…and In With the New!

The year 2013 is done, and so my many challenges have come to an end. I’ve updated my 2013 Challenge Index and overall I did pretty well, though some areas definitely could use some improvement. Here’s a quick recap of how I did on my reading challenges:

2013 Goodreads Challenge: 130/75 books read

My previous high (since I started tracking everything I read on Goodreads) was 120 books in 2011. In 2012 I had a pitiful 50 books read. This year, I was glad to get back on track and I blew my conservative estimate out of the water. I think I reached my initial goal of 75 books by July or August! 

Debut Author Challenge: 4/12 books read

Once again, I didn’t read very many debuts. My self-imposed restriction on advance review copies has limited my access to debut author books, and they are harder to find at the library. I also found that I love reading new authors, just not necessarily debut authors.

Seriously Series Challenge: 12/12 series read

My focus for this challenge was to get up to the last book in a series that I had already purchased. I ended up getting quite a few from the library too. I’m happy I finally caught up on the Black Dagger Brotherhood, and I also finally read the entire trilogies of Across the Universe and the Infernal Devices. 

Get Steampunked Challenge: 5/5 books read

I managed to read more than my goal of five books, actually. I read 9! My favorite was the first in a new series combining steampunk and faeries, A Conspiracy of Alchemists by Liesel Schwarz.

Off the Shelves Challenge: 20/50 books read

I did better than last year, but still not as great as I would have liked. I made copious use of the library this year, and my shelves suffered as a result. I’m doing two challenges on Goodreads this year that focus on whittling down our TBR lists, so hopefully I can exceed this number in 2014.

Graphic Novels Challenge: 6/12 books read

I think I read all 6 of these in January and then promptly ignored my collection after that. I acquired two new graphic novels this year, one of which I’m reading for my YA book club in the spring. It would be nice if I could read another 6 this year.

Back to the Classics Challenge: 2/6 books read

I had so hoped to devote some time to the classics this year, but this was a pretty spectacular fail. I only read one of the required six, and read one alternate. I think in 2014 I’ll consider it a win if I read just one!

TBR Pile Challenge: 6/12 books read

There’s no cheating in this challenge run by Roof Beam Reader. The lists were set even before 2013 began, and I did pretty well. Ultimately, the rest of the list just didn’t appeal to me over the newer, shinier choices as the year progressed. 

Authors After Dark Challenge: 2/8 books read

I thought I would do better in this one this year, given the amount of PNR/UF I read. Turns out I just read a bunch of authors who happened not to be going to AAD. After two years of limping to the finish, I think it’s time to give this challenge a rest.

Literary Exploration Challenge: 33/36 books read

I came so very close to finishing this one, but just ran out of time. The five books I had left included a play and some sonnets – easy and quick reads. But the others I couldn’t quite sneak in. I had a lot of fun challenging myself to read such varied genres, and I struggled with the ones I expected to find more difficult. In many ways, however, it was easier than I expected. I learned that I tend to read in a lot more genres than I thought. This challenge has its own widget and group on Goodreads for easy tracking, and they’re offering it again in 2014 if any of you are interested in giving it a try.

Book to Movie Challenge: 6/6 books read and movies watched

This was the most fun to complete, I think. It helped that there were so many new movies this year based on great books. I saw Beautiful Creatures, The Great Gatsby, Ender’s Game, and The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and snuck in two oldies: The Princess Bride and One Day. I managed to read Austenland, The Book Thief, and Carrie, but didn’t get a chance to see the movie adaptations. I also haven’t seen City of Bones yet.

Did I miss any biggies? What book to movie adaptations did you see this year?

That’s it for my challenge round-up. Are you doing any challenges this year?




Book Blogger Confessions: Blog Evolution

Book Blogger Confessions is a meme run by Midnyte Reader and For What It’s Worth. Every first and third Monday participants post and discuss common frustrations to book bloggers. Link up your post on either blog and hop around to listen to and learn from your fellow bloggers!

This week’s question is:

How long do you see yourself blogging? Do you think it’s okay for a blog to evolve over time? For example: You may have started out as a book review blog but now your interest is in cooking as well. Do you incorporate that or start over?

 I have had an online blog or journal in some format for 12 years. I’m not sure that this blog, in this format, will exist in decades to come, but I’d like to think that I’ll always have an online presence. 

I think a blog can evolve as long as the author is okay with a changing audience. This blog was created for readers, and mostly YA readers at that, so if I decide to start focusing more on running, say, or even on my writing, I have no doubt that my audience would change and likely grow smaller. And that doesn’t bother me. I want readers who connect with my content, pure and simple.

Where I get a little confused is whether a blog can have more than one focus. For now, I’m keeping my other interests confined to my weekly recaps. I’m afraid if I do book reviews, and a weekly post on writing, and a weekly post on running/training, and so on, that I’ll end up attracting no audience at all because there is no common theme. At that point it starts to feel like a journal/diary, and there are better (and more private) venues for that on the interwebs.

At the very least, I see this blog continuing on for a few more years. Let’s hope! 🙂



Book Blogger Confessions: Blog/Life Balance

Book Blogger Confessions is a meme run by Midnyte Reader and For What It’s Worth. Every first and third Monday participants post and discuss common frustrations to book bloggers. Link up your post on either blog and hop around to listen to and learn from your fellow bloggers!

This week’s question is:

How does blogging affect your *real* life? Are friends and family supportive? Do you find that blogging cuts into family time? How do you strike a balance between the two?

I generally don’t talk about my blog with people in my life. My family and husband and a few friends know it exists, and some of them follow my posts and even comment from time to time (mostly my fellow voracious readers: Mom and my sister). But generally, its content doesn’t apply to or interest most of my regular peeps.

That said, they’re very supportive, and my husband usually just lets me go about my business. He did object to the alarming increase of books that started to pile up, but I’m doing better about that these days. And while in the beginning (and during design changes) I was devoting hours every day to blog setup and upkeep, I’ve gotten better at managing my time and not doing blog stuff when we’re supposed to be doing things together.



Book Blogger Confessions: Reading Genres

Book Blogger Confessions is a meme run by Midnyte Reader and For What It’s Worth. Every first and third Monday participants post and discuss common frustrations to book bloggers. Link up your post on either blog and hop around to listen to and learn from your fellow bloggers!

This week’s question is:

How has blogging and reviewing changed your reading habits? Do you read a genre now that you wouldn’t have tried prior? Or have you been turned off by a genre you used to love?

I read a lot more romance/erotica novels because of blogging. I think there can be a stigma toward the genre, and seeing how many people in the blogosphere enthusiastically discussed it made me feel like I was missing out on something or not giving it a fair chance. I mean, anyone who likes Outlander as much as I do should feel fairly confident they’ll like romance stories! 

I think I read more epic fantasy these days too. Book bloggers have exposed me to so many different types of genres and different recommendations within those genres that I’m giving more fantasy a chance where I wasn’t as into it before. Patrick Rothfuss’ The Name of the Wind is not something I would have considered until I saw so many bloggers raving about it. I’m so glad I listened to them, since I loved that book!

I do find that focusing too much of my reading based on genre can lead to slumps, and blogging plays a role in that. Because my blog focuses mostly on YA books, I feel pressured to read more of them, and sometimes I just want to read a spy thriller. I’ve gotten better about reading in different genres to mix it up a bit more, and even joined some challenges this year to that end.



Book Blogger Confessions: Blogging Slumps

Book Blogger Confessions is a meme run by Midnyte Reader and For What It’s Worth. Every first and third Monday participants post and discuss common frustrations to book bloggers. Link up your post on either blog and hop around to listen to and learn from your fellow bloggers!

This week’s question is:

We’ve discussed blogging slumps before but have you ever seriously considered throwing in the towel and quitting blogging? If so, what changed your mind? Did you discuss it with other bloggers?

Last year, and particularly in the latter half of the year, I wanted to quit. For all intents and purposes, given the amount of time I spent posting or commenting, I had quit. At the very least, I had mentally checked out from everything. I didn’t read as many books, I certainly didn’t review as many books, and mostly ignored the blog. 

I think I reached a point where the stress of juggling too many things all at once meant something had to give. As we all know, blogs are incredibly time-consuming. The more time I spent doing my many other activities, the less time I had to write up reviews, post blog entries, and even read. 

A lot of it had to do with second year blogging blahs. The high of creating it and push-push-pushing to get my name out there and draw in readers in that first year was novel and exciting. Last year I just didn’t have the energy to devote to it. Blogging lost its novelty and didn’t seem so fun and shiny. The pressure of watching all of the won, borrowed, toured, and bought books pile up in a never ending stream in my living room got to me. I would scan my list of NetGalley titles and feel nothing but overwhelming pressure – to read, review, post, cross-post, and submit back to the authors and publishers. 

I freaked out. Finally, after several months of doing nothing but feel guilty and sad about the whole sorry situation, I deleted all of my review titles, had NetGalley deactivate my account, and stopped signing up for tours and giveaways. Snip. Gone. Cut-off.

What finally forced my hand in whether to officially retire the blog was that my domain came up for renewal. I had to choose – if I renewed, it would be money poorly spent if this site sat here with no entries. If I didn’t renew, it meant deleting forever the entries, comments, and memories from my little corner of the web. It also meant that I may never get this domain back. The finality of that decision was too much for me. Luckily the New Year’s holiday was right around the corner, and as I fired up my Reader again, I noticed it was reading challenge sign-up time, and darn it, I wanted in on the action.

Challenge accepted. Once I started writing up challenge posts, my passion came flowing back to me. I loved putting up all my new widgets and the challenge page. I loved visiting everyone’s sites and participating in events. That’s when I finally realized how much I had missed this.

In some ways, I wish I had reached out more to my fellow bloggers during my slump, but I didn’t think they could give me any advice I didn’t already know. I knew I needed to better manage my time, get back in touch with why I started this blog in the first place, and take whatever steps necessary to make it fun again. I hope that as I begin my third year of blogging, I can stay more connected and less pressured. Without accepting review titles, I guarantee that I will only ever have to read what I want, when I want, with no pressure to finish a certain book by a certain date. This helps me feel the joy of reading again, and that joy translates into happier posts and comments.

I want to thank everyone who has welcomed me back to the book blogger community with such enthusiasm. I came back because I missed all of you and it feels great to reconnect. Now let’s go read some awesome books!



Happy New Year!

I hope everyone had incredibly happy holidays and had a great New Year’s Day. I spent the majority of my holidays traveling, so I’m looking forward to some time at home the next few months!

In reflecting over the past blogging year, I took some time today to update my 2012 Challenge Index. Here’s a quick recap of how I did on my reading challenges:

2012 Goodreads Challenge: 50/100 books read

Compared to the 120 books I read in 2011, this is a pitiful number. I’m not sure why I read so many fewer books this year, but I think I simply wasn’t as motivated to power through so many review copies. I focused much more on library books and didn’t pressure myself to read quickly. I’ve adjusted my 2013 challenge to 75 as a “split the difference” strategy between my 2011 and 2012 reading goals.

Debut Author Challenge: 6/12 books read

I read far fewer review books this year. I even had my NetGalley account deactivated and changed my review policy so that I no longer accept advance copies at all. As a result, I read fewer debuts as their availability at the library is more limited than older titles, and I only purchased a couple of them. I probably won’t participate in this challenge anymore.

YA Historical Fiction Challenge: 6/10 books read

This is a favorite genre, so I’m not surprised I got closer to completing this one. I was derailed by finding lots more adult historical fiction this year, which doesn’t count for this particular challenge. I think I’ll try a less narrow genre challenge this year.

Get Steampunked Challenge: 3/15 books read

Yikes! I’m surprised I didn’t get through more of these. I have amassed a large selection of steampunk books this year, so now I need to get to actually reading them. I’ll be signing up for this one again.

Off the Shelves Challenge: 1/30 books read

At least it’s not zero! This was a challenge to read books sitting on my shelves, which did not happen (obviously). Because my book horde is approaching unmanageable proportions, this is a MAJOR goal of mine in 2013 – read the books I already own before I buy (or borrow) old ones. The library is proving to be the toughest competition, because I justify borrowing books because they are free, but doing so does nothing to increase the books read on my shelves. I am definitely doing at least a couple of TBR-oriented challenges this year to get my butt in gear!

Books Started But Not Finished Challenge: 2/6 books read

The idea here was to finish books from my short list of abandoned titles. It did not go well. There’s usually a reason I didn’t finish them, so most of these titles just didn’t appeal to me over shiny new books that might be the best book ever. I’ll give this challenge a miss in the future.

Graphic Novels Challenge: 0/12 books read

Another embarrassing failure. Because my graphic novel collection is precious to me, I don’t really want to take them out of my house. This means I don’t take them on the train, which is where I do most of my reading. Still, I plan to keep the same list and try again with this challenge. I can usually finish a graphic novel in a relatively short amount of time, so I need to pick a gloomy weekend this winter and get through a few at a time. Maybe that should be the primary focus of a read-a-thon?

Why Buy the Cow? Challenge: 0/12 books read

No freebies read this year. I also think I acquired very few (if any) of them. I have plenty of paid-for books to read, and I’m not really interested in glutting my Kindle with more freebies. Unless it’s a title I’ve been itching to read anyway, no thanks. After two years in a row of failing, I won’t be doing this challenge again.

Speculative Romance Challenge: 3/12 books read

This was another one that surprised me. I really thought I would read more than that in this genre. Instead of doing a strict romance genre challenge, I’ll be substituting the Seriously Series challenge, since I have so many UF/PNR series books in my TBR pile.

Dusty Volumes Challenge: 3/6 books read

Finishing half of my list is a definite step up from 2011, so I’m happy with that number. It’s entirely thanks to the Austen in August event hosted by Roof Beam Reader that I even got this far! I don’t think Midnyte Reader is hosting this again (so I’ll probably do her Authors After Dark challenge instead), but I’ll attempt a different classics challenge, since I have a good list in mind that I want to finish this year. 

Outlander Reading Challenge: 1/6 books read

This didn’t turn out to be a big priority for me, so it fell to the back of the pack. I know I’ll get to the rest of these eventually, but I don’t need a challenge to do so.

1st in a Series Challenge: 9/12 books read

I did the best in this challenge, partly because I like starting series, and partly because it’s hard to find books these days that aren’t part of a series.

Finishing the Series Challenge: 1/3 series finished

I guess I got too distracted by new series to finish the ones I’ve already started!

Now, on to 2013!

In the coming weeks I’ll be posting challenge sign-ups and getting my 2013 index ready. It felt really good to update links and do, well, anything, blog-related. Maybe this year I can get around to posting my challenge progress bar widgets to help keep me on track. 🙂




The State of Things

This post should really be titled “The State of Things, in which I try to explain the level of crazy that has become my life.” In an effort to balance the many demands on my time these last few months, blogging has fallen to the wayside. Today, I’ll tell you why.

First and foremost in my priorities, but probably highest on the list of Nobody Else Cares, is that since the end of May I have been completing a group weight loss program at my gym with Dear Old Husband. For two hours on both Tuesday and Thursday nights, we (along with 4 others) have been working out, setting goals, and learning nutrition with a team of personal trainers, a wellcoach, and a registered dietitian. It’s a 12 week program, and it ends next week. This is simultaneously relieving and terrifying.

Because this was a pricey program (as all things that are good for you tend to be, amirite?), it has taken a lot of my focus. When I’m not “in class” on those Tuesdays and Thursdays, I’m typically at the gym anyway. I’m trying to figure out the best way to balance the need to work out with needing to, you know, have a life, but as a person who tends to get a wee bit obsessed with whatever is my current focus du jour, it’s difficult.

The second time drain, which is probably off the Nobody Else Cares list, but climbing the Oh That’s Nice But We Still Don’t Care That Much list is the fact that I’m also training for the Chicago Triathlon at the end of the month. This will be my second time doing Chicago, but my sixth(!!) triathlon total. So I’m spending even more hours in the gym and at the beach working on my swimming, biking, and running.

Combine these things with the fact that I’d rather spend my time writing my novel and not necessarily reviews, and it all adds up to one seriously neglected blog. I’ve become dissatisfied with my reviews and the rigid format I’ve set up for myself with their structure. I haven’t been reading much this year, and some of the books I do read are not ones the readers of this blog would be most interested in. 

I’ve played with the idea of turning this into more of a writing blog, but I don’t have a whole lot to say as it gets completed other than, “I’m working on it.” Heh. And I do love to talk about books, so maybe I just shouldn’t review them, in the typical sense. During the Outlander read-along, Laura and Carrie and I had a conversation about how we like discussing books more than reviewing them. That’s something I’m going to try, starting this week. Look for a more discussion-oriented post on The Selection  by Kiera Cass. We’ll see how it goes.

And now on to FUN things. Last Thursday was my birthday, and I bought lots of good presents for myself with gift cards:

I have wanted to read Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel for a really long time, and I’ve been curious about Deborah Harkness’ A Discovery of Witches, especially since the sequel came out and everyone’s again talking about how amazing it is. Railsea by China Miéville caught my eye right away, but after I learned it had illustrations, that spurred me to buy the hardcover.

Surprise, surprise – a fitness book! I bought Run Faster to help with my running, as I move from focusing on the triathlon to the two 5K races I signed up for in September, followed by a 15K in November, with the big goal of finishing the Disney’s Princess Half Marathon in Orlando next February. I also bought a copy of Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way to help with my creativity and writing, but it was on my nightstand and husband was still sleeping while I took these pictures, thus the lack of photo.

And because buying books usually leads to wanting to read more books, I also picked up some library books:

I grabbed all of the Austen I could find on my branch’s shelves for Roof Beam Reader’s Austen in August event: Northanger Abbey, Pride & Prejudice, and Emma.

I LOVE the hilarious and multi-talented Mindy Kaling. If you don’t know her (writer and actress for The Office, small movie roles), you soon will, as she’s getting her own show this fall (The Mindy Project). This has been on my to-read list for far too long. I also picked up Jonah Lehrer’s How We Decide, because I love nonfiction, particularly if it has a psychology focus.

Finally, I picked up two books on hold I’ve been dying to read: Agent 6, the third in a BRILLIANT spy thriller/murder mystery series set in Cold War Soviet Russia by Tom Rob Smith, and The Yard by Alex Grecian, a Victorian detective novel. 

Oh, and for a bit of levity, I leave you with this awesome pack of bookmarks I picked up from the sale bin at Blick Art Supply over the weekend:

These should help me think up bookish points to discuss, no?





Book Blogger Confessions: Spoilers

Book Blogger Confessions is a new(ish) meme run by Tiger at All-Consuming Media and Karen at For What It’s Worth. Every first and third Monday they post a new question to open up discussion about common frustrations to book bloggers. Link up your post on either blog and hop around to listen to and learn from your fellow bloggers!

This week’s question is:

Spoilers in reviews: Do you read them, do you include them? How do you describe (or avoid describing) spoilery parts of a book?
I generally do not care about reading spoilers, but I am super sensitive to people who vigilantly avoid them. It’s because I don’t have much personal animosity toward spoilers that I’m always paranoid I’m going to accidentally let one slip.

Sometimes it’s difficult for me to perceive what is a true spoiler. If it’s something revealed by reading a cover jacket, I’m not sure that’s a spoiler, but some reviewers hide sequel summary descriptions for fear that someone may happen across a spoiler. I don’t go that far. Most regular readers of this blog know the books I’m discussing, or at least know if it’s a part of a big series that they want to avoid for fear of spoilers.

That said, I’m also not out to ruin anyone’s fun. If people want to be surprised, they should be surprised, regardless of my thoughts on the matter. That’s why I don’t post spoilers – simple common courtesy. It may mean cutting short a review or dancing around an issue, but I always know at least one or two other bloggers who have read the same book, so I’ll take to Twitter or email if I really need to discuss a spoilery issue.

What do you do about spoilers in your reviews?

Book Blogger Confessions: Social Networking with Authors

Book Blogger Confessions is a new(ish) meme run by Tiger at All-Consuming Media and Karen at For What It’s Worth. Every first and third Monday they post a new question to open up discussion about common frustrations to book bloggers. Link up your post on either blog and hop around to listen to and learn from your fellow bloggers!

This week’s question is:

Social networking with authors: Do you interact on Twitter/Facebook/etc. with authors? Does it affect how you review their work or do you look at their books differently because you’re on friendly terms with them?
I do interact with authors on Twitter, but considering I’m such a rare tweeter anyway, it’s not anything that happens super frequently. The authors I interact with the most are those whose books I’ve read and adored (like @LisaTBergren), or authors who just happen to tweet a lot in general (like @LiaHabel and @TaherehMafi).

The big caveat here is that when I say I interact with these authors, I mean we’ve had a conversation or two. Which may have only consisted of a couple of tweets. With the exception of Lisa, I don’t think any of the authors I have interacted with via Twitter really know or remember me. And I consider that a good thing.

As a reviewer, who also happens to be a writer, I try to keep myself at a professional distance. I don’t go out of my way to contact authors. I don’t tweet at them when I post reviews, with the possible exception of major fangirl 5 star lovey ones. I prefer to stay under the radar, happily occupying my little blog space with warm bookish thoughts until one day (hopefully) this domain can be used to publicize my own work. I’m also incredibly shy, and feel like if I start tweeting at authors I’ll just annoy them. (I should mention that I’m focusing on Twitter because I don’t use Facebook for blog-related things.)

As for how it impacts my reviews, I think that in general I’m always worried about loving an author, but hating their book. For the most part, I limit my interactions to authors until after I’ve read their book. If I wasn’t a big fan of their book, I usually just quietly unfollow them. If I am a fan, I’ll keep following, and if the mood strikes, I’ll start up a conversation. I’m a cheerleader at heart, so when I read books that I love, I want to pump up their authors. I want to sing their praises to the world, and thank them for writing such amazing stories.

And I love that social networking allows us to do that.

Book Blogger Confessions – Deadlines

Book Blogger Confessions is a new(ish) meme run by Tiger at All-Consuming Media and Karen at For What It’s Worth. Every first and third Monday they post a new question to open up discussion about common frustrations to book bloggers. Link up your post on either blog and hop around to listen to and learn from your fellow bloggers!

This week’s question is:

Deadlines for reviewing and blogging. Do you set them? How do you keep them? What do you do if you can’t meet a deadline?
I typically operate with soft deadlines, meaning when I accept a book for review, I calendar a date by which I want the review posted. I also enter it in a spreadsheet that tracks all of my pending review books, and prioritize the list based on the release date. Books with closer release dates get read first, as those are the dates around which I schedule my reviews.

These dates are not set in stone, however. The longer I blog, the more lee-way I give myself to push those deadlines back as needed. When I first started, I was incredibly rigid about my deadlines, but this led to me reading a lot of review books and very few pleasure books. This is a big reason (if not the reason) that I have stopped accepting review copies. I make an exception for NetGalley, because I have more self-control where those books are concerned, and I’ve made a conscious effort to only request books I know I want to read.

If I’m coming up on a deadline and I haven’t gotten around to reading the book, I push the review posting date back to a time when I think I’ll read the book. For a lot of my review copies, this has happened with embarrassing regularity, and it’s reached the point where I may have to contact the authors and tell them I can’t review their books.

Finding the balance between a blog made up entirely of review deadlines and one with a structure so loose that nobody cares to read it anymore is harder than I first thought. I thought deadlines would give me structure and allow me to plan my blog out to well-oiled machinery perfection, but what I ended up with was a joyless blog that consisted of lots of reviews and memes with little room for spontaneity. I have more demands on my time than ever, and blogging has taken a back seat. I still have a long list of books to read and review, but my posting schedule has more room on it now for interesting discussion topics that may come up or new memes I want to try without having to schedule them three months in advance.

Deadlines give me structure, but I can get a little crazy with them. I’ve found that without them, however, I tend to push everything off my plate and get nothing done. I’m still looking for that happy medium.