another useless love triangle, dumb heroine, or trope-laden storyline. Thanks to the interwebs, it shouldn’t be too hard to find recommendations, though. I’ll set my goal to at least 10 books featuring an LGBTQI protagonist for 2015.

Disability in the books I read is an even smaller minority  – I didn’t even make a chart, as I read only 3 books featuring disabled characters (and looking at that pie chart makes me sad). They were Lauren Beukes’ Broken Monsters, Nalo Hopkinson’s Sister Mine and Jacqueline Koyanagi’s Ascension. In Broken Monsters, a character is diabetic but she is not a protagonist. In Sister Mine, the protagonist’s sister has one leg that is shorter than the other and she has to walk with a cane or walking stick. If I had stuck to counting only protagonists, that would leave Jacqueline Koyanagi’s Ascension – which has more than just one disabled character.

Science Fiction and Fantasy is getting better at featuring diverse characters but they are far from the norm. I will continue to seek out books that show different aspects of life – even fictional life in fantasy worlds, on space ships, in fairy tales and wherever else – and all kinds of different people.

My resolutions for 2015 include keeping the balance between books written by male and female authors, reading more diversely than I did in 2014, and also finding a balance between comics and novels again. Oh yeah, and my Goodreads Reading Challenge goal is now set to “only” 90 books. That is just a little bit more than I managed to read in 2014, but then it was a crazy year (work-wise) that I don’t want to repeat. Balancing author genders is nice but a healthy work-life balance is what I’m really putting my focus on in 2015.

Any blogging resolutions?

Well, yeah. I’ve been posting less frequently, writing half-reviews that I never published, and no reviews at all for some books. I’ve never been a schedule blogger. Normally, I finish a book, gather my thoughts, write them down and share them with you guys. As I type this, I have at least six unpublished reviews lying around on my harddrive.

My resolution is to find more time to interact with my book blogging friends (including at least one read-a-thon!), read my ARCs and review time in a timely manner, and generally post more often again. Wish me luck.

Happy Reading, everyone!

all the books