2017: A year in books

I might not have been too enthused about my Year in Movies, but looking back over my reading is a much more interesting picture – to me, at any rate! ūüėČ

Metrics

According to my records, I’ve read 72 books over the year (okay, technically I finished 2 of them in the first days of 2018, but the actual reading was mostly last year so I’m counting them!), of which 3 were very short (I’ve not counted actual short stories, despite logging these on GoodReads).

What’s changed? Well, since I last did this sort of post, I’ve become quite a heavy user of NetGalley – more than half of my reads (38) were ARCs! This means that my numbers of both new-to-me authors (44) and books from the current year (36) have gone up significantly.

I find it rather encouraging, too, to see that my ratio between the genders has improved – in 2015 I logged just 29% from female authors, whereas this year it was almost 51%! I think this is at least in part down to a better/fairer marketing, particularly in the sci-fi and fantasy genres, meaning it’s easier to find recommendations across the genders.

Novelty

NetGalley has also encouraged me to try some slightly different genres. While the bulk of my reading remains fantasy (27) and sci-fi (15) (and 7 non-fiction titles), I’ve been reading a lot more mystery, including ‘discovering’ the ‘cosy mystery’ genre. Often straying a little too chick-lit for my tastes overall, there’s definitely been a place for some ‘fluffy’ reads in a tough year!

Of the authors I ‘discovered’ this year, I was most impressed with Ann Leckie, Adrian Tchaikovsky, John Scalzi, and Mark Lawrence. The latter three are all well-established FSF authors, but for some reason I’d just never tried any of their work before – I foresee a great deal more of it in 2018!

Resolution

Every year – including this one! – I resolve to lessen that TBR pile by reading more of my own books and fewer borrowed/etc ones. Urm.. okay, not so much! o_O By my reckoning, I bought 23 books in 2017, and I read 17 purchased volumes – 6 of them over 10 years ago (!), and only 3 bought and read in the same year. Ahem. As well as ARCS, I had another 4 freebies, 10 from the library, 1 borrowed from a friend, and 2 online/SerialReader.

So I re-resolve: I *will* decrease the huge Mount TBR this year! ūüôā Perhaps more, though, is my intention to stop putting series down halfway through, and actually finish things before I forget the beginning!!

Rereads

A big change to GoodReads this year was the ability to log rereads Рhuzzah! Still, I only had three: American Gods, ahead of watching the TV adaptation and also a first read of the slightly-updated anniversary edition; Blade Runner 2: Edge of Human as a reminder before finishing the series, and again ahead of a big-screen Blade Runner sequel; and Abhorsen also as part of a reread of the early bit of the series before going on to the newer books.

 

Lows

To be honest, the trio of BladeRunner books were probably a low – I only stuck with them through sheer bloody-mindedness! I love the movie, though, and the concept was good – just, not executed well on any front.

I was also massively disappointed with Allen Carr’s¬†Easy Way to Mindfulness.¬†It read as an advertisement for his stopping smoking program, which is of no interest to me, and very little of any use about actual mindfulness.

Otherwise, there was a reasonable amount of ‘meh’ that wasn’t unexpected when I was picking up books slightly randomly, for free. I was, however, quite disappointed to put a Robin Hobb book,¬†Dragon Keeper, into this category – it was still full of wonderful writing, but the story never got going and so I’ve yet to move on to the rest of the series – see above!

Highs

There were, thankfully, also plenty of books that made me go ‘wow’! So, here are my ‘Golden Hummingbirds’ for books read in 2017:

  • Red Sister – Mark Lawrence: once you’ve read a lot of fantasy fiction it can get a bit samey, but this made me feel reinvigorated about the genre.
  • Ancillary Justice/Sword/Mercy – Ann Leckie: just, wow. Sci-fi as it should be: intriguing, thought-provoking, and just bloddy good!
  • The Rabbit Back Literature Society – Pasi Ilmari¬†J√§√§skel√§inen: this is a bit of a marmite book, but I was firmly on the side of ‘love’: the mix of mystery and fantasy, wonder and cruelty, just hit my imagination button in the right way.
  • Bryony and Roses – T Kingfisher: I could also have gone for Summer in Orcus,¬†all of Ursula Vernon’s writing is fabulous! This retelling of¬†Beauty and the Beast adds a wonderful wry dollop of common sense, and was this blog’s first 10/10 review ūüôā
  • Greenglass House – Kate Milford: and my second 10/10 review. This is a ‘middle grade’ book, so for slightly younger readers, but like¬†Narnia¬†or¬†The Neverending Story, it has magic for all ages and just swept me up into such joy for the power of stories and adventure – reminding me why I want to write.

Honourable mentions for John Scalzi’s¬†The Collapsing Empire which made me laugh more than sci-fi usually manages; and Lianne Moriarty’s¬†Big Little Lies that only lost a place on the list through being outshone by its own adaptation.

2018 is already shaping up to be a great reading year – looking forward to finding all the new ‘Golden Hummingbird’ contenders for next year’s list ūüôā

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2017: A year in movies

If my counting is correct, I saw 49 films (not including repeat viewings or events) at the cinema during 2017, getting good use out of that monthly pass! I’m usually generous with my ratings, but the average mark out of ten was only 6.5, dipping as low as 3 and never higher than 9. All in all, I’d have to suggest that this was not a classic year for cinema, with more that disappointed than wowed me. There were a few, though, so keep reading!

Top Turkeys

I’m going to start with the worst of the year and get it over with:

  • Geostorm: big, loud and very daft, definitely not a good movie!
  • Baywatch: not quite as big, but way more daft and borderline on being a bad movie!
  • Alien: Covenant: just when you thought things couldn’t get any worse than Prometheus, they managed it. Seriously, with everything it had going for it, how do you mess up this much?!
  • The Mummy: so much bad and so surprising given the presence of Tom Cruise and a huge budget. That Dark Universe series dies before it starts, alas!
  • 2017’s top turkey – Snatched: oh, how I hated this movie. Slivers of mildly amusing amid so, so much cringe-worthy awfulness! o_O

Bonus ‘meh’ awards to the likes of Unlocked (seriously, can’t even remember what this was about o_O), American Assassin (not awful, but…), and Pirates of the Caribbean whatever-number-we’re-up-to!

The Sea of Disappointment

I think my overarching feel about the year is one of disappointment: so many things that just weren’t as good as I’d hoped.

  • La La Land: yes it was good, but absolutely not the heart-warming musical I was expecting. Was more surprised by the turn in tone than everyone was by the Oscar mix-up, tbh!
  • The Dark Tower: I actually enjoyed this more than most, but given the richness of the beloved source material, it was a rather sorry attempt at a big screen adaptation. Still, it had Idris Elba, and Matthew Mahogany being deliciously evil.
  • Colossal: I suspect this was a marketing fail rather than the movie itself, but I’d been expecting fun and got something much darker.
  • Murder on the Orient Express: looked lovely, but somehow messed up the mystery’s tension levels.
  • Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets: well it looked *amazing* but sadly just about everything else was wrong with it. File next to Jupiter Ascending and John Carter, methinks!

The Superheroes

Is it just me, or does it finally feel like the comic book world-takeover is finally slowing down? I won’t say ‘to a halt’, not by any means, but somehow the year doesn’t seem to have been totally taken over. Mind, we still had Guardians of the Galaxy 2, Wonder Woman, Thor Ragnarok, Justice League, and Spider-Man Homecoming. Okay, what was my point again? The real surprise was DC managing to make one that was pretty darn good…!

Actually, I’d have to suggest that this might be the year where the studios perhaps – hopefully! – realised that they had to shake things up. Wonder Woman gave us a female lead for a change; Ragnarok threw out any attempt to follow its two predecessors and was the funniest superhero movie since Deadpool! Notice how successful these were, compared to the dull and predictable JL.

And the award goes to…

Now, usually I can’t pick a favourite movie of the year, but this year I might just have a clear winner! Honourable mentions to Guardians 2 (I just couldn’t have an entire superhero list!) and baby Groot, Blade Runner 2049 for not ruining the franchise, and Logan for absolutely tearing up the franchise and being possibly the best superhero movie ever – but, a bit on the dark side. So, I’m going to go with:

  • Wonder Woman: it’s getting more praise than it really deserves for a rather ordinary superhero plot, but by jove those Amazons were amazing! ūüôā The omg-why-did-it-take-this-long cultural impact of this movie really does make it more important than it should be, but hey: I’m all for inspiring some real-life wonder women!
  • T2: Trainspotting was one of the films of my youth, becoming part of Scotland’s culture, and I was not expecting the sequel to be so… this. Poignant? Entertaining? They messed up Edinburgh’s geography, but got the rest of it pretty much spot on.
  • Hidden Figures: it’s not perfect in terms of the politics, but it was really really good and despite knowing how all the space race stuff worked out I was still gripping my seat!
  • Star Wars: The Last Jedi: I like Star Wars, but I’ve never been a super-fan. This installment, though, finally made me go ‘Oh!’ and perhaps just realise what everyone’s been so nutty about for all this time – which was ironic given the super-fans largely hated it o_O But hey: adora-porgs ūüôā
  • Thor Ragnarok: look, it’s not the greatest movie ever made by a long shot, maybe not even the best of 2017, but the sheer joy of laughing my head off so unexpectedly makes this my favourite of the year!

I’m already working on the list of things to see in 2018, so here’s to an even better year of movie entertainment! What are you excited to see?

2015: A year in movies

I don’t track all my movie-viewing quite as well as I do my reading (although this blog should in theory change that!), but I do know that I saw¬†47 movies at the cinema this year (not including live broadcasts) – got to love that cinema pass!

Beginnings

The first cinema trip of 2015 was to see¬†Into the Woods.¬†The¬†mix of musical and fairy tales did suit the holiday season, although I can well believe that something was lost in the transition from the stage show – it all just felt like it was missing something. The duet between Chris Pine and Billy¬†Magnussen as Cinderella’s and Rapunzel’s Princes, respectively, was a comedy highlight, though!

Endings

Along with many, many people, I suspect, my last cinema trip of the year was to see the behemoth that was¬†Star Wars: The Force Awakens.¬†And I liked it ūüôā Still a few too many ‘hmms’ to¬†have made it to my top 5 of the year (see below), but maybe deserves it for making Star Wars fun again.

Bigger Isn’t Necessarily Better

Two movies stand out as being too big for their own boots: Jupiter Ascending, and Tomorrowland: A World Beyond.¬†Both left me with a sense that¬†the audience was supposed to just be so bowled over by the sheer spectacle, that flaws in the plot and characters would be overlooked. Nope! Oddly, the former struck me as too¬†manic, and the latter too sedate – one unsure, and one overly sure, of its own ‘magnificence’.

Superheros Still Reign

Hard to believe that this¬†juggernaut is STILL expanding, but 2016 looks even more chock-full than 2015, which saw Big Hero 6, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Ant-Man, and¬†Fantastic Four. And says a lot about me that the first three were my only repeat viewings for the year! Looking at that list, I’d suggest the quality dropped as the year went on – BH6 was just wonderful; FF was awful! Doesn’t bode well for the coming year…!

Sequels

By my reckoning, 16 of my cinema trips were to see sequels – okay, a couple of ‘re-imaginings’ with the likes of Mad Max: Fury Road, I suppose, and the odd status of Terminator: Genisys, which I apparently really liked at the time but am not remembering that fondly! Insurgent, The Scorch Trials, and Mockingjay part 2 all carried on YA adaptations, and none impressed me as much as previous installments, likewise Fast and Furious 7 or the dire Transporter Refueled.

I did, however, really enjoy the very fun Minions (okay,that was more a prequel), and Spectre, Jurassic World, and  Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation all added something positive to their respective franchises, in my opinion.

Don’t Look – There’s Spies Everywhere!

Talking of Mission Impossible, there were no shortage of spy movies – serious and otherwise! – around this year. I¬†hugely enjoyed the wonderful subversion of¬†Kingsman: The Secret Service back in February, and June’s¬†Spy¬†let Jason Statham send himself up perfectly! And unlike all of the new installments/reboots, the period aspect of¬†The Man From UNCLE is what allowed an otherwise okay-ish movie shine a little brighter in the pack.

Lows

Quite a few disappointments this year, but special mentions for In The Heart of the Sea (far less emotional impact than it should have managed), and Gravity (2013), which I caught up with very late and was a bit meh away from the big screen visual impact. However, the chosen turkeys of the year, in reverse order, are:

  • The Good Dinosaur – sorry Pixar, but why did you bother?¬†Makes the list as expectations were so high.
  • Chappie –¬†almost had good points. Almost.
  • The Scorch Trials – disappointing follow-up.
  • The Transporter Refueled¬†– it was bad; as if I could have expected much else!
  • Fantastic Four – how to kill a franchise in one step – it was actually WORSE than the previous adaptations!!

Highs

Mad Max: Fury Road is making so many year-end lists, but somehow didn’t appeal to me as much as all that – enough to get an honourable mention, right enough. Both Mississippi Grind and Macbeth were excellent, if dark; Big Hero 6¬†was also wonderful, but not my favourite animation of the year.¬†So¬†the¬†golden¬†hummingbird statuettes go to:

  • The Voices – sadly seen by few, it veered between very black comedy and leaving me feeling uncomfortable for laughing – but I¬†still did! Altogether now: “Sing a happy song, sing a happy song…”!
  • Kingsman: The Secret Service –¬†so much fun,¬†much of it inappropriate, I’m already looking forward to a repeat viewing!
  • Sicario – harsh, brutal even, but oh so well done.
  • Inside Out – Pixar makes the bottom and top lists! Such a lovely, spot-on film with this one, for all ages.
  • The Martian – surprising myself putting this at the top of the list, but it was actually better than the book imo, and how often can you say that?! Perfect popcorn fodder.

2015: A year in books

I started keeping a ‘commonplace’ book as one of my new year’s resolutions for 2015, a way to capture some interesting snippets for my own writing, plus¬†stop myself instantly forgetting everything I read ! This blog followed in June, adding more of a review slant to my notes. Over the full 12 months, Goodreads tells me I managed to read 65 books – bang on my chosen target.

Beginnings

I started the year very well, with the wonderful¬†Golden Fool¬†(followed by¬†Fool’s Fate) by Robin Hobb. The¬†Farseer¬†(or Assassins) series remains one of my all-time favourite fantasy series, although I was slightly disappointed by the change in viewpoint in the follow-up series, The Liveship Traders.¬†However,¬†The Tawny Man trilogy was back with Fitz, and back on form for me – I was enthralled.

Endings

My final book of the year was from another fantasy series –¬†Rise of a Merchant Prince, book 2 of the¬†Serpentwar saga by Raymond E Feist. I bought this series back in 2000, and that I’m just getting around to reading it perhaps tells you all you need to know!

Novelty

I’m quite pleased with my more experimental reads this year – I sampled (fiction) works from 15 new-to-me authors.¬†These included classics (Dying Earth, Gateway), award winners (Life After Life, How to be Both), books with big buzz behind them (The Martian, The Goblin Emperor, Ready Player One), and random finds (The Invisible Library). Biggest ‘find’ though, was probably Victoria Schwab, who I was lucky enough to meet in person – just after I’d read and loved¬†A Darker Shade of Magic, the review of which kicked off this blog.

Rereads

With¬†the Goodreads challenge only counting new reads, I had very few rereads in 2015 – which can be something of a shame, I feel. I last read¬†Generation X when I was a teenager, so I was curious to see how it had changed – or rather, how I had. I¬†picked up Garth Nix’s¬†Sabriel again to read along with a¬†few people in my writing group (what happened to the follow up, guys?!), and the best bit was the casting game we played, trying to slot a random list of people and places into the book’s narrative. And finally, I picked up Jim Butcher’s¬†Cold Days to remind myself where we’d left Harry Dresden ahead of the new volume, Skin Game.

Metrics

Talking of Goodreads, I’m not going to do a¬†number-of-books-read challenge this year – it’s a poor metric for me. Instead, my ‘goal’ is going to be tackling some of that TBR mountain of unread books already on my shelf/kindle. In 2015, I read just 16 books from my own shelves, compared with 37 borrowed from friends or library – should be easy to beat this year!

For other stats, 13 books were from 2015 (and one from 2016!), 13 from 2014, and 13 from 2010-13 – spooky, eh?! ūüėȬ†Two were older than me, the oldest only from 1950. Gender split, 19 were by women plus one co-written and one I assumed was female (KJ Parker) but turned out otherwise. Only 2 were by non-British or -American writers, which I hadn’t realised until I went to research this post.

Lows

Biggest disappointments of the year were Tales from Dying Earth – a classic of the sci-fi genre that just left me cold – and Land of the Headless, another sci-fi offering that¬†really didn’t¬†do justice to the great idea. I was also thoroughly under-awed with the much-hyped¬†Wicked, the ‘re-telling’ of The Wizard of Oz from the witch’s point of view. And I became much more wary of the nonsense people can and do post as freebies on Amazon these days!

Highs

And finally… favourite book of the year! Drum roll please – I’m going to go for… hah hah, as if I could pick just one!

  • Fantasy: joint¬†A Darker Shade of Magic (V.E. Schwab) and¬†Sharps¬†(K.J. Parker) – very different kinds of fantasy
  • Urban fantasy:¬†Skin Game¬†(Jim Butcher)
  • Sci-fi: Seveneves¬†(Neal Stephenson) just edges out¬†Gateway¬†(Frederick Pohl)
  • Fiction/other:¬†Life After Life¬†(Kate Atkinson)
  • Non-fiction: joint¬†Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives¬†(Gretchen Rubin) and¬†Plot & Structure (Jamie Bell)