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.


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.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Writing in 3rd Person

For this WiP, I've been writing in 3rd person. I've never used 3rd person before, but I thought it would lend itself better to this WiP, since it's a bit darker and a bit more detached.

I love 1st person because you can really get inside someone's head, and hear their thoughts and feelings. It's a huge trend in YA because of that. You know, all the feels.

For me, I knew 1st person wasn't right for this WiP because I wanted multiple POVs. This story is about a brother and sister, so I wanted not just how they feel and what they see, but show how different they are from each other. I thought 3rd person would be the best way to do this.

I've been playing with the idea of omniscience POV, though I don't want the characters to be too detached. I read THE DREAM THIEVES a few months ago and liked the way Maggie Steifvater popped into different characters' POVs in the same scene. Obvi, I am not as skilled as Maggie, so it's been taking some time to see if it's working. (I still don't really know, but it's just a first draft.)

But I am enjoying 3rd person. Some of my weak skills are showing feelings, so I think this is working for me, since there are slightly less of them, since we aren't in the person's head. This also allows me to play with setting, and make it almost its own character, which I wouldn't get to do in 1st person. But it's definitely different.

Have you written in 3rd person? What do you like about it and what do you not like?

Monday, February 15, 2016

The Shannara Chronicles: TV Show Review

I saw a tumblr post for Kiersten White about the new show The Shannara Chronicles and decided to give it a try. I didn't really know what to expect because it's MTV.

Full disclosure: I haven't read the books. Well, I started reading The Sword of Shannara and got about 60 pages in and then put it down. I know, gasp. But I just couldn't get into it. It felt a bit like Lord of the Rings (which I also never finished reading, got 150 pages in and they had barely left the Shire, so I put it down too), which was intriguing.

From the first 50 pages that I read, they've already changed a lot. A bit for the better (no slow beginning), and a bit for the worse (why is the main character so sarcastic/snarky?). After doing some Goodreads research, it seems that most of this show is based off the second book, The Elfstones of Shannara, so maybe it follows that book more closely than what I read with the first book. Maybe I should read that one.

In general, I'm intrigued, but the acting makes me less so. Austin Butler is not my favorite actor (I liked him better as Wilke in Switched At Birth), but I like the actors they've surrounded him with. Poppy Drayton has an amazing American accent, so much so that I didn't even realize she was British until I looked her up. (With that name, it's so obvious, though.) Though the American accents feel kinda weird, (I just associate medieval/fantasy with British accents I guess), even though it's supposed to be Earth after hundreds of years.

The first episode, which is actually the first two, aren't great (I fell asleep twice (maybe three times?) watching it). So much is going on, (the huge world, plus the many different characters) that it's hard to get a grasp on things. But I had a lull in TV shows, so I ended up watching episodes 3 and 4. Things really start to pick up here and get better. It seems like it will be a "hero's journey", which aren't my favorite, but I'm interested in the characters and the world enough, that I can let the plot slide. I'm most intrigued by Bandon, who gets introduced in ep. 3, so I'm hoping there's some good development of his character. I also think Austin Butler gets better in these two episodes, so I'm hoping that will continue.

Overall, I'll keep watching (and see if any of the acting makes me angry enough to stop), but so far, I'm okay with it.

Do you think you'll watch it?

Monday, February 8, 2016

High School Book Club: January + February Edition

This month, we chose to read Pierce Brown's RED RISING. We had a brief meeting a few weeks ago, and despite the winter break, almost no one finished the book. So we decided, because those who did read, liked it, that we would give two more weeks for people to finish.

Most of the students still hadn't finished it (a usual pattern...) but those who did had good things to say. They thought the beginning was a bit slow, but after you got passed that, there was a lot of action and it was exciting. One student even brought up that it was in the universe as Ender's Game, because Brown had mentioned Commander "Wiggin" as one of the great generals (along with Alexander and Genghis).

Some had even begun to read the sequel, GOLDEN SON. Though we didn't end up picking that as our next book, I'm interested to hear which they liked better and what their thoughts were. I think I liked RED RISING better, but many articles I read touted GOLDEN SON as surpassing the first. (I'm also very excited to read MORNING STAR when it comes out soon.)

There were lots of thoughts for our next book, but THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN beat out AMERICAN GODS and WOLF BY WOLF by only a few votes. Hopefully, next time, we'll get  few more people to read...

Monday, February 1, 2016

When to start a draft over?

I've never started a draft over and the thought leaves me with mixed feelings. On the one hand, it makes me feel like I'm not trying hard enough, that if I just push through I could make it work. That I'm making excuses because this draft is hard and if I start over, I won't actually finish it. (I don't know why I think that, because I've never not finished a first draft). That with starting over, it will take many more months to complete.

On the other hand, my gut is telling me this is what I should do. That the draft, while it will take forever and I probably won't reach my goal of finishing the draft by April 1st, will be better for it. It will be a lot of work, but it won't be like how it is now. Which is not working.

And this is how I decided to start over.

Last Monday was a snow day and I took the whole day to re-outline half of my story. It made me realize what I was missing (ahem, the ending and point of the story... well, at least the tangible point of the story) and that I couldn't move on until I figured it out. But to get to the ending in the story, I needed to rewrite the beginning.

And so I embark in my first ever rewrite and hope that this fixes some of my missing parts. I won't be able to start just yet, since I still don't completely know the ending, but I am looking forward to starting over and not completely dreading it.

Have you ever started a draft over? Did it help you in the end?

Monday, January 25, 2016

Shadowhunters: TV Review

The Mortal Instruments series is one of my favorites. I was obsessed with the books when I first read them and was incredibly excited when the movie was set to come out. I thought Jamie Campbell Bower was the perfect Jace, and I loved Robert Sheehan in Misfits, so I was excited to see him as Simon. And I couldn't believe they got Jonathan Rhys Meyers to be Valentine.

And then the movie came out. It could've been worse, but it also could've been better. I didn't think it was so bad to cancel the rest of the movies though. (I admit, I don't remember the movie that much, so it could be just wishful thinking.)

I was less excited about the TV show. After, JCB and Robert Sheehan, I just didn't think they could top those actors. But I was interested in seeing how they would re-envision it for the small screen, especially on ABC Family/Freeform. And since it's one of my favorite books, I figured I'd give it a try.

The budget seems much bigger than I expected. They have some decent special effects and the Institute is much more high tech (and also much different than I pictured it in my head or in the movie). Dominic Sherwood is a decent Jace, although I miss the British accent that Jace has in the movie. I really don't like Katherine McNamara's portrayal of Clary. She's whiny and annoying, (and doesn't seemed fazed with running in stiletto boots, despite that not being her her normal look. Though obviously that's not McNamara's fault). I do like Matthew Daddario's portrayal of Alec (which I was iffy with in the movie). He's very subdued and seems like a stick in the mud, which is exactly what he's supposed to be.

The writing is not great, and some of the character choices don't make sense, but it's still early in the season. I feel like pilot episodes usually aren't great, so this series could get better. I've also watched the second episode and it seems like the pacing is still a bit off and they're getting bogged down with the world-building (I mean, it is a lot). This series also about the characters, and right now, the audience doesn't get much from them. To me, that's the biggest flaw, and I hope they can sort it out in the episodes to come.

I'll probably keep watching and hoping it gets better, simply because I loved the books so much.

If you've watched the first few episodes, what did you think? Will you stick with it?

Monday, January 18, 2016

New Years Resolutions - A few weeks in

As many people do, I made New Year's resolutions. But many people don't follow through with them or tend to stop after a few weeks in because of fatigue or business or what-have-you. So I wanted to do a check in with my New Year's resolutions.

I think I've done better expected with this one. According to my handy wall schedule, I've played Ultimate frisbee almost every other day. This is all because I signed up for two leagues, but I've been sticking to it. I've also been going to a dance class every Saturday. This kills my body for the rest of the week, but it's really fun, and I can feel myself getting stronger. My arm workouts, I've done, but they are, as always, last minute things I forget about. But overall, done well in this category.

Because of the above and because my story is so hard, I haven't been writing as much as I've wanted to. I've done okay at writing every day, but it hasn't been much. 250 words usually, 500 if I'm lucky. I just feel kinda stuck in the story. I don't really know where I'm going, so I've been putting it off, which isn't what I should be doing. My brain is also dead after school, so I haven't had enough time to really sort out the story. I've done a bunch of outlining, but it's still like pulling teeth every time I write. Anyone have any suggestions?

So far so good. Now I just have to keep up the pace.

This actually has been harder for me because of the late night Ultimate games and early bed times. But I'm carving out some time for this, though it might impede my writing schedule. (Though maybe it will help to get the juices flowing.)

How have your New Year's resolutions been going?

Monday, January 11, 2016

This story is hard.

I've been writing my current WiP for what seems like forever. In reality it's only been a few months off and on (more off, really, than on). But every time I write, it feels like I'm pulling teeth to get the words on the page.

This story that I'm writing is complicated and complex. I'm a perfectionist, so it's hard for me to let go and just let myself write, because I want everything to be perfect. But obvi it's not going to be; it's a first draft.

I know my ending (kinda), but I don't know the middle at all. So every time I write, I have to outline (which I do on paper), and then type. But it leaves me uneasy because I don't know where I'm going next. It's the first time I've written like this, but I haven't been able to make a full outline for this story, despite trying multiple times.

This story also has a large world. It's based on three different races, with different traditions and languages. As someone who loves linguistics, I want to create some words for each of these languages. So it's going to be a big project. Most of this is going to come in the revision stage, so I haven't thought of most of it, which might be holding me back subconsciously.

Sometimes I wonder if I'm ready to write this story. And I might not be. But once I get a first draft, I can put it away and save it for later if that's the case.

I just need to complete a first draft first.

Monday, January 4, 2016

New Year's Resolutions: Writing Style

As the New Year approached, I started thinking about my resolutions. I do love making resolutions, because it's a time to start fresh and work on oneself. I always have these grand ideas of what that looks like, but I don't always get the details right. So this year, I'm going to be detailed in the three areas that I want to work on.

This always falls off the band wagon for me (is that the right expression?) because it just takes so much time. So this winter I joined two winter leagues for Ultimate frisbee. That means I will have games twice a week. I also want to take dance classes on Saturdays. That means at least 3 days a week I will be exercising. For good measure, I'd like to do an arm workout once a week (it only takes like 15 minutes, but I consistently don't do it). I've even started a wall where I write down what I've done so that I can see my progress. And this year I actually have motivation and a timeline, because I'm going to the Dominican Republic with my students in March for a service-trip.

I want to write every day. For me this is the best way I write, but also the most difficult, because I have zero time. I coach sports before school starts, so waking up early isn't an option (because I am non-functional at 4:30 in the morning) and stay at school til 5. But I want to change that. I want to leave school by 4 pm every day, so that I can come home and write for an hour. Not sure how that will work mentally, but for now, that's my plan. I'll change it if I need to. I'm not setting myself a word count for the day, just as long as I write something. If it's two sentences, while not ideal, at least it's something. And some days that might just happen.

I really like blogging, but again, don't always have time (see above). My goal is to have a blog post every Monday. It could be about books, writing, movies, or just general life, but something, ever Monday. I'm not sure it that's a realistic goal, but that's what I've set for myself.

This isn't a resolution, because for me, reading is like breathing. I read a few chapters every night before I go to bed and I want to continue to do that.

Do you like to make New Year's Resolutions? What are yours for this year?