2018: My Year In Books

2018 was going to be a big year in books for me from the start. At the end of 2017, I realized I had averaged more than 70 books in each of the last two years, so I set myself what I saw as an ambitious goal: 108 books. It started out as a specific list of books, with the acknowledgement that I would add the occassional Advance Reader Copy (ARC) and would probably end the year at 120 or so – still nearly double my recent average. I distinctly remember even 53 books being very difficult in 2008, but my life had also been much different at the time, as a new person in my day job profession, new husband, and driving 100 miles one way to work for over half of that year. 2018 was going to be much easier – I was working a fairly easy job in a settled position in my career, married to the same lady from 2008, and working just 15 minutes from home.

I started the year with a couple of 19th century philosophical works, Civil Disobedience by Henry David Thorau and On Liberty by John Stuart Mills. Those would be the oldest books I read this year, and the only books published before the current Millenium. Over the course of the year, I would find many amazing books, a few duds, march through my mountain of a TBR (while adding even more, peril of a bookaholic), joined several more book and author groups, started a book blog, and overall surprise myself in a couple of ways:

1) I surpassed my original goal of 108 books in *October*. I closed the year at 156.
2) I didn’t realize it until counting yesterday, but of those 156 books, 46 of them turned out to be ARCs!

But let’s take a brief look at some “best of 2018”, shall we? I believe we’ll break it down by month before finally picking from those selections for the annual award.
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Featured New Release Of The Week: Justice In Plain Sight by Dan Bernstein

This first week of 2019, we examine a book that sheds light on the fight to secure a crucial, if often underappreciated, Constitutional right in the United States: the right of the press and the public to attend jury selection and pre-trial hearings in criminal cases in the United States. This week, we look at Justice In Plain Sight by Dan Bernstein.

This was a well researched and documented look at two pivotal Supreme Court cases from the mid 1980s that established a Constitutional Right of the public and the press to attend jury selection (the first case) and pre-trial hearings (the second case). The last 17% of the version of the book I read was nothing but footnote references, and that didn’t even include an index! Yet for all its research, it still presented a very readable, very well structured look at the entire environment surrounding these cases. What were the specific facts of the cases themselves? What had the Supreme Court been doing recently relative to the issues being asked of it in these cases? Who were the humans involved – from the accused criminals to the lawyers representing them to the prosecutors and the newspapermen and the newspapermens’ lawyers and the various judges at ever level? We get brief biographies of them all, and yet it all works together to show how these people met at this particular moment in history to fight this particular battle that produced this particular result. Even the epilogue, showing just how important these two cases have been in just the last decade or so, was eye opening.

Seriously, read this book. Read it this year, the 35th anniversary of when the first case was decided. Because it has only been within this reader’s lifetime that these cases have been decided at the Supreme Court level, and that in and of itself is simply astounding.

And as always, we end with the Goodreads review:
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Featured New Release Of The Week: At Home by Carly Marie

This week, we look at a strong and rare (and unique, in my own reading experience) book from a debut author. This week, we look at At Home by Carly Marie.

This book overall is a solid romance between two guys roughly a decade apart in age (with the younger one being mid 20s) who happen to meet by chance. What follows is a moving romance wherein each tries to adjust to the other’s life while also exploring a particular kink that both have considered or actively participated in for several years. It is this particular kink – age play and specifically infantilism, including open discussion of whether the “boy” should wear a diaper – that ventures into “oh hell no” territory for this reader, but it works well within the story and Marie does a great job of humanizing those who enjoy this particular kink that many, perhaps most, would have the same reaction as this reader over. And it is for that reason above all others that this book is a very worthy read. It is a strong romance outside of those elements, but in its efforts to show that even those with kinks deemed particularly strange by mainstream society, it truly shines. Very much looking to see what Marie writes from here.

And as always, the Goodreads/ Amazon review:
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Featured New Release Of The Week: Shy by Brad Tanner

This week, we look to a fun, flirty Christmas romance. This week, we look at Shy by Brad Tanner.

This was a fun, somewhat typical, comedy of errors Christmas tale. Very light and breezy read, with excellent chemistry between all involved. You’ve got the classic tightwad. The classic flirt. The classic meddling best friend. Basically, nearly every trope of any Christmas romantic comedy you’ve ever seen. But it works well together, as it was designed to do and as it has done for countless tales for decades, which is why these particular tales are so popular. Does this book break any molds? Not really. But does it give you a few hours of light hearted Christmas themed mirth? Absolutely.

So while this book is arguably best read at Christmas or at any time you want to be in the Christmas spirit, it really is a solid book that does exactly what it attempts to do, and for that it is to be commended. Oh, and just to be aware, since some might try to throw their book when they see it on like page 2: This *is* a MM romance. The meddling best friend is straight, but the couple in question is in fact both guys. But hey, it *does* say that directly on the cover, so if you read more than the cover and still got mad… that’s on you. 😉

As always, the Goodreads/ Amazon:
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The Troubling Trend with ARC Readers

As the end of the year (and the holiday season) approaches, I’m noticing authors asking for reviews more than normal- which they tend to do at this time of year, as more and newer reviews tend to kick AI algorithms at various retail/ recommendation sites into gear.

And that is all well and good, but I’ve also become much more involved as an ARC reader this year, branching out from doing it consistently for one author to joining a few different ARC programs for various publishers, genres, and general (NetGalley). And it is within this ARC work that I’ve been noticing a troubling trend over the last few weeks in particular, though I’ve seen evidence of it literally for years.

That trend?

People who will receive an Advance Reader Copy from an author or publisher with the understanding that the person will read it and leave a review of the book, with most authors and publishers desiring the review to be left on release day or week… and then not leave a review.

Now, the various “publishing agents” (authors, publishers, and anyone else giving out ARCs) will usually try to gently remind people to leave the reviews and couch it in conciliatory language such as “Maybe you got busy or forgot, but could you please leave your review this week” or some such. Others are quicker to remove the reader from the ARC program.

But here, on this blog today, I want to speak to these readers a bit directly:
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Featured New Release Of The Week: Taking Laura by Vi Carter

This week, we’re looking at the apparent conclusion of a series we’ve been looking at for the last couple of months. This week, we’re looking at Taking Laura by Vi Carter.

In this episode of the Broken Hearts series, recurring character Craig has been broken for a while, but even moreso by his actions at the end of the previous book. New character Laura is just as broken, and together, they just might find a way to heal each other to some degree. For a book that takes entirely inside a mental health facility yet without any form of paranormal or fantasy elements, this book is surprisingly well paced and non-claustrophobic. Carter has done a remarkable job with making sure we know just how broken one character is – and then hitting us unexpectedly with just how broken another character is.

This is a solid conclusion to this series, as there are no apparent openings for new couples to continue the saga, and quite possibly the most impactful for certain readers due to its ultimate subject matter. Truly looking forward to where Carter’s mind goes next and what stories she crafts from here.

And as always, the Goodreads/ Amazon review:
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Featured New Release Of The Week: Just After Midnight by Catherine Ryan Hyde

This week we look to – surprise, surprise – yet another new to me Lake Union author. This week, we look at Just After Midnight by Catherine Ryan Hyde.

This was a very strong tale from someone who clearly knows her stuff as it relates to the world of show horses. The overall plot, of a girl trying to save her horse while dealing with the sudden death of her mother, is compelling and well executed in its many layers and moving parts. Not only does the girl harbor a secret, but even the woman who has taken her in on this adventure to save her horse has secrets of her own. As does the girl’s grandmother, currently her legal guardian. All of these secrets come to light, and the story arcs of each of these ladies revolve around slightly different yet complementary themes.

The singular drawback to this book is one that can be worked around, but is a frequent stumbling block: Hyde truly knows her stuff regarding dressage (show horses), and it seems to come from a lifetime of living that particular life. If this level of technical knowledge and attention to detail shown in the book was the result of studying the topic just to write the book using it, I would highly recommend asking for her sources if you are interested in learning this particular subject yourself. The best comparison I can use from my own reading history is a book I read many years ago, but which is somewhat infamous for the very scene I mention here: Tom Clancy’s The Sum of All Fears and its page upon page upon page upon page description of… the first few nanoseconds of a nuclear detonation. While Hyde is much more conversational with her use of the various terms – and fortunately uses a primary character who doesn’t know this world herself as a way of explaining it to the reader, which is arguably one of her best decisions as far as the actual craft of storytelling for this particular story goes.

Overall yet another very strong Lake Union book, and yet another author to add to the ever growing list of authors to keep up with.

And guess what we end with? The Goodreads/ Amazon review! 😀
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Featured New Release Of The Week: Rapid Falls by Amber Cowie

This week, we’re looking at yet another book from a Lake Union author. Though in this case, we’re looking at the author’s actual debut book! This week, we’re looking at Rapid Falls by Amber Cowie.

This is a mystery that is told in two timelines – present day and twenty years ago, when Cara was in high school. Between the two timeline structure, the story is very well paced. You begin to get a sense of what is really happening and what really happened… and then yet another swerve is thrown in. And as big as some of the swerves are, the final one is very likely the biggest of them all. It is this final one in particular, in the very epilogue of the book, that will leave you breathless and mindblown.

There really is just not enough positive I can say about this book. It was solid from front to back, and I never saw any weakness at all to any aspect of the story or writing. Simply superb, and a gold standard for Cowie to attempt to meet with her sophomore work.

And as always, the Goodreads/ Amazon review:
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Featured New Release Of The Week: Dancing With The Sun by Kay Bratt

This week, we’re looking at a book from yet another new-to-me Lake Union author. This week, we’re looking at Dancing With the Sun by Kay Bratt.

This book was all about a mother’s love for her daughter, and read very much like a love song from a mother to her daughter. Learning later that Bratt actually has two daughters, one hopes that both of them reads this book and realizes just how much their mother truly loves them.The story itself opens with the mother having the difficult duty of telling her daughter that after many years of marriage to the daughter’s father, she is ending the marriage. But the daughter has plans of her own, and wants to take her mother to a beautiful place she found in Yosemite National Park. Except a freak severe rain storm comes up, and they get lost on the way. Now, the battle for survival is on – with neither woman prepared for such a battle.

I wasn’t joking earlier when I said that this book reads like a love song from a mother to a daughter. That is absolutely the main thing you will remember about this book months later. The absolute determination to do whatever it takes to ensure her daughter lives almost screams across every page once the survival part of the story kicks into gear. Yes, the mother battles her own doubts and demons, and has an excellent character arc as a woman of her own right. But the main focus is absolutely the mother/ daughter dynamic, and in that focus this book truly shines. This may have been my first book from Bratt, but it won’t be my last.

And as always, time for the Goodreads/ Amazon version of the review:
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Featured New Release Of The Week: Claiming Amber by Vi Carter

This week, we’re looking at the second book in a new series whose opener we looked at just last month. This week, we’re looking at Claiming Amber by Vi Carter.

As this book is the second in a series, the lead couple were both first introduced in Saving Grace – Amber, Grace’s best friend, and… Grace’s brother, Emmett. Now, we know from the first book that Emmett is a pretty big cheese in some pretty dangerous stuff. In this book, we get an in-depth look at just how dark and dangerous it is. Along the way, we get to see just how care free Amber can be yet still have a very trusting heart – one that Emmett could use a bit of, even if he finds it too dangerous given his work.

Overall this book definitely had elements to satisfy both romance readers and in particular mafia-style romance readers while also giving people who were looking for a more drama-driven, some action kind of book something to both love. Excellent character development on many fronts. not just including the primary couple but also some of the other characters both introduced here and previously. Yet again looking forward to where this series goes.

And the Goodreads/ Amazon:
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