Monthly Wrap-Up: July 2015

At the end of June I told myself that I would only read two to three books in July and spend the time I would normally spend reading writing . . . Yeah, that didn’t happen.

Writing 

What I wrote last month: I still spent a significant amount of time writing and accomplished my goal for July of finishing the third draft of my young adult sci-fi work in progress, but the third draft turned out shorter than I wanted. I was hoping for the draft to end up at 70,000 words which is between around 200-350 pages depending on formatting for those people who don’t understand word count. It ended up being around 63,000 words long (only around 33,000 words of that was written this month) which is still an increase from my 54,000 word long second draft and 35,000 word first draft.

I’d like to thank my Camp NaNoWriMo cabin mates for keeping me motivated!

What I plan to write next month: My writing goal for the next couple months will be extensive revisions on my high fantasy work in progress. The first draft was only 40,000 words long. My current revisions have actually made it shorter than that at the moment, but the first draft was so fast paced that I’m pretty sure I’m the only one who would be able to understand it. Believe me when I say there is plenty of room for expansion.

Reading

In July I read five books. One was a graphic novel memoir, one was adult fantasy/steam-punk, two were science fiction novels that my library classifies as adult but I feel are better suited for mature YA/New Adult readers, and one was a YA sci-fi romance novel (yes, these exist).

The Alloy of Law by Brandon SandersonShort Synopsis: Spin-off/book four of the Mistborn series. Picks up a few hundred years after Hero of Ages left off. It blends elements of the original Mistborn Trilogy with those of steam-punk, western, and mystery novels.

Thoughts: My Brandon Sanderson marathon continues. This book is much shorter than the previous ones in the series and Brandon’s other adult books. I enjoyed the original trilogy more, but this was still worth reading. Excited to see where the next few Mistborn novels lead.

Rating:

4.5 blue jays

The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

Short Synopsis: The true story of a girl growing up in Tehran during the Islamic Revolution.

Graphic novels and memoirs are not something I normally read so I started this expecting it to not hold my attention meaning I have more time to write, but ended up being unable to put it down for long periods of time. I liked the first half more than the second. If it were only the first half this would get five stars.

Rating: 

4.5 blue jays

Red Rising by Pierce BrownShort Synopsis: 16-year-old Darrow has spent his life on Mars mining for the minerals needed to terraform the planet. One day Darrow’s wife dies fighting the repressive “Gold” upper class. He vows to  do whatever he can to keep this situation from repeating.

Thoughts: I was determined not to read any more dystopian novels, but then I found out this book was set on Mars and saw it had generally good reviews. Mars is my favorite setting so I was thrilled to read this. Would have liked to see the fact that this was Mars incorporated a little more into the wold building (but I think that’s just me), and there were some overused dystopian tropes, but still really enjoyed this. For my full thoughts see my review.

Rating:

4 blue jays

Golden Son by Pierce Brown

Short Synopsis: Sequel to Red Rising. Darrow, now 20, continues to infiltrate upper class society in the hopes of freeing his people.

Thoughts: Liked this even more than it’s predecessor. This book felt more space opera than dystopian and I loved this shift as there aren’t nearly enough well written space opera novels. My only regret is not waiting until book three is released to start this trilogy.

Rating:

five blue jays

Broken Skies by Theresa Kay

Short Synopsis: 17-year-old Jax’s brother is abducted by aliens. With the help of Lir, a young alien the group who kidnapped her brother left behind, Jax must find a way to infiltrate their civilization and free her brother.

Thoughts: As always with multi-species romance stories I had to suspend my disbelief. A human and a jellyfish are more similar than a human and any life-form we’re likely to find that originates on another planet, okay? Humans and aliens are never going to date.

That said, this was a well paced, quick read. It satisfied my desire to read about aliens, and I do plan to read the sequel when it is released.

Rating:

4 blue jays

Red Rising by Pierce Brown 4 Stars

15839976Title: Red Rising

Author: Pierce Brown

Publication date: January 28, 2014

Genre: Young Adult Science Fiction

Synopsis: Darrow spends his days on Mars mining the minerals needed to terraform the planet’s surface. He could care less about the fact that he is a member of the lowest “caste”, oppressed by the Society. Darrow is too busy trying to provide for his wife and extended family. Darrow knows the price of rebellion. He attended his father’s execution at five years old.

Darrow’s outlook on rebellion changes when another of Darrow’s loved one is killed by the society. Her dying wish: break the chains. Now Darrow will stop at nothing to make her dream a reality. Even if it means infiltrating the Gold, upper-class, society and pretending to be one of his enemies.

Review: Mars is one of my favorite settings. It’s where I set the first novel length manuscript I completed, and I’ve always had a fascination with the planet. So of course, when I saw a book set on Mars with generally good reviews I wanted to read it.

The first fourth or so of this book is very different from the latter three fourths. Based on reading many reviews, what seems to make or break the reading experience is whether the reader likes the path the story takes in the later portion. For me both portions worked. Although the “teenagers in an arena fighting for their lives” and “boarding school” tropes that showed up in the second half have been overdone in fiction as of late Brown did a decent job in portraying it in an exciting way.

This book clearly draws inspiration from many others. Sometimes this bothers me about books, but for some reason it didn’t in this case. It likely has something to do with the fact that I don’t think I’ve ever before read ideas put together in this particular way before.

The ideas are drawn from so many vastly different places I have trouble categorizing it. The book is set on Mars, but has a very dystopian feel at times. At others it has a mythological fantasy feel with all because the houses at the school Darrow attends are named after Roman gods or even Lord of the Flies.

There is also the question of whether or not it is young adult, new adult, or adult. Darrow starts the book at 16, but within it two years pass, and I know for a fact the next book has a time jump in between and the story restarts with Darrow at age 20. This book is also very realistic in the horrors of the totalitarian regime and the actions of the characters who live within it. Many characters bring out the worst in themselves in this novel.

While I wanted to see more of some world-building aspects others felt overly simplified. I can think of other books off the top of my head that use a color classification system to differentiate between classes of people. Then again, I’ve been reading an excessive number of Brandon Sanderson books lately and have come to expect excellent world-building.

Something I would have liked to see more of is the world building, specifically how living on Mars affected the characters. We’re not shown much of the Martian Civilization, and the rebels themselves. The rebel organization was interesting, but like so many other dystopian novels I’ve read it was skimmed over in this novel, but I’m hopeful more of the rebels will be seen in future books as the story expands in scale.

What readers should know: This book features a significant amount of swearing, mentions of cannibalism, mentions of sex, prostitution murders, executions, and some side characters are raped. The cannibalism, prostitution, and rape do not occur while the main character is present, but it’s clear what is happening. Darrow is present for and sometimes even participates in murders and executions. The sex scenes are not detailed, and the book puts little emphasis on romance.

Rating: I flew through this book and really enjoyed it overall, but would have liked the later portion to be more in depth details about the rebels and the world so I’ve given it a four out of five.

4 blue jays

The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson 5 stars

7235533Title: The Way of Kings (The Stormlight Archive Book 1)

Author: Brandon Sanderson

Publication date: August 31, 2010

Genre: Adult High Fantasy

Synopsis: Kaladin Stormblessed has had many roles in his life. He’s been an aspiring surgeon, common solider, respected squadleader, and a slave. In all his roles Kaladin has tried to save people but ended up enslaved for his effort. Kaladin is about to give up hope when a mysterious spren starts speaking to him and urging Kaladin on. It would seem Kaladin is not done being a hero yet.

Shallan Davar has just arrived in the city of Kharbranth. A noble woman of a minor house, this is Shallan’s first time away from her father’s estate. Unfortunately, Shallan isn’t here for the sight seeing. Shallan’s mission is to steal one of Princess Jasnah Kholin’s most prized possessions to save her family from financial ruin.

Brightlord Dalanar Kholin and his son, Adolin, must investigate the attempted murder of Dalanar’s nephew, the king, and the mystery behind the previous King’s murder by the “Assassin in White” five years before. All the while Dalanar is having visions and needs to determine if he is going mad or has been sent messages from the Almighty whom the Alethi people worship.

Review: Even though I loved Brandon Sanderson’s original Mistborn Trilogy I was still hesitant to pick this book up. It starts with a prelude which is followed by a Prologue. As far as I know I’ve never read a book with both of those before, and lets face it, prologues are hard to get right. Then there is the matter of this book’s length. It is over a thousand pages long. Until I read this book’s sequel, Words of Radiance, this was the longest book I’ve ever read. Despite this initial hesitation all of my expectations were more than met. To put it simply, this book is amazing.

It turns out that I had actually listened to the first several chapters of this book about a year ago on a car trip where there was an audio book playing. I remember liking what I heard, but forgetting to ask what book it was we were listening to. As a result, I never finished. It wasn’t until I started listening to the book that I realized I had heard this somewhere before and made the connection.

This book is narrated from many different point of views. It is clear the focus in this book is on Kaladin, but Shallan, Dalanar, and Adolin also narrate a considerable portion of the story. Kaladin has the most drastic character development in this book. We jump between his present life as a slave, and is past life as a surgeon in training/ army squadleader. It is not revealed until late in the story how Kaladin sunk so low in society from such a respected position. Shallan, a noble girl of a minor House who is trying to steal a princess’s most valuable possession to save her family from financial ruin, also develops significantly. The focus is not on her as much as Kaladin, and the two never cross paths in this book, but I still found her story intriguing and felt no urge to skip. Dalanar and his son Adolin are members of the royal family, the current king’s uncle and cousin. Their characters took me a little warming up to, but by the end of the book I really liked them.

I could easily tell Kaladin and Shallan’s narration apart, but had difficulty when Dalanar or Adolin was narrating at first because I had trouble remembering the royal hierarchy. Brandon Sanderson did a good job keeping all of the perspectives interesting especially considering how much time the narrators spent great distances from one another.

The world building was also very well done. Every culture in Roshar appears fully developed even if only one member of that culture is featured in the story. The small details about how Roshar and it’s peoples have adapted to deal with the devastating highstorms, that destroys everything in its path and makes gemstones glow, make everything seem more realistic. Sanderson even went so far as to create his own flora and fauna illustrations of which are placed in the book. The architecture has also been modified to withstand the storm’s winds, and their currency uses glass spheres containing gemstones because the fact that they glow due to the stormlight stored within them allows a person to prove easily whether or not they’re real.

Brandon Sanderson’s writing is known for it’s magic systems, and for good reason. There is not much to say about it without spoiling anything, but it fits into the world Brandon Sanderson has created very well. Learning about how the magic system worked with Kaladin was never dull because I was so interested in how it worked.

Though this book was long, and it did take me more than a week to get through (which is an extremely long time for me when I’m reading a book I enjoyed this much) I feel there were plenty of stopping points that at time I felt like the individual “books” within The Way of Kings could have stood on their own. Anyone who didn’t want to read the book all at one could stop at one of those points, read something else, then come back and finish The Way of Kings.

What readers should know: This book is mostly free of language. The characters are at war and participate in battles so there is a lot of violence and death. This book does contain magic, but it is of a less conventional variety and there are no “witches” or “wizards,” and is so logically explained by the author it is almost as if the universe the book was written in has separate laws of physics rather than a magic system.

Rating: This book contained awesome world building, magic system, and characters. My only possible complaint is that it could have probably been edited a little shorter, but I enjoyed the reading experience so much that once I finished reading this I still couldn’t wait to pick up the sequel.

five blue jays

Camp NaNoWriMo Day 10: On First Drafts and Imperfection

Camp Nano Graph Day 10I mentioned in my April wrap-up that I am participating in Camp NaNoWriMo this month. If you don’t know what Camp NaNoWriMo is, but would like to find out I suggest you either read my post about the event, or visit the event’s website. The event is almost exactly a third of the way through so I thought it would be the perfect time to update blog readers on my writing process.

My current word count is 16,685 words which, as shown in my progress graph, is far ahead of my 30K word goal. I’ve thought of raising my word count goal, but decided not to. I’m keeping my original goal because my main project for this session is a rewrite that I expect to be complete at around 70,000 words, but when I started the session 35,000 of those words had already been written.

As my main goal for the month is not to write a certain number of words but to finish this draft, I want to keep my word count goal low enough that I won’t have words remaining towards my goal when the draft is finished. There is also the fact that this is the longest I’ve ever seen the whole cabin meet its overall goal and I enjoy helping to keep it that way.

It seems odd to write a post about first drafts when my focus for the event is a rewrite, but I have much more experience with my own first drafts than I do edited drafts. Like most other aspects of writing there is no wrong way to write a first draft. There are simply ways that work and ways that don’t. Perhaps the most frustrating part of all this is that some ways that work for others do not work for you. I have, however, noticed trends.

This session my Camp “cabin” is made up of twelve participants of which four including myself have finished a novel length first draft before. What I’ve noticed fairly consistently in this session, past events, and in talking with fellow writers is that those who finish something tend to be the ones who come to terms with the fact that their first draft doesn’t need to be perfect. This is not the only factor, of course, other factors include how much enthusiasm someone has for their idea and where writing fits into their priorities, but these aspects are much harder to measure than a persons tendency to go back and rewrite the first chapter fifty times before chapter two is finished.

There are plenty of successful novelists who edit while writing a first draft, and they are not wrong to do so. Most of these writers have managed to find a balance between making their writing the best it can be the first time around and getting words on paper. To finish a first draft finding finding this balance between quality and quantity is a must.

Monthly Wrap-up: June 2015

I read a total of eight books in June with two of them being over 1000 pages in length. Before this past month I had not read even one book over 1000 pages long so I consider this an accomplishment even if the books didn’t feel 1000 pages long because of how much I enjoyed them. Five of the books I read were YA fiction, and three were adult fiction. All fell into the fantasy genre. Five were high fantasy, and three were dystopian with a paranormal twist.

June was one of my most reading intensive months this year, if not the most so far. Sure, eight books is not the highest number I’ve read, but it’s close and some of the books I read in June were also incredibly long.

In terms of writing I didn’t post very much last month due to the fact that all I wanted to do was read. This is specifically true of my blog since I did manage to write around 5,000 words of my current work in progress, but didn’t manage to keep up my goal of posting at least once per week. Throughout July I’ll be participating in Camp National Novel Writing Month so all the reviews for the amazing books I read but didn’t write about last month may have to wait as I try to focus on finishing my current manuscript, but I do plan on reviewing at least a few more of the ones I’ve read eventually.

The Hero of Ages by Brandon Sanderson

Short Synopsis: Conclusion to Brandon Sanderson’s original Mistborn trilogy.

Thoughts: This was a really great end to a trilogy. I had a few minor problems with it, but those were mostly subjective. Mistborn may well become one of my favorite series depending on my thoughts of the new continuation books.

Rating:

 five blue jays

The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee AhdiehShort Synopsis: A man marries a new woman everyday to kill her at dawn. Shahrahzad agrees to marry him so she can kill the man and end the cycle.

Thoughts: I had a few, mostly nit-picky, issues but overall this was very enjoyable. For my full thoughts see my review.

Rating: 

4 blue jays

An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa TahirShort Synopsis: The most promising aspirant in his class tries to find a way out of doing the terrible things his empire asks of him. Meanwhile, a slave girl infiltrates the compound where he goes to school in order to save her brother.

Thoughts: I have some conflicted feelings about this book, but am giving it a relatively high rating because it was extremely addictive and left me wanting more.

Rating:

 4 blue jays

The Way of Kings by Brandon SandersonShort Synopsis: Kaladin was a prominent young squad leader in an army until one day he was sold into slavery. Now forced into the position of bridgeman, considered the worst position in the army because it has the highest death rate, Kaladin struggles to protect the lives of those around him.

Meanwhile, a girl named Shallan tries to steal one of a princess’s most valuable possessions to save her family from financial ruin and Highprince Dalinar tries to make sense of his strange visions.
Thoughts: This book was very good, but due to it’s length this is the book that took me the longest to read this month. It follows the stories of several different characters, many of whom never meet in this novel, and at times it could be a little hard to remember which perspective I was reading from, but the formatting really helped with that. The world building was some of the most unique and well developed I’ve read. Overall this book was long, but amazing and worth it.

Rating: 

five blue jays

Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson

Short Synopsis: The second book in the Stormlight Archive and the sequel to The Way of Kings.

Thoughts: This book might have been over 1000 pages long, but I read it in about four days because I was just so invested in the story and loving the way it came together. I can’t wait for book three to be released next July.

Rating:

five blue jays

The Immortal Rules by Julie KagawaThe Eternity Cure by Julie KagawaThe Forever Song by Julie Kagawa

Short Synopsis: In a dystopian future where vampires rule and humans are herded like cattle our main character must chose between true death and becoming the thing she hates most: a vampire. The entire Blood of Eden Trilogy.

Thoughts: I wasn’t expecting to like this one and actually started reading the first book because I was hoping to read something that wouldn’t distract from my writing, but ended up really enjoying it and reading the entire trilogy in three days.

Rating:

4 blue jays

(series rating)

Currently reading:

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