2020 In Books And Onwards To 2021

Well 2020 has been quite the year.  I said in my last annual update that I wasn’t feeling optimistic when it started, but even in my wildest dreams I had not anticipated it being this bad or even this long.

For newcomers to the blog, I do a round up of my reading at the end of each year setting out how I did against my (modest) targets, providing a list of my favourite reads for the year and then sharing my To Read List Of Doom, which is testament more to my book acquisition habits than anything else and demonstrates that I am in dire need of an intervention.

For 2020 I set myself the following targets:

  • a total reading target of 130.  I’ve picked this because my commute has changed compared to last year, so it should be achievable while also leaving me some writing time for my personal, non-review projects.
  • a 50/50 gender split.
  • 20% of the books read to be by or co-written by writers of colour.
  • 40% of the books read to be non-fiction.

So let’s start with an admission: I didn’t hit the 130 target.  For those who came here via my Goodreads Account, you’ll know that I ended up adjusting my target down to 75 and I exceeded that with a grand total of 80 for the year, which is the lowest number of books I’ve read since 2015.  The big reason for this was the pandemic, firstly because I no longer had to commute into the office so didn’t have the guaranteed reading time but secondly because the shock of the pandemic made it very difficult for me to focus on reading anything – I just couldn’t keep my attention on books long enough.

Nor did I hit my 50/50 gender split.  In the end 35 of the books I read (43%) were written or co-written by women, which is down slightly on 2019 when I managed 48%.  I do have more women authors cued up on my 2021 list so am hoping to hit it or exceed it next year.

I also didn’t hit my target for books by writers of colour.  In the end, only 8 of the books I read (or 10% were authored or co-authored by writers of colour.  This is lower than in 2019 (when I managed 16%) and it is pitiful. I’m quite ashamed of this and am making a much more conscious effort in 2021 and have already set up a number of WOC authored books for January in a bid to start as I mean to go on.  Some of these books I am very excited about and look forward to sharing.

On the plus side, I exceeded my non-fiction target and managed 35 non-fiction books (or 43%).  I have very much enjoyed my non-fiction reading and have learned a great deal about a wide variety of topics so will definitely be continuing this into 2021.

With this in mind, my reading aspirations for 2021 are as follows:

  • a total reading target of 100.  I will revisit this if/when the pandemic lifts (or not, as the case may be) but for the time being I think I can achieve it.
  • a 50/50 gender split.
  • 20% of the books read to be by or co-written by writers of colour.
  • 40% of the books read to be non-fiction.

I am continuing my tradition of not scheduling regular blog updates.  Long time followers will know that I try to post once or twice a week (Sundays and Wednesdays being the most likely days) but this will always be a personal review blog more than a side-hustle and given the stresses of 2020, I really do not want to be putting any undue pressure on myself in terms of running this blog because it is very much a haven for me.

Saying that, I am running an experiment in 2021 in response to some feedback from readers and have set up some affiliate links to Amazon UK and Bookshop.org UK so that anyone who would like to buy a book based on my review can easily do so.  I will earn commission on anything bought via those links and that commission will go to help offset some of the costs of hosting the blog but obviously, there is zero obligation on readers to use those links!

2021 is actually a big year for me because it marks my 15th anniversary of book review blogging.  For those of you looking askew at this claim, I moved my blog to WordPress back in 2017 but originally started on Live Journal way back in 2006 and I maintain an archive of all my reviews on DreamWidth so anyone interested in seeing how I evolved can check them out.

I have been genuinely surprised by how well (by my own modest standards) this Blog has done on WordPress.  The hit count has continued to grow year on year and I’ve been getting a steady trickle of subscribers.  Given that this is purely a review blog, I’m very happy with that and incredibly grateful to all of you who stop by and take the time to like or comment.

My most popular review in 2020 was A Good Girl’s Guide To Murder by Holly Jackson, which was originally published in October 2019 but I suspect gained popularity after the book hit the New York Times bestseller list.  My most popular 2020 review was Fallen by Benedict Jacka, which really took off in December and I suspect that’s because FORGED was released around the same time and some readers were looking for a catch-up on what had happened before.  (FORGED is actually on my January pile as the series is one of my favourites so I am looking forward to reading it).

ADULT NON-FICTION

Moneyland by Oliver Bullough is a well-researched, easy to follow book that left me incredulous and furious,  setting out how the international finance system (facilitated by Western bankers, accountants and lawyers) permits the rich and the crooked to hide their money while still benefitting from it.  It’s jaw dropping stuff that makes you realise that money conquers all.

The End Of Aspiration by Duncan Exley is a damning, fascinating and thought-provoking book that’s amply supported by statistics and academic studies and uses the anecdotal experience of 16 individuals from a wide range of backgrounds and professions to show how growing inequality and diminishing opportunities for social mobility go hand-in-hand while emphasising the problems faced by those who rise above their background.

Dear Life by Rachel Clarke is a deeply moving memoir that at times had me in tears and which made me reconsider my own attitudes towards dying.  Clarke talks about her journey towards and experiences in end-of-life care and what it’s taught her about life and living, a journey that’s made more poignant by her experiences caring for her father (a GP) who himself developed terminal cancer.

The Econocracy: On The Perils Of Leaving Economics To The Experts by Joe Earle, Cahal Moran and Zach Ward-Perkin is a sobering book that highlights how university economics courses almost exclusively focus on neoclassical economics and modelling, to the detriment of other branches, which means that when a crisis hits, economists are poorly placed to explain why or to realise the impact their policies really have on ordinary people.

Supercharg3d: How 3D Printing Will Drive Your Supply Chain by Len Pannett is the book that, had you asked me at the start of the year, I would not have identified as likely to be on my best reads list but shows how wrong I can be.  It’s a clearly written, easy-to-follow, thoughtful and even-handed look at 3D printing and the advantages and disadvantages that it offers for manufacturing businesses with Pannett using case studies and examples from a number of different industries to illustrate his points.  I came away with a much better understanding of a vitally important topic that is already changing manufacturing.

ADULT FICTION

Nobody Walks by Mick Herron.  If you’re a regular to this Blog then you know that I’m a Mick Herron fan girl anyway but this is an excellent standalone spy thriller, which includes characters from the SLOUGH HOUSE SERIES, offering background on Coe and featuring Ingrid Tearney and Sam Chapman.  The plot twists and turns neatly with Herron setting up strands and returning to them in unexpected ways and there’s a sense of sadness and regret going through the book, together a bleak cynicism such that the open ending doesn’t leave the reader with much reassurance or hope.

Gunnerkrigg Court Volume 1: Orientation by Thomas Siddell was a new-to-me author and series. This is a popular, award-winning comic that has been collected into a delightful volume (the first in a series).  It’s a slow burning story that’s largely there to set-up the overriding story but it combines imaginative fantasy and science fiction with a dry and whimsical sense of humour and an underlying sense of mystery that kept me thoroughly engrossed from beginning to end.

Digger: The Complete Omnibus Edition by Ursula Vernon sees Ursula Vernon’s Hugo-award winning web comic has been compiled into this stunning omnibus that comes with bonus material, including web commentary and a colour supplement.  It’s a great story filled with great characters all told with humour and humanity and in which Vernon skilfully balancing a number of different plot lines and playing with traditional fantasy archetypes and themes.  In short, it’s worth your time and your money.

YOUNG ADULT FICTION

Skulduggery Pleasant – Resurrection by Derek Landy is the 10th book in Derek Landy’s YA fantasy SKULDUGGERY PLEASANT series, which kicks off a new story arc but you do need to have read the previous novels and novellas.  Valkyrie is older and more damaged by her experiences in the previous books but her relationship with Skulduggery remains sharp and entertaining with Landy’s trade mark smart and funny dialogue while Omen is a welcome introduction and I enjoyed his relationship with both Never and Auger.

The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta is a contemporary LGBTQ+ YA novel sensitively illustrated by Anshika Khullar.  It’ a sympathetic coming of age tale that’s beautifully told in verse and which is a touching reflection of the intersectionality issues of being bi-racial and gay in modern Britain and trying to find your own place and identity.  It’s a beautifully written book that I found very moving and I can well understand why it’s on so many YA prize shortlists.

CHILDREN’S FICTION

Death Sets Sail by Robin Stevens is the 9th and final book in Robin Stevens’s MURDER MOST UNLADYLIKE SERIES for children aged 9+ and a suitable send-off to the Wongs and Wells detective duo. We know from the start that one girl won’t survive but their friendship remains front and centre even as they both get some romance and Hazel resolves her relationship with her father and sisters.  I’ll miss this series but am looking forward to new adventures with Hazel’s sister May.

Scavengers by Darren Simpson is a debut dystopian novel for children aged 11+ that’s a clever, sophisticated character piece with many layers to it that advanced readers and adults will equally get a great deal from, not least because it constantly makes you question your assumptions.  This is one of those books that deserves to be on book award shortlists and I look forward to reading Simpson’s next novel.

What We’ll Build by Oliver Jeffers is dedicated to Jeffers’s daughter Mari and Granny Marie and is an utterly charming and emotional story of love and togetherness that’s beautifully illustrated and which I found very moving.  This is the first book by Jeffers that I’ve read but I would definitely check out his other work based on this.

My To Read Pile for 2021 currently stands at a horrific 793.  At the start of the year it was a slightly less horrific 733.  I did manage to stick to my resolution of not taking every ARC and review copy book offered to me in 2020 but this was offset by going a little cray-cray when the bookshops re-opened after lockdown.  Ahem.

The full list is behind the cut and, as always, if there’s anything on there that you’d particularly recommend then please do let me know as I’ll move it up my stack to read it sooner.

Finally, for those of you who regularly check in to my blog, a very big thank you as it is very much appreciated.  I hope that the year has not been too harsh on you and that you and your loved ones are going into 2021 hale and hearty.

THE 2021 TO BE READ PILE OF DOOM!  ABANDON HOPE ALL YE WHO STARE AT IT AND REACT WITH HORROR TO THE DATES OF ACQUISITION, WHICH TESTIFY TO MY DESPAIR!

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2019 In Books And Onwards To 2020

So, my annual round up has rolled around again.  People say things seem to come around quicker as you get older but I gotta say that 2019 has drrraaaaaaaggggged at times.  Also got to say that personally, I am not feeling optimistic for 2020 but, hey, maybe it will surprise me.

I set myself a target of 130 books to read in 2019 and I met that target dead on, although it was a bit touch and go towards the end thanks to Real Life getting in the way.

I wanted 20% of those 130 books to be by Writers of Colour and, disappointingly, I failed for the second year running and read 21 (which is 16%).  This is an improvement on where I was in 2018, when I only managed 12% but still not where I wanted to be in terms of supporting diverse voices.  I can’t even say that it’s down to not looking to pick up books by WOC because I definitely have a lot on my To Be Read Pile both in terms of selecting ARCs and buying them in stores.

Anyway, I think that the solution is to make sure I’m consciously scheduling WOC when I’m working out what I want to read next.  Usually I just pick up the next book that meets my then current fancy but I’m trying to be more ordered this year so I am running a mini stack of books that I pre-select to read in the next month.  This should also mean that I manage my To Be Read Pile more efficiently (when you see what’s on it behind the cut you’ll understand why I want to get a grip on it).

Gender-wise, I wanted a 50/50 split between men and women in 2019 and I broadly hit it.  Of the 130 books I read, 63 were authored/co-authored/edited/co-edited by women, which is 48%.  This is slightly down on 2018 (where I managed 48%) and I think that some of that is because I made a conscious effort to read more non-fiction in 2019 and a lot of that tended to be from men.

I didn’t set a non-fiction target for 2019 other than wanting to read more of it.  In the end 47 of the 130 were non-fiction works (so that’s 36%).  This is an improvement on the 26% I managed in 2018, so I’m pleased with that.

In terms of aspirations for 2020, I’m looking to achieve the following:

  • a total reading target of 130.  I’ve picked this because my commute has changed compared to last year, so it should be achievable while also leaving me some writing time for my personal, non-review projects.
  • a 50/50 gender split.
  • 20% of the books read to be by or co-written by writers of colour.
  • 40% of the books read to be non-fiction.

As with 2019, I’m not going to be scheduling posts here because I don’t want to put pressure on myself in terms of getting reviews done.  This is and remains very much a personal book review blog rather than a ‘side hustle’ and I don’t want it to start feeling like work because I’ve managed to keep my book review blog going since 2006 by making clear it’s my hobby.  Similarly, I’m not going to be switching my focus to any specific genre or market (although long term observers will know that I tend towards crime fiction, thrillers and fantasy).

It’s been 3 years since I moved my blog here to WordPress from Livejournal and my hit count has grown year on year, which is pretty miraculous given I don’t do a lot to promote it and I don’t do any of the interviews, competitions or other content that harder working people in the book review community do.  Although I do suspect that some of that hit count was from a DOS attack on WordPress over the summer …

My most popular review of 2019 in terms of hits was actually an old one from 2017 – Need To Know by Karen Cleveland.  My most popular review from 2019 was The Dark Days Deceit by Alison Goodman (it’s the conclusion to a well done YA historical fantasy if you’re interested).

I’ve set out my favourite books of 2019 below (in no particular order):

NON-FICTION:

The Secret Barrister: Stories Of The Law And How It Is Broken is a passionate, clearly written and damning book that is essential reading for anyone who cares about the United Kingdom they set out how the English criminal legal system should work and why it is going so drastically wrong.

Heimat: A German Family Album by Nora Krug is a beautifully illustrated graphic memoir (which mixes Krugg’s drawings with photographs), in which she examines who she is as a German-American and comes to terms with her attitude to Germany’s recent history by seeking to learn more about the lives of her grandparents under Nazi rule and the role they played in the regime.

Chernobyl: History Of A Tragedy by Serhii Plokhy is a horrifying, moving and meticulously researched book (winner of the Baillie Gifford Prize in 2018 for non-fiction), that depicts the events surrounding the explosion of the No 4 reactor at Chernobyl on 26 April 1986 and the cover up and clear up that followed while going onto explain how it contributed to the collapse of the Soviet Union.

ADULT FICTION:

The Spy Who Came In From The Cold by John Le Carré.  There’s a reason why this book is viewed as a classic in the spy thriller genre. It’s the third in John Le Carré’s GEORGE SMILEY SERIES (a follow-up to CALL FOR THE DEAD) and although Smiley is very much in a minor (albeit critical) supporting role that doesn’t matter because this ice-cold, ruthless, brutal spy thriller novel is an exquisitely plotted affair about treachery and counter-espionage and how lives become disposable to those in power when it suits their interests.

YOUNG ADULT BOOKS:

Teen Pioneers – Young People Who Have Changed The World by Ben Hubbard is an inspirational YA non-fiction book, consisting of mini biographies for 21 people who were all teenagers when they acted to try and change the world. Some you may have heard of, e.g. Nobel Prize winner Malala Yousafzai and the Hong Kong activist, Joshua Wong, and others you will hear more of in the future. It’s the perfect book to wave at any grown-up who dares to complain about young people lacking motivation and seeking to take all the time and it honestly gave me some hope for the future.

CHILDREN’S BOOKS (9 – 12):

The Dog Who Saved The World by Ross Welford is an utterly delightful SF book that takes a dog-mad protagonist to a grim future.  The world building is great, Welford makes some excellent points about privilege and refugees and features an interesting morally ambivalent side character who will make you think.  Welford is one of my favourite children’s authors and this book is worth your time (even if you don’t have children!).

Death In The Spotlight by Robin Stevens is the 7th in this on-going murder mystery series and another well-plotted mystery filled with some devilish twists and great character development for Daisy and Hazel.  I especially liked a key revelation about Daisy and her sexuality (which Stevens does well to contextualise in the time) but Hazel also gains a lot of confidence and self-awareness and I welcomes seeing Alexander and George again.  Again, this is one of those series that is worth your time even if you don’t have kids in the target age group – there has not been a duff book in it and they’re genuinely good mysteries that are perfect if you already like the Golden Age detective authors like Christie or Sayers.

The Land Of Roar by Jenny McLachlan is a middle grade fantasy novel that’s gorgeously illustrated by Ben Mantle and the first of a duology (the sequel to which is due out in 2020).  It’s a stunningly good read – moving, funny and with a lot to say about facing your fears, embracing the power of imagination and the destructive need to be cool with the ‘in crowd’.  It tips its hat at the Narnia and Peter Pan tradition, while updating it for a more tech savvy and less gender stereotyped readership.

My To Be Read Pile now stands at a hideously horrifying 733.  At the beginning of 2019 it was 570.

My name is Caroline Hooton, and I have a book acquisition problem.  Someone please help me.  Please.

I don’t do resolutions, but one of my ‘things’ for 2020 is that I’m going to try not to take every book offered to me for review and to steer clear of bookshops so that I’m not indulging in my book buying habit (which did spiral out of control towards the end of 2019) – some women buy handbags and shoes when they’re stressed; I go on book buying binges.

The full list is behind the cut for anyone interested and, as always, if there’s anything on there that you particularly recommend then please do let me know and I will move it up my list.

Finally, I wanted to say thank you to everyone who’s checked out this blog over 2019 or liked or left a comment and my very best wishes to all of you for 2020.

THE 2020 TO BE READ PILE OF DOOM! (COMPLETE WITH DATES OF ACQUISITION SO YOU CAN BEHOLD THE FULL HORROR)

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2018 In Books And Onwards To 2019

2018 was an emotional rollercoaster for me.  I don’t use this blog to talk about my personal life (and no doubt it would bore the pants off people here if I did) but let’s just say that my one take-away from 2018 is that nothing is forever, never ever say never and take your chances where you find them.

So with that trite lifeism out of the way, I’ll get to the good stuff.

I set myself a target of 125 books to read in 2018 and I actually beat that with 127 (full list is here).  I wanted 20% of the books I read in 2018 to be non-fiction and in the end, I hit 34 in total (so that’s 26%).  I am seriously starting to get into non-fiction, especially politics and social policy and 6 of my books of the year are non-fiction so you can definitely expect to see more of it on my blog in 2019.

I was less successful in reading writers of colour (WOC).  I’d set myself a target of 20% of my list to be WOC but in the end only 16 of the books I read were by WOC (so that’s 12%).  I’m disappointed in myself about that but I did search out more WOC for my To Read Pile and I definitely want to make that 20% target this year.

Gender wise my list was evenly split again – 49% by women and 51% men.  It’s relatively easy to hit that as a target though because I read a lot of children’s and YA and it tends to be female author driven.

Aspirations for 2019 reading wise is to keep with the thrillers and crime novels as I am still working on one in real life and they help me to think about structure, plot and character.  I’m looking at reading 20% of books by WOC and 50/50 male/female.

Because this remains a personal review blog, I’m not going to be scheduling posts and I’m not going to focus on any particular genre or market.  I do appreciate everyone who stops by the blog and many thanks to those of you who have liked my posts or left a comment.

I’ve set out below my favourite books of 2018 (in no particular order):

NON-FICTION

In Pursuit Of Memory: The Fight Against Alzheimer’s by Joseph Jebelli – this is a fascinating if at times awful and depressing read about Alzheimer’s and how we’re working towards a treatment for it.

Refuge: Transforming A Broken Refugee System by Alexander Betts and Paul Collier – given how often we see refugees dominating the news cycle, this is a timely and compassionate book about how the refugee system works, the political compromises that have contributed to the crises and looks at a potential way of reforming the international system.

The Gender Games by Juno Dawson – this is a fascinating and thought-provoking book that’s part memoir and part sharp critique on society’s roles on gender and which is hilariously funny and sharply observed.

The Broken Ladder: How Inequality Changes The Way We Think, Live And Die by Keith Payne – is an eye-opening must-read about the social psychology of poverty and income and how it impacts on inequality and discrimination and frankly, if Barack Obama has it down as one of his books of the year, then really who am I to argue?

 

CHILDREN’S BOOKS (9 – 12)

A Spoonful Of Murder by Robin Stevens – the Wells and Wong mystery series just gets better and better with this book seeing the detective duo head for Hong Kong when Hazel’s grandfather dies and Daisy discovering that, for once, she’s not the most important person in town …

The Legend Of Kevin by Philip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre – just really tickled me.  It’s a lovely, simple story of the friendship between a young boy and a flying horse but there’s some great humour, the illustrations are fabulous and the sea monkeys are really very naughty indeed.

What Is Race? Who Are Racists? Why Does Skin Colour Matter? And Other Big Questions by Claire Heuchan & Nikesh Shukla – confronts questions of racism, difference and racists straight on in an easy-to-understand way that doesn’t talk down to the reader and doesn’t avoid hard questions while adding personal experiences that help build empathy and understanding.

 

ADULT FICTION

London Rules by Mick Herron – I am a massive fan of the SLOUGH HOUSE SERIES anyway and this latest instalment is another hilarious and sharply plotted affair about MI5’s embarrassments and how they are each trying to deal with the fallout from the previous book.

The Seven Deaths Of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton – is a brilliantly plotted mash-up of QUANTUM LEAP, GROUNDHOG DAY and Golden Age Detective fiction that kept me thinking long after I finished it.

 

YOUNG ADULT BOOKS

The 57 Bus: A True Story Of Two Teenagers And The Crime That Changed Their Lives by Dashka Slater – is an astounding non-fiction book about a real-life crime that looks at both victim and perpetrator with huge empathy and respect.

My To Read Pile for 2019 stands at a horrifying 570 (for reference, I started 2018 with 416).  I am going to cut down what I add to it during this year because I need to get it under control – I’m already almost out of shelf space and am reduced to piling them up around the house.  Anyway, full list is behind the cut for those interested and if there’s anything you specifically recommend then let me know and I’ll move it up the list.

Thank you again for reading and best wishes to you all for 2019.

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2017 In Books And Onwards To 2018

I don’t tend to do much “normal” blogging on this site because I figure it’s easier to just keep it to reviews but also because, if I’m being honest, I’m not convinced anyone’s really interested in reading my blathering on.  However, I’ve seen a number of book reviewers whose blogs I follow do a 2017 round up and thought it might be interesting to do the same.

I  had set myself a target of reading 150 books in 2017 and actually managed 152 – the most I’ve ever read in a single year.  The full list is here if anyone’s interested in checking it out.  The vast majority of books have been thrillers (58 of my reviews in total) – mainly because one of my “things” (I don’t do resolutions) for 2018 is to try and write a thriller of my own.  I wanted to read more non-fiction in 2017 and I succeeded in that (24 books read – so almost 16%) and I have found that very beneficial – exposing me to new ideas, theories and bits of information that I’d never normally have been drawn to and, at times discovering that sometimes the truth is indeed more fascinating and stranger than fiction.  Of the books I read, 76 were by female writers (so 50%) and 16 by writers of colour (so about 10.5%) – those aren’t bad statistics, but I’m aware that I can improve on that – particularly for writers of colour as I really need to read more diversely.

I’ve been very fortunate to benefit from being a member of the Amazon Vine Programme (119 of the books I read came courtesy of that) but I’ve also benefited from the kind folk at Faber & Faber, Scholastic, Shrine Bell, Simon & Schuster and Walker Books.  Many thanks to the PR and marketing people at all of them for thinking of me.

There’s a lot of on-line rumour about what Amazon is going to do with the UK Vine programme going forward (indeed 2017 was dogged by rumours that it was about to end at any moment).  I can’t complain if it does – I have had a very good run there and am grateful for the opportunities it’s given me – plus, it may well be better for me if it does finish because I have a massive To Read Pile for 2018 that I really need to make some inroads on (I’m not even joking about that – I’ve hidden the list behind a jump cut because it’s at the point where I’m quite ashamed about how out of control it is).

I moved my blog to WordPress from Livejournal at the end of 2017 (with a complete back up of my posts sitting on my Dreamwidth account) and didn’t really expect to get much in the way of traction.  This has always been a personal review blog that reflects whatever I want to read at a particular time so it’s a bit of a pot pourri of genres and markets when the trend in book blogging seems to be to focus on one or two particular genres.  Plus I don’t do scheduled review posts – fitting them in during my spare time so there may be a week between some posts and sometimes there’ll be several posts on the same day.  Anyway, I’ve been surprised and very pleased to see that a number of people have got enough of an interest in it to follow so hello and thank you to all 29 of you who have subscribed and another hello and thank you to the 1,664 visitors who have checked out the site at some point during 2017.  Many thanks as well to those who have taken the time to comment.

In terms of my favourite books of 2017, I’ve set out the ones I rated the most highly below:

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An All New And Shiny Review Blog

Thanks to Livejournal opting to locate its servers to Russia, I’ve decided to move the review blog that I’ve been running since January 2006 to WordPress and Dreamwidth.

The original LJ blog with all the links and master lists can still be found on Livejournal at http://quippe.livejournal.com or alternatively at Dreamwidth on Quippe.  Due to issues with trying to import my LJ to WordPress, I’ll be updating on Dreamwidth and cross-posting here.