Monday, December 31, 2018

2018 Reading Goals Review

My first reading goal of 2018 was to read sixty books. I used Goodreads to track that challenge, and I ended up surpassing that goal by reading a total of 69 books. You can see all the books I read in 2018 here.

My second goal was a challenge I created myself called the "Read-My-Own-Books Challenge." My purpose in making this list for myself was to focus on reading books on my shelf instead of reading library books, borrowed books, etc. At the beginning of the year, my TBR started at 293 books, and I had hoped to reduce that to 250 by the end of the year. Although I did complete this challenge, my TBR is currently at 297 books. That is slightly more than when this year started, even though my shelves have gone through quite the transformation. Of the 69 books I read this year, 35 were books I owned at the time of reading them. (This is an important distinction because there were a handful of books I read that were not on my TBR that I later bought a copy of, meaning they were never part of my TBR.) I am also not counting rereads in that number because they are also not part of my TBR. That means with all the books I read and got rid of (I would say I unhauled around 40 books this year, more than half of them unread), I still managed to buy enough books (and get enough books for Christmas) to even out my TBR to almost the same number I started the year with.

Here is my Read-My-Own-Books Challenge with the books I read to fulfill each objective:

1. Read the book that's been on your TBR the longest.
    To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

2. Read a book you bought in high school.
    Graceling by Kristin Cashore

3. Read your most recently acquired book.
    The Opposite of Loneliness by Marina Keegan

4. Read the shortest book on your shelf.
    Dream: See It and Seize It by John C. Maxwell

5. Finish every series you started but haven't yet finished.
    Dangerous Deception by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl
    The Bands of Mourning by Brandon Sanderson

6. Start and finish a new series.
    The Mortal Instruments by Cassandra Clare: City of Bones, City of Ashes, City of Glass, City of 
    Fallen Angels, City of Lost Souls, City of Heavenly Fire

7. Read a popular backlist book.
    The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson

8. Read a book by one of your favorite authors.
    An Abundance of Katherines by John Green

9. Read a book by an author you've never read before.
    The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware

10. Read a book that has a screen adaption.
      The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

11. Read a book you received as a gift.
      Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare

12. Read a book you acquired through marriage.
      Finding Daylight by Kimberly Webb

13. Read a book you want to give away after you read it.
      Chasing the Skip by Janci Patterson

14. Read a book not written in prose.
      Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn

15. Read a book about animals.
      Beatrice and Virgil by Yann Martel

16. Read a religious book.
      What's on the Other Side? by Brent L. Top

17. Read a classic book.
      Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

18. Read a nonfiction / memoir / biography.
      Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton

Overall, I am happy with what I managed to read in 2018. I know that if it weren't for this challenge, there are certain books that would still be unread, so I did manage to read some books I otherwise wouldn't have gotten to this year.

Another challenge I had for myself was one I did not write down anywhere but it was more of something I just wanted to see if I could do, and that was to start and finish five completed series, which I did. I read parts of many other series as well, but here are the full series I read this year, in order:
1. The Remnant Chronicles by Mary E. Pearson
2. Graceling Realm by Kristin Cashore
3. The Mortal Instruments by Cassandra Clare
4. Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor
5. The Dark Artifices by Cassandra Clare

This year, I let myself read, for the most part, books that I wanted to read when I wanted to read them, and I didn't create a strict reading list for myself each month. I think it's so important to read what you want to read and what you're in the mood for, and not what anyone expects you to read or what you feel obligated to read. I ended up enjoying almost everything I read this year and now I have some excellent books I can discuss with others.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Top 5 Books I Read in 2018

I read a total of 69 books in 2018, and I want to share a bit about my top five books of the year. It was very hard to narrow it down this year, seeing as I read five full fantasy series, each which I loved for different reasons, plus a multitude of books in other genres, but I feel confident that this list of books contains the ones that will stick (and have stuck) with me the longest.

1. The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton
This is one of the first books I read in 2018, yet it has stuck with me throughout the entire year, and I still feel enchanted by its magical, ethereal nature. I can’t tell you how many people I have recommended this book to over the past few months. The Forgotten Garden solidified Kate Morton as one of my favorite authors even though it was the only book by her I had read at the time, but I have since been inclined to read another of her books just because this one was so good. I love historical fiction, but this book is special because it combines historical fiction with modern fiction in a mystery that spans decades and characters that are inextricably linked. Check out my full review here.

2. The Heart of Betrayal (but really the entire Remnant Chronicles trilogy) by Mary E. Pearson
The Remnant Chronicles was my favorite of the five complete series I read this year, and The Heart of Betrayal was my favorite book in the series. I absolutely love the concept of a runaway princess on her wedding day that is being chased by the jilted prince and by an assassin, but when they both find her in a nearby town, the princess doesn’t know who is who. I flew through this trilogy in just two weeks because the characters were so enjoyable to read about and the plot was utterly addicting. I like the second book best because (without giving anything away) the male lead in this book is my favorite character, and I love the gritty setting where the majority of the story takes place. This is a great minimal-magic high fantasy story. Here are my reviews of the first book, the second book, and the third book.

3. Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore
Even though I read the whole Graceling Realm trilogy, the third book, Bitterblue, was one I believe could be read as a standalone, and it was by far the best book in the series. It had a heavy political influence, one that didn’t overwhelm the story but enhanced it very well. The character of Bitterblue really had to work through a lot of trials to learn about herself and how to be an effective queen, and I loved seeing her character growth over the whole book. I love the idea of a queen who goes out in hiding among the commoners to learn about them firsthand, and seeing the consequences of this was just so entertaining. Even though I don’t think I’ll reread the other two books in this series, I know I’ll come back to this one.

4. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid
I listened to this entire audiobook in two days and I still remember exactly where I was as I heard the story unfold around me. This book is absolutely stunning. It’s the story of the famous sex icon and actress Evelyn Hugo as she tells her detailed life story in her old age to a reporter of little merit, a reporter who somehow plays a part in Evelyn’s story. It is addicting, it is entertaining, and it is beautiful. It is hard to describe this book well enough to give it justice, but it is well worth your time. The story is addicting, it is entertaining, and it is beautiful. Here is my full review.

5. Skyward by Brandon Sanderson
I can’t make a “top books” list without including a Sanderson book. This book opened my eyes to the joys of science fiction, which, until now, I always thought I didn’t like. Spensa’s goal and dream in life is to be a pilot, but because of a terrible thing that happened to her father, she is shunned and discounted and deemed unworthy. She works harder than anyone to make it into flight school and learn the ways of a pilot prepared to defeat the alien race called Krell, but she learns some secrets along the way that make her question everything she thought she knew about her world, about the Krell, and even about her father. My review can be found here.

Monday, December 24, 2018

Review: I'D RATHER BE READING by Anne Bogel

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

This book is so adorable and relatable. I’d Rather Be Reading is one of those books that’s so charming that I went and bought my own copy immediately after I returned my library’s copy because I wanted to make it a part of my permanent collection. Anne’s essays about books and the reading life are just so heartwarming and perfect. I love reading books about books, and this one quickly jumped to the top of that list for me because of how wonderful it was.

This book contains over twenty short essays about books, the joys of reading, the love of the library, the process of recommending books to others, the difficulty of moving books, what it is like to fulfill a childhood dream by working in a bookstore, and many other bookish topics.

My favorite essay was actually the first one, “Confess Your Literary Sins.” I loved reading what some people consider “sins” among other book lovers, whether it’s okay to like a certain book or admit that you’ve read or haven’t read another book. It was very interesting, especially because I believe all the ones listed were true confessions that Anne has come across during her lifetime. I also loved “Bookworm Problems” because it’s just so dang relatable.

Bogel mentions dozens upon dozens of books within her book, and even though I’d only heard of a few titles and read even fewer of them, I’m grateful for all the book references. If she had this kind of experience with this specific book, I want to read it too; I want to have a similar experience and love the book just as much. I also just love seeing what kinds of books other people read. And the few titles I did recognize, I was so excited to see mentioned because I was just nodding my head right along with her.

I would definitely recommend this fun, short book to any book lover out there who wants to share in the joys of loving books because as she mentioned, half the joy of reading is planning your reading and talking about the books afterward. (And can I just say she has the perfect job? Any job that involves reading books, talking about books, recommending books, and anything else to do with books sounds like heaven to me.)

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Review: QUEEN OF AIR AND DARKNESS by Cassandra Clare

Rating: 5/5 stars

I had been eagerly anticipating the release of this book since I finished Lord of Shadows over the summer, and I can safely say this concluding novel did not disappoint. This book was wild.

I listened to the audiobook, which had an amazing narrator, while I read along with the physical book, and I was surprised to find there were quite a few instances where small phrases here or there were changed or actually added into the audio version. I found that very interesting and I wasn’t sure why it happened, but I don’t think any of it was major enough to note specific instances.

I want to start by saying that Queen of Air and Darkness has major spoilers for The Mortal Instruments. This book spoils every single book in that series, especially the ending of City of Heavenly Fire. If you haven’t yet read The Mortal Instruments but want to, read that series before this one. I personally would recommend reading it anyway because that series gives tons of information and backstory that is pertinent in this series and I’m sure in Clare’s future series. Many of our original characters show up in Queen and play important roles. This series is a true sequel to the first series; Many of the problems in this book stem from the outcome of what happened in City of Heavenly Fire.

It’s interesting that we got to see the implications of what could have happened if the end of City of Heavenly Fire had been different. I’m really glad this part was included because it gave credence to the plot of The Mortal Instruments, like what happened then was bigger than we originally thought and affected more than just the characters we saw in that series.

I do like that we get to see some of the original characters in this book though. Clary and Jace make some appearances, more so than in the other Dark Artifices books, among some other unexpected characters who I was happy to see resurface. I feel like all the characters were much more involved in this book than in previous books. Everyone is implicated and has a part in the grand scheme of things, which I appreciated seeing.

I like that the story is told in multiple POVs that follow different groups of people that are each on a different mission. It’s also interesting that each group doesn’t really know what the other group is doing, and this has some interesting implications in the middle of the story where I could definitely see intentions colliding (for example, I thought the thing Kit and Ty were doing would clash with the thing Emma and Julian were doing at a specific point, and I was very anxious to see how that would be resolved). Clare is very good at keeping the reader informed on what everybody in the story is up to, so it never feels like there’s only one important character or group of characters because all the characters have a plot.

Clare is also really good at creating a slow-burning suspension. She draws things out and makes us beg to know what’s going to happen. I’ve seen this method executed poorly before, making the story drag instead of making the story suspenseful, but not with Clare’s books. She’s very good at keeping us invested in every facet of the story so that when a chapter ends following one group of characters, we can’t wait to read about what comes next, but we have to read about other characters for a few chapters, so the cycle of suspension continues.

Clare is really good at writing lots of good messages into her books that have high relevance in today’s time. She includes all kinds of LGBT representation and mental disorders and racial diversity throughout the series, more than I would say most authors include. In this book specifically, she also includes discussions about the importance of voting, why you should punish someone only for their actions and not for their thoughts, and why you should have personal morals and beliefs. All of this is pertinent to anyone who might be reading the series, and I feel that it also adds a ton of depth to her characters’ lives and the story as a whole. I love when authors include relevant discussions about real-world topics in their books without seeming preachy about it.

I could totally see Cassandra Clare writing a spin-off series following Kit and Ty. There was a lot of information revealed about Kit and Ty that left open a whole story arc that could be developed about each of them. I’m not really interested in reading Clare’s prequel series (I couldn’t finish The Infernal Devices and I don’t intend to read The Lost Hours), but any sequel series the keep progressing the timeline further into the future I would be all for. I love Kit and Ty, and I think a series about them, delving into the information that was revealed, would be a great addition to the Shadowhunter world.

There’s actually a lot of loose ends the could lead into many more series being written, now that I think about it. I know Clare is writing The Eldest Curses, which will follow Magnus and Alec, and I can see now where that storyline would go following the ending of this book. I will probably end up reading that series when it comes out, but I hope she also writes more.

All the loose ends made this book feel like it wasn’t a concluding novel. The main storyline in The Dark Artifices was wrapped with Julian and Emma, albeit in a much more unexpected way than I anticipated, but after that there was more information revealed that still created a sizeable cliffhanger at the ending (I do not mean that the story was left open-ended for interpretation but that there was instead a gaping hole that needs to be filled because something is missing). After everything, what is going to happen? There has to be some sort of sequel because there’s no way Clare would end the book like that if she wasn’t intending on furthering the story.

I really enjoyed all of the characters in Queen of Air and Darkness, although I will say that Emma and Julian had some angsty scenes that had me questioning if I’ve ever loved someone the way they seem to love each other . . . .
“They stumbled apart. It felt like having her skin ripped away.” Like calm down, Emma.

And then we had the trio: Mark, Kieran, and Cristina. This was my favorite relationship. I was rooting so hard for the “hot faerie threesome,” as was called in the book. I wanted so bad for all three of them to end up together that every time there was a scene with the three, I was full of anxiety wondering what would happen and if they would figure it out. Mark is still my precious ray of sunshine.

Overall, Queen of Air and Darkness was an amazing conclusion to The Dark Artifices trilogy. I originally didn’t know if I even wanted to read this series, but I am so happy that I did because it is my favorite Shadowhunters series (so far) and it expounded so much on the basis of the world that was established in The Mortal Instruments. I love the depth of detail that Clare puts into her books and how so many threads wind together to create a breathtaking story. I would highly recommend this series if you like urban fantasy, and you could even read it as its own series without having read any previous Shadowhunter books because all the details and ways of the world are explained for newcomers. 

Lastly, I want to note that the first edition hardcover of this book has ten beautiful full-page illustrations in it during important events in the book. I mostly listened to the audiobook but I’m glad I had the physical copy to read along with so I could see these pictures. They enhance the story nicely, and I would love to see them in full-color (but I don’t know if they exist in color). The book is worth checking out to see these pictures.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Review: SKYWARD by Brandon Sanderson

Rating: 5/5 stars

Skyward reminded me of a mix of Airborn and City of Ember and Ender’s Game. Airborn because they fly airships around the sky, City of Ember because they live underground and have similar technology, and Ender’s Game because of the dogfighting and battle techniques in space. I enjoyed all of those books, so to see their concepts come together with added science fiction elements and the writing style of Brandon Sanderson makes for an excellent story!

I was honestly nervous starting this book because I’ve had it in my mind that I don’t like science fiction novels, yet this is actually the first fully science fiction novel I’ve finished. But it is a Sanderson book, and Sanderson can do no wrong, so I knew I had to give it a chance. And I really had nothing to worry about because it was absolutely amazing! (Why have I been telling myself for years that I don’t like sci-fi? This genre is awesome!)

So I thought this story took place in a different universe. Spensa mentions famous historical figures from Earth’s history—Joan of Arc, Sun Zhu, and Genghis Khan, to name a few—which means that the characters are originally from Earth. We do learn in the prologue that the people on their planet of Detritus are basically colonists, but I find it weird that they came from the Earth that we know in the real world. Maybe that’s just because I’m not used to reading sci-fi and I’m used to Sanderson’s books being set totally in fantastical worlds, but it caught me off guard to read familiar names.

Skyward is about Spensa, whose biggest dream and goal is to become a pilot just like her father was and defend her planet against the alien race called Krell, but she faces obstacle after obstacle because of her father’s legacy that he left behind, a legacy not of triumph but of cowardice. Spensa is determined to surpass everyone’s low expectations of her and become a pilot anyway, even if it means flouting everyone who could be the key to her success. As she makes her way into flight school, she discovers secrets from the past and learns news about the Krell that could change everything she thought she knew about her father and maybe even her desire to become a pilot.

That’s a basic description of the story, but it’s not really what the book is about. There is so much more going on that’s hard to describe, in-depth details that create a whole new plot on top of this basic outline. I never gave a second thought to the synopsis, even though I admit it sounded average and a bit superficial, but about halfway through I realized all my assumptions were wrong. Everything I thought this book was about was not what it was about at all. The main issue Spensa was facing was something I never would have guessed, but it made the story so much more meaningful.

Sanderson never fails to blow my mind and leave me speechless, and I never should have doubted him. He’s so good at doing the unexpected. He never takes the common, predictable route but instead goes somewhere completely unfathomable, and that makes his books all the better for it.

The characters in Skyward are amazing, each with distinct personalities. Spensa is aggressive, but not in a mean way. She’s determined to prove herself, and I loved seeing her come face-to-face with foes, or at least talk about coming face-to-face with her foes, because she is this tiny girl who packs a mighty punch with her huge personality, and she’s never afraid to go up against all odds. I love her over-the-top proclamations of victory and vengeance.

Although I love Spensa, M-Bot is definitely my favorite character (AIs tend to be some of my favorite characters in general). He is so precious and just made me smile every scene he was in. I can’t wait to see what happens to him in the next book.

Something random that I loved about this book was its use of fake swear words, like “scud.” I enjoy seeing this in books because I feel like it helps to show how the novel’s world is developed and different from our own.

Overall, Skyward was a really delightful story from my favorite author, and I think it’s a good book for people who are new to or don’t usually read science fiction because it still felt relatable and not too technical. I, at least, loved it. Regardless if you like sci-fi stories, the plot is highly engaging, the characters are thoroughly developed, and the dialogue is actually quite funny! I literally laughed out loud at least ten different times throughout the book. I cannot wait until Starsight comes out next year so I can see what happens to Spensa and everyone else.

On a more critical note (I don’t want to say anything bad about a Sanderson book, but the editor in me can’t help it), I was surprised to see many instances where Cobb’s name was printed Cob (not Sanderson’s fault, but I still was taken aback when I saw it). Also, there were a few details about the world that I felt were under-explained or skimmed over that I would have enjoyed more information about. I’m sure some of this is going to come to light in books two and three, but I also think some of it actually did need more explanation in book one. And this has left me with some questions (these are not spoilers, but they may not make sense if you haven’t read the book):

I’m wondering where the debris came from that surrounds their planet. What did it use to be before it was broken, and how did it get into orbit around the planet?
What are the Krell? (I know information about the Krell was intentionally left out to build suspense for later books.) We still know so little about them, and I’d like to know where they came from.
What happened to the technology akin to that found in M-Bot? It seems that it had become forgotten over time, but the human race is still trying to improve their technology, so why can’t they replicate these designs from the past? What happened to make them technologically jump back in time?
Why is M-Bot so interested in mushrooms? There has to be more to his obsession than comedic relief. Little do we know, but the mushrooms could somehow be the key to defeating the Krell! (I’m kidding but I’m also wondering if there is something special about them.)
What are the “eyes”? This is the information I am most curious about because I feel like it will have the biggest impact on the ultimate outcome of the whole series.