Thursday, December 31, 2020

A Not-So-Quick 2020 Summary

Feather from a barred owl

This has been the most exhausting year and I am so very glad it is finally over. I haven't entirely quit blogging (mostly because that also takes a certain amount of effort) so I suppose I have to record my reading stats for 2020. A look at the basics:

Books read: 124
Number of those that were audiobooks: 29
Rereads: 25
Non-fiction reads: 11
Books in translation: 8

My "best" of the year are a bit different than usual because I was choosing mostly reads that were either comforting or distracting or "easy". My once-varied library list ended the year looking quite stern and scholarly as I selectively plucked out the light and genre reads and left the heavier non-fiction and literature titles alone. My home TBR was whittled down to a few classics and some titles that have been sitting there for years and probably should just be weeded. A quick count says I read:

Mystery: 30
Sci-fi: 16
Fantasy: 39

That means 68.5 percent of my reading was genre this year which seems rather high compared to my normal numbers though I'm far too lazy to actually count past years' numbers. Still, they were the perfect choices for this year of stress and uncertainty and I really liked almost everything I read. Here are the highlights:

In non-fiction, I can highly recommend From Holmes to Sherlock by Mattias Boström to any Sherlock fans. I learned a lot of cool pieces of trivia and was surprised to find that I had read/watched most of the post-ACD Sherlock content that was mentioned. One day I'll admit that I'm a Sherlockian. Also, Nature Obscura by Kelly Brenner inspired the best thing to happen to me this year -- my hummingbird feeder! I now have a daily visitor (a male Anna's) who is just getting used to me and sometimes lets me stand on the other side of the window watching him eat and fight. Though Kelly's observations are all about Seattle animals and locations, her love of exploring urban wildlife habitats is infectious and will definitely get you out into your yard or local park. (Plus, tardigrades are literally everywhere.) Finally Sigh, Gone by Phuc Tran was super fascinating. Again, it was probably more interesting to me since the author and I are the same age but a good immigrant story is always worthwhile. Honorable mention goes to How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi for being an essential read to change one's basic thought processes around race and racism. I think about it constantly.

My favorite rereads? The Starless Sea and The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde, all four of the Murderbot novellas by Martha Wells, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, and all of Kate Milford's Bluecrowne/Greenglass books. Honorable mention goes to a couple of the gothic novels I revisited: Jane Eyre and Rebecca. All of these books will always be on my home library shelves.

Finally, new-to-me books that I loved (in the order read because I don't have the energy to rank them):
Truckers, Diggers, and Wings by Terry Pratchett were written for a younger audience but were such great escapes, made more exciting by the great escapes of the wee little characters.
The Philosopher's War by Tom Miller was an exciting sequel, quite different from the original but brilliantly detailed about nursing and war and the magic system of the world. I wish this series had more fans.
The Vanishing Stair and The Hand on the Wall were books two and three in a murdery boarding school trilogy by Maureen Johnson and I absolutely loved them.
Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami was just like his other books, so removed from any reality that I know that they always provide near-perfect entertainment. There were certainly some weird parts, as there always are, but I appreciate that they never seem gimmicky.
Six Wakes by Mur Lafferty was apparently "fantastic" in my spreadsheet but I don't remember very much about it except for blood smears. That happens with me and audiobooks so I'll be sure to get a paper copy to reread later.
The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune wins the award for book that made my heart the happiest this year. It was just a lovely tale of love and found family and I adored it for it's simplicity and honesty. I gave a copy to my sister for Christmas and she better love it or else.
Even though I mentioned the other books in the series in my rereads list, I'm going to call out The Thief Knot by Kate Milford because my spreadsheet note on it is the absolute truth - she has written the fictional world I would most like to live in. As I've said before about her books, they are marketed as middle grade but are really complex and interesting enough for all ages.
The Cabinets of Barnaby Mayne by Elsa Hart is a new period mystery series with two smart young women as the protagonists and I look forward to reading about more of their adventures.
One that I didn't expect to like as much as I did was A Declaration of the Rights of Magicians by H.G. Parry. I got it from the library and looked at the summary and thought "why did I possibly think this would be interesting? It's just real history with magic stuck in." It turns out that real history with magic stuck in is AWESOME.
Over the Woodward Wall by A. Deborah Baker (Seanan McGuire) was made of everything I love. I need a copy on my shelves but am waiting and hoping that I'll be able to get a signed copy sometime next year since she's a local author.
The Left-Handed Booksellers of London by Garth Nix made me really annoyed that I've put off reading Garth Nix until now. I loved this one with its weaving of myths and magic and London (but sadly not much actual bookselling).
And A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik makes it onto the list simply because the negativity of the narrator was such a perfect fit to this year and my mood. She was angry and cynical and moody and I absolutely felt like I had found a friend (except she didn't want friends). It was also a humorous take on magical boarding schools that was fresh and fun.
Finally, honorable mention goes to all of the American Mystery Classics that I read this year (put out by Penzler Press). They weren't all perfect but the editor chose such a wide variety of authors and types of stories that I never knew what I was going to get and had fun with all of them! Rocket to the Morgue and A Puzzle for Fools were especially good.

So, I guess that's a wrap on this crap year. At least the books were good!

In the comments, recommend one book that you loved this year.

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

A Long List of Gothic Novels


We're nearing the end of Witch Week and I wrote a post that went up today, Mexican Gothic and the Classic Gothic Novel. In it, I mentioned making a list of the more than 75 gothic novels and short stories I have read over the years. They may not all be pure gothic but at least contain significant gothic elements. Here, for your curiosity and edification, is that list.

Peter Ackroyd    The Casebook of Victor Frankenstein
Joan Aiken    The Wolves of Willoughby Chase
Jane Austen    Northanger Abbey
John Boyne    This House is Haunted
Octavia Butler    Fledgling
Mary Elizabeth Braddon    Lady Audley's Secret
Charlotte Brontë    Jane Eyre, Villette
Emily Brontë    Wuthering Heights
Edgar Cantero    The Supernatural Enhancements
Laura Carlin    The Wicked Cometh
Angela Carter    The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories
Agatha Christie    And Then There Were None
Wilkie Collins    Armadale, The Haunted Hotel, The Moonstone, The Woman in White
Michael Cox    The Meaning of Night, The Glass of Time
Charles Dickens    A Christmas Carol, Bleak House, Dickens' Ghost Stories, Great Expectations, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Oliver Twist
Arthur Conan Doyle    The Hound of the Baskervilles
Daphne du Maurier    Don't Look Now, Jamaica Inn, My Cousin Rachel, Rebecca
Umberto Eco    The Name of the Rose
Alan Finn    Things Half in Shadow
Neil Gaiman    The Graveyard Book, The Ocean at the End of the Lane
Charlotte Perkins Gilman    The Yellow Wall-Paper
Elizabeth Hand    Wylding Hall
John Harwood    The Asylum, The Ghost Writer, The Seance
Nathaniel Hawthorne    Rappaccini's Daughter
Jane Healey    The Animals at Lockwood Manor
Susan Hill    The Woman in Black
Shirley Jackson    The Haunting of Hill House, The Lottery, We Have Always Lived in the Castle
Henry James    The Turn of the Screw
MR James    Short Stories
Franz Kafka    Metamorphosis
Elizabeth Kostova    The Historian
WW Jacobs    The Monkey's Paw
Sheridan Le Fanu    In A Glass Darkly, Carmilla
Harper Lee    To Kill a Mockingbird
Gaston Leroux    The Phantom of the Opera
Gregory Maguire    Lost
Erin Morgenstern    The Night Circus
Kate Morton    The Clockmaker's Daughter, The Distant Hours, The House at Riverton
Arturo Perez-Reverte    The Club Dumas
Edgar Allan Poe    The Fall of the House of Usher and more
Ann Radcliffe    The Mysteries of Udolpho
Diane Setterfield    The Thirteenth Tale
Mary Shelley    Frankenstein
Robert Louis Stephenson    The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
Bram Stoker    Dracula
Horace Walpole    The Castle of Otranto
Sarah Waters    Affinity, Fingersmith, The Little Stranger
Oscar Wilde    The Picture of Dorian Gray
Cat Winters    The Uninvited
Carlos Ruiz Zafón    Labyrinth of the Spirits, Marina, The Angel's Game, The Midnight Palace, The Prince of Mist, The Prisoner of Heaven, The Shadow of the Wind, The Watcher in the Shadows

and now

Silvia Moreno-Garcia    Mexican Gothic

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

#RIPXV September Update

The RIP challenge has turned out to be a lifeline during this ridiculously stressful time. Escaping into old and new favorites in my favorite genre is the perfect antidote to the world right now. Here's how I did in September.


The books I finished:

Murder by an Aristocrat Mignon G. Eberhart
The Manual of Detection Jedediah Berry (reread)
Silver in the Wood Emily Tesh
The Haunting of Tram Car 015 P. Djèlí Clark


Charlotte Markham and the House of Darkling Michael Boccacino (reread)
Mexican Gothic Silvia Moreno-Garcia
The Infinite Blacktop Sara Gran (audiobook)
The Seance John Harwood (reread)
Finna Nino Cipri
The Crooked Hinge John Dickson Carr

My favorites of this batch were Finna, The Haunting of Tram Car 015The Crooked Hinge, and The Seance. Although The Manual of Detection was really fun to revisit and Mexican Gothic was a great choice for my Witch Week post (which you will see in just over a month).

I've been extra stressed during the past week or so (PSATs and debates and such) so I have three books going at the moment: 
The Oxford Book of Gothic Tales, edited by Chris Baldick
Murder in the First-Class Carriage Kate Colquhoun (non-fiction)
Horrorstör Grady Hendrix (audiobook)

I listened to half of Horrorstör today because it is just that good! I tried to listen to Melmoth by Sarah Perry just before this but it was just too slow and after fifty pages I still didn't care about anyone in the story. I don't know if I'll put it aside for later or just be done with it.

Looking forward, I have a couple of books that I was saving specifically for October and a few audiobook holds that should come in this month. I don't know if I'll participate in Readathon just because I'm having a hard time with anything organized or social. We'll have to see!

Have you read anything for Readers Imbibing Peril yet? Anything you want to recommend?

Monday, August 31, 2020

#RIPXV Will Save the World

What is this beautiful book stack for? Readers Imbibing Peril, of course! It is the 15th year of this wonderful, seasonal reading challenge, started many full moons ago by Carl and continued by Andi and Heather for the past few years. It is my absolute favorite thing and, to be honest, a good portion of the books I read year-round could fit into this challenge. But, in September and October, I read exclusively Perilous books and I've never regretted it. There is so much variety in what you can count, from a classic ghost story to a tea-sipping matronly detective tale to some full-blown horror and mayhem.

As we all have for many things during the past six months, our friends have opted for a simplified version of the challenge this year. There are no sign-ups and no levels. Just read one or more books during these months and post on Instagram or Twitter (if you have them) or your blog, if that's still going. It's all questionable these days, right?

So, we'll start with my new books. I have a full shelf of about 25 books that I will consider picking up this fall but I decided, since I have some other stacks, to pick a smaller group that are my "top-shelf, must reads". I will be writing about Mexican Gothic as part of Witch Week (Oct/Nov). The gothic tales pair with that (and I read some gothic classics during the summer too). Plain Bad Heroines is a new release, coming out in October, that I'm looking forward to. And, as for the American Mystery Classics, I have fun with almost every one and, in fact, started Murder by an Aristocrat last night and it grabbed my attention immediately.

Then I have some library holds that will be (hopefully) coming in over the next two months. These two novellas, Silver in the Wood and The Haunting of Tram Car 015, came in first and I think Finna is in transit. I'm also hoping for The Eighth Detective, A Declaration on the Rights of Magicians, Flyaway, The Cabinets of Barnaby Mayne, and The Relentless Moon. These are all new releases so we'll see if the library manages to receive their ordered copies in a timely manner! If not, I'm sure I can handle reading them in the winter.

And then, this year, I really wanted to pull some old RIP favorites off of my shelves to enjoy their familiarity and the guaranteed quality. Picking a Carlos Ruiz Zafón almost broke my heart but his YA horror novels are so fantastic and he and I discussed once that I always turn to at least one of his books in the fall for their atmosphere. The others are all going to be fantastic as well! I don't think I could even pick one that I'm looking forward to the most.

Finally, with last Saturday being Independent Bookstore Day, I couldn't resist a few purchases to support my indie favorites. And yes, the books I chose all happen to be possible RIP reads. I grabbed two more American Mystery Classics (The Red Right Hand and Rocket to the Morgue), the latest Charles Lenox mystery, Titus Groan, and a British Library Crime Classic, Castle Skull.

So, 26 books, plus 19+ on my TBR and many others that I could choose to reread. I think I'm set!

What will you be reading perilously this autumn?

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Blogiversary and Random Bits


I started this blog twelve years ago in July 2008. The world was different, the community was different, the books I was reading at the time were different. These days I read far fewer picture books, far more genre books. I allowed diversity to seep into my reading organically by following from one book/author I enjoyed to another similar/tangential one. I read more memoirs, mainly by funny people. I don't make enough time for reading other blogs, mostly because I am barreling through my owned books and the library's audiobooks in an attempt to escape to anywhere else. (I know some people are having trouble reading right now but I just finished my 72nd book of the year yesterday. That's ridiculous.) And, just writing this post, I can tell that I'm missing blogging. I no longer worry about visitor counts or giveaways or review copies but I do worry that some of you might miss out on a fabulous book because I didn't share it.

Anyway, here are a few random bookish things of recent note:

My heart broke last month with the news of Carlos Ruiz Zafón's passing. I went back through this blog and counted 45(!) posts that were reviews, giveaways, or mentions of his books. I have all of his books that were translated into English in hardcover and I revisit them regularly. I'm starting to feel the need to renew and improve my Spanish reading skills so as to eventually read his books in their original form.

There is a Fire and Hemlock discussion at the end of this month (27 July, 8pm EDT), hosted online by the Brooklyn Public Library. Follow the link to register. I think it will be a fun little Zoom gathering, especially if a couple of us DWJ fans from around the world join in!

Monika has compiled a Goodreads list of "not-cis authors". They have 206 books on this list so far!

And here's a free short story from Sarah Pinsker, one of my favorite current authors. She actually wrote a post-pandemic tale, A Song for a New Day, that came out last year and recently won the Nebula Award for Best New Novel. I told her that she might be a witch and she didn't disagree.
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So, I do feel kind of happy writing right now and I am certainly reading enough to give me content so maybe I'll be back soon? I was going to wait until after the November election to decide whether to come back or not but I feel like this might be the moment when I need to reach out, to start rebuilding what I once loved. If you are still around and reading this, please leave a comment below!

Friday, February 28, 2020

#MarchMagics 2020 Has Begun! #DWJMarch


I know that it is only February 29 but I figure that we can add this day on to March Magics if we want to since it's a random, magical day. I, for one, am ready to start reading the wonderful stories of Diana Wynne Jones and Terry Pratchett.


I have two new-to-me books that I'm planning on reading--Small Gods and Hexwood--and then the rest will be based on mood. I'm pretty sure I will reread Dodger and Eight Days of Luke because I've been thinking about them lately. I'm not sure if I will write any additional blog posts but will definitely be sharing on Twitter, Instagram, and Litsy.

Which DWJ and Pratchett books are on your stack this month?

Please post any links you have during the month on this post so that others can come and find them. And remember to use the #MarchMagics hashtag on social media.

Enjoy your month with our dearly departed but never forgotten!

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Announcing #MarchMagics / #DWJMarch 2020

As we quickly approach the middle of February, I remembered that I need to actually launch our favorite event of the year, that it doesn't just magically begin in March. So, without further ado, this year's March Magics (formerly DWJ March), celebrating the books and lives of Terry Pratchett and Diana Wynne Jones--two of the *best* all-ages fantasy authors EVER--will be a DIY event!


As I am a bit scattered, stressed, demoralized, and a host of other not-fun emotions at the moment, and since I know some of you are feeling the same, I wanted to continue with last year's theme and have this event really be about the joy you find while you spend time with these two authors. Simply pick up your absolute favorites, dive into them, and lose yourself for a few hours. Afterwards, share that love with others. If you want to host a readalong or a giveaway, DO IT! If you want to write a blog post, share on social media, or even read with your kids--PERFECT! If you want to pick up that last book you have been saving with a heavy heart, this is the time.

Have you already been thinking about March Magics? Share your plans below!

Please link any posts, events, etc. below that you create/organize before March 1 and then I'll have another post for sharing during the month. (And remember to use the hashtags!)

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Closing out 2019


Well, hello there! I don't know if I'm coming back or not yet but I feel really antsy about not having a wrap-up post for 2019 because, even if I'm not blogging, I'm definitely reading. Here are some of the stats:
Books read: 139 
This was helped by audiobooks and novellas and the fact that I needed A LOT of escapist time due to things both personal and worldwide. Many of my books were genre -- mystery, fantasy, and, this year, a lot more science fiction. I've gone to space more times than I ever expected to!

Rereads: 21
This was mostly due to MarchMagics/DWJ March but I also had a couple of Jasper Fforde, William Ritter, Erin Morgenstern, Philip Pullman, Mary Shelley, and Neil Gaiman rereads throughout the year.

Library books: 60
I made really good use of my library this year. I do wish they had a few more audiobook choices but they are a great way to try books I'm not sure I want to buy. I even gave a couple of romances a whirl this year! I didn't really like any of them though. Hmm.

Books in translation: 3
This is the stat that I'm most disappointed with. I usually do much better but I only managed one German, one French, and one Japanese story this year.

Non-fiction: 19
I made up for that bad translation number though with an amazing non-fiction year! I even have two more in progress on my nightstand. The best ones of the year were Becoming by Michelle Obama, Sea People by Christina Thompson, Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly, Coal Black Mornings by Brett Anderson, So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo, and The Lady from the Black Lagoon by Mallory O'Meara. I think the key for me is definitely variety!

New-to-me authors: 59 (+ some in collections)
My favorite new-to-me authors this year? Seanan McGuire, Sarah Pinsker, and Becky Chambers. I ended up reading five books by McGuire!

I even made a Top 10 of the year list:
Bluecrowne by Kate Milford
Forest of Memory by Mary Robinette Kowal (novella)
Sooner or Later Everything Falls into the Sea by Sarah Pinsker (short stories)
Six Months, Three Days, Five Others by Charlie Jane Anders (short stories)
Crosstalk by Connie Willis
Middlegame by Seanan McGuire
The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern
To Be Taught, If Fortunate by Becky Chambers (novella)
How Long 'Til Black Future Month by N.K. Jemisin (short stories)
Rotherweird by Andrew Caldecott

And a runners-up list:
Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield
The City in the Middle of the Night by Charlie Jane Anders
The Rook by Daniel O'Malley
The True Queen by Zen Cho
Witchmark by C.L. Polk
The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers
Recursion by Blake Crouch
The Fated Sky by Mary Robinette Kowal
Strange Practice by Vivian Shaw
Tuesday Mooney Talks to Ghosts by Kate Racculia

And an honorable mention:
Wanderers by Chuck Wendig ... for being the book to traumatize me the the most! I am terrified that any single thing that happened in that book could really be in America's future.


My goal for the first couple of months of this year is to read almost exclusively from my shelves (after two audiobooks that I have checked out -- The Starless Sea and Bring Down the Hawk). These beauties I got for Christmas will help keep me busy!


And finally, I have to decide what to do with the blog. At the least, I think it is time to rebrand it. When I started writing here, I was reading with my little guy, featuring picture books and chapter books along with my own reads. But Z and I haven't read together in years and so the "we" is now just "me". I also have a goal of less screen time this year so I'm not sure how blogging would fit in with that. I have started using Litsy again (kristenm) but I'm not sure if that will stick. I tend to forget it after a couple of posts and I just don't feel like it's a replacement for blogging. And finally, there's MarchMagics/DWJMarch, which I don't want to let go but also am not sure I have the time/energy to run.

So there it is -- where 2019 went and where 2020 is headed. Happy New Year, friends! I wish you each happiness and many unexpectedly good story adventures.