January 9, 2021

Goodreads Choice Awards Reading Challenge

Every year, I try to come up with a reading challenge that I hope I will enjoy and that will expose me to new books that I wouldn't ordinarily read. Last year, my goal was to read a book a month from the top of the NY Times Bestseller list. While that didn't go as well as I had planned, I learned my lessons, and as a result, this year, I'm going with the Goodreads Choice Awards reading challenge.

Every year, Goodreads asks its members to vote on their favorite books in various categories, culminating in the Goodreads Choice awards winners. My goal this year is to read at least twenty books that made the finalists cut for the 2020 awards. Looking at some of the finalists, I already feel better about this challenge than last year's because there are several books that sound interesting. 

Unlike last year, I won't constrain myself to reading books only by authors I haven't read before, but I'll try to read as many books from new authors as I can. I'm also not limiting myself to the winners in each category. One reason is that there are only twenty categories, so I would only be reading the winners to fulfill my goal of twenty books. The other reason is that I already read three of the winners last year, and honestly, they were not my favorite books in their respective categories. I'm sure that I will be reading some of the winners this year, but for the sake of a better reading experience, I want to expand my pool of books to all finalists.

As with previous reading challenges, I will provide an update on this one at the end of the year. Happy reading in 2021!


January 2, 2021

Favorite reads of 2020

Happy New Year, and good riddance to 2020! :-) Before we say goodbye to 2020 for good, here were my favorite reads from last year.

1. Scythe - Neal Shusterman

Before 2020, I heard a lot of good things about Scythe, and now that I've read it, I can say that the book deserves all the accolades it received. Now I'm wondering, why did it take me so long to read it? What can I say about a book that covers life, death, and humanity in a way that's both very entertaining as well as makes the reader ponder the value of life and what it means to be human? Everyone should read this book, if not the entire trilogy.

2. The Toll - Neal Shusterman

I read the entire Arc of a Scythe trilogy in 2020, which is rare for me since I usually take long breaks between books in a series, but I liked it so much that I couldn't wait. The trilogy ended on a strong note with The Toll. The main story lines were tied up nicely, and even though the book was over 600 pages long, it felt like it flew by. Overall, I was impressed by the world-building in this series. The actions of the individual characters and society as a whole felt consistent with the premise set forth by the books. I enjoyed learning new things about the world in each book, and The Toll provided a satisfying conclusion.

3. When You See Me - Lisa Gardner

Lisa Gardner is one of my favorite thriller authors, and When You See Me is one of my favorite books from her. Although it's part of a long-running series, the novel also makes for a great standalone read by itself, full of action, mystery, and powerful characters. Juggling between the perspective of four characters, the author does an admirable job of weaving a compelling story. You don't have to read all of Lisa Gardner's books to appreciate When You See Me (although any thriller fan should), but to get the most out of it, I recommend starting with one of her earlier books, Find Her.

4. My Calamity Jane - Brodi Ashton, Cynthia Hand, Jodi Meadows

The Lady Janies are masters at taking a genre I don't normally read (in this case, westerns) and turning it into a story I can't put down. For a book that was over 500 pages long, this flew by for me like an amusement park ride. Like My Lady Jane and My Plain Jane, My Calamity Jane was full of fun and humor. Who would've thought that the Wild West and werewolves would make such an entertaining combination? Well, now I'm going to have a hard time not thinking of werewolves when I hear about Calamity Jane, Annie Oakley, or Wild Bill Hickok.

5. Tweet Cute - Emma Lord

If there's one book I've read this year that best captures the YA awesomeness of Rainbow Rowell (even more so than Rainbow Rowell herself!), it's Tweet Cute. While the book follows a conventional contemporary YA story line, I loved the characters and the banter, both online and in person. An added bonus is that food plays a big role in the book, and reading about the desserts mentioned made my mouth water. This is Emma Lord's debut novel, and I'm looking forward to her next book.

6. Wayward Son - Rainbow Rowell

Speaking of Rainbow Rowell, she hasn't published a new book in a while, so you'd think that I'd read Wayward Son the first day it was released. The reason I didn't is because it's the sequel to Carry On, the only Rainbow Rowell book I didn't love. Thankfully, Wayward Son was more like a typical Rainbow Rowell book, and now I'm excited for a third book in the series if there will be one.

7. Where the Crawdads Sing - Delia Owens 

Despite the great reviews and its bestseller status, going into this book, I was skeptical about how much I would like it. It's classified as both literary fiction and historical fiction, two genres I don't ordinarily enjoy. However, I found the characterization of Kya so compelling that I couldn't put it down. I thoroughly enjoyed reading about her life as she grew from childhood to adulthood. This book is well deserving of all the praise it's received.

8. The Breakdown - B.A. Paris

I've read a couple of B.A. Paris novels before (Behind Closed Doors and Bring Me Back), and while I liked them both, The Breakdown is my favorite. The way that the protagonist's mind slowly unraveled from day to day was done in just the right way and at the right pace. While I suspected what was happening, when it was revealed, I didn't feel a letdown at all. The way the ending of the book wrapped things up was more than satisfactory. As far as psychological thrillers go, this one was my favorite of the year.

9. You Are Not Alone - Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen

The authors of my favorite read of 2019 (The Wife Between Us) were at it again. I was excited when I heard that they were releasing a new book in 2020, and they didn't disappoint. You Are Not Alone is filled with twists and delicious scheming that made their first two books so enjoyable. It's hard to explain  the plot without giving anything away, but as with their other books,  I recommend this one too.

10. The Afterlife of Holly Chase - Cynthia Hand

After reading her Lady Janies collaborations with Jodi Meadows and Brodi Ashton, I wanted to read a book written by Cynthia Hand herself. I wasn't disappointed. The Afterlife of Holly Chase had many of the elements of the Lady Janies books that made me so fond of them (e.g., characters I rooted for, an entertaining plot, a liberal dosage of humor). While the romance between Holly and Ethan was predictable, I still enjoyed the way it played out. Overall, a fun, well-paced YA novel.

December 31, 2020

What I read in 2020

2020 has certainly been a unique year. Who would've thought at the beginning of the year that we'd spend more time at home than we ever wanted to? If there's one silver lining to the COVID-19 pandemic, it's been that I had more time to read. In 2020, I exceeded my original reading goal of 80 books by reading 99. Yes, I was that close to reading 100 books this year! The 99 books were also 15 more than the 84 I read in 2019.

The average rating for the books I read this year was 3.96 stars per book, broken down as follows:

  • 5 stars - 30 books
  • 4 stars - 35 books 
  • 3 stars - 34 books 

The 3.96 stars average was a slight decrease from 4.01 stars in 2019.

This year, I had two reading goals. In January, I embarked on the NY Times Bestseller Challenge in the hopes of discovering some great new authors. It didn't quite work out that way, as I mentioned here. The average rating of the books I read for the NY Times Bestseller Challenge was only 3.5.

I started my second reading goal in the middle of the year, which was to read as many of the most popular mystery books of the past five years as I could. My average rating for the mysteries was 4.1, which helped boost my overall star rating for the year, but it wasn't quite enough to counteract the lower ratings from the bestsellers.

In my next post, I’ll reveal my top ten favorite books of 2020. Stay tuned!

December 27, 2020

2020 reading goals recap

I had two reading goals in 2020. I started off the year by wanting to read at least one NY Times Bestseller each month by an author who was new to me. In June, I added another goal to read as many books as I could on the Goodreads list of most popular mysteries of the past five years. It's time to see how each of those went.

I managed to reach my NY Times Bestseller goal despite not loving several of the books I read. Of the twelve books on the list, I only rated one of them as 5 stars. Four books were 4-star reads for me, and the remaining seven were rated 3 stars. The average rating of the NY Times bestsellers was 3.5.

In addition to being constrained by reading only authors who were new to me, another problem I ran into with the reading challenge was that the selection wasn't as broad as I expected. Two books, Where the Crawdads Sing (my only 5-star bestseller) and Little Fires Everywhere, dominated the charts. I didn't keep track of how many weeks they spent at the top of the bestseller lists, but my impression was that it was a lot.

On the mystery front, my experience was better. I read ten books on the Goodreads list since June. Three of them were 5-star reads, five received 4 stars, and only two were rated as 3 stars, for an average rating of 4.1. The mysteries were more entertaining than the bestsellers, and it helped that I was able to read books from authors I was already familiar with, although half of the books from this challenge were by authors new to me.

In my next post, I'll give a recap of all the books I read this year.

December 14, 2020

2020 holiday sale

2020 has been a dreadful year, but what better way to end it than with a book sale? Between now and the New Year, almost all of my e-books will be on sale for 99 cents or FREE on Amazon! Get these titles before prices go back up!


the Earth
  All That
Remains of Me
New Eden

Transmissions   In the Hands of
  Keep Your
Enemies Close
  George and the
Galactic Games

A House in
the Woods
  Protect   Search   Rescue

  Through a
Tangled Wood
  Celestial   Spectral Tales

Happy holidays, and happy reading!

* If you find that "Drive" isn't free on Amazon, you can download it for free from Smashwords.

December 5, 2020

NaNoWriMo 2020 recap

After taking a year off from the challenge, I participated in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) again this year. Instead of trying to write 50,000 words in November, I set a more realistic goal of 15,000, which meant an average of 500 words per day. I'm happy to say that I reached my goal... and then some! I finished the month with 20,037 words.

November started off strong for me. After the first ten days, I was on pace for over 20,000 words, but then a mid-month slump set me back. While 15,000 still looked achievable two-thirds of the way through, I didn't know if I could get to 20,000 anymore. Fortunately, with the Thanksgiving holidays and an extra two days off from work, I made a final push during the last Thursday through Sunday to get across the 20,000-word line.

All in all, I'm pleased with how NaNoWriMo went this year. Not only did I surpass my goal of 15,000 words, but more importantly, I've made great progress on my WIP. Thanks to NaNoWriMo, there's a good chance that I can finish the first draft by the end of the year! That is more important to me than any monthly word count goal.

November 1, 2020

NaNoWriMo 2020

It's November, which means National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is upon us again! After skipping NaNoWriMo last year due to a hectic work schedule, I'm back at it this year. It's not that I have more free time now, but I'm approaching NaNoWriMo differently than I did in the past. In the first three years that I participated, I was able to reach the 50,000-word goal by the end of the month. The next two years (2017 and 2018), I didn't. 2018 was particularly disappointing because I only wrote 18,907 words. I have no expectations that I will come close to 50,000 words this year. I may not even reach 2018's word count. In fact, the target I'm setting for myself is a modest 500 words a day, which will total 15,000 for the entire month of November. It's a goal that will force me to stretch myself, given my time constraints, but one that is achievable if I dedicate myself to it.

I'll report back at the end of the month on how I did. Wish me luck!