Weekly Recap (8)

 
On Fridays I post a recap of books I’ve read, am reading, and plan to read, as well as any other tidbits I feel like sharing. The format was inspired by Small Review’s Recap posts and On a Book Bender and 25 Hour Books’ Clock Rewinders on a Book Binge posts.

Blogging

This week on the blog:

  • Writing Wednesday: Character Names – Biweekly check-in on writing progress and process

Reading

Finished: 

  • Summer Knight (Dresden Files #4) by Jim Butcher
  • Death Masks (Dresden Files #5) by Jim Butcher
    • I liked the fae element in the fourth book, but the fifth wasn’t my favorite. I just didn’t connect with it as much. I’ve never really cared for Susan as much as Harry does.
  • Hex Hall (Hex Hall #1) by Rachel Hawkins
    • I waited way too long to read this! It’s very cute so far. Boarding schools, FTW!
  • Kiss of Midnight (Midnight Breed #1) by Lara Adrian
    • It feels like a Black Dagger Brotherhood knock-off, but it’s still entertaining.

Watching

  • PBS on Sundays
    • The return of Downton Abbey and Sherlock have my Sunday nights pretty covered. I’m hoping they can help me cope with the loss of football again until August. Only one game left! *sob*

Exercising

  • Dancing machine!
    • I mentioned last week that I was going to go try and hear andhim play at Chicago house music staple Smart Bar on Friday night. And I did! Husband and I went out to dinner at the Rivers Casino buffet, then played some slots, and then I dropped him off at home before heading out to the bar around 11pm. The hubs cannot handle the sick techno beats, so I was on my own. I was pretty tired when I got there, so I perched at the bar and sucked down a couple of Red Bulls before making my way to the dance floor around 1am. I danced my fool head off until 3:30, and according to my FitBit, walked the equivalent of 8+ miles in the process. That’s a lot of calories burned! I had the time of my life, so I’m going to try and make this a weekly thing. So! Much! Fun!

What have you been up to this week?

 

 

 

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Writing Wednesday – Character Names

Welcome back to Writing Wednesday! Every other Wednesday I’m checking in on progress with my manuscript, and setting new goals for the weeks ahead. 

Last Writing Wednesday, I set some fairly ambitious goals for myself. They may not have looked like much, but for me they were a challenge. Here’s how I did, and why I have a lot of work to do:

Process goal: Word searches, journaling, or listening to music – 10 minutes per day, 5 days per week

How I did: I didn’t track this quite as well as I should have, but I do think I managed to get in some word searches and music time at least 3 days each week. Honestly, this is the category I struggle with the most, because I do a lot of process-seeming things (like phone games) that allow me to turn my brain off, but I never know if they should count. 

Process time is supposed to get the brain flowing through an activity that frees up some creativity, if I understand it correctly. Personally, I do some of my best thinking through working with my hands, which is why historically I’ve tried to do coloring or things like that as process time. But I needed something more readily available, and I recently subscribed to a word search magazine, so I figured I’d give that a shot. I love drawing the lines and hunting for words – it’s soothing. 

So does that make it process time or self-care? I need to go back and re-read Around the Writer’s Block.

Self-care goal: Exercising 30 minutes per day, 5 days per week

How I did: Okay, time to pick a new self-care activity! I had the best of intentions, but it just didn’t happen. And now that I’m working on a massive tattoo on my left thigh, the next month is going to involve more healing than working out, so next time I need something else. EPIC FAIL.

Product Time goal: Writing or researching, 15 minutes per day, 5 days per week

  • Target tasks
    • Belle Epoque research
    • Update names
    • Get to end of Act I

How I did: I did fairly well, though not as much as I’d hoped last week. The first week I managed 3 days, and last week I did more thinking than dedicated writing. Which is fine, and I should probably give myself credit for that, so I’ll say one day. My critique group is back in full swing now, and I’m up for discussion this weekend, so I’m keeping my goal the same so I can continue making forward progress.

For my target tasks, I had to update my MS a bit with new character names. I finally decided to move my book out of Chicago, where I had originally set it, and into Paris during the Belle Epoque era. I just wasn’t excited about Chicago, and it never felt right. Paris is my favorite city in the world and having a setting I love will be much more fun to write. 

That meant I had to update some names. Minor characters all got new French first names, but I’m sticking with my main characters’ names for now. I’ve grown so attached to them, and since they are classic I hope they will work. If anything, I’ll just give them an interesting backstory to explain it. 

Goals for the next two weeks:

Process:

  • Word searches, journaling, or listening to music
    • 10 minutes per day, 5 days per week

Self-care:

  • Reading
    • 20 minutes in bed before lights-out, every night
  • Dancing
    • Shake my thang at Smart Bar one night this week

Product Time:

  • Writing or researching
    • 15 minutes per day, 5 days per week
    • Target tasks
      • Outline updated plot/beat sheet
      • Write 2 new scenes, minimum
      • Organize pages to send for critique

For any of my fellow writers out there, feel free to join me! Post your own goals below or on your blog, and check back in two weeks. I hope to cultivate this as a place of support and encouragement no matter what kind of writing you’re doing. Good luck!

 

Weekly Recap (7)

 
On Fridays I post a recap of books I’ve read, am reading, and plan to read, as well as any other tidbits I feel like sharing. The format was inspired by Small Review’s Recap posts and On a Book Bender and 25 Hour Books’ Clock Rewinders on a Book Binge posts.

Blogging

This week on the blog:

Reading

Finished: 

  • Magic Slays (Kate Daniels #5) by Ilona Andrews
    • The first few books in this series were good, but these last two were phenomenal. It keeps getting better and better!
  • Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
    • To sum up my full Goodreads review: “The brilliance is in the way she builds up hope, only to dash it to pieces. Flynn manages to manipulate her readers just as the characters manipulate each other, and it’s through that process that we come to understand them.” 

Still working on:

  • Summer Knight (Dresden Files #4) by Jim Butcher

Watching

  • Girls
    • I did not get into this HBO series when it first started, but on Sunday I got sucked into a marathon before the Season 3 premiere and got hooked. I still have a lot of issues with it, but as often as I want to strangle Hannah, I also find her somewhat endearing.

Listening

  • andhim – “The Wizard of Us”
    • I have always been a fan of electronic music, but recently I’ve decided to more actively try to discover new electronic artists. I used to rely on the BPM channel on Sirius/XM, but now that we’ve gotten rid of that service, I need to be more proactive. This duo is performing tonight in Chicago, and if I can keep my 30-something self awake that long, I plan to try and go catch them live. But honestly, I can’t even remember the last time I was out after 1am.

What have you been up to this week?

 

 

 

Discussion: Struggling with Reviews

Let's Talk

I’ve been away from blogging for a little while, and at least partially because of my constant struggle to write what I deem to be adequate reviews. Does this sound familiar? You finish a book, and sit down to write a review, but you can’t think of anything to say. Maybe you beat your head against the wall, maybe you flip through the book again to see if anything comes to you, or maybe you just give up and don’t write anything. 

Here’s my process:

  1. Finish book, swim around in all the feels. Isn’t this glorious? Let’s just stay here forever, you and I, my little booky-wook.
  2. Jump on Goodreads, give it a snap judgment star rating. You’re welcome, book.
  3. Wait two weeks, so that you read at least a few more books that will muddle your memory of the book you need to review. Book cries a little.
  4. Get calendar reminder email that you need to post your review. Experience a bolt of fear normally reserved for seeing a spider in your bed. Book feels the residual shock and flips you the middle finger.
  5. Fire up the computer, crack knuckles, and enter all the book info. You’re on a roll! This is going to be a piece of cake! Book says it’s sorry and gives you a hug.
  6. Stare blankly at the screen, wondering where to start. The cursor blinks incessantly, and book just stares at you.
  7. Type a couple of lame sentences summarizing the plot. Hooray! We’re getting somewhere! 
  8. Decide you hate those sentences, since the plot is summarized already in the synopsis. Delete them and stare some more.
  9. Re-write the summary sentences, since people probably won’t read the synopsis anyway, or they already know what the book is about, in which case why would either of those groups of people want to read a review anyway? This is stupid. I hate you, book. Book sticks its tongue out at you.
  10. Think of the three nitpicky things you briefly thought of while reading the book and write those down, stringing it together with awkward transitions (making heavy use of headers), and getting frustrated with your stiff phrasing. Why can’t you loosen up already? It’s probably book’s fault. You give book the evil eye, and book collapses in a puddle of shame tears. 

And who wants that? Nobody, that’s who. Especially poor, sad book.

Of course if there was an easy answer for how to write reviews easily, there’d probably be an app for that. (And if I’m mistaken, and there is already an app for that, please point me to it immediately.) I realize that I have personal faults that directly contribute to some of the above teeth-gnashing and hand-wringing, like waiting too long before actually writing the review, and not taking notes. But I have a hard time taking notes while reading, and sometimes I like to let a book breathe after finishing, so I don’t jump to too many conclusions right away.

So what’s a girl to do?

Seriously. I’m asking.

Are notes and speedy reviews the only answers? What do you do when you struggle to write a review?

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Review: Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson

[book-info]

Let’s talk about that boy…

All praise Brandon Sanderson for giving us one of the best male narrators in YA fiction. David is a breath of fresh air in a sea of Katniss and Tris wannabes. Maybe it’s just that I’ve become tired of the dystopian girl who has to meet a cute boy to help her cope with her depressing world, but it was nice to have a main character who took it upon himself to try and make his world better.

In the prologue, we meet David as a young boy, who goes through a harrowing experience while at the bank with his father. Two of the Epics – humans with superpowers that developed after an event called Calamity – get into a brawl with disastrous consequences. David spends the next ten years studying Epics in search of a way to defeat them, taking notes and forming theories. 

So about those Reckoners…

David is not the only one who wants to take down the Epics. Imagine if people started developing limitless powers, and couldn’t handle the God complex that followed from that? This is David’s world, where Epics rule with iron fists while the rest of the country falls into chaos and poverty.

The Reckoners are a guerrilla group that work to secretly eliminate Epics. They have no real presence – they don’t publicize their efforts, and they haven’t been able to take down any of the really powerful Epics that would draw much attention. David wants to join up with them to share his research and bring down the Epic that took everything from him. 

The mystery of Steelheart…

The problem is that although David knows that Steelheart can be hurt, he doesn’t know how. In the bank, as a boy, he witnessed one bullet that managed to make Steelheart bleed. When David joins the Reckoners they set out to try and figure out what was special about that bullet, that gun, or that moment that made him vulnerable.

And one of my favorite aspects of the book was that I could never quite figure it out. Most of the main characters have a different theory about Steelheart’s weakness, and they all feel convincing. The deeper they get in their plot to try and overthrow him, the higher the stakes become for getting the answer right. If they can’t find the answer before the showdown they are setting up, they’ll all be killed. This is a win or die scenario, and it was completely gripping to read.

If you want action…

…then this is the book for you. If they don’t make this into a movie, then the world is majorly missing out. The action scenes are crazy intense – chase sequences, guns, and explosions galore. The Reckoners have to meet with seedy black market weapons traders and sneak into heavily guarded buildings. Their headquarters are in a forgotten layer of underground tunnels, and the final showdown happens in one of the most iconic buildings in Chicago (or Newcago, as it’s known in David’s world).

It was the breakneck pace of the action that kept me turning the pages as fast as possible. I tore through this book and found it unbelievably hard to put down. Unfortunately, the pacing didn’t leave much room for explanation of the world. I felt there were a lot of pieces of information that we didn’t get which would have been helpful to understand how Newcago operates or how the world got to this point. No one seems to understand Calamity or how it led to the Epics, and even though it has only been ten years, I expected just a bit more information.

I’m hoping that information comes in with the next book in this exciting and promising new series. I adored David and can’t wait to see what’s in store for him and the rest of the Reckoners. 

Rating: 4/5 stars

[rating stars=”four-stars”]

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Weekly Recap (6) – Challenges for 2014

 
On Fridays I post a recap of books I’ve read, am reading, and plan to read, as well as any other tidbits I feel like sharing. The format was inspired by Small Review’s Recap posts and On a Book Bender and 25 Hour Books’ Clock Rewinders on a Book Binge posts.

Blogging

This week on the blog:

  • I started the process of integrating book information from old reviews into the Ultimate Book Blogger plugin, so that I can start using its awesome automated review index feature. 
  • Review: Immortal by Gillian Shields – A gothic YA from 2009 – 3 stars
  • Top Ten Tuesday – Top Ten Goals/Resolutions for 2014
  • Writing Wednesday – Biweekly goal check-in

Reading

Finished: 

  • Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder (Hannah Fluke #1) by Joanne Fluke
    • This series includes cookie recipes between chapters. Of course I have to try them this weekend!
  • Immortal (Immortal #1) by Gillian Shields

Started:

  • Magic Slays (Kate Daniels #5) by Ilona Andrews
  • Paris by Edward Rutherford
    • This was a beast I picked up from the library. I don’t know if I’ll have time to finish it, but I figure I’ll give it a try.

Challenging

Watching

  • Cougar Town
    • One of my favorite comedies returned for a new season on Tuesday. Let’s pound some grape!

Exercising

  • Swimming
    • I started a new swim class this week. The Park District was offering weekly technique classes and I couldn’t resist the cheap price for a chance to brush up on my swim stroke and maybe learn some new drills. 

What have you been up to this week?

 

 

 

Writing Wednesday – Getting Back in the Groove

Welcome back to Writing Wednesday! Today I’m following up on an old post about motivation.

In the post, I reviewed the book Around the Writer’s Block: Using Brain Science to Fight Writer’s Resistance, by Roseanne Bane. It describes three habits we should be cultivating each week: Process, Self-Care, and Product Time. It gave a lot of helpful pointers on how to push through self-defeating behaviors and keep writing.  

I wish I could say that I have done a better job keeping up with my writing-related habits. Unfortunately, when I lost my blogging mojo, I also lost my mojo for a number of other things, which included writing. I found myself skipping a lot of my turns in my critique group, and not really feeling the motivation to write. 

In November, Roseanne Bane actually stopped by my blog and emailed me, offering feedback and support. It was such a thoughtful gesture and demonstrated just how much Roseanne loves to work with writers to help them achieve their goals. It was also a nice nudge to get me going again with goal- and habit-setting. 

As I noted in yesterday’s post on my resolutions for 2014, one major commitment I want to honor is finishing my manuscript. I know I can only do that with focus and discipline. So back to regular check-ins!

I don’t want to bore myself (or you) with weekly posts, so I’m going to try the biweekly thing again. Every other Wednesday here on the blog will be Writing Wednesday, focused on goal-setting and checking in on progress. The other Wednesdays will be discussion posts.

Here are my goals for the next two weeks:

Process:

  • Word searches, journaling, or listening to music
    • 10 minutes per day, 5 days per week

Self-care:

  • Exercise
    • 30 minutes per day, 5 days per week

Product Time:

  • Writing or researching
    • 15 minutes per day, 5 days per week
    • Target tasks
      • Belle Epoque research
      • Update names
      • Get to end of Act I

For any of my fellow writers out there, feel free to join me! Post your own goals below or on your blog, and check back in two weeks. I hope to cultivate this as a place of support and encouragement no matter what kind of writing you’re doing. Good luck!

 

 

 

Top Ten Tuesday – Top Ten Goals/Resolutions For 2014

I love lists, so I’m dipping my toes in the listy fun that is Top Ten Tuesday. This meme is run by The Broke and the Bookish and each week they post a new list for us to complete and share.

Just post your own list, link back to The Broke and the Bookish, and add your link to the linky tool to participate!

 

 

Top Ten Goals/Resolutions For 2014:

(Bookish, bloggish, real-lifeish.)

1. Read 100 books.

If I do nothing else this year, I want to keep up my reading habit. 

2. Blog regularly.

I’m not going to pressure myself with a set number of posts per week, or even per month. I just want to focus on coming back and getting something up on the blog on a regular basis, no matter the frequency. 

3. Read something truly challenging.

I want to tackle something that really pushes me. Something old? Something long? Something epic, or literary, or written in verse? It doesn’t matter what it is, but at least one book I read this year should scare me a little bit.

4. Subscribe to more blogs via email.

Once Google Reader went buh-bye, my blog reading dropped dramatically. Bloglovin’ and Feedly are fine, but I don’t like them as much, which makes it feel like a chore to visit them. I’ve found that the blogs I have subscribed to via email are not overwhelming to my inbox, and it makes it easier to stay current. Plus it’s easy to click the link and comment from my phone. Maybe my inbox will just have to be my new Reader. 

5. Develop my writing habit.

My critique group is in a transition phase, but I think we’re all feeling ready to get down to hard work again. This means it’s time for me to quit making excuses and get back to regular writing sessions. Look for Writing Wednesday posts every other week to keep me honest and accountable.

6. Get moving!

Hibernation time is over. I have real, major physical activity commitments this year and it’s time to start working toward those goals. That Half Ironman isn’t going to race itself.

7. Stick to a budget.

I’ve been lucky and lazy enough to get by without thinking much about the money I spend. This year, I want to set some spending limitations and sock away the rest to really pad our savings account. I tend to complain a lot about our small apartment, but if I want to buy a house I have to actually set aside money for that down payment.

8. Finish that draft.

My critique group has been enormously patient with my indecisive approach to plotting out my manuscript. That approach isn’t working, and has led to a draft that goes nowhere fast. This year I want to step it up, make hard choices for my characters, and finish their story.

9. Attend a writing conference and get querying.

Once that manuscript is done, it’ll be time to find an agent. This year is the year I want to start querying. I’ve also resisted writing conferences because they so often seem geared toward writers with completed manuscripts, but if I meet goal #8 then I can achieve goal #9.

10. Do what makes me happy.

I don’t want to fall into the trap of only doing something for the sake of doing it, just to be consistent. If I’m posting 3 times a week, but they are posts no one cares about, what’s the point? If I’m posting once a month, but it’s something fun and entertaining to read, and it makes me happier, then so be it.

“Do what you want, what you want with [your blog].” – Lady GaGa

What are your goals or resolutions for this year?

Review: Immortal by Gillian Shields

[book-info]

Promises, promises…

For some reason, I don’t read very many gothic novels, even though when I do read them I love them. Is it that there aren’t many of them written? Are they just not flashy enough to compete with their dystopian brethren? Or do I just not keep them high enough on my radar? This gothic beauty has been languishing on my TBR for a long time, and I’m kicking myself for not getting to it sooner.

Immortal had everything going for it – sweeping romance, eerie moors, haunting ghosts. In the first 100 pages, I was enthralled. Evie arrives at Wyldcliffe, only to be nearly run over by a dark, mysterious, and handsome (naturally) boy on a horse. It was a scene ripped from Jane Eyre, that gothic novel to end all gothic novels. I was anticipating the love story to come and finding the secrets hidden in the passageways of the boarding school.

Tempered expectations…

Around the midpoint of the book I realized that I needed to adjust my expectations. Evie isn’t really haunted so much as she experiences visions. She has odd dreams and keeps seeing a girl who looks like her lurking around the school, but she’s never really frightened by any of it. This means, of course, that I was never scared as a reader, either. It took a lot of the fun out of Evie’s trips down musty passageways and out onto the moor to meet up with Sebastian.

Sebastian, the boy from the horse, runs into her again late one night after Evie has snuck out to get some air. They begin to meet up nightly, and Evie falls in love. I guess. Well, she says she falls in love, but I certainly didn’t get swoony over it. This was one romance that just wasn’t for me.

Throw in some witchcraft…

You see, the book intersperses Evie’s story with excerpts from Lady Agnes Templeton’s diary from 1882 to 1884. Agnes, the daughter of the owners of Wyldcliffe manor, writes about her friend “S.” who introduces her to the Mysticke Way. “S” is kind of a jerk, and as they unlock their mystical powers (witchcraft, though no one in this book wants to call it that), he gets worse.

SPOILER ALERT! (I think, though it seemed pretty obvious to me.) [spoiler]I mean, clearly, “S” is Sebastian, right? So I’m reading all about this douche from the past who treated Lady Agnes like complete garbage…and then I’m supposed to be happy that Evie is falling for him? Nope. Not going to happen.[/spoiler]

(Carry on.)

The witchcraft bit doesn’t really come in to play for Evie’s story until late in the book, at which point she has to rush to understand her role in the history of Wyldcliffe much too quickly for my taste.

Hurry! The end is nigh!

Once Evie finally starts to put together the pieces of the large and obvious clues in front of her, there are only a few chapters left. She has so much to learn and do, which gets rushed into a couple of scenes, only to build to a climax that is resolved so quickly and lacks so much (or any) confrontation that it feels too easy.

Instead of wrapping things up with a genuine conflict between Evie and some badass witches in this story, it seems like the author left that for the next in the series. What a letdown! I would have liked to have seen more of Evie developing her own powers and working with her friends. I would have liked to have seen her then use those powers in a manner that actually accomplished something instead of seeming to delay the conflict for a bit.

Still, I’m only really complaining because overall I really enjoyed the book. I liked the mystery of Lady Agnes and “S” and how it all tied in with Evie. I loved the setting (boarding school!) and the isolation of this old manor on the moor. I tore through this book – devoured it – to find out what would happen next. It was thoroughly engaging, even if it didn’t turn out to be quite the book I wanted it to be.

Rating: 3/5 stars

[rating stars=”three-stars”]

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Weekly Recap (5) – Lots of News

 
On Fridays I post a recap of books I’ve read, am reading, and plan to read, as well as any other tidbits I feel like sharing. The format was inspired by Small Review’s Recap posts and On a Book Bender and 25 Hour Books’ Clock Rewinders on a Book Binge posts.

Blogging

This week on the blog:

  • I updated my theme to make the colors a little more cohesive with my header. Do you like the new look? Any weird color clashes I didn’t catch?
  • Out With the Old… – A fresh start to blogging
  • …and In With the New – My 2013 challenge wrap-up

Reading

Started: 

  • Summer Knight (Dresden Files #4) by Jim Butcher
    • I am trying to work my way through this entire series by the end of the year. These books are funny, gut-wrenching, and totally entertaining. I love Harry Dresden!
  • Immortal (Immortal #1) by Gillian Shields
    • I tried to squeeze this one in last year for my Gothic book in the Literary Exploration challenge, but didn’t quite make it before the end of 2013. I’m a sucker for boarding schools and creepy moors, so I’m loving it so far.

Watching

  • Football!
    • I came in second in my fantasy football league this year, and I still can’t shake the football viewing addiction. My favorite college team (Nebraska) won their bowl game, and the NFL playoffs start on Saturday. I’m a happy camper.

Exercising

  • Ironman 70.3 Racine
    • This is perhaps the biggest news I’ve had in a long time. In September my husband and I took the plunge and registered for our first Half Ironman triathlon. I’ve been trying to shake a very persistent case of plantar fasciitis, so I’m not in the shape I had hoped I’d be in at the start of the year. Our training program starts in March, so I have 3 months to get my butt in gear! The holidays are over, so no more excuses.

What have you been up to this week?