March 27, 2018

March 27, 2018

I am a procrastiwriter. There is no denying. Give me an inch and I will find twelve super important tasks that must be done before I work on my novel.

This blog post might be one of those things. I also plan to do laundry tonight.

If you've been following me for any length of time, you've probably realized that I've spent the last few months in a bit of a writing rut. I could talk a good game, but behind the scenes, not much noveling was happening. I won't go into it since I've already talked about it ad nauseum on my Instagram. (Are you following me over there? You should be following me.)

Apparently, real, solid stakes were what I needed to get out of that rut. And by stakes, I don't mean I needed to put my protagonist in more danger (although, that did happen as a result).

I needed to put myself in a place where I was vulnerable.

At the end of last month, I queried an agent.

Said agent passed on my work, I'll get that out there right now. This is not the blog post where I'm all, "I'm getting published!!!" Y'all still have that to look forward to.

This is the blog post where I'm all, "Yay! I got out of that darn rut."

Like any savvy millennial writer, I follow several agents on Twitter (and writers and editors). Mostly, because I will be hunkering down in the query trenches soon and I'm grateful for any tips, tricks, or cheat codes industry professionals might dispense.

Twitter is also a good place to build a relationship with those same professionals, or at least familiarize them with your name (not in a spam way, that will get you known in the wrong way), and familiarize you with them.Are they a cat or a dog person? Do they like fantasy or contemporary? What is their favorite movie? It's a great way to gauge whether they'd be interested in your novel (as is their website, find it, memorize it).

This is how I discovered that one of the agents I planned to submit to was asking for YA fantasy submissions.

So, I took a chance and submitted a query letter.

That on its own is a big thing.

Kudos to me, except technically I didn't have a finished novel.

Well, I did, but I didn't have the best version of that finished novel, because, as you'll recall, I've been in the middle of a draft for months.

Don't do that. Had that agent actually been interested, I could have been in a bit of a tight spot.

I took a calculated risk when I submitted to that agent. I knew I had a really good first half of a novel that, because of changes I made in this recent edit, didn't quite match up with the back end. Before I wrote the first word of my query letter, I combed through the agent's Twitter and figured out their approximate response time for queries. Then I sat down with my novel and determined exactly what need to change to make both halves of my novel merge successfully.

It was a lot less work than I had been expecting.

So I sent in my query with an estimated word count (another thing that you should not do unless you are very close to finishing) and the knowledge that I had a week, maybe two, to get my novel into tip-top shape.

As you can probably guess by the fact that I'm still editing (you'd know this if you follow me on Twitter) almost a month later, I needed more time than a week. But, luckily for me, the agent passed on the project.

And I'm not mad. I'm not even really upset. I knew I was tempting fate. Would it have been nice if that agent asked for more of my manuscript? Yes. Did my ego need that boost? Yes. But now I don't have to stress about keeping to the word count I promised and I can breathe a little as I finish this draft.

However, I needed that push. The sudden rush of possibility that kicked my butt back into writing gear. I am honestly more focused than I've been since November, all because for a week, I had a real, tangible deadline. And now, I know exactly what needs to be fixed. If I had never gotten it in my head to submit to that agent, I'd probably still be floundering in Chapter Ten (I spent most of February in Chapter Ten). I have a plan now.

For me, that's the win. I've felt so lost and overwhelmed by everything I thought I needed to change. My brain was certain I was looking at a gargantuan task, that I was about to wrangle a tyrannosaurus rex, but thanks to perspective, I now know I'm just looking at an over-sized chicken.

I can handle an over-sized chicken. Probably.

March 16, 2018

March 16, 2018

Thanks to the magic of audiobooks, I had yet another fantastic reading month. I think this was helped along by the fact that I was super into most of the books I listened to, so I flew through them in mere days rather than taking a week or more to finish them. I love audiobooks, but I also find it much easier to forget about them than about a book that I have to carry around with me. All that to say, I'm super impressed with myself this month. I know the slowdown is coming, but I am quite happy to be WAY ahead of my reading goal already.

Crooked Kingdom (Six of Crows #2) by Leigh Bardugo
5 stars
Finished on 2/2, hardcover
This series made my heart so happy. Like "I wanted to reread the series as soon as I finished it" happy. I did not. I had other books to read, but I think I could spend months unpacking this series and still have stuff to find. I don't want to get to into plot because spoilers, but suffice to say that this one took everything Bardugo established in the first book and kicked it up a notch. We learn even more about the characters. We learn even more about the world. We see them reaching further, climbing higher, flirting with more danger than they did in the last book. There is scheming. There is subterfuge. Oh, and there's romance. Hoo boy, is there romance. Just talking about this has me wanting to reread this series. I cannot say enough nice things about it.

Talon (Talon #1) by Julie Kagawa
4 stars
Finished on 2/3, audiobook
Ember is a dragon, able to pass for a human, but only as long as she keeps her inner dragon under control. Garrett is a human and it's his job to hunt and kill dragons. When Ember gets sent to a small California town to learn how to pass as human, Garrett is sent to keep an eye on her. His mission is simple, find out if Ember is a dragon and if she is, kill her. What neither of them counted on that dragons are more human than anyone told them. Talon is a fantastic set-up. Talon's system for teaching dragons to assimilate into human society has you really believing that dragons could be living among us undercover. This book did a fantastic job of setting up the conflict that is going to define the rest of the series. I love how both Ember and Garrett end up questioning their upbringings. And as you already know, I'm a sucker for a good star-crossed romance. I put Talon down, ready to pick the next book up.

The Kiss of Deception (The Remnant Chronicles #1) by Mary E. Pearson
4 stars
Finished on 2/12, hardcover
Princess Lia was promised to marry the prince of a nearby country. She's sure that he's old and boring and even if he weren't, she wants to decide her own destiny. So she runs away. What she doesn't count on is him following her. So I was not a fan of this book at first. Don't get me wrong, the set-up was fantastic. I loved how Lia took her life into her own hands. But there were some parts that I was iffy on, parts that rubbed me the wrong way. As it turns out, I made one HUGELY erroneous judgment at the beginning and once that was cleared up everything made sense and I loved it. I kid you not, it's like a switch got flipped in my brain. After that, I couldn't get enough of this book and it ended far, far too soon (as most beginnings of series are wont to do).

All Fall Down (Embassy Row #1) by Ally Carter
4 stars
Finished on 2/12, audiobook
Grace has lived the last three years knowing her mother was murdered, despite everyone else's denial. Now, with her father deployed, she's been sent to live with her grandfather, a US ambassador living in the small country of Adria. For such a small country, Adria has many hidden secrets and one of them is the man Grace knows killed her mother. I picked this up because I needed a refersher before I dove into the next two books. As always with Ally Carter, I was not disappointed. There were so many details that I missed in my first read. And the experience was a little different than the first time. I couldn't help noticing the way her family handled her anxiety and the trauma for her mother's murder and it made me uncomofortable. I don't remember that bothering me the first time around. It makes sense in the end, but I had forgotten one crucial detail, and so it was a bit of a thorn in my side. Other than that it was fantastic and I was ready to jump into the next book ASAP.

Someone Like You by Sarah Dessen
3 stars
Finished on 2/14, audiobook
Halley is your average teenage girl, doing average teenage girl things like trying to navigate high school and dealing with an overbearing, psychiatrist mom. Then her best friend Scarlet calls Halley at summer camp in the middle of the night and nothing is ever the same. Scarlet's boyfriend, Michael has died in a tragic motorcycle accident and Halley takes it upon herself to pick up the pieces for both her best friend and his. Not my favorite Sarah Dessen book, but it was good. I liked how she wrote the push and pull of the parental relationships in this book. And I also enjoyed Halley and Scarlet's friendship and how that was the driving relationship in the book. This was by far, the most realiztic of Dessen's books (that I've read).

Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine
5 stars
Finished on 2/15, paperback
Ella of Frell would be an ordinary girl, except that when she was born, her fairy godmother gave her the gift of obedience. More a gift than a curse, Ella has no choice but to obey any direct order that she's given. Only a few people know her secret, but when her mother dies and her father remarries, Ella finds herself at the mercy of her stepmother and new siblings. This is one of my favorite retellings of Cinderella. I can't tell you how many times I have reread it. It's fun and quirky and imaginative. Ella is no meek flower, humbly obeying every order given. She rebels in all small way she can. Levine makes use of a full cast of fairytale creatures as Ella tries to find some way out of her curse. And, of course, there is a charming prince.

Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon
4 stars
Finished on 2/17, audiobook
Maddie has spent all her life confined to her home, always living under the fear that if she exposes hyperactive immune system to the wrong thing, she will die. She is at peace with this life, considering the alternative, until one day a family moves in next door. The strangers next door intrigue her, especially their teenage son. This book reminded me so much of Rapunzel. In all the best ways. And in some not so good ways too. I was able to identify with Maddie's fear, though at least I know what allergens trigger me, so I don't have to live inside of a bubble. I liked how she was willing to make the best of a bad situation, but also willing to break outside of the box--literally--when she decided that wasn't enough for her. I was not a fan of her controlling mother. I mean, I got it, mom of a chronically ill kid, but at the same time the way she isolated Maddie was super sketchy. Totally saw the ending coming, but no one is surprised by that. All in all a great book and hopefully I'll get around to seeing the movie soon.

Wonder Woman: Warbringer (DC Icons #1) by Leigh Bardugo
4 stars
Finished on 2/19, hardcover
Outsiders are not allowed on the Amazons' hidden island, Themiscira, but that doesn't stop Diana from rescuing the lone survivor of a shipwreck. It isn't until the island starts coming apart that she finds out that Alia is a warbringer. With Helen of Troy's blood in her veins, Alia's very presense brings discord to the world. The two girls have one shot saving Alia and keeping the world from falling victim to another great war and Diana doesn't hesitate. Risking her status as an Amazon, Diana sets off on a quest with her new friend. This was the perfect prequel to the Wonder Woman comics. Bardugo hit all the right notes. It was exactly the kind of adventure that you would expect Diana to go on, the modern mixing with the mythological. Nothing was easy, just when you think they have things figured out, the bad guys would swoop in and wreak havoc. I was thoroughly entertained and engaged by this novel, from the start to the finish.

Rogue (Talon #2) by Julie Kagawa
3 stars
Finished on 2/21, audiobook
Following the events of the first book, Ember and her friends stage a very important rescue mission that leaves them running from not one, but two foes. I didn't enjoy this one as much as the first simply because we got into love triangle territory and we all know that love triangles tend to rub Margaret the wrong way. Still, I really like the shenanigans that the characters got up to in this book. We got to know more about the rogue dragons (I bet you couldn't guess that from the title) and more about Talon. The dynamic between the four main characters was a little frustrating at times, but in a "I have four friends that can't be left in a room together" kind of way, not in the badly written way. The main point is that this book was fun and it left me craving the next book.

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguru
3 stars
Finished on 2/23, audiobook
This was a poignant and contemplative book, beautifully descriptive and sensory. Through Stevens daily epistles, it brings the reader right into the grand manor home of the British gentry and acquaints you with the running of a large household. It was quite a well-written story, with layers crafted one on top of the other. As much is revealed in what Stevens doesn't say as in what he does. It is a little bittersweet, but also a relaxing book. If you're looking for something atmospheric, I would definitely check this one out.

Twelve Years a Slave by Solomon Northup
4 stars
Finished on 2/26, audiobook
The autobiography of Solomon Northup, a black man born free, but kidnapped in 1841 and smuggled down to Louisiana where he was sold and forced into slavery. Another atmospheric read, this was the all the more heart-wrenching because it was true. It was hard to read at points, to see how cruel people can be, how wrong they can be. At multiple points, I found myself unable to fathom how anyone could treat another human being the way African Americans were treated. How anyone could look at their fellow man and think it was right to beat a man within inches of his life, to separate parents from their children. This isn't the first time I've read about slavery, it won't be the last, but every time it's hard. Not the happiest book, but it is an important book and it was very, very good. Solomon was an educated man and there is a poetic quality about his writing that sometimes lulls you into forgetfulness, right before it brings you back to reality.

Batman: Nightwalker (DC Icons#2) by Marie Lu
3 stars
Finished on 2/26, hardcover
Before Bruce Wayne was Batman, he was just a rich kid with a tragic past. A very rebellious rich kid with a tragic past. After interfering in police business, Bruce ends up sentenced to community service at Arkham Asylum. There he meets Madeleine, a suspect apprehended at the site of a Nightwalker murder. When it turns out that Bruce is the only person she'll talk to is Bruce, he takes it upon himself to figure out what she knows about the Nightwalkers. But Madeleine has her own agenda and that agenda might just end with Bruce as the Nightwalkers' next target.  I liked this book, I didn't love it, but as far as Batman stories go this one was solid. It transported you to Gotham. It had all the elements that make Batman mysteries so good, I just wasn't a fan of the romance in this book. I thought it felt too similar to things that have already been done. However, I'm still glad I read it and I'd still recommend it to any Batman fans.

Orange: The Complete Collection, Vol 1 by Ichigo Takano
4 stars
Finished on 2/26, manga
At the start of her last year of high school, Naho receives a letter from her future self, pleading for her to change the past and save the life of a boy her present self met only that morning. As Naho makes her way through the letter, she starts following the suggestions, but can she really change the past or are some things meant to be? This first volume is equal parts sweet and heavy. It circles around the subject of suicide quite often, though not in a graphic way. But it's there and it's discussed, with a focus on what could have been done to prevent it. I had forgotten how much I love shoujo until I picked this book up. The characters are quirky and funny, the romance requires a little suspense of disbelief, but it perfectly captures the feeling of that first crush (as so much shoujo does). Anyways, it was thoroughly adorable and I look forward to reading volume two.

Those are my thoughts on all the books I read in February. I'm sorry this took so long to get up, but I hope you found something new to read! Feel free to comment below with what you read last month or if you've read any of the books in this list. (Please come talk about Six of Crows with me!!!)

March 13, 2018

March 13, 2018

My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows
Rating: 5 stars

I had so much fun listening to this book back in January, I just had to share it with y'all. It's already one of my favorites and I am so excited for the sequel coming out late this year.

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