Bookish & Writerly Recaps: October 2017

It’s November, everybody. Do you know what that means? ONE MONTH UNTIL CHRISTMAS CLAIRE MAKES HER 2017 DEBUT.

As I started putting together this month’s recap, I caught myself thinking, ‘The best thing about October is that it’s nearly Christmas’. Which, of course, it isn’t really. But it’s close enough. *clears space for Christmas tree, dusts off Michael Buble CD*

Despite it being preeeetty scary that another year is almost gone, the last few months of the year are still my absolute favourite time. It’s warm, it’s festive, and I get to eat heaps and buy/make presents for people – two of my most beloved pastimes.

So on the one hand, holycraphowistheyearalmostoverwtf; but on the other… Bring it on.

october-recap

What I’ve written

Well, being November again, it’s NaNoWriMo season… And while I did toy with the idea of prepping throughout October for another NaNo attempt, it didn’t really eventuate.

I did a bit of plot reworking and brainstorming here and there, but it actually ended up making me feel more scared of my book than I had been before (if that’s possible). It had me questioning the very concepts at the centre of my story, wondering if they made sense, if they would ever actually work.

I keep coming back to this post by K. M. Weiland, which asks questions about the concept of your novel such as ‘Are you passionate about this idea?’ and ‘Are you doing this idea justice?’. I keep trying to determine the answers, to work out whether my whole story idea is even worth pursuing at all.

There were some interesting insights about creative ideas in one of my October reads (see below), but ultimately, I can’t answer those kinds of questions – not right now, at least. But the more I think about it, the more I realise that in order to start writing again, the only thing I can do is stop asking those kinds of questions at all.

I REALLY need to get my mind to accept the fact that it’s near impossible to be 100% sure of every aspect of a story before you write it. Plotting and planning is one thing; paralysing yourself with doubt, uncertainty and fear is another.

Anyway. I’ve recently picked up a little more freelance work, which is super wonderful, so at the moment, I’ve decided to give myself permission to focus 100% on that. To allow myself to not have the shadow of ‘what-about-your-book-shouldn’t-you-be-writing’ hanging over me. And I feel a lot better for it.

But it doesn’t mean I’ve given up; not yet.

Anyway! I’ve still been warbling away as usual over at Writer’s Edit – this month with a couple of bits of freelancer advice:

writing-oct

What I’ve read

After last month‘s fun yet unsuccessful experiment in keeping my reviews short and succinct, I’ve decided to revert back to my original ‘What I’ve read’ format.

Apparently I’m still two books behind on my Goodreads challenge even after dropping my end goal (WOT), so I should really use the time I’m saving with these shorter reviews to catch the hell up on some reading…

(Although, let’s be real, between Stranger Things, Mindhunter, OutlanderVictoria, Mr Robot and the upcoming Alias Grace, TV kinda OWNS me at the moment. [Did you guys SEE that new season of Stranger Things? MY HEAAAAART.])

Anyway – here are October’s reads!

reading-oct

The Fifth Season by N. K. Jemisin

N. K. Jemisin is a huge name in the SFF world, so I’d had The Fifth Season on my list for quite a while. While I didn’t click with it enormously, in that I don’t feel super compelled to read the next instalment in the series, there was a lot I really enjoyed about it.

The writing was great – refreshing and different, and the use of different perspectives (even one in second person, which is extremely unusual to see) was super effective. When I realised how all the perspectives came together, I was v. impressed, and it added another layer of interest to the whole story.

And the story itself was great too. I enjoyed the world, the magic system, the post-apocalyptic feel (or apocalypse-in-progress, really). It’s one of those books where, when you first start out, there are a whole bunch of new made-up words and names and it feels a bit hard to keep up; but once you get the hang of it, it’s all good.

Actually, you know what? The more I think about it, the more I appreciate it. I think I will read that second book someday – might not be super soon, but I’m sure I’ll enjoy it when I do.

The Fifth Season

Now I Rise by Kiersten White

Well, I loooooved Now I Rise, the second book in Kiersten White’s Conqueror’s Saga. When I started reading the first volume And I Darken last year, I wasn’t sure if I liked it or not. But as I kept reading, I realised there was something about it that kept me compelled and made it hard to put down.

By the end, I was all in for this gender-flipped YA alternative history series, and I’m even more in after Now I Rise. (For those who don’t know, the series recasts historical figure Vlad the Impaler as a teenage girl; as such, it’s dark and angsty and really great.)

I smashed this second volume out over a weekend and it was a joy to read. The political and historical elements are so well-done and intriguing, and the characters are rich and wonderful. Lada is a top-shelf bad bitch (if not a little frustratingly stubborn), Radu is absolutely precious (if not a little frustratingly lovesick), and I just want them both to be happy plz.

Can’t wait for the final instalment next year!

Now I Rise

Godblind by Anna Stephens

I’m not really sure how I felt about this one. On the one hand, it had me interested enough to keep turning pages pretty quickly for the majority; on the other, I don’t think I’ll be reading the next one in the series. And I think there are a few reasons for this.

Firstly, there are soooo many POV characters, each with very short chapters. This means you don’t really get to know any of them super well, or get the chance to get behind any of them particularly strongly – I know I didn’t care about any of them as much as, say, Lada and Radu from Now I Rise.

I also lost enjoyment through the final act of the book, which is made up of multiple action/battle scenes, one after the other, constantly switching perspectives throughout. To be honest, I got a bit bored and weary there, when really it should have been the most page-turning, exciting part of the book.

There are a few other things I could discuss, but that’ll do – suffice to say this series probably isn’t for me, but if you like brutal grimdark fantasy, you should definitely give it a go!

Godblind

Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert

I’ve been meaning to read this one for ages now, and it fit in well with my new goal of reading at least one non-fiction book per month (a goal I have just devised at this very moment, and at which I expect to fail spectacularly). I saw mentions of Elizabeth Gilbert’s treatise on creative living everywhere when it first came out, and despite the mixed reviews I’ve seen since, I was still keen to get my hands on it.

I’ve never read anything by Gilbert before (no, not even Eat, Pray, Love), so I wasn’t sure what to expect. I found this a bit of a mixed bag. To be clear – I really enjoyed Big Magic, and devoured it in a few short sessions. But it didn’t outlay anything particularly groundbreaking, and I wasn’t sure how I felt about a few of her stances on creativity.

However, there was definitely some useful and affirming stuff in here. I particularly enjoyed the concept of paradoxical thinking in regards to creativity:

Creativity is sacred, and it is not sacred.
What we make matters enormously, and it doesn’t matter at all.

This sort of paradox, along with Gilbert’s motto of persistence, is something that I think would really help me in my own creativity. Despite it getting a little too occult-y at times, there are definitely some helpful and inspiring takeaways in this book, and I’m glad I read it.

Big Magic

***

That’s all for the moment, lords and ladies. Wishing you a wonderful November – I hope it’s full of far-too-early festive treats. <3

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Bookish & Writerly Recaps: August & September 2017

Oh, hi, didn’t see you there. Just here for my *ahem* two-monthly recap, which is a two-monther on purpose, and not at all a result of me neglecting my blog/life/general adult responsibilities.

:)

Let’s get to it.

What I’ve been writing

Non-work-related things I have written in the last two months:

  • Cute messages for Nate on our kitchen whiteboard
  • Grocery lists
  • This blog post (eventually)

Aaaaand that’s about it. But I am considering possibly, potentially, oh-god-probably-not-but-maybe attempting NaNoWriMo again in November…

I’m still afraid that this story I’ve been sitting on for so long isn’t going to work, isn’t The One, isn’t worth the risk of wasted time. But the thing is that I still think about it. I still take down little notes whenever they pop into my head. And I still dream about making it happen. So I think that’s probably gotta count for something, right?

Anyway, though, at least I’ve been smashing out the writing when it comes to my beloved Writer’s Edit! Here’s what I’ve been yammering on about the last couple of months over there:

writing

What I’ve been reading

My reading game has picked up slightly, although Goodreads is still side-eyeing me about being one book behind schedule. (Nope, sorry, two books behind – just checked and the number has literally increased while I’ve been writing this. Excellent.)

I read six books throughout August and September, but I think that’s actually pretty good because most of them were BIG. If I had to fight someone armed only with Assassin’s Quest in one hand and It in the other, I’d feel pretty confident because those are some HEFTY TOMES.

Anyway, I’ve decided to try a new way of mini-reviewing my reads this time around, inspired by the lovely Kyra Thomsen, who often reviews things with short pros and cons lists on her Goodreads account.

I do not like reviewing books. I’m bad at it. I can’t even commit to star ratings on my Goodreads page. It’s all too much for me. So to make things a bit easier when I recap what I’ve read each month, I thought I’d give pros and cons a go.

(TBH in the future I’ll probably wind up just listing what I’ve read next to pictures of the covers and leaving it at that, or even just linking to my Goodreads and being like ‘Whatever go see for yourself’, but for now at least I’m still trying.)

reading

Assassin’s Quest by Robin Hobb

Pros:

  • Omfg I just love this series. So. Much. I love the language, the story, the immersive world-building and most of all, the characters. Fitz is a sweet baby angel, and Nighteyes even more so. Their relationship is so unique and lovely, and Fitz is such a tragic and flawed but fundamentally good character… I also adore Verity and Kettricken and, of course, the wonderful Fool.
  • This final volume went in quite a different direction than I expected. I’ve seen a lot of people whinge about it and say they hated it, but I actually liked it. It took me by surprise.
  • I still enjoyed the slower pace in this book. That’s another common complaint I’ve seen about the series, but I never once got bored or lamented the lack of action and big fight scenes. I do love those, of course, but as I said when I first read Assassin’s Apprentice, it’s refreshing to read something different.
  • Woman knows how to write a good last line. See also: Royal Assassin.

Assassin's Quest

Cons:

  • This isn’t necessarily a con, but this took me a long time to read – this whole series did. They’re quite long as is, but the prose is also quite dense. The only time it was a problem was when I just wanted to know what happened and found it hard to speed-read!
  • The ending was sad, but I understand it. [SPOILER ALERT] Fitz was never going to get the girl, be the big famous hero, live a normal life. And much as I’d have loved him to, I think it would have cheapened the series a bit. Props to Ms Hobb for taking the direction I’m sure she knew she needed to take.
  • NO MORE FITZ AND THE FOOL FOR A WHILE, gah. I just wanted to dive straight into their next series after I finished this, but I’ve been advised by Hobb fans that I should just read in order, which means it’ll be a while til I see my fave duo again. Definitely looking forward to reading every book set in this glorious world, though!

 

Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood

Pros

  • It was nice to change my pace and genre again and pick up some lit fic (is this lit fic? Historical fic? Who knows anymore) by one of my favourite authors. I’m slowly working my way through Margaret Atwood’s back catalogue after adoring The Handmaid’s Tale and really enjoying the MaddAddam series. Plus I’m super keen to watch the upcoming Netflix adaptation of this after Hulu did such an incredible job adapting Handmaid.
  • Alias Grace also fit my interest in true crime – it’s based on a real-life old-timey murder case, yaaaaaasss. It had everything I wanted: a possibly unreliable narrator, a back-and-forth timeline, even a weird supernatural element. Good stuff.
  • Margaret Atwood’s mastery of language is something I find myself appreciating anew every time I read her work. Her imagery, her clever turn of phrase, and in this book the way she nailed the style of writing for the time, are all endlessly impressive.

Alias Grace

Cons

  • While I understand the ambiguity of the denouement, and of the ‘murderess’ (or is she?) Grace Marks herself, I did reeeeeeeeeally want to know what actually happened – but of course, it’s a true story, and in real life no one really knows either. I don’t want to give anything away here, so go read about the case (and also read this book plz).
  • I can’t really think of any other cons! Either it was that good or it’s been that long since I read it that I can’t remember any. (Yes, another reason why this recap is supposed to be monthly.)

 

It by Stephen King

Pros

  • I was interested in reading this before the movie came out, and I’m glad I did. I’d really like to read more of Stephen King’s stuff – this is the only thing of his I’ve read other than Pet Sematary (which I don’t remember really liking) and On Writing (which I loved). I admire him as a writer; I really enjoyed his style in this book, and I’m also a big fan of his methods, his dedication and his general prolific-ness.
  • loved the characterisation of the kids. They’re gorgeous, and he really captured the spirit of adolescence – of kids on their summer break, the kinds of conversations they have, the shit they get up to. (Not that fighting an evil shape-shifting clown is your average American kid’s summer activity, but you know what I mean.)
  • I also liked the structure of the past and present timelines, and how both halves of the story were interwoven to lead up to the big reveals and endings simultaneously. I really enjoy that kind of storytelling. (Side note: the movie adaptation made a great choice in sticking to one timeline for Chapter One, saving the adults’ side of the story for the next film. It also did a great job shifting the setting so the kids’ part was set in the 80s, rather than the 50s as it is in the book. You should go see it [It], it’s [It‘s] a lot of fun.)

It

Cons

  • If you’ve read the book, you know what my first con is going to be. THAT scene towards the end. I’m sorry, Stephen, but what in the actual f? How on earth did that get by your editor and your publisher? And why in the name of Pennywise the Dancing Clown would YOU include it in the first place? If you ever think of putting a similar scene in future books, friend, I advise that you take a moment. Reconsider your choices. Reconsider them very carefully because what the FU
  • You know what, for a horror book, this wasn’t actually as scary as I’d anticipated. I’m by no means well-read in the genre, but I think I’m yet to come across a book that really scares me on the page as I’m reading. This was creepy and shocking and all that, but I wasn’t as scared as I’d anticipated I would be. (The movie, on the other hand – lol boy did I make some funny noises and leap out of my seat a lot.)
  • This book is LOOOOOOOOOOOONG. I’m talking 1200+ pages long. Too long. It could have done with a tighter edit, I felt (and not just because of point one above).

 

Tower of Dawn by Sarah J. Maas

Pros

  • Look, I’ll start this off by saying I’ll read anything SJM writes. I’m a big ol’ fangirl in that respect. Despite the problems they may have, I always enjoy her books. They’re easy reads and they’re fun fantasy and this one was no different. It’s the very definition of binge-worthy and I finished it in like two days.
  • I loved the setting, the palace, the city, the healers. I still enjoy the world of this series and loved the chance to see more of it in this book.
  • I really liked Yrene, and was especially glad she was a POV character. It was refreshing to read a POV from someone who’s not a tough warrior lady like Aelin, Manon, Nesryn etc. all are. Don’t get me wrong, I love tough warrior ladies, but it’s nice to read from the perspective of someone a little different for a change.

Tower of Dawn

Cons

  • My first con can be found on the back cover: ‘Contains mature content. Not suitable for younger readers.‘ *eyes roll out of head and onto the floor* Sarah, look. I know you’ve discovered you love writing smut, and that you feel you’re pretty good at it. But does every single one of your books from now on need to revolve around everyone’s *shudder* velvet-wrapped steel? I appreciated the fact that there was nowhere near as much Mills & Boon sexytime in this as in Empire of Storms or the ACOTAR series, but still, I’d honestly rather there be none at all OK byeeeeeeeeeee.
  • Like Stephen, I think Sarah could probably do with a more assertive editor. First of all, the fact that this is an entire 600+ page novel, instead of the novella that was planned, I feel is unnecessary. And that feeling was reinforced while I was reading – I got the impression that her editors kind of just let her go now. This could have done with some reining in to make it a little sharper and tighter.
  • This book was the first time I really noticed (and was jarred by) the endless Aelin praising. I know it’s all through the rest of the series, but it really seems to stand out in this one, I think because Aelin herself isn’t in it. I love her as a character, I do, but if I have to hear one more time how fierce and powerful she is, I might need to pick my eyes up off the floor where they rolled earlier and pop them back in so I can roll them again. (Ew)

 

Godsgrave by Jay Kristoff

Pros

  • I thoroughly enjoyed Nevernight and was super keen to continue with Godsgrave, so preordered this baby and smashed it out very quickly. Highly binge-readable and SO MUCH ACTION that I felt like I was watching a movie, constantly on the edge of my seat.
  • I really like the world this is set in – it reads like fantastical, OTT historical fiction for an alternate-universe Ancient Rome/Venice, and I frickin love it.
  • The twists and turns were wonderful. Oh, you thought this? But this instead! And now this instead of that! Ahhhhhh! *head explodes* That ending was wonderful, as well. The most cliffhangery of cliffhangers.
  • The prose was more toned down than Nevernight, I thought – I remember thinking NN was a little overboard at times, but I didn’t get that feeling as much in Godsgrave, instead enjoying the writing.

Godsgrave

Cons

  • Sometimes I think it gets a bit too smart for itself. Not only in the meta/self-referential footnotes used throughout, which occasionally drew me a bit too far out of the moment, but also in the dialogue, which is often a bit one-liner-y. But hey, it’s all in good fun.
  • Not really a con, but I guess worth chatting about, given my thoughts on Sarah J. Maas above. This series is smutty on occasion too, but unlike SJM’s stuff, at least it has been since the beginning! I have mixed feelings about smut in fantasy – at the risk of sounding like a big ol’ prude, I’ve never really read a detailed sex scene that I’ve felt really contributed something essential to the story. But I didn’t mind the ones in Godsgrave – while there were far too many descriptions of heaving breasts, there was thankfully no velvet-wrapped steel in sight.

 

Emperor of Thorns by Mark Lawrence

Pros

  • Wow – what a series. Mark Lawrence has fast grown into one of my A-list fantasy authors, with this series and the first instalment of Book of the Ancestor rating super highly with me. I enjoyed this third and final volume of The Broken Empire just as much as I did the first two books.
  • Jorg has REALLY grown on me, as I think he was intended to do. You start reading Prince of Thorns going ‘Oh, wow, I dislike this kid immensely, ugh’ and by the end of Emperor you’re on his side – if not 100%, at least as much as you can be. He’s not a good person; it wouldn’t have been as good a series if he was. But he’s not the completely soulless, heartless piece of crap you take him for in the beginning, especially not once you understand why he is the way he is. Overall, he’s one of the most interesting, complex and refreshing characters I’ve read in some time.
  • The humour throughout this book, and the entire series, has really stood out to me (in a good way) and been thoroughly enjoyable. It’s not in-your-face; it often just comes directly from Jorg’s first-person narration, which is another testament to his character. Basically, Jorg is the best thing about this series (closely followed by the intriguing setting and the backstory involved in it).

Emperor of Thorns

Cons

  • I found a few aspects a little confusing, particularly those to do with the Builders, and with the ending. Not sure if that’s because I’m a bit dim or if they’re intended not to be entirely clear. I think I’d just need to read it again to understand the Builders better, though, and without being spoilery, I’d probably conclude that the ending is meant to be a bit hard to understand. Now that I think about it, it was a good way to explore something that’s pretty unexplorable and inexplicable. (Vague enough for you?)
  • I thought it all ended a bit too quickly. The last few scenes seemed to speed up an immeasurable amount, and before I knew it it was over. But again, I think that might have been a deliberate choice. I was a bit dissatisfied with a few things that were left unresolved, though – especially those with a lot of buildup, like the whole situation with Katherine, the question of what would happen to Chella, etc. I don’t mind a few loose ends left up to the reader’s imagination, but the quick way this book ended seemed to make those loose ends stand out a bit more.

***

My god. This pros and cons style was supposed to be shorter and simpler, and I think I’ve gone in the exact opposite direction. Maybe it’s just because I had two months of books to catch up on… Any feedback that those two, possibly even three readers out there might have, it’d be much appreciated! ;)

Anyway, until next time – hope you have a wonderful month. xx

Bookish & Writerly Recaps: July 2017

Happy August, everybody! (AUGUST. What is time. What is life.)

I’ve been a bit overwhelmed with things lately. I’ve taken on a new project, which I’ll talk a bit about next month when I’ve hopefully been able to work a bit more on it. TBH, I haven’t really had the mental capacity to think much about it just yet.

I’ve been struggling a little more than usual with the concept of balancing work and writing and social stuff and family stuff and healthy living and life admin and reading and just, you know, everything in general. It’s been one of those situations where I realise I have so much to do that I get entirely overwhelmed and end up doing pretty much none of it.

So it’s a pretty simple recap this month (and if I’m honest, I’m surprised I managed to get it done only two days late). Hopefully next month I’ll have found a little more balance and stability in myself, and will have some exciting things to share!

What I’ve been writing

6,385 words. That’s what I’ve been writing. It’s not much, especially for an entire month, but it’s something.

I’ve been feeling a bit better about writing lately. A bit less scared, a bit more optimistic. Still not to the point where I’m writing regularly, or even to the point where I’m feeling vaguely confident. But it’s something.

Over on Writer’s Edit, I’ve written about how to set achievable goals for your freelance writing career, so if you’re like me and still tend to flounder around a little when it comes to freelancing, check it out (and let me know how to take my own advice??). I’m still in the fledgling stages of my freelance career, but I’ve made a start and stuck with it, and that’s something.

So, yeah – a little over 6,000 words of fiction and one advice article is all I really have to show for the past month. But you know what?

It’s something.

What I’ve been reading

Last week, glaring at the rude little ‘7 books behind schedule’ reminder on Goodreads, I gave in and amended my yearly reading goal to 50 books.

I KNOW, I KNOW, I’M A QUITTER. A literary quitter. A litter. I freely admit it.

But I’ve realised that my circumstances are a bit different this year, and that I can probably be forgiven for cutting back a little. 50 books is still a pretty good goal, I feel – it averages out to almost a book a week, which isn’t bad.

Here’s July’s reading list…

Crossroads of Canopy by Thoraiya Dyer

I’d had my eye on this one for a while. It’d been featured on Tor.com, it has a beautiful cover, and best of all, it was written by an author who used to live in Newcastle (where I live). Plus, its concept sounded super intriguing – a magical forest ruled by gods who live in the canopy, while their subjects live below in the understorey.

Unfortunately, I didn’t love Crossroads of Canopy. As I’ve mentioned here before, I don’t like giving negative reviews. So I won’t go into much detail – suffice it to say that, much as I love supporting authors close to home, this one just wasn’t really for me. Give it a try if you’re into fantasy, though, and see what you think for yourself.

Crossroads of Canopy

King of Thorns by Mark Lawrence

Mark Lawrence is quickly making it onto my list of must-read-everything-they’ve-written authors. I read Red Sister and Prince of Thorns a couple of months back, and was super keen to continue the Broken Empire trilogy with King of Thorns.

I loved it just as much as the first instalment. Mark Lawrence’s writing is poetic and clever without being wanky, and funny without really trying. I adore the story and the world (medieval-style fantasy, but with an interesting twist that I won’t spoil for the uninitiated). And, as always, our antihero Jorg is delightfully entertaining. He’s still a shit, but he’s a self-aware, gradually improving, kind of heartbreaking shit, of whom I’ve actually grown rather fond.

King of Thorns

The Dry by Jane Harper

Well. I picked this baby up from the library at lunchtime on a Wednesday, and had finished it by 9:30 Thursday night. That’s the fastest I’ve finished a book in some time. (I must admit I did give myself some cheeky extra reading time on Thursday, making up for it with extra work hours the next day. The beauty of being a freelancer.)

I’m always banging on about how I know I need to read more stuff that isn’t fantasy, but as you know, I rarely make the effort to actually do that. So the timely arrival of an Australian mystery in my library holds queue made things a lot easier.

The Dry had me hooked right from its gruesome opening vignette: an apparent double murder-suicide by a desperate farmer in the depths of drought. But ‘apparent’ is the key word – of course, there’s more going on in that sleepy country town.

It’s a pretty standard mystery plot, but that’s usually just what I want when I pick up a crime novel, and this definitely didn’t disappoint. More crime and mystery in between my fantasy reads in future, I think!

The Dry

The Barefoot Investor by Scott Pape

And now for something completely different. Yep, Nate and I have been reading a FINANCE book. We are very boring and old.

The Barefoot Investor is really good, though. My boss told me how great it was, and then very kindly bought it for me for my birthday. Scott Pape lays out a super straightforward plan for taking control of your finances and setting yourself and your family up for the future.

I don’t really like dealing with money and finances – it confuses me a little and worries me a lot when I really stop to think about it. But Scott is super chill about it all. He’s basically just like, ‘Look don’t even worry, just do this stuff and you’ll be bloody fine.’ And I believe him!

Nate and I will slowly be enacting the Barefoot Steps as best we can, and I’m excited to see where it gets us.

The Barefoot Investor

***

That’s it from me this month, folks. Wishing you a wonderful August and hoping I’ll be able to check in with a slightly more interesting review next time!

Bookish & Writerly Recaps: June 2017

Well, would you JUST LOOK AT THAT. It’s the last day of the month, and we actually have a recap. WE HAVE A RECAP, PEOPLE! Miracles happen, magic is real, goddesses walk the earth etc. etc.

What I have forgotten to mention is that as I get ready to publish this, it’s 11:30 at night on said last day of the month, so I’ve cut it pretty fine and also I’m kinda tired (hence the rambling having already begun). So let’s get this DONE.

What I’ve written…

I’ma be straight-up as always: there’s not much to report here this month. Over on Writer’s Edit, I’ve been writing about character motivations and types of freelance writing jobs, but novel-wise, I’m still working through some stuff.

I will say that the story’s still swirling its way around the back of my mind a lot of the time, and that I even wrote a random little 500-word scene the other night when I got a burst of inspiration. I think – I hope – I’m almost ready to start writing again in earnest.

Camp NaNoWriMo starts on the 1st of July (tomorrow as I write this), so I’m thinking of using that as a tool to help me get back into the swing of regular writing. I might mix up the usual Scrivener sessions with some handwriting and morning pages, and see how I go.

Blank notebookImage via Unsplash.

…Or, more accurately, what I’ve been doing instead of writing

I recently started listening to the podcast My Favourite Murder, and I cannot tell you how glad I am that I did. It’s pretty self-explanatory: two ladies discussing various murder cases they find fascinating. The details of the murders, while super interesting, can get pretty dark at times (which, I mean… duh, they’re murders). But the hosts Karen and Georgia even it out by being so hilarious and wonderful. I feel like I can relate to them in so many ways, and it just feels like I’ve made two new friends who keep me company while I’m doing boring everyday crap.

TV-wise, I’ve been loving the Starz adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s American GodsI’m only halfway through, but so far it’s doing an incredible job of bringing that big, complex, intriguing book to life. It’s highly stylised and visceral and funny and full-on, and just really damn entertaining – can’t wait to finish it.

Also, conveniently, the day I got home from the US was the day the new House of Cards season dropped – so of course Nate and I binged it in about a week. A couple of years ago I blogged about my love for House of Cards, and I still dig it. It’s gone in a bit of a different direction than I thought it would, but Frank and Claire are still ruthless as ever and scary AF and I love it.

I also saw Wonder Woman at the movies and damn near jumped in the air and fist-pumped with how much I enjoyed it. What an excellent movie and what a genuinely passionate, strong and emotional heroine at the fore. Along with every woman I know who saw it, I came out with a smile on my face and a sense of goddamn go-getter girl power.

My Favourite Murder-Wonder Woman

What I’ve read

Well. I’ve just checked my Goodreads and realised that, as well as being six books behind schedule on my reading challenge, I only read TWO BOOKS during the whole month of June. :/

I realise this is unacceptable. But as you’ll see, one of those two books was REALLY big and dense and kinda old with tiny type and lots of made-up words and… I’ll just use that as my excuse, and vow to do better during July.

(Actually, I’ve just come back to finish this post on the last day of June, and I ended up binge-reading the last half of another book last night – so let’s make that a total of three for June. Still pretty average, but what are you gonna do.)

Anyway. Here’s what I’ve been reading:

Hunted by Meagan Spooner

I absolutely loved this. When I read the premise (a Beauty and the Beast retelling) I was kind of like, ehhh, do I really have time for yet another retelling? But I decided to give it a try, and it turns out I have all the time in the world for this gorgeous book.

Hunted is a lovely take on the tale as old as time – original, while still retaining that beautiful fairytale feel. The writing is wonderful and it’s a lot slower-paced than a lot of other YA fantasy, which I am sooo here for. I mean, I love action as much as the next fantasy fan, but sometimes it’s nice to take things slow, you know?

Meagan Spooner paints her scenes with precision and beauty, and her characters with depth and nuance. Elements of Russian folklore are woven carefully into the tale of Yeva and the Beast, both of whom I adored. Plus, the book’s themes of duality and indefinable desire are fascinating in the ways they’re explored.

I’ve seen several people slam it for various reasons on Goodreads reviews (note to self: stop reading Goodreads reviews), but I disagree with all of them. For me, Hunted was completely captivating, and both the style and story couldn’t have worked better.

Hunted

Dune by Frank Herbert

Aaaaand now we come to the reason why I did not read much this month!

Dune is known as *the* science fiction novel, and for good reason. Published in 1965, it’s sci-fi on an epic scale, with as much in-depth world-building as you’d expect from the highest of high fantasy.

I enjoyed this. It’s long and dense and a little bit dragging at times, but it’s wonderful sci-fi. There’s action, technology, politics, prophecy and big ol’ desert worms that’ll eat you and everyone you love.

One thing I found interesting about the writing style is that it’s omniscient third person narration – something you rarely see these days (at least, something I rarely see). It took me a while to get my head around the head-hopping, but it was a little refreshing point of difference that I enjoyed by the end.

Anyway, I liked exploring the planet of Arrakis and watching the destiny of Muad’Dib unfold, and one day – perhaps when I’m not so far behind on my reading – I’ll definitely be picking up the sequel (but never watching the movie adaptation again… I have it on as I write this recap, and good lord, despite being faithful to the book, it is so. Hilariously. Terrible.)

Dune

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

Strangely enough, the next book on my reading schedule was another story inspired by Russian folklore, and I enjoyed it just as much as Hunted. All the elements of The Bear and the Nightingale are woven together so beautifully, in such lovely prose, that I’m thinking these awesome ladies are definitely onto something with Russian folklore!

I loved the brave and intuitive protagonist, Vasya, and Morozko the mysterious winter king. I loved reading about the spirits guarding the household and the forest, and the demons threatening them. To be honest, I don’t think there was anything I didn’t love about this book.

Katherine Arden’s prose is as beautiful as the story she tells, and the magical atmosphere running through the whole story makes it feel like a folktale in its own right. There are also some scary, almost nightmarish moments, which adds just the right amount of excitement to this slow-burning tale (another winner for slower-paced fantasy, woo!).

P.S. I usually only include the cover of the edition I actually read (hence the six-dollar-paperback Dune cover above). But for The Bear and the Nightingale, I had to include both the UK/AUS (left) and US cover (right). Our version is so colourful and unique and lovely, but the US cover just looks like the story in visual form – wintry and mysterious and beautiful.

Bear and the Nightingale

You’ll notice I was correct last month in predicting that, no, I would not venture beyond my horizons and read something other than SFF anytime soon.

BUT: both Nate and I are currently reading a FINANCE book (I know, wtf, right?), so hopefully that’ll be in my round-up next month to break up the ever-present slew of otherworldly tales. ;)

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Happy July, everybody – hope your month is full of warmth and wonderful things. (Also, for any Murderinos who might be reading: stay sexy, and don’t get murdered. Elvis, you want a cookie?)

Bookish & Writerly Recaps: April & May 2017

Look, I just thought things were getting a little too predictable over here, what with me actually scraping in with a **somewhat** timely recap each month. So, surprise – I’ve saved April’s and May’s recaps to combine into one ultra-late, ultra-exciting double recap post! Yay! *Uncertain, unenthusiastic smattering of applause*

For real, though, I started a new job in April and went on an overseas trip in May, so that’s kind of my excuse for missing one recap and being late with the other.

Due to that overseas trip, I thought it was fitting to expand this double recap to cover not only what I’ve been writing and reading, but also where I’ve been…

Where I’ve been

At the time of my last recap, I was getting ready to go on a mini-getaway to Melbourne with Nate to celebrate our five-year anniversary. Well, after returning from that, life was all about getting ahead with my new job and getting ready for my next trip – a ten-day venture through California with my sister Liv!

Liv’s a travel agent, and through an industry trivia night last year, she managed to score herself a free flight and some accommodation in California. And being the wonderful sister she is, she invited me to come along with her (and offered to go halves in my ticket seeing as hers was free – again, best sister ever, right?!).

Of course, I took her up on her offer, so halfway through May, we set off on a trip to Sacramento, LA, Anaheim and San Francisco.

I’ve never been to the US before, and even though we only visited a small portion of it, I loved it and can’t wait to go back. San Fran was my favourite of the four cities we visited, but I was surprised by how much I also liked Sacramento (it’s California’s capital, but when you tell people you’re going there they’re like, ‘Why tho?’).

Our time in LA and Anaheim was mostly spent at Universal Studios and Disneyland, respectively – and you can imagine how exciting that was for this Disney freak and lifelong Harry Potter-lover.

Overall, it was an awesome (if not slightly whirlwind) trip, and I loved every minute of it.

What I’ve written

Hahahahaha, hahaha, haha. Writing. Yeah. That’s totally a thing I do.

I don’t know if it’s post-holiday blues or just a continuation of the feelings I’ve been having about writing recently, but I’m still just not really… feeling it.

TBH, it was a struggle to even sit down and start writing this blog post. I just feel like there’s something missing – some magical blend of inspiration, motivation and creativity that’s so vital to writerly types.

But I know as well as any other writer that the key to solving this kind of problem is usually just to sit down and do some goddamn writing. To shove all that doubt and uncertainty and negativity aside and put some words – any words – on paper.

So, once again, with hope for a much more productive second half of the year, I’m going to try.

A few times in the last couple of months, I tried out the concept of morning pages, and was quite pleasantly surprised by the results. So I might try that again, or at least give some kind of free-form handwritten exercise a go.

Hopefully I can work my way back up to actually progressing on my novel, which is sitting long-neglected in its Scrivener file but always buzzing around in the back of my head.

I might even try writing something apart from (late) monthly recaps on this blog every now and again! (Plz don’t hold me to that, my internal life narrator is already laughing and laughing at the very idea.)

Somewhere I’m always happy to put words down, though, is Writer’s Edit. Over the last couple of months I’ve penned a few pieces branching out into areas of freelancing and self-publishing:

Wish me luck for a renewed sense of writerly vigour throughout the month of June.

Image via Unsplash.

What I’ve read

Since I’m doing a double recap this month (and, as I mentioned above, not really feeling it on the blogging front), I’m just going to list what I read in April/May, rather than writing a mini review for each book.

Even though I won’t be reviewing them, I really did enjoy all of the last two months’ books. Unsurprisingly, it’s been the usual fantasy feast, with a drop of dystopia and a single dose of straight-up fiction thrown in for good measure. ;)

Here’s what’s been occupying my lunch breaks and plane rides for the last couple of months…

  • Red Rising by Pierce Brown
  • Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor
  • My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante
  • A Court of Wings and Ruin by Sarah J. Maas
  • Royal Assassin by Robin Hobb
  • Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence
  • Red Sister by Mark Lawrence

My two favourites out of these were definitely Strange the Dreamer and Royal Assassin. Laini Taylor’s beautiful words and magical story had me practically glowing with delight, and the more I read of Robin Hobb’s incredible Farseer series, the more I fall in love with Fitz’s story.

I’m thinking that this month I need to change it up a little and read some more non-fiction. But to be perfectly honest, it’s hard when there’s so much amazing fiction already on my TBR… I’ll make an effort to expand my horizons, though! (Narrator, next month: ‘She did not make any effort to expand her horizons.’)

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Well, that’s all from me on this sunny winter afternoon. Here’s hoping the second half of the year brings plenty of happiness, inspiration and generally wonderful things.

Bookish & Writerly Recaps: March 2017

Look! Another monthly recap written and published in a timely fashion*!

*It is, fittingly, April Fool’s Day as this goes live, so if you believe the above, that’s totally on you.

Here’s what’s been happening throughout March…

What I’ve written

Look, I’m going to be perfectly honest again (as if I can help being anything but? #oversharer). This past month was another not-so-great one for me, writing-wise. And I don’t just mean writing in the novel-writing sense; I mean it in the sense of, ‘Why did I think I could be a writer in the first place – freelance OR fiction? Neither one is working, and I don’t think they ever will’.

Yeah, fun stuff. Good job, brain, for spending all of March dwelling on those super helpful thoughts.

Basically, most of my month was lost to a fog of self-doubt and inner conflict. I was questioning everything: what I really want out of life, what ‘the dream’ is and how it compares to actual reality, whether I should throw everything in the bin and run away to England, etc. etc.

These doubts were split evenly between the freelancing dream and the author dream. Not only was I struggling with my career situation, I was also still in a really bad place regarding my fiction writing (see last month’s recap for more on that).

Truthfully? I’m still in that place when it comes to my book. I’ve tried a little writing here and there, but I just don’t feel good about it again yet. I’m still constantly thinking about it, and I have moments where I’m like ‘Yes! This story could still work, and I do still want to write it!’. But those moments are a little too scarce right now, and I think I’ve still got a lot to work through.

March recap-1Image via Unsplash

BUT! I did get a bit of nice news on the last day of March: after a couple of weeks of job applications, interviews and trials, I was offered a new part-time role as a marketing assistant! Yay. :) I’ll primarily be creating content, which is what I love to do most, and I can finish up at my casual bookselling job (which is lovely, don’t get me wrong, but it’s time to move on).

With three fixed days a week at this new job and the other two days to focus on my freelance stuff, I can finally develop a proper routine and stick to it. And I’m hoping this will also help with my writing. I really do want to give it another go, so with a little less career-related stress and a more consistent work situation, fingers crossed I can get things moving again.

Something that I think is really going to help me do that is looking to others for inspiration and motivation. It’s no secret that two of my biggest inspirations are two of my best girlfriends, Helen and Kyra – and truly, when I think about what those ladies are achieving, it’s a bigger motivator than anything to keep me going.

Kyra posted recently about getting out of her own writing slump, and Helen’s amazing first novel is coming out later this year, and basically, I just admire the absolute heck out of them both. I want to stay on this writer’s journey with them, so I’m going to try my hardest to do just that.

Anyway – one last thing to finish off this perpetually rambling section! While the word-well in March was running pretty dry, I did write some articles for Writer’s Edit on impostor syndrome and establishing a writing routine, so check those out if you’re struggling with the writer’s life (join the club, we have a monthly newsletter).

March recap-2Image via Unsplash

What I’ve read

This month has been ALL FANTASY, ALL THE TIME – and let’s be real, I’m not even sorry about it.

A Gathering of Shadows (reread) and A Conjuring of Light by V. E. Schwab

I blabbed on a little last month about how much I love this series, but I’m going to do it again here. I LOVE THIS SERIES. I love everything about it. And I really admire Victoria Schwab as a writer.

In March I reread A Gathering of Shadows in preparation for the release of the final instalment, A Conjuring of Light, which I completely devoured as soon as it landed in my mailbox. How do I even explain these books? The characters are beautiful and flawed and funny and heartbreaking and real; the writing is finely tuned and wonderful; and the story is absolutely lustrous with magic – there’s no other way to describe it.

ACOL was a perfect, bittersweet ending to the series, and to anyone who’s read it, you’ll know what I mean when I say: Anoshe.

Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

First of all, let’s not be superficial here, but what a beautiful cover. Give me black and sparkly gold and a magical hammer and I’m sold. (Neil Gaiman’s name and the word ‘Mythology’ in big letters doesn’t hurt, either.)

Moving beyond appearances, I loved the book itself as well. It was a refreshing little jaunt into the world of the Norse gods, and I really enjoyed the traditional, almost spoken-word style of the storytelling – just like sitting around a campfire at night while a bloody genius named Neil tells you tales of monsters and gods. (Truly, writing any kind of god is this guy’s absolute jam. This was a lovely contrast to American Gods – which, by the way, looks like it’s going to make a freaking excellent TV show.)

Assassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb

This is the first Robin Hobb book I’ve read, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It has a real ‘classic fantasy’ feel to it, and the writing style is markedly different to all the fantasy I’ve been reading lately, which is refreshing. There are no dramatic chapter cliffhangers, and very little fanfare when it comes to big reveals; there’s just simple writing telling a damn good story, and that’s something I hadn’t read for quite a while. (Don’t get me wrong – I love a good cliffhanger and some fanfare, of course, but it was nice to dive into something a little different.)

Fitz’s story also reminded me a little of one of my favourite epic fantasy tales – that of Kvothe from Patrick Rothfuss’ Kingkiller Chronicle. Both Fitz and Kvothe have a terribly shit time while they’re young (as well as, presumably, a terribly shit time when they’re older too, poor loves). They’re both misunderstood and gifted and fierce and terribly lonely – and despite all that, they’re both thoroughly likeable characters, with exciting and extraordinary stories to tell. I can’t wait to continue with the Farseer Trilogy.

Caraval by Stephanie Garber

I wasn’t so sure about this one. It’s been getting huge hype online for months and months now, which I think may have had something to do with my less-than-enthusiastic reaction to it; I think it was actually over-hyped, which hasn’t really done it any favours.

That’s not to say I didn’t like it; I enjoyed it enough to stick with it, and actually smashed through it fairly quickly. But I didn’t love it. I don’t particularly like giving detailed negative reviews, so I won’t go into too much here, but suffice it to say that I felt the story fell a little flat, and there was some big ol’ insta-love that I really wasn’t a fan of. The writing was quite nice, though, and an indulgent, dazzling, night-time carnival atmosphere is always fun.

Caraval

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Well, that’s enough book rambling and life pondering from me (for now). I’m off to pack for a few wonderful days in Melbourne, where Nate and I are heading tomorrow to (belatedly) celebrate our five-year anniversary! *prepares self for three and a half straight days of eating, drinking and lounging in a hotel spa bath*

Happy April – I hope your month ahead is full of lovely things.

Bookish & Writerly Recaps: February 2017

Would you look at this?! It’s the last day of February, and I’m actually posting an ON-TIME monthly recap!

Here’s a quick look at the last month in my world of words…

What I’ve written

So in last month’s recap, I mentioned that I’d finally been diving back into my novel. Throughout February, I did more diving; spent a few days frolicking underwater as a graceful mermaid; came back up for air; lost my beautiful mermaid tail; and am now stranded on a desert island, surrounded by shark-infested waters and unable to swim.

If I lost you with that confusing analogy, I apologise. I’m feeling rather lost and confused myself.

I wrote just over 7000 words in Feb, which brings me to about the 12,000 word mark in this redo of my first draft. Things were pretty up and down with writing throughout the month, and I didn’t write as much as I wanted. But I did get into a few good grooves here and there (usually when word-sprinting with Kyra), and for the most part, was enjoying the process.

But then I hit a rough patch. A really rough patch. One that brought home every doubt I’d ever felt about my story, magnified it tenfold, and made it feel impossible to continue.

As February draws to a close, I’m still in that difficult spot. I’ve only written 1400 words in the last two and a half weeks, and I don’t know when I’ll get back into the swing of things again. To be honest, at the moment, I’m actually wondering if I’ll get back into the swing of things at all.

This is a bit of a tricky one to explain, and I don’t want to ramble on and get too negative here. I may write a more detailed post about this stuff later on, but for now, I’m just going to move on and hope I have a more positive update to share with you at the end of next month. Fins and fingers crossed.

So! Steering out of turbulent fictional waters and back towards the real world, I also wrote a few articles for Writer’s Edit in Feb, about Scrivener, plot twists, and what to do when you’ve finished the draft of your novel. Hopefully writerly types may find them useful and/or interesting:

Feb-recap-1Image via Unsplash

What I’ve read

I settled back into a more regular reading groove this month, which was nice. (Goodreads is finally telling me ‘You’re on track!’ – yay!) Once I’d finished the non-fiction book that was my first Feb read, I flew through my next four… And yep, they were all fiction.

I know I vowed to try to read more non-fiction this year, and I will. But I’ve realised that when it comes down to it, fiction is what has my heart. I haven’t read many non-fiction books that had me dying to get back to the story every time I put it down, but I can’t count the times I’ve felt that way about a novel.

So while I will be making more of an effort with my NF reads, I also won’t be denying myself the pure joy of fresh fiction, especially whenever I find myself in a bit of a reading slump and need something to get me back in the game.

Anyway, here’s what I read in February…

H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald

This one took me a while to get through, but I did enjoy it. I love birds and I’d heard many good things about H is for Hawk, so I made an effort to finally get around to reading it. It details the relationship between the author and the goshawk she purchased and trained shortly after her father died. Goshawks are notoriously difficult to train, and the entire painstaking process is outlined here, woven through with multi-layered meaning and emotional insight.

The book refers extensively to T. H. White and his own hawk-training memoir The Goshawk throughout, but if I’m honest, I thought there was a little too much focus on White. The sections about him were often the ones I found myself struggling to push through, but I do understand why they were included. Overall, it was a good book and I’m glad I read it.

h-is-for-hawk

The Good People by Hannah Kent

I really enjoyed Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites when I read it last year, so I was keen to pick up her newest book The Good People, especially after hearing her talk about the process of writing it on an episode of the So You Want to Be a Writer podcast. Set in 19th century Ireland, The Good People is steeped in rich folklore and based on real historical events, exploring pagan traditions and the superstitions and beliefs of a small Irish county community.

Hannah is a beautiful writer – the prose was often stunning and always graceful. I really liked this story, too; I felt super immersed in the setting, got really invested in what was going to happen to the characters, and loved the Irish folklore that formed the book’s foundation.

the-good-people

Gemina by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff

I loved Illuminae by this pair, and Gemina was no different – a rollicking sci-fi rollercoaster ride that’s a lot of fun to read. I’ve always been a sucker for interesting typesetting, and this YA series, set out in epistolary format, really has some fun with this. The story is told through IMs and emails, transcripts of conversations and security footage, memos and illustrations, and countless other bits and pieces. While some people might find this a bit gimmicky after a while, I’m not gonna lie – I ate it right up in both volumes.

The story itself is fast-paced, funny and action-packed, with likeable characters, a space-station hostage situation, murderous, parasitic worm things, and even some quantum physics phun. For me, Gemina certainly lived up to its predecessor in terms of enjoyment, and I’m really looking forward to the next instalment.

gemina

Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard

I’d heard a lot about this series but had never actually picked it up – for rather a silly reason. I regularly use Goodreads to find new books, but for a while there, I found myself putting a lot of stock into Goodreads reviews. As in, if a book that I thought looked interesting had a few one-star reviews that had been voted up to the top, I wouldn’t bother adding it to my TBR. But then I read Jay Kristoff’s Nevernight, which I’d previously not bothered with because of a few bad Goodreads reviews – and I loved it. That’s when I realised I was relying way too much on what other people thought, putting far too much stock into what are essentially 100% subjective opinions and not simply reading what wanted to read.

ANYWAY, long story short, I’d held off reading Red Queen for the same reason, but when I picked it up this month, I really did enjoy it. It’s nothing super groundbreaking, and I didn’t find myself liking the main character Mare as much as I wanted to, but it was an enjoyable read, and I’ll probably continue with the series.

red-queen

A Darker Shade of Magic by V. E. Schwab (reread)

Oh, how I love Victoria Schwab and the Shades of Magic series. As soon as I picked this book up for the first time last year, I knew it was destined to become one of my all-time favourite series. This is exactly the kind of fantasy I love. It’s set in an amazing world – actually, four worlds, with four parallel Londons; the characters are well-drawn and wonderful; the magic is… well… magical; and Victoria’s writing is seriously excellent. There are some truly cinematic scenes in here, which I can’t wait to see brought to life on the big screen!

I reread this first volume to prepare for the final book in the trilogy, which was released towards the end of Feb. I haven’t reread anything in a long, long time (apart from my two HP rereads last year), because I get overwhelmed by the sheer amount of new books there are to read, and feel like there isn’t enough time for rereading. But with a series that’s as good as this one, I want to see it off right – and that means making some time to rediscover the magic before it all comes to an end. <3

a-darker-shade-of-magic

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What have you read and written this month? I’d love to hear!