Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Writing Update, January

You might have noticed that I added another manuscript progress bar to the right side of the page (and yes, I'm keeping the YA post-apocalyptic one even though I haven't worked on it in a while). The first draft of book two is currently with readers, so I find myself mostly twiddling my thumbs while I wait for their comments. To keep myself productive, my main focus over the next few months is (hopefully) going to be this manuscript, tentatively titled To the Edge of the Galaxy.

While I've written sci-fi short stories, this is the first sci-fi novel I'm embarking upon. I'm more familiar with SF movies and television than I am with SF novels (and the other way around for fantasy), so I'm also going to try to prioritize reading SF over fantasy in the foreseeable future. If you have any books you think I should read, feel free to suggest them.

My goal is to finish the first draft by the end of April. I'm shooting for 70,000 words. I have almost 9,000 right now, which means approximately 20,000 words per month. That's certainly doable, providing I don't let myself get distracted by shiny new ideas. I'm posting here to keep myself accountable.

Although I have some words already, I'm very much still feeling this project out. I originally envisioned one point of view, but now I think two might serve the story better. I'm dealing with all the exciting and scary questions that come with starting a new novel. I'm excited to see where this journey will take me!

Monday, January 29, 2018

BOOK REVIEW: Daughters of the Storm, Kim Wilkins

Daughters of the Storm is the first book in Kim Wilkins's Blood and Gold series. I have a lot of thoughts about this book, and they're not necessarily organized, so bear with me. The book is about five sisters who are the daughter of a king. Bluebell is the oldest and a warrior who is rumored to be unkillable. Rose is married to the king of the neighboring nation as part of a peace treaty, and her heart belongs to another. Ash struggles with her burgeoning magic. Ivy lives to be admired by men, and her twin, Willow, is devoted to the gods.

The story starts when their father, the king, takes ill. Bluebell believes it to be the work of magic, so she drags her father and her sisters off to save him. The synopsis also mentions a "treacherous stepbrother" intent on seizing the throne. This isn't untrue, but the sisters aren't really aware of it, which makes for an anticlimactic climax. But more on that later! I'm going to try to split this up into categories in order to keep it more organized than it is in my head.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

BOOK REVIEW: Seven-Sided Spy, Hannah Carmack

This was an interesting and unexpected read and, consequently, a bit difficult to review. It's really hard to explain without giving much away. During the Cold War, a group of CIA agents is captured by the KGB and experimented on. They escape but get trapped in a state park, leading to a standoff with three KGB agents.

The synopsis makes it seem like the majority of the story will be these two groups of agents matching wits, but there's really not a lot of plot here.There are a ton of flashbacks. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but I'd say half the book is flashbacks to the agents' previous missions, which aren't even that detailed. As a result, the story is so choppy that I felt adrift most of the read.

The main problem is that there are too many characters for the story to focus on--at least eight. Everyone has code names and real names, and the narration flops between them, so it's sometimes hard to keep track. More than that, though, is that they all get points of view. In fact, some scenes even seemed omniscient, switching between characters' thoughts. Despite all these characters having points of view, it was so hard to get a read on their motivation. Okay, the CIA agents want to get away from the KGB, but they don't do anything about it in the present, and in the flashbacks, their motivations are even murkier. Why is anyone doing what they're doing? The synopsis gave me the impression that Diana is the main character, but after reading the whole book, I still barely have an idea of who she is or what her relationship with the KGB agent was like.

As far as the editing goes, there were many little typos or errors, such as comma splices or capitalizing the first word after a comma. I'm attuned to that sort of stuff anyway, but it felt like this manuscript needed another run-through to catch those things. The writing is decent and flows well, but some of the phrasing is awkward.

It's not that this wasn't an enjoyable read--I definitely liked aspects--but it was frustrating one. I think there are a lot of good ideas here but that the execution is lacking. I'd probably read more from Carmack in the future, but I don't think I'd recommend this to anyone except readers who really like spy novels.

Thanks to Hannah Carmack, NineStar Press, and NetGalley for the copy in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, January 12, 2018

FRIDAY FIVE: Favorite Comics of 2017

I had to separate these from my prose books list because I would've ended up with more than five! Without further ado:

Morning Glories, Nick Spencer, Joe Eisma
Technically, I read the first volume of this in December 2016, but I read all the rest in 2017. I've been thinking a lot about it since I watched Marvel's Runaways last week, although there aren't too many similarities beyond focusing on a group of six teenagers whose lives become crazy. This series certainly kept me reading in order to find answers, and Casey's one of my favorite comic characters. Unfortunately, the ten-book series ends on a cliffhanger. Hopefully there's more to come, but in the meantime, I might reread this one.

The Legend of Korra: Turf Wars, Michael Dante DiMartino, Irene Koh
I miss this show, and this was a wonderful continuation. It was nice to drop back into this universe, but I did think it was a little short, leaving some of the scenes too abrupt. I'm excited for volume two, though, which comes out toward the end of the month.

Bombshells, Vol. 2: Allies, Marguerite Bennett, Marguerite Sauvage, Laura Braga, Mirka Andolfo, Sandy Jarrell, Maria Laura Sanapo
Hey, I loooove this series, and this is my favorite volume out of the five. I loved seeing Wonder Woman, Supergirl, Batwoman, and the rest of the DC heroines in this alternate-WWII era. One of my favorite developments involved sisters Kara and Kortni, and I love that this series always has commentary on the power of stories.  "Symbols and stories got power, sugar. Fairy tales and propaganda. It's all in the story you tell. It's all in the story you sell. Never trust the man with the microphone. Write your own ending." - Batwoman to Stargirl

The Legend of Wonder Woman: Origins, Renae de Liz, Ray Dillon
Hands down, this is my favorite Wonder Woman adaptation. Maybe because I came late to reading comics, by which point Diana's history was difficult to dive into. But this is a wonderful introduction to the character, and I was really drawn to the fact that she's searching for her place in the world. My very favorite aspect, though, is the emphasis on Diana's friendship with Etta and the Holliday girls and even takes precedence over her relationship with Steve. Also, the art is lovely. Very happy with this one and very sad it got canceled.

Monstress, Vol. 2: The Blood, Marjorie Liu, Sana Takeda
Look. I can't even be coherent about this one, okay? Everything about it is incredible--the art, the characters, the premise, the world. I should probably go read it again before #13 comes out in 12 days, shouldn't I? Yeah, I should.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

FRIDAY FIVE: Favorite Books of 2017

I read a lot last year! Part of the reason is I tried to slow down and get more reading so as to better inform my writing. Another is that I really got into audiobooks and I have a long commute to work. And let's not forget that our country went to the dogs last year, so reading became even more of an escape than usual. So, a list of my five favorite reads of 2017, purely in alphabetical order.

The Pearl Thief, by Elizabeth Wein
Wein's previous book, Code Name Verity, emotionally destroyed me, and then I thanked it for doing so. I loved it and didn't really think this could top it. Plus, it's a prequel that follows Julie, one of the two main characters in CNV, so I wasn't sure if I would walk away with a different view of her. But I still loved her, and I still loved Wein's writing. Truly a pleasure to read!

Run in the Blood, by A.E. Ross
I joined NetGalley just a few months ago in the hopes that I could find new titles to read that I might not often come across and because I reviews kind of make the literary world go 'round and I wanted to give back. I requested this title because of the premise, and it definitely didn't disappoint! I love high fantasy, but I especially love it when it's not centered around straight white men, so this was a nice breath of fresh air. I'll be looking out for more by Ross in the future!

I've been a fan of MWT and this series since I was in sixth grade, I think? The fourth book came out in 2010. It's been a long wait, but it was well worth it. This series is interesting because Turner always does something new in terms of perspective, and she always works in twists. Every book in this series is cleverly plotted and rooted in complex characters. I'll be eagerly awaiting book six, but I won't hold my breath!

Whispers at the Altar, by Allan C.R. Cornelius
Allan's a friend of mine from our MFA program. He's awesome, but this isn't a favorite read just because I know him. It's because this story is pretty much right up my alley. It's high fantasy, and the main character, Christa, is a heroine in the vein I like best--a little bit dark, a little bit lost. Excitedly looking forward to book two (but I won't pressure him, because I know what that's like, haha).

Who'd Have Thought?, by G. Benson
This one took me by surprise. I found it almost by accident one night when I wanted a romance to read and searched for "fake relationships" because that's one of my favorite tropes. I found this story to be a delight! It's about Sam, an awkward but brilliant neurosurgeon who needs a wife for secret reasons and Hayden, a devoted but underpaid nurse who could use some extra cash to pay off her school loans and send back to her family. It's sweet without being too sweet, and its emotional moments are the perfect counterpoint. Will definitely have to read more from Benson in the future.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

BOOK REVIEW: The Universe Between Us

Ana is a 26-year-old biochemist whose mother has raised her to be part of a private corporation's mission to colonize Mars. She's been training for it since she was 13. Part of her training included building a self-sufficient farmhouse. The problem is she needs someone to take care of it when she's gone if she doesn't want it to fall into dilapidation.

Jolie, a student at the local university, answers her ad for a roommate in order to cut down on living expenses, quit her job, and make more time for her art. The two are immediately attracted to one another, but Ana can't tell Jolie anything about the upcoming mission. All Jolie knows is that Ana will be going away and soon. Is the chance at love, even if it's short-lived, worth it?

This story is set in a realistic near future, one where Earth is becoming less and less habitable, forcing humanity to turn to the next closest planet. Esther threads in details about what this future is like--automatic cars, screens everywhere, bracelets that let people take video calls. It's nothing earthshattering in terms of technology, but these details are enjoyable glimpses of the world, and Esther utilizes them well. If anything, I wanted more from the science. Ana is a biochemist and in charge of the colony's food supply. She mentions experiments but doesn't go in depth. I thought this aspect could have been explored more, but I did like what was there.

I felt like the writing could've been polished a bit more. I liked Jolie and Ana, but I didn't get enough of a sense of who they were outside their relationship. That's partly a constraint of the plot because the characters need to get together if Ana's upcoming departure is going to have emotional heft. I would've liked to see more of Jolie's life at the university and more of Ana's life in her terrarium and with her experiments. I would've been more accepting of it, I think, if the dialogue had felt more natural. It's sometimes stilted, and characters jump from one subject to another without Esther giving us their inner thoughts to make that jump. It was off just enough that it sometimes popped me out of the story.

I'm okay with endings being neatly tied up. However, where this one lost me was in the conflict that separates Jolie and Ana. Without giving much away, if Ana's job was so important, I would think there would be measures in place for replacements, maybe even an entire B-crew. In this way, the conflict felt a little too contrived for me to be worried about the fate of their relationship.

Overall, this was a relaxing, breezy read, perfect for huddling up indoors when it's cold outside. I'd recommend it to readers who are romance fans.

Thanks to NetGalley, Bold Strokes Books, and Jane C. Esther for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.