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:
- Ultimate Guide: Establishing An Author Newsletter
- 5 Quick Tips for Writing Thrilling Fight Scenes
- Find Your Ideal Freelance Writing Niche In 5 Simple Steps
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.
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.
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?!
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.
I 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.
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