2017 Mid-Year Check In

2017 Mid-Year Check InTime for my 2017 mid-year check in. The year’s been clipping along nicely, hasn’t it? Somehow I’ve managed to keep a good handle on my reading and blogging for this first half of the year! I suspect my habits will change when I start an MLIS programme in the fall. I have not modified my goals to reflect the change in lifestyle. We’ll see how it plays out. I will likely take a hiatus in August or September, depending on how many posts I can scheduled ahead. Now let’s take a look at my 2017 personal reading goals (progress on official challenges is documented here).

Personal Reading Goals

  • 54/100 books read – Four books ahead! (At of time of writing on 4 July). I have been at or ahead of my goal for most of this year. I intend to keep ahead until September. After that, no promises…
  • 3/6 books by Indigenous Canadians  – On track. Doesn’t include the Indigenous graphic novel (Will I See?) I read and reviewed.
  • 1/4 books about Japanese spirituality   This goal needs some work. I just blazed through Japanese Pilgrimage last weekend, which reignited my interest in reading about the Shikoku Henro.
  • 3/5 books about/by J.R.R. Tolkien (not including re-reads) – Not bad! I should reach six.
  • Read more picture books and graphic novels (esp. ones people assume I’ve already read…) – Hurrah, I have been doing this! I started reading a manga series (A Silent Voice). I have read all the picture books on my TBR. I noticed I’d been slacking on this goal a bit in the past few months. I’ve been making an effort to pick it up this month. I should especially pick up more graphic novels.

These last three goals have been a bit of wishful thinking…I’m surprised at how much contemporary middle grade I’ve been reading! I will attempt to keep these goals in mind moving forward, but unlike the goals above, I’m not too concerned about pursuing them. I’ll read what I want to read.

  • Read more classic middle grade and speculative fiction middle grade 
  • Read more non-fiction
  • Reread more!

Blogging

I didn’t set any specific blogging goals this year. In the back of my mind, however, I’ve still been aiming for at minimum 8 posts/month, with ideally 2 posts/week (one review, one other). At least I’ve been making the minimum goal! (if you average it out, haha.) I have been putting more effort into book photography and graphics. I’ve also been finding a lot of inspiration from other bloggers for non-review posts. June ended up being a bit heavy on that front. I will try to get the balance right (♫ get the balance riiiiiiiight, whoo Depeche Mode ♫) in the upcoming months.

Ratings Recap

I have done an informal review of the 50 books I read this year,  but I’d still like to take a closer look at Goodreads ratings (as I have in past years). This helps me keep an eye on quality (as opposed to just quantity, which my goals above measure). I have an inkling that the reading’s been particularly good this year. My general goal is to increase the number of 4 and 5 star reads and decrease the number of 3, 2, and 1 star reads – thus improving the over quality of my reading.

  • I’ve read 12 ★★★★★ books.
    • Compared to last year: +4, and doesn’t include any rereads (four 5 star books in 2016 were rereads).
  • I’ve read 31 ★★★★ books.
    • Compared to last year: +12
  • I’ve read 8 ★★★ books.
    • Compared to last year: -1
  • I’ve read 2 ★★ books.
    • Compared to last year: -1
  • I’ve read 0 ★ book.
    • Compared to last year: -1

Not bad!! I’m very pleased with those numbers. I think I’m getting the hang of picking better books (I may also be a little more generous with my 5 and 4 stars than I’ve been in the past…). 2017 is turning out to be a great reading year. Compiling a best of at year end will be difficult. How is your reading going this year? Are you keeping up with any challenges, goals or resolutions?

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The 50 Books I’ve Read So Far in 2017

My mid-year check in is still coming on 5 July, but I decided I also wanted to do this post as a way to:

  1. remind myself of all the great books I’ve read this year
  2. easily share my reviews thus far
  3. offer a brief thought on books I won’t be reviewing (some books will still receive a review later on)

Links to my reviews where applicable. Since it’s 🇨🇦 Canada Day 🇨🇦 : books in red = Canadian author, books in orange = Indigenous author.

  1. * You Will Not Have My Hate by Antoine Leiris – Incredibly moving, carefully written account of the days after the Bataclan attacks in which Leiris’ wife died
  2. Beast by Brie Spangler – Transgirl love interest helps cismale narrator overcome his transphobia (though I liked Jamie and thought she was well-written as a trans character, she’s something of a manic pixie dream girl). Dylan’s an unlikable guy but I liked that he had his own body image challenges.
  3. Better Now: Six Big Ideas to Improve Health Care for All Canadians by Danielle Martin – A balanced look at practical ways we might improve our health care system, Martin presents her ideas in an easy to read and understand manner. The ideas still seem like distant dreams rather than possible realities, however.
  4. Before the Fall by Noah Hawley – I gave this book four stars but I’m not sure why? Changing to three. Looking back, it was a quiet yet gripping story. If you like slow paced thrillers, you might enjoy this.
  5. Beowulf by Anonymous, translated by Seamus Heaney – Easier to read than I expected! Still enjoyable even when you know the whole story. Now that I’ve finally got a basic translation under my belt, I can tackle Tolkien’s Beowulf.
  6. Black Berry, Sweet Juice: On Being Black and White in Canada by Lawrence Hill – Drawing on interviews from over 30 biracial Black Canadians, Hill paints a comprehensive picture of the varied experiences these Canadians have had because of their racial identity. This book also got me thinking a lot about my own White privilege.
  7. The Girl Who Beat ISIS by Farida Khalaf – An intense read, this first person account of a young Yazidi woman persecuted by ISIS gave me a personal look into some of the atrocities happening today.
  8. The Wizard’s Dog by Eric Kahn Gale – I thought this book was going to be too silly for me, but it was a lot of fun. Cute premise. The illustrations are a bonus.
  9. When the Sea Turned to Silver by Grace Lin – Probably the most gorgeous book I will read this year. This is the kind of middle grade fantasy I could read all day.
  10. Neverhome by Laird Hunt – I liked the narrative style. The plot started off interesting but couldn’t keep up steam for me.
  11. The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett – A fluffy little story about the Queen’s evolution from non-reader to writer.
  12. Son of a Trickster by Eden Robinson – the first volume in a trilogy, Robinson has written a unique story about an Indigenous teen (the titular son of a trickster) that’s both hilarious and heartbreaking.
  13. Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older – This is a very cool book about some very cool kids. A YA urban fantasy that even those who avoid the genre can enjoy.
  14. The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden – A wonderful read for a cozy winter evening. Looking forward to the sequel.
  15. Minds of Winter by Ed O’Loughlin – A much longer book than I usually prefer…the intertwining of a number of historical Arctic (and one Antarctic) expeditions make this an intriguing read.
  16. Tolkien in Translation edited by Thomas Honegger –  Lots of great essays that got me thinking about the topics. Must read if you’re interested in Tolkien or translation.
  17. Handbook for Dragon Slayers by Merrie Haskell – Fun middle-grade fantasy, just the sort I would have liked as a kid (even if there weren’t as many dragons as expected).
  18. The Hate U Give by Thomas Angie – Lives up to the hype. Not good just because it tackles an important topic, but also an overall excellent YA novel.
  19. A Secret Vice by J.R.R. Tolkien – A great companion to On Fairy Stories. The work by the editors enhances the text by giving it both context within Tolkien’s personal live and historical context.
  20. Mad Richard by Lesley Krueger – Not the sort of book I’d usually enjoy. Still readable if dry at times. Probably good for historical fiction fans.
  21. Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist by Sunil Yapa – Family Reads discussion coming 18 August…forgot to publish it in June!
  22. The Plants of Middle-earth: Botany and Sub-creation by Dinah Hazell – Another lovely physical book, I enjoyed this slim volume for its look at the philosophical implications of grand tale via its plant life.
  23. Sputnik’s Children by Terri Favro – I felt like I was taking a gamble when I requested this book for review. That gamble paid off in this 1970s alternate universe coming of age tale.
  24. Gutenberg’s Fingerprint: A Book Lover Bridges the Digital Divide by Merilyn Simonds – A reflective memoir about what makes a book. I liked following Simonds’ steps as she created a beautiful book of her poetry, with every aesthetic aspect of both the physical and digital book considered.
  25. Music of the Ghosts by Vaddey Ratner – Another haunting yet vivid tale. The characters all found their way to my heart (erm, I don’t want to sound mushy but that pretty much covers it).
  26. The Break by Katherena Vermette – Speaking of haunting tales…this novel, about a family of Indigenous women that’s set in my hometown and written by a local Métis woman, cuts deep. I’m still trying to find the words to review it. I wish I could get this book into more people’s hands.
  27. Daughter of the Pirate King by Tricia Levenseller – A fluffy tale that was less piratey than I hoped, but still fun. I’ll probably read the sequel.
  28. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie – I finally read this book…it’s definitely good, but it’s too bad he seems to think he’s the only Indigenous author of note out there.
  29. Ten Degrees of Reckoning: The True Story of a Family’s Love and the Will to Survive by Hester Rumberg – Possibly the most devastating experience I’ve ever read about (considering both fiction and non-fiction). I picked this up yesterday when I had time to kill at the library and blazed through it. I actually like that Judy herself didn’t write the book. That would have been too close, too intimate, too intense. Hester writes with sensitivity. She creates a respectful sense of Judy’s life, before, during and after the incident, without going into too much detail (unlike with other memoirs/biographies, though, I didn’t feel that she left out key details to be ‘polite’.)
  30.  The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Gaskell – A new-to-me author that I picked up for the first time for a reading event. Her writing has a very particular style – old fashioned in a way that I sometimes get in the mood for. The unicorn’s minor role was a bit disappointing, but other story elements made up for it.
  31. From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg – Another classic I hadn’t heard of before I started book blogging. I loved the New York setting, as many readers before me have. I wish I had this book as a kid. I might have identified with Claudia.
  32. Wednesdays in the Tower by Jessica Day George – Finally read the follow up to Tuesdays in the Castle, two years later! Just as fun as the first. I will continue with the series.
  33. Amina’s Voice by Hena Khan – The book description gets it pretty spot on: “brings to life the joys and challenges of a young Pakistani American and highlights the many ways in which one girl’s voice can help bring a diverse community together to love and support each other”. I especially liked the relationships Amina has with her friends and family.
  34. A Conjuring of Light by V.E. Schwab – Oof. Well. Wasn’t sure what to expect with the conclusion of this trilogy but I suppose it was alright.
  35. The Luck of the Karluk: Shipwrecked in the Arctic by L.D. Cross – Great introduction to the tale of the Karluk for those who haven’t heard of it.
  36. If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo – An own voices YA novel about a transgirl protagonist, post-transition. Just as good as you would hope it to be.
  37. Icemen by Mick Conefrey – I liked learning about different Arctic adventures I had never heard about before. Lots of fascinating stories in this one.
  38. Radio Silence by Alice Oseman – This may be my new favourite contemporary YA ever? Excellent novel with bi and ace rep.
  39. Indigenous Writes: A Guide to First Nations, Métis and Inuit Issues in Canada by Chelsea Vowel – Should be required reading for all Canadians.
  40. Drift & Dagger by Kendall Kulper – I loved reading my annotated copy of this book. I think I liked it better than the first book!
  41. In Calabria by Peter S. Beagle – My second novel by Beagle. Another unicorn story, but a very different one. I loved the fairy tale atmosphere of the real world setting.
  42. More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera – A difficult read that wasn’t to my taste.
  43. The Blossoming Universe of Violet Diamond by Brenda Woods – A great contemporary middle grade novel race and identity, especially Black biracial identity.
  44. The Castle Behind Thorns by Merrie Haskell – Another Haskell book! I enjoyed this one a bit more than Handbook, because I didn’t have any expectations of dragons. I liked the unique setting and the role of religion.
  45. Borne by Jeff VanderMeer – VanderMeer did not disappoint in his first book since The Southern Reach trilogy.
  46. Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right by Arlie Russell Hochschild – A mind-blowing eyeopener. I learnt so much about right wing America.
  47. Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell – A historical middle-grade novel that had been on my TBR for a long time. I will be reading more of Rundell in the future.
  48. Yours Sincerely, Giraffe by Megumi Iwasa – Spotted this book at the library. Read it as a bedtime story. Giraffe is bored so he writes a letter as far away as possible. Penguin gets his letter and writes back. Cute premise, cute illustrations, fun story.
  49. When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore – One of my favourite books this year. Somehow, it was a beautiful as everyone has said. (And the romance is on fire too!)
  50. Star-Crossed by Barbara Dee – Contemporary MG novel about a girl realizing she’s bi. Somehow pulls off having a Shakespeare centered plot. Great conclusion.

And that’s that! I fudged the list a bit – I left off one book I finished last week so I could use that nice round 50. If you have questions about any of these books, I’d be happy to answer them.

What are some of your favourite books from the first half of 2017? Are there any books you wish you had skipped?

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Defining My Personal Canon

Personal Canon

I have read a lot of books. So many excellent, wonderful, marvelous books. But how many of them have had a lasting impact on me? This is the question I began to ponder after reading Lory @ Emerald City Book Review’s post about her personal canon. I have plenty of favourite books that have influenced my reading and writing preferences. Fewer books have made a lasting impression on my personality, my beliefs, my habits, etc.

This list is an attempt to pinpoint the fiction books that have influenced me as person, not just as a reader (non-fiction may get a separate post). I’m trying to be a little more specific than favourite books. These aren’t just favourites. Nor are they necessarily books I would read over and over – they are books I selected because they left a mark on me.

Some of these books I have reviewed here on the blog. Most I read before I started book blogging. I haven’t prioritized or otherwise sorted this list. Links lead to my review or Goodreads. My brief notes are an attempt to give insight into why a book is special me to, but for most books the connection is so personal and so many years old, it’s difficult to describe!

  1. Dear as Salt by Rafe Martin with illustrations by Vladyana Kykorka – picture book from my childhood exquisite illustrations, style of storytelling, fairy tale
  2. White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi – personal connection, Gothic atmosphere, inspiring young author
  3. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien – my gateway to Tolkien, an enjoyable and re-readable book
  4. The Lord of the Rings (FotR | TTT | RotK) by J.R.R. Tolkien – incredible book, never read anything else like it, so much to absorb, can enjoy for the rest of my life, always expanding
  5. Inkspell by Cornelia Funke – particular kind of fantasy, with adult characters not dumbed down
  6. Zen Keys by Thich Nhat Hanh – introduced me to Zen meditation
  7. Hitching Rides with Buddha by Will Ferguson – likely planted the seed of my interest in Japan and the idea that I could go there and teach
  8. Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami – protagonist and story line I could deeply identify with, a new style of storytelling
  9. The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman – blew me away, unlocked something about stories and memories
  10. The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson – apparently I love a creepy house story apparently, plus dear Eleanor.
  11. The Sight by David Clement-Davies – wolves, dark forest fantasy, always reading when in mountains.
  12. Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer – first demonstrated to me that I can enjoy storytelling that’s not pure fantasy
  13. Doctor Who: The Writer’s Tale – The Final Chapter by Russell T. Davies – insight into the writing process, how that beloved season of Doctor Who developed
  14. The Year of Secret Assignments by Jaclyn Moriarity – relatable for teenage me, an epistolary novel I liked
  15. The Southern Reach (Book 1 | Book 3) trilogy by Jeff Vandermeer – unique book, making my mind work and engage with the story

I’ve read 800+ books, yet I’ve got only 37 books on my Goodreads favourites shelf, and just 15 books here. I thought I would have come up with more! Perhaps I’m being too strict with my criteria, haha…At least this reminds me to give my favourites shelf a tidy 😛 What books would you include in a personal canon?

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What Happened on Thursday

Millennium Library ArchitectureThis is a personal post about an awful incident I witnessed at my library a few days ago. You may wish to skip this one.  Writing it out has been helpful for me. I don’t usually talk about my personal life on the blog, and I debated whether I should share this. I’ve decided to post it because my library is such an important place to me, a safe place, a comfortable place, an almost sacred place. Discovering books, writing my blog, reading books, all these activities I do at the library are so closely tied into who I am. I have so much love for my beautiful library. I visit at least once a week. It was the place I missed most when I spent a year in Japan. I wrote a lot about it in 2014 for the Summer Library Reading Challenge.  My library is four stories tall and known for its impressive wall of windows and open staircase. You can see in the photos.

This is what happened: I was on the fourth floor. I saw a man fall from the fourth floor. I had been working on a book review at one of the public computers. Only later did I learn the man had become deeply upset by something he may have seen on the computer, just a few stations over from where I was working. I didn’t notice him until someone yelled, “What are you doing?” I saw a man clinging to the glass. So many people rushed to grab him – even I instinctively took a few steps towards him even though I was probably 50 feet away – but then I heard people scream and I closed my eyes and covered my ears.

I wrote out a long version of this story, with all the details of what I did and saw and felt in the moment. I don’t think that needs to be shared publicly. I’m glad I wrote it, though. Writing it out has been something of a purging process for me.

On Thursday I was shaky, unable to comprehend that what I had seen has really happened. The man was in critical condition. Maybe he would make it. I cried and cried on Friday, when I read that he had passed away. He was 25 years old, the same as me. On Saturday I settled down a bit. Every now and then I had a burst of selfish anger, like “Why did this happen?!” Today I feel pretty good. This helped. I’m not thinking about it non-stop. I didn’t know the man personally (how do his loved ones feel?), I didn’t see the worst moments (my heart breaks for those who did). Mostly I’m a little nervous about how I’ll feel when I go back to the library. I’ll have to remember that the library remains the the exact same place I know and love.

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Wrapping Up 2016, Looking Forward 2017

Welcome to my seventh annual ‘Wrapping Up, Looking Forward’ post. In this post, I like to take a general look back at how I did with my goals in 2016, and set some new goals for 2017.

I posted 62 times. This number falls just two short of my goal of 64. Although I didn’t follow the schedule I had dreamed of (8 posts/month, one review/week), I am satisfied with the posts I did write. I’m going to keep this goal – min. 8 posts/week, including one review or brief thoughts.

I read 114 books, smashing my goal of 84. My success can be largely credited to my participation in the Cybils as a round one judge for middle grade fiction. I believe this is the first time I’ve read 100+ books in a year. When I started 2016, I set my reading goal with the expectation that I would read very little during my four months of travel in New Zealand. I actually read 29 books while travelling. Most of the books I read were whatever my hosts happened to have lying around. Between travelling and Cybils, I had just four months to freely read and borrow from the library whatever I felt like. I am looking forward to taking charge of my reading choices in 2017. Hopefully I will make a better dent in my TBR list!

 

2016 Reading Challenge

2016 Reading Challenge
Jenna has
read 63 books toward
their goal of
84 books.
hide

I didn’t make my reading challenges a priority during the middle part of the year, when I had ample reading time and no other obligations. Thus my poor performance . I am less bitter about this than last year, though, as travelling Middle-Earth and participating in the Cybils were wonderful experiences that I was happy to prioritize over reading. I started to recap my challenges, but the numbers are so low, best to pretend I just didn’t have any. Instead let’s move right on to my personal challenges for 2017! 😀 I have three goals with specific numbers, but also a number of undefined goals (i.e. read more than in 2016).

  • 6 books by Indigenous Canadians
  • 4 books about Japanese spirituality
  • 5 books about/by J.R.R. Tolkien (not including re-reads)
  • Read more picture books and graphic novels (esp. ones people assume I’ve already read…)
  • Read more classic middle grade and speculative fiction middle grade
  • Read more non-fiction
  • Reread more!

This year, I also want to participate in some ‘official’ challenges. I don’t have any specific goals, but I hope these challenges will help me expand my reading horizons. Diversity Bingo originated on Twitter. Naz @ Read Diverse Books is hosting a reviewing diverse books challenge that complements the bingo. I found another bingo (apparently I like concept of bookish bingos) for Canadian literature, which feels especially appropriate given that it’s Canada’s 150th anniversary this year. This one is hosted in the Goodreads group Canadian Content.

Read Diverse 2017

2017 Canadian literature bingoDiversity Bingo 2017

That’s it for my 2017 goals! I may adopt additional challenges throughout the year. I haven’t yet planned to participate in any events, but I’m sure I will. Now that I have a couple years of book blogging under my belt, I don’t feel the need to plan out my year in much detail. I think I know enough to wing it 😛 How was your 2016 reading year? What goals or challenges are you undertaking in 2017?

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