2015 was… honestly, it wasn’t a great year for me as a reader. This wasn’t for lack of good books to read. It was more a problem of me being too deeply involved in editing my own work to be able to let go of that critical mindset, relax, and enjoy someone else’s words and worlds. My DNF pile grew almost as much as my “finished” pile did this year. That doesn’t mean those books will never have another chance to thrill me, but it did mean it wasn’t the right time for me to enjoy them.
That’s more than a little heartbreaking for a reader, but it is what it is.
I was terribly excited about Anna and the French Kiss after hearing nothing but rave reviews, but found that I really couldn’t get hooked by the problems of an average person at a fancy boarding school when my brain generally craves magic, epic adventure, and situations with higher stakes than “not getting the cute boy.” Does that sound harsh? It shouldn’t. We all have different tastes, and contemporary romance generally doesn’t suit mine. This one seemed like a well-written book, it just didn’t appeal to me. And that’s perfectly fine. I’ll probably give it another shot when I’m in the mood for something lighter, then pass it along to someone who will cherish it.
(That said, I finished my John Green kick this year with An Abundance of Katherines. He’s as contemporary an author as they come, and I adore the humour and insightfulness in his work. Really wonderful and entertaining stuff.)
I was bouncing up and down over the concept and back cover copy of Dorothy Must Die, but didn’t make it more than four or five chapters before deciding it wasn’t for me. I guess it’s like dating. Sometimes two very nice and attractive people go out, and the chemistry’s not there. It’s no one’s fault, and it’s probably best to move on rather than forcing it.
There were plenty of great reading experiences this year, too. Stephen King is one author I can always count on to grip me to the point where I neglect my family and housework, and Revival and Mr Mercedes were no exceptions. I actually preferred the latter, though it was a thriller and not a horror novel, which was a pleasant surprise.
Sarah J. Maas is another author who consistently floors me with her talent. Crown of Midnight (book two of the Throne of Glass series) didn’t thrill me the way book one did (and had one moment toward the end that made me feel a little cheated as a reader), but her writing was gorgeous enough to get me through. And then there was A Court of Thorns and Roses, where I got that writing I love, a big, beautiful fairy tale retelling, characters I liked better than any she’d created before, and everything I could have asked for in a book. HIGHLY recommended!
The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black was a fantastic read. I enjoyed Tithe several years ago when I read it, and this was even better, with characters I found more relatable.
Krista Walsh has been busy with her Cadis trilogy this year. I had the privilege of beta reading both Bloodlore and Blightlore, and they both sit in well-deserved places of honour on my bookshelf. I adore Fantasy that doesn’t try to be self-important, but focuses on telling a damned good story with characters I like (and good writing is essential, but pretentious language can take a flying leap out the window), and these fit the bill perfectly.
The Book Thief was absolutely one of my top picks this year. I was reading it while we were moving, and it was hard to pay attention to checking off numbers as the movers brought things in because all I wanted to do was read. This is a really beautiful book on every level, and though the movie was okay, it is NOTHING compared to the book. Read it. Read it now. If you’ve only seen the movie, you have no idea how amazing the story is.
The Viper and the Urchin was a gorgeous indie surprise, and one I can’t say enough positive things about. Celine Jeanjean’s book should be getting far more attention than it is, and it kind of ticks me off that no one has heard about it. Great writing, an interesting new world, fascinating characters that aren’t anything like what you expect them to be… it’s a quick read and a wild, fascinating ride, and everyone should be reading it.
The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer (Michelle Hodkin): I got this one from the library, and in spite of hating the creepy, controlling, stalkerish ways of the love interest, I really enjoyed the story. I was a little disappointed when he didn’t turn out to be a bad guy, but you can’t have everything. 🙂
I, Ripper (Stephen Hunter) was another library borrow and incredibly good until the end, which got a bit contrived and weird for me. Still, a really interesting take on the Jack the Ripper story. Would recommend.
Hollow City (Miss Peregrine #2) by Ransom Riggs was interesting, but like the first book the pictures were the best part of the story. It feels like the stories were cobbled together around cool pictures. That’s fine, but the seams really showed in this one, like the story was a slave to whatever photos seemed coolest. I liked the first better, and probably won’t finish the series.
I tried to get into a little Urban Fantasy/Paranormal Romance this year, but Guilty Pleasures (Anita Blake #1 by the highly esteemed Laurall K Hamilton) didn’t do anything for me, so I’ll be looking elsewhere.
I know I’m missing some books that are on my Kindle and therefore not staring me in the face right now, and I apologize to them. This is one of the reasons I tend to order my favourites in paperback. It makes me happy to see them on my shelf, and it helps me remember them.
In non-fiction, re-reading Save the Cat and 2K to 10K (Brett Snyder and Rachel Aaron, respectively) was a good idea. One on story structure, one on productivity, both very helpful. For Love or Money (Susan Kaye Quinn) was a great read and an excellent follow-up to The Indie Author Survival Guide, which I also re-read to brush up on the basics. Definitely read the IASG first if you want to pick those two up. Write Your Novel from the Middle by James Scott Bell was an interesting read, but not anything I hadn’t heard elsewhere. Still, a good place to start looking at story structure if you’re looking for that. I like to read as much on craft as I can. Even if it doesn’t all stick or work for me, I’ll usually find something useful or inspiring in every book I read. I’ll definitely check out more by that author.
I also read Mindset by Carol Dweck, Ph. D. this year. It’s fascinating book, and was often a slap to the face as I saw how solidly I’ve spent my life mired in the fixed mindset (hint: this is not a good thing, and it explains all of my issues with perfectionism). If you’re the kind of person who hesitates to try new things, has a fear of failure, or is an excessive perfectionist–or if you live with one of these people–I highly recommend giving this one a read.
Is Everyone Having Fun Without Me? by Mindy Kaling was a really fun book. Sometimes non-fiction (and especially hilarious autobiographies) are exactly what I need to pull me out of a reading slump, and this one did it for me early this month. The essay bits were my favourite. Bless you, Mindy! This book now sits proudly on my shelf with Yes Please and Bossypants.
So no, I didn’t manage anything like a hundred book challenge this year. But then, I never meant to. Right now I need reading to be something that I can relax and take pleasure in as I learn to get back to being just a reader sometimes. This means not forcing myself through books I’m not connecting with, and not feeling guilty about that. It means springing for the paperback sometimes when everything starts to look the same on my Kindle (particularly when my brain fog is bad and I can’t focus, having a paper book is really helpful. Of course, carrying them around hurts my back, so…). It means taking breaks between books if I need to, and easing off on reading when work pressure is too high.
It’s a hard place for a lifelong reader to be, but I’m getting back to finding my groove. You can’t be a writer without being a reader, and you can’t fill your bucket from a dry well.
So what’s up next? I’ve just started Crewel by Gennifer Albin, and it looks quite promising. Queen of the Tearling is still on the TBR list, and trying to get back to Days of Blood and Starlight (temporarily on hold as it wasn’t quite hitting the spot). I’m also expecting a new Stephen King book for Christmas, and asked for the Positive Traits Thesaurus and Negative Traits Thesaurus (Ackerman & Puglisi), so we’ll see what happens there.
What were your best reading moments this year? Please share in the comments!