Your Best Reading Experience of the Year So Far

Last week on Twitter, Miss Bates asked “How old were you when you read your first romance? Name it, please!” She got a lot of great responses, and followed up with a wonderful blog post (which also got great responses). Lots of us said how much fun this conversation was, and how we should have more like that.

Inspired partly by this, and partly by Robin and Sunita’s recent posts on buying vs. reading cultures and the desire to talk more about reading, yesterday I tweeted this:

I really enjoyed the responses, many of which included reflection on why this reading experience stood out (because I phrased it that way, not everyone answered by naming a specific book, or a book they thought was “great”).  And I loved the way mentions of a book led into discussions of it, including many I’m sure I didn’t even see. I’m afraid I’m not as inspired as Miss B, who listed and linked individual responses, but here are some common themes:

“I Couldn’t Stop Reading”

I love the way it feels when you must know what happens next, or when you just don’t want to leave a book’s world and characters. Some of the books people mentioned here: Jandy Nelson’s I’ll Give You the Sun; Christos Tsiolkas, The Slap (polarized a book club, but love it or hate it, they kept reading); S. U. Pacat’s Captive Prince.

A Voice or Mood That’s “Right” for You

This is kind of a grab-bag, but a number of people talked about how an author’s voice or style was part of what made a great reading experience–something that just clicked for that reader. Katherine Addison’s Goblin Emperor was described by one reader as “lovely, poignant and tender” and by another as “quiet, sneakily addictive, profound.” Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven was loved for its “tenderness [and] wistfulness.” Another reader was sucked in by Donna Thorland’s style to the kind of plot she normally doesn’t love in Mistress Firebrand. I’m guessing this is a big part of what made certain category romance authors (Sarah Morgan, Lynne Graham, Jessica Hart) stand out for some readers, too–I know it is for me. And this doesn’t just apply to non-fiction: someone described Rob Lowe’s Stories I Only Tell My Friends as “just so charming,” and others chimed in to agree.

Books That Change How You Think

This can be fiction, of course! (Goblin Emperor and Station Eleven apply). But a couple of people mentioned non-fiction works that really made them think. Pastrix, by Nadia Bolz-Weber, is where one reader is “seeking answers to questions that may have no answers.” Another praised the “tremendously insightful argument” of Matt Bai’s book on the Gary Hart Scandal, All the Truth Will Out. 

The Glom

When you really don’t want to leave an author’s world. One person mentioned reading a ton of Mills & Boon Medical romances from Scribd, another a Suzanne Robinson glom. A third talked of her discovery of Rose Lerner’s Lively St. Lemeston world (two books can’t really be a glom, but I think the principle is the same: this is a place I want to hang out for a while).

Rereading an Old Favorite/New Book by a Favorite Author

These ranged from 19th-century classics to a classic historical fiction in Greek, to classic romance. One person was lucky enough to discover a Terry Pratchett book she hadn’t read yet. Several people named the latest in Patrica Briggs’s Alpha and Omega series, Dead Heat, and some the latest in Anne Bishop’s Others series, Vision in Silver (for many, this series meant re-discovering a once-loved author). One reader loved Kristen Ashley’s Soaring, another Stella Riley’s newest releases (Riley is combining the reread/new book pleasures for many readers, because her backlist has just become available digitally and she’s also writing again and continuing her old series).

Many of these readers mentioned the comfort of sinking into a familiar world, catching up with “old friend” characters and seeing what new directions they went in, or coming to a beloved book with new eyes and finding it still satisfies.

Something New

Since I follow a lot of romance readers who also review, it’s no surprise that some brand-new (or not yet out) romance showed up on the list. Obviously, a new book can be a great experience for many of the reasons listed above. But I think reading “the latest” can bring its own pleasures. Reading a book a lot of your friends are reading too so you can discuss it together, for instance. Or conversely, making a new discovery and getting to share your love with the world.

Some of the most-named 2015 books (aside from those in series already mentioned) were Grace Draven’s fantasy romance Radiance and Elle Kennedy’s The Deal. Jackie Ashenden (multiple books), Jenny Holiday, and Courtney Milan’s Trade Me also fall into this category.

I really want to read a lot of these now! Luckily, since it’s still Lent and I said this wasn’t a shopping list, a good many are already in my TBR.

My own favorite reading experience of the year so far, listening to the first half of Anthony Powell’s Dance to the Music of Time series, combines many of these pleasures: audio helped me rediscover a series I’d enjoyed part of in the past (and maybe at a time of life when it appealed more to me); I loved Powell’s voice, and that of the audio narrator Simon Vance (who’s now reading me Trollope’s Can You Forgive Her?); the series evokes a particular time and place and creates a world with a huge cast of recurring characters, in which I loved to lose myself for hours; and I made excuses not to put my iPod down because I didn’t want to stop listening.

Please chime in with your own favorites, if you like.


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19 Responses to Your Best Reading Experience of the Year So Far

  1. Coffee2words says:

    Uprush by Jo Barney. It raised interesting and thought-provoking questions.

  2. Coffee2words says:

    Reblogged this on coffee2words and commented:
    So far, mine would have to be Uprush by Jo Barney. What’s yours?

  3. Not from 2015, but The Time Traveler’s Wife? Mmmm.

  4. Sunita says:

    I’ve had some really good reading experiences so far this year. Probably the most interesting/rewarding has been reading EM Forster’s Maurice, or rather listening to it. And a close second, set in the same era but in Mexico, is Michael Nava’s historical novel, The City of Palaces. The latter has a MOC-turned-love-match story at the center of it, but it features homosexual characters as well, and presents a fascinating depiction of Mexico at the end of the Porfirio Diaz regime and the onset of the Mexican Revolution.

    • Liz Mc2 says:

      I have gotten to the point where I no longer discount listening as a “reading experience”–a number of my best “reads” over the past few years have been audiobooks. But I do wonder about what it says about my ability to sustain attention to the printed word. I am not sure I would have managed any of them (half of a 12-novel cycle? two long non-fiction works?) in print. I value the diversity that audio has returned to my reading, but I’d like to be able to trust myself not to give up on reading a long, dense book and I’m not sure I can. (Wait, there was CONGO–I need a BFB challenge to do it, maybe).

  5. Clarissa says:

    I love audio books, especially ones with great narrators, and will now be looking for Simon Vance—thanks! It takes me a while to get through audio books because I mainly listen to them at the gym (where I pretend I’m not really exercising!).

    My favourite read of 2015 so far has been Jennifer Niven’s All the Bright Places. I don’t read a lot of YA but my agent was so excited about it that I took a chance on it. I was very impressed with Niven’s treatment of tough subjects (mental illness, suicide) and the characters were very real.

    • Liz Mc2 says:

      I just searched Audible for “Simon Vance” and I can’t believe how many books he’s narrated, and what a wide variety: lots of Dickens and Trollope, but also fantasy, sci fi and non-fiction. I think I first heard him reading William Boyd’s ANY HUMAN HEART, which I loved.

      I rarely get to teach Victorian novels now, and so I seldom have (or make) time to read them. But I miss that part of my life, and audio has been a great way to revisit it. Maybe I’ll even pull one off my shelf one day soon.

  6. kaetrin says:

    Did you hear the interview with Simon Vance and various other audiobook narrators at AudioGals? It’s really interesting hearing how they approach audiobooks.

  7. lawless says:

    Coming to this late, as I had to look at Shelfari to confirm my gut feelings. Other than some (not all) Margery Allingham rereads, my choice would have to be Milan’s Trade Me. While I have some craft quibbles with it, mostly about pacing, it’s the first straight-up contemporary romance (as opposed to erotic romance) I’ve unequivocally loved. The inclusion of a PoC lead with a realistic-feeling background (I’ve known or read about people similar to Tina’s parents), the deconstruction of the billionaire hero genre (and the consciousness about class distinctions), and the depiction of an attraction that is as much based on personality as sexual attraction were all big factors.

    I also really enjoyed the Susanna Kearsley novels I read this year (The Rose Garden, The Firebird, Every Secret Thing, and Season of Storms) – at this point, I’ve read everything of hers that’s available in e-book except Mariana – even though the time travel in many of them became a bit much.

  8. SuperWendy says:

    My reading has largely been unremarkable this year. I really liked The Fighter and the Fallen Woman by Pamela Cayne, but it’s not without issues so it doesn’t get an unqualified squeee! from me. But it’s an interesting book and the rarest of rare historical romances (prostitute heroine, hired thug/boxer hero – and there’s no judgment between the two? WIN!)

    That said, bar none, my best reading experience this year has been on audio. I listened to Gods of Gotham by Lyndsay Faye last year and really liked it. It’s the first book in a historical mystery series (trilogy?) set in 1840s NYC about a former bartender who loses everything in a massive fire and gets a job in the newly formed police department thanks to his politically connected brother. My big caveats with it were 1) Bad Things (and I mean REALLY bad things) happen to children and 2) lots of period language and slang. A lot. But the narrator is fantastic (Stephen Boyer) and I liked it enough to want to listen to the second book – Seven for a Secret – which I LOVED. I am totally hooked on the characters now and the mystery (centering around slave catchers kidnapping free blacks) was really good. So… reading experience so far in 2015.

    • Liz Mc2 says:

      Looking back over the last few years I am struck by how many of the books/experiences I remember best were on audio. I’m sure that says something about my attention span these days, but I also wonder if the medium means things linger in my mind longer. Which is interesting, because I used to think I absorbed much less on audio. Maybe fewer details, but a lingering overall impression/gist of the book? Audio might win.

      I have less and less tolerance for darker mysteries but these sound good.

  9. Oh I loved Stella Riley too! Apart from The Parfit Knight I would put Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Sword, and Heyer’s The Unknown Ajax (which was a re-read) as my favourite reading experiences so far this year!

    • Liz Mc2 says:

      I am moving Riley up my TBR. (This doesn’t help because I’m moving everything up my TBR!) I never liked Unknown Ajax that much until I picked up the audiobook. The narrator really made me see the humor in it. Betty Neels was a great discovery for me a couple of years ago!

  10. And also Betty Neels, which has been quite a revelation!

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