Saturday, December 27, 2014

WIP Marathon December Update

Things I'm glad I did in 2014:

Most of the things I did in 2014 were little things--progress, but not huge leaps. It's hard to pick things out individually. I continued to put together an organized draft of the WIP and wrote a bunch of new scenes, many of which will have to be rewritten. I continued a very productive and encouraging CP relationship with Ifeoma. I became a lot closer to RL friends. I am surviving med school. My roommate brought her cat to live with us and I learned to cook some new things. I read a handful of books I really liked and a lot of books I couldn't really get into.

In 2015, I'd love to:

-Finish and revise the WIP
-Start querying this summer or fall
-Start writing Book 2 (not gonna lie, the main reason I want to publish Book 1 is that it gives me an excuse to write Book 2)
-Read books I'm excited about

***

Last check-in: Decided to put chapter 25 on hiatus (85,931 words)

Currently: Found an old version of a chapter 25 scene (not the one I was having trouble with). It will need revisions, but it will help a lot in writing the new version. Wrote chapter 26 (then added some edit notes). Revised chapter 27. Revised the first scene of chapter 28, then came up with am editing plan for the second scene. Revised the first scene of chapter 29 and wrote the second scene. Revised chapters 30. Revised chapter 31, then added some edit notes for further scenes. Started writing new scenes for chapter 32.

Current word count = 105,580 words

WIP issues this month:

As you can see from above, a lot of these scenes have already been written, which was why I was able to make such good progress. I'm finally on Part Three, which is where the plot really takes off.

One of the biggest issues right now is the word count. I have about ten more chapters to write, and it's already over 100,000 words. The worst part is that I keep on getting more ideas for scenes to write. (Like "My protagonist should take a more active role. I'll write a scene where she does that." or "This secondary character's family and backstory is completely underexplored and probably not very believable. I should fix that.") I haven't yet written either of the scenes in question, but I strongly intend to do so.

I've also been trying to think of ways to cut down or replace earlier scenes, so that I can get maximal use out of my word count.

Things I learned in writing this month:

1. Do you ever have that problem where you don't want your character to know something right away, so you figure out 100 different ways to delay an important conversation? This can work, but sometimes it just makes more sense for them to sit down and have the conversation. See where it goes.

2. A lack of female characters is always a choice

3. I had a really frustrating conversation with a friend about book piracy. I'm not going to get into the discussion because it makes me really angry, but I basically had to explain to him that no, authors do not benefit from illegal downloading. (Beth Revis had some really good things to say about this.) If you can't afford a book, go to the library. If you think the mainstream publishing industry is corrupt and you don't want to support it, there are a million indie authors and small publishers you could support instead. If you illegally download a book, the only person you are supporting is the lazy fuck who is earning advertising dollars on other people's hard work. (And don't even get me started on people who illegally download self-published books. Leigh Ann Kopans once tweeted something along the lines of "Guys, my book is cheaper than a latte.")

What distracted me this month:

An exam, a weekend retreat with some friends, spending time with friends and family in St. Louis.

Books this month:

-completed:
   *hangs head in shame*
-started:
   The Lowlands (audio)
-still reading:
   Arclight (I'm only 30 pages away from the end)
   The Twistrose Key

Goal for next month: Finish the first draft

Saturday, December 13, 2014

2015 Books

I've been having trouble getting into books these last few months, and today it finally occurred to me that the problem might not be me--maybe it's the books. I looked over my list of 2014 books, and realized that out of all 28 books I read, there were only five that I loved. (The Bitter Kingdom, Vicious, The Night Circus, Born Wicked, and an unpublished WIP I critiqued) There were a few others that I liked, but when it comes to books, I want to get excited about them.

So this is what I'm going to do. In the next month, I'm going to finish Arclight and The Twistrose Key. Then, in 2015, I'm going to read books I'm excited about. Here is my list:

Books I already own:

SOME GIRLS ARE - finished!
CHARM AND STRANGE - finished!
DARK PLACES - finished!
THE DIRTY STREETS OF HEAVEN - finished!
SORROW'S KNOT - finished!
FEED

Books to buy/obtain from library:

WE WERE LIARS - finished!
THE ARCHIVED - changed to A DARKER SHADE OF MAGIC, b/c it sounds awesome - finished!
BLUE LILY, LILY BLUE - finished!
STAR CURSED - finished!
POINTE - finished!
PANTOMIME - finished!
OTHERBOUND - finished!
SERAPHINA - finished!
WILD AWAKE - finished!
IN THE SHADOW OF BLACKBIRDS - finished! (audio)
THE OCEAN AT THE END OF THE LANE - finished! (audio)
FALLING INTO PLACE - bought!
FIENDISH
ETA: THE GIRL WHO NAVIGATED FAIRYLAND IN A SHIP OF HER OWN MAKING  - bought!

Books that are coming out in 2015:

UNDER A PAINTED SKY - finished!
PLEASE DON'T TELL - coming out in 2016
MADE YOU UP - finished!
NONE OF THE ABOVE
WATCH THE SKY
BLACK DOVE, WHITE RAVEN - currently reading
ETA: WALK ON EARTH A STRANGER - bought!

Also, I'm going to add a couple of books that are receiving major hype that I can use for Summary Reactions posts:

AN EMBER IN THE ASHES - finished!
RED QUEEN - finished!

That's 28 books, so I'm confident I can get finish them all in a year and hopefully still have room for other books.

Edit: Apparently, some of my friends are doing a book/movie club, so I get to add more to the list.

Book Club 2015:

THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES - finished!

Edit: Other books I've decided to read.

Other Books:

THE LOWLANDS (audiobook) - finished!
GONE GIRL (so I can read blog posts about it without being spoiled) - DNF (had to return to library)
THE CASUAL VACANCY (audiobook) - DNF (boring)
A PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY (audiobook) - finished!
THE SECOND MANGO - Shira Glassman - finished!

Sunday, November 30, 2014

WIP Marathon November Update

Last check-in: Finished chapters 22 and 24 (84,321 words)

Currently: Working on chapter 25 (1610 words, including outline notes)

Current word count = 85,931 words

WIP issues this month (& things I learned & what distracted me):

Warning: This is going to get long.

This month went horribly, writing-wise. I only wrote 6 days this month, and on those days I barely got anything done.

There were a lot of things that got in the way of writing.

1) Busy month
   Week 1: no major distractions
   Week 2: exam week
   Week 3: friend in town
   Week 4: in St. Louis for Thanksgiving

2) I was sick during weeks 3 and 4.

3) Mood: I haven't felt at all invested in writing. (And not just in writing. I haven't felt invested in anything I've read lately either. Or in blogging, for that matter.) I can't even blame it on a lack of energy, because that's not the problem.

4) I hate this chapter.

I knew going into chapter 25 that it would be a difficult chapter and that it would not be fun to write. (Well, okay, a part of it was fun to write, but after that, my inspiration died.) But I figured I would get through it the same way I get through other difficult scenes: by making it as easy as possible.

Yael Itamar's Strategies for Making Writing Easy:
-outline the scene ahead of time
-write in short bursts
-if you're stuck, figure out exactly why you're stuck - then troubleshoot
-if you're unsure about details, fill them in later
-if that isn't enough, add wine

Usually, that strategy will take me to a point where, after 2-4 writing sessions, the inspiration will hit and the ball will get rolling on it's own. But my usual strategies weren't working for this scene. The outline didn't help much, I was only able to write about 100-200 words at a time, and I didn't want to drink a lot of alcohol while I was sick.

There are a lot of reasons why this chapter has been particularly difficult:

1) It involves speeches. I'm sure all of you have heard enough speeches in your life to know that 90% of them are loaded with flowery bullshit. Luckily, neither of these speeches are very long, but they're still boring to write.

2) Setting the scene. This is definitely my weakest point as a writer.

3) The POV character: Itoban (my only male POV character) is basically the Sansa Stark of my book, in that he doesn't do a whole lot, but is mostly there as an observer. (Note: No, I didn't do this on purpose. It just kind of happened.) He absolutely has his reasons for being in the novel, as well as reasons for being a POV character, but the lack of him doing much means there's more space to fill.

4) There are a lot of characters in this scene, doing and saying various things. It's a lot to organize.

5) You learn a lot of little details about characters as you write. In this scene, I learned about Itoban's "unofficial arrangement" with the city's baker. (That was the fun part!) I learned that Olivia plays the violin to calm herself before a public appearance. I learned that Katil usually insists on writing her own speeches, but that Advisor Gevante insists on hearing it ahead of time so he can make necessary changes. I learned that Forrest and Itoban have a secret game where they try to guess which of them wrote different parts of the speech. The thing about the little details is that while they enrich the writing, it's also sometimes a challenge of figuring out where they fit.

6) The main reason, however, that this scene is difficult is that I feel like it's repetitive. The city's residents are going to express the same concerns that Katil, Olivia, and the Takiran Council have already discussed and argued about a hundred times over.

I have already mentioned that Part Two of my novel is split into two threads. The first thread was relatively easy to write. It's set in our world, not the magical world, which means a lot less worldbuilding. Better yet, it consists almost entirely of characters gossiping and fighting with each other, which is a lot of fun to write. A few scenes into Part Two, I decided that I would write the first thread first, since I knew it would be much easier. When I started the latest revision of the novel, most of those scenes were already written.

The second thread, which is where this chapter belongs, is much more difficult, and a lot less fun. It has more worldbuilding and very little plot. And as I mentioned earlier, it feels static and repetitive. Many of these scenes didn't exist until this revision, so I guess I can forgive myself since it's essentially a first draft. But what I'm starting to realize is that until I figure out the best way to write the second thread, I don't think I can do this scene justice.

So I'm going to put chapter 25 aside for now and move on to chapter 26 (which is part of the first thread, and the last chapter before the two threads merge).

Books this month:

-completed:
   The Thief (audio) - It's good. I'll should post my review soon.
   Shameless - I recommend it if you're looking for sexy, feminist-friendly NA
-started:
   Arclight
-still reading:
   The Twistrose Key

Goal for next month: Finish Part Two and start Part Three!

Saturday, November 1, 2014

New Adult Recommendation: Shameless, by Nina Lemay


“You don’t have enormous fake tits,” he says. “I hate enormous fake tits. If you’re gonna do that at least be subtle, a D or a double D. Who do they think they’re attracting anyway?”

I don’t answer. I know if I open my mouth something totally unacceptable will come out.

“But you’d never do something like that to your body,” he says, an affirmation more than a question. I know exactly what he expects me to say, what role he wants me to play: it’s Stripper with a Heart of Gold Monday for him. Usually I have no trouble keeping up. Usually this is the moment when we cross the threshold from one or two dances to the half-hour, the hour, with a big tip at the end.

 But I just can’t bring myself to say it. “No,” I finally mutter.

It’s more than enough for him. “Of course you wouldn’t. You’re better than that. You’re going somewhere, you won’t be dancing here till you’re forty-five, right?”

Well, you’re well over that threshold and you’re still coming here, I think, but wisely keep my mouth shut.

***

I should start off this review by saying that I'm not a big romance reader. It's really hard for me to get invested in a book where most of the plot centers on whether or not two people decide to have a future together. That was why it took me so long to get through this book.

But was it a good book? Absolutely. The two main characters were well-developed, I loved Hannah's honest and occasionally snarky voice, and there were many quotable moments (see above quote). I also appreciated how certain topics--sex work, slut-shaming, power imbalance in a relationship, rape--were carefully explored. It was good to see stripping presented as a valid part-time job, but at the same time, it wasn't glamorized. And I loved how this was ultimately a story of female empowerment.

Also, if you're looking for a New Adult novel that doesn't center on a borderline-abusive relationship, I can recommend Shameless for two reasons a) Emmanuel is actually a very respectful love interest, b) but at the same time, he isn't a paragon of moral virtue or a knight in shining armor. He does occasionally say things that he has no right to say, and he's not above giving Hannah special treatment as a student. So yes, the relationship has flaws, but they aren't brushed under the rug for the sake of wish fulfillment. They are brought into the open and discussed.

Also, the sex scenes felt believable.

If I had to point out a flaw in the story, it would probably be the secondary characters since most of them came out flat.

But overall, I would definitely recommend this novel to anyone looking for a great NA romance.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

New Adult Recommendation: Made of Stars


I read Kelley York's Hushed two years ago and liked it a lot, so when a blogger acquaintance of mine reviewed Made of Stars, it reminded me that I'd been planning to read this one too.

I love the way Kelley York writes complicated, nuanced characters and relationships. I loved everything about Chance--his spontaneity and impulsiveness, his compulsive lying tendencies, the way he loved the Jackson family and they loved him back despite everything. I also liked how Hunter, Ashlyn, and Rachael the other characters had very distinct and relatable personalities. Ashlyn's the conflict-resolver, while Hunter is more of an uncertain people-pleaser. Rachael is a bit of a control freak, but I appreciated how she wasn't completely villainized for this, and that Hunter was equally to blame for the failings in their relationship.

The romance was beautifully done, and that's a huge compliment coming from me.

I have mixed feelings about the ending. I loved that it was bittersweet and that it left things a little bit ambiguous. However, I don't know that I would call the ending "satisfying."

Stylistically, my only complaint is that Ashlyn and Hunter's voices sounded identical.

Overall, I highly recommend this novel, and I am most definitely adding Kelley York to my "automatic buy" list.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

WIP Marathon October Update

Last two check-ins: Finished chapters 19-21 and 23. Working on chapter 22. Outlined chapter 24. (word count = 77,928)

Currently: Finished chapters 22 and 24.

Current word count = 84,321

WIP issues this month:

I’m not happy with one of my chapter 22 scenes. The first half of the scene involves a conversation between two of my characters, and it didn’t quite go where I wanted it to go. A conversation that should have been thoughtful and interesting is instead completely weighed down with my character’s self-doubt and uncertainty. It’s boring and disappointing. I was hoping this would be a good scene for character development, but instead it feels like character regression. A few chapters ago, the character was on the fence about a major life decision that affected both her and the world around her. In her previous chapter, she finally made that decision, but in this chapter she’s back on the indecision fence, and it’s slowing down the narrative.

I need to re-write the scene from a different perspective. Instead of “What am I doing here? I feel like a fraud,” it needs to be “Well, I’m here. A lot of people think I don’t belong here, and maybe they’re right, but I’m here for a reason and I need to figure out what that is.” Yes, this character is self-conscious and sometimes naive, but she is also hard-working, intelligent, and curious and I need to show that, too.

Things I learned in writing this month:

1. Training scenes are a necessary evil, but still need to be done well. A training scene should never be just a training scene. They’re a great way for characters to get to know each other. They’re a very good way to introduce and develop mentor figures. These scenes can also be used to introduce worldbuilding details and backstory. If possible, they can also be used to further the plot.

I currently have three characters who are learning to use new types of magic, which means lots of training scenes. I’m trying to make the most of them.

2. It’s good to put brief reminders in your story so that readers don’t forget what happened 10+ chapters ago, especially when you're weaving together 4-5 different plotlines.

3. I’m currently listening to Megan Whalen Turner’s The Thief, and yesterday I had a thought: imagine if the protagonist were female. The answer: I literally can’t. The main character is a brat who spends about two thirds of the book whining about food, and I could never, ever imagine a neurotypical female teenager acting that way. It’s not even a question of likeability—it’s just something I have trouble picturing. I don’t want to be one of those people who holds female characters to different standards, but there are some biases even I have trouble shaking.

What distracted me this month:

-a very difficult exam
-family in town for a weekend
-making my Halloween costume from scratch
-spent all of yesterday supporting two friends who are training for the World’s Toughest Mudder
-books completed:
     Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (audio) – overrated
     Entangled – decent, but hard to get into
     Made of Stars – liked it a lot (will review soon)
-books started:
     A Plague of Doves (audio) – loved the writing style, but I stopped listening when the second narrator came on
     The Thief (audio) – the characters are distinct and memorable, the worldbuilding is well thought-through, but I have yet to be blown away; also, the protagonist is a dumb, whiny brat, but not without endearing qualities
     The Twistrose Key – beautifully-written middle grade
-still reading:
     Shameless – books that center on a romance just aren’t my thing
-watching: various shows (note: How to Get Away with Murder is awesome and everyone should watch it)

Goal for next month: finish chapters 25-27

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Book Review: Entangled, by Amy Rose Capetta


Entangled had a lot of cool elements: space, music, entanglement, interesting characters, strong themes of connection.

However, I don't feel like I appreciated this book as much as I should have. I tuned out a lot, and there were some things I had difficulty picturing. This was probably more my fault than the book's, but I wouldn't be able to honestly review this book without pointing that out.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Book Review: Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children


It took a long time for the plot to get going, but afterwards, it was okay. The time loop stuff was cool.

I expected to be much more impressed with this book than I was. It had a very middle-grade feel, and although that isn't a bad thing, this book would probably appeal more to those who appreciate MG more than I do.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

WIP Marathon September Update

Last check-in: Finished chapters 19 and 21. Working on chapter 20. (word count = 72,117)

Currently: Finished chapter 20. Wrote a new scene for chapter 22, and started another. Finished chapter 23 (which was already more-or-less finished). ETA: Just outlined a new scene for chapter 24.

Current word count = 77,928

WIP issues this month: I was mildly bored with some of the chapter 20 scenes. In future drafts, I think I’ll try to cut or shorten these scenes. Also, one of them involves a surgery. I haven’t seen many surgeries, so I don’t remember the details too well. It was also difficult to write, since Takiran surgery is very different from what you would see in Western medicine (involves magic, less technical, much more invasive). I might take this scene out, as I’m not sure how much it would appeal to readers who aren’t morbid like me.

I’m currently working on the second scene of chapter 22. This is going to be a long scene, so I’m still in the process of organizing it. In the early part of this scene, one of my protagonists is learning how to shapeshift, and I’m wondering if this is one of those situations where she should be self-conscious about her appearance. She’s a teenager from modern America, and while she isn’t unhealthily overweight, she is chubby. She is also currently living in a fantasy world where, due to both lifestyle and probably some genetic factors, the vast majority of people are not chubby. I don’t want this to be a major source of angst for her (she has a million more important things to worry about), but realistically, it probably isn't something I should ignore. Yes, people would notice her weight. Yes, there would be microaggressions. I’m just trying to figure out a good balance.

Things I learned in writing this month:

1. I'm still slowly discovering things about some of my secondary characters.

2. I’ve started keeping a calendar and marking down every day I wrote this month (12 days, so far). This has been really helpful for keeping myself accountable, and it’s also good for motivation purposes. Most of my writing sessions this month have been short (less than 1000 words), but overall, I feel like I’m making more progress and that the writing is coming out more easily. (I also went back and marked down every day I wrote last month – 7 days.)

3. I was really glad to see that #10morewords helped some people along. (It helped me start a scene that I wasn't sure how to write.) If anyone wants to do another round, hit me up.

4. There are some things that belong in books and some things that belong online as free, fun bonus content. I was really annoyed when the first 100 pages of a book I was reading consisted of the characters reading poorly-written fanfiction written about themselves. Was it amusing? Mildly. But when I'm paying for a book and taking time out of my day to read it, what I want is story. Silliness is fine in moderation, but if 50 pages pass by without the plot moving forward, it's probably not the best time for bad fanfic.

What distracted me this month:

I had my first exam at the beginning of the month. I had to submit a poster and an abstract for our university's research showcase, and it took a lot longer to prepare those than I expected. Then I was sick for a week, but I actually got a decent amount of writing done since I wasn't going to class. I am currently behind in microbiology, though. I am also in St. Louis this weekend.

I didn't get much reading done this month. I only finished one book, A Vault of Sins, and didn't like it up until the last fifty pages (see #4). I'm slowly making my way through Shameless (Nina Lemay) and Entangled (Amy Rose Capetta). I like Shameless, and Entangled is okay, but I haven't reached the point where I feel like reading more than a couple chapters at a time. I'm also listening to Mrs. Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, and while it's not bad, I'm a little disappointed by it. I've also been watching a couple of "meh" TV shows, mostly for the sake of giving my brain time to veg.

Goal for next month: I actually plotted out how long it's been taking me to finish each chapter, and then let Excel do some calculations (number crunching and planning give me a weird sense of control, even if I never actually follow through on my plans). According to my graph, I should finish chapters 22, 24, and 25 by the next check-in (3 new scenes).



Thursday, September 18, 2014

Book Review: A Vault of Sins, by Sarah Harian

Book #2 in the Chaos Theory series

This book was a mess. The first half of it had no plot, and basically consisted of useless dream sequences and the characters reading bad fanfiction about themselves. It's the type of thing that might have been cute or funny in online bonus content, but not the sort of thing people actually pay money to read.

Around halfway through the novel, the plot actually started happening, although that part mostly consisted of sex and kissing, and the novel still left much to be desired up until the last fifty pages. The last fifty pages was where all the action was crammed in, and it's the only part of the novel I would actually consider good.

The ending of the novel made it clear that there will be a third book in the series, but I doubt I'm going to pick it up. The half-revealed conspiracy theories aren't impressing me that much, and I'm too pissed at being dragged through 100 pages of bad fanfiction that I'm almost too spiteful to buy another book in this series. (If I do decide to pick up the third book, it will be for no reason other than me wanting to see Valerie have a happy ending.)

Saturday, September 6, 2014

10 More Words

I need writing motivation, so I came up with an idea for a game. It's called 10 More Words. Here's how it works.

1. On Twitter, tag three people.

2. Those three people have to immediately open their documents and add 10 more words. (Note: If you have an exam tomorrow or a crying baby in the other room, you can interpret "immediately" somewhat loosely.)

3. Those people then tag 3 other people.

(Yes, I realize that this game is probably a joke for people who regularly write 500-1000 words a day, but alas, I'm not one of you.)

(Oh, and people are allowed to be tagged more than once. Unless, of course, they don't want to be tagged.)

Saturday, August 30, 2014

WIP Marathon August Check-In

*checks feed reader* What? Today is a WIP Marathon day? Okay, um, let's see.

Last check-in: Working on chapter 19 (66,783 words)

Currently: Finished chapter 19, minus one scene. Copy-pasted some scenes into chapters 20 and 21. Chapter 21 is more-or-less complete, but chapter 20 needs 2-3 new scenes that I haven't written yet.

Current word count = 72,117

WIP issues this month:

There was virtually no new writing this month. All of my progress involved copy-paste with some minor line edits. I know which scenes I need to write, but I haven't quite given myself the time and the push to sit down and write them.

What I learned this month:

1. I finally worked up the courage to ask my grad student friend about what a therapy session would look like. There are a few scenes in the story where my character is forced to see a psychologist, but I wasn't sure I actually knew what a real therapy session looked like. I now have a much better idea of how to write these scenes.

2. But I decided to temporarily hold off on the therapist scenes because I need to get a better idea of how they fit with the story as a whole (or whether I need them). They don't add anything to the plot, but they can potentially be used as a good way to reveal backstory and some character development. But then I have to figure out which backstory to incorporate, since some of it will be revealed in other scenes.

3. I seriously need to get over my anxiety barrier when it comes to, well, just about anything--writing, critiquing, calling people, sending emails. It's getting out of control.

ETA 4. Oh, and this awesome post by Janice Hardy about trimming your word count that I have no doubt I will have to use at some point: http://penandmuse.com/trimming-words-editing-janice-hardy/

What distracted me this month:

I'm back in school, so that's the biggest thing. There were two weekends in the last month where friends came into town, and I went orienteering a couple of times. I finished critiquing a full manuscript. There was also about a week where I was feeling really low energy and couldn't bring myself to accomplish anything other than what was immediately required. I'm not sure if it was due to sleep deprivation or anemia or if it was just an emotional thing, but I'm currently scrambling to catch up on work that I missed during that period.

I finished reading Born Wicked, which I really enjoyed, and The Queen of the Tearling, which was basically 450 pages of preachiness and wish-fulfillment. I'm currently reading Nina Lemay's Shameless. It was one of those "Okay, I suppose I can at least try NA romance" decisions, but so far, I'm not sure it's really my thing. I also watched The Returned, a French TV show about people who come back from the dead, and it's really good.

Goal for next month:

Finish chapter 20. (Yes, I realize I'm setting the bar low this time around, but I'm feeling super lethargic today, so lofty goals are intimidating me.)

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Book Review: The Queen of the Tearling

Back in March, I did a Summary Reactions post about The Queen of the Tearling. As you can see from that post, I wasn't too optimistic about this book.

But still, I decided to give it a chance. (see review below)


I was bored. Bored, bored, bored. Special snowflake protagonist, deus ex machinas abound, unimaginative worldbuilding, flat villains, a great impending doom that turns out not to happen, and preachiness at every corner.

I could go into a full-scale rant, but quite honestly, I feel like I've already invested too much energy in this book.

I will say this, though:

I totally agree that we need more books with un-pretty or even ugly protagonists. But when you feel the need to remind me of how "plain" and unattractive Kelsea is at least six times every chapter, you are no longer telling a story--you're just pushing an agenda.

Oh, and can we stop with the whole "girls who like pretty clothes are all vain, selfish, and stupid" please?

I will also say this: Her guardians are idiots. We are told that Kelsea had a hardcore intense education, and yet she knows almost nothing about her own kingdom. People continuously withhold important information from her, because of reasons. And then she goes and makes stupid, impulsive decisions.

So basically, this is one of those books where an idealist becomes queen and succeeds solely by the virtue (no pun intended) of her idealism (and magic). In the middle of the book, Kelsea makes a huge, impulsive decision that, while very honorable, puts her entire country at risk of war against an enemy that they have no hope of defeating. And then, instead of having to face the terrible consequences of her decision (read: this war doesn't happen, at least not in this book), all of Kelsea's other successes just fall into her lap by magic. Like, she's got these magical sapphires that are basically a couple of deus ex machinas. It's not even magic that she has to work hard to hone and control--it just happens whenever she needs to save the day.

It's not that I'm against idealist heroines, but I don't want to read about the ones who get victory handed to them on a platter. I want to read about the ones who work hard, outsmart their enemies, and occasionally have to make sacrifices in order to succeed.

This book tries to be feminist, but at the end of the day, it's nothing more than wish fulfillment.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Book Recommendation: Born Wicked


Have you ever read a fantasy novel that has really cool fantasy elements and an intriguing mythos, but the story and characters left much to be desired?

Born Wicked is the opposite. The fantasy tropes and elements are nothing you haven't seen before--there's nothing particularly exciting or eye-raising about them.

But that doesn't matter, because this book's real strength is in its characters. They're fully fleshed-out, with personalities and flaws and priorities and interests. I loved these characters. I understood them. I was interested in them. I loved how they drove the plot. And even though I disagreed with many of Cate's priorities, I still sympathized with her decisions.

Born Wicked is also a great example of how you can have a successful book where most of the characters are female, and where the love interests are actually likeable and fun, not controlling and broody. Oh, and this book was also very readable.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves character-centered fantasy.

***

This book is part of a trilogy. I promised myself I wouldn't buy anymore books for awhile, but I really want to read the sequel.

Friday, July 25, 2014

WIP Marathon July Check-In

I have a friend coming in town tonight, so I'm posting this a day early.

Last check-in: Finished Part One of the novel (14 chapters, 51,945 words)

Currently: Outlined Part Two. Finished chapters 15-18. Currently working on chapter 19.

Current word count = 66,783

WIP issues this month: Smooth sailing this month. Most of the scenes in chapters 15-18 were already written, so a lot of my “writing” was simple line edits.

In my last post, I mentioned two scenes that I had planned for Part One but decided to hold off on, since the long conversations were starting to drag. I ended up writing these scenes and incorporating them into the beginning of Part Two.

What I learned this month:

1. When I’m feeling lost or overwhelmed, the best thing to do is outline. It’s really hard to roll out words when I’m starting from nothing. Outlining not only helps me organize the scene so I know what comes next, but it helps my brain transition into writing mode.

2. I was originally planning on incorporating a lot of flashbacks, but my word count is getting dangerously high. I figured out a way to get rid of the flashbacks, though I’m worried that some of the inter-character relationships won’t be as strong without them. (I could write a whole novella using just the backstory.)

3. Writing in short bursts is actually a pretty good strategy.

4. Does anyone know an adolescent psychologist/therapist? Asking for research purposes.

What distracted me this month:

Rant ahead: My summer research is interesting on a theoretical level, but the work itself is tedious and dull. Part of the reason I decided to go into medicine was because I didn’t want a job where I’d be stuck in an office all day, working on a computer—and that’s exactly what my research is. My job involves reading medical records and filling in the information on a spreadsheet. My spreadsheet is finished, so lately I’ve been combining the data with the last research assistant’s. You’d think it would be easy, except that this student (a pre-med, not a medical student) is either incompetent or simply ran out of time. I’ve been spending the last week or two cleaning up her sloppy work. (Microsoft Excel is not designed for large chunks of text. There is no reason to copy-paste an entire MRI report when you can simply jot down the important bits.) I also don’t trust some of her information, but that data came from a different university, so I can’t access those records.

Thus, when I get home every day, I’m usually in a bad enough mood that all I want to do is gorge myself and watch Scandal--which is trashy but enjoyable on a good day, but usually makes me want to pull out my hair due to feminist rage. (Seriously, why is Fitz still around? He’s a spoiled, whiny man-child and he’s utterly boring. I’m so sick of all the will they-won’t they. Literally every other character on the show is more interesting than he is. Even Quinn, who is quite possibly the dumbest fictional character on television, is a hundred times more interesting than Fitz.)

I also finished critiquing a beautiful manuscript, and I’m working on a few others.

Books I read: Finished The Spirit Rebellion (it’s good). I also read the first episode of a couple of indie serialized novels, but I wasn’t impressed with either. Currently reading Born Wicked and Mission Child.

August goal: I start classes soon, so I won’t have much writing time. I'll aim to finish the first half of Part Two, but I'm keeping my expectations low.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Book Recommendation: "The Spirit Rebellion" by Rachel Aaron (book 2 in the Eli Monpress series)

Sequel to The Spirit Thief

This book had a slow start, but once the plot got going, it was pretty much non-stop. This was such a fun read, and considerably darker than the first book in the series. I will definitely be picking up The Spirit Eater.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

On Reviews and Book Buying

I follow at least five blogs that regularly post book reviews. The problem with reading book reviews is that I'm often overwhelmed by the volume. I have too many unread books sitting on my shelf (but which I mean the floor of my bedroom, since I don't let myself put a book on the actual shelf until I've finished it) and too many books on my to-read list that I'm not in a position to actively seek out recommendations.

So what draws my attention to a book?

-Usually, I have to hear about the book at least three times before it sticks in my mind long enough to think about buying it (or reserving it from the library).

-I usually scroll through most book reviews, unless the title or cover is intriguing enough to catch my attention. (Note: Covers with a man and a woman in a sexy/romantic pose are overdone and are an automatic "no.")

-If I've heard of the author before, I am more likely to read the book summary.

-If the book summary sounds like it has potential, I might add it to my goodreads to-read list. I will probably forget about the book within a couple of days.

-If I really think the book has potential, I might follow the author on twitter, so that I know if the book goes on sale. (I currently have no income, so it's hard to justify buying books that might be decent.)

-If it's the type of book I want to see more of (NA speculative, villain/unlikeable protagonists, LGBT, nonwhite protagonists, books with no romance, scifi written by people who actually know science), I am much more likely to buy the book, though I prefer to wait for the paperback release.

-If I loved something else the author wrote, or I'm a huge fan of the author's blog, I am much more likely to buy the book.

-If it's a bestseller or over-hyped, I am much more likely to request it from the library.

-If I checked it out of the library and loved it, I might offer to buy it for a friend on his/her birthday.

***

Books I've bought and read in the last year:

1. Secret for a Song (S.K. Falls) - NA about protagonist with Munchausen's
2. Control (Lydia Kang) - science + author is a doctor
3. The Painted Darkness (Brian James Freeman) - it was cheap
4. The Wicked We Have Done (Sarah Harian) - NA speculative
5. The Secret of Isobel Key (Jen McConnel) - sounded interesting + on sale

(Most of the books I actually have read were taken from the library or ARCs I collected at BEA. The thing about library books is that you have to give them back, so there's an actual deadline on reading them.)

Books I've bought in the last year and haven't read (or finished) yet:

1. The Dirty Streets of Heaven (Tad Williams) - loved Otherland
2. Charm and Strange (Stephanie Kuehn) - sounds totally up my alley
3. The Onion Girl (Charles de Lint) - sounds unique
4. American Gods (Neil Gaiman) - one of the few urban fantasy writers I actually like
5. Feed (Mira Grant) - heard great things about this book
6. Dark Places (Gillian Flynn) - I've wanted to read her books for awhile
7. Some Girls Are (Courtney Summers) - loved Cracked Up to Be
8. Americanah (Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie) - I worship this lady
9. Arclight (Josin L. McQuein) - wanted to read for awhile + on sale
10. Born Wicked (Jessica Spotswood) - loved one of the author's blog posts + sounded interesting

So that's ten books that are sitting in my room, staring at me, tempting me, that I still need to read. (Along with the books I bought long before then, which I won't bother listing.) The thing about buying books is that you already own them, so there's no rush to read them right away.

I'm looking at this list right now and punching myself for all the awesomeness I'm probably missing out on.

(Hence, I will not be buying any new books for a long, long time.)

Friday, July 4, 2014

Book Review: Premeditated


I was very annoyed with this book at first, mainly because of the writing style. I never realized there was a thing as too many clever quips, but this book manages to achieve that. Pretty much every paragraph ends with some sort of snarky comment, to the point where it seriously slows down the narration. (It also doesn't help that most of Dinah's clever quips aren't all that clever or funny.)

One of the reasons I was excited to pick up this book was that Dinah sounded like a smart, scheme-y character (what with planning a revenge campaign and all). That...definitely wasn't the case. Most of the "plotting" and brainwork (all of it, actually) were carried out by Dinah's two friends, Tabs and Brucey, both of whom were much more interesting characters than she was. (I'm kind of sad that I don't have a Brucey in my life.) Dinah, meanwhile, misses a lot of very obvious developments. She's kind of an idiot, actually. (I don't know about you, but when someone tells me that his best friend isn't allowed on the property, the first thing I do is ask why.)

One of the big reasons I started getting excited about this book was that I guessed the big reveal a little over 100 pages in and I wanted to keep reading to see if my theory was right. (It was.) In fact, I think most attentive readers should be able to guess it by the time they're halfway through the book, since by then it's fairly obvious.

Premeditated did get better as it went along. There were some very powerful scenes involving Dinah's cousin, and the author took good care to really develop a couple of her secondary characters. The romance was also well done.

I'm on the fence as to whether or not to list this book as "recommended" or not. I'll leave it up to readers to decide for themselves.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Book Recommendation: The Broken Kingdoms, by N.K. Jemisin

Book Two in The Inheritance Trilogy 

The Broken Kingdoms was, in some ways, a necessary sequel to The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms in that it addressed the far-reaching consequences of the events of the first book. It also complements THTK by featuring a protagonist who is a commoner, rather than a noble. This allows readers to get a much fuller view of the world outside of the Arameri palace. Like its predecessor, The Broken Kingdoms has a really cool mythos and a high-stakes plot.

However, I didn't love this book the way I loved The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. Oree's magical ability was really cool, but I wasn't won over by her as a character. (Though I'm sure a lot of people will appreciate the way N.K. Jemisin avoided the "magical cure" trope.) Most of the secondary characters weren't very well developed. There was also too much of a focus on the romance for my liking.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

WIP Marathon June Check-In

Last check-in: 3165 words into chapter 13 (47,804 words)

Currently: Finished with Part One, aka, the first half of the novel (14 chapters, 51,945 words)

WIP issues this month: I wanted to write 1000 words a day this month. Obviously, that didn't happen.

A really big thing happens in chapter 9, and chapters 10-14 are all about the ramifications. These chapters don't have a whole lot of plot. What they do have is a lot of angst, arguments, and a few backstory reveals. A big reason my writing has slowed down recently is that I'm getting really tired of it. There were actually 1-2 chapters that I opted not to include, at least not right away, because I'm worried that they'll make the story drag. I might come back and write them later.

I am really glad to be done with Part One, though. My last draft of the novel wasn't so much a draft as a compilation of scenes. Now they all finally work together cohesively.

I'm also really excited to start Part Two. Though I'm going to have to outline like crazy to figure out how all the different scenes work together.

What I learned this month:

1. While reading Premeditated: I love snarky narrators, but when you're ending every single paragraph with some sort of smart-ass quip, it slows down the narrative and actually gets really annoying. (It also didn't help that most of these comments weren't all that clever or funny.)

2. I watched the Delirium TV pilot and wrote a whole post about how it fails at worldbuilding (and how it misses a lot of opportunities to actually explore thought-provoking ideas).

3. Speaking of worldbuilding, a really helpful thing to do is find one or two friends (preferably smart ones) and explain your world to them. That way, they can ask you a lot of questions that you might have never thought of yourself, and they can help you pinpoint things that don't make sense. Last month (I forgot to include this in my May update) I had a conversation with a friend about Inter-World, the organization that mediates between our world and the magical world, because I wasn't sure in which US city to set the North American headquarters. It was a really helpful conversation. (Though I still haven't made a decision.)

4. Based on a reviewer's comment, I re-awakened a love for one of my secondary characters (the token "mean girl.") My philosophy on the token mean girl is this: if you're going to include her, make her awesome. Make her fun and interesting (and better yet, make her smart and competent). If she exists for no reason other than to sleep around and get jealous of the protagonist, you're doing it wrong.

The thing about this character is that she doesn't want to be nice. Why should she have to censor herself when everyone else is thinking the same thing? It's not her fault other people act like idiots and then get upset when she calls them out on it.

Now if only I can figure out a way to give this character more screen time... (Sadly, she hasn't appeared in any of the chapters I wrote in the last few months. She almost did, but that was one of the scenes I decided to hold off on.)

What distracted me this month:

Work, critiquing, weekend trips (2 weekends at home and 1 at a retreat with friends), being chronically tired because I have no self-discipline or time management skills. Also, Orange is the New Black season 2.

Books I read: Finished The Broken Kingdoms (not as good as The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, but the two complemented each other well) and Premeditated (it was okay). Currently reading The Spirit Rebellion, sequel to The Spirit Thief.

July goal: I would like to have Part Two fully outlined, and finish writing at least a third of it. (Many of the scenes are already written, but there are also some that I haven't touched it.)

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Why the Delirium TV pilot fails at worldbuilding

I'll start by saying that I never read Delirium or any of the other books in the series, mostly because the concept sounded kind of silly and most of what I heard about the books failed to catch my interest. However, out of sheer curiosity, I decided to watch the pilot episode of the rejected Delirium television series, mostly because it was easily available and free. (For those who are interested, it's on Hulu.)

I suspected it would be bad, but even I wasn't prepared for how laughably awful it was.

The premise behind Delirium is that this futuristic society believes "love" is a disease and has found a way to eliminate it, using some kind of medical procedure. While the idea of a society "cured" of love is shaky and not entirely believable, it still has the potential to make for some really cool exploration of themes. (ie, forcing invasive and controversial medical procedures on people, government regulation of family and reproduction, etc.)

The main reason I'm writing this isn't just to rant. (Well, okay, maybe it is.) I'm writing this because I think this show's failures provide really good talking points about worldbuilding: not only where it went wrong, but also where it could have been really fucking awesome (but wasn't).

If you haven't watched the pilot, I would strongly suggest you do so before reading the rest of this post. Also, here is a really good review of the episode that you should definitely read. Also, see the comment(s) at the bottom of the post. (The main reason I linked to it is that they make several excellent points, and I don't like repeating what's already been said.)

***

So now that you've done all that, let's talk about Delirium.

Problem 1: Failure to illustrate what a "loveless" society looks like.

We are told that people who have undergone the procedure are incapable of love, but never do we actually get a sense of what this means. "Love" isn't a static concept--everyone defines it differently, and it often encompasses many different emotions (attraction, sexual passion, obsession, intimacy, affection, attachment). Which of these do people lose after they undergo the procedure? Is it limited to sexual desire/romantic love? What about familial love and friendship?

After watching the episode, I never had a sense that the adult characters were emotionally deficient. We are told that one character's parents were "going about the motions," but nowhere did I actually see this for myself. There are so many things this episode could have done to illustrate what "lack of love" looks like. You could show a before-and-after of a character who has undergone the procedure, or you could show more family dynamics. Yet, this episode does none of those things. There is only one moment in the entire show where you actually see a married couple interact, but beyond that, you get absolutely no sense that anything is weird or wrong. 

Problem 2: Failure to take the worldbuilding to the next level

In other words, with the exception of some very cliche totalitarianism tropes, this society is almost indistinguishable from ours. It's like the creators didn't take more than five minutes to actually ask questions or stretch their imagination.

For instance, Megan's comment on the Bibliodaze article brought up the question of sex and reproduction. I assume the procedure eliminates sexual desire, so it would make sense that a lot of reproduction takes place by artificial means. This brings up some really cool possibilities. If the government arranges marriages and controls reproduction, shouldn't they also take genetics into account so that they can lower the risk of passing on disease-associated genes? (According to one of my professors, this is a big part of how the Hasidic Jewish community arranges marriages.) The episode shows the interview process for matching, but nowhere do you see the characters getting their blood drawn or cheeks swabbed, so I can only assume they match people based on personality.

Oh, and while we're on the subject, why is marriage necessary in the first place? Why is everyone required to get married? And if there's no familial love (or maybe there is? I'm still not clear on that), what is the purpose of raising children in traditional family units?

Oh, and how does this society feel about adoption? Do people usually raise their own biological children, or does the government assign them a child?

I assume there's no divorce, since marriages are arranged, but what about re-marriage after a spouse dies? Does that ever happen?

Problem 3: It makes love look bad

At the beginning of the episode, I was convinced that Alex couldn't possibly be the main love interest, because he was creepy as hell. He fell in love with Lena from the moment he saw her (during her marriage interview, when she wasn't exactly being herself), and then basically stalked her until she loved him back. It almost made me wish someone had found a way to "cure" him.

However, I do think it's worth mentioning that while this trope is problematic, it also provides for another potential avenue of exploration. If people in this society are not exposed to the idea of love, how would they know what healthy, mutually-respectful love looks like? It would be really interesting to see how this society's rebels deal with things like unrequited love and relationship problems, since they don't exactly have anyone to model it for them.  

Problem 4: Unfortunate Implications

Everyone assumed/accepted that the mother killed herself because of love, even though she'd already undergone the procedure. Why is this? It's not like love and grief are the only reasons people commit suicide. In fact, the implication that she couldn't possibly have killed herself for any reason other than love is really insulting to those who have struggled with depression and/or suicidal thoughts.

Also, why are all of the characters rich/well-off? You see a couple of maids, meaning that there is some sort of socioeconomic division, but they're more set-dressing than actual characters. Nowhere do we actually learn anything about these women's lifestyles or how their demographic feels about the procedure.

Problem 5: The procedure

I'm not going to go to the trouble of analyzing the pseudoscience, but I do have one major question about the procedure: What happens when something goes wrong? Sticking a needle into someone's central nervous system is a very risky thing to do, so I'm definitely wondering how these scientists/doctors/government officials handle cases of disability and death.

Problem 6: Logical problems

1. [things previously mentioned by other people]: What about homosexuality (or non-gender binary individuals)? Why 18, instead of birth/puberty? How do people reproduce? Why is the gender segregation so half-assed? Why does no one seem to care when Alex takes Lena into her father's cell?

2. How is it that Alex managed to join the police force without having undergone the procedure? Is a fake scar really enough to fool people? What about things like medical records and background checks? I assume he found a way around those (forgery, hacking, connections, etc), but why did it never occur to Lena to ask? Even a girl who lives in a dystopia can't be that ignorant, right?

3. The fence is kind of a joke. I've seen more threatening fences around my neighbors' swimming pools.

***

I could continue listing other problems, but I'm sure you can already see my point. When you're building a world, you really have to stretch yourself mentally. Don't just add in a few cosmetic changes. Think about the greater implications of things. Talk to people who've studied anthropology or science or who come from different cultures. It's hard to step over your own boundaries when you don't realize those boundaries exist in the first place.

Worlbuilding is a challenge, but it might surprise you how much you can learn from it.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Book Recommendations: Half Bad

Back in March, I wrote a "summary reaction" post for Half Bad's blurb. The blurb left me very intrigued. But did the book deliver?

Yes and no.



I loved the writing style of this book, and I was very drawn into it. Nathan's a great character, and I love his voice.

However, there were several elements of this book that bothered me:

1. The shallow good-vs-evil themes: White Witches are the "good" witches and Black Witches are supposed to be evil, so of course, the author spends the entire book pounding the evilness and cruelty of the White Witches into your head. I suppose it was meant to be an observation on the nature of good, evil, and hypocrisy, etc, but it left me unimpressed.

2. The secondary characters: Many of them are quirky and fun to read, but none of them are well-developed. This is especially true for Annalise, whose entire role in the story can be described as "token angelic love interest."

3. The ending was too rushed. I supposed I might have cared more if any of the secondary characters actually had more than a single token personality trait, but as it was, I had very little reaction to it. (Though I did love the final scene.)

4. Come to think of it, there really wasn't much of a plot. The first half of the book was torture porn and backstory, and the second half was a series of weird secondary characters, some glossed-over action, and a LOT of buildup for the sequel.

Overall, this was a very readable book, and I think a lot of people will enjoy it. And while I wouldn't call myself "invested" just yet, there was enough this book did well on that I'm willing to pick up the sequel.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Book Recommendation: "The Extra" by Kathryn Lasky

I have so many book reviews to catch up on, and no excuse for not posting them until now. (I already wrote them and posted them to goodreads, but I've been too lazy to touch this blog.)


Edit 1/19/2015: Something I didn't realize at the time I wrote the review was that the term "Gypsy" is considered a slur. Since I wasn't sure whether the terms "Roma" and "Romani" could also be used for Sinti, I opted to use the word "Gypsy" when I was referring to the Roma and Sinti collectively. (I believe the book used the term "Gypsy." Then again, I don't believe Kathryn Lasky is from either of these cultures, so it's possible that she got some stuff wrong.)

After several weeks of being on social justice tumblrs, I've decided that I should rewrite this review in a less offensive manner. (From what I can gather, "Roma" can refer either to the specific Roma ethnicity, or to all of the different Romani groups (Roma, Sinti, Kale, etc) as a whole.) My edits are in bold.

I apologize for my ignorance on the matter.

This book tackles an under-explored perspective on the Holocaust--the lives of Romani who were forced to serve as extras in a movie produced by the Nazi regime. Despite all the hours I spent learning about Holocaust in Jewish school, all they ever taught us about Romani was that they also faced discrimination and were sent to concentration camps, so I'm glad I finally got to learn more about this particular group. (Apparently, "Roma" isn't a catch-all term for Gypsy--it only refers to a specific ethnicity/group of Gypsies (the stereotypical nomadic ones)(see above) The protagonist of the story is Sinti (craftspeople, middle class, more "assimilated"). I don't think I've ever heard of Sinti before, which probably indicates a serious flaw in my education.)

This book has a very strong "illusion vs reality" theme, as well as some themes that are sadly still relevant to modern times, like cultural appropriation and whitewashing. (The movie was supposed to be set in Spain, so dark-skinned Romani were an ideal choice for extras, although the main characters were played by pale-skinned Aryans.)

One element that stood out for me was the prose. It's very direct and minimalistic, which might not appeal to every reader, but I thought that it worked well. There were parts that felt almost like stream-of-consciousness, without being pretentious or overly trippy.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

WIP Marathon May Check-In

Last check-in: Partway through chapter 12 (42,931 words)

Currently: Finished chapter 12 (3924 words). 3165 words into chapter 13.

Current word count = 47,804 words

WIP issues this month: I re-wrote one scene, but I think I like the original better. I might send out both versions.

What I learned this month:

1. It's not that I don't describe things--it's that the things I describe are usually very focused. If two characters are having a conversation, the dialogue is usually broken up by descriptions of what those characters are doing and/or changes in facial expression. It's very easy for me to fail to describe the background. I've always known this to some degree, but it never occurred to me that this should be a problem--maybe it's just how I see the world? Maybe I tend to have a narrower focus?

But the thing is, that's not completely true. When I have a long conversation, my attention is always drifting off into different directions. Long conversations are the best time to notice things about my surroundings. I just need to figure out a way to translate this shift of attention into my writing without making it feel unnatural.

2. There is one conversation in this current chapter that I'm thinking about moving to an earlier chapter. I've gotten a lot of comments that my secondary protagonist doesn't feel very developed early on. If I move this conversation to the end of the first chapter, it will allow readers to get a better sense of who she is, but I think the conversation works better in this chapter. Yes, it means a delay in getting to know the character, but is that necessarily a bad thing? (I'll wait and see what CPs say about it.)

3. I have only one male viewpoint character, and apparently, he could use more fleshing out in early chapters.

4. Logical consistency, yo: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/954065150 (Read it. It's awesome.)

What distracted me this month: Final exams and going on vacation. I'm working during the summer (clinical research on pediatric autism and epilepsy), but so far, my schedule has been very lax, so I don't see this as too much of a distraction. I've also had a fair amount of critiquing to do. (Still do, actually).

This month, I finished reading Her Dark Curiosity (slow start, but turned out good in the end), The Extra (liked it), Half Bad (excellent writing and viewpoint character, but the plot and secondary characters were less than impressive), and The Secret of Isobel Key (bleh). I'm currently reading N.K. Jemisin's The Broken Kingdoms, sequel to The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. It's not as good as its predecessor, but I like that it's exploring the far-reaching consequences of the events of the first book.

June goal: I'd like to average 1000 words a day, meaning a final word count of 77,800 words. (Yes, I know my monthly word counts are pathetic. But it's summer, so now I actually have time for 1000 words a day.)

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Book Recommendation: Her Dark Curiosity


It took awhile for the plot to get going, and my feelings were kinda "meh" for the first half of the book. But the second half was much stronger, and when I finished the Her Dark Curiosity, I remembered exactly why I love this series.

Some things I appreciated about this book:
-Megan Shepherd isn't afraid to take the controversial route
-I love that Juliet is willing to get her hands dirty
-Juliet doesn't romanticize the issue of marriage--she actually thinks about it from a practical standpoint
-it has female characters who are smart, active participants in the story
-also, the female characters are strong in different ways
-this book could have very easily taken the route of villainizing science, and yet it very clearly doesn't

Some things that annoyed me (or might annoy you):
-the love triangle is just as present in this book as it was in the first book
-the magical cure trope
-why is she looking for immunosuppressive hormones in a pancreas? the pancreas doesn't do that!

Saturday, April 26, 2014

WIP Marathon April Check-In

Last check-in: Halfway through chapter 11 (39,414 words)

Currently: Finished chapter 11 (2828 words). Currently working on the first scene of chapter 12.

Current word count = 42,931 words

WIP issues this month: The scene I'm working on now is the big backstory chapter--the one where two characters finally sit down and talk about all the events that led to where the book is today. The events are sort of complicated, since the backstory consists of two wars and four changes in leadership, so I have to make sure to go through it slowly enough that the reader can follow but briefly enough that it doesn't get boring. I wasn't enthusiastic about it at first, but I think it's going okay.

Honestly, though, my main issue was not having time (or energy) to write.

What I learned this month: I learned about tension pneumothorax in our simulation session. 1) It can kill you in about four minutes if untreated. 2) A needle decompression (the in-the-field treatment for tension pnuemothorax) doesn't actually cure the pneumothorax, but it allows the air to equalize with atmospheric pressure, instead of building up in the chest cavity, which is enough to stabilize the patient.

(And yes, this is relevant to my novel.)

What distracted me this month: 2 biochemistry/genetics exams, 1 physiology quiz, 1 physiology exams, 2 weekends in St. Louis. I finish one exam and suddenly I have to scramble to catch up in the class that I neglected while studying for said exam. I'm so ready for this semester to be over.

I'm taking advantage of this weekend to catch up on physiology and on critiques that should have been done weeks ago. I guess this means I also have time to write.

I also finished reading The Night Circus (absolutely loved it) and All the Truth That's in Me (it was okay).

May goal: My goal is to get back into the habit of writing consistently by the end of the month. My semester ends in mid-May, and I'm hoping that summer will give me a chance to catch up on writing.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Book Recommendation: All the Truth That's in Me


It took me a while to figure out my feelings about this book. It's set up to be an empowering story about a girl who learns to reclaim her voice and dignity in a society that shuns her after a trauma--and for the most part, it delivers.

However, the ending was disappointing. Everything wrapped itself up too neatly. It felt too, well, safe.

I liked this book enough to recommend it, although it didn't impress me as much as I'd hoped.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Book Recommendation: THE NIGHT CIRCUS, by Erin Morgenstern


All I can say is WOW. I'm not usually one of those people who is "transported" by books, but with The Night Circus, it was impossible not to be. It was so atmospheric and dreamlike, and the most incredible part about it is that I don't think I could even pinpoint (stylistically) what created that effect. I wish I could write like this.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

New Adult Project: "The Wicked We Have Done," by Sarah Harian (recommended)



THE WICKED WE HAVE DONE is an NA science fiction novel about people who have done horrible things, so you can imagine that it's been on my to-read list for a long time. Did it meet my expectations? Well, let's look at the list:

Things I liked:

1. the secondary characters--especially Valerie and Tanner
2. engaging--I read the book in a day, even though I had other things to do
3. a well-developed lesbian relationship (I'm really pissed about how it ended though--do LGBT endings always have to end tragically)
4. the author wasn't afraid to kill off your favorite characters

Things I didn't like:

1. the protagonist was boring
2. the love interest wasn't much better
3. it's difficult to relate to Evalyn's guilt and self-hatred, since you don't know exactly what she did until the end of the book (YMMV on whether her actions were truly guilt-worthy. Personally, I think they were, but I would have related to her guilt a lot more if I actually knew (or had a more concrete hint) about what she did earlier on. (Like, at the very least, I would have liked some certainty that she'd ACTUALLY killed someone.)

Saturday, March 29, 2014

WIP Marathon March Check-In

Last check-in: finished chapter 9 (34,806 words)

Currently: I finished re-writing chapter 10 and now I'm halfway through chapter 11. Also, I re-outlined the rest of Part One. (current word count = 39,414)

WIP issues this month: The re-writes of chapters 10 and 11 had to reflect the changes I made in chapter 9. Like I've said before, the plot itself didn't change significantly, but the characters arcs did. I've basically had to reconstruct the way I see these characters.

One of the consequences of these changes is that one of my characters has become a lot more interesting--but another one has become a bit less interesting. I'm still happy with it overall, so we'll see what happens.

What I learned this month: It's almost impossible to be both a writer and a med student at the same time. I have study days and I have writing days, but my usual window of focus is so narrow that it's hard to gather the mental energy to be both in the same day.

I also been better at getting my insomnia under control, which is important because I can't write or study when I'm tired (and I can't rely on caffeine because my tolerance to it is so low that if I have it after 4:00 PM, I can't sleep that night). I've discovered that if I turn off the computer, dim the lights, and read for half an hour before I go to bed, I'm a lot more likely to fall asleep.

What distracted me this month: I procrastinated during spring break a lot, particularly because I was working on a scene that didn't really go anywhere. It's one of those scenes that does have a reason for existing, but since it doesn't have a particular destination, I wasn't sure what to do with it.

When I got back to school, my main distraction was school. Also, I read The Wicked We Have Done (which I need to review) and watched Orange is the New Black. (The last episode has some uncomfortable similarities with later scenes in my novel. I hate when that happens.)

April goal: I've been shooting for a goal of 3000 words per week. At that rate, I can definitely finish Part One (14 chapters). Also, I would like a solid plan for Part Two (more than half of the Part Two scenes are already written, but I also have to figure out how to structure it (since that's where the characters' plotlines begin to split off) and what to do about backstory/flashbacks (there's a. lot. of backstory).

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Summary Reactions 2: Half Bad

"Summary Reactions" is a series of posts where I analyze the Goodreads summaries of books heavily-hyped books that I haven't read yet but am planning to read.

Half Bad is a recently-released YA fantasy, and from what I heard, a lot of people have given it great reviews.

***

"Half Bad by Sally Green is a breathtaking debut novel about one boy's struggle for survival in a hidden society of witches.

You can't read, can't write, but you heal fast, even for a witch. (It's been a long time since I've read a book about an illiterate character.)

You get sick if you stay indoors after dark. (Oh?)

You hate White Witches but love Annalise, who is one.

You've been kept in a cage since you were fourteen.

All you've got to do is escape and find Mercury, the Black Witch who eats boys. (Intriguing. Awesome.) And do that before your seventeenth birthday.

Easy."

***

They must have changed the summary for this book, because the original left me feeling very "eh." (It talked about Black Witches and White Witches and how the protagonist was both. The whole categorizing of good vs evil made me roll my eyes.) This summary is awesome though. There are a lot of weird details, and yet it's still pretty vague. That combination works really well.

I'm very curious about this book.

Edit 6/18/2014: My review of Half Bad can be found here.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Book recommendation: "Foreign Gods, Inc."


Goodreads Summary:

Foreign Gods, Inc., tells the story of Ike, a New York-based Nigerian cab driver who sets out to steal the statue of an ancient war deity from his home village and sell it to a New York gallery. 

Ike's plan is fueled by desperation. Despite a degree in economics from a major American college, his strong accent has barred him from the corporate world. Forced to eke out a living as a cab driver, he is unable to manage the emotional and material needs of a temperamental African American bride and a widowed mother demanding financial support. When he turns to gambling, his mounting losses compound his woes.

And so he travels back to Nigeria to steal the statue, where he has to deal with old friends, family, and a mounting conflict between those in the village who worship the deity, and those who practice Christianity. 

A meditation on the dreams, promises and frustrations of the immigrant life in America; the nature and impact of religious conflicts; an examination of the ways in which modern culture creates or heightens infatuation with the "exotic," including the desire to own strange objects and hanker after ineffable illusions; and an exploration of the shifting nature of memory, Foreign Gods is a brilliant work of fiction that illuminates our globally interconnected world like no other.

***

Foreign Gods, Inc. is a very powerful book, and not one for the light-hearted. It's a story of desperation, greed, religious clashes, false promises, and Western appropriation and commercialization of exotic cultures. It's not an easy book to read, especially because you constantly get the sense that Ike's plan to steal his village's war deity is a mistake. But he's a fully realized character, and the story itself is well-written, with very good use of magical realism.

I acknowledge that this book might not be for everyone, but I still highly recommend it.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Book Recommendation: Vicious, by V.E. Schwab


This is the book I have been waiting to read for a long, long time. (Even before I knew that Vicious existed.) I absolutely love anti-heroes and villain protagonists, so when I heard that this book was about supervillains, there was no way I could not read it.

The most impressive thing about Vicious is the characterization and the relationships between all of the characters--especially Victor and Eli. It was so refreshing to see their early friendship shown in all of its complexity: the dark fascinations, the rivalry which sometimes borders on toxic, the way they push each other.

My mind was blown.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Summary Reactions 1: The Queen of the Tearling

I've decided to write a series of posts where I analyze the goodreads summaries of soon-to-be-published, heavily-hyped books. I think this would be a fun way to compare my initial reactions about a book with my feelings after finally reading it.

I'll start with The Queen of the Tearling, a fantasy novel that comes out in July.

***

The following summary was copied from Goodreads (minus the parts in, blue, which are mine):

"On her nineteenth birthday, Princess Kelsea Raleigh Glynn, raised in exile, sets out on a perilous journey back to the castle of her birth to ascend her rightful throne. Plain and serious, a girl who loves books and learning, (bookish protagonists always give me a knee-jerk sense of dread--the first thought that jumps into my head is always "self-insert".) Kelsea bears little resemblance to her mother, the vain and frivolous Queen Elyssa ("I'm not like all those vain and frivolous girls!"). But though she may be inexperienced and sheltered, Kelsea is not defenseless (Good): Around her neck hangs the Tearling sapphire, a jewel of immense magical power; and accompanying her is the Queen’s Guard, a cadre of brave knights led by the enigmatic and dedicated Lazarus (Wait, nevermind. She's not defenseless because she has an item of uber!magic and a team of powerful, brave men to defend her). Kelsea will need them all to survive a cabal of enemies who will use every weapon—from crimson-caped assassins to the darkest blood magic—to prevent her from wearing the crown.

Despite her royal blood, Kelsea feels like nothing so much as an insecure girl, a child called upon to lead a people and a kingdom about which she knows almost nothing. (She's nineteen. I get that she was raised in exile, but did no one ever think to actually spend those nineteen years actually teaching her about said kingdom? Whatever happened to 'she loves books and learning'?) But what she discovers in the capital will change everything, confronting her with horrors she never imagined. An act of singular daring will throw Kelsea’s kingdom into tumult, unleashing the vengeance of the tyrannical ruler of neighboring Mortmesne: the Red Queen, a sorceress possessed of the darkest magic. (Okay, so besides the protagonist, we have mention of one woman who is/was "frivolous and vain" and one who is evil.) Now Kelsea will begin to discover whom among the servants, aristocracy, and her own guard she can trust."

Wow. Not only does this story sounds incredibly cliche, but it really knows how to push all my feminist buttons.

***

As you can see from this reaction, my expectations for this book are not very high. However, that doesn't mean I won't enjoy it. If anything, this book makes me think of The Girl of Fire and Thorns. I had my doubts about it at first, but I ended up loving that series, so maybe there's still hope for The Queen of the Tearling.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Book Recommendation: Palace of Spies, by Sarah Zettel



Goodreads Summary:

A warning to all young ladies of delicate breeding who wish to embark upon lives of adventure: Don't. 

Sixteen-year-old Peggy is a well-bred orphan who is coerced into posing as a lady in waiting at the palace of King George I. Life is grand, until Peggy starts to suspect that the girl she's impersonating might have been murdered. Unless Peggy can discover the truth, she might be doomed to the same terrible fate. But in a court of shadows and intrigue, anyone could be a spy—perhaps even the handsome young artist with whom Peggy is falling in love...

History and mystery spark in this effervescent series debut.

***

I don't read a lot of historical fiction or mysteries, but books like this make me think that maybe I should. Several years ago, I read and enjoyed Sarah Zettel's A Sorceror's Treason, so when I heard that another one of her books was going to be at BEA, I made sure to snag a copy.

It was a very good decision. I was hooked from the first chapter--mostly because of Peggy's clever and engaging voice. The story was fun, too. I appreciated how Peggy was intelligent without being infallible, and I loved her relationship with her cousin, Olivia. (Another example of a story where female friendships CAN and DO work!) The story did ask me to suspend more disbelief than I normally would, and there were times when the story couldn't decide whether or not there was supposed to be a love triangle, but otherwise, this was a very enjoyable read.
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