February 2017 Books

Second month of the year went pretty well. I read quite a bit and some decent stuff. Now we are in my favorite month of the year and there’s some good things coming out I’ve been waiting for, so things are exciting.

Here’s the list:

February: (18 books)

  1. Managed – Kristen Callihan^
  2. Ransom – Rachel Shurig^
  3. Good Boy – Sarina Bowen & Elle Kennedy^
  4. Hard Hitter – Sarina Bowen^
  5. The Goal – Elle Kennedy^
  6. By Your Side – Kasie West^
  7. Attraction – Penny Reid^
  8. Heat – Penny Reid^
  9. Capture – Penny Reid^
  10. Blind Attraction – Eden Summers^
  11. Try – Ella Frank^
  12. Bittersweet – Sarina Bowen^
  13. The Playboy – Madeline Ash^
  14. Her Secret Prince – Madeline Ash^
  15. The Way We Fall – Cassia Leo^
  16. My Life Next Door – Huntley Fitzpatrick^
  17. Caraval – Stephanie Garber
  18. Heartless – Winter Renshaw

Standouts from this month include Managed, the second in the VIP series, which I enjoyed. Good Boy, which is the third in a series I adore, this was cute but not as good as the first two. Hard Hitter the second in a series, which I liked much better than the first. By Your Side, the newest book by Kasie West, one of my faves and this was fantabulous. My Life Next Door, a very sweet book in the style of Kasie West, so I will try another by Huntley Fitzpatrick and, finally, Caraval. This is a book recommendation I got over a year ago and I have waited and waited for it to come out. It was very good. Not excellent, but it could have fallen victim to The Oversell. I hate that. Still, it was a worthy read.

And there you have it. My February books. I am at 45 books on the year, currently on pace to read 270. Since my goal is 175, I’m not too concerned. Goodreads tells me I am 17 books ahead of schedule. I could technically take the month off and still be on pace. But I won’t. See in you April!

Minnesota Book Awards

I’ve told various people snippets, but here is the whole story. The awards are arranged and sponsored by the Friends of the St. Paul Public Library, I follow them on Twitter and saw, last September, I believe, a tweet how they were looking for judges. I checked into it and you need no special training or skill, just a love of books and reading. I applied and was chosen.

There are many categories to choose from, I chose Genre Fiction, but there is also, teen, middle grade and children’s (those are all fiction and NF both) there are picture books, adult non fiction, adult literary fiction, poetry, and….that might be it. I could look but whatever. You select which categories interest you most and they try to match you with one of your top two choices. I got my first choice.

There are also two types of judges. Preliminary round and final round. I chose to be a preliminary round judge as those are the ones they have trouble staffing. Preliminary judges will read every single submitted book in their category. Some categories have a lot of entries. My category, genre fic, is one of the biggest, annually receiving 35 books on average. Which is a lot for full length novels. Because the judges have to read them all that scares a lot of people off. Not me, clearly, but others. So I said I’d be happy to do this because I read a lot anyway. My major miscalculation was not realizing that genre fic is generally a euphemism for “mystery” I read a lot of genre fiction, but mystery is the one genre I do not like. At all. I didn’t think it through. But, lesson learned.

After being selected, I began receiving the books shipped to my home, a few at a time. Then I read, while taking notes and filling out the form the Friends supply with each book. While the form is not required, it was very helpful to me because you read so many and they tend to blur together.

My category ended up with 25 books, which is considerably lower than expected. I was okay with it only because I was sick of reading mysteries. Of the 25, 20 were straight mysteries. Yuck. The other five were a mix of other genres.

On January 28, about four months after applying, we met to do the judging. The panel for genre fiction was three people, me and two others. Our goal was to whittle our 25 books down to four choices. We had three hours to get this done. If you talked to me about this before the 28th, you probably heard some negativity from me, I wasn’t having a ton of fun reading all these mysteries and wasn’t enjoying the process. Toward the end I read all the best books and then after the 28th, I was thrilled. I loved the judging process, it was everything I thought it would be. Talking books with other book lovers, but knowing we are expected to be judgmental, and not saccharine, made the discussion more fun. It took us an hour to get the first book decided. Then we picked the next three over the next hour and were done in two. That’s pretty great.

I was worried my picks wouldn’t line up because I’m not a mystery reader. I needn’t have worried. I read enough that I can tell a good book from a bad one regardless of what the book is about. Maybe that sounds egotistical. It isn’t. I really am good at judging what makes a good book. I had a top 5 from the 25 I read. 3 of my top five were also in the other judges top 5s. And the other two were high maybes for both of them. So I was right on target with this, which was great.

If you are curious about the books we read, you can find the list here. It was the first 25 I read in January. Listed alphabetically by title.

The four we chose to be finalists are:

The Heavens May Fall by Allen Eskens

The Born and the Made by Robert Spande

Rise of the Spring Tide by James Stitt

Stealing the Countess by David Housewright

Rise of the Spring Tide isn’t a mystery, it has elements of mystery but it is more of a fantasy novel/historical fiction, I guess. It’s a different book. The other three are mysteries. I like them all. My number one pick out of all 25 was The Heavens May Fall. If you are going to try one, that would be the one. It’s terrific. Just an all around good book. Other honorable mentions:

Sagar’s Tale by James Stitt (this is actually a companion book to Rise of the Spring Tide, a precursor novel, so if you read that one, read this too.)

Salem’s Cipher by Jess Lourey

Little Girl Gone by Gerry Schmidt

Demon in the Hole by Richard A Thompson (this was my #2 pick overall, but they both had it lower on their lists, so it didn’t get in the top four but I think it should have. It’s a thriller, with mystery elements and very well written, I would recommend this strongly as well.)

That’s about it. Like I said, I am not hugely into mystery. Now, the final round judges do their work. They will take the four books we recommended and narrow them down to the winner of the award this year.

When I do this next year, that is what I’d like to try next. I’d be very interested in choosing a winner and only having to read four books that you already expect to be good. I’d also like to try again in a different category. The point being, I’d be happy to be a book judge for years to come.

And that is the whole story. It was a great process and learning experience for me, in addition to being a wonderful and important thing to do. For the love of reading.

January 2017 Books

Starting off this year in an unusual way, by reading a whole bunch of books I would never read otherwise. Stay tuned for the blog about the MN Book Awards.

Meanwhile, here is January’s totals, my biggest January by far (since I’ve been keeping track, at least.)

January:

  1. Black Otter Bay – Vincent Wycko
  2. Boondoggle – Mark Rapacz
  3. The Born and the Made – Robert Spande
  4. Crosshairs on Castro – John Harrigan
  5. Dead Too Long – Ron Handberg
  6. Demon in the Hole – Richard A. Thompson
  7. The Devereaux Deity – Steve McEllistrem
  8. Goodbye to the Dead – Brian Freeman
  9. Hard to Breathe – Tom Combs
  10. The Heavens May Fall – Allen Eskens
  11. In Plain Sight – Greg Gardner
  12. Interlocking Monsters – Heidi Arneson
  13. Little Girl Gone – Gerry Schmidt
  14. Marsco Triumphant – James A. Zarzana
  15. The Penderghast Puzzle Protectors – Julie Seedorf
  16. Rise of the Spring Tide – James Stitt
  17. Sagar’s Tale – James Stitt^
  18. Salem’s Cipher – Jess Lourey
  19. Sarah’s Sound – Gary Crask
  20. The Sixth Idea – P.J. Tracy
  21. South Texas Tangle – T.K. O’Neill^
  22. Stealing the Countess – David Housewright
  23. The Truth About Mallory Bain – Clare Hexom
  24. Tyranny Begins – Elizabeth Hatcher True
  25. Warrior’s Revenge – Sherry Roberts
  26. The Hating Game – Sally Thorne^
  27. Idol – Kristen Callihan^

So the first 25 were not of my choosing, they were contenders for the book awards, so I had to read them. I don’t recall, exactly, in which order I did read them, so they are alphabetical by title. Primarily these are mystery novels, which is not my cup of tea. However there were some I liked. The best, IMO, was The Heavens May Fall by Allen Eskens. It was a really great story and I’d recommend it to anyone. The mystery is the least interesting part of the story. I liked several others, but I’ll go into them in more detail on my other post.

After all my forced reading, I needed a treat. The Hating Game is a book that came out last year. I saw it then and was interested but never got around to it. Then I saw it on at least five different lists as one of the best books of the year for 2016. So I knew I had to read it. I chose it as the first book I read of the year, of my choosing, with the hope it would be good. It was FANTASTIC. I loved it. I was thrilled to read it and cannot believe it is the author’s first book. Well done, Sally Thorne. I also enjoyed Idol, but it didn’t compare.

Overall an interesting and unusual month of books for me, but I kind of like that. Shakes me from my rut. I’ve read 27 books with a goal of 175. At this pace, I’d read 324, so wow, that’s weird. We shall see how it shakes out.

2016 Books Recap

I really get excited about this post.  I don’t even care that is dorky. I just love it.

It does take me a long time to write, mostly because I deliberate and change my mind and then, of course, I have to crunch the numbers (nerd alert!). But it is fun. This was an interesting year for books for a number of reasons. I either read a ton each month or very little, there wasn’t much middle ground. Reflecting, my instinct is to say this was a good year for books, a lot that I enjoyed, more than the flipside.

But, before we get to the books, let’s do the numbers.

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2016 Statistics

Total number of books read in 2016: 169 (20% increase from 2015!)

Average number of books read per month: 14.08

Average number of books read per week: 3.25

Month with the most books read: This honor goes to August and her 37 books! That is the most books I’ve read in a month in my life.

Month with the least books read: February, with a whopping 2 books, my lowest total since keeping track.

Best Book I read in 2016:

November 9 by Colleen Hoover. I read this book, actually on January 1 of 2016. When I closed the book after the final page I said, out loud, to myself, “well it’s all downhill from here, just read the best book of the year on the first day.” I tried to hope I was wrong, but I was not. There were a lot of good books (wait until you see the runners up) but this one was the best book of the year.

 

Runners up for best book in 2016: (in no order)

It Ends With Us by Colleen Hoover, this book was my chance at knocking her other book out of first place. And while I liked this a great deal, it was not as good as November 9.

The 5 Stages of Falling in Love by Rachel Higginson, man oh man did I love this book, also read in January, and I considered it for best book, but at the end of the day, it didn’t win. Though I did discover a new favorite author.

Your Perfect Life by Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke. This was a really different book about two friends, complete opposites who wake up in each other’s lives. A Freaky Friday story. I really liked it a great deal

Maybe in Another Life by Taylor Jenkins Reid, oh new favorite author, write faster please. I’ve now read her entire backlist and can’t wait for her new book this year. This one, a Sliding Doors type of story was so well done. It is perfectly tied with the next one on this list.

One True Loves by Taylor Jenkins Reid, this one is about choosing between the two great loves of one’s life and honestly, I just loved the hell out of this book. If I had only read this one, or only read Maybe, one of them could have one, but the pair together they canceled each other out for the win.

Swear on This Life by Renee Carlino. Oh my! Another favorite author!?! Yes indeed. This was a really interesting premise and it is just beautifully executed. I liked it enough to read her backlist and, naturally, found another that I loved this much, see the next entry on the list.

Before We Were Strangers by Renee Carlino. Yes, this book , about college sweethearts reuniting on Craigslist, is amazing. It and Swear on this Life both suffer from the Taylor Jenkins Reid syndrome. They canceled each other out by both being equally awesome.

Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy. This was not something I usually read but it came into my orbit and I idly picked it up. So glad I did. It was incredible. Such a great coming of age story about a teen girl in the south. Loved it.

Because of Miss Bridgerton by Julia Quinn. Ms. Quinn has long been on my favorite author list. She wrote one of my favorite historical series of all time, the Bridgertons. With this book, she begins a new series, starring the generation before the family in my favorite series. I never expected to love it, but I think it might be better than the original. Shh! Don’t tell her I said that.

Paper Princess by Erin Watt. This book came highly recommended. Usually that is a giant no-no in my world because I end up being disappointed. Not so here. I loved everything about this book, especially the slow build. The second one was also good, though less so and the third, well, that should appear elsewhere on this list.

My Life with the Walter Boys by Aly Novak. I don’t really remember how I found her but I read The Heartbreakers by her, which was amazing, then I started this, her other book and it was even better. I love it, I wish she had a larger backlist to read. Now I just wait until she writes another.

 

Worst Book I read in 2016:

This was a tough call. There were some terrible books this year. But ultimately, it has to go to The Sassy Belles by Beth Albright. It won because it was actually a mystery novel masquerading as a romance. While there is a whole genre of romantic suspense, that was NOT THIS. This was a literal mystery novel with occasional nods to some wan feelings between the leads. Ooh it was awful.

Runners up for worst book in 2016: (these aren’t getting a description, just trust me)

Flat Out Sexy by Erin McCarthy

The Mighty Storm by Samantha Towle

School Ties by Tamsin Parker

Random Acts of Crazy by Julia Kent

Trust Honor Love by J. M. Witt

Long Hard Ride by Lorelei James

The Five Deaths of Roxanne Love by Erin Quinn

Total number of NEW books read: 160 (94.7% of the books read in 2016, 20% increase from 2015)

Total Rereads: 9 books (5.3% of the books read in 2016, 80% decrease over 2015)

Total number of standalone books (do not occur in a series): 52 (30.7% of books read in 2016, 17.5% increase from 2015)

Best New Series:

The Ivy Years by Sarina Bowen. It is hard for me to believe that I had never read a Sarina Bowen before this year. I have now read everything she has written. I love her. This series I could not stop reading. It was unbelievable. I am now reading her spinoff series. Loved it.

Runners up for best new series:

The Easy Series by Kristen Proby. Great new series set in New Orleans.

Fusion Series by Kristen Proby. I think I like this one slightly more than the Easy books, but they are so close, they canceled each other out, the TJR syndrome.

Hudson Valley Series by Alice Clayton. Alice is a longtime fave of mine and I enjoy all of her books, but boy, she keeps getting better and better. These books are so smart and funny.

Kingston Ale House Series by A. J. Pine. This was a new discovery where each book gets better than the last. I can’t wait for the next one.

San Francisco Series by Karina Halle. Truly this series missed being best by a hair. In fact, as the author doesn’t list them as a series, but instead as standalones (they aren’t, I mean they are, but this is totally a series, and I had to make up the name), that hurt their chances. But these are great books, starting with The Pact.

 

Most surprising book:

That seriously has to go to a duology, Him & Us by Sarina Bowen and Elle Kennedy. This is what happens when two authors I love team up. I don’t often, in fact, never before this, read male/male romance. It doesn’t appeal at all. But these two authors are so talented they turned the story of Wesley and Jamie (Jamie is a guy, part of the surprise for me was because I didn’t actually know this was M/M romance) into one of my favorite love stories of the year.

Runner up for most surprising:

Misterby Lauren Blakely. Okay, this book probably isn’t good enough to make the “best of the year” list but the thing is, I read a LOT of romance novels. Because of that, I am so rarely surprised by them. This one, one of the best I’ve read in years. I just loved it. I actually was going to put it on the best list, but really, it was just the (second) most surprising thing I read, and the fact it was also one of the best? Just makes it even better.

Biggest Disappointment:

New Leaf by Catherine Andersen. I have read every single book she has written. Most of them many times. I own every book she has written, which is rare, even for me, it is safe to say that I love her. She tends to write these sweeping series and I love them, but I didn’t like this at all. That has never happened with her before. They are not all an A+ but this was more like an F. I could have put it on the worst list, but it disappointed me more than I disliked it.

Runners up for biggest disappointment:

The Wall of Winnipeg and Me by Mariana Zapata. This was a highly acclaimed book. I read it in August. It ended up being on multiple best of the year lists and I am astonished. It was not great. It wasn’t bad, it was just plain boring. What a dull, bland, unexceptional book.

First Star I See Tonight by Susan Elizabeth Phillips. At first I thought this book suffered from my own too high expectations, a favored series that she is revisiting after YEARS away but I don’t think that is it. Her last book was an entry in this same category in 2014. If it takes you two years to write a book, they need to be better than this. They used to be, so now I think it is her, not me.

Twisted Palace by Erin Watt. The conclusion to the Royals trilogy, which started with Paper Princess, on my best list (I told you to watch for this one), I so wanted this to be a great finish to a solid series, but it was not. It was, in fact, such a disappointment that it knocked the series out of the running for best series.

Total number of print books read in 2015: 28 (16.6% of books read in 2016, 12.1% decrease since 2015, 22.1% decrease since 2014)

Total number of electronic books read in 2015: 141 (83.4% of books read in 2016, 12.1% increase over 2015, 22.1% increase since 2014)

Most surprising statistic: This year I have to go with the electronic resources. I’m surprised by how much I prefer it, but I am surprised that it only increases by 10% each year. Feels like a great deal more than that to me.

My final thoughts? It is strange when I look back year after year, to see what I thought about various things. But I love having this record of my thoughts and my love of books. I also feel like this was a strong year of books for me, so I was surprised how many dislikes and disappointments there ended up being. I guess the wonderful books outweighed the terrible ones. That’s a good sign. And another reason to keep on reading. Onward to 2017!

Monthly lists:

January

February

March

April

May

June

July

August

September

October

November

December

Annual Recaps:

2015 recap

2014 recap

2013 recap

Year 3 of Movies

We did much better this year! We actually saw 12 movies, but we only saw them in nine months, so that’s a bit odd. Here’s the 2016 recap of our movies.

January – None, there was nothing out we wanted to see, so we started off 0 for 1.

February – We saw Deadpool, which we both really liked, it’s very different for the “superhero” genre and it is NOT FOR CHILDREN, but it is a good flick.

March – This month, we couldn’t find hardly anything we wanted to see, but I wanted to go see a movie ON my birthday, so I ended up picking London Has Fallen with Gerard Butler and Aaron Eckhart, which was better than expected. I do like movies about badass guys, apparently. Mom liked it too. Then, naturally, after my birthday, out came Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. We saw this and it was okay. DC has a long way to go if they are going to catch Marvel,  I vote for them sticking with TV, they’re pretty good at that.

April – In April, we wanted to see different movies, so instead of compromising we just saw both. I chose My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2, which was awesome, easily as adorable as the first. Mom loved it, too. And Mom chose, Doris, which looked far better on spec than in execution. Neither of us liked this much, just okay.

May – Ah, May, the month in which I saw Captain America Civil War. If you know me at all, you know I’m a Cap fanatic, so for about three years I’d been waiting patiently for this movie, the follow up to Winter Soldier, one of the best superhero movies ever made, and, let me tell you, it did not disappoint. It is easily as good as Winter Soldier. Maybe 1% less good. I loved it. Mom loved it. Audiences worldwide loved it. And Captain America wins again. #TeamCap

Also released this month was the newest entry into the X-Men franchise, another favorite of mine, Apocalypse. This was another very good movie. It wasn’t perfect, but super solid. Mom is not into X-Men, but went along and she liked it as well.

June – Me Before You. I had read the book and made Mom read it, too. I don’t think it is integral, and I didn’t love the book, honestly. But I really liked the movie, it was very well executed, one of those rare instances when the movie wins. Mom agreed here.

July – Jason Bourne. Mom and I are both big Jason Bourne fans (again with the badass men thing) so this was a no brainer. It holds up. A very solid entry into this franchise.

August – Again with the superhero movies, we saw Suicide Squad. It was okay, not fantastic, but a fairly decent movie. Once again, DC just missed the mark. Mom had no prior knowledge of the characters or anything about the Suicide Squad and she enjoyed it, didn’t love it, but was entertained.

September – Bridget Jones Baby, um was there a world where we don’t go see this? No, there isn’t. And you know what? We loved it. Both of us. It was utterly charming and delightful. A fitting end to this story.

October – I’ve got nothing. I didn’t write anything down, and can’t remember. So either we saw nothing or saw something unremarkable, in which case, it doesn’t bear remarking.

November – Man, this was a good year for superhero films! We saw Doctor Strange. Another excellent entry from Marvel. This was extremely well done. I’m now very invested in the Doctor Strange universe.

December – we ran out of time and didn’t see anything this month, which turned out okay because that landed us at 12. Although Lane and I did go see Assassin’s Creed (see badass men, above, and also because, well, Michael Fassbender). We both liked it a great deal.

There you go. Another year of movies and we continue, already having completed January in 2017. I’ll let you know next year.

December 2016 Books

And here we are, in the final month of the year. With only 11 books to go to read my total, did I make it? Are you on the edge of your seat?

December:

  1. This is Where it Ends – Marieke Nijkamp^
  2. One True Loves – Taylor Jenkins Reid^
  3. Forever Interrupted – Taylor Jenkins Reid^
  4. What Light – Jay Asher^
  5. The Autobiography of Santa Claus – As Told to Jeff Guinn*

No, I did not. 169 books on the year, which is certainly an impressive accomplishment, I’m just sorry to come up only 6 short and know that I could have easily made this goal. I’ve decided to shoot for the same total next year, but I’m losing a whole month of reading, so we shall see what happens.

The Autobiography of SC is one of my all time favorite books and one I’ve read year after year after year and it never stops being old, or, more accurately, it keeps being magical.

What Light is the new book from Jay Asher, I liked this one. It seemed different from his other books, but I enjoyed it.

Two more from Taylor Jenkins Reid, who is on my favorite author list. She’s got a new one coming out soon, so I wanted to finish her backlist. One True Loves was exceptional. Forever Interrupted was not as good as that, but still good alone, if you read that first, you’d probably really like it.

This is Where it Ends was a fictional account of a school shooting. It was tough to read, at parts, but it was really beautifully executed and kind of haunting and sad all at once. I liked it a great deal. Far more than I expected to.

There you have it, the end to another successful year of reading. Stay Tuned for the annual recap, aka, my favorite post of the year.

November 2016 Books

And I thought October was a poor showing!!!

  1. School Ties – Tamsen Parker^
  2. Twisted Palace – Erin Watt^
  3. Thirteen Reasons Why – Jay Asher^

At least I have a good idea why I only read three. In November I started reading books for the MN Book Awards, but I made the executive decision not to count them among my annual totals. This is because they are not books I chose to read, they are books I have to read and I want these lists to reflect my reading choices.

Therefore, while I did read some in November and December (and possibly October) I will do the whole list in January.

Now onto my November books, School Ties was a highly touted new novel that I hated. Twisted Palace was a conclusion to a trilogy and while I loved the first two parts, I really didn’t care for this ending. And 13 Reasons Why was a book by an author I am going to hear speak this spring, and while I loved his other books, this one never appealed to me, but it is his most popular work, so I finally read it. I did not like it at all. So I guess this was a disappointing month, no good books and reading books I didn’t want to read for the book awards. Ah well, the good thing is there is always next month. This brought me to 164 out of 175.