Bookish & Writerly Recaps: December 2017

It’s the last day of the year! WHAT, HOW, WHY, etc.

Anyway, though, I had a lovely December and a perfect Christmas. Highlights from the month included:

  • 1st of December tradition of making a roast dinner, putting up the Christmas tree and busting out the Bublé.
  • Taking a hike up Mount Tomaree, followed by brunch at the gorgeous Little Nel.
  • Seeing Paul McCartney in concert with the fam.
  • A friend’s wedding, which was beautiful despite the 41-degree day.
  • Christmas food gift baking and making: gingerbread, Tim Tam lamington balls and white choc macadamia cookies, plus a mango white choc cheesecake for Christmas Day. NOM.
  • Nate’s and my sixth Christmas together, and the first one where all three of our Christmas Day stops were within a 5km radius of one another. A true Christmas miracle.

What I’ve been writing

December has been a crazy month, so I’ve just had one article published on Writer’s Edit: Create Compelling Characters With These 3 Types of Character Arcs. Plenty more articles about fiction writing, freelancing and indie publishing to come in 2018, though!

You can also read about the achievements for Writer’s Edit as a whole in our 2017 in Review post, put together by WE’s wonderful Founding Editor, Helen Scheuerer.

As I mentioned in my November recap, I’d decided to focus on freelance work, Christmas and just general life stuff throughout December, and let myself off the hook in regards to any thoughts about my creative writing. Now that it’s the end of the year, though, I’ve of course been thinking about what I want to achieve next year in terms of my writing.

As you’ll know if you’ve read any of my monthly recaps this year, it’s been a pretty uncertain time for me regarding that book I started way back in November of 2015. I’ve been plagued by incessant doubts, worries, blocks, and all manner of things that have kept me from doing pretty much any substantial work on my novel this year.

But next year, I think it’ll be time to adopt an attitude of ‘now or never’. To stop worrying, let go of all the toxic doubt and fear I’ve built up in my head, and just try. I just need to take it one day, one idea, one word at a time, looking to the books I love and to my amazing writing gal pals Helen and Kyra for inspiration.

As the pretty notebook above (a present from my lovely sister) says, I just need to start somewhere.

On a related writerly note – I’ve made the decision not to continue with my monthly bookish and writerly recaps in 2018.

While I have enjoyed putting them together for the most part, I feel they’ve become more of a chore that I have to pack into an already pretty tight schedule at the end of each month. Plus, they mostly just consist of mini book reviews now – and I don’t even like writing book reviews!

So throughout next year, I’ll no longer be checking in with books read and words written at the end of each month. But I do want to keep this blog semi-alive. So I’ll hopefully be able to make it a habit to pop up a few random posts here and there. Who knows, I might even aim to bring back ‘Things I Love Lately‘ posts!

But for now, here’s a final dive into what I read in December, and also a quick review of what I’ve read throughout the whole of 2017.

Image by Annie Spratt via Unsplash.

What I’ve been reading

It’s the end of the year and I’m pretty tired, so here are some tiny reviews for each of this month’s six reads!

  • Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (screenplay) by J. K. Rowling
    I wondered how much I’d enjoy reading the screenplay of a movie I’ve already seen numerous times, but the answer is: a lot! <3 It was delightful to read, and the cover and interior design are absolutely stunning.
  • The Stranger Beside Me by Ann Rule
    This true crime classic was fascinating and horrifying in equal measure. Ted Bundy was a truly frightening individual, and to read about him from the perspective of someone who was close friends with him was both intriguing and frustrating. I understand that it was hard for Ann to believe that the Ted she thought she knew had done the things he did, but I still found myself wondering why she kept communicating with him, comforting him, sending him money, even after his true nature became undeniable… She addresses this issue in the book itself, though, and pays all respect to the people whose fates should never be eclipsed by Bundy’s notoriety: his victims.
  • Frostblood by Elly Blake
    While the premise of this one didn’t sound particularly original, it still seemed like some fun YA fantasy and I wanted to give it a go. Well, the premise wasn’t particularly original, and I found myself irritated at a few things here and there (witty-banter-based-hate turned instalove, I’m looking at you). But I still enjoyed it enough to finish it, and will probably read the next one in the series too.
  • Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (reread) (illustrated edition) by J. K. Rowling
    It’s a Christmas tradition for my sister and me to gift each other the new illustrated HP that comes out each year, and this year I got to devour PoA practically in one sitting a few days after Christmas. It’s gorgeous, of course, and there’s nothing so enjoyable or comforting as sinking into a HP reread at the end of each year.
  • Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur
    I don’t read much poetry, so I’m not really qualified to comment on the quality of the verse in this book, but just on a personal level, I didn’t really like it that much. However, there were a few poems that I did enjoy, and I don’t doubt that many people would get a lot more out of this book as a whole than I did.
  • Cruel Crown by Victoria Aveyard
    I read and enjoyed Red Queen earlier this year, so when I needed a quick read to round out my 50-book challenge, I thought this collection of two prequel stories would be perfect. I really enjoyed the first story, Queen Song, but didn’t quite connect as much with the second one, Steel Scars. But I’m happy I read them both and I plan to continue with this series in 2018.

2017 reading year in review

Well, it was looking touch and go for a while there, even after I dropped my reading goal from 60 books down to 50… But I made it, with one day to spare. 50 books read in 2017! 🎉

Looking back at my initial reading goals for 2017 in last year’s reading wrapup, I’d said I wanted to make a quarter of my reads non-fiction, and that I wanted to up last year’s Australian-authored-book count of 17… Well, I failed spectacularly at each of these. But hey, watcha gonna do?  ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

I’ve learned that setting these kinds of specific goals at the start of each year is often pretty much pointless, and that in 2018, my only real goal will be to read as many books as possible that give me joy, inspiration, education, or all three at once.

Anyway, here’s some stats, plus my full list of books read this year (which you can also check out in my ‘Year in Books’ on Goodreads)!

Author breakdown

  • Books by female authors: 36.5
  • Books by male authors: 12.5
  • Books by Australian authors: 11

Genre breakdown

  • Fantasy/speculative fiction: 36
  • Literary/general/historical/YA contemporary fiction: 6
  • Poetry collections: 1
  • Short story collections: 1
  • Non-fiction: 6
Image via freestocks.org

Fiction

  • The Bear and the Nightingale – Katherine Arden
  • Alias Grace – Margaret Atwood
  • Red Queen – Victoria Aveyard
  • Cruel Crown – Victoria Aveyard
  • Frostblood – Elly Blake
  • Red Rising – Pierce Brown
  • Crossroads of Canopy – Thoraiya Dyer
  • My Brilliant Friend – Elena Ferrante
  • Norse Mythology – Neil Gaiman
  • Caraval – Stephanie Garber
  • The Dry – Jane Harper
  • Dune – Frank Herbert
  • Assassin’s Apprentice – Robin Hobb
  • Royal Assassin – Robin Hobb
  • Assassin’s Quest – Robin Hobb
  • Newcastle Short Story Award Anthology 2017 – Hunter Writers Centre
  • The Fifth Season – N. K. Jemisin
  • Gemina – Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff
  • Milk and Honey – Rupi Kaur
  • The Good People – Hannah Kent
  • It – Stephen King
  • Nevernight – Jay Kristoff
  • Godsgrave – Jay Kristoff
  • Prince of Thorns – Mark Lawrence
  • King of Thorns – Mark Lawrence
  • Emperor of Thorns – Mark Lawrence
  • Red Sister – Mark Lawrence
  • A Court of Wings and Ruin – Sarah J. Maas
  • Tower of Dawn – Sarah J. Maas
  • Bird Box – Josh Malerman
  • Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (screenplay) – J. K. Rowling
  • Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (reread) (illustrated edition) – J. K. Rowling
  • Heart of Mist – Helen Scheuerer
  • A Darker Shade of Magic (reread) – V. E. Schwab
  • A Gathering of Shadows (reread) – V. E. Schwab
  • A Conjuring of Light – V. E. Schwab
  • Our Dark Duet – V. E. Schwab
  • Hunted – Meagan Spooner
  • Godblind – Anna Stephens
  • The Raven Boys – Maggie Stiefvater
  • A Torch Against the Night – Sabaa Tahir
  • Strange the Dreamer – Laini Taylor
  • The Hate U Give – Angie Thomas
  • Now I Rise – Kiersten White
Image via Pixabay

Non-fiction

  • Everywhere I Look – Helen Garner
  • Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear – Elizabeth Gilbert
  • H is for Hawk – Helen Macdonald
  • The Barefoot Investor – Scott Pape
  • The Stranger Beside Me – Ann Rule
  • Bad Behaviour – Rebecca Starford

***

Well, that’s it for 2017 from me. I hope you’ve had a lovely year, and that 2018 has some wonderful things in store.

As I mentioned, I won’t be checking in with these same monthly posts next year – but if you’ve read my bookish and writerly recaps throughout 2017, I hope you’ve enjoyed them, and THANK YOU!

Until next time,

Claire x

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Bookish & Writerly Recaps: November 2017

IT’S THE FIRST OF DECEMBER! Which means two things: 1) I’m kind of nearly almost on time in posting this, and 2) tonight is going to be all about tree decorating, carol listening, and first-Christmas-movie-of-the-season watching (Elf, in case you were wondering – a goddamn classic).

I’ve done my annual phone lock screen changeover to a Christmas-at-Hogwarts themed wallpaper. I’ve starting filling out my Christmas presents spreadsheet (don’t ask) and draining my bank account accordingly. I’ve commenced buying and eating every gingerbread-flavoured thing to hit the shops. I am READY for this most wondrous of months.

November absolutely flew by, and I feel like I can barely remember what I got up to last week, let alone throughout the whole month… But let’s give it a go!

What I’ve been writing

As I mentioned last month, I’ve been busier on the freelance front lately, which has been great. So throughout November, work was my main focus. I didn’t really have any time for much else, let alone writing my own stuff (or rather, fretting about not writing my own stuff).

And you know what? I felt better for it.

The end of December will be a time to reflect on what I want to do with my writing next year. I know I’ll need to end up making some decisions and commitments one way or another. But for now, I’m just going to focus on work and life and Christmas and enjoy the last month of the year without berating myself for anything.

So there, brain! *flips self the bird*

Anyway, over on Writer’s Edit, I’ve been dishing bits and pieces as usual for fiction authors, indie publishers and freelance writers:

What I’ve been reading

I’ve been a bit weird with reading lately. Usually, I move smoothly and consistently from one book to another, picking up the next one as soon as I finish the last, and always having something on the go.

But for the past couple of months I seem to read in frenzied bursts, where I’ll smash out a book in a few days, then have long-ish stretches where I’m not reading anything at all.

I’m not going as badly as I thought, though – if I squeeze in six more books over the next four weeks, I’ll have hit my goal of 50 books for the year! I have a lovely little bit of time off over Christmas, so I’m planning to catch up on a few TBRs and snuggle into my annual Harry Potter reread with the latest illustrated edition.

Here’s what November’s shelves had in store…

The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

Maggie Stiefvater’s name is everywhere online when it comes to YA fantasy, and a number of her series have been on my TBR for a while. I thought I’d start with The Raven Cycle, which appears to be her best-known and best-loved.

I really liked this first volume – right up until the final few chapters, which I felt a little baffled by. I’m not sure… All of a sudden it was just kind of like I wasn’t even reading the same story anymore? The conclusion felt rushed and strange to me, but before that, the story was super enjoyable.

I liked her writing, the characters were interesting and sweet and frustrating by turns (in a good way), and all the elements of the overarching quest seemed to be well set up in this first book. It was just that odd final act that had me feeling a little disappointed.

I don’t tend to read a lot of contemporary fantasy, but I did like this, and I’ll definitely try the next book in the series.

The Raven Boys

Bird Box by Josh Malerman

For a change of pace, I picked up this dystopian thriller that I’d heard my gal Georgia mention once on My Favourite Murder. I felt in the mood for a quick, gripping, scary read, and the premise of this one sounded perfect: ‘Something is out there, something terrifying that must not be seen. One glimpse of it, and a person is driven to deadly violence.’ (Yaaaaaaaassss give it to me.)

Well, Bird Box didn’t disappoint! It was told in an interweaving past-and-present narrative, which I always appreciate when done well, as it was here. The (literally) unseen threat that has left the world in ruins and continues to stalk survivors is sufficiently scary, and it’s super interesting to read a novel told from the perspective of characters who can’t see anything the majority of the time.

If you’re a fan of neatly tied-up endings, with all questions answered and problems resolved, you might be a little frustrated by this. But I was OK with the way the story went, and I don’t think it would have been as effective without keeping that air of uncertainty and mystery about it to the end. Definitely give Bird Box a go if you’re after something to race through in one sitting.

Bird Box

2017 Newcastle Short Story Award Anthology from Hunter Writers Centre

I’ve had this sitting on my bedside table for the last six months or so, but with the 2018 Newcastle Short Story Award now open for entries, I thought it was high time I read this year’s anthology. I entered the 2016 competition and was lucky enough to be featured as a finalist in that collection, but I didn’t get around to entering this year’s comp. I wouldn’t mind giving the 2018 award a go, though, and what better place to find inspiration than from the winners and finalists of this year?

I’m not sure if I’m being biased coz I’m in it (lol), but I found I enjoyed the 2016 anthology more than this one. There were definitely stories I enjoyed in here, but to be honest, there were a few I didn’t really like, and a few I admit I skipped entirely.

I think this is a reflection of my changing tastes as well, though. I barely read any literary fiction anymore, and the short story is often the most ‘literary’ form you can get. But I do still enjoy savouring a well-flowing turn of phrase, or appreciating a meaningful idea captured in the space of a few pages, so I’m glad I jumped off my usual genre fiction bandwagon for a second to read this.

One note for the entrants of next year’s competition, though… Does every story have to be the most dark, deathly, depressing thing ever written? Don’t get me wrong, I like a bit of dark-ass drama as much as the next person, but if I’m in the mood for just straight bleakness, I’ll go rewatch the last season of The Fall. Let’s lighten it up a little now and then – don’t we all need a few silver linings amidst all that grey?!

Newcastle Short Story Award Anthology 2017

Our Dark Duet by V. E. Schwab

Ahhh, one of my great literary loves – the inimitable V. E. Schwab. She’s the author of one of my absolute all-time favourite series, the Shades of Magic trilogy, and I adored her contemporary sci-fi Vicious immensely as well. Our Dark Duet is the second in her Monsters of Verity YA duology, but when I read the first volume, This Savage Song, I didn’t really find myself hooked.

liked it, of course – I don’t think Lady Schwab could ever write something I don’t like – but I didn’t feel the same adoration for it as I did her other books. I still wanted to finish this series, though, and I’m really glad I did, because I liked Our Dark Duet a lot more than its predecessor.

It’s hard to talk about this one without giving anything away about the series, so suffice it to say the story – set in a dystopian future where humans’ dark deeds give birth to literal monsters – revolves around Kate, a monster hunter, and August, a surprisingly human monster.

Schwab pitched it as Romeo + Juliet with monsters and without the romance, which I think is perfect. And this closing volume was a perfect, heart-wrenching conclusion to Kate and August’s stories. The monsters and the dystopian world are awesome, and the main characters, as per usual with Schwab, are nuanced, captivating and very easy to care about. I think a reread of both books will be on my radar in the future, and I have a feeling I’ll appreciate This Savage Song more the second time around.

Our Dark Duet

***

Well, the next time I’m here, Christmas will have come and gone, and we’ll be careening towards 2018… *muffled screaming* So until then, I hope everyone has the most wonderful, magical, food-fun-and-family-filled December! Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night <3