Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Book Review: The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden


#2 in the Winternight Trilogy
Pages: 363
Publisher: Del Rey
Released: December 5, 2017
Received: ARC from the publisher
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Goodreads

I love it when a sequel lives up to the level of the first book in the series. I adored The Bear and the Nightingale, and while there were a few loose ends, it could have easily ended as a standalone. So, when I heard there was going to be a sequel, I sighed and kind of wished the publisher would leave well enough alone. I was expecting the sequel to be a pale imitation and leave me wishing I too had just left well enough alone and stopped reading after the first book.

Thankfully, my worries were for nothing. The Girl in the Tower has the same magic and storytelling charm and I am so, so glad I picked it up. The same blend of fantasy, folklore, and history that worked so well in the first book continues to work well here. The chapters continue to be on the longish side, but that is also still not a problem for me. I flew through this book and had to force myself to read slower and savor the story. The characters continue to be likable, and while they still aren't hugely deep (fairy tale!), Vasya's storyline allows for more depth of character as we watch her try to come to terms with who she is and what she wants, and does not want, from life. 

Bottom line

Readers who enjoyed the first book should enjoy the sequel just as much. Katherine Arden has a gift for storytelling and her words and tales are enchanting. I cannot wait for the third book.








Friday, January 5, 2018

2018 Library Challenge



Challenge Basics:  

Name: 2018 Snagged at the Library Challenge
Previous Hosts: Geeky Blogger's Book Blog (in 2016)
Starts: January 1, 2018
Ends: December 31, 2018
Eligible Books: Books from my libraries 


Why I'm Interested:  

I recognize that there's a use it or lose it factor to libraries, and while I want to focus some attention on these books, I don't mind if they don't make up the bulk of my reading. Still, I'd like to participate in this challenge to bring some awareness to the books I have available to me through my library.



Books Completed:

5.
4.
3.
2.
1.



Books DNF'ed:

2.
1.


Thursday, January 4, 2018

2018 Read My Own Books Challenge


0/12 books


Challenge Basics: 
Name: Read My Own Damn Books Challenge
Previous Hosts: Estella's Revenge
Starts: January 1, 2018
Ends: December 31, 2018
Eligible Books: Books you own prior to 2018.
Levels: I'm going to try to read and/or DNF and get rid of 12 books I own.

Why I'm Interested:  

I seriously have too many books and they keep sitting on my shelves unread. I did this challenge in 2015 and ended up getting rid of almost all the books I read for the challenge, which means I've carted around and found room for all those books that I didn't even end up liking. Before I move again, I need to reevaluate the books I'm bringing with me and make sure they're books I actually want.

Some books I'm considering: 

Anything on my Own-Unread shelf that I acquired prior to 2018.

At the start of 2018, here's where I stand as far as what books I own and what percentage of them I've read:

31% Acquired in 2016
17% Acquired in 2015
32% Acquired in 2014
50% Acquired in 2013
39% Acquired in 2012
75% Acquired in 2010-2011
83% Acquired in 2008-2009
85% Acquired in 2003-2007
96% Acquired in 2002 and earlier


Books Completed:

12.
11.
10.
9.
8.
7.
6.
5.
4.
3.
2.
1.



Books DNF'ed:

1.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

2018 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge


0/15 books

Challenge Basics:  

Name: 2018 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge
Hosts: Passages to the Past
Starts: January 1, 2018
Ends: December 31, 2018
Eligible Books: YA and adult historical fiction books. Non-fiction included.
Levels: I am going to try for 15 books

Why I'm Interested:  

Historical Bio: These are the weightier, meatier books that I want to make top priority. They go into detail about actual people and events and I'll learn the most from them. I've thrown in the non-fiction books onto this shelf, too. I've been toe-dipping into non-fiction, and I'd like to continue that toe-dip.

Historical Fantasy: These vary as far as actual historical learning goes. Some have a ton of historical detail, but most just use a historical setting. Some of my favorite books come from this shelf and I don't want to neglect them just because they're not heavy historical fiction.

Historical Lite: These are a lot like the books on my Historical Fantasy shelf, just without the fantasy elements. Usually they're mysteries or romances set with a historical backdrop of varying degrees of detail. They're often easy breezy, fun books and I want to make sure I read them as well.


Books Completed:

Historical Non-Fiction

5.
4.
3.
2.
1.

Historical Bio (fiction):

5.
4.
3.
2.
1.

Historical Fantasy:

2.
1.

Historical Lite:

3.
2.
1.


DNF:

1.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

2018 Re-Read Challenge




Challenge Basics: 

Name: The Re-Read Challenge
Hosts: Belle of the Literati (in 2016)
Starts: January 1, 2018
Ends: December 31, 2018
Eligible Books: Books you've already read.

Why I'm Interested:  

I always feel guilty rereading books, but I also really enjoy rereading my old favorites. Especially when I'm feeling vulnerable to scared or sad or disoriented (which are all feelings that go along with Big New Changes, even when they're good). I also realized how much I like revisiting the books that made me happy. Also, I prefer listening to audiobooks of books I've already read.

So, I've been doing a little rereading last year, and I enjoyed it so much that I plan on continuing that this year.


Some books I'm considering:

My Special Shelf favorites, of course. Also, books I liked enough or am curious enough to re-listen to on audio.

Books Completed:

10.
9.
8.
7.
6.
5.
4.
3.
2.
1.



Monday, January 1, 2018

2018 Keep the Books Off the Shelf Challenge




Challenge Basics: 

Name: Keep the Books Off the Shelf Challenge
Hosts: Me!
Starts: January 1, 2018
Ends: December 31, 2018
Goal: 15 books
Eligible Books: Books you acquire in 2018

Why I'm Interested:  

I'm not sure if anyone is actually hosting a challenge like this, but it's a challenge I'm giving myself, again. Last year I read a ton off books I acquired in 2017, and rather than feel bad about neglecting my previously owned books, instead I felt like I was accomplishing something with every new book I acquired and read. And I was!

Every year I participate in the Off the Shelf Challenge where I try to read as many books I own as possible. Downside? Those challenges don't count books you acquire during the challenge year, and I think they should! Sure, I know the goal is to read all those books that have been languishing year after year, but what about preventative measures? I think those should be rewarded, too!

(I feel like a health insurance plan)

So, enter my challenge. I'm going to try to make a dent in the books I get in 2018 and therefore whittle down my mountain of books remaining unread on my shelves in 2019.

Some books I'm considering: 

As many books from my Acquired 2018 shelf as possible. At the end of the year I'll compare how many books I acquired to how many books I've read from that list to see how well I've done. I'd like to shoot for reading/DNF-ing at least 15 books.


Books Completed:

15.
14.
13.
12.
11.
10.
9.
8.
7.
6.
5.
4.
3.
2.
1.



Books DNF'ed: 

1.


Sunday, December 31, 2017

Reflecting on My 2017 Challenges



6 Challenges...how did I do?


The Re-Read Challenge
Goal: Re-read as many books as I want
Books read: 8
Goal achieved? Yes!

I ended up re-reading 8 books this year, only one of which was on audio. I was listening to about an audio book a month a few years ago, but each year that number has gotten smaller and smaller.

Mostly that's because I've been listening to more music, or, really, because I was more distracted with stressful thoughts during my commute. It's no surprise to me that the lone audio book this year was a Tradd Street book. Not only do I love the books, but I adore the reader. While my stress is less, my commute now is so short that it would probably take an entire year just to listen to one book! It will be interesting to see what 2018 brings in terms of audio book rereads.  

The usual suspects appeared on this list: Karen White, Vivian Vande Velde, Amelia Atwater-Rhodes, and L. J. Smith. Surprisingly, Anne Bishop and Sarah J. Maas did not pop up this year, which is a first in years (though, I did read snippets of both).

I also revisited some old favorites that I hadn't read in years and a new favorite with Jessica Day George (Dragon Slippers, last read 2010) Merrie Haskell (The Princess Curse, last read 2011), and a new L. M. Montgomery favorite I discovered last year and couldn't wait to experience again (The Blue Castle).

Revisiting old favorites was just as enjoyable as reading them the first time around. I love that I've embraced this challenge and provide myself the opportunity to experience books that have made me happy without feeling obligated to always focus on the new.

I did notice that this year I tended to reread more for comfort than to re-experience and enjoy the stories again. While that's fine, I did also realize at the end of the year how much I missed rereading just for the joy of rereading. I will definitely do this challenge again next year and keep this focus in mind.

Goodreads Reading Challenge
Goal: 50 books, then adjusted, and adjusted, up to 80
Books read: 81
Goal achieved? Yes!  

I set a modest goal of 50 books so I didn't feel pressured by quantity and because, honestly, I didn't think I'd be able to do much more than that. Plus, I love it when my progress bar says "you're x books ahead!" rather than "you're x books behind." It's much more motivating and makes me feel like I'm totally kicking butt. I figured I might surpass 50 books, but if I didn't, I'd be happy with hitting 50. This worked out well, and I ended up adjusting my goal to 70, then 75, then 80 and surprising myself by meeting every one. I think I'll start with 50 books again next year, and so if I make that goal then wonderful, but if I surpass it then it's just icing on the cake.

Historical Fiction Challenge
Goal: 15 - 25 books
Books read: 25
Goal achieved? Yes! 

I love historical fiction and I wanted to make sure I put some focus on the genre this year since it's so easy for time to slip away when it comes to reading (i.e. "has it really been four years since I last read a book in that series??" Sound familiar?).

While I included historical fantasy and historical lite in the list, what I really wanted to make sure I read was biographical historical fiction and non-fiction. Basically, I wanted to learn about history. To that end, I read four non-fiction books, which is less abnormal for me lately but still something I'm impressed with myself for doing, and ten biographical historical fiction books.

While Mariana (England 1660s), The Time Traveling Fashionista (Titanic), and The Visitors (discovery of King Tut's tomb) are all what I'm considering "historical lite" or "historical fantasy" (and, therefore, usually less meaty) I ended up learning a lot about history from each of them and they all inspired hours of Internet research. I also spent a lot of time immersed in the world of British naval history through Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey/Maturin series.  

For the first time in a long time Marie Antoinette and Cleopatra didn't make an appearance. I mostly focused on the Tudors and the Wars of the Roses, which at this point are both pretty familiar to me. I continued to dabble with Henry II/Richard/Eleanor and Stephen/Matilda and even had a touch of Charles II who is just starting to feel more familiar now. My newer forays included the English Georges, Kristina of Sweden, and the three Edwards (I, II, and III). At this point those last three are all just toe-dips, but I'd like to delve in more next year.

Keep the Books Off the Shelf Challenge
Goal: Read books I acquired in 2017
Books read: 38 read, 9 DNF = 45 total
Goal achieved? Yes! 

The point of this challenge was so that I wouldn't continually add to my backlog of unread books on my shelves. Yes, it's important to read though the books I already own, but I think it's equally important to read the new books I get so they too don't languish unread for years. Isn't it better to read them when I get them rather than grow the guilt pile?

I got a boat-ton of books in 2017, so I knew I wouldn't be able to read most of them this year. And that's ok. I did end up reading a little over 19% though! Last year I ended up reading a little over 10% of what I acquired and I acquired about 50 fewer books this year compared to last. Of the books I acquired this year, I DNF-ed 9, read 18 in previous years, and read 36 this year. I enjoy this challenge and I'll sign up for it again in 2018.



Read My Own Books Challenge
Goal: Read books I acquired prior to 2017
Books read: 31 read, 2 DNF'ed = 33 total
Goal achieved? Yes!

I set a rough target of reading or DNF-ing 12 books this year. Working out to roughly one book a month, I figured that was doable.

I really wanted to know whether the books I've been carting through multiple moves were worthy of the effort, or if I should cull them from my shelves once and for all. Of the 31 books, 15 of them were print books and 17 of them were books I got in 2016.

Last year I calculated out the percentage of books I've read of those I've owned broken down by year, but I realized in calculating these numbers this year that I added and removed books from these shelves, so the numbers are thrown off. Years like 2012 show no change even though I read a few books this year from that group. I still like the idea of this type of tracking, and I still think it's useful for seeing each year what percentage of the books I own from each year are read, even if I can't track cumulative progress across years.

Started at 31% and finished at 36% acquired in 2016
Started at 17% and finished at 18% acquired in 2015
Started at 32% and finished at 33% acquired in 2014
Started at 50% and finished at 50% acquired in 2013*
Started at 39% and finished at 39% acquired in 2012*
Started at 75% and finished at 76% acquired in 2010-2011
Started at 83% and finished at 81% acquired in 2008-2009*
Started at 85% and finished at 87% acquired in 2003-2007
Started at 96% and finished at 97% acquired in 2002 and earlier*

I still have a lot of books I haven't read, but I think this is going to be a marathon not a sprint, and I think I made good progress in 2017 and definitely beat my 2016 record of 13 books. I'll be signing up for this challenge in 2018 and I hope to continue making a dent.



Library Reading Challenge
Goal: Read library books
Books read: 3 read, 2 DNF =5 total
Goal achieved? Yes! 

Last year I identified about 36 books in my local library that I was interested in reading and wouldn't have access to if I moved. I ended up being able to get all but five through other means (and then ended up getting one of those a few months after moving). So that left me with five books to read before I moved. Easy peasy, mission accomplished.

While I fully recognize now the importance of use it or lose it when it comes to libraries and moving, I've also noticed how books that I've never been able to get have a way of turning up eventually. Kristina, for example, was one of those books when I moved in 2015, and yet it then reappeared as one of those books when I moved in 2017.

I've also been enjoying the relative freedom and lack of stress in reading my own books. I've always neglected my own books for the lure of library books, so this is definitely something new for me. I got out of the habit of going to the library these last few years because my library was annoying to drive to, annoying to park in, and had annoying hours. And in doing so, I discovered the joy and ease of reading my own books. No due dates, no scheduling, no driving.

Plus, in both this library and my last library I work professionally with the directors, so I always felt like I needed to sneak in and hope I wasn't seen because when I'm in the library getting books for myself the last thing I want to do is talk business.

Then again, I also work in a library, and we have a pretty sweet history section. So, I'm on the fence about participating in this challenge in 2018. Then again, with this challenge in the mix, no matter how I acquire a book (owned this year, owned years previous, or library) it counts for some challenge!


Reflections and next up

Most of my challenges didn't have a hard number goal, which I like. It allows me to provide focus to my reading without strictly holding myself to an actual number.

I like that the Historical Fiction Challenge allowed me to focus on not only exploring history, but expanding the events and people I learned about. I had actually been pretty disappointed about the variety (or lack of) of time periods I was reading (all Tudors and Wars of the Roses! Which I love, but...) until I did this wrap up and realized how many other people I had explored. This highlights for me how important it is to not only participate in challenges and track my reading, but to reflect on that reading as well. 

Last year I reflected on how the constant reaching for more and neglecting what I have leads me to feel guilty, overwhelmed, and constantly in a rat race toward the future. I started to shift that last year by focusing more on reading my own books and loosening my Reading Rules, and I had hoped I would continue this appreciation for the here and now this year.

I definitely did do that this year, and both my life and reading life have been a lot more relaxed and happy. Sure, things happened and there were stresses and bleh books, but I don't think they overwhelmed me as much or commanded my full focus like they used to do.

My hope for 2018 is that I continue these things. Read what I want to, when I want to, and how I want to, and not because I feel the need to adhere to a rule or obligation. Read my own books, appreciating what I have. Recognize and appreciate lessons learned and experiences gained.

Overall, I'm happy with my 2017 reading experiences. I continue to learn a lot.



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