2019 Wrap-Up

I took my elaborate notes this year, to make a note of all the different challenges I was imposing on myself, as well as just to have more precise (for the most part) genre stats, to supplement the Goodreads data. 

I read 426 books in 2019 (# pages). I was weird about counting DNFs this year, so while some that I got a ways into are included in this number, many are not. Also, not the page number may not be accurate, as Goodreads page counts occasionally differ from the actual book, especially for self published books. 

Other Goodreads stats:

Shortest Book: Mating Habits by Catherine Stein (52 pages)

Longest Book: The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson (1,258 pages, mass market edition)

Most Popular Book: Becoming by Michelle Obama

Least Popular Book: Mating Habits by Catherine Stein

Average rating: 4.2 stars

Highest Rated Book: Mating Habits by Catherine Stein (5.00 average)

2019 Challenges/Goals

  1. Goodreads Goal: Started at 250, due to expectations of life changes at the end of last year reducing reading time. Ending up raising the goal to 300, gradually increasing it higher and higher until I read . At the end, I read 426. 
  2. Read no more than 50 books with duke heroes: A “for my sanity”/motivational goal to continue to move outside what I typically read…also a hallmark of the fact that I’ve grown to hate more Romancelandia dukes. Read 14, although historical romance is still a dominant genre for me. 
  3. Read at least 120 books by AoC: I fell short of this goal at 105, and also did not increase the goal as much as I had originally hoped as my GR goal increased. However, I still feel like I was exposed to a bunch of authors I had not previously tried, as well as keeping up with some I had read before. 
  4. Complete all the prompts for Robin Covington’s Diverse Reading Challenge: I did well with this, reading multiple books for most of the categories, and discovering several OwnVoices creators, such as April Daniels, Robin Talley, and Alexis Hall, as well as continuing to read some authors that were familiar to me, like Alyssa Cole, Helen Hoang, and Sherry Thomas. 
  5. Read more genres: While I was and still remain heavily devoted to historical fiction, both romance and non-romance, I made a point of stepping outside my comfort zone this year, selecting a number of genres I was interested in trying or reading more of: 
    1. Erotic Romance: 4. I’ve always tended more toward lower heat, but I was curious to know whether erotic romance could work for me, and to be more informed about the distinction between that and erotica. I read four books that I consider erotic romance, and while it’s still not my go-to genre, I tend to like when there’s substance to it, as with For Real by Alexis Hall. One of my picks was also a novella, Sweet Surrender by Naima Simone,  and I’m not certain I want to try that length or shorter again, although I’m not opposed to trying another of her books. 
    2. Paranormal Romance:  This was a tough one, as I don’t like alpha heroes, yet I foolishly set this goal to see if there were any that were an exception. Unfortunately, I largely read within my comfort zone, sticking to historical paranormal and steampunk, with one exception: the novella, “Lola Flannigan” by Ella Drake. The number is also inflated, due to the inclusion of the In Death series, due to their technical classification as Futuristic Romance.
    3. Romantic Suspense: My experience with the genre thus far has been the In Death series and some one-offs, including some by Nora Roberts. I didn’t venture out much, with the exception of Jennifer L. Armentrout’s Moonlight Sins
    4. Contemporary Romance: I did really well with this, in large part due to the  number of diverse contemporaries I was interested in this year. 
    5. Women’s Fiction/Chick Lit/Non-Romantic Contemporary: I did pick up some books in this genre this year, but I wasn’t as invested in non-romantic (or romance as subplot) contemporaries. Many of the ones I did pick up were due to the new trend of cross-promotion of these with romance (thank you, cartoon covers?) or once again due to the racial diversity, but I still feel like I’m aware of where my tastes are with these now. 
    6. Science Fiction: Prior to this year, I was mostly interested in Star Wars and that was as far as I got with sci-fi…and that’s more sci-fantasy, anyway. But while I did read more Star Wars, I also read more sci-fi (and sci-fantasy) that wasn’t associated with that juggernaut. From the first two books by Jessie Mihalik to Sangu Mandanna to Amy Rose Capetta and Cori McCarthy, I found books that excited me. Not to mention Brandon Sanderson, who writes just as good sci-fi as he does fantasy. 
    7. Mystery/Thriller: I definitely picked up an assortment of these this year, with mixed results. This is the year I became really jaded with historical mysteries, unfortunately, and I haven’t found a ton of contemporary mysteries that appeal to me a ton either. 
  6. Do monthly mini-challenges, related to a theme for the month/season: I definitely did better at this earlier in the year. I did a Bookish Bingo and Black History theme for February (the latter also was sort of overlapping with Blackathon, but not completely).  I participated in the Rereadathon in March, but ended up only reading one book. I participated in the Asian Readathon in May, completing every challenge except the graphic novel. I did Pride Month reading in June, covering L, G, B, T, and P. June-August were also occupied by  Ripped Bodice Bingo, where I got a few Bingos. 

Stats

Books by AoC Read: 105

New-to-me authors tried this year: 184

DNFed: 44 books

Genre Breakdown: 

Historical Romance

  • Regency: 78
  • Victorian: 41
  • American (includes all American settings, like Gilded Age and Historical Western: 23
  • Other (non-popular, niche settings): 8
  • Medieval: 2

Historical Fiction: 70

Christian Fiction: 30

Contemporary Romance: 46

Erotic Romance: 4

Paranormal Romance: 

  • Paranormal: 17
  • Steampunk: 10
  • Sci-fi/Futuristic: 35
  • Fantasy: 1

Romantic Suspense: 37

Contemporary/Women’s Fiction: 18

Fantasy: 63

Science Fiction: 31

Magical Realism: 1

Mystery/Thriller: 19

Horror: 1

Nonfiction: 

  • Biography/Autobiography/Memoir: 12
  • Self-Help: 1
  • Anthologies: 15
  • Literary Criticism: 1

Graphic Novels: 1

Best of 2019

  1. The Duchess War, Courtney Milan: I officially discovered Courtney Milan this year, and while there were some hits and some misses, particularly as I started with her early work, this book, her breakout into self-publishing, is a winner. I quickly fell in love with Robert, a duke who wants to abolish the aristocracy, and Minerva, a wallflower running from a scandalous past. And in addition to a remarkable romantic arc, the book has the setup for a great family story that carries over multiple books in the Brothers Sinister, and I can’t wait to delve into them all. 
  2. An Unconditional Freedom, Alyssa Cole: The entire Loyal League series is masterful, but I have a special place in my heart for this one, because of the marvelous character development, highlighting some of the complex issues of the Civil War, like the PTSD experienced by those once enslaved and the identity issues children born of slave-owner “relationships” faced. My heart ached for Daniel, but loved that he was able to turn his experience into a positive one through his work in the Loyal League. As for Janeta, I applaud Cole for approaching a topic that could be controversial with such sensitivity, depicting her growth from someone expected to be loyal to her father and the Confederacy to finding a new cause in the Loyal League. 
  3. Forbidden, Beverly Jenkins: Beverly Jenkins is a freaking romance legend, and while I haven’t read much from her as of yet, I’m glad I got to this one, as well as some of her other recent historicals, this year, especially given the recent adaptation news for this book. I love the way the love story was interspersed with some hard-hitting issues of Black history, discussing concepts like Passing, postwar racial tensions, and political activism in a way that doesn’t feel overly preachy, but allows you to feel like you’re learning while also engrossed in a good story. 
  4. A Notorious Vow, Joanna Shupe: One of my favorite Joanna Shupe books, if not my absolute favorite. Shupe delved into Deaf culture to create her hero, Oliver, especially when it came to the battle over the usage of sign language, and later, the battle to prove his mental competence. He is paired with the perfect heroine in Christina, who deals with social anxiety, which is something I have personal experience with. I loved this twist with two reclusive protagonists who must challenge themselves in order to prove their love, and Shupe’s depth of care in writing them is wonderful. 
  5. Regency Impostors series by Cat Sebastian: While I haven’t read book 3 yet, due to the print release not being until the end of January, I’ve enthusiastically loved the first two installments. While I’ve loved a couple of her m/m books, I am glad she expanded her repertoire to include non-binary and bisexual representation, especially given the conversations around the vast preference for m/m in mainstream LGBTQ romance over the other letters. Unmasked by the Marquess not only features a subversive twist on the woman-dressed-as-a-man with the non-binary lead Robin, as they fall for a grumpy, forward thinking (in regards to sexuality and gender identiy) marquess.  A Duke in Disguise demonstrates an understanding what it means to be bi: attracted to both men and women, and the fact that you end up with the opposite sex doesn’t mean you’re not also attracted to men. But it also doesn’t mean that the HEA is any less possible, especially as Verity and Ash are absolutely perfect for one another. All of Cat’s books debunk the myth that “HEAs for LGBTQ+ people are historically inaccurate!” but I very much recommend these for their charm and excellent depiction of a spectrum of queer characters. 
  6. The Bashful Bride, Vanessa Riley: Despite not being a fan of most power imbalances, I love the idea of a “fan” meeting their favorite celebrity, and Vanessa Riley’s take on this idea in the Regency era is wonderful. While sweet on the surface, I love how Riley also includes some of her talent for incorporating tough issues in a way that doesn’t feel heavy-handed. Actor Arthur Bex’s involvement with the abolitionist movement and exposure of the prejudices Black people faced in Regency England are compelling additions to the plot, as these two carve out a relationship together. 
  7. Dare to Love a Duke, Eva Leigh: While I have enjoyed almost everything Eva Leigh has put out on some level (honorable mention to  this year’s release, My Fake Rake), this one may be her best work, and one I’ll probably always recommend to friends. I love the sex positivity of this story, with the courtesan heroine, Lucia, and the progressive duke Thomas, especially the way he respects her throughout, which is surprisingly rare in a genre that was sold to me as largely being sex positive, but also contains pearl-clutchers (case in point: the awful Smart Bitches review). 
  8. How to Love a Duke in Ten Days, Kerrigan Byrne: Kerrigan Byrne can be a bit hit-or-miss for me, due to how heavily she focuses on bad boys, but this one hit it out of the park for me. The hero is by her own admission, “one of the good ones,” with his biggest hurdle being a bit of misogyny, in keeping with the time period expectations. But it’s his pairing with Alexandra Lane that makes the story work. I loved the emphasis on Alexandra’s dark past, with an extended prologue highlighting her sexual assault and her retaliation, leading to her to carry around a lot of guilt and shame, which can be bleak for some, especially if you don’t go in prepared for it, however it is not gratuitous, and I love how it informs the rest of the narrative. But her bravery in spite of everything she’s experienced, as well as the hints provided about the experiences of her friends, prove this is going to be a dark, heroine focused series that ultimately sees them put their lives back together. And the way she and Piers overcome the obstacles to their love, especially once he comes to realize the truth, is absolutely beautiful. 
  9. For Real, Alexis Hall: I had no idea what I was getting into with this one, but I’m glad I took the chance. I tend to stay away from BDSM on principle, because while I’m not opposed to it, I feel like a Fifty Shades-esque setup with the alpha dom and the sweet submissive would be more common, although I admit I’m not that knowledgeable on the subject and am open to be proven wrong. Enter For Real, and it’s older, jaded sub and younger, somewhat inexperienced dom. That worked well, because I loved how well Laurence and Toby worked as romantic leads. The sexy and kinky bits were also juxtaposed by more tender moments as well, like Toby making breakfast the morning after their first night together, which is the first moment I feel like I thought this book might be something I could enjoy. 
  10. The Bride Test, Helen Hoang: Helen Hoang makes the list for the second consecutive year! Once again, I love how she uses her personal experiences as inspiration for her romances, this time not only featuring a major character on the autism spectrum in the lovably awkward hero, Khai, but also an immigrant heroine in Esme, reflective of her mother’s experience. With a good mix of hilarity (Khai getting the “sex talk” from Michael and Quân!) and heart, while this one took a little longer to become invested in than its predecessor, once I fell, I fell hard. 
  11. Ayesha at Last, Uzma Jalaluddin: It is a truth universally acknowledged that Islamophobia is a major issue, and this book tackles that with a light touch, through the format of a loose retelling of Pride and Prejudice. I was moved by the exploration of Khalid’s experience as a conservative Muslim working for a firm in Toronto, and the marginalizations he faces in this environment. This is juxtaposed with the relationship he develops with the independent Ayesha, who he thinks, in  a comedy of errors, his her cousin and his betrothed. There is some of the traditional Lizy/Darcy dynamic between them, but with a fresh twist, to suit the new setting and concepts Jalauddin is working with, and she pulls it off masterfully. 
  12. There’s Something About Sweetie, Sandhya Menon: This book presents body positivity done right. Sweetie is confident in who she is, and a great athlete, defying a common stereotype of overweight people. While it does also contain a narrative of her overly critical mother, I love that she doesn’t let this bother her too much, especially as she’s made up her mind to pursue a relationship with Ashish. Ashish is also great once I got over seeing him in the shadow of his brother Rishi from the previous book. While he does have a bit of growth to go through, particularly in terms of figuring out where things stand with his ex, I like that he liked Sweetie from their first meeting, seeing what they had in common (their shared love of sports) over preconceived notions about her weight. 
  13. Singapore Fling, Maida Malby: Maida Malby presents another feast for the senses with the second installment in her Carole Diem Chronicles, with great sense of place from scenery descriptions to the lush food porn. And her leads, Aidan and Maddie, are two confident people at the top of their game professionally, who come together wonderfully, complementing each other perfectly. And of course there’s a lot of heart with the plot centering around the importance of family, especially found family. 
  14. The Right Swipe, Alisha Rai: Romance has grappled with power dynamics and consent in different ways over the years, particularly in the wake of MeToo, but the latest release from Alisha Rai represents one of the best depictions of the issues modern women face, quite fittingly through the use of dating apps. Starting with Rhiannon and Samson who meet on an app, and things end up going wrong when he ghosts her, their affiliation with rival apps leads them to collide again, in a beautiful exploration of their feelings, as well as the difficulties business women face working alongside male colleagues in industries like this one. 
  15. Get a Life, Chloe Brown, Talia Hibbert: An absolutely adorable book that’s also not afraid to be a bit sexy. I loved Chloe and Red, and how the book sees them work on “getting a life” in different ways, with her not letting her disability hold her back from seizing the day, and Red confronting the imposter syndrome sowed by an abusive ex, as Chloe helps him with a website meant to advertise his art. 
  16. Not a Mourning Person, Catherine Stein: Catherine Stein’s character development is at its best here, as she writes about the somewhat “difficult” and scandalous Rachael. I felt for her as she came into her own, and really enjoyed her (unlikely at first) romance with the scholarly Avery. 
  17. Meet Me in Monaco, Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb
  18. Ribbons of Scarlet, Kate Quinn, Stephanie Dray, Laura Kamoie, Sophie Perinot, Heather Webb, E. Knight: In recent years, I’ve found I love collaborative novels, and this one, while I thought it seemed ambitious and too good to be true at first, came through on its promise. The six authors demonstrate the breadth of their historical knowledge, presenting the perspectives of six women from the French Revolution, with various backgrounds, from Royalist to moderate/intellectual to radical, the sections weaving seamlessly into each other to show the evolution of the French Revolution from one moved by democratic principles to the darkness of the Reign of Terror. Every moment is touchingly told, and you feel like you’re there with these historical figures. 
  19. Milady, Laura L. Sullivan: At long last, Milady gets to tell her story, and I love the way Sullivan does it in a way that pays tribute to the awesomeness of her character, showing that she wasn’t just painted as a villain because men write the history books, but in some ways by her own design. The history given for her pre-Three Musketeers feels plausible, as do the scenes that are set alongside the book, showing how different her perspective was from that of the “heroes” of the original tale. 
  20. Jane Steele, Lyndsay Faye: It’s Jane Eyre, but she’s a serial killer. It does get complicated, in that this Jane references the original, so it’s a very self-aware retelling. But that’s part of the charm. One of the best parts of the book is the way her killer nature (even if it is mostly in defense of herself and other vulnerable women) helps to put her on a more even footing with the Rochester substitute, Charles Thornfield. With his own dark past, the Jane/Rochester pairing was unequal on multiple levels, including their differences in morality, their respective positions of boss and employee, and their class differences, and the ending only somewhat fixes this. But serial killer Jane and Thornfield are a match from their first meeting, and were much easier to root for as a result.  
  21. The Brilliant Death, Amy Rose Capetta: This is stunning and original take fantasy. Taking influence from Italian culture, not only is the world beautiful, but the concept of the magic is wonderful, and the way it plays into the protagonist’s exploration of the fluidity of their own gender. 
  22. The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter, Theodora Goss: The first in absolutely fun series, I loved seeing Goss’s take on the many Gothic heroines, several of whom either got unpleasant endings in the original classic stories or played supporting roles to the male protagonists. Seeing them band together to solve mysteries and rescue one another from hijinks is great, but perhaps even more memorable is the style of the book (and its sequels), with the action interrupted by the characters telling the story in a way that is not as annoying as you might initially expect, given the hilarity of their commentary. 
  23. Dreadnought, April Daniels: While superhero stories still aren’t my cup of tea, I like this twist on it, incorporating the experiences of a transgender teen, complete with the magic transition to become their preferred gender. While containing all the hallmarks of a superhero origin story, including gaining powers and ingratiating oneself into the superhero “community,” it also highlights the real life bigotry many transgender teens like Danny face, especially from their own families, determined to impose traditional gender norms on them, and juxtaposes that with the introduction of a few positive, accepting friends with whom Danny can be herself. 
  24. The True Queen, Zen Cho: Finally, Zen Cho released the follow-up to Sorcerer to the Crown, and it strikes the right balance between being a great new adventure and providing all the elements readers loved the last time. Once again, her version of Regency London is diverse, and it’s wonderful to both spend time with familiar characters and meet more new ones. And there’s an f/f romance in this one! 
  25. Once and Future, Amy Rose Capetta and Cori McCarthy: Genderbent and very queer-positive, Capetta and McCarthy’s take gives King Arthur a much-needed makeover. No longer is it about doomed, faithless love, but a happy queer relationship in the face of great, world-shattering odds. And the twists on it, like Merlin’s de-aging process showing his evolution into a more modern and very different wise mentor, are so much fun. 
  26. Stepsister, Jennifer Donnelly: I love fairy tale retellings, but very rarely do they surprise and move me. This one did. While there’s nothing wrong with the traditional Cinderella story, I like the exploration of why the evil stepsisters would do the things they did, even if it meant losing themselves in the process. And ultimately, Cinderella and Isabelle really aren’t that different in terms of the societal pressures, and to see them come together is truly rewarding. 
  27. Stormlight Archive by Brandon Sanderson: While any of his series could easily qualify (and I am inclined to award honorable mentions to Mistborn and Warbreaker), I feel like the sheer epicness of this series merits its choice as my Sanderson pick. While not flawless (especially some aspects of Oathbringer), this series has his best character work, with broken people reflecting on their dark pasts in such a relatable way, juxtaposed against a world that is gritty and intense, without delving into the elements of grimdark that some fantasy has been embracing. 
  28.  Shelter in Place, Nora Roberts: Arguably one of Nora Roberts’ best books, for its deviation from her typical formula to one that focuses on the issue first, and the romance second, but still makes the romance feel impactful. The relevance of the issue the story centers on (a shooting in a mall and its aftermath) is startling, and I was moved by how these people came together, with two of the people involved finding each other years later and finding love. And, of course, the psyche of her villain is dark and chilling, leaving me stunned at their depravity. 
  29. Unmarriageable, Soniah Kamal: Yet another of the three P&P retellings that came out this year, this one is much more beat-for-beat in its rendition, while also demonstrating the parallels between the cultures of Regency England and contemporary Pakistan, in regards to women and marriage. It’s frequently been said that Austen’s themes are universal/timeless, and the number of loose modern adaptations prove this. But the story of Alys and Darsee is arguably  the closest modernP&P adaptation to the source material, with the obvious exception of the trappings of setting.
  30. The Marriage Clock, Zara Raheem: This is a book that came to me at a time when I very much needed it, as it provided perspective on a simialr siutaiton to the one the heroine is facing in the book going on in my own life. I empathized with her as her family tried to push their expectations on her, even though my situation was occurring in a different cultural contect. And while I had read several books with South sian heroines this year, including others on this list, that dealt with the trope of familial expectations of marriage, and appreciated them in different ways, it was nice to have one that blatantly was about it being fine for the heroine to end up single by the end, with the possibility that she might find love in her own time, and not be subjected to the titular “clock” society put her under. 

Top 10 New Author Discoveries This Year

I made it a habit of trying a tom of new authors, especially those that were highly recommended and sounded interesting to me. Here are the top ten (in no particular order, for the most part) authors I discovered this year that wowed me. To qualify, I had to pick up multiple books by them this year, with a minimum of two. 

  1. Brandon Sanderson: I have read all but a few of his previous YA books and his Middle Grade Alcatraz series at this point, so Sanderson is likely the author I most eagerly embraced in 2019. With an approachable, yet engaging style, he has consistently put out good quality work, to the point when even his lesser efforts, like Elantris and Mistborn era 2 are still memorable. And his engagement with fans regarding his progress is impeccable, allowing them insight into ongoing projects through his blog (in particular the yearly State of Sanderson posts), as well as consistent engagement on Twitter, as well as willingness to appear on readers’ and reviewers’ YouTube channels (a major one for many on Fantasy BookTube was his appearance on Daniel Greene’s channel). 
  2. Amy Rose Capetta: While I discovered Capetta through her collaboration with her partner, Cori McCarthy, Once & Future, a queer sci-fi King Arthur retelling, I came to embrace Capetta’s love for a variety of genres, while still centralizing queerness. Their genderfluid fantasy, The Brilliant Death, is a masterpiece, and 
  3. Catherine Stein: To start with, she’s pretty much an awesome person for sending me copies of all her books up to this point.
  4. Beverly Jenkins: She’s one of those authors I’m kicking myself for putting off for so long, in part because she was and is such a trailblazer in Black romance. While her older books are hard to find, I enjoyed her last historical series, am waiting with bated breath for book two in her current series, and am so happy to see that she’s getting some love on the adaptation front, as mentioned with the news about Forbidden. 
  5. Theodora Goss: While she only has the one novel series, about the Athena Club, I thoroughly enjoyed these quirky books. As a bit of a literature nerd, I loved seeing familiar characters from a new perspective, both through their exciting adventures and through the silly comments they make while putting together the books of their adventures. 
  6. Courtney Milan: Technically not completely new-to-me, as I read a novella by her late last year. But I read three full novels and an additional novella (in Hamilton’s Battalion) by her this year, and while it was a bit of a rocky start, beginning with her debut, Proof by Seduction, I did eventually make it to The Duchess War, arguably considered one of her best, and, as noted, one of my favorites this year as well, and I anticipate to continue reading her backlist very soon. 
  7. Alexis Hall: Like Capetta, Alexis Hall tends to write all over the place genre wise, although all of his books feature LGBTQ+ characters, so I was excited to experience two very different books from him this year: the erotic gay contemporary, For Real, featured in my top ten, and the queer Sherlockian fantasy, The Affair of the Mysterious Letter. Both are fabulous, with the former delving into a BDSM relationship in an unexpected way, and the latter being a fun romp with 
  8. Abigail Wilson: While she’s walking in familiar territory, with a combination of the Regency world and Gothic atmosphere, and writing inspirational romance (albeit with understated Christian themes, compared to some of her peers), I think she has a lot of promise, based on her two releases this year. Her stories feel reminiscent of the classics, like Austen and Bronte, and fellow inspirational historical authors like Julie Klassen, but she is very much bringing her own thing to the genre with page-turning romantic mysteries that had me invested in their plots completely. 
  9. Kristen Callihan: I was so excited to dive into her Darkest London series, which I had heard about, but didn’t really feel the urge to dive into until now. While some of the books are inevitably better than others, her world building is wonderful, and her characters, for the most part, are compelling. And while she’s moved onto contemporary, and I’m interested in trying those too, I’m anxious to see another historical paranormal from her again. 
  10. Scott Lynch: While he only has the three books in the Gentlemen Bastards series to his name thus far (with a fourth due out at some point), the series is still impressive even in its unfinished state, and I’m impressed with his character work, focusing on the friendship between a ragtag band of thieves. And while his style takes some getting used to, I found it makes the series memorable, as you really get to explore the characters through examinations of their past and present.

2020 Goals

  1. Goodreads Goal: My productivity is highly linked to my schedule, and while I’m hoping to work on building up some other skills, like getting back into novel writing after letting it slide, I anticipate I will continue to have a pretty open schedule. Thus, I’m planning to make my “starter” goal 300, akin to my productivity while in school. 
  2. Reading Log: I kept all my stats this year in a single doc file (I suck and  could never get a handle on Excel/Sheets), but I ran into hiccups as the doc got bigger and bigger and would constantly run into loading issues (on top of other computer issues). Thus, for 2020, I’ve decided to switch to keeping my reading logs monthly, which is also more in keeping with what some of my friends in book groups have been doing with their reading journals, and will result in more accurate stats, until I can hopefully figure out the spreadsheet business.
  3. Keep reading diverse authors (with priority to looking for more ownvoices works): I improved a lot this year, as I noted, but I think I can still do better to seek out some of the truly underrepresented voices outside of mainstream publishing.  
  4. Do as many of the prompts for the PopSugar 2020 Reading Challenge as possible. 
  5. Read two indie/self-published books per month (but aim for more): An idea I got from BookTuber Merphy Napier, who tries to make this a priority. I recently got my first eReader (a Nook Glowlight), so that should solve some of the access issues I had with self-published authors in the past. It also goes hand-in-hand with the previous goal, as I think one of the reasons I fell short this year is that, even with my growing self-awareness of my reading choices, publishing is still largely white and cishet. 
  6. Diversify blog content: While reviews are still going to be the main focus, I do enjoy more topical posts, and would like to make a habit of doing them, although I do still want to focus most on hot-button issues. I do also anticipate, with my access to eBooks, that my approach to reviewing novellas will change, so would like to do a “Novella Round-Up” on occasion, possibly monthly, but it depends on my reading choices. 

Reiew of "Starsight" (Skyward #2) by Brandon Sanderson

Sanderson, Brandon. Starsight. New York: Delacrote Press, 2019.

Hardcover | $19.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978=0399555817 | 461 pages | YA Science Fiction

4.5 stars

Given my enjoyment of Skyward, I was excited to see where the series would go next. And upon picking up Starsight, I wasn’t disappointed. However, I did find it interesting to note the way the plot made things so structurally different from what you expect from a standard SFF, due to the nature of the plot development. thus far, with this installment focused more on the wider world building, and feeling so thematically different with Spensa on her own and away from the rest of the crew that made the first one so entertaining.

Not that that’s a major drawback, as it’s nice to get more of the world and have a sense of its scope. It also presents an opportunity to Spensa to meet new characters and grow more throughout this one. And with Spensa having a knack for finding trouble, it was fun to see her in a different environment.

Not that it’s devoid of fun interactions in favor of personal growth and challenges, as she’s still accompanied by M-Bot, and he’s even funnier than I remembered, quite possibly one of my favorite Sanderson characters with all of his one-liners.

While it is a bit different stylistically, I think fans of Skyward will enjoy this one, and would recommend it to them, and the series overall to fans of YA sci-fi.

Review of “The Bands of Mourning” (Mistborn #6, The Alloy Era/Wax and Wayne #3) by Brandon Sanderson

Sanderson, Brandon. The Bands of Mourning. New York: Tor, 2016.

Hardcover | $27.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0765378576 | 446 pages | Fantasy

4 stars

The Bands of Mourning once again leaves me a bit conflicted regarding this era of Mistborn. Like with my recent read of Elantris, in spite of any shortcomings, I found the writing consistently engaging, to the point where I actually binge read it from early afternoon into the evening, but the flaws with some other aspects still felt a little lacking.

That’s not to say there aren’t other good consistent elements, and some improvements from the last two books. I still adore Wayne and his quirkiness, and it’s a shame that he’s so well-developed, only to essentially be playing second fiddle.

One of the things I also enjoyed was seeing greater development to Steris’s character, and I like that the development does feel natural in the sense of stripping away the layers of the stiff, somewhat bland character we were initially introduced to and seeing some of her awkwardness, which is balanced perfectly by her loyalty to those she’s close to.

And while there were some connections to Era One established in the prior two books, I think it was great to kind of see the way characters like Vin and Elend have entered the mythos of Scadrial hundreds of years later, especially as this is something that the characters talk about more openly in this one.

I do still feel like Waxilium isn’t that well fleshed-out, still adhering very much to very specific Western stereotypes for his character, which, even without really being exposed to that genre, still feels a bit much three books in.

On the whole, this is still a fun adventure in the world of Mistborn, albeit flawed, and I hope that, given the way Sanderson has worked to develop Steris this time around, he will make some effort to give some greater originality and depth to Waxilium in the final book. However, I do continue to recommend era two to fans of Sanderson who are looking for a fun Western-esque fantasy adventure.

Review of “Elantris” by Brandon Sanderson

Sanderson, Brandon. Elantris. New York: Tor, 2005.

Mass Market Paperback | $7.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0765350374 | 638 pages | Fantasy

3.5 stars

Full disclosure: I had no intention of reading Elantris virtually right after finishing Oathbringer. I did plan to read it relatively soon, but that fell through when the book I intended to read did not hold my attention and I decided I may as well go back to Elantris, since I had put it off for a long time, due in part to warnings about the difference in Sanderson’s style and the fact that it isn’t quite up to par with his other work.

And it isn’t, but I don’t hold it against him, as it is his first (published) book, and debuts can be hit-or-miss, especially when you go back to them after having read the author’s more recent work. That said, one of the things that remains consistent is his approachable writing style that almost overrides the shortcomings, or at least made them easier to deal with. And it was also interesting to have the action start pretty much right away, and while it does mean there are some laggy moments here and there, it remains engaging, particularly in the second half.

However, I did find the characters took a bit of time to become engaged with. Hrathen was the one who stood out right away, because of the way he adds a complex, somewhat twisted religious aspect in a way that I don’t think I’ve ever seen as the focal point in epic fantasy.

It took a bit longer to get into the arcs for both Sarene and Raoden, as they felt a bit more bland. However, they did grow on me, and they at least were involved in some pretty cool things, like Sarene working to bring down a corrupt monarchy and Raoden working to discover the secret of Elantris’ fall.

This is overall a decent book, and one I think can be built on to explore more of the world, and since he plans to (eventually) release a sequel to this one, I’m curious as to where it can go from here. That said, I think any reluctant Sanderson fan should try this and see what they think for themselves.

Review of “Oathbringer” (The Stormlight Archive #3) by Brandon Sanderson

Sanderson, Brandon. Oathbringer. New York: Tor, 2017.

Hardcover | $34.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0765326379 | 1242 pages | Fantasy

4 stars

Oathbringer‘s premise excited me quite a bit, given that Dalinar is this book’s focal point, and there was a lot hinted about his past, and this is where it all comes to the forefront. And I think it’s fabulous how his background is written, especially given that it shows how dynamic his character is, given that a lot of the problems he dealt with happened in his past.

There were a couple things that did keep me from enjoying it quite as much as the prior books. One of them was the POV changes for the final battle, something I’ve noticed others also didn’t like. While I’ve managed to kind of work with some of the POV changes in the prior books and even earlier in this one, especially with the more minor characters, as their relevance quickly demonstrated itself, it was quite jarring to jump from head to head in that moment.

I also feel like the romantic element was not well developed, and I hope that at least part of it was intentional with it being addressed in the next book. While I’m not always the biggest fan of a love triangle, I expected there to be more payoff than Kaladin saying that he didn’t really love Shallan by the end of this book. And while I do feel the relationship development thus far for Shallan and Adolin was compelling, I was shocked that they were married already by the end of this one, given that it’s increasingly obvious that they both have personal issues, especially Shallan with the increased hints of mental illness.

However, Sanderson continues to develop the world in such a compelling way, especially in this book as we get more insight into the past of not just Dalinar but of some of the major events that have influenced the present storyline. I also recommend anyone who loves an epic fantasy with depth pick this one up.

Review of “Shadows of Self” (Mistborn #5, The Alloy Era/Wax and Wayne #2) by Brandon Sanderson

Sanderson, Brandon. Shadows of Self. New York: Tor, 2015.

Hardcover | $27.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0765378552 | 383 pages | Fantasy

4 stars

Shadows of Self continues the fun that was introduced in its predecessor, The Alloy of Law to great effect. While I still believe this series definitely pales in comparison to some of Sanderson’s other work, it doesn’t have to be another great epic masterpiece, especially considering he already is working on that with the Stormlight Archive. And one of the things I continue to love about this era is the continued development of the world and how it feels organic to what you would expect it would feel like to take the world of Scadrial and advance it several hundred years, allowing the magic to evolve as the technology does, in a way that still feels faithful to the original series, but has enough new concepts to keep things interesting.

I would say that the character development is still the weakest part of the series thus far, with some overcompensation to establish the importance of characters like Marasi, whose role wasn’t fully fleshed out in the prior book, and Wax not really having a ton of character growth. But Wayne remains the most endearing character, with a balance of his quirky charm and the exploration of his dark past. I can only hope that, with the next book and going forward to the book in progress, that there is more improvement in making all the main characters feel as rounded and developed as the characters of the original trilogy.

On the whole, I enjoyed this one, although as with the prior book, more for the fun of further exploring the world than anything else. I will repeat what I said in my last review that I do recommend this to some of the Sanderson fans who may be a little reluctant to try it.

Review of “Words of Radiance” (The Stormlight Archive #2) by Brandon Sanderson

Sanderson, Brandon. Words of Radiance. New York: Tor, 2014.

Hardcover | $34.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0765326362 | 1087 pages | Fantasy

5 stars

Words of Radiance indeed. Despite his approachable writing style, Brandon Sanderson once again manages to create a masterful epic fantasy with an intricate magic system and an even more intricate plot, slowly bringing together the threads he established not only in the prior book, but also beginning to establish hints at the interconnectivity of the Cosmere as a universe itself (although it still remains subtle for the moment).

I also like that, while he does have this large cast, he is cycling through them and giving each a time to shine and focus on their backstories, first with Kaladin in book one, and this time with Shallan in book two. And I was deeply moved by what was revealed about Shallan’s past and what she herself suffered, leading to her ultimate breaking point.

But there is still some great growth for other characters. Kaladin in particular was subject to two major revelations, one relating to a connection he has with Shallan, and I like how that continued to illustrate the trauma he has from his own past, in the midst of him developing this friendship/possible love relationship with Shallan. And generally, while some of the other characters I felt a bit less connected to than others, I really liked the way they major characters were fleshed out, especially through their relationships with one another, like Dalinar and Kaladin’s, which grew despite Kaladin’s animosity toward lighteyed people. And Adolin in particular was one I quite liked, as his flaws really come to the fore towards the end of the book. Are his actions justified? Most definitely. But it also shows why he, unlike his father and Kaladin, is not a Knight Radiant.

This book continues the work of the prior book in the series of exemplifying Brandon Sanderson’s skill as a fantasy author, managing to straddle both the complexities of world building and character development. While the plot isn’t always the most fast-paced, particularly in the beginning, it’s still ultimately a great read, and one I’d recommend to every epic fantasy fan.

Review of “The Alloy of Law” (Mistborn #4, Alloy Era/Wax and Wayne #1) by Brandon Sanderson

Sanderson, Brandon. The Alloy of Law. New York: Tor, 2011.

Paperback | $24.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0765330420 | 332 pages | Fantasy

4 stars

Upon completing the original Mistborn trilogy, I wasn’t sure about going into the second era, especially given that I had heard it was different in tone from the first trilogy. Therefore, I figured the best thing to do would be to ease my way into that series by alternating them with the larger Stormlight books, which was something that had been suggested as a reading order by a more seasoned Sanderson fan.

But I ended up really appreciating that Sanderson wanted to do something different after finishing the first era of Mistborn. I love how the tone feels a bit lighter, due to it stylistically paying homage to the Western and steampunk genres, something you don’t see often with epic fantasy, much less any progression beyond the medieval tech level. And upon learning his future plans to continue developing the world technologically into a futuristic setting down the road, I am definitely sold on this idea. And now being more intimately aware of how he plans to progress the world and make the characters from previous eras into god-like legends in succeding eras, I now understand his rationale for the Ascension at the end of The Hero of Ages.

The characters themselves were a bit less engaging than the original trilogy, although I do feel like it was meant to be smaller in scope, and the characters do feed into some Western genre stereotypes, which explains them not feeling overly fleshed out. However, Wax and Wayne are intriguing characters to follow, and seem to carry this sub-series well. Wayne in particular was fun to read, as he adds humor that I haven’t seen in any of Sanderson’s other works I’ve read to date, aside from Warbreaker.

While it’s definitely not the best thing Brandon Sanderson has written, it’s obvious that this is something he seems to have fun working on (especially given that there are now three books in this series, with a fourth announced and being worked on), and it is definitely a great example of his process of taking something that’s been done to death and doing something different with it. I would recommend it to anyone who likes Sanderson’s style and process, but may have been reluctant to try it, given what they may have heard about it being drastically different from the first Mistborn trilogy.

Review of “The Way of Kings” (The Stormlight Archive #1) by Brandon Sanderson

Sanderson, Brandon. The Way of Kings. 2010. New York: Tor, 2011.

Mass Market Paperback | $8.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0765365279 | 1258 pages | Fantasy

5 stars

Upon beginning to delve into Brandon Sanderson’ work, I’ve heard much about his Stormlight Archive series, and how good it is, although I wasn’t certain about it, given my reticence to pick up thousand-plus page books with multiple arcs going on simultaneously. However, having come to trust Sanderson as an author, I took a chance, and it paid off. I almost regret splitting my reading between this book with some other shorter books, as this was the one I really wanted to come back to.

Given the size of the book, it is one of those where he does take his time establishing the world (to much success). He once again establishes unique magic system, and touches on racial issues in a fun allegorical way, through the exploration the lives of lighteyes (upper class) and darkeyes (middle and lower classes). He also puts a cool spin on fairies with the spren.

But I think where this book really stands out is the characters, and I like how the longer length of the book allows the reader to become invested in each of these complex individuals. I like how, through Kaladin, he delves into someone who has been thoroughly beaten down by the things that have happened in his life, and this once again sees Sanderson delving into mental health and trauma in a way that is as poignant, if not more so than, Vin in Mistborn. I liked seeing Dalinar as a warlord with some regrets about the things he’s done in the past. Shallan has such a great internal conflict, in terms of her intent to steal from Jasnah Kholin, but also feeling respect for her, although the relationship becomes a bit more complex as Jasnah’s bad qualities are revealed.

This book may be somewhat daunting, but the payoff is worth it, and I am already prepared to agree with others that this series (projected to be ten books) will cement Brandon Sanderson’s status among the great classic fantasy authors, along with the likes of Tolkien. And I would recommend this to anyone who is looking for a truly epic fantasy.

Review of “The Hero of Ages” (Mistborn #3) by Brandon Sanderson

Sanderson, Brandon. The Hero of Ages. New York: Tor, 2008.

Hardcover | $27.95 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0765316899 | 572 pages | Fantasy

4.5 stars

The Hero of Ages is a brilliant wrap-up to the Mistborn (First Era) Trilogy, as well as a just a wonderful book in its own right. It, for the most part, presented a beautiful conclusion for the major characters’ arcs.

While Brandon Sanderson does continue to show he enjoys a familiar trope or two, I love how he continues to add something new to keep the reader guessing, especially in terms of the way he continues to use foreshadowing and misdirection in terms of the identity of the true Hero of Ages, who is revealed in the final pages of the book.

The character development was great. I really enjoyed the way we see how Vin has grown as a heroine over the course of the three books, and Elend grow more in his leadership role. I did find myself a little concerned regarding book two’s ending after having taken the time to really think about it, but I think, once I got into this book, it did help to provide more equal footing to Vin and Elend’s relationship. However, I did find myself a bit conflicted by their fate by the end of this one. I appreciate the setup leading up to it, indicating that not everyone will survive this huge potentially world-ending conflict, but the ascension to godhood seemed a bit weird to me.

In general, I did thoroughly enjoy this series, and look forward to reading more of Brandon Sanderson’s work very soon. Now having completed the trilogy, I would definitely recommend it to anyone, whether they’re new to fantasy or a veteran fantasy reader, as regardless of any flaws, it’s still a series worth savoring.