The Books I Read in November 2017

There is just one month left in 2017, a crazy thought, and the penultimate month has just come to an end. November was a much better reading month for me, despite my reading time being greatly reduced in order to make time for NaNoWriMo. As a result, while I have not read quite as many physical books as usual, the books I did read were focused on the formats most suited for travelling and busy lifestyles: kindles and audiobooks.

I read a total of 8 books in November, the majority of them were books which I liked or really liked, there weren’t any major standouts. And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie was easily my favourite read of the month, but that is, in part, due to it being one of my overall favourite books. This particular version was brought more alive by the narration of Dan Stevens, which was phenomenal, and really allowed me to experience this book in a whole new way. The book which received the lowest rating was Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury, but that by no means implies that it’s a bad book. I enjoyed reading it and Ray Bradbury certainly can write; it just did not hit home with me the way I was expecting and others may get more from it than I did.

The full list of the books I read is below. For reference, the way I rate is as follows:

1-Unable to Finish ; 2-Did not enjoy ; 3-Liked ; 4-Really Liked ; 5-Loved

 

Audiobook

Best Served Cold by Jo Abercrombie – 3.5/5

And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie – 5/5

Priestess of the White by Trudi Canavan – 4/5

Kindle

The Beautiful Ones by Silvia Moreno-Garcia – 4/5

The Cybernetic Tea Shop by Meredith Katz – 4/5

Rise of the Phoenix by Jamie Mclachlan – 4/5

Paperback

Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury – 3/5

The Isle of the Lost by Melissa De La Cruz – 4.5/5

 

Those are the books I read in November. My goal for 2017 was to read 100 books and, with 83 books under the belt, it’s looking like December is going to be quite reading-heaving if I am to reach my goal. Fortunately, at the time of writing, I have already read 4 books and am close to finishing my fifth. It will still be quite difficult to meet the goal, but I am hopeful. I have two weeks off of work and a couple of long train journeys coming up which will allow me to get into reading properly. I’m still going to try and read a varied selection of books but I am not going to decide in advance which they will be, rather just choosing to read whatever I happen to be in the mood for at the time. That being said, I imagine my usual Winter reading themes will dominate – magic and murder. What more can you want in December?

Bring on the challenge of reading 17 books in one month.

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Rosie Reviews: The Forever Ship by Francesca Haig

The Forever Ship

Title: The Forever Ship

Author: Francesca Haig

Publisher: Gallery Books

Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Dystopian

Source: NetGalley

Review

Francesca Haig’s The Fire Sermon trilogy has easily been one of the best series I have read this year, so much so that I did something I rarely do and read the second book almost immediately after finishing the first. Now, I have had the chance to read the third, and final, book in this trilogy: The Forever Ship. It did not disappoint.

In this book, the stakes are even higher; with Cass’ visions of fire moving ever closer to being reality and the freedom of the Omegas as a people growing ever more scarce. I loved that Haig does not shy away from the hardship of war; the reality of starvation, violence and death is never far from the surface and the themes of oppression, war and power resonate throughout. Yet, for all the bleak atmosphere, there is hope, and this is one of the reasons why I could not stop reading. I needed to see the characters survive and I wanted to see that hope bear fruit.

Speaking of characters, there is something about the way Haig writes which makes each of the characters step off the page. It was brilliant being back with Cass, Piper and Zoe. Even Zach’s increased presence in this book helped keep me interested, particularly in the ethical and moral arguments he presents. We also get to see more of the secondary characters, and even some new ones. Yet, for the large cast of people in this story, each one comes across as real, so much so that if I close my eyes, I can almost see them. It is the way they’re written which makes this world so much more real and, as a result, so much more terrifying.

While the second book captured more of the history of the world and setting up for this final book, The Forever Ship does a peculiar trick of both expanding outwards and inwards at the same time. We learn more of Elsewhere, and the world which exists beyond that which Cass and her team have only known. Yet, at the same time, we are seeing more exploration at an individual level – we’re seeing the views of the people that live in this world while also learning more about the characters we’re following.

All in all, I thought this was a brilliant ending of the trilogy. It stayed true to the core of the first book yet also allowed the reader to experience entirely new feelings and adventures while joining Cass and her friends on their journey. My only main issues are that, at times, the novel does struggle a little with pacing and the ending did not quite work for me, although I can see and appreciate why Haig ended it as she did.

If anyone is interested in starting a new dystopian series, particularly one which will make you think and leave you emotionally reeling at the end, then this is one I’d heartily recommend.

Rating: 4.5/5

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/35011657-the-forever-ship

The Book Depository: https://www.bookdepository.com/The-Forever-Ship-Francesca-Haig/9781476767208/?a_aid=rosienreads

NaNoWriMo 2017 Update – Week 3 and the Beginning of Week 4

Writing Progress

The final week of NaNoWriMo is here and three days remain until the clock strikes midnight and the magic of November is over. It has been a while since my last update and that’s because I’ve been busy. The number of social commitments I’ve had this last week or so has meant that I have had five days where I have written nothing at all. Indeed, in the first half of Week 4, I have only managed to write 984 words.

Fortunately, the situation is not so dire as to be irretrievable. Thanks to a period of writing 2,000 words a day in Week 3, and a day in which I wrote over 6,000 words, I only need to write a minimum of 1,711 words a day in order to win. It is more than the daily average you need to win, but it’s not a horrendous amount of words and, as far as I’m concerned, I can still make it if I try. I might just have to suffer a couple of late nights.

Writing Inspiration

It’s hard to write of inspiration when I’ve just had a four day break from writing. That being said, a four day break may have been what I needed to refresh my mind and return to the pages with a cobweb-free head, and enough energy to charge onwards into the final few days.

One the main hurdles I’m facing at the moment is just being too tired to write, particularly after a long, cold day at work. It’s hard to find the motivation when you just want to be asleep under the duvet. While having naps may not be the best idea in the evening, letting yourself switch off for an hour or so after a busy day is vital for letting the brain get into the creative zone. Some people enjoy a walk, others a long, hot bath. For me, it varies. Often-times, I find that just watching an episode of a show will suffice. Once that hour is up, I am ready to make myself comfortable (often with a blanket if it’s one of those chillier days), get a cup of tea and start writing.

Writing Plans

Today, my push for victory begins. As I’ve said, I need to write a minimum of just over 1,700 words a day in order to win and win I intend to do. It is possible, even though I do have plenty of other things which need doing this week, and it is going to be my priority. To achieve this, I decided to look back on the days I wrote the most.

On a few, the words came from having no words at all. I started writing about something which I had experienced, such as a headache or being cold, and those ended up turning into more and more words, all perfectly relevant to the story. On others, I wrote in focused time periods, using the Pomodoro technique. I’d put on some background sound and write for 25 minutes, then took a break to do something completely different, before starting the 25 minutes again. This technique helped me write 6,000 words in one day. Other times, it was simply the goal and the story which got me to 2,000 – I decided to write that many words and so I did.

So, this week, I am going to do a combination of those. I am going to sit down to an empty page, and let either the story or my experiences guide me. I will write in sprints, with regular breaks for both eyes and brain, with the final goal of the day being 2,000 words. Some days I will succeed, other days I may fail but so long as I write more than 1,700 words a day, I should be okay.

Let the final days of NaNoWriMo begin.

 

Rosie Reviews: The Beautiful Ones by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

The Beautiful Ones_cover image

Title: The Beautiful Ones

Author: Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press, Thomas Dunne Books

Genre: Romance, Fantasy

Source: NetGalley

Review

Take the Belle Époque and then mix in some romance, a fair amount of scheming and a touch of telekinesis. The result is The Beautiful Ones by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. This book is a tale of a girl who dreams of romance, a man who longs to find his love of years gone by and a woman who sacrificed her own happiness for her family’s fortune. This novel is told mostly over the period of two grand seasons, where everyone is in the city, going to balls and courting. Only this time, there is the added bonus of ‘talents’: people with telekinetic gifts who are looked down upon by those without.

I will admit, this book was not entirely what I was expecting based on the blurb I read. I was expecting the telekinesis to be a much larger part of the book than it was and indeed, in some parts I forgot it was actually a feature of the novel. Instead, The Beautiful Ones focused primarily on the relationships between the three main characters, and their own personal development as the story went on. Even though this was not quite what I was expecting, I think the novel was probably better for it.

When I first started reading this book, I made the mistake of reading it on the bus to work. The introduction of the characters and their actions during the first part of the novel had me smiling and chuckling to myself as I read (cue the weird looks from fellow commuters). Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s treatment of the characters is beautiful, particularly in the first half. Each one is fully layered, with their own plans and designs, that you never know quite who to you want to come out on top. Personally, Nina was my favourite – her naïve vulnerability, rebellious nature and hidden strength were rather endearing, particularly as she found herself caught up in the schemes of Hector and Valerie. Unfortunately, the second half did lose a little of the character complexity as it started to focus more on the romance and plot, but it was still entertaining and heart-warming (if a little frustrating in places) to read.

Overall, I would recommend this book if you’re in the mood for a more modern Jane Austen with a little bit of telekinesis added in for good measure. While I don’t tend to enjoy romances, the book is a delight to read. The characters are a clear strength, especially when they are at their most deceptive, but the story and prose were equally as enrapturing.

Rating: 4/5

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/33380869-the-beautiful-ones

The Book Depository: https://www.bookdepository.com/Beautiful-Ones-Silvia-Moreno-Garcia/9781250099068/?a_aid=rosienreads

 

NaNoWriMo 2017 – Week 2 Update

Writing Progress

Today brings about the start of a new week of NaNoWriMo; more importantly (at least in the context of this post) it means that Week 2 of NaNoWriMo is over. I survived. As I mentioned in my last NaNo update, Week 2 and I are not on the best of terms and, so it was, I went into it with some trepidation. Admittedly, I did have some off days – including the first day this month that I wrote fewer than 1,000 words. But those were thankfully only one-offs and this week was also filled with milestones and achievements.

The main achievement being that, after writing 12,771 words this week, I am now over the half-way mark to NaNoWriMo’s final goal of 50,000 words. My new total is 25,815. NaNoWriMo isn’t all about the numbers though, or at least it shouldn’t be. There is also the story you’re telling. The first week was a week of discovery, exploring the ideas I’ve had and meeting the characters. This week, those ideas started to finally feel like a novel. This feeling grows more and more solid with every word I write. Admittedly, a lot of it still feels like a puzzle with only a few pieces in place and a lot more to find, but there is an end-point out there and the final image is slowly revealing itself.

Writing Inspiration – Beating Writer’s Block

Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury is a short book, but an inspiring one. It’s a book filled with the passion of writing, all told through essays and anecdotes in Bradbury’s hand. What it isn’t, however, is a book of writing advice. Yet it is this book which helped me overcome the demon that is Writer’s Block (capitalisation intended).

In this book, Bradbury talks of experiences. Experiences, even the smallest or seemingly inconsequential ones, fuelled a large part of his writing. He would pick a moment, or a thing relating to a moment, that he had experienced and write around that. In the end, a story would emerge.

There were a few occasions this week where I sat at my laptop and just stared at the empty page, unsure of what to write. This was despite the novel plan that sat at my desk. I simply had no idea where to start or even how. The first time this happened, I remembered what Bradbury had written and was instantly taken back to earlier that day when I had sat, freezing, at my desk at work. I started to describe how it felt then, before long, I lost control of the story. It grew, expanding from a simple feeling to a chapter which would ultimately turn into a villain reveal. I used the technique twice more in the week, including on the day I had a migraine. Those three days were the only days I wrote more than 2,000 words and were the writing sessions I was probably the most happy with during Week 2.

It would appear that the masters do have handy tips from time to time.

Writing Plans for Week 3

For me, Week 3 is the big one. I’ve surpassed the half-way point and am now heading towards to the finish line. Unfortunately, towards the end of the journey are three days in which I will be away and have very little writing time. Enter Week 3. This week with be the big push towards 50,000. I want to get as far ahead as possible so that I can relax a bit while I am away and during the last few days. By the end of this week, I want to have reached and beaten 40,000 words. At a minimum.

This will be a challenge, not least because my writing session for today is going to be shorter than normal (a combination of staying late at work, exhaustion and writing this post). But I do have an entire weekend of very few plans in which to write, and I know that, if I push myself, I can get up to 3,000 words in a day. Given I need to write 2,000 words a day on average to reach that goal, it should be achievable. Although I may need that holiday by the end of it.

 

 

 

Rosie Reviews: Superhero Comics by Chris Gavaler

Superhero Comics

Title: Superhero Comics

Author: Chris Gavaler

Publisher: Bloomsbury Academic

Genre: Non-Fiction

Source: NetGalley

Review

Superheroes are everywhere nowadays; it is near impossible to go into town and avoid seeing something superhero-related, be it a toy, a DVD or even a logoed shirt. That being said, I am not complaining. Superheroes have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember; yet, despite that, the comic side of the superhero world has mostly been a mystery to me. When I saw Superhero Comics on NetGalley, I jumped at the chance to read it.

I will admit, I don’t often read non-fiction. I find it hard to get into and hard to stick to. However, Superhero Comics managed to keep my attention throughout most of the book and I found myself completely fascinated by what it had to say. The book essentially covers three main topics: the history of comics, the social and cultural context of comics and the actual structure and formatting of comics.

Of these three categories, the first two were the ones which particularly interested me and it would be an understatement to say I learnt a lot. The book goes back to before the dawn of heroes to explore what it was that led to their appearance in the world; then, from there, moves forward, going through the various ages of comics before investigating how comics have evolved based on the cultural and societal pressures of the time. This includes superhero roots in the KKK and Nazi ideals, the ups and downs of comic popularity and even tackles why female heroes are drawn the way they are. The chapter which stuck out to me the most was the one which covered female and LGBTQ+ representation, whereas the final part of the book, where it starts to analyse various artist techniques and comic book structure was a little difficult for me to get into.

My main concern with the book was, simply, for a book about comics there were not that may pictures. As someone who has yet to be fully initiated into the world of comic books, a lot of the references were lost on me and so it would have been helpful to have examples of these mixed in with the text. Towards the end, when Superhero Comics was talking about the appearance of comics, this did change a little, although the fact I was reading on a kindle did make it difficult to flip back to the images when they were being discussed. This meant a lot of what was being described ended up being lost on me.

Overall, Superhero Comics is a fascinating read for anyone even mildly interested in the comic book world. It is clear and, for the most part, the terminology is described so that a layperson could understand. The pages are filled with facts that I had not even considered (such as why DC and Marvel are the only companies to use the term ‘superhero’) and, for those just getting into comics, there is also a key text section which covers the main, defining comics of each era – a great place to get started. I recommend this for anyone who is interested in comics, even if you aren’t necessarily an avid comic book reader yourself.

Rating: 3.5/5

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/29565879-superhero-comics

Amazon.co.uk: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Superhero-Comics-Bloomsbury-Studies/dp/1474226345

 

NaNoWriMo 2017 – Week 1 Update!

Writing Progress

Week 1 of NaNoWriMo is over and, if I’m honest, I am quite proud of myself with my progress in the first week. My daily word count has been a bit varied (writing ~1,000 words on one day and ~3,000 words the next), but on average I have written 1,863 words a day for the last week. And I wrote every day. The biggest challenge for me was actually making sure I wrote a reasonable amount each day while also not letting general work and life-admin get in the way of it. As it turns out, the one week I have had more to fit in, I’ve been the most successful at getting things done than I have for a long time. As a result, my total word count at the end of Week 1 is 13,044 words. Only 36,956 words to go!

In terms of the novel itself, I started out by trying to alternate between my three protagonists each day. Each one has quite a different story, so I thought it would be a good way to keep myself interested in the novel if I kept switching between them. It worked, at least for the first four days when I was in the initial exploratory stages and excited to meet each character and those they associate with. For the last three days, however, I have mostly been focused on one character’s perspective and really enjoying getting a bit deeper into her story without having to step in and out of it. This particular character was always the most vocal in the planning stage, so I am not particularly surprised by her dominance at the moment. That being said, I am still excited to see what the other characters have to bring to the table.

Writing Inspiration – GollanczFest

Almost every writer has those moments where inspiration is slow to strike, or no muses are in town. At these times, writing can prove to veer on the difficult and it becomes an effort to get the words on the page. At times like this, I find one way to build up motivation and inspiration is to actually listen to other writers talk about their work, or the world of writing in general.

This week, I went to GollanczFest, a weekend of panels and workshops made up of the authors of Gollancz, a sci-fi and fantasy publisher. I only went on the Saturday, and only to the panel discussions, but the whole day was a lot of fun (although it did veer onto more serious topics a surprising number of times).

My favourite panel was the one where each author picked a weapon and were pitched against one another in an author death match (absolutely hilarious), but each one was great in different ways. From topics such as things that go bump in the night to where the authors get their own inspiration, it was fascinating to hear the different opinions from each of the authors (particularly when a near fight broke out on stage based on whether we’re heading into a dystopia or a utopia in the real world!).

Ultimately though, the most inspiring thing I find from author talks isn’t the advice they give, or their debates on if ghosts are real. Instead, it’s the fact that the talks humanise them a bit. Authors are real people, with their own lives and own challenges and, really, if they can do it then so can you.

Writing Plans for Week 2

Going into Week 2, I am feeling positive. Week 2 is notorious for being the most challenging and most vicious of NaNoWriMo weeks, yet after the success of Week 1, I do think I will be able to ride out the wave. That being said, I am going to make some slight changes.

A couple of days ago, I moved my novel onto Scrivener. In the past, I have always written a book in a fully chronological order, so writing in a word document worked reasonably well. This time around, however, I have found myself taking a completely different approach. Each writing session starts with a blank page and an idea. If the idea is slow coming, I take a glance at my rough plan (which consists of a list of key scenes for each character, with about 3 words to describe each scene – very broad), and pick the scene which grabs me first. As a result, I’ve ended up with a large number of word documents of random scenes. So, to keep track of them all, after writing, I’ve added the scene to Scrivener with the name format ‘<protagonist name> – <4 word scene summary>’. This has instantly helped me see where new scenes could be added, and where the scenes I have written fit in the book. I will still write on a blank Word document, but at the end of the session, it all gets copied into Scrivener which, in turn will help me decide on new scenes to write.

This blog post is getting a little long (the NaNoWriMo mode has hit) so I’m going to wrap it up now. Another one will be up next week, covering the battle that is Week 2 of NaNoWriMo.