2010: Recap of My Reading Year Part 2

Continuing my month-by-month recap of 2010 (the first third of the year covered here):

May

Amongst the ten books I read in May was the excellent “Magic Bleeds” by Ilona Andrews.   This series has grown in leaps and bounds – I remember not being impressed by the first book way back when, but am rather glad I persevered.  I think if I had to name my top three UF series, it would be this one, together with Patricia Briggs‘ Mercy books and Seanan McGuire‘s Toby Daye series.

Nothing else stands out during May.  Scanning the titles I’ve jotted down show that I ranked all the rest as “Glad I read”, which is pretty much what it says – I’m glad I read the book, it wasn’t a waste of time (or money!) but it’s not one that really stood out for me.

Oh, I’ve experimented with a new grading system this year (it was a very quiet experiment and I don’t think I mentioned it anywhere!), moving on from letter grades (A, B, C, etc) to a statement-based one (“Glad I read”, “Wish I’d passed”, and so on).  This was because I never really used the full extent of the letter-based grading scale, and wanted to try something more meaningful as opposed to marking everything a B grade (obviously I’ve just moved on to “Glad I read” instead).

Seriously, I’ve found this more useful, but I’m thinking of moving to the equivalent of 1 to 5 stars in the New Year because I’ve started a Goodreads account (err… one review and one friend – hi Estara! – at last count, so don’t all rush over at once).  We’ll see – I don’t shout very loudly about what grades I give books and it took me a couple of years to actually change my grading system, so it’ll probably continue being rather unobtrusive here on the blog…

June

After that slight detour into my grading system, back to books read… I read ten books this month, unusually two re-reads amongst them, though very different ones – Louisa May Alcott‘s “Eight Cousins” and Sharon Lee & Steve Miller‘s “Conflict of Honors”.

“Eight Cousins” was inspired by Angie’s review of its sequel “Rose in Bloom”, and it was fascinating to re-read this as an adult – it is very much a product of its times (1875), for example, when talking about what a woman’s role should be, but at the same time, surprisingly modern in its views on, say, fresh air and exercise.

“Conflict of Honors”, on the other hand, is very much a comfort read for me, and re-reading this book straight after the authors’ latest release “Mouse & Dragon” gave me a slightly different perspective – I’ve always loved how the authors somehow manage to combine space opera with a fantasy of manners, but this time around, having just read the prequel, the events just prior to the start of this book (avoiding spoilers!) felt more immediate and hard-hitting, so there was more of an emotional impact.

New-to-me author – I read Meg Burden‘s “Northlander”, again based on an Angie rec, which turned out to be the type of coming-of-age YA fantasy that presses all the right buttons for me.  Loved.

Oh, and I think I may have finally kicked my Laurell K Hamilton‘s Anita Blake habit this month as well.

July

There were some good ones in the nine books I read this month.  I remember very much enjoying Julia Quinn‘s “What Happened in London”, even though I actually had to go and look up the book to try and remember what the plot was about.  Ahem.  I do recall liking it very much at the time, and thinking it had her trademark Quinn humour.

I loved Sarah Rees Brennan‘s “The Demon’s Covenant”, so much so it was one of the very few books I actually blogged about this year – bearing in mind how much I blogged this year, you know I really really liked it if I posted about it.  Oh, and I enjoyed Kelley Armstrong‘s latest Otherworld novel, “Walking the Witch”, though points deducted for yet another blasted cliffhanger ending.  Seriously.  I have stopped reading series before because of cliffhanger endings – I completely detest them.

August

Wrapping up a post that turned out to be slightly longer than anticipated – I read another nine books in August, including my first books from Carina Press, which has been an excellent addition to the epublishing scene.  I loved both Josh Lanyon‘s “Fair Game” and new-to-me author Harper Fox‘s “Life After Joe” – Josh Lanyon was already an autobuy m/m romance author, and Harper Fox’s lyrical writing and fantastic sense of place makes her another one for me.

I also got around to reading my second Steve Kluger, “My Most Excellent Year”, which was just as good as the first – a very feel-good book.

And I finally read Suzanne Collins‘ Hunger Games trilogy, all three in a month – it didn’t exactly disappoint, but I’m not entirely sure it lived up to all the hype.  On the other hand, what book could?  I ended up liking the middle book, “Catching Fire”, best, but all three were very good summer reading.

So that was the middle third of 2010 – final four months next…

2010: Recap of My Reading Year Part 1

I’ve done an annual recap of books read for the past few years running – this time around, it’s taken a bit more than usual to start writing this (possibly tied to my general lack of blogging motivation this year, you think?).  But I like revisiting my reading year – both when writing the recap and also when re-reading them months later – so, well, here we go.

January

I read 11 books in January, and actually, looking at the list of books read, there were some very good ones to start off the year.  I finished Diana Gabaldon‘s “An Echo in the Bone”, mainly by dipping in and out over a period of several weeks, which in hindsight, was the best way to finish such a massive tome.  The story was so sprawling and epic that I’ve no memory as to what the book is about now, except that I enjoyed it immensely and it had a dratted cliffhanger ending.

As for new-to-me authors, I read Sean Kennedy‘s “Tigers and Devil” (m/m romance) after seeing it appear on so many Top Books of 2009 lists, and yes, that was totally well-deserved.  I loved the Australian setting and even got to grips with Australian Rules football – I think.   Steve Kluger‘s hilariously funny yet sweet “Almost Like Being in Love” (rec’d by Nath) was another hit.  And I read my first Sarah Dessen (YA contemporary), “The Truth About Forever”, which was very definitely not my last Dessen of the year.

February

14 books read during February – unfortunately, none really worked for me until the end of the month, when I read and loved both Jacqueline Carey‘s “Naamah’s Kiss” (the first in her latest Kushiel fantasy trilogy, which held me enthralled from beginning to end) and Mary Stewart‘s “Touch Not the Cat” (romantic suspense, and one of the few books I missed during my Stewart glom back in 2008).

I read a few more Dessens, but none really as good as TTAF.  And that was about it in terms of memorable reads.

March

Nine books read over the month, including two of Seanan McGuire‘s Toby Daye books, which takes my “Best New-to-Me Urban Fantasy Series of 2010” trophy – I have to include the new-to-me caveat, as the first book came out in 2009, but got buried in the glut of new UF releases. When I finally got around to reading “Rosemary & Rue”, I was totally captivated and promptly followed up with the second book, “A Local Habitation”.  Ms McGuire’s Faerie/San Francisco world is incredibly refreshing and real, Toby is developing into a heroine you can properly get behind (character growth, I love you), and there is Tybalt.  The King of Cats.  Ahhh.

Apart from that, I read my first Jennifer Echols, “Going Too Far” – more YA contemporary!  It was good – strong characterisation, compelling believable romance – and I wanted more.

April

I was back up to 11 books this month (as an aside, I’m surprised I was reading as much as I’ve been over the months) and it was a good one.

I loved Lisa Lutz‘s “The Spellmans Strike Again”, the latest madcap adventure in The Spellman Files books and oh-so-satisfying (character growth!), and also Patricia Briggs‘ “Silver Borne” (I have not read a lacklustre Mercy Thompson book yet).  And Jim Butcher‘s latest Dresden Files book, “Changes”, was great storytelling, as always.  Elizabeth Peters released a new Amelia Peabody (I have no words to describe how much I was anticipating this one) and while it was not one of the best Peabody books, it was just so good to revisit the whole cast of characters again.  Finally, a new-to-me author this month was Sarah A Hoyt and her “Darkship Thieves” (which Janicu has just reviewed), which was an excellent blend of space opera and romance.

Probably a good time to stop – next post, the next four months…

Epistolary = Love

I have a thing for epistolary-style books.

I’m not precisely sure why – perhaps it’s because I get to fill in the blanks, to read between the lines and figure out what’s left unsaid based on what has been written and what hasn’t.  The text is personal in a way you normally only get from first-person POV, yet at the same time the story isn’t (usually) just from one person’s perspective.  There are so many different ways the author gets to flesh out his or her characters – the salutations used, the medium, the style… they all add to the sheer fun of reading one of these books.

One of my all-time favourite books – and probably the first epistolary book I read back in my teens – is Jean Webster‘s DADDY-LONG-LEGS*.   I remember when I first started the book, I was wondering when the letters from Jerusha (Judy) Abbott to her benefactor would end so that the real story could begin.  I think I was halfway through when it suddenly clicked that this was the story… Anyway, Judy’s letters to her mysterious orphanage trustee were a lovely way to watch her develop from a cautious girl fresh from an enclosed orphanage environment to a young woman brimming with confidence  – they were hilarious at times, beautifully poignant at others.  The ending was wonderfully romantic to my teenage self – and still is.

ETA: DADDY-LONG-LEGS is available as a free public domain ebook in the US and possibly other countries depending on local copyright law.

What inspired this post, you ask?  Reading Jaclyn Moriarty‘s FINDING CASSIE CRAZY (a.k.a THE YEAR OF SECRET ASSIGNMENTS in the US) last night and absolutely loving it.  I know – I’m late to the party, aren’t I?  This is my first Moriarty but certainly won’t be my last.  Ms Moriarty first came to my attention in Ana’s 10/10 review of THE GHOSTS OF ASHBURY HIGH, followed by her “I love this series” post on the Ashbury/Brookfield books.  I initially thought the former was a paranormal YA and thought “maybe later” … I was wrong!

One of the pitfalls of epistolary narratives is that it is difficult to write the ending – because the events have already taken place in the characters’ real lives, how do you write it without falling into the “As you know, Bob…” trap, yet ensuring your readers close the book satisfied?  Ms Moriarty did it by providing one of the most satisfying transcripts ever – I was mentally cheering on Em and Lydia and Cassie over the concluding pages of the book.

I’ve also loved Steve Kluger‘s ALMOST LIKE BEING IN LOVE and MY MOST EXCELLENT YEAR (both rec’d by Nath and definitely living up to her glowing reviews), which are told through a very varied mix of emails, diary entries, lists, posters and oh, all sorts of other media.  And one of my favourite series, Lisa Lutz‘s Spellman books, is partly in epistolary format, this time in the form of interview transcripts and lists.

I also have to mention Patricia C Wrede and Caroline Stevermer‘s wonderful SORCERY AND CECELIA – OR THE ENCHANTED CHOCOLATE POT, which unfolds in the form of correspondence between the Cecilia of the title and her best friend Kate, and set in an alternate Regency England.  There are also two sequels, but my favourite remains the first – a perfect blend of magic, friendship, adventure, and romance.

Finally, I was racking my brains trying to think of more examples (drawing a blank, unfortunately) and idly wondered how an urban fantasy would translate – and then I realised Ilona Andrews had posted an example on her blog.  If only!

What do you think of epistolary novels?  Like them?  Hate them?  And oh, any recommendations most welcome.

******************

*Although I am more on the fence about its sequel DEAR ENEMY, which falls into the “very much a product of its time” bucket.