Friday, January 15, 2021

Winter Anytime Reads

 Hello, friends! As you read this, I have made it through my first two weeks of full-time work! But this post is not about that! Instead, is about something much more relaxing: winter anytime reads! This is the sequel to Summer Anytime Reads (which I did a few years ago) and Autumnal Anytime Reads (which I did three months ago), and it was much easier to write than either of them. There are a lot of books out there with a wintery vibe, even when you eliminate the Christmas ones. (And there's going to be quite a few more once the next few Arista Challenges happen!) ANYWAY. These books range from stories perfect for curling up with by a nice fire to books that reflect and redeem the darkness and coldness of these months, and they actually include some of my favorite books in the world . . . though, on a moment's reflection, that could be said for both of the previous posts in the series too. Apparently, the books I love best span all seasons. So, without further ado, let's go!

 


Winter Anytime Reads

  1. Sabriel by Garth Nix. I mean, it takes place largely in winter, and the major magic used in the book has a tendency to produce frost. So there's that. But, as a book very concerned with death and a season of dying and trying not to die, it's a thematically wintery book too. And it has the sense of rising a challenge and triumphing over death that you really need in this season. Also, it has a cat and one of the better father-daughter relationships in fiction (even if a lot of that relationship is shown in the way Sabriel thinks of and acts towards her father and how he acts towards her), both of which are much appreciated in this very dreary time of year.
  2. If you liked Sabriel, try: The rest of the Abhorsen series (for more of everything you loved in Sabriel — the series as a whole sits on the border between winter and spring reads) or Hexwood (for fantasy with an . . . unusual take on usual tropes, we'll say).
  3. Jackaby by William Ritter. You can interpret this as either the whole series or just the first book and it'll be true. It starts in winter, and it might be winter again by the time the series ends — I don't recall for sure — but while Jackaby is an excellent read any time of year, it's especially delicious in this particular season. It starts off with a murder mystery (excellent for reading under blankets and by fires), and it's quick and enthralling and will make you forget how cold it is.
    If you liked Jackaby, try: The Invisible Library (for fantasy mystery featuring lots of influence of legends and fantastic lore, among other stories) or Seraphina (also for more fantasy mystery, albeit with more dragons and fewer other fantasy beings).
  4. Illusionarium by Heather Dixon. All of Heather Dixon's books are actually excellent winter reads, but Illusionarium is the only one I don't associate with Christmas more than winter in general. Actually, I'd call Illusionarium a February sort of book. Steampunk is often a little dark, and the worlds in which this particular story takes place have been dark and cold and dying for a very long time, and it's ripe for renewal and rebirth. And the ending of the story is full of exactly the kind of hopefulness and warmth-despite-chill that you need during the coldest month of the year.
    If you liked Illusionarium, try: Entwined and The Enchanted Sonata (for more of Heather Dixon's delightful storytelling style and happy, hopeful endings), or Halayda (for steampunk stories of renewal).
  5. Six of Crows duology by Leigh Bardugo. Arguably the darkest book or series on this list, I don't think this should be much of a surprise. Again, the first book is wintery in setting, but both books are winter-appropriate in the darkness and intensity of the stories they tell. Also, I feel like the mixture of humor and darkness and snarky levity is very fitting for these months.
    If you liked Six of Crows, try: Mistborn (for fantasy heists and non-standard fantasy settings) or the Shadow and Bone trilogy (for more of Bardugo's writing and world — this is arguably more wintery than Six of Crows, but I like Crows better).
  6. Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow by Jessica Day George. It wouldn't be a winter reads list without a retelling of "East of the Sun, West of the Moon." Jessica Day George's take on the tale is my favorite — it's short and sweet and satisfying, and I very much love the Lass's relationship with Hans Peter, her oldest brother. I also love the why the author gave for the whole situation, arguably the most important part of any fairytale retelling.
    If you liked Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow, try: East by Edith Pattou (for another great retelling of "East of the Sun, West of the Moon") or Beauty by Robin McKinley (for a wintery Beauty and the Beast retelling).

What are your favorite wintery reads? Please tell me in the comments!
Thanks for reading!

Monday, January 4, 2021

2020 Hindsight and 2021 Hopes

 

Well, here we are! 2021! Finally. I know that changing the calendar doesn't fix the issues of 2020 — we're going to carry a lot of those problems and the behaviors that caused those problems into the new year, no matter what we say to the contrary. But at least it gives us a feeling of a fresh start and a clean slate so we feel more motivated to work on making things better.

I also will say that even though 2020 was a dumpster fire in many respects for many people, it actually wasn't a bad year for me personally. The part of my last semester that I was on campus for was really enjoyable! I've been able to keep up the college friendships that were most important to me (and the D&D campaigns we started) via online means. I wrote a lot, and I got to spend a lot of time at home with my family, and I got some time to rest and do creative work that didn't have a deadline. So, yeah. I have a lot to be grateful for.

As the joke goes, none of us had 2020 vision, and even 20/21 may be a bit much to hope for. That doesn't keep me from making goals and plans, though, and in some respects makes those goals more important (because you can't get pushed off course if you don't have a course in the first place). I'm hoping to incorporate a new approach into those goals, but I'll talk more about that later. First, it's time for some reflection on this past year — because, after all, hindsight is 2020.

(Ok, that was terrible. No regrets, though.)

2020 Hindsight and 2021 Hopes

The Hindsight:

Writing

  • My attempt to set and achieve a writing challenge eleven out of the twelve months of the year actually worked better this year than it did last year, I think. I did have some kind of writing goal or challenge to direct my writing going pretty much constantly. I set specific goals month-by-month until the 100-4-100 challenge started. Then I had that plus deadlines for various projects, whether "I need to have a session written for D&D this week" or "I need to edit The Midnight Show in time to publish it on the planned release date!"
  • I ended up with a total of 318,533 words written over several different projects (which I'll talk about in a minute) and 124,991 words edited. And that's . . . honestly a lot? It's just a bit over five times what I wrote last year, about the same number of words edited, and my combined total is about two and a half times last year's combined total.
  • Again, it helped that I had very little to do other than write for several months. But I was doing about half a NaNo event per month for most of the year, so that's very solid.
  • As for specific project goals, well, that went a little off course (though I wasn't unsuccessful, just successful in different ways).
    • I finished drafting Blood in the Earth. I didn't edit it, though, let alone publish it. I'm not sure exactly when it'll be published because it's going to need a rewrite, not just an edit.
    • I did not write either of my short story/novelette ideas for that world. That's mostly because BitE took so long to write, though.
      • Also, it took me this long to realize what the initials of Blood in the Earth spell, and I have to say, that's . . . kind of appropriate, given one of the fairy tales it retells.
    • I did write, edit, and publish a different, unplanned novella, The Midnight Show! Which was a super fun project that I'm really happy I decided to pursue! And I wrote about 60-70% of a sequel to that novel, which will, with any luck, come out next year as part of the Arista Challenge release.
    • I . . . sort of finished my D&D campaign? I finished it up to the point I originally intended to write it. And then people still wanted to play, so I kept writing. And technically I'm still writing it. And I started writing a second campaign as a just-for-fun side project, and I have plans to write one or two others . . . It just snowballs.
    • I did not figure out a publishing plan, though I did take some steps in that I talked to some other authors about their experiences and contacted UUP with some clarifications about what they're looking for and what they accept and so on. The fact that I'm tying pretty much all my books into one multiverse is going to make things interesting if I decide to pursue small press or traditional publishing with some of my other books, so I'll have to be careful about that. (That said, some are more closely connected to the rest of the multiverse than others.) I also have a pretty good idea of at least two, possibly three, of the next few books I intend to publish, so there's that!

Reading

  • I talked about this in my Best Of post last Friday, so go check that out for all the details.
  • But in summary: I achieved my goals and then some. I didn't achieve all of them in the way I expected to, but it still counts.

Life

  • I did indeed graduate! And I more or less figured out my life for the moment. I've said this before, but I'm pretty chill with the fact that I didn't get a graduation ceremony. I have the credentials and the piece of paper that says I did all the work, and I didn't spend a week stressing out about how I'd probably trip on nothing and embarrass myself in front of eight thousand people, and that's all I needed. Finding a job took longer than I expected, but I did get an offer I felt comfortable (and even excited about) accepting in December, and that will start up soon.
  • I also started back up with German. And I've been pretty consistent with it, especially since I discovered the Duolingo story lessons, which make for a nice change of pace from the regular lessons. I didn't have as much success with Irish (I've more or less dropped it at this point), but I think German will be more useful. (Did the fact that my favorite Critical Role character has a German accent motivate me to keep up with it? Maybe at some points, just a little.)
  • I didn't get back into photography like I hoped to. I did a little bit in May, but for the most part, writing took precedence. I'm ok with that, though.
  • I also didn't start the side project I was thinking about last year. I did look into it, and I decided that it wasn't something I wanted to invest time and energy into at this point in time. I'm not taking it totally off the table, but it's definitely on hold for an unknown length of time.
  • Some stuff that happened that I didn't include in my original goals (because how would I know to?)
    • We finally got FIOS! I had nothing to do with this being accomplished, but we've been waiting on this for literal years. It's very nice to be able to do internet stuff like a normal person, without having to second-guess how much data I'm using or whether or not I'm taking up too much bandwidth just by browsing Instagram or so on.
    • I got my first taste of solo freelancing. And having had that taste, I have decided that I don't want to do it for my main income, at least not until I have some work experience under my belt — not just for what I can learn, but so I have that extra weight to back me up and give me confidence when I'm working with clients.
    • I attended two more weddings and almost attended a third, but it got rescheduled to a time when I couldn't make it. (It was going to be right in the middle of the two I did attend, which would've been awesome.) And in between, I spent a week with my roomie and her family and played a ton of Sentinels of the Multiverse.
    • I did not get COVID. I did spend a lot of the summer and fall torn between "I am so glad that I have an excuse to not be social" and "I have not seen non-family people in SO LONG and it might be making me go crazy." But I don't think that makes me special.
    • I started watching Critical Role and now I might be just a touch obsessed. The fact that I haven't been able to get further in the series makes me genuinely sad. And I maintain that it's helped me think more about how I make characters, how I play my characters, and how I run my games! (I think that's brought about improvement. I could be wrong. But I don't think I'm wrong.)

So. That's my 2020! All in all, a pretty solid year. Moving on, then, what am I aiming for in 2021?

The Hopes:

Year of  . . .

  • So, a few months ago, I watched a CGP Grey video about an alternative to New Years' Resolutions. His idea was to pick a "theme" for the year, a single word with a broad enough interpretation that it allows plenty of room for change and adjustment throughout the year but specific enough to actually provide some kind of direction. You can then use that theme as you think about how you spend your time, how you think, and so on.
  • (The video is here if you want to watch it.)
  • (It's kind of like a less-spiritual version of the whole "God giving you a word for the year" thing that some people talk about. You could probably actually combine the two if you really wanted. But anyway.)
  • Obviously, I already have my resolution alternative in the form of the goals that make up this post. But, I like to sometimes try new things and new methods as well! So, this year, I'm going to test having a theme that I'll use to direct some of the goals I set as well as how I approach spending my time throughout the year.
  • The theme I'm picking for this year is a year of "finally" in the sense that I want to try to do and accomplish things that I've been working towards or meaning to do for a long time but just haven't gotten to yet. This idea seems like it'll align well with things that are going to happen anyway, so hopefully it'll work out. I'll try to remember to reassess around spring and decide if the theme is actually helping, if I need to pick a different theme, and so on.

Writing Goals

  • Once again, I want to set and actively work towards monthly writing goals in at least ten of the twelve months of 2021. Even though I accomplished this last year at a harder difficulty setting, I'm dialing back a little for two reasons. First, as I mentioned already, I'm going to have a job and I don't know exactly what that's going to look like for my writing. Second, I want to make sure I build in time to rest when I need it.
    • My primary January goal is to finish writing (and start editing) the Midnight Show sequel. I think that another 20K words should do the trick. That's about 650 words a day or 5K per week, either of which is achievable. On an average day when the words aren't fighting me, I can get 600 words in a bit under an hour.
    • My secondary January goal is to finish writing the current arc in my D&D campaign. I know what needs to happen from this point out. I just need to take the time to write it down. But, of course, that's time away from my novel, so it hasn't happened yet.
  • Some other specific writing projects I'd like to accomplish this year — subject to change, as always.
    • I want to finish, edit, and publish the Midnight Show sequel for the Frosted Roses Arista Challenge. This feels like it should be doable, much more so than finishing Blood in the Earth did last year.
    • I want to decide if I'm writing something for the Broken Mirrors Arista Challenge and, if I decide that the answer is yes, I want to start and finish drafting it before the holiday season hits. I think it could fit in any of my established storyworlds or in quite a few of my unpublished worlds. The world of Mechanical Heart is currently the strongest contender (though it would be a very, very loose retelling), but that's mostly because it's the first idea I came up with.
    • I want to begin rewrites on Blood in the Earth. I'm not going to say finish rewrites, though that would be a nice stretch goal. (Actually, if I don't do Broken Mirrors, I probably could get through rewrites this year.)
    • In the D&D realm, I want to keep up with writing Defenders of Serys, finish writing my Portal-inspired campaign, and start at least one of the other one-shot/campaign ideas I have. That said, everything on that list except Defenders of Serys is a low-priority goal. I love D&D, but my regular writing comes first.
    • The last project for this list — and this is a stretch goal, though it's the one that most aligns with the Year of Finally theme — I want to start, if not finish, rewrites or edits on at least one of my backlog projects. The top contenders for this are Once Upon a Dream (a Sleeping Beauty retelling from the same world as The Midnight Show, but on a different continent and at lest half a century earlier; it's written but it needs edits), Dust of Silver (12DP/Rapunzel; currently in rewrites; I want to finish rewriting it and its sequel so I can get to the later books in the series), or Between Two Worlds (non-retelling portal fantasy; I'm halfway through edits but will probably have to re-edit what I have done anyway). All of these are stories I plan to publish when I'm done, but I'm not setting dates for a while yet.
  • Finally, I want to keep up with my blogging and author social posts as much as possible. That said, I don't know exactly how much time I'll have with the job, so I'm giving myself permission now to skip one Friday blog post per month if necessary. I'm also going to start working out other post types that will provide variety and will make it easier for me to get posts done during the week.

Reading Goals

  • I'm going back to my more conservative reading goal of 77 books for the year. Again, I don't know how much reading time I'll have, plus some of the books I'd like to read this year are on the longer side. I may reassess this in June or July and raise the goal then if I feel it's necessary.
  • Since I achieved last year's read-older-books goal, I'm amping it up a little this year and aiming to read 12 books published (or at least written) before 1975. I debated adding a further stipulation about genre or audience, but I don't think that'll be necessary given another goal on this list.
  • Also like last year, I want to read 12 books that are outside the speculative fiction genres. We're not amping this one up because it's a pretty solid goal as-is. And we're not adding further genre stipulations because, quite frankly, I'm a mood reader and would rather just see where my interest takes me.
  • We're adding on a new goal as well to go along with the Year of Finally: this year, I'm going to aim to read 1 epic-length Tolkien or Jordan fantasy novel every two months. I was originally going to make this broader and say "one epic fantasy novel not written by Sanderson with significant cultural significance," but . . . the point of this is to finally finish my LOTR reread, get back into the Wheel of Time books, and maybe read the Silmarillion, since I've been meaning to do all that for months or years.
  • Finally, despite what I said in my last post about tracking books, I decided that I'm going to try to track my reads in more detail for 1 month. The main reason I'm doing this is so I can easily check how many books I've read towards my publication year and genre goals. But at the same time, if tracking things in a spreadsheet or a Google form ends up being too much hassle, I will drop it at the end of January.

Life Goals

  • Obviously, the chief goal in this category is don't fail at the new job. And also figure out how to balance all the things. Those two things kind of go together. Again, I'm very excited to start working, but I'm also nervous for . . . pretty obvious reasons, I should think. And I am more than a little stressed about having sufficient time to write and spend time with my family and friends and keep up other hobbies . . . especially stuff like reading and consuming good stories in general, which directly affect both my mood and my writing quality. And, of course, I need to get sufficient sleep without just saying "I'll catch up on the weekend" because I won't.
  • I also want to keep up with practicing my German and learning more of the language. I'm a perfectionist and like my Duolingo streak, so this shouldn't be too hard? In theory? But at the same time, if I lose my streak, I have much less motivation to keep going. (I'm not even going to try picking Irish back up right now. Not gonna happen.)
  • Bringing back a goal from last year because it fits with the Year of Finally: I want to get back into photography. Will I have time to get back into photography? Hard to say. But my dad manages it, so I feel like I should be able to, even if it's just for an hour or two once or twice a month. (I'm thinking of rejoining the photo club I used to attend since they've moved online, on the principle that if I spend time around people who are doing it and talking about it, I'm more likely to want to do it. Also, contests are excellent motivators. I'm not 100% certain, though, because, again, time, plus I'd only be able to join for half a year at this point.)
  • And we'll finish up this list with some connected craft goals — three specifically:
    • I want to put the finishing touches on my cloak, which involves sewing in some extra stabilization pieces and adding another fastener.
    • I want to make at least one project using one of my "special" yarns, otherwise known as the nicer yarns I've been hoarding for the perfect project.
    • And I want to try at least one of the other crafts or art things I keep saying I'm going to try. I'm not sure exactly which one yet, but we'll figure it out.

What were the highlights of your 2020? What goals, themes, or resolutions do you have for the new year? Do you track the books you've read with more than just Goodreads? If so, any tips or suggestions for me? Please tell me in the comments!
Thanks for reading!

Friday, January 1, 2021

2020: Another Year, Another End-of-Year Book Freakout!

I don't know why I still call these round-ups "Book Freakouts." It was the original name of the question set, sure, but the original question set was a tag that I then co-opted and slightly modified so I would have a more interesting end-of-year book roundup than a Top Ten Favorite Reads post. (I mean, I still do a Top Five Favorite Reads post over on Light and Shadows, but it's nice to get a more broad look at the highs, lows, and surprises of the year, y'know?) But in any case, I very rarely actually, y'know, freak out over the books included. Perhaps, come 2021, I will rebrand.

Oh.

Wait a minute.

It is 2021.

HAPPY NEW YEAR, Y'ALL! (Also, don't forget to check out my New Year's Eve story that I posted last night! And check back in a couple days for my 2021 goals post.)

Anyway. Back to the books! We'll keep that rebranding idea on the table, but while we're thinking about what that might look like, let's recap the highs and the lows of my bookish adventures in 2020.

(It occurs to me that if I rebrand, I will have to make new post banners for my recap posts. Though that might not be a horrible thing.)

As per the usual, let's get started with some statistics! I have read a total of 125 books and 36,384 pages this year, 66 of which were read since my Mid-Year Book Freakout. That beats my overall goal of reading 99 books this year by a very respectable amount. I don't have the exact breakdown of genres like some other people do (mostly because I can't be bothered to track everything on Excel/Google Forms and Goodreads), but I'd guess it's a more diverse spread than it has been in other years and that it particularly includes more nonfiction than usual.

As for specific goals, some numbers:

  • I beat my goal of reading twelve books outside the spec-fic genres with a total of 17 non-spec-fic reads (15 if you remove the book I was specifically required to read for a class and the Narnia cookbook that I skim-read). A solid fifth of those were some flavor of biography, and the rest were a smattering of mystery, classics, contemporary, science, and some theology/philosophy.
  • And for my goal of twelve books written before I was born, I read a total of thirty books that fit that category. Granted, ten of them were in the Redwall series, and a good two-thirds of them were aimed partially or primarily at a similar age group. But it's still quite respectable.

And now that we have the statistics out of the way, let's get specific with the question set!

2020 End-of-Year Book Freakout!

1. Best book you've read in the second half of 2020:

A Morbid Taste for Bones by Ellis Peters

It feels really weird to have a non-speculative-fiction book top my list, but A Morbid Taste for Bones was frankly amazing. As I said in my review, it's like someone distilled the vibes of Robin Hood and Ranger's Apprentice, poured it into a 12th-century monastery, and then added a heaping helping of murder mystery. I haven't read the rest of the series yet because I've been busy trying to work through my extant library stacks, but I'm very excited to.

And now, a few runners-up:

Spindle's End by Robin McKinley

I've been meaning to read this book for quite a while, and I almost bought it at McKay's mid-way through the summer . . . and then didn't because I read the first chapter and wasn't sure if I'd love it. And then I got it from the library. And it was amazing. It's a clever twist on Sleeping Beauty set in an unashamedly, delightfully magical world. There's an emphasis on family and friendship over romance, and it's almost like a Penderwicks-style slice-of-life type story for most of the book (until you get to the end and things come to a head). It's excellent.

(And for those curious: I did find it again at McKay's several months later. So it now sits on my shelf ready to be reread whenever I like.)

The Dark King's Curse by Wyn Estelle Owens

My favorite of the Tattered Slippers releases, this is a delightful, fae-filled retelling of the Twelve Dancing Princesses. It has a very clever take on the seasonal courts and a lovely emphasis on friendships and family without taking the usual route of focusing on the relationships between the sisters. (We actually only really get to know one of the twelve princesses! Which is quite unusual.) The best part of the novel, of course, is Laisren, who is indescribably excellent — the best I can do is to say that he's a magnificent meddler, merry on the surface yet determined and loyal and unyielding beneath, like the best aspects of Mollymauk (Critical Role), Eanrin (Tales of Goldstone Wood), and Rook (An Enchantment of Ravens) all rolled into one and topped off with an actual sense of kingship and responsibility.

2. Best sequel series you've read in the second half of 2020:

I'm changing this question a bit because I didn't read many sequels in this half of the year that I wouldn't also want to mention the book or books that came before. (Or that weren't rereads; there were a fair number of those too.)

The Strange Planet duology by Nathan W. Pyle

I debated a bit about giving this the top spot because it's not really a story, just a compilation of comics. But there are some storylines if you look closely, and these were some of my favorite new-to-me reads of the year, so . . . yeah. Here we are. They're just very clever and enthusiastic and funny and sometimes insightful.

For something with an actual storyline:

The Magus of the Library series by Mitsu Izumi

I read a lot of comics and manga this year, but after the Strange Planet anthologies, this series was the best. It's got a non-European setting (specifically, Middle Eastern-inspired), a heartwarming narrative, and, of course, lots of love for libraries, books, and the magical librarians that tend them.

3. New release you haven't read yet but want to:

Rhythm of War by Brandon Sanderson

Return of the Thief by Megan Whalen Turner

How have I not read these yet? It's called "it took forever for them to come in at the library," crossed with "When I finally got them in at the library, I was in the middle of other books" and a little bit of "When I am already emotionally drained and stretched thin and altogether too busy, it's not a good idea to start a book that, while amazing, will turn all of those things up higher." They're at the top of the list for this month, though. (There's a high chance that, by the time you read this post, I'll already be in the middle of Return).

4. Most anticipated release for next year:

Love and Memory by Kendra E. Ardnek

2021 looks like it's going to be a quieter year, so I don't have anything on the level of Return of the Thief or Rhythm of War to look forward to. I am excited for the Love and Memory release, though. It's going to be good.

Oh, and I'm excited for whatever Wyn Estelle Owens puts out. I don't know exactly what it'll be, but pretty much everything she's posted snippets of in the last few months sounds delightful.

5. Biggest disappointment:

It's a tie between two books in this category.

Crimson Bound by Rosamond Hodge

This wasn't terrible, but it definitely did not meet my expectations. It had a lot of potential and a lot of good reviews from friends, but it got bogged down in the middle by frustrating character decisions and romantic angst. The ending was great; the rest of the story . . . wasn't.

Bloodlust and Bonnets by Emily McGovern

I actually liked this less than Crimson Bound, but I had lower expectations. I'm not sure why I decided to pick it up, in hindsight — my feelings about the author's webcomics are mixed, after all. But I also usually like stories that make fun of common tropes. Just . . . not this one so much.

6. Biggest surprise:

The fact that I haven't read the books in question #3. Or, for that matter, either of the Invisible Library books that came out this year. Or W.R. Gingell's new Two Monarchies novel. But if you want an actual book, here's two:

Poison's Dance by Tricia Mingerink

I had lower expectations for this book going in (I thought I would probably like it, but strongly doubted I'd love it), but then I ended up really enjoying it! It has a nice twist on the Twelve Dancing Princesses, and it's a nomance on top of that! So that was nice. Also, Tamya is just a really great character.

Runner-up in this category:

10 Blind Dates by Ashley Elston

I mentioned this in my most recent Doings! post, but a friend recommended this to me around this time last year and I planned to save it for the Christmas season. Again, I expected to like it but not love it, but honestly, I enjoyed this enough that I'd probably buy it if I found it for a good price. It's fun and has a lot of emphasis on family and friendship and not letting go of what you have and recognizing what's really valuable and less emphasis than I expected on actual romance. (I mean, there is an actual romance in this one, and it's very cute and I ABSOLUTELY shipped it, but it's not 100% of the plot, nor does it overtake the parts of the plot that aren't it. The different themes and aspects support each other as they should in any good book.)

7. Favorite new-to-you author:

E. J. Kitchens! She wrote another of my favorite Tattered Slippers releases, Wrought of Silver and Ravens, and I'm very excited to read the rest of her books.

8. Newest fictional crush/ship:

Allllllll the couples in The Dark King's Curse. Don't ask me to pick one; I can't. They are all delightful in their own wonderful and slightly heartbreaking ways.

(Also, the one that I probably would pick is the most spoilery of the bunch. So there's that. That's also why I'm not naming them all.)

9. Newest favorite character:

LAISREN.

That is all.

Thank you.

(I also really love Siobhra, though. She's a close second.)

10. A book that made you cry:

The Wingfeather Saga books 3-4

Both of these have scenes that would make me cry if I cried at books. That's not a thing I generally do, though, as has been frequently established in these round-up posts.

11. A book that made you happy:

Book of Enchantments by Patricia C. Wrede

This is a really fun short story anthology, and I quite enjoyed pretty much all the stories in it! The last one (which involves an enchanted frying pan) is my favorite, but they're all excellent (and nicely bite-sized).

12. Favorite book to film adaptation you've seen this half of the year:

Little Women is arguably the only book-to-film adaptation I've seen this year that I've watched enough of to consider a favorite. But it would probably be my favorite even if that weren't the case. As I said earlier this week, it handles the source material very well and managed not to mangle my favorite characters' arcs.

13. Favorite post(s) you've done this half of the year:

A few picks:

14. Most beautiful book you've bought/received this half of the year:

Behold the beauty of the revamped Wingfeather Saga! (Technically I only bought the second two books this half of the year, but it still counts.) I have hardcovers of all four, but I don't feel like staging a new picture right now.

15. Any other books you want to babble about for any other reason?

I finally read Diana Wynn Jones's Aunt Maria! I've been meaning to for years, since she mentions it very frequently in the essays in Reflections, but I never quite got around to it or got my hands on it. It was . . . interesting? It explores some clever ideas and concepts, and the villain is excellent and of a type not usually seen in fantasy fiction. I didn't quite love some aspects of the writing style, though, and it is one of those books where people are frustratingly non-communicative. I mean, it's mostly for magical reasons, but still.

So! There's my end-of-year book freakout for 2020! I may just switch over to calling it a reading round-up for 2021, but that seems a bit boring . . . well, we've got six months to think about it. We'll see what happens.

What about you? What were your favorite reads of the year? Your biggest surprises (or disappointments)? Also, do you also tend to get behind on books you're really excited for because you have to wait until you're ready to actually enjoy them? Please tell me in the comments!
Thanks for reading!

Old Years' Memories; New Years' Visions [A Short Story for the New Year]

 

A bit late, but I couldn't let the new year start without a New Year's Eve/New Year's Day story! Hope you all enjoy reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it. As a note, I did finish writing this rather late, so it may be a little less polished than the stories I normally post are.

Old Years' Memories; New Years' Visions

Item 5224022: Gold locket embossed with design reminiscent of a vine-wound clockface. Contains a single miazin crystal, a lock of tightly curled black hair, and a miniature pencil sketch cut to fit the locket. Pencil sketch appears to show a man and woman sitting side by side, holding hands. Faces are obscured by creasing and water damage, but female appears to have dark, curly hair, and man is wearing a top hat. World of Origin: Fuila (1-4), via naturally-occurring dimensional funnel in northern Chania, +55:-06, probably made between 3426 and 3428 P.C..
 
Collection: 1-4 Artifacts (Jewelry). Item 5224023: Thin, round-bladed 3.5-in knife made of silver with no crossguard and a single carmelian stone for the pommel. Hilt resembles a stylized Type E dragon. World of Origin: Fuila (1-4). Specific coordinates unknown. Likely from pre-600 P.C.. Confiscated from stash of noted interworld thief Elihu Glas. Collection: 1-4 Weaponry (Bladed).
 
Another box finished, its contents tagged and sorted and recorded in the archive log. This was hardly how Tamison had expected to spend his Turning Eve, but he wasn't about to complain. His recent assignment to the Interworld Archive was the best thing to happen to him in years. Forget adventure! Forget making a name for himself that would go down in history! People who went down in history only did so by facing off against werecats and mad mages and bears or by being so unbelievably, unbearably brilliant that they made normal people look like babbling infants by comparison. Tamison was honest enough with himself to know he wasn't the latter, and he'd had his fill of the former without achieving any degree of fame except the kind that comes from being thoroughly embarrassed in front of people he desperately wanted to impress.
 
But no more! This new year, there would be no more skin-of-the-teeth adventures. He wouldn't even have think about them except when he needed a good story to share at a party or over coffee with the other archive workers . . . especially with that pretty research wizard — Willow, her name was — who took breaks from her work at nearly the same time Tamison did and who was always happy for a chat. She was studying the way in which similar cultures tended to develop across different worlds, she'd told him, and expected to be based at the Archive for at least five years. She always appreciated his harrowing accounts from the last few years, whether or not he polished them up, and she never made him feel like a fool or yelled at him for doing his job, unlike some people.
 
Yes. This would be a nice, quiet year. Perhaps the start of a nice, quiet life. No more chasing around after once-lost wizard prodigies. No more deadly encounters turned to daring escapes. No more putting his foot in his mouth in the situations where it would have the most deadly consequences. It was just what he needed.
 
Tamison returned to his work table and opened up the next box of items to be sorted. A mass of paper expanded with a noise like a rustling sigh as soon as he opened the lid, and several pieces slid off the top of the pile and floated down to rest on the table. He double-checked the box for a tag. Miscellaneous pictures and photos received by anonymous donation, was all it said. Well, that was all right. It would be tedious to work through everything, but at least people tended to write dates on pictures. When you were lucky, they wrote other things too. And if you weren't lucky, well, paper responded well to tracing magic. With the slightest satisfied flourish, Tamison gathered up a stack of pages from the box's overflow, readied his pen, and set to work.
 
Item 5224024: Pencil sketch on thick woven paper. Heavily creased with one horizontal fold and three vertical and torn along the edges. Sketch shows a section of a rocky mountain range as seen from a significant height. A Type B or C dragon flies above the peaks about three-quarters across the page. The signature in the corner appears to read "Tessa F." An inscription on the back reads "Apl 462. DR Mountains from dragonback with Aunt R." Origin: Berstru (1-5). Specific coordinates unknown. Created in Apula (4th month) in 462 L.R. or 2679 P.C.. Collection: 1-5 Artwork (Sketches, Non-Masters)
 
. . .
 
Item 5224031: Photograph on glossy paper. Square composition with 0.5in white margin on top, left, and right side, 1.5in white margin on bottom. Photograph shows a rock carved with some form of carved letters or runes, partially entangled in vines. Cursive handwriting in bottom margin reads "Arrival at real rune-stone! Good to be home. Ish. 8/26/2013". Origin: Earth (1-3), +45.9476:-91.8330. Taken August 26, 2013 L.R. or 6015 P.C.. Collection: 1-3 Artwork (Photographs, Non-Masters)
 
The handwriting on the photo looked oddly familiar. Tamison picked up the photo to study it more carefully, holding it so his fingers touched only the thinnest edges of the paper. He couldn't quite place it. Perhaps it was the same as the handwriting on some of the letters he'd been sorting yesterday.
 
He slid the photo into its envelope and tagged it a bit more quickly than was strictly necessary. Once, he, like many others, had entertained a certain level of fascination with Earth, one of the few worlds with no natural access to magic of any kind except that which trickled in via portals. Now he couldn't think of the world without recalling that disastrous first meeting . . .
 
And, of course, she'd had to follow him here. She'd claimed it was unintentional and that she had to come here anyway to do what she believed she was meant to do. That it was just coincidence. Once upon a time in a daydream, he'd have thought she was secretly coming here because she wanted to be close to him. Now, he wouldn't be surprised if she secretly liked keeping him off-balance and on his toes. But she did have research to do, and it did make sense for her to do it here, so he had no grounds to ask her to leave.
 
Item 5224033: Replica of Morte Revenau's "Fall From the Tower". Oil on canvas. Origin: Fuila (1-4), +43.00149:-15.9847. Created in the sixth month of 3429 P.C., based on original painting from 3427 P.C.. Collection: 1-4 Artwork (Paintings, Masters Replicas)
 
. . .
 
Item 5224037: Colored pencil sketch on thick paper. Uncreased, minor tears on edges. Sketch shows the ruins of a stone building. A colonnade of Thetonic columns remains standing, leading to what was a large doorway that has fallen in. Tallest standing walls appear to be 20ft, but were clearly taller at one point. Handwritten (cursive) inscription on back reads, "Remains of New Council Building. Clearly not so new now, LOL. Wonder what happened here?" Origin: Darachan (2-2), +23.0385:-50.2133. Created 7568 P.C.. Collection: 2-2 Artwork (Sketches, Non-Masters)
 
Tamison paused and traced his finger over the paper again in the pattern to reactivate the tracer. The same result appeared: this world, Darachan, some two thousand years in the future. Well, that wasn't entirely unheard of. Occasionally things slipped through the cracks of time as well as the gaps between worlds. But it was unusual for there to be a time-gap without a world-gap — unusual for items to fall back or forward in time without landing in another world as well.
 
He hesitated, glanced up towards the ceiling and the Archive towers and the laboratories and workshops in those towers, the ones reserved for those doing not just research but theoretical application, as many called it when they didn't want to acknowledge the risk of that application ripping non-mendable holes in reality or, at the least, killing the people doing it. Should he . . .?
 
No. She'd get along without it. They all would. He'd tell her later, if she asked. Or she could find it for herself in the archive record. He'd spent two years caught up in her life — initially thinking he would be her guide, her counsellor, and more, and gradually realizing his mistake — and he wasn't taking a risk on getting entangled again more than he already was. With a final shake of his head, he slid the sketch into a protective sleeve, tagged it, and placed it in the appropriate box.
 
Item 5224036: Black-and-white photograph. Grainy and marred by water damage. Photograph shows a person standing next to a Thetonic column, one of several in a row. The ruins of the New Council Building (see Item 5224035) can be seen in the background. Person is tall, relatively thin. Dressed in a Darachanian wizard's robe and an Earthan or Fuilan coat, hip length. Face/features too blurry to make out except for significant quantities of dark hair. Handwritten (cursive) inscription on back reads, "By the ruins of the New Council Building." Origin: Darachan (2-2), +23.0385:-50.2133. Created 7568 P.C.. Collection: 2-2 Artwork (Photographs, Non-Masters)
 
. . .
 
Item 5224043: Black-and-white photograph. Photograph shows a reception at the Chanian Royal Palace in Rivenford. The central figure of the photo is Prince Josiah Chambers, dressed in formal suit and crown, who speaks to a woman turned away from the camera. The woman is fair-haired and wears a wide-skirted dark ballgown and a crown or hair ornament with several points. Behind the prince, a short woman with equally short, curly hair walks away from the camera quickly enough that her figure is blurred. Handwritten (cursive) inscription on back reads "Royal Crossings Night Ball, Rivenford." Origin: Fuila (1-4), +43.00143:-15.98467. Created in the fifth month of 3425 P.C.. Collection: 1-4 Artwork (Photographs, Non-Masters)
 
. . .
 
Item 5224044: Grainy color photograph. Photograph shows two nearly-identical people fighting with swords in a forest. Both persons are female, young adult or older teen, and have features suggestive of some of the Old Families of Berstru. Both wear travel-stained clothing, one in green and brown and one in black. A second figure in black is just barely visible in the trees in the background, her face obscured by shadows. Leaves intrude into the edges of the frame as if the photograph was taken through foliage. Origin: Berstru (1-5), +31.33:+23.43 with an Earthan or Chanian camera. Created in 439 L.R. or 2656 P.C.. Collection: 1-5 Anadimensional Artwork (Photographs, Non-Masters)
 
. . .
 
Item 5224057: Grainy color photograph. Photograph shows a crowd running to the left away from some kind of flaming structures. A somewhat blurred, dark-haired woman in a torn green dress or robe stands with her hands raised in front of the flames. Armored figures bearing spears run towards her and the crowd. Origin: Berstru (1-5), +43.97034:+27.01562 with an Earthan or Chanian camera. Created in 445 L.R. or 2662 P.C.. Collection: 1-5 Anadimensional Artwork (Photographs, Non-Masters)
 
A sudden shock of magical overflow rippled through the air and jolted against Tamison's skin, prickling and tingling as if his whole body had been asleep and had just gained feeling again. He dropped his pen and shook out his suddenly-leaden hands, flexing his fingers until they could move properly again. The Archive was warded with eleven generations of wizards each adding their own protections, layered one on top of each other. Nothing remotely dangerous could get in without being let in by multiple people — for so much as a person to enter was immensely difficult. But magical backwash from the experiments in the towers was something else.
 
It was probably Carrie's fault. Tamison scowled at nothing in particular. That would be no surprise at all. He had only the vaguest sense what she was working on — she'd told him once, but he hadn't listened — but he knew it was something complicated with portals. And anything with portals took — and released — significant amounts of magical energy.
 
Still scowling, Tamison gathered the papers the burst of magic had scattered over the table and picked up his pen once more. Magic overflow or no magic overflow, he had work to do. And maybe if he finished early enough in the evening, Willow would agree to welcome the new year with him and some good, strong eggnog.
 
Item 5224057: "The Shadowwalker and Victory" by Iela Morrow. Oil on canvas. Painting portrays the parade celebrating the Aralan victory over Vtillus Terian's forces in the Black Morning war. Origin: Aralan (1-7), -33.4743:+69.3021. Painted Fellthen 12, 1869 L.R. or 3894 P.C.. Collection: 1-7 Artwork (Painting, Masters)
 
. . .
 
Item 5224060: Photograph on matte paper. Photo portrays
 
Tamison paused with his pen held poised on the page. Ink began to pool at the tip, but he barely noticed. The photo held his gaze locked on the central figures in the scene: a bride and groom in traditional Darachan wedding garb — the groom in deep blue robe and white shirt, the bride in palest pink and gold. They held each other close on a crowded dance floor, leaning in for a kiss. The bride was mostly turned away from the camera, but the groom was nearly facing it — and that was what Tamison couldn't look away from. Though the image was poorly lit and slightly blurred, he couldn't deny what he saw. The face of the groom — that was his face. A bit older than he currently was, but his all the same.
 
He flipped the photo and read the inscription. Mr. and Mrs. T. Quercus, at last. Took them long enough! May their life together be long and happy. 8.30.79.
 
Quercus. That was the name that would be his to take once he was married. It wasn't a common name, by any means. But how . . .?
 
The handwriting. It was the same as many of the other images he'd sorted. And now he was beginning to think where he'd seen it before.
 
The last of the backwash prickled on his skin. He glanced upward again. Then, working on a hunch. He set the photo carefully aside and returned to the previous items he'd sorted.
 
The woman standing in front of the flames couldn't be identified. But the hair was certainly dark and wild enough, and the green dress . . .
 
And there, in the background of the photo at the palace — a woman, dark-skinned and wearing a gown that could be a shade of green, with dark curls escaping from her updo. She was in the crowd in the painting of the parade, and the woman by the colonnade could certainly be her . . . Again and again, she appeared, always just a bit out of focus, a bit obscured, whether she was the subject or merely a face in a crowd.
 
Tamison turned to the box again, skimming through as quickly as he could while still searching. She wasn't in every picture. But she was in enough. And hadn't Carrie been asking for anything that had slipped through time?
 
Then he found the photos — two of them, partially stuck together where the coating on the bottom paper had softened. In the first, Carrie — years older but still recognizable — stood by a brick wall stained with weather and paint and mold, looking over her shoulder at the camera. On the flip side of the photo, an inscription read, Back where it all began. Remember this?
 
And then the second: sepia-toned, grainy, taken from behind and just to the left of the subject. Carrie stood in one of the tower labs, her hand outstretched, her curls falling out of their bun. Her face was just visible, strained with concentration. Her fingers were midway through some process that made the air before her shimmer just enough to be noticeable . . .
 
Tamison flipped the picture. I think I must've caused the burst when I popped in to snap this. Sorry. Tam, I don't know it now, but I'll need your help in not too long. Hurry up — Room 34 — and you'll be just in time.
 
Tamison stared at me message. No. He had what he wanted. He liked the Archive. He liked his work and Willow and the peace and quiet. He wasn't about to give that up. Not for her. Not to go on adventures once again.
 
But if she needed him . . .
 
He looked again at the wedding picture. That had to mean something, didn't it? It meant he survived. It meant he found someone. It meant Carrie cared enough sometime to preserve a memory of . . . well, of an event that hadn't happened yet. But would. Or perhaps wouldn't, if he didn't do this.
 
"Oh, confound it," he muttered under his breath. He packed the unsorted papers, all but one, back into their box and scribbled a quick note for someone to find later if the worst came to worst. Then he slid the photo in his pocket and rushed out the door. He'd pause at Willow's office. Maybe she'd be interested in doing some fieldwork. If nothing else, he'd tell her what he was doing so she'd know.
 
And after that . . . Well. He'd see what new world awaited him in this new year.

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

December 2020 Doings!

Hello, everyone! Yeah, this Doings post is not coming to you on the usual day. But since this is such a posting-heavy week (with Doings!, my 2020 reading wrap-up, 2021 goals, and hopefully a short story for New Year's Eve), I decided to mess with the schedule a bit. So, yes. This will likely be the first of many posts this week. Enjoy?

Writing!

  • No, the Midnight Show sequel is not done. Yes, it is behind schedule. I continue to blame research. Also, y'know, Christmas prep.
  • On the upside, I've written some every day this month, so I feel good about that. And I think we're close to being finished; nearly all the pieces are in place for the mystery to be solved and the conflicts resolved. I'd feel better if I'd written more every day and if a few more pieces were in place, but I will take the victories I can and try again next month for the losses.
  • I also didn't work at all on my D&D campaigns, but we're still working through the current module, and I expect to be in this module for another couple of weeks, so we should be ok.
  • I'm finishing out the month with 17956 words (plus probably another couple thousand over the next few days) written in December and 53698 total on The Midnight Show sequel. Some of those words will be cut in edits, but this book will definitely be longer than its predecessor.

 Reading!

  • This month's reading was about 50% Christmas stuff, which is more Christmas reading than I've done in quite a while. I started off with Hogfather, which I liked better on the reread — It helped that I'd been seeing posts about the story a lot on the socials, so I was pretty hyped. I followed it up with some short stories: The Sixth Christmas, which was an interesting take on a Christmas Carol/Wonderful Life-type situation, and the Christmas in Talesend anthology, which is always fun. And we finished up on Christmas Eve and Christmas morning with The Enchanted Sonata, which was also absolutely delightful on the reread.
  • Outside of Christmas reads, I finished the published Magus of the Library books with volume 3, which was about as good as the first two. And I read some short stories: an anthology by Patricia C. Wrede, the highlight of which was an Enchanted Forest Chronicles short story about an enchanted frying pan, and H.L. Burke's "Spider Spell", which was fun but did not make me more favorably inclined towards spiders as a whole.
  • I also read Allie Brosh's recently-published second book, Solutions and Other Problems. It wasn't bad, but I didn't love it. I was glad I'd read it once, but I don't think I'll reread it.
  • The non-Christmas highlight of the month was rereading Little Women, which honestly gets better every time I read it. It truly is an excellent book, and it was nice to revisit all my favorite parts and all the bits I'd forgotten.
  • And I'm finishing out the month with 10 Blind Dates, which is not my usual genre (it's contemporary YA romance, of all things), but it was recommended to me by a friend and I'm actually enjoying it more than I would expect. It has a lot of emphasis on family relationships as well as romance, which is nice.

Watching!

  • Obviously, we watched a lot of Christmas movies this month. Some of them were the usuals (Rudolph, Little Drummer Boy, White Christmas, Peanuts, etc.) Others were new to me; we watched Shop Around the Corner and The Bishop's Wife the week before Christmas. Both were . . . I wouldn't choose to watch them again, but I wouldn't refuse if other people wanted to watch them unless I had a compelling something else that I needed to do. (I do want to watch You've Got Mail now, though, since people have told me that it changes most of the reasons I wasn't excited about Shop Around the Corner.)
  • We also watched the 2019 version of Little Women, and I was actually impressed. They did better with peoples' character arcs than I feared, and while I have mixed feelings about how they handled the back-and-forth between different parts of the timeline, I think the movie was well-done overall. (I also feel like this movie clarified a lot for me why so many people disliked a particular part of The Penderwicks At Last that I was genuinely happy about. So there's that.)
  • Also, Overly Sarcastic Productions posted the next part of Journey to the West, and therefore I am IMMENSELY happy. It was a very fun episode, and my desire to read the actual book has been renewed. (Tragically, no libraries near me have the better English translations. I might suggest the libraries acquire them, though . . .)
  • And, of course, I'm still working my way through Critical Role. I'm halfway through Episode 42, and the Avantika arc is still not my favorite, but it's getting better! And I think I only have about eight episodes left before we get to the arc I'm really excited about, which is the trip to Xhorhas.

Life!

  • Most of the month, of course, was occupied by Christmas stuff: making and acquiring gifts, sending Christmas cards, baking cookies, and so forth. I am very happy with this year's Christmas baking. I made molasses cookies and gingersnaps (because we were running out of molasses cookies), both of which I've made previously. I did about 60% of making cut-out cinnamon sugar cookies — my mom and I mixed the dough up in a joint effort, and I did the cutting and baking. And, arguably the one I'm most excited about, I made mint chocolate chessboard cookies, which are a variation on cut-and-bake sugar cookies, but with strips of chocolate and mint dough formed into a checkerboard pattern. They turned out very well, and I hope to make the Neapolitan variation sometime in the future.
  • In addition to the writing and the Christmas prep, I spent a lot of the month working on the second half of the freelance design project I was working on last month. This month was less of a learning curve, but it still took a lot more out of me than I'd hoped. On the upside, I'm almost done, and what's left should be less frustrating. Hopefully, anyway.
  • On a happier note, I did have a second interview with one of the places I applied for back in November, and it went very, very well. And the interview led to a very exciting phone call about a week before Christmas . . . but more on that in the next section.
  • And now, back to Christmas! Christmas Eve was . . . not really what I was hoping for? We ended up with the noon Christmas Eve service, which I wasn't super happy about (the service was very nice; it just made for an extraordinarily awkward flow for the day), and we didn't do as much driving around and looking for lights as we normally would because it was raining. (And there weren't as many lights on for the same reason.) But it was ok.
  • Christmas Day was very nice, though. We ended up having ham instead of the lasagna we originally planned, and that was very tasty. My family seemed to like the gifts I got them, which I'm glad of. (One highlight: I got my sister her first set of D&D dice!) I also got some very nice gifts, including some expansion sets for Sentinels of the Multiverse (I now have all my favorite heroes, villains, and environments, along with some new environments I'm super excited to try), the most recent Invisible Library book and Randall Munroe's What If?, and two new tumblers to replace the one that has a bunch of cracks in the outer wall from when it got knocked onto the ground in a parking lot back in September. (They change color in response to temperature! I am more excited about this than I have any right to be! Also, they're a little larger than my old one but not so much that they don't fit in cupholders.)
  • After Christmas, we took a short trip up to visit my grandpa, since we haven't seen him in quite a while. So that was very nice.
  • And throughout the month, my sister and I had several opportunities to play Sentinels of the Multiverse with our roommates over Zoom. It works surprisingly well — it's better when all parties have both the villain and the environment we're using, but we can manage even when only one person has the deck. About half the games we played were against a surprisingly deadly combination: Omnitron (think: murderbot with control of a robotics factory) in the Ruins of Atlantis (exactly what it sounds like). Omintron is a Level 1 villain, so he's usually not hard to beat, but somehow this villain/environment grouping killed very capable hero teams three times (three!) before we finally managed to beat it.

 January Plans

  • So, the most exciting thing that's happening this coming month: barring calamity, I am officially starting a new full-time job in the first couple weeks of January! I'll be doing print and web design work for a church about thirty minutes from where I live. I'm looking forward to it, though I'm also a bit nervous (more about changes in general than about anything specific). I think it'll be a good place to start out with professional work: it seems like it'll be less stressful than some other places I applied to, and the people I'll be working with most seem very nice.
  • That means I'll have to work out how to balance writing with full-time work and not ignoring my family, as I fully intend to finish the TMS sequel in January so I can send it to Kendra in February. I will have a four-day workweek instead of a five-day one, so that'll help. But it'll still be a challenge.
  • I'll also be finishing up the freelance project in the beginning of the month, but, again, I should be just about done with it. Fingers crossed that I'm not wrong . . .
  • And in whatever time I have left over, I have a lot of reading to do so I can get in Return of the Thief and Rhymth of War before I have to return them to the library. Because let me tell you, I'm super tired of trying to dodge spoilers, especially since people are starting to leak stuff about RoW. Queen's Thief fans seem pretty good about tagging spoilers even months after the release. Not so much Cosmere people.

How was your December? Any exciting plans for January? Are you as behind on your TBR as I am? What were the highlights of your Christmas season?  Please tell me in the comments!
Thanks for reading!

Friday, December 18, 2020

Winter 2020-2021 Reads

 

Hey'a, everyone! It's time for another season of new reads! I'll confess, after the last few seasons of a lot of highly-anticipated (and sometimes long-awaited) reads, this winter's lineup almost feels a little unexciting. That said, even if I'm not over-the-top excited about any of what's coming, there's still a good bit to look forward to. (Plus, I'm still catching up from this time last year, so . . . maybe it's ok if we have a quieter season, yeah?)

Winter 2020-2021 Reads

1. A Day of Darkness by Suzannah Rowntree (December 3). This is the third book in a series, and I haven't read any of it yet technically, but I'm told these are essentially standalones. Also, I want to read the whole series as soon as I get a pause point between library books and long-anticipated new releases — it's time-traveling historical fantasy set largely in the era of the Crusades, and if that doesn't sound awesome, I don't know what does. (Also: it might partially fulfill my long-standing wish for portal-type fantasy in which the protagonist goes to a more advanced era or culture than they came from? Which would be awesome.)

2. Blind Date with a Supervillain by H.L. Burke (December 18). I do not love the cover on this. I'm saying that right now. The "Blind Date" font bothers me enough that I almost didn't include this on the list. But it's superhero slice-of-life, and I've been saying that I want that for years, so in the end, I can't not include it. This is a spinoff from Burke's Superhero Rehabilitation Project (another series I really want to read as soon as I clear a bit more of my more urgent backlist), though it can be read and enjoyed on its own, and it sounds pretty fun (if more rom-com-y than I normally go for).

3. Lore by Alexandra Bracken (January 5). Another book I debated about including (not because of the cover, 'cause this one is pretty gorgeous), but it's urban fantasy and Greek myth, and I'm almost always down for more of both of those. And I'm very curious what the significance of a Medusa figure on the cover might be — are we getting another sympathetic Medusa story? (I say "another"; there really aren't many, if any, in published fiction. Just in short webcomics and stuff.) Also, it's confirmed to be a standalone, so thank goodness.

4. Into the Heartless Wood by Joanna Ruth Meyer (January 12). Magical, mysterious, deadly forests have been a thing in fantasy forever, but only because they have so much potential. And while forbidden love stories can sometimes get on my nerves, maybe this one will be different? If nothing else, "Monster seeks to become human" stories have just as much potential as magical woods, and I'm interested to see how this one turns out.

5. Cast in Firelight by Dana Swift (January 19). I keep going back and forth on how excited or not excited I am for this one. On one hand, I really like the idea of characters in an arranged marriage saying "Heck no!" and running off to find someone else, only to end up falling in love with the person they were supposed to marry. On the other hand, there is so much potential for this story to go wrong in the ways that frustrate me most. So . . . yeah.

6. The Mask of Mirrors by M. A. Carrick (January 21). It's not exactly a magical heist novel, but it's a magical long-con novel, which is in many respects the next best thing. Also, "a con artist, a vigilante, and a crime lord must unite to save their city"? Sign me up. Just . . . please, let this not be another "The Last Magician" situation, where the novel has so much potential and then is utterly ruined by a lack of any kind of inter-character relationship worth getting invested in.

7. Magus of the Library volume 4 by Mitsu Izumi (January 26). I discovered this manga series earlier this year on the recommendation of a friend. I zipped through the first three books, which were all delightful — low-stakes, character-focused fantasy featuring a Middle East-inspired world, magical librarians, and an equally magical library. I was super disappointed when the third book ended, so I'm looking forward to this releasing.

8. Muse by Brittany Cavallero (February 7). Alternate America-type historical fantasy seems to be growing in popularity of late, and I am 100% here for it. Some people are also saying this is steampunk? Which, if it is, is doubly awesome; I haven't read any good new steampunk in quite a while.

What book releases are you excited for this winter? Please tell me in the comments!
Thanks for reading!

Friday, December 4, 2020

November 2020 Doings!

 Hey'a, everyone! We are officially into the holiday season and the final month of 2020. Thank goodness. I'm not going to pretend that all our troubles will end with the dawn of a new year, but I am glad that at least we're in a season that feels a little more hopeful.

(I would also like to say that this is the first time in at least two years that I've actually done a November Doings! post instead of merging it in with December's Doings! So in that respect, I am doing great.)

Writing!

  • November is, of course, National Novel Writing Month, so every minute of writing time I had was dedicated to working on my NaNo novel, the sequel to The Midnight Show. Given that, you would think the first draft would be done by now, right?
  • No. It is not.
  • (Incidentally, I also didn't hit 50K, but I wasn't exactly aiming there either, so . . . it's ok?)
  • I would like to say that this is solely because I had fewer minutes of writing time than I expected — which is true. A lot of my time this month went into freelancing and job searching — and not just time, but also a lot of mental and emotional energy, which I'll probably talk about later. And, of course, we had the start of the holiday season, which takes up more time.
  • The other part of it is that . . . well, I have this pattern that I tend to fall into when writing series. It goes something like this:
    • Me: *has an idea, gets really excited*
    • Me: *writes a simple, single-plot first book with either a single POV or dual POVs trading off on the same plot*
    • The Book: *is easy and fun to write; gets finished really fast*
    • Me: Hey, that was fun, and super chill. *shares or publishes that book*
    • Other people: Hey, we like this book!
    • Me: Wow, not only did I really enjoy writing that, other people seem to like reading it. I should write a sequel.
    • Me: *comes up with sequel idea*
    • The Sequel Idea: *has more POVs, more plotlines, and is generally more complex*
    • The Sequel Idea: *gets last-minute changes to what I planned*
    • The Sequel Idea: *takes more time and effort to write than I expected or than the first book did*
    • Me: *surprised Pikachu face*
  • Every. Time. This happens every. single. time. I'm not sure if this is a case of my being unable to learn from my mistakes or if I just keep hoping that this time will be different. And it never is. It happened with Blood in the Earth, as you all noticed. Before that, before I started publishing, it happened with my Berstru Tales (and got worse with every sequel, to the point where I decided it would be easier to go back and rewrite the stories from the beginning rather than keep trying to salvage the current Book 4), and it happened to my epic fairy tale retelling series (Book 2 of which took literally two years to write), and I have no doubt whatsoever that if and when I write a sequel to Mechanical Heart, it'll happen there too.
  • So, yes. In summary: sequels are hard, and I am continually surprised by this.
  • But!
  • I did write 32,874 words spread out over about 18.5 chapters, and I think I'm about halfway through my outline, so . . . that's good. We can still finish this by the end of December. It'll be great. Just darb, as Dayo would say.

 Reading!

  • I usually expect my reading to go down in November, but I actually had a pretty good month. It was helped along by the fact that I had a lot of books available that were low-energy, not quite comfort reads, but close enough. A lot of that reading was also graphic novels, manga, or comic compilations, so . . . there's that. (I actually just now realized that I only read four traditional books this month; oops.)
  • Anyway. I finished all the published books of Delicious in Dungeon and found them fairly enjoyable. I still like the early books best, but there are some good interactions, and we get backstory on characters, which is nice. And now I just have to wait for the last two books to be released. I also read Seven Little Sons of the Dragon, a collection of short stories by the same author, which was . . . well, the same sort of mixed bag as most anthologies. My favorites stories tended to be the ones that seemed like they might've been inspired by traditional myths or legends.
  • Finishing Delicious in Dungeon meant I could move on to the other manga I was really excited about, Magus of the Library. I've read the first two books so far, and I'm really enjoying it. I mean, a magical library and librarians, an Arabian-inspired world, a lot of book-based enthusiasm . . . what's not to like?
  • Moving back to Western graphic novels and comics: I read the third Adventure Zone graphic novel and enjoyed it quite a bit more than the first two. You can tell that the players have gotten to the point where they're coming to care about the characters other than their own and the world they inhabit, and that makes the story they're telling better, in my opinion. I also read both Strange Planet comic compilations (which were awesome; if you haven't read them and/or don't currently follow Nathan Pyle on Instagram, you should fix one or both of those things) and Tom Gauld's Department of Mind-Blowing Theories comic compilation. Both of these comic series are full of a type of humor I like quite a bit — one that pokes fun at humanity's oddities while also celebrating them, and yeah. 10/10, would recommend.
  • Finally, we come to the traditional novels! I started out with two rereads: Randall Munroe's What If? and Terry Pratchett's A Blink of the Screen, both of which I liked about as much on the reread as I did the first time around. Then, towards the end of the month, I read Shirley Jackson's We Have Always Lived in the Castle, which has been on my TBR for a while. I'm not entirely sure how to feel about it; the writing quality and the storytelling quality are both off the charts, but I really didn't like any of the characters at any point in the story. Then again, I'm not sure you're supposed to like the characters. It doesn't seem to be that sort of book.
  • And then we did a complete 180 and finally got around to Kat Cho's Wicked Fox, which is not a standalone as I thought but rather the first book in a series, and I am annoyed. Not as annoyed as I could be; it had a very satisfying ending. I'm just tired of thinking books are standalones and then discovering otherwise. But the story was good; it was nice to get a setting outside of America or Europe, and I think the author did a good job weaving in traditional Korean mythology with the modern world. I will say that I didn't entirely buy Miyoung and Jihoon's romance . . . but I more than bought their friendship and Jihoon's friendships with others, and that's more important to me anyway.
  • And we finish up this summary with a book that's half comic and half traditional text-based novel, Hyperbole and a Half. While I don't and never have followed the blog, I know of it via general internet culture and more specifically, Jen of Epbot and Cake Wrecks. And somehow it (and Allie Brosh's new book, Solutions and Other Problems, and The Bloggess's books) popped back up on my radar, and since I'm trying to read more outside the fantasy genre, I thought I'd pick it up. And while it's certainly not my favorite book I've ever read, it's still a good read. I don't know if I'll read it again (I may or may not), but I'm glad I read it once. You feel me?

Watching!

  • Unlike my reading, my watching-of-stuff-that-isn't-short-YouTube-videos went way down this month.
  • I'm still crawling my way through Critical Role. I think I got in maybe two episodes this month? The problem, generally speaking, is that I am not enjoying the Avantika arc, and while I like Fjord as a character and Travis as a player, I really don't care that much about Fjord's backstory. I'd be almost tempted to just read summaries and skip this arc, but I also don't want to miss out on small, fun moments. (Like Fluffernutter. I finally got to that bit, and while it's funny out of context, it's hilarious in context.) So . . . here we are.
  • In terms of actual movies or similar, all we've watched are holiday shows (namely, the Charlie Brown Thanksgiving and Rudolph). We did finally get Disney+ to work with our TV, though, so maybe that'll change soon? (Probably not; Christmas movies take precedence in December. But there's always the possibility.)
  • Also, I just wanted to say that I discovered the Lockpocking Lawyer on YouTube this month, and his videos are . . . strangely addictive? They've pretty much been my procrastination method of choice as of late. LPL has a lot in common with Rybonator in that they have very calming voices and their videos are very focused on actually doing the thing rather than being clickbaity and repeating stuff a bunch of times, and it's just really nice. I also feel like I know more about security measures now, which is nice. And if I even need my characters to pick a lock, I know more than I used to about how that works too!
  • (I have also learned that you should never trust MasterLock or Hotel Safes, but yeah.)

Life!

  • This is always the hardest section of these Doings! posts. I have easily accessible records of what I wrote, read, and watched, but when it comes to life stuff, I basically have to rely on my memory. And my memory is . . . sporadic.
  • So. Most of the month was taken up by three things: writing, which I already talked about, and job searching and freelancing, which I said I was going to talk about. Not that there's a whole lot to say.
  • I had one interview this month, which went well, and I'm going in for a second with the same place soon. So that's exciting. I've never gotten to a second interview before.
  • As far as freelancing goes, it's nice to be doing design stuff with an actual purpose and project again. The difficult bit has been figuring out how to work well with a client when I'm the one doing the communication instead of someone else communicating with them and relaying requests to me. So that's been a bit of a learning curve, and a rather stressful one at that, which is what's taking most of the mental and emotional energy I was talking about.
  • On a happier note, we celebrated my birthday this month with lunch/dinner at my favorite Mexican place and a pecan pie cheesecake, both of which were DELICIOUS.
  • Speaking of deliciousness: Thanksgiving was excellent. A lot quieter than most years, since we were having it at home with just the four of us instead of with the whole Bible study group, but even that was nice in some respects. My dad borrowed a smoker and made smoked turkey, which turned out quite well. I made sourdough rolls and an apple-cranberry pie (and pie crust for my mom's pecan pie), both of which were also a success . . . even if the apple filling didn't cook as well as we thought it should have. (We're not sure what's up with that.)
  • And, of course, Thanksgiving meant that my younger sister came home from college, and due to her college's adjusted schedule, she won't go back until the new year. It's nice to have her back in the house. I've missed having someone to chat about books and stories and stuff with, plus I got the Sentinels of the Multiverse game for my birthday and now she and I can play that together. We can also play with my roommate via Zoom, which we did last Sunday. It works astonishingly well.
  • The last exciting thing I remember: I did another round of testing on my sourdough bread recipe combination, and I think I found a combo that I like. Essentially, I use the ingredient proportions and mixing method from the old recipe and the kneading and shaping method from the new one. The result is a loaf that has a good sourdough tang and is fluffy and domed enough to match my expectations but solid enough that you could use it for sandwiches. So that's my true baking victory of the month.
  • I think that pretty much covers it. Odds are, I'll remember something I should've included about five minutes after this post goes up, but if that happens, oh well.

December Plans

  • It's Christmas time! Which means sending out Christmas cards (I have my list; just gotta act on it now), hurrying to find or make Christmas gifts (though I'm ahead of the game this year for half the people I'm giving gifts to), and an abundance of Christmas cookies (many of which I will hopefully be making).
  • It also means Christmas music, which I'm enjoying in moderation. (The tragedy of my current WIP is that it's set in the summer, and so I absolutely cannot listen to Christmas music while writing it, even though Christmas music and swing/jazz go together super well.)
  • Speaking of the WIP, I intend to finish it this month. At the very latest, it needs to be finished early in the new year. Best-case scenario, I have it done before Christmas so I can use the week after Christmas to work on my New Year's short story. But I'm still going to be freelancing during that time, so . . . we'll see what happens.
  • I am also hoping to get in a good bit of Sentinels while my sister is home. That would be delightful. Time-consuming. But delightful.
  • That pretty much covers it, I think.

How was your November? Any exciting plans for December? Do you also have problems with being consistently surprised by the difficulty of sequel-writing?  Please tell me in the comments!
Thanks for reading!