Bookish Recap-2016

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Well! That was a thing. Overall, reading wise, 2016 was a good year. Personally there were ups and downs which prevented me from blogging the way I wanted to. I’m still figuring out the ins and outs of blogging and this year I hope that I can be more consistent.

Obviously we have to review my favorite books of the past year and what my reading goals are this year.

According to the Goodread’s challenge I read 34 books (the same amount as 2015). But I also re-read a lot of books, which Goodreads doesn’t take into consideration. And so according to my calculations (yay for doing bookish-recaps every month), I read 37 books. I didn’t review all of them for the blog, but that’s ok. Again, that’s something I want to work on.

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My average rating according to Goodreads was a 3.7 which is pretty high, and also cements the fact it was a good reading year. You would think that I would have had a hard time picking my top five, but it was quite easy.

My top 5 books for 2016 (in no particular order; click the title for a link to my reviews):

The Martian (Andy Weir)

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Do I really need to say anything more about this book? It ended up on three of my bookish lists this year, and I also re-read it in December. Reading a book twice in one year is a new record for me. If you’re not quite sure why I’m in love with this story of resilience and team work, check out my review.

The Raven Boys (Maggie Stiefvater)

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This book ended up on two of my bookish lists, and I’ve recommended this book to numerous people off line. If you love fantasy I think this is a must read. While Stiefvater’s writing style isn’t for everyone, I adore it and the characters just sealed the deal for me. I found myself able to relate to each one and learning more about myself through reading the book. It’s rare that a book does that for me, and I’m so grateful that I finally caved in and gave this book and series a chance. I’m currently finishing up this series. If I die, put The Raven Cycle as the cause of death.

Nevernight (Jay Kristoff)

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MIA!! This is how you do assassins! I loved the mix of Italian Renaissance and Roman Empire. The world building was fantastic, and nothing ever felt out of place. Mia was by no means a good person, although she had good in her. The book is filled with questionable content and in a way, it’s an uncomfortable book. The bad is portrayed as bad, but the big question is, “is it truly bad if it’s done for good reasons?” and that’s something the reader has to decide for themselves. Mia, despite her flaws and questionable choices was a character I could get behind. Needless to say, I’m excited for the next books in the series.

I Am Malala (Malala Yousafzai)

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Speaking of hard books…I am Malala was a hard book to read in parts. It was eye opening read. I think that this is the most important book I’ve read this year. This book gives great insight to what is going on in the world and why we must help young women world wide get a good education. I was surprised to find that this book is as much about Malala as it is her father. While disturbing in parts, this book is also one of hope and resilience. If you want to learn more about current events and hear Malala’s story from the start and source,  I strongly recommend you read this.

And finally, Fascinate by Sally Hogshead.

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Although I didn’t review this book on the blog, I did review it on Goodreads. I really loved the psychology in this book. For those of you that have no interest in branding or starting your own business I think this book is a great read, just because it makes one more aware of how the media uses different methods to influence our behavior. It’s an eye opening book, and it’s a lot of fun. For those of you that are interested in the business side of thing, this is a great book. I recently added it to my personal library and am looking forward to reading it again.

 

As for my reading goals this year, I set my Goodreads challenge to 13 books. Last year I set it at 16 so that I wouldn’t feel too pressured, but I’d be encouraged to read. It worked wonderfully! I’m setting it lower than the past year because I’m doing a personal challenge to read mostly big books (400+ pages). Some of the books I’ll be tackling are filled with heavy world building and are over 700 pages. With school, writing, and work it’ll take me time to get though those monsters! I’ll also be focusing on more diverse reads too. Hopefully with these goals I’ll wind up getting through a lot of books on my TBR pile.

I’m keeping my goals simple, but I’ll have fun achieving them. What books are you looking forward to reading this year? Got any bookish goals for the upcoming year?

Bookish Recap (November)

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November was wild. Not only was I doing NaNoWriMo but work became very hectic. On top of that, the school year is winding down which means a bit of a heavier work load. Needless to say I didn’t read much. Well, I did read, I just didn’t finish anything. Part of that is because I “lost” a book for a week, and found it in the backseat of my car…underneath a folder…that I use for writing. That’s the nice thing about e-books. Unless you lose your computer or your e-reader, you literally can’t lose a book. But I digress!

I did review two books in one post (No Plot, No Problem and On Writing), although I didn’t read them this month. Maybe I cheated a little there. But if you missed it, feel free to check it out! I encourage anyone who’s interested in writing to check out these books.

I “won” NaNoWriMo and really do think it was my best year yet. There’s a couple of things I’ll keep in mind for the future (such as doing all posts in advanced and queuing them for the month), but overall getting together with other writers and having that support really was fantastic. Usually I sit out the write-ins, but this year I went to quite a few and loved it.

As for December, I’m trying to finish out some of the books I started as well as participate in #readthemargin. Poetess Amanda Lovelace (author of the poetry collection “The Princess Saves Herself in This One”) has put this reading challenge together. The idea is that participants read books by marginalized authors (to quote Amanda: “marginalized people are those who have been pushed to the margins and forgotten because they do not meet the status quo. this includes groups like women, the queer community, people of color, disabled people, Muslim and Jewish people, etc.”).

I’ve been wanting to diversify my bookshelf for quite some time, and I think this is not only a fantastic way to end the year, but also start off the new one as well.

Either way, expect a lot of book reviews this month!

Book Blitz: The Cursed Trilogy

Book Blitz: The Cursed Trilogy

I’m always on the look out for more diverse books, so when I heard about The Cursed Trilogy I fell in love. Diversity, family ties, and high fantasy makes this an instant add to my must-reads list.

Here you’ll find the series summary, a giveaway (opened internationally), and an excerpt.

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Summary: An urban fantasy series for fans of the “Supernatural” TV show, CURSED tells the story of Constance Ramirez, a hardened young woman determined to protect her adopted sister, Dro, from the bloodthirsty demons hunting her– and from Dro’s own deadly powers. As the sisters cross paths with demon slayers, psychics, and angels, they become tangled in a dangerous web that brings Constance’s past back to haunt her. Protecting her sister and her new allies will test Constance in ways she never imagined– though she may be too human to survive it.

Excerpt:

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About the Author: Amy is a Canadian urban fantasy and horror author. Her work revolves around monsters, magic, mythology, and mayhem. She started writing in her early teens, and never stopped. She loves building unique worlds filled with fun characters and intense action. She is the recipient of April Moon Books Editor Award for “author voice, world-building and general bad-assery,” and the One Book Two Standout Award in 2015 for her Cursed trilogy. She has been featured on various author blogs and publishing websites, and is an active member of the Writing GIAM and Weekend Writing Warrior communities. When she isn’t writing, she’s reading, watching movies, taking photos, gaming, and struggling with chocoholism and ice cream addiction.

You can hang out with her on her author website, Twitter, Facebook, and Goodreads.

 

Book Review: On Writing, and No Plot? No Problem!

Today I’m doing something a little different. I’m reviewing two books in one go. There are certain books that are more difficult to give a longer review to. I find that books on writing are among these.  On Writing by Stephen King is one of my favorite non-fiction books, and it just doesn’t seem right to not review No Plot, No Problem by Chris Baty, the founder of NaNoWriMo, during November. So while these reviews are shorter, the books are still wonderful writing resources and lovely reads!

On Writing

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Author: Stephen King

Genre: Memoir, reference

Summary: Part memoir, part master class by one of the bestselling authors of all time, this superb volume is a revealing and practical view of the writer’s craft, comprising the basic tools of the trade every writer must have. King’s advice is grounded in his vivid memories from childhood through his emergence as a writer, from his struggling early career to his widely reported near-fatal accident in 1999—and how the inextricable link between writing and living spurred his recovery. Brilliantly structured, friendly and inspiring, On Writing will empower and entertain everyone who reads it—fans, writers, and anyone who loves a great story well told.

My Opinion: While I don’t agree with everything in this book, Stephen King is a brilliant teacher. I really do love this book and will gladly give it five stars.

The first part of the book is mostly dedicated to King’s writing journey, how he started writing and how he got to where he is today. This is filled with humor and interesting life and writing advice. The second half is more focused on exactly what it takes to be a writer. For example, you must be a reader. You must have an interest in writing in the first place. King goes on to set up the writer’s tool-box. Here he covers everything from tricky grammar rules to how to make the most out of descriptions while staying true to your voice. All the while King makes the book feel personal. His humor shines through and there’s plenty of parts in it that challenge you not only as a writer, but as a person. True, this book is a memoir, but it’s also a guide to the writing life and a friendly pat on the shoulder. If you’re interested in writing or a fan of Stephen King, I strongly recommend this book.

 

No Plot? No Problem!

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Author: Chris Baty

Genre: Non-fiction, reference

Summary: You’ve always wanted to write, but . . . just haven’t gotten around to it. No Plot? No Problem! is the kick in the pants you’ve been waiting for.

Let Chris Baty, founder of the rockin’ literary marathon National Novel Writing Month (a.k.a. NaNoWriMo), guide you through four exciting weeks of hard-core noveling. Baty’s pep talks and essential survival strategies cover the initial momentum and energy of Week One, the critical “plot flashes” of Week Two, the “Can I quit now?” impulses of Week Three, and the champagne and roar of the crowd during Week Four. Whether you’re a first-time novelist who just can’t seem to get pen to paper or a results-oriented writer seeking a creative on-ramp into the world of publishing, this is the adventure for you.

So what are you waiting for? The No Plot? approach worked for the thousands of people who’ve signed up for NaNoWriMo, and it can work for you! Let No Plot? No Problem! help you get fired up and on the right track.

My Opinion: YOU DO NOT NEED TO WRITE YOUR NOVEL IN 30 DAYS TO GET SOMETHING OUT OF THIS BOOK. Ok there, now that we have that out of the way, let’s continue shall we?

The latter part of the book is for if you’re going to go through with the “write a novel in 30 days” challenge. For some people that’s just not their thing, and the advice changes more into encouragement in this section. If you’ve done NaNoWriMo before (as I have), most of the stuff in the later section of the book will be familiar to you. Also Baty’s writing style was a little off for me at times. But that’s just personal preference. Because of that I rated this book four stars.

This book is funny. It’s got silly ideas, funny metaphors, and yet somehow it all comes together to make sense and give some practical writing advice. Some of this advice I wouldn’t have thought of on my own but it makes a great deal of sense. It’s writing advice that you can use for planning out a novel you’ll write over the course of a year or for your history paper due in 3 days. It was those nuggets of advice that really endeared the book to me. It also gave tips on how to keep yourself organized as a writer, how gather ideas, and how to make your dialogue and character interactions sound genuine. This book lacked depth, but it made up for that with a plethora of encouragement and good ideas to get you started on your own writing journey. Even if you know NaNoWriMo isn’t your thing, I think this is still a good book to read simply because of the good ideas. Even the sheets in the back, typically used for NaNoWriMo, can be made useful. This book isn’t about writing yours in 30 days as much as it is about giving yourself a strict timeline, giving yourself motivation to stick to that timeline, and then giving yourself rewards for meeting your goals. It’s a fun and quick read that’s quite handy.

10 Books You Shouldn’t Read if You Hate NaNoWriMo

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Aaah yes. It is finally November. Personally this is one of my favorite months, not only because I get to spend time with family during Thanksgiving, but because of NaNoWriMo.

For those of you not familiar, NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month. Every November people from around the world try to crank out 50k words during the month of November. The first Harry Potter book is a bit longer than that (at 70k)  to give you a size comparison. Another thing that makes NaNoWriMo so cool is that it’s a non-profit organization that helps promote literacy world wide. To be a part of that is a pretty cool thing!

Throughout this month I’ll be doing weekly posts on writing and NaNoWriMo in general. Fret not, the usual book reviews will still be around (posted on Fridays).

There is one damper on this excitement though. Every year without fail, there’s a group of very vocal people insisting NaNoWriMo is horrid, no one should try it, and no, they’ve never tried it themselves they are proud to say. Why would they? After all, they want to write real stories.  Not only are their posts just plain wrong and lacking in facts, the authors of the posts, knowingly or not, are insulting those who dare to try it.  Usually these insults are covered up with a quick complement, but it goes right back to the insulting soon enough. I’ve even seen a post where someone said it made them sad and dissapointed to see how many authors wasted their time each year trying to draft a novel in one month.

I understand that NaNoWriMo isn’t for everyone. I’ve met quite a few people who have tried it and it just didn’t work for them. I’ve met others who have heard of it but know that trying something like that just isn’t for them. That’s fine and completely understandable. But these people gave it a go, or looked into the idea of it, and while they realize a month of writing frenzy isn’t for them, they still manage to respect those who do it (or try to).

Despite all the awesome people out there, both participating and encouraging from the sidelines, sometimes it’s hard to ignore the nay-sayers. That’s why it’s always inspiring to look at the list of authors who published their NaNoNovels.

Here’s 10 popular books that started off as NaNoWriMo novels:

To see the list of every author that’s published their NaNoNovel check it out on the NaNoWriMo site. Warning, the list is long. The list I drew from was the traditionally published list. But there’s also a list of self-published authors, many of which wound up winning awards for their NaNoNovels. If you have time and are looking for a new read, I recommend checking out both lists and seeing what you find.

Bookish Recap (October)

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Oh man I feel like this month was a total bummer book/blogging wise. October is known for its surprises and I don’t suppose that should surprise me. Despite the twists this month had for me, I did manage to read two books. While I wasn’t completely blown out of the water by either, I enjoyed them. Both offer fresh takes on old tropes.

Cuckoo Song (Frances Hardinge; 4 stars)

KIZUMONOGATARI: Wound Tale (NISIOSIN; 3 stars)

I certainly have a preference for Cuckoo Song. It’s dark, atmospheric, and the writing style is just my type. The story touches so many elements, mental and physical health, family issues, and different kinds of love. It’s one of those books that makes you view old things in a new light.

That’s not to say that KIZUMONOGATARI: Wound Tale wasn’t a fascinating read in its own right! I haven’t encountered vampires in that light before, and learning about the Japanese culture was awesome. It was a fun, but unusual read.

I also wound up starting quite a few books. While I might not be able to review them all before the end of the year, I certainly plan to finish them before the year is out. Next month is NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) and I’ll be doing some writing focused posts. I always planned for this blog to be both a writing and a book blog, so I’m using the upcoming month as an excuse to start integrating writing, including my own, into the blog. Fret not, the book reviews aren’t going anywhere!

I’ll be aiming for two posts a week again during November. Ideally a post on writing and the second post will be a book review. I’ll be doing a lot of re-reads during November because re-reads are quicker to get through, but I haven’t reviewed any of the books on the blog (except for The Martian, hahah, I’m obsessed!). So expect new reviews on some of my favorites!

While not the grand reading month I had planned, at least I got some good reads in and was able to use them towards the Cornerfolds Horror Challenge.

Book Review: Cuckoo Song

|+| Warnings: Unreliable narrator |+|

“Everything on one side or the other, and nothing in between.” ~Shrike (Cuckoo Song)

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Author: Frances Hardinge

Genre: YA Horror, Historical fiction, Paranormal

Summary: When Triss wakes up after an accident, she knows something is very wrong. She is insatiably hungry, her sister seems scared of her, and her parents whisper behind closed doors. She looks through her diary to try to remember, but the pages have been ripped out. Soon Triss discovers that what happened to her is more strange and terrible than she could ever have imagined, and that she is quite literally not herself. In a quest to find the truth she must travel into the terrifying underbelly of the city to meet a twisted architect who has dark designs on her family—before it’s too late . . .

My Opinion: I live for atmospheric books. The stranger the better. Cuckoo Song delivered. I picked it up ages ago, almost finished it, then had to return it to the library (ah, the curse of exams). It was great to finish it this time. Everything I loved was still there and it’s a satisfying story. A historical fiction that couldn’t quite seem to get across to the reader when it was taking place, Cuckoo Song was wonderfully atmospheric, interesting, and creepy. Due to a few lacking things, but plenty of strong elements, I gave the book four stars.

What stood out to me from the start was the atmosphere of the story. It comes in many forms, from the language used to describe things, pacing, and the increasingly strange happenings. In parts it’s so bizarre it’s disturbing. Dolls were terrifying, birds were unusual and not to be trusted, and I will never look at scissors the same way again. And that’s why I think this book really does stand on its own as a horror book, especially in the YA field. While none of the scares lasted off the page, there’s a few household objects I’m still giving the side-eye to.

The characters were unique and for the most part well developed although there was little diversity. Triss was interesting and I enjoyed being in her head. I have a thing for unreliable narrators and this one showed huge growth. Violet and Pen are close seconds in favorite characters. Watching the three of them grow was wonderful. Perhaps my biggest complaint with the book is that the secondary characters don’t get any character development until about 200 pages in. We’re consistently shown that there’s potential but it’s not set into motion until half way through the book. I felt there was way too much hint dropping about what characters could be instead of getting a move on with that development. But Triss’ parents and their characterization was phenomenal. I applaud Hardinge for tackling such an overlooked issue when it comes to bad parenting. Triss’ parents are despicable.  Yet the parents are loving. They want what’s best for their daughter, they’re older and wiser and know best. But the book makes clear that they are stifling not only Triss but the whole family. Their obsession with control is causing cracks in the family and possibly putting them in danger. Sometimes reading about the parents’ choices was more frightening than screaming dolls. Screaming dolls are not real, but parents like Triss’ are. And that’s terrifying.

I also was frustrated with the setting. No doubt of it, Hardinge has a wonderful writing style that reminds me of Stiefvater. Both writers are very whimsical and metaphorical. But with Hardinge, I had no idea when this story was taking place. I knew it was after a war, but which war? It never was clearly established. Turns out that the story takes place after World War I, but with such weak timeline establishment, the book felt like it was trying for something steampunk.

Flaws aside, I really did enjoy this book. It’s perfect for October, especially if you’re going to read under the covers with a flashlight or around a bonfire. Creepy, moody, and filled with uncertainties, Cuckoo Song is a top pick for those looking for something out of the ordinary.

TL;DR: Despite little diversity, sluggish character development, and sometimes veering into formulaic territory, Cuckoo Song has promise and delivers on it. A dark and unsettling atmosphere is established from the start. Mundane items become frightening and the book tackles one of the most challenging family issues. While I wouldn’t recommend this to those who are unsettled by dolls, for those of you looking for a creepy read that puts a new spin on old things, read Cuckoo Song. It’s seriously the perfect October read.