Sunday, December 31, 2017

My 2017 Year in Books!

Well, friends, here we are again, standing at the precipice of a new year! While 2017 has been rough in a lot of ways - but also great, in some pretty notable ways as well! - there are a few things I can say for absolute certain. 

One: making macarons is not as hard as you think it is, especially if you are gifted with the patience to sit through approximately 800 YouTube tutorials first. 

Two: Learning to sew is super fun, and I am so excited for the amount of throw pillows I am about to add to my couches and bed in 2018. 

Three: I read some really, really great books in the past 364 days. (And plenty of just-okay ones, as well!) 

Obviously, there were a few significant changes to my reading habits in the past year. For starters, I deliberately set my Goodreads goal a little lower for 2017, with the expressed purpose of allowing me to choose lengthier books and those from different sections of the library (like classics I hadn't touched since college!).

And sure enough, the books I read were longer! This lead to higher page counts on both ends of the spectrum, in terms of my shortest and longest books, and average page length increased slightly, too. Somewhat surprisingly, I ended up scoring things lower on average, as well. So, not only did I pay more attention to what I was reading, but I really weighed how much I liked what I was reading, too.

In total, I read 60 books, three of which were graphic novels, a far cry from last year's "Year of Comic Books."

Let's not forget the other bookish things I've done this year, like taking part in NaNoWriMo for the third time Writing 50,263 words in a grand total of 19 writing days, it was one of the most healthy-but-intense bouts of self-motivated work I've ever taken part in, probably only falling behind my Capstone project for UW in terms of dedication!

I also made yet another big Bookish Resolution, just like I did back in 2015. I adopted the old rule again, with a few twists: no buying books, with only minor allowances on Indie Bookstore Day and my Bloggoversary this past July. In 2017, the seventh year I've had this blog, I only purchased a total of seven books!

It was surprisingly easier than I thought it would be. Maybe it's because last time I embarked upon this project, I was still living up in Seattle, and didn't have access to a local library like the kind I do now that I live at home. Granted, I did rely a lot on that library, and I had the tendency to fall in love with books that I didn't get the chance to keep afterwards, but it did all work out.

What didn't necessarily work out was the intention behind why I set that resolution in the first place. What I had been hoping for, was that I would finally prompt myself to clean up my bookshelves and soar through all of the books I'd bought in the past year, but what happened instead, was that I was still just as selective from their ranks as I was before. While I did manage to explore some titles I had already been looking forward to, I have three unfinished reads for every one I did complete... and honestly, there are still quite a few I'm not sure I'm planning on reading any time soon.

So, that's where I'm leaving off 2017, much in the same way I left 2016: I'm just a tired girl, with shelves full of books, including plenty that I'm glad I read this year, and more that I'm looking forward to reading in the new year, too.

(I think I'll include a list of my new resolutions - both bookish and otherwise - in the early days of 2018!)

Happy New Year, everyone!

What did your 2017 Year in Books look like? What was your favorite read of the year? Let me know, in the comments below!

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Hope Santa Brings Me This Year

"Top Ten Tuesday" is a blogging linkup brought to you by The Broke and the Bookish!

Now the holiday countdown has truly started up in earnest: in just a week from yesterday, Christmas morning will arrive, hopefully with a triumphant armful of presents to go along with it. Whether you've been naughty or nice this year, chances are, you're hoping to find a particular book or two underneath that tree of yours... and you're definitely not alone!

Whether you're looking to ring in the new year cuddled up with a thick fantasy, slim contemporary, poetry anthology, or anything in between, everyone's got a special title they're excited to snuggle with for the rest of Winter Break.

Here are the Top Ten books I hope Santa brings me this year!

books I asked Santa for already 

When it comes to which titles I specifically begged the Big Guy to shimmy down the chimney with this holiday, these are the books that made my Christmas list. 


Manhattan Beach, Jennifer Egan
Favorite author? Check. New release? Check. Period piece with timelines in the Great Depression and WWII? Super check. If this book checked any more boxes for me, it wouldn't just have a place of prominence on my Christmas list... I'd make it the star on top of the tree! 

A Natural History of Dragons (The Memoirs of Lady Trent #1), Marie Brennan
A recommendation from a friend, with a gorgeous cover, and a heavy double-dose of fantasy and the Victorian Age? And dragons? How could anyone say no? 

The Romanovs: 1613-1918, Simon Sebag Montefiore
If this title looks familiar to you, it's because I also listed it in my shoutout to Santa last year! This gorgeous cover has been catching my eye for over a year, and its contents wouldn't just fill out my love of European dynasties, but the aesthetic focus of my bookshelves. 

All the Crooked Saints, Maggie Stiefvater 
Another new release from another favorite author, but this time, the focus is YA contemporary fantasy. As this would be my first foray into the further works of Stiefvater, beyond the Raven Cycle and her exceptional Twitter, I'm incredibly excited to get my hands on a copy. 

maybe someone else is listening, too... 

Gee, if only someone besides Ol' Saint Nick was reading this blog right now. If only I had a dedicated parent with a penchant for blog-reading, who might be open to a little suggestion or two... 


The Power, Naomi Alderman
One of the most hyped books from a year where Merriam Webster's "Word of 2017" was "feminism," this contemporary science fiction exploration as to what would happen if teenage girls were suddenly gifted with superhuman power, and what that ensuing effects on that world would look like, definitely has my attention. 

Sisters First: Stories from Our Wild and Wonderful Life, Jenna Bush Hager and Barbara Pierce Bush
If the Office of the President of the United States is the closest thing Americans have to a monarchy, then First Daughters almost become our princesses. This account by the Bush twins, on what their childhood in Washington D.C. was like, is sure to entertain, as well as give greater background to life in the White House. 

Things are What You Make of Them: Life Advice for Creatives, Adam J. Kurtz 
I've been a longtime fan of Kurtz' artwork on various corners of the Internet, but it was really only recently that I learned he also published books! This recent publication is not only uplifting and inspirational, but covered in color and his signature handwriting style, and I wouldn't dream of starting the new year without it. 

Every Heart a Doorway (Wayward Children #1), Seanan McGuire
No one goes to Narnia, Hogwarts, Wonderland, or the like, and comes back the same person. This 2016 release follows when the children who embark on these wondrous adventures are forced to re-acclimate to the real world, and the lengths they're willing to go through to get back. 

does Mr. Claus know how to pre-order?

Unfortunately, not all the titles I'm making grabby hands at are available right now... in fact, some of them are going to require a little more patience. But if Mrs. Claus has an Amazon account... 


The Financial Diet: A Total Beginner's Guide to Getting Good with Money, Chelsea Fagan and Lauren Ver Hage
Due for publication on January 2nd, this chic compendium of a multitude of adulting challenges comes courtesy of one of my favorite twenty-something bloggers, Chelsea Fagan, and the ladies of the Financial Diet blog! 

The Cruel Prince (The Folk of the Air #1), Holly Black
Also a January 2nd release in the new year, one of my favorite YA fantasy authors releases what is sure to be yet another hit. I've been clamoring for new material since I fell in love with The Darkest Part of the Forest, and I'm hoping that this title will fill the void. 

What's in your Top Ten? Let me know, in the comments below!

Monday, December 18, 2017

Last Minute Gift Guide: For the Whole Family!

It's a little too late to be posting a Gift Guide for the 2017 holiday season, but then again, it's a little late to be buying presents, too... but if you're as much of a slacker as some of the other people in my family, it's never to late to be buying presents (even Christmas Eve is up for grabs!). I mean, anything's game when Amazon Prime has free two-day shipping, am I right?

So, I thought I'd take inspiration from some of my family's procrastinator habits, and give you a few last-minute gift guides, perfect for some last-minute gift purchasing. I can't buy them for you, but I'm sure Siri can find a route between you and this Secret Santa party that hits up Barnes and Noble along the way.


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He owns every Jimmy Buffet album ever released, plus a couple of the "Greatest Hits" ones, too. His wardrobe is chock-full of khaki pants, and he's got at least one pretentious-sounding liquor in his cabinet that he swears he loves, but only sips on special occasions. He's a self-described tech dork, but gets thrown off by his kids' obsessions with the newest app. There's no one you'd trust to make an inappropriate joke, or a better Bailey's-splashed cup of coffee, than this guy.


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She swears she doesn't want anything this year, but you know that's not true. In fact, the only reason you've been putting off buying presents for the culinary queen in your life for so long, is because you've finally accepted that it's impossible to package a trip to France in something that will fit beneath a Christmas tree. You can't just pick up any regular cookbook, because she's either sure to already have it, or hate it on sight, and there's no bouncing back from getting her a spiralizer or novelty-niche veggie peeler for Christmas, not this year.


2018 Tapestry Classic covered spiral binding

She may be graduating from the Business School this coming June, but she's double majoring in home-grown Ambition and sorority-bred Sass. Boasting an impressive pageant-dress collection and a slew of networking business cards, she drops names just as frequently as she pushes your buttons. Still, she's your sister, and that warrants at least one killer Christmas present that's just as special as she is. 


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She believes that denim jackets are secondary in importance to the patches with which you adorn them. She's a  newly-minted vegan who's always ready to convert a fresh food disciple. When she's not busy serving as the Treasurer of Feminist Club, she makes posters of Marsha P Johnson in her printmaking class. She deserves a present that makes just as much of a statement, as her hair does. 



The only thing more vast than his high school band tee shirt collection, is his comprehensive knowledge of the Zelda video games. His favorite thing to do after a rigorous Knowledge Bowl meet is curl up with a good high fantasy. He's a part of not just one, but two, Dungeons and Dragons campaigns, and he knows his way around an ocarina in real life, too. My baby bro is more than worthy of a Christmas gift that's out of this world (or just a portal to another!).

What kind of relatives do you still have to shop for? What is your go-to last-minute gifting idea? Let me know, in the comments below!

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Top Ten Tuesday: Favorite Books of 2017

As of right now, I've read 54 books in 2017, and am dead in the middle of my 55 (Charles Dickens' Oliver Twist). That's why, when it came time for this week's Top Ten Tuesday - choosing my favorite books of 2017 - I was left confused about which titles to select.  

It's hard for me to stamp my foot down and say, "Yes, these ten books were the best of the year," because who knows? Maybe the second half of my December will be absolutely full to bursting with some of the best books of 2017.

However, I will say, as of right now, these were some of the highlights of my reading year. 

{Personal Rules: It doesn't have to be a 2017 release, but it does have to be something I read for the first time in the past year. I had a lot of great rereads in the past twelve months - my first book of the year was Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, my annual summer tradition of Mark Twain's Tom Sawyer was especially needed this year, and re-exploring the first four of Lemony Snicket's Series of Unfortunate Events felt incredibly gratifying, and made me enjoy the Netflix series that much more - but this list is only inclusive of those titles I'd never read before, despite almost all of them being backlist titles.}

1. Drive, Daniel H. Pink
My most recent installment on the list, I filled my November with nonfiction in order to prevent distraction during NaNo. What I found in this exploration of the study of motivation, was a descriptive and intriguing testament to the power of self-direction. 

2. Vicious, V. E. Schwab
I've been a fan of fantasy fave Schwab for a long time, but this super-hero noir novel was so in tune with her aesthetic, while still being a strong departure from her other genre series, that it made me that much more appreciative of her enormous talents.

I was sold on the prospect as soon as I heard "Scooby Doo, but darker." Your favorite teen sleuths fight a Lovecraftian hellbeast, as well as plenty of their own sort of inner demons, nearly destroying their sleepy and idyllic summer town in the process. Fun, fast, and frickin' insane, this was one of my two favorite vacation reads this year. 

12000020This was by far the most surprising favorite of the year. A random library pick-up while looking for something a little more seasonally appropriate for the month of October, this collection of YA horror shorts, based on classic works of fiction, was a standout, which is surprising, due to how well it flew under the radar back when it was first published. 

5. What Color is Your Parachute? 2016 Edition, Richard N. Bolles 
This was, in total, a book I should have read during my senior year of college, should I have been in the right mind to do so. It's a classic for a reason, and gives a great sense of direction and wealth of information while never talking down to the reader. 

30364187The second of those two vacay faves, this emotionally moving and subtle portrayal of two boys finding friendship and love over the course of two summers, was relatable, realistic, and earnestly nostalgic, without ever growing cloying or preachy. 

A collection of personal essays exploring the lives and reputations of famous females - from the internet countdowns that sprung up in anticipation of the Olsen Twins' 18th birthday, to Courtney Love's status as a cultural witch and designated bitch, to Anna Nicole Smith's class transgressions and televised downfall - and how they relate to not only each other, but how they shaped the authors' view of the world, and, of course, the culture of celebrity. 

Another personal essay collection, this one finds its grounding in the idea of how we understand and reflect the emotions of other people. The first essay - about Jamison's employment as an empathy test model for wannabe doctors, and how it forced her to reflect on her own medical history, including an abortion - is still one I find myself unconsciously mulling over. 

9. The Magicians, Lev Grossman
I originally went into this book hoping to finally get it off of my cramped TBR shelves, and to see what the television show was all about. I thought it would be an angsty, early-adult riff on the worlds of Narnia and Harry Potter. I left breathless, happy, and ready to grab the next installment. 

10. Adulting, Kelly Williams Brown
While the title itself has gotten a little tired by now, the contents of this book have absolutely not: a comprehensive breakdown of classic elements to what constitutes a modern adulthood, this tome contains lessons on everything from how to pick an apartment, what to decorate it with, easy recipes to learn and how to make the most of your finances. 

Of course, some honorable mentions are absolutely in order, as well: Sarah J Maas' A Court of Wings and Ruin, Helen Oyeyemi's Boy, Snow, Bird, and Lilly Singh's How to Be a Bawse were also all highlights of this year. 

(You can see my reviews of these, as well as all of the books I've read in the past year here, on my Goodreads Challenge profile.) 

What does your list look like? Let me know, in the comments below!

Monday, November 27, 2017

2017 NaNoWriMo Update #4: I Won NaNo 6 Days Ago!

This time last week, I writing you all about how hard I was working on NaNo. I was decently far ahead of schedule, and had just launched myself past the 40K mark after a brutal couple of days recovering from surgery, but there was obviously still a long ways to go before I got to claim my rightful place in the winner's circle.

Little did I know, that less than 48 hours after I wrote that, I would be speeding across the finish line! 

Okay, I did hope that I'd be able to claim a swift victory, but it was still only achievable after clocking in about 5,000 words on those last two days. Whew! Maybe one day, with those numbers, I'll be able to complete NaNo in ten days, but for now, I'll definitely settle for a successful 21.

That last day was a definite stretch, too, being that 4 hours of it were spent holed up in various urgent care hospital rooms with my sister, who sliced her thumb open while working on a school product. Then, there was the Dancing with the Stars finale - go, Jordan and Lindsay! - and I ended up ticking in my numbers within only minutes to midnight.

Now that I'm done, there's still a lot of ground left to cover. In total, I only finished three short stories, and still have to complete the fourth, which I am only really in the middle of right now.

One of the reasons I chose the medium of short stories in the first place, was so there would be a greater chance of me effectively editing them. Ask any of my family members - annoyed with the fact that I've now completed three different winning NaNo years, without letting them read anything that I've written - and they're pretty urgently expecting the honor of reading my work.

Here's the problem: the last time anyone read any of the creative fiction I've written was about six years ago, when we completed a short story unit in my Junior year AP English class. I didn't take any creative writing classes in college, and I'm very protective of my fiction. One of the reasons I drag my feet so much in letting people read my work, is because it's been a really long time since anyone has gotten the chance to (and vice versa!).

So, the rest of my November will be spent gearing up for rewrites in December, and finishing up that last short story I had been working on. Who knows? Maybe I'll have something worth reading in the new year. As for right now, I'm plenty content to bask in the glory.

nano final stats, as of last Tuesday
total words: 50, 263
average words per day: 2,393
my best day: 5,039
short stories completed: "SuperKids," "Keep It Down," "Leave the Light On," and halfway through my final short story, "Sisters Forever"

How is your NaNo project going? Which is worse, the pain of editing, or having someone else read what you've written? Let me know, in the comments below!

Monday, November 20, 2017

2017 NaNoWriMo Update #3: Writing on Pain Meds, and Squaring Up for Turkey Day Weekend

I may be saying this a little prematurely, but I'm almost done with NaNoWriMo! 

As of 7:32pm last night, I officially hit the "under 10,000 words left" mark, and I couldn't be happier. This mark has always signified the sort of Final Lap of NaNo for me, the culmination of the good writing habits I've been building up in the weeks prior, truly put to the test!

Of course, one of the reasons I'm so happy, is because I actually hadn't written any words at all in the two days preceding, with zero words logged on either last Friday or Saturday... because I had been undergoing, and then recovering from, surgery! After a lithotripsy on my right kidney, I was feeling pretty knocked out, and definitely not in the presence of mind required for writing so many words. Truth be told, I was kind of bummed when I came out of my pain-med-daze and realized I had given up the "updated every day for thirty days" participation badge... but let's be real, what better reason to miss a day or two, rather than a literal medical procedure?

So, in celebration of my successful - but still totally unpleasant - surgery, and hitting that 10,000 words mark, I've actually already ordered my NaNoWriMo Victor's Shirt. Yes, it's still a few days early, but I can honestly say, I've never, ever been more certain I would take the title, than now.

If I can write my way out of post-op recovery, I can definitely finish a little over 9,600 words before my remaining week and a half of November is up.

So, hopefully I'll have plenty of time to celebrate my victory - or pre-victory - this upcoming Thanksgiving weekend! I'm not sure how much time I'll have to write with all of my family here, but I always find a way, somehow. If anything, maybe what I'm most thankful for this holiday season, is that my parents and siblings are always so supportive of what I do.

(As well as willing to deal with my pain-riddled brain for a weekend!)

nano weekly stats, week three
total words: 40, 383
average words per day: 2,125
my best day: 3,309
short stories completed: "SuperKids," "Keep It Down," "Leave the Light On," and getting started on my final short story, "Sisters Forever"

How is your NaNoWriMo project going? How close are you to that elusive finish line? Let me know, in the comments below!

Monday, November 13, 2017

2017 NaNoWriMo Update #2: What I've Been Doing When I'm Not Writing

We're officially about two weeks into NaNoWriMo, and about halfway through the month. However, thanks to more than a few late nights writing, and very productive afternoons, I'm more than 3/5s of the way done with Leave the Light On, my supernatural short story collection!

I'm not going to lie, I think this year's NaNo feels a little bit different to me... maybe it's that I'm working a little harder to make this draft easier to edit, or its that I don't have as much going on in my life as I did in years past, but I find myself really wanting to take my time with writing this stuff. Which is a little weird, being that I'm already a little farther ahead, right?

comparing myself to others... and myself

Hearing about Cait's epic victory with her NaNo project, over at Paper Fury, made me burst into applause (and maybe turn a little green). There's a significant amount of competitiveness that comes through in NaNo, and I'm far from exempt. Far and away, however, my favorite person to compete against is myself. That's why I can't help but compare my pacing and writing from this version of NaNo, to projects I've worked on in Novembers past.

My first successful run, in 2015, with Dead Beat Reporting - which, at the time, was still going by the somewhat more morbid title Blood Read - was very much alongside the pace of what you're supposed to be doing during NaNoWriMo, averaging around 1,667 words per day. That November, not only was I still a full-time student, but I was also still writing for College Fashion, and successfully secured a spot on the UW Panhellenic Executive Board for the following year. I lived in a sorority with over 100 other women, and shared a room with three others, so it wasn't exactly easy to find time and space to write, but I still managed. My numbers were done by-the-day, and I ended a little early, only because coming home for Thanksgiving allowed for a fair amount of alone time.

My second win, last year, with Hit, was such a wholly unexpected and joyous victory, that it temporarily shoved me out of the depression spiral I'd been in after graduating college. The first eight days of November were spent in Disney World with my best friend, so I did no writing... then the next four once I'd gotten back, I was pretty confined to my bed, after experiencing shooting pains in my right side. Which meant I didn't really start writing for my NaNo project last year, until about today. Still, I pulled out a surprise completion that was pretty significantly tied to the support I got from my family, and re-instilled a lot of faith in myself that there was work worth doing, even though I've been having a really tough time finding a job.

So, as someone who's always found a lot of joy in being busy, it's hard to just pledge myself to work at NaNo at a normal pace. I feel like I have to keep finding other ways to fill my days, because if I'm not writing, then what the heck am I doing? 

taking sewing classes at Jo-Ann Fabrics

For my birthday, my mom signed me up for three sewing classes at Jo-Ann's, as the first steps in fulfillment of a long-time goal of mine, to be able to sew my own clothes. In our first class, we created a super cute and basic pillowcase - which is now the comfiest thing in the world, and perfectly matches my new bedding - and a drawstring bag, and for my next class next Wednesday, we're making snuggly flannel pajama pants, just in time for winter!

buying new journal supplies and stickers 

So, I'm not a huge believer in retail therapy... unless, of course, there's a sale, and it's on things I will always need, like a thick new journal (for $4), my favorite nerdy stickers from Redbubble (on super discount, with about 20 stickers averaging out to $23), and major themed sets of washi tape, which were also on sale! I'm still trying to wrap things up in my journal and planner for this year, but it's next too early to stock up on supplies... and I know it's going to feel great on January First, to know that my new journal for 2018 is ready to go!

going shopping for new Fall clothes

Like I said, shopping is not a huge thing, for me... so when we started to head into October, and the temperature outside started dropping, and I found myself layering up on my favorite thrifted sweatshirts and coats inside my own home, it forced me to confront the fact that my closet is currently in a bit of a pickle. Thankfully, my mom knows just how to contend with my fitting room agoraphobia, and led my siblings and I in a whirlwind of Veteran's Day weekend shopping! Now, with two new sets of jeans (that actually fit), several new sweaters and blouses, and even a sort of fashion-y cardigan, I'm ready to face the seasonal changes ahead, with some outfit changes of my own! 

stats for NaNoWriMo, week two
total words: 30,388
average words per day: 2,337
my best day: 4,193
short stories completed: "Superkids," "Keep It Down," working on "Leave the Light On"

What's your NaNoWriMo project looking like for this year? What's your word count so far? Let me know, in the comments below!

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

2017 NaNoWriMo Update #1: What I'm Writing, and What I'm Reading

Y'all know what time of the year it is: it's November, which means, it's time for National Novel Writing Month, aka, NaNoWriMo. I'm so absolutely excited to get started on a new writing project again... I've been waiting for this since July!

And for the first time, I'm doing something a little new. But I'm hoping to come out of this not just with a collection of relatively finished short stories - a structure I haven't really written in since high school - but to find that drive to write every day again. It's hard to push yourself out of your comfort zone, and NaNo is really great for helping me find that off-center mark: the more you're working on, the less afraid you are of failing. You don't have time for fear, here. You barely have time to write!

So, without further ado, just like last year, here's my mock cover and blurb synopsis for this year's NaNoWriMo project: Leave the Light On, a collection of supernatural short stories.

A father's visit to a local parenting support group, reveals a secret community in need of help. A new collegiate, excited to take part in sorority life, comes face to face with a neighborhood ghost. A down-on-their-luck couple finds an unlikely source of protection, in a lamp that won't turn off. An angry teen finds his life is left a lot quieter, after damaging an old woman's strange music box. 
Finding their footing in real, daily tragedies, the true ghouls of this collection are not otherworldly so much as firmly grounded in the realities of many, from grappling with the heartbreak of losing a relative, to the inescapable loneliness of feeling abandoned, and the pervasive social ills of sexual assault and domestic violence. 
These supernatural stories, and the characters within them, explore the boundaries of personal horror, by flipping the focus from the ghosts and demons found within, to the misfortunes of the human experience. Together, they form a compendium of shorts, which highlight all the ways the exaggeration of horror and fantasy give way to pedestrian truths: pain cannot help but be felt, everyone deserves your respect, and true love can transcend anything.  
Meanwhile, if there's anything that stands as a daily struggle during NaNo that's not just tied to writing, it's figuring out what to read, too. I have a big problem with reading fiction during the month of November, just because I feel like inevitably, the voice of the writer I'm reading, interferes with my ability to write using my own voice.

But it's not like I'm just going to stop reading, because that's neither productive, nor is it, in the long run, going to help my own writing all that much. I still need a ways to relax, take a break, and get out of my own head every once in a while, and that's why reading can be such a crucial resource during the month of NaNo.

So, I went to the library last week, and picked up a couple of good books to prepare for the month ahead. Because I wasn't invested in reading too many stories that would distract me, here are the genres I chose as my focus, instead:
  • business-oriented and self-help books : I'm still caught in the miserable throes of trying to find a job, so at least this way, I'm still being productive in my down time. I'm excited to finished with Leave Your Mark, by Aliza Licht, so I can get to Drive: the Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, by Daniel Pink, and Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resistance, and Finding Joy, by Adam Grant and Sheryl Sandberg.  
  • cookbooks: It's no secret that whenever I go to the library, I return with at least one cookbook, so nothing too out of the ordinary here. I'm big on breakfast, and these freezing Fall mornings have been making it difficult to get out of bed, so I'm excited to go through Rise and Shine, by Katie Sutherland Morford, to find something delicious and new. 
  • poetry: I've had an itch for poetry since this summer, when I found out some of my friends and favorite Internet creators still had a habit for writing it. I haven't really devoted myself to poetry since maybe middle school, so it would be nice to get back into the habit, which is why I picked up The 100 Best Poems of All Time, edited by Leslie Pockell. 
Hopefully, these reads will still be entertaining enough to loosen up my strained brain when I need a writing break, without being so distracting that I'd rather spend my time reading than writing! 

my stats for 2017 NaNoWriMo Week 1, as of the end of Sunday, 11/5: 

total words: 12,528
average words per day: 2,505
my best day: 3,361
short stories completed: "Superkids," working on: "Keep It Down"

Are you taking part in NaNoWriMo? What does your writing project look like this month? Let me know, in the comments below!

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Review: Final Girls

Boo to you, goblins and ghoulies... I hope you're having a horror-rific Halloween! 

In my attempts to get into the season's readings this month, I ventured over to the spookier side of my TBR, with a special thriller I've been anticipating all year... unfortunately, the results were frightfully disappointing. While I'm still scaring up a few last minute favorites to fill my haunting hours, here's why this recent release left me feeling gravely underwhelmed. 

Final Girls, by Riley Sager, finds its heroine standing in a culturally significant space: at the violent ends of horror flicks, as the last ladies left alive to tell the tale... only, in this novel, the massacres that breed these fierce survivors are all too real. There's Lisa, who somehow escaped after a madman claimed the lives of nine of her sorority sisters; there's Sam, who outmaneuvered the Sack Man, during a harrowing graveyard shift at the Nightlight Inn; and there's Quincy, the sole survivor of a horrifying night in a cabin in the woods, at a college party gone terrifyingly wrong.

Quincy, however, has tried her best to put the title behind her. She's a baking blogger in New York City, living in an apartment financed by the extreme legal fallout after her attack, desperately hoping that her carefully-manicured image makes up for a young adulthood spent in the limelight for all the wrong reasons. However, that perfect tableau falls apart with the news that Lisa has been found dead, especially once Sam shows up on her doorstep. After all that these women have been through... could it be that someone still wants them dead? 

With a blurb that promised an intriguing mystery, and a title featuring a favorite cinematic tropes, this book was set up to be one of my most anticipated of the year. It had a Stephen King promo on the front! When I had the chance to buy only five books when celebrating my bloggoversary, interrupting an otherwise year-long buying ban, this novel was one of the chosen few that made the cut!

Unfortunately, all this hype set it up so that when the main characterizations fell flat, motivations got murky, and action escalated at an uneven pace, it made it all the more disappointing. 

In fact, I only made it about 50 pages in before I told my Dad, "This is actually turning out to be kind of a bummer." I had all the information I needed, in order to get a read on my current reading: the book lacked any kind of cinematic quality - a definite issue, once you consider the distinctly cinematic nature of its title and concept - our main character was unrelatable, and frankly unlikable, too, and none of the backgrounds given for the leading characters were especially believable or interesting.

And the pacing was uneven. It didn't just gap in places, it yawned, especially in between Quincy's current timeline, versus flashbacks to the night of the carnage at Pine Cottage. Not to mention that by certain contrivances of the plot, by the time you get the full story on the murders, you don't really get the impression Quincy necessarily deserved to be a Final Girl; it kind of seems like she survived on a fluke. Even before you reach that particular plot apex, suspense is built through attempts to construct her as an unreliable narrator, but those fell extremely flat, as well, as amnesia-centered-plot lines tend to do.

So with plot development, our main heroine, and a key conceptual literary device, all lacking luster, I had one thing on my mind: this cannot be this author's home genre.

You see, the notes in the back of the novel mention that "Riley Sager" is actually a pseudonym, covering for an already established author. My immediate bets arranged themselves towards the romance or chick-lit genres, or maybe even a contemporary YA author, because that's the only way I found myself able to justify the strange characterizations or lack of standard Horror or Thriller background demonstrated in this novel.

Internet exploration quickly led me to the author's real name: Todd Ritter, who deals in Crime Fiction. Unfortunately, this clarified nothing for me. 

For someone whose main series centers around a female detective, it was strange that none of the police characters in Final Girls demonstrated much agency or aptitude beyond their two-dimensional renderings. I also have a lot of questions as to why he would elect to use a deliberately gender-neutral pseudonym for a genre that's a kissing cousin to the one in which he already writes, in order to somehow lend credence to the belief that the author of this book was female. 

In the end, perhaps the book's greatest downfall, in my view, is due to its reliance on the cultural collateral typically ascribed to a Final Girl, when those aren't the only variables in a horror story necessary to creating a compelling plot: it's not just Nancy, it's Freddy. It's not just Laurie, it's Michael. It's not just Sydney, it's the numerous men (and women) behind the Ghostface mask. To create a compelling and powerful Final Girl, you need to experience the horror of what she's up against firsthand.

So with a story line that focuses on deliberately obscuring that fact until the last possible moment, you're holding back on a very important function of what it actually means to be a Final Girl. By not examining the backgrounds of the killers that led to the formation of these other women, a disservice is does to the complexity of their characters. As a result, everything just feels uneven: we're told we should root for Quincy - as not only the titular Final Girl, but as a lead character - but are never given complex or significant reasons to do so.

Final Verdict: While this dead read may have been one of my biggest letdowns of my reading year, it did help me cross the finish line for my Goodreads Challenge of 2017, just in time for NaNoWriMo! Plus, there's plenty of leftover Kit Kat bars to help numb the pain...

Who's your favorite Final Girl? What are you reading this Halloween? Let me know, in the comments below!

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Review: Vicious

From A Darker Shade of Magic, to This Savage Song, to  her short story in the Because You Love to Hate Me collection, and even her Twitter account, I've pretty much cemented the fact that Victoria Schwab is one of my favorite authors. That's exactly why I've been saving this particular creepy read for a chilly October day... and now, I'm stuck deciding whether I wish I'd read it sooner, or if the wait made it all the better. All I know, is that I'm looking forward to repeating the adventure soon! 

Vicious, by V. E. Schwab (the non-YA writing alias for prolific author Victoria Schwab), follows Victor Vale through two parts of his life, decisively divided into a "before" and an "after." There's ten years ago, when he and his best friend, Eli, decided to explore the pathway to achieving super-abilities as an EO - or ExtraOrdinary - human, in a college thesis experiment gone rogue. Then there's ten years later, as Victor plots revenge, alongside his prison cellmate Mitch, and Sydney, a twelve year old girl with some interesting powers of her own. As the two timelines converge in a mishmash of interconnecting chapters and viewpoints, betrayal and loss are brought to the forefront, as two archnemeses prepare for the ultimate showdown.

When it came time to write up my initial thoughts on this book, shortly after turning the final page, I typed the following note: "I feel like I should wait until tomorrow morning in order to write a more comprehensive review. All that's going through my head right now is a chorus of 'That was awesome!'"

Schwab is an expert at constructing grey characters, and this book seems to deal exclusively in that palette. Ranging from a serial murderer with a religious hero complex, to a self-described villain with the ability to manipulate pain and a habit for saving others, everyone occupying the city of Merit seems to lie somewhere between charcoal and slate. Except, of course, when they're dealing in red... because there's a whole lot of murder here, only slightly remedied by a girl with a penchant for raising the dead.

The non-chronological time order required careful attention to the chapter headings, but getting used to it came quickly, especially as the tones between the differing timelines are fairly distinct. The effect was a purposefully muddled and deliberate shielding of certain moments and information until it became absolutely necessary to the reader's understanding of the narrative, and the gradual reveal of our shadowy characters' true stories and selves were completely in line with their own ambiguous moral codes.

In any superhero movie, the question is inevitably raised, as to the level of responsibility the character in question has in protecting anyone else. In Spider Man, Uncle Ben delivers one of the most iconic lines in the entire genre, equating the possession of power with the burden of mastering it for a greater purpose. In Vicious, this dynamic is turned on its head: EOs are pretty exclusively shown manipulating their power for personal gain, and the one among them who self-identifies with heroics does so not through saving those in need, but by destroying others. Even our narrative focus, Victor himself, isn't necessarily preoccupied with protecting civilians, either, but is motivated almost solely by revenge.

This helps solidify one of my favorite elements of the novel.

Because of the attention paid to the development of the somewhat reckless self-benefit of EO abilities, a character focus established early on, is whether these mutations make them something that aligns less with being a man, than being a monster. Is becoming something superhuman an act against God, and his creation? What do you sacrifice - what does your soul sacrifice - in becoming something that strays so far from the boundaries of humanity?

One of the best things Schwab does, is keep this answer subjective, especially when it comes to the ways her main characters grapple with their newfound abilities. Clashes about how personalities are reflected and changed in the acquisition of superpowers, forms a central conflict, without an answer ever truly being found, as compelling arguments are generated on both sides of the spectrum.

Are these new rough edges and hard faults something that comes to the surface when you become something new, or have they already been there? Has something else shoved its way in? The moral debates that formed the catalyst for action were so much more compelling than any typical revenge plot, that it allowed for significant forms of personal and relationship development that affected the ways characters interacted, without having the question ever fully resolved.

As a whole, the novel leaves plenty of room for sequential development, while still standing solidly on its own. The final page ends with loose ends pretty much tied, but enough give in them to where there was room to knit something just as new and compelling together to it.

Final Verdict: A gritty, grey variation on the traditional superhero origin story, Vicious is another perfect addition to Schwab's expertly curated canon of novels. Fans of movies like Unbreakable and Chronicle - and probably Sin City - would love this uniquely dark, action-packed adventure.

Are you a fan of Victoria Schwab? Which of her books is your favorite? Let me know, in the comments below!

Monday, October 23, 2017

Twilight Reread: The Podcast, The Novel, My Brother, and The Movie

At the start of my summer reading, I mentioned my intentions for generating a very specific kind of book club: one involving my younger siblings, a podcast, and the series of novels that turned paranormal romance into a publishing genre juggernaut.

into the twilight

The idea came in the wake of a growing obsession with a podcast run by a friend from college: Into the Twilight. The podcast recaps two chapters of the book series with every episode, with our two hosts - Cody and Ally - providing modern commentary, calling out problematic (or just bad) writing, and even exploring their own relationships with the series itself. Over time, other elements, like movie reviews, online quizzes, and readings of excerpts from all-too-recently-published fan-fiction, were added to the show lineup, adding only more hilarity to what was already a pretty surreal media experience.

After listening to the series for a while, what had originally been intended as a sweet and awkward nostalgia trip through the reading material of my younger years, had actually revitalized a long-dormant interest, in one of the cringiest book series I'd ever read. I decided that after I finished all of the podcast series recaps for the first book, I would take a trip back in time myself.

back to middle school

It's truly amazing how rereading Twilight felt familiar and nostalgic, but different. More than anything, it was like opening a time capsule of my earliest preteen years. 

Here's a quick flashback to the personal significance of reading Twilight when the books were first published, in 2005: I was eleven, entering the sixth grade, and was all too aware at that point of the social damages I'd already accrued from admitting I read vampire books. I had gone through R. L. Stine's Dangerous Girls with desperate fervor, a friend had lent me a few copies of Amelia Atwater-Rhodes' various novels, and I had even tried my hand at Bram Stoker's Dracula (only to generate a compulsion to lock my windows and shut my blinds before I went to sleep every night, a habit I only managed to break in college).

It was a hobby I entertained exclusively in private... until two years later, in 2007, when suddenly, Team Edward fever swept through our middle school with such ferocity, you'd think the local high school was playing Forks HS for Homecoming. Eclipse - the third in the series - was published that year, and previews would soon be running for the Twilight movie, premiering the following November. Vampires were now in vogue, for the teenage set.

The same kids who though me strange before, now considered themselves to be ahead of the trend, with this hot new reading material. The books I had originally embraced for their genre, I abandoned with just as much feeling. In my mind, they weren't really vampire novels at all, because if they had been, then why was everyone else reading them?

I felt just as embarrassed about Twilight at 23, as I did at 13. Instead of taking the book anywhere in public, I read it on a camping trip.

my brother joins in

After I was done  - and still reeling from the resulting time warp - I handed the book off to my baby brother, Beau, who, even at fifteen-turning-sixteen, has a tendency to ride on the same reading wavelength as me. It's one of the reasons I was so interested in seeing his reaction to the book: with similar tastes, and differing history, what would he think of this teen lit phenomena?

What I hadn't accounted for, was the factor of something akin to socialized expectation. His understanding of its story was generated from an outside-in standpoint, rather than one that went inside-out: he grew up knowing of and observing Twilight's background and cultural collateral, he was raised seeing its wider impact and subsequent backlash firsthand, long before he knew its plot or characters well enough to decide for himself.

It's one of many reasons why the book, to him, was absolutely hilarious.

Because of this element of previous cultural engagement, for him, the novel ran closer to satire, brimming with unintentional irony and meta-humor constructed not from the objective nature of the text itself, but of his already-developed understanding, of what the text generated in mainstream culture, from its original popularity to pretty much a decade after its publication. When he read the book, he wasn't interacting with the text first: he had to wade through twelve years of pop cultural understanding, before he even had the chance to get to the simplistic YA romance of a girl and a vampire.

But even when he managed to - when he set all of those preconceptions of the novel, and its miscellaneous media extremities, aside - he still ended up really liking it. So, of course, we had to watch the movie.

kristen, robert, and my sister, delaney

One of my younger sisters, Delaney, is a movie buff, and a Twilight fanatic.

She watches all of the movies on a somewhat annual basis. An "Edward + Bella = Forever" tee shirt we found in the XXL women's section of a Value Village a couple of years ago, is a regular staple in her wardrobe. She near-exclusively drinks Rainier beer, because that's what Charlie Swan drinks in the movies, and when she had an opportunity to meet Billy Burke - who plays the character - it was one of the first things she told him. The photos of this exchange are currently her pinned tweet on Twitter.

You'd think she'd have been a super-fan since Twilight first hit teen bookshelves everywhere, but that's not necessarily the case. She saw the first movie, loved it, read all the books in one go, and saw the rest of the movies in theaters... but the real hype didn't actually kick in until years later, in college.

She demanded to be able to watch the movie with us, while on vacation towards the end of summer.

bella, edward, and the family

For Beau, it was his first time watching the whole way through; for Delaney, she was so well-acquainted with the material that she interacted with the television in a pseudo-Rocky Horror manner, calling out phrases that interacted with on-screen activity, or quoting lines alongside some of her favorite characters. The jokes made it clear that while this was one of her favorite franchises, even she knew that it was not above criticism or comedy. If anything, her enjoyment of the movie was, in some ways, constructed around the fact that it was more than a little ridiculous.

I'd forgotten a lot about how this movie interprets the plot, and even found elements of the novel absent from the movie that I was surprised I missed, like some of my favorite lines (for instance, the scene where Bella pressures Edward into eating a slice of pizza in the school cafeteria, which contains one of my favorite pieces of dialogue in the whole series).

There were aspects of the movie's construction that threw me off, too, yet seemed so emblematic of the franchise as a whole that I can't believe I forgot them: the strange blue color filtration, the intensity of close-up camera angles, and the prevalence of great music covering up otherwise completely silent scenes. The fact that the movie soundtrack was so much better than I had ever given it credit for, was just something I had never paid that much attention to, until Ally and Cody made frequent mention of it on the podcast.

By the time the credits rolled, my brother had already given his initial verdict: "When I was reading the book, I didn't imagine them just... staring... quite so much."

my baby brother writes a review

After about a month of simmering, and a return to scholastic reading with the advent of the new school year, I asked Beau again what his overall thoughts were, not just of the book, but also of the movie, and of our family's coveting of both.
"Overall, reading and watching Twilight was a blast, though it should not be said that these books are objectively good. In my opinion, these books are bad, but this faultiness is one of the reasons I love it.  
I have grown up around three different sisters who have all individually read this series and over time I have obtained a small portion of understanding of what this series was about: a girl named Bella meets hot vampire dude, and romantic adventures ensue.  
However, this limited foresight is what allowed me to truly enjoy this book. A vague and warped understanding of the plot, caused me to know what to expect ahead of time, but also allowed me to appreciate some of the features of the story more.  
Twilight, the book, is filled to the brim with classic cheesy scenes, many of which made me laugh. The movie is very similar, with the addition of strange acting choices. Sadly, the movie also loses some so-bad-it's-good lines and moments along the way, to shorten up its run time (Though, as previously stated, it is a great time with good friends).  
In conclusion, Twilight was a fun read and I am glad I read it. It is a much more hilarious book if you don't take it too seriously. One thing for sure, is that I’m planning on finishing the series.

rereading New Moon

Now, I'm finishing up the last couple of podcast episodes covering New Moon. My brother is impatient to get to read it as well, with absolutely no shame in carrying it to school as a proud sophomore high school student, exhibiting more self-confidence than I ever had in my first readings of these novels.

In that way, it's been an interesting experience exploring what this franchise means to each of us. For me, it was a source of preteen shame, that lost all fun once swept up in the crowd; now that I've been able to let go of some of that social anxiety, I've can enjoy the book for what it is. My sister was a part of the initial craze, but found she could love it more once the rest of the frenzy had already past. My brother grew up in the "post-Twilight" pop culture experience, and the books are more fun for him now than they probably would have ever been, had he been a part of the initial phenomenon.

While there are still plenty of issues with the books as a whole, there's one element of their popularity I've always found necessary to highlight: this series got people reading. However, the power of this statement doesn't come from the idea that lots of people were reading these specific books, but that these specific books were being read by a diverse and multi-faceted population of people. 

From a variety of backgrounds and life experiences, ages, genders, sexualities, careers, and other forms of social divide, a whole lot of us read this book. If my sister, brother, and I could all come from different ways of thinking, and enjoy something as silly as a YA vampire romance together, then who's to say what it might mean to other people, too?

When was the first time you read Twilight? Would you think about rereading it now? Let me know, in the comments below!