Friday, February 28, 2014

Mini YA Reviews

I've been on a YA kick lately, and I've been flying through books (at least, flying compared to my usual pace). And I have a huge stack at home because naturally all my library holds became available AT THE SAME TIME.

Big problems, y'all.

Actually, I've been going through books so quickly I'm kindof getting whiplash. That's never happened to me before. I usually have such a clear idea of what I'm going to read next, but lately I have this blank... And then I go through the usual routine of reading three or four first chapters before I finally fall into something.

I'm trying not to put myself under pressure to read more just for the sake of the numbers. I realize my 17 books in 2013 was pretty pathetic, but books need to remain as my escape, my way to center my life. Period.


The Lives We Lost by Megan Crewe (Fallen World #2)

A deadly virus has destroyed Kaelyn’s small island community and spread beyond the quarantine. No one is safe. But when Kaelyn finds samples of a vaccine in her father's abandoned lab, she knows there must be someone, somewhere, who can replicate it. As Kaelyn and her friends head to the mainland, they encounter a world beyond recognition. It’s not only the “friendly flu” that’s a killer—there are people who will stop at nothing to get their hands on the vaccine. How much will Kaelyn risk for an unproven cure, when the search could either destroy those she loves or save the human race? (BN|GR)

Ok, so I loved Loved LOVED the first book (The Way We Fall) in addition to being scared shitless the whole time, but then the last two pages ruined it for me a bit. What read as a great science-based survival story (I am endlessly fascinated by viruses) suddenly turned into a teen love triangle (or, quadrangle?). I wasn't happy. I told myself I wasn't going to continue (out of spite, but still).

Then I saw the second book in the library. And I couldn't resist reading the cover copy. And I couldn't resist taking it home. And then I opened it as soon as I could, just to see how the first chapter went.

And then I finished it.

So, okay that plan didn't work. But trust me, this book is nothing like what I was worried it would be. It is still a great survival story, with logical progression and a few surprising twists (the flu spreading to the mainland, which even though is in the jacket copy I still missed that point), and I really, really enjoyed it. The story is tense and I flew through the pages, but not quite tense enough to give me nightmares (like the first book). My one gripe is that this is the middle book of a trilogy, and it reads like the middle section of a longer book. There's no real ending. That was frustrating. But, I am absolutely dying to read the third one now (The Worlds We Make, which HOLY SHIT just came out this month forget everything I just said!)

Ok, realizing the last book is out kindof derailed the rest of this review. TL;DR: I love this series, and will be reading the last book as soon as frigging possible. I love that this is a virus that could happen in our world, there are no fantasy elements or zombies or anything, and that makes it so real and awesome and scary!


In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters

In 1918, the world seems on the verge of apocalypse. Americans roam the streets in gauze masks to ward off the deadly Spanish influenza, and the government ships young men to the front lines of a brutal war, creating an atmosphere of fear and confusion. Sixteen-year-old Mary Shelley Black watches as desperate mourners flock to séances and spirit photographers for comfort, but she herself has never believed in ghosts. During her bleakest moment, however, she’s forced to rethink her entire way of looking at life and death, for her first love—a boy who died in battle—returns in spirit form. But what does he want from her? (BN|GR)

A bit late to the bandwagon on this one, but wow, the atmosphere in this book is unbelievable. Between the flu masks and the onions with every meal and all the strange folk remedies and news of the war, the bleakness oozed out of the pages. Honestly, it left me a bit anxious through the whole thing, the mystery was relentless and I knew it wasn't going to have a happy ending and yet I had to know what happened. It wasn't what I thought it would be, but that's just fine. This book is different and wonderful (and a standalone!) and definitely creeptastic. And all the onions were gross, so gross. Ew. This is definitely not a book for the faint of heart! But it is well worth a read.


Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz 

Aristotle is an angry teen with a brother in prison. Dante is a know-it-all who has an unusual way of looking at the world. When the two meet at the swimming pool, they seem to have nothing in common. But as the loners start spending time together, they discover that they share a special friendship—the kind that changes lives and lasts a lifetime. And it is through this friendship that Ari and Dante will learn the most important truths about themselves and the kind of people they want to be. (BN|GR)

Of the three books in this post, this one is far and away my favorite (and it isn't about a virus, surprisingly, thought it is QUILTBAG, my other current reading trend). It follows Ari and Dante over two summers, and shit gets real, man, and they are there for each other. It's about misfits finding their people, and not having to change. It's about the two coolest sets of parents ever. It's about falling in love with the right person, and fighting for what you believe in. I loved it so much. I wish I could send a copy to everyone in Arizona. And Russia.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Burninating the Internets

I totally stole the name of this post from Lauren M. Roy solely because I needed a reason to give you some Trogdor. (Seriously, HomeStarRunner got me through High School. "How to Play the Guitar" is also amazing.)

Tor, I love you. Another awesome blog series: Writers on Writing.

Amtrack, I never thought I'd say this, but I think I love you too: Amtrack Writer's Residency.

Claire Legrand: The Importance of the Unlikeable Heroine.

Books I read in 2013

I realize it is nearly March. Get over it.

Graceling - Kristin Cashore (x2)
Fire - Kristin Cashore (x2)
The Emperor's Soul - Brandon Sanderson
Bitterblue - Kristin Cashore
Taken - Erin Bowman
Little Brother - Cory Doctorow
Ready Player One - Ernest Cline
The Atrocity Archives - Charles Stross
The Hum and the Shiver - Alex Bledsoe
The Ocean at the End of the Lane - Neil Gaiman
Leviathan Wakes - James S. A. Corey
Fangirl - Rainbow Rowell
The Shadow of the Soul - Sarah Pinborough
Eleanor and Park - Rainbow Rowell
Unteachable - Leah Raeder
How I Live Now - Meg Rosoff
The Language of Flowers - Vanessa Diffenbaugh

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Small Victories

Very recently, I decided to start writing during my lunch break. I shovel down a few bites of whatever so I don't starve, then I grab my laptop and sit in the conference room at work. I have half an hour, and my goal is 500 words.

IT'S AMAZING.

Seriously, why have I never thought of this before? I get a decent amount of reading into the day because I have a dedicated time for it: a 40 minute commute on the train, twice a day. I've been doing this for a while, but it wasn't until I saw this post by Dahlia Adler that I realized I had a Thing and it was working for me.

This leads me to think that the whole reason I wasn't getting my writing done was because I didn't have a dedicated time for it. I was trying to fit it into the evenings, and it always got lost in the shuffle of life and dinner and chores and errands and Netflix. Writing at night felt too much like homework (that is, not very enjoyable, even though I was one of those nerds who enjoyed homework, there was always a limit to the fun). I'm tired because I've already put in a full day of work, cranky because I'm hungry and the trains don't operate at lightspeed, and I'm supposed to sit down and think coherent thoughts. Nope. Not happening.

The Significant Other is starting a new job, and we're both working day shift (for the first time EVAH). I thought about getting up (earlier than now) with him, and writing in the morning before I leave. Ha. HA. Nope again. I'm stupid in the morning. I'm awake and I have a ton of energy, but for things like cleaning and dishes and taking the trash out. Thinking is just a circular trap of hell.

My daily goal was 500 words, and I was getting it only 1-3 times per week. Maybe. But since I started Lunchtime Writing, I've hit it Every. Single. Day.

I didn't think it would be such a success either. The key is to get up and sit somewhere else, otherwise I'm sucked into work email and the internet. It isn't magic... I changed something to create a dedicated time for writing, and suddenly I'm always writing.

If you also think finding writing time is a black hole of suck, you could try to change something about your routine, something that gets you away from normal. Just saying "I'll write at 8-9pm every night" isn't going to change anything if you don't get up off the couch and turn off the TV. Where are your transitions throughout the day? When do you stop one task and start another? Maybe instead of crashing on the couch like you normally would after cleaning up dinner, sit at a desk. Don't even go to the couch, go somewhere else so your brain knows you're doing something different.

Writing is AWESOME now that I don't have to beat myself up about not doing it. And the successes build every day, gaining momentum and keeping you going.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Around the Interwebs


Why no, I'm not crying, WHY WOULD THAT BE. Very sincere thanks to Beth Revis for sharing, cause hell, I'm all teary.

And speaking of, have you ever read/seen The Reader by Bernard Schlink? Because oh my god do I cry in that movie. I don't think I am emotionally equipped to handle the book. (That's also why I've never read My Sister's Keeper, despite two different people giving it to me. No thank you no no no fuck no.)

And because evidently this is a Day of Tears, read this post by Leah Raeder: All Things Queer and Wonderful. (Also, her book Unteachable was awesome.)

Friday, February 14, 2014

On Writing: Someone has to do it

Someone has to do it.
Someone has to take what they love and make a go of it.

- C. J. Omololu


Look, I get it. It's hard, really fucking hard, to keep your life going and still create. When I've put in a full day at the day job, dealt with a busy commute, only to get home and do dishes, laundry, and grocery shopping, the last thing I want to do is sit down and do more work. I want to finish that bottle of wine in the fridge and watch TV and fall asleep at eight oclock.

But I can't. And you can't.

Because if you're anything like me, all you can think about while watching TV is the story. How I'm not writing, and I'm settling for this other world when I want to be thinking about my world. How the characters work against each other, how the plot is all wrong, how I want to add a few more painful bricks to this thing that doesn't make any sense yet and is only partially moving toward the vision I have in my head.

But I keep sitting there, because I'm tired and it's hard to cut your soul every night trying to find a little bit of truth in a fantastical story.

And then I beat myself up about it, and feel even worse.

And this, right here, is the pivotal moment. Maybe I get up to write something. Maybe that little bit of something is enough to quell the fire inside me for the night, maybe it's all shit and I feel no better and I go back to watching TV. But the point is I have to try. I have to try. I have to realize that unless I am growing, and learning, and working toward The End, and creating, that the rest of it will only drag me down.

It isn't a bad thing to want to watch TV. As a matter of fact, there are several shows I love and I never miss an episode and they are amazing works of art. They refill me. It definitely isn't a bad thing to want to hang out with a significant other, to do nothing else but talk of funny things and play with each other's fingertips and eat ice cream right out of the container until it melts into soup. It's a wonderful thing to share with someone.

But understand, these things mean more when your soul is growing. When you know, deep in your heart, that you are working toward something. That you are making your mark on the world.

=-=-=-=-=-=

When I was a kid, my mom used to tell me all the time that I was a glutton for punishment. Well, yeah. I was always getting into trouble. I never thought before I acted, I just did things. Like throwing a softball into the air in a crowd of people, over and over until I hit someone in the head (yeah, that happened). Or daring my little brother he couldn't catch a nickel in his mouth, until he did and swallowed it and had to spend the afternoon at the hospital getting x-rays (yeah, I did that, too).

My point is, I seem to want to make myself miserable. I need to make myself miserable. I didn't decide to become a writer, I am a writer. There is always something missing in my day, something I didn't do that I know I should have, until I finally sit down and carve some words out of stone. It's not until that happens that I can finally relax for the night. And carving into stone is exactly what it feels like sometimes. Sometimes, it takes exactly that long. Two hours of work and struggle and only 200 words to show for it.

=-=-=-=-=-=

I realize, after reading everything I've written so far, that I still need to explain something. I am still far from perfect. I still let myself get paralyzed, be it by fear or laziness, and I let the writing slide. I'll do it tomorrow. No. I should be doing it right now. It isn't about the end game, the finished product, it's about the journey, and figuring out how to keep the rest of my life sane while I'm doing it. Because if I'm not working on it, I'm missing something. Even with everything else wonderful in my life, I still need this. I have to do it.

So just own up, sit down, and do the work. Even when it hurts. You'll feel better having worked on it, and then you can truly relax and appreciate everything else.

Until tomorrow. Then you have to do it again.

=-=-=-=-=-=

A few articles I've read recently, that all led up to this post:
The Days When You Don't Feel Like Writing, by Chuck Wendig 
Reader of the Month: February, via ZenPencils.com
Holly West: Five Things I've Learned Writing Mistress of Fortune, via Terribleminds.com (she feels the same way I do!)

Monday, February 10, 2014

The Humans by Matt Haig

When an extra-terrestrial visitor arrives on Earth, his first impressions of the human species are less than positive. Taking the form of Professor Andrew Martin, a prominent mathematician at Cambridge University, the visitor is eager to complete the gruesome task assigned him and hurry home to his own utopian planet, where everyone is omniscient and immortal.

He is disgusted by the way humans look, what they eat, their capacity for murder and war, and is equally baffled by the concepts of love and family. But as time goes on, he starts to realize there may be more to this strange species than he had thought. Disguised as Martin, he drinks wine, reads poetry, develops an ear for rock music, and a taste for peanut butter. Slowly, unexpectedly, he forges bonds with Martin’s family. He begins to see hope and beauty in the humans’ imperfection, and begins to question the very mission that brought him there.
(BN|GR)

I really can't tell you much about this book other than READ IT. This book was seriously just an absolute joy from beginning to end. The opening chapters were darkly hilarious, and the book proceeded to get more serious and heartwarming (and heart crushing) as it went on. What really makes this book shine is the unique perspective of the narrator... distant enough from Earth society to get everything wrong, but familiar enough that we always know what he is referring to. But he doesn't just get it wrong, he gets it wrong in a way that makes perfect sense. So many things we do are so contrived and ridiculous, but it's just How Things Are. Matt Haig has really created a work of art.

I wanted to make this more of an actual review, but it turned out that all I had was love for this book. The writing is phenomenal. The story is equal parts funny and serious. This one is going on my favorites shelf!