Monday, January 23, 2017

Beautiful Books: January 2017

It's hard to believe that January is almost over. Didn't 2017 just begin? A lot has happened in the past month or so. It's been a busy time, which is why I've been sticking to book reviews lately. I hope to pop in here and there with writing related posts and other random snippets and ramblings, but consistently, it'll be book reviews and comic book gushing.

Otherwise, you can find me still writing once a week at The Fangirl Initiative and posting chapters for the serial story, Thieves of Bakkaj. (If you haven't checked out the story, you should.) In addition, I've started posting bookstagram photos on my Instagram account, which has been super fun! Feel free to follow me and discuss books.

Today, I'll be participating in January's Beautiful Books segment. Previously, I highlighted my 2016 year in books and my most anticipated reads and reading goals for 2017. Now, I'm going to dive into the other side of this blog: writing. Specially, these questions will discuss my writing accomplishments from 2016 and what I hope to do in 2017. 

1. What were your writing achievements last year?

  • I successfully helped start a serial story that has been updated weekly since the beginning of November. I've fallen in love with the characters and world we've created, and I'm so glad we're able to share it with everybody else for free! 
  • I completed NaNoWriMo 2016, even though I was rebelling and editing/re-writing a draft. I haven't finished that draft, but I've learned a lot about the direction of the story and what I need to do in order to finish it. 
  • I've come up with a lot of ideas for stories and story-telling. Probably too many for me to ever write, but it helps flourish my creativity and imagination. While I may not have written as much or gotten as far with my writing as I initially planned, I learned a lot as I explored and discovered during 2016. It's helped me as a writer. (Plus, learning how to balance working a full-time job while writing and reading lots and lots of books and also pretending to be social and artistic takes a lot of practice. I'm still perfecting that.)
2. What’s on your writerly “to-do list” for 2017?

  • Continue writing the serial story and making it even better than it already is. 
  • Further edits for A Girl and Her Dragon and hopefully get an alpha reader to read over draft 2.5/3 by the year's end.
  • Publish a blog post once a week for the entire year. 
  • Edit the library story.
  • Start a new story for NaNoWriMo 2017.
  • Something fun, something new.
3. Tell us about your top-priority writing projects for this year!

  • Thieves of Bakkaj is an online serial story I write with three friends. It's a high-fantasy story that follows several characters as they maneuver through a world of magic, myth, and mystique. And it can probably be explained better by going to the website and reading it. (Also, I love all my characters and all the other characters.)
  • A Girl and Her Dragon is my perpetual WIP that involves dragons, pirates, knights, and adventure. Basically, I still don't have a good blurb for it. It's just too much to fit into a single paragraph, or worse... a sentence. It needs a thorough edit and re-write to take the messy tangle of a story and form into something worth reading.
  • The Secret Library Society was my 2015 NaNoWriMo novel about a dyslexic boy and a library. It's magical and special and very close to my heart. I want to edit it and do justice to the concept. 
4. How do you hope to improve as a writer? Where do you see yourself at the end of 2017?

I want to continue to learn how to edit and re-write. My biggest struggle with writing is that I love to create and write and build worlds, but I don't like to go back and fix everything I did. I've never edited an entire novel all the way through, so I hope that I improve on that by learning the best way to do that. It's been a slow but steady progress as of late.

Hopefully by the end of 2017, I'll have a cleaned-up draft of A Girl and Her Dragon and deeper appreciation for other stories.

5. Describe your general editing process.


Lots of moping around, internal crying/screaming, avoiding editing at all costs, finally sitting my butt in a chair with a pen and paper and writing down everything that's wrong while I re-read through my story/chapter/draft. Reward myself with chocolate and/or ice cream and a book.

6. On a scale of 1-10, how do you think this draft turned out?

I'm assuming this refers to NaNoWriMo, so maybe a 5 or 6? It wasn't a full novel, just a re-write/edit of the perpetual WIP. But it helped me understand my characters and world further. It helped me know how this story should be told, and it helped me progress further on editing (and creating a more structured story outline) than I have before. I call that success even though I didn't feel like I had that much progress.

7. What aspect of your draft needs the most work?

World-building, followed closely by plot. I tend to write character-driven novels, so I lose the plot sometimes as I write scenes to get the characters moving and talking and running. Thus, I also lose aspects of my world-building or I completely neglect the details of the government or religion or the basic mechanics of the world. I definitely need to do more research to build my world and make it come to life and feel lived in. Then I need to make sure my characters stay on track to deal with plot and not what's going on inside of their heads...

8. What do you like the most about your draft?

The characters. I will always love the characters I create. Their interactions and relationships intrigue me as well as their backstory and other aspects that bring them to life. I think I have a pretty solid idea for the characters.

9 .What are your plans for this novel once you finish editing? More edits? Finding beta readers? Querying? Self-publishing? Hiding it in a dark hole forever?

If I finish editing/re-writing draft 2.5/3, I want to have an alpha reader take a look to help boost my ideas. I might even have her start on the first parts I've written as I work on the latter half of edits. After she looks it over and I improve it, I'll start seeking my beta readers. I don't think I'll be near the querying and publishing step for a while yet, but we'll see.

10. What’s your top piece of advice for those just finished writing a first draft?

Take a break. Go read a book or take a long walk, make something to eat, and just let the novel sit for a bit. Two weeks, a whole month, whatever works and isn't too far out. Work on something new or edit something else. When those two weeks or month has passed, take it back out and just read the whole thing without any notes or judgments. Just enjoy what you wrote and be happy. Then you can go ahead and get your red pen or whatever you like to use and edit. Rip it to shreds. And have fun doing it!

What are you writing goals for 2017? Did you participate in January's Beautiful Books?

Friday, January 20, 2017

Book Review: Heartless by Marissa Meyer

When it comes to re-tellings of classic stories, I'm a bit hesitant to dive in. I'm always worried that it won't live up to my expectations or it won't contain the same magic that made me fall in love with the original story. Yet, I still find myself reading re-tellings frequently. (Especially fairy tale re-tellings. There are a plethora of those being published every single year.)

However, I've put my faith and trust (but not pixie dust, at least not yet) in Marissa Meyer's ability to write re-tellings. I adored The Lunar Chronicles, which if you don't know re-tells several beloved fairy tales as futuristic, science-fiction stories. (Honestly, it's a dream come true for this book lover.) So when I heard she was doing a re-telling of Alice in Wonderland and that it would be a prequel and that it would focus on the Queen of Hearts origin story... I was ecstatic.

So I went to an author signing and met Marissa Meyer (and attended a tea party talent show), and I held Heartless in my hands. And yet, I was still worried. Worried it wouldn't feel like Wonderland. Worried I would hate the characters. Worried I would care about the Queen of Hearts.

Well, I shouldn't have worried. Marissa Meyer pulled through and wrote a fun and interesting story that gave us a glimpse of the heart beneath the crown of a well-known literary villain.

The aspect I loved most about Heartless was the characters. Mainly Jest, but there were other ones I enjoyed as well. The tea party gang, the Cheshire Cat, and of course the Jabberwocky. These characters brought the story to life for me.

There were a lot of  wonderful moments with these characters from the tea party talent show to the revelation of Jest's abilities to the bakery contest and the formation of the Mock Turtle. These moments made the story magical and enjoyable. The characters plus the moments made me eager to continue reading.

The plot, also, was nail-biting. I mean, I knew it couldn't end well because it's a prequel about a infamous literary villain. But I kept hoping that something good would happen in the end. Every time I thought Cath would snap and the Queen of Hearts would finally emerge, something would spark an inkling of hope again. Of course, it does end with Cath turning into the Queen of Hearts, but the execution (pun definitely intended) of that scene was spot-on perfect that I couldn't help but smile. Basically, it was the perfect way to wrap up the story of about the Queen of Hearts.

The only disappointment is a lot of the world didn't feel in tune with what Lewis Carroll wrote. Frankly, it wasn't MAD enough. There weren't enough bizarre conversations or odd circumstances. There weren't enough riddles or wordplays and puns. Sure, there were some. And there were tons of little details and references to Alice's Adventures in Wonderland that tied nicely into Heartless. But it felt like it was missing the biggest chunk of why I love Carroll's stories so much. Still, she did a great job exploring how certain things came to be in Wonderland before Alice arrives.

Overall, Heartless was enjoyable and entertaining for what it was: a fantasy story about a villain's origin. If you can look past the small-ish details of Wonderland (such as why there was a lot that had potential to be explored in another book perhaps--one about Jest?), I think you will find you can enjoy this book. If you like Marissa Meyer's previous work, you should definitely give it a chance. If you're a hardcore Lewis Carroll fan, you might want to skip it in favor of re-reading Alice's Adventures in Wonderland for the umpteenth time.

If you're looking for a fun, clean read, give Heartless a shot. You might surprise yourself, and you also probably need to meet Jest.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Most Anticipated Reads of 2017 + Reading Goals

As always, a new year means more new book releases and plenty of reading goals to make. I thought last year had a lot of books I was excited to read, but 2017 is shaping up to have just as many--if not more--books I desperately need to read. (Yes, need.) And these are just the ones I'm aware of! (As always, if you click the book cover image, it'll take you to Goodreads where you can read the synopsis or add it to your TBR pile.)

Carve the Mark by Veronica Roth
Publication date: January 17, 2017

As you know, I wasn't a huge fan of Divergent. I found a lot of problems with the series, and I even plan to make a list of how to fix said problems (or just rewrite the entire series for kicks and giggles). Still, I'm intrigued by this new science-fiction duology. (Don't you just love the concept of duology? It gives you more time than a stand-alone, but isn't annoying like trilogies.) I already put it on hold from the library, so we'll see.

Caraval by Stephanie Garber
Publication date: January 31, 2017

Caraval was recommended to me by a friend who received and read an ARC last fall. Before that though, I had my eye on it because the cover is gorgeous and the synopsis was intriguing. I'm excited to read a new author this year!

Empress of a Thousand Skies by Rhoda Belleza
Publication date: February 7, 2017

I'm always looking for more YA science-fiction. It never seems enough. Empress of a Thousand Skies looks promising, and the cover is gorgeous. More space operas, please!

Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones
Publication date: February 7, 2017

I almost forgot this book existed until I started looking at upcoming 2017 releases. I don't know much about it, but it sounds delightful. Plus a few authors I love have read it and recommended it, so bonus!

A Conjuring of Light by V.E. Schwab
Publication date: February 21, 2017

Saying I desperately need to read this book is an understatement. I finished A Gathering of Shadows (book 2) a few weeks ago, and I've been dying ever since. I need answers! And I need my favorite characters back (which is all of them). And I need them all to be safe and protected. I just need this... now.

The Dark Prophecy by Rick Riordan
Publication date: May 2, 2017

The Dark Prophecy continues the Trials of Apollo, and I'm excited. I'm also worried because the title concerns me, and Apollo, despite being a god, needs to be protected at all costs!

Beren and Luthien by J.R.R. Tolkien
Publication date: May 4, 2017

If Tolkien's name is on it, I probably want to read it. This is the book we've been waiting for someone to restore and release for public eyes. I just hope it's amazing. (Who am I kidding? This is Tolkien we're talking about; it'll be more than amazing.)

The Evaporation of Sofi Snow by Mary Weber
Publication date: June 6, 2017

After the Storm Siren trilogy, I will basically read anything Mary Weber writes. Which is exciting because her newest book is going to be science-fiction novel! Yay, more outer space! The cover and synopsis intrigue me, so I need to read it.

Wonder Woman: Warbringer by Leigh Bardugo
Publication date: August 29, 2017

Last year it was announced that Leigh Bardugo and several other authors had been chosen to write YA novels about favorite superheroes like Wonder Woman, Batman, and Superman. I was stoked to learn Leigh Bardugo was chosen for Wonder Woman. I have so much faith that she will do wonders to Wonder Woman's story. Plus, this means I get a Wonder Woman movie and a Wonder Woman novel written by a favorite author. It's wonderful.

The Ship of the Dead by Rick Riordan
Publication date: October 3, 2017
After the end of The Hammer of Thor, I need the third Magnus Chase book now. I adore the characters and the Norse mythology. It's fun and adventurous and just perfect. Please, I need it.

Untitled Illuminae Files by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
Publication date: October 2017
This book doesn't have a title or a cover or a synopsis, but I need it. After reading Gemina, I need to know more about what craziness is happening and what the third book will entail. I'm excited. These books are so fun!

The Gatlon School for Vigilantes by Marissa Meyer
Publication date: November 7, 2017
I barely know anything about this book except it involves superheroes and it's written by Marissa Meyer. Basically: sign me up! It sounds just like my type of book. Also, I told Marissa how excited I was about this, and she was just as excited as me.

Comic books
As always, I have to make room for comic books and graphic novels on my list. There are tons of favorites that will receive more volumes this year like Ms. Marvel and the Lumberjanes, and there are many characters receiving new series like Jessica Jones and the Guardians of the Galaxy. However, there are a few I'm looking forward to more-so than others.

Wires and Nerve Vol. 1 by Marissa Meyer
Publication date: January 31, 2017
I was stoked to learn Marissa Meyer was diving into the graphic novel genre, and that they would be about characters from The Lunar Chronicles. I'm so excited to learn more about Iko and what happened after Winter.

Civil War II by Brian Michael Bendis (and others)
Publication date: February 14, 2017
While the Civil War II story arc were released as single issues in 2016, we're getting the full compilation this year. Like the first Civil War event, there will probably be multiple volumes out for all the characters involved as well as the main story arc. I'll probably try to get as many as I can and read them altogether. It's going to be great, and also sad. Very, very sad.

Hawkeye by Kelly Thompson
Publication date: May 16, 2017
Repeat after me: Kate Bishop gets her own comic series. Kate Bishop gets her own comic series! I don't even care what it's about, just shut up and take my money! (Or library card.)

Infamous Iron Man by Brian Michael Bendis
Publication date: June 13, 2017
This is another twist to the traditional Iron Man mantle. Instead of Tony Stark, Victor von Doom (Yes, Doctor Doom) is Iron Man. The concept is intriguing, and I'm curious to how it will all turn out.

Invincible Iron Man: Iron Heart by Brian Michael Bendis
Publication date: July 14, 2017
I'm stoked for the new Invincible Iron Man because this comic features a female Iron Man, Riri Williams. How cool is that? I love that Marvel is revamping well-known superhero mantles as female characters.

Bookish Goals
I've decided to set up a few "goals" for 2017 as I dive into new titles:
  • My reading goal on Goodreads is 150 books, but I hope I surpass that. 
  • I'm listening through the Inheritance Cycle by Christopher Paolini. I never finished it, and I want to find out what happens in the end. These books stole my middle school years and are the reason I write about dragons, so...
  • Every year I try to re-read a favorite book series from my childhood, and since I didn't finish Anne of Green Gables series yet (two more books!), I want to finish those books and also re-read the Wrinkle in Time Quintet. (Isn't "quintet" just so lovely?)
  • I also have a lot of books I own that I've never read, and I want to try to read as many as I can. (Last time I counted, I owned about 80 un-read books... geez...)
  • There are several series I've started but have yet to finish, and I'd like to catch up on those (as long as they are worth finishing).
  • I want to read a few classics. (Suggestions?)
I don't have any concrete ideas right now for other goals or reading challenges, but I'll keep you updated as they come along and I'll continue reviewing books and comics as I read them!

What books are you most excited to read in 2017?