2016 Reading Survey

I’m very pleased to be linking up with the Perpetual Page Turner for this 2016 Survey; I have written this as much for my own benefit as anyone else’s because I am not famous enough to get a yearly highlights reel; consequently, this is it.

Spoiler Alert: if you haven’t read Blood for Blood and plan to, skip the answer to question 18. It’s not a major spoiler but I don’t want to be responsible for ruining the book in any way.

Number Of Books You Read: 307
Number of Re-Reads: 23
Genre You Read The Most From: literary fiction

1. Best Book You Read In 2016?

This is so hard. I wrote my top ten list a few weeks ago and went for Petina Gappah’s The Book of Memory, which was really outstanding. I’ll stick with that. But very honourable mentions must go to Here I Am by Jonathan Safran Foer, Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi and The Smell of Other People’s Houses by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock.

2. Book You Were Excited About & Thought You Were Going To Love More But Didn’t?
The Queen of the Night by Alexander Chee has a main character who can handle herself and is set in Paris, so it should have been perfect for me. So how come I thought it was absolutely terrible and found myself laughing out loud at how bad it was? Reading is weird.

3. Most surprising (in a good way or bad way) book you read?
I was very pleasantly surprised by Graeme Macrae Burnett’s His Bloody Project, which I read as part of my own bloody project of reading everything on the Booker shortlist. This was my favourite from that list.

4. Book You “Pushed” The Most People To Read (And They Did)?
This probably has to be Girl Up by Laura Bates, who is now on my Feminist Heroines list. It’s a kind of feminism primer for teenage girls and I’ve been forcing it on people since reading it.

5. Best series you started in 2016? Best Sequel of 2016? Best Series Ender of 2016?
I really enjoyed Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone and will be getting hold of the second and third books in that series soon. 2016 was a great year for sequels (which I wrote about here, actually); Gemina and Crooked Kingdom were both everything I could have hoped for, and A Torch Against the Night was excellent too. Blood for Blood stands out as the best series ender; I read the book in two sittings and wouldn’t have notice if my feet had caught fire.

6. Favorite new author you discovered in 2016?
I read Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie for the first time in 2016 and now am obsessed with her; I’m hoarding Half of a Yellow Sun because it’s the last of her work I haven’t read yet. I also got really into Kate Tempest this year, through her novel, The Bricks That Built the Houses and her poetry. She’s a genius.

7. Best book from a genre you don’t typically read/was out of your comfort zone?
I started reading graphic novels this year, which was very out of my comfort zone to begin with but, now that I’ve trained myself to actually look at the pictures, I have grown to love the genre. My favourite was Dallas, Volume 2 of Gerard Way’s The Umbrella Academy.

8. Most action-packed/thrilling/unputdownable book of the year?
It has to be Gemina. Don’t try to argue with me about this.

9. Book You Read In 2016 That You Are Most Likely To Re-Read Next Year?
There are a couple. I want to read Ayobami Adebayo’s beautiful Stay With Me again when it comes out in March. I also hope to find time to reread A Darker Shade of Magic and A Gathering of Shadows before A Conjuring of Light comes out in early 2017.

10. Favorite cover of a book you read in 2016?
I have a particular affection for the cover of Natasha Farrant’s Lydia, which had the added advantage of also being very entertaining. I liked the cover of Lauren Oliver’s Replica far more than I actually liked the book. The Muse by Jessie Burton is very easy on the eye too.

11. Most memorable character of 2016?
Willowdean from Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy is my YA idol of 2016. I loved her lack of fucks to give about her weight.

12. Most beautifully written book read in 2016?
There are a few that need mentioning here: The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner, Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepytys and The Outside Lands by Hannah Kohler.

13. Most Thought-Provoking/ Life-Changing Book of 2016?
Kiese Laymon’s How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America is a really powerful and thought-provoking study of race, while my constant yearning for feminist inspiration was fulfilled by Laura Bates with both Everyday Sexism and Girl Up, Jessica Valenti’s Sex Object and Sara Pascoe’s Animal.

14. Book you can’t believe you waited UNTIL 2016 to finally read?
Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle; I’d had it on my shelf for a year or so before finally reading it in October 2016. I had been a fan of Jackson’s short fiction for a while and now I am determinedly reading everything she ever wrote because she is amazing.

15. Favorite Passage/Quote From A Book You Read In 2016?
One of the last books I read in 2016 was Animal by Sara Pascoe (which you should definitely read as well), which contained the following brilliant sentence: “my adolescent fear of men did not extend to the ones in Take That.” Apart from highlighting sentences to use in reviews, I don’t pay enough attention to specific quotes, which I need to change in 2017.

16.Shortest & Longest Book You Read In 2016?
The longest book I read in 2016 was Joe Hill’s The Fireman, which was a hefty 747 pages long. The shortest was Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s We Should All Be Feminists, which is a teeny 49 pages in length.

17. Book That Shocked You The Most
The Loney by Andrew Michael Hurley contains a deeply disturbing plot twist. It was a weird (but excellent) book anyway, but I was not prepared for how it turned out.

18. OTP OF THE YEAR (you will go down with this ship!)
I read These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman and Meghan Spooner early in 2016 and really liked Lilac and Tarver. I think my favourite, however, is Yael and Luka from Blood for Blood. I read Wolf by Wolf with a class last term and it was very difficult not to massively spoil the book by talking about the sequel.

19. Favorite Non-Romantic Relationship Of The Year
I loved the way that relationships between girls were shown in Holly Bourne’s Spinster Club trilogy, in Dumplin‘ and, in a completely different and weird way, in Charlotte Wood’s The Natural Way of Things.

20. Favorite Book You Read in 2016 From An Author You’ve Read Previously
I loved Here I Am by Jonathan Safran Foer and also really enjoyed Hag-Seed, Margaret Atwood’s novelised, modernised take on The Tempest.

21. Best Book You Read In 2016 That You Read Based SOLELY On A Recommendation From Somebody Else/Peer Pressure:
Dietland by Sarai Walker was recommended to me by a fellow blogger and I am glad I paid attention.

22. Newest fictional crush from a book you read in 2016?
I don’t really have an answer to this. If I was a teenager so this was a socially acceptable answer, Luka Lowe from Wolf by Wolf. I also developed a weird love for the Prince in Romeo and Juliet while teaching it this year. Let’s move on…

23. Best 2016 debut you read?
As I put it at the top of my YA list, I have to say The Smell of Other People’s Houses by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock. It’s an incredibly beautiful book and one I hope to read again. Homegoing is a contender too.

24. Best Worldbuilding/Most Vivid Setting You Read This Year?
I read both Passenger and Wayfarer by Alexandra Bracken in 2016; they represent the only time I’ve ever understood a time travel plot, and I love the use of so many different countries and time periods in both books.

25. Book That Put A Smile On Your Face/Was The Most FUN To Read?
I found Hadley Freeman’s Life Moves Pretty Fast very fun to read; it brought back lots of memories of watching my favourite 80s movies and gave me a lot to think about in their interpretation.

26. Book That Made You Cry Or Nearly Cry in 2016?
Scrolling through my Goodreads account, I’m surprised not to have been more emotionally compromised by what I read in 2016. The Museum of Heartbreak by Meg Leder was so bloody lovely that I had a small cry at the end, while I am not ashamed to admit that I had to put Crooked Kingdom down to go and get a tissue. I was also inexplicably heartbroken by Andre Alexis’ Fifteen Dogs, which I still struggle to think about without needing a moment to myself.

27. Hidden Gem Of The Year?
Every Heart A Doorway by Seanan Maguire was really excellent. I was only disappointed by how short it was, as I was completely absorbed in the idea of kids who’ve been to different worlds being forced to live in the “real” one.

28. Book That Crushed Your Soul?
Cynthia Bond’s Ruby was basically the most soul-destroying thing I’ve ever read. If I approached books like Joey Tribbiani, it would be in the freezer.

29. Most Unique Book You Read In 2016?
I’ll mention Fifteen Dogs again here because the concept (gods give dogs human consciousness) was just so clever and beautifully executed. I’ll also give a shout to The Portable Veblen by Elizabeth Mckenzie, mainly for the repeated squirrel motif which gives the book a very unique feel.

30. Book That Made You The Most Mad (doesn’t necessarily mean you didn’t like it)?
Like a lot of people, I was pretty annoyed by Empire of Storms, mainly due to the fact that Chaol is the only character in that series I’m actually bothered about.

1. New favorite book blog you discovered in 2016?
In trying to answer this question, I have discovered that I am very bad at actually knowing which blogs I’m reading. I read and comment on quite a few, but clearly don’t pay enough attention to who’s writing what. Something to address in 2017!

2. Favorite review that you wrote in 2016?
I probably most enjoyed raving about David Arnold’s Kids of Appetite, which was done so enthusiastically I needed a nap afterwards.

3. Best discussion/non-review post you had on your blog?
I started off the year writing loads of discussions but then felt creatively bankrupt. I had the most fun writing my post about how references to characters’ music taste make me over-excited.

4. Best event that you participated in (author signings, festivals, virtual events, memes, etc.)?
I saw Margaret Atwood speak as part of the York Literature Festival and it was amazing; she’s hilarious. I also really enjoyed following the children’s book trail at the Ilkley Literature Festival, because it involved getting my four year old daughter excited about books.

5. Best moment of bookish/blogging life in 2016?
My highlight was a particular day when three people told me they’d bought, read and enjoyed books based on reading my blog. This made me very happy.

6. Most challenging thing about blogging or your reading life this year?
I’ve gone through periods of not being motivated to blog. These tend to coincide with times when I’m reading particularly voraciously. Sometimes my annoying actual job gets in the way too.

7. Most Popular Post This Year On Your Blog (whether it be by comments or views)?
For some reason, the most viewed post on my blog on a single day was a Top Ten Tuesday list of literary characters I’d name a child after.

8. Post You Wished Got A Little More Love?
I spent a ludicrous amount of time planning my Top Ten Tuesday on theme songs for books so I hope it will one day reach eleventy billion views.

9. Best bookish discovery (book related sites, book stores, etc.)?
I spend too much time on the website of The Literary Gift Company. Because obviously I need cuddly toys of 19th century authors.

10. Did you complete any reading challenges or goals that you had set for yourself at the beginning of this year?
My Goodreads target was 151 (the number of books I read in 2015) and I managed to read a few more than that. I was rubbish on all other challenges, particularly the one I set myself to read Middlemarch.

Looking Ahead

1. One Book You Didn’t Get To In 2015 But Will Be Your Number 1 Priority in 2017?
It won’t be my top priority, but I do need to finish Annie Proulx’s Barkskins, which I started but wasn’t in the mood for in the summer.

2. Book You Are Most Anticipating For 2017 (non-debut)?
Technically already out but I’m waiting for the paperback, I am looking forward to reading A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers, the sequel to The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet. January also sees the release of Chibundu Onuzo’s Welcome to Lagos, which is something else I’m excited about.

3. 2017 Debut You Are Most Anticipating?
See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt and Beasts Made of Night by Tochi Onyebuchi
are exciting books I discovered while writing a top ten post on 2017 debuts. I’m looking forward to both.

4. Series Ending/A Sequel You Are Most Anticipating in 2017?
A Conjuring of Light by V.E. Schwab. I can’t wait.

5. One Thing You Hope To Accomplish Or Do In Your Reading/Blogging Life In 2017?
Reading all of Shirley Jackson’s books. Getting back to writing discussion posts. Deciding once and for all whether I approve of the Oxford comma.

6. A 2017 Release You’ve Already Read & Recommend To Everyone:
Stay With Me by Ayobami Adebayo. I read this in November and it’s not out till March. If my recommendations work, it will be a bestseller.

Top Ten Tuesday: Best Books of 2016

This week’s TTT (hosted by The Broke and The Bookish) is too hard, so I’m cheating. I can’t pick just 10 books, so I’ve split it into 2 lists; a top 10 of adult fiction and an extra one for YA. Just be glad I didn’t do separate lists for non-fiction, books about the Brontës and children’s books about koalas.

Adult Fiction

10 The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
I was late to the party on this one, but I loved the richness of the imagery, the amazing clocks and the weird gothic vibe.

9 The Natural Way of Things by Charlotte Wood
Very weird feminist-tinged tale of women imprisoned in a camp in the Australian Outback.

8 The Butcher’s Hook by Janet Ellis
Gloriously mad historical “romance.”

7 Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
I am now obsessed with Adichie. The end.

6 His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet
My Booker pick; the varied style of this really grabbed my attention.

5 All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders
This was my top book of the year, but I read it right at the start of 2016 and too many books have been and gone since. I have vowed to reread it soon.

4 Fifteen Dogs by André Alexis
So weirdly heartbreaking and lovely. And I don’t even like dogs. (Sorry.)

3 Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
Superlative, sweeping tale of two linked families, rooted in slavery in Africa and resulting in modern day America.

2 Here I Am by Jonathan Safran Foer
I remain in awe of this wonderful book about a dysfunctional Jewish family and a crisis in Israel.

1 The Book of Memory by Petina Gappah
I am so pleased I stumbled across this beautiful and subtle book. I raved about it here.

YA Fiction

10 A Gathering of Shadows by V.E. Schwab
I feel very wrong for not putting this higher up the list. I am taking out my feelings of frustration about waiting for the third book by punishing this one.

9 The Museum of Heartbreak by Meg Leder
Possibly the loveliest book I’ve read all year.

8 Lydia by Natasha Farrant
This reimagining of the troublemaker from Pride and Prejudice was very funny.

7 Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys
I still can’t think about this WWII story without wanting to do a little cry.

6 Front Lines by Michael Grant
Girls in war! Woohoo! This was a fun read, with some serious stuff about sexism too.

5 Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo
So tragic! So heartbreaking! But also so hilarious?

4 Dumplin‘ by Julie Murphy
Ahh, Willowdean, my fictional BFF. Just thinking about this book makes me want to do a celebratory dance.

3 Vivian Vs the Apocalypse by Katie Coyle
I’m so pleased to have discovered these books completely by accident. It’s a brilliant, entertaining duology which now has slightly frightening connotations, post-US election. Is Katie Coyle actually psychic?

2 Gemina by Jay Kristoff and Amie Kaufman
Obviously this is on here. It was brilliant. More please. NOW.

1 The Smell of Other People’s Houses by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock
The only book lovely enough to beat The Museum of Heartbreak to the title of Loveliest Book. Because it’s lovely. Also, Alaska. And lots of salmon.

Top Ten Tuesday: Dear Santa, Please Bring Me All the Books

This week’s TTT is about the books we’ve asked for this Christmas. Basically all I ever ask for is books, so this list is very easy to write. I tend to ask for the kind of books I might not buy for myself, like big non-fiction works or collections, so my Christmas books seem like more of a treat. I have developed this system over many years of politely demanding books for Christmas…

Somebody to Love: The Life, Death and Legacy of Freddie Mercury by Matt Richards
I love a good music biography and I was brought up listening to Queen, so I’m looking forward to reading this. Personally, I think I prefer biographies to autobiographies, as I like to read about an artist’s wider cultural impact and, when that’s written by the artist, it sounds a bit annoying. Also, this is a total brick, so I’m excited.

Shrill by Lindy West
Something I’ve been wanting to read for ages; I am a bit obsessed with Lindy West on Twitter, and the excerpts of this I’ve read have been excellent.

Saga, Volumes 4-6 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples
I really like the space madness of this series, although I continue to be perturbed by the amount of nudity people seem to think is necessary in a comic…

Jane Austen, The Secret Radical by Helena Kelly
I’m not sure I’ll be convinced that Austen was actually a radical, but, as a massive fan of her novels, I’m interested to read Kelly’s argument. Also, my husband has bough me a Jane cuddly toy for Christmas, to be friends with the Emily Dickinson one I already have. Because I am cool.

Animal: The Autobiography of a Female Body by Sara Pascoe
I’ve seen Pascoe on a few comedy panel shows and she’s very funny, so I hope this will be something that makes me laugh, given that most of my reading produces a very different effect.

Collected Stories by Shirley Jackson
I’ve read and taught quite a few of Jackson’s stories and they are all superb, so I’m happy that I will soon be the owner of a bigger collection.

Stories Volume 1 by Ray Bradbury
As with Jackson, I’m a fan of Bradbury’s short fiction. This book is enormous and also very pretty. My birthday’s in January so I’ll be requesting volume 2 then.

Gangsta Granny by David Walliams
My mum is getting me a boxset of all Walliam’s children’s books; I’ve heard endless good things about these from my students and other children, and I’m interested to see whether Walliams merits the “new Roald Dahl” tag he’s been given.

In non-book but still-bookish news, besides this beautiful Jane Austen toy, I have, I think, also convinced my husband to buy me this beauteous Edgar Allen Poe-ka dotted scarf, which is both a great pun and a lovely accessory.

Review: Armada by Ernest Cline

armadaThe Premise: Zach Lightman is a gaming geek who, one day during class, spots a UFO through the classroom window. Not just any UFO either: a spacecraft from Armada, the computer game he is obsessed with. Because guess what? It wasn’t ever a game: it was a secret training programme for interplanetary warfare.

Thoughts: I loved Cline’s previous novel, Ready Player One, but had been warned by my husband, who had read both novels, that Armada wouldn’t be my kind of thing. I really hate it when he’s right.
The thing is that, while Armada has a brilliant premise, the first 150 pages are way too bogged down in very specific descriptions of gaming, and that just isn’t my thing. I played a lot of Toejam and Earl on the Megadrive in the 90s; I’ve also been known to cause myself nerve damage by playing Guitar Hero for several hours at a time. But immersive descriptions of galactic shooting battles don’t really do it for me, so big chunks of Armada were pretty hard work. The other geeky stuff was cool; I’m a mid-level Star Wars nerd and there are obvious Skywalker parallels in the family relationships, which provide some much-needed emotional thrust to the narrative, and I enjoyed the references to the cheesy 80s rock mixtapes Zach inherited from his father. There just wasn’t enough of this human content in amongst all the starfleets and weaponry to keep me interested.

In Conclusion: while no match for Ready Player One, which I found genuinely thrilling to read, Armada does show flashes of the same zingy flair from Cline. Given that computer games form the whole backdrop to the narrative, it was probably rather naive of me to think there’d be more human drama to the story, and I would expect  Armada to be more popular with readers whose tastes run a little closer to the protagonist’s.