Tuesday, May 12, 2015

2015 Book List Update!

We're already in May now, can you believe it?

I thought I'd update my list with short blurbs about the books I've already read, and let you know which ones I'm still working on.


1.  Paper Towns by John Green
 I really enjoyed this book, it was a cute story about a boy finding his friend who goes missing. Read my review here.

2. Mistwood by Leah Cypress
This book was very good as well. The ending took me by surprise (I love it when that happens).

3. Egg & Spoon by Gregory Maguire
 The first of the Maguire books I've read, and my favorite. Set in Russia (at the beginning of the 20th century I believe). I love how he interwove Russian folklore into the story.

4.  If I Stay by Gayle Forman
Very sad, but very good. It's about a girl whose entire family is in a car wreck, and as she lingers between life and death, she needs to make one of the hardest decisions of her life. Read my review here.

5. Charlotte's Web by E. B. White (I know it's an oldie, but I don't think I've ever read it)
It was a cute story, but I found myself disliking Wilbur. He was so selfish throughout!

6. House of Wonder by Sarah Healy
A story about two twins, one with Autism and one who wants desperately to leave the hometown only to get drawn back to it, and their mother's abuse-laden past. A sad but good story.

7. Summer Sisters by Judy Blume
 I did not care for this book at all. It was a chore to finish it. You can read my review here.

8. Asylum by Madeleine Roux (I'm branching out and trying another horror book)
This one was so creepy, but I did like it. Not one I could read at night, or in the house by myself though. Read my review here.

9. Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister by Gregory Maguire
Really interesting take on the Cinderella story. I enjoyed it, although I wish the ending was different.

10. Mirror Mirror by Gregory Maguire
A twist on the Snow White fairy tale. It was good, but I didn't like it as much as Confessions...

Still to read:
1. Phantastes by George Macdonald
2. The Fablehaven Series by Brandon Mull

3. Extravagant Grace: God's Glory Displayed in Our Weaknesses by Barbara Duguid
4. Money: Master the Game by Tony Robbins
5. 10% Happier by Dan Harris

6. Make Your Own Rules Diet by Tara Stiles
7. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo

8. 30 Days to a Clutter-free Life by Ruth Soukup
9. Catherine, Called Birdy by Karen Cushman
10. The Midwife's Apprentice by Karen Cushman

11. The Door in the Wall by Marguerite De Angeli
12. Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull

13. Aurora Abroad by Karen Kiefer
14. Wicked by Gregory Maguire
15. Missing Sisters by Gregory Maguire

Thanks for reading my update! Have you read any of these books? What did you think? What are some other books you suggest I read? Let me know in the comments!

Saturday, April 18, 2015

5 Rules I Broke to Start Journaling

Keeping a journal, they say, is one of the greatest tools for relaxation and creativity.  It gives you a place to organize your thoughts, to get all those nasty little doubt dirt bags out of your head so you can see how ridiculous they are, and where you can work on finding solutions for whatever problems you're facing. It's really a great tool.
My journals I'm working on filling.
 What  they don't tell you is how to get started.

Sure, they tell you some ideas, like choosing a time to write every day, and sticking to it, and other sorts of things like that.

But those never worked for me.

I have tried, possibly since I was ten years old (I don't remember), to keep a journal consistently. And the only thing I've been consistent about is failing. For years, I've had this pattern of writing every day for a few months, and then giving up and not writing for weeks, months, even a year or more.

Constant struggle.

For a while, I gave up. I figured journaling just wasn't for me, and why bother forcing myself to do it? After all, it's not like there's some most consistent journaling prize to be won. It's just a tool. If it doesn't serve you, it's not worth the bother.

Around the middle of January, I read a blog post over on The Write Practice about journaling and its benefits, and I decided to give it another try. And since then, I've been pretty consistent.

But I've discovered that the "rules" of journaling don't work for me.

I confess, these aren't the only rules of journaling. Maybe there are not even real "rules," but are just ones I tried to impose on myself. But I feel like a lot of advice about journaling starts somewhere with these ideas in mind, and if you're anything like me, they're not going to work for you.

1. "You must write at night (or at a set time)!"

I used to try faithfully to write every night before I went to bed. Problem is, though, I don't go to bed just to snuggle under my covers and muse about my day. I go to bed because my eyes are practically tripping over my eyelids. My psuedo-sleep-zombie-self grudges the time it takes me to put on hand lotion and lip balm, let alone write about how my day went.

It's a similar story when I wake up (except I'm usually not so zombie-fied then). When my alarm goes off, I'm bouncing right into my day. Who wants to slow down and write about stuff then?

So instead I just write whenever I feel like it. Some days it's soon after I get up, some days it's an hour or two before I go to sleep, but usually it's in the afternoon. But never a set time. I write when I feel like it.

2. "Find a quiet place to reflect..."

While I do tend to write in my bedroom, most of the time it is not quiet at my house. And I don't like to sit in silence and ponder. I find I focus better and reflect better if I have some music playing. Granted, most of the time it's something soft like Baroque or Celtic music, but there's almost always some sort of background noise.

3. "Give yourself plenty of time to write"

I set a timer for five minutes. When it goes off, I finish my last line or two and move on. I find this helps me to get out what I need to get out, rather than staring at the page wondering what I should write. I only have a limited amount of time, so if I'm going to get it done, it's going to be now.

4. "Focus on your day, your feelings"

I write about whatever I please. Feelings, day, what I have to do next week...whatever I want to go on that page goes there. Sometimes it's a prayer, sometimes it's a list of stuff I got done that I'm so proud of myself for doing (is it bragging if I'm telling myself how awesome I am?).

Honestly, I don't follow grammar or even spelling or any other basic rules of writing. I write in leetspeak, fragments, whatever. I wonder if I'll be able to read what I wrote in ten years, if the ink hasn't faded by then. Write how you feel comfortable writing, how you can best get out what you need to express.

5. "Write every day"

I do write probably 90% of the days since I started, but honestly, if I don't feel like writing one day, I won't. I went away overnight a  few weeks ago, and I didn't bother bringing my journal. I don't think I wrote in it when I got back home either. Journaling is a tool to help you. It's not a do-or-die ritual.

To be honest, maybe I'm just a rebel. Sometimes I don't even follow my own way of journaling (like sometimes I don't listen to music, I didn't today). Basically, when it comes to keeping a journal, find what works for you. And if you find journaling is not to your taste, then don't bother. Find something else that you enjoy doing that helps you to relax and get your thoughts in order.

I do urge you to at least give it a try. Play around with the suggestions you've heard or read. Get a really awesome notebook and pen, or write on a computer. Whatever works for you. You could even try typing some notes on your cell phone. Give it a few days, and see if it's something you'd enjoy, and if it's not, don't waste your time on it.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Review: Asylum

If you've been reading my posts for a while, you may remember that I mentioned not liking horror books. After reading and enjoying both Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children and Hollow City, I decided to give horror books another shot.

Which brings us to today's review: Asylum by Madeleine Roux.

Daniel Crawford is excited to spend six weeks at a summer college program in New Hampshire. A self-proclaimed psychology buff, he can't wait to attend a program where he won't be the only one fascinated by it. Add to that the fact that the regular dorms are closed, and the students will instead be staying in Brookline, an old dorm that used to be a psychiatric hospital.

Curious to know more about the building and its past, Dan and two other students decide to sneak down into the locked-off old wing to explore. But things take a turn for the weird when Daniel starts dreaming about what they've discovered down there. There may be a good reason the residents of the town want Brookline torn down...

Although I really enjoyed it, this book was a little too creepy for me. I want to finish the series, but I definitely won't be reading it at night.

The story is very good, the plot intriguing, the characters engaging. I thought Dan and his two friends he meets at the program, Abby and Jordan, made a very good team. They kept me engaged in the book, which moved at a fast pace but not rushed (except at the very end).

I loved how this book made use of old photos from actual psych wards, although they did add to the creepy factor. It helped the book come alive.

There was some swearing, but not a ton. The ending felt a little rushed, probably because there was so much build up to it, and then the actual reveal and "final battle" was over in a few pages. It was a good ending, but it felt like it needed a little more to make it completely satisfying.

If you're not into creepy books, you may not care for this one, but otherwise I recommend
it, even if you're not a big fan of horror.

You can buy Asylum* on Amazon in print, audiobook, or Kindle format.

 *This is an associate link, meaning if you purchase through it I get a referral fee but it costs the same as if you had just gone and ordered it through Amazon.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Review: Summer Sisters

I'd never read anything by Judy Blume before picking up this book. I've heard of her, and that she is a fantastic children's author, so I thought I'd check this book out.

Victoria Leonard, Vix for short, is reserved and comes from a blue-collar family. She has nothing in common with wild Caitlin Somers, whose family is well-to-do although her parents are divorced. So Vix is surprised when she is invited to spend the summer after sixth grade with Caitlin at her dad's house on Martha's Vineyard.

The girls quickly form a bond, and the summer trip becomes a tradition as they grow from adolescents into young women. As they weather the storms of growing up together, will their struggles to figure out their futures pull them together or apart...

I was really disappointed with this book. I really liked the idea of the plot, but I feel it devolved from a book about friendship to being more about sex. There were scenes I skipped because it was too explicit for me. The amount of profanity is also atrocious.

The story itself read like it was supposed to be for girls 11-16, but the amount of lewd behavior and profanity suggested it was for adults. I'm not sure who this book was written for.

I had a hard time liking the characters. Caitlin comes off as selfish and manipulative, while Vix is a pushover. My favorite character was actually Caitlin's step-mom Abby: I felt like she was trying to do the right thing, even if sometimes she went about it the wrong way. Caitlin's brother Sharky also intrigued me. I feel like he was a better character than either of the girls, but we don't get to see him much in the book.

This novel was written back in 1998, so I'm hoping Ms. Blume has come a long way from this sort of thing. I'll debate about whether trying one of her other books. If you're considering reading some of her work, I recommend skipping this one.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Review: Paper Towns

This is one of the books from my first library haul of the year (I'm a little behind getting the reviews up).

Basically, Quentin Jacobsen (Q for short) has been in love with his neighbor Margo for a long time. Having grown up together, the two have drifted apart somewhere along the way, until now in their senior year, graduation in sight, they don't even speak that much, and their social circles are vastly different.

All the more surprising for Q when Margo comes banging on his window in the middle of the night, and drags him along as her getaway driver in a series of escapades. Although he spends half the night wondering if they really should be doing all these things, Q is starting to hope for something again between him and Margo, at the very least friendship...

When she disappears the next day.

Her parents, used to her constant running away and faced with the fact that she is eighteen and a legal adult, throw their hands up and are done with her. But Q begins the search for her, relentlessly trying to piece together the trail of vague clues she's left, trying to figure out what happened to his friend, and why she left.

Although this book wasn't quite what I expected, it was a rather good story. Some of the jokes were too crude for my taste, and there was quite a bit of swearing in the book, but the story itself was rather interesting.

Some of the friendship dynamics in the book didn't really work for me. I kept asking myself, "Why is this girl friends with her after she did that?" and similar questions. After some of the things which some of the characters did, I don't think it was very realistic that the people they hurt would remain good friends with them.

Although I was a little disappointed with how John Green ended the book, I still really enjoyed it. Q's search to find his friend took him on another journey to find himself that I could really relate to. All in all, it was a really good coming of age tale, and one I recommend if you like those kinds of books.

If you prefer just to get your own copy, instead of borrowing from the library, you can get Paper Towns* on Amazon in print, audiobook, or Kindle format.

 *This is an associate link, meaning if you purchase through it I get a referral fee but it costs the same as if you had just gone and ordered it through Amazon.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Review: If I Stay

Like I mentioned in my library haul, I wasn't quite sure what to think of this book when I first got it out of the library. I didn't even know what it was about, I had just heard it was a good book.

If I Stay starts on a typical snow day in Oregon. Because Mia and her little brother Teddy have off from school, as well as her father who is a middle school teacher, her mother decides to call out as well. The whole family having the day off, they decide to go visit friends, family, and maybe do a little shopping while they're at it.

Piling into the car, the family chooses their music choices and heads out onto the road.

Only to get into a horrific car crash not long after.

Their parents are dead on impact. Teddy is severely hurt and Mia is in critical as well as in a coma. Now Mia needs to decide whether she still wants to live, or whether she's going to give up and move on to be with her parents...

I admit, I almost didn't finish this book. After the violent car crash, I put the book down and didn't read it for a few days (it didn't help that, at the time, we were getting quite a bit of snow here, so then all I could think about was car crashes).

But after a little bit, I rallied my courage, and picked it up again. And I'm glad I did, because whole it is in a way an extremely heartbreaking book, it is also rather beautiful.

The format, mostly told from Mia's point of view as she lies comatose, is interesting as it switches between present day in the hospital and the past. The entire story takes place over a period of about 24 hours, but Gayle Forman brings in pieces of Mia's middle school years and well as earlier in high school.

As Mia is fighting her battle to decide whether to live or die, it made me think of all the decisions we have to make in our lives.

There is quite a bit of profanity in this book. It would have been just as good without it. There was also something about Mia's boyfriend which I didn't like. I felt like the author did a very good job portraying Mia and her feelings though. She was someone I was rooting for the entire book long.

I just learned there's a sequel as well! Another book for me to add to my list

If you prefer just to get your own copy, instead of borrowing from the library, you can get If I Stay *on Amazon in print, audiobook, or Kindle format.

 *This is an associate link, meaning if you purchase through it I get a referral fee but it costs the same as if you had just gone and ordered it through Amazon.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Why Don't You Quit?

Getting discouraged when you're trying to write is common. It's common whenever you're trying to do anything which is awesome.

But I've asked myself that question over and over when I've felt especially like what I was doing didn't matter any more: "Why don't you quit?"

Why do you keep writing?

What's keeping you from giving up?

You've probably asked yourself the same questions, whether about writing or about something else you're trying to do. Why bother trying, when it's so hard?

So why don't I quit? Why do I keep writing? What's keeping me from giving up?

I keep writing because I have a story to share, several stories that keep bubbling themselves up inside me like hot springs.

 I don't quit because I know, no matter how crazy it may sound, I have something important to tell the world.

And the fact that someone, somewhere, needs to hear what I have to say, even if it's only one person, keeps me from giving up.

Helping that one person is important enough to keep writing.

I'm writing specifically about writing, but if you're striving towards something else, just replace writing with whatever it is you're working for, because the same thing applies.

No one writes like you do.

Your writing springs from something inside you that refuses to be silenced.

Your writing can change the world.

People go on and on about not getting discouraged, how you shouldn't ever feel like you want to give up, but I think that's nonsense. Allow yourself to feel it. Embrace the fact that, sometimes, like anyone who does something amazing, you want to give up.

But don't give up.

There's a world of difference between feeling discouraged and giving up. Galaxies between wanting to quit and actually walking away from it.

Instead, find out why. Why can't you quit? Why are you still writing? What's keeping you from walking away from your dreams?

Because when you know your why, why you continue to do something which at times you hate doing, it's so much easier not to quit next time you're discouraged. And let's be honest, there's going to come hundreds of more times when you want to tear up the notebook and burn it.

So why don't you quit?