How Do You Plan Your Reading?

Cover art

Well we’re a week into the new year and I haven’t finished reading any of the books that I’ve already started. If I truly intend to read 50 books for the year, that equates to about a book a week, so I’m already behind!

View of my monthly and yearly goals, and my January books.

I thought I’d take some time to think about how to organize my reading beyond my Goodreads to-be-read list for the year. One feature that I would really like to see on Goodreads would be an easy way to sort books within a shelf into a particular (reading) order. Now I know you can sort them, but it’s not user friendly at all and I gave up on that some time ago.

I’m trying out a new App that I just found called Read More, which you can find here. It still isn’t quite what I want, but it let me import all of my Goodreads books and shelves with the premium version. I can sort books by to-be-read month and then I can track how many pages or minutes I read each day. I can set a goal for the year as with Goodreads.

It looks like you can highlight sections of a book you are reading, although I think you either have to type in your own notes/text or can possibly scan a page of the book since you don’t actually use the App to read the books.

Highlight screen.

We’ll see if this helps me stay on track to finish some books I started quite a while ago. You can also set a deadline for each book and the App will tell you how many pages you should read per day to meet that goal.

How do you stay focused to meet your reading goals? Do you have a favorite App or technique that you use? Tell me about it in the comments.

Reading Plans for 2021

I try to keep a list of books I want to read in the upcoming year on Goodreads. Inevitably, I go terribly off that initial plan, but here is what I at least see myself reading at this early point:

I set my 2021 goal at 50 books and there are already over 60 on this list. I imagine I’ll add more as my local book clubs make their selections and I find new releases that I can’t resist.

In the past, I’ve also set more detailed goals within that overall number, such as “read two non-fiction books” or “read two classics”. But most of the books on the list this time have just been rolled over from those I didn’t get to in 2020. Many are continuations of series that I have liked and keep trying to finish – Peter Brett’s Demon Cycle, The Earthsea books, etc.

Ultimately, I hop around a lot, grabbing whatever strikes my fancy that day. I also tend to read too many books at once which slows my pace and divides my focus. So maybe that’s something I should work on going forward – finish one book before I start the next? It’s so hard though when they’re all whispering READ ME urgently from their place on my shelves or the Kindle. I wish that Goodreads had a non-laborious way to sort the books on a shelf into a specific order, but I haven’t found that yet.

How do you decide what to read next? Are there any books that you are particularly looking forward to reading this year? Let me know in the comments!

Reading Summary 2020

With all of the craziness of this year, I haven’t had time to keep up with my book reviews. However, I did want to at least post a year-end summary because I did get a lot of reading done – not as much as I would have liked, but still more than I have done in other years.

Here is my summary graphic taken from Goodreads:

That’s a total of 39 books, which is a bit short of my goal of 50, and down a little from 43 in 2019. Breaking the books down into genre and categories, here are some statistics (some overlap):

  • Non-fiction = 6
  • Classics = 1
  • Science fiction = 19
  • Fantasy = 13
  • Graphic novels = 1
  • Mainstream = 1
  • Romance = 3
  • Novellas = 2

Favorite books of 2020 (links help support this blog):

Least favorite books of 2020:

  • The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin
  • The Last Human by Zack Jordan
  • Master of Sorrows by Justin Call
  • Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

Coming soon – books I’m hoping to read in 2021!

New Short Fiction Available!

I’ve been a bit overwhelmed lately with work and have been neglecting my blog here, but I wanted to announce here that I have a new short fiction story out now.

My story is called I’m Not a Superhero and is included in the Tales From Vigilante City anthology from Bloat Games.

Vigilante City is the setting for the SURVIVE THIS!! Vigilante City RPG and these stories all fit in with that setting, full of superheroes and villains. Pick up a copy and let me know what you think.

You can get a pdf here.

Comic Review – Hedra

I picked up Hedra by Jesse Lonergan on a whim because it was short, featured a female astronaut, and I liked the minimalist style of the cover. I’ve been exceedingly busy at work since COVID started, so I haven’t had as much time to read and write as I would like, but I’m going to try to get back to posting some short reviews here again.

Hedra is a purely picture story with no words at all. Despite that, it does an amazingly effective job in telling the story of an astronaut who leaves earth in the aftermath of a nuclear war. What she finds as she travels through space is engaging and unexpected.

I really liked the way the artwork was laid out as well, with every page taking on different variations in the grid seen on the cover. I read this on my phone Kindle App, so I was able to zoom in to see some of the smaller pictures better. I was left a little puzzled by the ending, but overall I enjoyed this book and I would “read” any follow-up to this tale.

Read more of my reviews here.

Book Review – The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

I read this book last year and it was one of my favorites for 2019. If you’re looking for something to read that discusses a medical subject that is not related to pandemics at all, then this might be a good one to pick up right now. You can help support this blog by clicking on my Amazon affiliate links.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot is a journalistic investigation into the origin of the HeLa cell line used in a wide range of medical and biological research.

This book relates the authors search for the origin of the cells and the person behind it. While attempts had previously been made, Skloot was able to finally reach an understanding with the remaining family members to discover the story behind the cells.

Henrietta Lacks was a young African-American women who worked as a tobacco farmer and sought help at Johns Hopkins when she developed cervical cancer. During the course of her treatment, a doctor took a sample of her cells and then proceeded to use them in ongoing research without her informed consent. Mrs. Lacks’ cells were the first that were able to be sustained and grown repeatedly and finally allowed cell culture technology to flourish, leading to numerous discoveries and therapies, even today.

This books delves into the ethics of medical research and informed consent and looks at how our current system for this research has developed. At the time when Henrietta’s cells were collected, these ethical concerns had never been considered. Part this story also concerns racism and how society took advantage of African Americans through medical research.

Henrietta’s remaining family finally learned that her cells had been propagated and sold by biological supply companies, earning a vast amount of profit for everyone except her family. This resentment made it difficult for the author to communicate with them, but she worked to overcome their fears and much of the book is about her relationship with them.

I listened to the audiobook version of this and it was a great book to read and one of my favorites from 2019.

Read more of my reviews here.

Book Review – This Is How You Lose the Time War

I picked this book up on a whim when I was looking for more stand-alone science fiction novels. I haven’t read a lot of time travel fiction, so why not explore a bit?

This is How You Lose the Time War was just nominated for a Hugo in the Best Novella category as well. I wasn’t familiar with authors Amal El-Mohtar or Max Gladstone prior to this. Please follow my Amazon affiliate links to help support this blog.

The way that this book is structured is unusual in that it is told from the perspectives of two opposing time-traveling agents, Red and Blue. Each one works for their faction to win a war that has raged across alternate timelines. The narrative switches between short scenes in which each agent finds a letter from their opposite, followed by the text of that letter.

I really like the way that this book was written as it was a fresh way to explore this type of concept. The language was beautiful but also a bit inaccessible at times. I’m sure I missed some of the references that the book makes.

The best part of this novel for me were the glimpses of each alternate reality through history, from Atlantis and prehistoric times to fishing villages and space battles. We never get to see much of each one, but the characters experienced just enough to draw me in.

Overall, I felt this book was too long for what it was trying to do. Part of the ending was easily predictable, but one aspect did surprise me. I think that it could have been just as effective though with fewer exchanges between Red and Blue.

This book won’t be for everyone, but as it is a novella, it’s fairly short. I’m glad I read it, but it isn’t going to be one of my favorites.

Read more of my reviews here.

Book Review – The City in the Middle of the Night

I am still very much behind on my book reviews, but since the Hugo award nominees were just announced, I thought I’d share my thoughts on those nominated works that I’ve already read. Please follow my Amazon affiliate links to help support this blog.

So this is a book review of The City in the Middle of the Night by Charlie Jane Anders. This book has been nominated for a Hugo for Best Novel. I listened to the audiobook version of this a couple of months ago. I reviewed the authors previous book, All the Birds in the Sky, here, and it was one of my favorite reads for 2019.

The premise in The City in the Middle of the Night is that people have colonized a planet that is tidally-locked. That means that it doesn’t rotate, so one side always faces toward the sun while the other side always faces away from it. This sets up a rather inhospitable environment where one side of the planet is too hot for people to survive, while the other is unbearably cold.

On this planet, humans have struggled to survive along the border between these two extremes. Making their lives even harder, dangerous alien life lives on the planet and the technology that was brought with the original colonists is breaking down and cannot be rebuilt.

The novel is told through the perspectives of two main characters. Sophie is a student in the city of Xiosphant where people’s circadian rhythms are regimented by the government in the absence of normal day-night cycles. She is in love with her best friend, Bianca, but when she takes the blame for her friend’s minor theft, she finds herself dragged from the safety of the city.

Abandoned and left for dead in the night outside the city, Sophie is beset upon by an alien called a Crocodile by the cityfolk. She surrenders herself to the monster, only to learn that the creatures are sentient as it helps her survive the cold and return to the city.

The second main character is Mouth, a member of the Resourceful Couriers, an illegal caravan that trades between cities, risking the dangers of the road. Mouth was once a member of the nomadic citizens, but all her people died tragically, leaving her alone to remember their culture. When she arrives in Xiosphant, she becomes obsessed with obtaining a citizen artifact from the palace. Her own story starts to overlap with that of Sophie and Bianca as Bianca joins a building rebellion and Sophie begins to engage again with the people of the city.

The plot is secondary to the relationships in this book, and while the narrative kept me interested, in the end, I found myself wanting more resolution in terms of the plot that had been building from the beginning. My opinions of each important character changed as I learned more about them and as they made their choices through the story, and they all felt very real and well drawn to me. I didn’t necessarily like them all, but I understood why they behaved the way that they did to each other.

I still enjoyed this book, but not as much as All the Birds in the Sky. It almost feels like the plot needs a sequel, but my understanding is that this is currently a stand-alone book.

Read more of my reviews here.

A Newbie Guide to Fencing (Part 3 – Practicing on Your Own)

I decided to change up this series of posts a bit since no one is having any fencing tournaments now with the coronavirus outbreak. There are a lot of coaches and clubs providing online fencing classes. If you aren’t up for a full class, read on for my thoughts on what else you can be doing to work on your fencing, even when you can’t attend a normal practice.

You can find Part 1 and Part 2 of this guide here:

One problem with trying to do a class at home is that not everyone has a good place for this. Challenges include unsuitable flooring, obstacles (furniture, pets, ceilings, etc.), unreliable internet, or noise concerns with neighbors. Other factors that may be keeping you from practice could include schedule constraints, low motivation, or illness (wash your hands, everyone!).

Many people are constructing creative fencing dummies to practice attack skills. You can also purchase targets from vendors online. However, if there is any single thing that will be most important to maintaining or improving your fencing during this inadvertent off-season, it will be to practice your footwork. Even if you can’t do anything else, keep those leg muscles active.

Here are some further thoughts on how to do some basic footwork practice and stay in fencing shape while stuck at home:

  • Use the best flooring you have. If you’re worried about a lack of cushioning or a slippery surface, go more slowly with your footwork to avoid injury.
  • Put your fencing socks and shoes on for this practice. I tried without once, and it made my plantar fascia hurt.
  • Even if you only have a small space available, that will be enough to stand on guard, take a couple advances and retreats, and hold a lunge.
  • Start simple. Stand on guard. Bend your knees.
  • Use a mirror if you have one around. Check your form.
  • Do a simple drill of two advances, one retreat. Repeat. Do the opposite – two retreats, one advance. Adjust as necessary to stay in your floor space. Set a timer. Go for 30 seconds and then stand up and relax for 30 seconds. Repeat this 30/30 routine several times. The exact number of times will depend on your current fitness.
  • Now do that same drill but vary the speed of the steps. One slow advance, one fast advance, one quick retreat. Or you could do one fast advance, one longer slow advance, and then a quick retreat. You can vary both the speed and the length of each part.
  • If you want to work on lunges, start by just holding a lunge. Time yourself. See how long it takes until your legs fatigue.
  • Add lunges to the simple footwork drills. Two advances, then lunge, then two retreats. Or one advance, lunge, two retreats, then lunge again! Whatever fits in your space. Don’t work on speed if your flooring isn’t great or you are feeling out of shape. Work on keeping your knees bent, staying balanced, and moving smoothly.
  • You can make any of these exercises a set of 20 or 30 seconds with rest intervals in between.
  • Don’t do too much on your first day or two if you haven’t been doing anything.
  • Stretch afterwards. One of my friends offers some stretching videos on her You Tube channel here.
  • Stay active in general. Go for a walk or a run outside. Do you live in an apartment building with stairs that are rarely used? Go run up and down them.
  • Try some yoga. There are plenty of online videos. I have heard good things about this one.

I hope this is helpful! Please let me know in the comments if you have any questions. And follow my Amazon affiliate links to help support this blog.

Read more of my posts on fencing here.

Book Review – Binti: The Complete Trilogy

I read Binti: The Complete Trilogy last fall as a book club pick and enjoyed it a lot. Binti is a character in a series of novellas by author Nnedi Okarafor and this volume brings all three of the novellas together in one book, with a bonus new story included. Please follow my Amazon links to help support this blog.

Raised in a traditional village amongst her Himba people, Binti leaps at the chance to attend Oomza University off-planet. Her decision upsets her family, but she believes that the chance to study at this prestigious school outweighs their concerns. Before she can even get there, her ship is attacked by the Medusae and everyone but her is killed.

Binti must communicate with the Medusae and prevent a catastrophe at the university while she struggles to personally deal with the aftermath of the slaughter. Each story in this book takes place at slightly different times, but they all follow logically. Eventually we see how Binti deals with her decision to leave home and how her people receive her when she returns.

The new story in the book is a pleasant tale and adds a little to the characters of the other students at the university. Overall, I really liked how Binti viewed the world as a character. Even though she rebels to some extent by leaving home, she is still one of the Himba people. Her unique outlook makes her character more real and her struggles are based in trying to reconcile her relationships with the universe, her family, and her people.

I don’t know if there will be any further Binti stories or not. The book comes to a satisfying conclusion, but doesn’t rule out another tale. If you want to just start with the first novella, you can find that one (just titled Binti) here.

Read more of my reviews here.

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