Starting Over By Looking Back: Observation Notes 112-114 and Reading Notes 47-51

Observation Note 112: Starting over. As I do every January, I start out with a post of my favourite books. But this year, that post is running late so instead, I’m going to mess with the natural order of things and do my first post on SuperWendy’s TBR reading challenge. Last year, I only managed to post in the first half of the year. However, let’s just say I was busier reading than writing. I did manage to read through a big chunk of my TBR which is my ass-backwards way of kicking off on the theme of Starting Over. Well….let me tell you how I took charge of my 220 TBR waiting-to-read books that had accumulated on my Goodreads over the 10 years I have been documenting my reading habits…

Observation Note 113: Looking back. So let’s start in November, I was heading to the Blue Mountains a few hours west of Sydney for an academic writer’s retreat where I was going to try to be scholarly and thinkerly (true word). I was being driven by a friend in what I would call a white-knuckle drive on a Friday afternoon crazy Sydney motorway weekend exit frenzy, when I saw a friend contacted me via Twitter (yes – I am still there and happy to accept the side-eyes) to tell me that Queens Public Library in New York City had an overseas non-US citizens membership availability. For US$50, I got to subscribe to the most incredible elibrary. So I paid and added that sweet library to my Libby app for I now had some procrastinating reading to do rather than writing.

Have I been reading a book a day for the past three months. I sure have! Have I been reading in bed? Yes I have. Have I been reading instead of watching TV. Damn yes! Have I been reading instead of swimming. Ummm….no. Even I have reading boundaries. I can’t read when the harbour view is astounding!

Brilliant blue sky
sea ripples out through the harbour
yachts boats masts floating beyond. 
Houses bound Little Manly
Cheerful cabanas, 
Cheerful sun tents. 
A beautiful day on the sand.
View of Sydney Harbour from Little Manly

Here is the link for those who want to be part of this amazing opportunity! https://www.queenslibrary.org/get-a-card/eUser

So how did that TBR go?

Well…my list has gone from 221 books to 121. 100 books are off my TBR. Of those 100, I have read 44, I have another 12 on hold, and another 44 which were reassessed off the TBR list – some due to sampling the first few chapters and finding I was no longer interested, and others just deleting as I couldn’t work out why or when I had added them. Of course, in the last week, I accidentally added another 10 to my TBR want-to-read list but I am not counting them here. Also, no book cover pics – I hate this wordpress layout. It makes adding images a nightmare.

So now for some of the more notable books I read: 

Reading note 47: The Longest Wait 

The Trouble with Joe by Emilie Richards.

I added this book, published in 1994, on the 29th of September, 2012 and read it on the 17th of November, 2022. A 10 year, 2 month wait. I have read and kept several Emilie Richards category romances from the 1990s so I was familiar with the calibre of the authors writing. She usually grapples with issues of the self, overcoming problems not necessarily of love, but of pressures that society can bring to a couple. The love between the protagonists is undeniable, however they are grappling with Joe’s infertility problems. Joe’s wife Samantha is a teacher and she has a neglected child, Corey,  in her class. Over the summer holidays, the two of them find themselves as foster carers for Corey, unravelling a lot of emotions around what it means to be parents, have family, responsibility, love and neglect. This is the only romance I recall reading which also gives the child’s point of view and it adds such depth to the story. It was well worth the 10 year wait to read it. 

Reading Note 48: The Best Wait.

Cara Bastone. About two years ago, in a catch-up conversation with Jayashree Kamblé, she recommended to me to try and find some Cara Bastone books to read. There were none in any of Sydney’s library systems so I left the recommendation hanging in the TBR. So I was delighted to find 3 of Bastone’s books at Queens Library: When We First Met, Can’t Help Falling and Flirting with Forever. All three novels had these fully fleshed, deeply understandable characters – not only the main protagonists but all their neighbours and friends and colleagues. The setting felt known and lived in, well understood, I felt like I could smell the air of the city through her writing. And the relationships, well they too were these nuanced courtship tales, thoughtful of differences and the tensions that can bring people together. I particularly loved the hero from  Flirting with Forever. In the opening scene of the book, he comes across as awkward and thoughtless but as the book unfolds, you discover a deeply thoughtful, principled man with grace and reason. I highly recommend you seek out Cara Baston’s books.

Reading Note 49: Most Annoying Wait.

To Sir With Love by Lauren Lane – I cannot tell you how frustrated I’ve been with my public library where I had a long-standing purchase request with them for this book in 2021. It was finally satisfied 14 months after I placed the request, so my reserve on the request expired and it got borrowed by other people and I had another 3 month wait and I was just furious and annoyed and I just didn’t bother going and it was so much more pleasurable reading it online. 14 months wait and a shitty reservations system – just do better, Sydney.

Reading Note 50: Yeah books from the TBR.

Some of my reading highlights from the last three months.

Blended by Sharon Draper. This was on my TBR since 2018. A children’s novel about mixed race young girl dealing with her divorced parents and her difficult experience. This is a book about seeking your belonging, grappling with your parents custody issues, the concept of home, and how race and identity can differ depending upon which parent you are with. A good read.

Accidentally Engaged by Farah Heron. This is one my favourite books for this year so I won’t write too much about it on this post as I still plan to do a 2022 post in the next few days. Basically, this is fun, family dynamics, Tanzanian-Gujurati-British-Canadian migrant story, lots of food, lots of cultural expectations and cultural pushback all set in lovely Canada. A great read. 

Anne of Manhattan by Brina Staler.  Thoroughly Modern 21st century fanfiction of Anne of Green Gables as young adults living in Manhattan. It’s well-written and I really liked the book. The author definitely captured the (kindred) spirit of of Anne and Gilbert and their connection though it had quite a different plot trajectory. Well worth the two year wait to read it.

Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Criado Pérez. I wrote about this book in my previous post (Reading Note 46).

Tweet Cute by Emma Lord. A YA/teenage romance conducted across several social media platforms as well as being set in a New York high school. The usual teen coming of age issues compounded by pressures from parents especially around insisting their older teens making corporate social media decisions. It was complex, it was good, I really liked it. Well worth waiting to read it since 2019.

The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone by Olivia Laing. A memoir reflecting on the loneliness of the city, seeking connections and not finding them, the impact of the AIDS crisis, and how artists such as Andy Warhol and Edward Hopper grappled with their own loneliness. Impactful and wonderful. Another well worth waiting for since 2019.

Reading Note 51: Meh books from the TBR

I am so far from the zeitgeist on these ones. Many of them are lauded as “hits” and “must-read” stars of booktok and romancetok. If this is the future of romance fiction, I will cry.

The Roommate by Rosie Danan. Bleh. Call me a prude. Porn hero was boring. The plot was inane (seriously – the heroine leaves her city to keep a low profile and then hooks up with a high profile porn star just doesn’t make sense) and there was zero tension. Just. waffle.

Below Zero by Ali Hazelwood. Double Bleh. I totally cannot stand the “smart” heroine romance trend. Let’s face it. All these STEM heroines are just another iteration of targeted career-girl romance novels. And this one – well the heroine may have had a high IQ but she was definitely lacking in emotional intelligence. Imagine cracking onto your research project’s interviewee IN HIS WORKPLACE! That’s is serious misconduct. Not sexy. A breach of work health and safety too. Just no.

Corner Office Confessions by Cynthia St. Aubin. Great title. The story didn’t grab me.

Dial A for Aunties by Jesse Sutanto.  SPOILER ALERT FOR THIS ONE. Everyone raves about this book as being hilarious and great and I will admit that it started out that way – just super super funny and cheeky. But then the main character Meddelin accidently kills her date (who was catfished by her mother!) and rather than call emergency services, get him to a hospital, go to the police, etc., like a normal person would, she shoves him in the boot, takes him to her aunts where they hide him in a freezer and all of a sudden I am reading horror murder meets Weekend at Bernies. I know that I should be able to overlook all the problems in this book and haha have a laugh but IT WAS GHOULISH!  A (fictional) person died. Someone has to care. Someone has to pay. And they didn’t. And I just couldn’t. Just say no!

The Wedding Party by Jasmine Guillory. Look, the premise was great – I do love a hook-up becomes lurvvve story and Guillory writes some lovely witty repartee but she substitutes way too much food in her novels for her lack of sexy times. Unlike Farah Heron’s book, the food is a prop in this novel, it beefs up the novel (sorry, not sorry) but it doesn’t further the plot. Not that books need detailed sex, but good god – that constant eating annoyed me. Waiting since February 2019.

The Two Lives of Lydia Bird by Josie Silver. A sliding doors story. Great premise, ho-hum delivery. It didn’t do it for me. Waiting since January 2020.

Time is a Mother by Ocean Vuoung. Listening to the audio narration also by Vuong was the wrong thing for me. Whispered wistful poetry is totally not my thing. I couldn’t bear it but I persisted to the end. Perhaps I would have liked the poetry better if I had just read the text, but now the poet’s voice is in my head and it won’t work for me. Suited to a whole different type of person. Frustrated at the anticipation of waiting since 2019 for On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous but opting for the 2022 publication instead due to availability.

Moral to the story is: stick with the book you have already listed on the TBR

Observation Note 114: In conclusion.

I feel so pleased with my overhaul of my TBR. I am so happy that Queens library membership has slayed my seven year reading slump, and I will definitely be renewing it for as long as it is offered to non-US citizens. 

As for my procrastination during my writing retreat…it was a successful enough attempt at being “scholarly” that it kickstarted my re-engagement with a journal article which had been accepted pending revisions which I hadn’t completed for many different reasons. I managed to finish it and submit it a month later. I think the deep diving into the TBR reading probably energised me as much as the retreat, if not more so. Thanks, Super Wendy!

11 thoughts on “Starting Over By Looking Back: Observation Notes 112-114 and Reading Notes 47-51

  1. I am ecstatic to ‘see’ you here, Vassilikí, and wait with bated breath for you 2022 ‘year n review’ post.

    On Dial A for Aunties: your description feels a bit like one of those mid-20th Century oddball/”black comedy” movies (Arsenic and Old Lace, 1944, is the first that jumps to mind), which are something indeed. And if no one pays for murdering someone, that’s definitely a line crossed. (In contrast, I managed to laugh my head off at Knives Out, because I know the guilty party (and the assholes) paid in the end). I want “my universe righted” (to paraphrase Miz Wendy)

    • Oh hi! And thank you! Lovely to be here. And I have been working on my draft – the first version disappeared!

      As for Dial A for Aunties – yes it definitely had that oddball feel but yeah…I didn’t put the biggest spoiler in but it sucked. The whole family Aunts, mum and protag shoulda paid! It all got a bit messy plot wise. Certainly not tight enough in the second half of the book.

  2. OMG – your observation about the STEM heroine trend, thank you! The whole concept has just left me cold and I couldn’t quite put my finger on why.

    Re: Dial A for Aunties – I just couldn’t muster up any interest in the book despite the raves and the fact that I LOVED her YA thriller, The Obsession. The latter is also ghoulish (teen girl accidentally murders her Mom’s abusive cop boyfriend) but it’s not a humorous book – which thank the Lord.

    • I got fed up with Hazlewood’s brand in the book in which the hero points out that the heroine — who does some kind of environmental work — uses items with terrible packaging and instead of saying something real about how hard that is to avoid, she just snottily says “haven’t you heard of recycling?” Yeah, you’d think a person working in that field would have heard about what a useless scam plastic recycling is.

      • This is wallpaper STEM romance. Call it “smart”, drop some key science terms, and throw in some dirty talk (which is far from sexy), and there you have it. But there is no depth of understanding. I want more from my reading. Australian romance author Penelope Janu writes with this deeper knowledge. But her books don’t have cartoon cute covers.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s