I actually finished my second batch of five books in mid-August, but put off writing the blog post. I read mostly shorter works again — only one full-length novel, while the rest were novellas of various lengths.

Sisters of the Vast Black was the longest novella, and it surprised me — I wasn’t sure going in whether I was going to like the religious aspect of it, but that didn’t bother me. It was an interesting story, and felt unique and different even though there were some echoes of existing narratives. I’m not sure if I’ll read it again (and I’m not sure it’s the best pandemic read, since there’s a contagious disease element to the story), but I’m glad I read it.

The Governess Affair was my next choice. This novella is part of Courtney Milan’s Brothers Sinister series, which had been highly recommended by more than one friend. I’d tried the first novel in the series but hadn’t been able to get into it. Possibly I wasn’t in the right frame of mind at the time, because I definitely didn’t have that problem with this novella — I enjoyed it quite a lot, and I’ll probably try more of Milan’s work in future.

The Widow of Rose House was a ghost story romance and was also recommended, but I didn’t enjoy it as much as I thought I would. It felt like the story dragged, and I wasn’t wild about the point of view flipping back and forth between the two main characters. I had trouble keeping my enthusiasm to get through it and I doubt I’ll read this one again.

Wool, a short novella, was my fourth selection. Again, probably not the best choice for a pandemic read — it takes place in future, when everyone is trapped indoors because the environment has become toxic. And the story was sad, for reasons I won’t state because spoilers. But it was very well written with a compelling story, so definitely worth reading.

My last pick was Silver in the Wood — another novella that had been recommended. The cover of this one had turned me off, but the story ended up being my favorite of the five. In fact, as soon as I finished it, I bought the sequel, Drowned Country, and read that one as my “reward” book. I didn’t think the sequel was as good as the first, but there was enough satisfying content in it that I’m still glad I read it.

I should also mention my other reward book, The House in the Cerulean Sea. Victoria Schwab and Seanan McGuire raved about this one, saying how comforting and perfect it was, so I decided to try a sample. I still wasn’t 100% sure about it by the time I finished the sample, but I decided to give it a try and I’m glad I did. I really enjoyed this one, especially the ending. (I totally pictured Michael Sheen — Aziraphale in the Good Omens adaptation — as the main character of Linus, which probably helped. I tried picturing David Tennant as Arthur but couldn’t make that stick. Still, your mileage may vary.)

So that’s a quick recap of my second round with the reading challenge. I’m going to pivot at this point and shift the challenge to focus on unread books that I bought (as opposed to gifts or freebies). I want to read at least one of those each month, plus finish two nonfiction books that I started last year and have been slowly inching my way through. I’ve been really happy with the progress I’ve made so far in the challenge — I’ve gotten more variety in my reading and read some books that probably would have been neglected otherwise — but it bugs me when I buy a book and then don’t read it, so I figure it’s time to whittle that pile down.

I’ll check back in at some point. Until then, happy reading!

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books

For the first few months of Covid lockdown, I struggled with reading. Sometimes I could manage it, and sometimes I couldn’t. I’d pick up old favorites, read a few chapters, then pick up something else. I even had trouble with The Network Effect, which I’d pre-ordered in September and been dying to read — I’d get through a few chapters, then hit a wall and put it aside for a week or more.

Finally, though, I started getting back into a reading groove. I finished The Network Effect. I borrowed some books from the library. I read one of the novellas I got free from Tor for Pride Month. And I impulse-bought a few new books, despite having literally dozens of unread titles (some purchased, some free promos from Amazon, Tor, or others). I looked at my overflowing To Be Read list on Goodreads and decided this was a problem.

So two weeks ago, I vowed that I wouldn’t buy any more new books until I’d read some of the ones I have. My original intention was to read at least ten before I bought or borrowed anything new, but I’ve realized that’s not realistic. So I revised my challenge to get one new book for each five titles I finish from either my Currently Reading or TBR lists. And in the past two weeks, I have miraculously gotten through five titles. Go, me.

(An interesting aside: the one with the worst cover, the one that screamed “self-published”, was the book I enjoyed most. The one with the best cover very nearly got DNFed.)

I read three novellas, one full novel, and one story. I figured the story counts because it was on my list, and the novel was as long as two novellas, so it balanced out.

The novellas were reasonably good. The Road to Farringale was my favorite: a bit whimsical and surprising, with lots of fun magic. Let It Shine ended up being very timely, if somewhat challenging, since it dealt with an interracial couple participating in the 1960’s Civil Rights movement; it was sad to read it and realize how hard people fought and how much work is still to be done. The Perilous Life of Jade Yeo was my least favorite of the three, but I still enjoyed it, particularly the ending.

I’ll skip naming both the novel and the story, since I don’t think I’d recommend either one. (You can check my Goodreads challenge and probably figure out the titles if you really want to know. The link is in the sidebar.)

I haven’t decided what new book to get as my reward, although I’m leaning towards the next novella in the Modern Magick series. I have a few other books in contention, though, so we’ll see what wins out.

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Stop sign

2020: Do you have any plans this year? Yes? Too bad. Cancel them now.

I’ve left the house twice since March 6: once for the dentist, once for the doctor (both in June). I’ve walked to the mailbox, but I don’t think that counts.

I no longer have lunches out, which was one of my real pleasures: an escape from the work-at-home monotony and a chance to see people other than my parents. I don’t even get take-out, sadly. It feels too risky.

I had to cancel my annual writing retreat — pretty much the only week of the year that I have time with friends and get to write. I have to wonder if it will even be safe to go next year.

It feels like the last four months have been much, much longer. And there’s no end in sight.

We knew 2020 was going to be hard, but this? This is next-level. And it’s probably going to get worse.

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