2020: How I read in a year that shall go down in infamy

2020, the year we all hope the door hits in the ass on the way out.  Hard enough to leave a mark.

I know a lot of people saw the stay-at-home orders and lockdowns dramatically improved their reading, but for me, when I was already in a mother of a reading slump, the beginning of the pandemic tanked what little reading progress I was making.  Add to that the forced move to a new book tracking site, and this was, without doubt, the worst reading year I’ve had in 20 years.

Most everyone following this blog knows I hate WordPress, but the silver lining is a book library plug-in I bought that does some nifty stats.  So without further ado, my reading stats for 2020, such as they are.

Overview Stats

2 years ago (I think?) I read 220 books, so, yeah, a slight downturn.  Average rating seems to be about the same though, so what I am reading I seem to be enjoying as much.

Another tell of a bad year, by average days to finish this year was 5 when it used to hover around 1.

While I was reading much less, I was, at least, still reading (except March, a complete write-off).  In spite of everything going on, you can see the slump’s regression as the year progressed.

Writing reviews, however, took a wee bit longer to recover.

Stats on what I read:

While my most read genres continued to be the same, the proportions were dramatically different for 2020.  Normally, Mystery and UF would be swapped.  (Fiction, btw, refers to anything not a mystery nor urban fantasy: contemporary mostly.)

The size of the books I read changed little as well.  My sweet spot definitely seems to be firmly in the 200-399 page range.  Seems there were a lot of short stories/novellas this year too.

It’s clear I need to re-evaluate my rating process.  I’m heavy handed enough with my 4 star ratings to warrant taking a close look at those books to make sure I’m not unconsciously shifting the curve, making 4 stars ‘average’.   I’d like to think I just read a lot of books that are just that little bit better than average, but you never know unless you look.

This is unchanged – although that 42% Unknown means I missed some data entry somewhere.  It’s safe to say they’ll all be either Hardcover or Paperback; I’ve read almost no audio this year, though it’s possible there might be 3-4 audiobooks in that Unknown.  Something to look at next year.

I was going to add my 5 highest rated and lowest rated, but looking at the titles, they aren’t anything anybody would be interested in.  My reading this year was truly coping related in many ways, including 5 star rating a bird ID book. ::shrug::

Book Acquisition

To me, this is the most interesting part of the site’s analytics.  Because I can track editions I own, I can get stats on what I’ve acquired over time and from where.

If there was any good news to my 2020 slump, it was that my acquisitions also slumped dramatically.  Good news because even with a whole new shelving system in my library, space remains at a premium, and mount TBR doesn’t need to be any higher than it already is.  Still, 73 new books were bought; at least that was fewer than I read though.

Nothing new here, I still like mysteries.  Because I’m trying to make genres adhere somewhat to standards, Fantasy is Urban Fantasy.

Also, nothing new here.  Ebooks and I are not friends.

This one’s fun – at least I think so.  At first I was disappointed at how many books I’d still ended up buying from BookDepository (because: Amazon) but I’m heartened by the fact that the vast majority of my books came from non-Amazon sources, and a fair few from independent booksellers.

So that’s it; the one thing that stats are missing is the ability to breakdown the gender of authors, for obvious reasons (I’m not inputting author data, for one), but I’m wholly confident that more than 50% of the books I’ve read this year are by women, mostly because every year, more than half the books I read are by women.

Book Goals for 2021

If I had any book goals for 2021, I’d do a seperate post for them.  But I don’t.  No goals.  Not even a total books read goal.  I’m just going to read and see where it takes me.

May God (or what/whomever you believe in) give us the strength to make 2021 better than 2020.

Death in Daylesford (Phryne Fisher Mystery, #21)

Death in DaylesfordDeath in Daylesford
by Kerry Greenwood
Rating: ★★★
isbn: 9781743310342
Series: Phryne Fisher #21
Publication Date: November 15, 2020
Pages: 321
Genre: Fiction, Historical, Mystery
Publisher: Allen & Unwin

Surrounded by secrets, great and small, the formidable Miss Phryne Fisher returns to vanquish injustice.

When a mysterious invitation arrives for Miss Phryne Fisher from an unknown Captain Herbert Spencer, Phryne's curiosity is excited. Spencer runs a retreat in Victoria's spa country for shell-shocked soldiers of the First World War. It's a cause after Phryne's own heart but what could Spencer want from her?

Phryne and the faithful Dot view their spa sojourn as a short holiday but are quickly thrown in the midst of disturbing Highland gatherings, disappearing women, murder and the mystery of the Temperance Hotel.

Meanwhile, Cec, Bert and Tinker find a young woman floating face down in the harbour, dead. Tinker, with Jane and Ruth, Phryne's resilient adopted daughters, together decide to solve what appears to be a heinous crime.

Disappearances, murder, bombs, booby-traps and strange goings-on land Miss Phryne Fisher right in the middle of her most exciting adventure.


I’ve been a fan of this series from the beginning but this one was phoned in, either by the author herself or Allen and Unwin, or, possibly, both.  I still enjoyed the hell out of catching up with Phryne and friends, but in quality, this was disappointing.

Death in Daylesford is one of her longer entries, and the story meanders quite a bit across at least 3 different plot-lines taking place in two different places: Melbourne’s mystery being solved by Phryne’s three adopted kids and her assistant’s fiancé (a police detective), and one in Daylesford, a spa town about an hour away from Melbourne, spear-headed by Phryne and her assistant Dot.

The Melbourne plot could have been scrapped and I’d have never missed it.  While I like Jane and Ruth as characters, I found their plot/mystery to be too Nancy Drew for my tastes.  The death they investigated was tragic, and it’s solution sad, but it was superfluous to requirements.

Phryne’s mysteries were more interesting and more diabolical, but poor editing and the inclusion of the Nancy Drew parallel plot detracted significantly from what it might have been.  The poor editing is obvious – and surprising – in the form of missing words, and one scene where the dead body is removed from the scene twice.  Blaming the parallel plot is just speculation on my part, but so many things in Phryne’s mysteries were glossed over and she reached conclusions with no discernible process to the reader, that I have to believe Greenwood just didn’t have the page space to expand on plot points the way she might have.  Which is a shame, because the plots were interesting and deserved more than they got.

In spite of all this, I enjoyed the read, and I’m thrilled to see a new Phryne Fisher mystery out, after I’d started to believe the series was over.  I hope there will be more, and I hope the author and the publisher both get their groove back.

Shake Down (Elliott Lisbon Mystery, #5)

Shake DownShake Down
by Kendel Lynn
Rating: ★★★★½
isbn: 9781635115871
Series: Elliott Lisbon Mystery #5
Publication Date: March 17, 2020
Pages: 224
Genre: Mystery
Publisher: Henery Press

Ballantyne Foundation Director and PI-in-training, Elliott Lisbon, is enjoying her idyllically slow life on Sea Pine Island, South Carolina. It’s the week before the annual Beach Ball and she’s sipping Bellinis on the sidelines. Her committee involvement is limited to securing the centerpieces: scrumptious masterpieces from the Cake & Shake. But when the head baker goes missing, Elli’s calm life gets a major shakeup. She takes the case and soon learns that missing is a relative term.

As Elli walks the delicate line between a woman finding herself and a woman needing to be found, the days speed up and she knows something’s about to go down. From drug runners to whistleblowers to sea turtle sabotage, Elli stirs up secrets and inadvertently whips a desperate killer into a frenzy. If she doesn’t find a way out of the heat, she’s going to get burned.


I’m always excited about a new Elliott Lisbon mystery being released; Kendel Lynn doesn’t publish on the typical once-a-year schedule, so you just never know when or if the next one is coming.

But they’re worth the suspense – these are well-written mysteries with solid plots and while definitely cozy, there’s nothing cutesy or twee about the characters or the plots.  Shake Down starts off slow and builds slowly, with the search for a missing woman.  Is she missing?  Did she just take off?  Was there foul play involved?  Elliott Lisbon is a PI in training, putting in her required hours before receiving her license and she’s hired to find the woman, or find out what happened to her.

For spice, and possibly levity, there’s a reality tv show involved in the plot, but the ending is unexpected and, well, unexpected.  This one isn’t going to keep you on the edge of your seat, but it will offer you a satisfying mystery.

A Noël Killing (A Provençal Mystery, #8)

A Noël KillingA Noël Killing
by M.L. Longworth
Rating: ★★★½
isbn: 9780143134060
Series: Verlaque and Bonnet Provencal Mystery #8
Publication Date: November 12, 2019
Pages: 286
Genre: Mystery
Publisher: Penguin Books

Just as the holiday cheer is in full swing, a man is poisoned, sending the community into a tailspin. The list of suspects, Verlaque and Bonnet quickly discover, almost fills the church itself, from the visiting vendors at the Christmas fair to the victim’s unhappy wife and his disgruntled business partner. In A Noël Killing, with the help of an ever-watchful young woman named France, the pair must solve the murder while the spirit of the season attempts to warm Verlaque’s stubborn heart.


In general, this series has been excellent in every way, but this one wasn’t its strongest entry.

The narrative meandered.  A lot.  It took several chapters to get a grip on what was going on, and who was doing what to whom.  There’s a slow build up to the crime, which I don’t mind, but because everything else was slow too, it was a battle to keep my attention on the book.

Once things did start moving, they felt scattered and disorganised, though this improved quite a bit as the story progressed.  Still, of the books I’ve read this month, this is the one I’m struggling most to remember anything about.  It wasn’t unpleasant or badly written, it just wasn’t a strong plot and it lacked the usual strong writing, or perhaps strong editing.

I’m happy to blame it on Covid and hope that the next one measures up to the first 7.

The Last Mrs. Summers (Royal Spyness Mystery, #14)

The Last Mrs. SummersThe Last Mrs. Summers
by Rhys Bowen
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9780451492876
Series: Royal Spyness #14
Publication Date: August 6, 2020
Pages: 290
Genre: Historical, Mystery
Publisher: Berkley

Bowen’s homage to Rebecca, this entry might or might not be a disappointment to those who have read du Maurier’s classic – I’ve never read it myself, so the plot here was new to me, though I could appreciate the allusions and the tip of the hat to the gothic atmosphere.

The story, homage or not, is well-written enough that I don’t think fans of the series will be disappointed.  It’s not her absolute best (The Twelve Clues of Christmas, imo) but it’s well-plotted and the characters are well drawn.  Darcy has little page time, as usual, but we get a lot more of Belinda and her background, which I enjoyed.  Queenie makes a thankfully brief appearance, but otherwise it’s a whole new cast of characters in the wilds of Cornwall, in what ends up to be a delightfully crazy plot.

Eventually though, I’m going to have to cave and read Rebecca.

Fatal Cajun Festival (A Cajun Country Mystery, #5)

Fatal Cajun FestivalFatal Cajun Festival
by Ellen Byron
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9781643851297
Series: Cajun Country Mystery #5
Publication Date: September 10, 2019
Pages: 292
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Publisher: Crooked Lane Books

Grab your tickets for Cajun Country Live!, the pickers' and crooners' answer to the legendary New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. Maggie Crozat, proprietor of the Crozat Plantation B&B, plans to be in the cheering section when her friend Gaynell Bourgeois takes the stage with her band, Gaynell and the Gator Girls.

The festival's headliner, native daughter Tammy Barker, rocketed to stardom on a TV singing competition. She has the voice of an angel...and the personality of a devilish diva. But Maggie learns that this tiny terror carries a grudge against Gaynell. She's already sabotaged the Gator Girls' JazzFest audition. When a member of Tammy's entourage is murdered at the festival, Tammy makes sure Gaynell is number one on the suspect list.

Gaynell has plenty of company on that list--including every one of Tammy's musicians. Posing as a groupie, Maggie infiltrates Tammy's band and will have to hit all the right notes to clear her friend's name.


Not bad; I think Crooked Lane Publishers could do better with a tighter editing process, but the plotting was excellent.  The characters weren’t engaging as past entries of the series, but I’m not sure I can say why.  Generally, a relatively solid entry in a better than average series.
 

Lowcountry Boondoggle (Liz Talbot, #9)

Lowcountry BoondoggleLowcountry Boondoggle
by Susan M. Boyer
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9781635116076
Series: Liz Talbot Mystery #9
Publication Date: June 30, 2020
Pages: 240
Genre: Mystery
Publisher: Henery Press

Private investigators Liz Talbot and Nate Andrews thought they’d put Darius Baker’s troubles to rest—then his recently discovered son ropes him into a hemp farm investment with his college buddies. When a beloved Charleston professor—and potential investor—is murdered, Liz and Nate discover Darius keeps the PIs on speed dial.

A shocking number of people had reasons to want the genteel, bowtie wearing, tea-drinking professor dead. Was it one of his many girlfriends or a disgruntled student? Or perhaps Murray was killed because his failure to invest meant the hemp farm trio’s dreams were going up in smoke? Though Liz’s long-dead best friend, Colleen, warns her the stakes are far higher than Liz imagines, she is hellbent on finding the no-good killer among the bevy of suspects. But will the price of justice be more than Liz can bear?


Another solid entry in what’s been a very dependable, well-written series.  The mystery itself was a little predictable, but I can’t be certain the author didn’t intend that, as the clues weren’t subtle; a story about PIs wouldn’t really work with subtle and still be fair to the readers.

There’s some character development in this one, as well as references to a previous plot that make this less than ideal as a standalone, and it’s wroth the time to start at the beginning with book 1.

The Bright and Breaking Sea (Kit Brightling, #1)

The Bright And Breaking SeaThe Bright And Breaking Sea
by Chloe Neill
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9781984806680
Series: Captain Kit Brightling #1
Publication Date: November 19, 2020
Pages: 369
Genre: Fantasy
Publisher: Berkley

Chloe Neill brings her trademark wit and wild sense of adventure to a stunning seafaring fantasy starring a dauntless heroine in a world of magic and treachery.

Kit Brightling, rescued as a foundling and raised in a home for talented girls, has worked hard to rise through the ranks of the Isles’ Crown Command and become one of the few female captains in Queen Charlotte's fleet. Her ship is small, but she's fast—in part because of Kit’s magical affinity to the sea. But the waters become perilous when the queen sends Kit on a special mission with a partner she never asked for.

Rian Grant, Viscount Queenscliffe, may be a veteran of the Continental war, but Kit doesn’t know him or his motives—and she’s dealt with one too many members of the Beau Monde. But Kit has her orders, and the queen has commanded they journey to a dangerous pirate quay and rescue a spy who's been gathering intelligence on the exiled emperor of Gallia.

Kit can lead her ship and clever crew on her own, but with the fate of queen and country at stake, Kit and Rian must learn to trust each other, or else the Isles will fall....


I’m wavering between 3.5 and 4 stars.  This first in a new series reads like it could almost be a middle grade story, except for one romantic scene which I know my niece, at least, would wrinkle her nose at.  It’s still a great story, just rather more bright and optimistic than is usually offered to us jaded adults.  It also lacks the snark Neill is generally known for, but then again, her Devil’s Isle series wasn’t snarky either.

Chloe Neill walks a fine line between imagining a world where women are common in historically male roles, and acknowledging the gender bias that exists in this one.  I’m not convinced she pulled it off; I’d have rather she stick to one truth or the other, but it wasn’t problematic and didn’t affect my enjoyment of the book.

Mostly, it’s a new concept, and a new series, so I’d imagine there some growing pains and adjustments ahead, but it was a nice escape and I’m interested in seeing where future books take me and the characters.

The Man in the Microwave Oven (Theo Bogart, #2)

The Man in the Microwave OvenThe Man in the Microwave Oven
by Susan Cox
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9781250116208
Series: Theo Bogart Mystery #2
Publication Date: November 3, 2020
Pages: 298
Genre: Mystery
Publisher: St. Martin's Minotaur

Fleeing from a murder and family tragedy in her native England, where she was the scandal du jour for the tabloid press, Theo Bogart changed her name and built an undercover life in a close-knit San Francisco neighborhood. She didn’t expect to find love and friendship there, and now she doesn’t know how—or if—to reveal the truth.

After a confrontation with a difficult neighbor, Theo fears her secrets are about to be uncovered after all. When the woman who threatened to expose her is murdered, Theo is embroiled in the kind of jeopardy she crossed an ocean to escape. Worse yet, dangerous family secrets have followed her. Theo’s grandfather unveils a glimpse of the shadowy world he once inhabited as an agent for the British Secret Service, bringing an even bigger breed of trouble—and another death—to Theo’s doorstep. She finds herself fighting to protect herself, her family, and her new friends, aware that one of them might be a murderer.


Interesting concept, really interesting characters, a plot that’s a little out there, requiring a greater degree of suspension of disbelief.  I found the narrative hard to follow at times, as the style is a bit choppy; I feel like the editor could have smoothed out the rougher edges without sacrificing the author’s voice.  There were times when it was easy to lose track of who was saying what, and scenes within chapters could change abruptly.

The whole “I have a secret” thing is going to get old if Cox perpetuates through a third book, but otherwise I really like this start of a new series and I’m on-board with seeing where it goes.

Grave War (Alex Craft, #7)

Grave WarGrave War
by Kalayna Price
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9781984805959
Series: Alex Craft #7
Publication Date: November 26, 2020
Pages: 384
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Publisher: Ace

Grave witch Alex Craft has forged an uneasy truce with the world of Faerie, but she's still been trying to maintain at least some semblance of a normal life in the human world. So it's safe to say that stepping up as the lead investigator for the Fae Investigation Bureau was not a career path she ever anticipated taking.

When an explosion at the Eternal Bloom threatens to upend the fae who make their home in our world, Alex finds herself in charge of the most far-reaching investigation she's ever tackled. And it's only her first week on the job. With the threats mounting and cut off from half her allies, Alex can't wait on the sidelines and hope the fae's conflicts stay contained within their borders.


 

The final book of the series, this is the one that wraps up the whole thing.  I couldn’t put it down, but I can’t say I totally loved it, but that’s because it didn’t end the way I’d have chosen, and I felt that there were endings left undone, or not really done to any satisfaction.  At least mine.  But it was well written, and well plotted and I got a huge amount of satisfaction at having called the major plot twist from the very start of the series. View Spoiler » So there was that.

It’s a series I’ll miss, and re-read, but I’m happy the author got to end the story on her terms.