First Quarter Challenge Check-In (2023)

The end of the first quarter of the year always catches me off guard a bit! It’s so weird to think that a good chunk of the year is already over. I didn’t think 2023 was going by so quickly, but it suddenly hit me that the first quarter was already over. March didn’t seem like quite the slog that it usually does, luckily, and I think I did a fair amount of reading so far this year! This was a year where I took on my biggest set of reading challenges ever, but also did a mass overhaul of how I’m approaching my challenges and my goals to try to make sure I prioritize things properly. I took on a total of 9 different challenges. The grand total number of books for all of them is 773 but I made very specific goals around what proportion of each challenge I wanted to finish by the end of the year. I set my Goodreads goal to 200 since that is the number that I would ideally like to hit by the end of the year, but really I’d be happy if I get over 175. If anyone is interested in my monthly wrap-ups or a full (tentative) list of the books I have in mind, you can check out my Goodreads thread in the Around the Year in 52 Books group here.

So far, I think I’ve made some pretty solid progress on the majority of my goals! By the end of the first quarter, I had read a total of 35 books. This is just slightly behind where I was at this point last year, but to be fair, I’ve also read a few longer and/or slower-paced books. This year, I’ve also been using Storygraph to track my reading in addition to Goodreads which has made the process of gathering statistics a lot easier. According to Storygraph, I’ve read a total of 10,559 pages within the first three months and also listened to a total of 2900 minutes (48 hours) of audiobooks. Just for sake of comparison, by the same point last year, I had read 10,932 pages physically plus listened to 2766 (46.1 hours) of audiobook. I was a little surprised to see that despite the difference in total number of books, the amount of pages and audiobook time I had read was actually very close both years! By the end of the first quarter, I was at 17.5% of my goal to read 200 (although a very low 4.5% of the way toward the total number of books overall, but I’m not too worried about that since I obviously won’t be reading nearly 800 books within the year). Specific details of my goals for the year and how I’ve broken them down can be found here, so the quarterly wrap-ups will be a generally progress report and some overall comments on my reading so far.

In general, I think it’s been a very solid reading year so far, especially in terms of the quality of my books. So far this year, the vast majority of my books have been 5-star reads! I’ve read 22 books that I rated 5 stars on Goodreads, and the remaining 13 have all been 4 stars so far. To be fair, several of my 5-star reads were actually 4.5 stars that I rounded up. I’ve been using half stars on Storygraph so if I look at my list over there, it shows me that 12 of my 5-star books on Goodreads were actually 4.5 stars, one was even a 4.75, and the remaining 9 were a genuine 5. It’s pretty nitpicky to differentiate it like that, but the point is ultimately that I’ve been really enjoying everything so far! It’s very rare that I end up rating anything 3 stars or lower, but given the sheer volume of books I have in mind for this set of challenges, I wouldn’t be surprised if I end up with a few more than usual at some point. Out of curiosity, I went back and looked at my stats for last year and saw that I had 22 5-star books and 16 books that I gave 4 stars by the end of March 2022, so almost exactly the same! To be fair, I didn’t use Storygraph last year so I don’t have anything marked with half or quarter stars. I’d kind of be interested to see how much that affects my numbers, but also don’t know if I want to go through all the trouble of going back and re-rating everything.

Series Goals and Standalone Goals

Each year, I set myself a goal of reading some of the series that I’ve been meaning to try or that I need to catch up on. This year, I organized my series into 4 different lists: fully published & previously on my list to prioritize; fully published & not on my list before; duologies; and incomplete series. I set up my lists with a minimum number of series that I want to tackle from each one, and have been tracking each of the lists separately. I ended up with a total of 7 “leftover” series that I want to read fully. I decided to aim for 4 of the 8 completed series that had never been on my list before, and at least 11 of the 22 duologies. I also have a list of 5 series that are currently incomplete, and I would like to catch up on at least 2 of them, especially if any of them have any more books published this year.

So far this year, I have not read any of the “leftover” series or the currently incomplete series yet, but I have finished the Blood Like Magic duology, the remaining 4 books of the Bromance Book Club series, and I’m currently 2/3 of the way through the Beartown series. I’m actually in the process of reading the third book in that series right now, but I couldn’t get to it before the end of the first quarter. Essentially, it means that in total, I have read 2 and 2/3 series from my overall goal of reading at least 22, if I combine all of subcategories. I’ll also include at the bottom of this section the specific breakdown category by category. I was definitely hoping to be a little further ahead on this goal and especially to have tackled at least a couple of the series that had already been on my list before since I’d especially like to prioritize those. The one advantage I think I have this year is that several of the series on my list are fairly easy to split up so I don’t necessarily need to read all of the books in a row. I enjoy reading series, but I sometimes find myself feeling a little bogged down if I spend a long time on just one, especially if the books in it are very long or dense, so it can be nice to break things up a little and read something else in between. Of course, I don’t want to wait too long between books either since it’s too easy to forget details! In any case, compared to last year, I was happy to see I was further ahead in my goal. By the end of the first quarter of 2022, I had only read one duology and was a bit frustrated that I hadn’t been able to prioritize series better. This year, I decided to make a conscious effort to fit them in, and so far that seems to be working.

Total so far:
0/7 completed series (previously on my list)
1.67/4 completed series (newly added) (8 total listed)
1/11 duologies (22 total listed)
0/2 unfinished series (5 total listed)

In terms of my standalone goals, I set myself a list of Top 23 Books to Read in 2023 and a set of 5-star predictions with 3 books from each of my individual challenges. Like last year, I had to do a bit of a balancing act since there were some books that could definitely fit on both lists and I wanted to avoid overlap as much as possible. By the end of March, I had read a total of 2 of my Top 23 Books, which were Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow and The Writing Retreat, and another 2 books that were on my 5-Star Predictions list: Hell Bent and Love on the Brain. Strangely enough, this is almost identical to where I was on the same goal last year. By the end of the first quarter of 2022, I had also read a total of 4 books from my two lists, although in that case it was 3 from my Top 22 list and only 1 5-Star Prediction. It doesn’t really matter if my progress was the same compared to last year, but I find it kind of fun to look anyway. Sometimes it helps give me a bit of a push to remember to prioritize certain goals.

Priority Authors

One of my favourite goals over the past few years has been setting myself a list of authors who have been on my TBR for way too long, and whose books I really want to prioritize trying. I always set myself a minimum expectation of reading just 1 book per author in order to cross them off my list, but this year I would really like to push myself to read at least 2 each if possible. I usually try to balance my list so it’s half YA authors and half non-YA authors, but this year got a little more fuzzy. I didn’t have quite so many YA authors that I felt the need to include, and I also had a couple of authors on my list who wrote in multiple age categories.

By the end of March, I had read a total of just 2 of my priority authors. I read one book each by Karen Hamilton and Kate Alice Marshall. Ironically enough, Kate Alice Marshall was on my YA list since that’s where the majority of her books fall, but the one book I’ve read so far is her debut adult thriller! I did have a couple of other authors in mind that I was expecting to read in March specifically, but ran out of time because I had a few books that took longer than expected. I often tend to get very, very close to completing this goal and have just one author left, which is really annoying! I definitely want to make an effort to prioritize this goal so I can actually finish my whole list this time, and ideally even read more than one book by each.

In my initial goals post, I also listed 11 authors who I have read before that I would like to catch up on as a kind of bonus goal. These were all authors who I have previously really enjoyed and meant to prioritize reading again, but tend to push aside in favour of other goals. So far, I have not read anything from any of these authors yet this year, but it is an extra goal that I would like to pay some attention to. Even if I don’t catch up fully on these authors, it would be nice to prioritize reading at least 1 or 2 books each.

Read more thrillers

This is one of the goals that I definitely feel that I’ve been most successful so far! Thrillers is one of my favourite genres, and although I always have a ton of them on my TBR each year, I don’t always do the best job at prioritizing them. Over the past few years, I found myself reading somewhere around 30 thrillers total for the year, which is not too bad, but nowhere near the amount I have that I’m excited to read. I decided to push myself a bit and aim for a minimum total of 40 thrillers within the year, ideally with the majority being adult thrillers although I might include YA thrillers in my total as well. Ideally, I’d love to read even more than 40 but this seemed like a reasonable number to set as a goal since it’s just far enough past my typical total that I’d have to work for it a bit, without being too out of reach. As of the end of March, I have read a total of 8 thrillers (all of which were adult so far), so I’m already almost a quarter of the way toward my goal! I’ve been consciously trying to make a point to pick up at least a couple of thrillers each month, and so far that’s been working perfectly. It also helps that many of my priority authors are thriller authors, so reading some of their books will do double-duty on some of my goals going forward!

Other Genre Goals

The other genres that I’d like to prioritize have been a bit more of a mixed bag so far this year. I’ll start off with the most successful, which has actually been non-fiction! Over the past few years, I’ve made a point of trying to incoporate at least some non-fiction into my challenges, especially since I inevitably have at least a few prompts that require it anyway. I very rarely reach for non-fiction on my own, although I’ve learned that I’m much better with it if I use audiobooks or graphic novel formats (ie. graphic memoirs). The past two years, this has ironically become my easiest goal to accomplish specifically because I end up listening to non-fiction books basically every other week on days while I’m doing some work from home. This year, I upped my goal a bit to 20 non-fiction books in total, since that is about the number of prompts I have that require non-fiction anyway and I know I’m much more likely to actually pick them up if I make it a goal. So far, I have read a total of 8 non-fiction books, so I’m already nearly halfway! These were almost exclusively non-fiction audiobooks that I listened to while working, so that definitely helps make this goal very easy.

Unfortunately, the same can’t necessarily be said for some of my other genre-specific goals. I also set myself a goal to read a minimum of 15 historical fiction books this year, and so far I haven’t read any! I even made a point of adding quite a few to my TBR for the year so I had some extra options to choose from. For this goal, I’m including both YA and adult titles so it really shouldn’t be too hard to accomplish. With three months of the year already gone, I’ll definitely have to make more of a conscious effort to make sure I pick up at least a few. I had a similar goal last year for 10 historical fiction books and even though I initially felt that I hadn’t done well, I ended up reading 7 out of 10. I’m hoping I can surprise myself again and pull it together to accomplish my goal or at least get reasonably close!

My last genre-specific goal was to read some more adult contemporary romances, which is a genre I’ve really started getting into since I started doing reading challenges. Last year, I’d set a goal to read 15-20 adult romances, and ended the year reading a total of 11. This year, I decided to increase my goal a bit and just aim for a minimum of 20. It helps that I have several romance series in mind that I want to read, even though I didn’t make most of them into series goals, and most of those are 3 books each. Even just reading a few of those would make accomplishing this goal very easy. I even made it a subgoal to read at least 2 full romance series aside from the Bromance Book Club, and also identified a few specific authors that I was most interested in trying. As of the end of March this year, I have already read a total of 5 adult contemporary romances. All but one of those were Bromance Book Club books, but now that I’ve finished that series I can prioritize some others instead. I’m very happy to already be a quarter of the way through my goal when we’re a quarter of the way through the year!

Miscellaneous Goals

I wasn’t originally going to include these goals in my wrap-up since they aren’t so quantifiable, but it seemed a bit strange to leave them out completely too. One of my new goals this year is to learn to use Storygraph to track my reading, and I’ve definitely been working on that. I now track my reading on both Goodreads and Storygraph each day. I like Storygraph’s journal feature which allows me to make detailed, private notes on what I’m reading so I can jot down anything that comes to mind without having to worry about spoiling the book for anyone else. I also really like some of the stats they offer, but I’m still figuring out exactly how a lot of it works. I still find the site a bit tricky to navigate compared to Goodreads. Maybe the app would be better, but I don’t often use it on my phone, but I definitely appreciate how it does a lot of the genre classifications and the calculations for me.

My other fairly vague goal was to try to make more time for reading. I’ve noticed a pattern over the past year or so where I’ve kind of gone back into what I call “pandemic mode” where I waste a big chunk of the afternoon/early evening, and then only settle in to read right at the end of the night when I have very little time. I don’t want to force myself to read when I’m not in the mood, but I’ve been noticing that I get frustrated that I don’t have much time to read when I do that and often end up having to put a book down for the night when I’m really getting into it, and then get a little annoyed with myself for not starting earlier. Obviously this doesn’t apply to situations where I’m legitimately busy or unavailable to read any earlier, but wasting time on random Youtube videos and then being irritated that I didn’t read doesn’t make a lot of sense either. I’m actually hoping this month will start a bit of a reset with that since I have quite a bit of time off over the next week, so it might be enough to help kickstart a change to my habits.

Reader’s Choice Awards

As usual, I wanted to end off with a “Reader’s Choice Awards” for the quarter, like we used to have in the Around the Year in 52 Books Goodreads group. I always find this a fun way to look back at the books that I’ve read and mention some of the ones that stood out to my the most, especially books that I might not have had a chance to bring up otherwise.

Breakout Read: A book that was surprisingly good or exceeded expectations

I think I have to go with a toss-up between A Flicker in the Dark and  What Lies in the Woods for this one! There was a ton of hype around A Flicker in the Dark, which always tends to put me off a bit, and What Lies in the Woods is a bit of a departure for the author since it is her first adult title, but I absolutely loved both of them! I found both so engaging the whole way through and both were thrillers that ended up surprising me even though I thought they’d be predictable at first.

Actually, another book that completely exceeded my expectations was A Very Merry Bromance! I don’t really care for Christmas stories, and Colton seemed like such an obnoxious character every time he was mentioned previously, so I was very pleasantly surprised when this ended up becoming one of my favourites of the series.

Biggest Let Down: A book you thought would be brilliant but was a total disappointment

This is a tough one because I had nothing that was really bad this quarter, and not even anything rated below 4 stars. I think the book that I liked the least so far was probably The Overnight Guest, which I found completely predictable and I guessed most of the twists extremely early on. Given how many thrillers I’ve read, I’m pretty good at guessing sometimes but can still enjoy a book if something about how the twist is executed manages to surprise me anyway, and unfortunately that was not the case here. I guessed what was happening around 25% of the way in only to have that confirmed much later, and was also underwhelmed by the final reveal.

I also have to mention being a little disappointed with Isn’t It Bromantic? from the Bromance Book Club series. I thought it was going to be my favourite of the series since it followed one of my favourite characters, Vlad! I liked the general premise of the book, but found it fell a bit flat for me overall. I still enjoyed the book and ended up rating it 4 stars, but it was disappointing because I thought this would be an easy 5!

Best Dressed: The book with the most attractive cover

Best Characters: A book with characters you couldn’t get enough of

I feel like this might be cheating a bit since these are characters I was already familiar with, but I have to give this one to Hell Bent, especially because of how much Pammie Dawes and Mercy both had the chance to shine, in addition to Alex and Darlington. If I had to choose something that was new to me, I really liked the characters in What Lies in the Woods.

Best Place: A book that was set in an interesting place (fictional or not)

I definitely would not want to visit this place, but I thought the setting of The Writing Retreat was very interesting because of how creepy it was! Blackbriar Estate seemed absolutely terrifying and the author did an amazing job at making the setting feel real.

Best Story: A book with a great storyline

This is a hard one because there are several books I would pick for a variety of different reasons, but I think I have to go with The Writing Retreat again because it was such an unexpectedly wild ride.

Best Feelings: A book that made you really emotional

Definitely Sandy Hook, which was both heartbreaking and infuriating. It was horrifying to hear how easily people fell into conspiracy theories to the point where they felt the need to harass grieving families, and heartbreaking to hear about the children and the facts of what happened that day.

Best Love: A book with a romance worth swooning for (does not have to be a romance book)

Love on the Brain! Although I still think I liked The Love Hypothesis a tiny bit better overall, I still really loved the relationship between Bee and Levi, and I thought it had some very cute moments (ie. Bee commenting that Levi “is so terrible at portioning his food” when he’s purposely bringing extra to make sure she eats too!)

Best Shock: A book that made your jaw drop in surprise

I think I have to give this one to The Last Party (although several of the other thrillers I’ve mentioned were strong contenders too). This was the first thriller I read all year, and I find the final twist so surprising! I was not expecting that at all, especially since there had been a couple of other twists already and I had correctly guessed some of them.

Best Author: An author whose writing you really clicked with

Stacy Willingham, Kate Alice Marshall, and Julia Bartz

Best Series: A book from a series you either can’t get enough of or can’t wait to indulge in more

This may be cheating since I already knew this was a series that I wanted more of, but I have to give this one to the Ninth House series. I actually thought it was only going to have 2 books, but it seems like there will be at least once more and I can’t wait! I reread Ninth House this year and read Hell Bent for the first time, and I can’t wait to find out what happens next.

Best Read: The book you read in January, February, and March that topped all the others

This is another very hard question because I have a few books in mind for very different reasons. If I had to pick just one, I think I would have to choose Hell Bent because it was a book I was very highly anticipating and I loved it almost as much as I loved Ninth House. However, I do think both A Flicker in the Dark and  What Lies in the Woods are in a very, very close second because of how thoroughly engaged I was with them both.


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