In 2014, I challenged myself to track my reading, then last year I upped the difficulty and challenged myself to read more diverse books. I wanted to find great stories with characters who weren’t all white, able-bodied, heterosexuals. Half way through 2016, I realized hunting for books had started to take more of my time than reading books. Worse, in a tumultuous year, instead of being an escape, reading became a source of frustration.

Eager to get back to the way it had been, I let my goals go and started to read whatever struck me. I found some real gems, but also abandoned many, many books along the way. I’ve become addicted to the Kindle sample, a free selection from the beginning of a Kindle book, usually about three chapters long. If the book hooks me in those three chapters, I’m happy to buy a copy. If I have no idea where the story is going, or I’m already finding things to pick at, I move on.

Which explains why my reading is at an all time low this year: only 31 novels finished. (I also moved three times, started a new job, and dealt with some serious health stuff, but I’m blaming the samples). I did find a few things I loved though, and here’s my top five:

I devoured the Ellie Jordan Ghost Trapper series over a few months this spring. They seem to come out fairly regularly, twice a year. I was delighted to pick up the story again with the eighth book, The Keeper, in December. There’s an undercurrent of family drama in this one, and a couple of powerful scary ghosts, along with some heartbreak for our heroine. As always, the minute I finish one of these books I want to read another.

Whispers Beyond the Veil by Jessica Estevao, was a random Amazon suggestion that turned out to be a fun mystery. Set in New England around 1898, the author didn’t flinch from portraying the good and the bad of the time period. The main character is intriguing as well, a young woman gifted with spiritualist powers, but raised by her con-artist father. The mystery takes place in a beach side hotel filled with mediums, spiritualists, tarot card readers, and more. The turn of the century is one of my favorite time periods, so I’m hoping the author follows up with more.

Stumptown Spirits (Legend Tripping #1) by E.J. Russell was my first full length male-male romance. I’m kicking myself for not crossing the aisles and reading gay romance before. The story was amazing. The characters were complex. The ghosts were unique. This book was everything I wanted in a paranormal romance. I bought the second book in the series and finished it less than 24 hours after I closed the first one.

The Uninvited by Cat Winters was the spookiest, creepiest book I read this year, with a curve-ball I completely didn’t see coming. The heroine has always seen ghosts, but over the course of the story her gift forces her to confront the monsters in her family and the town she loves. Strong plot elements of rampant patriotism and citizens being killed for being the wrong type of people (in this case Germans in 1918) echoed the events around me, making it even scarier. It’s a YA novel, so there wasn’t any gore, just ideas and actions that made me wince.

I searched for most of May and June for a book with a cowboy, some thrills, and a touch of romance. I finally found it in December with  Love on the Sweet Side by Mariah Ankenman. This book kept my interest even without ghosts, witches, or vampires! The romance stayed sweet and didn’t turn into a cliché. The crimes and dramatic moments weren’t forced, they made sense for the story.  It’s the kind of book I’d give to a friend getting over a break up – fun, well written, and with enough tension to keep things interesting. It helped that the heroine ran a bakery and talked about her amazing cupcakes throughout the story. Yum! I wish the author had included recipes.

I’ve been invited to join a number of reading challenges this year. I’ve expanded my social network and the new geek girls in my life all read amazing things. I’m not sure what I’ll pick, but I suspect my numbers will go up in 2017. At least, I hope they will.