April Reading Stats

This is an old habit I’ve fallen out of and would like to revisit. Some months it’s really braggy and April is definitely one of those months!

Total Books Read: 40
Romance: 31 (77.5%)
Mystery: 5 (12.5%)
Speculative: 4 (10%)

These are the subcategories representing the types of books I most enjoy and it just so happens that everything in April managed to fit within them without any overlap – though that isn’t always the case.

As romance makes up such a large portion of what I read, here’s a slightly deeper analysis of the romance category:

– Historical: 24 (77.4%)
– Contemporary: 7 (22.6%)
– Heteronormative: 25 (80.6%)
– M/M: 6 (19.4%)

I, of course, have loads of subcategories on my goodreads shelves that aren’t represented here. There are so many tropes and subgenres in romance that I find it’s worth breaking them down for my personal analysis and to help me make recommendations to friends. Looking for a sports romance? There’s a shelf for that. An angst-ridden romance? There’s a shelf for that, too. I also have a trigger shelf as some books have elements that could be upsetting for folks that have dealt with certain types of trauma. It’s always important to cross-reference before recommending, imo. I have some 68 shelves currently on goodreads and 21 of them are related to romance (19 subgenres and 2 lists I’m working through).

I enjoy books for different reasons and my rating system is based on my personal enjoyment, as well as the likelihood of my making a recommendation of the book. Three stars is a middle ground that means I more or less liked the book but won’t be recommending it to anyone. I also won’t be warning anyone off. My dislike of a book doesn’t necessarily garner my disdain but certain tropes and plot treatments earn not only a shitty rating but a place on my ugh shelf. If a book is well written but I don’t enjoy it, I’ll usually comment about that disparity in my reviews. I do review nearly every book I read these days and for that alone, I adore goodreads. Most of the books I read end up in the 3- and 4-star realm. So here’s a look at how well I liked April:

Ratings
5-star: 3
4-star: 13
3-star: 15
2-star: 7
1-star: 2

I also tend toward batch reading of certain authors. I’m currently reading through the backlist of a couple romance authors so the number of books I read doesn’t really correlate with the number of authors I read last month. Other months the numbers are much closer. I think they’re as close as they are in April since I’m on the hunt for a mystery author to tide me over until the next Sharon Bolton book and haven’t found a good replacement. Lots of great twisty British mysteries with excellent attention to detail but not so many that are also police procedurals without being stuffy about it.

Total Authors Read: 27
Women: 23 (85.2%)
POC: 6 (22.2%)

Finally, for those who are interested in getting to know my tastes in greater detail, here are the books from April I’m most likely to recommend:

1. For Real, Alexis Hall: this was a re-read and, as is so often the case, I got so much out of the book this time around that I hadn’t gotten before. Not the first re-read and not likely to be the last! This is a contemporary, m/m, bdsm romance that perfectly encapsulates so many feels about both what it is to be stumbling through life looking for that one true thing and to be stumbling through life after having lost it. So good!

2. Once Upon a Marquess, Courtney Milan: I read both books one and two of this series in April and thoroughly enjoyed them. This is an historical (mid-Victorian), heteronormative romance that does a good job of show casing what it is to fall from grace and how challenging it can be to get out of your own head and let go of your problematic assumptions. Not your typical historical by a long shot, though that’s one of the things I love best about this author. I highly recommend anything Milan writes and she has long-held the honour of having written my favourite romance heroine (Jane, from The Heiress Effect).

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Routine Variety

My psychology final is today and, of all the eye roll required classes I’ve ever suffered through, this class has been the worst. The reading materials are actually quite interesting and well-chosen so, since the class consists of discussing the readings in detail each week, I had some hope that this would actually be a fun class. Alas, it was not to be.

Our final is in two parts: 1) a log of our reactions to the readings and 2) a presentation of the things we do for self-care that might be applicable to a broader audience, ie things we could share with our patients once we become practitioners. I’ll be discussing five different things I do, and why they work, but the overarching theme of my presentation will be “find what works for you and do that.”

We often hear the slogan “variety is the spice of life” and, while I don’t deny that there is truth in it, it carries an implicit value judgement based on a fallacy. People seem to interpret it to mean that none of us will be satisfied, in a long-term fulfilment sort of way, with routine.

Don’t get me wrong – for me, for the way my brain works, I need periodic change in my life. This doesn’t have to be big sweeping change, and there does need to be some foundational same-same, but I do better with a regular influx of new. For example – I have long considered myself a lifetime learner and in the StrengthsFinder model, my second strongest quality is that of “Learner.” This doesn’t mean I need to be in formal classes all the time; it means that I need new ideas and perspectives and information to process on a regular basis. This is what works for me. That does not mean, however, that it works for everyone, and the more I think about the “spice of life” phrase the more I realise that it is better applied on the global instead of the local level.

You can absolutely find your spice in mixing things up. One joy of the internet is that there are a zillion lists out there with input on just how you can accomplish this. In some ways, this can be helpful. If you’re new to something and looking for recommendations, it’s nice to have some kind of filter as a jumping off point. Otherwise the vast array of choices can be overwhelming. The problem arises when the lists become hierarchies applied to topics, and people, on a general basis instead of being understood to apply to the person that created the list. We are surrounded by hierarchies insisting that the things on the “bottom” are bad and the things on the “top” are good.

Even the words ‘top’ and ‘bottom’ carry implicit value judgement to the point where in the kink world people who identify as bottoms (those who like to receive the action in a given moment) have long been seen as less-than or weaker-than those who identify as tops (those who like to perform the action in a given moment). The campaign to fix this problematic perception went too far in the other direction, to the point where there is a strong focus in newbie kink education around ensuring that the bottom is taken care of, both during and after the scene, and it is not uncommon to hear people explain that the bottom in the scene “holds all the power,” supposedly because the bottom can stop the action at any point. Instead of empowering bottoms to understand they are not less-than, this idea perpetuates the misconception that someone must have all the power / responsibility and removes the other person’s autonomy entirely.

In reality BOTH people (or however many people are playing in a given scenario) have the right to stop the action at any point and BOTH people need to be taken care of during and after. The idea is certainly not for the enjoyment of a given scene to be one-sided – BOTH people are getting something out of what is taking place. There are definitely people who enjoy gifting their autonomy to their partner for play and / or beyond (this is called power exchange or authority transfer). That doesn’t mean that the option to stop is removed from the person trusting the other with the choices in a scene or in life. Those scenarios only work when the partners establish the parameters up front while they’re both acting as autonomous individuals. Some people draft full legal contracts before entering into long-term versions of this sort of play because it is so critical that everyone involved understand those parameters explicitly.

“Wait a minute,” I hear you say, “I’m not kinky so how does this apply to me?” Well, some of the best spice out there comes from appreciating the mix of things around you and this is the bit that gets lost in the implicit value judgement – and flawed perceptions of topping vs bottoming is only one example of how problematic that can be.

Take books for example – there are all sorts of people who sneer at genre fiction, especially romance, because it isn’t “real” literature. As though you’re somehow not a worthy reader unless you’re diving deep into literary fiction – which is, quite frankly, not accessible to all readers. I’m an avid reader and I heartily endorse reading to anyone who will let me gush at them but the whole point is to find out what sort of reading the individual likes to do and encourage that. If they’re new to reading for pleasure, recommendations of personal favourites can absolutely give them a jumping off point but that’s all.

“Readers” come in all sorts and some of them (gasp!) don’t ever look at print. Not a fan of reading, or a slow reader whose mind moves faster than their eyes across the page? Check out audiobooks and get an app that allows you to change the speed to suit. Read ON! Prefer incredible art? Look into manga and comics and graphic novels. Read ON! Like reading magazines, especially the so-called “trashy” (value judgement alert) ones? Read ON! Like reading opinion pieces on the internet? Read ON! It honestly doesn’t matter what you read as long as it fulfills you.

Remember, spicy doesn’t have to mean hot – it often just means flavourful – so spice things up and gain a better appreciation for the variety of people and things already in your life. If you look around and the people and things in your life aren’t especially varied … take this opportunity to step out of your comfort zone a bit. Introduce yourself to someone new today and really listen to what they have to say. Read something in a format or genre you’ve never tried.

Spicy

Give the Formula a Chance

I sometimes go through phases where I binge read the way that some people binge watch a whole TV series in a weekend. My reading selections are fairly diverse but there are a few genres that I gravitate toward and romance and mystery are at the top of that list. Lately I’ve found myself defending these loves to people saying something along the lines of “I can’t get into [insert genre here]. The books are just SO formulaic!”

Yes. They absolutely can be and THANK GOODNESS! Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that all books in these genres follow the same formula and I’m not saying the formula doesn’t get in the way sometimes. I’m sure we’ve all had the eye roll experience where something is so predictable it’s painful BUT that’s not a good enough reason to discount these genres – at least not for me. For me the appeal isn’t catching on before plot points happen and it certainly isn’t discovering the ending. It’s all about the route the author takes to get you there and what else the author is bringing to the table with the story. I love being engrossed in someone else’s vision. I’m a sucker for good world building, character development, funky narrative devices, and fascinating plot twists. Starting with a formulaic base allows authors (and us lucky readers!) to explore other story elements and fall down detailed rabbit holes secure in the knowledge that the couple will end up together in romance and the heroine will discover the identity of the criminal in mystery. The old adage that life’s a journey, not a destination is doubly true for these sorts of books.

Here are two of my favorites from each genre, along with the “extras” that make them rise above the rest. Happy reading!

Romance
1. Slave to Sensation, Nalini Singh
In this first novel of the Psy-Changeling Series, Singh has created an incredibly rich world with vibrant characters that leap off of the page. Her descriptions of each race and their interactions are seamlessly woven into a hot, sexy paranormal romance. Singh deftly builds the emotional level and then keeps it dancing along a razor’s edge. I found myself bewitched by the Dark River Leopards, especially the hero, and heartbroken as the heroine fights against herself for her sanity. Plus, this one is a bit of a bonus as the characters are struggling to solve a mystery and catch a killer.

2. The Heiress Effect, Courtney Milan
Milan is a master of historical romance and her books are full of fun, quirky details. This is the second book in her “Brothers Sinister” series and it has one of my favorite romance heroines of all time. Jane stumbles through a series of social gaffes but she doesn’t take the path of conformity that often follows learning from one’s mistakes. She revels in thumbing her nose at the people who take her for granted and, though it’s a lonely life, she isn’t willing to sell herself short to ease her path. This is full of thoughtful (and often snarky) commentary on fashion, fashionable attitudes, and the lives of women.

Mystery
1. Love is Red, Sophie Jaff
Jaff tells this story from two perspectives, one of which is a second-person narrative which is that of the killer. There’s something thrilling about experiencing these crimes in second person – it adds a level of intimacy that makes the reader almost complicit in what’s happening on the page. As the title implies, emotions are expressed through colors which brings even more depth and richness to the story.

2. A Dark and Twisted Tide, Sharon Bolton
Bolton’s Lacey Flint series, of which this is the fourth installment, seamlessly weaves thorough research on various topics into beautiful mysteries full of misdirection. Each story includes socio-political commentary on treatment of vulnerable populations (in this case undocumented immigrant women) and privilege. There’s some police procedure, as Lacey is a cop, but the strength of this story is the way Bolton has centered it on the Thames. The river comes alive as a principal character in this and it’s enthralling.

*originally submitted 4/5/2016, never published*

Learning to Read Again

I lived in Honduras for a couple of years as a Peace Corps Volunteer. When I arrived, I had vague memories of my three years of high school Spanish but had no conversational fluency. While the immersive nature of Peace Corps service was wonderful in so many ways, it was also overwhelming. There were so many incredible things to learn and do that having such beginner language skills was deeply frustrating and I wanted a comfortable, safe way to improve.

Since I’m an avid reader, I wondered if reading in Spanish would be helpful. To make things easier on myself, I decided to read books I was already familiar with and to start with something meant for younger readers. I chose Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (Harry Potter y la Piedra Filosofal) by J.K. Rowling as my starting point. It somehow never occurred to me that the wizarding world of Harry Potter is full of magical jargon like bewitch (hechizar), spell (encanto), etc. that never gave me the slightest trouble when reading the books in my native tongue but are nearly impossible to find in a standard English-Spanish dictionary. Getting through the first few chapters was so onerous that I nearly gave up the project entirely. I somehow managed to persevere and, although I didn’t have much call to use the magical jargon, my Spanish skills improved by leaps and bounds as a result.

The beauty of the Harry Potter series to a language learner is that, once the hurdle of the vocabulary is cleared in the first novel, the other books can be enjoyed in very much the same way that the author intended. The stories get progressively more mature, dealing with more and more adult subject matter (and more difficult language concepts), allowing the reader as student to develop alongside the characters. I went on to enjoy the rest of the series in Spanish.

With my burgeoning proficiency, I found myself looking for more and more things to read. I spent hours perusing book stores, filling my trips to the nearest big city with the joy of discovery. I usually started with a work I’d already read in English, like Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist (El Alquimista), and then branched out to other works by the same author to get a feel for how various writing styles work within different idiomatic structures. One of my favorites was Speaker for the Dead (La Voz de los Muertos) by Orson Scott Card as some of that is in Portuguese and it was super cool to play with that next to the Spanish text.

Once my comfort level and, let’s be honest, my ego were secure reading in Spanish I decided to take my project to the next level and picked up 100 Years of Solitude (Cien Años de Soledad) by Gabriel Garcia Márquez. It blew my mind in the best possible way. I had attempted to read 100 Years of Solitude in English a few years earlier and it was so frustrating – full of characters I couldn’t keep straight and aggravating cyclical plot lines that seemingly went nowhere – I just couldn’t get through it. I was hoping that reading it in the original Spanish would help me understand it and I was right (it also didn’t hurt that I had lived in Honduras for nearly two years at that point).

This isn’t to say that works in translation can’t be appreciated without living abroad or learning another language. Honestly, the thing I needed most was to break through my ingrained ideas of what stories “should” be and how language “should” work. As with so many things, there are a variety of paths to get to this space. For me, something about reading in Spanish loosened the firmness of my earlier convictions and opened a whole new world. I don’t mean this hyperbolically – this truly became one of the many moments where reading has changed my life and drastically improved it for the better.

*originally submitted 4/5/2016, never published*