Top Ten Tuesday: Series I Want to Read

Several book bloggers I follow post Top Ten Tuesday lists from The Broke and the Bookish. The TTT for today, regarding the top ten new book series to start,  is actually something I had been planning to write anyway. Not that long ago, I asked my sister to beta-read my story, Tangled Webs, and she asked me a very good question: What authors’ work or other books is it most similar to? Unfortunately, I didn’t have a good answer. The main reason is I haven’t read much for fun for the past 3 (or 5… or 9) years since I’ve been focused on undergrad and then grad school reading.

So my Top Ten Books or Series I Want to Read is as follows. I’m mainly focusing on stories that sound similar to my own so I can one day answer my sister’s question, although there are a few outliers. I guess they’re supposed to be new series, but like I said I’ve been living under a rock for up to 9 years so my definition of ‘new’ is flexible.

1. The Clockwork Century Series by Cherie Priest

I’m actually in the process of reading Boneshaker (the first book) now. I’ve been wanting to read it since it came out, but at the time I was in Korea where few books were written in English. Books/series that creatively explore alternative timelines always catch my eye.

2. Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

I saw this at the library while picking up children’s books on immigration for grad school research. This book’s totally unrelated to that topic but the cover was interesting and the opening lines of its blurb hooked me:The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Also, I’ve been seeing this on a lot of people’s To Read lists.

3. City of Dark Magic & City of Lost Dreams by Magnus Flyte

I saw these two on the same trip that I got Night Circus, and not gonna lie, I checked them out purely based on the shininess of the covers. But I read their summaries on the walk home and I have feeling I’ll like them.

4. The Parasol Protectorate series by Gale Carriger

I’ve already read Soulless and Changeless, having check them out of the library. I ended up buying the series box set after reading Soulless. Based on my enjoyment of this series so far and Boneshaker, I apparently like Steampunk.

5. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

My sister recommended I read this. Unfortunately, curiosity got the better of me and I spoiled the ending for myself before I could get a copy… But I still plan to read it. I generally enjoy psychological thrillers. I’ll probably follow it up with Gillian Flynn’s other (but unrelated) stories, which also sound thrilling.

6. House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski

My sister also recommended this to me, and then a friend promptly reported that it was a book enjoyed by pretentious d-bags (or something to that effect). Of course, while writing this post I found my sister’s review of the book on GoodReads- only two stars?! It’s a massive book but apparently a whole chapter of it contains pages with only one word on it. It’s an experiment in book and for that reason alone I want to read it.

7. The Network Series by Katie Cross

I can’t remember how I found out about the first book, Miss Mabel’s School for Girls, but it was only a few weeks ago and the desire to read it was nagging me so much that I ordered it off Amazon last night. Being a fan of both minimalist design and nature motifs, I LOVE its cover. On her blog, Katie Cross posted about the progression of that cover, which was an interesting and enlightening read.

8. The Ren Crown Series by Anne Zoelle

A few months ago, a beta reader of my story recommended I read the first book in the series, The Awakening of Ren Crown, and so I ordered it along with Miss Mabel’s School for Girls. I’m actually really looking forward to reading a story from the POV of a college student. There aren’t enough (to my knowledge) of those POVs out there.

9. The Tir Na Nog trilogy by Ali Isaac

I previously posted about what caught my eye with this series. Bottom line: disabled protagonists are unusual, but a series where the POV character is (pardon the un-PC term) a vegetable? Other than Johnny Got His Gun, I can’t think of another book like that. Come to think of it, JGHG should be on this list, too.

10. The Discworld Series by Terry Pratchett

I’m not putting all 40 covers on here.

I mostly put this on here as tradition. Every birthday/Christmas for the past several years, I’ve asked for Discworld books. (Gotta catch ’em all!) Although I have almost every one (there are 40 last time I checked), I haven’t actually read every one… yet.

Having finished my list, I see that 8 of the authors are women and several are indie authors. I am okay with this.

The Power of Habit and a New Chromebook

A few weeks ago, one of my classmates floated the idea of starting a book club for us psyc grad students to read Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit. A professor had recommended we read it. I’ve skimmed the introduction and it’s seems like one of those books that’s full of useful information but written in a comfortable way so you don’t feel like you’re being lectured to. Based on what I know of neuroanatomy, I believe the idea behind the book is that you habituate yourself to something and it changes your neuropathways, leading to changes in other areas of your life. Hopefully, these changes are for the better.

This is a round-about way of getting to the point of my post, which is to detail a recent and significant change in my life that I can only pray will be a positive one. I had planned to train myself into the habit of posting once a day- something short and sweet so I’d get the writing practice but wouldn’t overtax myself. Maybe a flash fiction or, if I’m feeling adventurous, a poem. I had planned to start this quest after the first week or so of my new semester (which began after Labor Day) once things settled down and I had a new set schedule. UNFORTUNATELY, any computer-related plans of mine were rudely put on hold when I spilled water all over my laptop. It limped along for a few more days before dying.

Although I was able to rescue the files I needed before it joined the big ol’ e-cemetery in the sky (THANK JESUS, BUDDHA, SPONGE BOB), I knew there was no way I’d be able to function as a grad student without a replacement laptop. While I had been wanting to save up for a really nice laptop, right now all I can afford is something cheap. Like dirt cheap, since that’s how much grad school pays.

I ended up getting a Chromebook. It was a risky move, since I knew it can’t run several programs I need. My plan is to shell out $300 for a laptop that I can lug back and forth to school, take notes and write papers on, and continue to save up for a really nice desktop on which I can do some sweet gaming serious graduate student research work. So far, my little Chromebook has been holding up its end of my plan.

My Chromebook! It’s an Acer c720P, one of the nicer and cheaper Chromebooks. Photo from Acer’s e-store.

What I like about my fabulous new Chromebook:

  • IT DOESN’T RUN ON WINDOWS 8. Instead it runs on a Linux-based OS called ChromeOS.
  • It boots in about 7 seconds.
  • It’s super light, only around 3 lbs.
  • Decent battery life.
  • Chromebook was developed by Google, so it’s already synced up with all my Google related stuff. It actually uses GoogleDocs as its default word processor.
  • It comes with a life-time of automatic, non-invasive updates so (they claim) it’ll run just as smoothly in years to come as it does now.
  • I’ve heard it’s virally immune because of it’s simplicity. Apparently, Google has been daring hackers to try and take it down.

What I don’t like:

  • Because it runs on ChromeOS, I can’t install my favorite softwares. I actually don’t care about this for the most part. This is the big reason why I’ll be saving up for the nice desktop. BUT, there is one software that I’ve been kept from for too long and am already starting to feel the withdraw effects…
  • I cannot install Scrivner! At least not easily. I’ve read I could replace the ChromeOS with Linux and then install Scrivner but I don’t want to mess with that… And now that I’ve tasted the glory that is writing with Scrivner, there’s no way I can return to using any other word processor for serious writing…
  • The keyboard is wonky. There are fewer keys than your typical keyboard so it missing some old standbys like the PageUp and PageDown keys. OR THE CAPS LOCK KEY. This is only a minor quibble, and I can manage without them, but I do wish I had a caps lock key…
  • It may depend on the internet just a little too much. Luckily, I’m mainly using this for typing papers and notes, and GoogleDocs can be accessed offline. But with the ongoing Net Neutrality battle being waged in the internet’s series of tubes, I’m concerned about owning a laptop that’s so heavily based around online access.

At the end of the day, I knew what I was getting into when I bought the Chromebook. I’m very happy with it, and will now be using it to get in the habit of posting once a day.

Why Libraries Matter

I love the library in my new neighborhood. I’ve been there several times in the month I’ve lived here, and I got my library cards as soon as I could. Actually, I got it before I could. They had to issue me a temporary one until I could prove I lived in the city. I had it made official today, and promptly checked out more books.

Then I saw the following video on why libraries are important and the services they provide people.

Why Libraries Matter (Go ‘head and click it! It’s only 9:58 minutes)

I think libraries are one of those things where if you don’t use it (like many people who decide library budgets I imagine don’t), then it’s hard to see why they’re important (e.g. providing free access to books, internet, and other materials to people who could not otherwise afford or have access to them).


Secrets, Nazis, and Immortality, oh my!

Well, it turns out my approach to Camp NaNoWriMo is exactly the same as my approach to the regular, November edition of NaNoWriMo. Despite all the planning and research I do before the month starts, I inevitably get ‘side-tracked’ with more research in the middle of writing my 50,000 words. Surely I can’t be the only one this happens to?

This month’s project has been bouncing around my brain for a long time, but I’ve never had a chance to sit down and work on it. A central aspect of this story is family, and how the characters view and value their family. There’s a significant rift between the main character’s father and grandfather and the cause has always been a classic/stereotypical ‘Well, G-Dad just doesn’t approve of Dad’s lifestyle.’ So I scheduled three solid hours of writing for today, sat down at my computer, placed my hands on the keyboard, and–! … Realized that stereotype was no longer sufficient. I had to come up with a specific reason why G-Dad doesn’t approve of Dad’s lifestyle. And like all of the great conflicts between father and son, this one involves family secrets, Nazis and immortality!

I love the book Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell (I swear this is relevant to the previous paragraph, bear with me!). Even though it’s so long (and admittedly tedious with some of the historical scenes…) that many either never attempt to read it or give up half way, I enjoyed it. An alternative reality where wizards exist and are recruited by both sides during the Napoleonic Wars? What’s not to love?!

So in my story, I always knew two things about G-Dad. 1) He fought in WWII, and 2) he doesn’t approve of his son’s choice to become a wizard (although one might argue that you do not choose the lifestyle of wizard, it chooses you!). I decided to flesh out G-Dad’s backstory and got to thinking: What if Hitler and Mussolini had wizards on their side during WWII? Imagine how greater the horrors of war would have been. And then the ideas just kept flowing. Of course G-Dad would be appalled with his son’s decision to become a wizard! He spent years fighting against Hitler’s wizard troops (the Hexenwaffe) and watched them massacre millions of his comrades and innocent civilians! Not to mention what those wand-wielding scumbags did to his beloved! I started typing out a timeline of WWII and the Holocaust, slightly altered as if wizards had been involved in the war, and realized that I no longer had a backstory. G-Dad’s tale had become a beast that could stand on its own apart from my current story.

Looks like I’ve got a project for November!

Family trees are important, yo! Okay, I mostly just wanted a picture in this entry, but isn't it such a nice tree? Would you want to be growing out of one of it's branches?
Family trees are important, yo! Okay, I mostly just wanted a picture in this entry, but isn’t it such a nice tree? Wouldn’t you want to be growing out of one of it’s branches?


Planning or Pantsing?

Question: Do you prefer to meticulous plan your stories ahead of time, or do you just start writing and wait to see what happens?

Over the past year, I’ve become aware of the term ‘pantsing’ as a writing rather than a pranking term. Pantsing, as in flying by the seat of your pants. A lot of people seem to be very adamant pantsers, in that they don’t like to plan out their stories ahead of time and instead prefer to sit down and see what their creative brains puts down to paper. Other people are consummate planners and have every nuance of every scene mapped out before they start writing.

I like to live my life in moderation so as with most things, I’d say I’m a mix of both. For the main story I’m working on now, having a plan is critical. The characters’ lives loop in and out of each other, creating a somewhat complex timeline of events, so I need to know who knows what when, who is where when, etc. So in preparing to write, I made a long timeline that starts well before the story and ends well after the story, just so I can keep track of all the puzzle pieces. However, the planning for each day is very short. It basically consists of “Character X goes to see Character Y and they discuss Problem A.” Sometimes if I think of a brilliant piece of dialogue I’ll include that in that time point, but usually the timeline is fairly bare bones.

And then the magic begins. Once I sit down to actually write the story, I know the order of the events but I don’t necessarily know how they unfold. I often surprise my self with the conversations I come up with or the resolutions to problems that seemed impossible to solve when I was analytically outlining but were cleverly fixed in the creative moment. I guess in that sense, the planning and pantsing is a bit of a left brain, right brain dynamic, and there are benefits and disadvantages to both.

The biggest benefits of having a strictly structured but minimally detailed timeline is that insulates me from writers block. Let’s say the next event in my timeline is a fight between my two main characters, but the words of the fight are just not coming to me. I can look ahead to the future events I’ll need to write and see what strikes me. Maybe I’m really feeling that tragic death scene; I can skip to that and leave the fight to fill in later.

Anyone else have strong thoughts on planning or pantsing?

Camp NaNoWriMo 2014

Camp NaNoWriMo

Against my better judgement, I just committed myself to writing 50,000 creative words in July. Originally I’d planned to use Camp NaNoWriMo‘s more flexible format to commit to writing my thesis (on disproportional discipline in special education, woot!), but I’m already committed to doing that this summer by virtue of being in grad school. For some reason, I thought it would be good to challenge myself with TWO COMPLETELY DIFFERENT WRITING PROJECTS. YAY!

Years ago a friend told me about November’s NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) and every year since I’ve gleefully toiled away on my creative writing projects during one of the craziest months of the school year. Only once have I neither been in school nor teaching during NaNoWriMo, so it’s always been an adventure to find the time to write. I wanted to give Camp NaNo a try in case July turns out to be a better time of the year, and I can’t compare my work in July to my work in November if I’m not writing something comparable (i.e. not my thesis, important though it is).

In some ways this comes at a great time. I’m currently polishing a novel I wrote years ago. With older more mature/experienced/whatever eyes, I’ve really improved the story. Unfortunately, those improvements have added length and what was in its very first draft a manageable 120,000 words is now around 180,000 words… Some people have suggested splitting it into two books, which would make sense. Except that I’ve formatted the story in such a way that I strongly feel splitting it would ultimately be a disservice to the narrative. At the same time, when I went through and butchered   removed everything I could do without and left only story essentials, the word count was still around 130,000 of a less interesting and nuanced story.

So I’m going to spend Camp NaNo writing the sequel that I’d always planned to see if it illuminates a clearer path for me. I imagine it will most likely just make things more confusing, but maybe after I write it I’ll finally accept that splitting what I already have into two stories is the right way to go.

It occurs to me as I write this that I should share a little something about the plot of the 180,000 word beast. I keep hearing that it’s important for writers interested in publishing to get the word out about their stories before they go to publish. Since I’m serious about publishing it, I suppose it couldn’t hurt to get my story out there and gauge interest. I’ve seen other people’s blogs have pages specifically for their works, so I should look into setting one of those up.

The Book Blogger Test

Yesterday, I was tapped to do The Book Blogger Test by Jo Marjoribanks at Drifting Pages. Time to sharpen my trusty number two pencils and practice my scantron bubbling skills (it’s that kind of test, right?)! As I said in my previous post, if people ask, I shall answer.

So I may have spent an unnecessary amount of time trying to make this button so that it would fit my blog aesthetic...
So…I may have spent an unnecessary amount of time trying to make this button so that it would fit my blog aesthetic…

What are your top three book pet hates?

  1. Books that glamorize abuse. I can thank the Twilight series for this one. I only started reading them because I was teaching adolescent girls who were obsessed with the books. Oh my goodness. The tumblr Reasoning with Vampires perfectly encapsulates everything I have to say about those relationships. I’m especially critical of stories that promote or glamorize teenage relational abuse (between friends or romantic partners) because I don’t see a lot of positive relational role models for teenagers in the media and yet the teen years is a critical time when people need to see models of what is healthy and normal and what is harmful and unacceptable (but I’ll get off my psychological soap box now).
  2. When writers don’t take full advantage of the world they created. This probably says more about me/ my own arrogance than the authors, but I get bummed when at the end of a book, I feel like I could’ve thought up a more satisfying and connected story. I first experienced this as a kid reading the Animorphs series. I loved the series but felt like the books didn’t always take full advantage of the universe/technology/characters that were presented. A more recent example (and I realize I’ll ruffle some feathers saying this) is the final Harry Potter book. JK Rowling set up such a wonderful universe and could’ve gone so many directions with the last book using ideas she had already introduced, but instead she throws in not one but two brand new ideas (horcruxes and the deathly hallows). And come on, in the words of A Very Potter Musical‘s Ron Weasley, “When you think about it, horcruxes are just kinda stupid.”
  3. When writers introduce chapters or sections of their stories with poems. Sometimes I do like this because when done right the poetry can prime a reader for what’s to come or create a certain mood. However, it seems like some use more credible writers to elevate their own writing, and the connections between the poems and the subsequent chapter are either weak or so blantantly obvious they’re uninspired. At the end of the day, no riding other people’s coattails!

Describe your perfect reading spot.

Outside where it’s sunny and where I can hear birds. The ocean is an acceptable bird substitute.

Tell us three book confessions.

  1. After joining Goodreads a few months ago, I discovered I haven’t read nearly as many classics as I probably should have for someone who loves to read.
  2. I have a habit of starting books before finishing others. At any given time, I have about five books that I’m reading.
  3. Going along with the above, I will occasionally forget to finish books. Luckily I’ve realized this, so now I’m going back to finish those books that I let fall to the wayside.

When was the last time you cried during a book?

I don’t think I ever have. I’m pretty thick-skinned. The book that most played with my emotions was Night by Elie Wiesel, but even that didn’t make me cry. Now, the book that caused me to have the most extreme reaction while reading was Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. A certain scene that shall not be named toward the end of the book definitely got a very loud ‘Holy shit!’ out of me in the middle of my otherwise quiet college dorm hall.

How many books are on your bedside table?

Since I’m currently living in a very small apartment, I don’t have a bedside table. If I had one, I’d probably be my Sherlock Holmes anthology because that’s what I’m currently working on.

What’s your favorite snack to eat while you’re reading?

I actually don’t eat while I read. I get too absorbed into the story to think about my level of hunger.

Name three books you would recommend to everyone.

  1. Night by Elie Wiesel
  2. The Life of Pi by Yann Martel
  3. On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin (I put this on here because I keep having discussions with people who claim to know what it’s about without actually having read it.)

Show us a picture of your favorite shelf on your bookcase.

In my tiny room, most of my shelf space is dedicated to storage, so my choice was between this one and the one containing my textbooks and reference books.

So eclectic!

Write how much books mean to you in three words.

Books are sanity.

What is your biggest reading secret?

I am a big fan of The Hobbit and The Fellowship of the Ring, and not to be hipster but was so before they were cool (Rankin and Bass films all the way!). However, my secret is that, *deep breath*, I never finished reading The Two Towers. And never started The Return of the King.

Who I’m Tagging:

  1. A Writer’s Discrepant Memoirs and Other Tales by Rachel Marek
  2. Fiction All Day by David Ben-Ami