Books

Talking about books (when I have time to read for fun)

My Reading in 2018 and Goals for 2019

Slightly later than usual (but it’s still the first half of January so it’s all good) but here’s where I look back on what and how I read in 2018 and my reading plans for 2019. In 2018 I read 72 books which beat my goal of 52 books and I reviewed 55 of them which was way better than my goal of reviewing 26 of them. You can find all the books I read here, and I posted my Top Ten books of 2018 earlier this month here.

I had a fair few reading challenges and goals for 2018 and I completed most of them. I continued to put £1 in a jar for every book I read so that gave me £72 to put in the bank at the end of the year which was a nice bonus. I continued with my Read the World Project and 31 of the books I read in 2018 were for that project.

I signed up for three reading challenges in 2018 because I love being overconfident! They were the Beat the Backlist Challenge which even though the majority of what I read was backlist, I’d always forget to put reviews on Amazon and/or link the reviews on the host’s site, so I didn’t really complete that challenge in that sense though I did surpass my target of 30 back list books. Then there was the A-Z Reading Challenge and the Monthly Motif Challenge – I completed both of those which I was really happy about.

I tried to get my TBR down to 50 books – I say “tried” but I’m not sure I really did. I acquired 53 books in 2018, from buying them myself, gifts or subscription boxes, and I read 28 of them. The other books I read were a mixture of books I owned pre-2018 and books from the library – I really embraced the library and borrowing audiobooks from there this year. I didn’t really get my TBR down at all; I started 2018 with 100 books on my TBR and finished it with 100 books on my TBR so at least it didn’t grow any bigger! It was a bit of a bummer though because looking at the numbers it did nothing about the unread books I own even though I did read a lot. Oh well! Maybe I’m destined to have piles of books around me!

It wasn’t a goal, but I do like to keep track of who’s writing what I’m writing. I always aim to have an equal split between male and female authors and I couldn’t have gotten a more even split in 2018 if I’d tried!

Now for my reading goals in 2019.

I’m keeping it super simple this year. I haven’t signed up for any reading challenges and I don’t plan to. I’m setting my reading goal at 52 books again and that I’ll review at least 26 of them. I think it’s good to at least set some achievable goals.

I’m going to continue to put £1 in a jar for every book I read as it’s a nice little financial boost at the end of the year, and I will once again aim to get down to 50 unread books on my TBR. It’s kind of a tradition at this point to say that so I might as well continue. It would be good if I could keep an equal split of male and female authors though I don’t mind if there’s more women authors as I do tend to read more books by women. Also, I’m thinking about tracking the split between white authors and authors of colour, I’d hope that at least 25% of the books I read are by non-white authors.

I think my main reading goal for 2019 is to focus on my Read the World Project. From the outset I wanted to read a book from every country in the world before I was 30. That’s in 2 years and 9 months-ish and I have about 150 countries left to read so I need to read about 50 books from around the world this year in order to make a dent. I own 14 books that are for this project and I’m definitely going to be getting more from the library, even in physical or audio form.

There’s my reading goals for 2019. Do you have any reading goals for the year? Or are you being a bit more relaxed about reading this year? I’d love to know about your reading goals and any tricks you might have to help achieve them.

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REVIEW: The Exact Opposite of Okay by Laura Steven

Izzy never expected to be eighteen and internationally reviled. But when photos involving her, a politician’s son and a garden bench emerge, the trolls set out to take her apart. Izzy, along with her best friend Ajita, sets out to figure out who’s behind the vicious website while still trying to maintain her grades, humour and sanity. Izzy is about to find out that the way the world treats girls is not okay, and she’s not going to stand for it.

I loved this book so much. This review is probably just going to be me gushing about how The Exact Opposite of Okay gave me all the feels. It’s been so long since I’ve fallen so hard and fast for a book and a main character. I read some five star reads last year but none of those books were ones that I devoured quite like The Exact Opposite of Okay. I read most of this book in one sitting, and to be honest if I’d started it earlier on on the day I first picked it up, I’d probably have read it in one day too.

Izzy is just a phenomenal character. I loved her sense of humour and how she uses that and sarcasm to keep people at bay and to cover up how she really feels. (That’s something I can relate to) I also love how self-aware she is, she knows her faults even if she often tries to hide them from everyone else.

Izzy is a great character as while she readily admits she likes sex and dislikes the double standard men and women are held to when it comes to sex and their sexuality, it doesn’t mean that she’s not hurt, confused and ashamed when private photos of her are spread all over the internet. It’s one thing being confident in what and who you want, but it’s another when all your decisions and appearance is being scrutinised by not only everyone at your school, but all over the world.

I loved Izzy’s friendship with Ajita, how the two of them know each other so well and while they are from different backgrounds that can put them at a disadvantage in the world, Izzy is poor and Ajita is Nepalese-American, they can sympathise with each other over those things because they are unfair in different ways but they never presume one of their issues is bigger or worse than the others.

Izzy and Ajita’s other friend Danny is also important to them both but his behaviour and entitlement put my back up from the very beginning. He and Izzy had been friends since childhood but from the start of the book it’s clear he’s realised he likes Izzy more than just a friend and doesn’t handle the situation well. Danny was a great yet pretty unlikable character for the most part, and that’s because he’s so well-written and believable. I’m sure many women know or have known someone like Danny.

I really like the way The Exact Opposite of Okay was written. It’s all Izzy’s personal blog posts, but with little interjections from future-Izzy along the way. As someone who has had a blog in some shape or form for close to 15 years (I had a LiveJournal and all teenage-me’s deepest hopes and fears are there) I thought it captured the way people can sort of write like a stream of conscious about something that happened perfectly.

The Exact Opposite of Okay is a brilliant story about slut-shaming, revenge porn, and the so-called Friend Zone. It’s funny, unapologetic and truthful as you are willing Izzy to be strong and get through something terrible that she didn’t deserve. Because that’s the thing The Exact Opposite of Okay does so well, it shows Izzy’s struggle with guilt and feeling like she deserves the cruel comments and everything that goes with private images being shared online, but she doesn’t and it’s very clear about who’s in the wrong in the situation and that’s who made the website. We’re just over a week into 2019, but I doubt I’ll love another book this year like I love this one. 5/5.

Bout of Books 24 TBR

Bout of Books is a readathon that’s been happening a couple of times a year, for multiple years now. It’s a readathon I’ve always wanted to take part in but I’ve either not realised when the readathon is happening, so I miss it, or life just gets in the way of reading.

The next Bout of Books readathon starts tomorrow, Monday 7 January, at 12:01am and finishes at 11:59pm on Sunday 13 January and this time I am prepared! Tomorrow is my first day back at work after the Christmas break but otherwise my week is going to be very normal, so I should have plenty of time for reading.

The thing I like about Bout of Books is there are no challenges or targets, instead the aim is to read more than you usually would in a week. Depending on the books I’m reading and life, I can read two books a week, so it’d be great if I could kickstart my reading in 2019 with three books read this week.

I’ve borrowed the audiobook of My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante from my library and I plan to start that on my walk to work tomorrow morning. That’ll probably take me longer than a week to read so I have some physical books on my Bout of Books TBR too.

The Exact Opposite of Okay by Laura Steven
Augustown by Kei Miller
Under the Tripoli Sky by Kamal Ben Hameda, translated by Adriana Hunter
Genuine Fraud by E. Lockhart

It’s taken me a while, but I’ve come to realise that when it comes to readathons I get more books read if they’re YA (and often YA contemporary) or short, so I have a mix of both on my TBR.

Augustown is just over 200 pages while Under the Tripoli Sky is barely 100 pages. Both of these books would be for my Read the World Project, Jamaica and Libya respectively. I’m loving the recent boom in YA books about girls standing up for themselves against sexism so The Exact Opposite of Okay looks like just my sort of thing. I read We Were Liars by E. Lockhart a few years ago and sped through it so hopefully Genuine Fraud will be the same.

There’s my TBR for the Bout of Books readathon, though I don’t think I’ll read all the books mentioned, if I finish three of them I’ll be really happy. Are you taking part in this round of the readathon? Or have you taken part in Bout of Books before? Do you have any readathon tips? I know I’m always far too optimistic and often end up winging it!

READ THE WORLD – Syria: Butterfly: From Refugee to Olympian, My Story of Rescue, Hope and Triumph by Yusra Mardini

At just seventeen, Yusra Mardini and her older sister Sara, decide to flee their native Syria when the fighting gets too dangerous. Together they make the perilous journey to the Turkish coast and board a small inflatable dinghy bound for Lesbos. Twenty passengers are forced onto the tiny craft and soon the engine dies and the boat begins to sink. Yusra, Sara and two others jump into the sea to lighten the load and help navigate the water for an exhausting three and a half hours until they reach the shore, they save the lives of everyone on board. Butterfly follows Yusra’s life from a happy childhood, to growing up in a war-torn suburb of Damascus, through Europe to Berlin and on to Rio de Janeiro where she competes as a part of the Refugee Olympic Team.

Yusra, her sister, and the other people they met as they travelled to Europe are all so incredibly strong and brave. Yusra and Sara have to leave Syria without their mother and younger sister. While they face dangers as they deal with the sea, smugglers, and the police across Europe, there’s still the constant worry about their family who are still in a city where there’s almost constant shelling and gunfire.

It’s tough to read about Yusra’s life in Damascus after the conflict starts. It’s sad that she becomes desensitised to the sound of gunfire or explosions so quickly when she’s a young teenager. She and her family have so many near misses when it comes to dangerous situations. For instance, Yusra is training in the swimming pool when a bomb falls through the ceiling, lands in the pool, and doesn’t explode. There’s a mad rush to get as far away from the place as possible and that incident puts a stop to Yusra’s training and dreams of the Olympics for a while.

Yusra’s story does well to capture how there’s good and bad people everywhere. How someone might call the police on a group of refugees because the constant media cycle about terrorists makes them paranoid, but then others might volunteer to help people find clothes, food, and somewhere to stay in a country that’s far from home.

Butterfly does so much in disproving the narrative that some portions of the media like to present about refugees. None of them want to leave their home. Before the fighting starts, Yusra and Sara are like any other teenage girls, they go to school, they swim, their have friends and go shopping. Because we, by which I mean Western audiences, often only hear about countries in Syria when there’s conflict, and see images of bombed out cities, and people living in tents with no electricity, it’s easy to take that as face value and presume that’s what life has always been like for those people when in fact it’s the complete opposite.

Yusra’s internal battle with the word “refugee” was fascinating and explained really well. It’s so easy for her to see it as an insult or a sign she’s a charity case, for instance she struggles to decide if she wants to be a part of the Refugee Olympic Team because she feels she should get there the same way as any other competitor. As time passes though, thanks to the people she meets and what she learns about herself, she decides that it’s just a word and it doesn’t make her any lesser than anyone else.

Butterfly is well-written and engaging. I found it easy to care about Yusra, her family and new-found friends. Yusra is an inspiring young woman, but she makes it clear that while she’s learning to use her fame and voice to bring attention to the thing’s refugees go through and how they are still people with hopes and dreams, she is still the same person who loves to swim and wants to compete for her country in the Olympics. 4/5.

TOP TEN TUESDAY: Best Books I Read In 2018

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by The Artsy Reader Girl. This week it’s all about our favourite books of the past year. I read 72 books this year which was great, but it did make it a bit difficult to narrow down by favourites. I managed it though and, in no particular order, here are ten of the best books I read in 2018.

The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng
I found The Garden of Evening Mists to be a beautiful story about war, forgiveness and growth.

The Nowhere Girls by Amy Reed
I don’t think I read as much YA in 2018 compared to previous years but what I YA I did read was generally pretty good. The Nowhere Girls was the best that I read. It was funny, inspiring and I loved all the main girls and what they set out to do.

The Power by Naomi Alderman
I finally read The Power and I found it compelling and fascinating. It’s hard to read at times but that made it even more affecting.

The Three Musketeers by Alexadre Dumas
I’m so happy I’ve now read this classic. It was a great adventure story with interesting characters and it was a lot of fun.

Kartography by Kamila Shamsie
Events in Kartography were affected by the civil unrest when Bangladesh became independent from Pakistan, a historical event I knew very little about. My Read the World Project has made me read books set in countries during notable events in their history and I’m really enjoying that experience.

Thirty Days by Annelies Verbeke
It took me a while to get settled into Thirty Days but when I did, I loved the main character and his desire to help others, even when it was detrimental to his own happiness and relationships

Tales of Suspense: Hawkeye & the Winter Soldier by Matthew Rosenburg, Travel Foreman and Rachelle Rosenburg
I didn’t read many comics or graphic novels this year but Tales of Suspense: Hawkeye & the Winter Soldier was a lot of fun and memorable. Clint Barton is one of my favourite characters ever and I love seeing how he bounces off more stoic characters like the Winter Solider.

Then She Was Gone by Lisa Jewell
The only book on this list that I didn’t review, but that’s mainly because I find it difficult to review thrillers that have a lot of twists and turns and surprises without giving everything away. Then She Was Gone was a book where I could figure out some of what happened, but never managed to get it all straight in my head before the big reveal – I think that’s the best kind of thriller.

Multitudes by Lucy Caldwell
This is one of the best short story collections I’ve ever read. It’s all about girls and women, and each character feels so real even though you only spend a dozen or so pages with them.

Lala by Jacek Dehnel
This story made me laugh and cry. It’s a sweeping family epic but it’s the little anecdotes and the ridiculous things that make a person, and their family, more real that stood out to me.

What were some of your favourite books you read in 2018?

REVIEW: Uprooted by Naomi Novik

Agnieszka loves her valley home and her quiet village, even though it’s close to the Wood, a corrupted place full of malevolent power. Close to her village in a tower lives the Dragon, every ten years he chooses a girl and keeps her for that time. The next choosing is fast approaching and Agnieszka, just like everyone else, knows the Dragon will take Kasia, her best friend who the most beautiful and talented. But events don’t go how everyone predicts and when the Dragon arrives it’s Agnieszka, not Kasia, he chooses.

Uprooted is a fantasy story with magical creatures and a beautiful magic system. How the magic worked for different characters and how different magic users would craft spells was always interesting to me. The Dragon is a wizard and he likes things in order and logical, especially when it comes to magic and spells. Agnieszka on the other hand, is more chaotic and organic when it comes to weaving spells. Her learning about her abilities and how it differs from so many traditional wizards and witches was both fun and interesting.

The Wood is such a unique villain as it were. It’s something that is alive and has thoughts and goals that are sometimes beyond what people could imagine. It’s an unsettling presence throughout the story and when someone is taken by the Wood, it won’t give them back easily. It corrupts creatures, people and the land around it. There’s not only the Wood to worry about, there is also political intrigue with Kings and courts that Agnieszka and the Dragon have to deal with.

The problem I had with Uprooted was I never felt the urge to pick it up and continue on to the next chapter until I hit the 300-page mark – that was almost three quarters of the way through the book! I think that was down in part to the writing style, it paints a very eerie yet beautiful picture, and while stuff did happen before page 300, it was all building to that moment but it hadn’t really pulled me in. I mainly read Uprooted for my A-Z Reading Challenge. It’s a few days before 2019, the only letter of the alphabet I hadn’t completed was the letter U, so I did persevere with Uprooted when under normal circumstances I would have probably put it down.

Uprooted is a good magical story that somehow manages to feel whimsical and haunting at the same time. The setting feels like a fairytale but it has a darker undertone too. On the whole, the characters and their relationships were compelling, but the story never did enough to enthral me. 3/5.

The Joy of Christmas Book Tag

‘Tis the season for another festive book tag! Aka it’s getting near the end of blogmas and I’m running out of ideas! The Joy of Christmas Book Tag was created by Sam’s Nonsense on YouTube.

1) Anticipation: The Christmas excitement is real, what book release(s) are you most anticipating?
I recently listed my top 5 most anticipated 2019 releases but I somehow managed to forget about The Fork, the Witch, and the Worm: Tales from Alagaësia Volume 1 by Christopher Paolini which is definitely my most anticipated book of 2019. Eragon was such a formative influence for me and I can’t wait to return to that world with a new book.

2) Christmas Songs & Carols: What book or author can you not help but sing its praises?
A recent read that I absolutely loved was Multitudes by Lucy Caldwell. It’s such an affecting short story collection and I want to check out more of her work soon.

3) Gingerbread Houses: What book or series has wonderful world building?
While I didn’t particularly like the majority of the Chaos Walking trilogy by Patrick Ness (mainly because I couldn’t stand Todd) I did think the world building in the series was brilliant.

4) A Christmas Carol: Favourite classic or one that you want to read
I don’t really read enough classics to have a favourite, but a recent classic I read that I enjoyed a lot is The Three Musketeers by Alexadre Dumas.

5) Christmas Sweets: What book would you love to receive for Christmas
I think I really need to get my hands on a copy of Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi. I’ve heard nothing but good things so that’d be a nice Christmas surprise.

6) Candles in the Window: What book gives you that warm fuzzy feeling
When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon. I rarely read contemporary YA but every now and then I make the exception and When Dimple Met Rishi was a wonderfully quick, light-hearted and sweet read.

7) Christmas Trees & Decorations: What are some of your favourite book covers?
I’m a sucker for buying a book because of a pretty cover. Here’s some of my favourite covers (I could’ve listed way more) though I can’t comment as to what’s inside them as I’ve yet to read these books.

    

8) Christmas Joy: What are some of your favourite things about Christmas And/Or some of your favourite Christmas memories?
My favourite thing about Christmas is having a lot of free time. Especially now I’m in a 9-5 weekday job, having the free time to see friends and family, watch films or catch up on reading is much appreciated.

I tag anyone who fancies doing this tag!