Recent Reads – November to December 2018

Renowned horror/supernatural/spec fic author Stephen King famously claimed the following:

“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”

He’s right in more ways than one.  The tools that reading has to offer are numerous.

Specific how-to advice is found in writing craft books, which play a role in almost every writer’s education, particularly in its early stages.

Books can also provide the necessary research for one’s writing.  I write historical fiction, so this is unquestionably the case.  In truth though, all writers of all genres need to conduct some research to lend verisimilitude to their imagined worlds.

Finally, reading about the engaging characters, gripping plots, immersive settings and/or fine prose of other authors both trains and inspires writers to recognize and realize the same in their own work.

For all of these reasons, as well as the fact that reading is my oldest pastime, I’ve decided to once again take part in the Goodreads Reading Challenge.

An annual, self-directed contest, the Reading Challenge invites Goodreads users to set a target for the number of books they want to read that year and to track their progress.

Your progress is publicly displayed, but you’re really only competing with yourself.  It can be a helpful way to boost your reading productivity, and also a fun race to the finish to make your target (one year I was still reading my last book at 10:00pm on December 31!)

I first participated in the challenge in 2015, and then again in 2016 and 2017, but skipped the following year.  I usually read a book a month, but in 2018 I’d just started my critique group.  I knew I had many months of CP reading in support of that ahead of me.

You may be your only competition in the Goodreads Reading Challenge, but that often includes your own vanity as well.  I’d be damned if I was going to publicly target a number less than 12!

I still expect to do a fair bit of critique reading this year.  However, I find myself coming full circle to King’s wisdom: if I don’t have (or rather make) time to read, I won’t have the time or the tools I need to write—literally.

I have an idea for my next historical novel that I want to fully flesh out this year.  Plus I have certain writing weaknesses that I want to see strengthened.

I’ve thus set an ambitious (for me) reading target of 18 books, among which I’ll be including 3-4 writing craft books and as many historical references on ancient Greece (the setting of my next WIP) as I can manage.  I’ve already completed my first fiction title for the year, so I’m on my way!

I’ll be reviewing every book I read as I go, as always.  To finish off 2018, here is my roundup of reviews from November and December.  All of my reviews can be found on Goodreads, and links to all from 2018 are included in past blog posts.


Sky in the Deep
Adrienne Young
Genre: YA fantasy
Stars: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Overall, the book needed to be half again as long to allow for more complications as Eelyn and the Aska overcome their hatred of the Riki.  More length would have also allowed for the inclusion of more Aska and Riki culture to give greater heft to the story’s claim of being inspired by the Vikings.
Read the entire review


Reign of Serpents
Eleanor Herman
Genre: YA historical fiction
Stars: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

I read somewhere that this series was originally meant to be six books but partway through was reduced to four.  The structure of this book supports this suggestion, for it read like two books in one, and unfortunately not in a good way….  There were a lot of interesting ideas and events in this book, but it really just tried to do too much.
Read the entire review


A Reaper at the Gates
Sabaa Tahir
Genre: YA fantasy
Stars: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

I also found the pacing really episodic and the tension a bit forced the way every chapter ended on a cliff-hanger that was immediately resolved the next time that POV character had a new chapter…. [A] lot of this book felt like series filler, with the whole thing likely better as a trilogy than a quartet, [but] it ended on a strong note.
Read the entire review


The Queen and the Cure
Amy Harmon
Genre: Fantasy romance
Stars: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

I really can’t say that I liked Kjell much as a person.  He was grumpy, brooding, selfish, emotionally withdrawn, and really only seemed to love Sasha because of how helpless and dependent upon him she was.  This isn’t to say I found him an unrealistic character….  I would read another book set in this story world.
Read the entire review


The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue
Mackenzi Lee
Genre: YA historical fiction, LGBT
Stars: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Monty’s voice is utterly hilarious and most of his decisions are impulsive and ill-advised….  I loved it when the pirates came on the scene.  I also loved the diversity of the cast and how many social issues the story dealt with, including racism, sexism, homophobia (both external and internalized), and classism.
Read the entire review


Kieron Gillen
Genre: Historical fiction, graphic novel
Stars: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

[The movie] 300 glorifies the mainstream perception of the Spartans’ hypermasculine warrior culture yet completely omits any mention of the Sparta’s subjugated, non-citizen, servile class of helots…[.]  Three seeks to redress this omission by giving voice to three helots on the run, seeking their freedom after having killed a Spartan in self-defence.
Read the entire review


What have you read recently?

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(Image source #1, #2, #3, #4, #5, #6, and #7)

5 thoughts on “Recent Reads – November to December 2018

  1. How do you pick what to read?

    I’ve been reading random things since I moved, and not finishing all of them. The library downstairs is physically encouraging, so it’s very easy to pick something up. OTOH, I don’t think they actually buy any books (haven’t asked), so their collection may be donations from residents trying to get rid of their excess books.

    Plenty to try. I’ve read – or started – maybe 10 in 5 months, but wouldn’t take the time to review.

    They still use cards.


    • I get my book recommendations pretty exclusively from social media, be it an article about the author, recommendation from friends/bloggers/other authors/an algorithm, or an ad for the book that piques my interest. Occasionally a book will catch my eye while I’m browsing in a book store or library, but I’ve already got so many books on my shelf and in my Kindle app and on hold at the library, I really have no need to do much browsing.

      Quaint that your library still uses cards (I’m old enough to have experienced those). You should donate a copy of your book to their collection!


      • They have a copy – and it has been read here many times already. I’ve offered another, if they want it, and I’ll replace it if/when necessary – not having a hard copy available means paperbacks which are more delicate. I’ll get a chance to see how it holds up, though it was Createspace, and you can’t get those any more!


  2. Good word ‘versimilitude’, I must use it more 🙂
    I read lots of books but a ‘challenge’ would be a problem. I regularly abandon books early on if they are disappointing me. I’m too old to be ploughing on regardless – I’d sooner get to something enjoyable.
    You don’t give stars lightly do you Janna 🙂 That’s indicative of your own high standards.


    • I learned “verisimilitude” in a fantasy novel when I was in high school and it’s forever stuck with me.

      I really hate abandoning books – not because I think one should plough on regardless but because it amounts to wasted effort that could have been devoted to a book I will finish. I can only manage so many books a year and I want that number to be one I’d feel proud sharing if asked (again my pride and vanity come into play). As a result, I tend to not just “pick up a book”, but instead will read a few spoiler-free reviews and see what kind of social media buzz a book has before committing to it.

      Do I really seem like a hard reviewer? Every book I finish automatically starts with three stars, which can easily become four stars if it manages to deliver at least two noteworthy elements that I enjoyed. But star ratings can be difficult to parse on their own, so I always try to be specific in my written comments about the many things I liked and the one or two major things I disliked (I see little value in being unduly negative).


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