Archive | January, 2015

Book Review: Throne of Jade (Temeraire #2) by Naomi Novik

25 Jan

Throne of JadeWhen Temeraire is summoned to China to help with trade negotiations there, Captain Laurence naturally goes with him. But as the long journey ensues, it becomes clear that Laurence is not the first choice of the Chinese. Threats and assassination attempts, hidden behind a veil of polite ceremony, make Laurence all the more convinced that he and Temeraire need to return home. However, dragons are treated much differently in China than they are in England, and Temeraire might want to stay…

I’ll be honest, I didn’t like this book nearly as much as the first. The writing was as perfectly wonderful as it was before, and I loved the interaction between Temeraire and Laurence and watching their relationship unfold, and I felt immersed in the Napoleonic era, but the plot just didn’t do it for me.

The beginning felt promising: we’re going to China! Except it takes practically a year to get to China, and boy does the book let you know it. China didn’t actually show up until the last third of the book, and so the time spent there was rushed. I would have much rather skipped a lot of time at sea, which bored me a bit anyway, and spent more time discovering things in China. It was so interesting, the differences in the treatment of dragons, and I would have loved to explore those differences more in-depth, with more interactions with these other dragons.

That said, it’s not a bad read and I’m told the remaining books are just as brilliant as the first, so I’ll be continuing the series at some point soon!

Brisbane Bookfest January 2015 Haul!

24 Jan

Anyone who knows me knows how in love I am with Bookfest. It’s a biannual event in Brisbane (and other Queensland cities) hosted by Lifeline in which the convention centre is filled with books. I’m talking hundreds of thousands of books arrayed on dozens of tables, all at cheap prices. There are three different sections: books for $1, books for $2.50, and higher quality books that are “price as marked” — usually $5 for your standard paperback.

If you thought it sounds a little bit like heaven, well, you’re not far off.

I always start in the cheapest section and work my way up. This year in the $1 section I found six really awesome children’s anthologies/classics–oversized hardcovers, illustrated, amazing covers. I remember my grandmother used to have a cupboard stocked with anthologies like this, and I could spend hours looking through them. These finds included:
DSC01188DSC011821. Treasure Island
2. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
3. Collier’s Junior Classics Volume 7: Legends of Long Ago
4. Collier’s Junior Classics Volume 9: Call of Adventure
5. The Bookshelf for Boys and Girls 3: Folk and Fairy Tales
6. The Bookshelf for Boys and Girls 4: Stories and Songs from Many Lands

The cheaper section didn’t have a great deal else that interested me this time. I’m a bit late to the game as due to work commitments I wasn’t able to get there this past week, so some areas had been picked over. I did find quite a bit in the next two sections though, including several sequels to books already on our shelves:

7. The Queen of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner
8. The Lives of Christopher Chant by Diana Wynne Jones
9. The Magicians of Caprona by Diana Wynne Jones
10. Son of the Shadows by Juliet Marillier
11. Child of the Prophecy by Juliet Marillier

And then there were the books that were new finds for me:

12. Heart’s Blood by Juliet Marillier
13. The Pindar Diamond by Katie Hickman
14. Clovermead: In the Shadow of the Bear by David Randall
15. I, Coriander by Sally Gardner
16. A Perilous Power by E. Rose Sabin
17. Arthur: The Seeing Stone by Kevin Crossley Holland
18. Arthur: King of the Middle March by Kevin Crossley Holland

And then those books that I purchased for my husband (he always says I score some winning titles with him when I go to Bookfest by myself… mostly he just doesn’t want to spend 3+ hours there with me!):

19. The Army of Five Men by Shaun Hick
20. Shadow Maze by Jonathan Wylie
21. Fortress in the Eye of Time by C.J. Cherryh
22. The Anvil of Ice by Michael Scott Rohan
23. The Wounded Guardian by Duncan Lay
24. Lord of the Silver Bow by David Gemmell
25. Emperor: The Gates of Rome by Conn Iggulden

All of these cost me $93.50 and I did the most damage in the high quality section… oops! If you’re thinking about heading to Bookfest for the first time, remember to bring a rolling suitcase or something similar, especially if you’re taking public transport after putting a dent in your wallet. I like to take a suitcase and a green bag–that way I can put already purchased titles in the suitcase, but I can use the green bag to carry books I’m thinking about while I’m shopping around each section. Of course, this time it got a little out of hand and I was filling up the green bag AND my arms…

DSC01179

Can’t wait to dig my teeth into some of these books. Look out for the reviews here later!

Writing Update: Balancing Character Development and the Passage of Time

10 Jan

Hey everyone! It’s been a while since I did a writing update. As part of my goal to finish this book this year and be happy with it, I mentioned that I would keep updating here in order to remain accountable for my progress. So here goes.

I’m happy to say that I’ve been pretty good about writing every day, even if it’s just a few words here and there. Last week I made a huge effort to get Chapter 8 finished, and I did finish it. But I wasn’t happy with it. So I opened a new document and started typing, and I’m happier with the result–but now I’m not sure how to incorporate it!

One of the issues I’ve been struggling with is how to balance character development with the passage of time. To give some context, Main Character is being taken from Point A to Point B by some people she does not like under some unfortunate circumstances. It’s quite a lengthy journey, but of course the journey itself is not the main point of the plot. I need MC to get to Point B, but it really needs to be done in as few pages as possible to make room for some of the more important stuff.

That said, her interactions with Characters B and C on the journey are much more critical now than they were in previous drafts. She needs to get from “I Hate These People” to “I Am Going To Do This Thing That Is Drastic For My Character In Order To Save These People’s Lives.”

I wrote that drastic thing as an experiment to see if I liked the plot going in a different direction, and I love it. The problem is getting there!

In trying to find a balance, I’ve written almost a general overview of what happens during a day on the road, interspersed with specific anecdotes that I hope do something toward developing my characters and their relationships. Example: “Every day XYZ happens. This one time during XYZ, ABC happened which made me feel DEF about Character B.” Only, you know, obviously it’s all tied up in pretty sentences and witty dialogue. 😉

Part of me wonders if I should just finish this “bridge” to that experiment that I’ve already written and stop worrying about whether or not there’s enough development and come back to it later–but the other part of me says I did want to be happy with it, and I should work on it until it’s up to snuff! Trying to toss aside that NaNo mindset, I guess.

As a side note, I very happily rediscovered some old, discarded scenes from YEARS ago that I plan on using now (or at least, plan on using the ideas if not the actual writing!). You’ve probably heard it a million times, but don’t ever throw anything out. You never know when it might be useful later.

So. Anyone else have projects that they’re working on or issues that they’re struggling with? I’d love to hear about them in the comments below!

Book Review: Arrows of the Queen (Heralds of Valdemar #1) by Mercedes Lackey

8 Jan

arrowsofthequeenWhen 13-year-old Talia is informed that she’s going to be married off, she runs away and wishes she could be chosen to join the Heralds like the ones in the tales she loves. But when a white horse sweeps her off her feet, she can’t believe that she has actually been chosen. Talia soon learns that there’s an awful lot to being a Herald, especially to being one of the Queen’s top advisors. And she needs to learn fast, because there’s a deadly plot brewing which could affect the future of the realm, and it’s up to Talia to stop it.

I’m afraid I’m about to voice an unpopular opinion! I didn’t really like this book. 😦

The plot is there–it’s a bit different, interesting, exciting, page-turning. The characters are there too–there’s a whole cast of them with fun back stories and personalities.

But honestly? This read like something I might have written when I was thirteen. I think the third person omniscient is what initially sparked this opinion, because third person omniscient has been beaten out of me with a stick. It cheapens the writing by making it seem as though the author could think of no other way to reveal whatever information Characters B and C and D are revealing. I prefer to be in the main characters head, watching for other character’s reactions and figuring things out with the main character. There’s no suspense with third person omniscient, making me a less eager reader.

And at the beginning, the way they just went on and on about “Oh, if you don’t know, we can’t tell you” made it seem like the author hadn’t quite decided WHAT was going on until the point at which someone COULD tell her what was happening. But at the same time, I felt like Talia was a bit stupid for not understanding what was happening in the first place. Of course, when the reader knows stuff the main character doesn’t because the reader already learned it from Characters B, C, and D, feeling like the main character is stupid tends to happen.

I feel like there was so much to this world that could have been explored–and, given that there are roughly a million other books written in this world, maybe they are there–but not enough detail was given. Then again, this book is marketed toward younger readers, so maybe if I’m craving that sort of detail I should pick up something older.

Anyway, this book wasn’t a total miss, I was just expecting a lot more depth and a different writing style. Still worth checking out as it comes highly recommended by others!

The Meal Planning Jar – Getting Organized and Eating Healthy!

5 Jan

005What’s for dinner?

I hate this question. I hate asking it and I hate hearing it. I hate having to think about what I’m going to eat later that day. I hate standing in front of the open fridge trying to piece together items that might make something palatable to put on my plate. I hate not having that one thing that might have made one meal or the other possible.

And when that happens, I usually end up ordering pizza.

Most of these problems can be solved by meal planning once a week, but even that was torturous for me. Trying to think of what meals we hadn’t had in a while, what would suit both of our tastes, who was going to be home to start cooking when, if the recipe that night was too complicated for our busy schedules, just gave me a headache. We ended up cycling through the same six or seven meals each week, and when that got boring, the hours spent scouring online recipes for something new we might like became too tedious and we slid back to it:

The dreaded question. The fridge-staring. The groaning. The pizza-ordering.

While browsing Pinterest one day, eating a slice of pizza, I came across that “date night jar” you’ve probably seen floating around. You know, the color-coded sticks with date ideas on them? You pick one out and it tells you what you should do that night. Magic. So the idea hit me: what if there was a magic jar that told me what to eat tonight?

So I decided to make one.

Prep Time: 10 minutes.

001Ingredients:

1. Popsicle sticks.
2. Markers (paint also acceptable)
3. Jar big enough to hold popsicle sticks.

The recipe is easy to follow:

1. Write your favorite meals on the popsicle sticks. This can be as open-ended as “pasta” or as specific as “lemon chicken with sweet potatoes and green beans.” For more vague entries, you could write side ideas on the back of the stick and pick one when you do your meal planning.

0022. Don’t forget to include some of your favorite restaurants so that you have the option to go out!

3. Add in a “Try Something New” stick for varied flavor (because finding one new thing is a lot less stressful than finding seven!)

4. Optional: color-code your sticks. For my jar, I used red for beef dishes, green for chicken dishes, and gold for restaurants (though the green looks like blue and the gold looks like green in the picture below!). This helps me keep the menu varied throughout the week. You could color-code however you’d like; another idea is “crock pot meals, 30-minute meals, more involved preparation.”

5. Put all finished sticks in the jar. Keep blank sticks somewhere handy–you never know when you might think of another idea to add in!

004

6. One day each week–let’s say Sunday–pull out seven random sticks. That’s what you’re having for dinner each night of the week. You could either clip the sticks to a weekly calendar or simply write the meals down and pop the list on the fridge. Either way, you now know what you’re eating and can grocery shop effectively so that you’re not staring at the fridge in the evening, thinking about ordering pizza.

And there you have it! Making the jar takes barely any time at all–I whipped up about 10 sticks in 5 minutes (so much easier to think of food I like when I’m not thinking about the whole week at once!). I’ll be adding more throughout the day as I think of things, and I’m sure my husband will have some ideas when he gets home too. Here’s to a new year of stress-free meal planning!

**If you have kids, this is a great way to get them involved in decision-making for the weekly meal rotation! Let them contribute to the meal ideas that go on the sticks. By letting them have a say in what meals will be offered, you might find that there are fewer complaints come dinnertime. Let them pull the sticks out each week, too. If you treat the jar as something that can’t be argued with, if they pull out something they don’t like, you can just shrug and say, “Well, the jar says we have to have asparagus, so we’re having asparagus.” Can’t blame you, right? 😉

Hopes and Dreams for 2015

1 Jan

2014 was such a great year for me that I’m struggling with leaving it behind. The previous few years had been filled with so many huge upheavals and periods of unemployment that it all felt like one big worry. This past year, on the other hand, was like a breath of fresh air.

In the Neuschwanstein courtyard.

In the Neuschwanstein courtyard.

I became a temporary resident of Australia.

I found a job that I can more easily balance with my passions.

I traveled, accomplishing a lifelong dream along the way.

I got more serious about editing this novel.

I read. A lot.

And blogged about it too.

Honestly, one of my biggest sources of pride in 2014 was seeing how much my blog grew. It’s so amazing to me that people want to read what I write (even if the most popular posts aren’t my book reviews, but visa-related advice!). I can’t wait to see what will happen with this blog in the next year, and how it will grow and change.

But the most important thing to me is that I’m sitting here on New Year’s Eve typing about my experiences and all I can really remember is the good: the joy of breaking through a particularly difficult section of my novel, getting lost in castle ruins in Germany, my favorite moments in some newly discovered books. Some not-so-nice things happened, but I love that my focus right now is on all of the fun, wonderful, exciting adventures that I had. I think it shows that I’ve learned to, well…

But seriously, I think it’s so great that for this year, and hopefully for upcoming years as well, I’ve learned to let go of the negative and focus on the positive. This is particularly relevant when looking at other people’s opinions and expectations of me. This year I blazed my own path regardless of what other people thought, and I’m happier than I’ve ever been. Next year this might be even more important, because let’s face it, there’s always someone who disapproves of one decision or another. I just need to shrug it off because I know what I’m doing, and I know what makes me happy, even if it doesn’t have the same affect on other people.

But enough of that. My goals for 2015 are much the same as they are every year, but I’m spending today–New Year’s Eve–trying to sort them out and actually plan how they are going to be accomplished. It’s part of my first resolution.

I want to get organized. I’ve always felt like a pretty organized person, but since my husband and I have been working full-time out-of-home the last several months it seems like things have just fallen apart. The house isn’t tidy. Cat hair covers the floor. The dishes don’t get done. The laundry piles up. I rush around trying to make lunch in the mornings, running late. We eat take-out more often than not for dinner. It’s driving me insane.

This goal won’t be accomplished in a day, but I’m going to take some little steps. Sundays are going to be my organization days. I’m going to sit down and plan the week every Sunday. I’m going to get the laundry washed, dried, ironed, folded. I’m going to plan our meals, and in some cases, make them in advance. I’m going to do assign chores for the rest of the week: who’s doing the vacuuming, the mopping, the bathroom-cleaning, dish washing. Before I go to bed each night, I’m going to make sure the lounge room is tidy so that it doesn’t feel like there’s as much to get done the next day.

I want to eat more vegetables. A common goal, right? I’ve never been a health nut, but the last few months have been particularly bad in the eating department. While I’m not really seeing the result on the scale, I am seeing it in the spots on my face and my feelings of sluggishness. I can do so much better, and I’m pretty sure this goes right along with goal #1. If I can get organized enough to plan meals and make them in advance, I don’t need to worry about chopping vegetables throughout the week. Right now it’s easier to throw a granola bar or packet of crackers into my lunch than it is to chop a carrot in the morning–but what if the carrots were already peeled and chopped and in little baggies waiting for me to toss those in? Healthier options made more easily available is something I want to make a habit in this house.

I want to finish this book. Finishing and publishing a novel has been a goal of mine since I was seven. I’m about to hit that quarter-of-a-century mark and just feel like enough is enough–I need to push through, swallow my fears, and send this thing out. My goal is to finish this last, major edit by June. While I will hopefully be working on it throughout the week, Saturdays are going to be my novel days as much as Sundays are going to be my organization days. Each Saturday, I will dedicate a few hours to polishing, refining, and rewriting. I plan to write a little something about how the day went on this blog to keep myself accountable.

I want to decorate. I am tired of staring at blank walls. I want to put up pictures, posters, canvasses. I want to make this house our own. I’ve already started on this goal by putting up some of our wedding pictures in frames, receiving frames for Christmas, and researching where to get those posters and canvasses I was talking about. I’ve made up some sketches that show what I want this house to look like and now I just need to collect the bits and put it into action.

I want to keep reading. I already addressed this in my 2014 Book Review round-up, but I want to read another 35 books in the upcoming year–that’s about a book every week and a half. I know I could read more if I put my mind to it, but I like having an easy-but-still-somewhat-challenging goal to look to, rather than a mostly-challenging one. I can’t wait to see what characters I’ll meet this year.

All in all, I think I have a modest list of goals that are completely obtainable if I put my mind to it. I really want to try to make 2015 as awesome as 2014 was. Here’s to a new year!!

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