2019 Reading Review

Another year, more great books.  In 2019, I read about 145 books, of which about 2/3 were Regency romances.  The rest were from various genres, and I reviewed 17 of them here on this blog (you can check out the Book Reviews category to see them all).  Here are some highlights.

Fantasy

I really enjoyed the Wayward Children series of novellas by Seanan McGuire, starting with Every Heart a Doorway.  The characters and worlds of this portal fantasy series have stayed with me; read my full review here.  I also enjoyed exploring the novel length version of Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik, which reads like an original fairy tale; read my full review here.

I read very little YA fantasy this year, and I what I did read was pretty average, nothing really outstanding.  I’ve been a little disappointed with the quality of current popular series.  Anyone have recommendations for recent must-read YA fantasy?

Comics

I highly recommend both the Darth Vader and Doctor Aphra comics by Kieron Gillen.  If you only read one Star Wars comic, I’d recommend the Vader Down crossover issue, which features the OT characters as well as Aphra, one of my favorite new canon characters.  It has everything you want: action, humor, great characterization.

Nonfiction

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I’ve been working through Ta-Nehisi Coates’ book of essays, We Were Eight Years in Power, since the beginning of the year.  These are essays on various topics previously published in The Atlantic (including “The Case for Reparations”), compiled here with his reflections on each piece.  It’s not light reading, but I feel like I’ve gained a lot of perspective, especially as we enter another election cycle.  And I’m so glad I discovered Coates’ beautiful writing.  I also enjoyed his run of Black Panther, and I can’t wait to read his novel debut, The Water Dancer.

As a relatively new mother I also enjoyed Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year by Anne Lamott. Everything she wrote rang so true to me!  Plus she is just an entertaining writer.

Author of the Year: W.R. Gingell

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Awhile back I raved about Gingell’s Masque, an inventive version of Beauty and the Beast, but this year I really started reading through her oeuvre, and the more I read the more I fall in love!  Luckily, she now works full-time as an author and is continuing to release several new fantasy stories every year.  So far, I’ve read her fairy-tale inspired Two Monarchies series (of which Masque is a part), her epic fantasy Shards of a Broken Sword trilogy, and her hilarious urban fantasy City Between series.  I’m going to do some more detailed reviews of these in the coming months,  but if you are looking for a quick, entertaining read, I highly recommend her work.  Also, check out her blog and Facebook page.

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At the end of last year, I made some reading goals for myself for 2019 and I think I did pretty well with them.

  1. Read from more genres.  I tried really hard with this one and I succeeded.  Some genres I read this year include: cozy mystery, fantasy, sci-fi, classics, historical fiction, memoir, non-fiction essays, short stories, poetry, comics, and YA.  I also listened to some more audiobooks; though I still don’t love them, I started to use them in conjunction with ebooks to allow me to continue the story wherever I am.
  2. Finish Heyer’s romances.  I read Venetia, which is one of her best, as well as a mystery from her.  I still have 2 more Georgian romances to read!
  3. Read books I already own.  Yeah…still working on that.  Definitely a goal to continue next year.
  4. Finish the books I started.  I did get better about this!  I finished most of the books I started last year, and while I still have a few I started this year that I’m in the middle of, I feel like it’s more under control instead of a revolving door of library loans.  I did have a couple of DNFs this year; mostly they had some element of mental illness that I couldn’t handle reading about at the time.

For 2020, I want to focus on getting back to reading physical books instead of being on my phone and Kindle all the time, as well as reading all the books that are already on my shelves.

What were your favorite books of 2019?  Do you have any reading goals for 2020?

On Life and Death and Art

My dad passed away recently.  He was the biggest supporter of my blog here at Jedi by Knight, reading every post I wrote and often mentioning them to me when we spoke.  Even my husband rarely reads my blog!  To know that someone, somewhere was reading what I write was a huge gift, just one of many such gifts my dad gave me.

42410301. sy475 A librarian by profession, my dad is one of the reasons I was an early reader.  Our house was filled with books, and he nearly always had one or two Louis L’amour novels by his comfy chair in the living room.  He occasionally asked my opinion on YA or anime to include in his library’s collection.

The last book I gave him (on the occasion of his retirement) was Louise Penny’s Still Life, which he described as slow and character-driven.  In short, my dad was someone who understood the value of novels to enhance our lives.

My mom and I spent a lot of time in various hospitals while my dad was sick; I was a bit surprised to find something all hospitals have in common: beautiful artwork.

Artwork in a hospital?  Don’t sick people and doctors have better things to do than contemplate the meaning of some shapes on the wall?

Actually, no, I realized once I thought about it.  I see art as an essential part of life, a way to tell a truth through a different medium, shapes rather than words.  Where better to see an expression of the meaning of life than among the sick and dying?

This is artwork from the hospital where my dad died: “Ahuja Azure, Citron and Amber Persian Wall” by the famous glass artist Dale Chihuly.  It may seem like a little thing, but seeing this piece there truly helped me in a difficult time.  It reminded me that even as I was experiencing heartbreak and suffering, there is still beauty in the world.

So, one thing I will take from my dad’s death as well as his life is the positive impact of art and books in people’s lives.  He will be missed here, but my blog will carry on in this spirit–his spirit–for as long as I am writing.

 

Book Blogger Memory Challenge

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Two bloggers I follow recently did a fun tag that I thought would be a good challenge (even though I’m not really a book blogger).  Thanks to Vicky at The Roaring Bookworm and Madame Writer for the inspiration.

The Book Blogger Memory Challenge

Rules

You must answer these questions without looking anything up on the internet and without looking at your bookshelves!

I decided to make it a step harder and only answer with books that I actually own.

Name a book written by an author called Michael

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Rogue Squadron by Michael Stackpole.  I have at least half a dozen of his books; he’s one of my favorite Star Wars authors and his Talion: Revenant is a perfectly plotted fantasyRogue Squadron was one of the first Star Wars books I read and remains of my favorites to this day.

Name a book with a dragon on the cover

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Eragon by Christopher Paolini.  I still haven’t finished the last book in this series haha.

Name a book about a character called George

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Emma by Jane Austen.  The first character I thought of was George Weasley from the Harry Potter series, but I wanted to pick a book with a George as a main character.  This was very difficult!  Because George seems like a very British name, I went through all my Brit lit books in my head until I remembered that Mr. Knightley’s first name is George.  I knew Austen had to have a George somewhere!  He may not be the main character, but as the love interest I think the book is still “about” him.

Also, this image is not the edition I have; I have a hardcover with all her collected published works.

Name a book with an author with the surname of Smith

I came up with White Teeth by Zadie Smith, which is one of the 100 books from the Great American Read last year.  But I’ve never read it, and I don’t own it.  I scanned my shelves later and didn’t find any Smiths.

Name a book set in Australia

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Playing Hearts by WR Gingell.  The main character lives in Australia, though she also spends a lot of time in Wonderland.  This is a cute novella from an indie Tasmanian author; I really recommend her full length novels as well, including Masque, a retelling of Beauty and the Beast.

Name a book with the name of a month in the title

I came up with Missing May by Cynthia Rylant, but I don’t think I own it, and I’m not sure I’ve even read it.  All I can tell you is that it’s an award-winning children’s book.  I also think “May” refers to the name of a person, not the month itself, but it technically fits.

Name a book with a knife on the cover

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Graceling by Kristin Cashore.  This is the start of a wonderful YA fantasy series with beautiful covers.  I also thought of The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman, but ironically I own a copy that does not have a knife on the cover!

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No knife! It’s part of a set.

Name a book with the word ‘one’ in the title

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Choices of One by Timothy Zahn.  This is another of my favorite Star Wars authors, featuring my favorite EU character, Mara Jade.

Name a book with an eponymous title

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Cinder by Marissa Meyer.  In fact, all the books in the Lunar Chronicles series, which is a YA sci-fi take on fairy tale retellings (and it also has some Sailor Moon references).

Name a book turned into a movie

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There are so many I could pick from, but the first that came to mind was The Lord of the Rings, which actually consists of three books.  (If we’re getting really picky, it’s six books in three volumes.)  So to be specific, I’ll say The Fellowship of the Ring by JRR Tolkien.

I think I did pretty well in this challenge!  I only looked up the covers once I had written down my answers.  I have a good memory and this was a fun test, though I struggled with a couple.  I’m not going to tag anyone, but feel free to do this challenge yourself!

It’s National Book Review Month!

Several years ago, SUNY Geneseo created National Book Review Month to “give readers an outlet to bring lesser known works to the forefront.”  This year, NaRMo falls in March, so if you’ve read a book recently (of any genre, including “including children’s books, drama, non-fiction fiction and poetry”), you can go to the NaRMo website and submit a review for publication there.  The only real rule is that the review must be between 100 and 1,000 words, though the website does have some great tips for crafting a review.

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Although I’m not a book blogger per se, I’ve been talking about books since the very beginning of this blog seven years ago.  To my mind, there are three main reasons I write reviews of books.

First, to help other readers.  This seems pretty obvious.  Reviews can help people decide whether they want to read a book or not, which is especially useful when they are going to be spending their hard-earned money on it by buying it.  I personally like to read the 2 star reviews of books on Amazon, because those tend to have more specific, useful critiques than the one- or five-star reviews.

Second, to help the authors.  Many independently published authors depend on reviews on blogs as well sites like Goodreads and Amazon to entice new readers.  When a book only has a dozen or so reviews, every one counts.  So every time I read something by an indie author (often one of my blogger friends), I make sure to review it somewhere to give them some free publicity.

Last, to help me.  Part of the reason I started this blog was to have a space for my thoughts on books and other media.  Reviews are sometimes a way for me to process what I read, as well as an outlet for me to share my thoughts.  Like an internet-wide book club or something.  I do try to avoid spoilers in my reviews, but sometimes I dive a little further into analysis than a proper review does.  I also like to do brief reviews when I don’t have too much to say about a book.

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I’ve definitely learned a thing or two about reviewing books over seven years.  I can’t even claim that I’m good at it now, and I’m certainly still learning.  Here are a few things I’ve picked up since that first review.

  • Give a picture of the book cover.  Not only does it give your post some visual interest, but it also helps people remember the book better if they come across it again.  Of course I prefer to take a pic of my own copy if possible, but most of the time I just end up using an image of the cover art.
  • A short summary is helpful to give some context of the book.  I’ve been using snippets from Goodreads summaries recently (with attribution of course).
  • I like to review both books that I know many people have read (so I can have a discussion) and also some that I know will be new to readers (so I can convince them all to read it, and then have a discussion).  I also tend to stick to the sci-fi/fantasy genres here on the blog, though I do go outside that occasionally for a special book.
  • For trilogies or series, I will often write only one review for the whole thing (though I often focus on the first book, which helps avoid spoilers).  Since I’m not a book blogger with ARCs or anything, my reviews aren’t usually about current releases, and I’m not sure that anyone wants to read a review of just the third book of a trilogy from five years ago or something.  If you haven’t read the first two already, what’s the point?  And if you have read the first two, but not the third, by now, well, that seems weird, too.

Okay, I’ve babbled long enough.  Do you guys enjoy writing book reviews?  Will you participate in NaRMo this year?  I’m going to try to post a review for NaRMo next week, as I’ve read several books recently.  Have you guys enjoyed reading my reviews?  Even better, have you read any books because I recommended them??

My 7th Blogiversary

Happy birthday to Jedi by Knight!  Seven years ago today I began this crazy blog journey.  It’s had its ups and downs and changes, and I was worried I would have to give up blogging entirely when I became a mom.  But it seems this is not the end of my journey here!

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Although last year brought the end of the WordPress Weekly Photo Challenges, I was happy to join the Lens-Artists Photo Challenges last fall, sharing some of my photos of Europe every week.  And I’ve continued to do the monthly Star Wars coloring book posts with Kiri for our Fan Art Fridays.

Over seven years, I’ve had about 68,000 views and 3,000 comments on my blog, as well as gaining about 900 followers. Recently, I got a huge spike in views when someone went through all my Fan Art Friday posts, so thank you whoever you are!  I also really enjoy when someone reads all my KOTOR II playthrough posts; that’s like the highest complement in my mind!

Thank you all so much for reading all this time.  Here’s to many more years of nerdy blogging!