NaNoWriMo 2018: Week 1 Progress Report

October was supposed to be Prep_tober. It was supposed to be the month I spent planning my novel for November and National Novel Writing Month. But somehow, it didn’t happen. I ended up putting aside the novel I thought I’d be working on this month. There just wasn’t enough to go on, and when I tried to do dedicated brainstorming for it… My brain just didn’t come up with anything. I spent 25 days of October staring at what notes I did have for the project, wondering why my brain refused to fill in the holes.

In the last week of October I decided I would take another look at my Works In Progress, and see what leapt out at me. One did, and in just a few days I’d brainstormed enough to be getting on with. I’m definitely noticing a difference in my writing this year—I don’t know if that’s because I’ve spent the last year specifically watching for craft as I read, or because I’ve been seeking out narrative craft advice, but this year is different.

Last year was my wordiest NaNoWriMo novel so far, at 27,161 words. Looking back at that novel, I almost feel like I had too much forward momentum. I wrote all the big exciting scenes, the major plot points—I wrote the skeleton, as it were. This year, I’m forcing myself to slow down. I know all (ok, most) of the major plot points in this novel, but instead of immediately jumping into those, I’m making sure to take the time to write the things that come in between—this year I’m making sure I don’t skip all the connective tissue (to continue the anatomy metaphor).

And so far? It’s going pretty well. This is my 12th NaNoWriMo and for the first time ever… I’m ahead of the count, and on track to win. (I’ve also realized that this novel is likely to be more than 50,000 words, and I’m not sure I’ll actually get to the end of it during November. That’s ok though. Just have to get those 50k words.)

A huge part of this is the support I have this year. Yes, I have a pretty good idea of where this novel is going, and yes, that helps enormously. But I also have a husband who cheers me on and asks if I’ve made my word count for the day. I have a group of friends —people I gathered together from our core NaNoWriMo group from last year and who I’ve gotten together with every other week for the last year to keep writing together—all of whom are determined that I’m going to win this year. The support is incredible, and I’m making the note to myself now that if this novel ever gets published, I need to make sure they all get named in the acknowledgements.

I’m so incredibly proud of myself for what I’ve done so far: for writing every day, for staying ahead of the word count, and for keeping my enthusiasm up. One of my friends, always said (and I’ll paraphrase because the last time I heard her say it, it was in a podcast and I’m too lazy to transcribe it to get the exact quote) that NaNoWriMo was one of her favorite ways to develop the habit of writing every day. And it’s true; I’m learning when during the day I can squeeze in a couple hundred words, when are my prime writing times to get down a whole bunch of words, when are my best brainstorming times and what conditions. By the time November and NaNoWriMo ends, I hope to have a clearer idea for how to continue to write during the rest of the year.

Day 1: 2,313 (2,313) (NaNoWriMo Goal: 1,667)
Day 2: 1,340 (3,653) (NaNoWriMo Goal: 3,333)
Day 3: 2,241 (5,894) (NaNoWriMo Goal: 5,000)
Day 4: 1,883 (7,777) (NaNoWriMo Goal: 6,667)
Day 5: 1,263 (9,040) (NaNoWriMo Goal: 8,333)
Day 6: 2,022 (11,062) (NaNoWriMo Goal: 10,000)
Day 7: 952 (12,014) (NaNoWriMo Goal: 11,667)

Yesterday was my lightest writing day. I honestly meant to write more before bed—I was pretty sure I’d be able to hit at least 1,667 words for the day—but instead I just fell asleep. I probably needed it, and thanks to the buffer I’ve built in for myself, I’m still ahead of the NaNoWriMo official count. And I’ll build up that buffer again tonight at my write-in. My personal daily word count goal is 2,000 words, with a minimum of 1,667 if I can’t get to 2k. I’m reminding myself not to get so confident in my buffer that I let myself write significantly less, and yesterday was probably an anomaly. Maybe I’ll use my lunch break to brainstorm the next few scenes so that I know exactly where I’m headed when I write tonight…

How’s your NaNoWriMo going?

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My Year of Rereads: September Review

This month was a little heavy on the new books rather than the rereads. But I can’t help that some of my favorite series had new books out this month (or last month, and I’m just late)! It was also lighter on books than I expected, and I can’t really put a finger on why… September felt like it maybe slowed down a little (compared to the whole rest of the year), but I don’t really know what happened.

66. Kushiel’s Mercy (Kushiel 6) by Jacqueline Carey

This is… my least favorite of the Kushiel books. I love Sidonie and her indomitable spirit, and Imriel is a fun hero, but the plot slows down significantly for me. Plus the whole… mind control/false memories/”make everyone believe something that isn’t real” thing is something that terrifies me personally. I do enjoy the interlude that Imriel spends with Melisande—I wish we could have a whole trilogy of her childhood and youth and driving motivations before the events of Kushiel’s Dart. This book continued the tri-plot structure of Carey’s books, and I’m probably going to have to sit down someday and write out the structures so I can better explain what I’m seeing.

67. Magic Triumphs (Kate Daniels 10)* by Ilona Andrews

This is the last book in the Kate Daniels series, and as much as I love these books, I’m kind of glad in a way. There’s something to be said for wrapping up a series, especially a long series like some of the Urban Fantasy series I read. Sometimes they just keep going without a clear end in sight, and that can be exhausting for a reader (Anita Blake I’m looking at you). Kate’s father Roland is also one of the most likeable villains I’ve ever run across, and he had his fair share of screen time in this book. I admit that I was sad that he didn’t get to redeem himself (I had a guess for how it would end that didn’t end up happening, and while the end was satisfying, I got somewhat attached to my idea), and it’s interesting to me to watch that dichotomy of “all-powerful conquering villain” and “doting father and grandfather,” and I think I would want my villains to be as complex. So that’s something to try out in my own writing. The authors have already said that they aren’t leaving this world, just letting Kate and Curran have their happy ending, and they left enough open at the end for them to stay in the world they’ve created for a while with other characters who could finally get to have the spotlight. I’m looking forward to reading the next things in this world.

68. Night and Silence (October Daye 12)* by Seanan McGuire

Seanan McGuire has said that she knows the end, that she’s been playing a long game with a lot of the characters and things that happen in the October Daye books, and I believe her. With every book we get to know just a little more about the big mysteries of the world, about the villainous Eira and the things she has done in the past, and even about October herself. I love these books; I love October and her King of Cats and the Luidaeg most of all. The thing that I noticed about this book—and by extension the otherUrban Fantasy series that I read—is that it’s very hard for me as a reader to remember many of the things that happened in earlier books. When I think about the books individually, I can remember basically what happened in them. And while those experiences hopefully shape the character—if the author is doing their job, and McGuire is always on it—but at the same time, I don’t remember October’s history like I might remember my own, or someone close to me. I found it somewhat disconcerting to think, “Ok, what are all the steps that have brought October to this place?” and only come up with broad strokes. Thankfully, the things that continue to have repercussions in subsequent books are sort of gently pointed out, and McGuire has a deft hand with this. I didn’t notice until afterward the way she had slipped in small explanations of, “Remember when that one thing happened?” I don’t know if that’s just me, or just how brains work, but it was interesting to think about, and it will be something to remember and consider should I end up writing a series myself.

69. Two Dark Reigns (Three Dark Crowns 3)* by Kendare Blake

This story has not gone where I thought it would when I first started reading the first book. I realized not too far into this book that I didn’t actually like most of the characters, but at the same time, I was highly invested in the story, in the fate of Fennbirn, and in how the problems of this island get resolved. The history and traditions of the island are interesting enough to keep me reading, even when the three queens themselves kind of bored me. Jules, the Legion Queen, was more interesting, and she’s the one character I think I’m looking forward to seeing what happens to in book four.

70. Vicious (Villains 1)* by V.E. Schwab
71. Vengeful (Villains 2)* by V.E. Schwab

Ok, Vicious has been on my TBR list since it came out, and I never got to it. But as soon as I saw that V.E. Schwab was going to be coming to Denver on her Vengeful tour, I knew I’d be reading these in advance of seeing her. And I am so, so, so glad I did! These books, omg, these books. Schwab is such a tight plotter and her characters are always more complex than “good” and “evil.” Both of these books will be going on my Best of 2018 list at the end of the year, and I’ll probably be referencing these books for years to come on how to make every character grey, how to make the “hero” unlikeable, and the “villain” the good guy. Also I’m looking forward to rereading these books in the future and being able to pay attention more to the craft that went into them, rather than just soaking up the story like a too-dry sponge.

The next three months should be interesting, reading-wise. It doesn’t look like I’ll hit 100 books this year—I’m 99.99% sure that I can’t read 29 books in 3 months, particularly when one of those months is NaNoWriMo. But I could reasonably hit 90, which would break my previous record for books read in a single year. So that’s what I’m aiming for now.

Speaking of NaNoWriMo, Prep_tober has officially started, and I’m already behind… If you don’t know about Prep_tober, you should head on over to Twitter or the website and check it out. As much as NaNoWriMo is a headlong rush from word #1 to word #50,000, the more work you can do before November actually starts, the easier it will be, right? That’s the theory, anyway. V.E. Schwab gave some insight into her personal drafting process and there are some things I’m looking forward to trying in my prep for NaNoWriMo this year. Shout out if you’re doing NaNoWriMo this year, and especially shout out if you’ve started your prep!

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My Year of Rereads: August Review

Ok, seriously: How is it already September?? Where has this year gone?

I went to compare my list of books read this year to books read in previous years, and I’ve read more books already this year than in any year previous! (Ok, except for 2009, when I was severely depressed and did almost nothing except read books.) And, yes, I tend to read faster when I’m rereading books than when I’m reading them for the first time, so I knew my numbers for the year were likely to be somewhat high, but that’s still exciting to me! I’m looking forward to surpassing 2009’s 87 books read next.

August did have a major bump in the road: towards the end of the month I was let go from my job. Even though job hunting is my second least favorite thing to do (my first least favorite thing to do is move house), I leapt right into it, and a week after I was let go I had another job offer in hand. Bonus: The job is literally across the street from where I live, so I can walk to work! The new job is much more involved (or at least, it will be, once I’ve learned all the things I need to learn), which probably means no reading on the job. That shouldn’t affect my numbers too much as I do the bulk of my reading before bed, but I guess it could slow me down some. Who knows?

58. Night Broken (Mercy Thompson 8) by Patricia Briggs
59. Fire Touched (Mercy Thompson 9) by Patricia Briggs
60. Silence Fallen (Mercy Thompson 10) by Patricia Briggs

Night Broken and Fire Touched are probably my favorites of this series, and I think it’s because Mercy begins adding more non-werewolves to the pack, and she and the pack have to deal with that. New books in a series always have to figure out what’s going to be different/new about the new book, but that doesn’t always mean adding new characters. I think that adding new characters to an established dynamic is both a really good plot point, and a way to inject fresh air in a series that’s been going for as long as this one has. There’s a balance to be executed in that task—one is someone already peripherally in Mercy’s life but never before seen in the series, and the other is completely new—and Briggs does it enviably well. I probably should have paid more attention to how she did that, but as usual I got caught up in the story. But Joel and Aiden—and how they interact with Mercy and those she’s closest to—quickly became my favorites, and I’m just as excited to see where they go in the future as Mercy. I don’t think that Silence Fallen adds quite as much to the series as the two right before it (in terms of new characters who will stay around, tools for our main characters to use, and opportunities for the plot in the future), but it’s a solid addition to the series nonetheless, and still a fun read.

61. Kushiel’s Dart (Kushiel 1) by Jacqueline Carey
62. Kushiel’s Chosen (Kushiel 2) by Jacqueline Carey
63. Kushiel’s Avatar (Kushiel 3) by Jacqueline Carey

The first book in this trilogy is, of course, my absolute favorite of them all. Phèdre, our intrepid heroine, is only just learning who she wants to be and who she will become, and all that goes into that. She learns that she’s willing to go to great lengths for the things she believes in, for the people and the land she loves, and even for herself, and those themes continue in the next two books. The first book contains the “training” montage that superhero movies often have, but this book lingers there. As this is always the part I want more of in those movies, I just love that this book draws that out and makes it more than just the montage. I originally started reading this series because I wanted something heavy on intrigue and plotting and scheming, something I thought I might be trying to write in my current WIP. One thing I really appreciated about these books is that Phèdre always notices when she notices something. Because of her training in covertcy, she files away everything she learns that isn’t immediately relevant in the “might be useful someday” part of her brain. In this way, it sort of lets the reader know that they should be paying attention too. Other books might drop things in innocuously and the reader might not notice something that might later become important. As a reader, I also spent time thinking to myself, “Aha, this might be important later,” and felt rewarded for that attention when those things later did become important.

64. Kushiel’s Scion (Kushiel 4) by Jacqueline Carey
65. Kushiel’s Justice (Kushiel 5) by Jacqueline Carey

I’ll talk a little bit more about this series in next month’s review, but I was in the middle of the first book in this trilogy when I realized that all of the Kushiel books are nearly trilogies within themselves. I’d likely have to outline these books fully myself to really pinpoint the clear sections breaks, but they all seem to have three story arcs within them. And yes, those arcs are obviously connected, and yes, they likely work better as one large book rather than splitting them into separate books. Someday I may go back and see if each book could be split into three contained arcs for the narrator. That being said, I do appreciate that these books weren’t split further than they were. They felt more detailed, more immersive, the way they are.

65 books so far, and that’s just through August! 8 books for the month is a very respectable number, though (of course) I’m hoping to bump those numbers up slightly for September, even with the new job. I have a delightful line-up for September which I’ve already started digging in to, including a handful of newly published books—additions to some series of which I’m a loyal follower, and a few other things—and I’m super excited. Two of those non-reread books are Vicious and Vengeful (the latter of which will be out September 25) by V.E. Schwab, who I’ll be seeing in Denver at the end of September when she comes through on her Vengeful tour. I’m already anticipating that both books will be on my Best of 2018 list at the end of the year, since I absolutely love her writing.

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My Year of Rereads: July Review

As July was a Camp NaNoWriMo month, I spent some time working on my current project, an Urban Fantasy novel (working title Awesome Lady Adventure). There are some significant pacing issues with the story that I’m still working on, but I needed to read some Urban Fantasy—particularly some of my favorite Urban Fantasy—for clues as to how to fix those issues. But then instead of writing, I ended up reading and reading and reading. Whoops? I was able to complete most of an outline—the whole main story structure and some of the necessary flashbacks, though I still need to figure out some of the secondary character stuff—but not a whole lot of actual story writing got done. However, I think I have a better idea about pacing, and the rhythms of the rising actions and the falling actions, and what kind of character I want the story to be about.

On the other hand, I also had a dream that I’m going to novel. (Novel is a verb now, don’cha know?) While transcribing as much of it as I could remember (twice), various pieces fell into place—and I continued to add and expand on it. It all just flowed out, and it was glorious. It’s been long enough since something like that happened that I was starting to think maybe it never would again. I may put ALA aside and work on this thing for a while, because I like it that much.

49. Iron and Magic (Iron Covenant 1)* by Ilona Andrews

It’s an interesting trick, turning an antagonist/villain of one series into the romantic lead of another. As the antagonist of a series, Hugh d’Ambray isn’t a POV character, so the reader only gets to see his actions, not the reasoning behind those actions. But as the romantic lead of this series, Hugh becomes a POV character, and all those villainous actions are explained. The things he’s done are given reasons—maybe not necessarily reasons the reader might agree with, but reasons that we can understand—and those reasons humanize him. That could be a trick to try out.

50. Moon Called (Mercy Thompson 1) by Patricia Briggs
51. Blood Bound (Mercy Thompson 2) by Patricia Briggs
52. Iron Kissed (Mercy Thompson 3) by Patricia Briggs
53. Bone Crossed (Mercy Thompson 4) by Patricia Briggs
54. Spinning Silver* by Naomi Novik

The story of this book is utterly delightful. I will read as many “mortal maid falls in love with Winter King” stories as people write, and this was a delightful twist on that trope. Russian folklore, a twist on the fae, and even a little touch of history. That all being said, I thought some of the POV switches were confusing and occasionally boring—and unnecessary to the plot. I still loved the story, but there were parts that dragged because of these switches, and they felt like I had to get through them.

55. Silver Borne (Mercy Thompson 5) by Patricia Briggs
56. River Marked (Mercy Thompson 6) by Patricia Briggs
57. Frost Burned (Mercy Thompson 7) by Patricia Briggs

Except for maybe the first four, I originally read these as they came out, usually about a year apart. Reading them back to back is a very different experience. Partly, I noticed how time passes in the series. Books that are released a year (or more apart), were set only a few months apart. It works really well, somehow. That’s certainly something to try to learn. The character development is just excellent, too. I really love Mercy: she’s kick ass and strong and her relationship with Adam is probably my favorite relationship in Urban Fantasy because it’s so stable and healthy. I can’t wait to see where the next book takes Mercy when it’s released next year.

Nine books for the month is pretty good! Only January (16 books read, and a fluke I’m pretty sure) and March (10 books read) beat it out, and it matches May (also 9 books read). And it was a useful month, as the rereading did help me in a tangible way with my own writing.

August threw a whole bunch of curveballs into my life—and the repercussions of those curveballs are things that my husband and I will be dealing with for months to come—but that translated into a lot of reading as a way to either pass time or to escape. I don’t know that I’ll necessarily get higher numbers for the month though, since the next series I started rereading is Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel series (more learning, this time for that novel I dreamed up!) and those books are ridiculously long. On the other hand, I have read the whole series through several times, which means I go through them very quickly. I guess we’ll see at the end of the month!

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My Year of Rereads: June Review

Somehow, I keep thinking we’re still in the first week of July. Spoiler: We are not. If this is a little late, well blame that fact that I keep thinking we’re barely out of June.

I ought to check and see if I always slow down in my reading as the weather gets nicer. 2018 is my 11th year keeping track of the books I read, so I have a fair amount of data about my reading habits. It’s not even that I’m spending significantly time outside (although I am outside somewhat more often than when it’s freezing cold), and yet somehow I’m still spending less time with a book.

Also, despite this being my self-declared Year of Rereads, this month I read as many new books as I reread favorites from my list. I knew I would be reading new releases that I was highly anticipating through the year, but I forgot how many of them there are. Authors I love just keep writing new books.

43. Forever Fantasy Online (Forever Fantasy Online 1)* by Rachel Aaron and Travis Bach

I love Rachel Aaron’s Heartstriker series, so of course when I heard about this book I immediately preordered it. This one is a collaboration with her husband, but it doesn’t feel like two people wrote it. While the split POV of the two main characters makes it tempting to believe that each author wrote one character’s parts, it didn’t read that way to me. If that is their method, the styles of the two authors mesh really well. There were little things I didn’t like about both of the characters, but they made some amount of sense, so I was able to accept them. I’ll definitely be reading the next book when it comes out later this year.

44. The Riddle-Master of Hed (Riddle-Master 1) by Patricia A. McKillip
45. Heir of Sea and Fire (Riddle-Master 2) by Patricia A. McKillip
46. Harpist in the Wind (Riddle-Master 3) by Patricia A. McKillip

One of the things I find most intriguing in McKillip’s novels is how she can make the reader suspend disbelief, or make the reader believe something is true, simply because the character does. Her worlds often abide by strange laws, but for the people within those worlds those laws aren’t strange, they’re just normal. So the reader can be almost tricked into accepting those things as normal—which is to say, things that don’t necessarily require explanation—because the characters already accept them. That’s something I would love to incorporate into my own work (and I can think of at least two projects where it might work really well).

47. Starless* by Jacqueline Carey

I was surprised to learn that this book is a standalone, given that Carey’s previous “epic fantasy” books tend to come in a series. While I thoroughly enjoyed the book, I was constantly comparing it to her Kushiel books, and in that comparison this book falls short. This book moves much faster than her Kushiel books, and I think part of where this book suffers is in the character development. There just isn’t enough time spent with some of the key characters to make me really feel for those characters. I think this book could easily have been two books if all that character development had been done, and would have been even better for it.

48. Trail of Lightning (The Sixth World 1)* by Rebecca Roanhorse

After the first chapter I knew this book would be going on my Best of 2018 list. This book doesn’t stop to ease you into the story, and it doesn’t soften the main character for the reader either. I texted a friend I knew was reading it at the same time after the first three chapters with just, “Holy shit, this book goes HARD.” And it does. I think it has all the trademarks of Urban Fantasy, but also borrows from Dystopian Futures and even from Horror. I like the blending, and it’s that and the breakneck pace it sets from the beginning that are the things I would be most interested in emulating.

July is another Camp NaNoWriMo month, though so far I haven’t written much. But I’ll just keep plugging along. I don’t know if that will mean less reading or not (I’ve finished three books already and have started a fourth) but I suppose we’ll see. I didn’t reread as many Patricia A. McKillip books as I thought I would in June, but they’re not going anywhere, so they’re still on the list.

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My Year of Rereads: April/May Review

Oh hey, I’m back! Imagine that!

Doubling up here because I never posted a recap for April. I didn’t read as much in April because I was Camp NaNo-ing, but four books in a month is still a dent in my list, so I’ll take it. Even slowing down on my reading, I still didn’t get as much done in April as I would have liked, and as always that was due to poor planning on my part. I’ll be spending June working on planning for July Camp NaNo, and I’m hoping that will mean more progress next month. (I’m also hoping that I will remember to do status updates.)

30. The Astonishing Color of After* by Emily X.R. Pan

This is a little outside my usual fare, but Emily is a good friend and this is her debut novel, so I knew I would be reading it no matter what. And I’m glad I did! Emily is an excellent writer (and has been since we first met nearly 15 years ago). I don’t usually read YA because of my various hangups with the most common tropes, but it was interesting to me see how she used or didn’t use the tropes of the genre. Definitely recommend this book, even if it might be outside your usual fare too.

31. A Wrinkle in Time (Time Quartet #1) by Madeleine L’Engle
32. Many Waters (Time Quartet #4) by Madeleine L’Engle

I didn’t realize until rereading just how much A Wrinkle in Time scared me as a child. I’m not entirely sure what did it—possibly the 2 dimensional space that nearly kills them, or possibly the mind control/assimilation—but whatever it was, it somehow meant that I hadn’t reread that book as often as I thought I had. Many Waters, on the other hand, I’ve probably reread more than any of the books in this series because it is my absolute fave. Sandy and Dennys and seraphim and nephilim and the Noah’s Ark story were right up my alley as a kid, and a reread of this only served to remind me of just how much I love this book. It’s interesting to read “children’s books” (Middle Grade, I guess?) as an adult from a writing perspective, because it seems like a completely different style. You can leave things out that adults would insist be explained, and you can just say something is without explaining why it is. It might be interesting to see something like that used in writing geared towards adults, and how you could use that. I ended up not rereading the middle two books because… I just didn’t feel like it, honestly. I started A Wind in the Door and then reading it felt like a chore, so I put it down again. I expect I’ll go back eventually, but maybe not this year.

33. Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

This book remains a favorite of mine. No other book has quite captured the magic I felt in high school being a part (in my small way) of the Harry Potter Fandom in what I like to think of as its Golden Age, and the various things—friendships, writing skills, stigmas—that come with that. The other parts of the story—Cath deals with crippling anxiety, coping mechanisms that may or may not be working, as well as her sister’s addiction problems, her father’s own manic depressive episodes, and the trauma of a mother who walked out on her family—have all been parts of my own life at various points, and somehow seeing all those pieces together always makes me remember that Things Will Get Better.

34. Cold Magic (Spiritwalker Trilogy #1) by Kate Elliott
35. Royals (Royals #1)* by Rachel Hawkins

This book is a delightful little romp that I devoured in half a day. I might not have read it if I hadn’t been following Rachel Hawkins on Twitter for her #SexyHistory threads (which are amazing, go forth and read, if you haven’t already), and you may not know this, but European Monarchical History is one of my fave things. Relatively straight forward YA, but with a Royal Wedding twist. I laughed out loud a lot while reading this.

36. A Court of Frost and Starlight (A Court of Thorns and Roses #3.5)* by Sarah J. Maas

The A Court of Thorns and Roses series remains one of my favorite series, and I’m so excited to see where Maas goes in the second trilogy in this world. In the meantime, this novella bridged the gap, and gave us something to look forward to. And it looks like the other two Archeron sisters are going to be taking center stage in the next series!

37. Cold Fire (Spiritwalker Trilogy #2) by Kate Elliott
38. Cold Steel (Spiritwalker Trilogy #3) by Kate Elliott

This was my first time rereading these books. I read them a few years ago and absolutely loved them, but hadn’t gotten around to a reread before now. The first thing I really noticed is that there were definitely things I skimmed over—exposition that I still remembered from my first read, or slower parts. I suppose rereadability is a thing that an author might consider when actually writing a book (though, honestly, I have no idea how one might make things more rereadable, I’d have to think about that) but I think these are the first books that I’ve felt like I skimmed through large-ish sections. (These are also the first of the larger books on this list, so I’ll have to see if I end up skimming through things in some of the other longer books when I get to them.) The second thing that I noticed was that I still love these books. There’s a lot of twists and turns that I was expecting my second time through, but got to watch for signs of this time, and they’re very well done. It helped me to think about the various twists and turns in my own current WIP, and how I want to set those things up for the reader. I’ll definitely be adding hard copies of these books to my shelves in the near(ish) future.

39. Dealing with Dragons (Enchanted Forest Chronicles #1) by Patricia C. Wrede
40. Searching for Dragons (Enchanted Forest Chronicles #2) by Patricia C. Wrede
41. Calling on Dragons (Enchanted Forest Chronicles #3) by Patricia C. Wrede
42. Talking to Dragons (Enchanted Forest Chronicles #4) by Patricia C. Wrede

This series got added to my reread list shortly before I actually picked it up and worked my way through it. I’m not entirely sure why it wasn’t on there to being with, but I was reminded of it because I’m reading another writer’s book right now and some of the main characters are dragons, so I wanted a refresher on how that could work—both for characterization, and for physics. (How big are dragons anyway???) Morwen and Cimorene remain my faves, and I would someday like to be as cool as them. And also I want a dozen talking cats.

Summer will officially begin later this month, and we’re busy busy little bees at my work right now which means less on-the-sly reading time for me. I have some manuscripts that I’m working on for other people, too, which always takes precedence over reading, but I’m still going to try and up my numbers for June. (Especially since I anticipate lower numbers again for July.) Summer finally feels like the right time for a little Patricia A. McKillip reading, and I ought to be able to get through a bunch of her novels to boost those numbers before Camp NaNo steals my time. This way I can save the other large books for the cooler months later in the year, and hopefully make a big dent in my list before we cross into the second half of 2018.

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My Year of Rereads: March Review

Oh goodness, already into April a good ways and I haven’t posted my reading recap. Well, I’m not too far behind to do some catching up.

March slowed down, compared to January and February, and slowed down enough to feel like normal time. I didn’t read as much as January, but it was a lot more than February, so I guess that’s something. There were things that I had to read this month—Ready Player One and The Queens of Innis Lear—and so other things that I might have wanted to read more got pushed out of the way in order to accommodate them. Books read are books read though, and I’m still working my way steadily through my (ever-changing) list.

We should be coming out of the winter doldrums soon. We did get snow here in Colorado yesterday—in fact, it snowed all day, though we didn’t get much accumulation—and I expect it won’t be out last snow of the year. But it also looks like we’ll have a whole bunch of warm days too. I love reading in my cozy house when the weather is absolute shit as much as the next person, but I also like reading when it’s perfectly nice out. Maybe my moods are generally better when I’m not so cold all the time, which makes reading a nicer experience, or maybe it’s all in my head? Either way, I’m looking forward to consistently nice weather. (Knock on wood.)

20. Last Dragon Standing (Heartstrikers 5)* by Rachel Aaron

This is the last book in the Heartstrikers series, which is one of my fave series ever. I’ll definitely be doing a reread of these books in the future, since I’m curious about how they read when they’re read back to back to back.

21. Alpha & Omega (Alpha & Omega 0) by Patricia Brigs
22. Cry Wolf (Alpha & Omega 1) by Patricia Brigs
23. Hunting Ground (Alpha & Omega 2) by Patricia Brigs
24. Fair Game (Alpha & Omega 3) by Patricia Brigs
25. Dead Heat (Alpha & Omega 4) by Patricia Brigs
26. Burn Bright (Alpha & Omega 5)* by Patricia Brigs

I reread the first four books (and one novella) in this series in preparation for the fifth (and I’m glad I did, because I didn’t remember the plot of the second or third books), and also because I was planning a rewrite of my own Urban Fantasy novel and I wanted to read some by an author I admire. Briggs continues to deliver with her most recent installment, and even to build on both of her series. I’m not sure I got as much out of this series as I might have her other one, but it was nice to get back into Urban Fantasy, since I love it so much.

27. I Met a Traveller in an Antique Land* by Connie Willis

This was a NetGalley review read, the first one I’ve managed to squeeze in this year. It happened to be a short one, a novella (I finished it in about an hour and a half), but holy hell, this book. I guess my takeaway from this is that small things can be incredibly powerful. My review is forthcoming.

28. The Queens of Innis Lear* by Tessa Gratton

I got this book for review from NetGalley, and really liked it, while at the same time having some major issues with the main protagonist. You can find my review for this book here.

29. Ready Player One* by Ernest Cline

I promised my husband I would read this book before we saw the movie, and I try to keep my promises. My take away from this book was that this book wasn’t written for me, but that it wouldn’t have taken much to make it so that it was. It was entertaining, and it’s easy to see how it will translate to an equally entertaining movie, but it seems unlikely that I’ll be reading anything else by this author.

April should be an interesting month because I’m also working on my Camp NaNoWriMo project, the previously mentioned Urban Fantasy rewrite. (Blog posts about my progress will start on Monday.) I tend to slow down my reading when I’m also writing (see last November when I read all of one book while I was writing) but I’m going to try not to slow down too much. I feel like I could manage at least one book every five days, so that’s my goal for this month while I also try to learn how to do this whole rewriting thing.

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Review: The Queens of Innis Lear by Tessa Gratton

When I first saw this book on NetGalley, for a moment I thought it was the next book in Kendare Blake’s Three Dark Crowns series. Even the summary—three sisters all fighting for a crown—seemed familiar. It was both similar and different enough to be be appealing. And it was clear from the very first words that The Queens of Innis Lear would give me something that mistaken series wouldn’t: three adult sisters. (Look, I have some issues with YA was a genre and the tropes that appear within it.) It was only after I was several chapters in that I realized another important detail I had some how missed: The Queens of Innis Lear is a retelling of Shakespeare’s play, King Lear. It’s been several years since I last read King Lear (though now I’m considering rereading some Shakespeare, because I really need more things to add to my reread list this year), but I remember enough to be familiar with the story.

The erratic decisions of a prophecy-obsessed king have drained Innis Lear of its wild magic, leaving behind a trail of barren crops and despondent subjects. Enemy nations circle the once-bountiful isle, sensing its growing vulnerability, hungry to control the ideal port for all trade routes.

The king’s three daughters—battle-hungry Gaela, master manipulator Reagan, and restrained, starblessed Elia—know the realm’s only chance of resurrection is to crown a new sovereign, proving a strong hand can resurrect magic and defend itself. But their father will not choose an heir until the longest night of the year, when prophecies align and a poison ritual can be enacted.

Refusing to leave their future in the hands of blind faith, the daughters of Innis Lear prepare for war—but regardless of who wins the crown, the shores of Innis will weep the blood of a house divided.

As much as I love a good fairy tale retelling, I also love a good Shakespeare retelling. There’s such a wealth of things to explore in Shakespeare’s plays, not the least because he often draws from folk stories and fairy tales himself. I wanted so so so much to love Jacqueline Carey’s Miranda and Caliban, and I just didn’t.

But this book. I enjoyed the hell out of this book. And, at the same time, I have some major issues with the main character. Regan and Gaela were wild and passionate, and I loved both of them. It was Regan and Gaela who set the tone of this novel, whose passion pulled me into and along with the story. Their flaws were relatable and eventually led them to understandable ends. I loved every minute I spent reading their POV chapters.

Then there’s Elia, the main protagonist. It’s not that Elia is unlikable, because I did like her. She’s compassionate in a way that no one else in this novel is—or can afford to be—and she clings to that compassion even when the world is falling apart around her. That’s an admirable quality in anyone, even more so in a queen. But at the same time, I mostly found her rationale to be completely incomprehensible.

Elia spends the first half of the book doing absolutely nothing. Even when she acknowledges that she isn’t doing anything and declares her intent to act, she seems to go out of her way to do the barest minimum and refuse to do what’s needed. The reader knows she’s no stranger to sacrificing for her family and for her island, having given up everything else in life but the stars for her father, so her refusal to take up the crown of her island even when she doesn’t want to, is incredibly frustrating to read. Even with the island, given it’s own magical voice in the trees and the winds, is practically screaming for her to be the queen it needs to heal itself, and she still would rather put one of her sisters on the throne.

Then there’s Elia’s two love interests.

Morimaros, King of Aremoria, admits to his desire for claim Innis Lear as part of his kingdom, admits to sending Ban to damage her country so it would be vulnerable to invasion. He makes these admissions because he has fallen in love with her, something else he admits to her, and states his intention to give up his desire to claim her kingdom. The two are, when working in concert for the good of their kingdoms, remarkably well suited. The chemistry between Mars and Elia only grows through the novel and it seemed obvious to me that, between him and Ban, Morimaros of Aermoria was the better man. Both in strength of character, and his devotion to her. That Elia couldn’t see this—or refused to acknowledge it—was a constant source of frustration.

And it is Ban who returns to Innis Lear to wreak havoc, it is Ban who sets himself in opposition to Elia and allies himself with her deadly sisters. It is Ban who kills her beloved father. And yet, inexplicably, it is also Ban who Elia forgives. Despite their contradictory views of the world, it is Ban who Elia loves. As far as I can tell, she loves him and forgives him where she cannot do the same with Morimaros simply because Ban is her first love and a man of Innis Lear.

But people grow and change. In real life, certainly, but also in books. That’s the whole point of most novels: to chronicle the change and growth of a character. If a character doesn’t change, doesn’t learn and grow, then nothing meaningful has really happened and the reader is left unsatisfied. Elia does learn and grow and change… in other aspects. I can understand the author’s desire to give her some constancy, something that grows with her. But the place of that constancy seemed poorly chosen.

Elia is loved by two men, and loves both in return. But in the end she forgives the man who refuses to apologize for the immeasurable hurt he has caused her and her island, and scorns the man who humbles himself and asks for her forgiveness. I found that wasn’t something I could forgive her for.

The Queens of Innis Lear is written by Tessa Gratton and was published by Tor on March 27, 2018.

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My Year of Rereads: February Review

February both flew past and dragged. Individual moments seemed to linger—long days at work, or lazy days at home—but looking back it’s hard to believe that the month is already over and done with. And, reading-wise, the month significantly slowed down. That’s ok, given that my list should theoretically allow me some breathing room, and I should still be able to read everything by the end of the year. (It’s only March, but still somehow the end of the year seems like it’s looming up ahead… Clearly my sense of time is a little weird.)

It’s also possible that general Winter Blahs slowed me down. The winter here in Colorado has been pretty mild (*knocks on wood*), especially compared to the east coast. But at the same time, it’s still been cold. Maybe not as cold as some places, but since I start out at a baseline of “already cold” (yes, I’m That Person who still needs a cardigan in the summer), it feels colder to me at all times than it really is. And while that usually means plenty of inside time that could be spent reading, in reality it seems to have meant sleeping longer, and playing more video games with my husband. Which isn’t a bad way to spend that time, but certainly doesn’t make my book list any shorter. Luckily, I have some flexibility, so even if I add more books to my list, I should still meet my personal goal.

17) A Monstrous Regiment of Women (Mary Russell 2) by Laurie R. King
18) A Letter of Mary (Mary Russell 3) by Laurie R. King
19) The Moor (Mary Russell 4)* by Laurie R. King

I learned two important things reading these books: First, they really, really slow me down. They aren’t incredibly long, but there’s a lot in them, and I felt the need to pay extra close attention to everything—even on the ones I was reading for the second time—so I didn’t miss any details. Second, there doesn’t have to be some little detail that suddenly becomes important or that was overlooked in a mystery. Sometimes you solve a mystery by finding a clue, then finding another, and so on until you get to the end. It’s always seemed like mysteries took another level of planning and foreshadowing that I didn’t think I could do, but now I’m not sure it has to be that way.

I definitely want to read more Mary Russell books, but I don’t think now is the right time for that. I thought I might be able to go through the whole series in one go, but I have other books I need to get to. Maybe I’ll try to get one Mary Russell book in every month… Or maybe I’ll just have to save those books for next year and beyond.

In particular, A Wrinkle In Time will be hitting theaters in early March, which means I need to read those books asap. Although, I haven’t quite decided if I want to read all three plus Many Waters (my fave of those books) before the movie, or just read A Wrinkle In Time before the movie and then read the sequels after I see the movie… Then there’s Ready Player One which comes out at the end of March, and I promised my husband that I would read that before we see it, so I’ll be doing that too. I haven’t read that one before, so that will be one of my few “new” books this year.

Added to those things some Patricia Briggs rereads in anticipation of a new book from her, it looks like I’ll be leaving the historical mysteries behind and returning to my dearest friend, Urban Fantasy for a little while.

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My Year of Rereads: January Review

I was expecting that this year would likely move just as quickly as last year, and hello, January is already gone. Expectations: met. While I’m still working on my other New Year’s Resolutions (someone talk to me about scheduling free/fun time and how to not waste it), I’ve been doing really well in my reading. Or, I should say, my rereading.

As suspected, I do read faster when it’s something I’ve read before, which is how I averaged 1 book per day for the first 10 days of January. I slowed down a little after that—breaks between things were required, and some books did actually take more than one day to read—but still read more books in a single month than I have in many, many years. Final count: I’ve read 16 books of my (now) 98 book list. (When I started this project, the list was 92 books. And I might be adding more, because I guess I’m actually crazy.)

So far I’m having a really good time! Rereading a favorite book is like returning to a favorite place, catching up with your favorite people, eating your favorite foods. Some of the books on my list are books I’ve actually reread already, but some I will be returning to for the first time. At least one is a book that I’ve said for years is one of my favorite books ever… but I’ve only read it once, and that was over ten years ago at this point. Some refreshing of my memories can’t hurt.

Part of the goal of this project was to pay a little more attention to how the stories that I love are crafted. A little bit “Why do I love them?” but also “Why does this story work?” Sometimes I’m better at this than other times. It’s easy to get swept into these stories as thoroughly as if it were the first time I had read them, and not the second (or third or twelfth). To that end, I’m trying to find one “nugget of wisdom” in every book (or series). This is, for me, more difficult than it sounds. Partly because of the aforementioned sweeping, but mostly because my critical reading skills are vastly out of practice.

Knowing that, though, I assume I can only get better. Knowing is half the battle, right?

1) The Cruel Prince (The Folk of the Air 1)* by Holly Black

I actually started this year with a new book I hadn’t read. Black’s YA books—particularly her more recent ones—are really adept at flying in the face of expectation when it comes to romance in a YA book. And I love that. If I can emulate anything from her books, I’d like it to be that.

2) Sandry’s Book: The Magic in the Weaving (The Circle of Magic 1) by Tamora Pierce
3) Tris’s Book: The Power in the Storm (The Circle of Magic 2) by Tamora Pierce
4) Daja’s Book: The Fire in the Forging (The Circle of Magic 3) by Tamora Pierce
5) Briar’s Book: The Healing in the Vine (The Circle of Magic 4) by Tamora Pierce
6) Magic Steps (The Circle Opens 1) by Tamora Pierce
7) Street Magic (The Circle Opens 2) by Tamora Pierce
8) Cold Fire (The Circle Opens 3) by Tamora Pierce
9) Shatterglass (The Circle Opens 4) by Tamora Pierce
10) The Will of the Empress (The Circle Reforged 1) by Tamora Pierce

Sometimes the goal of the story is to defeat the antagonist, but sometimes it’s just to overcome some difficult task, and it’s the difficulty of that task—the failures that the characters encounter along the way, their learning how to overcome those failures and not to do it again—that gives the story its climax. Stories about mastering power or going on a treacherous journey don’t necessarily have a villain, and they don’t necessarily need one. Power is dangerous—so is the world—and the story of overcoming those odds can be a complete character arc.

11) Trickster’s Choice (The Daughter of the Lioness 1) by Tamora Pierce
12) Trickster’s Queen (The Daughter of the Lioness 2) by Tamora Pierce

The events of the story’s world can be outside of your character’s control, and how the character reacts to those events is also a valid story. Those reactions will tell the reader as much about the character as if the character were controlling them. Sometimes there’s a villain involved, but maybe that’s not necessary for this sort of story either. These events can culminate in the Difficult Task to be Overcome.

13) The Enchantment Emporium (The Gale Women 1) by Tanya Huff
14) The Wild Ways (The Gale Women 2) by Tanya Huff
15) The Future Falls (The Gale Women 3) by Tanya Huff

Inside jokes between characters make them more believable as real people. But don’t explain the jokes; anything the reader comes up with is a) true (yes, anything and everything), and b) probably funnier than anything the author could come up with. Sometimes not explaining things (jokes, but also things like how the magical system works) is actually much more in character than explaining things. It’s written well, the reader will probably just go with it if the characters just go with it.

16) The Beekeeper’s Apprentice (Mary Russell 1) by Laurie R. King

This was a first reread, and the story is twisty enough that I had to concentrate just on following it. Also it had been a while, so I didn’t remember it as well as I thought. I have at least one twisty sort of book that I want to write, so I should probably pay more attention as I continue reading this series.

February will continue with more Mary Russell books. Originally, I only finished the first three books before I got distracted by something else, but at some point I started the next two and didn’t finish them. Those five books are on the list of 98 books, but depending on how into them I get, I might just keep going on the series… It’s not part of the original plan, true, but plans can be flexible. Also if I read 15-16 books every month I will finish my list well before the end of the year. So I can afford some flexibility in the plan.

And I’ve already thought of three more books to add to my reread list…

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