2019 was an odd reading year for me. For much of it, I felt an unusual reluctance to read at all. It wasn’t a complete reading block, a slump I suppose. 2019 was more a Year of Writing than a Year of Reading, to be honest. I’m thrilled that I managed to create and sustain a regular, extended daily writing time, and that as a result, I now have a full novel buffed and polished and ready to be published next month, but I can’t deny it has taken a toll on my delight in reading, and that’s a bad thing.
But I hate to miss a goal I’ve set myself, and so I made a heroic effort in December to reach my Goodreads Challenge of 85 books for the year. I did it by the skin of my teeth and by counting a few individually published short stories (which Goodreads allows, but which still feels a little like cheating).
So, if anyone besides me is interested, here’s the breakdown of what I read in 2019.
Number of works:
14 full-length non-fiction books
3 stand-alone short stories
1 picture book
Crime/Thriller/Detective: 27 (33%)
Science Fiction: 18 (21%)
Non-fiction: 14 (16%)
Fantasy: 14 (16%)
Romance/Historical Romance: 5 (6%)
Literary Fiction: 4 (5%)
Other: 3 (3%)
3.77 / 5
3.77 isn’t a bad average rating, and it shows that my reluctance to read didn’t stem from the reading quality of the books.
The most interesting thing to me about these stats is how much genre fiction I read, compared to general or literary fiction. An overwhelming 91.8% of my fiction choices! I relate this back directly to my reading slump. Crime fiction, Science Fiction and Fantasy are my comfort reads (not that they’re always comfortable, but I hope you know what I mean). And yet, my average rating for the few literary fiction novels I read was 4 / 5, higher than my general average. Speaking of high ratings, here are my 5-star books of 2019.
5-star reads: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
An eclectic mix, and it’s nice to see 2 books on writing in there.
So, what’s ahead in 2020? Enough of reading slumps and sticking to comfort reads! 2020 is going to be a Year of Writing AND a Year of Reading!
I’ve already started making a list of general and literary fiction I am excited to get to. And in the interest of quality over quantity, I’ve set my Goodreads Challenge to only 52 books, so I won’t feel the need to rush.
I’ll still be reading Crime, Science Fiction and Fantasy, but aiming for a more equitable split between genre and other fiction. And I want to read more non-fiction writing guides.
How about you? How was 2019 reading-wise? And what are your plans for 2020?
I read six books this month, with an average rating of 4.25, probably my highest average ever. As a reading month, August was all about quality over quantity. Here are the books, from lowest to highest rated.
MOM’S PERFECT BOYFRIEND
By Crystal Hemmingway
Genre: Romantic Comedy
RATING: ⭐⭐⭐ 1/2
A smart romantic comedy about mothers and daughters, and the hilarious consequences of a white lie.
I received this novel as an Advanced Reader Copy through LibraryThing. I don’t read many romances, but I was in the mood for something light, fun and even a bit silly and I thought this might fit the bill.
Well, it did and it didn’t. My full review is here, but briefly, it’s a bit of a mish-mash with a lot going on, some of it quite odd and a lot of it unbelievable. But it’s original, a quick and easy read and I had fun with it, even staying up past my bedtime to finish, so 3.5 stars seems fair.
EMBERS OF WAR
By Gareth Powell
GENRE: Science Fiction
The warship Trouble Dog was built and bred for calculating violence, yet following a brutal war, she finds herself disgusted by conflict and her role in a possible war crime. Seeking to atone, she joins an organisation dedicated to rescuing ships in distress.When a ship goes missing in a disputed system, Trouble Dog and her new crew of misfits and loners are assigned to investigate and save whoever they can. Quickly, what appears to be a straightforward rescue mission turns into something far more dangerous.If she is to survive and save her crew, Trouble Dog is going to have to remember how to fight.
I’m a bit embarrassed that as a keen reader of sci-fi and someone partial to the occasional space opera, I had never read any of Gareth Powell’s work until now. This one seemed like a good place to start, being the first book in his current trilogy. And it was. I am completely hooked on this story and I can’t wait to read the next volume, Fleet of Knives.
So, then, why didn’t I give this book 5 stars? If I was judging it only on the plot, I would have. The concepts? Tick. And if I was rating it on how much I enjoyed the final hundred or so pages, again, yes. Such a satisfying conclusion.
Here’s the thing. The story is written in first person, from multiple points of view. No problem, but if you do this, the points of view should be distinct. This was the case with Trouble Dog and Nod, but the voices of the three human characters were just too similar to each other. They had terrific backstories that differentiated them, but their voices didn’t reflect this, which gave their narration an inauthentic feel, leaving me wanting more.
Still, a solid 4 stars and a guarantee I’ll be reading the next book very soon.
MISS MARPLE’S FINAL CASES
By Agatha Christie
GENRE: Crime/ Detective/ Short stories
A collection of Miss Marple mysteries, plus some bonus short stories…First, the mystery man in the church with a bullet-wound…then, the riddle of a dead man’s buried treasure…the curious conduct of a caretaker after a fatal riding accident…the corpse and a tape-measure…the girl framed for theft…and the suspect accused of stabbing his wife with a dagger.
Mission Marple is over. This was the final volume, the last stories Christie ever wrote about Miss Marple, her elderly village lady sleuth. It’s been a truly enjoyable journey and I’m so glad I joined in.
This was a perfect way to complete the mission. I really like the variety of the stories, some more successful than others, of course. It was also a sort of reunion collection of many characters from the Marple novels and I had a great time meeting some of my favourites again. I devoured the whole book in one sitting.
THE BEE FRIENDLY GARDEN
By Doug Purdie
Genre: Non-fiction/ Gardening/ Wildlife
The Bee Friendly Garden is a guide for all gardeners great and small to encouraging bees and other good bugs to your green space..
Ever since I read Kate Bradbury’s book last month, I’ve been plotting and planning ways to make my garden more wildlife-friendly. I borrowed this book from my library and thoroughly enjoyed learning all about Australian native bees: their variety, usefulness, requirements to thrive and the kinds of garden additions that will encourage them to visit my patch and to stay long-term. It’s more a reference book than one to read cover-to-cover. So, of course, I read every page.😁 The illustrations are lovely, too.
By Carla Hoch
Genre: Non-fiction/ Writing
In Fight Write you’ll learn practical tips, terminology, and the science behind crafting realistic fight scenes for your fiction. Broken up into “Rounds,” trained fighter and writer Carla Hoch guides you through the many factors you’ll need to consider when developing battles and brawls.
My full review of this very useful handbook is here. The short version is that I was only a quarter of the way through the digital ARC before I ordered a paperback copy. I’ve already referred to it twice in the last two weeks. A keeper for my Writing shelf.
WALKING ON WATER
By Madeleine L’Engle
GENRE: Non-fiction/ Essays/ Christian/ Writing
In this classic book, Madeleine L’Engle addresses the questions, What makes art Christian? What does it mean to be a Christian artist? What is the relationship between faith and art? Through L’Engle’s beautiful and insightful essays, readers will find themselves called to what the author views as the prime tasks of an artist: to listen, to remain aware, and to respond to creation through one’s own art.
Madeleine L’Engle’s middle grade fantasy novels delighted me so much as a child and teenager. I loved her settings, her characters and the emotion she was able to convey to me as a reader. I didn’t know she was a Christian and the books aren’t overtly Christian in any way, although they are spiritual. Now that I’m an adult, a Christian myself and a fantasy writer, I was really interested in what L’Engle has to say about the connection between her faith and her writing.
And what she has to say is absolutely brilliant and inspiring. I made copious notes as I went through this small volume and I know I’ll be re-reading it. Here are just two gems:
If it’s bad art, it’s bad religion, no matter how pious the subject.
Each work of art, whether it is a work of great genius or something very small, comes to the artist and says, “Here I am. Enflesh me. Give birth to me.”
But the whole book is a casket of precious stones, almost every line worth quoting.
I hope September will be able to live up to August in the reading department!
Your turn! What did you read in August? Any 5-star recommendations?
I only put four books on the reading list for July and I ended up reading three of them, plus three others. I only read in two genres: crime/thriller novels and gardening books. My ratings range from one star all the way up to four. No five-star reads this month. Hopefully August will deliver at least one. Here’s what I read in July.
INTO THE WATER
In the last days before her death, Nel called her sister. Jules didn’t pick up the phone, ignoring her plea for help. Now Nel is dead. They say she jumped. And Jules has been dragged back to the one place she hoped she had escaped for good, to care for the teenage girl her sister left behind. But Jules is afraid. So afraid. Of her long-buried memories, of the old Mill House, of knowing that Nel would never have jumped. And most of all she’s afraid of the water, and the place they call the Drowning Pool . . .
This was a difficult book to rate. In the end, I had to give it four stars because it is very well-written, structured and plotted. And yet…
Here’s the thing. I didn’t enjoy it. In fact, it left me feeling quite down and a bit depressed. This is not the result I want from reading fiction, especially on holiday.
And so, it’s a hard book to rate. Honestly, I think the quality of the writing deserves a full five stars, but my enjoyment level, apart from revelling in the prose, was probably closer to two.
THE BUMBLEBEE FLIES ANYWAY
By Kate Bradbury
Genre: Non-fiction – Memoir- Gardening
Finding herself in a new home in Brighton, Kate Bradbury sets about transforming her decked, barren backyard into a beautiful wildlife garden. She documents the unbuttoning of the earth and the rebirth of the garden, the re-wilding of a tiny urban space.
Honestly, this was a cover pick. I was in my library, returning a few books and not intending to borrow any more (ha ha) when I spotted this sitting face forward on a shelf. I walked past and then stopped and turned back. I think it was that bumblebee, glowing so golden on a wintry grey July day. Although it was the cover image that caught my eye, the subtitle made me pick it up: A year of gardening and wildlife. I absolutely love any kind of gardening memoir. Add wildlife and it’s even more alluring. This one came on my winter holiday with me.
The blurb doesn’t really describe this book very well. It’s true as far as it goes, but there is a lot more here, from many passionate denunciations of the way we’re treating the planet and the wild things that share it with us, to detailed descriptions of the private lives of bumblebees, various birds and other wildlife, to accounts of the author’s own private life and difficulties during the time she was re-wilding her garden. I would have preferred a little more gardening and a little less about Kate’s personal struggles, but overall I thoroughly enjoyed this and it has really inspired me to do a little re-wilding in my own backyard, Australian style.
THE IMMORTAL PRUDENCE BLACKWOOD
By Stephanie Grey
Genre: Historical Murder Mystery/ Thriller
This was a digital ARC from Netgalley and I was looking forward to it. It’s the story of a search for a serial killer in Washington DC in 1947, with a twist: one of the detectives is Prudence Blackwood, an immortal who seeks vengeance for those murdered by history’s most notorious serial killers. That sounded like a terrific premise and should have made for a really fresh take on the thriller genre. Sadly, it didn’t work for me at all. It reads like a second or third draft rather than a polished novel. The story covers several timelines, and in each case it felt like I was reading a detailed outline rather than being thrust into the action. My emotions were never engaged with the characters either. And on a line-by-line basis, the phrasing is often quite awkward. A disappointment.
THE COLOUR OF BEE LARKHAM’S MURDER
By Sarah J Harris
Genre: Murder Mystery/Thriller
Jasper is not ordinary. In fact, he would say he is extraordinary…Synaesthesia paints the sounds of his world in a kaleidoscope of colours that no one else can see. But on Friday, he discovered a new colour – the colour of murder.He’s sure something has happened to his neighbour, Bee Larkham, but no-one else seems to be taking it as seriously as they should be. The knife and the screams are all mixed up in his head and he’s scared that he can’t quite remember anything clearly.
I had high expectations of this novel, and for the first third, Harris more than met them. I was confident I was reading a five-star book. I loved the character of Jasper and the way he sees the world. His relationships with his mysterious neighbour and his struggling father were interesting and unpredictable. The slow revelation of information was intriguing, the writing immaculate.
And then somehow the novel just bogged down. And it stayed mired through the entire middle section. There was too much repetition, too many scenes where nothing happened and we didn’t even learn more about the characters.
I persevered in the hope that it would get better. And it did. The final quarter was great, and I stayed up way past my bedtime to finish it. Looking at the novel as a whole, I think at least eighty of its over four hundred pages could simply be cut, and should have been. The novel would be much stronger and nothing important would be lost.
I’m not sure if the final revelation is meant to come as a surprise but if so, it was too heavily flagged, at least for an experienced reader of mysteries. I didn’t mind that, though. I just wish the novel as a whole had lived up to the promise of its first hundred pages.
By Agatha Christie
Genre: Murder Mystery
Miss Marple’s last case, Sleeping Murder, was written over 30 years before it was published and sees Miss Marple solve her final mystery.
Soon after Gwenda moved into her new home, odd things started to happen. Despite her best efforts to modernise the house, she only succeeded in dredging up the past. Worse, she felt an irrational sense of terror every time she climbed the stairs. In fear, Gwenda turns to Miss Marple to exorcise her ghosts. Between them, can they solve a crime committed many years before?
Well, it’s a Christie novel, so of course they can. I thoroughly enjoyed my re-read of this one, devouring it in one day! The first part is so much fun, following Gwenda as she arrives in England and finds the house, etc. Things have certainly changed a lot since the forties – a seven bedroom house is “not too big” (just average I guess. 😉) There are co incidences galore, but the novel is just so charming, I don’t care. It also gets so complicated at one point that I remember when I first read it I started making notes to try to get my head around it. But Christie irons it all out beautifully in the end as usual. One of my favourites, and a real treat for the final novel of Mission Marple.
GARDENING IN TIME
By Caroline Boisset
This was a charity shop find while I was on holiday: a hardcover gardening book for $2, a bargain I wan’t going to pass up. It was a very fast read, with more illustrations than text, and not much of the information was new to me. But it was enjoyable and did give me a few ideas and things to think about when planning future plantings. It gets four stars because I think it would be really useful for someone who hasn’t had much experience with planning for seasonal effects and hasn’t already read thousands of pages on the subject.
So that’s my month of Murder and Gardening. Not too bad overall: an average rating of only 3 stars, but with four 4-star books. What did you read in July? Any 5-star recommendations?
June was a pretty slow reading month for me. I read five books and began two others. My ratings for the five books I completed only averaged out at 3.4 stars, so it wasn’t a spectacular rating month either, although I did have one 5-star read. Here’s what I read:
My rating: ⭐⭐⭐1/2
I listened to half of this and read the second half. The wonderful Emilia Fox does a great job on the audio book. I hadn’t remembered how short this novel is! I really enjoyed it all, especially because we see so much of what Miss Marple is thinking, and how bored she is with nothing to investigate! She is very aware that her main interest in life is solving mysteries, whether it be small matters or multiple murders. Christie lays her clues and her traps with as much mastery as ever. I remember the first time I read this, she totally fooled me. A real highlight of Mission Marple.
My rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
I thoroughly enjoyed the sequel to One Word Kill. My full review is here. But basically, Limited Wish is a sequel that doesn’t drop the ball. In fact, it keeps several balls spinning and then catches them all and takes a bow. The third book, Dispel Illusion, will be coming out in November. I’m expecting a satisfying conclusion to the series.
My rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
My gushing review is here. I loved this book beyond all reason – Augusta and Parfait stole my heart. Through their eyes, Joanna Glen takes us from suburban England to Burundi and Spain and also deep into the territory of the heart. Look, just read it, okay?
My rating: ⭐
No, I wasn’t too impressed with this non-fiction book about writing. The material was too basic for the premise, the examples weren’t very good and it was too rambling. If you want to know more, my review is here.
My rating: ⭐⭐⭐
This one wins for best cover of the month, but the story inside is just okay. I think the premise of a detective with a clockwork leg investigating the murder of a druid in a steampunk world, with Fae, is fantastic, but the execution was a bit lacking. I enjoyed it, but there were quite a few flaws, mainly in the pacing. My review is here.
I also began two other books:
The Age of Arthur by John Morris (British history) and The Colour of Bee Larkham’s Murder by Sarah J. Harris (general fiction). I’m enjoying both of them so far.
So that’s it for my June reading. How about yours? What did you read last month? Did you have a great reading experience or a so-so one? Any 5-star books to recommend? One-stars to avoid? Let’s have a conversation.
I read ten books in April, all fiction: eight novels and two novellas. And I didn’t abandon any of the books I started. It was a very good reading month, with ratings ranging from 3 stars to 5 stars, with an average of 4 stars for the month.
What I read (ranked from lowest to highest rated):
1. LEVERAGE IN DEATH (In Death #47) by JD Robb
Crime Fiction, Futuristic, 3 stars
This brings me up to date with this series, but this one was a disappointment. In any long series, there will inevitably be highs and lows. It wasn’t a terrible book, but the characters seemed caricatures, each one just a set of their typical quirks and no more. The mystery wasn’t up to par, either, and the perpetrators and their motives just didn’t convince me. Still, a quick read with some fun to be had. Not recommended unless you’re already a fan and/or want to complete the series.