January 2016 Wrap Up

For January I decided to try a new style of monthly wrap up (new if you aren’t familiar with what I would do on my old blog Books o’ the Wisp). This layout is inspired by Ely from Tea & Titles‘s wrap ups which I’ve long admired! I’ve never really tried to sum up what I watch and write, so I think it will be really cool to look back and see what I “accomplished” in those areas.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading my blog! Thank you if you’ve subscribed this month and even if you’ve just randomly stumbled across this blog and are reading this one post! Hope you enjoy.

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Tooth and Claw // ★★★

An Ember in the Ashes // ★★

Bone Gap // ★★★

Six of Crows // ★★★★

This January, I managed to read four books. The first three were initially rated 3/5 stars, but since I wrote the review for An Ember in the Ashes I’ve changed my rating for that book to 2/3 stars. I think I was initially being generous because it is an author debut and it is such a unique entry into today’s YA genre. But ultimately I had one too many problems with it that made me decide I don’t even care to find out what happens next in the sequel A Torch against the Night. Unless, of course, I see a lot of people rave about it.

My favorite book of the month was easily the final book I read which was Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo! It was so beautifully written and I love everything about it. I have zero complaints! I was absolutely blown away by how unique a story it was and how intricately designed the characters were. I also could not believe how funny it was. It was the perfect book to get me excited about reading and writing again. I cannot wait for the sequel Crooked Kingdom.

To see read more about what I thought about these books, I’ve included links to the available book reviews that I published this month (click on the stars). Subscribe and stay tuned for the rest of the book reviews which are in the pipeline to come out in February.

wraptitles2Early this month, Parks and Recreation‘s seventh and final season premiered on Netflix. I’d been waiting for it to to be added to the website for the longest time! Unfortunately I was actually a little underwhelmed by it. I feel like the comedy took a backseat in this season to make room for sentimental goodbyes. I enjoyed how all the minor characters got personalized individual send-offs, but I didn’t like that the show writers felt the need to outline the major characters’ futures with such detail. I would have liked some things left open-ended.

This month I also started the BBC crime drama Luther starring Idris Elba. It was such a random show for me to start, and it’s so cool because Elba just won two SAG awards this weekend, one for Luther! I had a little trouble at the beginning understanding the British accents, which weren’t like what I’m used to hearing. But the first season was mind-blowing and I can now say I really like Ruth Wilson (who I’ve not enjoyed in other things I’ve seen her in). I’m now on the third season, so I’m almost finished with what’s currently on Netflix with no plans for what I’m going to watch next.

wraptitles4This month I started making writing more of a priority, but I did not write much of anything. I wrote less than 2,000 words over the course of about 2 weeks. What I’ve been working on primarily is EMatST which I introduce in my Writing Goals for 2016 and Novel Progress #1 (Working Title & Plotting) posts. I’d hoped to get around to working on my first short story of the year (I hope to write 12 this year), but it just didn’t happen. I do, however, have two ideas, so maybe by the end of February I’ll have drafted them both.

wraptitles1This month I started my second semester as a graduate student. I actually did not have a hard time getting myself settled into my new schedule. I actually think I’m still going to be able to accomplish a lot, despite my demanding course load. The biggest difference in my schedule is that I keep later hours. I used to love waking up early and starting my day when others were still asleep. Now I wake up closer to noon so that I have a few hours to things before my night classes and still make it through those three-hour classes alive.

Over all I’m pleased with how January turned out. I still feel like I’m getting back into the groove of reading and blogging so I’m not so sure that I’m happy with everything that went up this month, but it’s all trial and error right now anyway. I’ve been able to keep up with book reviews for everything I’ve read, but I’m honestly not too sure how long that will last. I’m thinking about switching to mini-reviews just so I can focus my blogging on other things as well.

I want to start doing more blogging tips & advice posts, as well as opinion pieces and critiques of what I see happening in the publishing industry. I’m also going to have to start figuring out what I’ll do for my Capstone project to graduate next year. So expect some more experimentation with what happens on Ink Keys and Other Things in February!

Thank you for reading!
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Week in Rewind #1 (Last Week of January)

I’ve decided to start doing a weekly post in which I recap some highlights of every day in that week. It’s a way for me to update you on what posts go up, and also show what I’m doing every single week. My fear is that every week will look exactly the same, but that’s also part of the motivation for doing this! I want to push myself go more places and to do more things, even if it’s just for the sake of having new things to talk about here on the blog!

I’m calling this series Week in Rewind which is entirely taken from Charelle from The Scent of Cinnamon. She is a book/lifestyle blogger who started blogging in her native language (Dutch?) later last year, but Google Translate is fairly reliable if you’d like to follow her blog. She has a really neat aesthetic! And you might notice it’s been a major influencer behind Ink Keys and Other Things. I hope she doesn’t mind! ^_^

➳ Sunday 1/24/2016 

Sunday might end up becoming my most intensive homework day of the week because two of my three classes require I post reading responses for the week’s readings by this day. Luckily my readings weren’t too time-consuming that night; I got them and the reading responses done with plenty extra time.

I had time to Skype my buddy Sara and catch up for about an hour. We talked reading, writing, and just life. I’m trying to figure out if I can afford to go to Book Expo America this year. It’s in Chicago this May, which is not far from where Sara lives! So I wouldn’t have to be there alone!

Before bed, I started Illuminae by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff. I only read about 4o pages. It was a little slow-goings at first because I had to get used to how to read the documents and get story details.

➳ Monday 1/25/2016

Blog Post: Books I Want to Reread in 2016.

Monday I spent a lot of time trying to work out images for the blog post that went up that. I’m trying to be better about including featured and header images in all my posts, because I think it makes a post more attractive to readers. So creating these images adds to the amount of time it takes me to ready a post for publication. I spent several hours experimenting with ideas and new image-editing softwares.

After my blog post was completed, I finally started working on my novel again! It’d been a week since I last thought about my story. I had about two hours before class, time which I used to reacquaint myself with my latest story developments and work on plot. I tried thinking about it in terms of my friend Karen’s “Lights in the Swamp” seven-point plot structure, which combines the strengths of discovery and outline writing. I used Twine to organize my ideas.

Monday night was first real class session of my class Digital Textuality because the week before was Martin Luther King Jr. Day, which is a U.S. national holiday. I still think this class might turn out to be my favorite. I like how its focus is on creating medium-specific narratives. I’m hoping I’ll get a lot from it. I signed up for my presentations that night. I volunteered to go first next week, just to get it out of the way. And it made my life a little busier this week.

➳ Tuesday 1/26/2016

Tuesday was an odd day. I had trouble falling asleep Monday night for some reason, so I woke up really late. Then I decided even though I had homework to do for my Wednesday night class, I wanted to work on my novel. Then I remembered I wanted to do my first writing-themed post on the blog for Wednesday, so I drafted that! I found it helped me to organize the thoughts I had swirling around in my head anyway.

The previous week I had been told by Amazon that my textbooks would arrive, but I received no notification from the delivery people that they had left them at the front office. So I called and found out they had indeed arrived and no one was going to tell me. So I picked them up and was glad that stress was all over. (I’ve always been nervous about deliveries getting to me at my new apartment. Some of my neighbors receive boxes at their doors, and I worry about potential theft.)

➳ Wednesday 1/27/2016

Blog Post: Novel Progress #1 (Working Title & Plotting) 

Because of how badly I procrastinated in preparing for my Wednesday night class, I spent most of the afternoon reading and doing my sketchnotes for class. So I didn’t accomplish much by way of reading, writing, or blogging during the day.

Before class, I went to the library to pick up some books for research I want to do to help me writing my novel! I’ve never properly researched in order to help me write my novel before, so I’m excited to see how this works out.

I got home from class around 9:30 p.m. so I watched an episode of Luther and after deciding I wasn’t quite sleepy yet I remembered to finish my book review of Bone Gap by Laura Ruby! I’m actually rather pleased with how this review turned out. I rated the book 3/5 stars, but my appreciation for it has grown since writing that review and I’m happy to have finally churned out a review I’m mildly proud of. Book reviews have been a struggle for me over the last few months.

The last thing I did before going to sleep was read the first chapter of Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo! It started off very mysteriously and I couldn’t wait to see where it went from there. And in case you’re wondering if I finished Illuminae, I did not. Both Illuminae and Six of Crows were checked out from the library and due back on Friday, so I needed to prioritize the book I wanted to read most. I decided to gamble on Illuminae not having been on hold for someone else when I returned it so I could just check it out again!

➳ Thursday 1/28/2016

Blog Post: Bone Gap | Book Review

Although I had no classes Thursday, I had a lot of work to do. Because I had a presentation the following Monday, I needed to get all off my readings out of the way early so that I could have more time to work on the presentation on Sunday. I’m actually super proud of myself. I got a lot of readings done for both Digital Textuality and Digital Culture, so I felt able to take the night off for me to whatever I liked.

One of the first things I did was work on my book review of An Ember in the Ashes, the second book I read this year. I had scrapped plans to review it because I’ve struggled to write book reviews for a few months now. Don’t know why. But after how pleased I was with the Bone Gap review, I just decided I wanted to go for it and write another. It means that I have reviewed every book I’ve read so far this year and I find that inexplicably exciting!

As this was Thursday that Book o’ the Wisp would be available to readers and I was very certain I would end up deleting the blog, I decided to go through my old posts and decide which ones I was really proud of and back up them in a Word document. My writing-style has evolved and I know that my thoughts and ideas evolve as I grow older, so I plan to revise the posts I saved and start scheduling them to go up over the next few months. It will be a great way to make sure content is consistently uploaded to Ink Keys & Other Things, especially if life gets in the way of the blog.

That night I settled down to try and marathon Six of Crows! I only got about halfway through in the end because I was taking the beginning so slowly and analyzing each chapter.

➳ Friday 1/29/2016

On Friday, I woke up at noon with the sole goal of finishing Six of Crows. There were some breaks in between, but I managed to finish the book before 5 p.m.! I then drove to campus so I could return it. It was a sad moment returning it so soon after completing it. It’s easily one of my most favorite fantasy books now. It was so good. Totally lived up to the hype for me.

I was able to renew my loan of Illuminae so I could finish that next, but the rest of Friday night was just spent in daze. I had contemplated either getting a head start on some more homework readings or doing some work on my novel, but I ended up doing neither. I think I was in a little bit of a hangover from Six of Crows, which is another book I have added to my list of books to buy when I’m flush in extra cash.

➳ Saturday 1/30/2016

Saturday I woke at noon without a plan. The first immediate thing I did was work on some posts I’d been preparing for next week. But it took me a couple of hours to decide what I really wanted to do with my day, as I had a lot of options. Since I hadn’t worked on my novel since the beginning of the week, I decided to give myself an achievable goal of writing at least 1,000 words that day before sunset. I realized on Friday that I wasn’t so inspired to write at night, so I wanted to see how I could work in daylight hours.

I made a major breakthrough in discovering two of my minor, but important, characters’ backstory and why they are at odds. After doing so, it derailed me a little bit though and so I stopped writing almost immediately after. After giving up on writing, I should have tried to do more homework but I ended up getting sucked into the blackhole of YouTube. So that’s how I ended up spending the rest of my evening!

Thank you for reading!
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Bone Gap | Book Review

Bone Gap

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Released: March 3, 2015
Pages: 368 (hardcover)
Theme(s): Identity, belonging, stereotypes
Genre(s): YA, contemporary, magical realism
Age Group: 12+
Source: UTD Library
Buy it: Book Depository | Amazon

Summary: Everyone knows Bone Gap is full of gaps—gaps to trip you up, gaps to slide through so you can disappear forever. So when young, beautiful Roza went missing, the people of Bone Gap weren’t surprised. After all, it wasn’t the first time that someone had slipped away and left Finn and Sean O’Sullivan on their own. Just a few years before, their mother had high-tailed it to Oregon for a brand new guy, a brand new life. That’s just how things go, the people said. Who are you going to blame?

Finn knows that’s not what happened with Roza. He knows she was kidnapped, ripped from the cornfields by a dangerous man whose face he cannot remember. But the searches turned up nothing, and no one believes him anymore. Not even Sean, who has more reason to find Roza than anyone, and every reason to blame Finn for letting her go.

As we follow the stories of Finn, Roza, and the people of Bone Gap—their melancholy pasts, their terrifying presents, their uncertain futures—acclaimed author Laura Ruby weaves a heartbreaking tale of love and loss, magic and mystery, regret and forgiveness—a story about how the face the world sees is never the sum of who we are.

My Goodreads Rating: ★★★

  My Thoughts  

Bone Gap takes place in the summer before the protagonist Finn O’ Sullivan’s senior year. While he is preparing for college applications and entrance exams he finds himself falling in love with the angry bee keeper Petey. But he’s also plagued by the guilt of having witness his friend and brother’s girlfriend Roza be abducted. The biggest problem is no one believes she was abducted.

Half the book is from the perspective of Finn trying to get on with his life and navigate relationships with his older brother, who he feels resents and blames him, and fall in love with Petey, a girl who’s different from every other in town. The other half of the book, we follow Roza and her life imprisoned by a man who’s waiting for her to fall in love with him. In these chapters we see her life leading up to how she arrives in Bone Gap.

Overall, this felt like a read unlike any other I’ve ever experienced. It’s hard to place the time in which the story is set, so it almost feels timeless. This ambiguity really aids the ethereal atmosphere of the story, along with the limited perspective we receive in the majority of the story being told by two partially unreliable narrators as Finn is kind of an oddball who sees the world differently and Roza is undergoing psychological trauma.

Since I don’t really know how to talk about the story without spoiling anything, I thought I would just talk about some of the characters in this review!

Finn

Finn is, frankly, an adorable protagonist. He almost doesn’t even seem like he could be real. There are no real character faults with him. That being said, he’s not even a Gary Stu! He’s clueless about the world and those around him, but there’s a reason for it that I’d love to talk about but it might be considered a spoiler! So I won’t.

Roza and Petey

At first, I was startled and uncomfortable by the level of focus on appearance in this novel, particularly the stereotypical negativity and bad luck associated with Roza’s apparent beauty. But then I realize it was emphasized not only on purpose but also for a specific reason. The two main female characters of Bone Gap are very much foils in terms of looks and personality. We find out mid-book that they were actually even friends before Roza was abducted. It’s a surprise not least because they have both lived two very different lives shaped by their looks.

Roza, who is supposed to be very beautiful, has been plagued with trouble all her life because of her beauty. All her experiences with boys are tainted with aggression and possessiveness. It’s like she’s a magnet for misogynistic jerks, in her home country of Poland and in the U.S. where she studies abroad. These horrible experiences all cumulate in Roza’s misfortune of falling prey to the attraction of her abductor, who makes it very clear throughout the book that he wants her because she is beautiful.

Petey, on the other hand, is never explicitly described directly or indirectly, but it’s hinted at throughout the book that while she might have a nice body, her face leaves something to be desired. When her relationship with the beautiful Finn becomes public, the whole town is suspicious. They think Finn must only be after one thing. So it’s ironic that while Petey is not “blessed” with a beauty, she would so easily find a nice guy who sees her as she truly is and not just her outward appearance.

It’s a not a new idea in literature that beauty is only skin deep and that what should matter is on the inside. But in Bone Gap we see a more nuanced critique of how beauty is still something that is valued and commodified in society today. This book just takes it to the extreme to show how the person benefitted by the commodification is not necessarily the beholder of the beauty. In this book we see there is a lot we may not see if we are not looking beneath the face. And that’s a sad reality. Everyone (but silly Finn) saw Roza’s outer beauty, but just like with Petey, no one saw the inner beauty.

Final Thoughts

Bone Gap is a carefully crafted, stunning read that left me feeling strangely off-balance after reading it. The mystery and characters were excellent, but I’m not sure I would not say I was immediately blown away by this book. It took me a while to think about the story and why I appreciated it. It’s not one I would was I’d reread for fun, but it is one that I’m glad to have read and know will stick with me.

My main critique of this novel is that I found the climax utterly anti-climatic. I usually like magical realism, but in this novel rather than serving to enhance my emotions or the prose, I feel like it cloaked very important parts of the story in ambiguity that was a bit frustrating when I wanted to know what was really happening! I was satisfied with the ending, however, so that was something.

Let me know if you’ve read Bone Gap and what you thought in the comments! I’d love to hear what you thought!

Thank you for reading!
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Novel Progress #1 (Working Title & Plotting)

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As I stated in Writing Goals for 2016., I am trying to make 2016 the year I finally write my first official novel. The first decent draft of a novel, anyway. I’ve actually been working on a variation of this 2016 novel on since 2013. But this is the first time I’ve ever been so close to feeling like this is it; I’ve discovered my protagonist’s story.

I’ve always been a discovery writer, more than an outliner. And that’s been was taken me in so many different directions with this one story. On one hand, it’s been helpful in allowing me to explore different directions. But it’s not been helpful in having confidence that the story can exist outside of me one day, which is what I want. I’d love to be published one day, even if it ends up being in a less conventional way. I want people to be able to read what I write and feel the way I’ve felt after reading my favorite books.

On my old blog, Books o’ the Wisp (soon-to-be defunct), I blogged a lot about writing in the months leading up to November. I’d like to start doing that here. I want to update you all on my progress through my writing goals for the year, and also share any writing tips or advice I find along the way. My aim is not to tell you how to write but to describe how I write in the hopes that it’s helpful or even inspires you to get to working on your great novel.

The details of my story will be revealed only on a need-to-know basis not just to protect against idea theft but also because it doesn’t feel like a lot of details are set in stone. While I’m working on this story, I don’t want to feel vulnerable about how much I’m sharing of I’m writing.

Working Title

I don’t know how many others have this problem but I struggle with what to call the novels I work on. Although I’ve been working on a variation of the same story for years now, I’ve always felt the need to rename the story every time it took a drastically different turn. Obviously a title is not something a writer need concern themselves with until near the end of the novel-writing process, but it does help to be able to call it something.

As my story is still in the early development stages, I’m not 100% set on the title I’ve labelled by Scrivener document. But I’m just going to go with it for now. I’m not going to tell you the full title, but the acronyms: EMatST. From here on out, I’ll be calling my novel project EMatST. As you might able to gather, it’s a bit wordy. But I’m a fan of descriptive titles.

Plotting

Ah, the fun stuff. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I am not a natural outliner. But over the past year, I’ve seen the light, if you will, and I find it much more comforting to enjoy my discovery writing process when I know when I have boundaries and plot targets for which to aim. It’s also supposed to help with the editing process further down the road.

In the past, I tried using a very strict writing structure to help envision my novel: the Three-Act Structure, made famous (to me) by the BookTuber Katytastic. In the three-act structure, there are three acts/9 blocks/27 chapters, organized so that a cycle of [set up -> conflict -> resolution] is consistent throughout the novel. For more information if such a structure appeals to you, see the video How I Outline! by Katytastic.

I’ve personally learned since then that this story structure does not help me. It makes my stories feel overly formulaic and not at all natural to who I am as a writer. I think I might find it more useful to try and apply to a first draft of a novel in which I know exactly what I want to happen already. But I’ve never gotten that far! And I don’t like working within such a strict format at such an early stage in my writing.

The outlining structure I’ve found works best from me actually came from my writing mentor Karen Bovenmeyer. It’s a seven-point plot structure that combines the strengths of discovery and outline writing. The way we think about the seven points is through “lights in the swamp” metaphor. The plot points are dots we need to connect as we write our novels, providing direction through the murky waters of discovery writing. I love it.

I’d love to do a whole separate post on this outlining structure, but I can’t remember who Karen cited as the main “creator” of this method and I wonder about permissions. It’ll probably be all right. I also think I’ve put my own spin on some of it, anyway, so expect that post at a later date.

So the seven plot points are:

  1. Hook: Hero introduced
  2. Plot turn 1: Hero accepts/gets locked into quest
  3. Pinch 1: Hero realizes/is exposed to high stakes
  4. Midpoint: Hero becomes resolved to do something
  5. Plot turn 2: Hero learns what needs to be done to complete quest
  6. Pinch 2: Hero near defeat “finds the power within”
  7. Resolution: Hero does what she resolved to do

While this is the order in which the story should unfold as it is read, this is not necessarily the way in which it’s been recommended that you work on developing a plot. The way I’ve learned to start plotting is start with the resolution. Because if you know what you want to happen at the end, you should be better equipped to work backwards to figure out how to get there. As opposed to starting at the beginning are working your way forward without a end game in mind.

So I essentially organized a long summary of brainstormed story content in a Word document within this seven-point framework. It helped me realize where important plot points were missing (usually the pinches) and how to think about how each point contributed to the character development of my protagonist. I don’t have all the details I need quite yet (particularly at the beginning), but I have a good start that’s allowed me to formulate questions that tell me what I need to work on next.

For instance, I knew immediately that I would need to work on world-building and setting to help me better ground each plot point with a awareness of place, and the affordances of each place for the action that will occur. Sounds like fun and not at all scary!

End Note

If you want to know more about EMatST, I provided a bit more details on genre and the world in my previous writing-related post Writing Goals for 2016. I hope you’ll enjoy hearing about my writing throughout the year. I know I love to read blogs of other writing because it inspires me and gets me pumped! If there’s any specific you’d like me to talk about in the future, let me know in the comments!

And in case you’re wondering, I’m thinking I’ll do a new “Novel Progress” update every Wednesday!

Thank you for reading!
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Books I Want to Reread in 2016.

reread2016

I’ve always been someone who enjoyed rereading my favorite books. Especially before I entered the book blogging community when I had trouble discovering new and interesting books on my own. But since I’ve become a book blogger, the reading of new books began to take precedence over the rereading of the old. So when I started seeing so many bloggers post about the books they want to reread this year, I was eager to jump on the bandwagon!

I do not think of this as a comprehensive list, there are certainly others I might also want to revisit this year. But at the moment, these are the books I’ve been longing to reread, not just for myself but also to help inspire my writing.

Classics

These are some the books I fell in love with in high school. They’re books that changed me and influenced the person I wanted to be. I’m interested in rereading them now because I feel like they’re still important books to me and I hope to be inspired by them again.

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

I read this book for the first time in my junior year of high school for AP English III. I had borrowed it from an older friend, because I was not sure I wanted to spend money buying it if I wasn’t going to like it. It turned out that I was incredibly moved by it and ended up buying it that summer.

I think this book was be polarizing for students forced to read this book for school because it’s a book that you have to be right age and the right state-of-mind to appreciate. I’m sure many people will never get there because empathy with the Holden Caulfield is integral to understanding the story, and many people just don’t get it because they’ve never been in his shoes..

Franny & Zooey by J.D. Salinger

After reading The Catcher in the Rye, I was desperate to find everything J.D. Salinger had ever published. I was disappointed to find that no other novels existed (that we know of), but that there were short stories available. I had never really read short stories before for my own enjoyment, other than for classes.

Franny & Zooey is my favorite short story collection of Salinger’s, and I might even like it more than The Catcher in the Rye. I’ve long thought that this story continues where Holden’s story left off, after his mental breakdown. There’s almost no resolution at the end of the novel, and in Franny & Zooey I think you’re left with a lot more hope.

Nine Stories by J.D. Salinger

This short story collection is satisfying if you want to read more about the quirky Glass family you’re introduced to in Franny & Zooey. There’s a lot of melancholy and room for reflection in these stories. I’m interested in reading this collection again, not just for enjoyment but also to help me think about how to create my own short fictions for my anthology project this year (see Writing Goals for 2016.)

Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

This classic novel by Kurt Vonnegut is another favorite I was exposed to as result of my AP English III class. We didn’t actually have to read it for class (it was cut from the schedule for some reason), but I read it on my own and was blown away.

This book makes you feel all the feelings. I don’t even know how to describe it. It’s partially science fiction, it’s a story of war. There’s sadness, horror, and still somehow humor. I remember reading this book and being inspired to live life more meaningfully.

Writing Inspiration

These are the books I want to read because there are things I think might help me as I work on my own writing this year. One of my favorite pieces of writing advice is to read authors whose work you’d like to emulate and these books all have something that’s inspired me, including excellent world-building. So naturally, these books are all fantasy series (basically).

The Grisha Trilogy by Leigh Bardugo

I marathoned this series very quickly over a week or so in October. It was insane. I still can’t believe how quickly I read them. I partially want to reread them so I can take my time and appreciate them better than I did the first time, and even review them! But I also really appreciate the world-building of these novels. They’re unique for YA fantasy. And I want to determine for myself what I think went wrong in the final book (which was disappointing, particularly after the stellar second book).

The Winner’s Trilogy by Marie Rutkowski

This series I jumped into just because I wanted to see what the hype was all about. The beautiful covers had me thinking it would be “chick lit” in fantasy disguised, but that isn’t quite right. The first book started off very romance-heavy, but by the end there was an amazing turn of events that redeemed the entire book and led me to jump directly into the sequel. WHICH WAS EVEN BETTER. It was a lot more political intrigue and action, everything I loved most about the first book. And the world was unique as well, unlike anything I’d ever read and also strangely fantasy-feeling in atmosphere despite there being no magic!

The Queen of the Tearling Trilogy by Erika Johansen

This was my favorite series I discovered last year. It’s so different from anything else I’ve experienced before. It’s complicated to assign it a genre. I feel like I would categorize it as a New Adult fantasy set in a futuristic world. To say much else would feel spoiler-y because you learn more about the world as the story progresses. I’d love to write as unique and inspiring a series as Rutkowski does with here. I feel like these books are a little under-hyped, but if the movie plans go through I think we’ll be hearing a lot more about these books in the coming years.

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Tooth and Claw | Book Review

Tooth and Claw

tooth

Released: November 1, 2003
Pages: 320 (paperback)
Theme(s): Family, religion, love, justice, loyalty
Genre(s): Fantasy, historical fiction
Age Group: 10+
Source: I bought it
Buy it: Book Depository | Amazon

Summary: A tale of love, money and family conflict – and everyone in the tale is a dragon, red in tooth and claw.

A family of dragons gathers on the occasion of the death of their father, the elder Bon Agornin. As is custom, they must eat the body. But even as Bon’s last remains are polished off, his sons and daughters must all jostle for a position in the new hierarchy. While the youngest son seeks greedy remuneration through the courts of law, the eldest son – a dragon of the cloth – agonises over his father’s deathbed confession. While one daughter is caught between loyalty to her family by blood and her family by marriage, another daughter follows her heart – only to discover the great cost of true love…

Here is a Victorian story of political intrigue, family ties and political intrigue, set in a world of dragons – a world, quite literally, red in tooth and claw. Full of fiery wit, this is a novel unlike any other.

My Goodreads Rating: ★★★

  My Thoughts  

Tooth and Claw is an slow-burning, but ultimately entertaining and worthwhile read! If you like the romance and societal critique of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and the cut-throat and imaginative realization of dragons, you’ll love this book. Jo Walton creates a unique and exciting world set with well-imagined characters who you can almost forget are dragons!

I do not know anything about Jo Walton or the background history of what went into the creation of this book, but it’s clear that in addition to being a family drama, filled with loss, romance, and revenge via due process (really), there are critiques of gender, inheritance, and religion that are worth looking further into. Not only is the world created in the image of the regency time period, Walton also endowed the world with a rich cultural history that is apparent in snippets throughout the book.

Things I Liked

  • The “comedy of manners” aspect being applied to dragons. I really enjoy stories that essentially critique the manners and customs of society the way that writers such as Jane Austen and Oscar Wilde did in their contemporary works of literature. Despite the fact that the characters are all dragons, there is a well-defined system of societal ranking and titles that Walton establishes throughout the book so that it’s hard not to keep up.
  • The humor. There are just some really easy-going laugh-out-loud moments throughout this book.
  • The alternating perspective. There is no one main character of the book. The narration follows each of the Agornin family members, but also side characters of varying important to the overall outcome to the story. I like how this added some depth to the situations of the story.
  • The variety of characters. I didn’t have a favorite character, and in this type of book that was entirely okay. Throughout the book, I felt the same about all the Agornins (except the eldest sister, her husband, and that retched parson of course)! But we are not supposed like them.

Things I Didn’t Like

There are only really two things I did not like about this book, the first relating to style and the second relating to plot. But I realize these things are just a matter of taste, as they completely suited the genre Walton was emulating.

  • The writing style used in this book is very reminiscent of literature written in the 18th and 19th centuries. There’s a lot more telling than showing. And the narration is partially restrained and a told from a distance, probably why I had difficulty truly connecting with any one character. But it works for the society about which the story is about.
  • The only complaint I have about the plot is the ending which was a little too convenient and tidy for me. Also it just wrapped up a little too quickly. I would’ve liked to see more of what happens to the characters after the resolution of the court scenes. Also, by the end the villains had a lot less bite to them.

Final Thoughts

I am happy I finally decided to give this book a read! I bought it from the Book Depository over the summer after seeing Jean Bookishthoughts talk about it on her BookTube channel. I highly recommend this book to anyone who likes Jane Austen or dragons, and is in the mood for something a little different. Although there are some gory aspects to this story, this book is not a heavy read. It never gets too dark and it end very much in a happy and just place for all the characters you grow to care about.

There’s something for everybody to enjoy in this short read. My only warning is that it is a little slow, particularly if you do not connect with the story or characters early on!

Thank you for reading!
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Writing Goals for 2016.

In my post about My New Year’s Resolutions for 2016, I touched briefly on what I hope to accomplish with regards to writing this year: to write one full novel and 12 short stories (one per month). As I’ve never talked writing on Ink, Keys, and Other Things before, I thought I’d introduce my major work-in-progress. I don’t intend to go into too much detail about my novel yet, but share some of what I have gotten done so far.

The novel I am writing is a YA steampunk fantasy set in a time period similar to the U.S. in the early twentieth century. But the world is a steampunk alternative universe in which magic abounds. The main character is a thirteen-year-old girl (let’s call her Jane) who becomes an important piece of a complicated puzzle to restore peace in her country. The world I imagine as kind of a mix between that of InuYasha and Howl’s Moving Castle. I see elements of a lot of different books and films in the rough plot I have established, but I’m hoping as I begin to write it that I’m able to craft a story that feels entirely my own.

There are a lot of moving parts in my story and world, parts that I see myself expanding in future books, as I would like this novel to be the first in a series. I’ve often worried about scope as a person who identifies perpetually as a writing n00b, but I’m trying not be daunted by the process. I keep telling myself that all the extra seeds of possibilities are important to keep the writing fun.

Writing Process

The hardest thing I find about writing is the part where I sit down and actually start writing. I can think of every possible reason to avoid actually writing. Whether it be homework or chores, or simply the fact that my eyes are tired and I’d rather go to sleep and start writing after I’ve woken up.  I realize this is a problem having to do with discipline, so I’m going to try and set myself achievable goals for the semester to help me write a decent first draft of my novel before the end of the year.

My major goal is to write 500 words per day at minimum. I feel like I need to have a word count goal for the day to just to have something tangible to meet and appraise whether I’ve spend a commendable amount of time thinking about my story. It is also a good word count to meet because I don’t want to feel obligated to write too many words I hate just for the sake of getting an arbitrary number of words on the page.

Another goal for myself is to not worry that I’m writing complete and utter crap. I have real fear that I am not good enough to write my own novels. I feel confident in my ability to critique other’s work, but when it comes to producing something myself, I’m paralyzed with self-doubt. I realize that it’s impossible to write a perfect first draft and getting started is often the hardest part to doing anything worth doing, but I still struggle.

Right now, I have very clear idea of the major story arc of this novel and some idea of smaller subplots and other significant plot points I want to include. So I’m just going to try and throw myself into the deep end and sink or swim, hopefully swim.

I’ll be writing in a single Word document for the time being, possibly jumping around as I follow my interests. Once I have most of the story written, I’ll start to make a table of contents with internal links to chapters I have mostly set in stone. I’m not sure how long this will take. Hopefully by summer I’ll be able to jump into revising.

The Short Stories

My idea is for the short stories to be fairytales, myths, and legends from the world in which my novel is set. I’ve been loving novels set in worlds with rich origin stories (like in The Queen of the Tearling and Throne of Glass series) so I imagine these short stories might eventually become important parts of the overall story in future novels. But even if they don’t, I like to think they’ll at least help me have a frame of mind as I write.

If at all possible, I might try and see if I can get some of my short stories published. I think it’d be a cool way to get my foot in the door of publishing and potentially build anticipation for an eventual novel. So hopefully I’ll be able to edit these stories well enough so that they are satisfying stand-alone pieces.

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First Week of the Spring 2016 Semester.

First Week of Class

It is Friday as I write this post and it has been a long, weird week. On Sunday and Thursday, the world lost David Bowie and Alan Rickman respectively, both 69 years of age and both to cancer. Weird, sad coincidence. In addition, this was the first week I had back to school. I am taking three classes this semester, all of which run from 7–10 p.m. So this week has consisted of me trying to get used to this weird schedule.

If there’s one thing I can predict about this semester, it’s that I will be very busy. All my classes appear to be pretty demanding in terms of reading. The class I decided to take as an elective (Creating Interactive Media) actually seems like it might be the most difficult of them all, which is a major bummer because I was lukewarm about it to begin with. I’d like to talk about these classes in more depth, but to be completely honest I’m still not 100% sure what they’re all about. My favorite so far seems like it will be my Monday class: Digital Textuality.

I’m hoping to stay on top everything this semester, so that I can read and blog without guilt or stress! I already have a substantial amount of homework to get done and I’m hoping I stick to the reading schedule I’ve designed for myself and it works out. After all, I still have other things I want to do!

Textbooks

This semester, I only had to buy three books. But two of the (most expensive) books are for my elective class (Creating Interactive Media) which is a class I have a feeling I will either end up loving or hating. Earlier today I placed an order on Amazon for the books I will need this semester, including:

Understanding-Comics-Scott-McCloud           about_face_the_essentials_of_interaction_design-alan_cooper-25327055-3770658108-frntl          large_9781592537563

Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art by Scott McCloud.

This book is for my Digital Textuality class. The big project for the semester is a portfolio in which we select a story and translate it into four different modes: text, image, video, and sound. So I guess this Understanding Comics book is to get us to think about how the images/text of comics work in a way that will help us think about different modes.

About Face: The Essentials of Interaction Design by Alan Cooper.

Since I don’t know exactly the point of this class or what we’re supposed to be doing, I have no expectations about this book. Hopefully it will end up useful in the future.

Universal Methods of Design by Bruce Hanington.

I have a feeling this book will be more important for the class because the instructor emphasized it in our first meeting this week. Since I’ve never taken a hardcore design class before, I have no background knowledge helping me form expectations about research in design beyond what little I picked up from my technical communication classes last year during my undergraduate studies at ISU.

future purchases…

Last summer I applied for the Amazon Credit Card because it seemed like a smart thing to do given that I shop on Amazon so much throughout the year and using it to buy things I’d buy anyway I could save up points to use towards Amazon purchases. Anyway, I have about $22 worth of points saved up that I almost used, but I’ve decided to save it for my birthday coming up in February.

I’ve not bought physical books in such a long time, since early October and, although I don’t need to, I’d like to treat myself soon! I already know what I think I’d like to buy: The Winner’s Curse and The Winner’s Crime by Marie Rutkowski in hardback. After the cover change scare that rankled the book blogging community a couple of weeks ago, I was so glad I hadn’t invested in the paperbacks (the way I normally do). And although I have my issues with these books, in particular the first one, I think the covers are gorgeous and I want them purely for vanity reasons!

Reading Update

Last weekend I ended up finishing two books! I didn’t read much over the break, so I’m really happy to have finally read and get this new year off to a good start. First, I finished Tooth and Claw by Jo Walton, a book I had started on New Year’s Eve I think. It was a pleasant read (★★★). It was very much reminiscent of Pride and Prejudice and that regency time period and had a very unique world (filled with civilized dragons). I only found it a little slow because of the way it was written. Also it ended all a little too conveniently for me.

Then I read An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir, which I picked up from the library last Friday along with a few other books. I had actually read the first couple of chapters before leaving for Christmas break, but hadn’t had enough time to finish it. It was beautifully written but poorly plotted (in my opinion). I had several issues with it, leading to merely a ★★★-rating. 

I struggled deciding what I wanted to read next after two unique fantasy novels. So I randomly decided my next read will be Bone Gap by Laura Ruby. I think it will be a contemporary novel with some magical realism to it. I like magical realism so hopefully this is a pleasant read. My friend Ely from Tea & Titles enjoyed it so that’s a good recommendation!

Thank you for reading!
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My New Year’s Resolutions for 2016.

·.··.·.·.  My 2016 New Year’s Resolutions  ・.·.·.··.·

I love setting goals and I find that New Year’s is the best time to think optimistically about what I want to accomplish. Even though we’re about a week into 2016 and I almost didn’t create this post, I’m happy I have because reflecting on what I would like to accomplish this year has inspired me to kick my butt into shape and start being productive. There are few things that make me happier than ending a day feeling like I’ve been productive and I’d love to be able to look back at the end of 2016 and appreciate what I’ve accomplished in the past year.

➴ Reading Resolution

I set my Goodreads Reading Goal at 60 books for the year. I regret not setting 52, averaging at simply one book per week. But in 2015 I was so close to 60 books and I hardly read much at all at the end of the year that I feel confident I’ll read 60 books if I keep at it.

➴ Writing Resolution

I want to finish my first novel and also write 12 short stories, one per month. I started the novel I’m currently working on in NaNoWriMo 2015, and it’s evolved a little since then. But overall I’ve not been able to think about much else. I’d really like it to be the first in a series. I’ve even worked on plotted the series as a whole. The main thing that’s been holding me back in making more progress on this novel at the moment insecurity and procrastination.

I’ve long been thinking it would be wiser to start smaller and work my way up to a novel. Filmmakers often start small with short films. I originally thought I might try to write 12 novels this year, but since I’ve yet to finish a novel at all in my time as a writer, I’ve decided instead to shoot for 12 short stories. I’m thinking of making it an anthology collection united around a certain theme or idea.

I plan to elaborate more on my writing plans in a separate post in the near future. 

➴ Blogging Resolution

I want to be a better blogger this year. I don’t want to have any productivity slumps. I want to be consistent this year with everything I want to do. I want to pre-schedule posts and stick to a good posting schedule. I also want to comment regularly on the blogs I follow and overall just be a good community member.

End Note

There are a few other goals I have for 2016, but none that I can think of that would have concrete products or evidence of the goal (yet). For example, I know I would like to work on becoming more fit, but I don’t have set goals for what that would necessarily look like. Also, I want to do more art this year, but I don’t have a numeric goal or particular project in mind at the moment.

What are your opinions on new year’s resolutions, or goal-setting in general? Do you have any new year’s resolutions this year? If so, what are they? Let me know in the comments!

Thank you for reading!
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Hello January 2016 (Life Update + TBR).

Life Update

Yesterday I made the three-hour journey from Houston to Dallas, effectively ending my holiday retreat at my parents’ house. In past years, the end of the holidays had always been more sweet than bitter. This year I’ve found myself indifferent. I feel more carefree when I’m staying at my parents’ home, but I also feel like it sets me back. I have trouble being productive there. Also, I feel tethered to my parents’ schedule.

One would think returning to my apartment in Dallas would have been met with a bit more joy, but I can’t stop thinking about tornados since the devastating outbreak this past Christmas that destroyed hundreds of homes not far from where I live. I live on the third, topmost floor of my apartment building. If a tornado hits I’m not sure I’ll make it. (Am I being dramatic? I’m not sure.)

If I’ve learned anything over my past semester at the University of Texas at Dallas (UTD), it’s that I don’t want to live in Dallas past graduation. Unless a dream job comes up, but that’s unlikely.

Next Monday classes start back up for me again. All my classes will be in evening from 7–9 pm, but I’ve still not finalized my schedule. I’m certain only on the two classes required for my degree program which are only offered in spring: Digital Textuality and Digital Culture. But I’m taking one more class, an elective, for which I have two options from which to choose: Creating Interactive Media and Information Design for New Media. I do not want to take both (primarily because I don’t want to take four classes this semester), so I’m squatting in both classes right now as I wait patiently for the syllabi to show up which will hopefully help me decide which will best serve my interests/needs.

With the rest of my time before classes start, I’m just trying to work on getting myself on a productive schedule. I haven’t been reading as much as I like, I haven’t been writing, and I haven’t been blogging because there’s been so little to talk about. It feels like I’ve been static for too long and I’m ready to come back to life again.

 January 2016 TBR

This year I am trying to live by the motto “slow and steady wins the race.” I’ve always been someone who gets hooked on something and then quickly burns out and loses interest. Last year I read the bulk of my books early in the year. This year I’m not going to push myself so hard. Especially as reading more was my primary goal for the year (which I achieved; I read well over 50!). But this year I have more things I want to do, which I’ll explain in my New Year’s Resolutions post later today or tomorrow.

Also, I’m trying not to buy too many new books this year. My living situation is precarious and I don’t like buying books that then get left at my parents’ house before I can read them. As I’m now a graduate student I have a new library to utilize, which is very good about stocking new releases! So there’s no predicting what I’ll be able to get my hands on. 🙂

So the only books I know I want to read from my personal library are:

toothmiddlesex

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tooth and Claw by Jo Walton

I’m a little over 50 pages into this book and it’s been off to a great start. The brilliant characters and conflict grabbed me immediately. I’m reading it fairly slowly as I’ve been preoccupied with other things in my life and I’m out of reading shape. 🙂

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

I can’t really explain my interest in prioritizing this book. I just feel like the summary is intriguing and I’m attracted to the depth I’m expecting of this book. Also I love the movie The Virgin Suicides and I’ve never even read that book so I’m excited to finally experience this author’s writing. I’ve also not read fiction set in the real world for a while so this excites me.

Others…

I also have four digital ARCs from Edelweiss that I need to get to by the end of the month for review.

AND I have my writing buddy’s first draft of her first novel to read! She sent it to me on Christmas Day and I can’t wait to read the story we’ve been talking about for well over a year and provide her with feedback. 🙂

End Note

I will be posting my New Year’s Resolutions for 2016 late today I think, or I might schedule it for tomorrow morning (CST). I’ve not yet posted my official announcement on Books o’ the Wisp. I don’t expect too many people to follow me here from there, but I worry I’m letting people dangle over there. And I do intend to make that blog completely private once the premium features expire.

I have lot of posts planned for this new blog. I’m going to try and pre-schedule things so that everything doesn’t come out all in January and I have nothing left for February (“slow and steady”). Hope you enjoy my new blog! If you’d like to receive notifications of when I post new things, please check out any of my other social media links below!

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