Wrapping Up 2014, Looking Forward 2015

The last post of 2014 has arrived! My annual review of the past year and plans for the next year. This is the fifth time I’ve written this post. I’m pleased as a peach to reach this milestone. I think it’s the first consistently annual thing I’ve ever done. When I wrote last year’s post, I was uncertain about whether I would continue blogging at all. I said, “This whole post may sound a bit dreary, but I’m actually feeling more optimistic than ever because I’m not giving myself false hope and I’m trying to consider my situation realistically, in order to make real changes“. Well, look at that, I did make real changes! I’m very happy with how I’ve been maintaining the new incarnation of my blog this year. I’m ready to push it even further next year.

I completed my GoodReads challenge of 75 books, squeaking up to 76 today. I didn’t participate in other reading challenges. I did participate in a number of blogging events, though, which I had never done before. You can find links to my event-related posts here.

  • Dewey’s 24 Hour Read-a-thon (April)
  • Armchair BEA (May)
  • The Literary Blog Hop (June)
  • Summer Library Reading Challenge (June and July) (ah, I guess this counts as a reading challenge – part of it was to read more library books)
  • The Haunting of Hill House Readalong (September)
  • Fall Bloggiesta (September)
  • Dewey’s 24 Hour Read-a-thon (October)

I loved participating in these events. I used to think doing so would distract me from reading, but I found such events enhanced my reading experience. It’s great to connect with others who love reading as much as you do. Next year, I will continue participating in events. I also want to take on some reading challenges. I avoided them for awhile but now I think they could be as beneficial as reading events, in connecting with other readers and thinking more deeply about what I read. I’m careful to choose ones that are already in line with my reading goals. Here are the ones I plan on so far – I’m sure the list will grow as I encounter new ones throughout the year!

  • Events:
  • Reading Challenges:
    • TBR Pile Challenge – I participated in this challenge in 2011 and 2012. Now that I’m full swing into the blogging community, I’d like to give it another go. Hopefully I will be successful this time around!
    • The Re-read Challenge – I barely did any rereading in 2013. I want to remedy that this year.
    • Foodies Read Challenge – Another challenge I participated in in 2011. I still add food-related books to my TBR but don’t give them much priority. I look forward to tackling such books once again.
    • CBC Monthly Reads – Yes, a book club, I never do book clubs, I’m far too picky about my reading, but I want to try more Canadian literature so I’ll give it a go.

Last but not least, my general reading goals. I’m keeping it fairly simple again this year. I’m upping my reading goal just a smidge. I’m confident I’ll be able to read more this year, now that I won’t have the distraction of writing papers and moving to a new country!

  • 8 posts/month (twice a week, ideally one review and one other)
    • Improve writing style (be more precise, use less words)
  • 80 books read, including…
    • 12 books reread
    • 12 Japan-related books
    • 8 Tolkien-related books
    • 5 Canadian Indigenous books

Overall, I’m proud of what I accomplished this year and I think I can do even better next year. I hope you had a successful 2014. See you next year!

End of Year Book Survey

Found via Lianne @ Caffeinated Life, hosted by Jamie @ Perpetual Page Turner. I will post my general annual review tomorrow, but I like the idea of having more than one way to look back on the year. This survey looks at specific books read.

  • 2014 Reading Stats
    • Number of books read -76 (I will finish Fluent Forever tomorrow). My goal was 75. Hurrah! 
    • Number of re-reads – Four: The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, The Fault in Our Stars and Throwaway Daughter. I didn’t read White is for Witching, which I have read every year since it’s release. D: Moving in August messed up so many of my reading habits. Dang ;_; Book blogging has made me conscious of how many books I want to read, which has led to a decrease in my rereading. There are so many books I have read and loved, though, I want to revisit them. I think in 2015 I shall try to reread 12 favourites.
    • Genre you read the most from – Unknown. I don’t shelve my read books by genre (maybe I should…). I tried to judge from scanning the covers but it looks my reading was pretty varied this year!
  • Best in Books
    • Best book read – I don’t read many books from a single genre (which is to say, these genres didn’t have a lot of contenders) but it lets me list more than one favourite so I’m doing it that way 😉
    • Book you were excited about and thought you were going to love more but didn’tAll the Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld. The cover and description had me excited, but the story didn’t grab me.
    • Most surprising book read –  I’ll Give You the Sun. I can’t remember a book that made me gasp in shock so many times.
    • Book you ‘pushed’ the most people to read (and they did) – Ehm, whether they read it is uknown but I strongly recommended I’ll Give You the Sun and The Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender to my friends who read YA and trust my recommendations.
    • Best series started – I don’t read series.
      • Best sequelThe Crown of Embers by Rae Carson (Book wwo of The Girl of Fire and Thorns)
      • Best conclusionUndivided by Neal Shusterman (I wouldn’t normally give this book a ‘best’ distinction but it was the only conclusion I read this year)
    • Favourite author discovered – Ooh, split between Hannah Kent (Burial Rites) and Leslye Walton (Ava Lavender). I look forward to whatever these authors publish next.
    • Best book from a genre you don’t typically readI’ll Give You the Sun. I’m extraordinarily picky about YA; I only read a couple a year. I’m not usually too impressed but this book connected with me.
    • Most action-packed/thrilling/unputdownable bookThe Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson. I won this book in a giveaway during the summer and felt in the right mood for it last week. I blazed through it, though it’s also not something I usually read, being YA and fantasy. Something about it had me hooked!
    • Most likely to reread next yearAva Lavender and The Haunting of Hill House. Ava I really enjoyed and would like to revisit. Haunting is a good seasonal read, I think, and could benefit from a few rereads.
    • Favourite coverAva Lavender and Burial Rites are contenders but how about I go with All the Birds, Singing to mix it up a bit. 
    • Most memorable character – Elinor from The Haunting of Hill House. It’s not often I identify with a character. Elinor surprised me in that way.
    • Most beautifully writtenAva Lavender or Burial Rites. I can’t choose between favourites! 
    • Most thought-provoking/life-changing – I didn’t read any book like that this year. Possibly The Haunting of Hill House because it made me think a lot and want to read more in the genre. Anything that drives a change in my reading habits can be ‘life-changing’ for me!
    • Book you can’t believe you waited UNTIL 2014 to finally read Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery. I’m a Canadian…I majored in children’s literature...how did I miss this one?? (Disclaimer: the first chapter was assigned in one of my uni courses.)
    • Favourite passage/quote -“I am knifed to the hilt with fate” (Burial Rites). I considered a number of passages from Burial Rites and The Haunting of Hill House, but this one I think stood out the most to me.
    • Shortest book – Not counting novellas, The Reason I Jump by Naoki Higashida (135 pages)
    • Longest book – It’s always my one volume edition of The Lord of the Rings… second longest was The Secret History by Donna Tartt (658 pages).
    • Most shocking book – For me this is the same answer as most surprising book – I Will Give You the Sun. So many gasps, so many times I had to pause and let what happened sink in. 
    • OTP of the year (you will go down with this ship!) – Elisa and Hector from The Girl of Fire and Thorns. Their relationship is so reasonable and realistic and believable, how can you not appreciate it, haha.
    • Favourite non-romantic relationship – The sibling relationship between Jude and Noah in I’ll Give You the Sun. Often heartbreaking but wonderfully played out.
    • Favourite book read by an author you read previously The Haunting of Hill House.
    • Best book read based solely on a recommendation from somebody else/peer pressure –  Burial Rites. The plot summary didn’t intrigue me but so many bloggers cried ‘the prose!’ I felt I had to investigate. I’m very happy I did!!
    • Newest fictional crush – Oscar from I’ll Give You the Sun. I can’t name any other book character I ever crushed on (well, maybe I have a crush on Faramir but who doesn’t?) but while reading this book I messaged my friend to tell her it featured a very hot British boy 😛
    • Best 2014 debut  The Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender
    • Best world-building Well, it’s another no-contest if I include LotR, so that aside… difficult question! I think I’ll go again with Ava Lavender (surprise, surprise). The world isn’t especially sprawling or spectacular, but I like how the story is told over generations and you get to experience different locations and manifestations of magical abilities.
    • Most fun to readThe Girl of Fire and Thorns trilogy. A great fantasy adventure story, with a good dose of romance. I blazed through these books and had a fun time doing so.
    • Book that made you cry – This Star Won’t Go Out. Hooooooly, you thought TFIOS was sad? I did too, but good lord, nothing can be sadder than this book (although I mentioned earlier I have mixed feelings about its existence, the part where Wayne writes about the moment of Esther’s death is powerful.)
    • Hidden gemThe Swallow by Charris Cotter. This book didn’t get much attention but I thought it was sweet and a good ghost story.
    • Book that crushed your soul I’ll Give You the Sun (since I just used TSWGO for ‘book that made you cry’).
    • Most unique book – Ahh, I don’t read many ‘unique’ books! I guess TSWGO because of its format.
    • Book that made you most madThe War on Science by Chris Turner. GARGHHHH HARPERRRRRRR. The subtitle of this book is “Muzzled Scientists and Wilful Blindness in Stephen Harper’s Canada”. It’s a pretty depressing exploration of the Harper government’s attitude towards scientific research and evidence.
  • Your Bookish Life
    • New favourite book blog discovered – Oooh, this is tough, almost all the blogs I follow I discovered this year!  I can’t call out just one. Take a peak at my blog roll in the sidebar 😉
    • Favourite review on your blog – I’m proud of The Haunting of Hill House and A Tale for the Time Being, both of which made me consider what I really love about the books I love.
    • Best non-review post on your blog – I don’t have many of these (I want to do more in the future)… I like some of the posts I did for Armchair BEA, such as this one on middle grade fiction. I loved doing this survey about my local library. So maybe these are ‘best’ in that I enjoyed writing them the most 😛
    • Best event that you participated in – Ahh so difficult to choose ;_; I love the readathons…I loved armchair BEA (maybe Ill go with this because the fun lasted the longest :P) I loved doing the posts for summer library challenge…
    • Best moment of bookish/blogging life – I love chatting with other bloggers in real time. One moment that I remember particularly was during the October Dewey’s 24 Read-a-thon. My breakfast plan (rice cooker oatmeal) was retweeted by the official account and I had some fun discussions with other readers about favourite breakfasts.
    • Most popular post – Armchair BEA Giveaway, 55 comments and 327 views.
    • Post you wished got a little more love – My review of “J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lost English Mythology“. I know it’s a niche essay, but it’s the first piece I was ever asked to review, so I want it to get some attention!
    • Best bookish discovery – When I visited Osaka, my friend took me to a giant bookstore with six floors. Half of one floor was all English books – kid’s books, fiction, and non-fiction (including a large selection of academic non-fiction). I was delighted to be surrounded by so many English books for the first time in months.
    • Completion of challenges/goals – My reading goal for this year was pretty general – “Read 75 books (including more non-fiction, books I own but haven’t read, books released in 2013 and 2014, books that have been on the TBR for a long time)”. I did read 75 books, and more books released recently. I’m not sure about the others, but I’m happy with what I read so I’d call that successful completion! (Always I will say “I need to read more non-fiction”)
  • Looking Ahead
    • One book you didn’t get to in 2014 but will make a priority in 2015 – Hah, there are dozens I could pick… The Road to Middle-Earth by Tom Shippey is one I meant to read all year but didn’t get around to it. I purchased the ebook so I’ll be tackling it early in the new year.
    • Book you are most anticipating (non-debut) – I’m not big on watching ahead for new books but a few have made it onto my list. Now that the Unwind dystology is completed, I’m interested in Neal Shusterman’s Challenger Deep.
      • Book you are most anticipating (sequel) The Boy Who Lost Fairyland by Catherynne M Valente. I look forward to this new Fairyland book featuring a different main character.
    • One goal for your reading/blogging life – read The Silmarillion. 
    • 2015 release you’ve read and recommend – Alas, none ;_; A few of the books I’m excited about are on NetGalley, but not for Canadians.

Now that I’ve finished this survey, I realize my answers were fairly repetitive…a favourite book is a favourite because it does so many things well! I only read 4 five-star books this year (not counting re-reads), and 11 one or two star books. Next year I want to read more exceptional books and less mediocre ones. I’ve also just realized 2015 will be the first year in my reading life that I don’t have to do any required reading for school…hopefully this means I will have more time to find those exceptional reads!

Quick Review: Fell Short

I looked forward to these two books but both fell way short of what I heard about them.

  • Room by Emma Donoghue
    • Rating: ★★ [ratings guide]
    • I thought the kid’s voice was going to put me off but I grit my teeth and became numb to it. It wasn’t too distracting once I settled in (there were other things about this book I liked a lot less), but I can definitely see how it could drive some readers crazy.
    • I thought Ma and Jack were going to be trapped for the whole book so during the escape plan I was so prepared for it to fail and then it didn’t…which seems ridiculous. I think maybe with more background of Old Nick and Ma’s relationship the escape could have been believable (for example, maybe he cares for her in some twisted way or he has a thing about kids or dead people – something to explain why he would let it fall apart so easily) but since it’s just Jack’s perspective the reader doesn’t get any of that.
    • The story overall didn’t feel real to me. It lacks soul, it lacks tension (which one might consider important given the plot). Jack is too smart for his age and his situation. Everything that happens afterwards in the real world reads like someone’s poorly thought out idea of what might happen – it felt like cardboard, stiff and awkward. The character interactions lacked dept. This could have been a powerful story, but it’s not. It came across as very ‘blah’ for me. It feels odd and almost a bit disrespectful, given the recent stories in the news about women escaping similar situations, that this not-so-great book then comes out from an author who’s never experienced such horrors .
  • The Girl from the Well by Rin Chupeco
    • Rating: ★ [ratings guide]
    • Heads up, I was not impressed by this book…
    • Heurgh, the only reason I finished this is because it was short and easy to skim and I was bored at work without Internet access.
    • The story is a fun concept but it’s poorly executed. Words I used in my notes to describe the prose: Immature, less developed, false, stiff, unrealistic. Reads like the work of a very new writer. I recognize my own early writings here. Stuff I would put onto paper, knowing it wasn’t any good, but also knowing I had to write something. It’s a fine place to start writing, but not something that should ever see the light of day. Most of the time, if I don’t like a book, I recognize that’s due to my personal taste, but I think this book is a proper example of poor writing.
      • I do think that Okiku has a decent voice, however (even if she never does anything). Chupeco should run with that style as it seems to be the only thing that works in this novel.
    • So many awkward attempts at incorporating Japanese culture. One of the reasons I picked this up was because of its tie in to Japanese ghost culture. DO NOT READ THIS BOOK FOR THAT REASON. This is a huge contributing factor to the writing coming across as immature, as I mentioned above. It seems like the author throws in all the tropes/stereotypes about Japan that she’s ever come across. There’s no indication she has any real knowledge about the country. I noted a few examples of this but when they became so numerous I stopped – one annoying one was the unnatural use of the -san suffix (see around ~pg. 114)
    • The freaking shifting perspective what’s up with that. It’s so all over the place that I was confused for awhile about whether there one or two ghosts.
    • There’s no tension in the ‘scary’ parts of the novel, it’s just gory. It’s like reading a description of what you might see in a horror movie. But then, maybe that’s what a horror novel is like? I guess I’m showing my preference for terror over horror here. I like spooky tension, not blood baths.
    • A chunk of the book is e-mails between the MC and his cousin while they’re in Japan. This felt really outdated to me.

Have you read any disappointing books lately? (What a sad question…alternatively, have you read any surprisingly good books lately?!)

    To Be Read Tag

    A companion post to yesterday’s Tidying the TBR List“. As I mentioned yesterday, I like reviewing my TBR shelf at the end of the year. Here are some questions that made me think about how I use my ‘TBR pile’. Found via Jamie @ Perpetual Page Turner.

    • How do you keep track of your TBR?
      • I use Goodreads’ to-be-read shelf. I also have to-be-read-SUBJECT shelves so when I’m the mood for a certain type of read I can easily find one. This includes books friends have recommended to me, books I’ve read about online, books I spotted in the library, books to be published, books I’ve purchased. If I’ve come across a book somewhere, anywhere and I might want to read it, I add it to the Goodreads shelf.
    • Is your TBR mostly print or ebook?
      • I don’t really understand this question ^^; If it’s referring to books I own that are on the TBR, then definitely physical. In general – I have a list of books to read. I’ll read a book however I can get a hold of it. Usually that means physical books borrowed from the library or purchased for myself. However, since I’m living in Japan, now it means ebooks (borrowed or purchased). 
    • How do you determine what to read next?
      • Usually I go by whatever I’m in the mood for. I’m currently blazing through a YA fantasy trilogy that wasn’t even on the list, because that’s what I felt like reading. Occasionally I’ll decide to read a book just because it’s a new release. But mostly, I browse the TBR list to find something that suits my mood.
    • A book that has been on your TBR the longest
      •  On my Goodreads TBR shelf – Collapse by Jared Diamond, on the list since 7 February 2012.  (when I decided to really start using GoodReads in June 2012, I added a number of books I had listed in a Word document). But I’ve wanted to read The Silmarillion since grade seven…I’m so nervous about finishing it, though, I want to save it for as long as possible! (Silly reasoning, but that’s that. Next year probably I will give it a serious go.) 

    • A book you recently added to your TBR
      •  A Stranger in Olondria by Sofia Samatar – I hadn’t heard of this book until a friend recently reviewed it. It sounds like something I would enjoy, so I added it.
    • A book on your TBR solely for the beautiful cover
      •  Ooh, I try not to be swayed by covers…but if I was, I would have added Evergreen by Rebecca Rasmussen.
    • A book on your TBR you never plan on reading
      • In yesterday’s post, I wrote about nixing such books. There are still a few I like to think I’ll read some day…but probably won’t. One Hundred Years of Solitude is one such book.
    • An unpublished book on your TBR you’re excited about
      •  Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman – now that the Unwind books have wrapped up, I’m excited to see what he tackles next!
    • A book on your TBR that basically everyone has read but you
      • The Giver has the most GoodReads ratings on my TBR shelf (+950,000! The book with the second most ratings [speak of the devil – One Hundred Years of Solitude] has ~430,000).
    • A book on your TBR that everyone recommends to you
      • I don’t get many personal book recommendations, so I think I’ll just go with The Giver again here. 
    • How many books are on your GoodReads TBR shelf?
      • 462 – for my first two years on GoodReads I kept it under 100, but there’s no containing it now!

    Leave a link (or an answer to any of these questions) in the comments if you fill in this tag!

    Tidying the TBR List

    I originally titled this post ‘Clearing out the TBR List’, but that’s actually just a small part of my annual TBR list review. Once upon a time I liked to keep the list under 100 books. Last summer, the list exploded and it’s been growing at a rapid rate since I got back into book blogging. Once or twice a year I like to comb through that list and remind myself of all the incredible books waiting for me. I also use that review time to make shelving adjustments (re-shelve books, create new shelves) and remove books I’m no longer interested in. I don’t mind having a big TBR list. I like to keep my choices open – sometimes I’ll start five dud books before I get to a really good one – and I don’t feel obligated to read everything on the list. But I do like to keep things tidy. After all, so many books, so little time! I realize this more with each passing year. I can afford to be picky about what’s on my TBR list. Factors for removal can include a book’s premise, reviews from friends or strangers, length, or any other arbitrary reason. A reason for removing one book might not be applied to another. I can be ruthless but I’m not too concerned. Even if I’ve mistakenly axed a great read, there are dozens more to fill its space. It’s almost frivolous to even bother with these removals but I like feeling that I made some effort toward getting the list under control 😉 I start with the books that have been on the list the longest and work my way through. Here are the books that didn’t survive the cut:

    1. Lolita – I tried it a couple summers ago, read maybe 50 pages, couldn’t get into it. I know it’s a great classic but that’s the only reason it’s on the list. I’m not at all compelled to read it, so good-bye. 
    2. The Great Reset – I bought this in an angry fit of book buying around the time it was first released (in 2010, the library had offered me three jobs but I couldn’t accept any of them due to scheduling). I regretted it immediately afterwards but have been holding onto it since then. Now it’s probably even less relevant to me. I’m finally going to pass it on. 
    3. Reading Lolita in Tehran – Another book on the list because I bought it, almost six years ago, from Shakespeare and Co. The premise sounds fascinating but a few times I tried to read it and it didn’t captivate me. Now after reading other reviews, I’m in no rush to read it. I’ll keep the book (it has a stamp!) but I’m taking it off the TBR list. 
    4. Ballad of the Whiskey Robber – Added last year on recommendation from a fellow WWOOFer. Doesn’t interest me much. 
    5. Internal Time – At one point I wanted to learn about this topic, but now I’ve improved my own sleep schedule so I don’t really care anymore 😛
    6. The Lusiads – A poem from the 1500s? How did this make it onto my list in the first place?! I think the story sounded good to me. I must not have noticed the form. 
    7. The Letters of Edward Gorey and Peter F. Neumeyer – Not sure why this was on the list in the first place…I don’t really do letters.
    8. Corpalism – Recommended to me by a new-at-the-time Goodreads friend, I added it because I didn’t want to offend. Removing now cos it’s too long of a book for a story I have no interest in (and I’m no longer friends with that person :P) 
    9. Hawthorn and Child – After rereading the premise and the review that made me think I would like it, I no longer think I would like it much. 
    10. Sleep Donation – It looks okayyyyy, not something I’d usually read, but I think I mostly added it because of the cover. If perhaps there weren’t hundreds of other books I’d rather read, I’d give it a go. 
    11. The Three – I liked the premise but not the format. 
    12. Fangirl – John Green liked it and so did many other people, but I’m not sure why I ever added it to the list.
    13. Asleep – I tried reading it a few months ago, couldn’t get it into it, should have removed it then. 

    So I didn’t clear out too many…Does it even make a difference if I only reduced the list by ~3%?! But at least I got to browse through all the books and remind myself of all the amazing looking stories I want to read! Have I made any big mistakes in axing these books? Do you ever clear out your TBR pile?