Friday, December 30, 2016

My Year in Books 2016

My goal for this year was to read 35 books. For most of the year, I was trailing that goal by 4 or so books, but in the last few days I blew through a few (thanks to Kasie West's books being so good!) to end with a solid 34. So close! But here is my year in books. (Also a link to my Good Reads year in books.)

Of the 34 books:
Only 5 were by men.
22 were YA.
16 were SFF.

Some of my favorites were:
On The Fence by Kasie West
P.S. I Like You by Kasie West (I couldn't just choose one).
Heartless by Marissa Meyer
Lady Midnight by Cassandra Clare

What I'm looking forward to in 2017:
Shadow Run by AdriAnne Strickland
Our Dark Duet by Victoria Schwab
A Conjuring of Light by V. E Schwab
Shadowcaster by Cinda Williams Chima

Things I've learned about my favorite authors:
I will forever read anything Kasie West writes. I loved her Pivot Point duology and then read The Distance Between Us and loved that, but somewhere in my reading, forgot how much I like contemporary. In the last week, I've read three of her books, (which helped me almost beat my goal for the year) and couldn't put any of them down.

As much as I try not to say it, I still love Cassandra Clare. I thought that the Shadow Hunter world would get old to me after two series, but I loved learning about Emma and Julian, and being in that world again. It was a long book, but I didn't want it to end. It pulled me in again as those books always have.

I've never read Alice and Wonderland, but after reading Heartless, it is in my TBR pile right at the top. I loved the way Marissa Meyer described her Wonderland, which made me want to read the source material.

What were some of your favorite books? Who are your go-to authors to read?

Friday, December 16, 2016

What I've Done to Keep Writing

It's been a struggle to keep writing while also having a day job as a teacher. As an introvert, I am very tired at the end of the day after being around so many people, especially teenagers who have so much energy. I do not get my energy from being around them, like many of my extraverted colleagues. And while I very much enjoy teaching and getting to know my students, it's something that leaves me very tired at the end of the day.

Additionally, I stare at a computer screen for a big portion of the day. Since I teach students science, we do a lot of labs and discuss the concepts in that way, but I always have a powerpoint to at least organize my thoughts (even if it's just bullet points).

Guillermo Del Toro hand writes his thoughts too
From his exhibition at the LACMA
Then there's answering emails. All our students have chromebooks (we're a one-to-one laptop school), so in addition to emails from parents, colleagues, the school district, and random science people, I also get emails from students every day. That's a lot of email to go through. I'm the type of person who likes to reply back ASAP so that I've answered all my emails and don't have any responses hanging over my head. We also have lots of assignments that are turned in over our web-based management system, so I grade almost everything on the computer. Again, this means a lot of screen time.

When I get home, the last thing I want to do is to use more brain power to write on a computer. I don't have clear thoughts on my story because my day was filled with minute-to-minute decisions of other things. I cannot force myself to look at a computer for the rest of the night. But obviously I still want to write. I have this story (that I've started twice) that keeps swirling around in my head, that I have to finish. But it's been so hard to keep writing on the computer.

Instead I've been handwriting in a journal every night before I go to bed. Writing out scenes instead of typing isn't something that makes sense to me and my brain, so I've been world-building and character-building and even plot-building. Even if it's just for half an hour, I've been thinking about it and writing down something. That way, when I get to the week, I can outline and actually start the real writing.

I know this is nothing new to lots of people, but it's not something I ever really considered for some reason. Living in this technical world, I guess I just forgot about using a journal.

So that's what I've been up to. I'm starting this story over for a third time (yay) and hopefully with all the world-building and brainstorming I've been doing, this will be the correct vision (of a first draft).

Are there days when you just can't get yourself to look at a computer screen? What do you do instead?

Monday, December 12, 2016

Movie Review: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

As a semi-obsessed HP fan, I of course had to go see Fantastic Beasts. I was fairly excited, because I love Eddie Redmayne and the idea of him in the HP universe made me giddy.

Thankfully the movie theater was not packed, as it isn't on a Saturday at 10 am, (this is the perfect time to see a movie in Philly, because there are no screaming babies in the theater, unlike every other time of day, which includes all types of movies), and I could enjoy my movie with little interruption.

I really enjoyed the Beasts part of the movie, which is obviously the main focus. They did a great job showing us the different species and what cool things they could do. And for that part, I give it an A+. The niffler beginning sequence was great. It was adorable and playful, and had that humor J.K. is known for. I really liked Newt and the Bowtruckle, and that relationship they had. It showed Newt's caring side and how much of a Hufflepuff he is.

It was super weird to hear wizards without British accents, since that is something I associate very closely with Harry Potter. It was also weird that non-magic people weren't called muggles. We all knew it going in, but it was still weird.

As for the movie, there were a few things that bothered me.

I didn't not connect with Newt Scamander. He had almost no backstory and only a "kooky" personality, that while charming, didn't resonate with me. He felt like a blank slate. We got some glimpses into his past at the end, and I'm sure the other movies will get into it, but the lack of backstory made him feel flat with no real motivation. There needs to be some of this for the audience to care about the character, even if it's the first in a series of movies.

While the villain was a cool concept, if I were a No-Maj in the movie during that time, I don't think I would think of an obscurial as a monster, but more of a natural disaster. It looks like a tornado. I don't think I would associate an odd mix of swirling gases as a monster. So to me, it didn't make sense that they were trying to fight against it. Obviously bullets don't work against hurricanes...

Overall, I think I'd give it a B+. Mostly because it's an HP movie and the beasts were interesting.

What did you guys think? Was it as good/bad as you thought it would be?

Monday, October 17, 2016

My Thoughts On: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

I just recently finished Harry Potter and the Cursed Child and I have THOUGHTS. There are spoilers (not that there's much to be spoiled in this book, which is one of my gripes) but if you don't want to know what the book is about then don't read on.

Ahem.

It started off really well. I was super excited when Albus was sorted into Slytherin. As a Gryffindor that could have also been in Slytherin, I wanted a book from a Slytherin's POV. I thought it was going to be really interesting and intriguing to see it from their point of view. If HP&CC would have been just about that, it would have been amazing. That was the book I wanted. A new POV in HP and Slytherin was a great starting place for it.

And then they threw in time travel. Ughhhh. I already don't like time travel in almost all movies and books, but this was especially awful. The time travel turned it into a rehashing of HP& the Goblet of Fire. I mean I loved HP&GoF, but if I wanted to read that again, then I would have just read that again... This did not put a new spin on anything. I didn't even find the "new" future interesting because I was so upset with how they did it.

There were some missteps with characterization too. While HP is usually whiny, he was ridiculous in this. I couldn't take any part of him seriously. Ron seemed out of character and over the top to the point where it didn't feel like Ron. Also, Albus's motivation for going back in time made no sense, but I won't even get into that.

Overall, I was disappointed (though I did read it in two days which is super quick for me now that school is in full swing). I thought it had the start of something great and if it had gone in a different direction, could have been something awesome. But at least I got some sort of new Harry Potter out of it. Also Fantastics Beasts is coming out soon and I could not be more excited!

Did you read Harry Potter and the Cursed Child? If so, what did you think of it?

Monday, August 22, 2016

The Struggle is Real

Well, it's been a while.

The end of the school year is always super hectic, and school went until the end of June (thank you Pope Francis for closing our schools for a week and pushing back our end date). So it was a long year and then I was just tired.

School is always intense for me, because I'm the kind of person to put all my effort into something or not do it at all. And for me that was teaching, so I didn't have any brain-space left to write.

So July was a bit of a wash. I also took a class (Spanish) at the local community college, but while it helped me get up on time in the morning, it didn't help me focus on writing.

Part of my struggle is that I haven't drafted in a while and I forgot how much first drafts suck. But you can't edit without first having words on a page. I just have to get myself to remember that. Words on page now, polish later. It doesn't how much they suck now, because they will not suck after (hopefully). I can work on fixing it later.

I wrote a bit in August (22k, most of it not new words) and now school is about to start. But I am making it my goal this year to write during the school year. Even if it's not a lot per day, my goal is to be finished this draft by November 1st (my birthday). (And to be finished 30k by the time school starts on August 31st.)

I haven't figured out how to balance teaching, writing, and exercising (and still having something of a social life). But I have an office (!) now that will be dedicated to writing, instead of just my couch.

Here's to renewed motivation and just getting (sucky) words down on a page!

Monday, April 4, 2016

What I've read recently: April Edition

So while I haven't been writing much, I have been reading. Here's what I've read recently.

I am a hard-core Cassandra Clare fan. I've read all The Mortal Instruments and The Infernal Devices books, and loved most of them. LADY MIDNIGHT reminded me why I like the series so much. We get some new characters in the same world, but different setting (L.A. instead of NYC). I thought it would get repetitive, and in some parts it did, but I still couldn't put it down. Emma is a mash-up of Clary and Jace, which didn't excite me, but I really liked Julian. He wasn't the normal boy protagonist, which was refreshing. I didn't think I'd like it as much as I did, especially because I thought I would've outgrown the series by now, but I haven't. Definitely give it a read, if you liked the previous two. I'll be reading all subsequent books in the series :)

I've heard so much about THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN and how it was the next GONE GIRL, which I loved, I decided to give it a try. It was also our high school book club book, since they'd read GONE GIRL for English class, and wanted something similar. It was good, but no where near GONE GIRL good. It had a cool format of past and present, and some good twists, but comparing it to GONE GIRL does it a disservice. I'll be interested to see how the do the movie, because it doesn't seem like the right format for film. But then again, what do I know?

I've been waiting for the last installment of The Lunar Chronicles for a while, because I was on the wait list from the library. WINTER is a nice ending, though I didn't care about Winter as a character too much. It was good to see everything resolved in the end, though I think Marissa Meyer could have done it in far fewer pages. I found myself putting it down more than the other books in the series, simply because it was so long. It was cool to see how all the fairy tale characters interact with each other and how their stories were woven together. I can't even imagine writing from that many different POVs, so kudos to Marissa Meyer for that.

Next up on my list is AN EMBER IN THE ASHES, A GATHERING OF SHADOWS, and MORNING STAR, which I'm super excited about.

What are you reading? Any recommendations?

Monday, February 29, 2016

What I learned from seeing PIPPIN (again)

Last week I got to see my favorite musical, Pippin, again. It's been my favorite since my high school did the production my freshmen year, and I was in the pit band, playing bass. (The basslines for the show are pretty good too.) The revival is especially awesome because it incorporates a bunch of acrobatics into the show and has a female leading player. I've talked about Pippin before, but I just feeling so strongly about it.

I must have seen Pippin twenty times now, counting all those rehearsals we did, yet it's still my favorite show. I could watch it over and over again, singing along with every line. And it doesn't get old. While I love the music, the lyrics, the costumes, for me what I love most is the storyline.

The plot follows Pippin, the son of King Charlemagne, who just graduated from university. He's trying out all these different things, war, the arts, following the church, being king, yet nothing fulfills him. He's searching for that thing that will satisfy him, but nothing does. (It isn't until he doesn't have it anymore, that he realizes what it is.)

This is something I connect so strongly too. My mom always says I'm searching, looking for something else of purpose, which is totally true. I've tried many different hobbies, searching for the perfect thing. But I know it doesn't exist. There will always be struggle and always a way to be better. But that's just who I am, always searching. (As I quoted in my other Pippin post, one of my favorite lines is "And here I am, to seize my day, if someone would just tell me when the hell it is").

While writing isn't perfect (it's so hard!), it makes me feel accomplished when I finish writing a book, being able to say "I made this". It's addicting. But I know also how it feels to be meandering through a WiP, trying to figure out if this is actually for me, just like Pippin throughout the musical.

So despite being made 44 years ago, the story can still feel just as relevant today as it did back then. That is the power of a story and something I hope to someday accomplish as well.