Welcome

Photo of me sitting on the floor with Mopsy sitting on my lap and Neutron curled up beside me. I am a law student by day, writer by night. Sometimes I sleep. This site is mostly about the writing, with superdogs and other fun things thrown in.

 

Recent site updates:

Added The Story Behind “The Year of Salted Skies” page

Added space law and book recs categories, because I’m all about organization.

Added The Story Behind “Polaris in the Dark” page

Updated book recs page with my favorite books of 2017.

Added “The Story Behind Seven Signs Your Roommate Is a Vampire”page

Added the “Tails of the Neutron Star” category. You can access all the posts about Neutron in the categories menu on the left. You can also get to all the “Mopsy the Magnificent” posts there as well.

 

 

Advertisements

Exciting News!

Friends, it has finally happened.

 

After years of writing, rewriting, revising, rewriting, revising again, and finally querying my middle grade fantasy adventure book, yesterday I signed with a literary agent, Laurel Symonds of The Bent Agency.

 

Yay!!!

 

I’ve known this was happening for the past couple weeks, and I still can’t believe it’s real, and I am still ridiculously excited! We’re going to revise my book and then start submitting it to publishers.

 

It’s been a crazy couple of weeks from when I received the call to now, and I’m looking forward to telling you about the process up to this point and what happens next. But first I have to unstick myself from the ceiling and finish my homework for Monday, because law school doesn’t stop.

January Reading Roundup

January always feels like the month that never ends. It’s long and dark and cold. Particularly cold in the last couple weeks. But here we are, finally, in February. Today it’s warm and birds are singing and I’m daring to hope that the groundhog might be right and we might actually get an early spring. And don’t you even think of telling me the groundhog is never right and there’s still a lot of winter ahead of us. Punxsutawney Phil is right 39% of the time. I looked it up. And I’m going to cling to my hope of an early spring until February dumps another bucket of snow on us, and even then, I’ll hope.

 

Speaking of warm weather, I rang in the New Year in Florida. Literally there was a bell. We had a great vacation before returning to the cold northeast. Harvard law has a mandatory J-term, and this year I took a three-week course on patent law. It was really interesting but also really intense. Then spring semester started, and I once again came down with a really nasty cold that felt like the flu. I started off fall semester sick too, so I’m noticing an unfortunate pattern here. There is some good news though. First, I’m on the mend now. Second, this is my last semester of law school, so the pattern can’t build up a head of steam and continue much longer. Knock on wood.

 

I was also writing a lot in January. A group of friends and I decided to do our own National Novel Writing Month in January—since November is the worst month if you’re a student. I set out to write one chapter a week (five chapters total) on my middle grade space adventure project. I wrote four chapters and a bit of the fifth. I blame my cold/flu for not quite finishing, but this is a ton more progress than I’ve made in a while. I’ve been having a lot of fun with this project. At this point, I’m pretty much pantsing it, which means it’s just as much of an adventure for me as it is for my characters. I’ll talk more about this later.

 

So now that January is over, it’s time to recap the books I read this month. Because so much was going on, I only read ten books, and it was a bit of a mixed bag—some were really great; some not so much. Let’s dive right in.

 

I started the year with An American Marriage by Tayari Jones. This was our first book club selection of the year. Celestial and Roy have been happily married for a year (at least Roy says they’re happy—I have my doubts), when Roy is arrested and convicted of rape. He didn’t do it, but he’s off to prison, leaving Celestial behind to fall in love with her childhood friend. So this is not the sort of book I would have picked up on my own, and I wasn’t a fan. I recognize that it was a good book. It did cool things with form, and it tackled hard issues like race in the deep south and false imprisonment and family. I just didn’t like it.

 

After that, I started the next Rick Riordan Greek myths series, The Trials of Apollo. I read the first two books, The Hidden Oracle and The Dark Prophecy. I admit I was dubious about continuing on with these series after the ending of The Blood of Olympus, which was on the whole disappointing. But the premise of this series was irresistable: Zeus punishes Apollo for his role in the events of the last series by casting him down to Earth to live as a mortal. And it is priceless. The quest plots are starting to feel very similar, because I’ve now read ten of these books, but I just love Apollo and his new friend Meg. They carry this series.

 

Next, I read What to Say Next by Julie Buxbalm. After Kit’s father dies in a car accident, she forms an unlikely friendship with David—who is at the very bottom of the high school popularity hierarchy and is somewhere on the autism spectrum. Together, Kit and David set out to figure out exactly how and why Kit’s father died in that car accident. I was so torn about this book. On the one hand, I loved the characters. David in particular was depicted really well. I found the bullying—and the lack of school action about the bullying—to be very realistic. And it gave me lots of feelings. At the same time, the overall message of the book was that in order for David to have any friends—including Kit—he had to be less autistic. He couldn’t be himself. This is really problematic and left me with a bad taste in my mouth.

 

Next, I read the second Expanse book, Caliban’s War by James S. A. Corey. In this book, the crew gets dragged back into the war between Earth and Mars when they go to Ganymede to search for a missing child. There’s also a high-up UN official working for a Martian marine who are awesome. While I wasn’t one hundred percent thrilled with the first book, this book really sold me on the series. The worldbuilding continued to be really awesome, and I felt like the character develop finally started to catch up with it. I’m really looking forward to what comes next in this series.

 

After Caliban’s War, I continued my reread of the Harry Potter series with Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and Harry Potter in the Goblet of Fire. I’m working on a more detailed post about my Harry Potter reread, so I won’t go into details now, but these two are my favorites of the series and they definitely brightened up my January.

 

This month it was my turn to pick a book for book club, and I chose Girl Made of Stars by Ashley Herring Blake. When Mara’s best friend Hannah accuses Mara’s twin brother Owen of rape, Mara is forced to choose between her family and her friend and face trauma in her own past. I chose this book because another writer on twitter said this was the best YA book of 2018. Now I haven’t read all the YA books of 2018, but I’m pretty sure this wasn’t the best. I really liked a lot about this book. The high level concept was really gripping, and the book gave me all kinds of feelings. But it felt like the author was trying to cram as many hot-button issues as she could into the book, so there were a lot of things that felt like they were glossed over. And I also found the absentee parenting unrealistic given the characters’ socioeconomic class and other descriptions in the book. As a friend in book club who was a teacher before law school said, there are definitely situations where this kind of parenting would be realistic, but based on everything we know about this family, these parents should have noticed what’s going on with their kids, and that’s not only unrealistic but also harmful to kids who really are in that situation. So as much as I appreciated what this book was trying to do, and as powerful as this book was in places, I have to agree that this book ultimately doesn’t work.

 

Then I read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. This is an epistulary novel about the Nazi occupation of the island of Guernsey in the British channel, which I knew nothing about. It was really cool, until two thirds of the way through when it turned into a Jane Austin-esque romance and kind of fell apart for me. Like what just happened there?

 

Finally, I finished off January with The Postmistress by Sarah Blake. This was another World War II book about three women—a young wife on Cape Cod waiting for her husband who’s gone off to work as a doctor in London during the blitz, the postmistress of the same town on Cape Cod, and a reporter in London who travels through Europe to try to find out what is happening to the Jewish refugees. The back cover of this book describes it as three remarkable women coming together around the fact that the postmistress doesn’t deliver a letter, and okay, if you can call any of these characters remarkable and you can say they actually come together. The postmistress not delivering the letter, by the time it actually happens, is so inconsequential. And honestly the only one of these charactersI care about is the reporter in the London blitz who goes off to Europe and rides the trains recording the stories of the Jewish refugees. There were also some factual things that just drove me nuts. First, the author took liberties with the dates to allow the reporter to carry a portable recording device (I forget what’s it’s called) on the trains through Europe a year before the device was invented. It’s a small thing, and it’s a choice the writer is free to make, but it annoys me because it’s unrealistic and just allows the writer to bend the world to suit her story. Second, the postmistress makes a big deal of correcting the reporter, when they meet, that in the U.S. her title is postmaster, but the reporter and the book continue to call her the postmistress, which I just found kind of disrespectful to the character. On the whole, this wasn’t a bad book by any means. It just wasn’t a very good book, and I wouldn’t recommend it.

 

And that’s it for January. Have you read any of these books? Do you agree with my opinions?

Favorite Books of 2018

I read 176 books in 2018, a number that still floors me. Here are my favorites. Since I’ve already talked about why I liked these books in my reading roundup posts each month, I’m just giving you a list here, sometimes with a quick note. This list does not include books I reread that are already on my book recs page.

 

My book recs page will be updated soon to include my 2018 favorites.

 

Favorite books of 2018, in no particular order:

 

The Children of the Red King books 6-8 by Jenny Nimmo (I read the first 5 in 2017, and while the series could have ended there, these rounded things off nicely)

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

The Glass Universe: How the Ladies of the Harvard Observatory Took the Measure of the Stars by Dava Sobel

Galileo’s Daughter: A Historical Memoir of Science, Faith and Love by Dava Sobel

Shanghai Girls and Dreams of Joy by Lisa See (Shanghai Girls is better , but you need to read them together)

Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy by Cathy O’Neil

See You in the Cosmos by Jack Cheng

The True Meaning of Smekday and Smek for President by Adam Rex

War of Necessity, War of Choice: A Memoir of Two Iraq Wars by Richard N. Haass

Rilla of Ingleside by L. M. Montgomery (this is the last book in the Anne of Green Gables series, and in my opinion the only one worth bothering with after the third one. Just skip the ones in the middle.)

The Sisters Grimm books 2-9 by Michael Buckley (I read the first book in 2017, and this whole series is just such fun)

Liesl & Po by Lauren Oliver

Delirium series by Lauren Oliver

Slaughterhouse Five or the Children’s Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death by Kurt Vonnegut

A Wrinkle in Time series by Madeleine L’Engle

The Giver series by Lois Lowry (The Giver is the best but the others are good too)

Number the Stars by Lois Lowry

Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan

Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan (if you like audiobooks, this is one to listen to, because it includes the music in the story and is really well-done)

The Breadwinner series by Deborah Ellis

Lily’s Crossing by Patricia Reilly Giff

Gingersnap by Patricia Reilly Giff

Pictures of Hollis Woods by Patricia Reilly Giff

Life After Life and A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson

The Underland Chronicles series by Suzanne Collins

Saints and Misfits by S. K. Ali

Turtles All the Way Down by John Green (the plot is weird and just shouldn’t be there but I loved being in Aza’s head so much that it made my favorites)

Percy Jackson and the Olympians series by Rick Riordan

The Heroes of Olympus series by Rick Riordan (not as good as the first series but still a fun read)

Inkheart by Cornelia Funke (don’t bother with the rest of the trilogy they aren’t as good)

The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle by Janet Fox

Castle Hangnail by Ursula Vernon

Matilda by Roald Dahl

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl (I’d skip the sequel. It’s weird.)

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Maximum Ride books 1-3 by James Patterson (stop after book 3. I really mean it.)

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater

Rose series by Holly Webb (the last book isn’t what I wanted it to be but it’s still a delightful series)

And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer by Fredrik Backman

Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil deGrasse Tyson

Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George (the sequels are fine but nowhere near as good as the first book)

Wren series books 1 and 2 by Sherwood Smith (I haven’t finished this series but loved the first two so much I had to include them here anyway)

The Chronicles of Narnia series by C. S. Lewis (these certainly have problems but nostalgia won the day.)

Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor (Another one where I haven’t finished the series but really liked the first one so here it is.)

Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah

Smoke in the Sun by Renee Ahdieh (not as good as the first one, the pacing is weird, but it completes the series nicely)

The Essential New York Times Cookbook: Classic Recipes for a New Century by Amanda Hesser (lots of fun food history in here, and the recipes I’ve tried so far have been really good)

The Unofficial Harry Potter Cookbook: From Cauldron Cakes to Nickerbocker Glory—More Than 150 Magical Recipes for Muggles and Wizards by Dinah Busholz (I can’t vouch for any of the recipes yet but it’s great for an HP nerd).

 

And here are a few books that I read and enjoyed but that I’m waiting to finish the series before I decide whether they’re favorites:

Lady Midnight and Lord of Shadows by Cassandra Clare (The Dark Artifices series)

The Magic Thief and Lost by Sarah Prineas (the Magic Thief series)

Caraval by Stephanie Garber (the Caraval series)

Tempests and Slaughter by Tamora Pierce (the Numair Chronicles series)

Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey (The Expanse series)

 

Stay tuned for how I feel about these books once I finish the series and/or once the rest of the books come out.

 

All in all, it was a pretty good reading year. I read so many books that I really, really loved. I’ve set a goal to read 100 books in 2019, and I hope I discover another abundance of good books. What are you planning to read in 2019?

December Reading Roundup

Happy 2019 everybody!

 

I spent the last week in Florida with my family. We went kayaking with dolphins and hiking and biking and museuming. I got a bit crispified, and I’m not sure Neutron was a fan of all the heat, but we had a great adventure. And now we’re back in the cold and rain and snow.

 

I am all fired up about my 2019 goals. I’ve written every day of 2019 so far, and I’m trying to keep that momentum going. I’m starting my J-term patents class on Monday, and while I’m not totally ready to go back to school, I’m well-rested and my stress is much lower, at least at the moment. I got one of those wake-up lights to get me up and moving in the morning, and I feel like I’m ready to get into the swing of things. And I just finished my reading for Monday, and I actually understood most of it. Could I have finally reached some kind of law school enlightenment?

 

Before I totally dive into the new year, I have one more reading roundup post for 2018 for you. I read 21 books in December, which is a record for me for the year. Many of them were short books, and I got through a lot while studying for finals. I did not finish all the series I was in the middle of by the end of the year, as I’d hoped, but I finished a bunch.

 

First, I finished Rick Riordan’s The Heroes of Olympus series. In December, I read the fourth book, The House of Hades, and the fifth book, The Blood of Olympus. The House of Hades is definitely one of my favorites in the series. It features my favorite characters—Percy, Annabeth, Leo, and Hazel—and they are having some cool adventures and doing awesome stuff. Percy and Annabeth are racing through the Underworld, trying to get to the Doors of Death before the monster army, while the rest of the crew of the Argo II are fighting their way across the Mediterranean to meet them on the mortal side of the doors. It was just a really fun read. After that, The Blood of Olympus was a bit of a let-down. It basically exemplified all the problems I had with the series—mainly that there were too many point of view characters and that we were with the wrong characters all the time. Also, there was no Percy point of view, and this really upset me. But the ending was great, and it did wrap up the series well. On the whole, this series definitely isn’t  as good as the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, but it was still a lot of fun.

 

Next, I read Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan. This book actually follows a magic harmonica as it passes from child to child—from a German boy with epilepsy facing Hitler’s sterilization program, to a pair of orphans in Great Depression Pennsylvania, to the daughter of Mexican immigrants looking for Japanese spies while her brother is fighting in World War II. There is a lot of music in the book, and if you like audiobooks, this is definitely one to listen to, because it actually has the music, and it does a really good job of it. I really enjoyed listening to this book. The one thing that I will say is that it annoyed me that we left each point of view character right when everything in their stories was coming to a head. You find out what happened in the end, but it was a bit frustrating while I was reading it. Other than that, this was a great book.

 

I continued the WWII trend with City of Thieves by David Benioff. This book takes place in Leningrad, during the seige. The main character—I can’t even remember his name—is caught stealing alcohol from a downed German soldier. He thinks he’s going to be shot, but he and a deserter are instead sent by the commander of the secret police literally on a wild goose chase to find a dozen eggs for his daughter’s wedding cake. Leningrad is, of course, starving, so there are no eggs to be had. I did not like this book. I couldn’t tell if it was trying to be comedic or satiric or weirdly serious. Whatever it was, it was just plain wild, and it was not my cup of tea.

 

After that, I read Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator by Roald Dahl, the sequel to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. This was another really weird book. They take the great glass elevator into space, face down some aliens who have taken over the space hotel, rescue an American space ship, and then there’s this whole craziness with turning all the grandmas and grandpas into babies to get them out of bed. It made no sense, and Charlie was just sort of along for the crazy ride. Suffice it to say that while I enjoyed Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and that will always be special to me, this was just a little too weird for my tastes.

 

I finished the Julie of the Wolves series with Julie and Julie’s Wolf Pack by Jean Craighead George. I liked Julie a lot. It dealt well with the fall-out from the first book. Julie’s Wolf Pack was fun too, but it basically continues the story from the point of view of the wolves, so it read more like a series of events. While I enjoyed these books, they weren’t nearly as powerful as I found the first book to be, and I’m not sure they’re necessary to wrap up the first book. To me, the first book stands well on its own.

 

I finally finished The Essential New York Times Cookbook: Classic Recipes for a New Century by Amanda Hesser, which I’ve been working my way through since the summer. This isn’t just a cookbook. Or at least, it wasn’t just a cookbook to me. It covered New York Times recipes from the 1870s to the present, and I really enjoyed seeing what people ate in all the different time periods, the variations in preparations, what has stood the test of time and what has disappeared. It was fascinating. I have not tried all the recipes in this book, but the ones I have tried so far have come out really well. Since it covers so much, it is a bit of a brick, and I’ve bookmarked a whole bunch of recipes I want to try. Looking forward to diving into those in 2019.

 

Next, I finished The Raven Cycle with The Raven King by Maggie  Stiefvater. Blue has her mother back now, and  the kids are closing in on their sleeping king, but there are a whole bunch of other crazy things going on. The strength of this book and the whole series is the characters and their dynamics together, which I’ve said before. I’m a big fan of large ensemble casts, and this series does such a wonderful job with it. Some of the reviews I read complain that Maggie Stiefvater didn’t pull everything together the way they wanted, but this book was pretty much a perfect end to the series for me.

 

Next I finished my reread of A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket with the twelfth and thirteenth books, The Penultimate Peril and The End. I really enjoyed The Penultimate Peril. It reminds me of the scene in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows where everyone is all together in the Roomm of Requirement. Yes, the adults are still useless, but it feels like we’re finally closing in on Count Olaf, until everything goes horribly wrong, of course. The End—which already loses points for not having an aliterative title—was a huge disappointment. We’ve been building everything up for the last three or four books, at least, and now we’re all just going to go hang out on a super peaceful island? Really? And not answer any questions? Sorry, minor spoilers, nothing is explained. The last book didn’t ruin the series for me, but it was definitely a disappointment. Now that I’ve finished rereading the books, I’m ready to watch the last season of the Netflix show, which I hope will pull things together in the end better than the last book did.

 

After that, I finally finished the Maximum Ride series by James Patterson, which I’ve literally been plugging away at all year. In December, I read Nevermore and Maximum Ride Forever. While the last book was, surprisingly, better than the last like five books put together, you’d be better off stopping after the third book, Saving the World and Other Extreme Sports, because the rest of the series isn’t worth the time it will take you to read them, even if that time is really short. Enough said about that.

 

The rest of the Rose series by Holly Webb carried me through finals week. I read Rose and the Magician’s Mask during breaks from studying for my corporations exam, and Rose and the Silver Ghost while studying for administrative law and writing my communications law paper. I adored Rose and the Magician’s Mask. They’re going after the villain of the second book, who is terrifying indeed. Rose is getting good at magic. She has all her friends back. I love Bill to pieces. Oh, and in this book they travel to Venice and do battle with magicians whose masks have fused with their faces to give them more power. I love Venice, and I love how delightfully creepy the whole thing is. Rose and the Silver Ghost was not as good as I’d hoped. First of all, I think it would have been better split into two books and both conflicts developed better. The first big chunk of the book is Rose trying to find her mother. This is pretty good, though I have to admit I was a bit disappointed with what the truth turned out to be. The world is set up in these books so that it’s only the rich families who have magical powers, because magic is so expensive. So Rose, a poor orphan with strong magical powers, is kind of rocking the boat a bit here. I didn’t want her family history to be resolved. Or, I wanted her parents to be poor fishermen. I wanted to rock the boat a bit more. I did not want Rose to be the long lost daughter of some crazy rich magical family. But so it goes. And the reveal and the climax around that is sufficiently intense that it was still really good, even if it wasn’t what I wanted it to be. Then, at the end, they cram in all this stuff about stopping the Talish invasion of Britain. I felt like this deserved a lot more attention than it was given. So while the last book wasn’t everything I was hoping for, I did really enjoy this series.

 

When I finished finals, I started my annual Harry Potter reread. Unfortunately I started too late to make much headway in the series before the end of the year, but I did read Sorcerer’s Stone and Chamber of Secrets. I’m working on a whole post about my annual reread, so I won’t go into all my thoughts here, but these books make me so happy and were the perfect post-finals treat.

 

While reading Harry Potter, I also sped through And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer by Fredrik Backman. It’s a novella about a grandfather struggling with the knowledge that he is losing his memories with his son and grandson. I love this little novella. It’s so sweet and tender and heartbreaking, and I found it to be really profound and powerful. So much so that I bought it for my mom for Christmas and both she and my dad read it while we were in Florida. My dad actually wants to read it again, and it’s a minor miracle if he finishes a book the first time, which says a lot about this book. It’s a sad book, definitely, but I highly recommend it.

 

Next I read Lost by Sarah Prineas, the second book in The Magic Thief series. This was a good sequel to the first book, but I did kind of hate all the characters for not communicating with each other. Also, there was just something so formal and stilted about all the characters’ interactions that kept me from getting into the book. At this point, how I feel about these books really depends on how the rest of the series goes.

 

In December, I also read The Unofficial Harry Potter Cookbook: From Cauldron Cakes to Nickerbocker Glory—More Than 150 Magical Recipes for Muggles and Wizards by Dinah Busholz. This was a lot of fun to read, because it goes through all the food in the Harry Potter books—and there’s a lot of food mentioned. It talks about the significance of the food in the books, as well as the food’s historical and cultural significance. And then we get the recipes. I haven’t gotten to try any of these yet, but some of them look really delicious. Some, like the steak and kidney pie, I think I’m going to pass on trying. I’m only so adventurous. Also I just have to say wow! I cannot believe that the characters actually ate like this every day. But this book gave me a new perspective on the Harry Potter books. As I’ve been rereading the books, I’ve noticed the food a lot more. Even if I don’t try any of the recipes—and I did bookmark a bunch to try—it’s definitely a lot of fun to read, especially if you’re an extreme Harry Potter nerd like me.

 

I finished off 2018 with Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil deGrasse Tyson. I really enjoyed this book, but as I said before, I’m a nerd. The book goes through the big theories of astrophysics, from the big bang and the formation of our galaxy, solar system, and planet, to the size and shape of the universe and theories about its life cycle, to the search for life on other planets. It was a small book, but I found it to be thorough and clear. I did read some Goodreads reviews that complained that it would be hard to follow if you didn’t already know some of the science, and that’s probably true, especially if you’re reading quickly. But if you’re interested in astrophysics, this is one to read.

 

In total, I read 176 books in 2018. I’m a little bit in awe of this number, and kind of horrified with myself. Did I do nothing but read in 2018? Sometimes it feels like it. I’ve never read so much in one year. I’m definitely still processing how I feel about some of these books, so I’ll be back next week with my top picks for 2018. Until then, happy new year! And happy reading!

How I plan to Conquer 2019 and Beyond

Another year is drawing to a close. I’m not gonna lie, 2018 has been kind of a mixed bag. Law school is still really hard, the news is soul-crushing, I still don’t know what I’m doing after law school, I didn’t write as much as I wanted, I didn’t get back in shape. I can go on and on about the ways I feel like I failed in 2018. But if I actually look back at 2018, that’s really just me beating up on myself.

 

This year, I finished my second year of law school, and I’m halfway through my third year. I spent a month working at MIT’s Office of the General Counsel last January. I learned French and studied artificial intelligence. I worked for two months at NIST in Maryland, then came back to Cambridge and worked for five months at Analytical Space while studying for my fall classes, taking and passing the multistate professional responsibility exam, and starting my job search for after I graduate. At the same time, I faced the worst writer’s block I’ve ever dealt with, and I beat it. I finally finished edits on my middle grade fantasy novel, and I started querying agents with it. My story “The Year of Salted Skies,” which was third runner-up for the Dell Award back in 2017, was published, and I got some more good writing news I’m hoping to be able to share with you after the new year. I also put in a lot of effort to actually learn to cook something besides pasta (there’s a blog post coming about that I swear). And as of today I’ve read 174 books since January 1. I stress read.

 

Fine, there are some things I didn’t do that I wanted to do. I didn’t write as much as I wanted. I didn’t get in shape. This blog as basically become a  place for me to rant once a month about what I’m reading. But that’s why there’s 2019.

 

And I have big plans for 2019, people.

 

  1. I’m going to be finishing law school, graduating, studying for the bar, taking the bar, moving somewhere, and starting a new job. A lot of things need to happen for all of this to work the way it’s supposed to. So my first goal of 2019 is to do my best to not freak out. I’m not saying I need to stay 100% calm about it all. But I don’t want to be a walking ball of nerves for the next twelve months either.

1A. I want to get a job. To some extent this is outside my control, of course, but it is in my control to keep going. P.S. If you have space law leads for an entry-level attorney, let me know.

  1. To help with the first goal, I want to get back in shape. I’ve been spending too much time sitting and studying and when things have gotten really rough, surviving on diet Pepsi and goldfish. This will not get me through the next year. Exercise is a huge de-stressor for me, so during the spring semester, I want to build good exercise habits that I’ll be able to carry into studying for the bar over the summer.
  2. I’m setting my reading goal for 100 books in 2019, the same as it was originally in 2018. I contemplated trying for 200, but as I’ve already discussed, I have a lot going on this year. Also, I’m not sure it’s totally a good thing for me to be walking around constantly with my nose in a book, figuratively speaking of course.
  3. For writing, I plan to get to the next complete draft with three major projects: the middle grade sci fi novel, the memory-wiping academy novel, and the WWII Italy novel. My plan is to have a completed first draft of the MG sci fi novel by graduation, then to work on all the edits for the memory wiping academy novel over the summer in my non-bar-prep time (if such a thing exists), and then in the fall to finally do the rewrite for the WWII Italy novella. I’ve also been working on a short story collection set in my Phoenix Song universe, and I would love to finish first drafts of all the short stories this year if I can, but that’s above and beyond.

4A. I would love to get an agent in 2019. Of course, this is also to some extent outside my control, but I will continue to query and enter contests and network and all the other things you’re supposed to do to get an agent.

4B. To get all this done, I’m going to take a friend’s suggestion to set weekly goals for myself that are achievable, along with a weekly stretch goal that I get some reward if I complete. For example: my goal for the first week of January is to finish chapter 8 of my middle grade sci fi book. My stretch goal might be to write chapter 9, or to outline a short story, and if I also meet that stretch goal I get some reward. This system seems like it will work for me, so I’m going to give it a try and see how it goes. There’s also this #100DaysOfWriting challenge on Twitter I might try, but that might have to wait until I’m done with law school and the bar. There’s setting challenging goals for myself, and then there’s insanity.

  1. I want to blog more, and I want to blog about something other than books. Books are great. I love books lots. But there are so many cool things I want to talk about. I’d like to do some more posts from Neutron’s point of view, and I’m about halfway through that post about my cooking adventures I’ve been promising you for forever. I’m going to aim for weekly blog posts again, maybe every Friday. If there’s anything you’d like me to talk about, do let me know.

 

Spelling all that out, it definitely feels like there’s a lot I want to accomplish in 2019. But I also feel like going in to the new year feeling like I can accomplish all of this is the way to start out. So what are your 2019 goals?

November Reading Roundup

I am very, very late on this, but finals were rough this semester, and the job search is still ongoing. I’m so late on this, in fact, that I actually contemplated just doing a combined November and December post, but at the rate I’m going, that would be really long. So here we are with the books I read in November. Better late than never, right?

 

I read fourteen books in November. I was really close to reading fifteen but I fell asleep and finished the book I was reading on the morning of December 1. So fourteen it is. I have officially passed my revised goal of reading 150 books in 2018. As of the end of November, I’ve read 155 books. In November, I made progress with a lot of series I was reading and actually finished two of the series. I started a couple new series as well. I know, I know, I said I wanted to finish the series I was reading by the end of December and I’m still planning to do that but I just couldn’t help it.

 

On the whole, this was a good reading month. I didn’t love all the books I read, but there were definitely lots of really fun ones. Let’s dive in.

 

Over the summer I finally read the Percy Jackson books, and I really loved them. At the end of October, I discovered that there is a second Percy Jackson series, the Heroes of Olympus books by Rick Riordan. I read the first three books in November: The Lost Hero, The Son of Neptune, and The Mark of Athena. I was almost finished with the fourth book, The House of Hades, on November 30, but I didn’t finish it until December 1 so that will be for next time. I had so much fun speeding through these books. I admit they aren’t as good as the first series. The books are told from multiple points of view, and it’s kind of done a little sloppily, in my opinion. The first and second books of the series have very similar plot and structure, and there’s a good reason for that, but the second book is so good it only serves to highlight that the first book is kind of a mess. Generally the plot is that the giants and the Earth mother are rising and planning to destroy the world, and seven demigods have to team up and stop them. Minor spoiler, the demigods have to come from the Greek and Roman camps and they have to work together. Amnesia is involved to make this happen. It does mean that Percy spends most of the second book with no memories of who he is and where he came from, but it works. The real thing I like about the books so far is the characters and the teamwork. It’s just a lot of fun, and I really hope it doesn’t go splat in the last book.

 

One of my roommates in Maryland recommended I check out the Expanse books, the ones the Amazon show is based on. I was on the waiting list at the library for a really long time, but this month I finally read the first book, Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey. This follows the crew of a space ship that hauls ice from Saturn’s rings back to the inner planets. They get a distress call, so the main character and his crew go to help out, leaving the ship behind, and while they’re gone, someone nukes the ice hauler. So they set off to figure out who blew up their ship. I really loved the world-building in this book. It felt really realistic, and it was really complex. I didn’t really like the main character. His motivations and decisions just didn’t make a lot of sense to me. Like at one point he’s on an asteroid, and there’s an apparent nuclear emergency so everyone’s going into shelters, and it’s obvious something else is going on, but instead of just getting the heck out of there they go and open one of the shelters to see what’s going on. This goes just about as well as you would expect. Also it was just a really long book for the amount of character development that happened. Like the main character was idealistic to the point of idiocy and didn’t change, and some of the plot felt like drama for drama’s sake. So it wasn’t a perfect book, but I did enjoy it, and I’m looking forward to the sequel if I ever get off the waiting list at the library.

 

Next, I read The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer. This is a World War II book set mostly in Hungary. It’s about three brothers spread across Europe for school and then forced back to Hungary when the war starts. The middle brother, our main character, falls in love with a French ballet teacher with a complicated past. That’s pretty much the plot. Oh and they’re jewish so there’s also the Holocaust. The writing was pretty good, but there wasn’t much plot for the first half of the book, until the war started, and then it was predictable, overly sentimental, and melodramatic. On the whole I was not a huge fan.

 

Next, I finally read Under the Light by Laura Whitcomb, the sequel to A Certain Slant of Light, which I read back in February. As I was writing this, I was honestly struggling to remember this book, which says a lot. When I looked it up again on Goodreads, I realized the reason I was struggling to remember this book is that it was almost entirely a rehash of the first book. Like almost nothing new. Okay it was kind of cool to see the kids back in their bodies retracing the steps the ghosts took when they were possessing them and trying to figure out what they did, but since we already knew as the reader, it didn’t work that well. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t good either.

 

Next I read the second book in the Flame in the Mist duology, Smoke in the Sun by Renee Ahdieh. I really enjoyed this book. I thought it was a good sequel to the first book. There was a lot of political intrigue and some really great characters. But the pacing was whacky—like nothing happened for two thirds of the book and then suddenly everything happened and then suddenly it was all over. And it had too many point of view characters for my liking. But it wrapped up the series nicely.

 

After that, I read the second Wren book, Wren’s Quest by Sherwood Smith. I loved this book just as much as I loved the first book, even though this book felt a bit more scattered. The plot and the stakes seemed like they were hovering just off the page, which was a little frustrating. But it was exciting, and the characters really carry this book. When Wren is attacked during her test to pass basics level at the magic school, she needs to get out of town fast. So she goes on a quest she’s been planning for a while: to find out who her family is. Connor has gotten himself into trouble at the palace, so he comes, which is helpful because a powerful magician is chasing them. Meanwhile, they’ve left Tyron and Tess to deal with the court intrigue, which is very intriguing indeed. This is the part that was a bit vague for me. Apparently someone was sewing disputes among the courtiers—like everybody was fighting with each other all the time. So Tyron and Tess are trying to figure out who it is and if they’re connected to the magician chasing Wren and/or the evil king from the first book. It all comes together really well. I enjoyed it lots and I’m looking forward to diving into the rest of the series.

 

After I finished Wren’s Quest, I read the third book in The Raven Cycle, Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater. Blue is looking for her mother, who’s disappeared, and the crew is still looking for their sleeping king to wake him up, and they’re getting close. This book definitely felt like it was a transition  into the finale, but I didn’t care. It was great. These are the sort of characters that I would read a book about them just chilling in the backyard together, the group dynamic is that well-done.

 

Next, I read Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor. This was described as a Nigerian Harry Potter, so I picked it up because I’m still looking for comp titles for the book I’m querying, and any friend of Harry Potter is a friend of mine. I’m not sure I would describe it as Nigerian Harry Potter, but I definitely enjoyed it. Basically Sunny discovers she has magic powers and starts learning to use them, and she and her friends are picked to stop a serial child murderer. Super light and fluffy, am I right? But this is actually a great book, and I recommend you check it out. I will say that I was a bit uncomfortable with the aspect of the magic that you’re a stronger magician if you have a disability. Sunny is an albino, and she’s teased about it because she’s so white. The disabilities in this book are sort of negated by magic, but it isn’t as drastic as I’ve seen in other books. Still, I’m still not a huge fan of the disability = magic trope.

 

Next, I read the fifth Chronicles of Narnia book, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C. S. Lewis. Edmund and Lucy go back to Narnia, this time with their cousin Eustice, and go on a journey with Caspian to find some of Caspian’s father’s friends who Caspian’s uncle basically banished. This book had a lot of the same issues as the first four—mostly talking about the misogyny here—and it was also pretty episodic and Eustice was literally the worst until suddenly he wasn’t, but I really enjoyed the adventure of this book, the fact that we got back to Narnia so quickly and got to see some old friends again, and the fact that we got to explore so much more of the world.

 

After that, I read Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George. I know I read this when I was a kid, but I didn’t remember it at all, and also I discovered there were sequels. Who knew? Fourteen-year-old Miyax is lost on the Alaskan tundra after running away from an arranged marriage. She’s starving, and she knows soon it will be winter, and then she comes upon a wolf pack and manages to earn their trust so they basically adopt her. I really, really enjoyed this book. I found it to just be incredibly powerful but also a lot of fun to read. I’m looking forward to reading the next books in the series, because while this definitely stands alone, I do want to see where it goes next.

 

Next I read The Grimm Grotto by Lemony Snicket, the eleventh Series of Unfortunate Events book. This book was a wild ride. In a submarine. With some super poisonous mushrooms. We learn some things. We get more questions. The Baudelaires’ hearts are broken and then stamped on for good measure. Yes, these books are getting wackier and wackier, but they’re also really heating up.

 

Finally, I finished off November with Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl. Just like Matilda, I had this weird knowledge that I definitely read this as a kid, but do not remember it, and now it is kind of horrifying. A lot of fun, but kind of horrifying. Also, the Oompa Loompas are soooo problematic. But as a quick diversion from finals studying, I enjoyed it.

 

And that’s it for November, folks. If you’re in school, like me, I hope your finals and papers went well and your semester has wrapped up with as little stress as possible. I’ll be away over New Years, so it might take me a bit longer than usual to get my book recs page updated with my 2018 favorites, but I’ll be on top of it as soon as I can. In the meantime, I hope you have a merry Christmas and a happy New Year.

October Reading Roundup

Welcome to November. The clocks have turned back, the weather is… weird, and my Twitter feed is full of NaNoWriMo tweets, which are sort of just making me feel like I’m being unproductive which is the opposite of true. It feels like only a couple weeks ago I was telling you about my September books, which is true, because it took me until halfway through October to get that post done. I’m currently buried in legal ethics flashcards for the ethics test I’m taking tomorrow, but I wanted to get this post out there before it gets any later in the month.

 

So I read twelve books in October. Yes, I finished the last book Wednesday night, after midnight, which I guess technically puts it into November, but I say it’s October because I was still awake. Which is to say if I finish the book before I go to sleep on the last day of the month, even if it’s after midnight, I’m counting it for that month. I have now read a total of 141 books this year (actually 143 because I’ve read two more so far in November). I’m well past my original goal of reading 100 books, and almost to my revised goal of 150. I’ll almost certainly make it to 150 this month, but it’s possible I don’t, because November is going to be crazy. Drowning in flashcards, remember?

 

I read a good mix of books in October. Three historical fiction books set in World War II, for that project I’m sort of thinking about working on again after I take the bar; some more middle grade adventure books; a really great sci fi book for book club; and I finished a nonfiction book I’ve been working on since before law school started. As usual, I made progress on a couple series I’ve been working my way through, finished one series altogether, and started a couple new series. I’m hoping to not end the year in the middle of any series if I can help it, so it’s probably time to stop starting new series and wrap up the ones I’m in the middle of, but we’ll see how that actually goes.

 

So without further ado, here are the twelve books I read in October and what I thought of them. As usual, I’m trying to keep these thoughts as spoiler-free as possible.

 

First, I read the next Maximum Ride book in the series, Angel by James Patterson. I honestly don’t know why I’m still reading these, except I’m a completionist. But they’ve gotten weird, guys. And also dumb. Enough said.

 

Next, I read China Dolls by Lisa See. Way back at the beginning of the year, I read Shanghai Girls and Dreams of Joy by Lisa See, and I really enjoyed them, but unfortunately China Dolls didn’t live up to my expectations. In the late 1930s, three young Chinese women, Grace, Ruby, and Helen become dancers in a San Francisco nightclub, and soon they’re fast friends. But Ruby is actually Japanese, masquerading as Chinese, and when the Japanese attack Pearl Harbor and Japanese-Americans are sent to internment camps, one of Ruby’s friends betrays her to the authorities. This is all on the back cover so I’m spoiling nothing here, even though it takes a very long time for us to get to that point in the book. I found everything to be really stereotypical, and also pretty predictable and melodramatic. It was a fine book, but it wasn’t the fabulous book I expected.

 

After that, I read the second book in The Raven Cycle, The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater. I read the first book back in June, when I was in Maryland, and I loved it so much that I wasn’t sure I wanted to read a sequel if it might ruin the first book. But The Dream Thieves was just as good. There’s a lot of continuity in the series. We pick up where we left off and continue on with the story, with some new characters and new powers and new twists. Honestly, I didn’t like Ronan that much in the first book, but since he was sort of the main character of this book, we really got to know him, and I really like him now. Plus his power to take things from dreams is pretty sweet. And it ended on quite a cliff-hanger. I have the third book from the library now so will be reading that in a few weeks.

 

I finally finished The Dark Is Rising series by Susan Cooper when I read Silver on the Tree this month. As you might recall, my complaint about the last couple books in this series is that the stakes have been at best false and at worst nonexistent. The characters who have magic are so powerful that of course they’re going to win. And the characters that don’t have magic have no hope of accomplishing anything on their own, so they don’t do anything. This wasn’t as bad in the final book of the series. For much of the book, it felt like there was risk, and lots of cool things happen. I was totally ready to add the whole series to my favorites for the year, and then the ending happened. I don’t want to spoil anything, but there’s a thing that really made me mad. It was the sort of ending that invalidates the character development for the whole series. I haven’t decided if the first book of the series will end up on my 2018 favorites list. I really enjoyed the first book, but the rest of the series was a bit of a let-down, and I wouldn’t recommend the series as a whole.

 

Next, I finished Wren to the Rescue by Sherwood Smith, the first book in the Wren series. I absolutely loved this book. Wren is an orphan, and when she learns her best friend is actually a princess in hiding, she has a chance at a whole different kind of life. But when Tess is kidnapped by an evil magician king, Wren and her friends set out to rescue her. They have all kinds of adventures along the way, and Wren discovers she has magical powers of her own. There are so many things I loved about this book—the worldbuilding, the mystery, how realistic it felt—but what I really love about this book is how happy Wren is, even when facing the impossible odds of the kidnapper magician king and his armies. I’m in the middle  of reading the second book right now, and so far I definitely recommend these books.

 

Our October book for book club was Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. This is a book set in a post-apocolyptic America, following a whole bunch of characters all connected by their relationship to an actor who died onstage the night society collapsed. This probably is one of those books that I wouldn’t have picked up on my own, but I was absolutely blown away. If you haven’t read it, you definitely need to. I don’t care what kind of books you normally read. I don’t care if this doesn’t seem like something you’d like. You need to read this.

 

I pressed on with The Series of Unfortunate Events this month, reading The Slippery Slope by Lemony Snicket. We’ve reached the point in this reread where basically none of the characters are making decisions that make logical sense. I can’t think of any examples right now, but there were several times while reading this book when I would have been rolling my eyes if I could. Yes, there’s a fair amount of whimsy and ridiculousness in these books, but you lose me when characters who are supposed to be smart start making decisions based on obviously logically flawed information.

 

A little more than two years ago, before I started law school, I began listening to the Great Courses lecture The History of the Supreme Court by Peter Irons. I got the lectures on Audible, and I admit it’s debatable that it’s a book, but Goodreads counts it as a book so I’m going with that. It’s eighteen hours of lectures that start with the signing of the constitution and go all the way through Bush v. Gore, covering the lives and legal decisions of the Supreme Court justices as well as the broader trends in American history and judicial policy. It didn’t take me this long to finish because it was boring. Quite the contrary. I found it really fascinating. But once law school started, I didn’t really want to be reading about law in my free time, so I was listening to it one little bit at a time, mostly over the summers. On the whole, I really enjoyed this, and if you’re interested in the Supreme Court or legal history, I definitely recommend checking it out.

 

Next, I flew through When the Emperor was Divine by Julie Otsuka. I think I read this in about three hours. I really wanted this book to be good, but unfortunately it didn’t work for me. It’s the story of a single Japanese-American family interned during World War II. The writing was very beautiful, and the descriptions were vivid. The problem I had was that none of the characters have names, and because of that, we were kept at a distance from them. We didn’t feel what they felt. We were just witnesses. I can understand why you might make these choices when writing a book, but it didn’t work for me.

 

After that I read Caraval by Stephanie Garber. To escape from their abusive father, Scarlet is swept into this magical game where she has five nights to solve a bunch of clues and find her missing sister. I really loved the worldbuilding and the descriptions in this book. It was so beautiful. And I loved the magic of the game/carnival/performance, whatever it was. The first half was a bit slow, I admit, and I’m not as big a fan of books that are like, I’m the protagonist, I have this goal, except now I’ve met this guy and my other goals don’t really matter anymore. It’s more annoying when the protagonist’s actual goal is to save her sister, or anyone really. And I get that the whole point of the book is that no one knew what was real and what was not, but it felt like it went one or two steps too far for me. Still, I really enjoyed this book and will definitely be reading the sequel.

 

Next, I read Code Talker: A Novel About the Navajo Marines of World War II by Joseph Bruchac. The book follows a young Navajo man from childhood through his enlistment during World War II, his training in the Navajo code, and his role transmitting coded messages as the Marines island-hopped across the Pacific to Japan. I didn’t know anything about the Navajo code talkers and this aspect of WWII before I read this book, and I really enjoyed learning about it. However, I didn’t enjoy the book. Despite proclaiming to be a novel, it read like a history book. It was really dry, just a chronicle of this character’s life, and everything was just handed to the reader instead of letting the reader see and feel and experience it through the character. It was perfectly fine, if you want the history, but it was disappointing if you were looking for a story. Still, if you’re interested in WWII history, and a part of that history that isn’t talked about as much, I’d check this book out.

 

Finally, I read the second book in Holly Webb’s Rose series, Rose and the Lost Princess. This was another book that I just absolutely loved. The events of the first book have resulted in a huge backlash against magicians. Many of Rose’s new friends have turned against her. But when unknown magicians kidnap the young princess, Rose winds up in the thick of it. There’s so much adventure and humor in these books, even as they deal with serious topics, and I love how practical and level-headed Rose is. I’m definitely looking forward to what comes next for Rose and her friends.

 

And that’s it for October. I’m going back to my flashcards now, but I’ll be back next week with that long-promised post about my adventures in the kitchen. In the meantime, have you read any of these books? Do you agree with my thoughts? Do you think I’m totally wrong?

September Reading Roundup

Hey friends. It’s that time again, time for another reading roundup. September was kind of crazy. I was sick for the first week of the semester, and then I was trying to catch up plus doing all my class reading, working at Analytical Space part time, and applying for jobs for after I graduate. Not to mention everything going on in the news, which was a horrible kind of bonkers. By the end of the month I was feeling pretty frazzled. Who am I kidding? I still feel frazzled (it’s taken me half the month to get this post up). But I’ve gotten all my job applications in, and I’ve eased back on the hours I’m working at Analytical Space, and I’m kind of pretending I don’t have the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam in a month, and things are better because of it.

 

And despite all the craziness, I read ten books last month. If I was feeling kind of meh about last months books, this month was great. I finished one series, continued a couple others, and started some new ones. I read some great stand-alone books too, including a couple that I really want to become series because I didn’t want to leave the world. Three of the books I read were in Braille, but no nonfiction this month. So here’s what I read and what I thought. As usual, no spoilers.

 

First, I finished the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series with The Last Olympian by Rick Riordan. War with the Titans has come, the gods are in the Midwest fighting the big storm thing Percy unleashed in an earlier book, and it’s up to Percy and his friends to defend Manhattan. Oh, and Percy finally gets to hear the big prophecy made about him, and it isn’t going to be pretty.  This book was absolutely everything I wanted it to be, and then some. It was basically my perfect end to the series. Really I loved the whole series, and I know I’m way late to the party on this, but if you haven’t read the Percy Jackson books and you like middle grade fantasy, go read them now.

 

After that, I read the next book in The Chronicles of Narnia, Prince Caspian by C. S. Lewis. Remember I’m reading them in chronological order, not publication order. In this book, Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy are on their way to boarding school when they are whisked back to Narnia to help Prince Caspian reclaim his throne from his very evil uncle. This was a pretty good book. I liked the idea of the kids going back to Narnia but things have changed so much. I also really liked Caspian. There were some things that bothered me. First, Susan is such a wimp for no apparent reason. I know there’s a lot of scholarship out there about Lewis’s treatment of Susan, and once I finish rereading the series, I intend to dive into it. Second, the animals are supposed to be as smart as humans. Throughout the whole series it’s thanks to the animals that the humans get almost anything done. And hey, the god of this world is a lion. But the animals are convinced that Narnia has to be ruled by a human. This could be a social commentary, but I’m skeptical. Whatever it is, it bothered me.

 

Last year, I read Flame in the Mist by Renee Ahdieh. The sequel recently came out, and I’m on the waitlist to get that from the library, so I reread Flame in the Mist so it would be fresh in my mind. In ancient Japan with magic, Mariko is on her way to marry the emperor’s son when her convoy is attacked and everyone is murdered. Mariko is left for dead, but she escapes and sets out to find and take revenge on whoever tried to kill her. My thoughts on this are pretty much identical to what they were last year. It was a pretty good book. I really liked the world and the political intrigue, and the characters were really intricate. Something about the descriptions in the writing didn’t quite draw me in, though, and I generally found the writing more telly than I like. But on the whole, this was a good book, and I’m really looking forward to seeing where the sequel goes.

 

Next, I read The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle by Janet Fox. I sort of stumbled onto this book. I was looking at a list of top upper middle grade fantasy books in the last ten years, trying to find similar books to compare to my own upper middle grade novel that I’m currently querying. I ran across this book, and while it isn’t a comp title, I had to read it, because it’s an upper middle grade World War II book, and I’m still looking for those. In this book, three siblings are sent to boarding school to escape the London blitz, but something creepy is going on at their new school. The other students keep disappearing. Also, there may be a German spy lurking around. The atmosphere in this book was delightfully creepy, and the characters were well-developed. I kind of wish we didn’t have so much of the bad guy’s point of view, because it undercut some of the mystery, but I also respect that it enhanced the creepiness, so on the whole I was okay with it. What I really liked about this book is that while it was fantasy (or maybe horror?), we don’t completely lose the real world and the war like we so often do in children’s fantasy set in World War II. Remember that spy I mentioned? Yeah that spy is kind of important. Janet Fox is working on a companion novel to Rookskill Castle, and I can’t wait. So if you like World War II and spooky stories, I definitely recommend this one.

 

Next, I read Rose by Holly Webb. This was another middle grade book I found on that list I just mentioned. And it turned out to be a reasonably good comp for my own novel, so I liked it even more. In a world where only the super rich can afford magic, orphan Rose is hired as a maid in an alchemist’s house, and while she and her new friends try to figure out who is kidnapping children, she discovers she might just have some magic of her own. There were moments when I wanted more emotion from this book, but I really like the idea of magic as a class thing, as well as Rose’s ambivalence about her powers (these are the parts that are similar to my own book). The bad guy was super creepy, and the world was so vivid I felt totally drawn in. I’m really looking forward to picking up the next book, and I’m really hoping that Rose isn’t the long lost daughter of some rich family because that would make me mad.

 

After that, I read Castle Hangnail by Ursula Vernon. The minions of Castle Hangnail are looking for a new evil master. They get Molly, a twelve-year-old wicked witch. Or so she says. This book was absolutely delightful. I loved every single word. Go read it now. Now now now. This was another book that I want there to be a sequel, even though it stands fine on its own, because I just loved it so much and don’t want to let it go.

 

Next, I read Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu. Hazel and Jack were best friends until one day they weren’t. Everybody tells Hazel these things happen sometimes, but Hazel is convinced something else is going on. And when Jack disappears into the forest and everybody keeps saying he went to stay with a great aunt, Hazel is the only one who can go after him. I was really intrigued by this book, but it was kind of a let-down. Yes, the feelings were absolutely one hundred percent on the money. This book gave me feelings, guys. But the plot didn’t really measure up. It was kind of weirdly half contemporary middle grade and then half fairy tale, and it didn’t work for me as much as I wanted it too.

 

Then I read Matilda by Roald Dahl. Matilda is so smart she can make things move. That’s the best summary I got. I know I read  this book when I was kid, but I have very little recollection of it. And I am kind of horrified that I read this book when I was seven or eight or whatever, because this is a horrifying book. Really good, but horrifying.  just goes to show that Madeleine L’engle was right, yet again, when she said that if a story is too difficult for grown-ups, write it for children.

 

After Matilda, I read the fourth book in The Dark Is Rising series, The Grey King by Susan Cooper. Will is continuing to follow the instructions to collect the magic items and prevent the Dark from rising. I really liked a lot about this book, particularly the side characters. But I had the same problem with this book that I did with the previous book in the series. There just weren’t really any stakes, because Will is basically all-powerful. The friend who recommended this series says it’s better in the final book, which I have now and will likely be reading next. If the final book can pull it off, the whole series will have been worth it. If not, I’m probably doomed to disappointment. I’ll let you know when I post my October reading roundup, probably.

 

Finally, I read The Magic Thief by Sarah Prineas. This is another orphan discovers he has magical powers book. This orphan not only has magic, he has some pretty special magic that no one really knows what to do with. also, someone is stealing the magic that the city depends on to live. It took me a while to get into this book, but once I did, I couldn’t put it down. There was some really cool world-building. I liked the idea that no one knows what exactly magic is and how it works, and everything is all theories. I also like the two halves of society—the rich and the poor—and how they interact. The voice of the narrator didn’t quite work for me, but I’m okay with that, at least partly because now I understand those agents who say the voice of my narrator doesn’t work for them. On the whole, a good book, and I’m looking forward to getting my hands on the second one and seeing what comes next.

 

And that’s it for September. Hopefully I’ll be back next week with that post I’ve been promising some of you about my culinary adventures—the good, the bad, and the ugly. In the meantime, let me know if you’ve read any of these books and what you thought of them. Also, if you can think of any recent middle grade books about orphans with magical powers fighting rebellions, do let me know. Bonus points if the book isn’t set in medieval Europe or if the rebellion isn’t black and white. I’m still looking for good comp titles.

Summer 2018 Part Three and Beyond: Overcoming Writer’s Block

Hey everybody. Welcome to October. We’re back to the time when it takes me a whole month to write a blog post. Sorry.

 

The first month of the semester has been a bit of a mixed bag. I’m enjoying some of my classes. Some classes less so. There’s so much reading, and I also got pretty sick the first week of school, which threw everything out of whack for a while. I’m having a hard time juggling all my reading, my now part-time internship at Analytical Space, my post-graduate job search, and all the things I want to do for fun. I’m definitely missing the summer, when I went to work full time, came home, and didn’t have homework. And I’m not going to lie, a huge part of my motivation right now is that by this time next year, I won’t have four hundred pages of legal reading a week to do at home. It’s such a glorious prospect.

 

In the last couple of weeks of the summer, I posted about the two halves of my summer and the two different internships I had. Now, I’m going to talk about a third half of my summer, which is how I finally kicked my writer’s block out the door. This is still an ongoing struggle for me, what with trying to balance writing with everything else I’m doing, but it mostly happened over the summer.

 

Last spring, I wrote about how I was struggling with writer’s block and balancing law school and writing. I’d never experienced writer’s block like this before, and I was pretty miserable about it. I tried all the standard advice for handling writer’s block—changing things up with the project you’re working on, starting a new project, taking walks to think about where I might be stuck, just sitting my butt in the chair and forcing myself to write one. word. at. a. time. None of it worked. A lot of it actually made me more miserable. All I could think of was that person who said writer’s block isn’t a real thing, just an excuse for being lazy. A plumber can’t say they have plumber’s block, or whatever, so the fact that I really did feel blocked made me feel like I was some kind of failure and would never have any kind of writing career. Which of course made everything worse. And round and round the drain I circled, rapidly on my way to becoming plumber’s block myself.

 

At the time, I was worried that it wouldn’t get better. I wrote my post from the middle of all these miserable feelings, and while I didn’t see how it could possibly get better, it did. I got through it. And I want to tell you how. If you’re struggling with something like this, know that this might not help you, because everybody’s struggle and process is different. There is no one magical solution, unfortunately. But it might help you, and if this process will help even one person, it’s worth sharing to me. So here’s what I did to overcome my writer’s block, broken down into eight steps that makes me look a lot more put together than I really am.

 

  1. Figure out why you’re blocked.

 

There are a few reasons why you might be blocked. You might be stuck on how a particular scene works, or how a character should function in a story. There might be something deep down in the project that isn’t working and your subconscious is screaming at you, but it’s your subconscious so you don’t realize it for a while. You could have just lost interest in the project. These are the sorts of blocks that changing things up, taking long walks or hot showers or whatever, or trying something new will solve.

 

Then there’s the kind of writer’s block you get when you’re just creatively drained, exhausted, stressed, and generally burnt-out. This is what I think was going on with me.

 

Figuring out why you’re blocked is key to solving the problem. As I discovered, starting new projects, changing points of view, working through snarly plot points, none of that will help if you’re drained. In fact, they’ll just make you more frustrated.

 

So do some self-exploration and figure out why you’re blocked. Then set out to solve it.

 

  1. Talk about being blocked.

 

I addressed this in my original post on writer’s block, but there’s this feeling in the writing community that everything has to be sunshine and rainbows. Writing is what we were built to do, and simply by writing, we’re living the dream, right? But there are struggles in the writing life, and it’s unhealthy to ignore them. More and more, I’m seeing writers and professionals in the writing industry speaking up on Twitter about what they are struggling with and what is challenging about the industry, and the support that comes out of the woodwork for them is incredible.

 

I’d say one of the single most helpful things I did to unblock myself was to start talking about it. I’m not saying complain about it publicly. Don’t become a whiny, miserable, bitter person. There is still something to be said about acting professionally and positively on public social media. But it’s okay to admit that you’re having trouble.

 

When I started talking about struggling with writer’s block, I realized that I was not the only one. That really helped me realize that I was not a failure. Friends and writers  I admire have struggled with this too. Also, it was kind of freeing to talk about it. I was no longer holding how miserable I felt inside myself. And talking about it helped me move from wallowing in my misery to accepting that I was struggling and trying to figure out how to fix it.

 

  1. Allow yourself to take a break.

 

Self care is really important, guys. If you’re struggling with writer’s block because you’re exhausted and stressed, it’s okay to take a break. Writing every day won’t get you anywhere if it’s just making you unhappy.

 

Once I figured out that the reason I was struggling to write because I was creatively drained and stressed out, I also realized that forcing myself to write was adding to my stress. At the time, I had a full course load. I was trying to get a second internship for the summer, and I couldn’t find housing for my first internship, and a bunch of other little things. Trying to force myself was just not helping with any of that. So I said to myself, “Self, it’s okay to not write for a while. If the problem is that I’m burnt-out, then the solution is to recharge. And right now this is the only thing I can take off my plate.”

 

  1. Find what has inspired you in the past and immerse yourself in that.

 

So I took a break. But that isn’t to say that I just stopped trying to solve the problem. While I wasn’t writing, I was still participating in my biweekly writing skype calls with my friends from Kenyon. I was thinking about my stories and where I wanted to go with them. And I delved back into some books and TV shows that have inspired me to write in the past. For me, that meant rereading The Hunger Games and the Giver series and rewatching Anne with an E on Netflix (sidenote, if you haven’t watched that yet you need to).

 

We all have those books and movies that have inspired us to write. They might inspire us to work on specific projects or just in general inspire us to write something. So while I wasn’t actively writing, I was immersing myself in what, in the past, had driven me to write. And little by little, I started wanting to write again.

 

  1. Get rid of any stressors you can.

 

I sort of talked about this a bit in step 3. At the time when I was most seriously blocked, I had a full course load and all the work that entailed, trying to find a second summer internship, trying to find housing  for my first summer internship in Maryland (no one wanted to rent to me for only two months with a dog). There were other things too, plus the writer’s block. I thought that part of my problem with the writing was that I was so stressed about everything else.  So I set out to get as much off my plate as I could. This is why I took a deliberate break from writing. It was something I could control. I couldn’t just stop doing the other things. Depending on your situation, you may or may not be able to get rid of your stressors. I recommend getting rid of as many as you can. Because when I got my second internship at Analytical Space, when I figured out housing for my internship at NIST, and then when my classes started finally winding down, there was room on my plate for me to act on that growing drive to write that was creeping up on me because of step 4.

 

  1. Accomplish one thing. I don’t care how small.

 

So I’d been thinking about writing and reading and watching things that were inspiring me to write. I’d gotten my Analytical Space internship, and I’d found housing for my internship at NIST. And one evening, I set our roomba to vacuum the living room. And eventually I had to study, didn’t want to study in my room and wanted to study downstairs, and the roomba was making a lot of noise. So I told the roomba to stop vacuuming and go back to its home base, and the roomba went off in the wrong direction. I was working on my final paper for my Ethics and Governance of Artificial Intelligence course, and I jokingly said to my roommate, “Oh no! The AI apocalypse is upon us!”

 

And that night, I sat down and wrote a flash fiction piece about the AI apocalypse starting with a roomba insisting that it hadn’t finished cleaning. It’s short, only a thousand words (about four pages), and it’s meant to be kind of funny but also disturbing. But most importantly, it was something that I had finished. Up to this point, I’d been accumulating a vast pile of unfinished projects, so finishing something, even if it was a small, funny something, was a really big deal.

 

It was actually the last piece in the puzzle I’d been needing. Take a break, immerse yourself in what inspires you, reduce your stressors, and then, when you’re ready, write. And finish something. Show yourself that it’s possible. Because even if it doesn’t feel like it when you’re spiraling your way to becoming plumber’s block, it is possible.

 

  1. Get a few more wins under your belt.

 

At this point, I knew it was important to keep writing. Not a lot. Not enough to burn myself out again, because I was still in the middle of finals. But when I wanted to write, and I did want to write now, I did. And at this point, this was what I needed to do to keep myself writing. It also helped that right around this time, I got the acceptance letter from Andromeda Spaceways for my story “The Year of Salted Skies.” It was really lucky timing here, because it was just one more added confidence boost. And to some extent, because editors’ taste are so subjective, it’s kind of out of your control. But while I stopped writing, I didn’t stop submitting my stuff that was ready to be submitted. And getting “Salted Skies” published, and some other good news I got in June that I can’t tell you yet, really helped motivate me to keep writing.

 

  1. Look back at what happened and make a plan to do better next time.

 

By the time June came around, I was using all my free time to write. I finally finished revisions on my middle grade fantasy novel that I’ve been planning for a while. And I’m querying that again now. Over the rest of the summer, I started on the long path of finishing all the projects that I started and then abandoned during my months of writing block. Because I still love a lot of those ideas. I’m not writing all that fast, but I’m still writing.

 

Once I felt confident in my writing again, I took some time to look back at last school year to figure out what happened. I was really busy last fall because of the clinic I was in. I thought I could still do National Novel Writing Month. But the clinic project was bigger than anyone thought and quickly overwhelmed everything else. I wrote about thirty thousand words on my novel in November, and all things considered that was pretty good. But I’d pinned a lot on writing the whole novel in November, and also I’d never failed to write the full fifty thousand words in November. So here I was, totally swamped by school and work and unable to do what I wanted to do most. That, I think, was how it all started. It just got worse from there. But once I went through the steps I described here, once I figured out what the problem was, took a break and worked to inspire myself, and took baby steps back into writing, I was okay. But I don’t want this to happen again.

 

Ultimately, this happened because I failed to meet a goal. A crazy, unreasonable goal, but still. So what I’ve decided I need to do is to try to set more reasonable goals for myself. I’m a goal oriented person, so I’m not just going to abandon setting goals for myself altogether. But I’m not going to push myself to write a whole novel in a month while I also have a full course load and a part-time internship. Sometimes, this means I can’t do things I really want to do. For example, I really wanted to submit to PitchWars, which is a competition to get your novel mentored and then to get agents. But I accepted the fact that my third year of law school was going to be crazy, and I’d be better off waiting to submit until next year, after the bar and everything. And there’s nothing to stop me from querying agents the normal way throughout the year. I’m also not sure if I’m going to do NaNoWriMo this year. This seems, even to me, like I’m not doing that much writing, but this is actually freeing me up to write, and I’m writing more because of it.

 

I’m still setting goals for myself. And because I’m trying to hold myself accountable and actually meet these goals, I’m going to share with you my writing goals for the month and share my progress at the end of the month.

 

This month, I’d like to finish drafts of two short stories, one fantasy and one science fiction. I’m on the third draft of the fantasy story, and I want to finish the edits and send it off to beta readers for one more round of critiques before I start submitting it. I still haven’t finished the science fiction story, but I’m hoping to submit it for next year’s Young Explorer’s Adventure Guide anthology. Submissions close in December for that, so I’d like to have a first draft done by the end of the month.

 

So there you have it. How I overcame writer’s block and what I’m planning to do next. I hope what helped me helps some of you. And if you’ve struggled with writer’s block for whatever reason, please share what worked for you in the comments.

August Reading Roundup

Happy September everybody. Witches and wizards all over the United Kingdom are on their way back to Hogwarts as I write this, and I’m celebrating by cracking the law books and starting my readings for my first classes next week. It’s taken me most of the day to do my readings for my international law of the sea course, though I admit I haven’t been the most focused human. I keep distracting myself with questions like how is September 2 a Monday in every Harry Potter book? Like seriously, they go back to Hogwarts on September 1 every year, and the next day they start classes, and they always start on Monday and have a full week. I refuse to believe that they magically keep September 1 a Sunday every year yet can’t make cell phones and computers work around Hogwarts. Am I the only one wondering about this?

 

In other news, September means it’s time for me to tell you about all the books I read in August. This might be the fastest I’ve posted my reading roundup so far, so hurray for that.

 

Sidenote: Unfortunately for those of you who have been following my Goodreads reviews through Facebook, Facebook no longer allows you to post from other apps, so I know you can’t see my reviews anymore. Stupid Facebook. Never fear, you can see them all here in my monthly reading roundups, or you can follow me on Twitter or Goodreads to see what I’m reading, when I’m reading it.

 

Another sidenote, I just realized that I’ve hit a hundred posts on this blog. This is post 101. And I’ve been blogging for just over five years. Not very regularly, I admit, but still pretty cool.

 

Back to the books: I only read eight books in August. I know I’ve been reading an obscene amount in the past few months, but I can’t deny I sort of feel like I was slacking this month. Which is me just being crazy I know. One reason I read fewer books in August is that a lot of the books I did read were longer. Also, I was busy having fun. I’ve been learning to sail, and cooking a lot more, and writing more too. On the not so fun side of things, I’ve officially started my job search for next fall. I’m hoping to go into the federal government, and all the deadlines for jobs starting next fall are in early September. Plus I’m still working full-time at Analytical Space. So it was a busy month.

 

But I read eight books in August, which is still pretty great. I finished two series and read the next books in three other series I’m working on. I read two books in Braille, and I read two nonfiction books. None of the books I read were absolutely fabulous, though they were generally all good. Still, I was a little disappointed in this month’s books, perhaps another reason why I read more slowly. Here’s what I thought.

 

First, I read Characters and Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card. This is another one of the writing books that I picked up at the Writer’s Digest sale a few months ago. I really liked this book. It covered a lot quickly, and the advice was good, solid advice. The examples were really helpful in illustrating the points, too. I already knew most of the stuff in the book, and some of it I disagreed with, but a refresher is always nice, and hey, you have to know the rules to break the rules. Also, reading about writing always inspires me to write. So in that respect, this book wins. Also it’s a really thorough foundation to writing well-developed characters. This one will definitely be going on my recommended books list, so if you’re a writer, I recommend picaing this up. Probably the other books in the Elements of Fiction Writing series too, but I haven’t gotten to those yet. I’ll let you know.

 

After that, I read A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson. This is the companion to Kate Atkinson’s novel Life After Life, which I read at the end of June. I really liked this book, particularly the parts about World War II and Teddy’s experiences as a bomber pilot. But it definitely dragged in places, and it just felt more scattered than Life After Life. While I one hundred percent recommend everybody read Life After Life, I’m still waffling on how I feel about this companion novel. If you’re interested in World War II books, it’s certainly worth a read, but the rest of it didn’t work as well for me as I wanted it to.

 

Next I read the third book in The Dark Is Rising series, Greenwitch by Susan Cooper. This book definitely felt like a transition book in the series, and unfortunately it had a lot of problems. The best part was that Will and the Drew kids were all together for this book. The worst part was that Will and the Drew kids were all together for this book. Because Will has his magic powers, the Drew kids have very little agency. They don’t do anything. Things happen to them—not very interesting things—and they watch Will and Uncle Merry do cool things. And we don’t even see Will doing cool things from Will’s point of view, though other parts of the book are from Will’s point of view. We see Will doing cool things from the Drew kids’ points of view. Also, why can’t the characters just sit down and talk to each other?! Communicate people! In case I haven’t mentioned this, I hate it when half the tension in the book comes from characters not talking to each other. So yeah, not my favorite in the series by any means, but the rest of the series has been so good so far, and if the other books are great too, I’ll forgive this book.

 

The last book I read before I went off for a week’s vacation on Cape Cod was Lord of Shadows, the second book in Cassandra Clare’s Dark Artifices series. My thoughts on this book are almost exactly the same as my thoughts on the first book: there are so many great things happening in this book, but there are almost too many great things happening. It’s too long, and it definitely drags in places. But the ending is gloriously terrible, and I am dying for the third book in the series. If Cassandra Clare nails the ending, the whole series will have been worth it. At this point my opinion really depends on how it ends. The third book comes out in November, so stay tuned for my thoughts on that.

 

While I was at the Cape, I read the other book we’re reading for book club this summer, BORN a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah. I struggled to get through this book. There were so many great stories, and there was a lot of things I didn’t know before, plus some great dark humor. I definitely learned a lot, and it was interesting, but the book was scattered. It felt like it was written the way you would tell a story orally. And while I can follow that kind of storytelling verbally, I had a hard time when it was a book. I think this book would have benefited from being solidly in chronological order, rather than sorted by different categories of events in Trevor Noah’s life. I’m really looking forward to our book club discussion of this book, particularly compared with Hillbilly Elegy, which I read last month.

 

My mom also brought my hardcopy Braille copies of the next two Chronicles of Narnia books to the Cape for me, and I read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and The Horse and His Boy by C. S. Lewis. Remember, I’m reading the Narnia books in chronological order, not the nonsensical order in which they were published. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe was really good. It definitely feels timeless. I was a little let down by how little World War II actually comes into it. For some reason I thought we saw more of the war in the book, but I guess I was remembering that wrong. I do wish C. S. Lewis didn’t editorialize so much, and I wish we were closer into the kids’ points of view, rather than as distant as we are, but on the whole a good book. The Horse and His Boy was also pretty good. It has always been and will probably continue to be my favorite book in the Narnia series. I think it may have the honor of being the first fantasy book I ever read that takes place entirely in another world. It held up on reread, though I have to say, now that I’m older, the racism and masogeny are really obvious and pretty icky. Yes, it was written in a different time, and yes Aravis, the non-white girl, is arguably the best character in the whole series, but that doesn’t excuse it. I’m not going to say don’t read The Horse and His Boy, because this book has a special place in my heart, but go into it forewarned.

 

Finally, I wrapped up August by finally finishing the Inkworld series with Inkdeath by Cornelia Funke. I read the first two books in this series forever ago, and it took a while for me to actually get the third book out of the library. While I really liked the first book of the series, and the second book was totally fine, this final book in the series just didn’t work for me. I see the first book, Inkheart, being about a girl who discovers she has super cool magical powers and she uses them to save the day. Also it’s a book about books which always wins my heart. I love the idea of characters from books coming into our world. But the minute our protagonists went into the book in Inkspell, it lost some of its charm for me. That just felt overdone and clichéd to me. Also, all the characters were being kind of stupid. Guys, necromancy is bad, and I’m pretty sure it never works, don’t do it. Seriously don’t do it. Spoiler alert: they do it. So like I said, the second book was all right but not fabulous. The third book just felt like a scattered mess. It dragged, and after being so great in the first book, Inkheart, Meggie does almost nothing in this book. The book is really about her father, who’s a cool guy, but we’ve lost the wonder of the first book when we lose Meggie as a strong protagonist who actually does something. I would almost certainly recommend the first book, but I wouldn’t bother with the second or third books, honestly.

 

And that’s it for what I read in August. I’ve now read a grand total of 119 books this year. I’m well on my way to meeting my revised goal of 150 books. I need to get back to the law books now, but I’m really curious to know if you’ve read any of these, and if you have, what do you think of them?