Monday, April 19, 2021

Chaotic Neutral Book Hacks: The Rule-Breaker's Guide to Blasting Through Your 2021 Reading Goals

If you've read my post on a similar subject last week, you know that in the past year, I've been seriously missing playing DnD with my friends. You'll also know that I've been highly conscious of my lack of ability to finish multiple books a week, another favorite hobby of mine that has suffered in the past year, as my sense of motivation and focus took a debilitating nosedive in the face of a pandemic. 

So, I decided to look up some favorite reading hacks from people across the web, detailing how they manage to make reading such a primary practice in their daily lives. Then, I decided to sort through each of those sources, and sort the practices I liked the sound of into various groups: those that abide by scheduling, intention, and organized progression (aka, the "Lawful Good" way to read), and then... the ones collected in this post. 

The "Chaotic Neutral" pile of quick-and-dirty, spontaneous, minimal-fretting and maximum-effect means of getting your Goodreads to its highest-ever score. 

Don't get me wrong: the "Lawful Good" set of advice, I think, was not only more my speed, but was much more in keeping with the sort of advice you're used to regularly getting from members of the Bookish Community. "Schedule reading into your day," "remove distractions," "set time-based goals," blah blah blah. It really is very helpful, but it's also stuff we've all heard before (and most likely ignored before, too). 

The "Chaotic Neutral" advice, on the other hand... I don't know if I've ever thought about some of these tactics, but I'm absolutely willing to give a few of them a shot.

So, which camp do you think better suits your own alignment? I think that, in a couple of different ways, both sides have quite a bit to learn from each other. At the end of the day, we're all just trying to do our best, and sometimes, our best looks a little different to each person. So, give yourself some grace, let loose a little bit... and give some of these crazy reading hacks a try! 

attack of opportunity:
make the most of what you've got

Only reread books, instead of reaching for new titles. There are multiple benefits to this: you don't have to buy, find, or loot (just kidding) any new material, you can pick it up and put it down easily without getting lost, and chances are, you already really like it. Rereading, to me, is a regular part of my reading practice, and every once in a while, I like to pick up books that are sources of comfort in my life. Once you get into the practice of only pursuing those that are chosen winners for you, you might feel more driven to branch out into different, new material. 

Read "disposable" books. Cheap, mass market paperbacks, backlisted titles no one's reviewing on Goodreads, skinny little paper things that you dug out of the $1 rack of a secondhand bookstore. Giving yourself access to titles with as little hype or preconceived notions as possible frees you up from any kind of social pressure to either read or enjoy it, and you don't have to feel bad if you end up getting rid of it when you're done. Honestly, it just feels better to tear through something weird you paid $2 for, then slog your way to the final pages of a $25 hardcover, and that's what's going to help you get back into regular practice. They don't all have to be winners, you know. 

Read dramatically under or over your own reading level. You may be in your mid-twenties, but there's never a wrong time to give Percy Jackson a try. Same with being a high schooler who's just really feeling driven to pick up some Shakespeare you've never attempted before. In one direction, you're taking a step back to reinvest yourself in fun, fast-paced, easily-accessible literature; in the other, you're taking a shot at the stars. While it may be easier to tackle one than the other, that sense of variety and accomplishment will help propel you forward. 

Only read two pages a day. Seriously, I'm not joking. Simply make the commitment to yourself to only read two pages a day. Sure, you can go ahead and read more than that, too, if you'd like... just make sure that no matter how busy your schedule is, you just make the time for those two pages. Steadily, over time, you will build back up to reading more. It's just getting into the daily practice that's important. 

Only read on certain days of the week, like weekends. Don't have any time for reading, due to work, school, and other kinds of time commitments during the work week? No problem. Only read on weekends. When you remove the expectation, you can focus more on what needs to get done during the week, but you also free yourself up to focus squarely on reading during the weekend. That way, you do away with all that guilt and self-flagellation, and the act of picking up a book rests squarely in the relaxing, indulgent frame of mind. When you aren't so busy, and can take more time for yourself during the week, reading on a weekday will then feel more like a joy than a chore. 

multiclass weaponry:
mix your media 

Get a little bardic inspiration: plug in a pair of headphones that cancel out noise, and keep your brain focused while reading with some accompanying music or white noise that you enjoy. Try out one in millions of reading-associated playlists on Spotify, or take a gander at some of those "coffee shop ambience" sound-mixed videos on YouTube, and see if they help! My brother occasionally goes even one step beyond, and listens to an audiobook at 2x speed while he reads along with a physical copy. I do the same when I read Shakespeare, too! 

Make your technology work for you, like utilizing the Audible / Overdrive app on your phone, or keeping your Kindle app available on multiple devices. If you're someone who's totally addicted to social media - it's okay, there's no shame in it - then try dedicating that attention to the Kindle app, instead, by swapping their locations on your phone. The "eReaders aren't real books" debate is a tired, old thing, and it's more than okay to read books on a digital device... which applies to your actual phone, as well. (Fun fact: my younger sister used to bookmark fanfiction to tabs on her phone browser before we'd head into the Parks on trips to Disneyland, so that she could read them while we were waiting in line... it's easy, convenient, and chances are, you'd be looking at your screen anyways!)

Watch the movie first. It makes way too much sense: read books that were adapted into movies or television you enjoy! Fans of Bridgerton should pick up the romance novels, and those who love PBS mysteries should grab an Agatha Christie or two. You'll have a general idea of what's coming, and it will help pull you further into the story as you anticipate the parts you recognize. My sister saw Gone Girl before she read the book, and guess what? She still loved it! Even the classics - like Pride and Prejudice - have plenty of solid adaptations made of them, and watching the drama play out on screen first might find you speeding through, so you can get to your favorite parts. (This method also helps steer you away from reading stories that you didn't like, which frees up your reading time for more worthy material, too!) 

Similarly, take a look at the Sparknotes summary of a classic before attempting it. Specifically, look at major themes and motifs, and read through some of the main characters and settings, as well as get a quick author bio about the kind of person who wrote it, and the time period in which it was written. It can help orient you to the novel, and tell you what you need to be paying attention to while you read. 

roll for insight:
optimizing your habits

Don't be afraid to skim! This might sound blasphemous - as I'm sure the reason we're all trying to read more books is to actually read them - but in actuality, not every word you read is going to be totally necessary to your sense of understanding. Don't be afraid to gloss over parts that you don't really feel like reading... if a Self Help book offers ridiculously circuitous advice, or a Romance has parts that aren't keeping your attention, feel free to do the bare minimum of intake until you get back to a section that holds your attention. There's nothing wrong with speed-reading! 

Furthermore, DNF ruthlessly. DNF like crazy. Pull absolutely no punches about what you're reading! Read one or two chapters, and put it down if you're not feeling it... and that goes for any point in time in a read, too, so don't worry about page count sunk costs, either. If you don't like it, you're not going to want to read it, and if you don't want to read it, you're going to find it a lot harder to read much of anything. Give yourself a break, and move on, fast! 

Get interactive about what you're reading, by annotating and highlighting the text itself, marking pages that speak to you in pen, or even dog-earing important passages. Each of these practices is, for some reason, almost unspeakable in the bookish community, but honestly, I endorse it fully. (Notable exception: if you do this with a physical library copy, you are one of the worst kinds of human being, right up there with people who fail to use turn signals. Do not mark up library copies!) For instance, as I'm reading through my Big Box of Paranormal Romance, I dog-ear the hell out of the books I'm reading, to flag important conversations and plot points, as well as highlight things I find particularly entertaining or ridiculous. Engage with the content, by whatever means that works for you, and that includes marking things up. This isn't Boy Scouts; leave a damn trace! 

Set a reward. Come up with some kind of external prize for your good habits. While there are plenty that say the act of reading is prize enough, I say sometimes things are more fun when you involve stickers. Mark your progress with things you enjoy, like having a favorite snack available while reading, giving yourself a short break from work, sitting in a patch of sun with your comfy chair, etc. I have a friend from college who spends about thirty minutes unwinding from virtual working-from-home every day, by parceling out a half an hour or so before making dinner, and simply sitting with a fun custom cocktail and whatever book she's reading. While we don't all have that kind of regular bevvie money, we do have the chance to give ourselves more of a pat on the back for pursuing good habits. 

area of effect:
managing your surroundings

Make an absolute mess. Leave books all over your house, in your car, in your bag, in front of your closet door so you have to move them in the morning before you get dressed. By using the power of suggestion and surrounding yourself with reading material, you're far more likely to pick it up... and maybe even someone else in your house might, too! Nothing more compelling than the looming terror of tripping over a novel and braining yourself on the edge of your desk to compel you to clean-by-reading. 

Read during mealtimes, or when you're busy doing other tasks. Whether this looks like waking up your brain at breakfast, keeping yourself company at lunch, or making reading a treat that comes with dessert, you can find plenty of pockets for reading time during the regular progression of the day, by tying it to meals. This goes for other times of day, too: double up and listen to an audiobook while you're busy doing physical activities, like cooking, doing dishes, or making your bed. My younger sister makes her way through long reads by blasting audiobooks through her apartment while she's cleaning up on the weekends, or during hard workouts. My brother likes to listen while he's walking on his college campus to the cafeteria, and continues while he's eating, which makes for a nice mid-day break, too. 

Read during the commercials while you're watching TV. Don't think of reading as some elaborate thing: you don't need perfect conditions, you don't need your favorite comfy chair and your ideal snack, you don't even need to be reading a perfect or especially life-changing book. All you need is to have something to read nearby... fifteen minutes in a parking lot, twenty minutes in between classes, a few minutes here and there really add up over time. Those little attempts at reading can even make those long marathon sessions feel all the more precious and special, and plus, all of this keeps you off of scrolling your phone!

Tell me if this sounds familiar: you sit down at your desk, ready to tackle a big project, but you just can't bring yourself to type anything into that glaring, white, blank document box. So, you spend an hour scrolling on your phone instead. Next time this happens, pick up a book! If you're not actually working, might as well be doing something productive. Read when you're supposed to be doing something else. Make procrastination work for you! 

adventurer's guild:
never go it alone

Get competitive. Measure up your reading challenge numbers against someone else, or start a buddy read and see who can finish their title first. By finding someone to read with, you've automatically tied yourself to a like-minded individual, who makes the same priorities, who can help give advice and reassurance when you're having a hard time, and compel you to continue making the effort. If you really want to get intense about it, make a bet, write dares for the loser to complete, or even put money down, to see who can really make it work.

Put it all out there online. Get social about your reading accountability by making an Instagram or Goodreads account, and invite all of your friends to follow the page. On one hand, you now have a group of people you can chat with about your reading habits; on the other, there's also the element of social pressure to post regularly and read compelling material. I've been blogging for almost eleven years, and still feel the expectation to perform, and post content that doesn't suck every once in a while. Make peer pressure your ally! 

Go read in a public place somewhere, and don't leave until you've finished two more chapters. Be safe about it - duh, Covid - but make sure its a suitably populated environment, like a picking out a bench along a busy sidewalk, or packing a camping chair to lounge in at the park. Better yet, bring someone along with you for the journey. It's like when you did homework in the library back in college, and felt like you couldn't have Facebook open on your laptop, or everyone around you would think you were a slacker. The pressure to read will keep your eyes on your book, and the presence of other people might just keep you focused. (And even if you get bored and distracted, huzzah! You left the house today!) Remember to pack a hat, some sunglasses, and a comfy snack... or, true to the chaotic mindset, just leave the house with whatever you've got on your person right now. Or for the more socially-anxious among us, like me, think about it like a self-kidnapping: set a timer for half an hour, and read with the expectation that you're not allowed to go home until the time's up. 

Whether you're a tank fighter looking to muscle your way through to your best version of your reading self, or a healer just trying to find a little more time to relax with your favorite hobby, I hope you find a few ways to make 2021 a magically bookish year to remember. 

And I also hope I get to play with my buddies again soon, because let's be real, there are only so many Dungeons and Dragons podcasts out there to listen to. Makes me want to find some other way to spend my free time... I just don't know what... 

Are you a Lawful Good reader, or a Chaotic Neutral one? What was your favorite piece of advice from these posts... and which one are you thinking of trying out for yourself? Let me know, in the comments below!

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Lawful Good Reading Hacks: The Rule-Follower's Way to Upping Your Goodreads Game in 2021

Over a year's worth of quarantine has meant many things: changes to daily routines and means of living, losing out on major life changes and opportunities, and having your regular social interaction facilitated by way of a litany of various screens and browser windows. And, of course, no Dungeons and Dragons meetings with some of my best friends. 

So you'll forgive me, of course, for wanting to go with a bit of a theme? 

I've talked about it on and off for the past year, but while Covid may have unceremoniously dumped a surplus of free reading time in our laps, it did not exactly yield the kind of mental state that led to wanting to make best use of it... at least, not for me. I lost out on my Goodreads Challenge for the first time ever last year, and even into 2021, it's been a bit of a struggle. 

But with the oncoming Spring, I've found myself considering making a bit of a lifestyle change: what if I gave it a real shot, a good one, to reinvest in myself and my readerly lifestyle? What if I made a plan and a deliberate choice, to plot out my TBR and schedule my reading time, thereby doing something that is beneficial for both myself and the people around me? 

Sounds like the sort of thinking a Lawful Good person might employ. 

So I struck out on a research assignment of my own making, scouring blogs - including my own - and YouTube channels galore, seeking out some kind of hint or hack that might make it easier to bring my own reading hobby back up to personal par. I wrote down what I felt was some of the best advice, organized it based on what I felt was a sensible direction, and drafted out a blogpost... but found frequent recommendations that might not align themselves exactly with my own favorite D&D alignment. 

Some of them, actually, came out a little bit more... chaotic

With that understanding in mind, I drafted out a second blogpost, too: whereas this one is more for the structured, plotting, rule-following among us, I've got another just up the pipe that gets a little more loosey-goosey with our favorite habits. Not that you won't find some kind of advice that appeals to both sides of yourself within these tidbits of advice... work with what makes sense to you! 

But at the very least, if you're like me - someone who's had a real devil of a time in trying to make sense of yourself and the world around you in the past year - I hope you give this post a read. We could all use a little help, after all. Maybe this way, you'll find a tip or trick that can help load the dice in your favor... or at least give you advantage on your next roll. 

favored terrain: 

it's all about environment

Get rid of time wasters with app blockers, screen time monitors, and more. Log out of accounts that are easily accessible to you, and the extra effort it takes to log back in might serve as enough of a mental check to keep you focused on your path, instead. 

Remove distractions from your reading environment. Find a quiet space, or use headphones or earplugs. Grab a blanket or some fuzzy socks if there's a chill. Bring your water bottle with you. 

Do you have what you need? Consider large-print books, or adjusting the view on your eReader device, which usually also come with a dyslexia font function. Make sure you're not straining your eyes by reading somewhere that's not getting enough adequate light. 

Take yourself out on a reading date. I sometimes get annoyed with the amount of pictures on my bookstagram that show someone chilling in a cafe, with a pretty beverage, with a book and journal out in front of them on the table... but honestly, that's the perfect way to make sure you get reading done, if that's what it calls for. You get a nice afternoon to yourself and a nice book, get to enjoy a hot beverage and the fun environment of a coffee shop, and even can make for a moody picture to post to the 'Gram about it later (but only after you're finished!). Other options include an outdoor picnic during the Spring and Summer, chilling out on your patio or balcony, or even in your car, on the road! Just make it something new and different than what you normally get to experience. 

bag of holding: 

what've you got?

Make best use of bookish systems that work for you, be it a Goodreads account, keeping an Excel tracker or a book journal. Book journals are an especially good choice, because they can help you keep track of what you've been reading in a physical, hands-on way... they also serve as a great place to keep your goals and habit trackers in regards to reading, as well as jot down a few notes about books as/ after you read them, so you can remember them better later on!

Get some cute bookmarks, and use them. They're pretty to look at, and you'll want to show them off! 

Make sure you always have something new and exciting on hand. Whether this means you stalk local book sales, check out other retailers, like Book Outlet or Thrift Books, or get good with your library's eBook and hold systems, it's easy to generate lots of new material, for a much less daunting price than buying new, especially hardcovers. By prioritizing easy access to new material, you know that you'll always have compelling reads close on hand. And by keeping track of things like sales, going thrifting, and especially making best use of your library, your new favorite hobby ends up being pretty darn cheap! 

Keep a book always attached to your phone. Consider them a bound-together kind of pair... that way, you'll always make sure you have both in your purse, sitting next to you on your desk, etc. 

Use page flags to mark your aspirations for how far you want to read in a day. Want to make sure you make it to at least 50 pages? Slip a post-it note or second book mark as to where that segment ends. Work your way towards it at your own pace, but make sure to keep going until you hit it! 

roll for initiative: 

it all takes practice

Read "at your level." Are you so desperate to claim or reclaim your title as "book-reading smart person" that you're reaching for The Brothers Karamozov before you'd even really cemented yourself back in the habit? Try taking things a little slower. Meet yourself where your skills are first, and build up from there. 

Change up the genre direction. Nonfiction, memoirs and informational reading. Literary fiction, romance, fantasy, mysteries. YA, NA, middle grade. Short stories or novellas instead of novels. Even try your hand at a comic book, or a manga! 

Set time- or activity-based goals while you're reading. For instance, "If I read for twenty minutes, I can take a social media break for five." "If I read for half an hour while the cookies are in the oven, I can have one fresh instead of putting it into Tupperware." Or you can think about time blocking your reading in a similar fashion: one episode of your tv show could instead be another 75 pages in your recent read, or one social media binge could amount to another chapter. Set expectations as to how you want to invest your time, and use it for either goal-setting or as a reward. 

Go for a reading sprint, where you dedicate a certain amount of uninterrupted time to reading, seriously, as much as you can. Even some twenty minutes of singularly-focused, dedicated reading a day, can lead to you finishing a book in a week or two that you might otherwise not have read! 

Get multi-media. Read a book your favorite movie or television show was based off of, look up inspired playlists on Spotify, try a recipe mentioned in your most recent read, or listen to a podcast discussing a book you've been dying to get to. By connecting the things you're reading to other favorite parts of your life, it inspires you to continue on. 

Find a niche subject you're especially interested in, and pick up a whole bunch of books on that subject. I have somewhat irrational fixations on both Culinary School and Urban Gardening, and have entire stacks organized around such subjects tucked into various corners of my room, not to mention that giant box of Paranormal Romance novels hidden behind my reading chair. Find what compels you! 

Join in on a Reading Challenge: one of my favorite things, every summer, is when the Seattle Public Library puts out their Book Bingo Reading Challenge. It guarantees that I'll pick up something unexpected over the summer, and I absolutely love the sense of validation that comes from checking off squares! 

party of adventurers: 

find your team

Join a book club! It's fun, and there's accountability in groups. It's easy and convenient to meet virtually, but it's also fun to meet in person. Go to an author event together, or a book festival, etc. and you'll find more ways to connect with like-minded, book-loving people. 

Which is important, because you should really try and surround yourself with other people who love books. If there aren't people in your real-life you can talk about reading with regularly - for instance, my younger brother and I have regular Zoom calls about Romance, while I chat with my friend Keller about Science Fiction - I would also recommend considering something like making a bookish Instagram account, where you can connect with book people around the world. There are a ton of different Facebook group pages where people meet up and talk about favorite authors and genres, too! 

Have a "Reading Party." I have only the best of memories about various Read-Ins we'd have in elementary or middle school, where we'd have entire hour blocks - or in one memorable instance, a whole afternoon! - dedicated to reading. We were allowed to bring in pillows and blankets, took snack breaks, had music playing softly in the background, and we could read wherever we wanted, including along the walls, underneath other desks, next to our friends, etc. Preserve that magic with your loved ones, by having a reading party all your own... grab a buddy or two, find somewhere quiet, and pull out something cool to read. Don't have any reading-minded friends? Ask if you can stay in a room with someone who is playing video games or cooking, doing a craft, etc. and make use of the time and proximity to read while they're busy. 

long rest to regain HP: 

take a break

"Go to bed" - or at least your bedroom - early. This forces you to either do a little reading in bed to wind your way down after a busy day, or it makes you sleepy and you wake up earlier, which gives you more time to read in the morning before you get your day started! 

Don't read in your actual bed, though. Make sure you're relaxed and comfy, sure, but try not to read in the place where you spend a lot of your day sleeping, too: on one hand, it may knock you out, and on the other, it may make it more difficult for you to sleep later.

In the words of my HR-focused, mission-minded sister, "try and take it back to the why." Give yourself a chance to really consider why you are so focused on reading more. Is it for the right reasons? Are you doing it because of positive pressure, or negative? Once you do some reflection on why it is important to you to make reading a priority, consider making those reasons into some form of external record: hang a poster next to your bookshelf, or write it on a bookmark to take with you. There are plenty of good reasons, but you need to find one that is most personal to you. Commit to making reading a priority. 

Think about how you feel when you read. What does reading, as a practice, feel like for you? Do you feel drained, frustrated, distracted? Do you feel renewed, introspective, rested? Where do you feel the effects of reading in your body... are you more relaxed, or do you feel cramped and claustrophobic? Were you constantly getting interrupted, did you feel like you couldn't relax, were you unable to focus for a long period of time? Listen to how you react to reading... if the overall experience is negative, then something needs to be changed, be it the location where you're reading, or the genre you're paying attention to, etc.

Don't try to force yourself if you're not having a good time. Sometimes there are just more important things to focus on, or you have other places in your life that require more attention. Reading should be an act of personal enjoyment, fun, a hobby instead of a chore. Don't be too hard on yourself if you're really not in a good place to be reading. 

Still, there's one more thing worth mentioning: at the end of the day, it's going to be the act of reading more that makes you... read more. Not only do your skills improve and you find yourself reading faster, but also, putting yourself into the habit makes reading a more likely way for you to pass the time regularly. 

Of course, if none of this all worked for you, there's another blog post coming in the next couple of days that might strike you as more helpful. (Particularly those of us who skew a little more to the Chaotic side of the alignment.) 

Whether you're a barbarian who dogears the pages of their Historical Fiction, or a warlock who needs to have at least one cup of hot tea and their favorite blanket to get comfortable with their favorite Romance author, I hope you find a way to read today! 

What's your favorite D&D alignment? Are you trying to up your reading goals in 2021, too? Let me know, in the comments below!

Friday, March 26, 2021

Big Box of Paranormal Romance, Part One: Racist Vampires, Alien Drama, and Psychic Crystal House Explosions

If you are someone who reads my blogs regularly - as in, hello to my Dad and little brother and assorted other friends - you might recall, towards the end of last year, that I received a very unconventional Christmas present: a box of 20 random, backlist Paranormal Romance novels, purchased wholesale for about $25 on eBay.

If you're someone who follows me on my Instagram account, you might recognize the beginnings of this project, as I gleefully shared excerpts from the first few chapters of the first novel in my Stories. Within only a couple of hours, I had received about eight messages from various people, discussing the material and the zaniness found within. 

And within two days of publishing reviews of each of these recent reads to my Goodreads account, I'd been blessed with three additional texts from people, asking what the hell is going on. 

So, basically, here's the gist: I've got the romance novels, I've got the will, and as of right now, I've got nine more months to put a bow on 17 more of these 20 reads. They may not all be good, but I'm certainly been having a good time.

Well, mostly. 

Wanna know what I mean? Here are the first three books I've read from the box. I hope you enjoy reading the reviews as much as I did reading the novels... and in some cases, maybe even more. 

#1. Midnight Lover (Forever Vampires #5), Rosemary Laurey (2007)

One star.
No, I'm not kidding. And you'll see why. 

Summary: After the events of previous novels, Toby Wise, vampire, is installed as head of a company now facing FBI scrutiny after the suspicious paralyzing injury dealt to its founder, and its vanished previous CEO. However, that's not all he has on his hands: the small Oregon town in which he is now stationed by his vampiric boss seems to be under attack by some kind of invading clan. Add on a witch being persecuted by the nearby police force, and a young nurse he can't keep his teeth out of, and there's already a lot going on in this fifth installment of the Forever Vampires series. And that's even without mentioning the chupacabras.


He wished him luck. He wished himself luck. A witch as a houseguest, a rogue vampire in the vicinity, the FBI, falling in love - life in Oregon was nothing if not interesting.

What I enjoyed: 
- terrible names (Toby Wise, Laura Fox)
- the existence of both Kit Marlowe and Vlad the Impaler within the actual cast of the book's characters
- the chupacabra subplot
- the use of "Nice!" as an exclamation during a love-making scene
- the FBI systematically ripping the main character's home apart for no reason, including accidentally hauling a vampire away while inside of his coffin, who then later bursts out of the side of the FBI van he's being hauled away in completely naked
- Non-ironic internal monologues including the phrases "Wowee!" and "Yikes!" 
- a French vampire who everyone hates for seemingly no reason, aside from the fact that he is French, who ends up hooking up with a 60-year-old woman by the end of the book
- that a female character, who was a main in a previous installment of the series, is a "ghoul," essentially just a human with vampire powers who lives off of raw meat, including spending a scene where she carries dialogue just absolutely housing plastic trays of raw chicken

Things I did not enjoy AT ALL, which are also the reason I cannot in good conscience recommend this book to anyone else to read:
- weirdly-placed casual homophobia
- blurry lines of consent
- racially-charged characterizations of antagonist vampires as specifically from Central America, including the fact that they utilize chupacabra familiars and use their paranormal gifts to install drug cartels in small towns as a means of gaining money and power
- out of the three Black characters, one ends up being the only sympathetic death in the book
- out of the three Black characters, one - the only woman of the three - ends up being introduced in uncomfortably sexually-focused terms, despite the fact that she is literally an FBI officer
- out of the three Black characters, the two male vampires come from inherently racist origins in ways that are spoken about with entirely too much nonchalance (ie, one came from a bad foster care system in their youth, and the other was born a slave in South Carolina, who talks about being whipped as a human, and how his relationship with a white female character would have been grounds for lynching in another time)
- the literal use of the n-word from one Black character against another, deliberately tagged in the dialogue as meant to be an insult (page 96)
- that the author was writing all of this as a British grandmother in 2007 and thought it was all cool and fine and normal
- the fact that almost none of this is mentioned in any of the Goodreads reviews on the site!! 

Dream Eyes (Dark Legacy #2), Jayne Ann Krentz (2013)

No joke, literally five stars. Five stars of brain candy fun.

Summary: Gwen Frazier never thought she'd come back to the small Oregon town of Wilby, after a research project on psychics - led by her mentor, Evelyn Ballinger - resulted in the deaths of three people... one of whom was a killer, stalking the other project participants. However, after Evelyn ends up dead under suspicious circumstances two years later, Gwen is convinced that some horrible force is at work again. Calling in a favor from a friend, she's joined by psychic investigator Judson Coppersmith, who vows to help her discover what her mentor's work was hiding... despite his aversion to her own gifts. Soon enough, they're locked in a battle with someone just as powerful as they are, but whose intentions are far less noble, one that could bring about only more misery if left unchecked. 


'How did you survive?'

'The old-fashioned way. I had a gun. I used it.' 

After my first entry into reading from my big box of backlist Paranormal Romance titles, I was seriously nervous about getting through the rest. Would they all be so problematic? Should I expect nothing but a barrage of issues with consent, racism, etc, in front of me?

Thankfully, my second foray had absolutely none of that. What it did retain, however, was all of the batshit crazy material I'd been hoping for when I first opened up the box. 

This novel follows a couple of psychics, facing off against a serial killer who's been bumping off psychics. The hero's name is JUDSON. There are at least nine pages of content explaining the rules and regulations of psychic powers and the limits and mechanics of those abilities, for every page of actual romantic material. There are magical crystals that can be harnessed and utilized to inflict psychic damage, and at one point, a house full of windchimes spontaneously combusts because of the amount of psychic energy being generated therein. 

And it was utterly, completely delightful. There was decent representation in the inclusion of an awesome LGBT character, it was secretly funny in the kind of way that had me dog-earing pages just so I could come back to the banter later, and it was actually written with pretty good plot progression, to the point where I questioned if the author had ever written for television... or at least a Nancy Drew video game. 

But if they were / are, this installment clearly saw them working without an editor, because a lot of the plot, especially character backgrounds, felt a little like flinging spaghetti at a wall and seeing what sticks (in only the most joyous of ways). From a serial killer sourcing his prey through online chatrooms, to a shady pharmaceutical company testing highly addictive substances on psychics, to a cult leader manipulating people with drugs, and a miner whose DNA was altered by the ultraviolet radiation in a crystal mine explosion, this book really did feel like it had it all. And that's not even mentioning the character who got sent to an evil boarding school after the death of her parents led to her ability to see ghosts reflected in mirrors. 

Truly, my favorite part about the whole book, was coming to the realization that I have a new favorite trope: characters who are gifted with paranormal abilities, but who continually opt to reach for a firearm instead. That, everyone, would be Judson. But not only does this man love to use his handgun, which he keeps strapped to his ankle... Judson is also described in one intimate scene as removing his khakis, which means that this man wears khakis with a wide-enough bottom hem so that he can access his piece when he needs it. Which is always. 

He likes the heroine of the novel pretty well enough, too. 

How to Lose an Extraterrestrial in 10 Days (Otherworldly Men #3), Susan Grant (2007)


Summary: Evie is an overworked, underappreciated, single mom, currently dealing with an obnoxious ex, a chaotic home life, and, oh yeah, the post-traumatic stress of being stalked through her own home by a cyborg killer on the hunt for her future brother-in-law. When aforementioned cyborg Reef - now rehabilitated - is dropped on her front porch, in an effort to hide him from government forces seeking to exploit his technology, she sees an opportunity to break out from the mold of her politically minded family, and use his help in managing her fledgling chocolate strawberry business. Will Evie and Reef's past keep them apart, or lead them to a love that's out of this world? 

'But he's... an extraterrestrial.' The word squeezed past Pierce's straight, perfectly white clenched teeth like dough through a cookie press. Except if his voice were to be made into cookies, they'd be inedible, bitter and burned.  

Wow, I can't believe that I finally ran into my first DNF! In actuality, this book was so difficult to read, that my avoidance of even working my way another chapter into the book sent me into a slump for two weeks. Even the heinously racist vampire book didn't manage that! 

What ended up being the death knell for this book for me, wasn't just the fact that the writing was pretty bizarre, but that it also handled a lot of heavy topics that I couldn't really rely on the author to deal with appropriately. Seriously difficult subject matter that kept being thrown at the reader - torture, inoperable kill switches, government intervention, mob involvement, direct violence enacted against characters, etc. - was constantly getting entangled with somewhat breathlessly stupid characterizations and dialogue. 

Most notably, our main character is one kid in a long line of a political dynasty, the only one who doesn't seem to have much of a elite streak. She's an unhappy housewife - the mother of two kids she shares with a cold and unfeeling adulturer ex-husband - who is also constantly beleaguered by requests from her oblivious, well-respected family members, who rely on her to take care of the dirty work of their lives, but also seem hell-bent on undercutting her sense of self-worth at every opportunity. Her attempt to prove them wrong? By starting a CHOCOLATE-COVERED STRAWBERRY business that caters to large events. But that's not all: she decides to really tell her family off by donating the proceeds to charity, directing what pittance she earns towards funding organizations that end child trafficking. She justifies this with the acknowledgement that had Earth been invaded (as was attempted in a previous installment), the entire human race might have been sold into slavery on other planets. And that's why chocolate-covered strawberries are so important to her! 

It's as if there's absolutely no balance the serious, dark implications of subject matter, and the neon pink goofiness of the actual writing. The extremes are far to much to trade off between. 

The part where I closed the book for good was actually when it became clear that the heroine's relationship with her d-bag ex-husband was going to end in trouble... like, in a "he's actually building a really effective case for renegotiating child support against you and removing your legal right to see your kids" kind of way. In a mild panic, I flipped to the second-to-last page to see if it managed to get resolved all right by the end, only to see it flippantly abandoned with only the sheerest veneer of quasi-resolution (aka, she is handed a court warrant, which she then tears up in front of him, and tells him 'Bite me.' Which I feel like wouldn't stand up in an actual court of law?)

In total, the book didn't seem to take itself seriously, so it became borderline painful for me to take it so seriously. I read Romance for an engaging distraction, not a parade of Sad and Bad Things that never end up being resolved before the HEA. Really just not my thing at all. 

Important note about the author, though: this book was originally sold as a mass-market paperback by Harlequin, in 2007. Since then, the author appears to have since purchased her own material back, repackaging and selling it under a new name - Cyborg and the Single Mom - as an ebook, through publisher Singing Tree Media, via Amazon. Due to the importance of ebook purchasing and availability in contemporary Romance readership, and its lucrative nature for authors, I wanted to make sure that at the very least, I shouted out Grant's business acumen. Woo, you go, Susan! Get that shmoney! It's the sort of thing I hope to see more traditionally-published Romance authors doing in the future. 

So, I'm three books in to a twenty book box, and it's already the end of March. Do I have any hope of completing my self-imposed reading deadline? Should I be DNFing books at all... or should I be DNFing MORE books? What should I read next? Let me know, in the comments below!

Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Top Ten Tuesday: Eleven (!!!) Books I Need to "Clean Off" My TBR

"Top Ten Tuesday" is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl!

So... I'm in a bit of a pickle. Well, not quite a pickle, per se, but definitely a slump. The slumpiest kind of slump. The kind of slump that means it's somehow March, and I've only read four books so far this year. 

While I came into 2021 strong, determined to make the most of the time I had, in a way that I wasn't able to do in the chaos of 2020, I quickly fell into the same patterns of endless doom-scrolling and curating overly specific Pinterest boards in a way that gobbled up all of my attention. I was a little taken aback recently, when I was filling out the February pages in my Book Journal, and saw that I had actually only managed to finish one (!) book in the entirely of the month (and it was one of those Paranormal Romance novels I've been talking about!). 

Which is especially embarrassing, when you take a look at all of the books stacked next to and around my bed. On the second shelf of my bedside table, on the coffee table under the lamp, all you can see are books! So why have I not been reading them? Well, I actually have been, kind of... it's just that I haven't been finishing them. 

So, for this "Spring Cleaning" themed installment of Top Ten Tuesday, I figured I'd share a little bit about all of these miscellaneous titles I need to "clean" off my TBR, before I can make way for something new. 

currently reading (sort of)

1. The Lies of Locke Lamora, Scott Lynch

This book has been on my TBR shelves for literal years and years - after purchasing it based on the glowing recommendations of a ton of people - so it's funny to admit that the reason I finally picked it up was because one of my friends said I should really "get around to it when I have the chance." Oh, a casual rec given during a FaceTime where you also tell me to read two other books I also have in my possession? Obviously I must begin immediately, because I love you. 

While I am genuinely enjoying the fast-paced action and non-chronological storytelling, there's something about this behemoth of a Fantasy novel that I'm holding at arm's length. I think it's because it is so large... if I dedicate myself fully to tackling this one, it will still take a lot of time and focus to make it to the end! 

2. Joan of Arc, Mark Twain

But speaking of high commitment, I feel like I need to tell you that the same day that I began the 700+ page Fantasy, I also cracked open this title, an also hundreds-of-pages work of Historic Sentimentalism that would be, for me, actually a reread. I first took up this novel when I was 17, and going through Confirmation classes at church, but being that we're moving through the season of Lent right now, I figured it might be worth the revisit. 

Needless to say, there's a lot more that's catching my attention now, a full decade after my first perusal, and my palms are sore from catching all of this stuff that used to just fly over my head. So it's almost a higher level of self-inflected expectations, as well, as not only is it a huge read, and a difficult genre, with both literary and personal meaning to grapple with... it's a lot! 

3. How to Lose an Extraterrestrial in 10 Days, Susan Grant 

This is my current exploration, plucked from my giant box of Paranormal Romance reads, gifted by my younger brother for Christmas. Originally, I had planned on making my way through all twenty before the holiday season came around again, but if we're basing expectations off of what I've managed to accomplish thus far, there's no way I'm even making it halfway to that finish line! 

Plus, the theming and plot details of this alien-based steamy read are way more detailed - and honestly? kind of intense - than I had expected. The tone of the book so far doesn't feel like it matches the genre or cover material, so unless things even out fast, this is going to be a much bumpier ride than I thought it was going to be. 

4. Content Marketing for Nonprofits, Kivi Leroux Miller 

In a confusing twist, this book - a dense and comprehensive take on the whole, complex practice of managing socials, website, press materials, and more, for nonprofits big and small - has been one of the most enjoyable and consistent reads I've been making my way through in the past month. And that comes along with the fact that I've been taking copious notes throughout the whole process. Odds are high that of all of them, this is one of the books I'm going to be finishing first! 

5. Artificial Condition (Murderbot #2), Martha Wells 

Yeah, I've got nothing. Absolutely nothing to excuse this one. It's literally a novella, in a series I enjoy, that I've been reading alongside other friends. Technically, I'm even almost finished with this! I only have like 5% left on my Kindle copy, and the ebook is due back to the library in like two days. What the hell. I mean, I have to switch between the Content Marketing ebook and this one when I read them? Is that a good excuse? 

(My brother, who is also waiting for this ebook from the library, is going to kill me for this one.)

on the pile (aka, from much longer ago)

6. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Annie Dillard

Started: last March. I'm a fan of Annie Dillard - especially her memoir An American Childhood, which I have read a couple of times since first encountering it in high school English class - and I know this is her big "claim to fame" title, so I figured I should probably get around to reading it. However, it's really just a whole truckload of description about the wonders of the natural world, which doesn't exactly make for a real page-turner. 

7. Interview with the Vampire, Anne Rice

Started: October. Man, this was the perfect thing to read at the time I was originally reading it, back in October, in the Halloween Times. But unfortunately, it's a little dense, with a lot of character detail, and I'm reading it from an old mass market paperback I picked up from a Goodwill a long time ago, which makes for slow going. So when I didn't finish it before the clock chimed on Halloween, I felt weird continuing on through November or December. But honestly, Spring and Summer are pretty great times to read spooky stuff, too, so maybe it's time to give this one another go? 

8. The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, Alan Bradley

Started: August. This is another example of a fun, exciting read, that is a little intimidating based on its size and relatively fast pace. I'm poised right after the body was found in this engaging, unique mystery novel, but I'm way too nervous to dive back in and get swept up in the plot unless I'm ready to, like, commit. Which is a very special kind of stupid, when you consider the rate at which I've been known to go through an Agatha Christie novel in my time. 

9. Manhattan Beach, Jennifer Egan

Started: last February. UGGHH. So here's the deal: Jennifer Egan is one of my all-time favorite authors. Her book A Visit from the Goon Squad is one of my all-time favorites. I own almost all of her titles, and have read over half of them, including her short story collections. And when I heard that she was publishing a period piece, I was floored. 

But when I finally got around to picking up this much-hyped title... I hated it. Just, really didn't like any part of it. Yes, it was still clearly her voice, but it fell into so many trappings that are typical to her, in a way that I found really uncomfortable and off-putting. So, I'm more than halfway through it, and it's been taking up space on my table for a full calendar year... but I have absolutely no idea what to do with it. 

(Realistically, I know that I should probably just get rid of it... donate it or something. But it's Jennifer Egan! And everyone else I know who's read it, loved it! BUT I've had this book on my table for practically as long as there's been a pandemic!) 

10. Jane Austen: A Life, Claire Tomalin

Started: last February. This one is actually a fabulous read, too. Just a lot of really great historical context for one of England's most famous authors. But when I say A LOT, I mean a lot... enough detail to send a weaker person screaming. You know, like me! 

Just kidding. I mean, I did make it through the first half of the book, and it was a really good time, especially considering the amount of foundation that's laid in simply illuminating the members of her extensive family. But it was a little too much all at once, and then once I took a break, it was difficult to jump back in... and now that we're a full year out, I don't know if I'd remember enough to make the attempt! 

11. The Well of Lost Plots (Thursday Next #3), Jasper Fforde 

Started: last April. Remember when I decided that my deteriorating attention span and fading sense of optimism, in the face of the constant onslaught of terrible pandemic news, meant that I should reread one of my all-time fave series? And then I stopped in the middle of the third installment because I got too overwhelmed and didn't pick it back up again for the rest of the year? Ahahaha. It's fine. I'm fine. 

What topic did you choose for your Top Ten this week? Got any ideas about which of these books I should bump to the top of my TBR stack? Let me know, in the comments below! 

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Top Ten Tuesday: Resolutions for 2021, Bookish and Not

"Top Ten Tuesday" is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl!

New year, new me. I promised myself that this year, I'd upload at least 50 blogposts, and here I am, at Week Two of 2021, and I've managed to get my second post of the year up! Sure, it may seem too early to celebrate, but we're leaving that energy behind in 2020, and popping bottles for the little things. Well, bottles of kombucha. And not too many times in one week, or it makes my stomach hurt. Three cheers for implementing positive habits! 

And while we're on the subject of changing our lives for the better, here are some of my 2021 New Years Resolutions, both Bookish and Not! 


1. Read over 50 Books! 

As you might have seen in the post previous to this one, I didn't make it past my Goodreads Challenge of 60 books last year. I've decided - now that I've done with sulking  - to make a directional adjustment, and instead of punishing myself by trying for an even higher goal, I'm actually bringing things down to a slightly more achievable number. Hopefully, I'll use it as an excuse to keep the pace, and pick up bigger and better books along the way, too. 

2. Conquer the box of 20 Paranormal Romance reads my brother gave me for Christmas.

As you might have seen in the post previous to the one previous to this one, my younger brother surprised me with a box of twenty backlisted Paranormal Romance novels, purchased in a wholesale lot from an eBay retailer, as a part of a Christmas present. Naturally, I'm going to have to read each and every one of them in the next year... otherwise, what am I going to do if he does it again?

3. Read down my home TBR shelves as much as possible.

I say - without any ounce of sarcasm, falsehood, or pride in the slightest - I have almost 200 physical copies of books I have not yet read, sitting on the shelves in my room, right now. That's not even including the ones on my Kindle... or, I think, the aforementioned twenty new Romance novels. I really need to get a hold on this thing, before my room is any more overrun by reads than it already is! 

4. Add in everything I read to my Goodreads... not just the stuff I can "admit" to reading. 

This honestly bears more going into at a later date - and is a subject that will probably crop up again periodically throughout the year - but historically speaking, I have never regularly included Romance novels in my Goodreads Challenge, or even rated them on the platform all that often. Sure, there are some exceptions to the rule, but those reasons only serve to make my threadbare rationalizations all the more stark: the ones that do make it are the cutesy, illustrated covers, not the hardcore bodice-rippers I might find embarrassing. God forbid my friends and family might learn that this twenty-seven-year-old likes to read romance novels. It's time to put my ratings where my reading habit is, and actually own up to everything I read... and that goes for cookbooks and academic reads, too. 

5. Try and update my blog (and Instagram) once a week. 

This is, of course, loosely translated to the idea of approximately 50 posts, total, in a year. For some frame of reference, I haven't managed to do so since 2018, only managing 29 in 2019, and 26 in 2020. So I'm feeling like there's plenty of room to grow here; it's just going to take some special time and attention. At the end of the day, I've got plenty of feelings to talk about, it's just the "sitting down and typing it up" part that gets a little more difficult. And my photography skills are non-existent. Maybe I won't be saying the same thing in the new year? 


6. Take a financial literacy class, and pay more attention to my math skills in general. 

I was kind of raised on the idea that I was a "words person," not a "numbers person," in a way that really defined itself once math classes became more difficult in my sophomore year of high school. I didn't have to take any direct math classes in college, and have pretty much fallen out of practice in anything I can't figure out on a calculator ever since. After a pretty painful conversation with my parents and younger siblings this past Fall, it's been apparent that my lack of realistic mathematic and financial knowledge is something I'm tired of stumbling over, and I'm committed to getting more comfortable with both in 2020. 

7. Make better use of my planner. 

I've kept the same format of journal for the past SEVEN - count 'em! - years, since my Junior year of college, with the Day Designer as my chosen vessel of life organization. It has room for not only a full hourly schedule, but an equally-expansive to do list, on every single page, plus it comes complete with calendar spreads, durable covers and a gold coil like nobody's business. I store pieces of my soul in these things, so the fact that I flip through them at the end of every year, and think to myself, "I could be doing way more with this," is a bit of a problem. This year, I'm committed to using every square inch to its best capabilities. 

8. Write a completed first draft of my 2020 NaNoWriMo project. 

The last time I made much of anything out of a NaNo draft, it was my Horror shorts from way back in 2017, and even then, I only cleaned a couple of them up a little so my Dad could read them. I've been wanting to make more time for fiction writing in my life in general, and in November, I gave myself a gift: my 50,000 didn't encompass a rough draft, necessarily, but a rough outline, with a full story that's still waiting to be told. In this coming year, I really want to do the damn thing right, and dedicate myself to putting together a really great story. At the very least, even if it sucks, I know my brother will read it. 

9. Respond to all emails and texts within 24 hours. 

Hah. Haha. We are only almost two weeks into 2021, and if my track record so far is any indicator, I have not been succeeding on this particular track. I am regarded - in a serial sort of way - among my friends and family as being relatively unable to get ahold of... mostly on purpose. I keep my phone on "do not disturb" semi-permanently, and schedule out important phone calls and FaceTimes at least 24 hours in advance. And in case you're wondering if it's only restricted to direct, digital communication, it's not: I have eight envelopes and postcards sitting on my desk right now, sent by lovely people I care about, that have gone without a response... in some cases, for over two months. Oops.  

10. Improve my sleep habits. 

Those close to me know that on a regular basis, I go to sleep somewhere between 2AM and 4AM, and wakeup somewhat groggily around 930AM. Not only is this not productive, helpful, realistic, healthy, consistent, beneficial to myself or others... I forgot where I was going with that. I'm too tired. It's gotten to the point where, during an episode of The Bachelor last night, a ZzzQuil commercial was airing on TV, and I turned to see my younger sister pointedly glaring at me from the other couch. 

What's in your Top Ten? Let me know, in the comments below!

Monday, January 11, 2021

2020 By the Numbers, and 2021 In My Sights : Stats and Faves

This is going to be a very cut, dry, boring post, for those who are not as completely enraptured by the sound of my hopes and dreams hitting the pavement as I am. 

For the first time in my reading life, I have missed my Goodreads Challenge total goal. 


While I have the utmost regard for anyone who's been able to call 2020 their "best reading year ever" - including my baby brother, who upped his annual goal twice over, from 20 to 60, after it became clear that the only things shaping his senior year of high school were to be a global pandemic and his ability to distract himself with High Fantasy content - it was definitely not the case for me. If I set a record in anything this year, it was number of hours logged into mindlessly doomscrolling various corners of social media, or the total volume of Nerds Ropes eaten in numb disbelief as I did so. 

Still, it's the end of the year, and as the clock has run out, so have my chances of making up that last-ditch deficit. So, here's the numbers for what I actually did manage to read:

the stats 

Pages Read: 15,012

Total Books Read: 49... sort of. 

(I also read 12 romance novels of various stripes that were not included in my Goodreads Challenge, as well as 12 cookbooks, approximately 6 of which probably took more time and attention than many of the books that did make it onto my Goodreads Challenge, as well.) 

Shortest Read: The Silent Gondoliers, William Goldman, at 128 pages

Longest Read: Lair of Dreams (The Diviners #2), Libba Bray, at 613 pages

My total average book length was only a little over 300 pages. 

My most popular read of the year - shared by the highest number of other Goodreads users - was Normal People, by Sally Rooney, I book I really didn't like at all. 

My average star rating across the year was a 4.2, which feels kind of disheartening in retrospect. I know I read some I really loved, but I don't think the overall year of experience warrants something that high. 

Best Reading Months: April and May, with approximately 8 and 9 books each!

Best Romances I Didn't Include in Goodreads Challenge: Sarah MacLean's The Bareknuckled Bastards trilogy... well, at least the first two books. (Look out for the review of the full series later on this Winter.) 

Opinion that has changed the most since I read it: The First Time: Finding Myself and Looking for Love on Reality TV, by Bachelor alum Colton Underwood. Being publicly outed as a stalking, harassing, tracking-locator-planting creep of an ex-boyfriend can definitely lead to reshaped feelings about your memoirs on finding love. 

Best Reread: How to Cook a Wolf, MFK Fisher. A master of her craft and beloved culinary literature fixture for a reason. No wolves were harmed in the making of this book, either, in case you were worried. 

Unexpected Favorite Series: Best American Food Writing. As a kid, I couldn't stomach essay collections, and as an adult, it's one of my favorite formats. This annual collection of various culinary publications - from traditional magazine publishing, to blog posts, to book forwards, and more - is something I've read multiple installments of throughout the year. 

my top ten books of the year

January: The Phantom Tollbooth, Norton Juster

February: Maybe You Should Talk to Someone, Lori Gottlieb

March: How to Cook a Wolf, MFK Fisher

April: My Life with the Saints, Fr. James Martin, SJ

May: Crooked Kingdom (Six of Crows #2), Leigh Bardugo

June: Redshirts, John Scalzi

July: Beka Cooper: Terrier, Tamora Peirce

August: Liar's Club, Mary Karr

September: Paperback Crush, Gabrielle Moss

October: In an Absent Dream (Wayward Children #4), Seanan McGuire

November: Omnivore's Dilemma, Michael Pollan

December: Miss Cecily's Recipes for Exceptional Ladies, Vicky Zimmerman

And my top three of the bunch have got to be: 

So, that's all of the books I did manage to read in 2020, but what about the books I'm planning on reading in the new year? While my TBR stack continues to grow - and my shelves are populated by nearly 200 books I have never read - I've got plenty of ideas, but I'm going nowhere fast if my reading habits stay the same as they were this past year. Here are some changes I'm going to be taking into account for my Goodreads Challenge and bookish hobbies in 2021. 

1. I'm massively lowering my Goodreads Challenge. 

Well, not massively. But it feels massive to me. I've steadily built up my Goodreads Challenge on a yearly basis, never backtracking, simply moving forward or staying at the same level. So it feels a little strange to be giving myself so much room... I'm trying to be positive, and say that this will give me more opportunities to pick up heftier titles I'd otherwise ignore, or that I can always raise the goal higher later, but I'd be lying if I said that this choice wasn't at least partially motivated by the fact that I'm afraid of missing my goal again. (Turning a positive habit into a toxic personal standard? Maybe. But if you saw the pressure I put myself through to make homemade dinners five days a week, you'd know it's not the only arena in which I do that sort of thing.)  

2. I'm making the choice to review and record both my Cookbook and Romance reads on Goodreads, no matter how embarrassed I am about having people I know in real life aware of the dual facts that I enjoy both food and love. 

Mainly, this is a result of two factors: 1. had I included the romance novels I read in my Goodreads Challenge total, I would have finished a full title ahead of my 2020 goal, and 2. my younger brother - one of my primary motivations in life - thinks I'm an absolute weenie for not choosing to do so already. I'm fully aware that stripping out these large populations of my reading life only gives credence to the ideas that they're worth less as reading material, and those are beliefs that I wholeheartedly reject in my personal life, as well. It's time to start putting my reviews where my mouth is. 

3. I'm trying - trying! - to spend less time on social media. 

This is motivated by a truly superfluous amount of factors, but in a large way, has a lot to do with both my personal attention span, and the fact that I just genuinely do not enjoy a lot of the content I engage with regularly online. I'll get trapped in a four-hour time-suck spiral of looking at screenshots of Reddit "AITA" forums on Instagram, and emerge not only wholly dissatisfied, but feeling all the dumber for it. It's time to unhook the talons of my predatory iPhone from my frontal lobe, and reclaim my ability to get through an extra chapter before bed again. 

(And in case you're wondering about my Cookbook challenge from this year - which I only semi-documented on the blog - look for a major recap coming up sometime in the next couple of weeks!)

How did your reading goals shake out in 2020? What were some of your favorite reads of the year? Let me know, in the comments below!

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

My Brother Bought Me $25 Worth of Paranormal-Fantasy Romance : An Unboxing


As you may have seen in my recent Christmas Haul post, my brother bought me a pretty exciting present this year: a $25 box of Romance novels he purchased wholesale through an eBay retailer, themed around the premise of "Paranormal Romance.

Here's the backstory as to why this is all so hilarious, because I realize that this is not the typically gift purchased by a 19-year-old college dude: 

My brother has never really been one for Romance romance, per se. He's an avid Fantasy reader, a genre in which there's typically at least a hint of romance present, but he's never felt any special kind of kinship to cupid's genre... the furthest he's gone was probably a couple of years ago, when he and I decided to read Stephanie Meyers' Twilight one summer. The reread was a great time, and one of the best parts about it was his teenaged perspective on some of the most iconic aspects of that book. 

Once I started reading Romance myself, a couple of years ago, he's enjoyed sharing this genre with me, too... not necessarily as a dedicated fan of the genre itself, but a willing participant in listening to my own effusions about what I've been loving (and hating) in the books I've been reading. 

(In particular, one of my favorite series from the past year - Sarah MacLean's The Bareknuckle Bastards trilogy - became so popular with him, that he still is able to refer to it, months later, by name. He's never read the books, and doesn't plan on it, but simply listening to my own half-garbled ramblings about the characters and plot beats made enough of an impression on him so that he's been bringing it up in random conversations ever since.) 

So, when a certain eBay retailer began making the rounds on BookTube and Bookstagram earlier this year - like in this video from Chandler Ainsley - of course I joked about it with my brother, just a little. I have a bit of a habit (or at least I did, back in the pre-Covid days) of trawling the shelves of my local Value Village for compelling backlisted mass-market-paperback Historical Romances I found intriguing; now there was this convenient way of amassing a large quantity of them, all at once, for only a little over a dollar a piece! 

On a lark, I added it to my Christmas list, and sent it off to my family, not really thinking anything of it. It was only after a chance conversation with my brother towards the beginning of December, that I managed to guess it outright: my brother had purchased a giant box of romance novels for me as a present. That was only half of the challenge, though, as he assured me that he'd included a set genre request that he was positive I wouldn't be able to guess. But that just made me laugh. 

"As long as it's not vampires!" 

to be entirely fair, it wasn't just vampires

So: 20 titles, for about $25, all backlisted, all, by his choice, Paranormal Romance. To my brother's credit, it really wasn't just vampires, something I was easily able to ascertain simply as I took each of the books themselves out of the box. Torsos and tattoos and claw marks and pensive stares... oh my.

All in all, unboxing all of the titles only made me more excited to delve deeper. Within 24 hours, I'd sat down with my book journal and a pen, and painstakingly researched each on Goodreads, in order to ascertain their average rating, how many ratings had been uploaded in total, and sleuth out some general plot theming. 

Two were set in small, fictional towns in Oregon, while two others dealt specifically with haunted houses in Savannah, Georgia. One involved a family of magic users in New Orleans, while two others were not of this earth at all, involving aliens and a cyborg with intergalactic origins. Amongst all twenty, there were dream-walkers, psychics, angels, aliens, ghosts, immortal fae beings, protectors of Olympus, and even a Celtic demigod, with vampires and werewolves ending up as a bit of a minor population. (Even within the two werewolf books involved, both of them involve a male werewolf falling in love with a dog-adjacent female professional: a veterinarian, and a K-9 handler!) One book features a focus on a spirit from the "Navaho nation," which - thanks to its 1994 publication date - will no doubt be the most problematic in the whole box, while another book included doesn't even appear to be a Paranormal Fantasy at all, and instead, has to deal with a Las Vegas mob family. 

Needless to say, I'm positively thrilled. 

So, here's the rundown of what, exactly, was in the box:

Master of Wolves
, Angela Knight
The third book in the Mageverse series (a title I had to read three times through, as I thought it was "Megaverse" twice), this book has an average of 4.16 out of a little under 4,000 reviews, and was published in 2006. A werewolf goes undercover with the police force of a nearby town to find out who covered up the murder of his best friend, when he ends up catching feelings for... the K-9 dog handler for the precinct. 

Touch the Dark, Karen Chance
The first in its series, this book averages a 3.71 out of 35K reviews, and was published in 2007. It involves both a ghost-talker main character who has to work under a master vampire... and its description involves the joy-inducing inclusion of both "a bloodsucking Mafioso" and a "vampire Senate." 

The Guardian, Sherrilyn Kenyon
Not only is this the twentieth installment in its Darkhunter series, but it also stacks up a pretty impressive 4.34 average rating out of 18K reviews. Originally published in 2011, this is the one with the most dizzying concept, involving Dreamhunters, the Nether Realm, a missing god of Dreams who is needed on Olympus, and more. Please tell me I don't need to read the previous nineteen installments in this series to get a good grip on it? 

Dream Eyes, Jayne Ann Krentz 
The second in the Dark Legacy series, this book has a 3.98 out of 5 on Goodreads, with approximately 6,000 reviews. Published in 2014, it involves one of my favorite setups of the whole collection: a psychic counselor, protected by a psychic investigator, trying to track down a serial killer who's seemed to be targeting, you guessed it, psychics. Marvelous! 

The Crossing, Joy Nash
Number six in the Immortals series, this has a 4 average from 1,200 reviews, and was published in 2008. A Celtic demi-god rock star has to start taking life more seriously, when someone makes an attempt on the life of a fae child in his care, and involves a protagonist named "Artemis," who appears to be some kind of witch. 

The Phantom of the Bathtub, Eugenia Riley
Out of all of the books on this list, it has one of the lowest number of ratings - 3.46  average out of 246 total - and I'm willing to blame at least part of that on the jaw-droppingly hideous cover. Published in 2006, this is the one that I've been cheekily summarizing as "Everyone in this haunted house wants to kiss me," as a recently moved-in tenant battles out a love triangle involving not only the mysterious hunk next door, but the ghost of a sweet-talker who lurks inside her bath. Updated info for this read on Goodreads also promises ghosts in the square, a werewolf in the garden, an axe-slashing woman, a knife-wielding houseboy, and many more. 

Servant: the Acceptance,
L. L. Foster
The second of its series, this read has a 3.87 out of only 511 ratings on Goodreads, and was published in 2008. This is one of the two books involving angels in this box, but at first glance, appears to be the eminently less readable one: a "God warrior" angel is sent to Earth, to serve as protection for streetwalkers, and comes face-to-face with the only person who makes this celestial being feel "human": a detective named Luther Cross. Heavy handed names aside - Grabielle as a riff on Gabriel, the dual gut punch of both "Luther" and "Cross" - one of the worst things about it, is the terrible cover. 

Nico, Sarah Castile
Remember the one I said wasn't even a Paranormal Romance? This is it! Though with a darkened, tattooed six pack on the cover, I think it's fine to make a mistake. It has a 3.94 out of 2,600 ratings, and was only published four years ago, and follows a Las Vegas mob king who falls for a girl from a rival crime family. Not vampires, but still sounds decent! 

All I Want for Christmas is a Vampire, Kerrelyn Sparks
How topical, for something that was a Christmas present! The fifth installment in the delightfully named Love at Stake series, this title carries an impressive 4.22 out of 12.6K reviews on Goodreads, especially because it was published back in 2008. This story involves not only a vampire-hating heroine, but a reverse bodyguard trope, a best friend stuck in a psych ward, and desperate attempts to prove that the vampire population is real to a deeply apathetic police force. 

Dangerous Tides, Christine Feehan
The fourth in a series about the Drake sisters - a magical family full of inherited gifts - this installment is rated a 4.3 out of 5, with 11.5K reviews, which I feel like is a pretty good showing for this list. It was published in 2008, and the sister in question has been blessed with the ability to heal people, which is pretty in keeping with the concept of water, and the title of the novel. As an overall concept, it's pretty tame compared to some of the others on this list. 

The Empath, Bonnie Vanek
The only other werewolf book on this list, this title is ranked a 3.48 with 431 reviews, and was published in 2007 as the first of its series. It plays into the classic romance trope of "fated mates," with a werewolf seeking out his mate, an empath, in order to bring her home and strengthen the pack from which he was recently ousted. The mate, in a wonderful play to type, is a veterinarian. 

The Summoning, Heather Graham
While the cover looks a lot more like a Suspense / Thriller than a real Paranormal Fantasy, it is - I kid you not - the 27th in its series, from the Krewe of Hunters. Set in Savannah, this book follows a woman living in a haunted bed-and-breakfast, who routinely holds seances as entertainment for guests, and really, shouldn't she know better, then? It was published only last year, and is rated as a 4.08 with around 1,700 reviews. 

My Fair Succubi, Jill Myles 
The third in its series with a 4.1 out of 1.4K rating, this was published in 2010, and while other books on this list feature love triangles, this one is a doozy: a succubus has to chose between a fallen angel named Noah, and her old vampire master, named Zane. We'll see how this one plays, though word-correct would have me mention here that "succubus" is the appropriate solitary form for the being, while "succubi" would suggest a plurality. 

Midnight Lover, Rosemary Laurey
Number five in a series, with a 3.9 rating out of only 298 reviews, published in 2007. Not a lot that's promising from those stats alone... until you read a little of the material. "Dark Falls, Oregon"? Getting better. A heroine who's "a reporter out for a hot story" while working in a paranormal organization, and a vampire CEO who doesn't trust her? We're almost there. Just straight up putting the words "vampire corporate espionage" on the back cover might have been a better selling point. 

The Portal, Sharon Pope 
The 33rd installment in the Silhouette Shadows line, but not a part of any series, this book has a 3 rating, right on the target, out of only 10 reviews... which should be expected, being that it was published in 1994. While the date excuses the nearly-awesome cover, it definitely doesn't the subject matter, as an archaeologist excavating a "Navaho" site lets loose a "shadow man" spirit from the other side, named Zakoura Kree. It's not worth it getting into everything wrong with that description, when it's only what we know from the outside cover... though I'm willing to guess that what's inside is probably worse. 

How to Lose an Extraterrestrial in 10 Days
, Susan Grant
This installment is the third in its series, with a 3.99 rating out of only 514 reviews, and was published in 2007, which explains every artistic choice represented on the cover. These choices appear to have gotten much better over time, in what I can judge from a quick Google Image search... which is also how I learned that this book was repackaged for Amazon just this past year as Cyborg and the Single Mom. (You go get that ebook money, Susan Grant!) This book follows an ex-evil fugitive cyborg hiding out on earth, and the single suburban mother who keeps his presence a secret. In the words of my brother, "It sounds like she really knows her audience."

Minion, L. A. Banks
The first in its series, with a 3.45 out of 6,000 review, this book was published in 2004. If I could give you a truly insane five-word summary of one of the books on this list, it would be this one, and the response I'd give you is "spoken word artist vampire hunter," as that is the occupation of our heroine. Whether or not she's any good at either career path is something we'll have to find out. 

Hostage to Pleasure,
Nalini Singh
There were two names on this list that made me do a double take, because they're easily recognizable for fans of Romance, and this was one of them... which makes sense, because despite the fact that this book was published in 2008, it was already the fifth in its series, and when you search her name on Goodreads, there are seven full pages of results. It has a 4.19 out of 5 stars, with 28K reviews under its belt, making this one of the more popular titles on this list, and follows two rival alien species from different planets: one, a psychic being who's been enslaved with a neural implant, and the other, a leopard shifter. There is only so much more I can say about the cover materials about this book before someone's brain is going to explode. 

The Darkest Lie, Gena Showalter 
The other name on this list that seriously set off my "I know you" radar, this is the sixth in its series, published in 2010, with a 4.29 rating out of 5 stars, with over 33.9K ratings to back those numbers up. Far and away, this is the closest on this list I'm going to get to a "guaranteed enjoyable" read... which is weird, when you consider how out-of-the-box this concept is: a keeper of the demon of lies, Gideon, is "forced to his knees in agony" whenever he speaks the truth, but can tell when other people are acting false, which makes it pretty weird when a woman he's never met, claiming to be a demon-possessed immortal and his long-lost wife, turns up. (And in case you're wondering about Showalter's current title numbers, her Goodreads page claims she's written over 70 books, and I'm inclined to believe her.) 

At his insistence, I then proceeded to rank-order the entire lot. 

Here's how they ended up stacking up, just after a first-glance-peek and a little Internet recon. Top line is "Excited," middle is "Ambivalent," and bottom level is "Less than Stoked." (I would make it "Less than Stoker-ed," but again, rather a dearth of vampire books in this set.) 

Any chance you've read any of the titles from within this collection? Which do you think I should pick up first? Let me know, in the comments below!